The Cornish College of the Arts will present a world premiere work based on the stories of survivors of the nuclear bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II. Composer and multi-media artist Paul D. Miller, also known as DJ Spooky, will present one performance of his new work, Peace Symphony: 8 Stories.
Miller gathered these eight stories from atomic bomb survivors, also known as Hibakusha. “The Hibakusha were so powerful,” Miller said. “We need to hear the stories of the people who survived the first nuclear conflict so that we can bear witness and remind ourselves that this should never happen again.”
Miller met these survivors while serving as an educator as part of the Peace Boat’s 83rd Global Village. “I’m always a fan of independent and dynamic organizations, and I had heard great things about Peace Boat,” he said. “Who wouldn’t want to go on a boat that goes around the world teaching about peace!”
It was while he was presenting his new book, The Imaginary App, on the Peace Boat that he learned more about the Hibukusha experience. Although World War II ended 70 years ago, Miller believed that their stories remained relevant. “I felt that almost every aspect of their stories was a deep reminder of the fragility of humanity and that inspired me to make compositions about them,” he said.
Miller finds echoes of the past in today’s worldwide strife. “World War II was the most intense war in human history,” Miller said. “And most of the technology we use today has echoes of the developments that happened during the conflict.”
This technology continues to affect populations across the world. “I learned so many things about the way human beings seek understanding of completely overwhelming events,” Miller said. “I wanted to present the situation as a way of getting to the emotional heart of the nuclear crisis of our present day and compare it to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings because they were profound events that changed the way we think of humanity on this planet.”
Miller encountered a number of challenges during the process of creating the Peace Symphony, and inter-generational communication loomed large. “I wrote most of the rough drafts on Peace Boat, but needed to interview and record the conversations I had with the Hibakusha and create narratives around the stories they told me,” he said. “It took me about six months to write the first rough drafts, and then another four months to refine it.”
During this process, Miller drew upon key artistic influences. “I’m inspired by Steve Reich’s multimedia operas and Robert Wilson’s work, but I also wanted to think about how to layer electronic music into the conversation,” he said. “That is how I balance between sampling, writing electronic music, and the norms of traditional instruments.”
Two of the traditional instruments that will perform Miller’s symphony are piano and cello, played by Nouveau Classical Project’s artistic director and pianist Sugar Vendil and cellist Kivie Cahn-Lipman. “I am a collaborative artist so I was very excited about working with a DJ, particularly Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky,” said Vendil. “I am constantly imagining and experimenting with different ways to perform and present new [contemporary classical] music, and at NCP, we liked the way the Peace Symphony combines classical and electronic music with world history.”
The team has rehearsed extensively, and recently previewed the work at a 15-minute excerpt presented in New York. “The piece is challenging ensemble-wise between the instrumentalists and Paul,” Vendil said. “We needed to work out cue points and maintain an extremely tight pulse.”
With the support of the other musicians, Miller both simultaneously composes and performs the symphony live. “I always sample and revise the score ‘live’ with my Dj Mixer App,” he said.
Miller sees his artistic process as a way to foster broad community imagination and inspiration. “It’s all about expanding the role of what Dj culture can do,” he said. “You never know what you can do until you break the rules. That’s what I’m about: it’s all about enabling that conversation between old and new forms of music and creativity.”
‘Peace Symphony: 8 Stories’ will be performed on December 4, at the Cornish Playhouse, Seattle Center, 201 Mercer Street, Seattle.