Cruel Sister takes its title from a dark and fantastic old English ballad of the same name. I first heard a beautiful and eerie rendition of the song while in college, on an album by the British folk/rock group Pentangle. While there are no musical references to the original tune, the story of the ballad inspired a response. It's a tale of two sisters — one bright as the sun, one cold and dark. So that she can have the love of the young man who has come courting, the dark sister pushes the bright one into the sea. The dead sister, who is washed up on the shore, is found by two minstrels who shape her breast bone into a fine harp. They come to play at the sister's wedding. As the music from the harp reaches the bride's ears the song concludes, ''And surely now her tears will flow.'' The ballad is incredibly haunting and powerful. I was fascinated and horrified by the overwhelming greed and jealousy of the tale. My ''Cruel Sister'' is a search to unravel this human dilemma. In a sense, it is the music of ''the harp,'' a plea for a higher love.
The ideas 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. One of the founding members of the group, violinist Juditha Haeberlin, challenged me to write something rip roaring and virtuosic, telling me that they were capable of so much and not always pushed to the limit. Her 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 commissioned by Ensemble Resonanz and 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.