Institute for Studies In American Music
Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York
NEWSLETTER


Volume XXXIV

 


No. 1      Fall 2004

Inside This Issue:

The Composer, the Work, and Its Audience by Adrienne Fried Block

Calypso as a World Music by Kenneth Bilby

What Is a River by Noah Creshevsky

Jewish American Music: Review by Evan Rapport

More News from Nowhere: Review by David G. Pier

Reviving the Folk: Review by Ray Allen

ISAM Matters

Home

 

 

What Is a River? Annea Lockwood’s Sonic Journeys
By Noah Creshevsky

 

 

Annea Lockwood at the premiere of Piano Burning

Thames River, London, 1968

Courtesy of Annea Lockwood

 

 


When Annea Lockwood was invited to teach at Hunter College in 1973, she had already acquired a degree of cult status as a musical original. Now, at 65, she is a renowned composer and a leader of the international progressive musical community. Lockwood, whose break with classical tradition began with the contemplation of common pebbles, has waged a gentle yet steady and determined campaign to showcase and amplify nature in all its glories, from the tiniest stones to the mightiest rivers and beyond. Along the way, Lockwood has become a force of nature in her own right.

Born in New Zealand in 1939, Lockwood moved in 1961 to London, where she studied composition and piano at the Royal College of Music. In 1963-64, she did post-graduate work with Gottfried Michael König at the Musikhochschule Köln.

It was from this male-dominated Germanic musical environment—heavily slanted to the study and development of relationships between music, mathematics, and science—that Lockwood turned her eyes and ears to a contemplation of environmental richness and diversity. She reflects:

I have become fascinated by the complexity of the single sound. I have treated each sound as though it were a piece of music in itself. For me, every sound has its own minute form—is comprised of small flashing rhythms, shifting tones, momentum, comes, vanishes, lives out its own structure. Since we are used to hearing sounds together, either juxtaposed or compared, one sound alone seems simple; but so are the round, scruffed stones lying about everywhere, until you crack one apart and all its intricate beauty takes you by surprise.1

For more than forty years, Lockwood has created a body of diverse and culturally significant work. A number of her pieces have become legends. Among the most celebrated of these icons are the Glass Concerts (1966-73), the four Piano Transplants (1968-72), the Sound Map of the Hudson River (1982), and a Sound Map of the Danube River, which will be completed in early 2005.

From 1966 to 1973, Lockwood frequently performed her Glass Concert on various pieces of glass, which were slapped, rubbed, blown, bowed, popped, and amplified.2 The recording and publication of excerpts from Lockwood's work with glass drew
international attention. The beauty of the sound and free-spirited atmosphere of the concerts themselves influenced many of us who knew these pieces, and had a profound long-term effect on the composer herself. "It really made me start thinking very, very differently," Lockwood recalled in a 2004 interview with Frank Oteri.3

Lockwood's Piano Burning (1968) was the first of her four Piano Transplants pieces. It was widely cited at its inception as an example of the decline and fall of Western civilization, but was then, as it is now, a work of enormous poignancy and far-reaching social and musical resonance. Piano Burning began as an opportunity to record the sound of fire for a new dance work by the choreographer Richard Alston of London's Strider Dance Company, but the immolation quickly took on a life of its own as an inkblot which lent itself

to a multiplicity of interpretations.

A small crowd gathered at the Thames embankment, drawn by Lockwood's attempt to record the sound of a burning piano. Michael Lee notes that "The attractive and diverse sounds emitted by the burning piano coupled with the delicately purple-tinged flames of burning varnish made a powerful impresssion on both Lockwood and her impromptu audience."4

Special-interest individuals, music professionals, and new-music enthusiasts bought tickets and came together to behold, and ultimately to become a part of, a ritual cremation of a familiar object at the bank of a local river. This was not to be the last of Annea Lockwood's engagements with rivers and the people who are affected by them.

In 1982, Lockwood created her Sound Map of the Hudson River. The piece is based on a series of nineteen recordings taken from various locations from the river's source (Lake Tear of the Clouds) to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean, which Lockwood edited and mixed to create a two-hour installation. Commissioned by the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, New York in 1982, the work was warmly welcomed by the community that had spent so many years along the banks of the river. Lockwood's Sound Map of the Hudson River is now on permanent display at the museum.5

In 2002, Lockwood began her most ambitious project, A Sound Map of the Danube River. From a series of recordings of sites from its source to its delta, she is making a Sound Map of the river, "interleaved with the memories and reflections of people living by and from the river (in their native languages), forming a parallel flow of languages and relationship with the river."6 The river's surface is recorded with a microphone; a hydrophone captures a multitude of underwater sounds.

Mixed into these will be the voices of those I am interviewing. Sentences and phrases from the interviews will also be translated into English and German, imprinted on stones which I am collecting from the riverbed, and incorporated into the installation; handling them will give people direct tactile contact with the river's geological nature…7 I'm counting on people's love of picking up rocks to ensure that they will be much handled. It's a way of feeling the river's power and of bringing the body into the installation. So much work is virtual right now, in the sense that one's skin can't touch it. I think the skin gets hungry.8

A Sound Map of the Danube River is a work of major and unique social significance. It is the only work I know that begins its cultural journey from the small Danube towns that are closest to the river itself, and moves outward to the major cities. "It's really important to me that the Map be presented in the small Danube towns, where the river really shapes people's lives," Lockwood writes. "The microphone acts as a microscope and the internal nature of the river becomes so evident when you listen to it close-up I hope very much to share that with such communities."9

The ritual burning that spontaneously attracted a curious crowd to the banks of the Thames in 1968 has evolved into a massive project that promises to attract a great deal of regional and international attention. ("I think the work has a chance of communicating very directly with people outside the art world, largely because the sounds are unmediated, direct, factual."10) The rural resident who lives in villages where Beethoven sonatas are not played has nonetheless the will and disposition to listen to his or her little bit of local river. In small towns that may not regularly encounter new music, human nature provides the curiosity and, perhaps, a sense of territorial pride that the river that runs just there, close by, is more today than it had seemed for all the years before. Lockwood muses:

I started out thinking what a rich flow of languages and dialects move down that river—10 countries, layers and layers of human migration and history facilitated by the river itself, but especially, how rich the different sounds of those languages might be. So I decided to mix the voices in with the river sounds, the human presence and effect on the river, being inseparable from the river. And this dovetailed with something which has been driving the whole project for me: What is a river? So I've been asking everyone I've interviewed, "What does the river mean to you?" and the answers come in the local language. So there should be that nice little shock of recognition, of intelligibility for local residents.11

A performance of anything by the Vienna Philharmonic is not news in the small towns that dot the Danube, but a curiously alluring river event in Grein and Krems grows steadily stronger as

it passes from village to village. Local news becomes national news in Vienna and in Budapest, working its way outward to places that never knew these towns, nor very much about the great and beautiful river that runs along their shores.

In her twenties, Lockwood pondered the beauty and "spirit" of tiny stones. Though she could not have known then that these pebbles would eventually lead her to map the mighty Danube, the seeds of her originality and talent were already in place. Lockwood's music is rooted in a cosmology that recognizes the innately spiritual core that she sees in stones, glass, rivers, animals, and, of course, the men and women who occupy and share our environment. By manipulating, re-contextualizing, and framing the common elements that form the fabric of our lives, Lockwood opens our ears, our eyes, and our selves to worlds of beauty that resonate from the surface to the depths of our beings.

What is a river? Much more than we knew it to be before Annea Lockwood showed us how to experience it with fresh ears and open minds.

Noah Creshevsky

New York City

Notes

1 Annea Lockwood, liner notes for The Glass World of Annea Lockwood (Tangent Records, 1970).

2 A recording of one of these concerts was issued by Tangent Records in 1970, and reissued by What Next? in 1996. Glass Concert 2 was published in Source: Music of the Avant Garde 5 in 1969.

3 See <www.newmusicbox.org>, January 2004.

4 Michael Lee, "Annea Lockwood's Burning Piano, Scuffed Stones, and Noble Snare: Feminist Politics and Sound Sources in Music," Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 3 (1999).

5 This work has also been released in a condensed format as a recording on the Lovely label (2081), 1989.

6 Lockwood, Project Description, 2002.

7 Ibid.

8 Correspondence with the author, September 2004.

9 Ibid.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.