2(II=picc).2(II=corA).2(I=Eb, II=bcl).bcl.1.dbn-2.2.1.btbn.1-timp.perc(3):BD/tam-t/3nipple gongs (E4, F3, D2)/7tuned pipes(E5, D5, B4, G4, E4, C4, A3/vib/buk/glsp/4graduated brake dr./gentorag/lg wooden plank/lg Chinese cyms/med washtub)-pft-strings
When Lou Harrison died in Indiana, I was living in Michigan. We were both far from our homes on the coasts; his west, mine east. Though we had never met, his death marked the first time I had mourned the passing of someone as an elder within the community of composers. That we had been so close geographically when he died—a mere four-hour drive—felt like a missed chance, a feeling that quickly intensified into regret. This feeling resurfaced when, not long after, I first heard his Threnody for Carlos Chavez. So moving and full of humanity, that piece changed me, and remains among the works most dear to me.
Harrison’s influence found its way into my own compositions, but to my surprise the process was gradual. By the time I heard his Threnody, I had moved beyond the feverish copying of styles I had experienced as a very young composer. I just listened, over many years, and tried to understand the music from the inside out. In a way, through this process, Lou Harrison taught me how to listen.
In writing The Conjured Life, I took a similar approach: I listened. Though the third movement certainly owes a debt to Harrison’s music for gamelan, I generally tried not to emulate his work. I dug into my own experiences with his music, and tried to express the very personal nature of his influence on me. When mining this influence, however, it was not just Harrison that emerged, but other composers, poets, and thinkers as well: unexpected influences that not only inform my work, but also form the foundation of my creative life.
The title The Conjured Life is borrowed (with permission) from art curator Lynne Warren. She had originally used it for her exhibit on the lineage of surrealism created for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Though it seems unlikely that anyone would call Lou Harrison a surrealist, the title nonetheless seemed fitting. Harrison courageously followed his own path in an era of cultural homogeneity and conformity. He made a life for himself; seemingly conjured as if from nothing. Composers do something similar when we write music, mining and channeling our deepest thoughts, desires, and influences, to make something hopefully new, and hopefully great; seemingly conjured as if from nothing.
But nothing comes from nothing. And while The Conjured Life is on the one hand a tribute—offered to Lou Harrison on the occasion of his centenary—it could also be viewed as an essay about the deep and personal nature of influence itself. However one views it, it is for Lou. I hope he would have liked it, and am grateful to the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music for offering me the opportunity to thank him at last.
—David T. Little
"…it turned out to be an overwhelming emotional journey. The second movement became a relentlessly pounding depiction of doom… until Harrison’s gentle Asian-flavoured gamelan language suddenly washed all of the anger and hostility of the real world away."
Classical Voice America
"Little’s score gave the impression of a bold conjurer indeed, with its pounding sounds and tempos suggesting an emphatic purpose. In the midst of the conjuring came Asian melodies and flavours that would make Harrison smile."
Santa Cruz Sentinel