Album Review: While I was walking I heard a sound…

by Margaret Leng Tan, New York City
May 22nd, 2004

The world would be a poorer place if When I was Walking I Heard a Sound had not been created. At the very least, my own life would be that much poorer if I had not discovered this amazing work by Miya Masaoka. I was truly bowled over.

To begin with, While I was Walking, I Heard a Sound has an unusual configuration. It is scored for 3 choirs and 9 soloists spatialized in balconies. It is unequivocally the most mesmerizing, haunting and wrenching piece of music I have heard in a long time.

The chromatic clusters which play a large part in the sonic fabric of Walking bring to mind that unsettling post-Hiroshima aesthetic that you find in Butoh or in some of the music of another wonderful Japanese composer, Somei Satoh; yet Walking is unabashedly sui generis. Sometimes you feel as if you are descending into the Abyss, dragged down by the sliding walls of sound Miya creates. Other times the music evokes the keening and wailing of sirens, all the more potent in this post 9/11 world.

Yet the piece has room for laughter, albeit of a somewhat hysterical nature, and there are passages of quiet lyrical beauty where the songs of simulated birds created with the human voice seem the most natural thing in the world. And at other times, the drone clusters are benignly reminiscent of Miya’s beloved bees! The ending is a stroke of genius, simply the sound of the breath in four exhalations.

A live spatialized performance of When I was Walking I Heard a Sound must truly be an unforgettable sonic and emotional experience. While I Was Walking is a non-negotiable item on my desert island list.