David First says that his new composition, Girders, is inspired by the work he’s long considered to be a central allegory for his life’s improvisatory path—the 1934 Popeye Theater cartoon entitled “A Dream Walking.” In the cartoon, Olive Oyl is seen sleepwalking through a construction site high above the city. At a crucial moment, just as she’s about to fall many stories to the pavement below, she steps onto a passing girder fortuitously swinging by. When she reaches the end of that girder, another comes along. This happens repeatedly until, finally, the girders miraculously transport her back safely to the open window where her unconscious adventure began.
As a way of tapping into, and possibly even celebrating, the tenuousness of life, players in this work for mixed ensemble and electronics are requested—like Oyl’s girders—to pass around various types of musical materials that will form a seamless and meaningful topography through the connective tissue of their co-operative efforts. Material sources range from the fixed 12-equal temperaments of piano, oboe, and marimba, the digital precision of laptop triggered just intonation drones and related polyrhythms, to the edge-dancing air of saxophone multiphonics, and barely controllable vintage analog test equipment broadcasting to transistor radios. Trombone and electric guitar—two instruments that are capable of plot points pretty much anywhere on that vibrational spectrum, can, in this case, be seen as the bridge between these extremes.