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Leviathan (after W.S. Merwin)
in five episodes
for Joseph Hopkins and William Bootz
May - November 1998
The intermedia component includes 8-channel computer music, live FX processing, video projections, lighting, and staging.
Jeffrey Snider, voice; Jeremiah Stones, bass trombone
Jon Truitt, voice; William Bootz, bass trombone
Phillip Collister, voice; Ben Chouinard, bass trombone
Michael Barakat, voice; Karl Johnson, bass trombone
Jeffrey Snider, voice; Chris Gassler, bass trombone
Joseph Hopkins, voice; William Bootz, bass trombone
Jeffrey Snider, voice; William Bootz, bass trombone
Leviathan is based upon the poem of the same name by American poet W.S. Merwin (b. 1927), from the collection titled Green With Beasts (1956). Merwin's poem is an evocative depiction of the mythical beast, the "curling serpent that in ocean is, Sea-fright... the shadow under the earth." The present work explores the psychological implications of the poem through a variety of musical and visual elements - including multi-channel computer music, live processing of the voice and bass trombone, video projections, and lighting. The work is presented in five episodes, throughout which the relationship between the voice and bass trombone is continually changing. The vocalist elaborates upon the salient lines of the poem, representing the conceptual and psychological aspects of leviathan, while the bass trombonist embodies the physical and mythical manifestation of the beast. The computer music consists of three musical layers: a continuously transforming sonic "seascape," suggesting the "wastes gray-green crashing" described by Merwin; the spoken voice, presenting the poem in its entirety (and including additional references to the creature in Biblical mythology, drawn from Job 41, Psalms 104:26, and Isaiah 27:1, in Episode 3); and a variety of processed nautical sounds (crossed with bass trombone and voice samples), creating a sonic link between myth and reality.
Leviathan was supported in part by a faculty research grant from the University of North Texas; computer music was realized at the UNT Center for Experimental Music & Intermedia, with the assistance of Morris Martin, Ed Baird, William Bootz, and Chris Gassler (sound source materials); Steve Willis, audio engineer. The video was created by Jon L. Henry, under the supervision of the composer. The work was first performed by Jeffrey Snider and William Bootz on 9 November 1998 at the University of North Texas Merrill Ellis Intermedia Theater. It is included on the album Improbable Encounters (innova 873, 2014).