They Wash Their Ambassadors in Citrus and Fennel

for mezzo-soprano and stereo tape

They Wash Their Ambassadors in Citrus and Fennel (1994) is based on a poem by Robert Gregory and is dedicated to Joan La Barbara, who commissioned the work. The composition's incorporation of a variety of extended vocal techniques is inspired by La Barbara's use of the voice. Its formal structure is greatly influenced by both the larger design and internal form of Gregory's poem. This poem is of special interest to me because of its many internal cross-references. These recurring referential structures are similar to musical ideas that I have explored in recent works. The computer-generated tape was created in Sweden's national Electronic Music Studios (EMS) where I was in residence as a Guggenheim Fellow in the fall of 1994. Much of the material on the tape is derived from Joan La Barbara's voice. I am indebted to her for providing me with rich source material . I thank Robert Gregory for allowing me to set his poem. I am also grateful to the Guggenheim Foundation and EMS for providing me with the necessary resources to realize this composition.

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They Wash Their Ambassadors in Citrus and Fennel

by Robert Gregory

you who reject the shadow
it's nothing but noise in here sometimes:
shouts, alarms, singing
it can alter the depth of the shining they say
of the luminous membrane in which the mind is wrapped

la curandera she told me: go close to the only hot shadow
that's how to cure a longing from a long time back
as long as human time can be, which suffers no diminishing
nor doubts which form to take and takes form as dust
to gather on the skin there where the two become one, like a
tree that bears large silent flowers

when I was small I would get myself outside somehow
(it's difficult to be inside sometimes)
I would walk a long way just to be silent and to be in motion

here where inside and outside are nearly the same
you can walk only at night; otherwise you'll burn yourself,
you'll let death into your skin
and at night there are voices to help you
the people who sit outside on balconies
on chairs saved from the trash
will talk about you in a language you don't understand yet
telling stories about your famous journeys
and your secret sorrows; and everywhere
cats keep an eye on reality so that it will continue;
and in the torn interiors
of uninhabitable structures they gather to look at each other

how can this feeling be broken?
maybe no one really knows
they say it's a road or just what it is, that's all
or say: the broken heart, the burning child
the life that slowly tightens

therefore what's loose as a shadow in a high wind
what's beautiful with three secret flaws
let cunning drop away
come curve against me

reprinted by permission of Bluestem Press and Robert Gregory
Gregory, Robert. Boy Picked Up By The Wind. Emporia, Kansas: Bluestem Press, 1992.