What happens when the one thing that you were put on this Earth to do is on the verge of slipping out of your hands forever? How does one move forward? How does one reconcile themselves?
There are events in our life that profoundly change us. Events, that stand as posts on our march toward the end. Once you pass them there is no going back, there is no possible way to see the world as you once did, and the only thing one can do is place one foot in front of the other and move forward.
Last week, due to medical error, I was on the doorstep of death and upon coming back, my immediate concerns were how this experience would effect my ability to perform and how or what effect this event would have on my artistic voice. Suddenly, one is faced with a mountain of fears that they never fathomed before this pivotal moment. What would you do if you lost your arm or eye? What would you do if one day you woke up and couldn't remember your own family? These are just a few examples that I can liken to the terror an artist feels when there is a very real threat of being unable to ever practice their craft again. Thankfully, I was lucky and have not had any adverse effects in the land of performance; in fact, I'm happy to say that my playing has actually improved! Artistically, I feel a lifting of certain inhibitions. I feel a duty to recommit myself to the business of pushing my comfort zone and exploring new conceptual realms. Before a terrifying sea of darkness turned into foggy florescent lights, and I regained consciousness in the hospital, I was working on a new flute work for the amazing flautist Miguel Hijar; and it was this piece that began to reveal itself in an incredible manner once I removed the inhibitions that were keeping me from exploring out loud an idea that I'm sure many people would think is absolutely crazy.
While the process for each piece that I compose varies depending upon parameters regarding it's intended use and guidelines, the works that I write where I'm given freedom without a deadline have a great deal of thought and often are conceptually worked out in my mind before I ever put anything on paper. In seeking to write a contemporary piece for flute, I immediately wanted to run far ... far away from the typical lexicon of sounds analogous to modern flute repertoire. I started thinking about speaking into the flute... How would that sound? How quietly could one speak into an instrument and how would the instrument disperse a secret shared in confidence? This inspired thinking about the relationship between a performer and their instrument, which in turn brought up a whole sea of questions about the identity of a musician and the identity of an inanimate object that we say "comes alive" in the hands of a skilled player.
A music therapist friend of mine told me about command voices (auditory hallucinations that tell a patient to do something or act in a specific manner) that was the push down the rabbit hole that I needed to write not just a flute piece but a series of works that explore the relationship between performer and instrument as entities. Command voices and other auditory hallucinations are part of the very fibre of a person with psychosis and they are often times inescapable... Musicians and their instruments have a codependent relationship; psychotic patients can have relationships with their hallucinations... While more research must be done to fully realize these new works, I've already become hooked... and my goal posts have been redefined - These are works that have a goal beyond the traditional creating sonic journeys for audiences. These are works in which my primary goal is to explore an extended sense of self as it relates to an inanimate object that has resonant qualities. While these works can and will be performed in the future, they are not ones meant for large concert halls, but rather intimate settings. In observing a very personal interaction, we are made uncomfortable, but it is through discomfort that we transcend plateaus...
Every day musicians converse with their instrument in practice, but what they show the world is a refined discourse... something akin to reciting lines with a partner in a play... (one can think of improvisation as ad lib) but what I am interested in exploring through this new set of conceptual works is the picture of actors behind the scenes, not rehearsing lines but rather talking about their lives and otherwise bonding. It is the intimate life, the heart of the reason why one is compelled to get on stage with this entity and perform for others. What makes that relationship stick? What happens when one of the parties changes in the relationship for better or worse? Are these mindless questions? Am I losing my mind slowly?
At least it has been fun...