This work was first conceived and ‘designed’ in the spring of 1963 while I was in Paris finishing the work on Times Five for the Service de la Recherche of the French Radio. At that time, the Paris Percussion Quartet commissioned me to compose a work for the group. Those who are familiar with my work are aware that the original impulse and influence that led me to create ‘open form’ works (which, in 1952, I called ‘mobile’ compositions) came from observing and reflecting upon the mobiles of Alexander Calder. I later met Calder at his home in Connecticut (in 1953) and he therefore knew of my work and my indebtedness to his concept and work. In Paris I began the work for the quartet with the idea that it would be ‘conducted’ by a mobile in the center of the space with the four percussionists placed equidistantly around it, the varying configurations of the elements of the mobile being ‘read’ by the performers and the evolving open form of each performance different and changing perspectives in relation to it. Calder was immediately intrigued and excited by the idea. The final scoring for the piece had to wait for the mobile to be finished because various aspects of the score and performance were directly based on the number of elements and their physical placement in the structure of the mobile. It was not until 1966 that everything came together, and the work was finished. Calder named the mobile Chef d’orchestre. Calder Piece was first performed at the Théâtre de l’Atelier in Paris, early in 1967. In addition to the mobile functioning as a conductor, the musicians actually use it as an instrument. One is not conditioned to tolerate the striking of a work of art and the sounds of breath-holding could be heard in the audience when the musicians first approached and played the mobile. One of Calder’s slightly disappointed comments after that first performance was, “I thought that you were going to hit it much harder—with hammers.” The piece is one of a kind, and the music must never be independent of that particular mobile. It is my very deeply felt homage to “one of a kind” Sandy Calder and to his life and work.
I thought that you were going to hit it much harder—with hammers. — Alexander Calder
Earle Brown Times Five (1963)
I first composed material for an eleven-piece orchestra, recorded it and used it as a ‘reservoir’ from which to combine, transform, and form the sound material, manipulating it in the studio as a sculptor molds and forms clay. Much of the material in the first and third sections I improvised myself, on piano, celeste, harp, C.bass, vibraphone, marimba, etc. (One of the virtues of tape pieces is that the composer himself can be in direct and personal contact with the sounds he wants, rather than having to send obscure graphic messages to instrumentalists.) I have used many of the small, ‘noisy’ sounds that are nearly impossible to get by scoring them but have also drawn them graphically in the ‘live’ score in order to try to provoke a delicate and spontaneous cross talk between live and taped elements.