We Outran the Sun is a song cycle and multimedia piece for the theater that premiered in New York as part of Studio Tisch in the summer of 2010.  Music and lyrics by Matthew Carlson, film/projections by Michael Heck.


Philip Glass and Chuck Close (two of my favorite artists) happen to be friends.  Chuck Close is a visual artist who creates large scale photorealistic portraits.  Philip Glass is a prolific composer who uses minimalism to create expansive string quartets, piano concertos, operas, and film scores.  In the 1970s, Chuck Close painted a series of portraits of Philip Glass, and a few years ago his friend reciprocated with a composition for piano in two movements titled “A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close.”  I read an article in The New York Times when the piano composition premiered at Lincoln Center which discussed their friendship and their art at length.  I became fascinated with the idea of a portrait that wasn’t necessarily visual, as well as what it means for artists to create such deeply personal work for and about their friends.


A song cycle is a series of interrelated songs connected by a theme.  Schubert and Schumann used to write them, and you could even say that most Sufjan Stevens albums are song cycles.  Elegies by William Finn and Myths and Hymns by Adam Guettel are contemporary examples of the form in musical theater.  We Outran the Sun is a song cycle of portraits.  A portrait, simply defined, is an artistic representation of a person.  The songs are about people in my life, distillations in music and lyrics of who they are and of our relationships.


As I began to play these songs for the people in the portraits, the reactions they elicited made me realize that I wanted to involve the actual people more tangibly in the performance itself.  What intrigued me about the work of Chuck Close and Philip Glass was not only their friendship, but also the relationship between visual and musical portraits.  I decided to interview the people in the songs, and to include footage of them in the performance itself, creating portraits visual and musical. The interviews (and additional abstract images) were shot and edited by Michael Heck.  In performance, it’s just me at the piano with my laptop.  The images are projected onto a surface meant to look like a canvas.  Kate Ashton designed lights, and the design of the projection surface is by Damon Pelletier.