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Lesley Mok The Living Collection
Imagine taking your first breath. Feeling this strange, cold air fill your lungs for the first time, its invisible mass taking its place inside the body. Breathe in. It’s the infant’s first breath that is somehow the most enduring, propelling the innumerable yet finite number of breaths to follow, which go on and on until finally one day they stop. Is it an anxious, questioning gasp? Or is it a savored moment of pleasure, like a long drag of a cigarette that gets pressed out of tightly sculpted lips, the smoke dancing and fading out above. The breath of life.
In the context of music, breath is a concept filled with both technical and metaphorical meanings. A group that ‘breathes together’ is aware of the physicality of music-making and chooses to align these moments of rest. But ‘breathing together’ also suggests a broader, more poetic kind-of synchronicity within the ensemble, an ethic of unison and cooperation that undergirds all musical decisions. The members of the group no longer function as separate voices but instead flow like breath within a single body.
The Living Collection does and does not breathe together. Mok’s compositions resist the urge to always unite the ensemble, instead opting for fluid and complex structures that often emphasize the tension within ideas, letting the sounds from each player reflect against one another, creating a kaleidoscopic texture that exists somewhere between an array of distinct voices and an indiscernible whole. The body that is the ensemble is not simply a uniting force, but also the limit or boundary of its music, a membrane that contains within it the aging, varied relationships amongst its ten players. This is our Living Collection.
Jorie Graham’s poem ‘Scarcely There’ considers the openness of the natural world and the various modes of relating that exist within it, evolving over time and manifesting in a range of physical phenomena. Graham:
it wants its furious place again, all floral and full of appearance, full of its fourth wall,
its silvery after-tomorrow and ramping-up now quite a spectacular dusk.
In an ecosystem, individuals find themselves in a constant, evolving relationship with the world around them, forced to resonate with a flow of entities no matter how disparate, the particular always in view of the universal. Is this some kind of freedom? A bounded exploration, like a child playing with the toys in front of them, arranging and rearranging them to create new worlds of possibility, of breath and breadth. If anything is guaranteed, it is the promise of the next day that brings with it the light of a fresh, unfurling dawn. Breathe out.
released May 5, 2023
David Leon - alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, flute, alto flute
Yuma Uesaka - tenor saxophone, Bb clarinet, contraalto clarinet
Adam O'Farrill - trumpet
Kalun Leung - trombone
Cory Smythe - piano
Joanna Mattrey - viola
Aliya Ultan - cello
Florian Herzog - bass
Weston Olencki - electronics
Lesley Mok - drums
All compositions by Lesley Mok (ASCAP)
Produced by Lesley Mok and Weston Olencki
Recorded August 1 & 2, 2021 at Oktaven Studio
Engineered and mixed by Ryan Streber
Mastered by Eivind Opsvik, Greenwood Underground
Album art by Aaron Turner