In lieu of a short update for December, I wanted to take a look at this past year, which has seen me grow immensely as both an artist and a scientist, and to share the products of some of these endeavors with you.
First, as a belated update, I did finish my composition challenge. I’d set out—intrepid, foolish, and/or eager to take advantage of some down-time—to write/arrange 120 (or 140, as I kept forgetting the original goal) pieces of music in as many days. The challenge was a way to hone my composition but also to push myself to think beyond my own habits—good and bad—and explore new methods, subjects, instrumentation, and composer/performer/audience relationships. This resulted in 124 original pieces, listed below with links to audio as available:
47 “traditional” pieces:
- 21 variations on a theme by Beethoven for woodblocks (yes, as part of a [good] joke)
- Dream Palace – V. nuit
- 11 “Microsettings” of my own short poetry for voice and piano
- Venus et Diana
- My Anger Part 4
- Pleochroic Dreams
- My Anger Part 11
- Shy in December
- Law of Included Fragments
- San Mateo
- 10 pieces for song cycle/album THEY WILL BE FREE
- Enterlude for electronics
- Earthling 1 for voice and guitar
- Venus for voice and piano quartet
- Earth for voice and piano
- Mars for voice and electro-acoustics
- Europa for voice and electro-acoustics
- Titan for voice and electronics
- Pluto for voice
- TRAPPIST-1e for voice and cello
- Earthling 2 for two voices and piano
- 4 new pieces as the TWBF bonus tracks
- HE 1523-0901 (Earthling 1 remix) for electronics
- Enceladus for voice and prepared piano
- Godspeed, John Glenn for cello and electronics
- Describe the Appearance of a Fallen Star (for Vera Rubin) for electronics
and 77 experimental pieces, most of which are text/score-only:
- 42 pieces for song/poetry collection do not perform this with 39 in the final manuscript
- 32 pieces called pain (1-32) for different instrumentation
- 2 pieces for “naturaphones” – springsong and autumnsong – with graphical scores
Here’s a preview of the score for autumnsong, which is written for both lithophones and “phyllophones” (sets of leaves). N.B. instrument preparation and performance instructions are not shown.
I never fully discussed “write me a letter,” an additional performance piece as part of the above compositions, and the Lit Exhibit: Spectrums event. This was a one-night only literary gallery featuring visual and interactive pieces in a vibrant, beautiful space in Brooklyn and run by great writer, artist, curator, and friend Lana C. Marilyn, as was the wonderful Book Swap Party and panel in January. My piece had pairs of guests enter a booth and follow my letter-writing prompts, resulting in an intimate exploration of self and relationship. I was so glad to see the response to this work and to participate in it myself with a good friend, and furthermore to engage with other, far more experienced but extremely generous performance artists. This is an experience I will always treasure.
I also worked on string voicing this year, and so arranged the following 18 pieces:
- Bartok Romanian Folk Songs, arr. for string quartet (7 movements)
- Khachaturian “Waltz” from Masquerade, arr. for string quartet
- Eccles Sonata for Violin in G Minor, arr. for string quartet (4 movements)
- Shostakovich Op. 87 Fugue No. 4, arr. for string quartet
- Bach Cello Suite No. 6 – Gigue, Gavotte #2, arr. for string duo
- my A Christmas Suite for a New England Village (2014), 3 selections arr. for string trio
2017 was spent on writing poetry, too, including for THEY WILL BE FREE and do not perform this, toward a few new project ideas, and generally to work, as always, on form and style, which led to 76 new poems this year. In November, I reached my 600th poem since starting my “poetry project” (i.e., restarting my writing in 2012 and first beginning to share it with friends). Here’s #598:
consorting in the kala pani
a sea snake ruptured against
the insides of the selachii
cuts her tail into their guts, whence
spill their finite utterings: she,
stretched among three, collects
these words of her brine suspects
and rebuilds herself from the sea-
water that envelops their entrails—
shark shattered upon shark, froth
rots their cage-bones; uncaught,
darkness welcomes her slick sails.
she and it devour each other—devour—
as the sharp-things do cower
In July I decided to get myself back into writing fiction. I’ve had some long-term novel projects knocking about my imagination for the past few years, as well as a few complete drafts waiting for serious editing and rewriting, but I decided to pursue a new direction (in, as is often the case, view of a tantalizing deadline for a contest). I wrote a novella called gone, which details a woman’s nightly barefoot walks and encounters with different manifestations of death—from the ghosts of classmates and murderers in San Jose to the Central Valley of California—in five vignettes. All of the settings are based on my own travels, and I draw heavily from interesting encounters I had in these places to construct the story, which made the surreal element of each story all the more interesting for me to illustrate. I also applied a lot of the experimental narration I developed leading up to and for do not perform this to my prose, and was excited to play with magical realism and the narrative “self” in many fun, personally daring ways.
I’m currently submitting this manuscript to different contests, and have found so much personal fulfillment, as much as creative development, in writing this book. I’m endlessly excited to share this story with readers. Here are two short excerpts from the third chapter:
And we continue down the road. The stratovolcanoes don’t seem any closer after an hour’s walk. It’s almost frustrating. But who am I to the mountains? Who is he? His hands are in his back pockets. A carabiner hangs off of his jeans, adorned with two keys. They click with his long strides. I realize that I’ve found it difficult to keep apace with him.
You walk quickly.
I don’t have much time. He eyes me. The rings around his pupils are dark.
Where do you have to be? He laughs under his breath. Now I’m frustrated.
Elsewhere. It doesn’t matter. I don’t return his smile. I vow to not speak anymore. The silence of the park is too great, anyway; I can’t hear anything at all through it, as if the absence is something in itself. Like dark matter.
We enter a grove of tall evergreens. Needles collect in my hair. A mile beyond them, the trees clear into rows and rows of tall spindles. I almost don’t see them. They’re blacker than the night. Sulfur meets my nose. The quiet becomes unsettling as I realize they’ve been burned: miles and miles of dead trees. The volcanoes remain austere.
No—there’s something shifting in the air. A rustle; a hush, somewhere. It takes five minutes to reach us. The burned figures complain, utter hexes, exhale their pain. And then the wind is gone: a fading whisper into the mountains. He’s gone.
And you made it all the way to Santa Barbara?
Yes. Before the 101 was built through here. Back when they still tested planes on the water. And days before the earthquake. She could feel it coming. We were sitting on a dock, looking out at this—and he points to the water with his chin—and she turned to me and said:
“Something terrible will happen to this beautiful place.” I trusted her instincts by this time, so we left. Thirteen people died not long after. Much of this town, gone.
How did she know?
She was like you, I suspect. Could always feel the energy of a place.
I stretch my neck to look at the mountains behind us. The green along those sharp crags, suddenly menacing. But the sky was darkening fast. Across the water, left and right, lights shone. She saw something similar to this—a city long dead, buried, shaken, not made any more precious in its disappearance either by time or by tectonic shift. I look back at the water and realize he’s left my side.
Aside from “traditional” metrics of productivity, I did a lot of traveling this year, which has been extremely rewarding in itself. I visited UCL in March, participated in the two writing events in Brooklyn, visited JPL in Pasadena for a week at the end of August, and completed my first term at UCL/MSSL this fall. While it’s all left me in what I consider “timezone hell,” it’s been a blessing, in particular my time at MSSL thus far. Adjusting to living—and doing research!—in the countryside of Great Britain has been a very novel adventure but a grand one.
This fall, I’ve been training in processing suites for Mars orbital images, and will start learning how to process rover images in the spring alongside courses in computing, remote sensing, and machine learning in London. Additionally, the UCL/MSSL Imaging Group spent several days in Glasgow this month to attend and participate in the 1st British Planetary Science Congress (BPSC) and the UK Planetary Forum’s 15th Early Career meeting. I was honored to present at UKPF on behalf of fellow PhD student Jacqueline Campbell on her work on polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) detection at the Mars south pole. I’ve also been running the social media for the Imaging Group with Jacqueline – check out our Tweets & Facebook posts!
Beyond research, it’s been both a humbling and blessed experience to be a part of outreach and science communications this year, whether speaking on my research at a local girls’ school in Surrey this fall, or being part of a beautiful send-off of Cassini with Real Scientists.
Creatively burned out—as was my goal in my many projects this year, in preparation for my first term of graduate school—I’ve been submitting poems to a few anthologies and magazines, and am slowly sketching out new ideas for poetry collections, pieces, and performance concepts. But for now, I’m letting the adventure of grad school take over, and trust that new, challenging, and interesting art will materialize from this dually quiet and creatively—scientifically—saturated moment of my life.
I’ll leave you with this poem as I consider the New Year, as well as my end-of-year recommendations, and wish you a very happy one x
left you like
a birch tree:
less and less
End-of-year recommendations (some repeats, #dealwithit):
- Lana C. Marilyn’s memoir Wet Sand in an Hourglass – Lana’s set of short stories, vignettes, and poetic reflections never leave you feeling told about her story; you’re a part of her world, and instantly invested in her wisdom, humor, and understanding of herself
- Najia Khaled’s premiere wanderers, witch-talkers – this is a stunning collection of poetry with incredible verbal nuance, texture, and narration
- Najia’s EP Dough Re Mi – Najia’s “kitchen-folk” lyrics and inventive percussion are so frustratingly clever, catchy, and resonant
- strength EP by disconnect red – a shimmering set of five songs that I’ve listened to on loop probably every day since its release
- Rajiv Mohabir’s Jacket2 essay series on “Coolitude” is momentous for Caribbean and diasporic literature and absolutely essential reading for artists in the diaspora
- Last, enjoy this ridiculous image from Mars Express (make sure to view in full resolution, and on a large monitor, if possible)