Blackbird Fly is based on a poem of the same name by E.J. Graff. I first encountered this poem as a graduate student at New England Conservatory in
. Blackbird Fly is etched into the platform (along with several other poems) at the
"T" (subway) stop, and I stood on that platform nearly every day for two years reading this poem and planning to create a setting of it. Ten years later, here it is. The basic materials for the piece come from a recording of the poem which then undergoes extensive computer processing including granular synthesis and linear predictive coding using the Csound synthesis language and Matt Ingalls’ score generator. The components of the piece were then mixed using Digital Performer. Formally, the work begins with a "reading" of the three line poem which is followed by "variations" on each of the lines and concludes with a second "reading" that reflects the material developed in the variations.
Blackbird Fly is first and foremost the setting of a poem. When considering the multi-channel environment I conceived of a central voice emanating from the front of the room as the primary “reader” of the text in the first section of the work. In this section, the rear channels serve both as a location for the text to “enter” from and “exit” to and as a source for disembodied echoes. As the piece progresses and the statement of the text becomes less straightforward, all four speakers become legitimate locations for text placementthis new role is signaled by the circling of the repeated “t”s at the beginning of the second section. In addition to the virtual “circle” formed by the four speakers, I use reverb, particularly on the material in the front speakers to simulate an increasing sense of distance (again, this is most clearly heard on the repeated “t”s at the beginning of section 2). The four channel format was also suggested by the pitch material used in the work which is divided into tetrachordsthe four channels then become a way to spatialize those chords.
As I leave the spit-gray factory,
crowds of black birds drift
up into the cumulus
like released balloons.
I hold the wings of my fingertips
in my coat pocket.