Mass Transmission - Organ Part
for SATB Chorus, Organ and Electronica
Approximate Duration: 20'
(The piano/vocal score is available separately.)
The Dutch Telegraph Office-
Commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony for their 2012 Mavericks Festival, Mass Transmission piece brings to life the true story of a distantly-separated mother and daughter speaking over the first long-distance radio transmissions between Holland and Java. Ethereal choral sonorities processed through a haze of radio static unfold into virtuosic organ toccatas. The texts for outer movements of the work - from the eyes of the mother - are adapted from an obscure 1928 government publication about the technological advances made by the Dutch in communicating with their colonists. The text for the central portion of the work - from the eyes of the daughter - is adapted from the diary of a Dutch girl growing up in Java.
I. THE DUTCH TELEGRAPH OFFICE
The miracle still lies in my memories like a dream.
Slowly layers of mystery unfold. Gradually my eyes alight as if recovering from a dream.
A bit fearfully, I speak into the microphone:
“Hello? Hello? Are you there, my child?”
12000 Kilometers, not a single wire. The air is what transmits the message. A miracle.
My voice travels to the Indies, which took my daughter weeks to reach on a steamboat. Days and nights, the endless sea around her. Now I can speak to that distant land, and my voice travels there wirelessly.
“Hello! Hello! Are you there, my child?”
But the reality around me is sober and mechanical. I’m in the headquarters of the Dutch Telegraph Office, in a small lifeless studio. A strange apparatus before me. A technician nearby. The earphones, the microphone on the armchair. It is very cold.
This is where Holland converses with its colonists in Java.
My child was sent to be a page in the government in Java. It is a great honor, but it is hard on a mother.
I speak into the microphone:
“Hello! Hello! My child?
In a single second, I have crossed 12000 kilometers, as if it were the distance between two rooms.
And within that second, my daughter’s voice comes back:
“The Dutch Telegraph Office” & “Wireless Connections” adapted from Hallo Bandeong, hier Den Haag! (1928). Translation by Jerry Chu. Used by permission.
“Java” adapted from Memories of My Youth in the Dutch East-Indies by Elizabeth van Kampen. Used by permission.
What I love most about Java are the moments I wake up.
I stay just a little longer in bed to listen to all the tropical noises. Birds twittering and monkeys echoing through the humid jungle. I hear soft, strange, beautiful music coming from the village. Gamelan music. Then I go outside, enjoying the fresh morning fragrance and admiring all those colorful flowers and the Durian trees.
My house is built on poles and made of stone and bamboo. The doors and windows are painted green. On top of the house is a red zinc roof. Underneath the house I often hide with the other children. Sometimes we go into the jungle. It is always hot and magical, and it always has a special smell — a bit of snakes and all sorts of plants. I watch my steps in this strange, lovely kingdom. This world is so unreal, like a paradise or Eden.
In the evening, lying in my bed, I listen again to the gamelan in the village, and I miss you. You are so far away.
III. WIRELESS CONNECTIONS
Are you there mum?
Yes, dear. I can definitely recognize your voice!
Is everything fine with you, mum?
Yes, my child … so good to hear your voice.
I miss you mum!
I miss you too, my child.
Well … it is hot here in Java.
And it’s storming here in Holland!
Is grandpa with you?
No, he could not come.
Okay, have a good night mum.
Good night, dear.
The voice from the East. Nothing is further apart than the straits that separate us. In this way the world grows closer and closer, even as we move further apart.
Each phone call was allowed to last 6 minutes at most. Six minutes, it seemed far too short. The six minutes passed, and the voice comes to a halt. The headphone is silent, the microphone lies on the table in the Dutch Telegraph Office.
Later, when I lie in my white bed, I can still hear my child’s voice: the memory, the ecstasy. No poem, no music is more beautiful than that voice. Holland and Java lie in the deepest part of a mother’s heart, and in every sigh is a wireless signal: Hello, oh, my child…