by Eve Beglarian
The Island of the Sirens (2011) is a piece about defective transcription and the failures of translation.
I started with a recording of a warning siren I heard in Plaquemine, Louisiana, while I was traveling down the Mississippi River in the autumn of 2009. I sliced the warning siren into eight layers of partials and then asked the computer to transcribe those eight recordings into musical notation. Because the computer’s transcription algorithm was confused by the sounds, the resulting scores were quite strange. I recorded eight women singing these transcriptions, and mixed them in quasi-unison against the eight layers of electronically transformed siren. I then made three separate submixes of the electronics, which are fed into three sets of headphones for the backup performers, who can be instrumentalists or singers. The backup chorus is asked to perform in real time what they are hearing in their headphones, a task at which they will invariably fail to fulfill entirely successfully, creating yet more quasi-unison layers that deviate from the actual sound of the transformed siren.
The lead vocal, a setting of Rilke’s poem about the impossibility of describing an experience to those who haven’t shared it, is the only notated music in the piece. It also incorporates elements I heard in the siren recording, filtered through my own biases and limitations.
When his hosts would ask him late in the evening
to tell of his voyages and the perils they brought,
the words came easily enough,
but he never knew
just how to convey the fear and with what startling
language to let them perceive, as he had,
that distant island turn to gold
across the blue and sudden stillness of the sea.
The sight of it announces a menace
different from the storm and fury
which had always signaled danger.
Silently it casts its spell upon the sailors.
They know that on that golden island
there is sometimes a singing–
and they lean on their oars, like blind men,
as though imprisoned
by the stillness. That quiet contains
all that is. It enters the ear
as if it were the other side
of the singing that no one resists.
Rainer Maria Rilke, from New Poems
Joanna Macy, Anita Barrow, translators
Megan Ihnen, mezzo soprano
Cari Sands, clarinet
Jennie Brent, cello
Catherine Matshusek, viola
According to the Los Angeles Times, composer and performer Eve Beglarian is a “humane, idealistic rebel and a musical sensualist.” A 2017 winner of the Alpert Award in the Arts for her “prolific, engaging and surprising body of work,” she has also been awarded the 2015 Robert Rauschenberg Prize from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts for her “innovation, risk-taking, and experimentation.”
Beglarian’s current projects include a collaboration with writer/performer Karen Kandel and writer/director Mallory Catlett about women in Vicksburg from the Civil War to the present, a piece for twenty-four double basses in a grove of trees, and a song cycle setting texts by and about mid-20th-century women for the Brooklyn Art Song Society. Since 2001, she has been creating A Book of Days, “a grand and gradually manifesting work in progress…an eclectic and wide-open series of enticements.” (Los Angeles Times)
In 2009,“Ms. Beglarian kayaked and bicycled the length of the Mississippi River [and] has translated her findings into music of sophisticated rusticity. [Her] new Americana song cycle captures those swift currents as vividly as Mark Twain did. The works waft gracefully on her handsome folk croon and varied folk instrumentation as mysterious as their inspiration.” (New York Times)
Beglarian’s chamber, choral, and orchestral music has been commissioned and widely performed by the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the American Composers Orchestra, the Bang on a Can All-Stars, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, the California EAR Unit, the Orchestra of St. Luke’s, loadbang, Newspeak, the Ekmeles Vocal Ensemble and individual performers including Maya Beiser, Lara Downes, Lucy Dhegrae, and Thomas Feng.
visit https://evbvd.com/blog/ for more information.