Ways to put in the salt (2002)

for solo piano

Requested by and dedicated to John Tilbury

Publisher: Bardic Edition

BDE 950

Duration: 13 minutes, 30 seconds


Recorded by Jill Richards on ‘Michael Blake: Complete Works for Solo Piano 1994-2004’ (MBED001)


First performance: Sunday 30 June 2002; New Music Indaba 2002, Grahamstown, South Africa; John Tilbury piano.

Further performances:
07.2003; New Music Indaba, Grahamstown, South Africa; Jill Richards piano
4.08.2003; Churchill College, Cambridge, UK; Jill Richards piano (UK premiere)

Programme note

Ways to Put in the Salt was written at the request of John Tilbury to be played in a concert with Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari. In the course of researching Xhosa music (in the Eastern Cape, South Africa), one of Prof David Dargie’s informants, Mrs Amelia No-Silence Matiso, told him how the Xhosa people like “to put salt into their songs” to bring the performance to life. Salt may be added rhythmically, melodically and harmonically through the use of cross-rhythms, clap-delay techniques, altered scale tones, parallel melodic and harmonic parts, non-harmonic tones, dissonance, pattern-singing, and a variety of vocal techniques. The now legendary Nofinishi Dywili, whose live and recorded performances are among my most memorable musical experiences, was probably the greatest exponent of uhadi bow music. The day after I had completed the piece I heard from Andrew Tracey that she had died.


“And it also included a new Michael Blake piece based on the music of Xhosa composer and master bow player Mrs Nofinishi Dywili, who died recently. Michael Blake’s Ways to Put in the Salt was almost a Well-Tempered Klavier for the uhadi. It explored the forms of improvisation and ornament that traditional Xhosa players use to spice up their themes, but applied to a theme that was brutally modern in its simplicity. Tilbury — and the audience — had fun with its wit and engagement. But there was fragility and dignity in the interpretation too, instantly recognisable to anyone who had heard Dywili perform.”
Gwen Ansell, Cue, Grahamstown, June 2002

Ways to put in the salt (2002) van Michael Blake is ‘n klavierwerk waarvan die titel ontleen is aan ‘n anecdote wat lui “Xhosa-sangers hou daarvan om sout in hul liedere te sit om die uitvoerings daarvan lewendig te maak”. ‘n Onderliggende beginsel in Blake se estetiese beskouing lyk na die konsep van onderbreking. Maar dit is nie so eenvoudig soos wat dit klink nie. Musikale gedagtes word meestal deurgevoer, maar nie as “ontwikkeling” nie. Gedurende die werk is daar skadu’s van reeds verskene oomblikke, eggo’s van reeds gehoorde klanke. Die punt van belang is egter dat “ontwikkeling” in die sin van die ontgin van die musicale moontlikhede van material, nie hier plaasvind nie. In hierdie opsig is daar ‘n verwantskap te hoor tussen hierdie musiek en dié van die uhadi-boogmusiek van die lengedariese Nofinishi Dywili, wie se sang en spel hierdie musiek geïnspireer het. Die musiek bestaan as ‘n sikliese uitbreiding binne ‘n afgepende ruimte, ‘n uitspel van los idees wat nie verstaan wil word as formele “uitwerk” of “deurwerking” nie.”

Ways to put in the salt (2002) by Michael Blake is a piano work of which the title is borrowed from an anecdote which reads “Xhosa singers like to put salt into their songs to make the performances lively”. An underlying principle in Blake’s aesthetic view looks at the concept of interruption. But it is not as simple as it sounds. Musical thought are mostly implemented, but not as “development”. During the work there are shadows of previously presented moments, echoes of previously heard sounds. The point of interest is however that “development” in the sense of mining of musical possibilities of material, does not take place here. In this way there is a relationship to be heard between this music and that of the uhadi bow music of the legendary Nofinishi Dywili, whose singing and playing inspired this music. The music exists as a cyclic extension within a defined space, a spinning out of loosely related ideas which cannot be understood as formal “elaboration” or “development”.”
Stephanus Muller, Die Burger, Cape Town, Friday 5 July 2002
Translation: Giel Swart


Piano music