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About this Piece

Composed: 2007
Length: c. 30 minutes
Orchestration: 2 flutes (both = piccolo), 2 piccolos, 2 oboes, English horn, 2 clarinets, bass clarinet, alto saxophone, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, bass trombone, tuba, percussion (cymbals, sizzle cymbals, hi hat, woodblocks, tambourines, thunder sheets, sleighbells, gongs, snare drums, low toms, bass drums, tubular bells, almglocken, glockenspiels), piano, harp, organ, electric bass, and strings
First Los Angeles Philharmonic performances (world premiere)

Though born in Miami, Michael Gordon was raised in an Eastern European community on the outskirts of Managua in Nicaragua, returning to Florida when he was eight. While studying at New York University and Yale, he played in the rock band Peter and the Girlfriends, later forming the Michael Gordon Philharmonic to play his own compositions. In 1987 he co-founded the Bang on a Can Festival with his wife, Julia Wolfe, and David Lang. He has received commissions supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, Meet the Composer, the BBC Proms, the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival, and the Sydney 2000 Olympic Arts Festival, among others.

Filmmaker Bill Morrison (a member of the Ridge Theater company, which has often collaborated with Bang on a Can composers) has worked with Gordon on two previous projects: Decasia (presented in 2006 as part of the Minimalist Jukebox festival) and Gotham. Morrison has also created films for large-scale multimedia performances of the music of John Adams, Gavin Bryars, Bill Frisell, Henryk Gorecki, David Lang, Harry Partch, Steve Reich, and Julia Wolfe.

Gordon has provided the following note:

“Capturing the aura of cities is an ongoing project I have with Bill Morrison. With Dystopia we turn to Los Angeles for inspiration. The goal was to start at high speed and never slow down, like a ride down the freeway at 90 with only a few detours. The question we ask ourselves about the ride is ‘Is it beautiful or is it ugly?’

“I’ve tried to translate this question into musical terms by asking ‘Do I want to hear an orchestra that is neat and well manicured or frenzied and chaotic?’ Musically I explore the gray areas between harmony and dissonance, where pleasure meets pain. I thought about the sound of a phonograph record speeding up and slowing down – that point where you hear the beauty of the music but also its altered state. I have slurred into a great blender disparate sounds taken from a palette that stretches from the Renaissance composer Johannes Ockeghem to contemporary Drum and Bass (a 1990s dance music characterized by very rapid tempos). Don’t be disappointed if you don’t recognize any of these influences.

“Bill Morrison’s visual material is a combination of new footage shot in Los Angeles and archival footage. From the Library of Congress comes the first film ever shot in Los Angeles, ‘South Spring Street, Los Angeles,’ by Thomas Edison in 1898 and featuring horse driven carriages.

“Like in Decasia, Gotham, and our other collaborations, the music was composed first, and then the film was cut to a mock-up of the score. Bill has made his own short-hand organization of the piece that goes like this: A Short History of Traffic (0:00-7:36), Lost Neighborhoods (7:36-11:21), The Freeway (11:21-16:23), Dystopia (16:23-22:13), Outpattern (22:13-29:04).”

Bill Morrison wishes to extend his thanks to the following people and institutions for their invaluable assistance with the video Dystopia:

Academy Film Archives, Anita Bigelow (for Eugene Lourie’s shots of Bunker Hill), Chris Ayzoukian, Matt Coolidge, Downtown Diversion, Fox Movietone Newsfilm Library, Mike Hammer, Adam Hyman, Lynne Kirste, Mel Lawrence (producer for opening/closing scenes), Meghan Martineau, Brian Meacham, Million Dollar Theater, Laurie Olinder, Library of Congress, Jeremy Rosenberg (guide), Valarie Schwan, Chad Smith, Dan Song, Dan Streible, USC Moving Image Archive, Paul Taylor (cinematographer for opening/closing scenes), DJ Waldie, Ren Weschler, and The Yellin Company.

Dystopia is generously underwritten by a group of friends of the late Superior Court Commissioner H. Kirkland Jones as a tribute to his life. On the occasion of this premiere, the Los Angeles Philharmonic would like to recognize Kirkland’s generosity and thank his friends, Zoe and Donald Cosgrove, Dr. Stephen A. Kanter, Alexa and Julius Grollman, Sue Bienkowski and Wang Lee, Marcia and Lou Liuzzi, Dr. Cheryl Lew, MaryAnn Bonino, Michael and Patrick Fitzgerald, and Meg and Jim Easton, for their contributions to this tribute.