with Haikus by Wally Swist
1. Skating on Discs of Light (5:12) _
skating on discs of light
above its reflection
2. Dry Wind (5:30)_
the dry wind simmers --
high-pitched songs of cicadas
rattle in the trees
3. Root of Ether (5:57)
4. Enantiodromia (6:42)
5. Void of Day (9:00)
6. Uncanny Valley (5:12)
Copyright: 2016 Areon Flutes, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Jill Heinke Moen, Sasha Launer, and Kassey Plaha
Engineered and mixed by Zach Miley at San Francisco Conservatory of Music
Mastered by Ryan Streber at Oktaven Studios
Design by Bmoen at Etch Image Co.
Original photos: Jeff Sheldon, Caleb George, & Erol Ahmed
Innovate Director: Philip Blackburn
Operations Director: Chris Campbell
Publicist: Steve McPherson
Innova is supported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
Thanks to: our families, Miyazawa Flutes, Shivhan Dohse & Cathy Miller, Katie Darius, Diana Tucker & West Valley Music, Etch Image Co., San Francisco Conservatory of Music, Mike Sempert, Elainie Lillios, Cornelius Boots
Summer Sketches (2013) for flute trio takes its inspiration from two haiku by poet Wally Swist who generously granted permission to use them for the piece:
skating on discs of light
above its reflection
the dry wind simmers --
high-pitched songs of cicadas
rattle in the trees _
Swist’s vivid texts provide the perfect setting to explore and highlight Areon Flutes’s virtuosic and technical expertise. The first movement’s highly technical yet unpredictable contrapuntal interplay, imitates the water striders’ quirky, abrupt strokes across the water. Their erratic gliding creates intersecting and colliding ripples that blur the water’s surface creating an ever-changing kaleidoscope of activity. The second movement’s energetic, whirring ostinati. trills, glisses, and other extended techniques suggest a combined chorus between the simmering dry wind, droning cicadas, and rattling leaves. This cacophony gives way to a lone cicada (the piccolo) buzzing amidst the trees. The whirring returns in the form of a whimsical, building rhythmic ostinato that culminates in a final gusting burst of dry wind as the flutists gliss frenetically, finally disintegrating into a dissipating flutter.
Summer Sketches was commissioned by Areon Flutes and is dedicated to them with appreciation and admiration.
Chthonic Flute Suite Program Notes
composed by Cornelius Boots
commissioned by Areon Flutes 2012
Approaching the Descent into the Underworld
The guiding inspiration for this flute ensemble work was the book The Dream and the Underworld (1979) by James Hillman (1926-2011). After his training and directorship at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich, Hillman began publishing essays and books on depth and archetypal psychology: an engaged approach to mental health and therapy that expanded the ground of Freud and Jung deeper into mythology and uncharted territory.
The terms and phrases that provide titles throughout this Suite were salient concepts that crystallized the “depth” aspect of Hillman’s approach, or created stirrings within me that were both more interesting and more elusive than other aspects. They are key elements of the mystery, and lead to even more unanswerable questions. I find that material like this—that more encourages a perspective less than it preaches a dogma—often inspires epic instrumental compositions as part of my personal processing. Hillman’s approach is stimulating and elusive at the same time: I recommend reading the book, but these notes will hopefully give some feeling for his “depth” perspective and suggest a state of mind from which to listen to the piece.
The term “chthonic” [thon-ik] generally means “underworld.” However, Hillman thoroughly elaborates that its true meaning extends “below the earth and beyond it” (p.36) into invisible, non-physical and far distant psychic realms as opposed to being limited to a “primitive earthiness” that limits us to the physical and fertile “underground.” Hillman weaves a captivating and expanded perspective on “chthonic” and the deeper mysteries of the invisible, drawing from such sources as Greek and Egyptian mythology, Freud, Nietzsche, and more. “The underworld is a realm of only psyche, a purely psychical world…underworld is the mythological style of describing a psychological cosmos. Put more bluntly: underworld is psyche.” (p.46)
To further summarize Hillman’s underworld approach in his own words:
“The image has been my starting point for the archetypal re-visioning of psychology. This emphasis upon images is carried further and worked into more detail in this book. …For here the psychology of the image is placed more definitely within a psychology of dreams and of death. A depth psychology which relies upon the shadowy images of fantasy, upon deepening and pathologizing, and upon therapy as a cult of soul is referring mythologically to the underworld. To start with the image in depth psychology is to begin in the mythological underworld, so this book provides the mythical perspective to our psychology of the image.” (p.5) “The dream image of a human person cannot be taken in terms of his actuality, since the image in a dream belongs to the underworld shades and therefore refers to an archetypal person in human shape.” (p.61)
Root of Ether, bass flute solo
The journey to the underworld is a solo undertaking of the self, towards the unknown, yet still rooted within. The low bass tones invoke mystery and point the direction.
As part one, this movement was composed last. This is in keeping with underworld inversions or negations of “dayworld” sequentiality: “The Egyptians had carried into extreme detail this reversed world below our feet. The dead walked upside down, feet up, heads down.” (p.39) This spirit of inversion is one reason that flutes are appropriate for these chthonic explorations as opposed to, perhaps, low brass, which would simply be expressing physical depths, again “underground” as opposed to “underworld.”
As a 12-year student, explorer of and composer for the shakuhachi (an ancient Zen flute crafted from the thicker root-end of bamboo) I have become initiated into the sense-characteristics of playing a flute that has actual roots as part of its structure. Physically this changes the balance, sonically it presents certain “deepening” qualities, and aesthetically it alters your connection to the dead and dried piece of nature. I have composed 27 solo pieces and études for Taimu (a very thick, bass variant on the traditional shakuhachi flute) and tapped into the same dense, slow, timbral approach for this movement. However, the chromatic, metal, modern bass flute offers a whole new set of possibilities and so the movement explores a wide realm of sounds and tempos. Being rooted in the actual ground is an appropriate starting point for the underworld exploration of the whole suite that only goes deeper from this point downwards. The primacy of the “root pitch” in tonal music is another contributing facet to the root aspect of this title.
The ether refers to an invisible, connecting layer. A lengthy paper could be written solely about the concepts of “ether” and “etheric”; suffice it to say that the invisible power of sound and music is intertwined with this invisible life-force layer, known as qi, chi or ki in Asia and prana in India. It is both a thin membrane between the substantial and the ineffable, and an interpenetrating, constant medium. It provides an inclusive concept to contain a variety of the invisible forces: air, vapor, wind; thoughts, ideas, feelings; instincts, impulses; spirit, essence, and soul.
Enantiodromia, flute duo
Each of these is a Greek myth-nerd term for some key aspect of an archetypal descent into the underworld. In fact, nekyia is a term that specifically means “archetypal descent” as one finds in myths across the ages from Dante to the Greeks and beyond. Hillman sees a lack of sufficient nekyia myths in our modern culture, “yet our popular heroes in films and music are shady underworld characters. Dante’s underworld was our culture’s last, and it was imagined even before the Renaissance had properly begun. Our ethnic roots reach back to great underworld configurations: the Celtic Dagda or Cerunos, the Germanic Hel, and the Biblical Sheol. All have faded…” (p.64)
Hyponoia is a more subtle term used by Plato that refers to an “undersense” or a “deeper meaning.” “The search for undersense is what we express in common speech as the desire to understand. We want to get below what is going on and see its basis, its fundamentals, how and where it is grounded.” (p. 137) This deeper understanding is one of the motivations and constant characteristics of the underworld descent: but the discoveries made and experiences experienced are not always as they seem to be. Hillman recommends over and over that we “see and see into each thing for what it is,” and not force a dayworld perspective onto dream images and occurrences.
As a duo movement, the term enantiodromia (“counter” enantio, and “running” dromia) is particularly appropriate as it is a grounding principle by which Jung understands the “regulative function of opposites.” As Hillman tends to turn things on their metaphorical heads, he fleshes out dualism and oppositionalism in such a way that in the underworld this actually becomes a unifying principle: “If you go far enough with any one movement, a countermovement will set in…The way up and the way down are one and the same: the manifestation of one power by opposite forces.” (p. 76) This implies a union of the two opposites, a conjunction as contrasted with an opposition. There are two voices but they are both flutes; there are two contrasting halves to the piece, yet they balance each other even in their differences.
Essentially, Hillman points out that our need for distinction and clarity drive us to over-simplification and dualism in places where this might distort the very subject that we are exploring:
Each dream has its own fulcrum and balance, compensates itself, is complete as it is. Now this is the underworld perspective. ...There is no need to remain in an oppositional universe when approaching the dream or any psychic phenomenon. As Freud said, the unconscious knows no negation. …All sorts of what would be incompatibilities from the dayworld view exist side-by-side and easily convert into another. Within the underworld perspective, the world does not fall into duality…” (p.80-1) “The perspective I have just sketched and called psychic imagines opposites to be one way of noticing similarities; they are a special case of ‘likeness.’ Tarde, Coleridge, Ogden and Jung implied that only similars can be opposites. Only those pairs having something material, essential in common can be sensibly opposed. A turkey cannot be opposed to a theorem, unless we can discover in what way they are like each other.” (p. 85)
As an armchair metaphysician, I can see some oppositionalism within Hillman’s approach itself, wherein the deeper-meaning (hyponoia) of one’s existence is actually obscured by the archetypal underworld descent (nekyia) to the extent that nothing in the underworld can allegedly be understood from our “regular” old, dayworld perspective. However, as is the case with other opposite pairs, one becomes the other (enantiodromia), in this case precisely by awakening the person to this new, imaginal, psychical mode of understanding that only an underworld descent can offer. In other words, there are psychological truths that cannot be understood except through a descent.
Void of Day, flute trio
The Way We Descend--Reflection of Narcissus--Below Nature
Taking a break from Greek myth-nerd terms, this movement introduces chthonicflavored phrases that elaborate on our descent into the underworld, specifically through dreams. The realm of the underworld can be such a shock to our dayworld, limited, egoic consciousness that it can seem like a "violation" as Hillman points out, referencing the Greeks: “This style of the underworld experience is overwhelming, it comes as violation, dragging one out of life and into the Kingdom that the Orphic Hymn to Pluto describes as ‘void of day.’ So it often says on Greek epitaphs that entering Hades is ‘leaving the sweet sunlight.’” (p.49) He elaborates on the differences between dayworld and underworld perspectives: “The dream is not compensation but initiation. It does not complete ego-consciousness, but voids it. So it matters very much the way we descend.” (p.112) He goes on to describe the various modes in which mythical figures have descended: Ulysses and Aenas to learn; Hercules to take and to test, for example. To act like Hercules, like the hero, in the underworld is to miss the point and cause more problems, “the villain in the underworld is the heroic ego, not Hades.” (p.113)
Because the underworld is the realm of the psyche, it operates primarily through images, which are, Hillman maintains, the food of the instinct, the craving and satisfaction of the soul. He points out that while we sleep, another necessary function is being carried out by dreaming: the soul is feeding itself images. It is a “mode of reflection, mirroring, which suggests that we may enter the underworld by means of reflection, by reflective means” (p.52) which brings in the myth of Narcissus.
“In some amazing way, instinct is satisfied in the nightworld by its own images, images of itself, as if it were enough for the psyche to see its own reflection by means of images, as if it were enough to imagine in poetic form its physical body and needs, its love, and its own self…the fulfillment that the dream brings is narcissistic, satisfactory to Narcissus…Freud maintains that the entire process of satisfying instinctual wishes is internal, wholly psychic or narcissistic….The instinctual craving is gratified solely by the image, and the psyche sleeps in peace. Dreaming becomes a superinstinct: it satisfies both other instinctual cravings, including the need to sleep, as well as narcissistically satisfying its own demand for images.” (p.121)
For Hillman, there is not the negative connotation generally attached to the term “narcissism” because in the story “Narcissus does not know that is it his own body he sees in the pool. He believes that he is looking at the beautiful form of another being. So it is not self-love of his ‘own’ image (narcissism), but the love for a vision that is at once body, image, and reflection.” (p.222) So there is a deep yet light element of fulfillment, self-satisfaction and completion in this.
Returning after this respite of pleasant self-reflection, we are once again faced with how different and disorienting the underworld is to our default mode of consciousness: are we “afraid of the synthetic imagining power of the deep mind weaving your fate into the organizing intelligence below nature?” (p.149) With my own fixation on roots and earth, and Hillman’s fixation on distinguishing ge (underground) from chthon (underworld), I was particularly fond of his phrase “below nature,” which seems at first to be an oxymoron, until you go fully along with him and all of his other “psychical” distinctions that do, in fact, appear “unnatural” to the earth-dwelling, dayworld, flesh and bone part of our intelligence. This leads us to the crux of the matter, and how breath, spirit, sound and blood are all suspect or missing in the underworld
In aesthetics the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost but not exactly like real human beings elicits feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers. Valley denotes a dip in the human observer's affinity for the replica, a relation that otherwise increases with the replica's human likeness. Examples can be found in robotics and 3D computer animation among others.
The composition Uncanny Valley is an imaginary charting of the path of Artificial Intelligence on it’s way to sentience. The piece begins gently and tentatively, as the flutes/ robots test the water, running diagnostics, emerging. As the piece progresses, the computers find their groove and with it a kind of freedom that only humans can experience: a new humanity is forged between people and the things we build. Finally, there is a sense of peace as some emotional truth is reached: the robots have crossed over the valley. The composition has a pastoral quality, and I like to think of Uncanny Valley as an actual natural environment, perhaps green and lush, a place where birds babble and soar.
There are many theories as to why we react so negatively to the robots, which are for now, stuck in the uncanny valley. Perhaps we are reminded of death, or of some version of life without soul. Maybe we see our own connection to nothingness. In outlining and exploring the negative space between us and machines, that which separates humans from objects, this piece attempts to touch that which is uniquely human.