Cruel Sister is a stirring and fantastic Old English ballad. The tale is of two sisers — one bright as the sun, and the other cold and dark. One day, so that she can have the love of a young man who has come courting, the dark sister pushes the bright sister into the sea. Two minstrels find the dead sister washed up on the shore and shape her breastbone into a fine harp strung with her yellow hair. They come to play at the cold dark sister's wedding. As the sound of the harp reaches the bride's ears, the ballad concludes "and surely now her tears will flow." While my piece references no words and quotes no music from the original tune, it does follow the dramatic arc of the ballad — the music reflecting an argument that builds, a body floating on the sea, the mad harp.
The idea for Fuel began in conversation with filmmaker Bill Morrison. We talked about the mystery and economy of how things run — the controversy and necessity of fuel — the global implications, the human need. The music takes its inspiration from the fiery strings of Ensemble Resonanz. The members of the group challenged me to write something rip roaring and virtuosic, asking me to push the group to the limit. This request merged with the sounds of transport and harbors — New York and Hamburg — large ships, creaking docks, whistling sounds, and a relentless energy. Fuel was premiered in a multi-media performance with a film by Bill Morrison at the Kaispeicher B Warehouse at the port of Hamburg, Germany, in 2007.