night edge for singer, dancer, flute and prepared piano
written by Evelyn Ficarra with collaborating improvisers Heather Frasch (flute), Aurora Josephson (voice), Myra Melford (piano) and dancer Paige Sorvillo. Commissioned by Shie Shoji for her group Shonorities.

This piece takes its starting point from a poem in the Tanka form (31 syllables) by medieval Japanese poet, Izumi Shikibu.

kuraki yori
kuraki michi ni zo
irinu beki
haruka ni terase
yama no ha no tsuki*

from the darkness
I must enter
into a dark path
shine afar
moon on the edge of the mountains**

* As published in The Ink Dark Moon Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan. Vintage, 1986
** Translation thanks to Marié Abe.

My initial concern in writing this piece was the issue of translation itself – how meanings shift as they move from language to language (Japanese, English) or from medium to medium (words, music, dance.) A path, mountains, the moon, darkness. A dying poet asks the moon to shine; a little more light before darkness falls. I read somewhere that beginners learning to translate Japanese into English are urged to read the Japanese words in reverse order, to help make the meaning clear. Japanese books are read from right to left. Perhaps the poet could die in reverse. Perhaps the moon (the light, the sound) would keep going out.

In addition to the images I became obsessed with the material of the poem in the phonetic Japanese; the number and type of syllables, the amount of repetition, the rhythmic shape. I began to ‘translate’ consonants and vowels into different articulations and gestures for the improvisers to play with. Myra Melford and I worked extensively together to create a phonetic vocabulary for the piano, Aurora and Heather made similar contributions in their own idioms. The dancer Paige Sorvillo took on the task of tracing the singer’s journey in reverse, adding putting her own physical lexicon into play.

Evelyn Ficarra