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Black Bayou Composition Award

Each year, we present the Black Bayou Composition Award to the piece "that best reflects the connection between music and nature." Adjudicators outside of the NMB Festival staff help us determine the winner. This award is made possible in part by the Friends of Black Bayou. The winner receives $500 and a commission for the following year's festival. Two runners-up each receive $100. Below are the composers and titles with notes from our past festivals.

Christopher Mortlock, Brightening Band - 2023 Award Winner

Brightening Band was initially inspired by two images of the Milky Way. The first, taken from the Hubble Space Telescope, captures a view that is familiar to us: the celestial smear across the skyline. The second is a computer-generated image that views the entirety of the galaxy as if from above: an impossible point of perspective. The striking differences between these images suggested two ways of structuring or ‘viewing’ the same musical materials. These perspectives are explored in one continuous movement, the form of which illustrates an imagined journey from Earth toward the Galactic Centre. The piece is composed of two distinct musical materials, both of which are representations of two sights granted to the galactic traveler. The first, a distant arpeggiated chord sequence, was inspired by the veiling of the most far-flung stars by the denser Galactic Centre, as viewed by the celestial traveler.  The second, that interrupts the first with increasing persistence, represents the accumulation of stars and dust toward the Galactic Centre. The relationship between these two materials is slowly deconstructed as the former slowly ‘comes into focus’ and therefore, begins to resemble the latter. The final stages of the music are inspired by the second, computer-generated image and, as such, both musical elements are viewed as if from above. The term ‘variation’ is not quite appropriate for this section as it is closer to a musical summation or ‘abstract’. 

Oswald HuỳnhAubade with Ashen Clouds, Scarlet Sky - 2022 Award Winner

Aubade with Ashen Clouds, Scarlet Sky is a meditation of the west coast wildfires earlier this year. Although it was not my first time away from home, the experience of leaving my family in the wake of a pandemic, the ongoing battle against systemic racism, and a contentious election cycle on top of these fires only heightened my anxieties. Particularly in Oregon—my home state—these fires were the largest and most destructive since the Eagle Creek Fire of 2017. In the aftermath three years ago, I remember a collective feeling of hope and optimism; there was a sense that the treasured Columbia Gorge would be rejuvenated, and it eventually was. The forests and trails are not as verdant as they used to be, but the progression was a future that the community knew would become reality. Perhaps this is more a reflection of the international trauma we have all been affected by this year, but the previous hope was nowhere to be found. The images of the fiery sunrises and the clouds of ash devastated me. Because of my upbringing in Oregon, I have developed a deep connection to nature, and it pained me seeing such a beloved place burned to ashes again.

Timothy Roy, Southern Specter - 2021 Award Winner

One of the most striking and defining visuals of the United States Deep South is that of the southern live oak tree shrouded in Spanish moss. A tangled and bluish-grey flowering plant, Spanish moss can be seen draped from the sprawling, gnarled branches of oaks throughout the region, hanging ghost-like across its swampy landscape. At times, the music of Southern Specter serves as a sonic embodiment of a moss-covered tree. At other times, it seeks to convey the various thoughts and feelings one might have upon viewing such an image, ranging from serenity, solemnness, and nostalgia to gloom and ominousness. Richard Johnson’s film – created in response to in-progress drafts of my score – plays with analogous concerns on the visual front: perspective, representation versus abstraction, light and shadow, and ambiguity. Southern Specter was commissioned by Musiqa New Music Collective for Loop38 Ensemble. Special thanks to Jungle Gardens of Avery Island, Louisiana, for film footage and inspiration.

Daniel Fawcett, Skulptures I-III - 2019 Award Winner

Skulptures I-III, written for cello, gesture controllers and electronics, originally began as a stand-alone piece in 2012 with the first sculpture for cello and electronics alone exploring micro-scale form. This was left alone, edited and later expanded upon with two additional pieces added in 2018. The inclusion of gesture controllers and a homemade Arduino audio rig came from the interest in various forms performance art extended with technology in the manner of Nam June Paik’s TV Cello of 1971. The ability and desire to utilize these elements additionally led to inclusion of choreographic notation to facilitate the performers interpretation. The result of these elements is meant to create a focused event experience for both listener and performer.

Steven Landis, IMPACT - 2018 Award Winner

I. Flint - Cheap rhetoric, finger-pointing... pundits and politicians banter. Clean water is scarce, but not Legionnaires' disease.

II. The Calving of A68 - An iceberg the size of Delaware named A68 broke from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica during the summer of 2017.

III. ...and rain followed the plow - "Rain follows the plow" is a debunked 19th century proverb that attributed rain to the amount of land that was farmed. Real estate moguls and government officials coined the adage to encourage farmers to settle in the United States western territories. Settlers over-farmed the land believing that divine and/or natural intervention would bring the rain. The poor farming practices helped promote the topsoil erosion and drought conditions of the dustbowl era.

IV. susurrus - Lapping shoreline wreathed in kelp, shells glimmer half-buried. Footprints go with the tide, leaving cigarette butts, bottles, and old fishing leader in their place.

V. Meniscus Rising - In Miami, manhole covers dance in the streets, the clatter tolls high tide.

William Price, I/O - 2017 Award Winner

Commissioned by the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center in Birmingham, Alabama, I/O was originally designed as a 13-channel surround sound installation. The two-channel arrangement is divided into three parts and uses spoken text − a passage taken from Luigi Russolo’s 1913 manifesto “The Art of Noise,” a lecture presented by Karlheinz Stockhausen in 1972, and an interview given by John Cage in 1991 − to construct a largescale musical and textual narrative. The work was composed and edited in the recording studios at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

John Teske, topographies - 2016 Award Winner

topographies is a series of graphic scores which requires performers to navigate through contour maps composed of musical symbols. The pieces are a study on individual and group intention. Each player creates a narrative as they traverse the score, sometimes carving their own path and at other times traveling to reunite with the ensemble.

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