Duration: ca. 8'30"
Instrumentation: baritone voice, flute (doubling alto flute, piccolo, and small cup gong), B-flat clarinet (doubling B-flat bass clarinet and medium cup gong), violin (doubling small cup gong), violoncello (doubling medium cup gong), percussion (large cup gong, medium tambourine [head not needed], tenor drum or deep snare drum [with snares], field drum [no snares needed], double-headed drum set bass drum with pedal, small triangle, B-flat Tingshas [Tibetan finger cymbals]). Note on Cup Gongs and Tingshas: a complete set of tuned cup gongs and Tingshas is available and may be rented with the score and parts. Please see the Purchase/Rental page for more details.
Written for the American Modern Ensemble
World Premiere: American Modern Ensemble, May 17 and 18, Tenri Cultural Institute, NYC, 2008.
Eating Variations is based on a series of witty poems with the same title by Ron Singer. The work as a whole is essentially a satire on food faddism and depicts different aspects of eating. The way I chose to set these poems is light-hearted, perhaps lighter in spirit than Singer originally intended, but with a serious, dark side.
The first movement, My Body, a Temple, incorporates the sounds of Tibetan Singing Bowls (also called Temple Bowls or Cup Gongs) and is loosely, harmonically inspired by Khöömei, or Tuvan Throat Singing and David Hykes’s Harmonic Choir recordings; both of whom use a style in which the singer produces overtones on top of the fundamental notes. Perhaps mercifully, I do not require the baritone to use this technique, but instead, use the flute to produce false overtones in a couple of spots.
In the second movement, The Hog, the instruments mimic pig sounds with scratchy, grunting noises from the violin and cello and clarinet multiphonics. A round-sounding whole-tone scale is used and there is a Polka-like accompaniment in the percussion.
The third movement, Even the Dyspeptic Must Eat, uses upward and downward runs in the bass clarinet to impart a roller coaster-like sense of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, a condition in which there is recurrent return of stomach contents back up the esophagus. This is reinforced with a slow, background groove in the drums.
The cello part in the fourth movement, The Dietary Moralist, is inspired by Dave Eggar, a cellist who can play his instrument like a guitar and sing at the same time. In this movement, I ask the cellist to play in a somewhat folksy style and sing out of tune back-up vocals—to me, reminiscent of a 1960s musical Hippie Sit-in. The main vocalist is backed by the well meaning but out of tune "band." To paraphrase an intersting email exchange with Singer, we agreed that in this context, the vocalist might represent a contemporary version of a certain species of 60's hippie—say, a particularly zealous fair trade coffee purveyor, and that this Malvolio type is singing along with a group of kindred spirits. This movement is not a literal portrayal of the text, which is quite serious in tone, and stretches the meaning more than the other movements. Perhaps my interpretation may instead be viewed more as commentary on the text.
In each passing decade, people are sure of their eating habits, and the carefree, assured, commercial America of the 1950s was no different. In the last movement, The Happy Medium, I envision a father-like doctor figure squarely explaining to a patient how to eat. The perky background music is meant to evoke a 1950s TV commercial, or perhaps a short, black and white educational grade school film.
– Robert Paterson