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I began work on Aqua Madora in the fall of 2005. Ana Baer-Carrillo came to me with a concept for a new video-dance she was developing with Dani Beauchamp. The piece would use water and mourning as its themes, and Aqua Madora was chosen almost immediately as the title. Its allusions to water (aqua) and sorrow (mador) captured the essence of what we wanted to do. The music would be based on the three note "mador" chord from Anger, and would incorporate shimmering harmonically related intervals meant to evoke water. The intensely emotional video created by Baer-Carrillo and featuring Beauchamp propels the dramatic arc of the piece. When we premiered the work in Colorado in June of 2006, it had been stripped down to its essential elements, and a wealth of material had been created. By re-examining the piece for each new performance, we are able to find the most powerful utterance for that particular time and place. The world premiere was a profound early statement of what this piece would become, and was largely worked out over 4 months in Colorado playing on Adria Ryan's turn-of-the-century piano. Later performances in Mexico and California brought new insight, new sections, and new pitches. The version presented here, with video alone, is the most powerful and definitive to date.
The use of just intonation in my work came about for two reasons. The first, and most basic, is one of necessity: I am drawn to sine waves for their purity of tone and the blank slate that they allow. Arranging my sine waves according to the rules of just intonation allows me to create unusual chords and intervals that fill the air with pure sound, unencumbered by inharmonic dissonance. Secondly, and most importantly, is one of awareness: when I began working on Aqua Madora I had been studying composition with La Monte Young for around two years, and had just begun to study rāga singing with him and Marian Zazeela. Rather than urging me into the use of just intonation, La Monte led by example, exposing me to the power of these intervals through his compositions and rāga performances. The beauty of rāga was so intriguing to me that I had to learn the how and why of it. The structure and beauty of the rāga tradition has permeated my work ever since.
Aqua Madora owes its existence to my studies with La Monte Young, both in form and concept. The method of pitch introduction called badhat that is used in the alap section of rāga consists of slowly introducing one pitch at a time. This technique is extremely rewarding for me and has become the underlying organizational structure of most of my compositions. Aqua Madora is deeply indebted to La Monte's magnum opus, The Well-Tuned Piano. The method of sustaining certain tones was invented by La Monte for his work and, with his blessing, has recently become a part of Aqua. The drone sections of the piece are inspired by the technique La Monte created for producing what he called “Clouds” in The Well-Tuned Piano, although these sections also take their cue from my early life as a percussionist playing the marimba. By extending the resonance of the piano with the sine wave drones, I can create complex multi-note chords that inhabit the space and give rise to new possibilities.
The underlying harmonies of Aqua came to me very quickly, and by the end of 2005 I had the basic chord progression that still defines the work through the sine wave accompaniment. By tuning the piano directly to the drone, the complex harmonic relationships are reinforced. The alap section of Aqua Madora is performed entirely in the "mador" chord, but through careful introduction of more distant pitches, the whole gamut of sound is invoked in this section. There are a number of pitches that differ drastically from standard tunings, and these high harmonic relationships give the work the shimmering quality that evokes waves and water: the 40:39 interval (the space between the 39th and 40th harmonics), and chords based on that pitch; the slightly lowered F# tuned to the (prime) 53rd harmonic; and an homage to La Monte: the pure seventh harmonic (7:4).