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Posts Tagged ‘Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim’

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.

For a couple other blog discussions of endangered language, click here or here.

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.”

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The New York Times recently printed a lovely collection of pop-up music sightings by various reporters. Each unexpected free performance affected New Yorkers like a flash mob.

At the High Line, surprised “participants were given small sets of speakers that could be attached to their coats or backpacks, or held by hand. As you began the walk at the southern end of the High Line, near Gansevoort Street, your every footstep or hand twist kicked the app into action, and you heard various sounds — clinking, chimes, splashing water, car horns, chords on electric guitar and, in a novel touch, occasional rounds of applause.”

Another report notes, “The High Line elevated park does not normally allow group walks or amplified sounds, but it made an exception for ‘The Gaits,’ one of a dozen participatory performances that constituted Make Music Winter.

“The event was an offshoot of Make Music New York, a festival of hundreds of concerts that occurs in June on the first day of summer, in public spaces around the city. Modeled after Fête de la Musique, an annual affair in Paris started in 1982, the New York version is in its sixth year.

“The founder of Make Music New York is Aaron Friedman, a composer and political activist who decided it was time to add a winter solstice edition.”

Several delightful Winter Solstice music events are described here.

Photograph: Todd Heisler/The New York Times
Meredith Krinke, 6, holds Bach sheet music for her father, Brian, December 21 on the G train in New York.

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How much fun would this be: to sit next to a music group that uses improvised passages, and to write a words on scraps of paper indicating how you would like to hear the next bit played, and to hear the words take shape as sound?

That is what NY Times critic Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim got to do recently, and I have to say, I admire her word choices.

“On a recent rainy afternoon,” she writes, “I was sitting at an old-fashioned desk in a bare concrete loft in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, listening intently to the members of So Percussion, joined by Grey McMurray on electric guitar, rehearse a composition called ‘Toothbrush.’  …

“I was busy tearing scraps of paper out of my notebook and scribbling words on them. ‘Feathery,’ for example, and, ‘Question everything,’ and, ‘You want to dance.’

“Then I would dash over and deliver my note to one of the players and hear it translated into sound or action.

“ ‘Toothbrush’ is an otherwise fully composed and notated piece featuring instrumental music, singing and spoken dialogue — plus one silent participant who sits onstage listening and writing down notes that become in-the-moment instructions for players to improvise on. …

“Next to me, Adam Sliwinski was tapping out a crisp rhythm on a tom-tom with one hand and on a tambourine and wooden plank with the other. ‘With Outrage,’ I scribbled on a scrap of paper and placed it in his field of vision. Almost immediately, mallets went flying in an explosion of angry energy.” More here.

I want to try this. Just need to find a willing musician.

Photograph: Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times
Jason Treuting rehearsing with So Percussion.

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