Hyperrhiz 20

Conveying Diaspora in a Polyphonic Electronic Manuscript

Judy Malloy
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Citation: Malloy, Judy. “Conveying Diaspora in a Polyphonic Electronic Manuscript.” Hyperrhiz: New Media Cultures, no. 20, 2019. doi:10.20415/hyp/020.mov03

Abstract: Intertwining Irish history and generations of Irish-American family memories, As if the Memory Was a Song: From Ireland with Letters (Malloy 2010-7) is an epic electronic manuscript disseminated in the public space of the Internet. The narrative centers on how an iconic sculpture in opposition to African American slavery was created by a descendant of the Irish children stolen from their homes by Oliver Cromwell and sent in forced servitude to the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony in the seventeenth century. Using entries from a series of online writer’s notebooks that the author wrote in conjunction with the creation of From Ireland, this essay explores how a lost history was recreated through Irish music and poetry, Irish-American music, Irish and Irish-American musicology, original editions of Gaelic Revival books from the UC Berkeley Library, microfilms from the collection of the Smithsonian, a Grattan Flood-initiated search for the lost Irish sonata, and the author’s polyphonic and generative authoring systems.

Keywords: polyphonic electronic literature, generative hypertext, electronic manuscript, Irish history, Irish-American history, artists’ notebooks.


As if the Memory Was a Song: From Ireland with Letters (Malloy 2010-7) is an electronic manuscript (Malloy, “The Electronic Manuscript” n.p.) created with HTML5, CSS, and JavaScript and disseminated in the public space of the Internet. In eight cantos, a narrative of enforced diaspora—from seventeenth-century Ireland to a Puritan colony in Massachusetts—emerges. Themes of Irish and Irish-American history, and Irish and Irish-American musicology and art history unite a whole, in which authoring systems vary from parallel P2P (peer to peer) manuscripts in the Prologue to “unmeasured” notation in cantos two-three, “measured notation” in cantos four-six, and generative hypertext in the two concluding cantos. 

From Ireland with Letters began when, following a trail that my grandfather Walter Powers sent me on, many years ago, I acquired Smithsonian art historian Richard P. Wunder’s monograph on the nineteenth-century sculptor Hiram Powers. Surprised that in 1654, Hiram Powers’s ancestor Walter Power would, without coercion, emigrate from Ireland to the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony, I stared at the date on page 28. 1654 was only a few years after Cromwell and the Puritan New Model Army invaded Ireland in 1649, massacred women and children in Drogheda and Wexford, and leveled the Irish built environment of castles and churches (Murphy; Wheeler). Additionally, in this era, the 1647 Puritan statute forbade Catholic priests and Jesuit orders from entering Massachusetts. The punishment for the first offence was banishment. If a banished priest was caught again, he would be put to death (Book of the General Lawes).

And so, in ancient books of Irish history, I unfolded the story of how, after Cromwell devastated Ireland in 1649, he in the following years sent his Irish opponents and their families into exile in Connacht or forced servitude in the “New World” (Cromwell 457-8; Symonds 294-5; Prendergast 237-40).

From Ireland with Letters is a storyteller’s retelling of what is known of a true family story. One of Walter Power’s descendants was the sculptor Hiram Powers, who created The Greek Slave and sent her in chains around America, where the work became iconic in abolitionist newspapers in the years before the Civil War (Wunder 1: 207-74). Another of Walter Power’s descendants is the author of this essay, Judy Powers Malloy.

Eventually, Massachusetts was among the first states to outlaw slavery, and in the nineteenth century, Boston was an abolitionist stronghold. However, in the seventeenth century, slavery in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was excused by a Puritan statute that allowed “slavery of lawfull captives, taken in just warres” [sic] (Moore 12-3). The history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s seventeenth-century enslavement of Native Americans, Africans, and of Cromwell’s Irish and Scottish enemies was not taught in the schools in the Boston area where I grew up. Nor was the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s primary role at the beginning of African slavery in the United States common knowledge (Moore 5). In England, where the recently unearthed mass grave of Scottish prisoners taken at Dunbar (Weiss) illustrates the Cromwell regime’s brutality, this history is also seldom taught (Kettle).

In America, the seventeenth-century history of the Irish children, whom Oliver Cromwell’s forces stole from their homes and transported in forced indenture to the colonies, is and should always be greatly overshadowed by the terrible history of the almost four million African people and their descendants, who were enslaved in America. Stories of personal heritage are of value to the communities and families whose history they augment. However, to avoid comparison with the far more egregious history of African slavery, rather than “slave,” involuntary indenture or involuntary or forced servitude, or captive or prisoner of war are more appropriate terms for the captive children of Cromwell’s enemies, who were treated as prisoners of war and sent in slave ships to the colonies.

That Walter Power—the first member of the sculptor Hiram Powers’s family in America (Wunder 1: 28)—was probably a passenger on the ship that carried Irish and Scottish children to forced servitude in the Massachusetts Bay Colony is confirmed in Michael J. O’Brien’s Pioneer Irish in New England (239-41). However, the contemporary characters who discover this history in From Ireland with Letters are fictional. Walter Power’s story is told by his descendant Máire Powers, an Irish-American fiddler who is writing a narrative lay about her ancestor’s seventeenth-century arrival in America. Hiram Powers’s story is told by art historian Liam O’Brien. O’Brien, whose ancestors came to America in “coffin ships” during the Great Famine, is researching the sculptor’s life and work in the context of nineteenth-century art history. As the narrative progresses, their own lives and their research begin to merge.

In Traditional Music in Ireland, Irish musician Tomás O’Canainn observes that in Irish dance music, structure evolves from concentrating on a few notes of the available scale and returning to these notes “again and again throughout the tune.” But when skillfully played, the result is “a tune which attains a unity of purpose and a build-up of tension eminently satisfying” (27). In From Ireland with Letters, as a “trad” Irish-American musician and an Irish-American art historian share their music and research, occurring and reoccurring themes of Irish and Irish-American history and legend are woven into the structures of contemporary electronic literature.  Throughout the work, just as a listener needs to listen to a complex work of music more than once to understand how it works, each canto benefits from several “replays.” As Ciaran Carson writes in Last Night’s Fun:

So you do, again and again, hearing something different every time, trying to remember what you heard the last time, trying to relive those moments, not knowing what you’ll hear in the future. (4)

Simultaneously told by two narrators, the musician and the art historian, a Prologue introduces From Ireland with Letters with two parallel P2P networks that merge and diverge, and, in the process, identify the main themes of the work. The core of From Ireland with Letters, cantos two to six, consists of polyphonic/polychoral compositions, created with three or four moving columns of words that—like a piece of music—work together in word-based counterpoint. As if watching a film or listening to a piece of music, the reader experiences these cantos by watching streams of text “play” on the screen, in counterpoint. However, if instead she clicks on the segments, the words become a reader-controlled dance. The distinction between “unmeasured” in cantos two-three (Begin with the Arrival and passage) and “measured” in cantos four-six (fiddler’s passage, Junction of Several Trails and “Gone with Our Wanderers”) means that in the former, the movement of the text is not formally scored with measures, but in the later the movement of the texts is scored with measures in the way that music is scored (Malloy, “Issues in Public Electronic Literature”). In this way, a textual flow that moves from informal to formal, unobtrusively paces the progress of the story.

For the final two cantos (The Not Yet Named Jig and when we return again), the decision to move from the polychoral composition to generative composition was made in response to the question: How could a world model of a time and place—the community of Malden (Mystik Side) in The Massachusetts Bay Area Colony in 1660—be created when only a few details were available? The answer was to write all the known details into lexias, fictionalize only when necessary, and allow the computer to bring up the lexias at will. In physics, a somewhat similar approach is known as a “Monte Carlo simulation.” There are various definitions of Monte Carlo simulation, but briefly, they are a group of computational algorithms that (in the sciences in general, and in particle physics in particular) use repeated random sampling to explore and clarify problems (Dizikes).

If From Ireland with Letters is Irish in its roots of emigration and centuries of displacement, it is Irish American in its little-told narrative of forced servitude in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in portraying an Irish-American musician and an Irish-American historian as protagonists, and in its focus on an Irish-American sculptor.

Entries from the Writer’s Notebook for Begin with the Arrival

Along the way during the five-year creation of From Ireland with Letters, I kept online notebooks to document the research and the authoring process. Because they were written at the time of the composition of this work, the documenting of the research and the creation of From Ireland with Letters with extracts from these notebooks allows both a glimpse into how this work was created, and an example of how writers’ notebooks can contribute to the creative process. In this essay, I have chosen to concentrate on the notebook entries for canto two: Begin with the Arrival (Malloy, Notebook n.p.).

My notebook entries were generally at least a half a page long. For this essay, I have selected small parts of core entries about the writing and research for this work. Additionally, because they address the Hiram Powers’s story, the entries here open with a few earlier entries that concern The Prologue, and close with a few later extracts created for cantos five and six (Junction of Several Trails and “Gone with Our Wanderers”). It should be noted that because these are exact notebook entries, with the exception of abridgement (indicated by ellipsis) and explanation (indicated by brackets), they are reproduced as they were originally written. All the works referred to in the text of my notebook entries are included in the Works Cited section of this essay.

Begin with the Arrival takes place on a stormy night in a pub in New Hampshire, where Máire Powers is performing the narrative lay of Walter Power, and a stranger, the art historian Liam O’Brien, a professor at a local university, is in the audience. The research and observations, which are briefly represented in this abridged sample of notebook entries, form a dialog with the work itself.

The selected entries begin in 2010 with the creation of the characters who will tell the story; the structure of the lost Irish sonata, which will inspire the composition; the microfilm of Hiram Powers’s letters, obtained from the Archives of American Art; and research in the UC Berkeley Library. In October 2010, my copy of Michael J. O’Brien’s Pioneer Irish in New England arrives in the mail, and Walter Powers’s probable arrival in the colonies as an Irish captive is documented.

Early in 2011, selected notebook entries address the histories of Irish music and poetry that inform the composition of From Ireland with Letters. Then, on August 15, 2011, exactly 362 years since Oliver Cromwell landed in Dublin on August 15, 1649, I begin documenting the acquisition and reading of nineteenth-century Gaelic Revival histories of Cromwell’s invasion of Ireland, such as Denis Murphy’s Cromwell in Ireland (1897). In November 2011, my writer’s notebook moves to contemporary poetry and criticism, such as Brendan Kennelly’s Cromwell and Seán Crosson’s “The Given Note”: Traditional Music and Modern Irish Poetry. Additionally, I explain composition strategies that underlie Begin with the Arrival.   

Notebook entries for Begin with the Arrival conclude in 2012 with comments on the creative practice of scoring electronic literature on watercolor paper, and on how Charlotte Milligan Fox’s Annals of the Irish Harpers (1912) influences the clothing that Máire Powers wears for her performance. It also includes a discussion on how, when one is writing a work of fiction, after a certain amount of time the characters begin to take on a life of their own. 

To return the notebook entries to their beginning with Hiram Powers’s letters, a January 2013 entry (Malloy, Notebook n.p.) explores the climate of slave narratives when Powers’s The Greek Slave toured America in the years preceding the Civil War.

July 27, 2010

Am about ready to begin outlining the plot of From Ireland with Letters. At the moment,
(sometimes this changes for various reasons) the main characters are Máire Megan Powers,
an Irish musician who is researching her family background (…) and Liam [O’Brien], an art historian who is researching Hiram Powers.

August 6, 2010

Once a narrative is begun, creating the characters and their story becomes a fine part
of a writer’s life. However, the preliminary writing is exploratory, by which I mean that it may evolve as the story is created; the words and cadence are not yet polished; the story may change.

August 30, 2010

(…) I turned again to Flood’s A History of Irish Music and in particular to his quoting of Irish artist and musician George Petrie’s description of the sonata-like construction of ancient Irish songs.

October 17, 2010

(…) Beginning the tandem process of writing the words and designing the interface of a new work is always difficult. But after a while, the tone and interface somewhat fall into place, and it becomes a little easier.

(…) A large amount of time now needs to be spent reading letters to and from Hiram Powers. Was concerned about reading his handwriting but the letters have been transcribed and typed by the Archives of American Art, which has included both the original and the transcript in the microfilm records. Am currently reading letters from 1842, the year he began modeling The Greek Slave.

October 22, 2010

Michael J. O’Brien’s Pioneer Irish in New England (P.J. Kennedy and Sons, 1937) arrived in the mail, and I am reading it slowly.

On page 240, O’Brien observes that “(…) if it be true that ‘Walter Power lived at Salem in 1654’, the assumption is justified that he was one of the Irish ‘captives’ who came in the Goodfellow from Kinsale, Ireland.”

O’Brien, as noted, has the British Slave Ship Goodfellow as departing Ireland from Kinsale, in County Cork. A license was granted on September 6, 1653 to take 400 Irish children and carry them to the plantations. The ship docked in England before sailing for the New World on October 28, 1653. O’Brien writes that “The Goodfellow arrived in January, 1654, at Marblehead, Mass, where the master of the vessel disposed of part of his human cargo and then proceeded to Boston.” (p. 38)

In (in the same week) reading about the Irish captives who were sold to Ipswich masters,
and looking through my exhibition records as a young artist, I remembered bicycling around
Ipswich when I lived there (…) And I wondered if any of the young men and women stolen from their homes in Ireland, had lived on East Street where I lived.

January 21, 2011

[In his Music of the Middle Ages, Alberto] Gallo makes the point that the intellectualization of composition using established literary forms was important in changing attitudes about the seriousness of secular music. “The polyphonic and ‘poly-textual’ motet is the genre most symbolic of medieval music and its analogies with language” he writes, “and it is the first form in which music is not only a pleasant sound but a way of seeing reality.”

(…) That then was the first circular path -- from literature to music; from music to literature.

In an epic passage in his A History of Irish Music, Grattan Flood reviews Irish composition:

“The reader has seen that the ancient Irish were acquainted with the ogham music tablature in pre-Christian ages; they had their battle-marches, dance tunes, folk songs, chants. and hymns in the fifth century; they were the earliest to adopt the neums or neumatic notation, for the plain chant of the Western Church; they modified, and introduced Irish melodies into, the Gregorian Chant; they had an intimate acquaintance with the diatonic scale long before it was perfected by Guido of Arezzo; they were the first to employ harmony and counterpoint; they had quite an army of bards and poets; they employed blank verse, elegiac rhymes, consonant, assonant, inverse, burthen, dissyllabic, trisyllabic, and quadrisyllabic rhymes, not to say anything of caoines, laments, elegies, metrical romances, etc.; they invented the musical arrangement which developed into the sonata form; they had a world-famed school of harpers; and, finally, they generously diffused musical knowledge all over Europe. (19-20)”

February 4, 2011

Originally from County Cork, Liam’s paternal Grandparents met at a Boston dance hall in the 1950s. (or so I imagine after reading See You at the Hall, Boston’s Golden Era of Music and Dance (by Susan Gedutis)…

Many of the Boston Irish dance halls started in the 1920s were closed during the World War II. The music started again in 1946. A few years later [or so I imagine], Liam’s grandparents met at one of the dance halls in Dudley Square (…) where single men and women, from Irish American families or newly arrived from Ireland were sure to find a neighbor from the old country, or even a job or a romance (…) You could meet someone whose family came from County Cork at the time of the potato famine and so did your family, but you never knew this until you were dancing and talking at the Hall. That is how Liam’s grandparents met in the early 1950s.

(…) The dance halls were also a nurturing place for Irish music. Perhaps Liam’s Grandparents heard Tom Senier's Emerald Isle Orchestra at Winslow Hall or Matty Toohy’s band. Senier was born in Galway; Toohy was from Country Kerry. Toohy worked at Harvard University by day; Saturday nights he played at the Dudley Square Opera House…

Irish American songs and the songs that musicians born in Ireland brought with them when they came to America were sometimes quite different. But both traditional Irish songs and Irish American Songs were played at the dance halls.

February 12, 2011

Spoken word was also a part of Irish lays. [Hugh] Shields [in Narrative Singing in Ireland: Lays, Ballads, Come-All-Yes and Other Songs] notes that there was a tradition of ending a lay with speech—“in this way the speaker announces a return to ‘real’ or ‘non-ritual’ time at the song’s end.” And “expressive descent into speech” was sometimes an integral part of the song.

And there is a blurring of the distinction between narrator and subject in Irish lays that is particularly interesting to a new media poet.

May 2, 2011

(…) The idea is good: Máire’s lay conveyed through how Liam experiences it; through selected lines of song; through her recollection of the composition process; and with a background of the lives of Walter Power and Hiram Powers—all these things running in parallel lexia spaces, so that like a piece of music, the reader experiences them together.

May 11, 2011

And then—whether escape or research or because entranced by the creative rhyming, the rapidly flowing lines, the alliteration, the painterly words, the love of the land—I reread a book I have had for quite a few years: Kathleen Hoagland, 1000 Years of Irish Poetry (Old Greenwich, CT: Devon-Adair, 1981) and looked also at George Sigerson’s Bards of the Gail and Gall (New York: Scribner's, 1907).

[Sigerson quotes] the words of Amergin, the legendary Milesian druid poet, who, to stop a magic wind, wrote The Incantation. The opening lines are:

“Fain we ask Errin
Faring o’er oceans
Motions to mountains
Fountains and bowers
Showers, rills rushing
Gushing waves welling,
Swelling streams calling”

(…) The poem is ancient, although the exact date [of its composition] is not known. Hoagland also includes The Incantation but starts her book with two other poems attributed to Amergin: The Mystery and Invocation to Ireland…

(…) The most difficult poems were written during the seventeenth century. Not much art and music remain from that time of the devastation of Ireland, not much, but there are these poems. When I read them, I heard the voices of seventeenth century Ireland: wistful, mournful, questioning, harrowing… The Flight of the Earls written by Andreas Mac Marcuis in 1607; (“Who shall break our heavy chains?”) and Geoffrey Keating’s Farewell to Ireland (…) The most harrowing poem (…) is Shaun O’Dwyer of the Glen. [“(…) Now my lands are plunder, Far my friends asunder”]

September 16-7, 2011

(…) The interface for Begin with the Arrival puts Máire Powers and Liam O’Brien together; the distinction between their stories and reactions is not always apparent; and Liam’s reaction is as important as Máire’s performance.

Being able to present words in different ways is one of the strengths of new media literature…

June 14, 2011

(…) One of the reasons print narrative is so enduring is that it is human nature to want a sequential story. Yet the experiences of life can be conveyed in other ways. There is a value in that, and we now have the capabilities of doing it. For instance, Liam will not listen to Máire sing without thinking his own thoughts. The audience will drink their ale or beer and notice what there [sic] neighbors are doing. While at the same time they hear the music and the words. The performer will have her own concerns, particularly if this is the first time she has performed the work. These things will happen at the same time (…) Such struggles of vision and ways of conveying experience are a part of the making of art. And sometimes there will be moments when everything comes together, and one thinks “yes this is what I want to convey, and finally I have done it.”

August 15, 2011

On August 15, 1649, Oliver Cromwell landed in Dublin. It was the day of the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in Ireland called “The Feast Day of Our Lady in the Harvest Time,” Lá Fhéile Naomh Muire san Fhómhar. The day had probably been celebrated in Ireland since the sixth century.

As things now stand, I plan to begin the second part of Máire Powers’ lay with the events in Ireland on this day 362 years ago, or on the days leading up to Oliver Cromwell’s landing at Dublin. And so I made a trek last week to the library of the University of California at Berkeley, where they hold a substantial collection of books on Irish history. Now, the details I have been avoiding confront me in two 19th century books.

(…) the trek to the library, the carrying of historic books home, holding these books in my hands seem a clearer way of following the path of Irish history. I also carried home a contemporary history. However, because Máire Powers bases her lay on the books her Great Grandfather brought from Ireland, many written at the time of the Gaelic Revival or a little earlier, the books I am reading are:

John P. Prendergast, The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, London: Longman, 1865. (Dublin, printed at the University Press by M.H. Gill)

and the book I am starting with:

Rev. Denis Murphy, S.J., Cromwell in Ireland, a History of Cromwell's Irish Campaign. Dublin, M.H. Gill & Son, New Edition, 1897.

In his preface, written in Limerick on the feast of St. Patrick, 1883, [Father Denis Murphy] writes: “I have allowed each of the chief actors to tell the part which he took, and in his own words, too, when it was possible to do so.”

Murphy sets the stage… and then he writes of Cromwell’s departure from Milford Haven:

“On Monday August 13th, he set sail with the van of his Army in thirty-two ships (…) General Ireton, his son-in-law, followed two days after, with the main body of the army in forty-two vessels. His chaplain, Hugh Peters, with twenty sail brought up the rear.”

It was a formidable invasion, probably even larger than Murphy knew because in his 1999 book (…) Cromwell in Ireland (…) James Scott Wheeler (retired US Army) writes that “Cromwell had 35 ships; Ireton had 70 ships; and they were followed by Colonel Horton with a flotilla of 18 ships.”

October 8, 2011

What I am trying to do in Begin with the Arrival is to put the reader in a place of filmic and musical reading of literature. It is something I have been doing for many years. (Jaishree Odin compares its name was Penelope to the films of Trinh T. Minh-ha; Sue-Ellen Case compares [my] name is scribe to The English Patient)

(…) This week the writing of what Cromwell did in Drogheda was particularly difficult. I wrote it but do not want to talk about it.

October 30, 2011

(…) in Part III of Begin with the Arrival, Cromwell is defeated at Duncannon and Waterford. I almost have the writing of this section working, but creating the continuo text is very difficult. The continuo is words—not music played on the viola da gamba or harpsichord—and these words occur only intermittently, not continuously. But sometimes the continuo texts do set the pace of the work—i.e. on either side, the briefly occurring words I inaccurately call continuo are what makes the whole work. The process is like working on a painting that needs something, but you don’t know what it is until you put what seems like a small detail in one corner, and all of a sudden the whole painting comes alive, so to speak.

(…) this week there was a continuo high point, the discovery of Frances Browne’s “Songs of Our Land,” which I found in a venerable 1892 edition of Henry Montgomery’s Specimens of the Early Native Poetry of Ireland. She was a 19th century Irish writer, who, like the harper Turlough Carolan, was blind. So in Begin with the Arrival, I used a few words from “Songs of our Land” as continuo text to introduce Carolan’s “Lament for Owen Roe O’Neill.”

[And] In unlikely counterpoint to Frances Browne’s:

“(…) ye are still left when all else has been taken

like streams in the desert, sweet songs of our land,”

I am reading Brendan Kennelly’s Cromwell.

(The message from Amazon, “Your Amazon.com order of Cromwell: A Poem has shipped!” seemed repeated on my email menu—like the commands needed to set things in motion in some works of Interactive fiction. “Your Amazon.com order of Cromwell: A Poem has shipped!”)

Kennelly’s Cromwell is a disturbing read but good, very good. I’m writing something else, a lament is one way to look at it, and am interested in the contrast. The ridding of demons—an appropriate topic for the beginning of All Souls Week—is accomplished in different ways by different artists. But sometimes Kennelly also steps into the rhythms of ancient Irish poetry. In “A Host of Ghosts,” Cromwell p. 78, he writes:

“(…) I here suggest the bobbing sea’s debris

Throbbing like Oliver’s stimulating drum

Before the export trade in slaves to the Barbados

Inflames my old teacher three hundred years

Later (…)”

November 5, 2011

(…) The related ideas—

that the reader knows the whole of partially quoted songs;

that the rhythm of remembered song carries into the work;

that through a poet’s allusions to traditional song, the reader is situated in the community of music—

are important in the work of contemporary Irish poets, Seán Crosson observes in “The Given Note”: Traditional Music and Modern Irish Poetry (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008).

The distilled struggle with displacement and broken traditions—that Crosson documents in the work of the contemporary Irish poets Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke, Thomas Kinsella, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, Cathal Ó Searcaigh, Seamus Heaney, Ciaran Carson, and Gearóid Mac Lochlainn—is at times also apparent in Irish American approaches to hereditary displacement.

November 16, 2011

[Davitt Moroney, Program Notes for J.S. Bach: The Complete French Suites, Cal Performances, November 13, 2011]

“All six French Suites contain a similar sequence of movements based on the rhythms of traditional French courtly dances. The sequence (which is all the word ‘suite’ means) always contains the four essential ones, Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, and Gigue, but others can be interpolated before the Gigue. On paper, this unity of construction makes the suites look similar to each other (especially when laid out in a concert program), and the thought of hearing six such sequences of the same dances might seem daunting. Yet paradoxically, it is by hearing all the suites together that attentive listeners can more easily notice the characteristics that that identify each movement's essential form, its ‘substance’.”

(…) Although this and the issue of how a musician chooses to ornament Bach’s French Suites are not precisely the same, in Bach’s time, the audience may have been more likely to also play themselves, and in a sense the reader of each work of electronic literature does perform the work.

And so, returning in memory to the six French Suites that Davitt played on Sunday, I recall how, after Suite No. 1 was played, I listened so expectantly to the following Suites; how there were certain movements I particularly wanted to hear: the Sarabandes, the Minuets; how each time they occurred there was a moment of heightened satisfaction.

February 28, 2012

As part of the process, I am creating a large score on watercolor paper that notates the relationship of the lexias to one another as regards both timing and placement in the array. I have worked so long with juggling many lexias that often I avoid this scoring, preferring to keep the whole in my head. But in order to use this work as a basis for designing a more programmatic authoring system, it makes sense to create a score on which the details are displayed. This will also make it easier to adjust the timing and to make the file naming more consistent and to figure out how to notate what I am doing. The score looks quite elegant, (at least until I start erasing and rewriting) but it is too large to reproduce here.

The question of whether or not works of electronic literature can be scored in the [same] way [as] music is not one I can currently answer. Is this desirable? Will there be a notation for electronic literature that eventually becomes standard or are the differences in approach too diverse?

March 10, 2012

(…) Predictably there has been a lot of erasing in the “score” I’m working on for this Prelude, but I am seeing the importance of creating pencil and paper notation. The main reason for making a “score” is to facilitate the process of creating authoring software, but I am finding that it also makes the composing process (in particular the remembering of the placement and timing of hundreds of lexias) easier. Another reason for doing this is that if someone had the text for this work but not the code, (perhaps hundreds of years from now) it would be possible to reconstruct it from a score…

May 14, 2012

The book that I held in my hands today was published one hundred years ago in 1912.

It is Annals of the Irish Harpers by Charlotte Milligan Fox, (NY: Dutton, 1912) a primarily source for the writing of Begin with the Arrival…

For obvious reasons, there is, as far as I know, no documented gathering of Irish musicians during the years of the Cromwellian invasion. Thus (…) I looked instead at the Belfast Harp Festival, which was held on July 10, 1792 in a ballroom at the junction of Donegal Street and North Street. It was six years before United Irishmen Rebellion of 1798, and the Festival was attended by both Catholic and Protestant Irish patriots including James Napper Tandy, John Keogh, and Wolfe Tone. They came to hear eleven musicians. Ten of the musicians—including a woman, Rose Mooney a prizewinning Harper from County Meath—were Irish. There was also a Harper from Wales.

It was a decade when wearing the Irish green was punishable by hanging.

“It may be interesting for the reader to know something of the personal appearance of these last representatives of a class so famous in song and history,” Charlotte Milligan Fox quotes Edward Bunting as writing.

“They were in general clad in a comfortable homely manner in drab-coloured or grey cloth of coarse manufacture. A few of them made an attempt at splendour by wearing silver buttons on their coats, particularly Higgins and O’Neill. The former had his buttons decorated with his initials only; but O’Neill had his initials, surmounted by the crest of the O’Neills, engraved on silver buttons the size of a half-crown (…)” (Annals of the Irish Harpers, p. 106)

December 9, 2012

Often when one is writing a work of fiction, after a certain amount of time, the characters begin to take on a life of their own. This has begun to happen with From Ireland from Letters, to the point that I feel it is necessary to remind not only the readers but also myself that although the lives of Walter Power and Hiram Powers are real, Máire Powers’ great grandfather—who, from Ireland after the Easter Rising, brought to Boston the books she used to create Begin with the Arrival—is fictional.

I swear (beginning to sound like West Clare fiddle player Junior Crehan telling his story of what happened on a moonlight night) that after (…) I wrote that Máire’s great grandfather [on her mother’s side] escaped with his Fenian American brother—packing crates that had carried guns to the rebels with books from the Gaelic Revival—that after I wrote this, this fictional part of the story felt real. And, as if he was my very own great grandfather, which as far as know he was not, I could easily imagine the silent midnight unloading of those books on the piers of Boston Harbor.

I am indebted to the Library of the University of California for many of the Gaelic Revival books that I used to create Begin with the Arrival. But somewhere, I can almost feel it, are the books that arrived in Boston Harbor in 1916, the year that my mother was born.

January 23, 2013

(…) Frederick Douglass’ influential Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave was first published in 1845, a few years before The Greek Slave arrived in America in 1847. Other early slave narratives written by African Americans included (…) A Narrative of Adventures and Escape of Moses Roper from American Slavery, 1837; and Narrative of William Wells Brown, a Fugitive Slave, 1847 (…) It was in the climate of these and many other widely read slave narratives that in 1847 Hiram Powers shipped The Greek Slave to America…

(…) When The Greek Slave toured America, during the 447 days it was on view (…) it was seen by more than one hundred thousand people, according to Wunder (…) becoming one of the most famous sculptures in 19th century America. The abolitionist newspaper The National Era ran several articles about this work… [In this segment from The National Era, the slave herself is speaking:]

“(…) I am the representation of the captive and the forsaken everywhere, and whatever sympathy I may secure for my enslaved sisters in Turkey, are due to my sisters of another hue in the land throughout which I am making my pilgrimage.

Whatever claim of justice I may secure for me, and those like me, are due to those equally oppressed in your very midst. Think you that it was cruel to rob me of liberty, purity, and happiness? Though my skin were black as night, my soul would have the same aspirations, and need the same sympathies, my intellect would have the same laws and need the same development.”

Works Cited

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