As I mentioned the other day in the post about the Latin newscast on Finnish radio, I am interested in endangered languages.
Now a composer who is also interested has melded voices of threatened languages with his music.
Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim writes at the NY Times that the “Vanishing Languages” project by Kevin James, “a New York-based trombonist and composer, is a rare hybrid of conservation effort and memorial, new music and ancient languages.
“Prodded by Unesco statistics that predict that by the end of the century half of the world’s 6,000 languages will be extinct, Mr. James spent months in the field tracking down and recording the last remaining speakers of four critically endangered tongues: Hokkaido Ainu, an aboriginal language from northern Japan, the American Indian Quileute from western Washington, and Dalabon and Jawoyn, aboriginal languages from Arnhem Land in Australia.”
Reviewing a concert James gave at a New York venue, da Fonseca-Wollheim says, “ ‘Counting in Quileute,’ which opens with bells struck and bowed and swung in the air and ends with the ring of a Buddhist prayer bowl, had a strong ritualistic feel to it.
“The often puzzling actions of the players — flutists whispering into mouthpieces, a cellist tapping with both hands on the fingerboard as if playing a recorder — appeared like a secret choreography designed to bring forth the voices of the dead filtered through the crackle of old phonographs.
“The imperfections of these old recordings, which Mr. James used alongside those he made recently in the field, show how heavily smudged the window is that we have on these vanishing cultures. And yet at times it seemed as if it were these voices who were willing the performance into existence.” (Isn’t da Fonseca-Wollheim a lovely writer?) More.
Photo: Ruby Washington/The New York Times
Leah Scholes of Speak Percussion using a double bass bow to play a bowl as part of “Vanishing Languages.”