Nathan Davis: On The Nature of Thingness (2011)

  • Performance Date: 2011
  • Season: 2010-11
  • Composer Name: Nathan Davis
  • Composer Dates: b. 1973
  • Composer URL:
  • Premiere Region: World Premiere
  • Precise Instrumentation: flute, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, horn, violin, cello, piano, guitar, and soprano
  • Duration: 21'

The texts for this piece each offer a perspective on the object and the creative process, guiding the nature of the sounds and setting.
Study of the Object is a poem by Zbigniew Herbert, set here in the onomatopoeic Polish original. A post-modern still-life, the poem describes all that the object is not, commands its removal, and describes the sanctity of the vacuum thereby created. The music follows and illustrates the structure of the text, the object created by Herbert.
DADA is a setting of two texts by Hugo Ball: the sound-poem Gadji beri bimba and his Dada Manifesto. The Manifesto begins as a call to let words be themselves instead of the associations piled upon them, and then itself dissolves into sound poetry. It is set here for singer as narrator with a chorus of jaw harps, manipulating phonemes of the voice without words at all.
An outside with an inside in it is meditation of doing, that grows from the conscious acts of making and hearing sounds. The text, "I made some things with things.... An outside with an inside in it", is from the short story At Daybreak by Italo Calvino. The simplicity and wonder of these lines have become for me a koan for this activity.
On the Nature of Thingness was written for the International Contemporary Ensemble as part of the ICElab program.

Composer's Notes

On speaking a hundred names (2010) is inspired by the singularly multifarious sound of the bassoon, and its ability to deconstruct and elucidate its own overtone structure. There are many fingerings for most notes, each offering a different color. And producing a single note requires taming its natural predilection for playing a dense collection of pitches. In exploring the instrument and writing the piece, I was reminded of the practice common to many religions of giving many names to a single deity. Generally descriptions of attributes - and sometimes contradictory - these lists strive to represent aspects of an entity too complex to be defined. Reciting names is a meditative practice in some traditions, and this piece is a meditation of sorts, with the angularity of a mind at times struggling with the process. It was written for the extraordinary Rebekah Heller (who nails the highest note ever written for bassoon about two thirds of the way through the piece) and was commissioned by Cathey Falvo as part of the ICElab program.