Practical Application

Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity.

A celebration of
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Devised by

Ian Macdonald

in collaboration with
Hajar Pamadhi

at the
Charles Sturt University
Television Studios.

16th June 2000

 


On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories."




Voices and movement directed by
Tessa Bremner


Percussion 1
Ian Macdonald

Percussion 2
Michael Freeman

Trombone/BassTrombone/
Piano-Frame

Christopher Bremner-Macdonald

Voices

Tessa Bremner

Russian

Linda Langford

English

John Dahmasing Salong

Vanuatuan

Jongkonnee Wudtison

Thai

Hyun-Sik Yang

Korean

Sophie Benassi

Italian

Nicola Savage

French

Kumi Togami

Japanese

Fariandi Syarizal

Indonesian

Electronics
Luke Chisholm

 

 

 

Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity

Meditation is a work described by the two main performers, a musician and a painter, as Collaborative Art. The work originated from discussions between Indonesian scholar Hajar Pamadhi, whose art tradition was firmly entrenched in the Javanese traditions of his culture, and, myself, Ian Macdonald who has worked in music and theatre and who is particularly interested in the application of human rights through the arts.

Simply stated the work Meditation was designed to be an improvised sound/music scape to which Hajar would improvise a painting based on his cultural heritage. In the preparation time up to the actual performance Hajar and I discussed philosophy, Indonesian music, techniques, social issues, politics, family history, and, purposely, many other subjects except more than just the basic content of the work. This exclusion,especially of the work's musical content, was to ensure that Hajar indeed based the painting on the sounds heard and the atmosphere of the performance. In preparation it was decided to base the work on the chance techniques suggested by the works of the American composer John Cage who turned the musical world upside down from the middle of the 20th Century. He stated that any sound was a valid musical sound if in context with the musical process.

As the composer and designer of the work, I selected those aural elements that were available at the time within the restrictions of a regional centre of New South Wales and the personnel who were interested in the subject matter and who had the essential abilities (either musical, technical, cultural or language). The musical aspects of the work consisted of two hours of performance by two percussionists, trombone, bass trombone, piano frame, three bell players and eight voices, electronics and performing sound recordist. The voices used were provided by Tessa Bremner and seven students of different native languages. Sound elements were echoed, reverberated and recorded and replayed at different times during the performance. Electronic sound were provided by repetitive computer generated sequences played on a Roland JD800 synthesizer and a G3 Macintosh Computer using the computer programme, Cubase.

 

 

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Article 9. Declaration of Human Rights

Click Here.

Hajar Pamedhi in Meditation

 

 

 

Visual Elements and Cultural Influences

The essential visual elements were provided by Indonesian artist Hajar Pamadhi who had just completed his Masters Honours Degree in Visual and Performing Arts at Charles Sturt University. The subject of his research was the Symbolism in Javanese Tradition and their significance in his work. We were involved in many hours of discussion of his interest, and mine, in human rights, Australian/Indonesian politics, East Timor and the artistic process. Hajar's inspiration comes from the mental state brought on by meditation and I rely on the calming nature of sound as a catalyst. There was a similarity in inspiration. The title of the work was based on the fact that we both approached our arts from a meditative point of view. The ritual performed by the voice performers provided a recurring, almost religious style of movement that was in keeping with the title.

There are many instances of music being the inspiration for a painting and vice versa but painting, as a live performance based on music improvised at the same time, is to my knowledge, unique.While the music was being performed Hajar improvised a painting based on the music he was hearing and from within his Indonesian culture. Having been involved in experimental music for many years, from the time when synthesizers were new in Australia (late 60's early 70's), I was aware that the visual element was missing from performances of electronic based pieces at that time. There is a need for the visual element, the need for more than the aural sense to be fulfilled. It became apparent that we "hear" with our eyes and "see" with our ears.

During my early experimentation with aleatoric music and upon reading about John Cage and his compositions, I was attracted to the Chinese I Ching or Ancient Book of Changes to find some understanding of the creative use of chance and change. From this text came the answer to the problem of static taped electronic musical works. In the I Ching the visual element and the changes that take place over time are defined as movement.

The nature of the Creative is movement. Through movement it unites with ease that which is divided. In this way the Creative remains effortless, because it guides infinitesimal movements when things are smallest. 2

Perhaps here that which is divided can be seen as the the two elements of Meditation that were (unusually) combined, the production of a soundscape and the process of painting. The latter is by the very nature of the process usually separated from the end product. The painter's work takes place in a studio or other location and, upon completion, the work is displayed in a pristine environment away from the dropped paint, the dirty brushes and the smell of the ingredients. The I Ching's Creativity is denied to the audience and the visual element of the process is separated from the intellectual viewing of the product. The first brush stroke on a virgin canvas, the contemplation of each addition and the frenzy of inspiration does not form part of that which the gallery space allows the audience to see and yet it is the actual creative process.

In the presentation of music the pre-composition or even the pre-recording of the musical elements usually does not display the I Ching defined Creativity. It divides the processes into two. The first, like the painter, takes place in the privacy of a studio when the work is composed, the other when the composer's work is translated, by whatever means into sound. Here there is movement as the translators perform their part in the process. The responsibility of Creativity is given to a second party to present to the composer's audience; one step away from the composer's Creative process, although allowing Creativity on the part of the translators. In the instance of taped electronic works the element of Creativity is usually absent unless replaced by some form of visual interpretation of the sounds, often only coming part of the way to satisfying the theatrical imperative.

The defined Creativity becomes the theatrical element in Meditation; a juxtaposition of the combination of the production of sound and the observed movements associated with this process, and the similar combination during production of the painting and (importantly) the observed movements of that process.

The work was performed before a live audience, was televised and was to be sent live to the world wide web (this did not happen at the time due to a technical problem which occurred only minutes before the broadcast was to start).

The music of the piece was largely improvised but, like many improvised works, there were many hours of planning, preparation and rehearsal before the work was ready to be performed. I had many hours of discussion with Pamadhi, to discover similarities and differences between our philosophies. We had found many common interests and techniques. I rehearsed each of the performers individually and together, to ensure that my music concepts were understood and adhered to, within the essentially improvised nature of the work.

Hajar's work took place on a raised platform within the performance area. His canvas was primed and ready to go. He works from within a very strong and formal tradition of symbols and images which his Javanese tradition dictates. Certain shapes mean certain things and although he works in a modern context there are many elements which follow these traditions.

In Hajar's Master's thesis Chapter Two Albert Aurier is quoted describing

Symbolism in visual art as the painting of ideas, and its complex aesthetic as a mixture of Platonic-inspired philosophy, mystical and occult doctrines, psychology, linguistics, science, political theory and such aesthetic issues as the relationship between abstraction and representation.(Jane Turner, 1996 p168). 3

He then goes on to state that:

If a symbol is connected with the background of myth its meaning is associated with the figures in history in which is embraced mystical thinking and magical power. 4

As the painting in Meditation evolved Hajar incorporated many traditional symbols such as:

Figure 2 Jemparing or arrow which is a symbol of thinking and struggling.

Figure 3 Cegak, Tokek and Kadal or lizard which symbolise people

Figure 5 Ular or snake as a symbol of ordinary people and fertility.

Figure 6 The Wayang which are images of shadow puppets.

Figure 7 Footprints are symbols of life and identity

 

There is a theory that the grotesque images of the Wayang are to comply with the Muslim edict of not allowing images of men to exist and that they were dehumanised when Islam arrived in Java. There is some doubt as to the applicability if this across the archipelago as the Balinese equivalents are equally grotesque, and Bali retains the more ancient Hindu religion.

Upon a detailed study of the work I found several other elements or symbols which were present which are also in several ancient Balinese paintings which are in my possession. These included small markings which looked to me like Sanscrit (the ancient Indian written language) but when I asked if Hajar could read them he said he could if he was a god. These were writings which the artists both ancient and modern created without knowing the meaning.Hajar stated that these symbols came to him while in the medative state. These are mystical and of great significance in the creation of symbols which are designed to "communicate to God, spirits of ancestors, Kings, or other people in metaphorical, mystical and magical strands.

While here Hajar experimented with the mixing of oils and acrylics and, a favourite product, Selley's "No More Gaps", the latter a sponsor in kind to the project, and the material which provides a three dimensional texture to the symbols on the canvas.

 

 

Figure 1. Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity. Hajar Pamedhi

 

 

 

 

Figure 2. Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity. Detail Jemparing

 

 

 

 

Figure 3. Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity, Detail Cegak

 

 

 

 

Figure 4. Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity, Detail

 

 

Figure 5. Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity, Detail Ular or snake

 

 

 

 

Figure 6. Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity, Detail Wayang puppets

 

 

 

 

Figure 7. Meditation: The Spirit of Humanity, Detail Footprints

 

 

 

Improvisation is too good to leave to chance.
Paul Simon
International Herald Tribune
12th October 1990

 

Improvisation

Improvisation has been an important part of Western Music. Audiences in the past did not necessarily go to concerts to hear the latest symphonies and concertos of famous contemporary composers, but were attracted by the opportunity to hear the virtuosic abilities of composers, such as Mozart, Chopin and Liszt, to improvise on simple themes. This was a method in which composers were enabled, by reputation, to also present their written works to an audience primed by their performance skills. Is it perhaps unfortunate that these improvisations were not recorded? Time has filtered away all but the reports of this expertise and we only now know these composers by their contemporary reputations and their written works. For much of the twentieth century improvisation was largely ignored in serious music education and generations of well trained "classical" musicians were and are often in awe of those who retained this facility.

Perhaps the evolution of Jazz from the music of Black America, and its emphasis on improvisation, gave improvisation a less than respectable reputation allowing art music to frown upon the technique. Composers settled back into the safety of the written score. This allowed relatively accurate reproduction of their original thought and the dissemination of their music. With American composer John Cage and his acceptance of non conventional sounds as musical material and the development of genres such as electronic music, came a freedom which demanded that many of the techniques, rules and traditional structures and strictures of serious music be abandoned. Improvisation allows a work to flow freely without the restriction and tension that "getting the notes right" can bring. It was Cage who came to the rescue by making audiences, composers and artists think "beyond the square".

In experimental works such as Meditation, the ability to improvise provides both the compser and the performer with the feeling of ownership over their own contributions. It allows interaction between performers that is free and ever-changing. It allows for complex relationships between sounds that are far too complex for acurate notation, and which, if it were possible, would be far too difficult to perform for all but the most achieved performers. The reliance on simple techniques such as call and response, extended repetition and immitation were all well rehearsed and characteristic of the soundscape. As a matter of experience, I have found that the novice performer in this genre is often more open to the concepts of experimental improvisation than the more technically proficient performers, who tend to be bound by previous training and traditional methods of expression. This type of performance is also adaptable to the facilities and abilities available at the time of performance. These include materials and instruments, personnel, and perhaps above all the availability of rehearsal time.

The form of improvisation involved in Meditation also relies on the spontaneity of the performers and I normally prefer that the individuals have a knowledge of the concept and the materials on which the production is based rather than an exact knowledge of all the elements of the final work. If each performer knows their own part to their own satisfaction and comfort, within the work the micro-improvisations, they are able to contribute well to the whole. The serendipitous interaction of the individual elements produces textures that are appropriate, freely performed, interactive and, I consider these the macro-improvisation: the composer's input.

The television script for the recording of Meditation worked to a rough time frame based on the bells but allowed the elements of chance to dictate many aspects of the recording process. This was in keeping with the overall improvisory, aleatoric nature of the work.

 

 

 

 

Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection
Article 25. (2)
Declaration of Human Rights

 

 

 

 

 

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.
Article 9. Declaration of Human Rights

 

 

 

 

 

Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
Article23 (1). Declaration of Human Rights

 

 

 

Sound Textures

 

The elements that a composer selects to include within a composition are dictated by many factors and influences. It is the conjunction of knowledge, training, experience, the time and place and the availability of resources, amongst other elements, that allows a subject, an idea, to make the transition from thought to reality. The influences of artists from the past and their painstaking work pushing boundaries and convention and reforming opinion, allows freedom of expression for contemporary artists within the contemporary context. The complexity of a work such as Meditation would not have been possible, within the dictates of the conventional definition of acceptable musical parameters, without the influence above all of John Cage. His philosophies were developed in the period after Schoenberg and had their most profound influences in the mid to late twentieth century. The echo of his work is still apparent within the performance art works of the twenty-first century.

With the freedom of selection of sound material for a composition that Cagean thought allowed and encouraged, it was arguably inevitable that the range and usage of percussion instruments, both conventional and discovered, would take a major part in the development of this freedom. The variety of percussion instruments already common within the orchestral repertoire provided, with experimentation of methods and implements for producing sounds, nuances that had seldom been heard before within the Western musical convention. The range of instruments was expanded allowing for many more sounds to be used within the musical context. Most of the percussion instruments were non-melodic and, as a result the sounds that became available were by no means restricted to the well-tempered scale system that has dominated Western music for centuries.

Cage’s discovery that it was possible to place objects within the strings of the piano, and that their placement provided a variety of percussive sounds and  harmonics of the tuned system that had not been heard in music before, allowed the instrument that had been fundamental to the development of Western music, to make a leap into the realms of the imagination that previously would not have seemed possible to the conventional composer or musician.

The piano’s sounds were altered by means of screws, bolts, pieces of rubber, wood and other materials set between the strings, making available to a keyboard player gamuts of finely differentiated sounds, both multiple and complex in pitch (including microtonal intervals) and indefinitely  pitched (thudlike, rattling etc.) 5 

The instrument became a rhythmic, percussive instrument and a transition to the freedom of Cage’s new music. The invention of the “prepared piano” took place in 1938 when there was a need for Cage to produce percussive sounds when only a piano was available. Its invention forecast the explosion of the use of percussion instruments in the latter part of the twentieth-century.

Cage stated that:

Percussion music is a contemporary transition from keyboard-influenced music to the all-sound music of the future. Any sound is acceptable to the composer of percussion music; he explores the academically forbidden "non-musical" field of sound in so far as it is manually possible. 6

Cage was also aware of the visual aspects of using the most conventional of instruments in non-conventional ways. He would instruct the performer to hit the strings and the body of the instrument with a variety of mallets and went as far as to prescribe the movement and actions, rather than the resultant sounds.7 Visual aspects of the performance were becoming important.8  In Meditation, for instance, the trombone player was instructed to use the strings and frame of a “demolished piano” as a very resonant percussion instrument, hitting and stroking the strings and frame with a variety of objects. By playing non-conventional trombone sounds, including circular breathing methods for extended periods, close into the strings the instrument resonated to the pitches and sustained the notes after the source sound had changed or ended. This had both visual and aural strengths that served to enhance the work. The time-keepers (bell players)  were asked to strike their huge instruments with exaggerated style so that the visual anticipation and the subsequent strike were part of the visual and aural experiences for the observers.

Much of the material used in Meditation and the interaction of sounds within the composition, rely on the composer’s experience as a percussionist from the period, in Australia, where percussion training was restricted to the conventional orchestral range of instruments and experimentation was not necessarily encouraged. It was the introduction of the Moog synthesizer to the Adelaide University Music Department and experience as a percussionist that allowed the composer to make the transition from the conventional to the experimental.

This Cagean concept of musical composition has a parallel in the work of Ostoja in his development of abstract images, combinations of projected images and in the use of projected light and interactive laser beam projection. His development moved from the conventional to the non-conventional by the use of "non-painterly" application of colour and light. His development and use of the non-conventional perhaps represents the experimental visual artist’s version of percussion music and the transitional link from convention to the future.

The inspiration provided by Cage is also evident in the treatment of text used in Meditation where the words are treated as sound sources to be stated, manipulated, dissected and presented in their new context. While the words exist within a particular context they have individual meanings and connotations. It is the order, inflection and context, which conveys intended meaning. When the words are manipulated to states outside this balance they lose their combined meanings and become sound. Cage, in his book Silence ,9 presents a series of lectures, in which he performed individual words and phrases in abstract order; he was using the words out of conventional context and thus using them as sound sources. The result is both confusing to the listener and, when unintended juxtaposition of words or phrases occurs, new meaning can be inferred without intentional composition. The element of chance is introduced.

Within Ostoja's performance works, the example of manipulated word order and sense is provided in the use of Clare Robertson's computer generated poem, Tidal Element, (Discussed in Sound and Image - 1966 and 1968 Sound and Image) where the words compiled by the computer make little sense to the listener but, as Ostoja states, the human mind tries to make up for it, tries to understand.10 It is the context during performance; the visual elements at the time and the need for interactive and personal communication that provides the listener with order and sense of their own making.

It is with this use by Cage and Ostoja of the written and spoken word as sound sources that the compositions Meditation and "In the Hands of Children" were conceived. Here the words of selected texts are manipulated by the reader, by the chance selection of phrases and electronic superimposition and alteration. This combination provides an abstract use of voice as Cage's "non-musical" sounds. The original meaning of the words in their original context becomes less clear as the manipulation occurs. The words become sounds within the sound-scape and not necessarily communicative entities in the conventional context.

Cage stated that It is now possible for composers to make music directly, without the assistance of intermediary performers. 11 In the two works under consideration the individual performers, whether instrumentalist, actors or technicians, with the possible exceptions of the time keepers (bell players) whose role is precisely dictated, become composers of their individual contributions to the works, providing context, texture, rhythmic interaction and articulation, within the parameters dictated by the overall composition.

   
 

And therefore
never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
it tolls for thee.

John Donne,
Devotions upon Emergent Occasions
(1642) Meditation XVII

 

 

 

Bells

Many of my theatre composition and sound designs have included metal pipes as bells. My sound prologue for two productions of Shakespeare's The Tempest was written solely for carillion bells. This idea comes both from my background as a percussionist and from study of the history of theatre. For example, bells were a common signal sound within early theatres in England including Shakespeare's own Globe Theatre, calling the audience to the performance and bringing tension to moments of dramatic effect within the plays. Bells are an important element in the sound culture of most nations. They are used as a signal element in religious ceremony, they are used to celebrate peace and to announce death, they are the ageless time keepers in village churches. They signal danger and call the community together. They are the joyous sounds of the Balinese Gamalan and the soulful tolling when death pervades.


Conjunction of the three Bells. 30.00 minutes
The termoil of Youth
Bell Toll detail

The time keepers of Meditation were three large bells suspended from the studio grid. These were made of 15cm rusty steel water pipe and were struck with large, hard rubber mallets. The first bell was 2 metres long, the second 2.5 metres and the third 3.5 metres. The largest two were capped which dropped their fundamental pitch by an octave. The bells, all striking together at the beginning of the work, were played at intervals of two minutes for bell 1, three minutes for bell 2 and five minutes for bell 3. They were physically separated as much as possible, given the restrictions of the studio, to give a directional sound element to the work for the audience. This pattern of sound, an ultra slow rhythmic pattern, based on the first three prime numbers, repeated itself every thirty minutes. According to I Ching, the ancient Book of Changes, cyclic change is a rotation of phenomena, each succeeding each other until the starting point is reached again. 12 Meditation used four of these cycles of change, dividing the work into four sections representing four ages of human life; birth, youth, maturity and the attainment of wisdom. The small bell represented the cycles of days, the larger, the cycle of months and the largest the cycle of years. This cyclic change, according to I Ching can be described as recurrent change in the organic world as opposed to sequent change which means the progressive, non-recurrent change of phenomena produced by causality. 13 To follow the I Ching philosophy the sequent change where the firm and the yielding replace each other, the firm transforms, melts as it were and becomes the yielding; the yielding changes, coalesces and becomes the firm. This is an onward moving process that never returns to the starting point. It is an organic self-generating process. 14

A fourth bell, a Balinese prayer bell, was used by the principal voice, to signal a new sequence in the evolution of the voice texture. This happened every five minutes of the work, after the tolling of the largest steel bell.

There was both a practical and an aesthetic reason for the length of the work, a total of two hours. The latter concern meant that the slowly changing soundscape could move, imperceptibly changing from beginning to end. The practical reason was to allow the paint to dry on the canvas as much as possible between applications.

 

Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
Article 14. (1 ) Declaration of Human Right

 

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
Article 27. (1)Declaration of Human Rights

 
 

 

 


Everyone has the right....
Tessa Bremner

 

Voices

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights represents the aspirations of a hopeful and idealistic world. It is the most translated document in the world, defining the rights that all global citizens should enjoy. There are, however, common and well known violations inflicted on those who are unable to protect themselves from the unscrupulous elements within all societies. The document was formulated soon after the Second World War when the world was aware of the gross violence perpetrated throughout Europe and the Pacific. It was a time of both new birth and reconstruction, a time when many who, escaping the aftermath of War, were seeking the safety and anonymity of new places and new nationalities. It was a time of reassurance that the world would never be allowed to be in such turmoil again.

The words of the Declaration are often spoken in political forums to raise the profile of individuals and regimes, but they often remain excuses for inaction. Falling on deaf ears, they too often remain unheard and unheeded.

Within the Australian context it is with sadness that I note that this nation, one inextricably involved in the formation of the United Nations, is one of the few developed nations that has not absorbed the human rights detailed in the Declaration into our system of laws.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the textural basis through which Meditation evolved.

The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Article 16(3). Declaration of Human Rights

 


People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
....
'Fools,' said I, 'You do not know
Silence like a cancer grows

Paul Simon, Sounds of Silence (1964)

Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
Article26(1). Declaration of Human Rights

In the textural use of voices I planned to include as much "chance" as possible in the way in which material was presented, and here selected techniques that would produce as close to a random result as was possible within the parameters of the piece. The words, if heard at all, were to be unintelligible to the listener. They were to become a sound texture reflecting the inability of the world to discern meaning from the text. Fragments of the Declaration were read by performers in eight different languages, including Russian, Indonesian, Vanuatuan, Thai, French, Italian, Korean as well as (Canadian) English decreasing the ability of individual members of the audience to discernmeaning from the text.

Of the thirty two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the eight performers were each asked to select twelve articles, from copies in their own languages, articles which were of particular relevance to them and their lives. Each selection was printed on an individual card and placed in a pile. Each of the performers was instructed not to inform me as composer which articles they had selected. They were then asked to select five works of poetry, stories or other readings which were important to them, and which were representative of their culture. These were similarly printed onto cards of a different colour. Finally, they were requested to select three religious or philosophical teachings which were of relevance to them. These, in turn, were printed on cards of a third colour. Several of the performers asked if they could sing in the last section and I agreed that this was an appropriate action for them to make.

 

Everyone has the right to freedom of
thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or
belief, and freedom, either alone or in
community with others and in public or
private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 18. Declaration of Human Rights

As there were more voice performers than there were places at the table at which they would perform, it was decided that there should be a form of simple ritual which would enable each of the performers to take their places in turn. The main voice performer who also directed the movement of the work, Tessa Bremner, was to sit at the head of the table. She would indicate with a nod that a particular performer would either come to, or leave the table. She was to remain at the head of the table throughout the piece performing in Russian in which she is fluent. There were places for four other performers at a given time.

Each of the performers carried their three piles of cards to the table, placing them in front of themselves. There were twelve cards in the first pile on which each of the twelve selected articles from the Declaration of Human Rights were printed. On the second pile, the five personal readings were written and on the third pile were written the three religious or philosophical texts.

 


Balinese Bell. Herald of a new cycle
.
Tessa Bremner

In the centre of the table was a Balinese prayer bell and three coins. At a given signal, (the striking of the largest bell every five minutes) the principal voice performer rang the prayer bell and picked up the three coins throwing them onto the table. The combination of heads and tails on the three coins gave four possibilities. These were to decide from which pile the voice performers would read. To increase the element of chance, each performer was to decide for him/her self what each combination of coins represented.

Coin Combinations

HHH

HHT

HTT

TTT

Voice 1

Pile 1

Pile 2

Pile 3

Tacet

Voice 2

Pile 1

Pile 3

Pile 2

Tacet

Voice 3

Pile 3

Tacet

Pile 1

Pile 2

Voice 4

Pile 2

Pile 3

Tacet

Pile 1

Voice 5

Pile 1

Pile 3

Pile 2

Tacet

Voice 6

Pile 3

Pile 2

Pile 1

Tacet

Voice 7

Pile 3

Pile 1

Pile 2

Tacet

Voice 8

Pile 3

Tacet

Pile 2

Pile 1

etc

Tacet

Pile 2

Pile 3

Pile 1

etc

Tacet

Pile 3

Pile 1

Pile 2

etc

Tacet

Pile 1

Pile 2

Pile 3

Examples of the possible combinations of pile selection by coin throw.
H - Heads, T - Tails, Tacet - Silence

 

 

For instance, a performer could choose the combination of three heads to represent pile one, three tails to represent pile two, two tails and one head to represent pile three. The fourth combination would represent silence, they would not read for that coin throw. They were told to select the top card of the pile and look at the number that was written in the top left-hand corner. The number represented the number of seconds they had to count after the coins were thrown. For instance, if the number was 120, they would count silently 120 seconds, and then begin the reading on the relevant card selected by the throw of coins. The numbers on each card varied from a 5 seconds to 180 seconds. As these numbers had been written onto the sheets before the texts were printed on them, and the fact that each performer would count the number of "seconds" at different speeds, also added to the element of chance and spreading the entrances of the voices over the five minute period between ringings of the Balinese prayer bell.

Attempts at randomness were based on:

  • a large number of performers;
  • acting independently with the choices of material;
  • twelve articles from within the thirty articles of the Declaration of Human Rights;
  • five selections from within a large body of cultural materials from eight cultures;
  • three selections from different cultural sources;
  • determined by the throw of three coins;
  • giving four choices of pile selections;
  • performed after a time delay;
  • determined by variable counting by non-musicians;
  • performed in eight different languages.
    This number of variables gives a minimum chance of the conjunction of material at approximately 3,000,000:1. In reality the number is extremely conservative, considering the amount of variable cultural material available to the individual performers.

The purpose of the toss of coins, the varying numbers on the cards and the personal selection of the passages to be read in languages that I could not understand, demonstrated my intention to distance myself from the individual elements in the performance. This technique was based on part of the teachings and philosophy of John Cage. He often used chance selection, the I Ching, Zen philosophy and sometimes the exclusion of the influences of the composer himself on the elements of the work, as a principle of composition. I explained to the audience at the time that, with the elements of chance that the work included, all that occurred between the designated beginning and the formal end was being included in and was part of part of the performance. They were not only to hear the sounds and to see the evolution of the painting, but were also to see the television cameras moving amongst the performers, and to view the selective vision of the cameras on the monitors around the studio.

 

 

The voices were picked up by a PZM (conference) microphone attached to the glass that topped the table and then processed through a reverberation unit, echoed, recorded and played back as fragments later and at random (using the random track selection of a mini-disc recorder on which they were recorded). The microphone picked up the sound of the bell, the coins falling and the voices. This combination gave the voices an unintelligible, fragmented texture that, through its frequent repetition and gentle nature became almost timeless.

 

Everyone has the right to freedom of
opinion and expression; this right includes
freedom to hold opinions without
interference and to seek, receive and
impart information and ideas through
any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 19. Declaration of Human Rights

Percussion

Two percussionists, including myself and a young student, Michael Freeman, were on opposite sides of the studio. We played a variety of instruments including:
Percussion (1):- Marimba, Midi Drums (often tuned to sound like Javanese gamelan instruments) cymbals, rototoms, snare drum, tabor, triangles and hiroshigi (Japanese Claves)
Percussion (2):- Xylophone, assorted tomtoms, bongos, cymbals, claves.

The percussion instruments were responsible for providing the changing texture of the work. They provided tension and release and the rehearsed call and response. Percussion (1) controlled the sound output by a series of signals between the three instrumentalists. We reacted to the voices, to each other and to Hajar as he progressed from primed to almost finished painting, translating his movement, mood and gestures into sound. This was in accordance with I Ching's phenomenon of "sequent change". As many sound sequences were recorded and played back into the texture after an extended time delay, there was often the opportunity for the percussionists to interact with our own sounds as well as the other elements of the work.

 


Percussionists Ian Macdonald (near)
& Michael Freeman


Trombone/Bass Trombone
Christopher Bremner-Macdonald

Trombone, Bass Trombone and Demolished Piano

The third instrumentalist played these three instruments. The trombones often played long sonorous stationary and sliding tones reminiscent of Tibetan Horns. These were discussed between myself and the musician before the piece was performed. I felt that the representation of the Tibetan people and their occupation by the Chinese in Tibet was in keeping with the Human Rights theme of Meditation. The player had also performed such sounds in a previous work called Silent Prisoner whic ws also concerned with Human Rights and inparticular the plight of a Tibetan nun who was incaserated for political crimes at the age of twelve.

The Trombone was often played close into the strings of the demolished piano frame which resonated in sympathy with the sound, selecting the timbre and pitch of the trombone and extending them. This in turn was picked up by a PZM microphone attached to the piano frame and fed into the overall sound texture.

The demolished piano frame was an important element in the sound texture of the music. It provided a contrast to the percussion instruments and allowed an extraordinary variety of sounds to the performer using many different strikers, mallets, sticks and other assorted objects. Expertly handled the instrument added a great deal of colour to the work's texture.

Combining all these sound elements the work was in danger of becoming too long. Two hours is a long time for a piece based on simple elements and contexts. There were, however, no reports of boredom from the invited audience although they may have merely been polite in their reactions. Both the visual and the aural elements allowed enough spectacle to ensure that interest was retained. Most importantly, the work seemed to create the meditative atmosphere which was intended by composer and painter.

 


Demolished Piano Frame
The victim of fire, time and sledge hammers.

 

 

Television Crew

Floor Manager
Kellie Bain

Assistant Floor Manager
Glenn Edwards

 

The Television Recording

The recording process which was involved in the production of Meditation was directed by Professor Bill Fitzwater, whose experience in recording experimental music with the BBC, enabled the work to be treated seriously and with a great deal of integrity. The team of staff and students of the Television School listened to the concept talks and set about making the project a memorable one for all involved.

The television crew were told that they were as muh a part of the production as were the performers and that they were not to be worried if they were caught by other cameras. They were to follow the basic time frame of the work dictated by the tolling of the large bells and were to notice and focus on events as they evolved.

 

Cameras

Victoria Armstrong Hugh Gormley
Jasmine Lord Clint Styles
Tim Crocker Geoffrey Kemp
Rebecca Robertson Lachlan White
Nick James Christopher Paterson

Their sensitivity to the performers meant that we were not interupted nor distracted by their movement and it is to their credit that their sensitivity and concentration made the filming a successfull record of the production.

There was an aerial camera placed behind and above Hajar's stage area so that he could either have the canvas on an easel, to be covered by the floor cameras, or laying on the floor and viewed from above. This proved to be very successful in recording of the evolution of the painting.

 

Sound
Jaquie Wilson

Graphics
Cassandra Waters

TD
Shane Aylmore

Engineering
Martin Detheridge

Lighting
Kevin Olsen

Vision Mixer
Anne Kovach

InternetUnit
Lindsay Adams
Alex Fry

Director's Assistant
Paul Mitchell

Director
Bill Fitzwater

In the early 70's I had experimented with a camera photographing every step, every brush-stroke, in the evolution in a large painting. The painter was able to apply an area of paint and then stand out of shot and trigger the camera. I was then to create a sound track to be played as the resultant film was projected. I devised a formula where colour on the canvas was accompanied by a particular timbre of electronic sound and the height of the colour on the canvas altered the pitch of the sound. This was an attempt to relate colour and sound and to produce an original sound and image work. Although the project was never finished I can see echoes of the process in the filming of Meditation.

The sound crew were told that they were to accept the fact that their search for the perfect sound, the usual product of technological advances, could be put aside and that any sounds, distortions, or combinations were acceptable within the Cagean concept of all that happens within the music is the music.

There were microphones place above the bells and the percussion stations and PZM microphones attached to the table around which the Voice performers sat an on the demolished piano frame. Some of the sound was fed into a mixing desk and recorder and the "onstage" sound musician manipulated these, adding echo and reverberation. The minidisk recorder allowed fragments f the work to be recorded and then fed bac into the sound system later in the work.

 

   
 

The Memory as a Record.

It is in theatrical performance that there is the least opportunity for the "composition" to be recorded beyond the memory of performers and the members of the audience. The dynamic nature of performance, its four-dimensionality, its variation from performance to performance, all conspire to make the recording of an actual work, especially before the technological advances of the twentieth century, too complex to be practical. As little as we know of the actual musical performances of the time, we know even less of the precise nature of the performances of the works, for instance, of Shakespeare, or of the quality of the acting of the period. There is thought tto have been as little as three days rehearsal for such works and that the performances allowed improvisation within the text. Our opinions of the period are determined by the written reports of the time, by distilled opinion of cultural and societal aspects of the period through time and of political and personal influence of powerful characters of the time. The contrast between the sacred regard we now have for such texts and the actuality of productions are probably worlds apart.

Even with modern methods of recording and reproduction there is little chance of accurate reproduction of the totality of a performance work. Conventional cameras are biased in their direction and ability to see the full picture and they record only an instant in time and only that upon which they are focused, tape recorders hear only that which is within their technological design and video and movie cameras can only give an approximate and biased selection of the totality of the visual aspects available to the human audience.

Memory, perhaps, becomes the sole method of reproduction available to the artist. It is a singularly human ability to absorb, filter and reproduce an event in a personal, dynamic and individually selective manner. The event can be reproduced at will and as accurately as the audience finds necessary. With the complex nature of modern works, intended to make an impression on an audience, intending, perhaps, to make a difference to the viewer, this dynamic reproduction can be satisfying. A work that indeed makes an impression on a viewer, becomes part of the viewer, continues as long as the viewer continues and it changes as it influences the viewer as that person's life unfolds. This is a powerful reason for the work of an artist being important within society. The recalled restatement of a work becomes a new work, filtered by time and experience, opinion and the atmosphere around the time at which the work is recalled. In memory, the work can be adapted by the person who was initially exposed to the work. The work becomes refreshed and individual elements of it, those which are particularly relevant to the time and memory trigger, become emphasised, exaggerating their own importance and adapting the initial work in a way that continues the initial performance into a new performance. John Cage wrote that he wanted to dissociate himself from the music that was the outcome of his composition. The proposition that the memory is the ultimate extension of an artists work would allow Cage's intention to be fulfilled.

Most of the works which I have written in the past, with the exception of electronic tape works which rely on the recording process for their very existence, have purposely been individual performances that exist only on the occasion. Recording of such a work commits it to a solid, reproducible entity that has only a "carbon copy" life of its own. It has little of the dynamic life of a memory. I have preferred to allow the works to be recorded only in the memory of the observers.

In contrast to the impermenance of music and theatre, it is interesting to contemplate the solidity and reality of the painting produced by Hajar as a result of the production. The work was donated by the painter to me to assist with the further productions of new works. When discussing Meditation I have been able to put the painting on display to show the vibrance of the work and to demonstrate the connection between it and sections of the music (through reproduction of selected parts of the recording) and the cultural origins of many of the images depicted which also appear in other works by Hajar

The recording of Meditation was the exception to the principle I had followed for many years and this placed me in a quandary. I was presented with a beautifully recorded and evocative reproduction of a camera eye view of the work. When presenting the work for discussion on later occasions I justified the process by showing at least two excerpts from the work, taken from the whole at random and presented at the same time. Thus the images provided different views and attention focuses and the sound making a remix of the original. Thus the reproduction became its own new performance.


___________________________________________________________________________

Footnotes

1. http://www.un.org/overview/rights.html

2. Wilhelm , Richard. I Ching or Book of Changes. Penguin Group, Arkana. 1989, p286

3. Wilhelm , Richard. I Ching or Book of Changes. Penguin Group, Arkana. 1989, p283


4. Wilhelm , Richard. I Ching or Book of Changes. Penguin Group, Arkana. 1989, p283

5.Vinton, John (ed) Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Music Thames and Hudson, Great Britain. 1973 p116

6. Cage, John. Silence; The future of Music: Credo Wesleyan University Press1973   p5

7.Vinton, John (ed)Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Music Thames and Hudson, Great Britain. 1973 p116

8. Cage, John. 26’1.1499” for a string player (1955)

9. ibid  p128-36 Lecture  on Something and p146-192  45' For a Speaker

10. Ostoja. Mortlock PRG 919/3/60 Tape Interviewer J. Challis with Stanislaw Ostoja-Kotkowski 1970 Insight No 255 the arts of science series no 4, 1970. Ostoja. Mortlock PRG 919/3/60

11. Cage, John. Silence; The future of Music: CredoWesleyan University Press1973 p5


12. Wilhelm , Richard. I Ching or Book of Changes. Penguin Group, Arkana. 1989, p285

13. Turner, Jane. The Dictionary of Art, Macmillon, London.1996 p168.


14. Turner, Jane. The Dictionary of Art, Macmillon, London.1996 p168.