Underground Overlays from the Cistern Chapel
for conch, conch trio and ten trombones
variously for ten trombones, solo conch shell, didgeridu, and conch trio
This is where you have been forever and will always be forever.
--Stuart Dempster, speaking about what it feels like to be in the cistern where time seems to stop.
Every so often I have arranged one of the trombone master classes to take place in the cistern at Fort Worden, Port Townsend, the infamous two million gallon 186 foot diameter water tank about 70 miles northwest of Seattle. The most recent time, on 18 June 1994, consisted of nine current and former students, ten trombones in all including me. This excursion turned into a recording session that served the purpose of making this CD as well as providing sources for the Meet the Composer commission through their Composer/Choreographer project for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
Arriving at the cistern about 10:00 am -- Al Swanson and I had been there since 8:30 -- I explained what would happen. The reverberation time of 45 seconds is so great that it is nearly impossible to communicate unless you are grouped together; however, if everyone is close to and facing the wall it is possible to whisper and be heard anywhere on the full circumference. The looks of amazement on the students, or anyone, as they climb down the ladder and hear their first sounds is worth the whole exercise!
While spinning very slowly I face each of the other trombonists in turn. The trombonists are spread around the circumference of the cistern approximately 80 feet away from each other. When I face them straight on they are to hear what I play and continue playing that item until I face them again with either the same or, more likely, new information. If I face down they are to stop what they are doing; if I face up they are to ignore what I play and continue playing the previous information. This latter allows for solo passages. Because of the extraordinarily long reverberation the pacing needs to move extremely slowly in order to not have too much activity at once. The result is a series of multiple sound overlays underground, which is described accurately by the title Underground Overlays.
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New Albion Records, Inc.