Susan Fancher, Soprano Sax
Instrumentation: Amplified soprano sax & electronic playback
Commission: Susan Fancher
Weatherspoon Museum, Shake it Up Festival, Greensboro, NC
Penelope’s Song is a tribute to Penelope, Queen of Ithaca and wife of Odysseus. It was inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, which tells of the travails of Odysseus, of his ten years at war in Troy, and then, due to the sea-god Poseidon’s wrath, for another ten. Scant attention is paid to Penelope, left waiting all that time, with many greedy suitors attempting to woo her to become king. To stave them off she devised excuses and said she would take no suitor until she finished weaving a shroud for her husband’s aged father, Laertes. But, since she unraveled at night what she wove by day, she made no progress. This piece sings of her life.
I created the electronics from recordings I made of Charlottesville weaver Jan Russell working on her wooden looms. I processed and shaped these, weaving a new sonic fabric, and treated the acoustic and digital elements as warp and weft of a new tapestry. There are three sections: the first focuses on the weaving, with colorful interlocking of threads; the second imagines Penelope in a reflective mode, while the third is a tearing apart, ending with a ripping of the musical fabric. The original version was scored for amplified viola and electronics. This one, for soprano sax and electronics, was commissioned and premiered by Susan Fancher, who recorded it on her CD In 2 Worlds on Innova. Additional recordings are available for flute (Lindsey Goodman), clarinet (Andrea Cheeseman), and violin (Hasse Borup).
Kathy Aoki and Marco Marquez created a video available to accompany performance. They used a combination of digital painting, 3-d modeling/animation, and digital video. They responded to the first section by building up cloth/threads, with a feeling of weight and danger. They interpreted the second as a night scene, where Penelope reflects on her situation and surreptitiously unravels her weaving. The last section refers back the first, but with a climatic bursting of the threads. For more information, visit www.judithshatin.com. –JS
Judith Shatin’s Penelope’s Song is a compelling piece of musique concrète using the sound and rhythm of a weaver’s loom to tell the story of Odysseus through his wife’s view.