September 8th was a rough Sunday. I had been coping poorly with some bad news, and didn’t feel like getting out of bed, much less dolling up for Soundwave’s Impressions on Water at the Legion of Honor. I’m really glad I did.
The walk up the driveway was meditative, stepping over fallen pine needles and watching the fog roll in great clouds over the headlands, cliffs, and the ocean below. Two sentinels on horseback, El Cid and Joan of Arc, stood frozen in stone in front of the gates. Rodin’s “Thinker” sat atop a pedestal within the courtyard, surrounded by columns, and roofed by open sky. In a place like that, it’s not so much that you don’t know where you are, but you don’t know when you are.
In these timeless surroundings, veiled by Pacific fog that lingered well into the afternoon, Christen Lien’s viola told the life story of a water molecule.
This was her second time participating in the Soundwave festival, which brought her to my attention last year. Lien plays viola, and what makes her unique was the way she layers her own music on top of itself until she becomes a one-woman orchestra. Her preludes form rhythms, each new movement forms melodies and harmonies—weaving strand after strand together into a tapestry of sound. Lien records every section live, making each performance present and unrepeatable.
The water molecule in Lien’s music was a brand new one, going through the water cycle for the first time. Its journey began in the ocean until it evaporated and became a cloud. It traveled through the sky, high up above the world; until it grew heavy and dark, plummeting back down toward the earth far from its birthplace in the ocean. It landed safely in a stream, where it recovered from its long fall. Stronger and braver, it joined a river and rushed back toward the ocean with new understanding from its experiences.
It was easy to visualize this confusing, magical journey there on the coast, surrounded by fog as ships’ horns blared in the distance. At the very end—the moment when the raging river collided and merged with the ocean—our applause transformed into crashing waves, and our whistling cheers became seagulls’ cries. Lien’s music brought us out of ourselves and into the cycle surrounding us.
She filled the space, and we were outside.
This blog seeks to find the interplay of creativity and martial philosophy, and Lien is one musician who embodies both. You can see more of Christen Lien’s work on her Website and Facebook page. Her music also features in the film Alice Walker: Beauty in Truth.
She was kind enough to submit the quotes for today’s entry.
“To be an artist means not to compute or count; it means to ripen as the tree, which does not force its sap, but stands unshaken in the storms of spring with no fear that summer might not follow.”
— Rainer Maria Rilke