Alabama Places is a set of twelve duets for piano andmicrotonal keyboard, the fruit of an introspective four-year journey. As thetitle implies, each work is somehow connected to a place – some withstrong personal ties, others recently discovered yet no less inspiring. If thechoice of represented place is serendipitous, the microtonal structure is completelypreconceived. The pieces serve as studies in the tradition of BachÕsWell-Tempered Clavier, but in overtone-based harmony rather than key relationships.The keyboard is detuned by an interval between 4 and 48 cents, in 4-centincrements, for each of the twelve pieces. Thus, the entire set explores twelvedifferent 24-note scales made up of two asymmetrical 12-note equal-temperedscales. Available pitches at a given moment correspond to overtonerelationships from fundamental frequencies that also shift in 4-centincrements.
Monroe Golden is a composer from rural Alabama whose worksoften explore microtonal systems. Critics have called his music "delightfullydisorienting" and "lovely, sumptuous, yet arcane." Golden hasactively encouraged and promoted the innovative arts in his community, where hehas presided over several arts organizations and directed festivals andperformance series. He graduated from the University of Montevallo and earned adoctorate in Music Composition from the University of Illinois. His first CD, AStill Subtler Spirit, is published by Living Artist Recordings.
Ellen Tweiten was pianist for the Alabama Symphony Orchestrafor 17 years. She holds BM and MM degrees in Piano from the University ofMichigan, where she studied with Charles Fisher. At Peabody, she didpost-graduate work with Leon Fleisher. She has appeared throughout the USA as adistinguished recitalist, including premiere performances of new works. Tweitenis active as a teacher of piano at Birmingham-Southern College, and has alsotaught in the music schools of Concordia College and the University of Texas.She is an award winning trainer and jump-rider of thoroughbred horses.
Kurt Carpenter is a freelance composer, conductor, pianist,painter, and writer. He has received commissions from and performed as asoloist with numerous American symphony orchestras. He was co-founder anddirector of the Twice Festival. Carpenter was a recipient of the KoussevitskyPrize, and was also awarded a major grant to create his cantata, Michigum, forthe State of Michigan's Sesquicentennial. In 2005, in Paris, on the prestigious Les Arts George V concert seriesat the American Cathedral, Carpenter played a solo piano recital comprised ofeight works by Alabama composers.
Linda Frost is a writer, editor, English professor, nativeOhioian, and wife to a former Pell City resident, writer and editor RussellHelms. The Pell City Poems, the cycle from which the pieces that appear in thistrack have been taken, investigate the complex ways in which a town comes tomean guilt, fear, joy, and love. Pell City is a place we all live, the place ofour imagined histories and our daily lives. It is also near the place whereMonroe Golden routinely makes pesto out of a native yarrow that closelyresembles Queen Anne's lace.
Iron Road is a trail at Tannehill Ironworks State Park.During the 1800s, it was the road leading from the facility to the stagecoachroad to the railroad at Montevallo. While hiking there, I wondered what thesounds of 19th century industry might be like for the people traveling on thepath. An imaginary landscape of alternating strokes, realized with piano andkeyboard (plucked string patch), formed the basis of the composition. The pitchof the keyboard is lowered by 28 cents.
North Shelby, written for Ellen Tweiten and Kurt Carpenterin honor of their warmly cantankerous relationship, was also influenced by thedrive from the south side of Birmingham to their rural home in northern Shelby County.Along U.S. 280 is an ever-growing buffer between city and country: hyper-developedsuburban sprawl with surprising remnants of natural beauty. The synthesizeruses a piano patch and is detuned by 40 cents.
The Natchez Trace Parkway follows an ancient footpath thatlinked the lower Mississippi
River to what is now central Tennessee. Approximately 30miles of the parkway lies in northwestern Alabama, and the ten sections of thecomposition loosely corresponding to landmarks (Tennessee River, Buzzard RoostSprings, Bear Creek, etc) on this brief and lovely segment. The keyboardemploys a piano patch and is detuned by 8 cents.
2365 Cahaba Road was the address of the original UnitarianChurch of Birmingham, which sponsored such progressive activities as civilrights mobilization, arts education, and the adventurous Artburst concertseries. By 2003, the congregation had outgrown the building, so the land wassold and the quirky A-frame structure demolished. I wrote this duet followingthe announcement of that decision, with a mixed sense of loss, inevitability, andcelebration. The synthesizer uses a harpsichord patch and is detuned by 16cents.
Pell City is a small town about thirty miles due east ofBirmingham, along I-20 and the most dangerous stretch of roadway in the state.The five musical pieces that form In Pell City are in collaboration with and responseto Linda FrostÕs The Pell City Poems. Having grown up just beyond the police jurisdiction,the outsiderÕs point-of-view in FrostÕs poems reminded me that the closestplaces can sometimes be the least familiar. The set may be performed with orwithout poetry. The synthesizer employs three different timbres (in ABCBAform), and is detuned by 20 cents throughout.
The Mobile-Tensaw Delta is unusual for an estuary: its formis elongated, rather than the typical fanning out on approach to the sea. Itbegins with the confluence of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, encompasses theMobile and Tensaw rivers, and creeps to the Gulf of Mexico. I composed Tensawfollowing a canoe trip there. Like the river, it is meant to be slow-moving, lyrical,effortless, and buzzy. The synthesizer is set to a reed organ patch and detunedby 36 cents.
A crescent-shaped area in the middle lower portion ofAlabama is called the Black Belt, originally because of its fertile black soil.I wrote Demopolis during travels there, primarily in the town of same name,which was founded by refugee Bonapartists along a limestone-banked bend in the TombigbeeRiver. The Black Belt region trails the rest of the state in jobs, education,health care, and housing. However, it reminded me of the rural Alabama I knew30 years ago – a mix of guileless warmth and debilitating inertia. Thesynthesizer uses a piano patch and is detuned by 48 cents.
Montevallo is a ostensibly quiet town in central Alabamasurrounding a vibrant liberal arts university, much like the ABA sections ofthe namesake composition. I had my first experience with electronic music andthe Moog synthesizer while a University of Montevallo student in the early 80s,hence the sawtooth-like timbre of the keyboard and fleeting prog-rockreferences. The pitch of the keyboard is lowered by 12 cents.
The composition Coosa Basin (acoustic bass patch, detuned by44 cents) follows the path of the Coosa River, from Weiss Lake on theAlabama/Georgia border to the confluence with the Tallapoosa River at FortToulouse near Wetumpka. Change in texture corresponds to change in compass direction, and cadencescorrespond to hydroelectric dams. The impetus for this work was a recentreading of Rivers of History: Life on the Coosa, Tallapoosa, Cahaba, andAlabama by Harvey H. Jackson.
My first visit to the rural town of Piedmont was as a youngteenager, on a mission with my family to save an uncle from drinking himself todeath in a flophouse. Adult perspective is considerably more attractive, withDugger and Cheaha Mountains nearby, and Chief Ladiga Trail (AlabamaÕs firstrails-to-trails project) running through the town. The composition (keyboardset to piano and accordion patches and detuned by 24 cents) is inspired by boththe town and the general idea of plateau at the foot of a mountain range.
Scarham Creek is located on Sand Mountain, a region in northAlabama known for mountain music and snake-handling. At two one-lane bridges ona hairpin curve, next to an abandoned red gristmill, Scarham receives thewaters from just-merged Shoal and Whippoorwill Creeks, flows fast over bouldersto Short Creek, which runs off the mountain into Lake Guntersville. My mothergrew up here, and her family operated the mill for a time. On childhood visits,I thought it the wildest place on earth. The keyboard
uses a reed organ patch and is detuned by 32 cents.
Section 16 (Township 17, Range 3 East) is the legaldescription of sixteen 40-acre blocks in southern St. Clair County thatencompass much of the community where I grew up, and where I presently live.This is the final piece composed for the Alabama Places project. The work is ineleven divisions corresponding loosely to the other eleven duets, and isintended to serve as an anchor for the full set of works. The keyboard is tunedflat by only 4 cents for this piece.
Recorded between July and September of 2006 at theUniversity of Montevallo, Davis Music Building, LeBaron Recital Hall.
Recorded, edited, and mastered by Tucker Robison of RobisonProductions.
Produced by Monroe Golden.
Art Direction and Design by Penny Arnold of Golden PennyStudio.
Cover and tray photos from the Golden family collection.
Thanks to the University of Montevallo Music Department, theAlabama State Council on the Arts, and the Alabama Music Teachers Associationfor their support at different stages of the project.
Innova Director: Philip Blackburn
Operations Manager: Chris Campbell
Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnightFoundation.