Warhol in The Tenderloin (2019)

pierrot ensemble + percussion (6′)


“As I emerge, jetlagged, from Market Street train station the first thing I notice is the smell of urine. I haul my luggage to the nearest Starbucks, order an americano, and watch San Francisco wake up. In front of me, a man arrives at his curb-side flower stall. He takes a hose and, in what is clearly a familiar routine, washes the stinking pavement. I later learn that I’ve been sitting at a crossroads. To one side is the slick financial district. To the other side is ‘The Tenderloin’, an infamous area where thousands of people sleep rough each night.

At nearby SFMOMA, I attend an Andy Warhol exhibition. Warhol is famous for his pop-art, but my eye is caught by his lesser-known ‘oxidation paintings’. These abstract expressionist paintings were created by urinating on a canvas spread with copper-rich paint. When exposed to the urine, the copper oxidised, creating engaging colours and shapes. The link with the urine-soaked pavement just outside is unavoidable. It seems strikingly wrong for this rarefied gallery to exist side-by-side with those stinking streets.

Warhol in The Tenderloin is in five sections which alternate between ‘Tenderloin sections’ and ‘museum sections’. The former is characterised by wonky rhythms and unsettled harmony. While the latter are based on J.S. Bach’s violin sonata in G minor. The central tension of the piece is the contrast between the sections, these two musical worlds which seemingly shouldn’t exist side-by-side. The syntactical climax of the work is a musical oxidation process. The second museum section gradually transitions to air sounds, oxidising, before transitioning to hectic noise and into the final Tenderloin section.

Warhol in The Tenderloin was composed for Ensemble Offspring’s 2019 Hatched Academy and is dedicated to the ensemble. It was revised in 2020 to include piano and violin. This revised version was first presented on 17 October 2020 by the Sydney Conservatorium of Music Modern Music Ensemble conducted by Daryl Pratt.” 

Score sample

Score available from the Australian Music Centre.