Album Notes


His Tone of Voice

New music by Jacques Bekaert, Mel Graves and “Blue” Gene Tyranny

“Blue” Gene Tyranny, His Tone of Voice at 37

Performers: Thomas Buckner, baritone; Jay Elfenbein, contrabass; Ethel (Todd Reynolds and Mary Rowell, violins; Ralph Farris, viola; Dorothy Lawson, cello); Jeffrey Berman, vibraphone, Bill Ruyle, bowed marimba; “Blue” Gene Tyranny, piano; Christopher Berg, conductor.

John Prester, auto mechanic, guitarist, and involuntary shaman is one of 16 personalities in the audio-storyboard "The Driver's Son" for narrator, the Tone of Voice chorus, and electro-acoustic orchestra. In this prequel to that work, his life unfolds from ages 1 to 36. With the help of his inventor friend Tim, John searches for his father who was building something mysterious in the desert shortly before he disappeared. John becomes obsessed with directions and correspondences ("You touch the earth and you remember: this is where you faced west in the red afternoon"), follows odd conceptual maps left by Tim ("Map Number Three says consider events remotely perceived with the mind"), collects true stories where empathy creates a detour around fate (in "The Driver's Son"), and correlates music and understanding ("You know, when I was eight, I got the idea of music. I just got it: bless your heart").

There are 36 brief songs each with one central subject, mood, timbre, gesture, rhythm shift, harmony, type of time and aspect of mind ("mind" itself being the final aspect). At number 37, as the quasi-random events of his life collapse into one narrative / melody, John realizes something he had always known, but forgot that he knew. This secret frees him to search, like many earlier migrant peoples, for "the center of the world" where there are no more wars, earthquakes and suffering.

— “Blue” Gene Tyranny

His Tone of Voice at 37
Text by “Blue” Gene Tyranny (1999)

No, I don’t have a son,
not now, maybe never,
but I’m somebody’s son.

You watch the material
arise in the mind
without holding on.
You become aware
of the stillness
between thoughts.

I was told my father’s name was
William, Bill or Ben.
When I was 4,
I tried to be like him.

You touch the earth
and you remember:
this is where you faced
west in the red afternoon.

My dad was last seen
heading for the desert
in his taxi, the only one in town.
This was years ago.
Nobody knows more but
sometimes he’s been seen
near the Interstate.

You see the moon resting in the
vault of heaven:
an illusion like memories,
decent like most people.
A decent illusion.

William, Bill or Ben was
building something in the desert.
He offered only one clue:
He said, “I’m just a man,
slower than light but
faster than equilibrium.”

You know, when I was eight,
I got the idea of music.
I just got it:
bless your heart.

At nine, I spoke at room resonance.
(Dad, are you listening?)
I was enfolded in the sound
and I was too faint to hear.

You breathe the trade winds
from the south and you remember:
why you sat before the
yellow rose of evening.
I was surprised as much as you.

Mom’s name was
Eleanor, Jean or Dot and,
man, she could sing!
She was a good friend.
She said it was OK
when Tim and I held hands.
Thanks, Mom.

Facing north at noon,
the green, the sun and
asking when.
The question here concerns that
one essential thing that must exist
in order to say that
anything exists at all.

Eleanor and Dad would sing
“Life is like a dividing line
on which we stand ...”.

Facing south at evening
and asking why.
And asking who,
facing east, a blue sky
at dawn.

Eleanor knew what
Dad was up to.
Someday he’ll tell you, she said.
So don’t use that
tone of voice about
William, Bill or Ben,
about him.

Facing center, standing still
at midnight.
No acetylene stars,
no faceless moon,
no passing cars.
Where does this light come from?

With a bit of luck,
I bought a pickup truck,
and tried to live
here and now.

I sang, “Life is as close to
comedy as to drama ...”.
This is an unusual song, I know.
It illustrates a mystery
in my mind that no sign,
clue, belief or reason can explain.

Map Number One compares a
subdivision of time and surface,
backtraces the shortest step
to compare our intentions
with where we are now.
Its advantage is to
keep you on a steady path.
Its disadvantage is to
keep you on a steady path.

I drive into the desert singing,
“Life is like a cloud of accidents
that form particular shapes
by the spontaneous will
of the Divine.” — Motakallimun.

I pass the Happy Landing roadside store
built in the shape of an airmail plane
from the 1930’s.
Ward the proprietor tells the story
of the robot man who threatened him,
a non-veridical disappearance,
and I’m chased by 3 guys
in a Cadillac Seville.

Map Number Two reads:
Consider the side roads,
the lateral, democratic and
spontaneous associations.

I make a detour, the Knight’s Move,
further down country than the hop hornbeam,
on a surface of tar and grime.
A song on the radio says:
“Life is like a joke without a punchline.”

Like everyone else
at some time to some extent
I’ve been assaulted, cheated,
ridiculed and, what’s worse,
explained away.
And I’ve offended, desired too much,
confused the issue
and just didn’t help.

But like everyone else
at some time in some way
I’ve been loved, treated well,
forgiven much and supported.
And I’ve loved, given help,
curbed desire
and shed some light, I hope.
Possessed by devils and by angels.

A master of a martial art
began his study in the desert
by walking around a tree
for seven years.
At that point, he seemed to
remain fixed while
the tree began to turn
by itself.

Map Number Three says
consider events remotely perceived
with the mind.
Call up longitude and latitude
and nothing else.
In hyperfocal infinity,
I see Tim waiting
by the breakaway facade
of a drive-in theatre.

Beneath the screen
shines a pale blue light.
William, Bill or Ben was here.
“How” is the aftermath of action.
And “When” is listening with the heart.

The master of the martial art,
having passed the test,
said he was lonely for his friends and family.
Then his teacher said: “Good

answer ! The final test was this:
No matter what you learned
you never lost your heart.”

The last Map says:
Presence is everywhere.
Get out of the car.
The last Map says:
Get out of the car!

Note: The first “Life is like a – ” song is a paraphrase from Henry David Thoreau, the second from actor Tony Curtis, the third from the philosopher Motakallimun, and the fourth from a joke I once heard.


Mel Graves, Meditations on Truth

Performers: Thomas Buckner, baritone; Mel Graves, contrabass
Lyrics based on the poems of Kabir as translated by Robert Bly

Meditations on Truth is an eight-movement work inspired by the poems of Kabir, a 15th century ecstatic Sufi poet who had a unique style of being quite irreverent while at the same time being intensely spiritual. Kabir seems incredibly playful in his taunting of the religious dogmas of his time.

The music explores various song forms that range from meditative contemplations to percussive romps through 7/4 time. Many extended instrumental techniques used for the bass enhance the timbral spectrum of the piece.

— Mel Graves


Between the conscious and the unconscious, the
mind has put up a swing:
all earth creatures, even the supernovas, sway between these two trees,
and it never winds down.

Angels, animals, humans, insects by the millions, also
         the wheeling sun and moon;
ages go by, and it goes on.

Everything is swinging: heaven, earth, water, fire,
and the secret one slowly growing a body.
I saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made me a
         servant for life.


Knowing nothing shuts the iron gates; the new
love opens them.

The sound of the gates opening wakes the beautiful
         woman asleep.

Fantastic! Don’t let a chance like this go by!


The flute of interior time is played whether we
hear it or not,
What we mean by “love” is its sound coming in.
When love hits the farthest edge of excess. it reaches
         a wisdom.
And the fragrance of that knowledge!

It penetrates our thick bodies,
it goes through walls—
Its network of notes has a structure as if a million
         suns were arranged inside.

This tune has truth in it.
Where else have you heard a sound like this?


There is nothing but water in the holy pools.
I know, I have been swimming in them.
All the gods sculpted of wood or ivory can’t say a
I know, I have been crying out to them.
The Sacred Books of the East are nothing but words.
I looked through their covers one day sideways.
What I talk of is only what I have lived
If you have not lived through something, it is not


The darkness of night is coming along fast, and
         the shadows of love close in the body and
Open the window to the west, and disappear into the
         air inside you.

Near your breastbone there is an open flower.
Drink the honey that is all around that flower.
Waves are coming in:
there is so much magnificence near the ocean!
Listen: Sounds of big seashells! Sounds of bells!

Friend, listen, this is what I have to say:
The guest I love is inside me!


Don’t go outside your house to see the flowers.
My friend, don’t bother with that excursion.
Inside your body there are flowers.
One flower has a thousand petals.
That will do for a place to sit.
Sitting there you will have a glimpse of beauty
inside your body and out of it,
before gardens and after gardens.


There’s a moon in my body, but I can’t see it!
A moon and a sun.
A drum never touched by hands beating, and I can’t
         hear it!

As long as a human being worries about when he will
         die, and what he has that is his,
all of his works are zero.
When affection for the I-creature and what it owns is
then the work of the Teacher is over.

The purpose of labor is to learn,
when you know it, the labor is over.
The apple blossom exists to create fruit; when that
         comes, the petals fall.
The musk is inside the deer, but the deer does not
         look for it:
It wanders around looking for grass.


My inside, listen to me, the greatest spirit is near,
wake up, wake up!

Run to his feet —
he is standing close to your head right now.

You have slept for millions and millions of years.

Why not wake up this morning?


Jacques Bekaert, Orfeo

Performers: Thomas Buckner, baritone; Leroy Jenkins, solo violin; Josef Burgstaller, trumpet; Benjamin Herrington, trombone; Joseph Kubera, harpsichord; Jacqueline Le Clair, oboe; Ted Mook, cello; Stefani Starin, flute.

Texts in Italian by Alessandro Striggio (c.1573-1630)
Texts in German by Rainer Maria Rilke
Texts in English by Jacques Bekaert

A legendary figure of Greek mythology, Orpheus, son of the muse Calliope and the god Apollo, was a musician of such talent that he could charm beasts, trees and rivers. He married Euridyce, a beautiful nymph. When she died, Orpheus went to search for her in Hades, the land of the dead, and was allowed to bring her back to earth on condition that he not look back at her. Of course he failed and lost her forever.

This is one of the most powerful and relevant stories of Western antiquity and has acquired a universal value. The gentle Orpheus has become a symbol of marital fidelity, of desperate love, of non-violence, of the artist whose greatest ambition is to make the world better. I have been fascinated by the myth of Orpheus, which led to a cult and also to a brief art movement in the early 20th century (Orphisme). I found musical inspiration in Monteverdi’s Orfeo, one of the very first operas in Western music.

Four instrumental movements (Introduction, Sinfonia, Ritornello and Finale) serve as frames to various arias where musicians enjoy a much greater degree of freedom. The instrumental movements pay tribute not only to Monteverdi, but also to the musical spirit of Anton von Webern and Henri Pousseur, friend and former teacher.

The voice and the violin (these parts were specifically composed with Thomas Buckner and Leroy Jenkins in mind) bring to music and drama more contemporary landscapes of improvisation and multiculturalism. If love and grief are universal, their expressions have many faces and sounds, as I often witnessed throughout the world.

The text is made of small fragments of the original text by Striggio (Monteverdi’s librettist), of a few lines of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnet to Orpheus and of some words of my own. Orfeo was composed in Bangkok, Phnom Penh and New York in 1996-97 and was commissioned by Thomas Buckner.

— Jacques Bekaert

Aria 1

Wir sind Scarfe, denn wir wollen wissen
Aber er ist beiter und verteilt
[We are sharp, because we want to know
but he is serene and diffused]

Alles will schweben. Da Gehen wir umber wie Beshwerer
legen auf alles und selbst, von Gewichte entzucht
[All things want to float.. And we go about like weights,
lay our self upon everything, delighted with gravity]

Da gli stellanti giri
Di me piu lieto e fortunato amante?
[Tell me, have you ever seen
from the starry orbits
a lover happier and more blessed the I?]

Fu ben felice il giorno
Mio ben che pria ti vidi,
E piu felice l’ora
Che per te sospirai
[Happy was the day
my love, when first I saw you.
and happier the hour
I sighed for you]

Benedico il mio tormento
dopo il duol vi e piu contento
dopo il mal vi e piu felice
[I bless my torment
having sorrowed we are more content
having suffered we are happier]

And the song of love was
a moment of long awaited rest
between the echo of
two quarrels
between the blossoming shells
of so many wars
of so much sorrow

Aria 2

Nicht sind die Leiden erkannt,
nicht is die Liebe gelernt
und was im Tod uns entfernt
ist nicht entschleiert
[Not understood are the sufferings
Neither has love been learned,
and what, removes us in death
is not unveiled]

Dove te’n vai mia vita?
Ecco io ti siguo.
Ma chi me’l nieg’ohime : sogn’o vaneggio?
[Where are you going my life? I’ll follow you
But who prevents me, alas? Do I dream or rave?]

Voi vi doleste o Monti, e lagrimaste
Voi sassi al dipartir del nostro sole,
Et io con voi lagrimero mai sempre,
E mai sempre dorrommi, ahi doglia, ahi pianto.

[You grieved, O hills, and you, O stones
wept at the departure of our sun,
and I shall weep with you for evermore
and nevermore shall sleep, Oh grief, Oh tears!]

I have no questions
I have no answer
I have no future
is it time to admit
I died the day you died?
Life, for one instant, was
no more than the fragility of
one word, one look, one step.

Finale(Orpheus’ farewell)

moment of deliberate silence
when as far as one can dream
no sound survives

than my own voice
in its casual but absolute solitude.


Over the past thirty years, new music baritone Thomas Buckner has achieved notable success as an innovative performer, as well as producer and promoter, of some of the most adventurous music of the 20th century. Through his live and recorded work with both established and emerging contemporary composers and improvisers, Buckner continues to be a pioneer in a wide range of musical contexts, mixing genres and breaking barriers in his on-going pursuit of the yet-to-be-imagined. Buckner has performed his own concerts, and in association with a wide variety of ensembles, throughout the United States, Europe and Japan. In Berkeley, California, where he resided from 1967-83, Buckner founded 1750 Arch Records, which released over 50 record albums. He was also vocal soloist and co-director of the 23-piece Arch Ensemble, which performed and recorded the work of 20th century composers. Since 1989, he has curated the World Music Institute's Interpretations series in New York City. In 1996, he was awarded the American Music Center's Letter of Distinction, in recognition of his contributions to the field of contemporary music.

Belgian composer Jacques Bekaert studied music with Henri Pousseur in Basel. He has worked with the Sonic Arts Union (Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Alvin Lucier and Gordon Mumma), Takehisa Kosugi, George Lewis, John Cage and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company and has composed music for two films by Akiko Iimura. His Summer Music was recorded by Lovely Music. He is currently living in Thailand. As a journalist, he reported on the war in Cambodia and on post-war Vietnam, was a correspondent for the Far Eastern Services of the BBC for seven years, and wrote for Le Monde and the Bangkok Post. Since 1993 he has been a diplomat, accredited to Cambodia. He is also a photographer and graphic artist who has exhibited in California, Hanoi and Brussels.

Mel Graves, though primarily known as a jazz musician, has worked in various musical genres since the late 1960s. For three decades he has been a prominent music figure in the San Francisco area. He has maintained long associations with Denny Zeitlin, George Marsh and Mose Allison and performed with many noted jazz figures like Joe Henderson, Dewey Redman, James Newton, Kenny Wheeler, Kenny Werner, Lee Konitz, Larry Coryell, Roscoe Mitchell, and Ray Anderson, among others. He has also appeared with many symphony and chamber ensembles throughout North American and Europe. As a bassist he has recorded over forty projects including Upon A Tune with John Abercrombie and George Marsh, and Emotion in Motion featuring his own jazz compositions. An accomplished contemporary classical composer, he has received numerous grants and commissions from the Kronos Quartet, Thomas Buckner, the California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Twin Pines Wind Quintet, the Good Sound Foundation, the Jerome Foundation, Jazz in the City, Chamber Music Northwest and others. He is currently a professor at Sonoma State University where he is director of the jazz degree program. His student jazz combos have won numerous first place awards at collegiate festivals over the past ten years. A graduate of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (B.M.) and the University of California at San Diego (M.A.), he studied bass with Theron McClure, Phil Karp and Bert Turetzky, and composition with Loren Rush, Pauline Oliveros and Robert Erickson.

Composer and pianist “Blue” Gene Tyranny has composed electronic, instrumental and vocal works, film and video soundtracks, and scores for dance and theater. Over the course of his 30-year career he has performed and recorded solo and with many other artists (Robert Ashley, Peter Gordon, Laurie Anderson, John Cage, Iggy Pop, Carla Bley, Bill Dixon). His recent works include The Driver’s Son (Empathy) (1989-99), an audio-storyboard for voices, orchestra and electronics, His Tone of Voice at 37 (1999) for voice and chamber orchestra, and Nocturne With and Without Memory and The De-Certified Highway of Dreams, for piano. He writes the “Avant-Garde” section of the All-Music Guide (Miller-Freeman, 1993-99). His work is recorded on Lovely Music, CRI and Elektra/Nonesuch.

I wish to express my gratitude to Mimi Johnson and Lovely Music for releasing this the fourth CD of works I have commissioned. Thanks also to Robert and Helene Browning and the World Music Institute for co-producing with me the Interpretations concert series in New York City, where all the pieces were premiered. And a special appreciation to “Blue,” Mel and Jacques for composing three original and deeply spiritual pieces.

Produced by Thomas Buckner for Mutable Music Productions.
Recorded at Systems II, Brooklyn, NY.
Tom Hamilton and Joe Marciano, engineers.

Art Direction and Design: By Design

Copyright © 1997 Jacques Bekaert
Copyright © 1995 Mel Graves
Copyright © 1999 “Blue” Gene Tyranny

Cover image: Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, “Orpheus Leading Euridice from the Underworld (Detail)”, 1861, oil on canvas. Collection: The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Museum purchase with funds provided by the Agnes Cullen Arnold Endowment Fund.

© P 2000 Lovely Music, Ltd.

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