GODAI - THE 5 ELEMENTS
Commissioned by Inna Faliks & Andreas Waldburg-Wolfegg.
Poetry by Steve Schroeder.
Godai was commissioned for Inna Faliks’s Music/Words recording project, an offshoot of her poetry-music performance series. Composers were asked to write works that use spoken word in any way they choose. Clarice Assad collaborated with poet Steven Schroeder to create Godai.
Godai are the five elements in the system of Japanese Buddhism – wind, fire, water, earth, sky. The programmatic piece is a series of five interconnected sketches with spoken sound effects and two poems. The first movement, Dry Bones (wind), serves as an introduction, with wind-like sound effects and a poem of a dry landscape, where leaves are carried by the wind. Says Assad, “It represents expansion, freedom, movement – hence the breath sounds. Some places are meant to feel as if there's something about to take flight.”
In the poem of the second movement, “Absence, (fire and water),” an author laments a manuscript, lost in a fire. Two forces are at work here – ominous, fiery rhythms and register, and transparent light water-like runs.
The third, Gravity (earth), is reminiscent of sound effects from Noh theater – rattling trills, humming, taps, silences and lots of textural contrast. While the left hand octaves march in slow heavy steps, the quick conversational lines in the right hand and the intermittent trills seem to be fighting gravity, to lead into the fourth movement – Ascension. This sketch is a whirl of hypnotic repeating 16th note groups and contrasting dynamics. It seamlessly leads into the last, Azure (sky), the most powerful of the elements, with its jazzy propulsive energy and virtuosic end.
“A good poem resists being set to music because it is music”, said Robert Frost, and Steve Schroeder’s poems work in parallel with the music here, one illustrating the other.