Instrumentation: Mezzo-soprano, Electronics, Percussion, Percussion, Percussion, Percussion
Duration: 15:00
Performers: Amy X Neuburg & the William Winant Percussion Ensemble
Commissioned by the Other Minds Festival
Premiered at the Other Minds Festival in San Francisco on February 28, 2013

Program Notes

Work Around the World is the third Around the World piece that I have written, taking a single word—in this case work—and presenting it in a wide variety of languages. In each piece in this series, I explore the nuance of meaning that the word has across languages and contexts.

For this piece, I chose four different connotations of the word work, which I’ve translated as work, toil, solve, and hone. Not all languages used have exact analogues for these connotations, but in each case I found the best fit by consulting with native speakers.

The mezzo-soprano sings each of these words in 12 different languages. Her voice is also looped and delayed strategically throughout the piece to create counterpart and harmonizations. This ma- terial is juxtaposed against four percussionists playing glockenspiels, xylophones, and non-pitched percussion.

This instrumental setup provided me with an unusual and interesting palette that stretched my materials in new directions. For instance, the mezzo is the lowest pitched instrument in the ensemble and the only sustaining pitched instrument, making any traditional notion of voice + accompaniment impossible. On the other hand, pairing the mezzo with a looping device creates an “ensemble” that contrasts to the four percussionists. As such, we find ourselves with two roughly equal groups of very different sounds. The dialogue between the groups becomes the main focus of the piece as they “work” through the process of developing the material.