Music from the Desert
by Sheila BRITTON
It was five years ago that Daniel LENTZ visited Japan as part of the "Interlink Festival" to perform his process music using a multitracker. The busy, expansive music was pop-oriented, a reflection of his then-home, Los Angeles. But gradually, after relocating to the Arizona desert, Lentz's music began to be transformed. In the following article, Sheilah BRITTON, a veteran producer of documentary programs, reports on Lentz's current activities.
Days in the Sonoran Desert north of Phoenix are hauntingly quiet in the monsoon months of summer. Heat rises from the desert floor as clouds form in late afternoon lending moisture to the parched air and the high-pitched, monotonous drone of cicadas breaks the silence. For composer Daniel Lentz, it is all part of the rhythmic flow of the desert where he lives, and where he lives is what fuels his music. "Anything you do is a reflection of where you live if you're honest. It took me a long time to figure it out but the desert has definitely changed my music," he says.
Lentz, most recent concert-length work, "Apologetica," was conceived in his Sonoran home and he believes the music reflects the mood of the desert in which it was written. "I began working with it soon after I moved to Arizona and that was one of the problems with it--I was still an Angeleno in my heart. So it had a lot of false starts, and false names, and false images. In the beginning it was this big L.A. production but the longer I lived here the more the piece changed and eventually became what it is today," he explains.
"Apologetica" was born of a text created from material found in the Chilam Balam, the sacred books of the Maya Indians of Yucatan, and from Hopi and Navajo words and phrases. Lentz metaphorically explored the dominant Europeans' voyage into the mind and soul of the aboriginal Americas. He worked the text into 14 separate pieces but felt the music incomplete, "I finished the piece and then the ending didn't feel right. The text didn't have a sense of closure, the music didn't have a sense of closure." He discovered The Tears of the Indians, a book published in 1542 by Fray BARTOLEME de las Casas, the Spanish Bishop who was known as the Protector of the Indians. A text was created from Bartoleme's words and Lentz found new inspiration. "The music was already written when I got the text, but I saw the text and had the idea of this rising glissando which expresses the whole mood and it wrote itself. When the text is good and very clear emotionally and structurally, it's
Vaclav VACULOVIC, director of "Forfest '96", an international festival of contemporary arts in the Czech Republic, invited Lentz to perform "Apologetica" for the opening of the festival in June. Lentz and keyboardist/recording engineer, Brad ELLIS had already recorded the keyboards on a Synclavier system at Meta Music Studios in Los Angeles. Both acoustic and digital percussion were recorded there, as well. Lentz sent copies of the score to members of a string orchestra, The Bishop's Ensemble in the Czech Republic, which their conductor, Zdenka VACULOVICOVA, studied in the months prior to the concert. In the days preceding the performance the Ensemble rehearsed the piece with Vaculovicova, Ellis, and Lentz and recorded the strings in a medieval cathedral in the village of Kromeriz.
The world premiere performance of "Apologetica" also took place in the cathedral and the richness of music and voices in that space moved Lentz, "I enjoyed the performance in Kromeriz although it was very raw. It was in the moment. The audience was really into it, the performers were really into it, and the space was incredible. It had its own kind of magic." Although the piece was performed with live voices in the Czech Republic the voices won't be recorded until August. "We may use members from the Phoenix Bach Choir but the choir will definitely be done here in the West," says Lentz, who will mix it with engineer Mike COLEMAN at Orangewood Studios in Arizona. Coleman has previously mixed Lentz's "wolfMASS, " "b.e. comings," and "Walk Into My Voice" with Harold BUDD. "Apologetica" will be released in late 1996 or early 1997 on New Albion Records.
|Lentz is currently doing what he loves best--working on a piece that will premiere in December at Xebec Hall in Kobe, Japan. "What I enjoy most about the process is the writing of the music--the initial impact of an idea that comes into my head and the isolation of writing for weeks or months," he explains. In this piece the text comes from a choka (long poetic form) by the Japanese court poet, YAMANOUE Okura. Lentz has long been drawn to Japanese poetry and actually began working with this particular text in 1990. "In the Japanese language vowels and word endings are very soft and phonetically it's always been very beautiful to me not to have words end with hard sounds," he says. He is writing the piece from the Japanese but also hopes to use the English translation with some phonetic deconstruction.|
The music was inspired by the rising glissando from the title piece of "Apologetica, " "The 15th piece of that set became the spirit of this piece. Now in 'The Temple of Lament' I wanted to explore that further so in the first movement the glissandi is most generally going up and is most like 'Apologetica'." As the text changes, Lentz responds musically, "In the middle movement, which is about young girls and boys, everything is going every which way but making very gorgeous harmony, very sensuous sound, with shimmering textures." For the final movement, which is very dark, the music moves very gradually down and ends at the lowest register.
For "The Temple of Lament," Lentz hopes to have Aki TAKAHASHI playing the major keyboard parts. Although he has never met her, he has fond memories of her brother Yuji. Lentz was on a Leonard Bernstein Fellowship at Tanglewood in 1966 where Gunther SCHULLER was directing new music. He had written a piece in celebration of his daughter's birth, "Love Song for Medeighnia," which was to be played by a harpsichordist from Tanglewood. The harpsichordist said it was impossible to play. Lentz remembers, "I was in the office with Schuller and this harpsichordist, and he is telling us both that the piece is not possible to play. And Yuji walks by and Gunther pulls him into the office and Yuji sits down and literally sight reads the piece on the piano. Neither one of us spoke the other's language but we did a great performance of a very complex, modernist piece."
In the past, Lentz admits he once believed that each piece he wrote had to be different, had to be unique. Now he feels comfortable approaching his music more like a painter. "When a painter makes a show he makes 15 or 20 pieces and exhibits no embarassment that it's all part of the same idea. Now I realize it's all about style. You've got to show continuity. This idea of glissandi going into these areas of harmony where you get all this dissonance opening up into consonance in harmonies--I could do that for the next 150 years. There's a whole world there I've just begun to explore."
Five years ago Lentz left the cacaphony of Los Angeles in search of a more tranquil place. During those years the peace he sought in the Sonoran Desert was shaken by the deaths of his mother, his father, and his older brother, David. "There's hardly a minute when I'm writing music that I'm not thinking of them," he says. "I'm not always conscious of it, but especially when I'm thinking of my Mom, it gets in there. And because I love them so much there is a sensual thing there, it's not just all darkness."
From his keyboards he can see through glass walls past the creosote and saguaro cactus to the mountains in the distance. It has been a good day of making music. "Everything I did today relates to everything to come and that makes it a good day. I didn't get a lot of minutes down but what I did was done within my own structural parameters that I've set for myself," he says.
It seems his time in the desert has found its way into his music, too.
"I wasn't even aware of it when it was happening. It really goes back to all those nights alone in the desert out there at my house," Lentz says. "I don't hear the L.A. freeways anymore, I hear the nothingness of the desert nights.
Text for"Apologetica" by Sheiah Britton
The Temple of Lament" from Okura's Lament on the Instability of Human Life.
*Support for the creation and recording of "Apologetica" was provided in part by the Institute for Studies in the Arts at Arizona State University, the National Endowment for the Arts' New American Works Program, and the Arizona Commission on the Arts.
*Daniel Lentz's concert at Xebec featuring "The Temple of Lament," a newly commissioned work, was scheduled for December 5, 1996.