Philip the wanderer
I. Gently rumbling without direction
II. Broadly, surveilling the great expanse
III. Joyfully, jauntily, as if running away from regret itself
commissioned by Philip Thomas with the support of the Canada Council for the Arts
This piece is a transcription of sorts, or an adaptation, a translation, I’m not sure what the right word is. My process began with a short piece of music (Mandowa II, played by Zhuake Masingi) from an album I’d heard once twenty years ago and rediscovered recently, traditional music from Mozambique. Although I react physically to this music, it is certainly exotic – exotic in the sense that it is not me, not my tradition in any way. It feels like an escape. Somehow, I feel much the same way about the piano – it resonates me, but it isn’t my native voice.
Finding myself in new territory with the solo piano, I had to leave my regular way of working. This is where the idea of adaptation came into play: my task with this piece was not to find out how to say something I already felt, but rather, to root around until I found myself somewhere in the material that already existed. Simply put, I worked with the source material and with the piano until I found something there which really moved me. I amplified some things, thinned other sections etc., and I found I was carving out the shape of some kind of imaginary story.
The result is a piece which obsesses over the rhythm of the source material, with its danceable irregularity. I’ve kept the original pitches intact, amplifying them with blocky triads – and I’ve kept the rhythm fetishistically accurate to the original, save for a magnifying of the tempo fluctuations. I did not much else really – I played with register, hid a descending scale just about everywhere (out of habit?) – but for the rest, it is simply a transcription of the humanity of a stranger named Zhuake Masingi from Mozambique. This man was recorded playing this music in 1954, and I know nothing else about him, except of course for the exact microscopic amounts he deviated from a steady pulse in those two minutes 60 years ago.
The sound world and storyline which surface, however, have nothing at all to do with Africa or with 1954. The piece turns out to be very much about me, narcissistically, resulting from my personal tastes and my ability to pay absolutely no respect to the original context of the source material. It is also about Philip Thomas – it was constructed as something of a canvas for him to work with: the notation may be precise, but the emotional content (though earnest) is somewhat arbitrary. I’ve given clues to possible interpretations through some obscure titles and instructive notes, but I’ve left it very much in Philip’s hands to make sense of the wandering.
(much thanks to Clemens Merkel, as the virtuoso whistling page turner)