The Open Road (2008)

In 2008 The Open Road was commissioned by the Korzo Theater in the Netherlands. It is a song cycle adapting lyrics from a set of poems by Walt Whitman under the title Song of the Open Road. Song, the depiction of poetry, chant or other forms of communication through melody, is the most rudimentary form of musical expression, coming straight from the soul. Having the ability to directly reflect the inner shape, dimension and state of a person, it is a language perhaps more effective than any other form of communication to instigate empathy between people in common experience.

The instruments were chosen for their significant symbolic value. The trumpet connects past with present, heaven with earth. Traditionally it is associated with the rising and setting of the sun, a call to battle and the last judgement. The harp, with seven strings held tenuously at tensions in the order of the harmony of the spheres, symbolises mastery of oneself over good and evil. The organ, representing the heavens, speaks with air compacted and pushed through pipes to capture the very breath of the universe. The vocalist is the guide pointing the direction of the road simultaneously reflecting the progression of the journey.

The musical material continues the language of allegory narrating the evolution of the traveller. Melodies built on octatonic scales represent the key or point of origin. The progression of cadences through major and minor triads played by the harp, at times accompanied by the organ, represents the road. Sustained drones illustrate the infinite bounds of the universe, a horizon that lies beyond the limitations of the body played by the organ. Diatonic scales indicate a progression of seven notes representing the cyclical nature of days of the week and seven planets Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. The passing of the hours is suggested by the repetition of regular pulse, a resounding heartbeat, a memory of the transitory nature of life.

Using sparse resources and a purely acoustic setting, the subtlety of foreground and background play an important role, giving the songs a sense of depth that suggest a mobile quality where sound and words hang in the air, fragile subjects to the changeable qualities of the surroundings. Being unamplified and evidently quieter as a result, the audience must acutely attune their attention to the act of listening with a more defined focus.