David T. Little
Composer David T. Little is making a name for himself with contemporary classical works tinged with socio-political commentary and replete with amplification. Little plays with humor at the edges of his oeuvre, but dark subject matter is his bread and butter. Most acclaimed to date is his opera Dog Days, a visceral take on a dystopian future society (its libretto resembles Cormac McCarthy’s The Road with more cannibalism and, if possible, an even bleaker outlook). He has recently returned to Soldier Songs, a vocal work written shortly after the outset of our most recent misadventures in Iraq. In early 2013 it was presented as a multimedia theater project and on a studio recording. The piece seeks to capture the various stages of indoctrination into a culture of violence that American men, first as boys and, eventually, as adult combatants, undergo. It references all the artifacts of this process, from the warlike toys of childhood with kung fu grip, succeeded by iPods filled with violent lyrics, guns, and heavy artillery.
Alongside relentlessly provocative spoken word interview clips from traumatized veterans, baritone David Adam Moore and Newspeak, an amplified chamber group that has been central to Little’s activities, thunder adeptly through an equally relentless score. Little gives occasional nods to other styles of contemporary classical, but his music draws strongly upon the lingua franca of the 21st century’s incarnation of the New York Downtown scene (now so downtown that many of its participants reside in Brooklyn, Queens, and New Jersey): post-minimal gestures, peppered with postmodern instrumental effects, and a strong thread of indie rock melodies and attitude. Little is a deft orchestrator – he knows Newspeak’s capabilities inside and out – and his music brims with rhythmic vitality. His pitch language remains a step or two behind in terms of variety and sophistication. More problematic in Soldier Songs is the issue of pacing. In order to match the fervid tenor of the text and spoken word recordings, Little appears abundantly willing to push the music into the realm of bombast, which grows wearing. That may well be the point. Soldier Songs will likely appeal to those on one side only of the polarized divide in our debate about American bellicosity. Those who identify with the work’s message will find it underscored and punctuated with fiery élan.