a new album (and liner notes by) Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti
All the works on this album are transcriptions or involve the act of transcribing. Transcription is not just an act of borrowing, it is also an act of admiration, an act of perspective-taking. The album title comes from Caroline Shaw’s solo cello piece, in manus tuas meaning “in your hands.” How does one’s perspective shift in rewriting/transcribing/copying? In a digital age of copy-paste-retweet-regram-sharing, what does it mean to take the time to transcribe by hand?
As I was finalizing the details of this album, I found Jasmine Parsia’s beautiful prints and asked her to create both the cover artwork and an accompanying set of unique prints for the album. Jasmine’s works repurpose, abstract, and copy, thereby reconsidering or redefining the original object. In personal correspondence, Jasmine wrote about her process in making the print that would eventually become the album artwork:
Over the past couple weeks, I had been circling around the black and white monoprints, and today I brought in some of the blue and it’s bringing a much-needed subtle brightness that I feel/hear in your work. Something about the black on its own felt too stark. This process feels more resonant, too. The black layer is made using a monoprint technique—laying ink on plexi and pressing a print, typically only one print comes out from each run. So more ink is added, shifting the image—bits from each print echo into the next. The blue layer is silkscreen, and is added in response to the black monoprint beneath it. I often think of this process—the monoprint and the silkscreen together—as translating and highlighting certain areas/marks/thoughts.
Transcription enables us to learn from others as well as process our own thoughts. In doing so, we deepen our understanding of each other. Transcription—empathy—as creative practice.
Andrew Norman trans. Lanzilotti — Sonnets (2011)
One of the engaging aspects of Andrew’s music is his playful and dramatic use of extended techniques juxtaposed with joyful lyricism. Each movement or sonetto—“little song” or “little sound”—explores a fragment from a Shakespeare sonnet. The first movement, with shifting change, ends with a dramatic scratch stop—a ripping sound as the bow moves towards molto sul ponticello and overpressure at the last moment, abruptly stopping on the string. In to be so tickled, both instruments evoke the sound of giggling. The third movement, my tongue-tied muse employs the stutter technique—a physically arresting, distorted and deteriorated filter of the underlying melody. So far from variation takes the simple idea of opening or closing a gesture and explores it in the interaction of the viola and piano. Finally, confounded to decay ends with the piano subtracting notes from the resonance to create a melodic line that emerges from what remains. By translating these sonnet fragments into sound, Andrew makes the words jump off the page: they become giggles, heartbreak, confusion.
Caroline Shaw — in manus tuas (2009)
Caroline has a series of short videos that she catalogues under the phrase, “The detail of the pattern is movement”: a quartet of friends sitting in front of a water fountain, colored flags dancing in the wind, cherry blossoms falling through a bright sky, shadows on autumn leaves. The phrase itself—which Caroline has used as text in one of her other vocal works—is from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. The stanza continues:
Desire itself is movement
Not in itself desirable;
Love is itself unmoving,
Only the cause and end of movement,
Timeless, and undesiring
Except in the aspect of time
Caught in the form of limitation
Between un-being and being.
Caroline’s music is frequently about stretching out the experience of one moment, and often about experiencing music itself: either as a performer or as an audience member. In her notes for in manus tuas, Caroline says that the work was originally written “for a secular solo cello compline service held in the dark, candlelit nave.” The work is based on fragments of a motet by Thomas Tallis of the same name. Caroline explains:
While there are only a few slices of the piece that reflect exact harmonic changes in Tallis’s setting, the motion (or lack of) is intended to capture the sensation of a single moment of hearing the motet in the particular and remarkable space of Christ Church in New Haven, Connecticut.
The act of experiencing music leads to the act of creating music. This repurposing of the Tallis motet is more about the emotion felt in that moment than the music itself. The piece ends with an extended section strumming or plucking the instrument in ever-increasingly fragmented phrases. Caroline told me once that this section was as though you are trying to tell someone something but keep getting caught up in the words, unable to say what you need to say. “Caught in the form of limitation / Between un-being and being.”
Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti — Gray (2017)
This work was originally developed with choreographer Wendell Gray II as a part of a Periapsis Music & Dance Artist Residency. The specific sound of each unit is defined, but the rhythm and overall timing of each section is influenced by the dancers. The dancers become a part of the score, determining the rhythm and pacing of the work with their physicality. This version for performance/recording does not include dancers, but evokes their memory in the way we thought about the pacing and phrasing as we recorded the large sections. In any interpretation, the performers should create long lines that explore the subtle shifts in timbre apparent in the writing.
There’s an element of transcription in my piece as well: the violist is asked to handwrite a text into their score to use as rhythmic material. As the piece unfolds, this material is transcribed onto the viola as a breathy/throaty memory of the sound of the text.
The percussion instruments used are temple bowls, snare drum, and pū‘ili. The use of pū‘ili is as much for sound as for its various translations. Hawaiian words often bear multiple metaphorical meanings.
pū‘ili. 1. n. Bamboo rattles, as used for dancing. 2. vt. To clasp, hold fast in the hand, embrace, grasp firmly. Pū‘ili mai ‘oe ā pa‘a, hold tight. 3. n. A type of tapa-beater pattern: tips of zigzag ridges in adjacent surfaces meet and form sunken lozenges. Cf. ko‘eau, in which the ridges are parallel.
— Hawaiian Dictionary, Edited by Pukui and Elbert
The pattern described by pū‘ili in the last definition is similar to the pattern of the snares on the bottom of the drum. The second meaning is related to the theme of the piece and the dance created with it that was about struggling, embracing, and ultimately letting go.
Andrew Norman — Sabina (2008–09)
I entered very early in the morning, while it was still dark, and as I listened to the morning mass I watched the sunrise from within the church. The light in Santa Sabina is breathtaking; the large clerestory windows are not made of glass but of translucent stone, and when light shines through these intricately patterned windows, luminous designs appear all over the church’s marble and mosaic surfaces. As I watched the light grow and change that morning, I was struck by both its enveloping, golden warmth and the delicacy and complexity of its effects. I sketched the material for this piece soon after that unforgettable experience. —Andrew Norman
The Basilica of Santa Sabina was built between 422–432 by Peter of Illyria to “crown the Aventine hill.”  The most stunning design element of the basilica is the lattice clerestory windows added in the ninth century. These windows, typical of Roman artisanal work at the time, “were arched and elongated, endowed with latticework . . . of wood . . . with translucent panels of selenite.”  Selenite (from the word for “moon stone” in Greek) or gypsum crystal is a translucent stone that exhibits double refraction, an optical property in which the light upon entering a substance splits into two rays: an ordinary ray that travels at the original speed unchanged and an extraordinary ray that is bent as it passes through the crystal and slows down.
The selenite clerestory windows glow in the pre-dawn light illuminating the geometric patterns of the frames and the golden stars on the ceiling. The experience of the transition from darkness to light in the basilica is reflected in the evolution of white noise to distinct pitch at the beginning of Sabina. First, one only hears the white noise of playing on the bridge in the first line of this movement. White noise is so named because as white light contains all colors of the spectrum equally, white noise contains equal presence of all pitches. The white noise represents the light outside the basilica at dawn that illuminates the clerestory windows to reveal their patterned frames.
As the sun begins to rise, the first light enters through the windows in the apse, creating flickers of deep red and orange light on the walls of the basilica. The viola flutter at the end of line 1 represents this first flicker of light in the basilica as it is refracted through the selenite. The movement as a whole reflects the cycle of a full day. Both the melody and the structure reflect the principals of Rotational Form: a metaphor for the cycle of sunlight coming through the clerestory windows of Santa Sabina. Through double refraction, the selenite in the windows creates stunning light effects. Rotation implies continuation, starting anew. Each day is an opportunity to take the time to be human: to be both ordinary and extraordinary.
This note is comprised of excerpts from my dissertation: Lanzilotti, Anne V. L., “Andrew Norman’s The Companion Guide to Rome: Influence of Architecture and Visual Art on Composition.” DMA diss., Manhattan School of Music, 2016.
 Allen White, The Crown of the Aventine, directed by Robert Duncan (New York: Kindly Light Media, 2011) https://vimeo.com/24602346, 27 minutes.
 Paloma Pajares-Ayuela, Cosmatesque Ornament: Flat Polychrome Geometric Patterns in Architecture, trans. Maria Fleming Alvarez (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001), 62.
Anna Thorvaldsdóttir — Transitions (2014) originally for cello
Transitions explores the relationship or conflict between “man and machine,” a theme specified by cellist and commissioner Michael Nicolas. To highlight and distinguish the differences between the human and the mechanical at the beginning of the piece, Anna uses specific timbres. A more metallic sound for machine-like gestures is contrasted with sighing figures, pitch bending, and expressive uses of vibrato that imply performative emotion. When I’m performing this piece live, I strive to reflect these two characters in my physicality: in the sections that are indicated as “machine” gestures, I plant my feet, keep my posture stiff, and move only my bow, as though a machine were executing only the exact movements necessary to create the specified sound. When the more human expressive sections are marked, I breathe more and allow for a natural approach.
While I have performed this piece many times live, the act of recording it gave me a deeper insight into the dramatic contrasts inherent in the writing. When recording, you have to be more aware of human sounds that may sneak into the microphones that would not be heard by an audience: sniffling noses, squeaky shoes, rumbling stomachs. It is not only about recording the sounds so that they seem human or machine-like, but also making your own body conform to nonhuman standards.
As the piece continues, this distinction is blurred. In what aspects of our humanity do we strive for machine-like perfection? When machines are programmed by humans, in which ways do they exhibit human biases or flaws? Is it better to strive for perfection, or is something lost when we cut ourselves off to mistakes, emotion, and humanity? With digital recording technology, dramatic shifts in pitch or timbre can be executed with the touch of a button or the turn of a knob. The slower process of transcription by a composer from one instrument to another involves not only this shift in pitch but also the reimagining of the musical and emotional gesture as performed by a different person. The messiness of life and of being human is a series of transitions captured in this haunting work.