SCORE: Pelé and Peleas — version q [ca. 2’00”] 2002/2012
Ben Carson, piano
It always seemed to me that the role of Pelé, the incomparable Brazilian soccer star, in the 1987 film Hotshot (Film Quest / Hang Tough Associates; dir. Rick King) reprised the heroism of Sir Gawain in Sir Peleas’ humiliating courtship of the high-born maiden Archade. You know … Peleas won Archade’s hand in a tournament, but Archade, repulsed by Peleas’ youthfulness, rejects the results. Peleas’ friend Gawain is persuaded, against his better judgment, to get into Peleas’ armor and do something impressive to charm Archade on his behalf. He succeeds, but—as these stories tend to go—he forgets his mission just long enough to fall for her. Peleas finds them asleep together. In lieu of revenge, he leaves his sword between their bodies, but even this crucifix—the almighty high-road of Christ’s love—can’t repair what a more basic impulse of love has undone.
In Hotshot, a gifted young American soccer player succeeds on the soccer field, but—overcome by immaturity and ego—offends the press and his team’s owners, who spurn him in spite of his talent. He seeks the help of the elder soccer legend, who reluctantly teaches the lesser man to reach his fullest potential. I felt sure this was a retelling of Thomas Malory’s story. Watching in a neighbor’s basement at the dawn of the VHS era in my little hometown in Eastern Washington, it didn’t matter to me that Pelé played Gawain, not Peleas, nor that Pelé’s character put a rather Gawainesque ego aside in time for the underdog to win back the trust of the American league, and of course, a national tournament. The Arthurian parallel in the film—which played out in no one’s mind but mine—re-built from the ground up my fantastic relationship with soccer, and in particular the fullback position, which I played with pride. As a slightly overweight soccer-coach’s son, I saw professional players on screen as symbols of freedom: tiny Mercuries crossing quick distances as though with messages of a coming angel, running into position with the effortless, and completely inaudible, 32nd-note pulse of birds’ wings. Watching clips of Pelé on a BBC Special one evening in 1988, I was sure I had his destiny. The effortlessly secure rhythm of his running, and the more ecstatic, unbounded rhythm of kicking, seemed to transcend the ground on which it all happened. One way to listen to ‘Pelé and Peleas’ (version q) would be to hear silences, and occasional flurries of regular movement, as the movements of players in vast space, but to try to predict how, from within that texture, a simpler, more forceful motive: three marcato notes, evenly but unpredictably spaced…might emerge. Since this marginal gesture always changes its pace and metric orientation, any note could be the first of some version of the three; I hope there might some pleasure in discovering the answers, sometimes just as they occur, and elsewhere only in retrospect.
‘Pelé and Peleas’ is a work with an unusual genealogy. I recorded an early version of the work in 2003 for UC San Diego’s “Soundcheck” series, as the beginning of a set of three works inspired by Eduardo Galeano’s histories of the Americas. However, those works (“Pieces, Threaded,” Centaur: CRC 3105), developed along a different path. I returned to this score six long years later, and discovered a unique opportunity in how the work’s basic materials—a marcato repetition of one note three times, with a variety of contrasting gestures to complete it—could be realized. I decided to compose a second “version”—not so much a different version of the original piece, but of the fundamental idea behind it. Version q and version r are therefore something between different perspectives on the same music, and different music arising from a single perspective.
SCORE: Pelé and Peleas — version r [ca. 3’00”] 2002/2012
Ben Carson, piano