• Anna Thorvaldsdottir
  • UR_ (2015)

  • Chester Music Ltd (World)
  • bfl.cl+bclhn.tbnpercpfvn.va.vc.cb
  • mezzo soprano, baritone, narrator, voice
  • 1 hr 15 min
    • 5th August 2020, DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York, United States
    • 6th August 2020, DiMenna Center for Classical Music, New York, United States
    View all

Programme Note

Premise

UR_ combines two main narratives, told through an abstract metaphorical persona, the various aspects of which are portrayed by the different elements of the trilogy (voices/singers). The elements merge and divide throughout the work, but are fundamentally tied together through the presence of a central being (ambiguously portrayed by the actor). The grand piano is a separate character, representing the “Mother” – the protecting element.

One narrative looks backward, the other forward: The first narrative, which is the primary focus, is the story of the human being struggling to find a way back to the UR_ – the perspective of this narrative is primarily that of the trilogy; the other, the secondary focus (and perhaps more theatrically presented), is the story of how we got here, so far removed from the UR_.

The progression in the voices primarily represents the backward element – the UR_ in the human being waking from hibernation and finding themselves in an unfamiliar environment, struggling to find their voice and to be heard – this is the struggle of the human being rediscovering the UR_ in itself (in its several forms, which – although different – are part of the same), the abstract persona conflicted and confused by its seemingly unheard voice and presence. This struggle is characterized by the struggle of each to find its voice, their struggle to communicate with each other, and their struggle to communicate as a unity with the “other” side of the abstract persona, the one responsible for this alien state. This is all part of the struggle to find a way back to “nature”, which can have many meanings. Once found/heard, it is liberating and beautiful but also difficult in many ways. For all its presence and importance for the human being, however, this wondrous achievement all but disappears (becomes invisible?) as we become aware of the UR_ itself, its vast and massive expanse. The human being, despite its (perhaps inevitable) perception of the significance of its own values, its place in the world, and the impact it has had on it (for good and bad), may “disappear overnight”, its time here – whether close to UR_ or removed from it – “a blink in the eye of evolution”.

The forward element – how the UR_ in the human being was pushed into hibernation – is less represented in the music and more in the theatrical elements. This narrative contains elements of the trajectory of Western culture – this might be the Enlightenment, industrialization, capitalism, (colonialism?) – which got the (Western) human being to where it is, for good and bad. The perspective here can be critical, or it may be more neutral/descriptive. This current environment in which the UR_ elements find themselves, and find to be alien to them, is also represented primarily theatrically (if at all?) – it is the “other” side of the modern human being whose UR_ has now woken up, confused and desperate to find its way back/be heard. It may be an open question whether the part of us that got us here likes the environment it has created, but at least it somehow believes (must believe?) that it understands what it has created (and why). This may be represented in part by the clutter of voices, the rivers of speech (streams of human reason) within which the UR_ elements are trying to be heard.

The primary narrative – the search for a way back to the UR_, the struggle to be heard/included – is spoken through sequences of musical imagery and phonetic sound structures where language merges with music in sound and expression. Phonetic patterns become an instrument where elements of various languages are dispersed and recombined, generating a strained and fragmented idiolect. Language – in its familiar form – in part represents the emphasis on human reason which partly underpins the ideology of Western culture that got us to where we are. Language facilitates an important kind of understanding, but there is also a certain kind of understanding that it can limit, be a barrier to. It can mean the difference between “us” and “them”. Being heard, understood, can change these boundaries, redraw the line – being truly heard means being genuinely included, and true inclusion is a kind of freedom/liberation, an elimination of hierarchy.

Communicating through expressive phonetic gestures is a mechanism that allows for important conversations that cannot be had in language, but can still be understood and appreciated – conversations that remain lost until the UR_ elements find a natural way to communicate and a natural voice to speak with.

Without these, they are truly voiceless.

© Anna Thorvaldsdottir
Premise summarized by Anna Thorvaldsdottir & Hrafn Asgeirsson

View Score

Preview the score