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Compositions —

Listen to an excerpt

Reflections on the Atomic Bomb

1989 • 24 minutes • Bass clarinet, bassoon, french horn, trombone, cello, bass/electric bass, piano, synth, 2 percussion, narrator.  (Text by Gertrude Stein)

Two movements reflecting each other in time. Where one is passive the other is active. The first movement displays 'Yin' characteristics; the idea of recession and passiveness. The second is 'Yang' - active, aggressive. However, each movement contains aspects of the other and a final synthesis is achieved at the end where a text by Gertrude Stein, although written in 1946, seems to speak in the present tense.

The work was commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. The text 'Reflection on the Atomic Bomb' by Gertrude Stein (1946) is used with the permission of the Estate of Gertrude Stein.

'Reflections on the Atomic Bomb' ends with a text  (first published in Yale Poetry Review, December 1947) thought to be among the last written by Gertude Stein.


As I write this (at the time of the Corona virus outbreak) its words seem particularly poignant after 74 years:

They asked me what I thought of the atomic bomb. I said I had not been able to take any interest in it. I like to read detective and mystery stories. I never get enough of them but whenever one of them is or was about death rays and atomic bombs I never could read them. What is the use, if they are really as destructive as all that there is nothing left and if there is nothing there nobody to be interested and nothing to be interested about. If they are not as destructive as all that then they are just a little more or less destructive than other things and that means that in spite of all destruction there are always lots left on this earth to be interested or to be willing and the thing that destroys is just one of the things that concerns the people inventing it or the people starting it off, but really nobody else can do anything about it so you have to just live along like always, so you see the atomic [bomb] is not at all interesting, not any more interesting than any other machine, and machines are only interesting in being invented or in what they do, so why be interested. I never could take any interest in the atomic bomb, I just couldn't any more than in everybody's secret weapon. That it has to be secret makes it dull and meaningless. Sure it will destroy a lot and kill a lot, but it's the living that are interesting not the way of killing them, because if there were not a lot left living how could there be any interest in destruction. Alright, that is the way I feel about it. They think they are interested about the atomic bomb but they really are not not any more than I am. Really not. They may be a little scared, I am not so scared, there is so much to be scared of so what is the use of bothering to be scared, and if you are not scared the atomic bomb is not interesting.

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