Oracle (2005)
large mixed ensemble

Robert Morris

The first performance of Oracle

Program Notes

Oracle is a sixty-four-minute composition for singers and instrumentalists including percussion. It is the third of my pieces designed to be played out of doors, in a park or in the country, woods, highlands, and the like. It may be also played indoors.

While a performance of Oracle can be publicly announced to be performed at a certain time and place, it can be performed by invitation so that the each member of the audience has been individually invited to attend. Performances might be held without any announcement so the audience is simply the people who happen to be in and around the performance space. The name of the piece, composer, list of performers with brief program notes can be communicated at the performance on posters and/or fliers.

The structure of Oracle is based on the I-Ching, one of the Chinese Classic texts (compiled c. 1150 b.c.) in which sixty-four hexagrams are used to suggest appropriate actions in response to questions posed by the reader. Each hexagram is a collection of six lines that are either broken (- -) or unbroken (---). The picture at the top of this page shows the hexagrams arranged in two ways: in a circle or in a 8 by 8 square. I use each hexagram to determine the musical features of a corresponding section of the composition; there are therefore 64 sections, each lasting one minute. The order of the hexagrams does not follow the orders given above, but are sequenced so that between two successive hexagrams only one line changes from broken to unbroken or vice versa. This ensures that the music based on the hexagrams flows along smoothly, without great change or abruption.

As in my other outdoor pieces, each section is associated with a basic pitch. Thus there is a sequence of 64 notes that guides the music forward. These notes are overlapped so that, excepting the first and last three sections, each section has not only a basic pitch, but a basic four-note chord that is articulated in various ways. The structure of the basic pitch sequence permits the chords to represent each of the 29 types of four-note harmonies (available in the equal-tempered system of pitches) exactly once in a given order, then in retrograde.

The following chart shows the progression of basic pitches and chords in Oracle.

pitch and chord chart for Oracle

I adapted the special notation system from my other outdoor pieces for use in Oracle. To see examples from the score, scroll down to "Score Snapshots" below.

The Mills Performance

Oracle was premiered by the Mills Contemporary Performance Ensemble on Toyon Meadow at Mills College, Oakland California, on December 1, 2006.

The performers were: Jon Brenner, electric bass; Charity Chan, accordion; Jacob Danzinger, violin; Kirk Gardner, voice; Heather Gardner, viola; Jordan Glen, percussion; Ivor Holloway, saxophone; Anantha Krishnan, percussion; Eric Glick-Rieman, melodica; P.L. Grove, handbells; Hillary Overberg, violin; Emily Packard, violin; Erika Pipkin, electric keyboard; Paul Scriver, bass clarinet; Luke Selden, banjo; Aram Shelton, bass clarinet; Andy Strain, trombone; Haruka Tateishi, voice; Tomoe Yoshida, voice; Steed Cowart, director.

Here are photos of the first performance.

The George Eastman House Performance

Oracle was performed by OSSIA on the Terrace Garden of the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, on September 13, 2007 at 4 and 6 p.m.

The performers were: Andrew Allen, Tuba; Candy Amato, Viola; Joel Atella, Vocals; Sara Ballance, Violin; Haley Bangs, Flute; Matthew Barber; Ocarina, Recorders and Bassoon; Miles Brown, Bass; John Hain, Percussion; Brian Heveron-Smith, Percussion; Chester Howard, Clarinet and Bass Clarinet; Jung Sun Kang, Synthesizer; Jenine Lawson, Synthesizer; Steve Lecik, Trombone Quinn Lewis, Alto Saxophone; Erin McPeck, Bass; Robert Miller, Guitar; Scott Perkins, Vocals; Steven Rice, Synthesizer; Mariel Roberts, Cello; David Sedlins, Cello; Baljinder Sekhon, Percussion; Pat Walle, Horn; Erica Washburn, Vocals; Adrienne Wills, Vocals.

Robert Pierzak, Conductor

Here are photos of the performance.

The Lettuce Lake Park Performance

Oracle was performed by the University of South Florida New-Music Consortium at Lettuce Lake Park in Tampa, Florida on Sunday, March 6, 2011 at 2:30 pm and 4:30 pm

The performers were: Dathan Boone,bass clarinet; Jerry Siano, Chris Sgammato, alto saxophone; Susanna Hancock, bassoon; Dillon Swift, trombone; Nathan Corder, John Dunlap, guitar; David Cruz, synthesizer; Zachary Hale, Jeff Temple, Evan Lloyd, Alan Bonko, Paul Gavin, percussion; Amanda Raber, Kate Bryant, violin; Nicole Kootz, viola; Byron Hogan, Austin Haigler, Michael Amos, cello; William Hall, Scott Moore, bass.

Baljinder Sekhon, II, Conductor

Here are photos of the performance.

Click here to see a video of excerpts from the USF New-Music Consortium perforamcne of Oracle at Lettuce Lake, Tampa, Florida.

Score Snapshots

sections 3 and 4

sections 33 and 34

sections 63 and 64