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The Stone People
Cantaloupe Music, 2016
Hope on the horizon
Lisa Moore plays the piano works of five different composers on this release: John Luther Adams, Martin Bresnick, Julia Wolfe, Missy Mazzoli and Kate Moore.
The works were selected by David Lang who had some strong curatorial ideas about what ties them together. In his brief to me, he explained that the release had an anthropological concept: ‘it is not a cd about nature but about people, in their most elemental states’.
The starting point for the selection had been the decision to record all of John Luther Adams’ solo piano pieces. The first Adams piece Tukiliit translates as ‘the stone people who live in the wind’ – hence the title of the CD. Lang describes Adams’ music as ‘beautiful, often stark, elemental music, that promises to use minimalism to point music towards its most fundamental human truths.’
This line of thinking led him to also select a work by Martin Bresnick called Ishi’s Song. This work has a deeply upsetting story behind it. Ishi was known as the “last wild Indian” in America. After losing all his family and tribe to massacre, introduced diseases and destruction of their environment, he stumbled out of decades of hiding into the western world. Alone, starving and with nowhere else to go.
Ishi was not his real name, he was called that by the anthropologists who took him to Berkley and studied him relentlessly. Ishi means just ‘man’ – Yahi culture dictated that he must not speak his name or the names of the dead. Before he died of tuberculosis, Ishi recorded a song fragment on an Edison cylinder. No one knows what the words mean or what the original context for the song was. Bresnick takes this anthropological artefact and sets the melody to a piano accompaniment with haunting and melancholic results.
David suggested we use Ishi’s face on the cover so that was my starting point. I ended up writing back ‘I have been through so many pictures of Ishi, everything I can find online, but whenever I try to use him on the cover, I get this terrible feeling that he’s being exploited yet again.’
So I went for another idea David had introduced in his brief: ‘the horizon as a human construct, since it doesn’t exist objectively except in our perception of it, and the chasing of it is a part of our nature.’
I typed ‘horizon’ into Google – as you do – and the results included recent images taken by the spacecraft ‘New Horizons’ on its flyby of Pluto in July 2015. Especially interesting was the stunning image of the surprisingly pink Pluto, the lonely, desolate ice-rock at the edge of our solar system. Our continued chase of new – and unknowable – lands, this image echoed David’s idea of composers as explorers.
I felt much more comfortable using Ishi’s face inside the wallet – a more protected space where I could represent him in a bigger context. I made a collage using an image of him that had been originally printed on a postcard and had the dotted texture from the print. The rest of the composition is made up of an image of Yosemite granite (stone from Ishi’s land) by freelance science and travel writer Mary Caperton Morton (who wanders the deserts with her deaf coyote-cattledog) and an image from Cassini’s flyby of Saturn’s moon Mimas in 2010.