Live video recording by Jennifer Beattie (mezzo-soprano) and Baldwin Giang (electronics) at Beinecke Library, Yale University, November 2012.
TEXT by Hildegaard von Bingen (1098-1179):
O rubor sanguinis,
qui de excelso illo fluxisti,
quod divinitas tetigit,
tu flos es,
quem hiems de flatu serpentis
num quam laesit.
O ruby red blood,
Which flowed down on high,
Touched by divinity;
You are the flower
That the wintry breath of the serpent
A Body is My Temple is a spiritual journey on multiple levels. Using full quotations from Hildegaard von Bingen’s “O Rubor sanguinis,” this piece aims to remove the Christian connotations from the chant and instead use its melody as a means to find a personal spirituality. Much of the awe-inspiring power of Gregorian chant comes from the resonance of the Cathedrals in which it was historically performed. In contrast, my goal was to create resonance to support the chant with the sounds of the human body, specifically the sounds of the unique performer. Using live sampling and digital-signal processing through the open-source program Pure Data, the electronics part is fully interactive with the performer creating resonance based on the singer’s own breath, heartbeat, and voice. The narrative of the piece begins with the singer’s first inhaled breath, moves inside the body through its veins and to its heart, until the singer finds a sublime resonance deep within her core.
At a different level, A Body is My Temple also traces a journey from West to East. Beginning with the pure straight tone of a Gregorian chant, the singer gradually incorporates coloristic eastern vocal elements. Many of these elements come from p’ansori singing, a vocal tradition native to Korea, which showcases the grittiest and yet powerfully expressive limits of the human voice. Along the journey, the singer unearths the harmonies of a Buddhist temple bell, sampled at a temple in Nikko, Japan. Using some of the earliest music in recorded history and some of the newest music technology available, this piece spans thousands of years and thousands of miles, all within the human body.