Reading by Yale Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Professor Toshiyuki Shimada at Woolsey Hall, Yale University, November 2013.
WINNER of YSO Readings Competition.
When does a familiar sound become familiar music? Ravel’s Bolero is a warhorse in the collective memory of orchestral music from the 20th century, especially among popular audiences. Upon hearing a few bars of the indelible melody, almost anyone will be able to recognize the music, even if they can not name the piece. But in those instants between the initial encounter with sound and the mental recognition of the tune as an established piece, our ears and minds together plunge through the rich depths of our memory to locate a category for the yet unidentified sound. This period of time is often limited to a few milliseconds, too brief to contemplate in the moment. Yet it is in this ephemeral period of time that sound has its greatest potency; the familiar nature of the sound compels us to search our memory for the music to which it belongs, which necessarily requires us to give the particular sound the power of universal association. Before giving a name to it, the particular sound could belong to any music. We eventually locate a name for the sound by forgetting all of the other possible music to which it could belong.
To remember is always forgetting is inspired by this dialectical process, and the rich space between sound and the music of memory. The piece is structured around three harmonies derived from the spectral analysis of three timbral events in Bolero. A slow introduction introduces two of the harmonies, followed by two sections of music inspired by the texture of the opening harmonies. A third section introduces the third harmony, and then explores the texture of this harmony while also recalling the music of the first and second harmonies. The audience may find no resemblance between my piece and Bolero, which is entirely okay. The sounds of Bolero merely served as inspirational material for my own essay into the intersectionality of music, memory and sound. One might conceive of my piece as a product of the failure to locate the music of Bolero in our memory, one possible end to the meandering path our mind takes when it fails to match the familiar sound to the correct source, instead stumbling upon different music, familiar only to our own imagination.