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Instrumentation: open instrumentation plus voice and electronics
Duration: 40 minutes
Text: Nick Flynn
World Premiere: May 6, 2022, The Old Stone House, Brooklyn NY
Guy Barash, electronics; Nick Flynn, spoken word; Frank London, trumpet; Eyal Maoz, guitar; Kathleen Supové, piano
Poetry has been an evergreen source of inspiration for me, especially when written by living poets who explore the issues of the hour. In 2008, one of the first things I did upon arrival in New York, fresh off the boat, was to look up local poetry to set to music. Within less than a week, I came across the poem Imagination by Nick Flynn. It was in a collection of poems addressing the American presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most of them were quite literal and infused with angst, but this one was different and really caught my attention. It was surprisingly subtle, like a riddle, and its rhythm was music to my ears.
I dug up Nick’s email address, and after a quick exchange, he agreed to meet up for coffee. We had a stimulating conversation and quickly found common language. This meeting marked the beginning of a fourteen-year long collaboration that birthed many works, most of which were quite large-scale, in terms of both ensemble size and duration. A few years later, Nick asked me if maybe I could make something more “compact,” something we can “take on the road.” This was the beginning of Killdeer – a duet, just Nick and me, and this new format – spoken word & electronics – felt right; much more relevant to our world today: spoken, DIY, easy to pack up and move.
Over the years, Nick and I invited other musicians to join us: ones who feel comfortable in the space where free improv meets carefully composed form, and acoustic virtuoso playing is seamlessly interwoven with an electroacoustic framework. To leave room for interpretation and improvisation, I used the poems themselves as the score. I highlighted certain phrases and used graphics and numbers to mark where to enter or which musical material to use. In Spring 2022, I put together an all-star team of artists from various corners of my musical life – Nick Flynn, Kathleen Supové on piano, Frank London on trumpet, and Eyal Maoz on guitar – each bringing unique palette and sensibility. One rehearsal, one performance, and one recordings session later, Killdeer received its final form.
Killdeer, the bird (Charadrius vociferous), pretends to have a broken wing to lure predators away from its nest. Killdeer, the musical work, explores themes such as fatherhood and intergenerational trauma. Nick and I began working together only a few months after the birth of his daughter. In his poems, he often explores the idea that trauma is “passed on through the blood.” Now, fourteen years after our first meeting at a Brooklyn café, I’ve become a new father. Having a father who has been struggling with addiction for as long as I can remember, I ask myself, “What kind of father will I be to my daughter?” “What did my father pass on to me?” “Will I pass it on to her?” In Killdeer, we hold these questions before our eyes, trying to figure out how to raise our children in a world on fire.