We are thrilled with the announcement of Anne LeBaron’s Unearthly Delights double CD release on the Innova label on Friday 13 November
Composers Edition’s Késia Decoté talks with Anne LeBaron about the ideas behind the album, a collection of solo and chamber music compositions carefully put together as a musical memoir.
Késia Decoté: Could you tell us about the idea/concept behind this album?
Anne LeBaron: For the past four years I’ve been recording, editing and mixing these compositions at various studios in Los Angeles, usually in connection with a performance. The project began to take on an identity as it evolved over this period of time. The album title Unearthly Delights came to me in a flash of insight. Not only does it form part of the title of one of the compositions, Julie’s Garden of Unearthly Delights but it also captures the sense of ghosts, devils, phantasms, ancient ruins, chilling vocalisations from primates and frogs, alchemical creations and imposters populating the works on the recording.
KD: There is a range of references to literature (for example, in Fissure and Devil in the Belfry, and Is Money Money), also art (Creación de las Aves), music (like Four), nature and even to Oxford English Dictionary entries (A-Zythum). How is your relationship with such varied sources of inspiration and how do they weave into your compositional process?
ALB: The original album title Ekphrastic Music of Anne LeBaron emerged from the variety of inspirations I encountered when composing each piece. (Ekphrastic refers, in this case, to the act of musical reflection on a painting, a work of literature, or on a specific musical work).
Everything on the recording was commissioned from either an individual, an ensemble or an organisation, with one exception: Poem for Doreen, for solo harp, composed as a birthday gift for my friend Doreen Gehry Nelson. In some cases the commissioner presented me with a specific idea, a musical prompt or a theme that would be spread among other composers who were writing for the same project.
For instance, the Mexican/American pianist Ana Cervantes created a project involving well over a dozen composers who were asked to compose a work for her based on some aspect of the seminal novel Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo. Los Murmullos (the murmurs) came into existence by combining sections of the book referencing the whispers and memories from the past (voiced by the pianist) with piano music. Some years later, another conception came from Ana centred on Mexico itself when she asked a cohort of composers to create a work that would pay homage to an aspect of Mexican artistic or political life. I chose to compose a piece ruminating on a Remedios Varo painting of the same name, Creación de las Aves. This time around I didn’t ask Ana to vocalize as the owl-woman in the painting actually paints birds to life, in silence, via an alchemical process fueled by starlight.
Creatures also play a starring role in Julie’s Garden of Unearthly Delights for two bassoons and electronics. No mandate was conveyed, simply a request from my friend Julie Feves for a piece for two bassoons; I added the animal vocalizations that blend with recorded and live bassoon multiphonics.
Sequitur, an ensemble active in New York about twenty years ago, commissioned several composers for a piece about the subject of money for a thematically-driven concert. Is Money Money was written to pithy Gertrude Stein texts that clearly demonstrate her ambiguity concerning money. She celebrates and denigrates it all at once.
I had a blast writing this piece, whereas A – Zythum, a recent commission, was hugely challenging. Commissioned by the Library Foundation of Los Angeles in celebration of the Oxford English Dictionary, it also came with the requirement to write for a specified group of instruments: voice, viola, guitar and banjo, and percussion. My research into how the OED was first published led me into countless fascinating investigations. At some point I had to put a lid on these detours and make progress, so I elected to take all of the spine words and parts of words from the original publication of the dictionary and fashion a composition our of rather abstract sounds. These were punctuated with real definitions of the letter A; Hobbit; Walrus; and Zythum.
The two oldest compositions on the recording came with no instructions at all, although the instrumentation, violin and piano, was a given. Devil in the Belfry, a McKim commission from the Library of Congress, is a kind of fantasy on an Edgar Allan Poe story of the same name.
KD: Would you tell us about the instrumentation of the works, and your artistic relationship with the performers featured in this CD?
I’m so grateful to have long and fruitful relationships with so many of the musicians on the album. The violinist on Four and Fore, Mark Menzies, taught at CalArts for many years and that’s how we met in 2001 (These two violin solos were commissioned by the Montecito Music Festival in honor of Israeli violinist Ivry Gitlis). Mark also conducts WasteLAnd performing A – Zythum on the album. Mark Menzies now resides in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he continues to teach and perform.
Los Angeles-based pianist Mark Robson is featured on Los Murmullos. He subsequently commissioned a new work from me, Les Confidences du Salon, for a recital he performed on the LA PianoSpheres season.
Nic Gerpe, a young pianist also based in LA, performs Creación de las Aves. He has a duo with violinist Pasha Tseitlin, the Panic Duo, and we all met when they programmed my work for violin and piano, Devil in the Belfry on concerts and recitals in LA and elsewhere. They commissioned a new work to serve as a companion piece, and I elected to return to Poe for further inspiration. In the Fall of the House of Usher, the crack in the house is an ongoing drama, leading to the house’s demise. In the story, Poe identifies the crack as a fissure, hence the name of this newer piece: Fissure, for violin, piano, and electronics.
Jon Stehney, an exquisitely gifted bassoonist, recorded After a Dammit to Hell. He plays in duo with Julie Feves, a colleague at CalArts, and they are the intrepid performers on Julie’s Garden of Unearthly Delights. Alison Bjorkedal, a fearless harpist, interprets Poem for Doreen; on the second CD, I perform the same piece. Alison has played my music for many years and I consider her, along with everyone I’ve mentioned, a good friend and colleague.
The two larger ensemble works on the CD include singers. Is Money Money, one of the larger ensemble works, was performed on a Hear Now festival concert in LA. The group was so outstanding that I knew they should record it forthwith. Somehow, everyone was free the day I acquired a studio, so fortunately this was a smooth and rewarding process. In addition to playing their instruments (clarinet, bass clarinet, viola, cello, contrabass), each player had a call bell to activate with their foot, and some had ratchets as well—replicating the sound of a cash register. The soprano Kirsten Ashley Wiest played the bells and ratchet as well in a virtuoso performance.
A – Zythum requires a soprano and baritone; brilliant performances were given by Stephanie Aston and Andy Dwan. The musicians in WasteLAnd provide additional vocalisations and narrations. After all, words take center stage in a piece about the OED!
KD: We are looking forward to the big release day early next year, isn’t it? What are your expectations for it?
ALB: Innova, the label, is planning a gradual rollout. The release day, with a social media push, is set for 13 November. After that, we’re laying low until early January, when a press push and an Artist of the Week feature on Innova will take place. Of course I have high expectations after working for years on this recording! But we’re living in such unpredictable times and a celebratory event, like a release party, would have to be online. I’m just happy to have it out there, and also grateful for the support and interest of Composers Edition. In fact most of the compositions on the CD are now available on the CE website. Thanks for allowing me to tell you more about all the music on the album!
Anne LeBaron’s Unearthly Delight will be digitally available from the 13 November, and in physical CDs from January 2021!
For a sneak peek into the music of Unearthly Delights, you can access the recent Radio Eclectus broadcast #66, hosted by Michael Schell last month and now archived on Mixcloud, including pieces by Stockhausen, Salonen, Penderecki, Saariaho, Braxton, La Monte Young, and others, along with Anne LeBaron’s Devil in the Belfry (1:45:15 into the programme). An excellent and enchanting show with several rarities (scroll down the site for an annotated playlist of “radical new music”).
Tags: A - Zythum, Andy Dwan, Anne LeBaron, CD release, Charlie Tyler, Chris Stoutenborough, Cory Hills, Creación de las Aves, Devil in the Belfry, Eric Shetzen, Erik Rynearson, Fissure, Fore, Four, Innova Recordings, Is Money Money, Jim Sulivan, Kirsten Ashley Wiest, Mark Menzies, Mark Robson, Nic Gerpe, Nicholas Olof Jacobson-Larson, Pasha Tseitlin