the Vocalise in “…Life” and the afterlife

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I’ve seen death twice. Human death.

Once in the face of my father. Years later, in the face of my mother.

……How do you come back from that?

You wait.

You float…as time finally brings you back to the surface to breathe.

Mom was as graceful in her death as she was in life.

I had learned of the musical decrescendo and ritardando when I was a child studying piano: to gradually decrease in volume and in pace. It was often a way to end a piece…beautifully and with elegance.

As I watched my mother’s breath, there was a steady decrescendo and ritardando. Her life force moved with two last, faint breaths, and her body was done.

This…is where I sing from–having bore witness to the unthinkable–but not just the pain of these experiences. There is a massive, vast depth to the pain, and in these depths I have tasted infinity where also dwells the endless beauty and joy that makes life worthwhile, enchanting, and full with ecstasy. Where devastation carves you out, I imagine beauty and love fill you in.

So, music…comes from life. The range of pitch, pace and volume in the natural world informs the nuance of the music we create. More specifically, cultures come to dictate the fabric and structure of music as we know it. When I make music, I am musically influenced by all of the music I have ever heard. When I come to sing I am the human as instrument making sound with my voice as a language of its own. Before we had the systems of symbols that make up language, we had our musicality. We were musical beings, and with a certain musical phrase we could communicate a desire…reveal an emotion…not defined as jazz or classical or any style and genre we try to confine sound to today.

This is why I am in love with the vocalise: “a vocal passage consisting of a melody without words”. I can tell you my stories, and infuse my sound with my emotion most intimately in a vocalise. There are secrets to discover in the sound: without words, I’m not forcing any specific mode of comprehension or interpretation, nor a fixed time in which they are revealed to the listener. No richness of the expression is lost to the constraints of language. What is any tone without a word? What does it mean objectively? Nothing. But, how does it make you feel? This is where my focus lies.

King Britt invited each singer on this album to arrive at the music he had composed with only their heart but no less than their truth. Coming to the music he had written for “…Life”, I entered its hallways and rooms with my voice…no words. I recorded my vocals as three entities: Humana, Spirita, and Machina: the human that has experienced this life thus far, my spirit self that lives and flies in dreams, and these two entities married to the reality of the machine. There are cries, lullabies, and a highest register (Machina) where my voice is flipped to a range beyond that which I can produce.

With the album “After…” as a prefix, the full title of this piece is truly “Afterlife”—so fitting since I, and my sound, are in essence my parents’ afterlife. I continue when and where they could not. Singing on this track and past music for Fhloston Paradigm has brought me great solace and purpose in processing and expressing the enormity of all that unfolds in this life.

Please listen and enjoy your journey with this sound. Love always, Pia.

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