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composition as explanation

Eighth Blackbird



Subtotal $16.00
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Total $17.64


Four-time Grammy-winning sextet, Eighth Blackbird (8BB), “one of the smartest, most dynamic contemporary classical ensembles on the planet” (Chicago Tribune), presents the world premiere recording of Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang’s composition as explanation, based on Gertrude Stein’s seminal 1926 lecture of the same name.

Called “Super Chamber Music” by David Lang, this multidisciplinary work incorporates elements of chamber music, theater, and performance art; it has the groundbreaking ensemble not only performing the music, but also speaking and singing Stein’s text. For the performance, the 8BB players committed themselves to a rigorous education process, including lessons in acting, diction, and the art of theater.

Musical America praised 8BB’s live performance of Lang’s work as “every bit as witty, circular, and self-referential as Stein’s own prose; it’s rare, not to mention utterly satisfying, to hear a work that so completely embodies its text. To invoke Stein, one suspects Composition as Explanation will be a work of our time for many times to come.”

In 2016, 8BB asked David Lang to propose a project that they could perform at the Chicago Arts Club in conjunction with the Club’s centennial year. In his research, Lang discovered that Stein had spoken at the Club in 1934; this led him to employ Stein’s text as the basis for the piece.

This is Eighth Blackbird’s 12th album for Cedille Records. Four have won Grammy Awards: Filament, meanwhile, Lonely Motel: Music from Slide, and Strange Imaginary Animals. Founded in 1996, Chicago-based 8BB has been described by the Los Angeles Times as “a new breed of super-musicians,” for their mastery of a diverse and eclectic new music repertoire.

composition as explanation is produced by 8BB members Matthew Duvall and Lisa Kaplan and Grammy-winning engineers Emily Lazar and Bill Maylone. It was recorded in the Court Theatre at the University of Chicago, September 28–October 1, 2023.

Learn more about this album and read Eighth Blackbird co-founder Matthew Duvall’s Artist Spotlight here!

Preview Excerpts

DAVID LANG (b. 1957)

composition as explanation


there is singularly nothing 8:05
those who are creating 4:18
of course it is beautiful 4:53
beginning again and again 4:00
it is understood by this time 4:10
and now to begin as if to begin 5:23
and after that what changes 4:14
intertext 4:52
the problem from this time on 9:12
this then 3:08
the time in the composition 7:20


1: Eighth Blackbird

2: Eighth Blackbird

3: Eighth Blackbird

4: Eighth Blackbird

5: Eighth Blackbird

6: Eighth Blackbird

7: Eighth Blackbird

8: Eighth Blackbird

9: Eighth Blackbird

10: Eighth Blackbird

11: Eighth Blackbird

What the Critics Are Saying

“… the wonderfully compelling musical journey that Lang has created is uniquely his own, as it takes the listener through moments of chiming, crystalline beauty, stomping free-for-alls, vertiginous instrumental solos and insistent minimalist repetitions. You never know what’s going to turn up next.”

– Andrew Clements, The Guardian

The Guardian

Program Notes

Download Album Booklet

Program Notes

Notes by David Lang

I have had the pleasure of working with Eighth Blackbird for many years now. One thing that has always impressed me about them is that they like a challenge. They have a very wide definition of what a chamber musician should be able to do, and this wide definition has frequently led them into making work that employs staging, movement, speaking, and theater.

When Eighth Blackbird asked me, in 2016, to propose a project that they could perform at the Chicago Arts Club in conjunction with the Club’s centennial year, I started thinking of other kinds of actions they might concentrate on that would transform them. I began to think of what it would be like to make a piece that required them not just to act, but to become actors: in order to perform it they would be forced to take acting lessons, to study diction, to study the art of theater. In other words, my piece would not just ask them to move and to speak, but it would ask them to commit themselves to a rigorous education process that would transform them as performers.


Upon doing a little research, I discovered that Gertrude Stein had spoken at the Chicago Arts Club in 1934, after she had already become famous for her writings. I started looking at her published speeches as possible texts for this piece and settled on using parts of Stein’s 1926 lecture “Composition as Explanation,” in which a yet-to-be-famous Stein explains to her audience what she is doing in her writing, in the same repetitive, plainspoken, and circular format that she uses in her writing. In other words, she has blurred the relationship between content, form, and performance — in much the same way that I have tried to blur the musicality of Eighth Blackbird.


I have used almost all of Stein’s text in my piece, except for a few stray lines here and there and the parts of her lecture that deal with details of specific books she had written, which seemed too literary for my purpose. In particular, I wanted to highlight her implication that the changes in her writing were, in some measure, a response to the First World War, which had ended only a few years before and had changed so many of the artists who lived through it.


I want to thank Janine Mileaf and the Chicago Arts Club, where primitive versions of a few movements of this piece were performed in 2016. I want to thank the Estate of Gertrude Stein for their permission to use this text. And I want to thank all of the members of Eighth Blackbird, past and present, for asking me to create it.

Album Details

Producers Matthew Duvall, Lisa Kaplan, Emily Lazar, Bill Maylone

Recording Engineer Bill Maylone

Live Performance Engineer Matthew McCabe

Editing and Mixing Bill Maylone

Editing for Movements 5 and 11 Matthew Duvall 

Mastering Engineer Emily Lazar at The Lodge

Steinway Piano Technician Josh Younger

Recorded September 28–October 1, 2023, Court Theatre at the University of Chicago

Publishers Copyright © 2022 by Red Poppy Ltd. (ASCAP)
Represented Worldwide by G. Ricordi & Co./Universal Music Publishing Classical

Photos Alex Boerner

Artwork original decoupage by Lisa Kaplan

Graphic Design Bark Design


Dalia Chin: Flutes, Voice
Zachary Good: Clarinets, Voice
Maiani da Silva: Violin, Voice
Ashley Bathgate: Cello, Voice
Matthew Duvall: Percussion, Voice
Lisa Kaplan: Piano, Voice

CDR 90000 230