Voyages, Chapter II
Patrick McMinn and I were invited to collaborate to create a composition for the Voyages event on November 17, 2022 at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. We were given the parameters that our performance would go from 7-9:30pm and would be presented on wireless "silent disco" headphones, which have three audio channels available. The Aquarium invited us to take inspiration from their programs and exhibits, and after meeting with several of their curators and educators we decided to take our inspiration from the Chesapeake Bay. I was particularly interested in oyster reefs and Patrick was interested in working with water quality data, so we decided to split the composition up such that we would each prepare a generative composition that could play live for the first two channels, and we would perform together on the third channel. Additionally, Patrick created live visuals for three projectors and I wrote a composition for a live ensemble of 10 musicians incorporating movement, music, and audience interaction.
Will the Great Water Remember is the resulting piece. It is in four movements, which we performed simultaneously.
According to Algonquian linguist Blair Rudes, “Chesapeake” likely means something like “great water.” In choosing a title, we were also inspired by the poem, “Water as a Sense of Place” by Kim Shuck, published in the anthology When the Light of the World was Subdued, our Songs Came Through. The notion of conservation as an effort in helping water and ecosystems remember what they were before we interfered is very powerful. Here’s an excerpt from the poem:
I forgot to ask the name
Of the creek that used to run through
What is now my backyard.
They piped it under,
But with enough rain
It remembers where to go.
I. “The Body is the Foundation”
I was very moved by the process of oyster reefs growing by accretion of new generations on the shells of earlier generations. I have experienced chronic illness and pain since childhood, and the idea of one body as a piece of a greater, growing whole speaks to me. A central value in my life and art is that when we make something together it is far greater than anything we could make alone, and there is great joy in this communion.
II. “A Coefficient of Memory”
Patrick encountered the phrase “a coefficient of mercy” in the book Mason & Dixon by Thomas Pynchon, and was moved by the juxtaposition of a seemingly cold mathematical term with an emotional experience. This movement creates a similar juxtaposition by associating long lists of water quality data from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor with sounds and algorithmically generating music from the relationship.
III. “What Happens After the Stochastic Event”
Ecosystems are frequently reshaped by chance events such as hurricanes, droughts, and other extreme weather. We were very moved to learn about the ecological effects of Hurricane Agnes, which ravaged Maryland 50 years ago, in 1972. The storm deposited a deep onslaught of sediment into the Chesapeake Bay and drastically lowered salinity levels, which all but wiped out many species and radically transformed the ecosystems of those that remained. Overfishing and industrial development around the Bay were factors in the dramatic outcome of the storm. Conservation efforts have helped restore health to the Bay, but it has been long, hard work.
IV. “Lateral Lines”
This playful movement is based on the behaviors of schooling fish. These fish have a physiological characteristic called a “lateral line” down the sides of their bodies, which senses via pressure changes the movements of the fish around them, allowing them to respond quickly as movement messages spread through the group.