When I think of the Crab Field – Program Note
Composed during the summer of 2020, “When I think of the Crab Fields…” is a large composition for 15 performers of different traditional Japanese instruments, and voice. The piece consists of four movements, which are constructed around loose palindromic melodies. The third and fourth movements are in large part inspired by poetry written by the Tokyo based pianist/performance artist Elico Suzuki. The text used in these movements are provided below.
The titular “crab fields” are a reference to a previous artist residency I participated in during my time at the University of Pittsburgh’s Astrophysics and Cosmology Department, where I collaborated with the astrophysicist Dr. Carles Badenes in Spring 2019. The resulting compositions were inspired by his research on Supernova Remnants. To use Dr. Badenes’s words:
“supernovae – titanic explosions that mark the end of the lifetime of certain stars. Supernovae play a central role in our Universe, because they are the place where most heavy elements are formed. The iron in our blood and the calcium in our bones were formed billions of years ago in supernovae that exploded before the Solar System was formed. This massive recycling scheme powered by supernovae seeds the birthplaces of stars with the raw materials that are necessary for life.”
To this day, I often think back on Dr. Badenes’ research, and how this “recycling scheme” can be noticed in different areas of our own daily lives, though not to the same degrees and intensities that would manifest in the event of a super nova. One such stellar body, the Crab Nebula, is a six light year wide remnant of a super nova that was seen by Chinese Astronomers in 1054. According to Nasa, the Crab Nebula can be spotted using a small telescope and is best observed in January. As a result of this, I chose to tune the gakubiwa using a traditional tuning called banshikicho, which is associated with the winter season.
I would like to add one final note regarding the title. I am fascinated by the idea of creating melodies that are inherently palindromic and can be presented both forwards and backwards. This is most apparent in the fourth and final movement, where the melodies are regularly divided in half where the original melody “ends” and, like a tape player is then slowly rewound to its original starting point creating a theoretically never-ending cycle. In essence, the melodies consume themselves like an ouroboros. The word ‘kanibaru,’ or crab field, is a play on the English word ‘cannibal.’
Much to my surprise, approximately a month after finishing the first complete draft of 蟹原楽, I discovered that crabs do in fact occasionally engage in cannibalistic activities.
Please enjoy this recording of the 3rd and 4th movements, realized remotely during the COVID Quarantine.