A SWEETER MUSIC | VIDEOS 2013                 Sarah Cahill | piano             John Sanborn | video  

"A Sweeter Music" started as an evening length performance of new compositions for piano and 3 channel video- on the subject of peace. Sarah Cahill commissioned the new works, and each artist responded with a different approach to the subject. John Sanborn then created a video setting for each composition. The work premiered in January 2009 and has played in festivals including the Mendicino Music Festival, the Spoleto USA Festival and the Mill Valley Film Festival.

 

Sarah Cahill recorded the works for CD (Other Minds Records) in the fall of 2013 and I confromed the videos from the performance to single channel versions.

 

Terry Riley | “Be Kind to One Another (Rag) “

 

Terry Riley represents a continuous flow of musical ideas, from “In C” to this enchanting rag that dances and circles and absolves humanity of all evil by turning all thoughts to a state of enlightened delight. My response was to fashion a particle animation “video mandala” that morphs from a “Lawrence Welk on acid” beginning through a rainbow in curved air.

The Residents | “drum no fife”

 

As they should, The Residents bring a new brand of “character” to their composition which wonders why the world worries about peace when what we need is war. Appearing on screen and adding a recorded vocal element is one of the Residents, floating in a world of empty landscapes and barren emotional promises. With layers of spoken text, and oblique images, the unsettled perspective of this piece is that while many artists look for scapegoats as to why the world is cruel, the Residents know that “we have met the enemy and they are us”.

Kyle Gann | “War is Just a Racket”

 

When I first heard Kyle Gann’s “War is Just a Racket” I did not respond to the spoken words or what seemed like a simplistic rant against capitalism. Boy, was I off-base. The text is from a Congressional deposition given by General Smedley Butler, twice honored with the Congressional Medal of Honor, and the first leader of the Marine Expeditionary Force. His perspective is not only unique – he was there – it is the kind of statement that is irrefutable. Only a true American hero can pull off the curtain of motivation and declare that “war is just a racket”.

Jerome Kitzke | "There is a Field"

 

The foundation of this project was to ask composers to address war and peace. Their perspective forms the basis of each work. Jerome Kitzke chose two poets, Walt Whitman and Rumi, to voice “There is a Field”, making me think about how an artist interprets such mortal themes. Whitman’s inspiration, if that’s the word, was the American Civil War   - and the scenes of violence he witnessed as a wound dresser. His beatific verse brings the horror of war into a quiet clarity, while the photography of Mathew Brady turns that dread into models for reportage and nascent compositions captured on location.

Phil Kline | “The Long Winter”

 

The depth of sorrow, loss and redemption in Phil Kline’s contribution to “A Sweeter Music” is the closest to the frayed nerve endings that make us human in the ways we adapt to tragedy. In response I included very personal images that if I lost – would devastate me and leave me bereft of life. We are all witnesses to the cruelty and distain that fate has for us. I took a series of deteriorations and I ordered them so that the final search for a possible future is a long walk towards hope, but a bleak and painful walk at best.

Fredric Rzewski | “Peace Dances”

 

This collection of short phrases balances along a line of tension and release – and as the title states, this is a dance. Using the dynamic dance duo of Joseph Copley and Margaret Cromwell, the video explores the anxiety between male and female, and the eager dominance of body over mind. Watch for concurrences between the music (a physical palindrome) and the movement (retrograde across all three screens) as jokes not unlike the musical games Rzewski plays with names, numbers and quotations.

Meredith Monk | "Steppe Music (excerpts)"

A meditation on tranquility and the slow emotions of natural change, this composition by Meredith Monk has a bell like clarity of revelation. One note becomes a chorus, and the chorus becomes a mood as small elements shift and alter their place in our vision, until they assemble into a panoramic fresco. Each step in the progression is reflected by fragments that transform into landscapes of simple beauty and grace.

 

Yoko Ono | “Toning”

One very straightforward interpretation of peace is the tranquility of reflection and centering – a toning of the soul. Almost Zen, but curiously frustrating and liberating at the same time, for this work I added both standard and offbeat words to speak to the end of a process for finding the perfect tone. As with many of Yoko’s compositions, the simplicity belies a complex goal.

 

copyright 2019 John Sanborn

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