Babylon, Our Own

Babylon, Our Own, Sketch #6


Babylon, Our Own is written for Kronos Quartet and David Krakauer, and inspired by their passionate and masterful playing of diverse styles of music.  I wrote the piece having in mind their individual characteristics as performers (Krakauer’s ecstatic high register, David Harrington’s uncanny responsiveness in dialogue-like sections, John Sherba’s rare ability to carve a shortest phrase into a beautiful musical statement, Hank Dutt’s most soulful solos, and Jeff Ziegler’s powerful triple-stops and superhuman rhythmic precision).  That resulted in a piece in which times, places and cultures intersect to celebrate music as the language I feel most comfortable with, a language that brought all of us together.  
I imagine the single-movement form of Babylon, Our Own unfolding like a ritual, carrying one through a vast range of memories and visions triggered by pre-recorded documentary audio materials.  Filtered and manipulated to different levels of abstraction, pre-recorded sounds include snippets of friends’ voices speaking their names, New York City street noise, Kronos Quartet and David Krakauer rehearsing the piece, gatherings of groups in religious fervor, the prayers of the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and the Orthodox Patriarch, Morse code, as well as my grandmother reciting the poetry she had learned as a child in the 1930s. 
The acoustic material - the interplay between clarinet and the individual instruments of the quartet - is a celebration of human relationships and interconnectedness of us all.  Each individual part is like a thread in an intricate web, responding to or triggering immediate and distant events throughout the piece.
In non-musical terms and very much inspired by my long relationship with Kronos, in Babylon, Our Own 
I wanted to create something I’ve always hoped to experience in reality: a moment of high sonic complexity in which all of us – from ‘everyman’ to powerful spiritual leaders – simultaneously join voices in declaring that we 
all are equal, that to each other we are holy.  Invoking names at the end of the piece is a way to acknowledge 
the presence of each of us in this moment, so that Thy Name becomes a name of a friend, a sibling, a parent, a child, in its simple beauty it becomes - your name.    

Babylon, Our Own was commissioned for the 10th anniversary season of the Clarice Smith Center at the University of Maryland in College Park.  I especially appreciate the opportunity to continue my relationship with this visionary institution for contemporary music.

Aleksandra Vrebalov
August 12, 2011, NYC