By Katie Heilman, Special to The Sybaritic Singer
The latest collaboration between Los Angeles-based composers Cassandra Venaglia and Dante Luna is a twenty-minute ambient electroacoustic journey using the text of T.S. Eliot’s poem, La Figlia che Piange, or “The Girl Who Cries.” This work is set up in three parts, based on the stanza of the poem, and Venaglia and Luna take the listener on a hauntingly beautiful reflection from the speaker of the poem.
The first section is mostly wordless, creating an introspective atmosphere of bell-like sounds and other percussion techniques manipulated through Ableton. The listener is brought into the universe of the poem as the sounds of chimes move in and out, slowly and with high reverb, as though one is in meditation. When vocals enter, they appear in a chant-like setting, contributing to an air of antiquity – while the text of Eliot’s poem could apply to humans in any period of time, Venaglia and Luna are sending the listener to an ancient, primeval place. Action words from the beginning of each line of the first stanza are whispered, growing louder as the tension rises in this otherwise peaceful, yet haunting world.
This tension gives way to whispers and breathy sounds, leading the listener into the second stanza and sounds of a thunderstorm. The tranquility of before has now given way to a frantic mind, listing off regrets in a way that is reminiscent of one trying to sleep but unable to due to obsessive thoughts on a mistake of the past. This section of the poem is spoken and manipulated, overlapping and weaving until the sounds of speaking become the music itself. This section is reminiscent of early tape music and the phasing of Steve Reich, with heavy reverb applied over top to maintain the ethereal setting.
The listener returns to the ancient setting of before as Venaglia begins to sing the final stanza over a drone. Phasing techniques weave the other lines of this stanza underneath the mournful singing of, “She turned away, but with the autumn weather…” This slowly morphs into Venaglia wistfully singing, “I should have lost…” as the other sounds die away, leaving only one final “I should have lost,” before the piece ends in silence.
The ancient, mournful tone of La Figlia che Piange, combined with the juxtaposition of vocal manipulation, takes on an air of timelessness. The listener could be in any place, but it is a place of quiet reflection, perhaps one filled with regret. The atmosphere that Venaglia and Luna create fits well with the text, and it would certainly fit well as a piece performed in an intimate space like the living room of a house. The intimacy of listening on headphones in one’s own quiet living room is just as effective.
Katie is a composer, oboist, and beginner mandolinist based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Katie currently works as the Program Assistant for Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies. She has a passion for using social media in the arts, as well as working behind the scenes to help the next generation of musicians.
Katie is a fierce advocate for supporting local arts. You can usually find her attending a chamber music concert or theater show on any given weekend, and she has been a member of the Schubert Club’s arts ambassador group Theoroi since 2015. She is also involved in local new music society Punk-Ass Classical.