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: rental | view perusal score
detailed orchestration: amplified soprano and mezzo-soprano, 1(=pic).1.1(bcl).asx(=ssx).bsx.1 – 220.127.116.11 – dmkit – elec pf – 18.104.22.168.1(=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.
My 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 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.
“Progressive rock,” a particularly British subgenre of rock music which had its heyday in the late 60s and early 70s, is notorious for mixing distinct elements of classical music into its rock and roll DNA. Among the most obvious examples are heard in the output of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, whose works occasionally featured direct quotes from composers such as Bela Bartók, Aaron Copland, and Alberto Ginastera. In a sort of reversal of this idea, the music of Steven Wilson—a contemporary progressive rock musician whose music frequently features virtuosic solos, gnarly instrumental breakdowns, and shifting time signatures—is quoted in the Black Pool, primarily in the faster sections featuring solo winds over an alternating 7/8+8/8 drum and bass groove. Although the section has been orchestrated for traditional instruments and had several of its fundamental features changed, it nonetheless retains its relationship to the original, and is my way of paying homage to a specific contemporary artist outside of the mainstream classical world who has had a profound influence on both my creative direction and my career at large.
While the story at the heart of The Black Pool could be taken simply at face value, it also suggests a metaphor for confronting one's own fears and anxieties in all of their uniquely human manifestations. It seems that the negative impulses we may encounter from within 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 that light, the Black Pool is an allegory about self-transformation, and the immediate fear and discomfort that often comes as a consequence of directly engaging in the work that is frequently necessary to better ourselves and our lives.