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This site contains supporting material for the 2 CD + 1 DVD music/video collection Ritual and Memory by Stephen Travis Pope, released by the Electronic Music Foundation in 2007 (EMF CD 068). You can also download the Press Release PDF file, go to the soundbites and video trailers, or purchase the 3-disc set on-line.

The Ritual and Memory Package

CD 1: Five Ritual Places - 5 pieces, 19 tracks, 64:00 minutes

CD 2: Dunkelkammergespräche - 3 pieces, 22 tracks, 60:30 minutes

DVD: Video Collaborations - 4 pieces, 75:00 minutes

On the DVD-ROM & Web Site

Introduction to the Program Notes by Tom Lane

Ritual and Memory is not so much a survey of Stephen Pope’s music as it is a reframing in an unfolding series of sound and visual dreamscapes. This music invokes the greater self that communicates with us in dreams, as well as the rituals through which we communicate with that greater self. Since what we perceive is already past by the time we become aware of it, experience is actually a memory— a waking or sleeping dream. These works, as the collection’s title indicates, are memories and rituals, which is to say they are dreams meant to wake us up.

Angels are everywhere in Rituals and Memory, and though angels are currently in danger of becoming trivialized “New Age” celebrities, Stephen Pope’s music restores their mystery and power. Perhaps angels run through Rituals and Memory because angels, according to mystics from Plotinus to Swedenborg, are in fact everywhere. They are divine messengers immanent in all that we perceive, and who embody what they communicate—just as this music does.

“Jeder Engel ist schrecklich.” (Every angel is terrible.) Stephen’s musical angels are also Rilke’s—sublime, with a terror and beauty that emerge out of and are inseparable from one another. The “quiet ritual music for processing one’s grief,” “hymns for slow movement,” and requiems we find here demonstrate a keen awareness of Virgil’s “lacrimae rerum” (the tears of things). Yet, as in Eternal Dream’s “affirmative symphonic pandemonium,” Stephen obviously believes in the cosmic giggle. These angels are as interested in play as they are in leading us to back to our existential cores. Perhaps they want to show us that these two activities are quite the same.

Stephen is clearly also a rock fan, although the influence of the musics he loves is usually more subliminal than obvious. Day: An Improvisation is a bubbling spring of not only gamelan but Sunshine Pop. Bat Out of Hell, a rhapsody for bells, draws on “classic rock” and heavy metal. It reminds us that many of the epitomes of the form, from Led Zeppelin to Iron Butterfly, evoke a Wagnerian marriage of opposites, of the graceful and the grave. As does 4: Ballet Music for My Siblings’ soothing but mind-bending juxtaposition of the languid and the staccato.

These pieces return repeatedly to the musicality of the spoken voice, never more so than in Paragraph 31: All Gates Are Open, a hymn in an invented language. (There’s that cosmic giggle again, emanating from the polity of the imagination.) Leur Songe de la Paix makes one of Martin Luther King’s most radical speeches a prophetic jeremiad, turning multiple sonic foils into a setting capable of reminding us of the power of oratory in a time of “aw-shucks” doublespeak. Stephen’s compositions— and this one is no exception—are inseparable from his Quakerism, breathing life back into the homily that the personal is the political.

Stephen’s music persists at the edge of a self-inventive technology featuring myriad new programming languages and sound synthesizers, but his engineering is a feat of bricolage that never loses its sense of human—and angelic—connection, whether through the voice in speech and song or the body in dance. The recurrence of bell tones evokes church and college carillons as well as the etheric, electronic emanations of a mind turned inside-out.

And how about those videos? The DVD tour of Stephen’s scores—surprisingly readable even for the uninitiated—brings its own intellectual pleasure, as well as intimations of a synesthesia that is fully plumbed in the graphical score of WAKE and above all in Eternal Dream: A Ritual. Comparisons to Koyaanisqatsi and its brethren are inevitable here. But, by way of equally remarkable contrast, the underlying tone of Stephen’s work is always uplifting, though never superficially so.

Even the terrifying aspects of Stephen’s angels are cathartic, resonating the dream from or to which we are trying to awaken with good vibrations. To paraphrase Chuang-Tzu: “Are we dreaming the angels or are they dreaming us?” Or are those angels and we listeners but two sides of the same coin, like waves and particles or form and emptiness? When we listen to Stephen’s music, we get a glimpse—or take a sounding—of the answers to these questions.

                Tom Lane, Ojai, California, August 2006

Original Label Images (click to enlarge)

CD 1: Five Ritual Places
CD 2: Dunkelkammergespräche
DVD: Video Collaborations

front cover
back cover
Front Cover
Rear Cover

DVD Menus (click on image to enlarge)

Main Menu Text Menu
Tour/Sampler Menu
Eternal Dream Menu
LeurSonge de la Paix Menu

To hear MP3 sound examples, go to the sound bites page.

For more screen shots of the videos, see the Tour/Sampler page.

For more material and technical references, see http://HeavenEverywhere.com/RitualAndMemory

Stephen Pope, HeavenEverywhere, Santa Barbara

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