History Lessons

History Lessons

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Composer's Note:

History Lessons was my first (and so far only) experiment with so-called "alternative" notation. It began as a study in contrasts between musical information organized and accessed sequentially, like on a tape, and that same information organized and accessed randomly, like on a disk. Traditional music notation is usually written in a way where music proceeds linearly, as if time moves from left to right; there are ways around this, of course, but they are limited: the repeat or da capo signs, for example.

I'd always been amused by a sentence reportedly uttered by Voltaire: "History is a pack of tricks we play upon the dead." That one sentence comprises the total sound material of the piece. I wrote out the sentence phonetically using the International Phonetic Alphabet. One thing I noticed was how some phonemes are heard in only one of the words while other phonemes can be heard in more than one word.

In fact, each word contains at least one phoneme that is unique to it - except "tricks," which is entirely made up of phonemes found in other words. But also, each word contains at least one shared phoneme, except "dead" - its two phonemes ("d" and "e") aren't found in any other word.

Comments

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First Perfomance
April 2, 1991 by Joan LaBarbara at Roulette, New York City
Recording

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Text Language - Non English

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Text Source/Author
François-Marie Arouet, aka Voltaire.
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solo voice alone
choral a cappella
multiples of the same instrument(s)
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