Library on Fire

Paul Steenhuisen

Library on Fire

  • Paul Steenhuisen
  • Year of composition: 2015
  • Duration: 14:00
  • Instrumentation: bass clarinet
  • Commission: Daniel Cooper

To Lori Freedman

A few of the numerous descriptive performance instructions printed in the score are: “slap tongue thud; mouth gym; robotic; scoop; ghost pitch; pouty; lyrical; vary inside mouth shape; moan, urgent; huh; woof; pop; spoken; multiphonic gliss; unstable and dynamic; flurry; breathy spit tone; frail tone; momentary partials; less spit, intense air; vocal growl…”

Library on Fire is a piece in six contiguous sections ordered in any of 720 possibilities. The piece was initially inspired by a statement attributed to Pierre Boulez (“I want to be a library on fire”), and uses as a point of departure Brian Jungen’s sculpture Shapeshifter — a whale skeleton constructed out of mass-market white plastic chairs. The cultural and material hybridity of the Jungen sculpture extends into the resonant composite construction of the music. Library on Fire is based on selected free improvisations by Lori Freedman, filtered improvisations based on those improvisations, improvisations guided by text, more improvisations guided by text about the text, drawings of arches and spines, more drawings of arches and spines, and written music that is multiple, absorbed iterations of a submerged tune (K’naan’s Wavin’ Flag, the theme of the 2010 World Cup of Soccer in South Africa). The results were then molded together and meticulously reverse-engineered into a combustible, variable whole that sparks outward in its references and sound world.

Paul Steenhuisen

Library on Fire was commissioned by Daniel Cooper.


  • August 3, 2015, Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival 2015: New Music Now II: Library on Fire, École secondaire publique De La Salle, Ottawa (Ontario, Canada)


Recording: Paul Steenhuisen: Library on Fire; Thursday, October 15, 2015