(This audio file was created from a cassette recording.)
The Basketball Scenarios
This is a five movement piece for four performers that uses as it's instrumentation basketballs, referee whistles and the voices of the musicians. It was performed at the Walker Art Center on 10/4/90. The piece has a strong visual component, but unfortunately, no video document of the piece exists. It uses a specially devised graphic notation system and a number of rules-based game like procedures that allow the performers to make many of the decisions as to how the piece unfolds.
The performance at the Walker went very well. We had a full house, people got the humor of the piece, and there were no train wrecks. We actually had devised train wreck recovery mechanisms to use in case the performance crashed. We were at about a 50% ratio of making it through without a train wreck at the time of the performance, particularly because of the fifth movement, which involved a lot of carefully synchronized passing of the basketballs. I breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of the performance once they'd made it through and was gratified at the very warm reception it received from the audience.
This piece marked the end of a certain type of composing for me. It was the last of my more conceptual pieces. Though I was very happy with the performance, I decided that I was ultimately not happy with how the piece sounded. And that maters. This marked the point in my compositional life when I abandoned highly conceptual compositional conceits in favor of just trying to create music that just sounded good to me – PERIOD. It was a watershed moment, and to this day, I still have as a guiding principal the pursuit of the creation of music that sounds good to me. It has to sound good and feel good. That's what is more important to me than any other consideration when creating music now, and this was not the case when I created the Basketball Scenarios, (though I must confess, it was good fun).
Click here to see the complete graphic score for The Basketball Scenarios.
Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, Wednesday, October 3rd, 1990.
We made the cover of the Variety section of the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper, which helped to promote the performance at the Walker. This was pure luck. We had just been at MPR, where we performed one of the movements for a radio broadcast, and we decided to get in a rehearsal of the deadly "passing" movement afterwards in Mears Park. This is the one mentioned above that was so difficult to perform without completely crashing. There were some reporters in the park for some sort of speech being given by the Mayor or St. Paul, and one of the reporters walked over to see what we were up to. (He seemed rather bored with his political assignment.) I explained the piece and what we were doing, and he ended up doing a story about it.
I will point out that the paper misquotes me. I said that the piece was "a composition in five movements for basketballs and referee whistles". The writer misquotes me as saying it was a "competition" for a single basketball and referee whistle. I aways thought that the "competition" error might have been deliberate, and I would think the very fact that the photo shows four basketballs should have been a hint to an editor somewhere in the chain of production. Oh well. It was still good press, to be sure.
I love this picture. It's the only one I have of the piece in action. Clockwise starting at the left, that's Michael Sommers, Lee Humphries, Peter O'Gorman and Pete Linman. One thing I love about it, is that it captures the very thing I describe above. The performance is in the process of crashing. It looks like Lee has just been smacked in the face by an incoming basketball. Timing was so critical in the synchronized passing movement. As you are passing the ball to someone, somebody else is passing one to you. So, if you make any kind of a stumble and are late in turning toward the incoming ball, you're likely to get hit in the face with it. (From the days before cellphone cameras and copious photographic documentation. Priceless.)