Gong/Ear (Cymbal) in
Philip Corner with Korean shaman
cymbals in the sand
Steve Peters listener with microphone
Tent Rocks (Kasha-Katuwe), New Mexico, April 22, 1991
In April 1991, Philip Corner was traveling back to New York
from Indonesia and stopped in Santa Fé to visit and work with our ensemble,
Gamelan Encantada. One day I took him to Tent Rocks, a favorite hiking spot
near Cochiti Pueblo. Philip brought along his trusty Korean cymbals and I
packed a portable DAT recorder, stereo microphone, and headphones. We walked
among the other-worldy rock formations, following the dry wash into a narrow
slot canyon that ends in a large chamber opening out into yet another canyon
filled with Ponderosa pine.
We had no plan. Philip began prostrated before his cymbals,
slowly crawling towards them through the sand, and the rest of our “duet”
flowed spontaneously from there. I followed as unobtrusively as I could, moving
in close or backing off, riding the input levels, recording ambient sound when
he would wander off into the interior of the canyon. Amazingly, we encountered
no other hikers and almost no jet noise. I knew as it was happening that this
was a very special recording.
An 11-minute segment was released on Volume 5 of The Aerial
compilation series. I sent the original DAT tape to Philip, foolishly
neglecting to make a safety copy. Since then I’ve often thought about this
mythical recording, recalling it fondly and worrying that it might get lost
before it ever saw the light of day. I finally got around to asking about it in
2009, and Philip agreed to send me the tape so I could dub it onto CD and he
could finally hear the entire session.
Listening again almost exactly eighteen years later, the
recording more than lives up to my memory of it. All of the intimate, tactile
details of Philip’s performance are clearly audible: his hands, footsteps, and
breath, the tiny sounds of sand on metal, the infinite sonic variety of the
cymbals. We hear not only his activity/presence in the landscape, but also his
quiet listening to the place itself, leaving room for its own music to be
heard: insects, birds, the wind in the trees. It feels to me less like a
document of a “performance,” and more like a very specific moment of pure being
in time and place that has been exquisitely, miraculously preserved.
Very little has been done to the original recording. I have
removed the most intrusive mic handling noises, adjusted the volume level here
and there, and rolled off the extreme low end to further reduce handling noise
and wind rumble. Aside from that, what you hear now is exactly what I heard
then: Philip Corner (nearly) alone in a high desert canyon on a fine spring
morning – playing, listening, fully present.
March 2009, Seattle
into a wide and empty space.
thing: get down in the sand.
down and the cymbals flat on the ground.
says “Have you started? I guess you have.” And starts recording.
thing is the ground-level swishing while grains of sand do a delicate dance.
amazing how the metal stays resonant even while dampened.
ecstasy takes hold the motions may increase; I will stand up, play into the
aware of Steve’s presence, his listening, the microphone’s listening.
me. What I do. I am listening too. Not alone. Nor desert.
I will hear how that listening moves both closer and farther away.
I am hardly heard. Sometimes that
is because I am silent.
times there are birds,
then airplanes’ distant drones: both natural.
some wind----- protect the equipment from its excessive artifice.
the recording zeroes in it is like when I was there…….close
to my ear.
place in New Mexico is like a crossing point in both space and time.
stopped there because there was a gamelan, as at both ends: Bali and New York.
And like the large gong someone called my “familiar”; 40 years past
and still now.
The cymbals a gift from a Korean, but well before I ever played
with a shaman.
of the original Oriental revelation there, out of coerced military presence.
But no less the avant-garde, for continuing life in the West up
until right now.
22, 2009, Italy
Recorded and edited by Steve
Innova is supported by an
endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
Philip Blackburn: director,
design • Chris Campbell: operations manager • www.innova.mu