Crisis Modes (world premiere, LA Phil commission)
When we improvise, music happens in the present; it is how we commune with the forces around us, human and otherwise. By contrast, when we compose (which the great Wayne Shorter succinctly defined as “slowed-down improvisation”), we are sending a piece of music downstream, to be heard in the future. Like the other composers on this program, I find myself doing a lot of both: digging in to the “now,” with and among others, and plotting events for the “then,” for others. These are some ways that we make music for today and for tomorrow.
I chose to approach this piece of music-for-tomorrow like a time capsule. There’s no denying it: we live in a time of struggle, with humanitarian and environmental crises gripping us every day. So, what might I try to tell future audiences, besides “S.O.S.”? I want to communicate to them, and to you, what it is possible for us to imagine from this scarred planet at the dawn of 2019. Speculative fiction author N.K. Jemisin recently said in an interview, “My job is to help the world… That is what an artist’s job is – to the degree that we can… It is an artist’s job to speak truth to power.” Crisis Modes offers a version of the present in which we call each other to action, push through a haze of denial, and organize ourselves as a coherent, constructive oppositional force. I don’t exactly know what that sounds like, but I can at least imagine how it feels, so this piece is my attempt to trace that affective landscape.
The central episode, “Denial,” first came to me as a piano improvisation, which I then orchestrated for strings and percussion. I’d never done that before, but I felt that this would be a way to access an embodied, emotionally unfiltered musicality. I built outward from there, framing that section with a series of activations: various qualities of movement that trace their origins to South Asian- and African-descended musical systems and to the ambient rhythms of cities.
Thank you for listening, and special thanks to Herbie Hancock, Gustavo Dudamel, Paolo Bortolameolli, and the wonderful musicians of the LA Phil New Music Group for making this piece happen. – Vijay Iyer