Resonant Bodies

S2021 E3 | FULL EPISODE

Jane Sheldon

Australian-American soprano Jane Sheldon premieres, “Poem For a Dried Up River,” which was inspired by British poet Alice Oswald’s work of the same name.

AIRED: June 23, 2021 | 0:33:20
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TRANSCRIPT

[ Tuning ]

[ Auto-tuned ] ♪ It's very hard

Woman: The voice is such a unique instrument.

[ Vocalizing ]

It is located in this place in your body

where you have your heart below it,

you have your brain above it.

♪ Ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh

Woman: Only the sound of the voice, I think,

can really go to those deep, emotional places,

and when we hear that,

there can be a greater compassion and understanding

and community around the world.

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

The wonderful thing about "Resonant Bodies"

and the just carte blanche kind of freedom

that we are given as singers is for me, primarily,

an opportunity to take some risks

that I can't normally take, [ Singing ]

the freedom to build something from scratch

with nobody making any stipulations in particular

about how it ought to sound, what audience it ought to serve.

That's very rare.

For the most part, the piece is dominated by a really dry sound.

I started composing it, improvising on breath.

You know, the first place that human, physical labor

shows up sonically is in audible breath.

Our breath becomes much louder and much more effortful.

And so I was doing some improvisations

on really belabored breathing,

and when you breathe forcefully enough,

your vocal folds can begin to produce phonation, meaning --

If I can demonstrate,

so there's a breath refrain in the piece that's --

[ Exhales deeply ]

So -- [ Humming ] haaa. Haaa.

If you -- [ Panting ].

If we all do this "haaa,"

you just can extend those sounds,

and suddenly you have a useful musical object.

[ Singing, humming ] So I began improvising with those kinds of sounds

and then trying to stabilize the pitches

that would emerge from the breath.

The two most challenging things

about creating this performance --

one is just that the range of textures and their combinations,

I was pushing myself, compositionally.

And I added another challenge for myself,

which is just the way I've chosen to perform the piece,

for this festival in specific, which is,

I thought, "Well, I should show the physicality

that produces these sounds."

So we have some clay that will be on stage with me

and I perform in this material.

It is a sort of -- part of the trade of opera singing,

that this incredibly athletic thing

just, it's supposed to look effortless.

And in general, as a performer, I'm sort of interested

in watching the body kind of undergo music.

That fact about just my tastes as a performer means

I'm really into physical realizations of music

and I find human effort sort of beautiful.

I love watching performances where somebody

is inhabiting that kind of way of being.

[ Applause ]

[ Insects chirp ]

[ Percussion rattles ]

[ Breath inhaling, exhaling ]

[ Exhaling ]

[ Breath inhaling, exhaling ]

[ Percussion rattling ]

[ Deep breathing continues ]

[ Long exhale ]

[ Long exhale ]

[ Scratching ]

[ Long exhale ]

[ Breathing quickens ]

[ Breathing quickens ]

[ Exhaling ] Hnn. Hnn. Hnn. Hnn.

[ Exhaling ] Haa. Haa. Haa. Haa.

[ Exhaling rhythmically ]

[ Breathing stops ]

[ Exhaling rhythmically ]

[ Music playing quietly ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Breathing stops ]

[ Breathing rhythmically ]

[ Exhaling, humming ]

[ Music plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Vocalizing breathily ]

♪♪

[ Vocalizing breathily ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Oh

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Ahh

♪ Ahh

♪ Oh

♪♪

♪ Ahh, ahhh

♪♪

♪ Oh

♪ Ohh

♪ Oh

♪ Oh-oh

♪ Oh, ahh

♪ Oh, ahh

♪ Oh, ahh

♪ Oh, ahh, oh, ahhhh

♪ Ahhh, ah

♪ Ahh, ahh, ahh

♪ Oh, ahh, ahh-ah, ah

[ Panting ]

♪ Ah, ahh

♪ Ahh, ahh, ahhh

[ Breathing heavily ]

♪ Ah, ahh

♪♪

♪ Ahhh

♪♪

♪ Ahhh

♪♪

♪ Ahhh

Woman: ♪ Very small and damaged and quite dry ♪

♪ A Roman water nymph ♪

♪ Made of bone

♪ Tries to summon a river out of limestone ♪

♪ Very eroded, faded

♪ Her left arm missing

♪ And both legs from the knee down ♪

♪ A Roman water nymph made of bone ♪

♪ Tries to summon a river out of limestone ♪

♪♪

[ Exhaling ]

♪ Exhausted, utterly worn down ♪

♪ A Roman water nymph made of bone ♪

♪ Being the last known speaker of her language ♪

♪ She tries to summon a river out of limestone ♪

♪♪

[ Whispering ] Little distant sound of dry grass.

Try again.

♪ A Roman water nymph made of bone ♪

♪ Very endangered now

♪ In a largely unintelligible monotone ♪

♪ She tries to summon

♪ A river out of limestone ♪ ♪ River out of limestone ♪

Both: Little distant sound of dry grass.

Try again. ♪ Try again

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Ahhh

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪♪

♪ Ahh, ahhh

♪ Ahhh ♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪♪

♪ Mmm

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪ Mmm

♪ Ahhh

♪♪

♪ Ahhh

♪♪

♪ Mmm

♪ Ahhh

♪♪

♪ Oooh

♪♪

♪ Mmm

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Exquisite bone figurine with upturned urn ♪

♪ In her passionate self-esteem ♪

♪ She smiles looking sideways ♪

♪ She seemingly has no voice ♪

♪ But a throat-clearing rustle ♪

♪ As of dry grassssss

♪ Try again

♪♪

♪ She tries leaning

♪ Pouring pure outwardness ♪

♪ Out of a grey urn

♪ Little slithering sounds as of a rabbit man ♪

♪ In full night-gear

♪ Who lies so low in the rickety willowherb ♪

♪ That a fox trots out of the woods ♪

♪ And over his back and away ♪

♪ She tries leaning

♪ Pouring pure outwardness ♪

♪ Out of a grey urn

Little lapping sounds. Little lapping sounds.

[ Whispering ] Yes.

As of dry grass secretly drinking.

Try again.

Little lapping sounds. Little lapping sounds.

Yes.

As of dry grass secretly drinking.

Try again.

♪♪

♪♪

[ Breathing heavily ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Ahhh

[ Sighs ]

♪♪

♪ Ahhh

[ Sighs ]

♪♪

♪ Mmm

♪ Mm-mmmm

[ Vocalizing ]

[ Vocalizing ]

[ Vocalizing together ]

♪ Mmm

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Roman bone figurine

♪ Year after year

♪ In a sealed glass case ♪

♪ Ooh

♪ Having lost

♪ The hearing of her surroundings ♪ ♪ Oooh

♪ She struggles to summon a river ♪

[ Whispering ] Out of limestone. ♪ Ooh

Little shuffling sound.

As of approaching slippers.

♪ Mmm

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪ Year after year

♪ In a sealed glass case ♪

♪ A Roman water nymph made of bone ♪

♪ She struggles to summon a river out of limestone ♪

♪ Little shuffling sound ♪

♪ As of a nearly dried-up woman ♪

[ Breathing heavily ] ♪ Not really moving through the fields ♪

♪ Having had the gleam ♪ ♪ Oooh

♪ Taken out of her ♪ Ahhh

♪ To the point where she resembles twilight ♪ ♪ Ohhh

Try again.

♪ Ohhh

♪♪

♪ Little shuffling clicking ♪

♪ Mmm ♪ She opens the door of the church ♪

♪ Little distant sounds ♪ ♪ Mmm

♪ Of shut-away singing ♪

♪ Little whispering fidgeting ♪ ♪ Mmm

♪ Of a shut-away congregation ♪

♪ Wondering who to pray to ♪ ♪ Ooh, ahh

♪♪

[ Whispering ] Little patter of eyes closing.

Try again. Try again.

♪♪

♪♪

[ Breathing heavily ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Breathing rhythmically ]

♪ Very small and damaged and quite dry ♪

♪ A Roman water nymph made of bone ♪

♪ She pleads, she pleads a river out of limestone ♪

♪ Little hobbling tripping ♪

♪ Of a nearly dried-up river ♪

♪ Not really moving through the fields ♪

♪ Having had the gleam taken out of it ♪

♪ To the point where it resembles twilight ♪

Little grumbling shivering last-ditch attempt at a river.

More nettles than water.

Try again.

♪ Very speechless very broken old woman ♪

♪ Her left arm missing ♪

♪ And both legs from the knee down ♪

[ Panting ]

♪ She tries to summon a river out of limestone ♪

[ Breathing heavily ]

[ Insects chirping ]

♪ Year after year

[ Bell clangs ]

♪ Year after year

[ Bell clangs ]

♪ Year after year

[ Bell clangs ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Year after year

Little stoved-in sucked thin low-burning glint of stones,

rough-sleeping and trembling and clinging to its rights,

victim of Swindon, puddle midden,

slum of over-greened foot-churn and pats,

whose crayfish are cheap tool-kits

made of the mud stirred up when a stone's lifted.

It's a pitiable likeness of clear running,

struggling to keep up with what's already gone,

the boat the wheel the sluice gate,

the two otters larricking along.

[ Whispering ] Go on.

♪♪

♪♪

[ Panting ]

♪♪

♪ Ah-h-h-h

♪ Ah-h-h-h

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ah-h-h-h

♪ Year after year

♪ Year after year

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ah-h-h-h ♪ Ahh

♪ Ah-h-h-h ♪ Ah

♪♪

♪♪

♪ And they say, oh

♪ Ahhh

♪ Ahhh

♪ And they say, oh

♪ They say

♪ In the days of better rainfall ♪

♪ It would flood through five valleys ♪

♪ There'd be cows and milking stools ♪

♪ Washed o-o-o-ver the garden walls ♪

[ Vocalizing ]

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

♪ And when it froze ♪ Ahh

♪ You could skate for five miles ♪ ♪ Ahh

♪ And they say, oh

[ Panting ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪ Little loose end shorthand unrepresented ♪

♪ Beautiful disused route to the sea ♪

♪ Fish path with nearly no fish in ♪

♪ And they say, oh

[ Applause ]

♪ And they say, oh

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