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Sibyl (2015)
Duration: 5 1/2’

SMMP No. 123

Premiere: Michael Hall, June 17, 2015, White Recital Hall UMKC, James C. Olson Performing Arts Center, Kansas City, MO

In Greek myth the Sibyl was an oracular figure who had the capacity to invoke the spirit of Apollo in order to deliver his pronouncements. In Virgil’s Aeneid the process of invocation is violent and disturbing, one in which “neither her face nor hue went untransformed.” An analogous account can be found in the writings of the Dalai Lama about his first encounter with the Nechung Oracle, in which the medium, adorned with a headdress weighing in excess of 30 pounds, writhes violently as the spirit enters his body.

I find myself most interested in the moment of transformation that captured Virgil’s imagination so vividly. His description, along with the Dalai Lama’s, as well as, I suppose, the many science fiction films I have seen in which some poor creature ‘morphs’ into another all provide a rich and fascinating point of reference for this image. It is a provocative and contradictory event: the Sibyl is radically transformed and yet she clearly remains in her body, so she is therefore very much herself. What constitutes identity in this scenario?

My piece avoids wrestling with the cosmology of The Aeneid, although some of the moments of maximal disparity from the initial figure could be categorized as being aspirational. The music is concerned with essentially two topics: the contortion of a (barely) established material (i.e. identity) and the rapid juxtaposition of behaviors that represent distinct characters. To some degree, the shattering of the first topic accommodates the second, but these things have a strange way of coexisting.

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