Julia Wolfe: Arsenal of Democracy (1996)

Arsenal of Democracy

Track list:

01. Tell me everything – SPIT Orchestra
02. Early that summer – The Lark Quartet
03. Arsenal of Democracy – Orkest de Volharding
04. Four Marys – Cassatt String Quartet
05. Steam – Newband


SPIT Orchestra (conductor: Brad Lubman)
The Lark Quartet
Orkest de Volharding (conductor: Jurjen Hempel)
Cassatt String Quartet
Newband (guest conductor: Brad Lubman)

Music composed by: Julia Wolfe

Arsenal of Democracy – personnel (pdf -202 KB)

Released: 1996
Label: Point Music
454 054

Producer: Michael Riesman
Executive Producers; Philip Glass, Kurt Munkacsi, Rory Johnston
Mix: Michael Riesman
Engineering: Patrick derivaz, Brian Fanelli, Martin Stumpf
Assistants: Ryoji Hata, Erika Larsen

Liner Notes: Julia Wolfe

Photography: Patty LeHan
Art Direction & design by: Lili Picou
Stylist: Severin Serafini
Make-up: Adrienne Mahnke
Hair: Rebekah Forecast

The recording of Four Marys is dedicated to the memory of Cassatt founder/cellist Anna Cholakian


Tell me everything (1994) 8′

Commissioner: La Camarata
First Performer: La Camarata, Festival Cervantino in 1994.

Tell me everything was originally written for La Camarata of Mexico City who premiered it at Festival Cervantino. I was very into the rhythm — making it irregular — everyone playing in their own time but playing together in a kind of off-beat samba — like several joyfully unwieldy village bands. There were so many times while writing this piece that I broke into laughter — wondering can I really write this, can it really go on like this?
—Julia Wolfe

Early that summer (1993) 12′
string quartet

Commissioner: the MTC Lila Wallace/Readers Digest Consortium Program
First Performer: The Lark Quartet, The Kitchen, New York City, 30 May 1993

While living in Amsterdam [in 1992] I began Early That Summer. I was reading a book about U.S. political history and the author kept introducing small incidents with phrases like ”Early that summer…” The incidents would eventually snowball into major political crises or events. I realized that the music I was writing was exactly like this — that I was creating a constant state of anticipation and forward build. Early That Summer was written for the Lark Quartet. I asked them to play it the way they play Beethoven. They are so clear and strong, full of fire and aggression.
—Julia Wolfe

Arsenal of Democracy (1993) 9′

Commissioner: Orkest de Volharding
First Performer: Muziek Centrum de IJsbreker, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 28 January 1993

In 1992 I went to live in Amsterdam for a year. It’s so beautiful there and it’s an amazing place to live as an artist. Art is a crucial part of Dutch society. It was an incredible relief to live in that atmosphere. I went to lots of concerts, joined the composers’ ping-pong team, and wrote Arsenal of Democracy. The piece is written for Orkest de Volharding, a political street band started by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen and others. The group is loud and tough and they’re organized in a socialistic framework — everyone has equal say, everyone arrives at consensus decisions. The title of my piece is taken from a phrase coined by Franklin Roosevelt referring to the United States’ role as an arsenal before fully entering into WWII. In more recent U.S. history this ”arsenal of democracy” has reached terrifying and absurd proportions. I imagined that Orkest de Volharding would be a far better arsenal, with trumpets and trombones on the front lines.
—Julia Wolfe

Four Marys (1991) 11′
string quartet

Commissioner: the Koussevitzky Foundation
First Performer: The Cassatt Quartet, La Mama, New York City, NY, 12 May 1991

In 1991 the Cassatt String Quartet came to play on the [Bang on a Can] festival because another quartet had canceled at the last minute. We didn’t know them. When they started to play I was amazed — they were like angels, moving and breathing together. In 1992 I wrote Four Marys for the Cassatt. I thought about how they played as if they were one organism. Four Marys takes the sound world of the mountain dulcimer and magnifies it — the sliding pitches, the crude crying tone, the drone strings, and the ”strumming” expand throughout the quartet. I spent hours hanging around with them in their apartments, trying out ideas, reworking things, ordering take-out food. This was the beginning of our friendship.
—Julia Wolfe

Steam (1995) 8′
fl/eorg/vc/Harry Partch instruments (2 harmonic canons, 1 bloboy)

First Performer: Newband, Merkin Concert Hall, New York City, NY, 30 March 1995

I wrote STEAM for three instruments built by Harry Partch, two harmonic canons and a bloboy, as well as amplified flute, cello, and electric organ. The Newband performers are specially trained on Partch’s original instruments which have been in their possession since 1990. Newband lent me one of the harmonic canons for several weeks. It’s a large microtonal zither. The tuning is amazingly beautiful with 43 notes to the octave. I spent hours strumming, plucking, glissing — when you slide down the strings it has the sound of a wild animal cry. I kept Partch’s tuning for his instruments while using the familiar tempered tuning for the others. I loved the sound of these two worlds rubbing against each other, fusing into a new kind of harmony.
—Julia Wolfe