I have an inventory of photos I have taken from the clouds I have seen, as I have always been fascinated looking at them, considering it a mystic experience, perhaps because of clouds’ particular way of disappearing. There is something passing, impermanent and transient, but at the same time lasting and eternal in the clouds. They can multiply, expand and combine to occupy the entire sky, or take the form of the most fragmented shapes while retaining their essence; no matter what their amplitude and volume are, they always are in a constant flux. There is also their connection with the excess, with the overflow, they can turn to other forms like rain or snow, creating the most sophisticated forms of layering and metamorphosis. They fall and rise. They teach us something about freedom. As forms of temporal matter, they have an enigmatic relationship to us, they constantly disappear, they disappear and appear again, they deceive us by forming shapes that we find familiar: clouds have intelligence. They weave the timelessness of the universe, now, past and future, they exist outside of time, keeping it for us so one day we too might learn to live in the time of timelessness. Clouds give us an alienated feeling about touch, of the remoteness of touch...
Among the clouds, the most beautiful ones are the lost ones, carrying the ineffable, the unknown desires, the absences: A small cloud in a clear sky, completely out of proportion with everything else, resisting its dissolution in the vastness of the sky, offering us the most fragile view. It disappears from our sight at some point but offers us its future.
Note: Program note is an opportunity to engage with the words, with the poetics, it may or may not have anything to do with the piece and should not be considered as a direction for listening.
A Lover's Discourse: The Other's Body (2017)
For Double Bass and Bass Saxophone
Don-Paul Kahl, Bass Saxophone
Ross Wightman, Double Bass
Recorded Live at New England Conservatory
January 13, 2022
Jeff Means, Recording Engineer
The other's body was divided: on one side, the body proper -skin, eyes- tender, warm; and on the other side, the voice-abrupt, reserved, subject to fits of remoteness, a voice which did not give what the body gave. Or further: on one side, the soft, warm, downy, adorable body, and on the other, the ringing, well-formed, worldly voice- always the voice.
Roland Barthes, "A Lover's Discourse"
Recorded and premiered in August 1st, 2018
Slosberg Hall, Brandies University
Sound Engineer: Tony Di Bartolo
Conductor: James Baker
Cellos: Joshua Gordon, Christopher Gross
Flute: Barry Crawford
Bass Clarinet: Benjamin Fingland
Bassoon: Adrian Morejon
Horn: Jenny Ney
Trombone: Kevin Fairbairn
Percussions: Matthew Gold, Mike Truesdell
Piano: Steve Beck
Violin: Yuri Namkung
Viola: Liuh-Wen Ting
Double Bass: Greg Chudzik
"We ran into a shelter filled with tears and sounds I had hidden" is a piece for two Cellos and ensemble. There are two distinct sound worlds. In the first, time and musical objects are suspended; sounds are clear but scattered. Various pitches are used throughout, with only a few active intervals. In the second, time is directional but non-linear, constantly expanding and shrinking. Sounds are pale, unstable, but also rough and impatient. Harmonies are based on registers, limited but with large timbral variations. Different sounds are created with various placements of the bow on the Cellos (with their 4th strings one octave lower); these timbral changes are echoed by bowing ropes attached to the Bass Drums. The whole ensemble is also echoing and shadowing the sounds of the Cellos. At certain points, the musical materials remain constant, but the shadowing techniques alternate incessantly, and there are moments when these two sound worlds merge into one faint structure.
The title of the piece refers to my childhood, during the war between Iran and Iraq. The sound of sirens was all over the city, signaling that people should go and take cover. However, there were no shelters, and we had to run to the basement of our old house, which was already falling apart. The basement was dark; the only things I could see were the shadows of the leaves on the bricks and the varied spectrum of darkness. It was full of abundant objects, such as big pots, vases, books, tires, metallic parts of different appliances, etc. As a child, I was always excited to discover those objects, guessing what they were by touching them and hearing their sounds. Those were my first experiences with sounds, naked sounds, empty of any specific expression, but liberating, protecting me from bombardment.
*Temporal opposites of the piece are inspired by a poem by Mohsen Emadi:
Death is when the heart does not beat and the clock beats.
Love is when the heart beats and the clock does not beat.
Perhaps this simple comparison explains
why you glanced at your watch.
You knew that waiting is the dense endurance of eternity
and love, the miracle of mortals,
makes eternity ashamed,
but death does not wait for anybody.
The long summer afternoon
was going down on coffins and clock towers
the ruins knew
and you did not know
that war makes waiting invalid
and saving life
the whole Truth.
Was she dead?
Had she fled without you?
Or you were not in love anymore?
The dead were not answering.
The living were escaping
and love from then on
the pulsing of a clock.
Ensemble: Survivors Breakfast
Director: Anthony Colman
Alec Toku Whiting, Bass koto
Jolee Gordon, Voice
Lysander Jaffe, Viola Anto Melikestian, Violin Martine Thomas, Viola
Nikita Manin, Clarinet Allison Burik, Sax Gabriel Garcia, Sax Jonathan McGarry, French horn
Anastasiya Dumma, Guitar Max Fletcher, Guita Magdalena Abrego, Guitar
Matthew Okun, Guitar/bass Grace Ward, Double Bass
Adam Tuch, Piano . Robin Meeker-Cummings, Electronics
The vertigo of pain
does not circulate
around your smiles
thousands of protestors are passing by in the street
in the publishing house
are walking on leaded words
you do not cry
in your room
you are strong enough
to have no hope
the sun penetrates the darkness of your room
a thin line of light
reaches the flowers woven in the carpet
as if the sun
has extended itself
to the most delicate form of being
particles of dust
appear in the trajectory of the light
you try to follow their movements
but each time they escape from your eyes
getting lost in other ones
the sun is dust
flowers are dust
the women weaving them are dust
I is dust
Your barefoot is a thin line of light
Poem by Nima Janmohammadi
Li-Mei Huang, Abigail Hong, violin
Laura Rose Williamson, viola
Joseph Gotoff, cello
Skin is a surface that keeps our psycho-physical memories, our past experiences that are too traumatic to be remembered consciously. Skin is unreliable; it changes, fails, and yet we invest to keep it the way we wish it could be: skin as utopia, skin as simulacra. Skin is a permanent reminder that bodies die; a fragile metaphor, beauty of decay. Skin is political; it has been stigmatized in its history. Skin is a site; retentive of her smell, her aura, eroticism of her ecstasy, and the poetry of her body.
Premiere by Megalopolis Saxophone Orchestra 3/3/2018
First Church in Boston
Directed by Andrew Steinberg
Raymond Kelly and Sean Mix - soprano saxophones
Thomas Giles, Cole Belt, Scott Chamberlin, and Andy Wilds - alto saxophones
Michael Brinzer and Jacob Swanson - tenor saxophones
Josh Lang and Bryan McNamara - baritone saxophones
Ryan Mantell - bass saxophones
This piece is a homage to Walter Benjamin; written thinking about his death at Port Bou, a small town on the border of Spain, where he took his life in 1940. I tried to create a flat but dynamic surface. This dynamic surface is built through the conjunction and juxtaposition of musical materials that are controlled by the particular placement of each saxophone. The ensemble is placed on the balcony surrounding the audience; this use of space creates a sonic effect that brings out subtle variations in the sound and gives a tactile sensation to the perception of time. There are not so many sudden changes or rhythmic activities, however, the sounds are used in a way that there are many activities within them. There are not so many activities in death, but death itself is an activity that activates fading of the body, and in the case of Benjamin, his posthumous life.