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Song of the Shaman (1995)

 

for performance poet, soprano, percussionist and CD
by Janet Dunbar

This work was premiered on March 11, 1997 at the CCRMA Concert at Campbell Recital Hall, Stanford University by:

Jacqueline Thurston, performance poet
Mary Linduska, soprano
Richard Holmes, percussion

In Song of the Shaman an interactive performance between poet and soprano of the prose poem by Jacqueline Thurston is set over a taped sound environment. The poem, which comes from her Cycle of Songs exhibit of poetry and images, tells the mythic story of the birth of a feminine shamanic presence. Chaotic forces and microcosms of flora and fauna witness the emergence of this intuitive figure out of a primordial abyss. Turbulence and darkness are portrayed in the musical setting by fluid, rushing timbres and slightly varying cello and bass ostinati appearing at unpredictable time intervals.

For the celebration of the birth by the elements, the only strictly rhythmic, minimalist section of the piece, the singer is accompanied by an improvised percussion performance. In the final segment, the fecund world of nature presents to Woman talismanic gifts with which She is to preside over the mysteries of life and death. Randomized repetitions and reorderings of pitch and rhythm within fragments of the miyako-bushi scale along with punctuations of silence constitute the compositional content of the shamisen (Japanese long-necked lute) part in this section. The silences allow the sung and spoken layers to stand out in sharp relief. A very slow and prolonged crescendo in the sustained strings sets the stage for the dramatic high point of the vocal part as the significance of this shaman as a great healer is implied. The computer-generated portion of the piece was programmed using the Stella algorithmic composition package (extension) Common Lisp and realized on a Yamaha SY77 synthesizer.