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When a handful of 9,000 year-old flutes were unearthed recently in China, the first impulse of the archaeologists was to play them. While hoping to reconnect to a lost time and culture, the archaeologists succeeded in cracking several of the instruments. More careful study revealed that the flutes were tuned to 'familiar' scales, enabling their former owners to play 'perhaps even music'. A researcher then performed a Chinese folk tune, Little Cabbage, on one of the flutes. Xiao Bai Cai is the heartfelt lament of a child usurped by a stepmother and new stepbrother: 'pale on the ground', Little Cabbage weeps for the past.
With its mixture of carelessness, optimism and nostalgic yearning for times past, this story fascinates me. In 9,000 years time, what will other beings make of the crumbling remains of violins, flutes and double basses? Pale on the Ground is an invented music built on the imagined ruins of our own fragile culture.
Commissioned by Continuum, Toronto with funds from the Ontario Arts Council
to my stepson, Nicholas
16 Jun 2000: Performed by Continuum: Anne Thompson (alto flute/flute), Mark Fewer (violin), Nicholaos Papadakis (viola), Paul Widner (cello), Peter Pavlovsky (double bass) with Rosemary Thomson conductor at the Music Gallery, Toronto, Canada