The Muses of Bedlam

Complete Work Title: 

The Muses of Bedlam — a cadavre exquis in three parts

Performance Medium: 

solo contrabass


in three movements



Date Composed: 

May - August 1991

Performance Information: 
  • The work incorporates theatrical elements and a variety of extended performance techniques (including whistling and singing by the performer).
  • The set-up requires a small tray with a number of props, including a police whistle, wooden dowel, child's cow toy (which produces a "moo" sound when inverted) and miscellaneous items of the performer's choosing.

Additional Information: 

Created in collaboration with composers Michael Hartt and John Mickel.

Performance/Broadcast History: 
  • 9 March 1996; University of North Texas (Denton, TX)

    Kevin Brown, contrabass

  • 24 February 1992; Butler University (Indianapolis, IN)
  • 23 February 1992; Indiana University (Bloomington, IN) [premiere]

    Michael Hartt, contrabass

Program Notes: 

The idea for the work The Muses of Bedlam came from bassist/composer Michael Hartt, who challenged his colleagues John Mickel and Joseph Klein to participate in the joint composition of a three-movement work for solo contrabass. The tenet was simple: each of the three composers would begin a movement, compose three measures, then send the fragment along to the next composer, who would in turn add three measures and send it to the third composer, etc. (It should be noted that in the final copy of the work, several of the original measures have been divided into smaller units to facilitate the work's performance.) This process was allowed to continue until all three composers had deemed the work finished (in this case, after completing four cycles over a period of approximately five months). The result of such a process is called acadavre exquis ("exquisite corpse"), a term coined by the dada and surrealist artists who first applied this technique to poetry and drawing. In the present work, the first movement was begun by Mickel, the second by Klein, and the third by Hartt. Though each composer's personality manifests itself throughout each movement, the resulting work is surprisingly organic, perhaps because of the dialectic nature of the materials themselves.

The Muses of Bedlam was first performed by Michael Hartt at Indiana University on 23 February 1992.