12. Silence was not made of a wall of frog songs
Summer of 2022 as I look back was extremely fruitful for my compositional output. I was active in the online music-making community mentioned above and wrote this next piece following their weekly prompt in late-July, which was to play on the idea of “sonic intrusion.” This was inspired by a moment in the recorded conversation of John Cage and Morton Feldman. Feldman showed annoyance at the way transistor radios let music, and sound in general, appear in places it hadn’t previously. Cage, who had made music that involves radios, joked, “Well, they’re just playing my piece.”
At that time I was on a road trip to Monterey County with my husband. We stopped by the Steinbeck House in Salinas for lunch and in their gift shop I picked up America and Americans, Steinbeck’s last book, a collection of his journalism. We drove down through Big Sur and these sentences stretched my idea of sonic “intrusion”:
By the time I came along much of the swamp had been filled in, but there was plenty left so that the night roared with frogs. I was pretty big before I learned that silence was not made up of a wall of frog song.
~John Steinbeck, “Always Something to Do in Salinas,” 1955
I took the Japanese kids’ song カエルの合唱 “Frog chorus” that I grew up with, that probably every Japanese kid since the 1970s grew up with, which in its own is a perpetual cannon, and played with layering various iterations on the piano. I wanted to transform the frog song from a wall of sound to something you want to listen to, then back to a wall. I used the same technique I used for “Bend that piano,” recording an improvisation on the frog chorus in C on my piano and piecing things together on GarageBand later.