Treatises for an Unrecovered Past for string quartet (2013-14)
Written for the Lydian Quartet as part of their 2012 Composition Contest, this 35 minute work seeks to capture the experience of rememory, or the act of remembering remembering. This idea of using the music and sound form the piece as a memory tool imagines a type of time travel to the future where the music of today (this piece specifically) is assembled as if it were a found object - discarded, incomplete, unknown - and reconstituted into a whole. That completed whole is achieved through my imagining what this found object, this forgotten music, would need to undergo in order to be assembled into something meaningful, all by trying to remember what one remembers. The piece is performed here by the Lydian Quartet: https://soundcloud.com/kurt-rohde/treatises-for-an-unrecovered-past-20132014-for-string-quartet
It Wasn't a Dream...for soprano, tenor and piano four-hands (2018)
Poor Homer; wretched Virgil. . . .
I heard an interview by Marc Maron of David Mamet. Mamet was talking about how people say they "like" the poetry in The New Yorker. Mamet argued that because none of these people can remember a line of the poetry they read, how could they truly "like" it? He continued, saying something that struck me: "It's a codependent relationship with those who cannot read (us) with somebody who can't write (the poet)." My immediate reaction was that it is in fact the exact opposite: Poetry is that oldest of forms that allows one to remember what is most important to them at the time they experience it, be it the myth of battling gods, the oddities of one's love life, the details surrounding how the bar of soap in the shower that morning reminded you of first grade, or how this existence is all that we have regardless of whether we find it meaningful or not. Poetry is endlessly flexible, deeply affecting, and can be remembered (and "liked") in any way one wishes because, in the end, the poem is no longer the poet's once it has been read. In this way, music and poetry share many qualities.
Why set poetry to song, especially in something as archaic as a song cycle? I am unsure I can answer that question without asking myself something more basic: Why sing? What is it about the ability to vocalize a sound that is not speech that means something so different from when we say the word? I had a brother who was deaf, and he sang, so I have suspicions that it has something to do with the act, the embodiment and sensation of making a sound from inside your being. And just having a good time. And sometimes having a good time can involve telling a story. And sometimes that story is incomplete, or complicated, or sad, or confusing, or really, really weird.
There are all these words, and the languages they are attached to, and the meanings to the words as single words or collections of words. That alone is a very incomplete, complicated, sad, confusing, weird story. Somehow, words can mean different things when they are read, as they can when they are spoken, so why not so when they are sung? When the voice utters a sound, takes up the word, elided from speech to a tone, linked, sustained, elongated, it undergoes a metamorphosis and the "song" emerges.
I met Diane Seuss in the summer of 2016. I had not read her work before meeting her. Her volume of poetry Four-Legged Girl struck me, since many of the poems recall a life in New York City in the late 1970s, a life I remember as a young child growing up there. Her work offers the best parts of poetry: writing that can be read, or spoken, or sung, that tells a strange story that doesn't make sense while making complete sense, that defies complete intelligibility and tells a really, really wonderfully complicated—and weird—and beautiful—story. I hope I have done the words justice. It wasn't a dream lasts about thirty minutes and is a setting of five poems from Seuss's collection Four-Legged Girl. It was composed for and is dedicated to the Brooklyn Art Song Society and written with much affection and admiration for Diane Seuss.
The poems I set are:
1. It wasn't a dream (first third of the poem)
2. Free beer
3. It wasn't a dream (second third of the poem)
4. I can't stop thinking of that New York skirt, turquoise sequins glued onto sea-colored cotton
5. It wasn't a dream (final third of the poem)
6. Jesus with his cup
EPIGRAM: from We fear the undulant
Three Scented Candles for soprano and piano (2018)
As part of a collaboration between the UC Davis graduate programs in Music and Creative Writing, Scott Hunter showed me his poems scented candles. Reading them was a fantastic hoot! Hunter's impeccably constructed texts were conceived with the intention of being read by an online simulated voice that was purposefully archaic in its delivery – glitchy, devoid of tone or context, flat and relentlessly even in the rendering. While the idea of using an outdated technology to realize one's work might seem like a gimmick, it actually imparts a disarming poignancy, effortless in its delivery, yet also enduring in its impact.
The three poems of Hunter's that are set here mostly operate in an outdoor environment or inside the ethos of late night. Half-awake awareness of the mundane or specific momentary happenings, with moments of jolting revelation brought about by self-soothing pot smoking, are part of the very common experience of late night rambles through a quiet neighborhood when one gets to be alone with themselves, their past, and their dog, as part of a nocturnal ritual where the present slowly melts away as one readies for slumber. Three Scented Candles is 13 minutes in duration, and sets the following texts.
1 - Midnight Rose Meets Angel Of The Morning
2 - Dumpster Dive
3 - Marijuana Dogwalk (Take 3)
Thank you to Scott for being a patient and active collaborator. And thanks to the Davis Humanities Institute's Faculty Research Fellowship for its support with this project.