I can now offer the recording of my Snake Dance No. 3 as performed at the Bang on a Can marathon at Mass MOCA on this past Aug. 1. The intrepid performers are David Cossin, Kaylie Melville, Colin Malloy, Wade Selkirk, percussion; Vicky Chow, Karl Larson, keyboards; and Cody Tacaks, bass. It’s a weird piece, the only time I’ve combined the wild percussion rhythms of my Snake Dances with microtonally-tuned synthesizers, in a 19-tone completely irregular scale. I limited the number of pitches so that the fretless bass player wouldn’t have to learn too crazy a scale, given the crazy, tuplet-filled rhythms involved. It is indeed a weird piece. Right after the performance one of the presenters (who might not want to be quoted by name) came up to me and said, approvingly, “That’s a really weird piece.” And several people present mentioned that it stood out on the festival as being different, and that people either loved it or hated it. Glenn Branca and Rhys Chatham not being represented, it was neat to be, for once, the wild, loud piece on Bang on a Can, since I am perfectly capable of writing the kind of tonal, pretty pieces that were otherwise prevalent. It was a really attractive festival.
The word weird grates on me a little bit, since in the signatures in my 1973 yearbook for Skyline High School in Dallas, the word weird is remarkably prominent in almost every entry. I seem to have been the weirdest guy anyone in my high school had ever met. (I was playing atonal piano music by Wolpe and Rochberg in a Texas high school in the early ’70. Some kids concluded, upon hearing me play, that I was completely incompetent.) But even by my exalted standards, this is a weird piece, the farthest out on a ledge my music has ever ventured. The 2010 world premiere by the Sam Houston University Percussion Ensemble was impeccably well played, but technically problematic, since all the synthesizers (including the fretless bass part I myself played on keyboard) were run through a single speaker, and didn’t blend with the percussion at all. I revised the piece for this performance, and I think it’s much tighter, and there will never be a better performance. But I have to admit, it’s a weird piece – perhaps the weirdest piece from an apparently pretty weird composer.