Reprinted from Private Eye, August 19, 1992

The Suite Sound of Controversy

It's a story of art imitating life. Or is it the other way around?

It's a new "musical-text" composition that, to the Kaibab Paiute Reservation outside of Kanab, celebrates a struggle waged to maintain the sanctity of their native land.

To Waste Tech, a major toxic-waste disposal company, it's a musical composition that essentially celebrates corporate failure.
And to Utah composer Phillip Kent Bimstein, it's merely his latest project, Dark Winds Rising, a four-part suite rooted in controversy.
In late 1989, Waste Tech proposed to build a toxic waste incinerator on the reservation land. Bimstein, who resides 40 miles from the reservation, decided to attend a hearing being held by tribal leaders on the reservation.

"Controversy was raging at the time. All members of the reservation were there, Waste Tech was there--even a guy from Green Peace," Bimstein explained. "I later heard that Waste Tech offered the tribe $50 thousand dollars a year per person to give the go ahead--it was a helluva lot of money. They turned it down ... because they were thinking forward to six or seven generations. How would it affect them?"

Moved by the hearing, Bimstein then drafted a proposal for a grant to write a musical suite concerning the controversy.

"Then, all of a sudden, they held a meeting and told Waste Tech 'No,'" Bimstein said. "I had to change my proposal. I decided to make it more of a celebration of the Paiute victory--rather then dwelling solely on the controversy."

A grant from the New Forms: Regional Initiative, along with funding from the NEA, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Apache Corporation, soon followed.

In his studio, Bimstein scheduled and recorded interviews of the Jake family--Lucille, Vivian and Verdel--three Paiutes who assisted in the fight against Waste Tech. Bimstein's vision of the suite was to use both classical and modern music to celebrate the preservation of the Paiute's cultural heritage. Dark Winds Rising comprises four movements with titles spelling out a sentence. Part I is "The Last Jake;" Part II: "Walking Barefooted;" Part III: "With the Earth;" and Part IV: "Among all People."

The key elements of the suite are actualized with what Bimstein calls "voice organics," where spoken words of the Jake family, through the use of computer sampling and synthesized manipulation, become musical special effects.

In the composition, the Jake voices are digitally altered to sound like heavy mesa winds blowing across a reservation. With Bimstein's computer technology, the word "I" is slowed down until it clicks like an industrial ratchet. Other voices in the composition sound like birdcalls and a pit full of snakes.

"If you listen to every person's speaking voice, it has a rhythm and a texture to it," Bimstein said. "I look for the inner personality of that person's voice and I find the music that springs out of it."
And what message "springs" out of Dark Winds Rising?

The final words of the suite, offered by the elder Jake, Lucille, say it best: "In our hearts we hope the best among all people."

-- Isaiah Stewart