The Music of Annea Lockwood

The Music of Annea Lockwood

Performed by Nate Wooley & Yarn/Wire

Fri   Mar   31   2023 - 1:00 PM St. John's Cathedral

The world seems to be finally catching up with the ideas and art of the New York-based composer from New Zealand, Annea Lockwood. After initially pursuing the study of European classical music in the 1960s, she gradually tore free of those strictures and followed a highly personal path more in touch with nature, healing, and human connection. As early as 1967 she was exploring radically unconventional sources and techniques, including a fascinating series of works involving the sound of smashing different sorts of glass, immortalized in a television news story in which her delight and glee with the chaotic, sharp-toned sounds she was producing were palpable on her smiling face.

Lockwood’s life and work changed markedly after she moved to the United States in the early 1970s, meeting her future partner, the composer Ruth Anderson, and beginning a long run as a teacher at Hunter College in New York City. Lockwood was a close friend of Pauline Oliveros—who introduced her to Anderson—and helped her tap into a deep interest in sounds of nature, its role in history, and its relationship with humans. She has famously created sound maps of the Hudson and Danube Rivers, blending meticulous field recordings with stories and dialogue from people who lived and worked alongside these bodies of water. Some of her other works are closer to performance art, while others experiment with electronics.

More recently she’s been working closely and developing new work directly with performers, including the two ruminative pieces from her stunning 2021 album Becoming Air/Into the Vanishing Point, both of which appear on this program. The first piece is a collaboration with trumpeter Nate Wooley, an emotionally intense collage of demanding extended techniques for the instrument, particularly overblown sounds and experiments with the horn’s disembodied mouthpiece. As Bandcamp Daily wrote, “Virtuosity is celebrated for its failure as much as its perfection, a long-time interest for the trumpeter, who, along with Lockwood, recognizes the ineffable humanity within such endeavors. It’s an intensely physical work where Wooley’s exertion and struggle is palpable, as both performer and composer pull back the curtain on the artist’s attempt to control something as organic as sound.” Lockwood worked with New York’s Yarn/Wire for the second composition, which conjures a vision of the natural world unmediated by human intervention. The program also includes the open-ended 1996 work, “Ear-Walking Woman” for “prepared piano and exploring pianist” —performed here by Laura Barger of Y/W—which the composer compares to “a hiker exploring a landscape.”

The Music of Annea Lockwood

“The compositions are not only sonic explorations; they are people explorations.” – Annea Lockwood

Annea Lockwood’s music is some of the most radical to be made in the last fifty years, not because of an alien-like simulation of complexity, but because it asks, forcefully, that the listener is made aware of the true intricacy of the world that encases them. Far beyond being a simple appreciation of the sound of nature, Lockwood’s music leads its performers and audience to the conclusion that beauty occurs in all facets of the human experience. She is interested in what is around us and also what is inside of us.

This concert spans a long history consisting of every phone call, email, and (the best of all) an in-person chat between Annea and these five performers. This quality of collaboration—non-hierarchical, questioning, open, evolving—is different from the standard. It requires more of the players, more of the composer, and its product is something that gives more to the listener.

Annea Lockwood is a revolutionary. She’s quietly changed the face of music by asking us to see the people making it (Ear-Walking Woman, Becoming Air, Into the Vanishing Point). She’s altered the way we hear by building sonic ecosystems (Sound Map of the Danube, Bayou-Borne). She’s made us reconsider the history of music by planting pianos (Piano Transplants). She has brought humanity—with all of its complexity, failure, joy, and wonder—with her, and she’s planted it in the people who play with her and hear her work.

Ear-Walking Woman*

Written for prepared piano, Ear-Walking Woman (which may alternately be titled Ear-Walking Man, when played by a male-identified performer) is built in ten episodes. The piece uses a score with graphic notation, indicating which objects to use, where in the piano they should be placed, and what physical action to employ.

For example, the score might instruct the performer to roll the rubber ball across the bass strings from right to left, creating a wash of descending pitches and activating the bubble wrap that sits just below its path. Superball mallets, the rubber bouncers impaled on barbecue skewers, are used to stroke the piano frame and its strings, producing a moaning quality from the instrument. At one moment, the performer must keep cedar mothballs rolling continuously, while dropping rocks onto the strings. It sometimes seems as if Lockwood is creating a Rube Goldberg machine inside the piano.

Of course, there is variation in how the piece will sound based on the minute differences in the materials—and, it may surprise listeners to know, in the pianos themselves; while the keyboard and its pitches are standardized, the interiors that reproduce that tonal system are not. There are discrepancies, for example, in where exactly to place the dimes—an homage to John Cage’s prepared piano works—to create a whole-tone scale played on the keys. How the pianists approach these physical actions will vary from performer to performer, and, after a sound-propagation method is introduced, Lockwood will indicate that the pianist is at liberty to improvise.

“What I ask her to do,” Lockwood explains, “is listen to sounds coming from those motions very carefully, to recognize the deviations and follow them for a little while, to push them. I set her exploring.”

Becoming Air

“Nate Wooley wrote to me and asked if I’d be interested in a commission for solo trumpet,” Lockwood recalls. “It was partly because I’d already heard Nate and partly because it would never have occurred to me to write for trumpet that it seemed like a good thing to challenge myself with.”

The two sat in Wooley’s living room, and Lockwood asked him to play for her the sounds he’d been exploring in which he most interested. As it turned out, they had a great deal in common. “We’re both fascinated with what happens when you’re generating a sound and it slips out of your control. Then what?” It reminded her of The Glass Concerts where vibrations would build up in the material to the point where the glass would be playing itself.

She ran her recorder and left with documentation of part of Wooley’s vast sonic vocabulary. Then she began outlining a structure in which they could move from one type of sound propagation to another using amplification and feedback. A tam-tam enlarges the range of frequencies in the piece, and initiates the move from one phase to the next, marking long phrases that unfold and then quiet. They build in a progression until they reach a point where he loses control. Where it goes from there, Lockwood says, is entirely Wooley’s creation.

Into the Vanishing Point

Another collaborative work, the commission for Yarn/Wire had as its starting point a New York Times article on collapsing insect populations and the cascade effect that it will have on other life forms—including humans. “I was walking around my house while I was reading it,” Lockwood remembers, “and it literally stopped me dead in my tracks. It’s an unimaginably awful thing to think about. When I brought up the topic with the members of Yarn/Wire, they’d read it too and were equally shaken.”

She began to work out a structure for a piece that would move though stages, which the collaborators eventually realized were stages of mourning. Lockwood is not relying on notation, but makes recordings of their rehearsals together. The musicians have been journaling about the process, taking notes on sound propagation methods and actions.

“I have a difficult time narrowing down a piece when it isn’t yet finished,” Lockwood admits of what is an on-going process, “but I will say that it’s not programmatic; we are not trying to conjure insect-like sounds. We’re working with our feelings about what is happening ecologically, discovering gestures that embody those feelings.

“The beautiful thing about that happening in the process of rehearsal is that it’s live. Maybe the energy isn’t trending in the way that I thought it would, but in a different direction that is really great. You can hear the deviation, you can hear the new path opening up in the sounds. When a piece begins to tell you want it needs, you know you’re on the right path.”

  • * The program notes for Ear Walking Woman, Becoming Air, and Into the Vanishing Point were written by Lara Pellegrinelli for Annea Lockwood’s composer portrait concert at Columbia University’s Miller Theater in 2019. They are reproduced here with the knowledge and permission of the author. Lara Pellegrinelli is a scholar and a journalist, who contributes to NPR and The New York Times. She teaches at The New School and The Peabody Institute.

Copyright © 2019  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form, without the prior written permission of the author.

Knoxville, TN · USA

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