Wang Zheng Ting (sheng), Madeleine Flynn (piano), Tim Humphrey (trumpet, artificial frogs)
Wang Zheng Ting (sheng) and pre-recorded material (percussion, whistles)
Frog Calling: Visiting Zhangjiajie National Park in China in 2009, I heard a baby frog singing. Following the sound, I found a person selling the artificial frogs. I bought one and felt I should write a piece in which I cound use the “pat”. The music is my respose to the beautiful nature of Zhangjiajie National Park.
Future Forest: Human beings are destroying the forests. As a result, many species have become extinct. As the environment changes, creatures will have to adapt, change or evolve to survive. Millions of years from now, will there be any forests? What kinds of animals will be there? I respond to these questions with musical sounds in three sections of this piece: Worry, Imagine, and Hope. The music is an improvisation in response to a set of pre-recorded sounds.
Three Japanese Soundscapes is my first composition for Japanese instruments ensemble. It was composed over a three-month period from November 2000 to January 2001, just a few months after I arrived in Tokyo as a Japanese government-sponsored research student and started taking lessons on the shakuhachi, studying composition for traditional Japanese instruments, and playing taiko.
This piece reflects a period in my development as a cross-cultural composer when I was completely enamored with traditional Japanese music. The multiple influences in this piece are subtle and difficult to pinpoint, but my aim was to give voice to the sonic soundscape that surrounded me in my daily life in Tokyo. There are elements of numerous genres of traditional Japanese music that live in the work, including classical koto and shakuhachi repertoire, Japanese theater music, and festival taiko music, not to mention gendai-h?aku (contemporary music for traditional instruments) and the undeniable influence of my teacher, Minoru Miki.
It is divided into three movements, Jo, Ha, and Kyu. These terms are borrowed from gagaku (Japanese imperial court music imported from China during the seventh-century) and classical koto repertoire, referring to a traditional aesthetic form characterized by specific tempo relationships. Jo is an introduction characterized by a slow, irregular, and fluctuating pulse, Ha is characterized a regular pulse that gradually accelerates, and Kyu is characterized by rushing forward to a dynamic and textural climax. While this served a basic starting point for the piece, I depart from the form on numerous occasions. My use of the term, therefore, is more allegorical than descriptive. That is to say, I use the term to pay homage to the many genres of traditional Japanese music that are reflect in the piece.
The first two movements are monothematic, and towards the end of the third movement after an exciting taiko cadenza, these two themes reappear and are layered on top of each other as the taiko leads the ensemble into a wild, exciting, and fiery finish reminiscent of a boisterous Japanese festival. Three Japanese Soundscapes was premiered at National Theater in June 2001 as part of the National Theater of Japan Composition Contest for Traditional Japanese Instruments.
About the composer
Marty Regan (b. 1972) has composed over 50 works for traditional Japanese instruments and since 2002 has been affiliated with AURA-J, one of Japan’s premiere performance ensembles of contemporary-traditional Japanese music. He graduated from Oberlin College in 1995 with a B.M. in Composition and a B.A. in English and East Asian Studies. From 2000 to 2002 he studied composition and took applied lessons on traditional Japanese instruments as a Japanese government-sponsored research student at Tokyo College of Music. In 2002, his composition Song-Poem of the Eastern Clouds (2001) for shakuhachi and 21-string koto was premiered at the 5th Annual Composition Competition for Traditional Japanese Instruments at the National Theatre of Japan. He completed his Ph.D. in Music with an emphasis in Composition at the University of Hawai‘i, Manoa in 2006. His works for Japanese instruments riverrun (2003), Light of the Rainbow (2003), dragoneyes (2004), wildfire (2005), Maqam (2008), Evanescent Yearning…(2008), Shadows of the Moon, (2008), 21-String Koto Concerto No. 2: “Love” (2009), In the Night Sky (2010), and Shadows of the Flames (2011) have been recorded and released on various record labels. His English translation of Minoru Miki’s orchestration manual, Composing for Japanese Instruments was published in 2008 by the University of Rochester Press. In 2010, Navona Records released a compact disc of his works entitled “Marty Regan’s Selected Works for Japanese Instruments, Vol. 1: Forest Whispers…” The second volume in the Selected Works for Japanese Instruments series, subtitled Magic Mirror, was released in 2012 by the same label. In 2011 he was affiliated as a research scholar at Shanghai Conservatory of Music, where he took applied lessons on traditional Chinese instruments. He is an Assistant Professor of Music at Texas A&M University. For more information, visit www.martyregan.com
Read by John Britton
Musical settings by Warren Burt
Dedication – 12 tone et.
The Family Supper – 23 tone et.
Profit Plus Poison – 18 tone et.
The Way Ahead for Youth – 21 tone et.
The First Eighty Years – 12 tone et.
The New Zealand born poet Rewi Alley was born on the 2nd of December 1897 in the small town of Springfield, on the South Island of New Zealand. He was named after a legendary Maori chief of great courage, Rewi Maniapoto. He died 90 years later on Dec 27, 1987, in Beijing, the capital of the country in which he had spent the last 60 years of his life. His life is one of the most amazing of the 20th century, encompassing several careers, and enough adventure and dedication to fill several more normal lifetimes. Over his 90 years, he worked as a soldier, an educator, a scholar, a peace activist, an industrial reformer, a farmer and a writer, among other things. After leaving New Zealand to fight in the First World War, he returned home, and spent six hard years unsuccessfully trying to establish a farm in the Taranaki district of the North Island. Then, in 1927, out of curiosity, he visited China, and stayed there for the next 60 years. In China, he first worked as a fireman, then as a safety inspector for factories. This work brought him into contact with the desperate conditions of Chinese workers, and he began to work for the betterment of their conditions. In the mid 1930s, he founded the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives, a workers controlled industrial organization, who made sure that all their factories could be broken down into small units and moved at a moments notice. This portability, and their morale, symbolized by their slogan Gung Ho (work together), made a decisive difference in China’s ability to survive the Japanese onslaught in World War II. During the war, Alley also got involved in education, founding a school that combined industrial and academic work in equal measure, and doing it all on a small, local scale. His work was inspirational to such educational reformers as Ivan Illich. After the war, with some misgivings, Alley supported the Communist government of Mao Zedong and Chou En-Lai – they seemed to him the best option for China to develop as a self-sufficient nation – and throughout the 50s and 60s, worked tirelessly in the international arena to increase understanding between China and the rest of the world. He and his family – his two adopted sons and their children – luckily survived the Cultural Revolution, mainly through the support and intervention of the Premiere, Chou En-Lai, an old friend from the 30s and 40s, and in his last decades, he was honoured in both China and New Zealand for a lifetime of labor in the service of the working people of China.
In the 1930s, Alley began translating Chinese poetry, and shortly thereafter, began writing poetry himself, sometimes basing his English language poetry on Chinese models, and sometimes simply writing discursive, narrative poems. From the mid 1940s until the late 1970s, he produced a number of volumes of poetry. Some of his poems were quite lyrical observations of Chinese village life, while others were angry, forceful polemics, where he scathingly condemned political conditions he disapproved of. Although he allied himself with the Chinese Communist Party from the 1950s on, Alley was nobody’s puppet, and his political poetry, often quite Brechtian, always retains his own idealistic voice. One would say, using the language of the time, that although the Party would claim that the people and the party were one, if push came to shove (and it often did), Alley would side with the people every time.
I had heard of Rewi Alley through my New Zealand composer friends, Philip Dadson and Jack Body, both of whom had done extended musical compositions about him. But my first real contact with his work came in March 2000, when on a trip through New Zealand I stopped at the Rewi Alley memorial in Springfield. I was impressed by what I saw, and heard. By pressing a button, you could hear a recording of an actor reading a part of one of Alley’s early poems. I liked what I heard, made a recording of it, and then used that recording in a small piece that I played later that week in a concert at Canterbury University in Christchurch. Later, in Wellington, with the help of another composer colleague, Alan Wells, I found several volumes of his poetry in a used book shop. Reading these, I was stunned. I immediately took a liking to his poetry, warts and all. Further searches uncovered more volumes of his poetry, and eventually I selected a sequence of 19 poems, ranging from his earliest efforts in the mid-40s, and his lyrical peasant poems of the 50s, through his sternly angry political works of the 60s, and his gently didactic works of the 70s. I wanted my selection to function as a kind of biography, or biographical sampling of Alley’s life, showing both his absolutely contemporary (and right on) desires for a better world, and also his occasional political misjudgements. His condemnation of the Gang of Four, for example, was written well after they fell from power. Although he may have felt this way during their rule, prudence (in the form of a desire for survival) dictated that these thoughts were kept very private until after they were gone. In this sense, Alley may be compared to another 20th century artist who both publicly supported and privately opposed his own Communist government, the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. Some of Alley’s poetry has aged very well, and some has not. But I wanted to include a wide spectrum of his work, in order to present a portrait of as many sides of the man as possible. In making musical settings of his poems, I didn’t want to prettify them, nor did I want them to be sung. It seemed to me that they were best heard with a speaking voice, which could articulate the emotions inherent in them. The English-Australian actor John Britton provided me with better readings than I could have ever hoped for, bringing these poems to life in ways that continue to delight me. I took the recordings of his readings, and processed them through a computer program called AudioMulch, made by the Melbourne composer Ross Bencina. AudioMulch contains a device called a comb filter, which enables you to create ringing chords, which follow both the rhythm and the pitches inherent in the speaking voice. Further, you can change these chords in performance, creating progressions of sounds that will follow the incoming voice, creating a kind of ghost harmony that envelops and hangs behind the voice, making a musical accompaniment that seems particularly apt for speech. My settings of the 19 poems progress from elegaic, and traditionally tonal, through to more dark, dissonant and angry microtonal musical worlds before finally returning, at the end, to the placid world of the beginning. I hope that the listener is aware of the harmonies I chose to accompany the poems, and the interplay between the text and my musical choices. I would like to thank Arts Victoria, which funded my work on these poems, Alan Wells and Jack Body for their information about Rewi Alley, and above all, John Britton, for his readings, without which these poem settings would not exist.
The tunings used. Every tuning has particular intervals which have certain emotional connotations. These connotations vary from individual to individual. There is no universal language of tuning and emotion. As a composer, all I can do is trust my own ear, and feelings. The accompaniment of each of the poems in this cycle uses a different equal tempered tuning. These tunings suggested to me certain emotional moods that I felt were relevant to a specific poem. Here is a list of the tunings used in each individual poem. The abbreviation “et” stands for “equal temperament”, the system of dividing an octave into intervals of equal size, which is only one of an infinite number of systems of tuning which exist.
Created and recorded in October and November 2003 in Coburg, Victoria, Australia, by John Britton and Warren Burt, with funding from Arts Victoria.
for tarhu (original long necked spikefiddle) and pre-recorded sounds
Music created by Ros Bandt
During November and December 2005, I lived in Hania Crete composing and studying my new bowed string instrument, the long necked spikefiddle the tarhu, invented by Australian luthier Peter Biffin. It has 4 bowed strings and 8 sympathetic strings, with a resonant cone inside the carved gourd-like body. It is an instrument which transcends the boundaries of east west just as Crete’s history has done having periods of Venetian and Turkish occupation. The music reflects this influence, but in real eclectic Australian style, makes something completely new from these sources. The soundscape recordings were made in the White Mountains in Crete in the morning. The tunes although notated, are called up through improvisatory response to the goats.
Tragoudia II (Feedtime) is a robust encounter at feed time. Young goats are learning to scale the wall down to the ravine where the shepherd is pouring bags of food. The tarhu becomes active with them, weaving the old tune of ancient greek tragedy through the texture. The word Tragedy is sourced from the ancient greek words for song and goat Ode and Tragos. Hence these tragoudia, old goat songs lament the loss of the wandering flute playing shepherd and the piece ends as a car sweeps by.
The world’s best pearls and pearl shells are harvested in the deep waters off the shores of Broome in North West Australia. This industry was built on a mixture of slave labour (aboriginal), cheap labour (SE Asian) and Japanese diving prowess (with better pay due to good collective bargaining). The Japanese proved best of all in deep water diving using the heavy copper helmets. They displayed endurance, withstanding hard and cramped conditions. In 1920 there were over 2000 Japanese employed in the pearling fleet. They survived the White Australia Policy, internment during WWII, and post war discrimination. While the pursuit of pearls spelt fortune for the owners of the boats, it often spelt mortal danger for the divers. Today, there are more than 900 Japanese men buried in the Japanese cemetery in Broome, most of them deep sea divers on whom the prosperity of the Australian Pearling industry heavily depended. Their graves date from the late 19th century to the present.
In 2006, at the annual Pearl Festival in Broome entitled Shinju Matsuri, I performed a prayer for the souls of the Japanese divers who had died in Broome. This prayer was in the form of a shakuhachi meditation improvised with the tolling of a Kin, a Japanese prayer bell. Also at this concert, I joined with shamisen player and singer Noriko Tadano and musicians from Wadaiko Rindo to perform a folk song entitled Kaigara-bushi. This is a shell diver’s song from Japan. This evening concert overlooking the sea, was a couple of weeks after O-Bon, a Japanese festival praying for the repose of the souls of the dead.
A week after this concert, the Japanese cemetery was ransacked. The media had reported that is was probably a group of kids. Those naturally shaped and beautifully weathered headstones, which I had so admired a week earlier, had been smashed. Very difficult to believe. The report I heard was that there were 108 head stones broken. How uncanny. It is the custom in Japan to ring the large temple bell 108 times on New Year’s eve, corresponding to the Buddhist concept of 108 worldly desires.
After returning to Melbourne, I decided to put together this piece, Deep Sea Divers, using the elements I performed in Broome, to honour these Japanese divers of Broome. A faint echo of Kaigara-bushi, heard through a heavy storm, represents the souls of the divers. The sound of the Kin bell and shakuhachi are a prayer for their peaceful repose.