Date Completed: Feb '12
Recording: The commissioning group, the Millikin University Percussion Ensemble directed by Brian Justison, have released a recording of REGVLVS on their disc Premieres, Vol. 1. It can be purchased on iTunes at this site or Amazon here. In both cases the title is spelled "Regulus" instead of "REGVLVS".
Most of the explanation for the title can be found in the Program Notes below—the title is relatively straightforward compared to most of my music. I used proper Ancient Roman latin script wherein there are no lower-case letters, and there is no visual difference between "U" and "V".
The following are the Program Notes from the score:
There are two entities referred to by the name Regulus. One is among the brightest stars in our sky, technically named α Leonis, a massive star spinning so fast that gravity barely holds it together. The other is a Roman general named Marcus Atilius Regulus, who was supposedly executed by the Carthaginians after they locked him for awhile in a lightless room then removed his eyelids and forced him back outside to stare at the sun.
After a murky introduction, a violent battle scene represents one of General Regulusís many victorious battles against Carthage, but it becomes increasingly chaotic and disjointed and ultimately results in his capture. His lightless captivity is then depicted by a melancholy section wherein the main Regulus melody is heard. This continues for several increasingly desperate iterations and climaxes with suspenseful pounding in the drums and culminates in a massive, piercing swell as Regulus is forced to stare at the sun. Somehow, the horror of this act manages to even confuse the piece itself, and the program suddenly shifts to looking too closely at the wrong sun—Regulus the star instead of Regulus the man. The α Leonis melody is largely built out of a rising scale, and after a brief outburst, simple scales take over entirely, representing the increasingly swift and dangerous rotation of the star. Ultimately, the constant spinning accelerates and multiples past the point of coherence, and the entire piece flies apart.
In the end, the main story of REGVLVS is an exploration of the perils of looking too closely. The sun—without which we couldnít see at all—canít itself be looked at. α Leonis formed and spins because of gravity, but it spins so fast that gravity itself can only barely hold the form together. When I looked too closely at other meanings of the word Regulus, the program of the piece split into two different themes and structures. And when we look too closely at the story of Regulus the general, it becomes clear that his beautifully noble story is almost certainly just jingoistic, anti-Carthaginian propaganda invented by the Romans. When we look too long, and in too much detail, at just about anything, we often find that its purpose, its structure—even its very meaning—can explode and disintegrate right before our rapidly dimming eyes.
I first came up with the idea to write a piece inspired in some way by the story of the Roman general Regulus at a MoMA exhibition showcasing the work of J. M. W. Turner. I was blown away by his work, perhaps most especially by his painting of the Regulus subject.
Note that Turner doesn't paint the lidless general himself, rather the viewer is put in the general's position, seeing the last view he will ever see. The vanishing point of the painting is rendered in a brilliant, blinding white. I used a digitally zoomed version of this blinding section for the cover of the score.
This happened back in 2008, four years before the composition of this piece. I initially planned to use the concept for the piece I wrote for the Newspeak ensemble that year, but abandoned it once I settled on an unrelated text for the vocal part. That piece eventually became Brennschluß, but you can hear the remnants of the Regulus program in the piercing swell during the very beginning of the piece. This was originally going to represent the blinding of the general by the sun.
When Brian Justison of the Millikin University Percussion department asked me to write a new piece for his group, it was the perfect opportunity to revive the concept. I did a lot of research on the topic in my hometown of Ponca City, OK, and I discovered the star named after the general (presumably because it is one of the brightest stars in the sky). I don't remember what led me to the crazy idea to somehow combine two different programs into the same piece, but I was enormously excited about it when I realized the weird affinities between the two seemingly unrelated concepts.
COMING SOON (maybe)