The “exploratory and innovative” cantata, Sound from the Bench, will play the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on February 2nd as a part of the lively STIR! Performance Series. Beth Morrison Projects have attracted positive attention from BMInt writers on a couple of past occasions. Laura Stansfield Prichard opined positively [here] in 2015 and Stephen Ledbetter has [this] to say about a Last year’s “Tales of an Adventurous Woman.”
LA-based Ted Hearne sources his Sound from the Bench from Jena Osman’s “Corporate Relations.” The cantata’s five movements will feature a chamber choir, two electric guitars, and drums, as well as language from landmark Supreme Court cases and ventriloquism textbooks. According to the publicist, Hearne has transformed these challenging topics to a moving, eclectic, and hauntingly beautiful performance. Much of it can be sampled [here] in recordings from a live performance.
The new-music focused chamber group The Crossing with Taylor Levine, guitar; James Moore, guitar; and Ron Wiltrout, percussion will be on stage, under conductor Donald Nally, who has served as a conductor and director for many prestigious groups internationally.
Tickets are required, which may be purchased in advance or at the door, and include Museum admission: $27 for adults; $24 for seniors; $17 for members; $12 for students and children 7-17. Children under 7 are not admitted. For information or to purchase tickets in advance, visit www.gardnermuseum.org or call 617-278-5156.
STIR is a contemporary musical experience with a cross-section of artists working together as part of a unique offering in Gardner Museum’s concert series lineup using digital media, various musical genres, and other musical perspectives.
Beth Morrison is heralded as an opera maverick with a reputation for cutting-edge work in opera, musical theater, and multi-media concerts. Her work has achieved global success by producing avant-garde operas and bringing the art form to new audiences in invigorating, unique ways. The Brooklyn-based company’s work has been featured in venues such as BAM, Lincoln Center, the Barbican in London, LA Opera, the Holland Music Festival, the Beijing Music Festival, and many more.
The composer adds:
Sound From the Bench is a cantata for chamber choir, two electric guitars and drums, with a libretto by Jena Osman. It was co-commissioned by Volti and The Crossing.
why these texts?
Sound From the Bench is a reaction to Jena Osman’s incredible book “Corporate Relations,” a collection of poems that follows the historical trajectory of corporate personhood in the United States. The five movements combine language taken from landmark Supreme Court Cases with words from ventriloquism textbooks.
I was instantly drawn to Osman’s work because of its rich intertextuality: she appropriates a variety of texts from diverse sources and assembles them into a powerful bricolage. I strive toward a similar polyphony of oppositional voices and perspectives in my music, and to bring the chaotic forces of life into the work itself. It was this impulse, and the unabashedly political tone of Osman’s poetry, that made me want to set some part of “Corporate Relations” to music.
why electric guitars?
Sound From the Bench is built around the tension between the human voice and electric guitar. The electric guitar can sound like literally anything. Through circuitry, programming, and analog and digital manipulation, the pitches and rhythms a guitarist plays can be utterly transformed, erasing all human touch. It speaks through an amplifier and could easily drown out any voice. These cyborg-esque qualities contrast the human voice, both in its inescapable limitations and the complex differences found in every individual vocal timbre.
what does “no mouth” mean?
No mouth is Osman’s paraphrase of the central reasoning behind the majority in Bellotti v. First National Bank, the 1978 case upon which Citizens United is based: because corporations don’t have a literal mouth, they cannot literally speak, therefore advertising is their only available method of communication and must be considered speech (and is entitled to First Amendment protections as such).
The phrase “the very heart,” also found in the second movement, is excerpted from Justice White’s dissent in this case: “It has long been recognized, however, that the special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process.”
about the third movement
The central movement sets words from the oral argument to Citizens United. My brain started firing when I realized this poem of Jena’s was a literal erasure of the Supreme Court document – every phrase appeared in order, and in a position approximating the horizontal spot it appeared on the page. When I printed out the full 83-page oral argument and blacked out every phrase that Jena hadn’t included, the remaining words jumped out at me and started to take on new meanings and inferences. That strange, new energy helped propel the decontextualized text into music.
The time at which the phrases appear approximate and in some way preserve the place at which they appear in the original document. The music between Osman’s text, that which fills the “blank pages,” sometimes includes a quote from Thomas Tallis’s motet Loquebantur Variis Linguis (the text is: “The Apostles spoke in different tongues – Alleluia.”) Aside from loving this music, I liked the image of our Justices as apostles.
What could this word even mean when it is applied to non-human things? The courts have systematically granted constitutional rights to corporations since the Civil War – we concede that a corporation can “speak” even though it has no mouth – and these rights have come at the expense of both the private citizen and the government.
a corporation is to a person as a person is to a machine //
friends of the court we know them as good and bad,
they too are sheep and goats ventriloquizing the ghostly fiction.
a corporation is to a body as a body is to a puppet //
putting it in caricature, if there are natural persons then there are
those who are not that, buying candidates. there are those who
are strong on the ground and then weak in the air.
weight shifts to the left leg while the propaganda arm extends.
(Jena Osman, from “Corporate Relations”)