We are absolutely delighted that composer Jake Thorpe has written a new piece of music inspired by John Dyer’s painting of the Amazon water spirit Yuxi Yuve. This new piece of music had its world premiere when it was performed by flautist Martha-Lilly Dyer deep in the rainforest of Brazil with the Yawanawá tribe in June 2019.
Above: ‘Yuxi Yuve the Amazon Rainforest Water Spirit’ by John Dyer. 100cm x 100cm acrylic on canvas. Painted for the groundbreaking ‘Spirit of the Rainforest’ exhibition alongside Amazon Indian Nixiwaka Yawanawá and supported by Survival International & the Eden Project.
This painting by John depicts the Spirit of Water who lives in the depths of the great rivers of the Rainforest. Yuxi Yuve is a beautiful woman with long flowing hair, down which water cascades, forging a link connecting the Spirit with all the rivers and everything that is supported in and by the water. She is the Lady of the Waters and is a powerful spirit that looks after all the living things, plants, animals and fish that inhabit the river. She appears in visions to the Yawanawá when they have a ceremony that invokes her force in order to teach them about the spiritual forces that live in the water. She connects the world of the river to the tribe showing its importance to their life as part of nature.
These are Jake Thorpe’s composer notes for the piece:
Yuxi Yuve was composed for flautist Martha-Lilly Dyer and artist John Dyer to take with them on their expedition to the Amazon rainforest to be performed to the Yawanawá tribe as part of the ‘Spirit of the Rainforest 2’ chapter of the ‘Last Chance to Paint’ project.
The piece is based on a painting by John Dyer, ‘Yuxi Yuve the Amazon Rainforest Water Spirit’, which depicts the spirit of the water who lives in the depths of the rainforest.
This piece was written with the aim to represent all the imagery seen in the painting. The flowing lines, the bright colours and all the Amazonian animals all largely influenced the melodic and structural aspects of the piece, with the water spirit Yuxi Yuve being the main focus, who is represented by the flowing pentatonic lines. Another main influence to the piece was the large Boa Constrictor, we can hear this in the more chromatic writing as the snake travels through the rainforest.
Yuxi Yuve duration c. 3:10
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We wanted to find out a bit more about this beautiful and contemporary composition so asked the composer, Jake Thorpe, a few questions about his latest composition.
What do you feel about your music being played in the rainforest?
I think for any composer who is starting off it’s always exciting to hear that your music will be getting played, even if it’s not a public performance, so the fact that this piece will be getting played in the rainforest is an extremely exciting thought and I’m really looking forward to seeing the tribes reaction as well.
Yeah, it was a really enjoyable experience. Any time when you are collaborating with someone on a project it is always good fun. I think also knowing the context of the project and where the piece was going to be performed made the writing process a lot more exciting. Also working with the painting was really fun and allowed me to write a piece in a style quite unfamiliar to me.
Is this something you’ve ever done before?
No, working with a painting was a very new experience for me and one that I very much enjoyed. There is just so much detail in the art to draw out and it made for a very unique writing process.
Why were you drawn specifically to the painting Yuxi Yuve?
Firstly it’s just so eye-catching, the way the colours were used immediately caught my attention. I was also able to immediately start thinking about ideas for the piece which is always a good sign, the cyclical structure of the painting and just the general story behind the work just seemed to fit perfectly to a music setting.
Do you feel the piece connects to tribal culture in any way?
I would like to think so, my knowledge of tribal culture is definitely very limited. However, mostly using the painting as inspiration, I would hope that the piece has links with the culture, perhaps some things in the piece speak greater to people who have a larger understanding of the culture than myself, but I think there is definitely some connections.
Have you found by composing this piece that you have successfully engaged with tribal culture and in interpreting their spirituality?
I think so. With tribal life being such an unknown thing to me, it was very difficult to get into the mindset of imagining what it’s like to live in the rainforest and what the tribes’ attitudes towards these stories that I’m trying to depict through music are. However, I always try to do lots of research and fully commit to my music and I think when doing that in this piece it allowed me to engage and understand their way of life more.
Do you feel more connected to the rainforest through the composition process?
Yes for sure, like I mentioned with the research and really committing to a piece, I think it definitely allowed me to connect to the rainforest when writing.
Do you think the piece ‘Yuxi Yuve’ will help others to connect to the rainforest through music?
As a composer, your goal is to always get an emotional reaction from your audience. Whether this is good or bad is a different matter, but I would definitely like to think at least one person who listens to the piece can relate to it and get a real connection to the rainforest, I think that would be really nice to see.
Did you experience any spiritual journey whilst composing the music?
I honestly wouldn’t be able to say. The journey for me was mostly realising that with this piece it was less about what I wanted to write as an individual and more about what the painting and the understanding of the culture dictated to me. There are very few parts in the score which I feel were solely my ideas, what I wrote seemed very clearly presented from the painting and the research I did.
In what way does the chromatic writing represent the snake? Did you feel like this was an important element of the painting?
I think I thought of the chromatic passages when writing for the snake because of the smoothness in the scale. Each interval is the same and there is no other scale that has the same ability to create those smooth rolling lines. I think in the painting as well, at first glance for me it seemed quite difficult to notice when the snake starts and ends this is also seen in scalic chromatic passages where it’s also not clear where the line may start or finish. As for the importance of the snake, I think it was a key feature of the painting. With it being at the centre of the painting and being the size it was, I thought I definitely had to have the snake as a key feature of the music as well.
You’ve chosen to use a pentatonic theme through the music. How did you make this decision? Was there a particular reason to choose the pentatonic scale?
Strangely enough, when first briefed about the piece I was immediately drawn to Native American flute music and the pentatonic qualities it had as my initial thought. I just think the nature of that music depicts this idea of spirituality so well so I knew I wanted to incorporate that into the piece. However, I decided I didn’t want an extremely strong sense of the pentatonic scale which is why I then embellished it with more chromatic lines throughout. I just think the openness of the pentatonic scale really suited the story of the water spirit.
About Jake Thorpe
Jake Thorpe is a composer and musician currently studying at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama (RWCMD) in Cardiff. Raised in Suffolk, his love of music started when he joined the local brass band at the age of 8. It wasn’t until Jake was studying A Level Music that he realised his passion for composing and found himself with a few short months to pull a portfolio together to apply to the RWCMD. Jake is particularly interested in writing for brass and woodwind and likes to push musical boundaries creating music which takes musicians to new and exciting styles of performance.