SYN-PHONIA (Migration Patterns) for
Inuit throat singer, Arabic vocalist, orchestra and Suround-Sound audio playback. (Orchestra: 1 piccolo. 2 flutes, 2 oboe, 1 English horn, 2 clarinets, 1 bass clarinet, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon, 4 French horns, 3 trumpets, 2 tenor trombones, 1 bass trombone, 1 tuba, timpani, 3 percussion, 1 harp, 1 celesta / MIDI keyboard, full string orchestra.) 2016.
Commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Work-in-progress--currently 40 minutes.
MIDI rendering of Syn-Phonia (with the voices of Tifany Ayalik and Maryem Hassan Tollar included in the mix):
2. Joy (Sums & Whole)
3. Thank You
4. "Our Way of Life" or "Welcome to the Apocalypse"
SYN-PHONIA (Migration Patterns) is an artistic look at climate change which causes environmental and geopolitical challenges and which in turn cause unrest and population displacement. It is a work-in-progress and because of this it is not possible to talk specifically about the larger work while it is constantly evolving with movements added or interpolated, invariably changing the overall structure. My approach to the climate change theme has been to musically explore two specific regions of our world which are being most heavily impacted by the phenomenon of climate change: the Fertile Crescent and the Arctic. Two singers representing the cultures of these two regions, Maryem Hassan Tollar, a Sufi singer, and Tiffany Ayalik, an Inuit throat singer, epitomize the cultural dialectic between the migrant and nativist viewpoints with the orchestra and the SuroundSound electronics mediating the two viewpoints. While this is a global theme of great urgency, it is also a question that Canada, a vast land mass sparsely populated, needs to address in earnest. In its early stages, climate change will turn our country into a land of geopolitical opportunity but also danger. It is up to us to imagine its future as an inclusive land of opportunity for the rest of the world or an exclusive fortress nearly impossible to defend against rising geopolitical tensions and desires. I believe in art that actively contributes to national and larger discussions so I hope that SYN-PHONIA may be able to bring some of these emotionally charged questions to greater public awareness, conversation and action. Some questions tackled in this work cannot be immediately related to climate change. They are deeper questions about who we are, collectively and individually, but at this present moment they are brought to the fore by the population displacement which is caused by climate change, so they are not unrelated to the subject either. It is dangerous to not attempt to answer them and, conversely, this is an opportune moment to do so.
The current version of SYN-PHONIA consists of four movements.
The first, Origins, is a musical catalogue of theories about our origins. They range from the mythical and mystical to the scholarly and scientific: from reports of advanced civilizations lost during the Young Dryas era concurring with the great megafauna extinction (the earliest of which date back to Plato’s dialogues Timaeus and Critias) to harmonic progressions emerging from superimpositions of “golden section” musical intervals; from melting glaciers to Arthur C. Clark’s monolith marking seminal points in our species’ evolution as depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Metaphors and dichotomies between surface and deep structures abound and an epic tone is set in this movement for the discourse during the rest of SYN-PHONIA.
Joy (Sums & Whole), the second movement, is a musical depiction of our lateralized minds and brains. Inspired by the work of neuropsychologist Iain McGilchrist, it mirrors the deep-seated dualism which is the only sure thing we can agree on when it comes to our understanding of our world and of our species. It opens with Tiffany’s Inuit throat singing. The “digital” nature of throat singing, a sum of inhaled and exhaled throat sounds, invites comparison with other predominately secular (left-hemispheric) musical idioms, like early Broadway and the music of the Enlightenment Project. At face value, and given its disparate origin and usage, it is a strange association but it is nonetheless one that instinctively resurfaces repeatedly throughout SYN-PHONIA. (The fact that Tiffany is able to read Western European music notation makes it possible to engage an indigenous artist and a symphony orchestra in a more complex on-stage conversation than it would have been otherwise possible). By means of metric modulation, the left-hemispheric opening gives way to a right-hemispheric music sung by Maryem based on texts from the 3,500 year old Egyptian Book of the Dead heralding the rising of the morning sun. In 5/8 meter, with a 5/4 meter occasionally superimposed, the cultural dichotomy between this section and the previous one could not be more pronounced. The approach to this music is holistic. There is an “analogue” quality to it, versus the “digital” quality of Tiffany’s music. In a typical A,B,A fashion, and again by metric modulation, the music returns to a shortened version of the opening material with Tiffany throat singing and Maryem repeating the word “forever” in hieroglyphic Egyptian.
Thank You, the third movement is a dark essay of enduring humanity in the midst of inhuman suffering. Set in B-flat minor the music is punctuated by a B-flat tolling by bells, harp and bass drum mercilessly interrupting the string music as it tries to move away from its tonal centre through a series of “golden section” harmonic progressions: a dream pursued only to see its promise dashed by the tolling of fate. A metaphorical “Sisyphus” tale, the futile and tragic failings of the harmonic effort are superimposed against sung texts of thanks for both the luminous and the dark moments of one’s life. The text is suggesting that every experience in life from the most ecstatic to the most horrific is a gift of some kind, if we can only frame it in our minds as such. The music suddenly switches to a war scene drowning out the repeated “Thank You” utterances by the singers with communication snippets from a fighter pilot reporting progress during a bombing mission. The music is followed by a textual documentary collage from an interview I conducted with two refugees from Aleppo, Syria, Abdul Muti Amir Fattal and his wife Noor, describing scenes of horror as they were fleeing the ruins of their destroyed city seeking refuge from war and finding welcome in Canada.
The fourth movement, “Our Way of Life” or “Welcome to the Apocalypse”, is about the incongruity of communication and the phenomenon of language as a facilitator of understanding but also, occasionally, a cause of impasse. Language is something greater than what we ordinarily understand by this term. It includes any means of human or non-human communication, such as body language, hunches, dreams, visions, ESP, and not least music. The inspiration for this movement came from the Denis Villeneuve film Arrival, a story about the incongruity between two languages, one time-based and the other time-independent. Like two alien species, the two languages used in this movement, one mostly vocal/orchestral and driven by melodic/harmonic relations and the other mostly electronic and timbre-based attempt to establish a point of intersection, a kind of “Rosetta Stone” which can facilitate a translation from one to the other. (Even though not consciously understood as such, this deep and hidden point of intersection is rhythm). My musical investigation was to see how language changes the structure of our minds and of our understanding of reality. Two radically different languages, Inuit throat singing and early Broadway music, which were interrelated earlier, now seem to be two integral aspects of the same language species, at least compared to the new alien language confronting both, a cautionary tale about seemingly incompatible “ways of life”. The “Apocalypse” part of the title (Gr. for “Revelation”) stands for when linguistic communication fails and with it our understanding of and belief in the oneness of things. In the end both communicators try to use “golden ratio” melodic/harmonic intervals as a Rosetta Stone in a last ditch effort to understand each other. The technological language, appears to be more advanced than the acoustic (human) one. It uses a 24-tone equal temperament intonation (quarter tones) and gets closer to the actual ratio than the acoustic which uses the traditional 12-tone equal temperament (the latter’s approximation of the ratio results in alternating major-minor harmonies) but both are approximations nonetheless: imperfect reflections of a deeper language that our species is still far from understanding, let alone mastering. The inconclusive ending, reminiscent of the opening of the first movement, is yet another metaphor. The indigenous voice has the last “word”, a word with no specific meaning yet one that could provide a key to our own redemption, if we embrace the wisdom of our native siblings, particularly their art of living in harmony with this beautiful living and breathing planet.
Premiere performance: January 28, 2017. Tiffany Ayalik, Inuit throat singer, Maryem Hassan-Tollar, Arabic vocalist, The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Alexander Mickelthwate. Centennial Hall, Winnipeg, Manitoba.
“With this piece, we have the cutting edge on every level, right here in Winnipeg,” said Winnipeg New Music Festival Artistic Director, Alexander Mickelthwate, as he introduced the feature performance at the festival’s opening concert on Saturday evening. It was not only an accurate description for the world premiere of Syn-Phonia: Migration Patterns by Christos Hatzis, but also a perfect kick off to a festival that’s been pushing the limits on new music for more than two and a half decades. Noah Erenberg, Community News Commons, Winnipeg. January 29, 2017.
At the last night's premiere of Christos Hatzis' work Syn-Phonia, the music couldn't have sounded more relevant, more fresh. It resonated not only with me and the audience immediately in the concert hall, but also with the air around and with time. With the current events unraveling in the world, and particularly in the United States which for centuries served as example of freedom and democracy, the music produced an especially chilling effect and served as reminder that we all have to fight to make the world a better place. The arts is a powerful type of weapon and it is delightful to know that it is used so well! Eugene Astapov. Facebook posting. Toronto, ON. January 29, 2017.
Well put, Eugene. Christos's piece couldn't be more timely. It's hard for me to be away from my adoptive country during this insanely tumultuous time - Syn-Phonia struck home. Harry Stafylakis, Composer-in-residence of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Facebook comment. NY, NY. January 29, 2017.
Rare that engaged music emerges in and matches the historical moment that needs it, rather than trailing behind. Bill Bamberger. Facebook comment. January 31, 2017. Michigan, USA.
"The coolest place on the planet right now might well be the 2017 Winnipeg New Music Festival, which officially kicked off Saturday night with its inaugural program: WNMF1: Migration Patterns, led by maestro Alexander Mickelthwate. . . Acclaimed Greek-Canadian composer Christos Hatzis, a perennial New Music Festival favourite who also wrote the Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s score for its 2014 production of Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation, last had his music performed at the fest in 2012. The world premiere of his multi-disciplinary Syn-Phonia (Migration Patterns), composed in response to the perils of climate change and how that phenomenon is creating increasing global unrest and population displacement, featured Inuit throat singer Tiffany Ayalik and Sufi singer Maryem Hassan-Tollar. The singers represent two regions greatly affected by climate change: the Arctic and the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East. Hatzis’s latest work could be regarded as a true post-modern symphony. As such, it also deserves a second hearing, given the dense, and often-fragmentary nature of its compositional material. Musical quotes--there’s even a fleeting snatch from 2001: A Space Odyssey--and skillfully crafted nods to popular music, Latin dance beats as well as hardcore atonalism fly in and out of its four widely varying movements, as do recorded tracks of both electronic and naturalistic sounds, such as cracking glaciers and bird calls, emanating from strategically placed speakers onstage and throughout the hall. . . The first movement, Origins, immediately set the stage for Hatzis’s scorched-earth aesthetic, beginning with thundering drum strikes that became ominous, heart-stopping leitmotifs throughout the 40-minute work. This was followed by Joy (Sums & Whole) that provided the first taste of Ayalik’s guttural throat-singing, layered by her own clear counterpoint. Her solo suddenly morphed into Hassan-Tollar’s plaintive, embellished chant that seemed to evoke the ancients from Mother Earth--or the primal wail of the homeless. Most powerful was the third movement: Thank You, in which the two artists intone a litany of thanks, including gratitude for "darkness that incubates the light" before Hassan-Tollar erupted into excerpts from the 3,500-year old Egyptian Book of the Dead. They became almost overwhelmed by pounding percussion and all-engulfing electronic effects, as they continued singing their simple thanks--a grateful heart against all desperate odds--capped by a recorded interview of two Syrian refugees now living safely in Canada, speaking of "streets of blood" they once knew. Such are these golden moments in art. Our Way of Life or Welcome to the Apocalypse felt oddly anti-climactic as it returned to the lighter vocal texture of the second movement, albeit still packing an emotional punch during its waning moments when Hassan-Tollar delivered one more soul-stirring wail before Ayalik’s voice finally slipped away. As expected, the opening-night crowd of 1,133 leapt to their feet in a rousing standing ovation for the stirring piece." Holly Harris, WINNIPEG FREE PRESS. January 30, 2017.
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