SCORE: Pelé and Peleas — version q [ca. 2’00”] 2002/2012
Ben Carson, piano
The title ‘Pelé and Peleas’ refers to the incomparable Brazilian soccer star, whose role in the 1987 film Hotshot, it seemed to me, reprised the heroism of Sir Gawain in Sir Peleas’ humiliating courtship of the high-born maiden Archade. In the version of the story I knew, Peleas won Archade’s hand in a tournament, but Archade, repulsed by Peleas’ youthfulness, rejects the results. Peleas’ friend Gawain has the idea 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 in time for Archade to win Gawain’s heart. Soon Peleas finds them asleep together. Instead of avenging himself, he leaves his sword between them, but even this crucifixial code, for Christ-like forgiveness, can’t repair what a more primal love has undone. Watching Hotshot in a neighbor’s basement not two weeks after VHS reached my hometown, it didn’t matter to me that Pelé played Gawain, and not Peleas, nor that Pelé’s character puts his Gawainesque ego aside in time for the underdogs to win a tri-county tournament. Contorted fragments of the Arthurian tragedy formed my language of action and identity in the world, and from within that language, Hotshot 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 attributed my hard field-crossing kick to years of riding a Schwinn 10-speed exclusively in top gear. Over soft-serve ice cream one evening after a winning game, my father gently advised me my success in the position didn’t foretell a career path, but in those days, watching soccer on television aroused delusions of destiny. I saw myself like I saw great players on screen: tiny figures crossing great distances between and around each other, running into position with a mechanically effortless, and completely inaudible, 32nd-note pulse. Something about the inaudibility of soccer-players’ legs on screen matched my experience of my own movement on the field, which—approaching an oncoming striker—felt like flight; somehow my feet didn’t matter until one of them struck the ball. Watching clips of Pelé on a BBC Special one evening in 1988, I marveled at our similarities. It didn’t matter that, in contrast with my defensive role, Pelé’s contact with the ball involved extended control; I had an acute sense that in my body as in his, the rhythm of running and the rhythm of kicking were completely independent, and yet utterly inseparable. 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 knowing the answers, sometimes as they occur, and otherwise 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