The lyricist to the title track of A Present from a Small Distant World, a set of vocal music by Toronto composer Alex Eddington, is the unlikely James Earl Carter, Jr., the 39th president of the US. For the piece, which opens the album, the composer set the message Carter wrote to be carried into space on the 1977 Voyager space probes—a kind of greeting card from Earth to Whom It May Concern in the deep cosmos. In a nice bit of symmetry “to the makers of music, all worlds, all time,” the dedication inscribed on the famous Golden Record of music and other sounds from Earth that the two probes carried, provides the text for the closing track.
These two compositions and the nine in between span the nearly two-decade long period 2002-2020. The album, Eddington’s debut, features an eclectic set of electroacoustic sounds and texts by authors ranging from Shakespeare to an anonymous spam bot. But one constant running throughout is the remarkable voice of soprano Kristin Mueller-Heaslip, which can communicate meaning even with the absurdities of Scintillating (2008/2020), a world salad derived from spam, as well as with the earnest sentiments, transmitted through the electronic chaff of overlaying and processing, expressed in the Voyager statement. Her unaccompanied performance of Shakespeare’s Sonnet XVIII, which Eddington set with dramatic leaps of register and dynamics, finds in this well-known text the austere, metaphysical dark cloud lurking behind the lyric’s evocation of eternal summer.
The highlight of this engaging recording is Time Will Erase (2009/2019), a twenty-minute-long opera for soprano and saxophone, the latter played by Jennifer Tran. Time Will Erase is a moving work based on the eventful, sometimes harrowing life of poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), who experienced some of the best and some of the worst aspects of Russian, and later Soviet, life. The composition features Akhmatova’s text along with supplementary text by Mueller-Heaslip. Time Will Erase is a forceful reminder that Eddington’s creative work has included acting and playwrighting as well as composing music.