In the middle of March 2020 – soon after our university quickly moved to remote instruction and the entire United States entered a period of prolonged self-isolation – Chen-Hui and I began to talk about the idea of preparing a series of concerts that we would live stream from our apartment. Our idea was share slightly shorter concerts of music would relate some to of our collective experiences during this time as well as explore some musical themes and experiments that we would be less likely inclined to present in “normal” in person concerts.
In addition to the idea of this concert series I had often considered the idea of making a number of “apartment albums” that we would simply record in our apartment. Myself being a fan of the intimacy in many experimental, underground, and/or popular albums recorded in living rooms, closets, and bedrooms, the idea of recording albums of contemporary music at home has long appealed to me. As our period of self-isolation continued and the potential of recording music elsewhere seemed less likely, we decided that this time would therefore be an ideal situation to record many albums at home to correspond with each of our live-streamed concerts. In addition, we were also excited by this opportunity to create higher fidelity recordings that could be mastered and edited into a more refined products than what a live-stream allows.
Following these ideas, this is the first of a series of albums planned by the Misty Shore Duo.
The works we selected for this album all have multiple connections to the theme: “Memories and Memorial.” The first connection is that multiple works are themselves memorials. For example, it is widely discussed that Arnold Schoenberg wrote the sixth work of his Opus 19 after the passing of Gustav Mahler. Multiple scholars have commented that the work’s tolling harmonies symbolize the funeral bells of Mahler’s funeral. Beyond this, Toru Takemitsu’s work
“Litany” is more explicitly a memorial with both its title and sub-title “In Memory of Michael Vyner.” Oliver Knussen’s “Prayer Bell Sketch” is itself written in memory of Toru Takemitsu. Finally, Orlando Jacinto García’s “a gamelan in the distance” bears the subtitle “in memory of Lou Harrison.”
Beyond the memorials, the remaining two works both make explicit reference to deeply personal memories. For example, Ken Ueno’s “Disabitato” was written with a sort of prescient nostalgia for his time in Rome as well as a memory of the Italian city of Gubbio. My piece, “stone bells and long reeds spinning in the wind…” uses recordings of two types of Cambodian objects that I recorded in Cambodia in 2015 – two ancient Cambodian stone bells housed in the Cambodian National Museum and Cambodian singing kites, also known as Kleng-Ek. My mentor – the eminent Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung – had long remembered and dreamt of recording each of these objects since he moved to the United States in the 1960’s.
Beyond these connections, there are multiple threads that run through the program. For example, Knussen’s work is a memorial of Takemitsu and uses a direct quote from the Schoenberg miniature. Beyond this, nearly all of the works have a connection to Asian culture with two works by composers of Japanese heritage and three other works – namely the Knussen, Sudol, and García – that each directly reference Asian sonic materials.
Lastly, in their own way, every work in the program also references the symbol of bells tolling in memory wherein the resonance and decay of a bell’s initial and fleeting attack slowly fades into silence, just like our memories slowly fade away over time into nothingness.