Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Songs of the earth

Ever since I came across Gustav’s Mahler’s orchestral song cycle Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth) I felt I had to do something with it. Taking inspiration from Chinese verse, Mahler associates the earth with seasonal transformations, death and re-birth. A drinking song of earth’s despair versus youth and beauty. Since it was written in 1908, Das Lied von der Erde has been the starting point for work by other artists. The Scottish Clarinet Quartet, for example, used the title for a collaboration with photographer Terry Williams and composers Stephen Davismoon, David Fennessy, Sadie Harrison and Anna Meredith that resulted in four audiovisual images of the Isle of Skye. Das Lied von der Erde has inspired me as well. I’ll use the title for a project in which I express my connections with my local natural environment – the earth, one could say – in musical compositions.

My compositions Silver and A Different World both stem from my frequent rambles in the woodlands and along the fields around my Scottish home. Fleeting moments, telling encounters, and atmospheric hues have etched themselves in my mind. The rhythm of my feet heightens my attention and opens up my imagination. Creative writing helps me to identify how I may express these experiences in music.

Artist Reiko Goto writes that creativity is a process of changing our place, our culture, and its ecological context, resonating with Ai Wei Wei’s understanding of creativity as a transformative process. Working on Silver and A Different World I noticed that while originally local woodland inspired my compositions, my compositions eventually made me see these surroundings in new ways. Whereas Mahler used the words of Chinese thinkers a thousand years ago to express his feelings in Das Lied von der Erde, I express my own experiences in songs-without-words. One could even argue that my Songs of the Earth project is a form of artist-led inquiry, in which, as Mendelssohn said, the music can express feelings and understandings that may be difficult to capture in words.

Over the next few months I intend to continue expressing my connections to the natural surroundings of my home in music compositions. I am aware that I’m not the first artist to do so. The work of other artists may indeed be a body of work to compare and contrast my own experiences with, in turn helping me to develop my own approach.

Links to all blogs on the Songs Of The Earth project:
Social listening
Album leaves
A different world

Copyright text and image Petra Vergunst

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