Lìjiāng Studio, week 13 – Nà Mǎ

This past week has been really busy/satisfying/tiring! Things are happening! Shapes are emerging! I have been spending most of my waking hours every day planning and writing music. Plus, more hours have been waking hours! I promise I will write about the previous 2 weeks in Southern Yunnan, which were wonderful, another day.

I’m preparing for 2 big things: 1) 2 other musicians arriving for a month in June/July, whom I want to have music ready to perform for; and 2) the Hong Kong Contemporary Ensemble’s The Modern Academy, a summer musician and composer’s school I got into: http://hknme.org/new/education/the-modern-academy/. I’ve never been to something like this before and it’s pretty exciting. There are composers and instrumentalists from over 15 countries attending. And some great ensembles too, like the Asian Contemporary Ensemble from Singapore: http://www.ace-sg.org/. And I am really interested in the work of some of the composer tutors: especially Ken Ueno

and Joyce Beetuan Koh http://jbtkoh.net/

Joyce Beetuan Koh

Joyce Beetuan Koh


I’ll be doing a Dance Composition Module with Joyce Beetuan Koh. We have to prepare a piece for string quartet and marimba, which will get explored and modified throughout the workshop period, and then the work will be peformed towards the end of the Academy. I saw an incredible dance show at the Adelaide Festival a few years ago: What the Body Does Not Remember, from the Belgian dance company Ultima Vez, directed, choreographed and scenographed by Wim Vandekeybus. Equally incredible music was composed by Thierry De Mey & Peter Vermeersch.
The reason I loved this show so much was that there was something about it that extended it far beyond dance. Although I think it’s an amazing artform, I don’t know much about it really and I don’t often find it to be very accessible. This work for me though transcended the concept of dance as I have seen it before. There are many moments I can cite as the boundary-transcendent ones, but I don’t know if I can explain why! The conducting of bodies using hands on wood; the actual fast running (rather than dance running); the throwing of objects from person to person; the games; the use of simple props in curious ways… have a look at this short:

The object-throwing particularly has stuck in my mind since I saw the work. There was just something wonderful about such an outdoors, actor-dependent act as throwing such heavy objects that really could break and hurt if somebody isn’t in place, having a part in such a clean, defined space as a stage with such perfectly moving trained precise bodies. Watching the arc of the objects when thrown and the movement of them in dancers hands between throws somehow blurred lines for me – animate/inanimate; motion/stillness; precision/freedom; time/movement.
When the JíXiáng village community was building the house around the corner, it was fascinating to watch the big fat heavy home-made mud bricks being thrown upwards, hand to hand to hand from ground level to the second storey. Again, the arc of these big weighty objects moving somehow upwards was so graceful and time-slowing, almost mystical. Here’s the film I took again: (same one I posted a few weeks ago). I could have watched all day. 

So for this dance module, I’m writing a piece about exactly that: the throwing of mudbricks upwards in the building of a house. It’s quite satisfying that this has come about because I reached a dead end with my first attempt on this subject with the abandoned piece, “How to Build a House”. But it is something I really want to do, physically, and to want to explore, musically. This dance module has very neatly linked up my memories of “What the Body Does Not Remember” with the Lìjiāng Studio residency with The Modern Academy with my interest and wonder in handmade home-building.

I’m also doing a Composition Workshopping Module with Ken Ueno and Eli Marshall. For this I can submit 1 or 2 works to be workshopped by performers in the Academy, and possibly one will be performed as well. For this module I’m going to submit my first work with Robbie’s data on Rhododenron phenology of Yùlóngxuě Shān. We had a big chat/meeting with Robbie on skype on Tuesday morning. I am really excited to be working with him. The process is quite collaborative, with me emailing him my ideas and questions about the data in the graphical visualisation he’s developed that I want to use, and him emailing back with comments on my ideas and answers to all my questions.

I’m going to do a piece that tells the story of 2 years of 10 species of Rhododendron‘s peak flowering times with respect to elevation on the mountain and modelled expectations of their peak flowering times based on historical data. The data set does not directly tell us anything about climate change/environmental destruction/etc, but the bigger story that the data set is part of does suggest implications for the Rhododenrons (and since nothing exists alone, one can assume for other species in the ecosystems) from climate change. My desk is scattered with graphs, print-outs of chapter discussions and conclusions, and pencilled notes and ideas. It’s hard work, but it’s fun work, and it feels a bit like I’m finally in the guts of our ideas and proposal for our time here at the studio.

 Ten Rhododendron species were monitored along  gradients of season and elevation: A) R. racemosum, B) R. rubiginosum,  C) R. beesianum, D) R. yunnanense, E) R. oreotrephes, F) R.  traillianum, G) R. adenogynum, H) R. lepidotum, I) R. impeditum, J) R. primuliflorum.

Ten Rhododendron species were monitored along
gradients of season and elevation: A) R. racemosum, B) R. rubiginosum,
C) R. beesianum, D) R. yunnanense, E) R. oreotrephes, F) R.
traillianum, G) R. adenogynum, H) R. lepidotum, I) R. impeditum, J) R. primuliflorum. All photos (c) Robbie Hart.

I love it when work breeds work, and inspiration breeds inspiration, and I feel tired but satisfied and excited about what I’m producing. I could say, I love it when I get on a roll!

And I’ve finally recovered my dawn-risings, and gone out 2 mornings this week to record the birds and hear what I could hear. It’s amazing how, being an overwintering lake, Lāshìhǎi has such a dearth of waterbirds now, in high spring. The insectivores are increasingly abundant in the fields and around the studio, but on Lāshìhǎi I’ve just seen and heard a couple of ducks each morning, and watched a single beautiful silhouette of a crane-like bird flying silently into the sunrise.

Qíng Nà Mǎ.

晴 纳 玛




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