Gong/Ear (Cymbal) in the desert
Philip Corner with Korean shaman cymbals in the sand
Steve Peters listener with microphone
Tent Rocks (Kasha-Katuwe), New Mexico, April 22, 1991 (66:15)
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
Opening into a wide and empty space.
First thing: get down in the sand.
Face down and the cymbals flat on the ground.
Steve says “Have you started? I guess you have.” And starts recording.
First thing is the ground-level swishing while grains of sand do a delicate dance.
Quietly amazing how the metal stays resonant even while dampened.
As ecstasy takes hold the motions may increase; I will stand up, play into the air.
Very aware of Steve’s presence, his listening, the microphone’s listening.
Affects me. What I do. I am listening too. Not alone. Nor desert.
Later I will hear how that listening moves both closer and farther away.
Sometimes I am hardly heard. Sometimes that is because I am silent.
At times there are birds, then airplanes’ distant drones: both natural.
Always some wind----- protect the equipment from its excessive artifice.
When the recording zeroes in it is like when I was there…….close to my ear.
This place in New Mexico is like a crossing point in both space and time.
I 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.
Echoes 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.
April 22, 2009, Italy
Recorded and edited by Steve Peters
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