Our Illusion of Separateness
Over the last year, I’ve discovered a surprising enjoyment in practicing yoga. As a stalky six-foot-three guy who works from home at a computer all day long, I can tell you that aside from the obvious physical benefits (I can now touch my toes, thank you very much), there have been a number of mental benefits, as well. I imagine the majority of us have heard the cliché that in an increasingly complex and accelerating world, it’s becoming harder and more precious to slow down, to relax. Yoga has certainly helped me with this aspect of my life.
Walking down the block to the nearby yoga studio is the only time in my week that I leave my phone at home, which is a remarkably difficult thing to do. We practice for 75 minutes and near the end of the session, after our bodies are warm and exhausted, we lay on our backs with our arms extended beside us, palms face-up, for a few revitalizing minutes of savasana. Savasana is Sanskrit for “corpse pose,” and as my teacher says, it’s the moment we’ve worked so hard for in the first 70 minutes of class, where we can just relax, where we let our bodies cool down, where we attempt to bring our minds to some kind of stillness.” These few precious minutes are often accompanied by some kind of ambient music, from Brian Eno to Bing & Ruth. The music is often constructed of augmented tones, synthesized pads, with simple repeated motifs. But even though the music is often minimalist, it’s also organic and allows for nothing to ever repeat in the same exact way.
When I reflect on a lot of the music I’ve written over the last ten years (Shadow Rituals, Instinctive Travels, Saturn Returns), I feel overwhelmed by the number of ideas fighting for the foreground. When I listen to some of these pieces, I feel strangely exhausted, like I’ve just run a 7-minute mile and my ears are still trying to catch their breath. I needed to write something that was not only slower and more lyrical, but somewhat meditative, too. Music that could potentially have the same effect as savasana, music that could help me find some personal stillness, that not only hits your ears and your heart but that also wraps around you like a warm blanket, sound from all sides.
In fact, the piece was a big experiment for me: it’s the first time I’ve ever thought about music in terms of its spatial relationship with the listener. The winds and brass are asked to step off of the stage, out of the spotlight, to join the audience circling around them along the perimeter of the concert hall. But it’s easy to get a little caught up in the spectacle. There’s a lot to look at, and while I hope it’s a new experience for you, it’s also easy to miss the music if we’re too focused on the scenery. And so I’d like to invite you to close your eyes for the performance. Let the music simply wash over you. I know it probably sounds a bit cheesy, but if you’re able to close your eyes for even just a couple of minutes, I think you’ll discover that you’ll be better able to hear how the music is actually swirling and morphing around you. So relax. Enjoy. These next ten minutes are for you.
Our Illusion of Separateness was commissioned by Calvin Hofer and Colorado Mesa University, with generous support from Karen Combs, and premiered on December 5, 2014 under the guest direction of Dr. Darin Kamstra at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colorado.
“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” —Thích Nhất Hạnh
Commissioned by Colorado Mesa University
With generous support from Karen Combs.
Markowski Creative (ASCAP)
Stage: Electric Piano (or laptop), Piano, Vibraphone, Marimba (5-octave), P1) Vibe mallets inside piano, Bass Drum
House Front: Oboe 1 & 2, Bassoon 1 & 2, B-flat Clarinet 1-3, B-flat Bass Clarinet 1 & 2, Crotales 1 & 2
House Left: Flute 1-3, B-flat Clarinet 1 & 2, B-flat Trumpet 1 & 2 (harmon mute, no stem), Horn 1 & 2, Trombone 1 & 2, Euphonium, Tuba, Crotales 3, Shaker
House Right: Flute 1-3, B-flat Clarinet 1 & 2, B-flat Trumpet 1 & 2 (harmon mute, no stem), Horn 1 & 2, Trombone 1 & 2, Euphonium, Tuba, Crotales 4, Shaker
House Back: Alto Saxophone 1 & 2, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone
No known errata.