CHINARY UNG (b.1942): Singing Inside Aura, Spiral XIV: Nimitta, Spiral I, Therigatha Inside Aura, Spiral XII: Space Between Heaven and Earth.
Catalogue Number: 02V064
Description: For a decade after the mid-1970s, Ung took a break from composition while he concentrated on helping refugees from his native Cambodia, who had escaped the genocidal Pol Pot regime, and researching, documenting and preserving traditional Khmer music. When he returned to compositional activity in 1986, his new-found focus was to celebrate the music of South Asia and produce a composite vocabulary that drew heavily on traditional techniques and used the resources of Western contemporary methods as a means to an end. His own term for the “style” of music that evolved was "futuristic folk music", which describes very aptly what we hear here, which sounds very little like western concert music. In all the pieces here except the first Spiral composition he requires singing and chanting from his instrumental performers, in addition to often extravagant and unusual instrumental demands. Harmonically, though, this new idiom avoids western modernism, concentrating on pentatonic and modal writing; rhythmically too, its indebtedness to Cambodian Pinpeat and Gamelan - percussion- centered - ensemble music from the region, rendering his complex, dense and unfamiliar textures surprisingly accessible. Space Between Heaven and Earth is a 40 minute piece for large ensemble (instruments and vocalizations) and an ensemble of vocal soloists. The piece is 'about' "the richness of the culture of Cambodia” and addresses Buddhist concepts of healing, in a rich, exotic tapestry incorporating Cambodian percussion instruments alongside western melodic instruments and singers, frequently called upon to emulate traditional styles. Singing Inside Aura is effectively a viola concerto (with vocalizing soloist and ensemble) in Eastern modes and techniques; an involving, thoroughly accessible and unusual work, which draws on the composer’s 2005 theatrical epic "Aura", as does the recent Therīgāthā Inside Aura (2017), which explores ancient Buddhist texts in an exultant celebration of enlightenment. Nimitta, the penultimate 'Spiral' work thus far, evokes Eastern ensembles with its emphasis on mallet instruments and bells, both sonically evocative and spiritually invocative. 2 CDs.