Hysteria (2000) for trombone and electronics.
music by Cindy Cox.
text by John Campion.
trombone performed by Abbie Conant

Hysteria was created for Abbie Conant, in response to her “Wired Goddess” project. The title looks backward to an older meaning of hysteria, as in “too much womb” or “too many wombs”. It is a meditation on the feminine, her powers of regeneration, her connections to ancient worship of goddess and fertility rites, and in a dark sense, her current position in modern patriarchal culture.

The text consists of five phrases taken from poet John Campion’s Tongue Stones:

bowl of regeneration, quickener of wombs
follow the mysteries of your feet
let dark ages be crucibles
wounds like flowers opening

The most important line is the first, and it acts as a kind of thread running through most of the piece. These four words intersect with each other and the music: “matter” as the musical material, “mater” as the regenerative feminine, “meter” as literally menses, symbolized by a low continuous pulse, and “muthos”, which means myth. Musical gestures which evoke the body are used throughout; a low heartbeat sound recurs every five seconds, and breath sounds, derived from low trombone pedals, are used extensively.

I recorded Abbie and myself speaking these phrases at the Center for New Music and Audio Technology (CNMAT) at UC Berkeley. I also sampled Abbie’s playing extensively, particularly her low pedal and flutter-tongued sounds. I processed them using software such as Peak and AudioSculpt (IRCAM), and mixed the recording with Protools.

Hysteria has been performed numerous times by Abbie, notably at Berkeley’s Tempo Festival in 2001, at the Kosmos Frauenraum in Vienna (and filmed for Austrian National Television) also in 2001, and the Redcat Disney/Cal Arts Theater in Los Angeles in 2004. An article by Cox, “Wounds like flowers opening: a discussion of Hysteria for trombone and four-channel tape” appeared in the journal Organized Sound (Cambridge University Press, Volume 8, number 1) in 2003. Abbie Conant is Professor of Trombone at the Hochschule fur Musik in Trossingen, Germany, and was formerly principal trombonist at the Munich Philharmonic. Credit is due to Matt Wright for the use of samples of Abbie, and Edmund Campion and CNMAT for advice, the use of facilities and generous technical support.

---Cindy Cox

Cindy Cox & John Campion