The year 2022 is coming to a close, and I’m grateful that things are just happening. Period.
There was a time years ago when I thought, “This is it. No opportunities lay ahead next year, no one else wants to work with me. I have nothing more to say. I’m done.” I unofficially went into hiatus, and my singer-songwriter project Grumpy Kitty Boy was born instead. My hiatus was unofficial because I was still finishing a commission or two—I thought I could make it official once they’re all done. History tells us that it never happened. Here I am, still posting updates.
For now, I’m happy to write about news, updates, and inside thoughts about them for the second half of 2022. Let’s jump right in:
- “Resequencing Resonances” now out on Musicworks 143!
It all started with me hearing about the Tranzac Club’s discovery of Aboriginal items in their storage during early spring. I was wrapping up my tedious seven-month stint with the completion of Kinalugarán back then, and the more I engaged with this random piece of news, the more I thought that this should be a story worth telling to the world. Goombine (Richard Scott-Moore) and the Tranzac were then finalizing arrangements to repatriate these objects back to Australia. Another lead also showed up as I heard about the Canadian Music Centre publicizing their work with an independent Indigenous Advisory Council on enacting redress within its score publication catalogues. Stringing them all together to highlight a reckoning within Canadian music venues would be thought-provoking as an article.
Musicworks editor-in-chief Jennie Punter gave me the go signal for this story. Tranzac invited me and photographer Green Yang (under arrangements with Musicworks) to a scheduled smoking ceremony where they relinquish said objects to Goombine. I remember that time when rehearsals for Kinalugarán were under way, and I had to show up at the Music Gallery right after the Tranzac ceremony without eating lunch—all fresh with ochre paints still in my forehead! The questionable stares I probably got at Bloor Street are nothing. I was a man with a mission.
Months of work bring us now to publishing this story (Resequencing Resonances) on Musicworks’ latest issue. The CD release accompanying this issue includes a recording of Goombine singing a traditional song he shared to us. I recorded the entire event in my recorder, and Goombine gave us permission to include this song in the CD. I find this inclusion in Musicworks very significant. Groundbreaking innovations and developments among music scenes don’t necessarily come as breath-taking music releases or performances with ingenious forms of media. I believe that the context behind a specific music release can already speak for its own groundbreaking story. That was the case of this traditional song, recorded at the Tranzac under such unprecedented circumstances.
Read “Resequencing Resonances” and the story behind musical repatriation in Canada in the Fall 2022 issue (#143) of Musicworks. More details HERE.
- New Music Concerts announces world premiere of Kina-i-ngátan (30 March 2023)
There was a reason why I named my Musicworks article as such. This article is part of a bigger project I conceived that contextualizes a “resequencing” of Luciano Berio’s selected Sequenze pieces. For a second commission from New Music Concerts, I was tasked to write a trumpet and electronics piece that responds to Berio’s Sequenza X (for trumpet and piano resonance).
This piano resonance was obviously a novelty during Berio’s time, but I found that aspect of sound production worth nitpicking. The performance history of Sequenza X owes it to trumpeters Thomas Stevens and Gabriele Cassone, who premiered the solo piece and the Kol-Od chamber piece, respectively. Zita Carno, the pianist involved in Stevens’ premiere, was a mere footnote to this history. Why isn’t she (and other pianists) credited properly for the premieres? Covering a beat for Musicworks was timely, as I transposed this observation into the context of cultural repatriation and can see how stewardship among institutions often undermines those with legitimate rights and cultural ownership. (The British Museum is one notorious example of this). These peoples usually happen to be from former colonies, where colonizers looted and pillaged lands to bring stolen exotic “culture” home.
This project became a mission alongside the aforementioned journalist beat. Berio’s use of the piano for Sequenza X took away the piano’s right to own its musical voice. As my response to Berio, I explicitly asked permission from Goombine to use recordings of my interview with him for a fixed media sound art piece (in 6.1 surround) that runs simultaneously with trumpet music. Goombine’s recorded interview tells the stories covered in the written article, serving as the music’s “soloist” while the trumpet finds its way to co-exist with it.
Functioning as a short audio essay, Goombine’s words and voice remain intact, disallowing me to own the stories told in the process. Goombine retains ownership of the stories he shared and the voice he used to tell them. To make this happen, both trumpet music and audio essay can stand alone by themselves as well, allowing the work to be presented without the baggage of attaching one to another. Goombine’s insights on cultural stewardship brings me to the title of my upcoming eight-minute work: Kina-i-ngátan. After all, the Tagalog word “kinaingatan” refers to a prized object requiring great care.
Catch its premiere with trumpet virtuoso Guy Few on 30 March 2023 at Toronto’s Paradise Theatre!
- Freesound presents O forse, l’ho già perduta poco a poco… (17 November 2022)
There used to be a time when I couldn’t imagine myself writing a solo piano piece. As a classical pianist myself, I couldn’t bear to deal with how classical piano literature is already oversaturated with composers, their works, and all the things people did to “play” the piano. What else can I do with the instrument? Subconsciously, I also avoided the stares my classical piano background was giving me. How come I have forsaken the Chopin and Debussy I used to love just to be a contemporary composer? I never got around with it until 2016 when I simply forced myself to write one.
This piano piece serves as the pinnacle of overcoming that hurdle. I dedicated this to my late piano teacher Avelina Manalo. Based on the little stories I’ve heard from her during my high school years, her life as a concert pianist were very intriguing to me now on hindsight. She told a few stories here and there about being in Austria, Italy, and Russia before UP finally called her back to the Philippines for a teaching position…I can’t even ascertain the accuracy of my recollections of her stories. I simply wonder now about how it felt like to be a brown-skinned Filipino artist in Europe during her time. The aspect of exoticizing brown folk also didn’t escape me. (I did remember her telling me that she had a lot of European suitors then…none of them were entertained).
This speculation also coincided with me reading Italo Calvino’s novel Invisible Cities. The novel fictionalized the encounters of Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, who retold stories upon stories of the numerous cities he visited. At its conclusion, it became clear that all recounts merely point to different retellings of what Marco Polo’s hometown Venice looks and feels like.
Taking the spirit of such astonishing myth-making and reimagining, I made Maurice Ravel’s piano work Jeux d’Eau into work for my own piano piece. It was serendipitous that I was also attempting to study certain parts of this particular piece. Those studies meshed into swirls of gestures, time constructs, and direct quotations of Ravel for my work. The title O forse, l’ho già perduta poco a poco… (Or perhaps, I have already lost it little by little…) is an adaptation of a line from Calvino’s novel. In the book, Polo claimed that memory is fickle once they’re put into words. Speaking in the guise of other cities, he claimed that his fear of talking about Venice would erase his memories of it little by little. This fits exactly what I felt about recalling my ephemeral memories of Avelina Manalo’s stories.
Recorded at the Canadian Music Centre (Toronto), Freesound presented a world digital premiere of this piano piece on 17 November 2022, performed by Wesley Shen. Watch it below! This piano piece is currently published in BabelScores—buy a copy of the score HERE.
- Hanggang sa Paglubog ng Araw in SONIC MATTER Festival 2022 (December 2-6)
My sound art piece Hanggang sa Paglubog ng Araw goes all the way back in 2016. I was still a beginner in making electroacoustic music that mattered to me. Doing radio pushed me into the brink of just doing it—creating electronic music was unthinkable for me before all that. I always remember telling a colleague about my reservations for fully delving into electronic media back then, and he was inappropriately dismissive about it: “Why do you need to think about it? Just do it.”
You see, my reservations have everything to do with the fact that the Philippines do not have unlimited access to such technologies. My own background is a testament to that: I’m the band keyboardist without my own keyboard. In spite of wanting to delve into recording and making keyboard sounds, I never had the means to own a keyboard and build a rig. I was only earning around CA$200 per month. What has the privilege of accessing electronic media anything to do with my own survival? Electronic technology is a colonial inheritance. Even the baggage of catching up with the First World is a game I did not invite myself into.
It took me a while to find the appropriate tangent in finally creating electronic works. I birthed out this piece in one of the studios at CKUT 90.3 FM (Montreal) to include it in a Sigaw ng Bayan radio episode. I won’t be forthcoming with details surrounding this piece for now, but at least I can say that it received recognition (one of the “Highly Commended” pieces) at Ars Electronica Forum Wallis (Leuk, Switzerland) in 2018.
I made revisions of this work in 2021 for another piece of news I will most likely share next year. But it was to my surprise that SONIC MATTER Festival in Zürich eventually chose this among a huge list of works for their Listening Lounge. (It really seems that Switzerland just loves this particular work, eh?). It wasn’t a public live premiere of the piece per se, but the Listening Lounge featured a long playlist of works that attendees can slip into for relaxation and lounging. My work was heard throughout the duration of the festival on December 2nd to 4th in the Kunstraum Walcheturm, and they also featured the Listening Lounge in the festival’s online radio on December 2nd to 6th.
I think it’s funny that the work found its way in a listening lounge setting, because Hanggang sa Paglubog ng Araw (Until Sunset) is highly political in its premise. Instead of writing it all down here, I invite you to visit my Soundcloud track page instead for more info.
I anticipate another blog post before 2022 truly ends. This is what I have to say about my activities so far. See you in the next update!