After the Wars   CB0044

The music

After the Wars, a resonant, sometimes clangorous four-movement piano solo, displays a unique sense of grace and a sincerity of expression that is quintessentially Garlandesque. In some ways it marks a slight shift of focus from his more overtly melodic and rhythmically driven material of the past 30 years. After the Wars is a 20-minute CD single/EP.

Garland writes about the piece:

After the Wars was commissioned by pianist Sarah Cahill as part of her A Sweeter Music project. The idea (I believe) was to focus on the idea of peace, rather than to protest war. I have only been partially successful in this regard. Because even if peace does come, war leaves behind scars that take a long time, if ever, to heal. And in this current era, I see no end to wars (and specifically our country’s involvement in them); so the only images of peace I can conjure up are personal (interior) and domestic (implying a sense of renunciation and withdrawal). Hence the emotional tone of this music.

“Each of the transparent and self-contained movements takes as inspiration a Chinese poem or Japanese haiku, and like in haiku collections I arranged the movements in seasonal order: spring, summer (the traditional season of war, so this is the most dramatic movement), autumn and winter. More than in most piano pieces of mine, I explore the quality of resonance in the piano: not just the notes played on the keyboard, but the sense of echo and fade produced by a very deliberate use of pedaling, and the sustaining and release of piano keys after notes and chords are sounded. These are techniques that are uniquely intrinsic to the piano, but are rarely exploited to the extent I have done here. It creates a sense of timbral color and acoustic perspective (proximity and distance) that gives these pieces their own individual character and conciseness. Each movement is like a single image, simply stated with relatively little temporal or thematic development—very much like the poems they are based on.”

“Somehow this seemed to be just the piece I needed/wanted to write…through the winter of 2007-2008, though I was not aware of that at the time of accepting this commission. I thank Sarah for this.”

The four movements:

1. Spring View: “The nation is ruined, but mountains and rivers remain.” (after Tu Fu)

2. “Summer grass / all that remains / of young warriors’ dreams” (after Basho)

3. Occasional Poem on an Autumn Day: “When I’m at peace I let everything go” (after Ch’eng Hao)

4. “A snowy morning / and smoke from the kitchen roof— / it is good.” ( after Buson)

“Spring View” (Tu Fu, trans. Gary Snyder)

The nation is ruined,

but mountains and rivers remain.

This spring the city

is deep in weeds and brush.

Touched by the times

even flowers weep tears,

Fearing leaving

the birds tangled hearts.

Watch-tower fires

have been burning for three months

To get a note from home

would cost ten thousand gold.

Scratching my

white hair thinner

Seething hopes

all in a trembling hairpin.

from “Narrow Road to the Interior” (Basho, courtesy of John Brandi)

summer grass

all that remains

of young warriors’ dreams

“Occasional Poem on an Autumn Day” (Ch’eng Hao, trans. Red Pine)

When I’m at peace I let everything go

I wake by the east window long after sunrise

viewed without passion everything is fine

seasonal glories hold true for man

the Tao fills the world the formed and the formless

our thoughts are in the ever-changing wind and clouds

not troubled by wealth content in poverty

the person who reaches this is truly noble

“Winter Haiku” (Buson, trans. Yuki Sawa and Edith Marcombe Shiffert)

A snowy morning

and smoke from the kitchen roof —

it is good.

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 at CalArts 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 and Herbert Henck, percussionist William Winant, 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.)

“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.” —Raymond Tuttle, 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

“So, Henry Cowell begat Lou Harrison and Harrison begat Peter Garland, in a manner of speaking. Each of them has been influenced by the culture, and in particular the musics, of the Pacific region, but to differing degrees. Garland’s inheritance is so rich that he treats it selectively and, like Harrison and Cowell, with respect though not with undue reverence, in that the aim is to make something new of ‘found’ musical material as it’s brought into new cultural contexts. ‘New’ is the keyword in the previous sentence. Garland is a restless, nomadic and often (one senses) lonely individual whose work makes reference to the musics of the distant and sometimes not-so-distant lands he’s visited, but his compositions exist entirely on their own terms and without a hint of pastiche or the uncomfortable feeling that cultural plunder is afoot.”—Signal to Noise magazine

“Garland’s not a very baaaad-assed composer, but he’s one of the best.”—Kyle Gann, Village Voice

The performer

Sarah Cahill, called “fiercely gifted” by the New York Times and “as tenacious and committed an advocate as any composer could dream of” by the San Francisco Chronicle, has commissioned, premiered, and recorded numerous piano pieces. Composers who have dedicated works to her include John Adams, Terry Riley, Frederic Rzewski, Pauline Oliveros, Annea Lockwood, and Evan Ziporyn, and she has also premiered pieces by Lou Harrison, Julia Wolfe, Ingram Marshall, Toshi Ichiyanagi, George Lewis, Leo Ornstein, and many others.

Cahill has researched and recorded music by the important early 20th-century American modernists Henry Cowell and Ruth Crawford, and has commissioned new pieces in tribute to their influence. Recent appearances include a concert at San Quentin that featured the music Henry Cowell wrote while incarcerated there, Lou Harrison’s Piano Concerto with Steven Schick and the La Jolla Symphony, and Schubert’s “Trout” Quintet at the Yehudi Menuhin Chamber Music Seminar and Festival. She has performed chamber music with the Alexander String Quartet, New Century Chamber Orchestra, the Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, and many other chamber groups. Recent concerts include a residency at Dickinson College with Sarah’s husband, video artist John Sanborn, a recital at MIT, and an all-Berio performance with pianist Adam Tendler at the Italian Academy at Columbia University.

Cahill’s recent “ A Sweeter Music” project (of which After the Wars is a part) involved the commissioning of new works on the theme of peace by Terry Riley, Meredith Monk, Frederic Rzewski, Yoko Ono, Pauline Oliveros, Peter Garland, Mamoru Fujieda, Paul Dresher, Phil Kline, Carl Stone, Kyle Gann, Michael Byron, Larry Polansky, Ingram Marshall, and others. She premiered these works in the Cal Performances series in Berkeley and toured the program to New Sounds Live at Merkin Hall, the Rothko Chapel, Le Poisson Rouge, and other venues around the country. The San Francisco Chronicle wrote that “the music, helped along by the impassioned force of Cahill’s playing, amounted to a persuasive and varied investigation of the subject,” and London’s Financial Times called it “a unique commissioning programme that unites artistic aspirations with moral philosophy.”

Her current commissioning projects include one that explores our relationship to nature and one that celebrates the eightieth birthday of Terry Riley. She has recordings on the New Albion, New World, Tzadik, Other Minds, Cold Blue, Albany, CRI, and Artifact labels and forthcoming recordings on the Pinna and Irritable Hedgehog labels.

Cahill hosts the Revolutions Per Minute radio show on San Francisco’s KALW. She is on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory, hosts a new music series at San Francisco’s Exploratorium, and curates a monthly series of new music concerts at the Berkeley Art Museum.

“Apart from being an exceptional pianist and muse to scores of inventive composers, Sarah Cahill is a first-rate communicator who specializes in connecting the music she plays to broader streams of everyday life.”—Time Out New York

“[Cahill is] as tenacious and committed an advocate as any composer could dream of.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“If I had my way, Sarah Cahill would be declared a public treasure and forbidden to ever leave the city limits.”—Berkeley Voice

“Sarah Cahill…giving us the benefit of her phenomenal technique, her instinctive command of recent aesthetics, and quite possibly the most interesting repertoire of any pianist around.”—Village Voice


After The Wars contains four pieces for piano, as performed by Sarah Cahill. Garland…has a strong love for the piano…. All of these pieces touch upon the subject of ‘war’ and ‘life after war,’ with wounds unhealed. There is some excellent beauty in these sad sounds.”—Vital Weekly (Netherlands)”

“Cold Blue Music has released a new CD of piano music by Peter Garland titled After the Wars. Recorded by Sarah Cahill, After the Wars is one of a series of works she has commissioned that focus on the concept of peace.… The first track…begins with a series of deep, rumbling chords that paint a vivid picture of doom and destruction. These continue but are interspersed with higher, lighter chords that seem, in contrast, to hold out some hope. The heavy, sustained sounds boom out and then slowly fade after each passage. The lighter chords seem to be making cautionary comments on the devastation declared by the powerful sounds in the lower register…. The second track…begins with dark, dramatic chords that ring out from the depths of the piano. In this piece, however, the chords climb up to the higher registers as if ascending a ladder. There is an ethereal feel to this progression, a redemptive quality that springs out of the previous darkness. The sustained ringing of the chords as they are struck hover in the air like spirits awaiting release. There is a more reflective feeling here and ultimately a sense of restful assurance. Track three…has a pleasantly sunny feel after the heavy drama of the first two pieces. Dense, sustained chords open but turn warmer and more relaxed as the piece progresses. A sense of relief is felt and the touch of Sarah Cahill on the keyboard is precise enough to give a slightly different feel to each of what is a succession of very similar chords. At 3:45 the dynamics increase noticeably and the chords become joyful, like hearing the peal of bells. The tempo slows towards the close and the volume tapers down to a quiet, peaceful chord at the finish…. The final piece on the album…begins with high, bright chords and an appealing, sunny harmony that is followed by lush and comforting deep notes. There is a sense of peaceful happiness in the deliberate chords; the comforts of domestic tranquility fill up the sound. More deep chords, solemn but not sad, rise up to a sunlit landscape. All is now peaceful and harmonious.

“The arc of After the Wars—from destruction and ruin to the return of placid domesticity—is artfully realized here with a minimum of musical materials and the exquisite playing of Sarah Cahill. Hearing this album creates in the listener a desire for that same healing process to be present in our own life and times. It inspires the hope that no matter how gloomy the present may seem—and our world is full of terrible things—the path to a peaceful wholeness is yet attainable.”—Paul Muller, Sequenza21

“This is not Cahill’s first CD for Cold Blue Music; way back in 2003, I reviewed a disc of music by Michael Byron in which she was a most impressive participant.

After the Wars is in four movements, each five minutes in length, more or less. Each was inspired by a Chinese poem or Japanese haiku. The first, ‘Spring View,’ is joined to a quotation from Tu Fu: ‘The nation is ruined, but mountains and rivers remain.’ The second is derived from the words of Basho: ‘Summer grass / all that remains / of young warriors’ dreams.’ The third is after Ch’eng Hao’s ‘Occasional Poem on an Autumn Day’: ‘When I’m at peace I let everything go.’ The last is after Buson: ‘A snowy morning / and smoke from the kitchen roof— / it is good.’ The music complements these thoughts without attempting to find literal sonic equivalents for them—no musical ‘snow’ flutters down in the last movement, and so on. Nevertheless, there is a violent and steely quality to the first movement that seems appropriate, and a musical after-image of monumentality and heroism in the second. The almost motionless third movement is based on repeated chords, and on different single notes held over from those chords. The fourth uses a similar technique, but with clearer and more luminous textures. It brings After the Wars to a close with a sense of profound calm, without dispelling memories of the agitations that preceded it.

“According to Garland, this music is an exploration of the piano’s resonance, ‘not just the notes played on the keyboard, but the sense of echo and fade produced by a very deliberate use of pedaling, and the sustaining and release of piano keys after notes and chords are sounded.’ Thus, it requires a pianist with a highly sensitive touch and a finely tuned ear, and Cahill has both. She is an excellent advocate for this work, and deserves praise for having commissioned so much new music for such a worthwhile project. Can music bring peace to the world? One can only hope.”—Raymond Tuttle, Fanfare magazine

“This disc is one of Cold Blue’s EPs, containing a single work that clocks in at just over twenty minutes. Commissioned by pianist Susan Cahill, who performs the work, as part of her ‘A Sweeter Music’ project, each of the movements of After the Wars ‘takes as inspiration a Chinese poem or Japanese haiku.’ The movements are arranged in the order of the seasons, and, as the notes to this recording say.… ‘More than in most piano pieces of mine, I explore the quality of resonance in the piano: not just the notes played on the keyboard, but the sense of echo and fade produced by a very deliberate use of pedaling, and the sustaining and release of piano keys after notes and chords are sounded.’

“A single, 20-minute work on a CD is an interesting idea and it allows the work to stand on its own but it’s not an ideal way to discover a composer. I find After the Wars to be interesting, and I appreciate what Garland says about the resonance of the piano. This work is quite simple, melodically, and after listening to it several times, one begins to notice that much of the music is in the long, decaying notes, rather than in the melody.

“When the work begins, it’s anything but peaceful. Spring, in this work, is a combination of turbulence and growth. Loud bass notes begin, alternating with soft chords. Structurally, this music is not minimalist in the sense of repetition, but it’s minimal in approach. There are simple lines, simple chords and there’s a lot of space around this music, allowing the resonance to come forth as a voice of its own. Time is used here as a musical element. With Summer, the melodies expand from the simply notes and chords of spring, still leaving plenty of space in between the phrases. As Autumn arrives, the tone changes to a series of brief, soft chords, and the movement is a series of chords as pulses a few seconds apart. The final movement, Winter, is more melodic, almost pentatonic, with slow, haunting melodies. Overall, the work has a melancholic tone, as it changes from the strong bass notes at the beginning to the gradually decaying melodies at the end, bringing back the soft chords of Spring.

“There is an interesting use of space and time in this work. On the surface, it’s quite simple, but the sounds develop over the span of the four movements as you slowly grow accustomed to the underlying structure…and after listening to this disc several times, I wanted to hear more. I guess that, in itself, is a recommendation.”—Kirk McElhearn, MusicWeb International

“Reaffirming its status as one of the most exciting innovations in the recording and marketing of modern composition since the introduction of magnetic tape, Cold Blue Music‘s series of “singles”—a new, minimalist or post-minimalist work rarely longer than twenty minutes, premiered on its own disc in the label’s usual beautiful packaging—issues three new gems…. Pianist Sarah Cahill plays Peter Garland‘s After the Wars without pardon. Garland explains that the agonistic nature of the piece reflects the fact that even after the guns go silent, ‘war leaves scars that take a long time, if ever, to heal.’ Each movement is based on a Chinese or Japanese poem. ‘Summer grass / all that remains / of young warriors’ dreams’ is the most bellicose. Apparently, in the region, summer is traditionally the season of war. And of course the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the month of August.”—Stephen Fruitman, Igloo Magazine

“Harp notes trickling and tumbling like eddies in a stream; pianistic shell bursts interspersed with wounded reflection; chromium dreamscapes seeping out from resonant metal sculptures and steel guitars. In terms of style and content there’s little overlap in the music on these three new releases from the Californian label Cold Blue. Yet each emerges from a recognizable and distinctly American compositional outlook, sensual and approachable while also robustly individualistic and aesthetically self-determining…. Peter Garland’s After The Wars, commissioned and performed by pianist Sarah Cahill, alternates ruggedness and delicacy, oppressive weight fringed with luminosity in a powerful evocation of desolation and scarred hope…. Each of these three pieces lasts a little over 20 minutes and is issued by Cold Blue in the form of a CD single. Each lodges in the memory as sensation, rather than as realized idea or abstractable form, and the concise format suits that aspect of the music perfectly.”—Julien Cowley, The Wire magazine

“In recent years, Cold Blue has issued as many singles (EPs, if you prefer) as full-length recordings, but the label’s releases, regardless of format or length, are always of the highest quality, and these new singles by three Cold Blue artists of long-standing are no exception in that regard…. Of the three singles, it’s Peter Garland’s After the Wars that most pronouncedly flirts with classical music convention in presenting a four-movement setting for solo piano. Performed by the deservedly lauded Sarah Cahill (who commissioned the 2007-08 work), the composition… [explores] contrasts of mood and style rather than hewing to a single style only. Inspired by Chinese poems and Japanese haikus, the movements focus consecutively on the four seasons and do so in the humble spirit of the material on which they’re based. As Garland himself writes, “Each movement is like a single image, simply stated with relatively little temporal or thematic development…” As per the work’s title, each of the pieces touches on the theme of war, either by reflecting on the destruction wrought by it or the tentative recovery from it…. In a manner consistent with Tu Fu’s writing, “Spring View: ‘The nation is ruined, but the mountains and rivers remain'” alternates between dark, clangorous episodes and others bright, delicate, and hopeful by comparison. Death and destruction shadow “‘Summer Grass / all that remains / of young warriors’ dreams'” (after Basho) with a sense of desolation permeating the movement’s content—even if some small measure of recovery seems to emerge also. Introspection marks the spacious chords drifting languorously through “Occasional Poem on an Autumn Day: ‘When I’m at peace I let everything go'” (after Ch’eng Hao) and “‘A snowy morning / and smoke from the kitchen roof— / it is good'” (after Buson). If After the Wars is, as mentioned, more conventional than the other two EPs with respect to classical form, that’s in no way an argument against it or a criticism. All three releases uphold Cold Blue’s reputation for high-quality music and do so using different approaches…. All three releases uphold Cold Blue’s reputation for high-quality music and do so using different approaches.”—Textura

“Piano music in a radical tonality mode is what comes through nicely on Peter Garland’s 20-minute, specially priced EP After the Wars. The program consists of four brief interrelated, visceral, poetic tone sounding works for solo piano, played characteristically and with elan by Sarah Cahill…. It takes sheer pleasure in the combination of tones…. This is piano music that comes out of Satie, tonal Cage and Feldman, through to its own territory, in a radical tonality vein typical of the Cold Blue label yet very much in its own right. It is a beautiful evocation that relies not on the typical linear connectedness of standard melody but rather has simultaneity that arises from piano soundings that link with a sort of an abstract disconnect of fragile tonal events which nonetheless have poetic flow when experienced together. There is beauty, a spacious unraveling in no hurry to get to an end point, yet each movement stays a little while and then is gone. This is another very entrancing program from Cold Blue. Peter Garland weaves a web of expressive, muted magic and we readily fall under its spell. Very recommended.” —Gapplegate Classical-Modern Review

“Timbre over melody, near and far as themes, resonance as the main focus; around these principles Peter Garland composed After the Wars. The piece, in four sections, covers a tight twenty minutes and was commissioned by pianist Sarah Cahill. In the area of development in time or of themes, little happens, but in the dynamic depth of harmony and interplay between keys, strings and soundboard, Garland and Cahill reach the intense quality of Chinese poems and Japanese haiku that served as inspiration.

“It seems so to speak for itself: the expressive power of sound itself is a primary concern, but with his radical sense of tonality Garland shows that this is anything but obvious. A student of Harold Budd and James Tenney, Garland also excels in experimenting with an interplay between beauty and innovation…. It’s a seesaw also between the cerebral and the physical, between the seemingly quite easy and the handsomely complex.

“Cahill plays After the Wars with a velvety touch that twinkles and chirps in the more melodic passages. She also animates Garland’s resonances with a passion that thunders and rumbles. Roaring and raging swirls of construction and dismantling (and back again) offer sparks of comforting hope.” —KindaMusik (The Netherlands)