57 BUZZARDS, by Pamela Madsen
Fifty-seven buzzards, one on each of fifty-seven fence posts at the rancho El Tejon, on a mirage-breeding September morning, sat solemnly while the white tilted travelers’ vans lumbered down the Canada de los Uvas. After three hours they had only clapped their wings, or exchanged posts. The season’s end in the vast dim valley of the San Joaquin is palpitatingly hot, and the air breathes like cotton wool. Through it all the buzzards sit on the fences and low hummocks, with wings spread fanwise for air. There is no end to them, and they smell to heaven. Their heads droop, and all their communication is a rare, horrid croak. From The Land of Little Rain by Mary Hunter Austin (1903)
57 Buzzards: Water Trails of the Ceriso is from my opera Why Women Went West about the life of American pioneer, mystic and author, Mary Hunter Austin and her book The Land of Little Rain (1903). This work explores the 20th century fascination for utopian salvation in California, the need for water and the meaning of rain. In these works the sounds of water and fluidity of performance of the duo in Water Trails of the Ceriso are juxtaposed against the dry, rigid, inactive silence and scarcity of sound of the desert landscape of 57 Buzzards.
Pamela Madsen is a composer, theorist and curator of new music. From landscape inspired projects, chamber music to multi-media opera collaborations her work focuses on deep listening, text and the environment. With a Ph.D. in Music Composition from UCSD, Deep Listening Certificate with Pauline Oliveros, her works have been commissioned and premiered world-wide. With awards from Opera America, National Endowment for the Arts, New Music USA, American Scandinavian Foundation, she is Professor of Music Composition at Cal State Fullerton.