The Black Pool
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for soprano, mezzo-soprano, and chamber orchestra
first performance: 2 June 2017; EMPAC, Rensselaer, NY; The Dogs of Desire; David Alan Miller, cond.
availability: currently unavailable
detailed orchestration: amplified soprano and mezzo-soprano, 1(=pic).1.1(bcl).asx(=ssx).bsx.1 – 188.8.131.52 – dmkit – elec pf – 184.108.40.206.1(=ebgtr)
Inspired in equal parts by J.S. Bach, Pink Floyd, and contemporary progressive rock luminary Steven Wilson, The Black Pool is a "prog rock cantata" that tells the story of a girl who discovers her doppelgänger lurking beneath the surface of a mysterious reflecting pool. After pondering her discovery, the "mirror of her shadows" lurking in the pool's murky depths pulls her in and drowns her. Amidst the tumult and turmoil, however, she comes to embrace her fate, and through her acceptance, is ultimately "reborn" into a new and different life.
The initial point of inspiration for the piece came from the "Et in Unum Dominum" section of the B Minor Mass by J.S. Bach, which features 2 sopranos singing in semi-hocketing, imitative counterpoint with one another. The idea of constructing a story about a girl and her mirror image was born as a direct consequence of this musical model. Another section of the piece seems to channel Pink Floyd, specifically the song "Welcome to the Machine" from the 1975 album Wish You Were Here, and all of its ominous, dystopian implications. Finally, the music of Steven Wilson — a contemporary progressive rock musician whose music frequently features virtuosic solos, gnarly instrumental breakdowns, and shifting time signatures — looms throughout, but most prominently in the faster sections that feature solo winds.
While the story at the heart of The Black Pool could be taken simply at face value, it also seems to suggest a metaphor for confronting one's own fears, anxieties, and self-sabotaging tendencies in all of their uniquely human manifestations. It seems that the negative impulses we may encounter from within ourselves are most often the things that keep us from reaching our potential — for happiness, stability, love, fulfillment — among the many other things we might wish to achieve for ourselves in our lives.