Pivot afterthoughts…

Pangkur rehearsal
My work Pangkur received its premiere performance on 25 March 2017 @ the Music Gallery, Toronto, performed by the Continuum Contemporary Music and conducted by Brian Current. This premiere is part of the PIVOT Mentorship Program, initiated by the Canadian League of Composers and the Canadian Music Centre in partnership with the Continuum Contemporary Music. Big thanks to Elisha Denburg of the CLC, to Matthew Fava of the CMC, to artistic director Ryan Scott of the Continuum ensemble, and to my mentor Linda Catlin Smith for this wonderful opportunity.
  1. Canada can be what you make of it, but it won’t be solely what you want from it. Benedict Anderson redefined the concept of “nation” as imagined by the people who perceives themselves as part of this socially constructed community, and I remember my former teacher saying that given such an idea, we can even imagine the whole world as “Asia” (or Philippines, or Canada for that matter). Likewise, Canada can be either celebrated as this space where different imaginations (or re-imaginations?) construct a total artwork that everyone sees, or despised as a problematic form of liminality (achieving neither one stable state nor another). I’ll probably choose one or the other, depending on the mood I’m in…errrr but would that choice denote the latter by default then.‌
  2. Oh yes, this liminality problem…how does one stop being Filipino/Southeast Asian and start being Canadian (or vice versa)? Aoileann Ní Mhurchú wrote (as far as I understand it) that citizenship becomes problematic when placed not only within a dualistic perspective of “inside (citizen) / outside (foreigner)” but also within a perspective of “becoming…” especially when mother and child-in-womb share the same physiological space but emerge as different entities (citizens) when the mother gives birth on foreign lands that channel citizenship as “jus soli.” So how do immigrants become full-fledged citizens in essence? It’s not even a question of where the conception begins…it is actually a question of where the whole process ends. Does one become Canadian when you say “eh” every time, or put maple syrup in everything, or speak bilingual Franglais, or *insert stupid stereotype here* or *insert realizing an epiphany about First Nations actually possessing the land*?‌
  3. Extending it further, the legal question of being a “Canadian composer” basically means knowing whether one has access to grants and federal funding for the arts offered by Canadian institutions or not. Having that leverage doesn’t require people to disclose how long one has been residing in Canada, or whether one treats Canada as HQ or not. How ironic then that a non-Canadian citizen/permanent resident who currently stays for a certain number of years in Canada won’t have access to these platforms compared to the Canadian citizen/permanent resident who has been residing outside Canada for the same number of years. (Caveat: Permanent resident status needs renewal every 5 years, in which the resident should fulfill a minimum of 2 years of residence in Canada out of 5. And I just heard today that new immigration policies allow new PR people to gain citizenship after 2 years of staying in Canada). Isn’t it adventurous (or scary, depending on who’s saying it) to think that one day, some people would insistently advocate to abolish the notion of sovereignty and nationhood and citizenship throughout the entire globe? But then again, this case of inclusion-exclusion is probably one reason why people would think that.‌
  4. Choosing a specific spot in the audience to hear Pangkur could amplify that liminality problem as well. An observer sees two sources of sound: the piano and percussion on stage, and a quartet at the back offstage…but where within the whole space can you just solely hear one or the other? Sitting near the piano-percussion duo, I can still hear the quartet behind me. (It even sounded like it was “calling out for me…” I find that encounter so deeply symbolic! Did anyone here even experience such a time when someone unseen, unknown and distant would be out there, calling out your name?). Unfortunately, classical physics doesn’t make it possible for me to just hear the piano+percussion or the quartet when placed within the same box (or maybe if I transform myself into some quantum state, perhaps?). Again, where do these piano+percussion and quartet territories collide? In which point in space is either of the two cancelled and phased out? Does human interaction and self-definition mimic such problems?‌
  5. Is it even possible to compose music that is both gamelan and Western music (or neither… nor…)? Or at least aim to reveal the instabilities of the two, in the spirit of Sara Salih? I was recently introduced to the music of Punch Brothers and the genius of mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, and calling their work as “progressive bluegrass” doesn’t even give justice to the actual nature of their work. Even with bluegrass instrumentation, does it remain bluegrass when one does all sorts of stuff to it? Is it necessary to control borders or even build walls around musics? (Oops, I can’t help it lol). Would an initiative like Chris Thile’s musical production look like neo-colonization in other musical traditions? As far as history had progressed, we do know that the instabilities between “music” and “non-music” were already revealed and tampered with, so who knows?‌
  6. Witnessing other works by PIVOT composer colleagues (Rebecca BrutonBekah Ann SimmsMaxime Corbeil-PerronBeavan Flanagan and Evelin Ramón) during the concert was very encouraging. Despite the dangers of encountering foreignness and succumbing to a state of “not-belonging,” I can always remind myself about the distinct foreignness of each personal voice (i.e. stylistic preferences) and constantly slam these against each other just to see how one can also become another (again, Sara Salih?).‌
  7. While Linda Catlin Smith was really eager to impart wisdom on prioritizing artistry over career, I also have to learn how easy it is for one to succumb to slavery even when creating art. I’m referring to projects requiring deadlines, and one eventually comes to the point where one wouldn’t have control over the mess of deadlines barraging everyone’s everyday life. So even at this point, I still have to recall basic lessons not taught in school. Art creation IS and will remain an act of economic production, and economic factors determine one’s productivity over accomplishing it. Having a MacBook Pro with a good battery demonstrates economic advantage over having a PC laptop without any functioning battery, and the disparity increases when one can’t deal with improving the latter. Having Wifi at home similarly demonstrates that advantage over having no Wifi at home, or having a Zoom recorder and a smartphone matters over just having a smartphone. So is having Sibelius or Finale or Adobe Illustrator, etc. So what do these have to do with deadlines? There are numerous times when one just needs to work around certain limitations, and working around them also requires a certain price: the luxury of time. The spatial scores I usually do in Sibelius require lots of it! If having that is too costly or impossible (due to the need to solve one’s own poverty and miseries in life), then deadlines will transform into masters demanding you to work when you can’t. However, you get to create only when resources and luxuries allow you to do so! Eventually, one unwillingly participates in this consumerist culture of art production where constant production is the key to artistic visibility, and the rewards only come when people (even including musicians and colleagues themselves!) constantly consume your work (i.e. listen and be updated with your work online, post likes on your Facebook events, gives you their precious time to perform your work, pay you for your work). The practice of meeting deadlines is so much ingrained in institutions that meeting deadlines becomes your first step towards that place of security. Artistic production now becomes quantifiable, and you’re better off sitting at the back of the bus if you haven’t reached a certain amount of artistic output. So yes, more to slavery!! #sarcasm‌