Texts for Composition

1980 45 minutes
free—found objects
Text Michael Harlow
 Christchurch, New Zealand
 Wädenswil Switzerland
 Zurich, Switzerland

Sketch showing scafolding and lighting for found instruments
Sketch showing scafolding and lighting for found instruments

Michael Harlow: Introduction to the 1984 edition of “Texts for Composition”

These Texts for Composition owe their initial impulse to Karlheinz Stockhausen's Aus den sieben Tagen composed in May 1968 as well as his Für kommende Zeiten, 17 Texte für intuitive Musik, Werk Nr. 33.
I am indebted for some of the material extracted from Flexibility Exercises by T. G. Cutler, from his Speech Studio, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Kit and Michael preparing for a performance of "Texts for Composition"
Kit and Michael preparing for a performance of "Texts for Composition"

Texts for Composition can be enjoyed as a work in its own right, but it can also be used as the framework and inspiration for a new work. Michael Harlow showed how this was possible during the writing of the work itself when he responded to his own first set of texts and to my graphic scores to produce the second set of texts. The deliberate ambiguity of texts and scores means that there is no limit to the number of new works Texts for Composition can inspire. In documenting the 1983 Christchurch version my aim is rather to remember what we did and to offer a possible realisation, than to give the impression of a definitive version. It is, of course, just one example of the many millions of possibilities.

The 1983 Christchurch version of Texts for Composition We set out to make a piece using found objects, tapes and movement—and the Texts themselves. These last were both seen and heard. Slides of texts and graphic scores were projected—white on black—for each section of the piece. This became a visual effect as well as a projection of the pages of a book, because the image was thrown across the acting space and danced on the backs of the players and on the sides of their instruments. The texts were also the impetus and material for spoken improvisations, which follow one or two of the “straight” readings on the tape.

Layout of stage: The stage diagram—see below—is shown on each left-hand page of the score. We worked in a square area which was dominated by two large scaffolding constructions: the gong stand and the tree stand. The two stands were joined by a 10m long bar, which was about 2.5m above ground level. Because we were using found instruments, some of which made tiny sounds, we needed microphones. M1 (microphone 1) lay on the ground near the stone mat and M2 (microphone 2) was on a stand in the corner opposite. C.M. was the output from several contact microphones which were planted in our trees. The trees were built under the direction of Ian Whalley, developing and enlarging an ideal of mine called a dowel-box. Dowels of different lengths are glued into a resonating box and are plucked or beaten or bowed, or they are fitted with rubber bands which are plucked or strummed. These trees were about 2 m high and hung from scaffolding. The output from each contact microphone went to a repeater (small microphone mixer) whose output went to another mixer which combined the signals of M1, M2, C.M. and the tape recorder.

Also mounted on the scaffolding were about 8 spot lights which were able to light the three general areas: centre stage, gong stand and tree stand.

The pattern for all ten Days is the same.

Here, as an example, is Day 1:

  • The first text (“Wake early . . . “) was inspiration for …
  • the graphic and …
  • the second text (“Play what you hear . . .") a reaction to the graphic.

Day 1

Wake, early on your birth-day breath in, breath out, like (two) boatmen rowing (Lax

Michael Harlow

: Play what you hear, forward then, backward : let the phrase move in & out : let light and dark be as a mirror :

DAY 1 (movement text): Rise slowly to standing position during text. Movement becomes more and more agitated. Shape of flower is completely open. Freeze on word “mirror”. The group turns slowly to leave flower formation and heads in slow motion towards gongs. Electronic and improvised voice sounds on tape. One big stroke on gongs from everybody, as tape finishes. Freeze. E drums on tiny drum. Duartion: ca. 3 minutes.
Day 1 Stage Diagram
Day 1 Stage Diagram