A sonic journey in which Andrea Zarza will guide us musically and which takes Music and Poetry of the Kesh, a collaboration between Ursula K. Le Guin and composer Todd Barton, documenting the music and poetry of this fictional civilization, as its point of departure. The listening session will be combined with readings of a selection of texts by Le Guin.
In Always Coming Home (1985), Ursula K. Le Guin develops a fictional ethnography which takes place in the future and portrays the Kesh, the survivors of an ecological catastrophe. This book combines myth, storytelling, poetry and song to create a detailed ethnographic account of this culture. Northern California, its landscape and autochthonous people, were a source of inspiration for this invented future archeology and also for its recipes, tools, poems, songs and rituals.
In this listening session, structured as a sonic journey starting where the Kesh live, we will play back the music of the Kesh and also branch out into its influences; drawing on both historical recordings from archives and published commercial recordings. What would the landscapes of the Kesh sound like based on LeGuin’s descriptions? What do lullabies or sacred music sound like in Pacific cultures across the world and how do they relate to the rites of the Kesh? This journey will start in Kesh but end afar in both time and space, yet remain always close to home.
In an interview with Le Guin from 1988, she described how music came to be a part of her ethnographic account – “I kept thinking ‘I wish I could hear the music. But I don’t have the music; I just have the words”. This motivated her to engage her composer and friend Todd Barton, who set LeGuin’s Kesh poems —initially written in English, until she invented the Kesh language— to music. Kesh instruments like the bone reed flute or the houmbúta horn, described and illustrated amongst others in Always Coming Home, were recreated through synthesized sound to record the cassette tape, Music and Poetry of the Kesh, which accompanied the book’s publication.
Throughout the session, the audience will be able to actively participate in the reading of a selection of texts by Ursula K. Le Guin —selected by Ana Llurba— which will further guide us through Le Guin’s universes and imaginaries and in which performer and author will collaborate in the act of storytelling to honour the oral nature of Kesh culture.
Andrea Zarza Canova is an archivist and curator with a degree in philosophy. Born in Madrid, Spain, she has lived in London since 2011, and works as a curator at the British Library Sound Archive. She has worked with the London Musicians’ Collective Archive at the University of the Arts London Archive and Special Collections Centre, at the Deep Listening Institute (Kingston, NY, USA) and at the Pacific Radio Archives (Los Angeles, CA, USA). She has curated listening spaces with archival sound recordings as part of David Byrne’s Meltdown Festival (Southbank Centre, London) and the No Play! exhibition at nGbK (Berlin, Germany) and produced radio programmes for NTS Radio and RRS Radio Reina Sofía. Her record label, Mana Records, run with Matthew Kent, publishes works at the intersection of contemporary and archival sound. She has recently co-curated the exhibition Charivaria with José Luis Espejo, at CentroCentro Gallery in Madrid, Spain.