Photo Credit: Yonatan Aljadeff
A Soundwalk with Resi by Eliza Brown
Extended program note by Jessica Aszodi
Resi is a child in late-19th-century Austria who will grow up to be the wife of a Field Marshall. Her given name is Maria Theresa, but that sounds too formal for a small person who prefers outdoors to in, so her mother calls her Resi. She will soon go to school at a convent, and then she will be given by her father to the grim, old Field Marshall as a teenage bride to increase the status of her family. When she is in her thirties, and growing into her title of “Marschallin,” she will spend some time as a character in Richard Strass’ opera Der Rosenkavalier, in which she will release her teenage lover to marry a girl his own age (Eliza Brown, 2017).
A soundwalk is an expedition where sonic stimuli are foregrounded in the mind’s ear. It is an active promenade where the walker moves themself into the world, inviting the world simultaneously to enter into them. They listen to the immediate present while allowing the mind to do its habitual sorting of effects, patterns and hierarchies, paying notice to the sensation of presency.
Hildegard Westerkamp stood on the beach. She didn’t actually stand. Or she wasn’t standing there any more. To put it another way – you did not know whether she was standing there or not. You heard her voice, and you heard the beach, but both were relics of a time long since past. When she spoke her observations shone light upon the ripples of water, barnacles and rocks. She was no longer there – but you were. Her voice and its recorded image are all that is left of that day on that beach. As the recording plays we walk together, the sound of her voice calm, impossibly neutral, instructive. The situation seems familiar but very far away.
This soundwalk is for Resi, a fictional heroine inspired by Strauss’ Marie-Therese of Der Rosenkavalier fame. Resi, as imagined by composer Eliza Brown, walks from the humid, glassy, fern-house of the Lincoln Park Conservatory and meanders to the frosted edge of Lake Michigan in a Chicago winter. Her walk is represented here by a recording. It was realized by a group of young players from DePaul University’s Ensemble 20+ with vocalist Jessica Aszodi, conducted by Michael Lewanski. The characters and experience they represent were on a journey, but Resi’s soundwalk was performed before a stationary audience who did not move but used their imaginations to travel as the musicians shifted their perspective on events. Brown’s soundwalk dusts the frigid air with occasionally comforting tunes and samples. Like memories whose objectivity is washed away with time, repeated listenings reveal that there was little to be objective about in the first place.
Kits Beach Soundwalk begins in a manner similar to A Soundwalk for Resi. Westerkamp’s soundwalk, we are told, is the captured aural image of a wind-still day at a city beach in Vancouver. Brown’s is the captured aural image of Chicago in February, projected in sound by the musicians performing such actions as frantic paddling in buckets of water, spitting out vibrant and plosive consonants, and coaxing high romantic melodies from their 19th century instruments on the stage of the University’s concert hall.
Hab’ mir’s gelobt, says the Marschallin, as she relinquishes her lover to the amicable arms of young Sophie. Marie-Therese is 35 years old – the end of the road for viable heroines in the operatic sense of things. Her worldly sacrifice makes her a hero in this world of naivety and selfish impulse.
A clock chimes thirteen times.
The water moves calmly through crevices. The barnacles put out their fingers to feed on the water. The tiny clicking sounds that you hear, are the meeting of the water and the barnacles. It trickles and clicks and sucks… The view is beautiful – spectacular in fact… I’m trying to listen to those tiny sounds in more detail now. Suddenly the background sound of the city seems louder again. It interferes with my listening. It occupies all acoustic space and I can’t hear the barnacles in all their tininess. It seems too much effort to filter the city out. (Westerkamp, from Kits Beach Soundwalk, 1996)
Brown’s vocal part sometimes lands with a quiet authority akin to Westerkamp’s. She speaks as if her words were already written down, inscribed with breath on a frozen Lake Michigan. At other times Strauss’ deep-feeling heroine can be heard echoing up from the well of romantic feeling. Her voice, a torrent spraying uncontrolled, breaks through the water’s surface. The locks of time fall suddenly away. Restraints unclasped after one hundred years, Resi’s loosened body surges upwards, full of flesh and breath and pathos.
With a meaningful look, the protagonists of the aforementioned soundwalks pass each other, ghostlike. They pass through one another’s forms, as they continue on their journeys, never quite together side by side.
When we are alone with our memories it is hard to discern what was nature and what was artifice. The sounds of tongues. Exploding air against gums. Careful reeds in ponds and in mouths. Muted strings struck hard and vibrating columns of air inside instruments tell us gradually that this is not a recording of nature but a piece of music. Fragments of melody float upon the water like broken ice unmoored on the surface of the lake. We experience all these things at once, or in an order that seems beyond our control. The face of the event cracks and splits. From out of the water, the thick fluid of nature clots in the key of E. A surge of nostalgia brings Strauss’ hundred-year-old opera to the fore. It bobs there buoyed by the vertical black deep beneath it. Memories melt into observance of the present, dramatic dialogue to feverish monologue, until suddenly – gone. Nature asserts itself again.