Featuring music composed by Emily Suzanne Shapiro and words by Edward Gorey, “Utter Zoo” is wonderfully strange and intriguing. Contributing artists include declaimist, Megalodipticus, and two talented musicians, Elizabeth Brown (oboe, english horn), and Emily Shapiro (clarinet, bass clarinet). The movements are: Ampoo / Boggerslosh / Epitwee / Fidknop / Humglum. Mixing and mastering was done by Alexis Hählen.
Program notes from Emily:
When I started writing Utter Zoo in 2008, I’d long been wanting to start composing more actively but was at a loss about how to begin. I found a lucky perfect combination of inspirations in my obsession with Edward Gorey, my friendship with Elizabeth and Meghan, and another collection of short pieces (17 one minute pieces for bass clarinet and casio mt750 by Christopher Hobbs). I loved the idea of minute-long pieces as a fun and lighthearted way to play with different ideas. Oboe and bass clarinet seemed like the ideal mix of sounds to match Edward Gorey’s work, although I’ve taken advantage of the doubling potential of both players to add some variety to the sonic pallet and give me more flexibility to express the different characters. Elizabeth and Meghan had the right skills and could (and twelve years later, still can) be counted on to be up for a strange and silly creative project.
Edward Gorey’s Utter Zoo is a collection of very short poems about imaginary animals- one for every letter of the alphabet. At first I imagined that I could write all 26 pieces in one go, but that proved extremely over-ambitious. I wrote and premiered the first six pieces in 2008 (at a farewell concert in a cafe called Our Town in East Vancouver the day before I moved to Montreal) and wrote another four in 2018. My hope is to keep chipping away at this project, and one day finish all 26. The four new pieces (Boggerslosh, Epitwee, Mork and Posby) have never been performed so this project is their world premiere.
The inspirations and composition processes for each individual piece varied widely. Ampoo and Quingawaga came about in very organic ways and were composed almost exclusively by ear. I was stuck on how to end Ampoo for a long time and was extremely frustrated, but one day the answer came to me, seemingly out of the blue, while I was sitting on the bus. Others were almost formulaic – for Yawfle, I decided that a relentlessly repeating rhythmic cell was the right way to express the absurd repeating “and stares” in the poem. I picked a tonality that went with character and picked a rhythm and the piece almost wrote itself. For Ulp I imagined a waltz in the style of the Amelie soundtrack, but I gave it a twist by laying down a melody in 5/4 time over the 3/4 accompaniment, adding a little quirky crunch to the nostalgic sweetness.
In addition to the 99 B-line bus in Vancouver and the usual practice rooms/home studios, I’ve worked on this piece in the dressing room before performing in a Balinese gamelan concert and at least six cafes spread between Vancouver and London