"Voyelles" (Vowels), for MC (rapper), other speaking voices, 2 sopranos, and orchestra, was composed between 1998 and 2006. The sonnet on which it was based, Arthur Rimbaud’s "Voyelles," associates each vowel with a color, then with images. Some are raunchy: A is a hairy corset bursting with flies buzzing around stinky holes; I is spit-up blood and drunkenness. But raunch alternates with purity. E is misty mountains, white kings, flower clusters; U, peaceful pastures, scholars with lofty brows. The last vowel, O, is the climax: supreme trumpet, silences crossed by worlds and angels, omega. The raunchiness inspired me to do a hiphop treatment of the sonnet, with the MC rhyming in (black) American English while other speakers and singers deliver the French text. Here is the poem in the original French and in translation:
A noir, E blanc, I rouge, U vert, O bleu : voyelles,
Je dirai quelque jour vos naissances latentes :
A, noir corset velu des mouches éclatantes,
Qui bombinent autour des puanteurs cruelles,
Golfes d’ombre; E, candeurs des vapeurs et des tentes,
Lances des glaciers fiers, rois blancs, frissons d’ombelles;
I, pourpres, sang craché, rire des lèvres belles
Dans la cholère ou les ivresses pénitentes;
U, cycles, vibrements divins des mers virides,
Paix des pâtis semés d’animaux, paix des rides
Que l’alchimie imprime aux grands fronts studieux;
O, suprême Clairon plein des strideurs étranges,
Silences traversés des mondes et des Anges :
--O l’Oméga, rayon violet de Ses Yeux!
A black, E white, I red, O blue: vowels,
I’ll tell one day your hidden births:
A, black corset hairy with bursting flies
That buzz around cruel stinks,
Gulfs of darkness; E, snowy mists and tents,
Spears of proud glaciers, white kings, flutters of flower clusters;
I, deep reds, spit-up blood, laughter of beautiful lips
In anger or penitent drunkenness;
U, cycles, divine vibrations of greening seas,
Peace of pastures sown with animals, peace of the wrinkles
That alchemy stamps on high, studious foreheads;
O, supreme Trumpet full of strange discords,
Silences crossed by Worlds and by Angels:
--O, Omega, violet ray of Those Eyes!
A black, E white, I red, U green, O blue. I’m ‘bout to break the vowels down into their ultimate origins. A, black corset; contract, wrestle fat in it and force it or torch it. Blinkety-blinky, have your eyes chinky like an onion stinky. You think a pinch of perfume cover every inch of your stench? Well, pardon my French. Cheesily walking with flies buzzing, bzzzzzzz, must, funk and shit that’s why they follow the bitch below her clit where she swallow the dicks. Her pussy’s hollow with some bottomless pit.
E, whiteness, the lightness, meiosis of light coloration placed in your iris. Brisk mists kissed proud glaciers’ tips, tents pitched wherever breathing in the air is crisp. A breeze in muster brush the flower’s petals as they freeze in clusters. He who observe such kings go busters.
I, inhalation, choke, purple asphyxia and then, spit from the luscious lips of a lady. Excuses her bloody mucus, giggles before she smooches, tongue-in. Danger: this ain’t your everyday type of anger. Rage: gin in my gut I stormed?? out and collapsed the stage—raving. Lit up a dutch layin’ back and livin’ it up—lavish. Lap up a lot of liquor ‘til my liver give up.
U, and you, too. Centrifugal source of a cyclical force, shooting, eluding layers of earth like prayers/craters?? Exuding, divine wine vibrational vine oozing, cleaning, planet spirit you see in the seas, greening. Morphing the solar orphan in the colors of endorphins, guiding sightings of peace; stop the fighting, cease! From pain and badlands to plains and grasslands disdain that trashcan—worlds out of nothing.
O, resounding ray of sound, astounding tonic, pounding trumpet triangulating my waiting, now I’m meditating. Hundreds oscillating increase vibrating. Everyone’s levitating. Cosmic chorus of horns screaming off-key. Opposition too opportunistically open to omnipresence. Dimensions infinite data-creator oscillator omega opening opera ovulates obelisk origin omni. Oddities made into commodities for the holidays; Oprah. O-o-o omega, omega. Omnipotent ,violet, optical ray: om. Hypnotized by the violet light of my eyes, she cries, splendor. Be definitely free or die, fly, surrender. Hypnotized by the violet light of my eyes, arise, enter. Be definitely free or die, arise, center. She cries, splendor.
"Toccata" for cello, piano and percussion (1991-2003) was written for cellist Jason McComb, who plays on this recording. A tick-tock piece with a cartoon music edge, it won both first prize and chamber music award at The Delius Composition Contest in Jacksonville, Florida, 1995.
"Suite" for oboe, cello, piano, and percussion (1994-2001) was premiered in 1995 at a noontime concert at Star Classics, a San Francisco record store sinced closed. The work's 5 movements chart the path of a love affair from bliss to hyperexcitement, catastrophe, despair, and finally acceptance. "Sea of T," the title of the first movement, refers to the Sea of Traquillity located on the moon.
"Prayer," for voice and piano (1995), is one of a set of songs, "Some Women’s Voices," on texts by Donna Levreault, poet and photographer. The poem addresses God in a tone so casual, even flippant at times, that fundamentalists might find the words blasphemous.
PRAYER by Donna Levreault
Lord, give us the dark notes, the ones we hungered for when we listened to nursery rhymes.
Lord, thank you for the honey which we steal from the bees, so that we may be as sweetly industrious as they are.
Lord, give us words that we can spell so that we never feel the brutal whip of mistakes.
Lord, give us the car keys so we can take off whenever we want to into the unknown.
Lord, give us tiny, lest we be overwhelmed by your peacock mountains, your blazing skies.
Lord, give us a street looking over nothing that will remain forever without a view.
Lord, give us the calm, smooth days, the dizzy, blighted night.
Lord, give us the olive, the pimiento, the maraschino cherry.
Lord, give us an empty suitcase where we can lock away our cries of protest; we don’t want to bother you.
Lord, give us nothing, because with it we can do anything.
"Waltz" for piano, flute and bass (1991-2002) was premiered at the SF Conservatory of Music. An ABA form with a lounge-y feel, the piece sounds like jazz but is completely notated. The middle section is a distended 12-bar blues.
"Concertino" for violin, 2 women’s voices, piano, bass and drums (1985-2002), is, like "Waltz," a crossover piece, and features Jay Lyon playing both piano and violin. It attempts to fill the classical concerto mold with the swing and scat styles of the mid 20th-century. Composition and recording tooi 17 years; it was a challenge to match takes done over such a long period at various studios, using both analog and digital technology. The piece was partially funded by an NEA grant in composition in 1993.
MUSICIANS ON THIS CD:
Sylvie Braitman, mezzo-soprano
Antoine Garth, French speaker
Julien Basch, French speaker
Leslie Chin, flute
Zach Limaker, french horn
Scott MacComber, trumpet
Don Benham, trombone
Tommy Kessecker, drums
Randy Keith, electric bass
Brian Lee, Jay Lyon, violin
Seth Mausner, viola
Terri Adams, cello
Richard Worn, acoustic bass
David Bell, Nino Moschella,, Sean Mason, engineers
Jason McComb cello
Scott Fry, xylophone
Melvina Chew, John Weeks, percussion
Jay Lyon, piano
Gary Mankin, engineer
Deborah Shidler, oboe
Ayaka Isono, piano
Walter Haman, cello
Tommy Kessecker, percussion
Geoffrey Gallegos, conductor
David Bell, Nino Moschella, Benjamin Grant DePau(?), engineers
Joyce Pricco, soprano
Jay Lyon, piano
Nino Moschella, engineer
Linda Holland, flute
Andy Butler, bass
Jay Lyon, piano
Gary Mankin, Nino Moschella, engineer
Jay Lyon, violin and piano
Cecily Gardner, soprano (I and II)
Mark Drury, bass
Mark Brandt, drums
Gary Mankin, Nino Moschella, engineer
STUDIOS: Bellboy, Sevynlayerzdeep, Dave Wellhausen, Conscious Sound, Starlight Sound.
Jay Lyon is a composer, violinist and pianist living in San Francisco. He won the SF Conservatory’s Jim Highsmith Award for orchestral composition in1992, an NEA grant in jazz composition in 1993, the first prize and chamber music award of the Delius Contest in 1994, and a Subito Grant from the American Composer’s Forum in 2005. His "Concerto Grosso" was premiered by Kent Nagano conducting the Berkeley Symphony, his "Violin Concerto", "Trois Chansons Francaises", and "Cantata on texts by Gerard Manley Hopkins" by the SF Concerto Orchestra on the Old First Concert series. He has led premieres of his 4 church cantatas at Unity Christ Church in San Francisco, where he is music director. In 2006 his "Meditation and Dirge" for harp and cello was performed at the American Harp Society National Conference, held in San Francisco. In 2007 a version of "Voyelles" was performed on the BluePrint contemporary music series of the S.F. Conservatory of Music.
1. VOYELLES 4’47
2. TOCCATA for cello, piano and percussion 6’20
SUITE for oboe, cello, piano and percussion
3. SEA OF T 1’35
4. BOP 5’00
5. ARIA 7’19
6. BOP 2’21
7. FINAL 6’12
8. PRAYER 3’10
9. WALTZ 7’15
10. CONCERTINO 8’09