Discourse—Program Note

Discourse, is a setting of a portion of Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth, an early Christian Gnostic text that was found at Nag Hammadi in 1945, and was translated and printed in The Nag Hammadi Library. As Elaine Pagels describes in her book, The Gnostic Gospels, the text “discloses an ‘order of tradition’ that guides the ascent to higher knowledge.” It is written in the form of a dialogue between teacher and student in which the teacher agrees to “‘bring [the student’s] mind into the eighth and afterwards...into the ninth’” level of spritual awareness in which the student will “go beyond vicarious knowledge” and have “firsthand experience of divine knowledge.” This text is part of a set of early Christian writings that were declared heretical by the church for reasons that Pagels explores in her excellent book.

In the portion of the text that I have set, the teacher prays, “‘Lord...acknowlege the spirit that is in us,’” and then “enters into an ecstatic state.” My setting is designed to elucidate and heighten the effect of this spiritual state. The tape part consists of principally  vocal sounds that are synthesized or processed in a variety of ways in order to stretch this familiar sound into an otherworldly guise. The overall sonority of the ensemble too is designed to heighten the sense of the process of spiritual discovery that the text describes—the low, earthy bass clarinet and alto flute, the slightly exotic flavor of the guitar altered with electronic processing, the persistent vibrations of the all-metal percussion section, and the ecstatic urgency of the soprano. This piece is written for, and dedicated to, the members of the AUROS Group for New Music, with whom I began my own process of discovery.

This piece was realized with the Csound synthesis language using a wide variety of of methods including linear predictive coding, fof synthesis, fm synthesis, and additive synthesis.