When Words are Woggins

The US is both distant and omnipresent, as I write from Paris (from a poetry slam, pictured above) in last-minute preparation for my concert tomorrow. Immersed in words and music, I’m often lost for words, literally between French and English. They are like woggins, wending their way through various states of (non)recognition and (un)meaning.

Losing your language is a loss of protection. I listen so hard that I become exhausted. But out of the struggle emerges inspiration and gratitude for the beauty in playing, collaborating, an exchange of gifts.

Both composers have been working in close collaboration with me in the past few weeks. Composer Pascale Criton has created an experience that is exactly between the two worlds of music and words, using words that have no meaning, yet creating meaning. (Here’s a link from composer Jim Ricci that dives into and provides context for the mysteries of constructed language and music). Likewise, composer Nicolas Vérin has created a musical world that speaks to memory, mystery vs. the everyday hurly-burly. I see it as the tension of kairos and chronos, which is another way of starting to talk about the cultural differences in French and American contemporary music. Both Nicolas and Pascale are steeped in the subtleties of French contemporary music, philosophies and practices – I’m learning a lot.

I’m also grateful to Angela Decker for the beautiful poem she wrote for me, which will be read in both English and French at Le Théâtre de la Vieille-Grille, Paris on May 29. The performance of her poem (itself a tender cry of rage against the disappearances of black girls), and Shirish Korde’s music, will be dedicated to the victims of white supremacist violence in Portland two days ago. One of the young men who died trying to de-escalate the situation was a beloved local in Ashland where I live, and I will be thinking of his mother while I read. The loss is unbearable, and so many stories intertwine with this horrific one. It is important to acknowledge the complexity of how we got here, to the violence that is fueled by everyday societal practices.

My piece (a world premiere) is a direct call home to New Zealand. Denis Glover‘s poem, the poet himself and the Australian magpie calls are a deep part of my childhood. Identity is a large part of the New Zealand cultural conversation, and I’m excited to be literally “bringing it home” in September.

A school orchestra group trys desperately to be patient before the ONCEIM concert. Seconds after this photo was taken a clarinetist clonked a trombonist on the head. He was OK.

Apparently France offers the highest government support in Europe for culture (according to a record-label owner I met at the concert pictured above). And not just IRCAM and the milliard spaces, ensembles and cafes, but an agendum to include communities outside rarified walls. Here’s an ONCEIM concert at the glorious, cavernous St Merry, Paris, where cellist Deborah Walker led a structured improvisation with number of mostly amateur and some professional musicians. This Catholic church under its current hip leadership embraces new music performances, and the evening was a beautiful expression of community, risk-taking, contained and committed within a vast historic space.

Two slightly terrified girls wait for their moment in the sun, performing electronically-processed percussion with the help of a composer.
Posted in Compositions, Concerts, Poetry, Politics, Residencies