Showing posts with label Notes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Notes. Show all posts

Occupy Orchestra 無量園 Infinity Garden

inspired by classical Chinese gardens, John Cage and the occupy movement

Audio Excerpt

available at Bandcamp

Details
Duration c. 9-15 minutes
Instrumentation variable (winds, brass, percussion, strings, other)
Site-responsive work written for the Chicago Composers Orchestra and audience
Performed at Garfield Park Conservatory (Chicago IL) January 2013

Program Notes
“The emotions—love, mirth, the heroic, wonder, tranquility, fear, anger, sorrow, disgust—are in the audience.” John Cage

Walk the zigzag path into a Chinese garden where jagged rocks, misty lakes and meandering walls welcome you. Walk the crowded pavement into a general assembly of the occupy movement where idealistic students, homeless parents and concerned citizens welcome you. We gather here/hear now in the Chinese garden and general assembly of our imaginations.

You can listen. You can watch. You can rustle your papers, walk around the garden, record the event and chant your phrase. This is y/our space. This is y/our time. We shall gather all around, finding power in our sound.

Welcome to Occupy Orchestra 無量園 Infinity Garden
References
  • Sarah van Gelder, This Changes Everything: Occupy Wall Street & the 99% movement, 2011.
  • John Cage, Silence: Lectures & Writings, 1961.
  • Ji Cheng (计成), The Craft of Gardens (园冶), 1631.
Press Quote
“As I wandered among the musicians and plants, I noticed how many people were capturing the moment. Photographers, mostly. Professional, a lot of them, with sacks and bags and oversized equipment sometimes with the labels of whatever storeroom or newspaper, magazine checkout space they borrowed the damn thing from.

There were a lot of the individual cell phone camera types who can’t look at the world without recording it. Even me, with my little dictaphone, the little Olympus that’s lasted five years and sixty dollars.

Maybe that’s what music is now. Performance has turned from an arrow to a circle.”

Paul Dailing, 1,001 Chicago Afternoons, January 2013
Score

available at Bandcamp

Infinity Garden

Occupy Orchestra 無量園 Infinity Garden, a page from the score
Free and Open to the Public

Concert
January 9, 2013, 6:30PM

Open Rehearsal
January 8, 10AM-Noon

300 N Central Park Ave
Chicago IL 60624
(773) 638-1766

“The emotions – love, mirth, the heroic, wonder, tranquility, fear, anger, sorrow, disgust – are in the audience.” John Cage


Notes

Walk the zigzag path into a Chinese garden where jagged rocks, misty lakes and meandering walls welcome you. Walk the crowded pavement into a general assembly of the occupy movement where idealistic students, homeless parents and concerned citizens welcome you.

We gather here/hear now in the Chinese garden and general assembly of our imaginations. You can listen. You can watch. You can rustle your papers, walk around the garden, record the event and chant your phrase. This is y/our space. This is y/our time. We shall gather all around, finding power in our sound.

Welcome to Occupy Orchestra 無量園 Infinity Garden.

* * *

The Chicago Composers Orchestra returns to the Garfield Park Conservatory to create a musical experience amidst lush plant life. Join us to hear Lawrie Bloom perform Chicago composer Lawrence Axelrod’s Pos Metaphonos for bass clarinet & orchestra. Also experience how Seattle-based composer Byron Au Yong draws inspiration from the occupy movement, John Cage & Chinese gardens, plus explore new possibilities in sound & space created by Bruce Saylor with Chicago composers Brian Baxter & Chris Fisher-Lochhead.

Program
  • Lawrence Axelrod: Pos Metaphonos (featuring J. Lawrie Bloom on bass clarinet)
  • Byron Au Yong: Occupy Orchestra 無量園 Infinity Garden
  • Brian Baxter: Spring Song
  • Chris Fisher-Lochhead: Bludgeon Me
  • Bruce Saylor: The Image Maker

Kidnapping Water reflections

Last Sunday, Betsy Baeskens, Stuart McLeod and I performed excerpts from Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas for the Seattle Symphony Day of Music. Betsy sang 14 Bottled Operas in six sections while Stuart and I played the water with bamboo poles, plastic bags, gongs, plastic bottles, crotales and bamboo buzzers. Here's our set list:
  1. Taking Time
  2. Red Drops / Ride a Cloud / Floating
  3. Droplets / Translucence / Image / Growing
  4. Disease-Love / Yellow Polka Dot / Swim Swim Swim
  5. Bounce / Withered Lilac
  6. Summer Tea

We performed in the Garden of Remembrance. This public memorial designed by Robert Murase includes reflecting pools and two waterfalls amidst black granite slabs carved with the names of almost 8,000 war veterans. Our set ended with Summer Tea (lyrics by Carola Luther).
Summer Tea
未濟 Wèi Jì |¦|¦|¦

Three months now
I’ve been prepared.
House is painted.
Attic aired.
Suitcase ready.
Words in order.
Got my ticket
and my visa.

While I wait
I dust the corners sweep the floor,
check the ledger, all is sorted.
All’s in order.

A bowl of water for my sister.
A pile of salt for my brother.
And for my daughter
all the seeds:
onion garlic
rose and thyme
cotton broad bean
orange lime
oats and barley
pear and pea
mushroom mulberry.

Story written.
Fire laid.
Letters burnt.
Debts are paid.
Apples dried. Horses fed.
Sail mended. Big book read.

A bowl of water for my sister.
A pile of salt for my brother.
And for my daughter
all the seeds:
onion garlic
rose and thyme
cotton broad bean
orange lime
oats and barley
pear and pea
mushroom mulberry.
Summer, summer tea.
Betsy sent me these reflections about the performance:
A particularly poignant moment was when we were doing Summer Tea. I of course loved the listing of the kinds of seeds to be given to the daughter; as I was preparing that piece, I had familiar twinges of regret over not having had more children, including a daughter. But as I was singing, a little girl I teach from NWGC (Northwest Girlchoir) came into my line of vision. She was rapt, watching you and Stuart, and also showing the astonishment only a young child can when confronted with the impossible image of their teacher somewhere other than the classroom. It made me realize that daughters, and families, can come in many forms, and we can collect and pass seeds to them in many ways. It was powerful, especially as you had said before the performance that you wanted Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas to be not only for people now but for future generations.

Weird vs. Fantastical

Live performance offers an opportunity to activate an audience's imagination face-to-face. Yet oftentimes, performance art can confuse and even frustrate audience members. To create a live performance that inspires rather than alienates, I find a helpful distinction between weird and fantastical.

Weird provides a launchpad. Getting to fantastical requires craft. Part of this craft is an understanding of the numerous ways character and narrative seep into an audience's mind and heart.

Because storytelling, a foundation of performance, happens every day in multiple media, it is crucial to consider a broad as well as in-depth knowledge of how audience members participate in the lives of their social network, their superstars and their personal mythology. Stories are told through advertising, created about reality show personalities and performed in movies. Understanding, borrowing and refining the humorous and devastating ways to perform a story transforms weird into fantastical.

Weird verges on lack of experience, insularity or laziness. Fantastical references a cosmos, pushes boundaries and makes the audience breathless.

Fifteen: from abstract to personal

On Tuesday, I attended my first rehearsal of Fifteen for violin and taiko. Choreographer Michelle Fujii, violinist Keiko Araki, and taiko player Kelsey Furuta have been working from a score I sent a few weeks ago. The score is in fifteen sections to be performed in any order. This was the first chance for me to experience their discoveries live and offer insights.

Here are more thoughts about Fifteen along with photos from the rehearsal.
Last year, Portland Taiko celebrated their 15th Anniversary. Thinking about the number 15, I started a series of sketches for violin and taiko. I played with the number 15: 9+6, 3x5, Lo Shu magic squares, the word fifteen having seven letters, and so on. 15 in the abstract was versatile, but refused to grow into a musical composition. When artistic director Fujii mentioned Ten Tiny Taiko Dances, my thoughts shifted.

I remembered an article I had read about child sex trafficking in South Africa. One of the main characters in the article was Elizabeth, a 15-year-old girl. Her best friend had tuberculosis, full-blown AIDS, and was three months pregnant.

In Composition in Retrospect, John Cage wrote, "Music never stops. It is we who turn away." The World Cup happens in South Africa in June 2010. How can millions watch when next to the stadium, children are raped? Along with being a number, 15 is a transformative, magical age, yet some 15-year-old lives are truncated.


I realized that Fifteen refused to grow from number games, because music is transformative and magical. Taking the idea of truncation to the extreme, Fifteen contains 15 sections performed in any order as offerings and sacrifices. Moreover, while the violinist and taiko player rehearse sections together, they perform the sections apart. Elizabeth's best friend died. For Ten Tiny Taiko Dances, Fifteen struggles to live fully within confines where an eternity can take place within 15 seconds.
Fujii, Araki, and Furuta have found ways to merge the abstract and concrete with strikingly simple gestures. Notice the already limiting 4' x 4' stage further cut-in-half by the drum as well as the score tossed and crumpled about the stage.

Fifteen overflows with possibilities yet is contained. The performers talked about sections having clear narratives that they developed. At times, Araki plays the violin while lying down, at another time, they exchange bow with bachi (drum stick). The sounds they have discovered from the score and while moving are both strong and delicate. Fifteen comes alive within the joy and sorrow of multiple silences. Please attend the premiere.

Portland Taiko presents
Ten Tiny Taiko Dances
19 June 2010, 3pm
19 June 2010, 8pm
20 June 2010, 2pm

Kidnapping Water Installation

Computer-Controlled Light and Sound Installation
Created with artist Randy Moss

Description
Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas Media Installation is a study on the movement of water using four-channel acoustic recordings and 104 LED lights. Miniature spotlights produce animated light patterns, illuminating a circular reef of salt that appears to float in the darkened gallery.

Video Excerpt


Details
Dimensions: 18″h x 72″w x 72″d
Materials: wood, salt, steel wire, LEDs, four-channel sound system, electronics, computer, custom software
Jack Straw New Media Gallery: September 12 to November 21, 2008

Text Panel
August 2008. Four pairs of singers and percussionists perform 64 Bottled Operas throughout King County. Sometimes a photojournalist, videographer, or sound recordist accompanies them.

The entourage drives through parking lots and hikes through forests searching for water. They sing to befuddled adults and curious children. Ducks gather. Human voices and splashing water cry out harder than the silent wisdom of hair turned white.

There is fear and longing in this scenario. Not a run-away-in-fear or humping-towards desire, more a pause-and-reflect terror and furrowed-brow hope that sends quiet shivers through the stomach. Mouths sense water disappear. Ears caress aural mirages where the abundant rain of the present hides a future of burning salt.

Soprano
Mezzo
Tenor
Bass

Rubber
Salt
Electronics
LEDs
Computer Custom Software
Four Channel Audio

Bones
Bamboo
Gourd
Hands
Gongs
Sticks
Rocks
Shells

Rope
Rags
Wood
Water
Birch
Poplar
Steel
Wire
Resources
· Installation sketches and construction photographs by Randy Moss
· Jack Straw New Media Gallery project page

Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas

Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas is about the forced migration of an element more powerful than man. With a creative team of classical and avant-garde musicians, I explore human interactions with water through 64 intimate operas.

Each bottled opera will be two to five minutes. These 64 miniatures include songs of human foibles set amidst tales of droughts and floods. I collect water memories, romances and renewals to decipher the traumas and joys of water's continual ebb and flow. Listening to water, I compose these operas.

64 = 8 x 8: the number of hexagrams in the I-Ching [The Book of Changes]. Each of the hexagrams relates to an archetypal state such as conflict or peace. With 64 bottled operas, I am able to encapsulate a cosmology of opposition and change for the 21st century.

Kidnapping Water is for eight opera singers, each accompanied by one instrumentalist such as a Chinese drummer. Each singer will learn eight portable songs to create site-specific sets that last in duration from 16 to 40 minutes. These Bottled Operas will be performed in fountains, reservoirs, pools, lakes, and other waterways.

The 64 portable vocal/water studies will be documented by a videographer for online distribution as well as an audio/video installation that will be at the Jack Straw New Media Gallery in November/December 2008.

Over one billion people lack access to safe drinking water. I listen to water because one day it may disappear. With an empty plastic bottle, I search for ways water connects people with the places they call home. I listen to stories and sounds to find meaning in a world filled with beauty and terror. Interested in the interplay between the environment and listening, I find musical gestures in everyday actions. These gestures form the basis of eco-ceremonial works created to honor the ritual of people who gather to listen.

Mare Insularum

Mare Insularum translates from Latin as Sea of Islands. It refers to a basin on the moon bordered by the craters Copernicus and Kepler. In the past, storytellers thought these lunar circles were filled with water when in fact they are basaltic plains. The Sea of Islands is dry.

I think about this contradiction as I bicycle in the rain. Will the Pacific Northwest one day be dry?

Insularum comes from the Latin root "to insult." As an acoustic composer in a sea of computer music composers, I find myself abashed. I feel lost amongst machines and run towards rocks and trees, watching electricity in the form of lightning from a distance.

For a performance as part of Electric Island, I enlist the cassette tape recorder. My electronic equipment hisses and clicks. It channels the news. It plays at uneven speeds. Yet, perhaps because it is as old as I am, I find the patience to record water sounds and listen.

Like with water, the old recorder becomes a place where I play, gurgle, drown, and reflect on whether the world will be consumed in a deluge or left in a drought.

Mare Insularum premieres at the Island Music Guild Hall on Bainbridge Island on November 12, 2006.

Island

When Regina Yeh invited me to compose something for East-West Piano Arts, I thought of a new work for two pianists. I remember my piano teachers sitting next to me during lessons. Their presence would ground me as I tried to sonically transport myself as if I were playing alone. I have always been fascinated with this type of intimate listening.

My favorite piano teachers would ask me to sit aside while they demonstrated how a passage should feel. To this day, I am fascinated by watching hands create music. Whether slender, fat, wrinkled, or splotched, observing the movement of fingers taught me to notice the subtleties of kinetic energy. I compose with this bodily insight.

For Island, structured as a theme and variations, one pianist begins with the theme, while the other pianist listens. By the end, the original pianist lets the other pianist play the original theme solo.

I call this work Island not only because playing the piano often feels isolating to me, but because this work is a tribute to the Chinese sojourners who carved their hardships and desires in the form of classic poetry into the walls of Angel Island. The variations reference their longing and discoveries as American pioneers. Here is one of the poems.

Island is about what is passed from generation to generation. Tomorrow, I travel with my grandmother, father, uncles, and aunt to China. It will be my first time on the mainland and my father's first time in the place where his parents were born. Xiamen, a garden by the sea, is known as the place that has produced many pianists. Perhaps some of their playing will inspire me as I continue to compose this work.

Ishquoh



Where Sounds Meet

There is a point in the old town area of Issaquah, where Front Street, Dogwood, and Rainier Boulevard intersect. Train tracks cross a creek traveled by salmon and in the distance Tiger and Squak Mountains converge. I am excited by this location, inspired by both the historic railway tracks that are part of American iconography and the glorious power of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem.

Puget Sound Coast Salish originally called this place home. They gathered berries and roots and were blessed with the cedar and salmon. The Lushootseed Salish called this area "Ishquoh" from the sound of waterfowl taking flight. They rarely went into the mountains, but knew that the Issaquah Alps contained "fire rocks."

When non-Native Americans entered the area in the 1860s, Ishquoh was transformed from a sustainable home for the Puget Salish to an area mined for coal. For nearly 100 years, coal miners transformed the landscape and left holes in the earth. In it's heyday, Issaquah's mining town had 1,000 residents.

Today, over 17,000 people live in Issaquah. A few citizens are descended from coal miners, but most are recent transplants from all over America, China, India, and other parts of the world. They come for the forests, lakes, hiking trails, and historic ambiance. Standing on Front Street looking towards the mountains, I close my eyes to feel the breathtaking natural beauty and suddenly, I am no longer in Issaquah.

Car engines growl. Brakes squeak. Tires swoosh. Noise, from the Latin word for Nausea, causes my stomach to churn. Instead of the expected wind, water, and bird songs, I hear the roadway sounds of Anywhere, America.

I live in a country where people dream of finding a peaceful home. Issaquah has that potential, yet my ears and stomach ask me: "10,000 years from now, will you be able to hear ‘ishquoh’ ring through the trees?" I ponder this question with rocks and water, listening to my footsteps between the train tracks as I walk quietly towards the cedar trees.

Invited by the Issaquah Arts Commission, I create a musical ceremony where the streets, train tracks, creek, and mountains meet. The site-responsive work Ishquoh: Where Sounds Meet will happen just before sunset on October 14, 2006. The performance space will be between and alongside the railroad tracks from Dogwood Street to the 1889 Train Depot. With music and movement, my performers and I will explore how people affect the natural environment in the historically charged, stunning location many children call home.



4Culture and the Issaquah Arts Commission present this project. Project advisors include:

  • Karen Klein (Issaquah Historical Society)
  • Charlie Rathbun (4Culture)
  • June Sekiguchi (Issaquah Arts Commission)
  • Coll Thrush (University of British Columbia)
Check out Site-Specific Arts for a slideshow, video and more info.

Ishquoh: Where Sounds Meet

There is a point in the old town area of Issaquah, where Front Street, Dogwood, and Rainier Boulevard intersect. Train tracks cross a creek traveled by salmon and in the distance Tiger and Squak Mountains converge. I am excited by this location, inspired by both the historic railway tracks that are part of American iconography and the glorious power of the Pacific Northwest ecosystem.

[photo of Dogwood St]

Puget Sound Coast Salish originally called this place home. They gathered berries and roots and were blessed with the cedar and salmon. The Lushootseed Salish called this area "Ishquoh" from the sound of waterfowl taking flight. They rarely went into the mountains, but knew that the Issaquah Alps contained "fire rocks."

[photo of rocks]When non-Native Americans entered the area in the 1860s, Ishquoh was transformed from a sustainable home for the Puget Salish to an area mined for coal. For nearly 100 years, coal miners transformed the landscape and left holes in the earth. In it's heyday, Issaquah's mining town had 1,000 residents.

Today, over 17,000 people live in Issaquah. A few citizens are descended from coal miners, but most are recent transplants from all over America, China, India, and other parts of the world. They come for the forests, lakes, hiking trails, and historic ambiance. Standing on Front Street looking towards the mountains, I close my eyes to feel the breathtaking natural beauty and suddenly, I am no longer in Issaquah.

[photo of tracks]Car engines growl. Brakes squeak. Tires swoosh. Noise, from the Latin word for Nausea, causes my stomach to churn. Instead of the expected wind, water, and bird songs, I hear the roadway sounds of Anywhere, America.

I live in a country where people dream of finding a peaceful home. Issaquah has that potential, yet my ears and stomach ask me: "10,000 years from now, will you be able to hear ‘ishquoh’ ring through the trees?" I ponder this question with rocks and water, listening to my footsteps between the train tracks as I walk quietly towards the cedar trees.

Invited by the Issaquah Arts Commission, I create a musical ceremony where the streets, train tracks, creek, and mountains meet. The site-responsive work Ishquoh: Where Sounds Meet will happen just before sunset on October 14, 2006. The performance space will be between and alongside the railroad tracks from Dogwood Street to the 1889 Train Depot. With music and movement, my performers and I will explore how people affect the natural environment in the historically charged, stunning location many children call home.
[photo of Issaquah Train Depot]

4Culture and the Issaquah Arts Commission are the presenters of this project. Thanks to Karen Klein (Issaquah Historical Society), Charlie Rathbun (4Culture), June Sekiguchi (Issaquah Arts Commission), and Coll Thrush (University of British Columbia) for their expert advice in the initial development of this project.

Is Piao Zhu an escape?

Inspired by the legend of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, Karen Akada, Kelsey Furuta, Karen Lindenberg, and I have been collaborating on Piao Zhu (飄竹), translated from Chinese as Flying Bamboo. This 21st century meditation about overcoming obstacles has for me, had a few inner obstacles. More than writer's block (we are generating plenty of dance and music material), I have "what-is-this?" block.

Is this work an escape from or to a place of understanding?

The Seven Sages were a band of Chinese scholars and poets who met to escape political and societal duress during the 3rd century BCE. Similarly, I feel bombarded by potential catastrophes, yet know that I lead a relatively safe life.

I think about the Capitol Hill shooter and suicide bombers. Where do I stand in relation to these killers? The ritual we create happens in the safe cultural container of the Seattle Asian Art Museum's Garden Court, yet references death. I reflect on the horror and beauty of bending amidst turmoil like bamboo in a storm. This has been our starting point, yet it is easy to get involved in the abstraction of the music, in the right-left-left-left drum stick pattern or the bamboo pole overhead turn.

Composing for me has always been a practice. This structural work is far from the spontaneous act of killing or perhaps composing is the premeditation that preceeds the violence of presenting a work.

I am reminded of a composer who said that if he didn't write music, he would be a murderer. Stravinsky also wrote about how creation and destruction are intertwined. I discovered by performing once with the Infernal Noise Brigade that I performed music to bring people together. My friend, a founder of INB, wanted every performance to end with police sirens flashing. That was the only performance where I got punched in the face by someone who didn't want to hear the music. On cue, the cops arrived.

This is scarily humanistic of me and doesn't reflect the modernist fragmented state I inhabit, but I realize that I enjoy escapist music. After all, I am a product of the classical music world. I would happily fly into the bamboo grove then risk being shot. This is why even though the U.S. military hires musicians, I have yet to submit my application.

Ceremonies pause time. They allow people to gather and contemplate. I am Chinese and a composer, so I will go into the pure conversation of the bamboo grove thinking about the state of the world. Hopefully a deeper appreciation of life will result from this work.

Here's an excerpt...
Seven rites,
Uneven times,
Public trauma,
Secret desires.Unity from chaos,
Spring into summer,
Versatile and strong,
Flying bamboo.

Samai 2.0

Frank from New York took this blurry photo of me performing at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. He was close to tears watching me juggle all the instruments. Notice that I'm playing the bowls, rubbing the drum, and wearing a tie. What you don't get in this photo is that I sing as well. The rest of my concentration goes to making sure nothing falls off the TV tray.

[photo of me in Samai]In the 80s when it was all about synthesizers, I went to a high school creativity camp at Centrum (no relation to the vitamins) in Port Townsend. I spent my entire time playing with the electronic equipment rather than the out-of-tune piano in the corner of the classroom. Now, it would be a toss up whether I would choose the out-of-tune piano or the plastic keyboard. I'd probably forego both and run outside to find sticks to clack together.

For the Bellevue Art Museum performance version of Samai: Lost in Time, I knew I needed to have a recording. Both because the choreographer Archana Kumar initially wanted a recording and because I knew I couldn't always perform live.

Samai Version 2.0 is all about dense sonorities, delays, and the feeling of a beat that is always a little bit off. Best part now is that the music comes from pressing a button.

This is a vastly different score than the original acoustic version of me singing with my prayer bowls, rattle, and opera drum. Archana says that it is totally futuristic and dancer Ying thinks it is very personal. I'm glad that it creates a groovy "Lost in Time" feel for the dance that is more theatrical than disco.

Cusp

I met Argeo Ascani at a party last year. He talked about how he preferred the word "cusp" over "threshold". I agreed with him and we started cusp-cusp-cusping.

Then he told me that he played the saxophone. Oh-oh, one of those instruments that make me cringe, like the snare drum or harp. A teacher told me that I should compose for instruments I find difficult, but I am no longer in school. Shouldn't I just write for instruments I like? And how, after composing mostly for voices these past few years, am I to write anything meaningful for a solo instrument?

Argeo and I talked more about the sax. He mentioned that he was searching for music relevant to his experience. As a classically trained musician, he needed contemporary repertoire for the sax.

I offered that perhaps he was on the cusp, at the point where the saxophone and a potential new music coincide. Then I remembered that this "woodwind" instrument made of brass, was created by Adolphe Sax, a Belgian who worked in France. It was a European instrument invented for military bands that became popularized by American jazz musicians. The sax is an instrument forever in-between worlds, just like I am between places.

I proposed writing a work called Cusp, for saxophone solo. We agreed to meet a few weeks later. I had Argeo play his sax and walk about. What was Adolphe thinking? This could never be a military instrument. Argeo looked so awkward playing the big brass elephant trunk.

My mind wandered to places I'd seen saxophonists: in bars, on street corners, in subway stations, and in theatres. I wanted to reference this instrument hailed by Berlioz, but now relegated to the "special instrument" section of symphonic orchestras. I realized that I needed a crossover space.

How about a step?

Because Argeo performs in concert halls, I proposed a small platform on top of the stage. The musical material switches when he is on or off this platform. Most importantly, Argeo has an acoustic and dramatic location while moving up or down, where the physical music can be caught in mid-air.

I compose this work now, a solo for the sax, finding that I adore the awkwardness of this adolescent instrument as it stumbles to define itself within classical music. While writing, I realize that the sax, a mutant brass-woodwind-military-jazz character is just fine with being on the Cusp.

SAMAI: Lost in Time

When Archana Kumar and I met last month, she had just returned with Ying Zhou from the Asia Meets Asia Festival in Tokyo. We talked about how global time zones affect our chronological, metaphoric, relative, and genetic sense of time. These thoughts form the basis of Samai: Lost in Time, a new work we will premiere at the Grand Reopening Celebration of the Seattle Asian Art Museum on January 21, 2006.

Archana and Ying are very musical choreographers. While watching a preliminary version of Samai, I noticed their penchant for momentary pauses where they spoke or sung. These moments were surrounded by detailed gestures. Their movement ideas at Open Flight's second floor dance studio with the ticking clock reverberating and cars passing on the rain-swept street below revealed a complete world.

Therefore, the musical score I created is sparse. I surround my voice with three prayer bowls tuned a fifth and a tri-tone apart. I also use a few rice grains and two sticks. With these instruments I play music that initially references chronological time with a stick strike every second. This transforms into a dream-like soundscape with resonant elongated vocals singing:
Dho pal ttokar, rakthee hoon, uski raahein takthee hoon.
(I am ready to give away my time as long as I see that person's shadow.)

Bandhene lagi, yun kisi ke saath zindagi.
(As I walk down the road, my life begins to braid with the lives it comes across.)

1979. 2001. Falling rice. Stuck. Heavy. Small village.
In addition, these are some of the words and images that pass through my mind as I sing:

Flesh. Husk of rice. Deception. Balance. Eyes winking. Confusion. Sorrow. Amazement. Fear. Pleasure. Turmoil. Commotion.

Working on Samai, I realize that the space between the live music and silence holds the elusive and complex character we call time. This is the space where we often find ourselves: lost denizens traveling through life.

After-Effect

On Ensemble and I are in the midst of creating After-Effect, a new work for taiko, snare drum, and turntable.

Percussionist David Schotzko prompted After-Effect. When I visited David's studio, I noticed an old army snare that once belonged to his uncle. Thinking more about percussion music and the military, I came across the idea of the motion after-effect.
[photo of the On Ensemble workshopping After-Effect]Doing further research on the after-effect, I found that Marcel Duchamp created 12 rotoreliefs where he spun various spirals atop phonographs. I have wanted to write a work for taiko and turntable where the ancient beats of the taiko met the electronic technology of the phonograph. The roto reliefs connected the musical instruments with the after-effect and helped solidify this as a work propelled by violence.

If you watch a spiral spin in one direction for at least 30 seconds and the spiral suddenly stops, the neurons in your mind will spin the spiral in the opposite direction. This uncontrollable going back reminded me of the ringing sensation in the ears caused by a mass of sound followed by a sudden silence. This is the aural equivalent to the visual after-effect, as well as a post-traumatic symptom caused by war.

On Ensemble, with Kelvin on snare and chu, Shoj on shime and chu, and Kris on turntable, presented After-Effect as part of their sold-out Works-In-Progress Concert at Miles Memorial Playhouse in Santa Monica on December 18, 2005. We will develop a complete version to present in Spring 2006.

Thanks to API/2 for supporting part of my residency with On Ensemble.

Surrender, More Ideas

I often forget that I live in a country at war: the United States at war with Iraq, red and blue states at war with each other, and children with guns at war in the public schools. I challenge myself to hear the complexities, respect the outrage, accept the justifications, recognize the fear, embrace the sorrow, and acknowledge the denial, because I am descended from survivors of forced migration.

My grandparents fled China during World War II. I am touched by their hardships as well as ceremonies of healing. Surrender combines singing and t'ai qi to reach a state filled with strength and compassion, so I can continue to be engaged with my country at war.

I use text from the Dao De Jing because of the potential for transformation contained in the Chinese ideograms of Verse 22. These include the images for missing, confused heart, hands pull apart, sun disappears, claws, chopping sound, crimes of the mouth, freedom of speech, put away for safe-keeping, hands give, retold through 10 mouths, and plants rise from the ground. With hip hop poet Aaron Jafferis, I merge Mandarin and English text. The t'ai qi movements for 24 performers are forever mindful of taking the next step.

Surrender Ideas

I've been brainstorming with Aaron Jafferis, combing through the Dao De Jing, hanging out with Falun Dafa practitioners in Seattle, and observing the protests in New York. Aaron and I have decided to focus on Dao De Jing Verse 22, sung in Mandarin throughout by four to six voices. The larger group sings a relentless, violent beating of persecution lyrics. The audience loops a short folksong throughout this onslaught and in their seeming surrender shows courage and strength.

The movement vocabulary ranges from sitting, to taking a step, to running, to flailing. The sound vocabulary consists of layered folksongs with Chinese Opera inflections and percussive vocal patterns.

I have read through 10 different English translations and studied the Chinese ideograms for this verse. These are the images and ideas from the source text that stand out: twisted, profit, new, missing, many moons, confused heart, delude, cherish, understand, abundance, strength, materialism, adulthood, contend, hands pull apart, struggle, sun disappears, claws, chopping sound, crimes of the mouth, freedom of speech, put away for safe-keeping, sincerity, yielding, silence, violence, liquid, corporeal, participatory, hands give, retold through 10 mouths, plants rise from the ground.

These infuse the new work Surrender for The Esoterics to perform next August.

Dedicated to intercultural collaboration, Byron Au Yong composes songs of dislocation, music for a changing world. He teaches in Performing Arts & Social Justice at the University of San Francisco.

Byron Au Yong & Christopher Yohmei Blasdel: BreathPlay
BreathPlay

Byron Au Yong: Kidnapping Water: Bottled Operas
Kidnapping Water:
Bottled Operas
Byron Au Yong: Yiju
YIJU 移居