Selected Early Works




Selected Works

Janet Dunbar, Composer

Life on Earth (1994)
for performance poet and CD

This piece was premiered at the CCRMA Concert at Campbell Recital, Stanford University, on November 15, 1994 by:

April Eiler, performance poet and co-creatrix

Life on Earth, conceived as a musical backdrop to a dramatic reading by the poet, April Eiler, mirrors the tripartite form of the poem for which it is named. The first section of the poetry/music depicts cooperation in an innocent primitive world; the second, pain, disillusionment and fear in the face of evil; and the third, reaching out in blind faith for something or someone to trust. As suggested by the meaning of the poem, the music is through-composed with activity somewhat circumscribed so as to enhance but not overpower the poetry. In the first section, a canvas of sustained voice-like parts with a generally upward motion underpaints counterbalancing strokes of ostinati based on a descending tetrachord. Koto and shamisen melodies generated by statistical processes on the computer add layers of increasing activity to underpin the dramatic climax of the first section. After the solo recitation of the second section of the poem, an angular interlude for drum, bassoon and tubular bell, influenced by the Afro-Haitian dance Ibo, fades in to support a prominent, metrically loose, folk-like violin melody based on the a harmonic minor scale. In the third section, a rhythmic drone on the shamisen sets up the expectation of new material. Superimposed on this drone are both chordal and arpeggiated ostinati from the F-major pentatonic scale in contrasting registers as well as the final lines of the poem.

Ouroboros-Life on Earth was composed for the multimedia exhibit Visual Cymbals, sponsored by the South Bay Women's Caucus for Art at San Jose State University Art Gallery. Artist Nina Koepke and poet April Eiler collaborated on the sculptural/poetic/musical installation called Ouroboros after that ancient symbol of rebirth. The musical ideas were generated on the Next computer using Stella and Common Lisp Music (CLM), extensions of Common Lisp specifically designed for algorithmic composition and sound synthesis, respectively.