Manual System - (2010)
medium voice and piano
has a thingamajig clamped on her ears
And sits all day taking plugs out and sticking plugs in.
Flashes and flashes--voices and voices
calling for ears to put words in
Faces at the ends of wires asking for other faces
at the ends of other wires:
All day taking plugs out and sticking plugs in,
Mary has a thingamajig clamped on her ears.
pages, circa 1' 45" ]
the collection, Smoke and Steel (1920), this free verse tells of the
assembly line worker, ear protection and repetitive work. As I mulled over
the text, I thought how universal this general theme is, for we all
repetition and the small risks which necessitate caution in our daily lives,
albeit of different sorts. This is as true for the sportsman as for the
computer operator, the musician practicing scales as for the speech maker
saying the same things over and over. Without such cooperative repetition
there is no product for others, no profit for ourselves and no life really,
for trying to imagine a life without the simple repetition of things is
"assembly line" gesture is this setting is a wind up, from its piano
opening to its polytonal, fortissimo whack at measure four. It is an
insistence on E minor against F minor with a chromatic linking between.
After this a moment of seeming relaxation sets in the dominant-to-tonic
opens the vocal line. Before the vocal line finishes its first statement,
the "wind up" to a next whack takes up again without alteration. The form
therefore is an alternating a-b-a-b'-a-b''-a-b'''-a, the assembly line
having the last "word," as repetition in life is unavoidable and continues,
even beyond our own life and reality.
The score for
Manual Systems is available as a free PDF download, though any major
commercial performance or recording of the work is prohibited without prior
arrangement with the composer. Click on the graphic below for this