Domus Aurea for vibraphone and piano was commissioned by Daniel Ciampolini, at the time, of the the Ensemble Intercontemporain. The piece was premiered in 2001 at the Georges Pompidou Center in Paris with the "Soloists of the Ensemble Intercontemporain."

(The text that follows is adapted from a text by Beth E. Levy. The full text can be found in the liner notes of the Edmund Campion/SFCMP Outside Music CD, Albany Records Troy 1037)

In Domus Aurea (2000) (Duration 13'30"), the composer took his inspiration from Geoffrey Harpham’s book On the Grotesque in which the author (following Nabokov’s Speak, Memory) explores “the exigencies of fantastic content, causing form to bulge and burst like a sponge-bag containing a small furious devil.” More particularly, Domus Aurea meditates on the varied meanings of the word “grotesque” and the architecture of the building from which it takes its name: the “Golden House” of the Emperor Nero. Paraphrasing Harpham, Campion writes: “Shortly after Nero’s death, this opulent and despised construction was covered in dirt and rubble. The structure lay undisturbed for centuries until excavations revealed the unusual and perfectly preserved frescoes that decorated the palace walls and ceilings. These bizarre ornamental drawings featured elaborate fantasies with symmetrical anatomical possibilities, small beasts, human heads, and delicate, indeterminate vegetables merged into one decorative motif. Renaissance artists including Filippino Lippi, Pinturicchio, Perugino, Signorelli (facing page), and the Chief Architect and Prefect of Antiquities at the Vatican, Raphael, studied and copied these drawings. It was Raphael who used the motif in his decorations of the Vatican Loggia. The style came to be called ‘grottesche’ (referring to underground caves), a word that was later to evolve into the term ‘grotesque’.” Today, Campion points out, grotesquerie can be found all over the buildings of Europe, stretching from the cathedrals of Paris to St. Basil’s in Moscow. Equally important, the grotesque became a literary and even a psychological preoccupation. Citing French romantic writer Theophile Gautier on the role of the grotesque in nature and art, and Thomas Mann’s view of the grotesque as “something more than the truth, something real in the extreme,” Harpham argues that “the Grotesque is the central moment of a process on the path to emergent comprehension. . . the purgatorial stage of understanding during which the object appears as a jumble of distortion of other forms.” Campion agrees, seeing in the grotesque a parallel with music. “Like the grotesque, music can be decorative, senseless, profound and revelatory, all at the same time.”

Domus Aurea and Technology

Domus Aurea uses only acoustic instruments, but the composition is reliant on current computer music techniques. Methods related to spectral analysis expose pathways for combining the instruments in new and unusual ways and algorithmic processes open the doors to expanded musical materials.

A selected performance History of Domus Aurea

Domus Aurea, soloists of the Ensemble Intercontemporain, Centre Pompodou, France
William Winant and Karen Rosenak, TEMPO Festival, UC Berkeley, June
Domus Aurea, The Abel-Steinberg-Winant Trio, Berkeley City Club, December 9

Edmund Campion