In September Black Truffle released the first recording of Cassandra Miller on vinyl, pairing Traveller Song and Thanksong – available to purchase as an LP or digital download here. The LP features photography and designs by experimental Norwegian musician and artist Lasse Marhaug, and brings together previous recordings of Miller’s music from Plus-Minus Ensemble and Quatuor Bozzini with Juliet Fraser.
Traveller Song (2016 rev. 2018) is a 21-minute work for ensemble of seven or eight players and tape, scored for clarinet, piano four hands, accordion, guitar, violin, and cello. The tape element is a recording of Miller’s own voice – “caterwauling”, as she puts it – singing along to a Sicilian cart driver’s tune recorded by Alan Lomax and Diego Carpitella. Miller recorded her own singing many times over, layering these recordings in canon, and creating an instrumental framework around it.
“The resulting piece”, she notes, “is perhaps about a different kind of travelling, and might have more in common with a quasi-shamanistic keening than anything Sicilian…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 state of things.” Traveller Song was premiered by Ensemble Plus-Minus at Café OTO as part of KammerKlang 2017, and their recording of it was first released on Songs About Singing, a 2017 portrait disc of Miller’s vocal music from all that dust.
Thanksong also draws on pre-existing music. The title of the 15-minute work references the ‘Heiliger Dankgesang’ from Beethoven’s op.132 string quartet, summoning the opening’s prayerful and inward mood. To compose Thanksong Miller sang along – the automatic singing-in-meditation that is a cornerstone of her compositional practice, also used in Traveller Song – to the four individual parts of the quartet, many times in repetition, transforming the material into gentle pendulum-like repeated gestures. The quartet members play the music by ear (with the aid of simplified notation), listening in headphones to Miller’s voice – and the composition is held together by the pacing and breath of Juliet Fraser, as she sings Beethoven’s line as slowly and quietly as possible.
Thanksong received its first live performances at the Dartington International Summer School and Wigmore Hall in 2022, after an online premiere in 2020 in a video created by TIME:SPANS festival. This autumn it receives performances from Phaedra Ensemble and Rosie Middleton at the Little Missenden Festival (11 October) and at London’s Café OTO (3 December).