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Sonata No. 1: On Walls

Alto Saxophone and Piano

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Sonata No. 1: On Walls

Listen to the recording by Eddie Goodman and Fanya Lin on Spotify.

On Walls is a set of four movements, each inspired by a different piece of street art.

A few years before, I started exploring the work of street painters across the globe. What began as a fascination with artists like Seth GlobePainter and Banksy quickly widened in scope to include the boundless history of street art, including not just publicly-sanctioned muralists but graffiti, guerrilla art and vandalism.

I was never interested in being a street artist of any kind — I’m a terrible visual artist and an even worse rule-breaker. Rather, my fascination was guided by how the form’s features contrast with that of my own discipline. In many ways, street art and graffiti are the diametric opposites of classical music: anyone with a spray can and a bit of a bold streak can be a graffiti artist, and the product is instantly visible by everyone within eyeshot. Graffiti lacks the barriers to entry and participation that I find so frustrating about classical music. And yet, before just a few years ago, it was taboo as an art form — even now, in a post-Banksy world, the word “graffiti” usually conjures up images of gang markings and other criminal and antisocial acts, not a serious artistic pursuit of communication or self-expression.

But learning the history of art on walls taught me that even in its darkest corners, the medium is every bit as powerful as any other, more “respectable” mode of expression — just as able to express the profound and deep-set, and just as wide-reaching an impact and audience. The stories contained in these four inscriptions are brutal, vulnerable, and emotionally raw. And because their creators are anonymous, the stories they tell could (quite literally) be told by anyone. I find that endlessly inspiring: an art form with such memetic, infectious power — to educate, communicate, even kill — that can only be made by an artist with no face, or one with many faces.

With “On Walls”, I wanted to engage with four different corners of this artform using my own artistic language. The four movements tackle their namesakes emotionally and musically, showing their inspiration in their structure, narrative, and the musical landscapes in which they live.

“On Walls” was written for my great friend (and one of my favorite sax players) Eddie Goodman.

I. Kilroy Was Here

Kilroy — a bald, cartoonish character peering over a wall — appeared among American GI’s during World War II, usually accompanied by the caption ‘Kilroy Was Here’. Soldiers in Europe and Africa, mingling with other Allied troops, would scrawl Kilroy and his caption on city walls, inside bunkers and encampments, even on their own tanks. His exact origins are uncertain, but by the end of the war Kilroy was present in every theatre of the conflict and back in the United States. Kilroy’s memetic rise continued well into the 1950s.

II. quisquis amat

One of the earliest known graffiti is a Roman inscription on the House of the Silver Wedding in what was Pompeii. Like almost all ancient Roman graffiti, the author is unknown. The text is a bitter love poem, with violent imagery against the Venus, the Roman goddess of love — “if she can break my heart, why can’t I smash her head?” The first line of the short, heartbroken poem is “quisquis amat veniat,” which translates to, “anyone who loves, go to hell.”

III. 187

Street gangs around the world infamously use graffiti to communicate and to send crime-related messages in plain sight. In the United States, gangs will use ‘187’, juxtaposed with the name of an enemy, to direct members to kill that enemy on sight. ‘187’ is the California police code for homicide.

IV. Did You Think It Was Over?

Street art gained legitmacy in London during the 1980s and 1990s with the work of, among others, Banksy and King Robbo. In the mid-2000s, Banksy painted a piece over the site of one of Robbo’s most iconic works, starting a bitter feud between the two artists. Before long, fans of Robbo’s work — the loosely-collected “Team Robbo” — began defacing Banksy works all over London. King Robbo sustained a head injury in 2011, which would lead to his death in 2014. After Robbo’s injury, Banksy tried making peace by restoring a tribute version of the Robbo work which started the feud. That didn’t stop Team Robbo — they continued to deface Banksy’s work all over London. The vandalism of “Fishing Boy” in Camden included a message: “Banksy // Did you think it was over? // Team Robbo”

Score and Alto Part: $45

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