Resonant Bodies


Kate Soper

Kate Soper is a composer, performer and writer. “Musical Dialogues” features her longtime collaborator and Wet Ink ensemble member Sam Pluta (electronics) in exploratory improvisations, as well as Soper’s new piece for voice and piano, “Fragments of Parmenides.”

AIRED: July 07, 2021 | 0:31:23

-[ Vocalizes ] -[ Vocalizes ]

-♪ It's very hard

-The voice is such a unique instrument.

It is located in this place,

in your body where you have your heart below it,

you have your brain above it.

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.


-Many things about the human voice intrigued me,

probably the thing that I find most fascinating

and rich with ideas and frustrating personally

is the fact that it's used for these to not only different

but oppositional things, communication and sound, beauty,

kind of are just sort of this logos-phonos thing

that I'm endlessly trying to deal with in my work.

It's a capacity that we take for granted that's so vast.

And when you're trying to make art out of it,

it's odd to always have to grapple with,

like, well, how much of this do I want?

Like, how much words,

how much noise, how much emotion,

and that all of those things are present

and can be at the same time that you're always kind of

like filling up one to and like taking it

from the other. So I just find

that really fascinating about the human voice.

-[ Vocalizes ]

-Having 30 minutes of freedom for a set for me was exciting

because I am a composer

who often is kind of in the middle of exploring

a long kind of thought process or group of pieces.

So, being on "Resonant Bodies"

means that I can carve out a good chunk of time.

That's enough for me to kind of get to the end of one moment

while still feeling like

maybe I'm building onto something longer.

So with this set in particular, it's been nice to feel like

I really have time to dig into something

that's not going to be too disastrous

if it really doesn't work out. [ Chuckles ]

My set tonight is kind of exploration of the question

of what do our perceptions have to do

with real reality through sound as a medium,

I think sound is a good way to test this

because sound already can be kind of disembodied.

There's a lot of different ways to communicate with it

or hear it or experience it.

We all hear it in kind of a different way.

So I'm using some metaphysical, philosophical text

that struggle with this along with music

to just open it up to everyone in the hall.

The question of what is real and and how do we know

and what does it have to do with what we produce

as an artist or what we like to listen to

or how we communicate to someone else?

I wrote one of the pieces last year,

which is called The Fragments of Parmenides.

That's the piece for voice and piano.

And then the new part is a kind of improvisation

that I'm doing with Sam that's based on a text

that I wrote that pushes the limit of disembodied voice

with live electronic manipulation.

Having half the set be improvised and half composed.

It was really freeing for me to approach it that way.

I think as a composer, writer,

performer, it's hard for me sometimes to give up control

because I'm controlling every aspect of what I'm doing.

And I thought that with Sam there, if I wrote a text

but knew that at some point

Sam would start manipulating my voice out of my control,

it would just be a good way for me to dialog with this idea

of what is sound versus reality

and also just to start to think about just reacting to things

and kind of letting go on stage in a way.

And it's really fun and it gets me kind of excited

about what I'm doing and what I'm saying

and allows me to participate on the same level

as the audience, in a way, like,

I get to enjoy something I didn't expect

and even I get to sit back and kind of listen

for 30 seconds or a minute while Sam does his thing.

So, yeah, it's been it's been a good exploration for me

as I've gone kind of more and more

into writing kind of complicated texts

to just make sure that I'm balancing that out with freedom

and and the lack of choice, in a way.

[ Cheers and applause ]

Hi, everyone. That was such a great set, Anais.

Just been thinking about it

really breathtaking solo stuff and then so interesting

how she got us all in a dialog with her.

And I have been thinking a lot about dialogs for this set

and how important dialog is to music.

And then dialog as an art form

can be a way to personalize discourse.

So by batting around a difficult concept in a theatrical mode,

you can make the concept more transparent.

Using dialog can also help you convince someone of something

by presenting a scenario where someone else gets convinced.

So, for example, if one character in your dialog says

"When someone is swayed to one side of a question

without knowing why, can this be anything

but the effect of prejudice

which never fails to attend old and rooted notions?"

You can have the other guy respond,

"I confess, it seems to be, as you say."

[ Laughter ]

that exchange is from George Berkeley's

1713 treaties "Three Dialogs Between Philonous and Hylas."

In it, two friends meet by chance

while taking an early morning stroll.

Hylas is disturbed by his recent encounters with skeptics

who claim that no material things exist.

Philonous admits that he, too,

believes that no material things exist,

but he is not a skeptic. A long conversation ensues.

[ Laughter ]

Berkeley is presenting a metaphysical seance.

According to him and his fictional counterpoint,

Philonous, the things in the world are real,

but they exist only if they are perceived.

Take the example of sound.

Hylas contends that sound exists as motion in the air,

whether or not it hits our eardrums.

Philonous counters that sense sound is perceived

through hearing, and air can't hear,

it doesn't make sense to say that sound exists in the air.

Hylas says, "Well, okay, there are two kinds of sounds.

The sound we commonly refer to when we talk about what we hear

and a more real philosophical kind of sound

that exists as motion in the air."

"If sound is motion," Philonous says,

"why don't we talk about motion

being loud or soft or in E-flat major?

And since motion belongs not to the sense of hearing

but to the senses of sight and touch,

does that mean that sounds can be seen or felt but not heard?

Isn't it a paradox to say that real philosophical sounds

are not perceived through hearing?

-[ Distorted ] That real, that real, that real, real, real.

-After a few rounds of this, Hylas accepts

that nothing exists outside of our perception.

He is ready to declare himself a skeptic

when Felonious reminds him

that this view is not a skeptical one.

[ Distortion of voice ]

Although things do not exist

other than as perceptions in the mind,

perceptions in the mind are real things that exist.

"Look," says Philonous, "are not the fields covered

in a delightful verdure.

Is there not something in the woods and groves,

in the rivers and clear springs that soothes

that delights that transports the soul?

[ Distortions of voice continue ]

At the prospect of the

♪ Wide and deep ocean

♪ Or some huge mountain

♪ Whose top is lost in the clouds ♪

or of an old, gloomy forest are not our minds filled with

a pleasing horror?

[ Distortion ]

♪ How sincere a pleasure it is ♪

♪ to behold the natural beauties of the earth ♪

To renew our relish for them is not

♪ The veil of night

♪ Alternately drawn over her over her face ♪

♪ And does she not change her dress with the seasons? ♪

Raise now your thoughts from this

♪ Ball of earth

♪ To all these glorious [Vocalizes] ♪

♪ That adorn the high arch of heaven ♪

The motion of the planets in their repeated

♪ Journeys through the palace ♪

♪ Void

[ Distortion ]

♪ So fixed are the laws

♪ By which the unseen Author of nature ♪

♪ Actuates the universe

[ Distortion ]

♪ How rai-i-i-i-i-diant

♪ Is the luster of the fixed ♪

[ Undulating ] ♪ Stars

♪ Scattered throughout the whole ageless vault ♪

♪ Immense orbs of light

♪ Far sunk into the abyss of space ♪

♪ Innumerable worlds

♪ Revolving 'round the central fires ♪

♪ And in these worlds

♪ The energy of an all-perfect

♪ Mind

[ Distorted warble plays]

[ Musical warble builds, falls ]

[ Low tones ]










[ Quick warble-y music ]

William Butler Yates,

in his poem "Blood and the Moon,"

referred to Berkeley as

"God-appointed Berkeley, who proved all things a dream."

Like Berkeley, Yates occasionally used dialog.

His poem "For Anne Gregory" begins with a boy

giving a girl a kind of weirdly fatalistic compliment.

[ Plays piano ]

♪ Never shall a young man

♪ Thrown into despair

♪ By those great honey-colored

♪ Ramparts at your ear

♪ Love you for yourself alone

♪ And not your yellow hair


The girl scoffs at this idea

that a superficial feature like her hair

could be mistaken for her true self.

♪ But I can get a hair-dye

♪ And put such color there

♪ Brown, or black, or carrot

♪ That young men in despair

♪ May love me for myself alone ♪

♪ And not my yellow hair


The boy replies, in the last stanza,

♪ I heard an old religious man

♪ But yesternight declare

♪ That he had found a text to prove ♪

♪ That only God, my dear ♪

♪ Could all love you for yourself alone ♪

♪ And not your yellow hair


This short poem grapples with the same metaphysical question

as Berkeley --

What do our perceptions have to do with reality?

One of the oldest surviving texts on the subject

is also a poem and also a dialog.

Written by Parmenides around 500 B.C.,

it's between an unnamed narrator and an unidentified goddess.

♪ Welcome O, youth

♪ Here you will learn

♪ Everything, everything

♪ Everything

What the goddess has to tell us

will be revealed in the two parts of the poem,

"The Way of Truth" And "The Way of Seeming."

The poem begins with the narrator

on a fantastical chariot ride to meet her.


♪ The mares that carry me, kept carrying me ♪

♪ On the path of many voices


The path which leads to the [Vocalizes]


♪ Straining at the chariot driven by ♪

♪ The daughters of the Sun

♪ Who pushed their veils back from their heads ♪

♪ As we crossed the threshold from night to light ♪


♪ From night to light


♪ From light to night


Because this poem survives only in fragments,

there are times when the original meaning is unclear.

Here, the direction of the journey has been disputed.

Are we moving from night to light?

Or are we being brought from the world of light

into the kingdom of night?

Since this is a text that purports to reveal to us

the true nature of reality, it might seem to make more sense

to think of moving into the light, being enlightened.

On the other hand, in many ancient cosmologies,

the seat of power is in night.

In a mythological underworld.


The daughters of the Sun, who drive the chariot,

obviously have to do with light.

But the Sun itself hangs in a vast darkness.

As does the moon, whose light is an illusion.


The goddess has a few things to say about the moon.


♪ Night shiner


♪ Shining with alien light


♪ Wandering, darkly bright ♪

♪ Around the earth


♪ Her gaze always turning a towards ♪

♪ The

♪ Sun


♪ The

♪ Sun

♪ The

♪ Sun


♪ The Sun


♪ The Sun


♪ The Sun


♪ You will learn of the Sun

♪ Hidden hidden deep

♪ The water-rooted earth

♪ The origin of the Sun


♪ The rings of justice

♪ That encircle the earth

♪ And the heavens

♪ Rings of darkness

♪ Rings of fire

All of that comes from part two of the poem,

"The Way of Seeming."

It's only in part one that the goddess tells us the truth,

what we perceive with our senses is not a real.

Reality is something whole and eternal,

so there is no change, no movement, no contrast.

No sound as motion.

No yellow hair.

No light.

No night.

♪ Lovely, what is is

♪ For what is not can never be

♪ Hold fast to the unmoved heart ♪

♪ A reflective truth

♪ Let go of illusion

♪ Gaze steadily with the mind alone ♪


♪ Do not be deceived

♪ By an unseeing eye

♪ A ringing ear

♪ A noisy tongue

♪ Your being is whole

♪ Come pleased

♪ Held eternally changeless

♪ In the chains of truth


[ Slams low keys ]


[ Slams low keys ]


[ Slams low keys ]


[ Slams low keys ]

[ Slams low keys ]

[ Slams low keys ]

[ Slams low keys ]

♪ Never shall a young man

♪ Thrown into despair

♪ By those great honey-colored

♪ Ramparts at your ear

♪ Love you for yourself alone

♪ And not your yellow hair


♪ But I can get a hair-dye

♪ And set such color there

♪ Brown, or black, or carrot

♪ That young men in despair

♪ May love me for myself alone

♪ And not my yellow hair


♪ I heard an old religious man

♪ But yesternight declare

♪ That he had found a text to prove ♪

♪ That only God, my dear ♪

♪ Could love you for yourself alone ♪

♪ And not your yellow hair



If our experience of the perceptible world

is nothing but an illusion, why does the goddess bother

to describe it to us in such detail?

Why catalog light, night,

Sun, moon, stars, earth, life, death, love,

if everything we see and hear

and taste and touch and feel is nothing but empirical noise,

keeping us from contemplation of the one true invisible reality.


Because even if our universe is an illusion,

it still follows discoverable physical laws?

Because even if we're wrong, there is still value in deeply

investigating what we believe to be true,

about what we believe to be real?

Because it's beautiful?


Because it's all we have.


Some fragments of this ancient poem

are not possible to place with complete confidence

in either Part one or part two,

they get shuffled or reordered depending on the translator.

Like the wandering moon, they drift.


♪ It matters not where I begin


♪ For there

♪ I shall return again





[ Cheers and applause ]

[ Cheers and applause intensify briefly ]





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