“Very surprisingly, I wrote two books at once. The poems of Paper Banners were inspired by the ancient Chinese music I was studying for the essay “I Love You, A Sob Story (w/ music)” for From the Valley of Bronze Camels: A Primer, Some Lectures, & A Boondoggle n Poetry.
The ancient songs, or more exactly, sounds, floated in fragments into my life as I read about the materials that the instruments weremade of – silk strings, skin, bamboo, bronze, wood, clay, stone, and gourd. They have no known musician, title, or recording date.
The exception, and I believe the most exceptional piece here, was a gift from poet Shangyang Fang, who once wrote in a poem that the loneliest music was a Brahms piano concerto, “like drinking a bowl of Chinese herbs in the dark. ” The song has lyrics by Liu Yong, who lived in a brothel most of his life during the Song Dynasty, writing poems. In the piece, a monk chants from the Heart Sutra under the surface of a mandolin, wooden fish (a wooden bell), banjo, flute, runan (a lute with a fluted neck), pipa (a pear-shaped lute), and zheng (a plucked board zither, basically a rectangular box with strings). Many of the instruments appear on the rest of the playlist, here heard together. The monk’s voice seems both primordial and also pre programmed, in consort with the zheng in particular.
Suddenly another voice enters, a male singer with a wounded ache, heartache, perhaps, judging by its quaver, followed by yet another voice, this one crawling with strange, thin, pinched notes, which Shangyang says is made as if squeezing a man’s throat. How obviously expressive music is without words, or without words we understand! To my ear, this piece contains the full range of love’s language, its longing, grief, mystery, and desire.” — Jane Miller
Paper Banners Playlist:
12. Takashi’s Room | Kyoto