Sparring

fl, gtr

Performed by the Keith/Larson Duo

Commissioned by the Keith/Larson Duo, Sparring integrates text, acting, and music to create an enigmatic new take (or should I say double take?) on the traditional pairing of flute and guitar. The piece invites the audience to voyeuristically participate in the guitarist’s “descent into madness” as he confronts his doppelgänger (the flutist). This storyline was inspired by a youtube video of Wushu champion Jade Xu’s Gold Performance that commissioning flutist Leanna Keith (herself a skilled practitioner of this martial art) shared with me. Xu’s performance – a solo demonstration in which she appears to be sparring with an invisible opponent – made me think of the doppelgänger phenomenon as it is explored in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges (particularly The Other). This in turn led me to think of the biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the mysterious stranger, and also the Third Man factor, a phenomenon wherein a person in dire circumstances reports receiving comfort or guidance from an unseen entity (often reported by lost hikers, and described in T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland”). As guitarist Zachary Larson put it in a recent lecture on the work, these associations construct a narrative in which the doppelgänger/flutist “slowly pushes [the guitarist] into madness, fights him internally, and ultimately guides him back to a sense of closure.” But is it true closure? Is the doppelgänger real, or imagined? Menacing, or benevolent? Only the listener can decide for sure…

Texts:

I. Doppelgänger

A sound comes out of nowhere, doubling your actions.
A sound you can’t believe in
and yet
perceive.

II. Jade/Jacob and…

I won’t let go
until you
ask me
to bless
you.

III. Third Man
“Who is the third who always walks beside you?”
He follows the stream of your thoughts like a score,
anticipating
where you’ll need to breathe.

Performers: Leanna Keith (flute), Zachary Larson (guitar)