two brass buttons



No. 1 of 2015’s 100 Poems.

A setting of E. E. Cummings’ two brass buttons off

Looking at the poem (right) it’s clear to see that Cummings divided the text into distinct columns based on the vowels sounds of each syllable. In my piece, I take those columns (with only few changes to the classifications) and assign each a unique pitch based on 24-tone equal temperament. These pitch assignments are based on the vowel sounds themselves. Starting with the most neutral at the center [ə], I moved outward in each direction to create a spectrum of vowels: at one end, [i]; at the other, [ɑ]. Assigning [ə] the pitch C-natural, I moved through the spectrum by quarter-tones and semitones based on each vowels resemblance to that which precedes it, thereby creating a 16-tone scale, one pitch for each column:

C, Conequarter sharp, Donequarter flat, D♮, Donequarter sharp, E♭, E♮, F♮, Fonequarter sharp, Gonequarter flat, G♮, Gonequarter sharp, Aonequarter flat, Aonequarter sharp, B♮, Bonequarter sharp

After that, the piece was composed like any other, with only the pitches having been serialized.

The piece sings as a drunk conversation. Both parties interrupt each other, and at no time do both voices sing together.