The khaen is a bamboo free-reed mouth organ from Laos and Northeast Thailand. Traditional khaen playing has both groovy and melancholy aspects, expressing a nostalgia for rural life and providing a foundation for dance music and poetic singing. My New Music for Khaen series documents works by the growing international roster of composers writing for this folk instrument. I have selected instruments in different pitches and with distinctive timbres and characters to best represent each of these contemporary compositions.
Natural imagery inspired many of the pieces in this volume. Jinhee Han was inspired by a landscape photograph of Budapest by photographer Moo Jae. The four connected sections of her piece carry titles that suggest a magical realism: shine over the river; a movement arose spontaneously; souls are underwater; gentle Danube, forever. Peter Hager offers a musical meditation on the rainy season in his Philippines home, and the troubled emotions that it brings to the surface. And David Loeb evokes how traditional Japanese painters worked with light and shadow to create a sense of distance when depicting a misty environment.
Peter Hager’s piece was selected from a call for scores hosted by the Thailand New Music and Arts Symposium, seeking new music for khaen by Southeast Asian composers. Another selection is Kevin Leomo’s tracing a line, which explores the extreme fragility and instability of the khaen’s softest sounds.
From the archives is a recording of Tashi Delek, a structured improvisation that I first performed for a Green Tara Puja ceremony at the wedding of a friend, using traditional drone-and-melody textures configured into non-traditional modes. I am joined by the outstanding and versatile San Diego-based violinist Batya MacAdam-Somer for The Serpent’s Dance, which is adapted from an earlier piece I wrote for Chinese instruments guangzi (oboe) and sheng (mouth organ). My Cowries is a trio for three amplified khaen in different keys. The title refers to the cowrie shells of the Indian ocean that were once a currency in the ancient seafaring trade linking Southeast Asia to the east coast of Africa.
released February 3, 2023
Recorded, edited and mixed by:
David Martinez at Studio West, San Diego, January–April, 2022 (1,3,5,6)
David Martinez at Studio West, San Diego, June, 2020 (2)
Andy Walsh at Studio West, August, 2022 (4)
Peter Sprague at SpragueLand, Encinitas, CA, 2002 (7)
Mastered by Wayne Peet at Newzone, Los Angeles
Instruments by Changkhen Somjinda (2,6,7), Buntha Saisiri (1), and Joey Phuthai (3,4,5)
Album cover art generously contributed by Moo Jae
Physical CD only:
CD art generously contributed by Moo Jae
Duo photo by Ros Video & Photography