Source: Open House at the Media Lab
Thanks Joanna. Its been a pleasure working on ‘Snow’. I relived so many moments in the process.
It’s been half-a-year since Ivaana Muse composed music to “Snow”—and the more I listen to her composition, the more I love it! I am so happy and humbled she chose my poem as the lyrics to her amazing work. So today I am celebrating Ivaana‘s composition—and asking you that you please take a moment to listen to it! Here’s “Snow” in Sound Cloud—composed and performed by Ivaana Muse.
I also posted links to the composition, its history, and the poem itself, in the POEMS section of my website.
And here’s a photo of my childhood garden in Olsztyn—my native town in Poland, one very snowy winter. Echoes of that garden play in “Snow”…
Joanna: Several months ago artist Ivaana Muse contacted me about the possibility of using my poem “Snow” as the lyrics to her musical composition. I gladly consented, and then Ivaana asked me if there were any sounds I could associate with “Snow.” I should mention, the poem was my reaction to the news of my father being taken to a hospice, where he spent the last few months of his life. Though separated by thousands of miles, in a vision I saw my father in his hospice room. His bed was near a window, which opened to an old park, with dark-green trees swaying in the wind. Then a few images from my youth appeared, among them a bus trip in my native Olsztyn in Poland, to my parents’ house to celebrate the traditional Christmas Eve supper—the Polish Wigilia. For each Wigilia, father used to prepare delicacies only he knew how to make—a Jewish-style pike, carp in aspic, tartar sauce… Sitting on the bus, I watched the lights on Christmas trees glittering in the windows we passed. The streets were empty, snow was falling. Then I saw snowflakes sitting—but not melting—on my father’s hands.
As I thought of Ivaana’s question, the past suddenly started to speak to me not only in images but also in voices. Snow is silent, so the first sound that came to my mind was silence—the mighty language of the dead. There is silence in “Snow”; also the cries and laughter of children running on sleighs, the roar of the bus engine, the trees rustling; finally my father’s voice, once strong and deep, then gradually fading into whisper… I can hear all those sounds in Ivaana’s complex, haunting composition. It is as if through the silence of snow, the voices of our fathers—Ivaana’s and mine—suddenly resounded. Perhaps they now engage in a conversation of which art has managed to capture some distant echo?
Ivaana: I didn’t grow up knowing snow. Snow meant fake cotton balls scattered randomly around the Christmas tree, poetry read in school or stories narrated by my father just before bedtime. Those stories then became the voice of my space spirit. I believed in the power of that voice which commanded me to express my deepest emotions through sound and music. My father then decided to make me experience real snow in a lovely hill station called Nainital in Uttarakhand-India, which crowded around a deep volcanic lake. He told me that the British found their Cumbrian retreat here. For the first time I experienced the silence of snow and recalled Longfellow’s: “the troubled sky reveals, the grief it feels”. Both my dad and I missed my mom (who had renounced the worldly life to find her spiritual core), and the snow kept burying those emotions quietly. The experience was cathartic for us.
Dad and I went for these flake filled walks amid the soundlessness of snow and ended up sharing so much wordlessly. Flake after flake the snow fell and created deep memories that made me aware of the spaces again and again. Years later when I relocated from India to Florida and lived there for 12 years, the memories receded to some unknown corner in the deepest crevices of my brain. And then in 2012 we moved to Massachusetts. Snow came back and I then realized how large of a role auditory memory had played. I could hear my Father’s voice though he had passed away several years ago during my lonesome walks in the snow. My memories about my father seemed to have been imprisoned in an anechoic chamber and the sonic energies trapped for years seemed to crave for release. When I read Joanna Kurowska’s “Snow,” I somehow wanted to manipulate the open spatial acoustics in the poem. I could relate to the interconnecting spaces of heard and unheard sounds and stories in the poem. Simple and profound were these words. I didn’t want to tamper with the words just to structure and bind them to a lyric and make it into a song. I chose to experiment using the aleatoric technique, in which elements of the composition is left to chance. It allowed me to play around with the fragments of the poetic content and my own acoustic memories in a spontaneous un-structured manner. Rhythm, meter, chords, harmony, dynamics did not seem to come in the way of expressing my musical imagination to compose and sing Joanna’s ‘Snow’.
I recorded the sung melody in a single take in my studio letting the element of chance overpower me completely and happily. I felt a strange sense of oneness with unknown mysteries that blurred the boundaries between form and content and became a part of the layered unplanned painted space. I was telling my own story through Joanna’s words, weaving distances, memories, dissonances and harmonies into a continuous musical scroll. Both Joanna and I hope you are able to experience this story of Snow.
As a poem, “Snow” was first published in Penwood Review, and then in Joanna Kurowska’s book of poetry Inclusions (Cervena Barva Press, 2014). The poem is available on Joanna’s website http://joanna-kurowska.com/poems/
Writing in fragments is beautiful. Love it when halves make a whole. It allows me to follow a pattern of self-induced breaks from reality. It intrigues me to take flights into self-generated euphoria to mindless brooding–memories scraped out from childhood tales-to rejections and acceptances and a final oneness with the central mystery of life. I have been collecting fragments since forever. Fragments and wonderments. You can’t walk away from your own shadow. Yet sometimes I see my fleeting shadow deliver me from myself. I feel the breath of the Periwinkle and then I laugh and think I am daft. I leap to the summer breeze rocking with blossoms and my warm hands suddenly feel cold -I realize it’s winter still.
I think of my Mom’s cold hands as she is lain on the white floating bed, while the Doctors try to put her together again. I am standing at the doorway against a grazed september sky. Is it Autumn? Maybe the seasons are crawling backwards. I see pieces of the blue sky taped over the red harbor. Would it quench my thirst to drink the silence of those colors?
I have to run back home. That old coal voice sounds familiar. Possibly my great aunt. She is always calling out for me. I am hungry. It is morning already and I am expecting hot eggs, burnt toast and oatmeal with dripping caramel. Instead I find myself swallowing Blackberries. Don’t like them much. Though Blackberries are better than Peaches.
My granny had a complexion that looked and smelled like Peaches. She ate fruits all the time and insisted that I eat Apples. She talked to me about the Apple Orchards they had in Kashmir. I miss her, the forced Apples and her Apple-sy nail polish. She was lovely. Her chubby arms around me made the world feel sleepy. I hardly sleep now. And then those ghosts of children at their nonsensical games-make a lot of noise.
At the water’s edge, I stand, waiting for my father to return. Lilies lie still on his stable, smiling face- he is at peace in some other world. But I am waiting for him, for I know he remembers the way back. He has a amazing memory.
I wish you were here with me Daddy to walk towards the dusk, where the bay rolls with liquid fire. You had so much to share with me.
A wind passes over my mind and I am dissolving in scuds of clouds, like a stranger on Earth. Once I used to live on a hill and old music scores would fill the hallway. No one lives there now. Earthlings, Must I learn again to breathe?
I am tired of wanting more out of life. Wish I could be rocked between the layers. A postcard arrives from Niagara Falls. I’ll give it to the Angels.
Keep up the amazing work Andy!
The Dervishes have been described as sounding like ‘a choir of angry angels’ and also like ‘sniffing a thousand magic markers all at once’.
That unique sound comes from air resonating through 14 carefully tuned corrugated tubes. Robotic controls can spin each tube at a variety of precise speeds, producing four possible pitches per tube. The spinning also produces a tremolo and a Doppler-based vibrato.
In 2013 I was honored to win a Lincoln Prize, administered by TED Talks Inc. They asked me to bring a piece to Lincoln’s exhibition space at TEDActive 2013. I designed The Dervishes especially for this event.
The 8 day production window felt nearly impossible. They were built by many hands over six sleepless days and nights, though mainly by engineer Karl Biewald and myself. Then Karl and I drove them from Brooklyn, NY to Palm Springs, California in 40 hours to make the installation…
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Beyond smoky bars and darkening city pavements, in my small apartment in Cambridge, I let the night get the better of me, for nothing seems to ease my questioning heart. The air moves, fire ascends, water shapes and reshapes itself, yet the earth which stands still breeds the most change. My questions arise from the pit of this changing earth where I belong.
I go back in time. I was born in Eastern India. My father was a Hindu, my mother a Christian from Northern India and I attended Jewish Girls School in Calcutta India. My mother’s reasoning was that the unyielding Teachers in that particular school would be able to drill the hideous concepts of Mathematics into my rather poetically inclined sensibilities. The fact remains that till date I equate mathematical figures with passport-less Devils standing at the gates of Hell. With passing years I was admitted to a Christian Convent School and Catholic college and never found it imperative to ask how and why. Religious bias did not exist in my parents’ decision towards carving a better future for me. I am so glad they felt that way. They separated, but that did not affect me much, for their general stance towards my well-being did not differ.
My education taught me to believe that my existence was not meant to be cloistered within boundaries or walls. My language was the pollen on flowers susceptible to capricious Bees-gathering and spreading the wonders of transformation. I learned to stay away from those who were half-blind or deafened by the dark myths of customs and religious misnomers. I fell in love with many an author and poet and recall the words of Virginia Woolf who in her treatise Three Guineas wrote: “As a woman I want no country. As a woman my country is the whole world”. These lines could be interpreted in a myriad of ways, but I tend to construe this as what holds true to my life: my country, my motherland is where I can claim myself as a global person, un-restrained by the shackles of nationalism.
I watched the world being pounded and stung by the winds of religious extremism, but I did not find the need to hide from the torrent. I was too soaked in the honey of ink that gratified my (oft) disturbed soul.
And then the mirror cracked. Not once, but several times in my life. I was swathed in a shroud of numbing incidents and I felt I could never free myself from the abyss. I felt the blood freeze in my veins and could hear far-away choral voices:
Under tower and balcony,
By garden-wall and gallery,
A gleaming shape she floated by,
A corse between the houses high,
Silent into Camelot.
And yet I lived, or should I say, I was born again? Born again, in another land. The land that snuffed out all the blinding gloom and smothered me with compassion and so much freedom of thought and expression that I felt like wave tossed and catapulted foam and spray. I felt like a book laid upside down in the blue sky seeking the clouds and wanting to know the origin of this design, called the Universe. When I wanted comfort this land lay me in her soft lap and allowed me to wake up each day to birdsongs so all my pains of the past could recede into the distance like a forgotten painting. I was born again in America: My mother: My motherland.
If I have ever known how a mother truly is, then yes America is my motherland and owe my life to her. They say, when one is close to one’s mother, a deeper space opens, where you can just be. We rise out of ourselves and heedlessly run into green fields where the scorching sun almost burns the skin: because we know the Mother to alleviate the sting and lead us to a paradise only expounded by angels.
I trust you again Mother to let me drown in the gurgling surge of your white sand seas- cleansing me clear of the nightmare of explosions and black dust, violence and loss, death and disaster. Everything about you assures me that the exile is over and that out of this we shall rise in glory and strength.
I have since forever writing and composing on clouds and water and leading a blissfully ignorant life, unscathed as it were by the vicissitudes of life, despite having gone through much.
However now, as a mother I feel responsible and more earth drawn. The Boston Marathon Bombing and its aftermath have made me understand that not everything is a poetic spool of expressions. Here I was with my child at the Doctor’s office 5 minutes away from the crime scene on Monday, suddenly feeling a far-reaching transformation within.
It is not that I have forgotten summer’s recognition of blossoms or light on the reeds . . . I am just closer to finding a meaning between the elasticity of reality and dreams, between a mythic island and a real one.
I know we will rise above this. I just hope we don’t forget about this. It makes me think of birds called the rain doves, birds painted with rain. The sight of a bunch of these birds dancing over a large green field, used to make me feel that the world is still so good. I feel I hear their doleful cries now, predicting rain. Clear drops that will be as a caress causing an unfailing feeling to be gently washed by an almost elegiac sunrise, where our children will smile unmarred by what has happened or what could happen.
I feel a relational world. I understand the chasm between the cognitive and the intuitive. I see Joan of Arc, coming out of another light from the deepest core of my memories when as a child my dad would narrate stories of her courage and grit. I would only hear stories then, now in the wake of these events and the final outcome I feel like Joan of Arc exhaling breathing and absorbing the Universe just as I would like my child to be conscious and feel safe in. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone to be here in: Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The idea of wringing out what’s inside is compelling. The raw silk darkness of this night sinks on its elbows and straps down on my ankles comfortingly. I want to tell you the whole story but patterned squares of light from the west window are still busy adjusting its tiny shoulders across the room and I feel distracted.
I was born from the glassy coldness of winter and the purple defiance of twilight falling on the edgeless waters of Time. I was born when the Gods were sleeping or occupied with the noise of sparrows. I knew no laughter; I knew no anguish; I knew no desire to touch or be touched. I was just clay, dyed in the color of the universe. I was born when love killed my forgetful flesh and memories sat on a weightless silence, weaving all that was left unsaid.
When I was little, I would look at the sky, and run its blue-ness into my heart. I would wonder how and why the world was born and walk alone among crowds, on clouds.
Colors intrigued me always. So much, that I saw everything imbued with a certain color. The color in lakes and leaves, in music and sleep…the color in stillness and freedom, in tears and smiles! I realized sooner than later that life was all color. It is yet a blur, when I turned woman, for I remained girl in so many ways. In that brief invisible interstice between being a girl and a woman I fell in love with the transparencies of youth. I could watch myself as no one else ever did, with eyes that would say “sesame” and the world would open with its endless pathways running on and forming arches between the Earth and the Sky.
In love……..I had some pictures in the air; some pictures in the dark; some on yellow leaves and some on the grass. Over and over again, these pictures tried speaking to me: if only I could understand the music of everything then…till at last on a moon-less night he tugged the sleeves of the wind and my heart, and I believed. And then in a moment it was all over. Or so I thought.
I felt the rage. Felt the pain. Felt it all deep inside…but now all I feel is the breaking of watery gossamers. I hear the dream words I had almost renounced when it was over. I feel a sense of letting go-breathing in deeply I smell the rain…impatient, pulsing, appeasing.
My wish-pixies are alive again. They tell me not to reveal their secrets…but there is nothing to hide anymore…my heart is flushed and free. Silver Lines and Strings is a window flung open-letting in air, light, imagination into my inner world that might have otherwise been frozen in silence.
I have your soul: I fanned it with different wings in this journey alone.
As the years go by, it no longer hurts to say; being drawn to you, is how I am driven.
The pages of the diary, yellowed and frayed at the edges, prevent my heart, from being mine alone, and I write.
I am telling a story: on black keys and white keys. Tiny fires from the eyes of fireflies light up the dark room in which I am alive. Hanging on the V chord and setting up the cadence- I feel the chorus building inside me with a phosphoric blue intensity. There’s always been a song inside me, written upon the memoirs of the diaphanous wind…but when you nurtured the syllable seeds of all my dreams and desires and let me go, I became who I was meant to be.
I have looked for and found metaphors in landscape and snowflakes, October city lights and the sidewalk and listened to the trickle of light, till I became liquid. There is a sense of rootlessness in the unrehearsed words which darken and disappear as I write.
November memories return to ruffle summer leaves in this hot surreal afternoon: slipping, sliding into a visible silence.
The melted sun tastes good on my skin. I have a few moments of forever in my palm. I am born to fly and die in the truth of nothingness. Let me be. The sun is a great thief…it pockets my laughter, never to give it back, till I return here again. I keep vanishing in this pale blue distance scratching the fat humps of these lazy clouds to leave my signature behind. The wind is my music. My bones cry with unworded songs. Here a slow glide, there a hush, the birds are trying to hide between the half-steps of the winds’ invisible chords. Some of the clouds are herding together like wounded cattle now and I am beating my wings against time in celebration of the woman I am. This sky is like a window minus sill, panes or structured panes. It’s an aperture that sweeps me off my feet.
One season just once, like an airbrushed Lydian b7, breathing in, and breathing out: forever.