Homemade mantic storytelling. I wrote it for Roomful of Teeth, who premiered it in early 2013. I'd been craving drum parts when the TIGUE percussion suggested we do a concert together, that June at the JACK theater in Brooklyn. These are the tracks I made for that show, with a mock-up of the drums that they performed live on fantastic kits made of wood planks, bells, toms, sawblades, junk metals and glass.
This story comes from the Ramayana, a 2500 year old epic poem from India. I read it last summer, in the luminous prose translation by Ramesh Menon, and could hardly put it down. Its central hero, Rama, is both human and divine, a model of earthly virtue and an incarnation of Vishnu come to the world to battle evil. When his wife, Sita, is kidnapped by Ravana, prince of demons, he raises an army of vanaras -- magical and sagacious monkeys -- to find her. The greatest and most humble of these is Hanuman. His leap to the demon's island Lanka forms the frame of my story, into which I have interpolated a second tale of his prodigious jumping ability from later in the epic.
Epic poems are traditionally sung, but few traditions of live performance survived the 20th century. It's a challenging genre for the modern mind. Bards recite (or, in some cases, improvise) stories that can run for many nights -- Manas, the national epic of Kyrgyzstan, is roughly half a million lines long, and the Tibetan epic of Gesar can be twice that. The poetry is sung in short, endlessly-repeating musical phrases that articulate the meter rather than the action, which results in a surface that, to our ears, is undramatic and monotonous. I've listened to a lot of it, and I wish I could tell you that it isn't.
The drama, of course, is in the story, and I lament that I will never hear a traditional epic sung in a language I understand. English has none; we wrote ours down and forgot how to sing them long ago. I wish there was, so I wrote one.