On Cold Mountain: Songs on Poems of Gary Snyder (2011)
A Pulitzer poet, Gary Snyder is revered — alongside Alan Watts, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac — for his literary contributions to Eastern thought. Snyder’s passionate respect for the environment often earns him the title of poet of deep ecology, wherein the non-human and the human worlds carry equal moral weight. Several of Snyder’s translations of the 8th century Chinese poet Han Shan have been set by Whelden, Frith, and Mathieu. On this recording, both Frith and Mathieu set one of the more “beat” poems representative of Han Shan:
Once at Cold Mountain troubles cease
No more tangled, hung-up mind.
I idly scribble poems on the rock cliff.
Taking whatever comes, like a drifting boat
The composers' backgrounds and musical languages encompass a range of styles that include rock & roll, Baroque counterpoint, Indian classical music, and postmodern atonalism. British guitarist and composer, Fred Frith (For Nothing) said: “Well, I guess the essence of what I’m doing is trying to acknowledge the world Baroque instruments came from while composing music that reflects what we are now; on the other hand, trying to find ways to organize the material that seem to have to do with Gary Snyder’s way of ‘organizing’ words and his deep passion for natural phenomena. What is emerging of course has an unruly life of its own, somewhat like natural phenomena.”
W.A. Mathieu’s song cycle For All “is as eclectic as Gary’s poetry. ... Gary and I came from the same generation of eclectics and generalists. His poetry has always seemed to me intricate and well made, but not until I set these few poems did I realize how beautifully woven they really are.”
Composer Robert Morris, who teaches atonal music theory at Eastman, explains that his music for This Bubble of a Heart is derived from a cycle of 29 notes: “I think of the cycle as a musical mandala that undergirds the musical world of this setting of Gary's poetry."
After hearing the June 2008 concert, writer Pamela Michael (of Wild Writing Women) wrote: “The evening was a wonderful melange of contemporary music played on Baroque instruments, with text from a T’ang dynasty Buddhist and a Beat/Buddhist native son. Let a thousand flowers bloom!...” and went on to say: “Karen Clark, a tall blonde with a fierce sense of humor and a voice to match, painted lovely musical pictures with Snyder’s famous Cold Mountain translations.”
The album producer Hank Dutt — violist with the Kronos Quartet — says: “Working with Karen Clark and the Galax Quartet was for me a great adventure. I thought it was an interesting idea to bring together their performing style, groomed in music centuries old, with composers from today. They worked with four different composers on this project, but their wonderful musicianship and Gary Snyder’s memorable verse bring the varied moods together. It was a pleasure listening to them create this disc."
On Cold Mountain: Songs on Poems of Gary Snyder
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