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Butte (2022)

for flute, piano, & string quartet - 20'

Commissioned by Electric Earth Concerts. 

I have spent most of my life living east of the Mississippi. The West, and especially the deserts of the West and Southwest are, for me, a completely foreign, magical, and mysterious landscape. One of my favorite places, and one of the most different than my home region in North Georgia, is the area around Moab, UT. Having spent most of my life amongst dense tree cover, the alien landscape with expansive views, red rock formations, sandstone arches, canyons, and a dearth of trees captivates me.


Buttes, many of which are regarded as sacred landforms in Native American cultures, are "tall, flat-topped, steep-sided towers of rock... created through the process of erosion, the gradual wearing away of earth by water, wind, and ice... Caprock protects the softer rock surrounding it... Buttes slowly become slender spires... Eventually, even the caprock falls prey to severe weathering and erosion."* Buttes are landforms on an incredibly long trajectory of erosion and, eventually, collapse.


This piece was written as a response to novelist Richard Powers' incredible and heartbreaking Bewilderment (2021). While earlier drafts of this piece explored more direct connections to the novel's characters, structure, plot, and themes, I eventually landed on this musical meditation on buttes. Both Powers' novel and the buttes of the Southwest spark similar emotions around the tragic beauty of impermanence.


This piece is in 8 parts and, for me, each is a kind of portrait of a Butte, showing the shape of the stone monument in sound (the notes moving up then back down) with each of the 8 parts from a different vantage point: distant at first, getting closer and closer until the enormity of the landform is overwhelming, before receding again into the distance. 

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