IonSound Project premiered my multimedia collaboration with Ryan Day, Kecow hit tamen, on November 20 at Bellefield Hall Auditorium. It was an amazing performance and I’m continually grateful to have such excellent musicians perform my music. Here is the complete work.
About Kecow hit tamen
My father is a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, a tribe whose history is far more difficult to ascertain than that of other eastern native peoples. Modern Lumbee trace their ancestry to Eastern Siouan, Cherokee, and Tuscarora, with one of the enduring legends being that the tribe is descended, at least in part, from the intermarriage between members of Raleigh’s Lost Colony and the Hatteras. The Carolina Algonquian phrase “Kecow hit tamen?” means either “What is this?” or “What is your name?” The phrase was recorded by Thomas Hariot during Raleigh’s initial expedition, and, given the competing theories on Lumbee history, seems like an appropriate starting point for my own reflections on that history.
Thomas Hariot’s translations of Carolina Algonquian and additional vocabulary derived from John White’s annotated watercolors supply the best samples we have of the language spoken the by native peoples they encountered. Sadly, only a hundred or so words remain of a much larger effort and these describe mostly the local flora and fauna.
I approached the composition of Kecow hit tamen almost as I would a vocal piece, sketching a melodic fragment for the question itself and for each of Hariot’s and White’s words. These fragments then became the basis for a series of overlapping micro-variations that constitute the instrumental layer. I have not tried to mimic Native American musics in any way, but rather evoke the experience of learning a new language, with the need to say a word in different ways in order to feel where it should be in the mouth and throat. The instrumental layer then, is designed to capture the visceral feeling of exploring new words while the audio samples surround the listener with approximations of how the spoken language might have sounded.
The idea of developing Kecow hit tamen as a multimedia work emerged when my good friend Ryan Day and I were discussing his Translation series of images, works that “translate” texts into color patterns. The idea of a visual artist and composer both working with the same non-narrative text turned out to be a fruitful one, and we developed the piece collaboratively from start to finish.
Ryan Day’s Artist Statement
My visual companion to the music is intended to illustrate the process of something complex, organic and beautiful, being steadily and irrevocably eroded away. The cone shapes and colors in this piece are all commonly used in Lumbee artwork. I hope that this piece honors the Lumbee language and culture as it was, and helps people to understand the process and reality of the loss we have experienced. —RD