The Bucket Rider and BE JUST!

The Bucket Rider and BE JUST! were both written in 1995 and are the seventh and eighth pieces from a group of 12 called Opere della Musica Povera, which means "works of a poor music." The Bucket Rider is the title of a Kafka story about a man who is so poor and wasted away he can ride on his empty bucket to the coal dealer to beg for coal. In Kafka's story, In the Penal Colony, an explorer goes to a prison camp that has an exquisite, aging apparatus that imprints on the flesh of a condemned man, by means of thousands of needles, whatever rule or commandment he has disobeyed. In this way, though the prisoner is ignorant of his sentence, he will learn it bodily. The officer in charge (who is also the judge) tells the explorer, "Guilt is never to be doubted," and places the prisoner into the machine. The explorer is unimpressed. Infuriated, the officer changes the original sentence from "HONOR THY SUPERIORS!" to "BE JUST!" and climbs into the apparatus himself. Kafka had a very complex sense of the political. He was also a pretty weird guy, and I wanted to get some of that weirdness into the music. I give myself permission to do anything in my work so long as I have a palpable structural integrity that grants the various musical utterances plausibility. That's been my goal, to get as free as I can about the means and genres in which I write, while holding them together with an internal coherence. The Opere della Musica Povera pieces reflect a politics of "Witness," a kind of personal report on my state and the nation's. There's a bit of the Three Penny Opera in them, "an opera written with the splendor that only a beggar could imagine," as Brecht said. That's part of it - to create something out of very little material and make it seem splendid: an invitation to the necessary pleasures of austerity.

Commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation at Harvard. World Premiere by the Bang On A Can All-Stars, May 1, 1995, Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center.