Miya Masaoka

While I Was Walking, I Heard a Sound...

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Certainly one of the most remarkable classical compositions of the "naught decade" is Japanese composer Miya Masaoka's While I was walking, I heard a sound…. Completed in 2004 to fulfill a commission from the Gerbode Foundation to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, While I was walking, I heard a sound… is a massive, half-hour long choral work scored for 120-150 voices. The Solitary B recording of While I was walking, I heard a sound… takes the low end of that number but multiplies the size of the sound through the performance venue employed, St. Ignatius Cathedral in San Francisco, which has a natural 2.5 second delay; three choruses under the direction of Robert Geary perform the piece, in addition to a number of soloists, including composer Amy X. Neuburg. As far as can be told, no instruments are used, nor words, just pure vocal sounds, including laughter, which Masaoka skillfully guides through a widely ranging number of moods and sensations from heavenly splendor to maddening violence. Ears looking for connections to tradition in this work might find some parallel to the choral music of Berio, Ligeti, or even the Three Chants for Women's Chorus of Ruth Crawford Seeger; indeed, the voices of women and children dominate the whole first part. While the forces involved might remind one of Handel's Messiah without the orchestra parts and the compositional resources may seem to some derivative of the ‘60s, While I was walking, I heard a sound… is clearly conceived in a twenty-first century, post-9/11 context. The cycling rhythms of Part 3 seem to pay tribute more to the influence of digital sampling than to the wide-ranging, static textures of Ligeti's Clocks and Clouds, which sprang from the ruined, polluted landscape of post-World War II Eastern Europe and not from a fractious, diffident nation under psychological attack from outside, the aura that Masaoka captures so precisely in this work. The Solitary B disc contains only While I was walking, I heard a sound… and its 31-minute running time may send music-by-the-yard fanatics out to their sheds to fetch the cudgels. However, this is such a rich and expansive experience that to attach filler to it would only be anti-climactic; this splendid, entirely relevant composition deserves to be heard on its own. This is strongly recommended to anyone who has an interest as to where classical composition is going in the 21st century.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
While I was walking, I heard a sound..., for mixed choir & soloists
feat: Volti
feat: Volti
feat: Volti
feat: Volti
blue highlight denotes track pick