Ñamandu has now been performed twice! The world premiere was performed by Katherine Weintraub last month at the World Saxophone Congress in Zagreb, Croatia, and the second performance was at the Applause New Music Concert Series in Mansfield, TX. Mansfield is near Dallas, my hometown, so not only was I able to go and hear the piece performed for the first time, many of my family and friends were able to be there too.
After writing two pieces for Katherine and communicating electronically for the past two years, it was great to finally meet her and hear her play in person! She played with energy and finesse far beyond what I could have envisioned when creating the piece.
A little more about the piece:
Ñamandu is the name of the creator deity in the folklore of the Mbya-Guaraní people of central South America (mostly present-day Paraguay). One of the interesting things about their creation story (the Ayvu-Rapyta) is that several creatures are present with Ñamandu at creation. One of those creatures is the hummingbird, and I sought to depict its role in the story through this piece. I was inspired by Nina Zumel's English translation of the first chapter of the Ayvu-Rapyta, and constructed Ñamandu around it.
I imagine the saxophone as the voice of Ñamandu, the "creator." The saxophone's sound triggers most of the electronic sounds in the piece (see my earlier post about the technology and programming in Ñamandu). The piece begins begins with a rapid stream of clicky granular sounds that moves around in space, reminiscent of hummingbird wings. Some extended saxophone techniques such as multiphonics and air noise, augmented by computer processing, help create an ethereal sound of the "primordial darkness" described at the beginning of the story.
The granulated stream builds into actual recorded hummingbird wing sounds, until the point that the listener is surrounded by wing noise and saxophone gestures. Then, a low drone emerges and the saxophone begins a melodic soliloquy, with the computer sustaining and granulating the saxophone sound and moving it around in space.
The melody reaches a climax, at which point the computer sounds coalesce and rise up in pitch until the clicky granular sound returns and a slow-moving section begins, without the saxophone. The hummingbird can be heard momentarily flying and chirping in different locations before the saxophone returns with the original motive. This section is mostly sparse, permeated by a few louder "bursts" of sound, in which I imagine the different stages of Ñamandu's creation happening. Some interesting hybrid sounds start to emerge — sounding like a blend between saxophone and the irregular rhythmic chirping of birds — because they are precisely that. Almost all of the electronic sound in this section is the result of different methods of cross-synthesizing saxophone and bird sounds.
I won't give away any more - I want you to listen to the piece! I plan to post a live recording soon.