Traveller Song - Cassandra Miller

Commissioned by Ensemble Plus–Minus with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.

My work on Traveller Song began with an exploration of my singing impulses while singing along to the song of a cart driver (carrettiere) from Sicily. The song in question was recorded by Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella, and appears on the album Folklore Musicale Italiano, Volume 2; the name of the singer was unfortunately not documented. Sicilian carrettieri sing alone while driving all day, and meet in taverns in the evening for singing competitions. 

I sang along while listening to this recording in headphones loud enough that I could not hear myself, and recorded this caterwauling, layered this recording in canon, and listened again, recording myself singing along again, following this process many times. By doing this, I am attempting to explore my own bodily impulses related to melody. The bizarre task of fitting my own singing into a chamber music setting created this piece for Ensemble Plus– Minus, and I am grateful to them for the opportunity to explore the space between these incongruous sound worlds. 

The resulting piece is perhaps about a different kind of travelling, and might have more in common with a quasi-shamanistic keening than anything Sicilian (or perhaps more with my own need for both holding-on and moving-on, the heartache between these two places, the always going-under and giving-up to the transitory (intransitive) state of things—this is anyway how I felt while singing, and again how I felt with the futile task of composing something tenable in this unsettled space). 

Cassandra Miller