Dragons, Flies, Dragonflies, Drakkars and the Walls of Jericho

Dragons, Flies, Dragonflies, Drakkars and the Walls of Jericho

Dragons, Flies, Dragonflies, Drakkars and the Walls of Jericho (2014)
Piccolo, duduk, erhu, guzheng, pipa, harp, doublebass, percussion (vibraphone, bass drum, hand gong)

Duration: 12’

The recording presented here is a runthrough performance during the session reading at Atlas Academy, August, 2014.

“Dragons, Flies, Dragonflies, Drakkars and the Walls of Jericho” was written for the fifth edition of Atlas Academy (August, 2014) at Conservatorium van Amsterdam, Netherlands.  The Atlas Academy is a laboratory for the creation of innovative intercultural music, which, in partnership with Atlas Ensemble, created the project “Imagine Utopia”, that aggregates composers and top-soloists of traditional instruments of diverse cultures, amongst others, the duduk (Armenia), the kamancha (Azerbaijan), the pipa (China) and the sho (Japan), engaged in a sonic dialogue for two weeks in Amsterdam. “Dragons, Flies, Dragonflies, Drakkars and the Walls of Jericho” was awarded an Honorable Mention at Atlas Academy.

Specially composed for the 2014 Atlas Ensemble Competition – Amsterdam, and awarded with an Honorable Mention by an international jury, this piece was performed during the IMAGINE UTOPIA Academy. The competition made demands on the choice of instrumentation, aiming to strike a balance between Western instruments and Eastern instruments. My choice considered three groups: winds, strings (plucked and bowed) and percussion. For the Western part, the choice was based on the Piccolo Flute, the Double Bass, the Harp and the Percussion (comprised of a Vibraphone, a Bass Drum and a six-inch Hand Gong); for the Eastern part, the choice was Duduk, Pipa, Erhu and Guzheng. The composition makes use of expanded techniques such as: microtonal intervals, arc pressure transforming the pitch into noise, percussion in the body of the instruments, use of superball mallet in Bumbo, special effects in the harp (tuning peg, pedal glissandos, pedal displacement , Fingernail usage, etc.) and pitch bend on the vibraphone. The following information is taken from the program note made by the composer:

“Dragons, Flies, Dragonflies, Drakkars and the Walls of Jericho”, deals with old symbols from old myths. In an attempt to merge Eastern and Western icons, I looked for symbols that were common in both cultures, as well as those that could imprint a special mark for each side. Thus, the choice of dragons, flies, dragonflies, drakkars – more than a mere play on words, falls on the first point – all are present in both the East and the West; The drakkar was chosen as the Western symbol, and the walls of Jericho as the Eastern symbol. The piece is based on the idea of ​​”transformation” being that the main compositional process used. It works like changing “the fear of the (un)known” to “new ways and possibilities”, since the materials are extremely simple, almost primitive and even scarce. Thus, the timbre, the affections and the oriental techniques of performance play a prominent role throughout the work.

In Dragons, Flies, Dragonflies, Drakkars & the Walls of Jericho, it overflows affects little explored by Western art, such as the grotesque, the bizarre, and the pathetic. There is a chaos that takes care of certain passages, and it goes back to an epic feeling that, in spite of the little sound projection presented by the instruments (that is to say, because it is a very small instrumental group) and of the non abundance of materials, exudes a grandeur that leaps to the ears of those who contemplate it – a complex of superiority that is not intimidated by the fragility of their bodies. Dragons have distinct personalities in Orient and Occident. In European mythology, the word ‘dragon’ derives from two separate Greek words, the first one meaning “a huge serpent or snake” and the second meaning “I see clearly”. Their ability of flying and breathe fire, poison or ice can be responsible for their attributes of being both creators and destroyers, but often malevolent. In Orient, dragons are associated with wisdom and longevity and tend to be benevolent. They also have the power of nature elements and can change their size, form and color as an ability to blend in with their surroundings as an effective form of camouflage. Dragonflies are very popular in Asian culture, mainly in China and Japan, but as well in Europe and America. They embody the pure essence and beautiful balance of changes in emotional and mental aspects and the effects on the body, mind and spirit. Speak of transformation, shed old illusions, release old perceptions and change habits. Also teach about the inevitability of change and the mastery of moving with speed, agility and precision with grace. Flies, since immemorial times, are associated with transformation. The ability of quick multiplication brought the flies a lot of meanings, from the association of possibility in seeing beauty in uncommon places, to the link with Ba‘al Zəbûb – understood to mean ‘lord of the flies’ or ‘lord of the (heavenly) dwelling’. Drakkar means ‘dragon ship’, the name coming from Swedish drakar (dragon). Nordic people, especially the Vikings built these ships and discovered new lands and set new colonies. The dragon’s head carved in the ship’s prow was believed to protect the crew against sea monsters and shipwrecks. It’s a grotesque yet beautiful image to transform in music. According to the Book of Kings (16:34) in Ahab’s time Hiel the Bethelite rebuilt Jericho. Laying the foundation cost him his firstborn son, Abiram. Setting up the city gates cost him his youngest son, Segub. The word ‘Jericho’ has different etymologies, meaning wind or breath and as such became a metaphor for spirit or mental dispositions; also fragrance and even moon (as time indicator, meaning to wander or journey, as the moon is the most ambulant body in the night sky). Since the name ‘Jericho’ also means fragrance, or, fragrant, I did a beautifully poetic association with the Bride (in the 5th section of the composition) and the place of her joining with her Bridegroom presented in the very passionate Song of Solomon.

The Atlas Ensemble is a unique chamber orchestra that unites brilliant musicians from China, Japan, Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The ensemble brings together instruments from various cultures which, whilst originating from the same ancestor, have travelled and developed over the course of centuries. Thus, a wide variety of instruments came into being. By combining these descendants and their timbres, beautiful and previously unheard blends are obtained. This concept embodies the essence of the Atlas Ensemble. The repertoire consists of newly written works.

For scores requests and other informations, please contact the composer.