In Memoriam 2010
in memoriam 2010 (63:53)
1. cataclysm and threnody (16:01)
2. threnody and prayer (10:29)
3. ground of the great sympathy: aftermath (6:30)
4. in-formation (12:58)
5. coalescing (9:01)
6. ...with completion (8:41)
In memory of Nancy Epstein (1920-2010)
Commissioned by Dan Epstein
with funds from the Dan J Epstein Family Foundation
While I was sitting with a poet friend watching a great opera performed in a tent under arc lights, the poet took my arm and pointed silently. Far up, blundering out of the night, a huge Cecropia moth swept past from light to light over the posturings of the actors. “He doesn’t know,” my friend whispered excitedly. “He’s passing through an alien universe brightly lit but invisible to him. He’s in another play; he doesn’t see us. He doesn’t know. Maybe it’s happening right now to us.”
The above quotation appears at the beginning of an article by David Lanza entitled “A New Theory of the Universe,” detailing the premise of what he refers to as Biocentrism. Lanza, co-author with Bob Berman of the book “Biocentrism,” puts forward a theory of consciousness and perceptual realities that combine certain implications regarding the behavior of matter established by Quantum Physics with facts of our biological make up. Central to what he is proposing stems from the intractable fact of the importance and participation of the observer in determining and defining the behavior and nature of the subatomic material that is present in all that exists in our universe. By combining those facts and theories with biological realities, he is attempting to arrive at some concrete understanding of consciousness, as it might exist. His thinking puts each of us at the very center of our experience, even to the extent that as he puts it: “It is we, in effect, who create Nature, not the other way around.” I make absolutely no claims of grasping the full meaning or implications of what he is saying. I do know, however, that my contact with his ideas—reading two long articles by him and listening to him speak about these ideas for an hour and a half on the radio—has affected my thinking in a general way and more specifically, it has had a direct effect on the outcome of “In Memoriam 2010”.
It seems that with my return to composing music after a long hiatus working in other art forms, I am approaching the compositional process and its resultant musical experience quite differently in comparison to the one that characterized my music between 1960 and 1978, the year I stopped composing. Generally speaking, I would describe that difference as a change of artistic focus and musical vocabulary from the seemingly more abstract, purely sonic perspective of my older music—most of which was modeled on the workings of Nature as seen and understood through various Eastern disciplines—to one, that at least on the surface, is more imbued with a sense of a human narrative that attempts to come to grips with the way in which we apprehend and deal with life’s experiences, be they limited to strictly human interactions or to our interactions with purely natural phenomena, or some sort of mixture of the two. In part, I attribute that shift in focus to the cumulative experience of all my work (since 1980) in the plastic arts, photography, film and the use of the computer and its related technologies. Added to those factors, I would be remiss in not mentioning my present older age, which understandably includes—indeed demands—an expanded context for my music (and my life in general). I find myself looking back over my life and the historical context that informed my older music as much as I continue looking to the present and future as I explore new possibilities of what can be expressed through sound.
Above all, it is clear to me that my present artistic perspective represents a logical evolution of all my previous perspectives: I see my current music as the result of an additive, still evolving process. I have opened myself up to new musical possibilities without subtracting from, renouncing or abandoning what I did in the past. The mere fact that I have been able to successfully imbed my older music into my current music (such as in I Saw My Mother Ascending Mount Fuji) bears out that evolutionary aspect of the process. In effect, I have given my older music (and myself) a new, more appropriate context and/or platform so as to allow it (and me) to speak more openly and freely with respect to certain experiences, whereas in the past, its full meaning was somewhat obscured by the clearly articulated and limiting spiritual and sonic context in which the music was offered. There were, of course, those listeners who despite my particular and quite specific contextualization of the music understood that there were other things going on beneath the spectral, drone-like surface of the music; they were, however in the minority. Clearly, it has taken these many years since that prior time when I was a composer to learn how to step out of the way and allow the music (and me) to express its (and my) full meaning.
Amongst my recent compositions, “IN MEMORIAM 2010” is perhaps one of the more complex examples of my new technical and experiential approach to musical composition. It was commissioned by Dan Epstein and the Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation to commemorate the passing of his mother—Nancy Epstein—who died in the spring of 2010. The fact that I have chosen such a large canvas to celebrate the life and mourn the passing of an individual will hopefully not obscure the fact that this work is both personal and universal.
I am grateful for this commission and opportunity, and honored to be the Foundation’s first grant recipient. (More on the history of the Epstein Family Foundation below.) At this time I would also like to express my gratitude to Paul Hanson and John Nuechterlein of the American Composers Forum and Philip Blackburn, Director of Innova Recordings, for their timely and enthusiastic support of the project and their willingness to work with Dan Epstein to make this project happen so quickly. The commission came during a particularly dark and difficult period of my life and was instrumental in turning things around for me. I cannot fully express my gratitude to them in these few words; what they did collectively was a true gift, and I sincerely thank them for that.
As I began working on the commission, the challenge of composing a commemorative work (or an homage) for a person not involved in making art that influenced my own art making or composing a piece for a person to whom I was not directly connected was something I came to realize I had never attempted. It is one thing to compose a work in the memory of one’s own family member(s) as I did with “I Saw My Mother Ascending Mount Fuji” and quite another to do that for someone outside one’s immediate family. The fact that the Epstein family and ours were like family to each other did make a difference, but did not completely mitigate that problem. Eventually I began to understand that there were two non-connected historical loops (Lanza refers to these so called loops as “spheres of physical reality”) for me—one, personal and family related, the other, art and music related—that would have to be made to intersect in some way for this work to succeed at any meaningful level. That understanding, however, took some time to arrive at: My first attempt to fulfill the commission did not, for many reasons, work out. (The work that both Philip Blackburn of Innova Recordings and I agreed was not suitable for this commission was an improvised keyboard work titled “TURNING MUSIC.”)
Following that false start, I considered re-composing a piece that already had existed in two incarnations, a piece that emerged from my historical art loop, which is to say that it dealt in both instances with art and music figures from my past. The first dealt with the painter Jackson Pollock, and the second with Kenneth Gaburo, my primary composition teacher. It was originally titled “PORTRAIT AND DREAM” (2009) after one of Pollock’s last paintings of real consequence and subsequently became “PORTRAIT AND DREAM: IN MEMORIAM KENNETH GABURO” in its second incarnation (begun in early 2010). The Pollock version of the work used a voiceover from a documentary on Pollock describing his work painting-by-painting (that was left over material from a long documentary film on Pollock that I, myself, did a couple of years ago). The musical material from that work, without the voiceover, eventually became the starting point for the first part of the Gaburo version of the piece, which was comprised of two parts, each about an hour in length. (The second part of the Gaburo version eventually became the starting point for the present work, “In Memoriam 2010.”) The entire Gaburo version grew out of conversations I had with Philip Blackburn about Kenneth’s music, triggered initially by questions I had regarding the singularity of his last work, “Antiphony X”, for organ and electronic sounds and subsequently by other works of K.G.’s that I had on CD and later, many other works of his that Philip sent me.
Philip and I hit it off immediately, for many reasons I think, but especially through our shared experience with K.G., even though we were with him at very different points in his life—I studied with him at the University of Illinois from 1961 to 1963 and spent some time with him in the late 1970s and early 1980s in La Jolla when his life was going through some serious changes. Philip worked with him in the late 1980s up until his death in 1993. Talking with Philip about K.G. came at a difficult time in my life when it seemed that I had lost a sense of direction regarding my work and was in a serious, downward spiral stemming both from the effects of a physical condition that I had not yet identified (‘vital exhaustion’) and a feeling of demoralization regarding my life in general. For many years I hadn’t given any real thought to composing and it was only through happenstance—preparing older musical material for release on Edition R.Z. in Germany (The CD, “The Realm of Indra’s Net”)—that I began to compose again. My conversations with Philip began after I had submitted “I Saw My Mother Ascending Mount FUJI” for consideration (and eventual release in 2009) on Innova Recordings. I think it was our common bond with K.G. that somehow, in a rather complex psychological way, gave me the feeling of some hope of grounding myself and being able to work as I always had. I know that Philip understood what I was going through—we had talked about it—and thankfully, he was able to help shepherd me through that time. The second version, “PORTRAIT AND DREAM: In Memoriam Kenneth Gaburo” was both an exploration of a particular aspect of K.G’s music—its single mindedness and highly controlled nature—and a gift to Philip to whom the work is dedicated.
The first part of the K.G. version began with his “Testimony,” a piece made from recorded comments by listeners to a call-in show in Australia that dealt with the question of their feelings regarding the possibility of nuclear annihilation and the end of life, as we know it. K.G had combined that with another of his compositions, “The Flow of U,” (scored for three voices). It was the combination of the two pieces that gave me the idea of trying to integrate numerous pieces of his with other musical material, some of which was mine along with many other pieces from different composers and different historical periods. The majority of that first part was intended to give a sense of what would be lost—it was subtitled “Memory Portrait”—in the event of such a nuclear holocaust. The second part began with what I titled “Threnody and Prayer.” An actual hypnosis tape done in the manner of a text setting followed that. The basic trajectory or narrative of the work, then, was destruction, loss, grieving and finally healing and/or acceptance. As I turned to that second part and began rethinking it for the newly commissioned piece, I began by taking out the hypnosis text and all the material that followed it, which was how the work had concluded. From there, I began to re-work the entire section focusing first on the second half of that section, adding, altering and shifting material to compensate for the removal of the text and the ending as it had previously existed. In the process of re-working the material, I also made changes and additions to the first part of that section in an attempt to make a tighter, more focused, and overwhelming total sound. (At that point I still understood the work as a rendering of the extinction of all living things on the planet followed by the rebirth of life itself.)
I then sent the new version to Philip who made a few suggestions as an editor might do for an author. One of his suggestions had to do with the quality of the sound itself in the opening of the piece, referring to the divisi, string-like sounding material that I had derived from a work Philip had done and sent to me titled “Winds Rise in the East” (His piece, which I transformed into a multilayered onslaught of sound, was the recorded sound of a single wire vibrating in the wind.) He was not suggesting that I change the Threnody section, but rather that I might think about its characteristics, which I took him to mean something having to do with both its timbral profile as well as its narrative and dramatic function in the overall scheme of the work. I thought about Philip’s remarks about the opening of the piece for quite some time until I finally realized that what was missing was the sense that some cataclysmic event—natural or man made or some combination of the two—had to have already occurred (or was in the process of occurring) for the piece to make any narrative sense. I had changed the subtitle of the new version’s opening from Threnody to Cataclysm and Threnody, completely forgetting that the assumption of the Gaburo version was that a nuclear holocaust had already occurred, confirming the callers’ (to the radio program) worst case scenario and fears. The beginning of the second section of the Gaburo version, then, made sense as a threnody for the victims of a nuclear holocaust. That obviously was not the case for “In Memoriam 2010,” which begins without anything preceding it, (The fact that this work was intended as a commemorative piece in remembrance of an individual’s passing did not really change since I had imagined the Gaburo version as applying to both K.G. and Mankind (in a more general sense at the same time).
I finally realized that what was missing from the new version was the musical rendering of the cataclysm itself. To the already existing threnody material—the divisi string sounds and a truly unidentifiable
cacophonous noise beneath the threnody material, two extreme manipulations of K.G.’s electronic work, “Hiss”—I added another track that proved to be exactly what had been missing to achieve the cataclysmic effect I hadn’t as yet been able to imagine. As it turned out after adding the new material, the already existing threnody material was now functioning both as a lamentation to the cataclysm and at the same time had become part of the cataclysm itself. (The sounds of the cataclysm track are from a segment of a soundtrack of the Russian film, “Come and See,” that have been manipulated beyond any possible recognition of their original context, namely the complete destruction and mass murder of a Russian village by the Germans.) A thinned out remnant of the threnody material—accompanied by a single F-sharp that comes out of an ascending ensemble glissando from “Winds Rise in the North,” (added to increase the intensity at the final climax of the cataclysm section)—continues past the Cataclysm section and becomes part of the next subsection, “Threnody and Prayer.” This new section begins with a manipulated version (to blend timbrely with the threnody material) of Verdi’s “Laudi alla Vergine Maria,” and concludes with a (manipulated) quote of Beethoven’s “Adagio quasi un poco andante” from his Op. 131 String Quartet in C-sharp Minor.
The final section of the work, titled “Ground of the Great Sympathy: Aftermath” (only a fragment from the opening of my own tape composition “Ground of the Great Sympathy” composed in 1975 is heard here) begins at 26:30 minutes into the piece. This third, final (and longest) section of the work—approximately 38 minutes—attempts to bring into balance, define, and render the action or coalescing of what Lanza (and others, of course) are referring to when they talk about consciousness and its elusive nature. There are three main groups of material that comprise this final section. The first, acting as a fulcrum around which the other two operate is made out of a vocal fragment from Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel” and a manipulated version of Paul Paccione’s piano piece, “A Page for Will.” That material exists in the same middle register and is repeated in various permutations and with some alterations, always, however, functioning as a constant and consonant element in the slowly changing overall sound of the section. Out of the Feldman fragment comes another element, a clock-like ticking that is one pitch taken from a continuous, sustained sound, repeated every two seconds. The marking of time with this continuous ticking acts both as a counterpoint to the undemarcated nature of the drone material that surrounds it and at the same time creates some sort of dramatic expectation. Interestingly, I think, the meaning of the ticking over the course of the entire section changes: At first it seems to be marking the passing of time as things begin to reassert themselves and come together. As the section goes on, however, it takes on the ominous tone, more like a countdown to something that from one point of view, might be seen as a precognitive and disturbing feeling that the perceived cycle of cataclysm and “rebirth” is something that will happen over and over again.
The drones in this last section function as a ground for the other material. The initial drone from “The Ground of the Great Sympathy” overlaps with and is replaced by two versions of manipulated string material—originally from my own work using recorded string sounds “E QUINDI USCIMMO A RIVEDER LE STELLE” from 1976, “AND THEN WE WENT OUT TO LOOK AT THE STARS AGAIN”—with the addition of synthesized double reed instruments at various points in the drone. Combined with my drone material are two slowed-down, manipulated versions of Werner Durand’s “REMNANTS FROM PARADISE” (originally performed by him on his own unique wind instrument). Because of its different and less consonant harmonic content, this complex drone creates a certain frisson between it and the other material suggesting an alchemical-like mixing of diverse elements that might prove necessary in the creation of a balanced whole. In this section there is also a repetition of my own “The Death of Chuang Tzu” from 1975 that also appears in the Cataclysm and Threnody section. Here, however, it has a totally different effect, namely it functions as a peaceful, constructive element that helps bring the elements back into balance. Apart from certain mechanical sounding fragments harkening back to the first section, there is one other track of importance that begins with bird-like sounds, which ultimately become more animal-like and toward the end of it, perhaps even sounding like the beginning of linguistic utterances.
There are, in my mind, two points I would like to make regarding the “meaning” of this work apart from its commemorative nature: The first having to do with the overall flow of the piece, and the second, related to how Lanza’s theory affected the outcome of the work. With respect to the first point, I have intentionally built into this piece a certain sense of asymmetric proportions with respect to how long any particular section, phrase or gesture goes on. In the past I always tried to find the natural or logical proportions—determined in general by the local and overall harmonic movement of the piece—for the material to unfold. Here, in this piece, I have intentionally pushed things past that point so as to suggest, and indeed create the experience of something that is, in as true a way as I could make it, seemingly beyond human control. It is the case here that we, the listeners and observers of what is transpiring before us are not only not in control of what is happening, but also, and more to the point when listening to this piece of music, we are, to some degree, at a loss when it comes to our usual musical expectations of how the piece should unfold over time. My solution to counter this somewhat disconcerting aspect of the work was to build a sense of ebb and flow into it that would, at least in my mind, mitigate the asymmetry of the experience and at the same time more accurately reflect the way both human and natural events often unfold in a manner that is rarely balanced and proportionally perfect.
The second point, which only becomes clear in the long final section of the work, is the task I set for myself and thought of as, in effect, reanimating the cohesion of what I am referring to as consciousness, a spiritual reality, not a mode of thinking as in conscious versus unconscious thinking. That notion of a spiritual consciousness was not part of the Gaburo version or of this version prior to coming across Lanza’s ideas. I no longer see consciousness—as opposed to memory, for example—as something that can be destroyed, confused or forgotten, even though that might seem to be the case during or following events in extremis. It is clear through so many of our cultural expressions that “higher” consciousness is understood and viewed as a state of peacefulness and clarity: In a perfect world why would anyone want consciousness to be perceived in any other way? But where does that leave us if not at the mercy of external (and internal) forces, which we allow to put its existence into question? Perhaps what Lanza is suggesting about our perception of reality and our attainment of higher consciousness being understood through our sensory mechanisms has the potential to change our view of it from that of a comforting abstract notion that many of us hope to achieve, to quite another view of it as a concrete reality that already exists within all of us. Perhaps there is no gap between what we perceive to be outside and apart form us: We are part of the entire equation.
Looked at from that point of view, then, perhaps what we think of as higher consciousness is an extreme form of compassion, a recognition of, and a dependence on the other. In that context, it could be viewed as an active and real energy force that links all matter in a way that suggests that everything might exist in an interdependent state. If one accepts that premise, it then becomes possible to see everything in our universe (including us) as a unique part of a micro and macro network that depends upon each of its particularities for its continuing existence. It cannot be overlooked, however, that within the continuity of consciousness, the cyclic process of living and dying, the loss of a loved one or even the death of multitudes of individuals in some cataclysmic event is something we all have to come to terms with: We have all experienced loss and grieved for our losses.
Perhaps the belief that consciousness permeates everything and transcends—by that I mean encompasses—the cyclic nature of living and dying, would allow us to accept the inevitable beginnings and endings of things as part of a meaningful continuity, not just a tragic aberration. With the ending of “In Memoriam 2010” I have attempted to convey that cyclic nature of things. The aspect of loss, grieving and healing that characterized the ending of the Gaburo version of this piece has not been excised, but rather, put into the larger context of a consciousness in which these cyclic realities exist.
In talking with Dan Epstein about the commissioning of this work and going over the history of the Epstein Family Foundation, I think he accurately pointed out that in a very real sense it was his father, reaching through Dan who had made the commission to do this piece in his mother’s memory a reality. For me, hearing him say that and agreeing with what he said, only made what was a meaningful project to begin with all the more meaningful. In some fundamental way it confirmed my belief in the interrelatedness of things and served as yet another affirmation of something I hold onto to get through those times when it seems that the continuity of my life, and others around me, has been irreparably lost.
As always, I want to thank my old and dear friend Eric Richards for his continued support of my work; Carol Straus for her willingness to help with the notes, and a new friend Robert Reigle—a composer/performer and ethno-musicologist—for his musical observations regarding the ending of the work that helped me rethink the material and alter it to the benefit of the piece.
– H.G., September 2010
ABOUT THE EPSTEIN FAMILY FOUNDATION
The Epstein Family Foundation has a long and fruitful history. It came into being in the early 1950s following the tragic, accidental death of the Epstein’s eldest child Steven. Julius and Nancy Epstein felt that the creation of a foundation dedicated to helping talented youngsters begin the long process of hard work and study, which might eventually lead to successful careers in music and art, was their positive way to respond to their son’s untimely death. The original foundation—the Steven David Epstein Foundation—worked in partnership with the Boys Clubs of America, who because of their direct contact with so many youngsters proved to be the perfect partner for the Epstein Family Foundation. The foundation was a success, creating opportunities for many talented young people who without the foundation’s support—in the form of “seed money”—might never have progressed in their chosen area of expression. Following his father’s death in 1968, Dan Epstein became the guiding force of the foundation in the early mid 1970s. The foundation’s work continued through the 1980’s, eventually coming to an end with the dissolution of the partnership between the Epstein Family Foundation and the Boys Clubs of America. Now, the Epstein children, Dan and his sister Kay Unger Pitman continue in the tradition of the Epstein family’s willingness and interest in supporting and helping talented individuals achieve their goals of becoming successful contributing members to our society: Dan with the Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation, focusing on music, both classical and jazz, and Kay, with the Steven Julius Foundation, which is directed toward those involved in the visual arts.