I began the process of this piece thinking about the concept of language. What is language? What does it mean to communicate? Do only humans have language? If one does not understand a language, how do you interpret it? Is that language still communicating with you even if it may not be in the way intended? With this in mind I began to search for sounds that could provide insight to some of these questions. I knew that I wanted to do something with chants due to their spiritual meaning. Religious communication, regardless of the language it is written in, can sometimes have a universal meaning for those who practice the religion, which seemed interesting to me and offered an angle to approach the questions I had. I found a Nichiren Buddhist chant, which was a sect I had never encountered in my studies. This chant is the basis of their practice, basically analogous to meditation in Zen Buddhism, which surprised me. To listen to something that is some people’s way of achieving enlightenment made this chant have meaning to me, even though I do not speak Japanese.
After I found the focal point of my piece I began to look for sounds to contrast it. I found a recording of a rally cry at an Ohio football game and included it as a more traditional form of communication. However, the context it is in forces us to ask more questions of it. What does yelling O-H-I-O really mean? Comparing it to the nichiren, what properties do they share? Is community an important part of communication? To what extent does context (yelling Ohio at a stadium in America vs. a crowded plaza in India) play a role in meaning? I don’t have any definite answers to these questions but these are some of the things I wanted to bring up in my piece.
The final contrasting element is a recording of bird sounds. This recording naturally brings up questions about human’s role in communication and language. Accidentally, when I was lining up the sounds on the timeline I happened upon an order such that the rhythm of the bird calls almost matched that of the Ohio chant. The fact that the rhythms match up so well suggests a really interesting unity of communications throughout species.
The last two sounds I included were samples of two basses doing overtone chants. These were less instrumental in the meaning of my piece and served more to set a contemplative tone for the piece.
I organized the piece so that each sample of text was introduced separately, allowing the mind to focus on one and then its relation to the others. When mixing the piece I moved the bird call to the left ear and the nichiren to the right to draw a sonic contrast between them, which forces the listener to evaluate their relationship more. Towards the end of the piece, when the drones and the Ohio chant fade out, the bird call and the nichiren come into both ears, suggesting a unity and helping the audience come to some sort of understanding.