Program note for the premiere performances:
Glorious Ravage feels like a culmination of my 14 years as part of the extraordinary San Francisco Bay Area music community. These are the musicians who taught me how to be a composer, how to lead a band, how to cross genres fluidly and unapologetically, how to channel my curiosity into all kinds of unusual artistic escapades. My film collaborators are part of a diverse community of Bay Area moving image artists, another pocket of creativity that has welcomed me and into its anarchic, collective fray, through organizations like Artists’ Television Access, Illuminated Corridor, and SF Cinematheque. It’s been a gift to make work with these 14 musicians, and these four filmmakers, and I’m grateful for every intense, challenging, impossible, brilliant, insane moment we have shared together over this past year.
The idea for Glorious Ravage was born from my first musical meeting with Fay Victor, in fall of 2011 … our musical chemistry was instant, and I knew I needed to write for her unique talents. I started composing trio music, and in my search for texts that would become lyrics, I began with Fay’s journey west, from where she lives in Brooklyn, New York, to the Bay Area. I had also made that journey years before, not knowing where it would lead. So I began reading journals, letters and travelogues of women who had made epic trips—first pioneer women headed west in covered wagons, then all sorts of women from all over the world, each of them hitting the road for their own reasons.
Many of them grew on me. There’s no question these European and American ladies from the mid-19th through the turn of the 20th Century were of their time—Colonial baggage often intact—but they were also progressive in imagining alternatives to the realities that surrounded them. Most compelling for me were the complexities, dissonances, ambiguities of their personalities and motivations—and so this work embraces that interesting grey zone that seems to surround real, flawed, yet pretty interesting people.
Mary Kingsley was a nerd, socially awkward but infinitely curious and with a great self-deprecating sense of humor—we might have been fast friends. Isabella Bird seems a bit high maintenance, but would have been a blast to have a drink with. It might have been a thrill to hike the Andes with Annie Peck and talk politics along the way, but I would have rolled my eyes at her appetite for publicity. I would have had little patience for the self-destructive daydreamer Isabelle Eberhardt, but might have encouraged her writing career—she was quite a talent.
Some of these ladies wrote so evocatively that their words immediately inspired lyrics. Others were so single-minded in their pursuits—for whatever new experience, for solitude, for a glimpse at a rare species of plant, for connection with people of other cultures, for anything but what awaited them in their suffocating Victorian parlors—that I began to score these different aspects of their ambitions. The fact that there was no contemporary precedent for how they chose to live their lives, and the great lengths they went to live so fully off-script, resonated with me enormously.
The music and film explore all this in an impressionistic way, connecting one woman’s words with another’s story, bridging far-off locales through shared ordeals and obsessions. The process of how all these stories and characters came to inhabit this music, and these films, has been fascinating, a slow burn as four simultaneous collaborations spun out in their own directions and took on lives of their own. I led Janis, Alfonso, Kathleen and Konrad to a trove of sources, and encouraged them to jump in—they came back to me with more ideas, more sources, more compelling questions about possible directions we might pursue. It’s been quite a trip to experience this whole thing coming into focus these months, like a huge ship slowly approaching on the horizon. Thank you for greeting us at the port!
—Lisa Mezzacappa, September 2015