Speak, At-man!

2006, 10' for alto flute and piano

I do not follow any religious practices, and like many westerners was trained to regard music as a secular practice in its own right.  It took some time for me to realize that expression' and 'emotion,' are manifestations of spirit, and that 'performance practices' - the customs of the concert hall, for example – are the last, desacralized remnants of ritual.  At a certain point, though, one remembers that the compulsion to play music, to harmonize and to groove, comes out of a desire to connect the lonely, solitary mind with others, to rejoin the tributary of the self with the larger ocean of human consciousness.   In some cultures, trance is very real; alas, in ours, we can speak of being 'swept away,' but only as completely subjective experience.  Still, I believe that whatever our material motivations, composers and performers are secular mendicants, replacing the ashram with the conservatory, the meditation hall with the rehearsal room.  We reach into ourselves in order to reach out to others.

In the course of many years of work with Balinese artists, I learned of the Hindu concept of 'at-man,' which as I understand it is both the individual soul and universal consciousness.  It is interesting to conceive of all music as an attempt to evoke at-man, through sympathetic vibration and resonance.   Regarding it in this way cuts across the conundrums of individual vs. group expression, and explains why so many composers and improvisers regard themselves as vehicles, with their most personal musical statements coming 'through' them.  The at-man concept allows us to understand that these are not contradictory feelings at all.

In this particular piece, I have tried to create a metaphoric analogue through the use of various 'ghost' techniques, which evoke the hidden harmonics in both the flute and piano parts.  The flutist is asked to use a wide variety of coloristic effects; the pianist plays the entire score with one hand inside the piano, isolating nodal points on the struck keys.  The piece demands an equally high level of virtuosity from both performers.  This will be obvious in the flute part, but believe me, the piano part is just as hard in its own way.  I thank both Andrea and Emanuele for imbuing these with the grace necessary for this evocation.