This is the time of year in which every ex-pat American must think — if even for only a moment — about those low-explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes, about fireworks. It's been my experience that not a few US composers have a weak spot for the sights and, especially, sounds of gunpowder used in its optimal form. (And surely, composers of other backgrounds have their own moments around the times of year — New Year's, or national holidays — when fireworks are at play.) Sometimes even the most cautious among us eagerly abandon caution, risking injury to limb, eye, and — most critically for a musician — ear, for the chance to cause and experience that uniquely painful and pleasurable combination of effects caused by simple chains of combustion.
During my poker-playing days, in the '80s, rounds of cards in Beatty or Pahrump, Nevada were frequently broken up by parking lot rounds of loud and colorful explosives, one of those Nevada pleasures not possible at home in California. (I'm usually tight with money, but when the poker game was going well, burning up a bit of cash in the form of fireworks seemed perfectly natural: burnt offerings to Fortuna.) There was a special delight in composing sequences of colors, sounds (whistles, zippers, crackers, and plain booms), as well as gradually escalating the altitudes achieved by arrays of bottle rockets. For some reason, however, this particular performance art was one I never considered integrating into my own musical works.
Other composers, however, have had no qualms about such an integated musical-pyrotechnical art form. Handel, famously, made music to accompany fireworks. Others have required explosions to occur during a piece. And still others made music about fireworks (Ives's Fourth of July, Stravinsky's Feu d'artifice.) One of the most endearing qualities about composer David Cope, one of my teachers as an undergrad in Santa Cruz, was his serious affection for fireworks. During my years there, he frequently reported about scouting out the perfect place on the beach for a big piece with rocketry and one piece, Vectors, a setting of texts by Ives, was one of the highlights of those years, climaxing with assembled on-stage musicians, two marching bands and electronics being overwhelmed by an indoor fireworks display, sending all the audience and performers to the exits as the the hall rapidly filled with smoke.