There’s a point where memory dissipates and becomes a dream, an imaginated figment. Then there’s the point where a dream ossifies, becomes unbearably real. Somewhere in between these two places is where I found “through the trees i saw stone caves on a beach.”
Here’s the dream: sometime during a 1970’s summer visit to the Bay Area of California, my older half-brothers (I have 3 of them) were visiting my parents and I. My parents took the 5 of us (I have a younger full-brother) out to a beach. It was one of those melodramatic days where for five minutes the sky looks like it’s about to release an end-times deluge and for the next five minutes the sun bathes everything in warm sepia tones. Back and forth. The kind of day that’s incredibly appealing to a child and exhausting for an adult.
It was late afternoon when we got to the beach. The tide had finished rolling out and was beginning its long creep back towards the shore. Since it was late summer, the Pacific was also cold, so it wasn’t the best weather for swimming. We walked along the beach for a short distance and the we came across a jumble of porous, almost rust-colored rocks. They looked like a set of homemade, wooden marbles a giant had left there. My older brothers immediately started climbing the heap of rocks and I followed behind them as quickly as I could. I could hear my parents behind me yelling out thtat we could run around these rocks for 10 or 15 minutes, but then we had to come back because the tide would be returning soon. Sweet. This could be dangerous. Once on top of the rocks, it didn’t take long for one of us (I think it was Jonathan, the oldest) to find an opening in the rocks. He wriggled inside and we all followed him. Inside the jumble was even better than I could have imagined: a disorienting maze of crevices and warrens where ingress was limited only by how much squeezing my body could withstand from the boulders. We ran around inside the jumble, losing track of each other, shattering the occasional shaft of light that peeked inside our secret hiding spaces. From a great distance, I heard my parents’ voices calling to us, saying we had to go. We clambered out as quickly as we could (I almost got lost inside there) and ran as fast as we could across the sand to go home.
Here’s the memory: my parents are inveterate travelers. To this day, it is normal for them to take 2-3 vacations a year. Each one is about 2-4 weeks in length and each one consists of lots of movement; whether on foot, by car or bicycle or canoe. The vacations are just as much, if not more, about the time spent getting there as they are about being there. Growing up with them, I have regular memories of the long drives home to South Jersey. Given that these drives usually started at 9 or 10 a.m. and that they were often 6-8 hours in length, the drives almost always culminated in quietly observing the sun set behind the pine and cedar trees from the vantage oint of my back seat. As we raced along, time would hover above a standstill, sunlight would strobe from the dense forest wall and I would slowly drift off. At that moment I was finally free of my anxiety over when we’d finally get home and I could finally get out of the car. But even after I got out of the car, raced inside and finished my day, every time I blinked or shut my eyes, the sunlight would still be flickering there. My own private fireworks show.
After contemplating this dream and this memory, I decided that the musical version of it would be an improvisation using elements of Steve Reich’s sound world. My father’s been listening to Reich since the early 1980’s, so I have pretty strong memories of hearing “Clapping Music,” “Music for 18 Musicians” and “Desert Music” (which for some unknown reason still terrifies me to this day). Reich’s music is definitely part of my sonic background and for some reason it felt like the right fit for the dream and the memory.
I wrote 5 short phrases that would all be played at the same tempo. But I left it up to the performers to start these phrases whenever they wished and to repeat them as often as they liked. For rhythmic/textural variety, I rewrote these phrase twice as fast (1 of them), 1/2 as fast (4 of them) and 3/4 as fast (1 of them). Players were left to pick and choose from this field of 11 phrase as they saw fit.
I heard the piece continuing, so I decided to write a ‘B’ section. I opted for the same performance procedures, but in order to keep myself interested, I decided to observe traits in my ‘A’ section phrases and write the opposite of them for the ‘B’ section phrases. In ‘A”, almost all the phrases were even-metered and there were very few rests in the phrases. So for ‘B’ I decided to write 5 phrases again, but this time the phrases would be odd-metered (most are in 7) and every phrase had to have noticeable phrases in them. In order to focus on these silences, 4 of the 5 variations of the original ‘B’ phrases were written at 1/2 the speed of the originals.
The only thing left was to figure out how to get from ‘A’ to ‘B.’ For that, I wrote a single phrase that harmonically could be placed in either of the sections. I told all the players that anyone could, at any time, start playing this phrase and that this would be the signal for the group to coalesce around the phrase and then make the jump to the next section (from ‘A’ to ‘B’ or ‘B’ to ‘A’) It was really important to me that any member of the group could take over leadership of the piece at any point. It was equally important that this piece have a Ouroboros-like structure.
We recorded the entire thing in one take. After some clean-up editing (I cacked some of the phrases), I took the entire 11-minute piece and cut it in half. I then put the 1st half (‘A’) at the beginning of PB and the 2nd half (‘B’) at the end. During the mastering, I did make sure to set everything so that if your audio-player is set to shuffle, and if you happen to get these tracks consecutively (in either order), it will sound as one long, uninterrupted track.