From Cantaloupe Music- Pulitzer Finalist: “Sound from the Bench, by Ted Hearne”

Cantaloupe Music is the recording arm of Bang On a Can, the original New Music DIY organization.

Recording released on March 24, 2017 by The Crossing, a five-movement cantata for chamber choir, electric guitar and percussion that raises oblique questions about the crosscurrents of power through excerpts from sources as diverse as Supreme Court rulings and ventriloquism textbooks.


Sound from the Bench
By Ted Hearne


“Sound From the Bench” is a 35-minute cantata for chamber choir, two electric guitars and drums, with a libretto by Jena Osman. It was co-commissioned by Volti and The Crossing.

why these texts?

Sound From the Bench is a reaction to Jena Osman’s incredible book Corporate Relations, a collection of poems that follows the historical trajectory of corporate personhood in the United States. The five movements combine language taken from landmark Supreme Court Cases with words from ventriloquism textbooks.

I was instantly drawn to Osman’s work because of its rich intertextuality: she appropriates a variety of texts from diverse sources and assembles them into a powerful bricolage. I strive toward a similar polyphony of oppositional voices and perspectives in my music, and to bring the chaotic forces of life into the work itself. It was this impulse, and the unabashedly political tone of Osman’s poetry, that made me want to set some part of “Corporate Relations” to music.

why electric guitars?

Sound From the Bench
is built around the tension between the human voice and electric guitar. The electric guitar can sound like literally anything. Through circuitry, programming, and analog and digital manipulation, the pitches and rhythms a guitarist plays can be utterly transformed, erasing all human touch. It speaks through an amplifier and could easily drown out any voice. These cyborg-esque qualities contrast the human voice, both in its inescapable limitations and the complex differences found in every individual vocal timbre.

what does “no mouth” mean?

No mouth is Osman’s paraphrase of the central reasoning behind the majority in Bellotti v. First National Bank, the 1978 case upon which Citizens United is based: because corporations don’t have a literal mouth, they cannot literally speak, therefore advertising is their only available method of communication and must be considered speech (and is entitled to First Amendment protections as such).

The phrase the very heart, also found in the second movement, is excerpted from Justice White’s dissent in this case: “It has long been recognized, however, that the special status of corporations has placed them in a position to control vast amounts of economic power which may, if not regulated, dominate not only the economy but the very heart of our democracy, the electoral process.”

about the third movement

The central movement sets words from the oral argument to Citizens United. My brain started firing when I realized this poem of Jena’s was a literal erasure of the Supreme Court document – every phrase appeared in order, and in a position approximating the horizontal spot it appeared on the page. When I printed out the full 83-page oral argument and blacked out every phrase that Jena hadn’t included, the remaining words jumped out at me and started to take on new meanings and inferences. That strange, new energy helped propel the decontextualized text into music.

The time at which the phrases appear approximate and in some way preserve the place at which they appear in the original document. The music between Osman’s text, that which fills the “blank pages,” sometimes includes a quote from Thomas Tallis’s motet Loquebantur Variis Linguis (the text is: “The Apostles spoke in different tongues – Alleluia.”) Aside from loving this music, I liked the image of our Justices as apostles.


What could this word even mean when it is applied to non-human things? The courts have systematically granted constitutional rights to corporations since the Civil War – we concede that a corporation can “speak” even though it has no mouth – and these rights have come at the expense of both the private citizen and the government.

a corporation is to a person as a person is to a machine

friends of the court we know them as good and bad, they too are sheep
and goats ventriloquizing the ghostly fiction

a corporation is to a body as a body is to a puppet

putting it in caricature, if there are natural persons then there are those
who are not that, buying candidates. there are those who are strong on
the ground and then weak in the air. weight shifts to the left leg while
the propaganda arm extends.
(Jena Osman, from Corporate Relations)

  • program notes by Ted Hearne, with passages after Eric Howerton’s review of Corporate Relations for The Volta Blog

— from the composer’s website


Composer, singer and bandleader Ted Hearne (b.1982, Chicago) draws on a wide breadth of influences ranging across music’s full terrain, to create intense, personal and multi-dimensional works.

The New York Times has praised Mr. Hearne for his “tough edge and wildness of spirit,” and “topical, politically sharp-edged works.” Pitchfork called Hearne’s work “some of the most expressive socially engaged music in recent memory — from any genre.”

Hearne’s newest theatrical work, The Source, sets text from the Iraq and Afghanistan War Logs, along with words by Chelsea Manning (the U.S. Army private who leaked those classified documents to WikiLeaks), and was premiered to rave reviews last October at the BAM Next Wave Festival in Brooklyn. The New York Times called The Source “a 21st Century masterpiece,” and included it on its list of the best classical vocal performances of 2014 and best albums of 2015, noting that the work “offers a fresh model of how opera and musical theater can tackle contemporary issues: not with documentary realism, but with ambiguity, obliquity, and even sheer confusion.” During the 2016-17 season, the original production of The Source (directed by Daniel Fish) was presented by both the LA Opera and San Francisco Opera.

Hearne’s piece Katrina Ballads, another modern-day oratorio with a primary source libretto, was awarded the 2009 Gaudeamus Prize in composition and was named one of the best classical albums of 2010 by Time Out Chicago and The Washington Post. A recent collaboration paired him with legendary musician Erykah Badu, for whom he wrote an evening-length work combining new music with arrangements of songs from her 2008 album New Amerykah: Part One.

Law of Mosaics, Hearne’s 30-minute piece for string orchestra, will see performances this year by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and San Francisco Symphony. His album of the same name, with Andrew Norman and A Far Cry, was named one of The New Yorker’s notable albums of 2014 by Alex Ross.

A charismatic vocalist, Hearne performs with Philip White as the vocal-electronics duo R WE WHO R WE, whose debut album (New Focus Recordings, 2013) was called “eminently, if weirdly, danceable and utterly gripping.” (Time Out Chicago). Two albums of vocal music, The Source and Outlanders, were recently released on New Amsterdam Records.

Ted Hearne was awarded the 2014 New Voices Residency from Boosey and Hawkes, and recently joined the composition faculty at the University of Southern California. Recent and upcoming commissions include orchestral works for the San Francisco Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic, New World Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and A Far Cry, chamber works for eighth blackbird, Ensemble dal Niente and Alarm Will Sound, and vocal works for Volti, The Crossing and Roomful of Teeth.

See the full article here .

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