Sunday, August 31, 2008

August 31 PA Arts Sunday - Hurricane Edition -- Part Two -- Variations on a Theme on the Katrina Hexachord

The day the levees broke in New Orleans, George Bush was visiting the San Diego naval base. As he left the event, he was presented with a gift Gibson guitar by country western singer, Mark Wills. Images of Bush playing the guitar spread across the web, as thousands of people drowned.

New Yorker music writer and blogger, Alex Ross dubbed a picture of Bush playing air guitar on the Gibson, the Katrina Hexachord. Confusion ensued, as people failed to realize that there were several images of his antics, and that he wasn't fingering the same "chord" in each of them.

Soon afterward, one composer, an M. Keiser, wrote a piece partially based on one version of the Katrina Hexachord, calling it Trent Lott's Porch. I transcribed Keiser's piece, thinking of using it as basis of a set of variations My transcription appears at left).

But the project never went anywhere, as I thought of dealing with a piece about Bush's Katrina failures. Late in the fall, Jocelyn Clark, from Juneau's Crosssound Festival asked me to write music for the May 2006 performances of the ensemble in Wasilla, Anchorage and Homer. I decided to take up the Katrina Hexachord idea again, as basis of the second movement of a composition, to be called, Two Rivers.

I posted a closeup of Bush playing the guitar near the guitar professor's bulletin board at UAA, asking the guitarists to give feedback on the actual tonal makeup of the chord:
Here is the result of my compositional efforts, and the performance by the 2006 CrossSound Ensemble, in their UAA performance:

(click on the title, click on the green arrow, then click on the back arrow on the larger page, to come back here, while the music plays)

George Bush was photographed playing air guitar in California the day after the levees broke in New Orleans. Later the same day, he gave a big birthday cake to John McCain in Arizona. Then he flew back to his ranch in Texas. Eventually it dawned on him and his handlers that thousands were dying in New Orleans and the Mississippi Delta. So he then flew from photo opportunity to photo opportunity in the devastated areas. Wherever he went, rescue efforts were suspended to accommodate his gigantic bubble.

This theme and variations take a look at his stations of the anti-cross. The theme is based on the hexachord created by Bush’s fingerings when photographed with the Katrina gift guitar: ascending G#-C#-F-A#-D#-A, and that strange chord’s relationship to the six chromatic notes Bush didn’t play.

a. Introduction (timing - 0:00)
b. Theme - Air Guitar (1:08)
c. Variation 1 - Happy Birthday, John (2:27)
d. Variation 2 - The View from Air Force One (4:01)
e. Variation 3 - Heckuva Job, Brownie (5:27)
f. Variation 4 - Trent Lott’s Porch (6:57 & 8:36)
g. Variation 5 - Swaggerin’ with the Firemen (7:34)
h. Variation 6 - Leni’s Wet Dream (9:12)
i. Variation 7 – Little Dirge for NOLA (11:00)


gorjus said...

Phillip, a Mississippian here who saw Alex Ross' link to your post. The song is simultaneously haunting and horrifying and playful and: quite good.

Alex V Cook said...

A Louisianan here, and weirdly, a friend of gorjus right above me. I got here through a message board.

Thanks for this, it is clever and moving commentary to the most calloused hubris in recent memory

Anonymous said...

Really superb and well thought out work. Impressed.

M. Keiser said...

Wow, I really don't know what to say. I love your transcription, its right on! Thanks a ton. I'm really surprised anyone ever even saw my little piece. I liked the variations!

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Nike shox said...

Thanks a ton. I'm really surprised anyone ever even saw my little piece. I liked the variations!