Program Notes for Owen:tsia kwe:kon – All Over the Earth (2009/2022)
Owen:tsia kwe:kon means all over the earth in Kaniènké:ha (Mohawk). I wrote this piece for Italian virtuoso, Emmanuele Arciuli, after hearing him premiere works by several First Nations Composers at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in 2008. He premiered the second section Onekha’shon:a – the Waters. In the work, I explore the sonic capabilities of the piano in relationship to my perception of specific sounds and experiences in nature. These include its range, color and contemporary effect possibilities. I had the privilege of working with John Cage who developed the prepared piano sounds that you hear in the piece. The performer is not expected to play the work exactly as written, especially in terms of specific attacks, lengths and rhythms in the prepared piano and keyboard clusters.
In the first section, Otstenra’shon:a – Rocks, I explore at the ancient and slow vibratory rate of rocks and express this primarily through tempo, timbre and pitch. In the second section called Ohneka’shon:a – the Waters, I wrote about the sounds of various types of waters, from the ocean in Big Sur where I started composing this section, to the Grand River of Six Nations Mohawk Territory, where I completed the suite. I composed using repetitive moving notes to depict moving water and incorporated a “water chant” that was inspired by the Kanenhi:io singers at Six Nations. Without computer or staff paper, I wrote this section with a sharpie marker on a Pashima scarf. The third section, Tsi niiowera:kahre – Sound of Wind, I ask the pianist to play the piano like a dulcimer by striking approximate pitches inside the piano. The pianist is asked to blow vocal sounds that depict the wind and to evoke wind spirits by whispering the words in Mohawk into the soundboard. I employ patterns of notes that are often found in our traditional songs. In the last section of the piece, Kontiri:io – Animals in the Wild, I imitate sounds of the animals in the bush and hope to express the wildness, freedom and spaciousness of the natural environment that wild animals need in order to survive. I originally dreamt this section in its entirety for string trio and have arranged it and rewritten parts of it to complete this Piano Suite.
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