Moon Viewing Music (Inscrutable Stillness Studies #1)   CB0052

The music

Moon Viewing Music (Inscrutable Stillness Studies #1) is a quiet, sparse, introspective six-movement work for three large gongs and a large tam-tam. Performed by celebrated new-music percussionist William Winant, it unfolds with a muted sensuality and a glacial inevitability—as if bent on suspending time. Each of the movements (or individual “pieces,” as the composer sometimes refers to them) has a distinct character, developing in its own fashion—utilizing such traditional means as canons and rhythmic augmentations, as well as more free-form structures.

The composer writes: “Moon Viewing Music is composed for three large knobbed gongs and one large tam-tam. For the gongs I want a deep low sound; but at the same time the relationship between them {and the character of the pieces in which multiple gongs are featured) is essentially melodic. I am not fixing pitches or interval relationships, so as not to limit possibilities (and to accommodate what might be available on hand). But the tonal (and harmonic/vibrational) character of the three gongs is very important.… The gongs and tam-tam should be allowed to resonate and decay freely. At no time should any of them be damped.

“This music is low and slow—an obvious correlation exists between tempo and pitch register. I might also suggest a correspondence between the round shape of the gongs and tam-tam and that of the full moon.… Each of the six pieces has a corresponding haiku or short poem, and there is meant to be a correlation between text and music….

“For me moon viewing is a year-round activity, though I’m aware that it is associated with autumn in the Japanese literary tradition (as in the text for #4). This cycle was composed in the winter. There is a unique light and intensity in a winter moon, as it rises in the darkest days (nights) of the year, and shines on a landscape of trees stripped of their leaves and of white snow that amplifies and reflects the moonlight, often creating an eerie sense of daylight—further reinforced by the shadows cast on the snow. There is also a special silence because of the extreme cold and the absence of animal, bird, and insect sounds. If autumn is the moonlight of nostalgia, winter is the moonlight of loneliness, an inscrutable stillness….”

1. “Living alone in the woods…” (after Ryōkan)

Living alone in the woods
few visitors cast shadows.
How clean the moon
gleaming in the sky.

     Ryōkan Taigu (1758-1831)

2. “Even more so…” (after Buson)

Even more so
because of being alone
the moon is a friend.

     Yosa Buson (1716-84; trans. Yuki Sawa and Edith Marcombe Shiffert)

3. “Only the moon…” (after Saigyō)

Only the moon
high in the sky
as an empty reminder-
but if looking at it, we just remember,
our two hearts may meet.

     Saigyō (1118-90; trans. Burton Watson)

4. “As I look at the moon…” (after Saigyō)

As I look at the moon
my mind goes roaming,
till I live again
the autumn that I
knew long ago.

     Saigyō (1118-90; from Japanese Tanka Poetry)

5. “When I die…” (after Hyakuri)

When I die
what I shall see will be
the lustrous moon.

     Hyakuri (?-1727; from Japanese Death Poems, Charles E. Tuttle Co.)

6.  “I cleansed the mirror…” (after Renseki)

I cleansed the mirror
of my heart-now it reflects
the moon.

     Renseki (n.d.; from Japanese Death Poems, Charles E. Tuttle Co.)

The composer

Peter Garland is a composer, world traveler, musicologist, writer, and former publisher (Soundings Press) whose music is always informed by his well-traveled ear and strong sense of personal vision. He studied music composition with Harold Budd and James Tenney and maintained long friendships with Lou Harrison, Conlon Nancarrow, Paul Bowles, and Dane Rudhyar. As a musicologist, he has primarily focused on Native American, Mexican, and Southwestern American musics and 20th-century experimental composers of the Americas, championing the work of such composers as Revueltas, Partch, Nancarrow, and others long before their music became fashionable and regularly programmed. Since the early 1970s, Garland’s own music has been marked by a return to a “radical consonance” and a simplification of formal structure influenced by Cage, Harrison, early minimalism, and a great variety of world musics. His unique and highly engaging pieces have been performed around the world by such noted performers as pianists Aki Takahashi, Herbert Henck, and Sarah Cahill; accordionist Guy Klucevsek; and the Kronos Quartet and released on the Cold Blue, Tzadik, New Albion, Mode, Avant, Toshiba-EMI/Angel, and other labels. (Garland’s music has appeared on five previous Cold Blue CDs, including After the Wars, CB0044, and String Quartets, CB0031, as well as on CB0036, CB0014, CB0008, and CB0005).

“Garland’s music seems to be about the sheer expressive power of sound itself…. I feel he is one of our true originals.” —Robert Carl, Fanfare magazine

“‘Radical consonance’ has been used to describe Garland’s music…an apt choice of words.”—Fanfare magazine

“Ever his own man, Garland has moved beyond a strictly minimalist phase of evolving melodic and rhythmic patterns into a hybrid sphere of many influences from the panorama of world music, suggestive of such composers as Conlon Nancarrow and Lou Harrison.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“[Garland] is an avatar of an experimental American tradition…a composer of mesmerizing music; and in many ways, the musical conscience of my generation.”—Kyle Gann, Chamber Music magazine

The performer

William Winant, declared “the avant-elite’s go-to percussionist” by SPIN magazine, is a Grammy-nominated new-music champion who has appeared on more than 200 recordings. Among his recent recording appearances are Roscoe Mitchell’s Bells for the South Side and Discussions, Joan Jeanrenaud’s Visual Music, Fred Frith’s Field Days (The Amanda Loops), John Zorn’s Fragmentations, Prayers and Interjections, the collaboratively composed (with Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Kaiser, and Tania Chen) Ocean of Storms, John Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things, and Alvin Curran’s Shofar Rags.

Winant has worked with and collaborated with some of the most innovative and creative musicians of our time, including John Cage, John Zorn, Alvin Lucier, Iannis Xenakis, Pierre Boulez, Frank Zappa, Keith Jarrett, Roscoe Mitchell, Wadada Leo Smith, Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith, James Tenney, Terry Riley, Cecil Taylor, Gerry Hemingway, Mark Dresser, Barry Guy, Marilyn Crispell, George Lewis, Steve Reich, Nexus, Peter Garland, David Rosenboom, Michael Byron, Jean-Philippe Collard, Frederic Rzewski, Ursula Oppens, Joan LaBarbara, Annea Lockwood, Danny Elfman, Oingo Boingo, Sonic Youth, Marc Ribot, Keith Rowe, Joey Barron, Bill Frisell, Yo-Yo Ma, Rova Saxophone Quartet, Lawrence “Butch” Morris, Henry Kaiser, and the Kronos String Quartet. For many years he worked closely with composer Lou Harrison, premiering and recording many of his works.

Winant is principal percussionist with the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players and the William Winant Percussion Group and has been featured as a guest artist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic (under the direction of Pierre Boulez), the San Francisco Symphony, and the Berkeley Symphony (Kent Nagano, director), as well as at the Cabrillo Festival, the Monterey Jazz Festival, the SFJazz Festival, Central Park SummerStage, the Ravinia Festival, the Salzburg Festival, the Donaueschingen Festival, the Victoriaville Festival, the Holland Festival, the Edinburgh Festival, the Ojai Festival, the Sonar Festival, All Tomorrow’s Parties, the Taktlos Festival, the Other Minds Festival, the Meltdown Festival, the Lincoln Center, the Royal Festival Hall, the Library of Congress, the Barbican, the Kennedy Center, the Paris Opera, Disney Hall, the Miller Theater’s Composer Portraits Series, Merkin Hall, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

“Winant is a dazzling virtuoso but also a catalytic presence in adventurous music, a percussive dynamo generating rhythms, colours and textures that blaze life into visionary scores.”—Julian Cowley, The Wire magazine

“[Winant is]…one of the most wide-ranging musicians in North America…making a cumulative point about open-field maverick tendencies in the music of this country, whether it involves notes-on-paper composers, noise generators, rock improvisers, jazz-tradition players or whatever.”—The New York Times

“William Winant is simply the best percussionist working today…. Whichever piece it is, he not afraid to make it come alive.”—Kim Gordon

“William Winant always plays his ass off!”—John Zorn

“Willie is very much responsible for my life-long infatuation with percussion and remains to this day a true inspiration to me.”—Danny Elfman

“One of the great contemporary percussionists…San Francisco’s William Winant.”—San Francisco Chronicle

Comments

“When András Schiff plays Bach, especially in recent years, the overall sense of progression is one of maximalist nuance and shape within a narrow dynamic framework. The same is true of Bernard Herrmann’s string orchestra score for Psycho, a gorgeously and frighteningly evocative encapsulation of the human psyche in enforced but boundary-breaking monochrome. This series of movements, composed by Peter Garland for three gongs and tam-tam, inhabits a space similar to and miles apart from those two formidable accomplishments. This is a multi-movement work of stunning beauty on a deceptively small tonal and dynamic scale. Deeper listening reveals the Universe in formation, perceived from an icy distance, at which its title hints.

“Lunar viewing already connotes a kind of stillness, but maybe not exactly the horrifying audio equivalent of carpet being forcibly removed from underfoot that we get in those shocking absences of sound in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001; Garland’s near-silences are much more peaceful, at least on the surface. The bell-like gong and oceanic tam-tam intervals form the continuum along which silence evolves, ebbing and flowing only to begin the process afresh with each movement. Even when silence abates, stillness pervades, enabling levels and degrees of internal development to hold sway, illuminating and even eradicating musical convention. Referring to triads and extensions becomes futile in light of each tone’s inherent complexities. Like Tibetan singing bowls, the instruments sing with purity of tone or pulse and beat according to their build, adding transparent richness in constant revitalization, each tone containing a series of tones, each interval carrying myriad intervals along in its wake. The illusion of understatement gradually disperses, especially as the tam-tam rolls along its subterranean trajectory and the pitched repetitions erect and erase glaciers of nearly frozen temporality, and yet, despite a close recording, all is infused with a kind of distance. The music is as much about disappearance, or fade, as about attack, aligning it with the Wandelweiser composers as much as with the post-Minimalism it represents, at least on paper.

“There could be no better advocate for the piece than William Winant. He has demonstrated, as if such a demonstration were still necessary, that he is master of the various levels of timing and timbre needed to realize a score whose unity is so transparent in its developmental process. This is music of crystalline beauty and unnerving subtlety, and each slowly added pitch brings another layer of intrigue.” —Marc Medwin, Fanfare magazine

“Written in winter, as composer Peter Garland explains, this cycle of six studies for solo percussionist evokes the ‘inscrutable stillness’ of moonlight during that season, when eerie shadows play across snow covered ground and the natural world’s regular soundtrack has fallen silent. Three large gongs and a tam-tam hang in acoustic space like lunar surrogates. Soloist William Winant nurtures the slow progress of low tones and rounded sonorities, drawing out this music’s steady dilations and contractions, its paradoxical emptiness and fullness. An overarching impression of stasis is suffused by a creeping sensation of change. Along with his own moon viewing, Garland took Japanese poems as touchstones. His music is a graceful match for their expressive delicacy and tact.” —Julian Cowley, The Wire

“From the home of one of my favorite labels when it comes to modern classical music…Peter Garland’s Moon Viewing Music…which is performed by a single player, William Winant in this case, on three large gongs and a large tam-tam. Unlike the previous works by Garland that I’ve heard, this is quite experimental and could easily be seen as an unreleased early work by Thomas Köner, when he used gongs as sound sources. The music here is very slow and very meditative, with slow melodies being played on these instruments. The sound is very low in terms of frequencies, and if you play this somewhat louder you feel the waves resonate through your body. Twenty or so years ago this would have been easily called ‘isolationist’ music—music that is very atmospheric and has its origins in the world of ambient music, but it is very dark and fills your entire space, music that is all immersive. And here’s an example of how it could also sound, without any electronic processes and as purely instrumental music. This is a more than excellent release; very contemplative, very Zen, perhaps, even if you are not into that at all.” —Vital Weekly (Netherlands)

“Garland is a composer with a keen sense of quietude…. Moon Viewing Music (Inscrutable Stillness Studies #1)…consists of six pieces, each of which is based on a short Japanese poem written during the time of the feudal shogunates…. The music is scored for only three large knobbed gongs and one large chau gong (usually called a tam-tam when used in a modern symphony orchestra)…. Each of the knobbed gongs has its own distinctive pitch. The tam-tam, on the other hand, puts out a relatively narrow band of noise, which has been used for intense rhetorical effects by composers going back to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, if not further. As a result, the primary vehicle for musical expression in this piece is rhythm, to which Garland then imposed on his writing the constraint that every stroke on one of these instruments ‘should be allowed to resonate and decay freely’ (Garland’s own words). Garland also notes that the music should correlate with the text; but that correlation has more to do with the mood established by the poem, rather than any rhythm of recitation of declamation. He also suggests that the circular appearance of all the instruments amounts to a reflection (my word choice, not Garland’s) on the full moon….

“Listening requires a keen attentiveness to subtle details, which again raises the question of achieving both effective performances and recordings that do justice to those performances. It is worth noting that William Winant, the percussionist performing Moon Viewing Music, also had a direct hand in the production of this album. Because this is a solo composition, it creates a situation in which the performer is a fundamentally necessary conduit between what the composer has created and what the attentive listener experiences. Working with members of the Cold Blue production team, Winant has made sure that ‘audio engineering’ has contributed to that conduit, rather than detracting from it. All that remains is for the listener to utilize equipment responsive to the richness of all the low frequencies and to engage that equipment in a setting that is as free as possible from interfering noise. Under those circumstances one should have little trouble appreciating the extent to which Garland has responded to Buckminster Fuller’s injunction to strive to make more and more with less and less and to derive a richly satisfying listening experience from that appreciation.” —Stephen Smoliar, The Rehearsal Studio

Moon Viewing Music (Inscrutable Stillness Studies #1) consists of six movements based on the historical  poetry of several prominent Japanese writers centered around solitude and the mystery of viewing the winter moon in the night sky. Scored for gongs and tam-tam and using just a handful of tones, Garland and Winant have combined to create a gently profound work that both captivates and calms.

“’Living alone in the woods…“’begins with two softly sustained tones in the gongs—like the ringing of bells, but smooth and not harshly percussive. A low rumbling from the tam-tam is heard as the gongs continue to sound, and this provides a deeply satisfying foundation. The economy of the tones and the nuance in the playing is most impressive, each note and each intonation bearing a full measure of emotion. There is a quiet, meditative feel to this—solitary, yet not lonely—just as the poem suggests….

“The other movements are similarly constructed, the mix of gong and tam-tam tones arranged to compliment the text of each poem. ‘Only the moon… ,“’ the third movement, starts with two gong tones, high and medium, followed by a third, and this establishes a balanced, reflective feel. The tam-tam enters with a low booming sound, almost felt rather than heard as the long tones ring out and decay. Combined with the gongs this creates the sense of reserve and longing heard in the text….

“Movement 4, ‘As I look at the moon…,’ is the longest piece on the CD, extending to 9:37. This has a repeating, almost hypnotic feel with different permutations of rhythms for the same tones. This offers less comfort, with a somewhat colder and more remote sensibility. Towards the end the tempo slows and a series of single pitches sound at the finish, as if the moon is setting.

“Perhaps the most compelling piece is movement 5, ‘When I die…’ The tam-tam dominates the texture from below while gongs toll in simple, comforting tones. The great booming sounds are full of well-being and offer a reassuring prospect of death and the afterlife. The final tones take a full 15 seconds to slowly decay into silence.

Moon Viewing Music (Inscrutable Stillness Studies #1) is quiet, subtle, and lovely and stands in noble contrast to so much of our contemporary music that is, quite properly, filled with tension and anxiety. Moon Viewing Music is noteworthy because of the exceptional collaboration between Garland and Winant. The sensitive playing and artful touch of the performer is a perfect—and equal—compliment to the intentions of the composer.” —Paul Muller, Sequenza21

“The enigmatic mysteries associated with wintertime moon viewing is captured by musicologist and composer Peter Garland on his latest Cold Blue release. Presented in six parts, Moon Viewing Music is realized on this thirty-four-minute recording by percussionist William Winant, a new-music champion who’s appeared on hundreds of recordings by esteemed artists such as Roscoe Mitchell, Joan Jeanrenaud, and John Zorn, using three large knobbed gongs and one large tam-tam….

“Neither the gong nor the tam-tam is a conventionally melodic instrument, yet in using three of the former Garland is able to exploit pitch contrasts to suggest melody. However, because that melodic potential is circumscribed by the instrumentation, the work exemplifies a minimalistic and even somewhat ambient character when the melodies generated by the gongs are so unadorned. Such qualities are immediately evident in the opening “Living alone in the woods…” and subsequent “Even more so…” when the gongs’ simple oscillations in pitch alternate with the understated accents of the tam-tam and the vibrational aura generated by the gongs. Resonance and decay also become key aspects of the sound design, too, when space is maximized in the writing and score.

“In keeping with the stillness associated with moon viewing, the parts unfold slowly and with the pitches low. A poetic character is also present in the work that’s reinforced by the fact that each piece is paired with a haiku or short poem, a move that explicitly suggests connections between the words and sound material. While the six parts form a unified whole, there are subtle differences between them, whether it be rooted in formal structure or mood. Whereas much of the material assumes a rather meditative character, ‘Only the moon…,’ for example, exhibits an urgency verging on agitation.

“Any listener coming to Moon Viewing Music and responding to the ‘William Winant: gongs, tam-tam’ credit on the back cover with some modest degree of apprehension will likely be surprised to discover not only how melodic the material is (if unconventionally so) but how thoroughly engaging it is, too.” —Ron Schepper, Textura

 

“Peter Garland’s Moon Viewing Musicis not merely a set of—as he modestly depicts them—‘inscrutable stillness studies.’ Indeed, they hide subtle and quiet emotions, but the word studies hardly reflects the value of Garland’s music. The set is much more than a serial of ‘simple exercises’—it is a cycle of six meditative, simple and pure 21st-century music pieces.

“It is the cold beauty of winter which inspired the American composer Garland. He writes that he composed the cycle in the winter when the moon ‘shines on a landscape of trees stripped of their leaves and of white snow that amplifies and reflects the moonlight, often creating an eerie sense of daylight—further reinforced by the shadows cast on the snow. There is also a special silence of the extreme cold and the absence of animal, bird and insect sounds.’

“But how can a composer express the quiet realm of chilly winter nights through sounds? How can music convey the view of a mute, barren landscape? How can stillness and immobility be communicated by two percussion instruments? Can silence be felt with sounds at all?

“The answer to my questions is that Garland masterfully uses and puts together the elements of music so that listeners can feel the ‘inscrutable stillness’ of freezing winter nights.

Moon Viewing Music does not abound in lots of harmonies—in the first two pieces a fifth and later a minor triad rule the whole work. Due to the numerous repetitions and variations of the above mentioned three sounds, the work does not have an easily recognizable melody. Apart from this, the music is not dull at all. On the contrary, while listening to it, I always waited for the next nuances.

“As far as the rhythm is concerned, there are not difficult or complicated rhythm patterns. Nevertheless, you can feel a soft and steady pulse through the pieces. There are no changes in tempo, the speed of beat is continuously slow, and the dynamic range is narrower than wide. However hard you try to find forte or fortissimo in the work, you can’t. So if you do not hear a climactic crescendo do not wonder.

“The timbres of both gong and tam-tam, as well as the soft and calm interpretation by American percussionist William Winant, even more powerfully emphasize the cryptic mood of snowy winter nights.

“It was the first—but I am sure not the last—time that I had listened to Garland’s music and for 34 minutes time stood still while I was listening to it.” —Anett Fodor, Music & Vision (UK)

 

“The poetics of the American composer Peter Garland has always been characterized by the idea of ​​a concise, essential music arrived at through subtraction, isolating and exalting melodic and rhythmic statements in a harmonically static context. In this composition for only gongs and tam-tam, entrusted to the expert percussionist William Winant, melodic-rhythmic aspects are also sacrificed, stripping away all but the sound, the timbre, as the focal point of all the six tracks. A simple alternation of two lines creates a micro-melody that magically takes us into a dreamlike, extremely rarefied, expressive world, where little happens, and happens very slowly, but from which we do not want leave. In my opinion, this is one of Garland’s works that comes closest to ambient music—a refined ambient music—introspective, sometimes inscrutable, as the subtitle of the piece (Inscrutable Stillness Studies) seems to suggest.” —Kathodik (Italy)