Michael Farley


Innova 723


1.                       No Eyes      11:05

Text by David Meltzer

Richard Stephan, guitar

Timothy Hill, percussion

Michael Farley, sax, voice


2.                       after Motherwell        8:19

2-channel tape


3.                       Camellia    9:12

Barbara Phillips-Farley, piano

2-channel tape


4.       Brown’s Hymn    12:51

Michael Farley, sax, voice


Quicktime Video:

Milton Avery in Kansas                     8:40


No Eyes is an homage to jazz saxophonist, Lester Young, based upon several poems drawn from David Meltzer’s “prolonged meditation on the last year of Lester Young’s life”  -- a wonderful book of the same name.  Browsing through our library, I spotted the title and flashed on Lester’s personal code for expressing likes and dislikes – having “eyes” for a particular sound, or solo, or woman.  I opened the book and read, “minimum to the max jim.”  I knew I had to speak words like that, and to wrap them in something close to Lester’s warm and curvaceous sound.  The great guitarist is Richard Stephan, Professor Emeritus at the Crane School of Music.  The fine percussion is by St. Lawrence University percussionist, Timothy Hill.  Many thanks to James Wildman for his recording expertise and encouragement, and to Glen Grigel for the care and feeding of my Selmer Mark IV.

            after Motherwell.  Friend and composer, Paul Paccione, led me toward a romance with abstract expressionism.  The works of Motherwell, Rothko, and their predecessor, Milton Avery continue to inspire me.

            Beginning in 1965, Robert Motherwell created hundreds of miniatures using ink on rice paper and titled the series The Lyric Suite.  He conceived them as automatic works "in response to the exigencies . . . and the will of the medium."    I read that Robert Motherwell often listened to Alban Berg’s work of the same name as he developed his own Lyric Suite.

            Reproductions of the miniatures that served as “scores” for my work appear below and overleaf.  In creating my miniatures, I tried to represent in sound what I imagined to be the "stroke" of the artist.  I love the Berg, also.  Isn’t it intriguing that I was responding -- third-hand, and as automatically as I could -- to Motherwell's second-hand influence?

            Camellia, was written for, and is performed beautifully by, my wife Barbara (Camille) Phillips-Farley.  While two other jazz greats -- Thelonius Monk and Bill Evans – hovered over my shoulder as I composed Camellia, William Hibbard was on the ground, shepherding me toward a sense of responsibility and good form.  The recording is dedicated to Bill.

            The electronically generated “chord cloud” that hangs over the piano begins as turbulence in the harmonic field.  By the middle of the composition it is locked in, only to drift away as the energy of the composition spins out. 

            Brown’s Hymn explains itself.  The voice you hear delivering the words of the Reverend Frederic Douglas Brown is my close friend, Jim Robinson.  Brown’s Hymn is dedicated to my father, James E. Farley.  My parents were not musicians but they were wonderful dancers.  I was raised in a diaphanous aural web of Duke Ellington and Glen Miller.  By the time I hit grad school in Iowa City, I was a seasoned musician torn between a love for vernacular music and serial methods of construction.  My mentor, Kenneth Gaburo, prodded, antagonized and inspired me.  He helped me understand that I wasn’t faced with an “either/or” situation.  He led me toward a life in multiple worlds. 


            Milton Avery’s influence is less direct in Milton Avery in Kansas.  I simply realized how much I was reminded of his painting as I shot my footage in western Kansas.  Since my first trip across Kansas (1955?) I’ve loved the way wheat looks and sounds as it moves in the wind. 

            Though I’ve worked with slides, this is my first video work.  Only the middle section and the transitions in this composition use the sounds of the video recording.  Even here they are heavily processed and accompanied.  The other, near-wind sounds are electronically generated.  I’m indebted to my university for the grant that made this work possible.  I also want to thank the Kansas Wheat Commission and Kansas Wheat Growers Association for their advice.  Early in the year I wrote to the Commission/Association to get an estimate as to when the wheat crop would be at a very particular stage of growth.  They demonstrated enormous patience and they encouraged me at a point when I needed it.  Their estimate was dead-on.





Michael Farley is co-chair of the Music department at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY.  He wishes he were only a fulltime teacher, composer and ethnomusicologist.  Much of his work explores relationships between place and musical sound.  Skeletons in the closet include his stint as leader, singer, saxophonist and bass player for the band, Patchwork from 1974-80.  Michael may currently be heard playing rhythm and blues with the Radio Bob Band.

            His compositional work includes The Garden: a soundscape for percussionist and tape (1989), based upon principles of Japanese gardening, Taking in the Towers, a multimedia oratorio concerning Watts Towers in Los Angeles, and Crosstalk, a collaboration with rap artist Ohene Cornelius.

            As an ethnomusicologist he explores relationships between the sound of recordings from small labels (1945-55) and place.  His analysis of geographic and demographic influences on the development of the blues was recently published in Routledge’s Encyclopedia of the Blues.

            At St. Lawrence Michael teaches Composition, Music and Society in New Orleans, Composition and a seminar for first-year students called, Finding a Voice: Creativity, Community and Performance.

>Many thanks to Barbara Phillips-Farley, to James Phillips-Farley and to Philip Blackburn who nudged, encouraged and endured the whole process of creation.  Thanks also to David Butler, Grant Currie, Morgan Spangle and Kimberly Tishler.  This work would have never happened without the generosity of Allan P. Newell.  Christopher Watts turned our Newell Center for Arts Technology into a reality.

>Package artwork Guy Berard

>The project was supported in part by a grant from the New York State Music Fund established by the New York State Attorney General at Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

>Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.

            Philip Blackburn, Director, design

            Chris Campbell, Operations Manager


>The melodic flow and text of the musical bed for Brown’s Hymn is drawn from "Lining hymn and prayer" (Rev. Crenshaw and the congregation of New Brown's Chapel, Memphis) found on Rounder Records’ Voices from the American South, Vol. 1: Blues, ballads, hymns, reels, shouts, chanteys and work songs; CD 1701.

>Images from Robert Motherwell’s The Lyric Suite, 1965 (ink on rice paper).   Used by permission of Art © Dedalus Foundation, Inc. /Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY.