A Longer Listen on a Serious Subject

September 3, 2016 at 10:04 am

Today is Saturday; take a half-hour to close your eyes, sit, breathe, think, and of course, listen.

You have to admire Carson Cooman‘s legendary work ethic. At 35, he already has penned over 1100 musical compositions, all the while maintaining careers in organ performing, academic writing, and others. He has written for every genre and his music has been performed all over the world “in venues that range from the stage of Carnegie Hall to the basket of a hot air balloon.”

His poignant Symphony no. 4 is best described using Cooman’s own words (taken from his website):

… for me, a symphony is a piece that attempts (in some rather small way) to make an artistic comment on a “big topic,” whether that be emotional/psychological, societal, or natural…. My fourth symphony, Liminal, addresses climate change—a topic at the forefront of discussion in the present time. The English word liminal comes from the Latin word for threshold. In social and cultural anthropology, the concept of liminality is used when describing rituals and processes; it refers specifically to the quality of ambiguity that occurs in the middle of the ritual, when participants are not the same as they were before the ritual began, but have not yet reached the conclusion.

It seems inarguable that the earth is (and perhaps has always been) in a liminal state. This piece is made up of varied soundscapes that reflect musically on the large-scale changes taking place, many of which have very distressing consequences for the future of the life we know…. while the ultimate trajectory is perhaps disturbing, as the ecologically-minded composer John Luther Adams has written, “Amid the turbulent waves we may still find the light, the wisdom and courage we need to pass through this darkness of our own making.”

[In this symphony,] one harp is tuned a quarter tone lower than the rest of the orchestra, and the two harps together provide an uneasy, blurry tonal area through which the rest of the ensemble is led…. in the final section only one harp remains. Some sort of transformation has been reached, or at least the search for light continues. The quarter tone contrast returns for the final chord. Perhaps the process only seems to be at an end from our limited perspective.