Liza Lim/Dustin Donahue, Love Letter

Liza Lim’s postcard score, Love Letter, asks the performer to “write a letter to their beloved,” and “transpose the letters of each word into rhythmic information” to be performed on a hand drum exploring “subtle gradations of timbre.” In my realization, my own “love letter” runs in counterpoint with texts by Margaret Atwood and Simone de Beauvoir which were read at my wedding. 

Emphasizing the score’s instruction to make rhythms from letters themselves, I explored a range of coded methods for translating individual letters into sounds; these, at first, included standardized practices like Morse code and ASCII, all of which felt impersonal and mechanical. Ultimately, as I analyzed and copied these texts, I became enchanted by the sound of handwriting. This was an intimate, highly personal method of producing sounds from letters; I recorded myself writing each text, and then transcribed in meticulous detail the exact rhythms of my writing and the articulations created with each stroke. In my performance, these rhythms and articulations are reproduced on the frame drum not with the intent of imitating the sound of writing, but instead to create a new kind of percussive language based upon the idiosyncratic movements of my own hand in writing. 

My own “love letter” forms a through-line in the music; recordings of my writing are played through a transducer affixed to the drum head. Each line of my text elides with line breaks and punctuations in the texts by Beauvoir and Atwood which are performed in the percussionist’s hands. The Beauvoir text is presented first, performed with a single sound world of heavily amplified muffled strokes with long tones assigned to the superball. The Atwood begins with light friction sounds, gradually moving from the flesh of the fingers, to the fingernails, and then to increasingly abrasive brushes. The final gestures of this realization – the wood-bristle brush crushed into the drum head – greatly extends long tones in the writing as a reference to a particular sound described in the Atwood text. 

I am deeply grateful to wasteLAnd for their invitation to develop and present this work as a counterpoint to James Tenney’s Cellogram.