Ever-growing access to arts education has resulted in a treasure-trove of skilled performers along with a wealth of diverse narratives in their projects. However, there is one drawback to this benefit–performers must be more creative than ever if they wish to stand out. Programming is one opportunity for an artist to distinguish themself, although it is a hard skill to master. Many programs based on singular ideas like “Unity” or “Hope” tend to be so broad that they become meaningless. On the other hand, storytelling narratives run the risk of creating an expectation of what the audience might hear that cannot be fulfilled.
Yoshi Weinberg’s REBIRTH (released October 2, 2020) is one of the few themed programs that adds value to its repertoire without limiting the listener’s imagination. This self-published EP features four works by Philippe Hurel, Jaegone Kim, Toru Takemitsu, and Weinberg themself that each contribute to a broader narrative: Yoshi Weinberg’s coming out experience as a trans, non-binary, and genderqueer individual.
Not only is REBIRTH effective for its considerate and expertly crafted programming, but it’s also successful as an EP. Weinberg took great care in optimizing their work for digital listening instead of merely uploading a live performance. The result is an EP that allows the listener to focus on the performer’s soundworld and the message they’re trying to depict.
Weinberg’s coming-out narrative may suggest a trend from constraint to liberation. Their performance of Loops 1 by Philippe Hurel establishes that expectation through a riveting introduction that exemplifies Weinberg’s creative interpretation and technical virtuosity. One can hear immense suffocation in the diversity of timbres presented in this tension-filled work. They manage to increase agitation with each repetition of the material and establish sufficient contrast between extended techniques that give the listener a sense of rapid anxiety–as if they were running away from something.
The intense, almost overwhelming stress of the first piece is contrasted heavily by A Whirl of Time, composed by Weinberg. This work is a stunning compositional display of polyphony and texture that beautifully fits their sublime tone. A Whirl of Time presents the listener with a meandering imbalance. One can envision swirling sounds of thought in a confused headspace. This gorgeous scenery ends with two conflicting pulls between intrusive anxiety and the composer’s garden of contemplation.
The third piece, Feathers, Fallen by Jaegone Kim is its own coming out narrative. The work uses silence to create a transformation from an asphyxiating throttle to a free alignment with the air through a series of breathy techniques spaced between contemplative silence. Towards the end, the breath moves from being a stressor to creating a luscious, repetitive melody, an antidote to the repeated phrases in Loops 1.
The EP ends with an exploration of breath through Weinberg’s reimagining of Air by Toru Takemitsu. Weinberg made several daring and vulnerable decisions to insert themself into this program as composer and arranger. This decision was bold and should be greatly commended. More performers ought to be willing to add much-needed individuality into our repertoire. There is great risk in altering or adding to a piece, however. When an audience member is made aware of such changes, they expect something more impressionable than the original. Should they prefer the piece without the performer’s additions, then it may sour the experience.
Weinberg’s electronics add an atmosphere to the work that transforms the original masterpiece into a liberating space. By sustaining certain pitches, Weinberg adds to Takemitsu’s melody an ephemeral drone that exhibits a personal touch of depth and space to the piece. Yet Weinberg’s lack of variation in the electronics leaves one wishing for a little more movement, risking an ending that can be underwhelming if the listener isn’t hearing the piece with a meditative mindset. This one critique aside, it is still highly effective as a closer to this short yet concentrated program.
The result is a balanced EP centered on contrast: Loops 1 and Feathers, Fallen can be heard as one pair, contrasted by A Whirl of Time and Air. While this grouping sacrifices a unified narrative, the final result is a deeper, more subtle journey.
Coming out is not one gradual process. It is a series of conflicting needs between the inner self and expressed self in constant negotiation. By focusing on contrasting elements, as opposed to a unified progression, Weinberg’s narrative becomes more realistic while effectively balancing aesthetic needs (stress and relief, breath and pitch, solo and electronics).
REBIRTH is a powerful EP that should be celebrated for the composer-performer’s phenomenal interpretation. Vulnerability is scary, especially as a non-binary artist. Hopefully, this EP will serve as a model for ways other queer individuals can express themselves in a way that’s moving and crafted.
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