A MAGIC DWELLS  for Symphony Orchestra and Recorded Sounds, 1984

Duration: 14:20
Performance practicality:  Special pause/play instructions for recording engineer, new notations, special instructions for conductor, on-string piano preparations. timing in seconds and meter, amplifier and stereo loudspeakers.

In 1982 Priscilla McLean received a National Endowment for the Arts Composer Grant to write a work for orchestra and tape*.  From a recording session with the University of Texas Symphonic Orchestra, McLean gathered some of the source material for the tape part, and sketches for the orchestral part.  From these the piece was scored at the MacDowell Colony in early 1984 and revised later that year. From the orchestral-electronic texture emerges a magical sound: “voices” of the instruments “singing” ancient messages of creation. A sustained stringed chord on tape, mysterious in origin, evokes a sense of timelessness.  The messages arise alone or are mixed with the busy, energetic “life” in the orchestra.

The “voices” were created by blending the recorded instrumental groups with actual sung voices (Trevor Wishart— U.K. composer, Barton McLean, and Priscilla McLean) processed through the vocoder (electronic sound-modifying instrument).  As is in keeping with the mystery of Creation, the messages** are very short phrases (in English) in various degrees of clarity, from Hebrew, Christian, Egyptian, Chinese, and American Wintu Indians, ending with a speech from Hermann Hesse: “A magic dwells at each beginning and protecting us it tells us how to live” (“Magister Ludi”).  The structure of A MAGIC DWELLS involves progressive extension of the rhythmic and melodic ostinati in the orchestra, reaching a climax when the tape proclaims “All Colors of the World” and sustaining a solo orchestra section afterwards, gradually dying down as the last phrases are heard.  Harmonically, the tape provides a dense chord against which the other sounds on tape and in the orchestra progress from simple to complex and back to simple chordal structures at the end.

Orchestrated at The MacDowell Colony in 1984, A MAGIC DWELLS was premiered as the winning composition of the 17th Sigvald Thompson Composition Competition by the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony on January 31, 1988, Robert Hanson conducting.  The recording below is from the dress rehearsal of that premiere. A MAGIC DWELLS is published by the composer under the title MLC Publications.

*tape was the medium for recording at that time. Now recorded sounds are on CDs or streamed from the computer.
** The messages: Underlined passages are used in the piece:
A Magic Dwells. Fargo-Moorhead Orchestra - Unknown Artist
00:00 / 00:00
  “The breath of life moves through a deathless valley
                 of mysterious motherhood
            Which conceives and bears the universal seed,
            The seeming of a world never to end,
            Breath from men to draw from as they will:
            And the more they take of it, the more remains.” 1

                  “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground,
             and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life:
             and man became a living soul.”  2

            …”the tree of life also (was planted) in the midst of the garden…” 2a

            “Sacred (Mirror of Creation): every deity contemplates perpetually
             his own image” 3

            “I am the vine; ye are the branches” 4

            “It (the Creator’s World House) stood there in the morning dawn,
             a mountain of beautiful flowers and oak-tree branches:
             all colors of the world were on it, outside and inside.” 5

            “It was not born:  it sees not and is not seen.” 6

            “A magic dwells at each beginning and protecting us it tells us how to live.” 7

    1  Lao Tsu: THE WAY OF LIFE, China 604 B.C.
    2  King James version: HOLY BIBLE: Genesis
    2a The Tree of Life is sacred creation symbol for most cultures of  the world.
     3  The Ankh    from Egyptian religion
     4  HOLY BIBLE: New Testament
     5  Creation myth of the American Wintu Indians
     6  Lao Tzu: THE WAY OF LIFE
      7  Hermann Hesse: poem from MAGISTER LUDI