Avia

by Derek Piotr

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1.
girlhood 03:14
first, somebody said “helen, is that your daughter?” [laughing] me! she said “no, my sister”. so then… when i was a kid, i was kind of a happy-go-lucky, i didn’t care what i did or said… …she was afraid father scanwell [would]…i said “the heck with him, i’m a kid!” I’m a big kid now [laughing]…
2.
the sun 04:02
…used to hide messages in our, um, my parent’s overcoat or something, the lining; i’d send a message to my friends, their kid, then she’d send me one, it was just something we did, you know…
3.
4.
roadwork 01:34
-boy, they have the whole road ripped up -yeah, i thought it was way up, but it’s right here, right? …seems funny not to have traffic -don’t get used to it -yeah, right -i guess they’re all going up seeley [street] -yeah, they are. they said they were
5.
avia 02:26
avia avia avia avia avia avia avia avia avia avia avia avia
6.
the sign 06:23
7.
it was a good size room, the bird room, and it had windows, it was nice and bright. and so, after she couldn't take care of them, she said you can take care of them dorothy, nothing too hard, i used have to clean the cages, line them with newspaper, and feed them. and they used to eat, some of the exotic ones would eat chopped egg and then they had feed or something mixed in with it, and some of the other ones had seed, they always had to have water. well, that was fine. but one day i went in and there was one dead, in the bottom of the cage. so, i didn't want to tell her. she never got up much anyway. so i went out in the kitchen, and got the nurse, and i said, "i got a problem! the thing is dead", i said "you go outside, and go around, and i'll open the window and hand you the cage". so i did that, and mrs. fallass never knew. i went in, she said "hello dorothy, what are you doing?" i said "i've come to check up on the birds, see if they've got enough water" "oh, that's nice dear" and i went in and we were laughing, but i handed her out the bird, she never knew the difference.
8.
they make the funniest sounds. i went the other day for a checkup, i’m good for another thousand miles…
9.
theo's song 02:16
10.
the search 01:58
yeah i have another player, and it’s got all the different things on it. shut the door, do you have the engine on? that’s it, that’s alright louder?
11.
hi derek, it’s gram, did you call before? because the guys were here, they brought the machine, i can’t wait’ll you see it. i’m okay, i’m free now, they lef- they’re gone…but i wasn’t sure whether it was you, nobody left a message but the phone rang. bye-bye hi derek, it’s gram, i didn’t know whether you were coming today, i’m going to see helen. i’ll go over early and get back, so i’ll be here after. so, thanks. bye-bye hi derek, it’s gram, got your message, everything’s fine here. the cat is doing great, she’s a great treasure. call me if you want, i’m home now. i went and got haircut, so…bye-bye.
12.
the storm 02:45
she had an awful storm last night, said she woke up, and lightning thunder, and she has that alert thing she wears, that was making the worst noise. every bell and whistle went off! and so, finally she pulled all the plugs, she couldn’t stand the noise.

about

"Futuristic folk music that’s incredibly accessible...Gorgeous" —ToneShift

"Despite the gravity of the subject matter, ‘Avia’ isn’t a heavy-going listen, but instead one of beauty and wonder that provides a fitting tribute to its subject." —Cyclic Defrost

"Piotr has done very well to lift his grandmother’s spirit in a way most of us only wish we could" —Igloo Magazine

"A rather musical album...His best work so far" —Vital Weekly

Creating this album was a heavy task.

Since 2010, I had been recording my grandmother’s voice: on the phone with her, in her house while she was on the phone with someone, stories, jokes, anecdotes, attitude, observations...

I hold on to things. Occasionally I come across recordings in my library on shuffle that my friends had made ten or fifteen years ago. I consider myself a digital archivist.

I submitted 'Grunt', my last album, for mastering on March 7th, 2018. My grandmother passed away two days later. I knew immediately that my next endeavor would be a threnody, and I began working on the record straightaway – at the epicenter of her decline and departure.

My grandmother was 91 when I began recording her. She lived alone in her home until the last 5 months of her life, where she was moved to assisted living. She declined rapidly at 99; until that point she had lived independently and vibrantly. Despite this vibrancy, I had a sense of urgency to record her. My clandestine practice was a desire and a way to hold on to more of her than I felt I inevitably would.

Avia: Latin for ‘grandmother’, Galician for ‘he had’.

When she passed away, I very quickly composed a piece for violin, 'Five Voicemails From My Grandmother', placing five of the many voicemails she had left me within the piece. This was the beginning of trying to make sense of the hours of audio I had collected. “Three Voicemails,” a heavily overhauled version of this piece, appears on this album. Inspired by Salvador Dalí’s 'The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory', I sought to create a ghost, a skeleton of the original.

The album rapidly began to take shape in December of 2018. I recorded violin and organ at St. Peter’s Church at this time, and they are the two most prominent instruments here. I wrote a recurring theme that appears across the record, with saxophone and ondes Martenot complementing the organ and violin.

This theme is a kind of leitmotif, similar to the cuckoo element of Morton Feldman’s 'Madame Press Died Last Week at Ninety'. These delicate, ceremonial instrumentations texture and colour each of the pieces, and it was important to me that the album contained no beats, only a few sub-bass moments. There is a gentle stillness, a passivity, to the record, with my grandmother’s voice given space to breathe alongside the violins and organs, to tell her own uninterrupted stories.

For the first time in my recording practice, my voice is not the central element of these pieces. I wanted to preserve my grandmother’s stories. I wanted to celebrate her, as other artists had paid tribute to their grandmothers before me: I thought of works like The Fiery Furnaces’ 'Rehearsing My Choir', Banana Yoshimoto’s novel 'Kitchen'... One of my favorite books as a young person was 'Sun and Spoon' by Kevin Henkes. It deals explicitly with the aftermath of losing one’s grandmother and trying to make sense of the emotions it produces, and is divided into four sections: “The Search”’, “The Sun”, “The Storm” and “The Sign.” The book still holds a deep affective power over me today. I pay homage to this fabulous book here, by titling four of the pieces on my album after each of these segments.

I was mute during many of the recordings taken of my grandmother. Many of them are auditory observations of her: during a phone call or conversation with someone else, or else in monologue, orating a lengthy tale. Otherwise, when chronicling our conversations, I was careful not to dominate the dialogic experience; as such my verbal offerings here scarcely amount to more than "mhm".

“Roadwork” and “The Bird Room” include a keyboard voice I designed myself from sine tones tuned micro-tonally, but my own voice is largely absent, operating mostly as a textural drone on such pieces as “Temple of the Fortress of Light” and “Three Voicemails.”

Listening to the voice recordings was daunting: not only did they bring raw memories to the surface, but they also reminded me that I wanted to take extreme care not to turn my grandmother's words into the equivalent of a “Track 3”. I did not want to lose the freshness of these moments, or to extinguish the person behind the voice. To try to bypass that trap, while still being able to hear them repeatedly, many of the recordings have been edited, EQ’d or reverbed significantly. This, for me at least, removes their energy from the original experience. Again – ghosts, skeletons of the originals.

I would describe “The Sign” as evoking Steve Reich-meets-Don’t DJ; it is the most rhythmic piece here despite the absence of beats. “Girlhood,” an improvised jam in Ableton 10’s Wavetable, represents the first time I’ve used this synth due to my usual preference for sampled materials; recordings of Dorothy, saxophone and glass marimba were interspersed later.

Ed Williams is featured on “A Glimmer in an Otherwise Dark Field.” I met Williams in 2018 performing alongside him, and after the performance he telepathically invited me to record an interview with him on loss, having recently lost his father. The bond we formed over our losses is poignant.

When I listen to this album and go back over these stories, I notice my grandmother’s vocal quirks, such as her use of the word ‘thing’ as a substitute for whatever noun she didn’t readily have to-hand. It is this individuality of her memory, her voice, that is at the centre of this work.

—Derek Piotr (assisted by Dr. Michael Waugh)


This project partially funded by the Danbury Cultural Commission.

credits

released August 2, 2019

all vocal performance and field recordings by derek piotr.
voice recordings taken of the artist’s grandmother, dorothy augusta crofut.
all music written by derek piotr except where noted.
portraits of the artist by kyle montemurro.
portrait of dorothy by derek piotr.
carnation frame photography sophia moreno-bunge.
disc carnation photography by nick fitzpatrick.
carnation logo photography by kyle montemurro.
carnation logo design by lyster periotto.


•girlhood•
keyboards: derek piotr
glass marimba: noah sanderson
saxophone: justin comer
ondes martenot (ondomo): david karp

•the sun•
organ: jason boada, derek piotr
violin: jason boada
viol da gamba: david karp
gamba engineering: david karp

•temple of the fortress of light•
piano: derek piotr
harp: thomas hack

•roadwork•
keyboards: derek piotr
violin: jason boada

•avia•
organ: derek piotr
violin: jason boada
addtional vocals: carah a. naseem
written by derek piotr and carah a. naseem

•the sign•
organ: derek piotr
violin: jason boada

•the bird room•
keyboards: derek piotr

•a glimmer in an otherwise dark field•
bowed acoustic guitar: ed williams
ondes martenot (ondomo), diffuseur: david karp

•theo's song•
organ: jason boada, derek piotr
violin: jason boada
keyboards: derek piotr
written by derek piotr and charles montmeny

•the search•
organ, keyboards: derek piotr

•three voicemails•
violin: jason boada

•the storm•
glass marimba: noah sanderson
saxophone: justin comer
clarinet: tsinder ash
organ: jason boada

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Derek Piotr

Derek Piotr is a folklorist, performer and composer based in New England, whose work focuses primarily on the human voice.

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