In collaboration with the Canadian Music Centre, clarinettist Martin Carpentier and accordionist Joseph Petric commissioned me to write a new 6-minute work—I named the piece Kinamulátan—for bass clarinet and accordion. I’ve never composed for accordion before, and so Joseph handed me some introductory material he wrote himself. Surpassing the initial confusion over the keyboard layouts (including the Stradella Bass keyboard) and registrations, I became enamoured with the idea of bass clarinet and accordion colours splashing around like water that never stays still. I already delivered a complete score three weeks ago, marking my first composition for the year 2020. The premiere’s slated this Spring in Toronto and Montreal (and elsewhere), so watch out for the dates!
Besides that, I finished my first draft for my debut article with Musicworks magazine, and you’ll read soon about thoughts and conversations with sound artist April Aliermo and composer Lieke van der Voort on Musicworks’ April 2020 issue! Highlighting stories and complexities surrounding mobility now becomes a unifying thread in some of my artistic pursuits—coming from CMC’s Library Residency, my Nomadic Sound Worlds series had been my gateway for expanding that trajectory.
I have two more commissions to start later this year, but I want to hammer on this bass clarinet-accordion work for now since it brings me into this paradox of mobility that I’m currently invested in.
The Tagalog word kinamulatan (kee-nah-moo-LAH-tahn) appeared quite intricate for me when I first thought about it as a working title. Different layers of meaning emerge from it. Mulat (MOO-laht) is an infinitive verb, meaning “to open (one’s) eyes” in a literal sense (after closing your eyes) or in a figurative sense (after the conscious realization of being left in the dark). Mulát (moo-LAHT) embodies that latter meaning into an adjective, describing someone who gained enlightenment and awareness. Applying necessary conjugations, the word kinamulatan then relocates the point of reference from the encounter and the ensuing act towards the site of the revelation itself. It is the site of one’s awakening, the place of origin that birthed the mind, the spatial projection of a frozen ecosystem and its intertwining relationships. Someone I know even translated it as “enculturation,” but I categorize this more appropriately within the context of one’s childhood and upbringing than in the assimilation within foreign spaces.
This thread causes me to journey back in time and reexamine one’s roots. Being separated from the homeland for six years, I find it more difficult now to re-establish points of connection that still affirm a sense of rootedness. Even in the midst of systemic social aggravations and my own embodiment of resistance, the self assimilates with the present social milieu and sheds off unwanted habits that hinders the capacity to be mobile. We fight colonial structures by positioning ourselves within it, even embodying it—English is a colonial language (in line with our specific historical context), and yet one has to use it to gain a place of security, authority and credibility that enables one to express resistance. Tensions between multicultural diversity and national sovereignty confound those whose populations are mainly homogenous—brute-forcing globalization to those who once suffered from colonization and still suffer from massive inequality becomes an act of imperialist intrusion. Prevailing income/social inequality, political systems, and government corruption are the main culprits of such oppression, and yet the vast plethora of global issues reveal a more complex political ecology that I believe can’t be ignored in favour of a myopic worldview that solely addresses localized oppressions.
A recent conversation with my friend Ryan went around the idea that letting go of that deep need to claim belonging from past affiliations opens the path towards liberation. Instead of claiming a stake on roots and affinities that neither make sense anymore nor claim us back, one simply moves forward and forge new ways of shaping an identity. Knowing this, it makes sense to me now that after being gone for six years from the Philippines, my admittedly unwillingness to visit “home” will profoundly change once current circumstances will enable me to devoid myself from being fettered to it. (Not to mention that I can even afford to visit anyway, given my financial standing). With the risk of sounding unpatriotic, there’s definitely a proper time to elucidate more on the matter—however, I’ll stop here for now and just wait for it.
But as much as there’s willingness to let go, I also find that certain affinities will never completely allow that. I’ve long given up on the idea of “community,” and yet I found myself traveling to Montreal this weekend to fulfill duties and obligations as a board member of the Filipino Canadian Artist Association of Quebec, an organization that nurtures local artistic talent. I don’t live in Montreal anymore, but I considered it a second home after flying away from “home.” This organizational work is an obligation that I accepted because of the ambitious nature of the vision it pursues—there’s still a lurking optimist hiding in me behind the veil of cynicism. In this regard, hindi pa rin bumibitaw yung kinamulatan ko nuong napadpad ako duon. (Figurative translation: “I became entangled much with the place [the physical space, the community, the vision and ideals I came to latch on] that it won’t easily let go”).
In any case, the act of letting go doesn’t suggest that one severs roots. The roots are already severed, to begin with—it starts with the act of displacement. My conversation with York University professor Soma Chatterjee last year (for Nomadic Sound Worlds) made it clear: migrants will never feel home anymore once they displace themselves. But while I can’t restore what lied in the past to its full glory, I can memorialize it. After all, Hope Lee’s works (which I talked about in Nomadic Sound Worlds) embodied this act of memorializing lost affinities with her roots.
After weighing in these reflections, I deemed it significant that myopic patriotism paralyzes a deeper understanding of global society, while mobility instead enables an empowering picture that reveals more dimensions. This summarizes my expressed reservation with the fetters of blind affiliation with politicized homelands. Of course, attaining mobility requires a great deal of economic privilege, and this shouldn’t be lost on those who assumes it as a normal facet of global diversity. This cautionary reminder also reflects a two-way narrative, as revealed in my conversation with Soma: the global should serve the local, as much as the local informs the global.
Kinamulátan then embodies the act of memorializing thought processes and the space they occupied. Like a cairn built in the wilderness, it serves as a reminder that while affinities and a sense of belonging aren’t eternal, the presence of a point of departure remains intact. Leading towards an inevitable cyclical structure that repeats ad infinitum, the kinetic sojourns of colourful bass clarinet and accordion gestures from a state of liminality to a state of droning signify a larger cycle of departure and arrival. No one escapes the inevitability of time—we stay bound to its passage and the consequences from actions embedded in that passage. However, I don’t believe it expresses futility that warrants a sense of resignation. Rather, it is something that empowers, pushing one to exhaust the possibilities of that time passage. In this sense, it is not even change that is constant—rather, the passage of time is.
We open our eyes and close them, but we open them again nonetheless. We open them to see the whole world embodied within ourselves.