Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Fantastic in the Fine Arts: Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts

I was listening to NPR's "Composers Datebook" during my commute this week, and I was very surprised to hear Ursula K. Le Guin mentioned.  It turns out that she and Berkeley composer Elinor Armer collaborated on a composition entitled Uses of Music in Uttermost Parts, which premiered on January 28, 1995.

Together, Armer and Le Guin imagined a series of islands in which music was indispensable to life.  In an interview with Cheryl North, Armer describes this archipelego, asking, ""What if music could be used as food? Or water? What if it functioned as roads, walls, weaving, or a love potion?"  Armer and Le Guin then used orchestral music, chorus, chamber music, and the spoken word to create eight pieces, each of which described a different island in the Uttermost Archipelego.

Armer uses music differently in each piece, to reflect the different ways in which music functions on that particular island.  She says, "On the isle of Hoi, it is food and we use a mixed chorus. On Oling, music is weather and we use a chamber group consisting of cello, viola, piano, percussion and narrator. A girls chorus performs in `Anithaca, the Island of the Daughters of Penelope' and their music is highly contrapuntal as it depicts weaving on a giant loom."

It's a fantastic composition, made even more exciting by the collaboration between artists, instrumentation, and media.  You can listen to the entire work streaming online here.