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Michael Gordon

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Gotham (2004)
Work Notes
Contact for video rental information.
Text Writer
Film by Bill Morrison
Red Poppy
Year Composed
27 Minutes
Programme Note
Michael Gordon Gotham (2004)

Composer note:
Gotham is the first piece of an ongoing collaboration I have with filmmaker Bill Morrison. The idea of the series is to capture the aura of a city through music and imagery. In this case, the city is our city where we both live — New York.

Everyone who lives in a big urban place has a special spot that they have found where their soul relaxes. In the first movement of Gotham, I was thinking about the places we go to escape New York while being in New York. The spare opening music, which starts with solo violin and piano, slowly becomes majestic as the strings, winds and then brass join in. Images of old New York begin with a surprising scene of a man tending sheep. As the camera pulls back, the surrounding urban landscape is revealed, and the viewer realizes he is tending sheep in what is now Central Park.

In this collaboration, the film footage has been cut to the music. The film is primarily vintage black-and-white footage in Bill Morrison's signature style, where the celluloid has decayed to the point that the film provides an ongoing commentary of psychedelic splotches and graffiti on top of the visual imagery.

The middle movement captures the daily assault of the city, with a hyper-intense pulse in the orchestra and blaring glissandos in the trumpets, almost reminiscent of sirens and carhorns and the industrial howls of New York life.

The third section is a wild jig, with rhythmic violins setting the pace and all the other instruments piling in until there is a huge mass of sound — an ecstatic dance gone wrong.

Gotham looks at the underside of the city — the sidewalks, manhole covers, the construction — what goes on in daily life here. Living through 9/11 made me think about where I live with fresh eyes and fresh ears. I wondered, Why am I living here? One doesn't live in New York City because it is beautiful or an easy life. Those aren't the reasons. It's intense, it's noisy, it's exciting, it's dirty. It really juices you up. In Gotham, we took a fresh look.

— Michael Gordon

Gotham was commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra.

  • Ensemble
    Aurora Orchestra
    Nicholas Collon
    Cantaloupe Music:
GOTHAM...will undoubtedly be the most discussed piece of new orchestral music played in London this year. Like its spiritual ancestor, Edgard Varèse's epic 1922 ear-basher AMÉRIQUES, its theme is the New World in all its brash, brilliant, multifarious intensity - and particularly, of course, New York. But this is no lullaby of Broadway. True, the first movement is comparatively mild. Rising and falling scales shift in and out of sync in...minimalist fashion, while, on the big screen behind the orchestra, Bill Morrison's collage of newsreels flickers and shudders through primordial footage of sheep in Central Park. But the second and third movements are a different matter. As skyscrapers, subway trains and crowds whirl across the screen, Gordon's score crashes... Imagine a dozen police sirens, each a quarter-tone apart from the next....Add a pounding beat. And then, just when you think that the heavily amplified orchestra can't produce anything more...imagine a kind of danse macabre for our times: a relentless, ferocious jig that starts with a single fiddle, then splinters into a myriad different lines, none quite aligned with the next, until the whole band is spinning in a mega-decibel vortex.
Richard Morrison, The Times (London),01/01/0001
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