The starting point forThe Assembling Landscape (2008) is the idea of choral sound; choral sound divorced from a particular piece of music or in this case, a particular sung text. Choral sound is sculpted in very specific ways: composers often set text in a way to ensure some intelligibility of that text, and singers work very hard (both individually and within the chorus) to make the sounds very precise, again so that the text is clearly communicated. And yet, how many of us as listeners end up following the music of a choral piece first, and relegate the text to second place? To take a commonplace example, Mozart's Ave Verum is in the repertoire of choirs worldwide; one hears it in concert, recordings (over two dozen on YouTube), and in the context of religious services, sometimes in acoustics so reverberant that understanding the text simply cannot happen. Even if we, as listeners, are familiar with Latin generally and this text specifically, what can draw us in (assemble our own aural landscape as it were) is the music itself, the rise and fall, the melodic writing and above all, the beauty and variety of a chorus as sound. Such an idea of choral music is at the heart of The Assembling Landscape
That said, the piece still has a wide variety of sung and spoken “text”. Hard consonants, such as “k” or “t” give sharpness to rhythms. Open vowels allow for longer melodic lines and sustained notes. Whispering, rolled “r” sounds and tongue clicks add color. All of this suggests a language that is not yet “assembled”, even though all of the parts of that language are present.
Structurally, the piece is in three contrasting movements. The harmonic material that appears in the first movement returns in the other movements, although it is quite transformed gesturally and rhythmically. The last few bars of both movements two and three are similar. In both cases, the full choral sound is suddenly cut off. I made this choice to give the feeling of something unfinished, as if our landscape of language is not yet fully made, and with the hope that the landscape will continue to assemble in the listener's ear after the music stops.