Control Freak (2015)
Singer plus septet of oboe, clarinet, piano, violin, viola, cello, & contrabass. Commissioned by the Spoleto Festival USA.
Control Freak consists of four movements in which a singer is accompanied by an instrumental septet, both of whom spontaneously invent their own treatment of the given materials. The singer chooses texts from a collection of sonnets by American flarf poet K. Silem Mohammad. Mohammad’s hilarious, often absurd sonnets—which he calls sonnagrams—are anagrams of Shakespeare sonnets. The singer’s treatment may be plain or histrionic, sober or outlandish. It may involve traditional technique or the most esoteric modes of vocal production. Meanwhile, the septet responds to improvised hand signals given by the conductor, ones that call upon an extensive reservoir of sounds, from conventional (almost ironic) musical motives, to glitch, Foley artist noises. The players are also equipped with custom wristwatches which govern various whispered vocal sounds. These also serve as a more causal link to the singer: at any time the conductor can interrupt the singer’s behavior with an instruction to perform the wristwatch whispers; but, conversely, the singer can interrupt the septet with the same directive.
Every performance results in a different sonic outcome, the consequence of a deliberately ludic, indeterminate, ensemble ritual. Control Freak (and its successor, Control Freak 2—a version for singer and octet of oboe, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, percussion, piano, violin, and cello commissioned by the Baryshnikov Arts Center in New York for a December, 2015 premiere) requires a very special kind of virtuoso musician, one who is playful and imaginative, capable at once of the utmost discipline and whimsy.
Experimental | Why Experimental?
This performance is from the premiere at Spoleto USA in May, 2015. There were three performances and, by bad luck, only the weakest was filmed. However, it is a good performance nonetheless, and more than adequate in conveying the sense of the work.