Gateway to Paradise
I was sitting in the back seat of my family's car, driving
along the banks of lake Wakatipu, surrounded by low,
misty clouds and mountains, near Queenstown, New
Zealand. I hadn't wanted to head out on this excursion:
we had recently done some long mountain walks, it was
approaching dusk, and I was a little cranky and tired. What
I really wanted was to be indoors, working on the new
piece I had begun a few days ago. Chloe Chung, a good friend of mine from the Sydney Conservatorium (flautist), had recently become entranced by the Chinese bamboo flute (dizi), and had been learning it for the past two years or so from a patriotic Chinese flute teacher.
She asked me to write a piece for dizi, pipa (Chinese lute), and maybe some
string instruments. At first I objected - how could I write for Chinese
instruments - but the more I listened to Chinese music, the more I
became entranced by the pentatonically-flavoured sound world,
the sounds of the instruments, which seem to harken back
to a forgotten period of human history, and especially
the inflection and ornamentation, clearly derived from
the tones of the Chinese language (for a great example,
check out this piece). Being so used to baroque
and classical ornamentation, this was so fresh and soulful...
Anyway, back to the story...
We were driving by the lake, towards Glenorchy. The town after Glenorchy is
called Paradise. A sign greeted us as we entered:
Welcome to Glenorchy: Gateway to Paradise.
We never reached Paradise, but we got off at Glenorchy near a lagoon. A narrow pathway of wooden planks
took us on a walk through the middle of the lagoon. It was beautiful, misty, the clouds were low, mountains
surrounded us. As we turned a corner, we came across a little inlet, like a tiny lake - upon which glided 30 or so
black swans. I was still exhausted - through my exhaustion, this sight took on an almost mystical quality.
Over the next few days, this impression slowly developed into the slow fugue that forms the second half of the above
video. Halfway through the fugue, the usual 'major' pentatonic mode - a c d e g - turns into a 'minor' mode - c e #f g b.
I find this minor mode magical - beautiful, yet tinged with sadness. This quality reminds me of a quote from the novel
Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami - "The purity of her beauty gives me a feeling close to sadness – a very natural
feeling, though one that only something extraordinary could produce."
These impressions - the swan lake - Paradise - walking amidst mountains - were enough to form the rest of the piece.
Gateway to Paradise:
1. Wandering: Mountains Surrounding a Cold Lake.
2. Approach: Paradise Reflected in a Lake of Swans.
3. Interlude: Serenade by Birds overlooking the Last Valley.
4. Entrance: Party in Paradise!
The above video only features the first two sections. I'm still looking for a chance to record the fast sections at the end.