Motorman Sextet is a work for six vocalists.The nine movements of this vocal sextet sets the text of eleven chapters from David Ohle’s classic cult science-fiction novel Motorman. The particular chapters used in Motorman Sextet are all descriptions of past events from the point of view of the central character, Moldenke, which together have an uneasy, nostalgic mood. The music reflects the grotesque, humorous, and uncanny nature of the novel. One way that these aspects are expressed is through the process of ordinary customs and occurrences becoming unnerving by showing them in a new light. I find this process of normalcy becoming strange extremely interesting when applied to music and I hope that this work captures all the strangeness and humor of the novel that it sets. The harmonic world of this piece explores different temperaments and tunings, focusing primarily on a system of just intonation. While the entire work almost always uses the same set of pitches, each movement focuses on a different pitch or group of pitches to anchor the harmony. By reorganizing the hierarchy in the scale, I am able to employ modes that are both distinct and closely connected from movement to movement.
Christopher Trapani End Words (2017)
I’ve always been fascinated by the sestina:
this archaic form, thirty-nine lines
that spin out in an intricate spiral.
Six-line stanzas, with six end words
that repeat in a predetermined shape.
Those patterns were begging for music.
So I started looking for poems to set to music,
and bought an anthology of sestinas.
“The Painter” was an old favorite, and the unusual shape
of Anis Mojgani’s poem—the way he streamlines
crisp, hallucinatory images and tender words—
drew me into a propulsive yet nostalgic spiral . . .
Predictably, things began to spiral
out of control when I started to imagine the music
I’d devise for Ashbery’s words.
“The Painter” turned into a sort of ur-sestina
setting: I started with thirty-six lines
of related natural harmonies, laid out in the shape
of a six-by-six grid. Then I shaped
the harmonic progression as a spiral
traced through that plane, drawing curved lines
that wander though disjointed consonance—music
laid out so that adjacent stanzas of the sestina
share a repeated harmony over repeated end words.
Line numbers are embedded in the words
as durations. Another grid shapes
the map of shifting tempi—so the sestina
has influenced all the piece’s parameters. The spiral’s
hypnotic rigor invades all aspects of the music.
With the singers, I prerecorded many lines,
syllables, and effects, for the electronics—lines
to chop up and retune, and sometimes single words—
to create collages of vocal sounds. The music
for “They raised violins” started to take shape
with “bones,” “string,” “petals”—each node in the spiral
set to a unique texture. And Ciara Shuttleworth’s “Sestina”
was the perfect compact shape: just six one-syllable words whose meanings shift as the spiral unravels, lines
that fray as the sestina thins to stark, still music.