Waterways and Dwellings
Contemplating the question, “What’s a dwelling place?” Molly Pease’s Waterways and Dwellings with text by poet Molly Bendall, turns towards Ballona Creek as a source of ecological and cultural knowledge. This meditative piece for four voices charts a course through Culver City’s landscape. The composition began with a walk the composer and poet took together along the nearly nine-mile-long creek that connects the city to the Ballona Wetlands, Marina Del Rey, and the Pacific Ocean. Over the course of their walk, they paid attention to the ecological and social conditions of the area: what could be heard, seen, and smelled from the path. These sounds and textures were recorded and interpreted by the composer to create a sonic landscape that pulls from local birds, rowers yelling and paddling by, rolling bicycles, and the boardwalk. Waterways and Dwellings looks to Culver City’s history to converse with its present condition: LA County’s housing crisis, the homeless people affected by it living along the creek, and the environmental impact of littering in the area.
Waterway and Dwelling’s movements each respond to a different section of Bendall’s text.The first movement titled “I. Can an empty space compose?” contemplates what place is and how we think about space in a holistic sense: the history of the Tongva people, the birds, the currents in the water, and the trash lining the creek bed. The piece layers voices, rhythmic ideas, and extended techniques inspired by the environment. Breath sounds evoke foghorns. Overtone singing and whistling creature texture. Yodels reminiscent of local birds and vocal improvisation that reflects the improvisational qualities of nature ground the piece in the environment of Ballona Creek and its accompanying paths, travels, and conversation.The second movement, “II. Where’s a dwelling place?” considers this question by studying man-made objects, places, and ideas weathered by the creek’s conditions, while the third movement, “III. Momentary Sail,” explores aspects of the area’s ecology. Birds, bugs, dunes, reeds, and conversations permeate the landscape. Performers theatrically communicate wordless patterns to each other, competing for dominance, while Ballona Creek’s history is spoken. The snowy egret and the blue heron call out, waiting for a response. The piece culminates in “IV. Bow to Stern,” where Pease turns to jazz and rock influences as she considers a creaky old boat rocking and hitting the dock of the marina. The boats of the past enter the harbor: the Entertainer, the Mona Lisa. Eventually, time and history catch up with the landscape, carrying the uncertainty of the future. If only it carried the script of what it was.
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