Notes by
Ken Ueno

Commissioned by
Andrew Kozar.

For deconstructed
trumpet and hookah
trumpet with ossia

“The ultimate answer to the question ‘Why read?’ is that only deep, constant reading fully establishes and augments an autonomous self. Until you become yourself, what benefit can you be to others?”

–Harold Bloom

My life has been shaped by literature. I love reading challenging novels by modernist masters. As a composer, I find especially engaging moments when great authors wax poetically about time. In William Faulkner’s virtuosic hands, stream of consciousness, prose that mimics the internal thoughts of characters, flows and crests not only evocations of memory and sensations of the present in variously considered ways, but the physical writing, the sentence structure, parses time in stunningly differentiated ways. The words are sculptural on the page, and closely align in a tactile way, to the semantic content of the words. The first two chapters of Sound and the Fury contrasts two different expressions of time. In the first chapter, written from the point of view of the mentally handicapped character, Benjy Compson, time is flattened. All moments from the past are accessible in any order as the present and presented in a way that challenges traditional narrative structure. In effect, all moments in memory become the present. (In my piece, a digital recording of the whole piece is reshuffled and presented as textural background in the first movement as a musical analog to Benjy’s sense of time, where a precursor or premonition presented as a kind of jumbled memory can also serve as development.) The transition into the second chapter, where time is more linearly narrative, written from the point of view of another character, Quentin Compson, is handled through a meditation on a family heirloom, a watch.

“…and then I was in time again, hearing the watch. It was Grandfather’s and when Father gave it to me he said I give you the mausoleum of all hope and desire; it’s rather excruciating-ly apt that you will use it to gain the reducto absurdum of all human experience which can fit your individual needs no better than it fitted his or his father’s. I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.”

In this piece, the first, short, movement is played on a part of the trumpet that is not normally played separately from the rest of the instrument: the first valve slide. In fact, it is a first valve slide from a Bb trumpet (a deconstruction of a trumpet), whereas the rest of the piece is played on a C trumpet, “hacked” with a 7-ft tube inserted into the first valve. The timbral distortion effected by these ostensible preparations and the microtonal focus of the piece are ways in which I am imagining a kind of primitivist music of the future. Or, put another way, music which at once can be evocative of some faint memory of a folk music of an esoteric tribe of the ancient past as much as an experimental music of a virtuosic music cult in an unspecific distance into the future. The electronics in the second movement fill-out the microtonal (mostly in just-intonation) harmony and support the microtonal notes on the trumpet (including notes on the “hacked” tube insertion). In writing this piece, I owe much gratitude to Andy Kozar (the commissioner and the artist who premiered it) and his virtuosity, dedication, and friendship. Thank you, Andy!


© 2020 KEN UENO



© 2020 KEN UENO