Frank McCarty—Compositions


Alphabetical Listing

Compositions by Medium

RULES - for Voices and Sound-effects (1993) [26:23]

Voices and sound-effects on tape.

Soundlib Press


A bunch of different people speaking legal rules.

Program Note:
RULES (1993) (for voices and sound-effects) was composed and produced in my home studio. It is the last of four pieces made, during a ten-year period of collaboration with the New Performing Dance Company of Durham, NC. The now defunct company's overall style ranged from Modern Dance to Post-Modern. Artistic Director, choreographer and lead dancer, Lee Wenger and I developed a close and powerful working relationship during that time. Each of our projects was quite different. For our first collaboration, I made music for already fixed choreography. For the second, Lee set her choreography to an existing electro-acoustic piece of mine. For the last two pieces, music and choreography were developed simultaneously. The second of those, RULES, had greater ease of control and was a more developed product. Both of us learned a lot from the previous outing which was rather, shall I say, tense.

The question - "what comes first, the words or the music?" - is even more relevant for dance and music collaborations. Most choreographers require finished music before starting their own work; many composers prefer their own environs and generate music which will be choreographed later. While possibly more natural and comfortable, neither of these positions is fully collaborative - what Lee and I learned from the three previous projects assured us that RULES would.

Lee's husband had been attending law school. One day she discovered a photo-copy of the Federal Rules of Evidence which he had been studying. Immediately attracted to the qualities of the verbiage, Lee decided to make a little theatre piece with this material. Later, she realized that such ideas could become a dance-piece. About four or five months before her major annual concert, she asked me to drive over to meet. I did not know what she was thinking about, and so I was really interested in hearing about her latest idea. But when I arrived, rather than discussing anything with me, she simply put the photo-copy in my hands and left the room.

Now, Lee did not know about my own interests in things legal. For a long time, I had been fascinated by Judge Wapner's television series, and after my cable expanded its services, I became a real Court TV junkie. I realized I had become an observer of the practice not so much for any results, but rather as a form of performance art. Thus, I was captivated by the theatre of the law long before O.J. I was attracted to its seeming absurdities, such as the requisite abilities of an attorney to both clarify and obfuscate, or the idea that morality could be objectified and systematized. Reading But my immediate problem was how to turn this stuff into music and several ideas flew through my head. Could these words become a cantata or an opera? Could I actually compose music about these rules? Did I really want to be involved in this project at all? In turn, these were instantly rejected as my basic plan emerged spontaneously and immediately, in full form. Thank God for previous experiences in Readers Theatre and my work with Ken Gaburo.

I found Lee in her kitchen and proceeded to describe my ideas in detail. There would, in fact, be no notes. The score would be constructed from recordings of different personae, speaking these wonderfully convoluted texts, both in solo and ensemble. She would determine the overall shape/plot for the piece and begin to set movement. I would attend some rehearsals, observe progress, make timings, and learn about the overall designs and expressive qualities of sections as they developed. I asked her to bring the dancers to my studio in order to record their voices. Each would choose such individual rules as seemed attractive, but they were not to practice their recitations.

The first recording with the dancers was a free-for-all. I simply put my DAT machine in record and let it run. We sat on the floor around a couple of microphones. There was no pre-conceived plan other than, to begin, each person would read one rule in a natural voice while avoiding any overt theatricality. I then asked if any of them wished to contribute a character-voice, and several did. We then did some group-unison readings, some straight, some contrived, and that was it. From that first session, I culled enough material to create a couple of 3-4 minute segments which I took to the next week's dance rehearsal. I watched, they listened, and the piece began gradually to take shape as Lee and I both learned more about what it was we were actually doing. One of the best things about having worked together for so long, was the trust and conviction that we could be comfortable with each other's opinions and processes. Just as Lee could ask for more, less, or different music, I could ask for changes in the choreography. This exchange happened only infrequently but always to the ultimate benefit of the piece.

After observing my first rehearsal, I decided that a few specific sound-effects would be needed. So, one morning, equipped with a microphone and a portable tape recorder running, I approached, and entered the local Court House. Almost immediately, a guard forced me to leave the premises. Undaunted, I hid the recorder in my coat, ran the microphone cord down a sleeve, palmed the mike, and entered through another door feeling very much like a spy. That field-recording was completed without further incident. A few days later, I recorded myself and friend, Marc in a stairwell as we committed "the crime". Later, I recorded the piano on the stage of my school's Recital Hall. As the piece progressed, and I learned what was needed, several more sessions were held in my studio using Marc, his kids, my friend Russell, and the dancers. I continued to assemble the piece and some of the recordings were processed with a sampler, vocoder, and pitch-shifter. RULES grew and changed during the rehearsal period, and each week I would bring a new version of the tape to the company. The finishing touches were made, quite literally, the day before the premiere on May 14, 1993.