The Enchanted Desert - demo video and program notes

Adega, cuando iba al monte con las ovejas, tendíase a la sombra de grandes peñascales y pasaba así horas enteras, la mirada sumida en las nubes y en infantiles éxtasis el ánima. Esperaba llena de fe ingénua que la azul inmensidad se rasgase dejándole entrever la Gloria. Sin conciencia del tiempo, perdida en la niebla de este ensueño sentía pasar sobre su rosto el aliento encendido del milagro. ¡Y el milagro acaeció!…Un anochecer de verano Adega llegó a la venta jadeante, transfigurada la faz.

(fragmento de la novela Flor de Santidad de Ramon María del Valle-Inclán)

"When Adega went up to the mountain with her sheep, she would lay herself down in the shadow of large boulders and spend many hours there, her eyes fastened upon the clouds and her young soul in ecstasy. Full of naive faith she hoped that the immense blue would tear apart, letting her see the Glory. Unaware of time, and lost in the haze of this dream she felt the burning breath of the miracle pass her face. And the miracle happened!…One summer nightfall Adega arrived out of breath at the tavern, her face transfigured."

(fragment of the novel Flower of Sanctity by Ramon María del Valle-Inclán)

The first performance of The Enchanted Desert took place in the Der Aa-church in Groningen on 30th June 2016. Here is a selection of fragments:

demo video The Enchanted Desert - version for ensemble

The  ensemble consisted of:

Eliana Stragapede, dance
Rik Kaijser, choreography
Martijn Alsters, flute
René van Commenée, performance and percussion
Friso van Wijck, percussion
Willem Tanke, organ

In The Enchanted Desert, associative relations between sounds, images and words replace a logical  storyline. They leave impressions which are different for each listener/spectator, but have a similar basic pattern or "blueprint" in the subconscious mind. This allows for connections that may be irrational but are still coherent in their own way. The listener can have a sense of timelessness and feel like being in another world.

The space of the church is used in a special manner, with the dancer in the centre of the nave, the flutist and first percussionist near the organ and the performance artist (who is also the second percussionist) moving in all directions.

The performance has large contrasts and a rich variety of moods, such as stillness, childlike joy, rage and powerlessness, sensuality , intense drama and exaltation. Similar to Affekt in baroque music, each of the movements has a specific mood that is easy to recognise. In this respect —contrary to most contemporary music— The Enchanted Desert is not difficult to understand. It puts the organ in an entirely new and refreshing context.

Photo by Guy Tal
The Enchanted Desert

Part One

1. Intro consists of sparse, percussive sounds, produced by a puzzling person who enters and explores the space.

2. Stillness is originally a composition for organ solo, written around 1998. As such, it was issued on the CDs Imaginary Day and Meditations for a lent. It lends itself well to playing with other instruments and cross-overs and actually there are versions for organ/piano and violin (Western classical, Greek and Turkish), flute (classical), electric guitar (pop), voice (pop and classical) and Ut (Turkish lute). Stillness is also on the repertoire of my avant-garde jazz trio Turnstone (saxophone, piano and drums). In The Enchanted Desert the version is for organ and hand percussion. The piece expresses emptiness of the desert; an emptiness that is nevertheless full of concentration.

3. Listening to the fairies was written in 2003, also for organ solo. The mood is light, easy-going and cheerful, a quality which is unfortunately hard to find in contemporary classical music. An improvisation for flute strengthens the feeling of joy.

4. Wild Energy is the last movement of Five Dances for organ, composed in 1997. It depicts forces of nature, such as a thunder storm.

5. Terra Ferma is a composition for alto flute by Martijn Alsters. The high sound of a bowed cymbal suggests sizzling air on a hot day. The air vibrates above the solid ground, accompanied by strange sounds of the organ that increase the concentration.

Part Two

6. The Loop Man # Ardha Jai Taal originated in 2016."The Loop Man" is a nickname which Mike Garson gave me because of the many rhythmic-melodic patterns that I wrote for in particular the left hand. By frequent repetitions these patterns function as a "groove" or "loop"; terms from jazz and pop music. They are particularly suitable for cross-overs between genres of music. The loop in this piece is 6.5 beats, following the example of Ardha Jai Taal, a rhythmic pattern from Indian music. With the members of Turnstone I have been practising this kind of patterns since a few years ago.

7. Exaltation is like Wild Energy originally a movement from Five Dances for organ. The neo-Celtic melody came to me after watching a performance by Riverdance, an Irish dance group that was famous in the '90s.

8. Howling Sands is a title which spontaneously rose up when I made this piece in May 2016, after visiting the Der Aa-church in Groningen. When I entered it as a search term on Internet, I saw to my surprise that howling sands really exist. It is a natural sound phenomenon of up to 105 dBs, lasting as long as several minutes, that occurs in about thirty-five desert locations around the world, for instance the Mojave Desert in California.

9. Birds, drums and signals is the second movement of Three Light Pieces, assembled in 2016. As with Listening to the fairies, there is a naive, childlike joy, similar to what I experienced with African musicians in the Scots International Church in Rotterdam, where I played the organ from 1998 till 2000. The loop or groove (with a 13/8 time signature) is now played by the right hand, as a basis for an improvisation on flute and a rather virtuoso part for the left hand.

10. Terra Incognita is an improvisation for one or more members of the ensemble.

Part Three

11. Grooving Angry  Elephants originated in May 2016 and is the most recent piece. The magnificent trumpets of the organ in the Der Aa-church served as a source of inspiration. Before they sound there is a wild passage in octaves, played with a plenum of the positive. The 11/8 groove that follows, with the sound of the main organ reeds and played by the left hand, suggests the swaying back and forth of the elephant's trunk and its trumpeting. The improvising right hand expresses a feeling of rage and powerlessness. The title was found after watching a video of hunted elephants on YouTube.

12. Madonna of the sky is based on a piano fragment which I played with Mike Garson in the television program Vrije Geluiden (Free Sounds) in 2007 on the one hand and the organ piece Queen of the sky in the same year, dedicated to Jan and Marga Welmers, on the other. It refers to the sensuality that Maria can have in visual arts, the unforgettable image of the Angel in Messiaen's opera Saint-François d'Assise in the Parisian performance in 2004 and symbols of fertility all over the world, like the bee. Madonna of the sky suits the above fragment from Valle-Inclán's The Flower of Sanctity very well.

13. Mirage - Intensity - Vision brings the third and final climax, that surpasses the two before. The first part is based on an improvisation which I played to express a storm in Henk van Ulsen's performance Job in the '90s. It also appeared with the title Breakwave on my CD Imaginary Day. The
second part originates in an improvisation from the mid '80s, when I was still studying with Jan Welmers at the conservatoire in Utrecht.

14. My friend the Indian was written for Yamaha SY99-synthesizer in 1996 and is dedicated to Rien Roggeveen. The first performance on organ was probably by Hans Fidom; after that I also made a version for piano. In 2009, I read Bruno Nettl's article Thoughts on Improvisation (1974), in which he points out that improvisation and composition among the Pima, native American Indians living in Arizona, can hardly be separated. This appealed to me, as the distinction between improvisation and composition in my musical practice is usually also very small. In addition, Nettl makes clear that improvising/composing for these Indians often consists of unraveling music that already would exist in the supernatural. It was an eye-opener for me to read this, because I could never completely identify with the notion of art as an individual expression of an individual emotion, coming from within ourselves, as was usual in the 19th and 20th century up to the present. In this sense, my music is more related to, for instance, Persian classical music or European music before 1800 than Western music after 1800. These ideas I connected to My friend the Indian, which since its creation in 1996 always remained rather enigmatic. The pieces of the puzzle fall into place: the piece evokes an image of a desert that flourishes after heavy rainfall. An indian is sitting on the ground, looking quietly around him.

                                                                  Photo by Guy Tal