Bertha's Lair (2016)
for contrabass flute and drums
Newark-born multi-instrumentalist and composer Tyshawn Sorey has performed nationally and internationally with his own ensembles, as well as with such artists as John Zorn, Vijay Iyer, Roscoe Mitchell, Muhal Richard Abrams, Wadada Leo Smith, Marilyn Crispell, Steve Lehman, Evan Parker, and Myra Melford, among many others. He also collaborates regularly with the International Contemporary Ensemble as a percussionist and resident composer. Sorey has taught and lectured on composition and improvisation at Columbia University, The New School, The Banff Centre, and Wesleyan University, where he will begin teaching in Fall 2017 as assistant professor in composition and creative improvised musics.
Bertha's Lair (2016)
A colorful instrument of myriad possibilities and beauty, the flute is an instrument that has been central to much of the work that I produced during recent years. It has been a tremendous honor for me to have collaborated with some of the most brilliantly virtuosic practitioners on that instrument, from Margaret Lancaster, Alice Teyssier, and Malik Mezzadri to Laura Cocks, Nicole Mitchell, and Claire Chase – all individuals who continue to stretch beyond the limits of that instrument in their own, personal way. I am indebted to all of these masters for their inspiration and courage to further my writing for the flute.
Which brings us to Bertha’s Lair, an explosive tour-de-force written exclusively for Chase and myself (on drum set or unpitched percussion) that further exemplifies my penchant in exploring the improvisation-composition continuum, as evidenced in my Trio for Harold Budd (2012) and Ornations (2014). One of the rarer members of the woodwind family, the instrument lovingly known as Bertha (after whom this work is named) is anything but simply a contrabass flute; ostensibly there exists a seemingly vast amount of readily available sonic possibilities to explore. However, I also found it necessary to create a work for this instrument that is full of high, raucous energy – to write music that is counterintuitive to using certain “effects” that are more customary for the instrument (that is, to avoid as much as possible the use of long, quiet, mysterious sounds, whistle tones, etc.) – and focus more on shape, line, color, texture, ritual and most of all, the physicality of live performance on this particular instrument. This avoidance principle is strictly adhered to until the very last system of the composition.
This work is dedicated to the late Pauline Oliveros (1932-2016), who was the first to compose a piece for Bertha to be performed by Chase, and who named the instrument at first hearing.