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Like a Roll of Heavy Waters, a Recurring Circus on The Waves




This piece is an interpretation of John Cage’s __, __ Circus on __, a score he used for Roaratorio, An Irish Circus on Finnegans Wake, a composition based off of James Joyce’s book. The score encourages others to do different versions of this composition with other books and my choice is The Waves by Virginia Woolf. While in Cage’s case, the score has a reading component as well as a recording component; this score has, in the spirit of Woolf, instead of recording, an improvisation component.


The reading component is based off of a script that Cage instructs be made out of citations from the book broken down in mesostics, using, in this case, the title of the book as its vertical skeleton. A quite extensive series of chance operations leads to the re-distribution of punctuation on the script. The page and line numbers corresponding specific phrases in the script become the ruler for the length of the score. The vertical series of page numbers, indicators of the ‘mass’ of language on the page, become the horizontal distance of the score, hence delineating the space for the performers’ movement. The movement itself –as interpenetration of sounds and people in space- is what gives measure to the music.


In this adaptation of __, __ Circus on __ , the composition itself becomes what I call an “expanded score,” which, citing Cage, “turn[s] itself to” The Waves, and “away from music itself.” Yet the expanded score by virtue of becoming spatial, functions like immersive notation, an environment for improvisation that allows the music to turn itself back to The Waves. Thus live the waves, thus live we who exercise will. The composition is for voice, water, wind instruments, and voice.




The Waves expresses a connected stream of consciousness of six characters: Bernard, Jinny, Louis, Neville, Rhoda and Susan. While a stream, the movement still revolves are around a central character, Percival, who acquires meaning by absence. Percival, like a stone in a river, is only brushed on, and slowly shaped. He is talked about, but we never get access to his own stream. A recurring scene is the meeting of the six characters in a restaurant waiting for Percival to arrive. The revolving door keeps spinning, but he never makes it. Later, the readers learn he had passed, and that this desire of them was an impossible desire. Yet the very movement of desiring made him already present.


Percival here will be represented by an additional string instrument or drum. The performer of this role will read only a matrix off of which the entire score is composed and play intermittently from outside of the room. Like when communicating with the dead, this performer will be the outside-inside breaker, not within or outside the frame of the composition but perhaps the frame itself.





Carolyn Hietter: saxophone

Megan Madden: voice, script

Vered Engelhard: waterphone

Daniel Schreiner: piano



















Reading instructions for the standing performers:



The 10 ft score will be hanging in the middle of the room forming a straight line like a river. The speed of reading here will be akin to the speed of walking. Because it is transparent, the movement can occur in both sides, hence, the overall movement is a walking around the score. The performers should start positioning themselves with a certain distance between each other, and start walking and reading from left to right. At any point, a performer can chose to switch directions and read from right to left and vice versa. Running is allowed only once the performer gains a sense of comfort inhabiting the score.


The score has three main variables: lines, patches, and layers.

  • The curved lines signify a relative modulation of pitch (namely, not to scale), when a line goes higher the pitch has to increase, when it goes lower the pitch has to decrease. If the instrument is melodic it can rely more heavily on lines, if less so it should rely more on patches.


  • Patches intersect several lines together, and what they signify is speed. Whenever a patch is reached something about the speed of walking –therefore speed of reading and playing- has to change. One can chose to go slower or faster. If one approaches another player, because of being faster, just walk behind them and continue the desired speed. These changes can be as gradual or blunt as desired. At any point, a performer can


  • Layers are moments of resonance. When approaching a more opaque layer, the performer should concentrate further on the relationship between their own sound and the score. When reaching a more transparent layer, the performer should concentrate on all the other sounds around them –be it other performers, the audience, the outside, etc.- and attempt deeper listening and a sense of resonance.


One of the performers will be reading from the script of the score. Whenever the script presents imperatives, one should attempt to follow them as instructions. (i.e. “our bodies: Immeasurably receptive, holding everything, trembling with fullness, yet clear, contained).



Instructions for the ‘outside’ performer


The hanging score is made out of different prints put together in a collage. This performer will be reading from a smaller score that is the first matrix of these prints, hence some of the instructions are similar.


  • The curved lines signify a relative modulation of pitch (namely, not to scale), when a line goes higher the pitch has to increase, when it goes lower the pitch has to decrease. When following a single line one should get lost in a patch of color before finishing the page.


  • The patches signify a change in texture of playing, which leads to a change in line and, if desired, direction. The new followed line could either continue reading from left to right or switch from right to left.


  • When reaching the edge of the score, the performer should give themselves a moment of silence however long is needed to recalibrate concentration (it could be 5 minutes or 20 seconds, but be generous) to start playing again on a new line. During this time of silence, the performer should try to listen to what is going on inside the room, however difficult this may be.



Instructions for the script reader:


Read the script like verse. Respect the breaks and add breaks. Whenever the performer feels, they can stop reading, as long as they pick it up again. The reader has free movement. It is recommended that they stay in one place when reading, and should switch places many times throughout the performance. Changes of emphasis should occur in relation to the meaning of the text, and is up to the reader’s interpretation.

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