Sunday March 20th
Early morning call to conductor Sharon Choa in Hong Kong (+8hrs), our last talk through the score before HKNME sectional rehearsals begin on Tuesday. Receive images from Jihee Lee in Tongyeong, our technical producer at TIMF, who has been out to gather materials and has sent specimen samples (with measurements) – the stick second from the right looks to make for good snapping. Read Joshua Anthony O’Meara’s paper on Biomimicry of Orchids as preliminary research into Kate’s new solo cello piece for Arborealis @ Sensorium – strange he mentions Candela but not Xenakis (cf. hyperbolic paraboloids in the Philips Pavilion). Sunny afternoon so speak with artist and philosopher Gayil Nalls in NY (-4hrs) from Dun Laoghaire pier and learn a little about the wild world of olfactory art. In the evening call Lithuanian puppet master Vitalijus Mazūras and his wife Nijole in Vilnius (+2hrs). It’s the first time we have spoken in person, but the audio isn’t working so we try to conduct the conversation through mime. Listen to Unsuk Chin’s Violin Concerto, beautiful. Must remember to begin the Dream Text journal for Seeds II in the morning…
Monday March 21st
Find out that today is International Day of Forests. By coincidence, National Tree-Loving Week in Korea starts annually on April 1st, just two days after the performance on March 30th. Think again of the Camellia japonica in the Botanical Gardens, will be just starting to come into bloom now. I am told that the Camellia sapling the ISCM has secured for the performance is 1.2m already; they must grow a lot more vigorously in their native clime. Haku-Rakuten is the Japanese name for the celebrated Chinese poet Po Chü-I (A.D. 772 – 847). In the afternoon meet Louis Lovett and discuss Sophocles choruses, Théâtre Buffon and the role of breath in flocking behaviour. A mother and her middle-aged son at the next table in WigWam, both Elvis fans, recognise Louis for his role as Dieter in Killinaskully. They speak a little German from travelling over there to attend annual festivals in honour of the King himself. In the evening finally get through to Vitalijus and Nijole in Vilnius. They have very little English, and my Russian skills prove just slightly less effective than yesterday’s miming. Late night rehearsal of Schubert’s Fantasie for piano four hands (with Judith Ring) and choreography by Cosimo di Tommaso for dancer Justine Cooper. Cosimo tells Justine “They are playing Fantasie, but for you it is real”. The Dream Text journal got off to a bad start this morning with last night’s phantasms of Swiss-US diplomatic relations interrupted by a knife-wielding Iarla Ó Lionáird.
Tuesday March 22nd
Woke up to the news of the Brussels attacks, coming so soon after the bomb on Istiklal. What is going on with our world? The real tragedy thought is that whilst on a daily basis people’s lives are being destroyed by acts of random violence to each other, as a race we risk losing everything that we all, as people, now live and have always lived for. I think the world is so complicated that only a child can understand it. Spend the day wrapping, folding, assembling and posting with Matt and Toli…Yurodny Haivka press mailout for Diatribe. Don’t make the evening launch of the Dublin Dance Festival, start packing instead.
Wednesday March 23rd
I dream of (the real) Woodland Heights. In my dream the forest has changed a little since we left; some of the larger trees at the back have been felled to give more light to a plantation area, although there are no signs of this having made any progress. There is a new tree on the lawn, 30ft high already, an Acer with broad serrated knife-leaves. I write ‘Woodland Heights’ into the dream journal, glad that by this circuitous route the original forest, genesis for it all, has now wound its way into Seeds II as well. Coincidentally notice that my Woodland Heights laurel has a totally new shoot today…perhaps a new leader! Skype with two more olfactory artists, this time Sense of Smell based in Eindhoven; Marcel van Brakel and Frederik Duerinck. Read in The Artist’s Reality, Rothko’s manuscript, “Space is the philosophical basis of a painting.” Want to give each member of the orchestra (eighteen strings plus conductor) a present from Ireland, but can’t fit nineteen pints of Guinness into my carry-on so go to Howbert and Mays to pick up some crimson clover seeds, Trifolium incarnatum, and make a little packet for each musician to hand out at the first rehearsal.
Thursday March 24th – Friday March 25th
Two days blur into one as AIC secretary Anna Murray and I follow the dateline halfway across the world. Have a five-hour stopover in Amsterdam so meet violinist Diamanda Dramm for lunch in the city. She shows me the concert hall that she co-owns with 50 other musicians, including her mother the flautist Anne La Berge, who is installing an iPad tree in the small ‘Zaal’ for her performance on Saturday. Amsterdam city council gave this space, previously a disused public bathhouse, to the Splendor musician collective, who each made a personal contribution towards its renovation and can now programme as many concerts as they like in the space throughout the year, and use the small hall, main hall or loft spaces for creative work at any time. The splendour of Splendor is tinged with just a small note of sadness that this kind of commitment from both artists and city almost never happens in Ireland (with the notable exceptions of the Guesthouse and Graphic Studio). After taking in a dose of the high civilisation that Amsterdam exudes, we board our flight to Seoul Incheon…all 9.5 hours of it. Have never been able to sleep on planes, so take the opportunity to catch up on Star Wars and Bond films. Arriving in Seoul after a two-hour bus ride through rush-hour city traffic, it is almost dark again and feels as if we have entered a time warp. The Gangman district where we are staying is all haute couture and insanely overpriced restaurants, but after a few emergency aborts we find some really great Korean food and I hit the hay around midnight.
Saturday March 26th
Wake up at 3am and there is no getting back to sleep…similar buzz to San Francisco last year. At 6am decide to stop pretending and get on with the day. We are playing a concert tonight organised by the Irish embassy at Maison Pernod Ricard and have to collect the materials for Seeds II so Anna and I head to Seolleung-Jeongneung, a UNESCO world heritage site and ritual burial grounds of King Seongjong and Queen Jeonghyeon of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). In the heart of the high-rises this ancient place is a quiet oasis of green, and the reverence with which its customs are upheld is clear from the care with which the landscape is maintained. The arboreal centrepiece, a 500-year old Ginkgo biloba by the tombkeepers house, is a truly amazing specimen and the ground is still covered in its autumn fruits. Passing from the burial mounds through the prayer houses and crossing the grounds is a Spirit road, upon which it is forbidden to tread, and each house has two sets of steps, one for the king which is traversable for the public, and one for the spirits, which is marked out of bounds. We collect all of the materials needed for the piece, finding some amazing leaves from the Japanese emperor oak (Quercus dentata). As the largest leaves of all the oak family, they also have a really great sound. Afterwards we visit Bongeunsa Temple, a Buddhist temple constructed in 794 during the reign of King Weongseong. The atmosphere here is incensed with the sounds and scents of daily worship; raucous and jubilatory. I buy a small prayer tree, a Pinus densiflora or Japanese red pine, and am instructed to write my name on its label and then to water with care. Now we feel as if we are truly in Korea. In the evening we head to the Gallery for the concert. The embassy’s cultural attaché David Murphy meets us there – a lovely man who gives us the warmest of welcomes. We open with a duo improvisation, then Anna plays a tape work, I play a solo and then we perform Seeds II. Seated at either end of the long and narrow gallery the piece has a really nice immersive feel and the audience is centred in the space and listen attentively. I don’t think most of the guests have ever experienced this kind of music before, but they are responsive and very enthusiastic. The free bar sponsored by Jameson probably does no harm, the whisky and ginger ales flowing freely throughout and we close with a short set of a jig and two reels to bring everyone back down to Earth (although on the side of it). Afterwards we go out to eat with David and his family and I get to try Beondegi for the first (and possibly the last) time…deep fried silk worm larvae in a spicy sauce.
Sunday March 27th
After going to bed just after midnight I am wide awake at 2am and it seems there is no way back to Nod. Have now slept only five hours in the last four days. In the morning we take the bus to Tongyeong, around four and a half hours all the way to the South coast. South Korea is more or less the same size as Ireland geographically, but the population is more than ten times larger. Driving the length and breadth of the country though, you would not think it as conurbations seem quite sparse out and there are lots of forest-covered mountains. It is the urban density which creates figures like these…Seoul and its satellites has a population of 22 million people. Arriving in Tongyeong we are met at the bus station by the TIMF staff and after checking in briefly, go directly to the Tongyeong Concert Hall, where the ISCM World Music Days 2016 launches officially at 5pm. The concert hall is utterly spectacular, both in terms of its stunning architectural form (reminding me a little of the traditional Buddhist temples that we passed along the way) and its breath-taking location…wooden walkways from the sweeping mezzanine lead down through lush vegetation directly to the beach and the seascape beyond is dotted with verdant green islands for as far as the eye can see. I don’t think I have ever been to a concert hall quite as beautiful as this before. The festival is launched by TIMF director Florian Riem, with friendly welcome addresses from the ISCM chief executive Peter Swinnen, the mayor of Tongyeong Dong-Jin Kim and composer Philip Glass. Composers from more than 60 countries around the world are gathered together in this room and the atmosphere is animated, despite most people probably not having slept properly in the last twenty-four hours. Also in attendance is the festival patron Unsuk Chin, who has written a preface to the elegant Sounds of Tomorrow book given to all of the delegates on arrival. After the reception many of us go to hear Philip Glass in dialogue with Florian Riem in the Black Box theatre. He is a great conversationalist and tells some fascinating stories about his studies with Nadia Boulanger and Ravi Shankar, and his musical travels from around the world. I particularly like his constant question, both to himself and to those that he crosses paths with – “where does music come from?” and that he considers none of the answers he receives to be the right one, but none of them to be wrong. The bedside drawer in the hotel contains a Bible and a copy of the teachings of Buddha – it strikes me that there is also something of the Middle Way in Glass’ insistent interlocution.
Monday March 28th
Sleep more or less through the night for the first time, which is amazing. Take the morning to explore a little of Tongyeong before the concerts start at 3pm. For such a small city there is really a lot to see, particularly in the cultural field and I start to get a sense of why so many important Korean artists were born here. In the music world, composer Isang Yun seems to be by far the most important Tongyeongian, he is name-checked in every welcome address and the festival is dedicated to his 100-year anniversary, which will be in 2017. In the town there is an Isang Yun memorial hall, with gardens and they have even rebuilt the house where he lived in Germany, together with his German car under glass. The first concert of the ISCM programme is at 3pm, the Orchestra Ensemble Kanazawa from Japan, conducted by Christopher Lee. The level of music presented is high and all four composers’ works are strong, highly detailed and extremely well executed by the orchestra. The stand out work for me is Vuolle by Finnish composer Jouni Hirvelä, a word meaning a place in the river where the stream is strong and also a verb to carve. The piece is undulating and expressive, with some really beautiful sonic images. Love his use of sub-harmonics from double basses bowing the tailpiece. After the concert I take a walk with Danish composer Toke Brorson Odin, a true gentleman, and we discuss new music in a societal context and his annual festival of music and sculpture for 35 people in the Danish countryside. At 18:30 I meet the Hong Kong New Music Ensemble for the first time – they have just arrived from a four hour flight and a five hour bus ride and go directly into rehearsing Boulez. Everything is starting to shift into focus as I see parts with handwritten notes on them and the reality of what is about to happen tomorrow begins to dawn on me. I also meet Jihee for the first time and the stage management team. They are really thorough in their engagement with the work and have entered completely into the spirit of the piece. Jihee has just bought the tree, and we discuss the planting procedure and exact positioning of all of the pots and trays for the leaves. I ask about where the tree will be planted after the concert and she tells me that it will be planted directly in front of the concert hall, with a dedication plaque, but that they want to wait until April 5th as it is National Tree Planting day in Korea. The score asks for the tree to be planted immediately after the performance, and I would have loved to have been there, but it really seems too good a coincidence to argue so I agree and Jihee promises to send a video of the planting. In the lobby afterwards I bump into French film-maker Robert Cahen, who is here presenting the video installation that he made with Pierre Boulez. Chancing my arm, I ask him to film Woodland Heights and to my surprise he agrees, as long as I can secure permission from the Festival and find him a tripod. As the piece is so visual, I feel that it is important to have a record on film and so this is really great news! In the evening there is a choral concert given by two Korean choirs performing nine works. Again the level is really high and the choirs and pieces selected are all very strong. The stand out work for me though is Taiwanese composer Chen-Hui Jen’s Twilight as a Drifting Islet, a sublime and delicate piece of great beauty and light.
Tuesday March 29th
In the morning I go to the grounds around the concert to gather the materials for the piece. There are quite a few trees but no real forest in the close vicinity, so in order to find everything that I need I have to do quite a lot of fence-jumping. The concert hall is on a cliff, so the fence-jumping is not to be taken lightly. I need nine sets of leaves for rustling, and whilst collecting have the idea to give each musician a different leaf species type, so that there is a slight gradation in the sound quality, moving from smaller to larger leaves throughout the different sections of the piece to tie in with the idea of evolutionary growth. This is easy to do, the ground is covered with different types of leaf and there are even some huge palm leaves that make an amazingly loud sound. Also find some great branches for snapping, they are hollow so snap very easily and make a really strong crack. Finding branches with leaves on is a bit of a problem though, as I had imagined a deciduous forest as Woodland Heights itself and here these are not readily to be found. The branches that I can find have too small a leaf size and don’t make enough sound. My excursions into the undergrowth are proving to be a source of amusement for Korean people passing by, many of whom stop to ask me what I am doing. I explain it is for the music, and point to the concert hall and this seems to make a surprising amount of sense to them. “Ah, imitating forest” says one old man, as if people regularly do this around here. I hope that they do. Things get a little rough when I try to reach some prime branch material a little beyond reach and manage to actually fall off the cliff…not enough to injure myself but I do get pretty winded and a little scuffed up…got the branches though! Directly afterwards and with foliage in tow I meet with Jihee and William Lane, the artistic director of the HKNME, for the first time and we go through his part…which includes the planting of the tree itself. He has about 50 seconds to bring the tree on stage and get it into soil so everything needs to happen very smoothly. Jihee introduces us to the Camellia for the first time, it’s really a fine tree. Her team have also collected some really great leaves and branches too, all wrapped in paper bouquets with suede sashes. I start to realise just how seriously the staff of TIMF is taking this piece, and am very grateful. In the afternoon the first concert is a little disappointing, the Changwon Festival Orchestra, who sound under-prepared for some pieces of the programme that they have undertaken. The last piece, Japanese composer Isao Matsushita’s Prayer of the Firmament, is strong though and a very emotional work, written after the tsunami disaster. The evening concert though, the first of the two given by the HKNME, is really excellent. In contrast to the two orchestral concerts, the ensemble strives to highlight the differences between the four compositions in the programme. All of the pieces are interesting, but Australian composer Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh’s Into the Outer is really exceptional. Written for 13 strings with an inner quartet and an outer circle of nine, her development of material is explosive and fluid, and the ensemble have clearly risen to the task with courage and dedication. I listened to Annie’s music before coming and already knew that this was going to be special. Hearing them play so well, I know that tomorrow’s concert will also be a success. My rehearsal is at 10am, and it is hard to believe that finally, this will be the first time that I have ever heard the music…after almost a year of research and collaboration, a residency at the CCI in Paris, weeks of part-setting and a wait of almost two years. So many people have helped bring this music to life, have given selflessly of their time and knowledge to shape the piece into what it is now. It is almost impossible to imagine that in less than twenty-four hours all of this work, all of this travelling through time and space, will eventually give birth to thirteen minutes of music, and that the first Woodland Heights tree will be planted at last.
Wednesday March 30th
A little earlier than expected, the cherry blossoms open this morning in Tongyeong, heralding in the Spring.