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A World of Daughters: Trondheim Voices, Jon Balke, Asle Karstad and strings

The woman’s role as creative and supporting force throughout history forms the basis when Trondheim Voices, Jon Balke, Asle Karstad and the strings sets music to the words of the poet Yusef Komunyakaa. “A World of Daughters” premiered October 2019 in Munich, as a collaborative project between Trondheim Voices, Jon Balke and the Munich Chamber Orchestra. Based on the poem of the same name by Yusef Komunyakaa, Balke has composed a piece of music for strings, voices and electronics that illuminates the poem from several angles. The poem is written in a semi-abstract tradition, using images to describe the role of women as a creative force throughout human history. Pulitzer Prize winner Komunyakaa, with his African-American background, is a distinctive musical and rhythmic poet who writes in a pulsating language. The work is written as a framework for the dialogue between the string ensemble and the singers, and allows for Trondheim Voices’ unique abilities as improvisers and sound painters.

In the concerts at Moldejazz 2020 and Olavsfestdagene 2020, the first part of the music also includes a “remixed” version of the previous collaboration between Balke and Trondheim Voices: “On anodyne. ” Similarly this collaboration based on a poem by Komunyakaa, but then written for percussion and voices. This work is presented here in a new version for strings, voices and electronics, which together makes a rich presentation of Komunyaka’s musical poetry.

As an important part of the piece, Trondheim Voices uses the wireless controller, maccatrol, made by Norway’s leading sound designer Asle Karstad. He has with his deep knowledge of the ensemble and its individual performers, designed and tailored the maccatrol; small boxes that are carried on the body and allow singers to manipulate their voices electronically and wirelessly. The sound comes from the voices, and magnificent ambient landscapes, beautiful melodies and abstract soundscapes are improvised in the moment, intuitively and as if the singers were a common breathing organism. Karstad puts the finishing touches on the momentary music, creating a space within the room through his surround mix.

Jon Balke – composer and electronics
Asle Karstad – maccatrol and sound design
Trondheim Voices:
Sissel Vera Pettersen (artistic leader)
Siri Gjære
Tone Åse
Live Maria Roggen
Kari Eskild Havenstrøm
Anita Kaasbøll
Torunn Sævik
Heidi Skjerve

Munich 2019:
Clemens Hagen, conductor
Munich Chamber Orchestra

Moldejazz 2020 and Olavsfestdagene 2020:
Christian Eggen, conductor
Trondheim Soloists

A World of Daughters 

By Yusef Komunyakaa 

Say licked clean at birth. Say
weeping in the tall grass, where
this tantalizing song begins,
birds perched on a crooked branch
over a grave of an unending trek
into the valley of cooling waters.
The soil’s thirst, lessons of earth
unmoor the first tongue. Say
I have gone back, says the oracle,
counting seasons & centuries, undoing fault
lines between one generation & next,
as she twirls sackcloth edged with pollen,
& one glimpses what one did not know. Say
this is where the goat spoke legends ago
in the ring of fire to deliver a sacrifice.
To feel signs depends on how & why
the singer’s song puckers the mouth.
Well, I believe the borrowed rib
story is the other way round, entangled
in decree, blessing, law & myth. One
only has to listen to nightlong pleas
of a mother who used all thousand
chants & prayers of clay, red ocher
blown from the mouth onto the high
stone wall, retracing land bridge
to wishbone. My own two daughters
& granddaughter, the three know how
to work praise & lament, ready to sprout
wings of naked flight & labor. Yes,
hinged into earth, we rose from Lucy
to clan, from clan to tribe, & today
we worship her sun-polished bones,
remembering she is made of questions.
No, mama is not always the first word
before counting eggs in the cowbird’s
nest. It begins in memory. Now, say
her name, say Dinknesh, mother of us all.