modern composition

America: The Farewell Tour

I must share this.  Interview with Chris Hedges on his latest book America:  The Farewell Tour.

“This moment in history marks the end of a long, sad tale of greed and murder by the white races…Europeans and Americans have spent five centuries conquering, plundering , exploiting and polluting the earth in the name of human progress.”

As an artist, I work on the inside.  Yet everything I experience — and compelled to compose — is mirrored on the outside.  This book describes us in the context of history and fault, a world whose series of oppression and slaughter, greed and inequality, change only in details of the time.  My composition Aberfan, which I continue to hold, is microcosm for the macrocosm of our drawing extinction.

Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  Contributions on behalf of Aberfan must be made payable to NYFA, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Puffin Foundation Awards Aberfan

Aberfan is being awarded by Puffin Foundation a second time!  Many thanks.  

The Puffin Foundation Ltd. has sought to open the doors of artistic expression by providing grants to artists and art organizations who are often excluded from mainstream opportunities due to their race, gender, or social philosophy.

More information coming soon.

Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue) is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  Contributions on behalf of Aberfan must be made payable to NYFA, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Tragedy at Aberfan

“Tragedy is not deep and sharp if it can be shared with friends.”  Varlam Shalamov, The Kolyma Tales 

On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

How do you personally account for a violation of this kind except through one’s own soul?  What I believe, what I know to be true, is expressed in my music.

Aberfan is a sponsored compositional and media project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization. Contributions on behalf of Aberfan must be made payable to NYFA, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Photograph IC Rapoport, Aberfan, 1966

Rev. Colin Peter Bessant at Aberfan Disaster


A few days ago, Sophie-Ann Williams of North Wales contacted me.  She was hoping to find out more about her Grandfather, the late Reverend Colin Peter Bessant, who helped to dig those days of the Aberfan Disaster.  She sent along this photo of him which had been cut out of Life magazine.  Paula Bessant Williams, Sophie’s mother, said “My Dad never spoke about it without getting really upset. Just said it was the greed of man…”

If anyone has any information about him, please leave a reply at the bottom of this post and I will pass it along to Sophie-Ann and Paula.

On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.  

A Tribunal investigating the 1966 events found that the National Coal Board was entirely responsible for failing to act to prevent the disaster, though they were never prosecuted.

My composition Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue) is part of a larger project, envisioned to be an immersive multimedia installation, using photographs taken by Life photojournalist IC Rapoport, with music at the center.  A sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.  Contributions on behalf of Aberfan must be made payable to NYFA, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Aberfan (7 pianos, percussion, voice and tools of rescue)

Entering now the fourth year of its journey into the world, here marks a summary of my composition project, Aberfan, for those new to this blog or to the tragic event itself.

South Wales Police Museum6 On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.  

My mother wrote a folk song in the wake of the disaster, that I heard as a child.  Using excerpts of melody and lyric from her song, as well as portions of hymns — one the children would have sung at morning assembly on the day of the disaster and another sung at the mass funeral less than one week later — Aberfan splices 31 musical Sequences of Rain, Sunrise, Interlude, Hymn, Rock, Rubble and Field with their Alterations.  Piano parts are specific; percussion, and to some extent, voice, are improvisatory.  Steel shovels, picks and hatchets, spades, breaking glass, bare hands — these are the tools of rescue.

Envisioned at the crossroads of modern music, experimental media, environmental crime and the psychology of trauma, Aberfan will be presented alongside black and white photographs taken by Life photojournalist IC Rapoport, who went to Aberfan to photograph the “psychic mess”.

Investigating how art, together with technology, can be used for experiential transformation, Aberfan addresses the visceral, personal experiences of the disaster, while recognizing its universal relevance as an almost-forgotten humanitarian crime against a future generation.  Merging the music of Aberfan and photos of this particular disaster’s aftermath lays bare the great cost of ignoring the habituated, presumptive violence in our human systems.  

This is my tie to Wales.  An interior carnage.

Is art radical?

Initially, I wrote 7 musical Sequences and experimented with them.  Each was altered, cut up, broken, repeated in different octaves, turned upside down and backwards, then reassembled.  For example, the Rain Sequence is developed out of a two bar phrase using an intuitive formula of increasing prime numbers, to presage the inexorable movement of the spoil heap.  Over a week of heavy rainfall prior to the tragedy becomes the gradual dissolution of recognizable harmony, even as the number of pianos increases and one habituates to the erosion of sound.

Specific choices respect the physical event:  7 (pianos, Sequences) refers to the number of the coal waste tip that collapsed; each Interlude contains 144 beats, one for each person killed. Through-composed, the music spirals — as did the actual collapse — periodically and unpredictably interrupted by Trauma, amalgamated portions of the Rock Sequence.

During final revisions I had a miraculous dream I was certain pertained to Aberfan:  the presentation would be as a film that could roll forward and backward, through and beyond.  One could participate, could follow, could see the moment of death entering, when the soul was coming through, opening into eternity.  

A Tribunal investigating the 1966 events found that the National Coal Board was entirely responsible for failing to act to prevent the disaster, though they were never prosecuted.

What happens to trauma over time?

Aberfan is participatory.  An immersive space will be created using projection of imagery and semi-transparent scrims, capturing the landscape and people, the tactility of coal, ingrained in their faces. The viewer will move through the space, at times full of unsettling, discordant movement as if being subsumed in an avalanche of slag and at other times nearly silent, inducing pause. One can walk inside, behind and around the moving images, inside of the presentation.

A psychological and spiritual rendering as much as a musical one, Aberfan is an excavation into my own soul, propelling itself through me — the story of power and destruction wrought over all the world in the willful, negligent and unconscious devastation upon those most vulnerable and the call to transform, through my music, the inscrutable events.

What is the value of connecting to your soul?

This is another beginning that I write to you, another revolution around the greatest wound in the psyche of humanity — the loss and attempted destruction of soul.  Aberfan, itself a disruption of artistic practice, is a transformational (creative) experience that can happen to anyone, this

visitation by a child.  Through the sounds and images of Aberfan, where the boundary between what is divine and what is human is fluid, where time is anytime, and geographical distances absent, notating what I have seen and heard and felt is to resurrect, is to record for anyone else access to what has long been buried.

We are living now the upheaval — the turning outside what was in, what has long been buried — and must live now to extricate ourselves from what would obliterate good, what is bright and free.  The underbelly, black water out my dream now burst upon the land, no sorcerer could have done without people. We are in the confines of a trained evil.

Aberfan is an elegy not only for the people of Aberfan who suffered the loss of a generation and the wounded soul of the Welsh who saw their beautiful country destroyed when the coal mines came to the valleys, but for our world, besieged by unbridled industry pillaging the land and exploiting its riches for the few.  In this desperate time, it is urgent we activate moral and creative counterweights to intellectual arguments for climate change:   awaken the spirit of shared humanity and responsibility that lives in each of us.

Aberfan confronts and aims to disrupt our complacency, inciting change in the only way possible, speaking directly to what is at the heart of our survival as fully actualized beings on a thriving planet — the need to reconnect with our innermost being, where one lives in balance and reverence for the natural world.

In bearing witness to the specific atrocity of Aberfan, we recover connection to the past and expose our present challenge.  In sensing what is greater than ourselves, we re-envision a sustainable and just future.

Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization. Contributions are tax deductible.

Photo courtesy of South Wales Police Museum

Support “Aberfan” With Your Gift

Thank you to those who have already made a donation!  In the past week, $170 has come in!  Your contribution will enable us to return to the studio to record Aberfan. 

Click HERE to give. 

We need $700 more to reach the halfway point!

 

 

 

Please give what you can and tell othersAll gifts are 100% tax deductible.  

 

Photo:  Mix One Studios, Boston

 

Today is Giving Tuesday

“I think back to what Camus wrote about the fact that perhaps this world is a world in which children suffer, but we can lessen the number of suffering children, and if you do not do this, then who will do this?”  (Robert F. Kennedy, in an interview with David Frost shortly before his assassination, when asked how he would he like to be remembered)

Today, Tuesday, November 28, is a global day of giving.  Your contribution will enable us to finish recording Aberfan.  Click HERE to give.   

We’re near $10,000 — push this project over the halfway point!

Please give what you can and tell othersAll gifts are 100% tax deductible.  If you have already contributed to this campaign – thank you for being a part of this!

 

Photo IC Rapoport, Aberfan, 1966

 

Year End Fundraising for “Aberfan”

“Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he or she sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.” 
(Robert F. Kennedy, University of Cape Town, the land of apartheid, June 6, 1966)

Create your own ripple — make a tax-deductible donation to Aberfan beginning this Tuesday, a global day of giving that will take place on Tuesday, November 28.  Or at any time of the year.  Use the blue donation button located at the top right side of my website.  

We’re near $10,000 — push this project over the halfway point!

Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  Contributions on behalf of Aberfan must be made payable to NYFA, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by  law.

Here is a demo sample of voice and piano parts, “Hymn” and “Rock Sequence”:  

On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.  A Tribunal investigating the 1966 events found that the National Coal Board was entirely responsible for failing to act to prevent the disaster, though they were never prosecuted.

Giving Tuesday

Do you believe “art and the encouragement of art is political in the most profound sense”?  (JFK, Remarks on behalf of the National Cultural Center, November 1962)

To affirm this statement, make a tax-deductible donation to Aberfan on #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that will take place on Tuesday, November 28.  We’re near $10,000 — push this project over the halfway point!

You can give through the blue donate button, located at the top right side of my website.

Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  Contributions on behalf of Aberfan must be made payable to NYFA, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.  A Tribunal investigating the 1966 events found that the National Coal Board was entirely responsible for failing to act to prevent the disaster, though they were never prosecuted.

(Photo, Getty Images, Aberfan 1966)

Poem for Aberfan

In 2016, Welsh poets Grahame Davies and Tony Curtis were commissioned to write a Sequence of poems, entitled Aberfan Voices, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan Disaster.  Each poem goes with a photograph by IC Rapoport.  This is the second of two posts introducing Grahame and Tony, sharing one each of their poems.

Both Tony and Grahame are serving as humanities scholars for my project Aberfan.  I am deeply honored and grateful for their participation in its unfolding and fullest, true expression.

Here is “Life”, written by Grahame Davies.

Life

Life is too big,

though children never know –

their world a nature-table, miniature,

seeds on a tray, a garden in a jar,

four walls of cut-out prints of autumn leaves

and a calendar that counts to Christmas.

 

Life is too big.

They never tell you that.

You’re never wise enough, never mature.

Take it from me:

your heart is never big enough

to hold it all – the deluge of the dark.

Stars are too distant

and the griefs too great.

 

Life is too big.

We try to make it fit

our columns and our canvases,

our lenses and our lines,

to make the immeasurable commensurate

with what we can contain:

words on a page,

a garden in a jar.

 

On October 21, 1966, in the small mining village of Aberfan, Wales, a man-made mountain of coal waste catastrophically collapsed on a primary school, killing 116 children and 28 adults.

Aberfan is a sponsored project of New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA), a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt organization.  Contributions on behalf of Aberfan must be made payable to NYFA, and are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.

Photo IC Rapoport,  1966