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David T. Little’s newest release on New Amsterdam features the world premiere recording of AGENCY for string quartet and electronics, which The New York Times calls “forthright, visceral, bloody, with the intimacy and polish of a classical chamber ensemble but bulging with the loud, reverberant sweatiness of rock.” Performed by “contemporary music dynamos” (NPR) American Contemporary Music Ensemble—with special guests, the Grammy-winning Third Coast Percussion, Andrew McKenna Lee (The Knells), and Julian Day—AGENCY is a journey into the nature of truth, rooted in the tension between ancient faith-based cultures and modern information-based societies. Using the language and tactics of espionage, AGENCY is riddled with secret messages, ciphers, and redactions. A companion to 2014’s Haunt of Last Nightfall, AGENCY illuminates our need to find truth, while suggesting that the truth might be unknowable, delivering a powerful message for a troubled time.
released October 11, 2019
Composer: David T. Little
American Contemporary Music Ensemble
Clarice Jensen, ACME Artistic Director & cello
Ben Russell, violin
Laura Lutzke, violin
Isabel Hagen, viola
Third Coast Percussion (Track 4)
Andrew McKenna Lee, guitar, bass
Julian Day, voice
David T. Little, programming
ACT I: γένεσις
(1) I. Uluru Rising
a. Yulara / In the Dreamtime
b. Cipher 1: Coordinates I
c. Cipher 2: Negative Cartography
(2) II: Auscannzukus Rising
b. Cipher 3: Coordinates II
c. Cipher 4: Complicitous Lists
d. Cipher 5: No Way In
(3) III: A Quiet Song of Secret Lessons (Cipher 6 [Log 324])
ACT II: ἀποκάλυψις
(4) IV: Leviathan Rising and The All-Seeing Eye
a. Introduction / Early Warnings
b. Cipher 7.1: Fact/Fiction (Beneath)
c. Cipher 8.1: Ben, Then (Above)
d. Cipher 7.2: Fact/Fiction (Beneath)
e. Cipher 8.2: Ben, Then (Above)
f. Cipher 8.3: (O)GOD(O)GOD(O)GOD (Orwell I)
g. Cipher 9: Coordinates III
h. Yulara / In the Dreamtime (Orwell II)
The Roots of Disquiet
Are we free agents in this world, controlling and deciding our own paths, or are we unknowingly influenced and manipulated by powerful external forces? Is the truth about this ever really knowable?
AGENCY poses these questions and examines their meaning through contrasts. It investigates the ideological rift between the Aboriginal holy site Uluru in central Australia, and Pine Gap, a massive American spy center of top-secret function, which sits just five hours to the north; the tension between ancient faith-based indigenous cultures and modern information-based societies made manifest.
Both Uluru and Pine Gap are cloaked in mystery. AGENCY is likewise riddled with secrets: ciphers and redactions in the musical score encrypt texts, map coordinates, and philosophical quotations. The result illuminates our need to find truth, but suggests that the truth might be unknowable. We may find only conjecture or faith.
AGENCY takes a more detached approach than its explicitly violent companion, Haunt of Last Nightfall (NWAM054). The violence of Haunt is chaotic and direct: it mines the history of the 1981 massacre at El Mozote, El Salvador for evidence of American complicity. The violence of AGENCY is a nefarious secret.
The questions asked by this pair of pieces once seemed speculative. However, as immigration from Central America takes center stage in the national debate, a work like Haunt suggests a U.S.-American cause to its dramatic 40-year rise. Similarly, a work about the impossibility of knowing the truth may have seemed odd in 2013, when AGENCY was written. But in the wake of “fake news,” the rise of deep fakes, and Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US election, it acquires political salience.
Together, AGENCY and Haunt of Last Nightfall present a portrait of the disquiet pervading contemporary American culture, exposing damaged roots. It is my hope these works may begin conversations within the arts world that branch beyond it.
David T. Little
Produced by David T. Little
Recorded by Ryan Streber, Oktaven Audio, assisted by Charles Mueller
Edited by Ryan Streber and Edwin Huet
Mix, additional recording and editing by Andrew McKenna Lee at Still Sound Audio
Third Coast Percussion recorded by David Skidmore
Mastered by Joe Lambert
Album art by DM Stith
Published by Hendon Music, Inc., a Boosey & Hawkes Company
AGENCY was commissioned for the Kronos Quartet by the University Musical Society of the University of Michigan and the David Harrington Research and Development Fund.
Special thanks to: Eileen Mack, Andrew McKenna Lee, Jeffrey Edelstein, David Harrington, Kronos Quartet, Janet Cowperthwaite, Melissa Smey, Michael Stepniak, Kyle Tieman-Strauss, Carol Ann Cheung, Steven Lankenau, Sarah Baird Knight, Clarice Jensen, Christina Jensen, David Skidmore, Julian Day, and Steven Swartz.
The composer is indebted to the following individuals, who offered guidance and research materials related to the cultural history of Uluru and its traditional owners, the Aṉangu people.
Grace Koch, Native Title Research and Access Officer, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Cressida Fforde, Deputy Director, National Centre for Indigenous Studies, The Australian National University
Aaron Corn, Director, Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music; Director, National Centre for Aboriginal Language and Music Studies, The University of Adelaide
The composer would like to acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and recognize their continuing connection to land, waters and community, paying respects to them and their cultures; and to Elders both past, present, and emerging.
Julian Assange sample comes from the Julian Assange Conference Call, from American Gothic, slightly edited and processed, and used under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.
Very complex neo-classical music. This has lots of layers to it, and sounds at times discordant, but I like it more with each listen. This band requires some patience, but I think you get rewarded for that patience. Found in Ed Buckley's collection. Roy Meerkamper
This gigantic work really deserves the attribute "masterpiece". It's a joint effort of three extraordinarily creative women: Composer Sarah Kirkland Snider, lyricist Ellen McLaughlin, and vocalist Shara Nova (named Shara Worden then) of "My Brightest Diamond", whose voice is clearly distinguishable out of a million. Ellen McLaughlin's amazing concept is put to life by Sarah Kirkland Snider's incredible music scenery. In her own special way, she blends demanding dissonant textures with sublime melodic lines, resulting in timeless chamber music that leaves me open-mouthed. Sven B. Schreiber