White Heron Dance
White Heron Dance (2017) is a shamanic ritual in sound in which a human being experiences a moment of union with nature in the form of a Great White Heron. I created it from the cries of herons, hawks, eagles, songbirds and the human voice. I study Noh Theater with the Noh performer Mayo Miwa, who suggested the ancient Japanese Shinto ritual Sa-gi Mai upon which the piece is based. I recorded her singing the ritual song in the folk style used by the Shinto priests and in the elaborate Noh recitational style. In performance the piece includes video created for it by artist Tom Barratt. White Heron Dance was premiered at the National Opera Center in Manhattan in April, 2017, and performed at National Sawdust in Brooklyn as part of the NYC-Electroacoustic Music Festival on July 14, 2017 in a concert curated by the Association for the Promotion of New Music. In my recent computer music I use ProTools and GRM Tools plug-ins. Sometimes I create sounds from scratch with Csound, and often, as in this piece, I start with recorded samples of natural sounds. For the Great White Heron sounds, I have to thank the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology for audio field recordings. For eagles, song thrushes, wing flaps and the like I thank Freesound.org. All these individual collectors will be listed soon on my website www.aliceshields.com
The Mud Oratorio - excerpt from a work for dance-theater (2003)
Excerpt from The Mud Oratorio, a dance-theater piece with music and libretto by Alice Shields for fixed audio media and live dancers. The piece was premiered by Dance Alloy of Pittsburgh and Frostburg State University, Maryland, with choreography by Mark Taylor and lighting design by Barbara Thompson. The libretto celebrates the ancient plants, animals, insects and birds of two Maryland swamps maintained by the Nature Conservancy, and was inspired by the book Stirring the Mud by Barbara Hurd. In the music, Shields uses her own electronically-modified voice, a local biologist's imitations of swamp-birds, frogs and toads, Tibetan ritual conch shells, Indian shenai and Indian flute. Created with ProTools and GRM plug-ins. Photos © 2003 by Sarah Higgins.
Komachi at Sekidera
The protagonist of the play, Ono no Komachi, was a woman of great literary gifts and beauty who lived at the Heian court in ninth-century Japan. She became a legend after her death, and many apocryphal stories surround the few known biographical facts concerning her life. In the present piece Komachi has lived into old age, beyond her beauty and her literary fame, and has been forgotten. Confronted with age and mortality, she alternates between crying out for the days that are gone, and quieter sections in which she contemplates the bittersweet delight of still being alive. The structure of the piece was influenced by the dramatic monologues of Monteverdiís operas. The modal character of the melody, which often returns to the unstable interval of the tritone, mirrors Komachiís existential state, as does the alto flute, which shadows her feelings with sounds reminiscent of the shakuhachi, the Japanese bamboo flute. The koto reflects Komachi's passionate nature.