an existential duo for one
for solo shakuhachi
by Anne Norman
Recorded by Al Future at The Chapel, Hobart, Tasmania
Oodnadatta Who features alternating and simultaneously sung and blown elements, everchanging metres, and fast polyphonic passages. A contemplative oasis of shifting timbres and portamento brings a moment of respite in the midst of playful hocketing rhythms filled with existential riddles. Sustained notes on shakuhachi and voice provide an opportunity to revel in microtonal interference, alluding to shifting mental states, shimmering mirages and the throbbing heat of a desert.
Elements of this piece began when camping in desert country on the Oodnadatta Track* in 2016. Experimenting with ideas for playing shakuhachi while singing, I jotted down a list of words that worked well for initiating and sustaining blown tones. Unintentionally, the piece began to ask impossible questions… Who knows where? Who knows how? Who, How, When?
Bemused by its ambiguous lyrics, I finished composing this piece in 2019. Then, after recording it in early 2020, unanticipated meanings emerged.
* The Oodnadatta track is an unsealed road passing through desert country in the north of South Australia. The name is derived from the Arrernte language, utnadata meaning “mulga blossom.” (Wikipedia)
hu, hu, Who? hu, hu…
wee-ii-yuu, hu, hu, hu…
who, her, he
who, he, her
him, me, her
who, he, we
hu tu, hu tu, du du?
Oodnadatta in the flow
as we go flying, trying,
in the flow, I don’t know
when to go flying,
crying, lying, sighing
Who to ask?
hu, hu, who?
who knows where?
who knows how?
Who, how, when?
who to, who to, who
du, du, du, du
Oodnadatta in the flow
as we go flying,
lying… I don’t
know when to go flying,
Why die trying?
du, du, du, du, When?
du, du, du, du, How?
du, du, du…
Who? How? When?
An existential tale ~ Oodnadatta Who?
I recorded Oodnadatta Who on a C shakuhachi in outer Hobart in January this year in the Chapel Studio, situated on what was once a quiet country road. While struggling with new techniques demanded by this crazy score (who wrote this!) my silences were invaded by passing trucks. On a second trip to Hobart in March, my re-take of the opening section was rather more aggressive than my first attempt. I was louder, punchier and perhaps a bit angrier. We recorded late at night this time to avoid the noisy trucks. I was tired but had to push through, as I was scheduled to leave Tassie soon.
For the preceding week I’d been insulated from the outside world in an artists’ bush-retreat composing, performing in a resonant cave and giving workshops in a forest with my music colleagues Emily and Yyan. By the time I hit the studio with recording engineer Al (Alistair), I was becoming aware of planet-wide shut-downs and rising deaths due to the corona virus pandemic. While increasingly bombarded by social media hype, I received a call from my agent’s teary receptionist announcing that all my gigs for the next few months were “postponed”… ’til when?
That was yesterday, and this morning, since my school gig was cancelled, I stayed at the studio and mixed Oodnadatta Who with Al, then made several unsuccessful attempts to cancel flights. Airline companies were in damage control with call-centres in the Philippines closed. I gave up and with the mixed sound-file uploaded to my phone, I walked to a park where a young girl and her father were flying a kite.
Bathed in warm sunlight, I now lie on lush green grass listening to our edit through headphones, hypnotised by a wedge-tailed eagle circling high overhead. Hearing my agro tones and abstract lyrics, my understanding of this work suddenly takes on a whole new meaning. It’s about COVID-19!
I don’t know when to go flying, crying…
Why die trying?
Elements of this piece began beside my campfire in a desert three and a half years ago. Experimenting with new ideas for playing shakuhachi while singing, I’d jotted down a list of words starting with H or Wh, as they worked well for initiating blown tones, and words that did not end in a consonant proved best for sustained notes. Unintentionally, the piece took on an existential air…
Who knows where? Who knows how? Who, How, When?
It is phenomenal how fluid and flexible the interpretation of a work can be, by both the performer and the listener – totally different every time.
Now lying on the grass listening to my new recording, trying not to worry about a gig-less future, questions about “what next” swirl through my head. Who to ask?
I recall a short poem I wrote while camped on the Oodnadatta track – vignettes of my desert experience, yet here in Tasmania “kites” and circling raptors still watch me from above, and the way ahead is rapidly dissolving.
whistling kites circle
dragons stand motionless
the road dissolves
This is the first recording of a difficult piece that I one day hope to fully master. Thankfully, two excellent musicians – Kuroda Reison (Tokyo) on a longer A shakuhachi and Katharine Rawdon (Lisbon) on silver flute – are also practising Oodnadatta Who. Hopefully I can persuade them to record — him, me, her… How will the piece evolve? How many different moods, timbres and “meanings” is it capable of eliciting? What do you hear I wonder? What is your existential tale?
Anne Norman, 17 March 2020
Music and texts © by Anne Norman
If you wish to support Anne Norman to compose new works and write up the back stories to her music adventures, please consider becoming a patron at her Patreon site: https://www.patreon.com/AnneMNorman
An Australia Asia Foundation’s commission for the 15th Anniversary of Sonic Gallery (2004-2019)
The piece sounds as old as the earth. Whatever the intent, the sounds are coaxing and beguiling and evoke images of flickering light and circumstance. One is left more aware of the fragility and tenuousness of life. Tomorrow’s listening may offer a different interpretation.
Beautiful. Thank you.
Thanks Anne, I appreciate your feedback. “flicking light and circumstance” – beautiful. You have been on the Oodnadatta track?