Composer’s Notes on the creation of "Concerto of Deliverance"

The following is a compilation from notes written by the composer,
originally intended for inclusion in the album booklet.

Concerto of Deliverance is a gift to me from a serious thinker and great lover of music, Monart Pon. Without him and a passage from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged I would not have created this piece. We spent many hours in discussion, sharing thoughts and interests on the phone, via email, and one most memorable occasion in person, in Goldstream Park near Victoria, BC. It was a project Mr. Pon had contemplated for some time. I am privileged and honoured that he chose me to fulfill his dream of hearing the Concerto of Deliverance as described in Rand’s novel.

I wished to create a piece that expressed the ebullience and joy of Dagny's vision in Atlas Shrugged. In the context of the novel it is a reverie, a vision of triumph and light; the Concerto is a symbol of hope. I saw my job as 'modern musician' to reveal the vision in contemporary terms.

The form of the ‘Concerto’, together with the titles and lyrics form a sort of poetic construct that has some narrative qualities, although it is not strictly a ‘story’, but just the suggestion of various possible stories. This appeals to me because it leaves the listener to create particular ones. This is one of the powers of music. It stimulates and supports the power of the listener’s imagination. Originally I conceived of seven movements that suggested a mythical journey: Cosmos, Individuation, Confrontation, Meditation, Transformation, Celebration, and Reunion. Prelude came about because Monart convinced me that it needed an ‘invitation’, as he called it, to ease the listener into the world of the Concerto. Starting with a statement of the very last theme (in Reunion), the Prelude establishes the musical ‘environment’ of the Concerto.

Musical forms are ever in flux. My piece might be a concerto, somewhat similar to the baroque concerto grosso, in the sense that it consists of a series of soloistic, perhaps virtuosic passages set against an 'orchestral' accompaniment; various instrumental groups and soloists, presented antiphonally with the orchestra as a whole, not unlike Bartok's Concerto for Orchestra in this respect. In my case the orchestra is electronic, so it could take whatever configuration needed. This is in keeping with a dominant theme of shapeshifting or transfiguration. Then I incorporated text through the addition of singing. This is not uncommon in modern symphonic music (Gorecki, Mahler, Beethoven), although I shall not indulge in such self-flattering comparisons. I am one little voice from the late 20th century, trying to make sense of the 21st. Moreover, "Concerto of Deliverance" is a literary reference. It was possible, in the first movement, to conform with the modified sonata form of first movements in many classical and romantic concerti, but this did not suit my materials nor purpose as much as the freer expression I had in mind.

Initially my method was primarily improvisational. I had just acquired a new keyboard instrument: Korg's revolutionary Karma, with Yamaha's DSP digital modeling card. I was enamored of its qualities and went ahead, just had fun with it. It has some remarkable capabilities, including lovely and not so lovely sounds. Many other sound sources were brought into service as well, but this was my kickstart. Another important influence was Ayn Rand's We The Living, which renewed in me a feeling of youthful rebellion which was perhaps necessary to break out of some of my own set ways of doing things (a prerequisite for new undertakings).

For a period of almost six months, I concentrated on the logic and illogic of the free-flowing melodies and rhythms that came through me, through my fingers, through my heart, into the world. I wanted them to remain fresh, not necessarily molded to predetermined models. Gathering together these themes, motifs, and rhythms, I then imposed an elaborate routine of editing, cutting, development, and re-orchestration. I wished that, as we listen, we take a journey, perhaps not knowing where it will end, but when it does, it is with some sense of completion.

As well as the givens of title and Dagny's vision, was Monart’s belief that I could bring certain qualities to the project: a deep love of melody, a coloristic versatility through the miracle (curse some might say) of electronic music, and, I believe, a diverse, eclectic range of musical tastes that meshed with his own. This was an opportunity to compose a serious piece commissioned by a man with serious intentions, whose favourite music included Rachmaninov’s Piano Concertos, Elvis Presley Songs, Dvorak Symphonies, and old Mario Lanza recordings. It was fascinating and I wanted to take the whole spectrum into account. Unavoidably I would reveal my own influences, which are many indeed: Debussy, Miles Davis, J.S. Bach, Ali Farka Toure, Ellington, Weill, Stockhausen, and John Cage heading the list, which, admittedly, changes almost daily. Folk music of all kinds is essential.

The use of electronic technology in the production of sound for music-making has been my passion since age 15 when I first heard Hugh LeCaine's Dripsody as part of the Sir Henry Woods Promenade Concerts in London. It was sheer luck, but when I returned to Canada that was where I wanted to go in my musical development. Two years later I was introduced to Dr. Myron Shaeffer's electronic music lab. It was in an old house on Huron St. in Toronto, with bits of magnetic tape dripping from faded wallpaper walls, and I was galvanized. The tools and techniques of electronic music creation have changed utterly since then, and it is now a vast field, omnipresent in modern media and culture, but the goals and motives of creators are pretty much the same as they have always been.

Ever since, I have been interested in the live performance of electronic music, which consisted of tunes, rhythms, and improvisations created cooperatively (Intersystems, Hydro Electric Streetcar, Kensington Market, Syrinx). In addition to tracking developments in North American and European experimental music, we searched for every available recording of music from other cultures: Balinese, Haitian, Punjabi, Central African, Romanian, you name it. Simultaneously, I was being commissioned to create works in more conventional formats: high school band, string orchestra with synthesizers and other amplified instrument ("Stringspace", commissioned by Milton Barnes).

Mostly, however, I have been engaged to compose music for film, dance, radio, television, theatre, but seldom as 'personal statement', most often in the service of other artists' expression. When I received this commission, I determined to revisit my roots, the various strands of personal history, and to draw on the entire breadth of my musical experience: from rock to raga to concerto.

I have always been attracted to the idea of combining electronic, electro-acoustic, and conventional acoustical instruments. It provides a vast range of sonorities, the emotive nuance of individual expression, and socio-cultural associations. Electronic music can have purity and freshness, but nothing replaces the scrape and squawk on the edges of beauty intrinsic to the playing of a musician on strings, on tautened skin, through a hollow tube. There is no substitute for the emotive power of familiar sounding melodies and instruments.

As I was beginning work on the Concerto, I was introduced to two accomplished and sensitive virtuosi, Sharon Stanis and Patricia Kostek. Both have performed as guest artists for audiences around the world. It is a great privilege to have them perform this music. The ultimate instrument is the human voice. Then verbal meaning as well as musical, is inherent. Leora Cashe performed with me previously on a piece by the Concerto's lyricist Blake Parker, "Stella: Black & White", at the Vancouver International Writers' Festival. I am delighted to have been able once again to work with her -- for the clarity, range, and emotional power of her singing, as well as her spiritual understanding of Blake's words.

Once I had the text I was convinced that children's voices would be the perfect vehicle for the spells and parables I wished to incorporate. I believed that the sometimes harsh potency of the lyrics would be put in sharp relief and made poignant by the children's seeming innocence. It also served Mr. Parker’s keen interest in fairy tales which are an essential expressive component of the work. Thus, meeting with Thea Stavroff was especially fortunate. I had heard her perform in Sondheim's Company and seen her work as director of children’s theatre. Ms. Stavroff was an obvious choice to assemble a group of young people to work on the piece. It took great resourcefulness on her part as well as the talents and dedication of each of the choir members.

Finally, the recording could not have been possible without the extraordinary skills of Mark Franklin who engineered everything requiring a microphone in the various locations. Additionally, he enabled the results to be blended with the music I created in my studio, and advised me about many artistic and audio matters, especially the crucial mastering of the final mix. Hooray!


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Concerto of Deliverance
Composer: John Mills-Cockell
Executive Producer: Monart Pon
*Sunburst Music. All Rights Reserved. Copyright © 2004 Modern Sounds Publishing (SOCAN)