Contents - This Great Society - Issue 6, The Future - February 2010
When the Earth Leaves You by Jim Boraas
Photo by Joel Bentley
Illustration by Joel Bentley

When I began composing "When the Earth Leaves You" I had been preparing myself to write a song about the death of my father. The first drafts were written with a much faster tempo in mind. They included rough discords and rhythms that often stood in conflict to one another. This was largely the result of an intention to create a narrative within the song that reflected, perhaps too literally, my own feelings connected to this event. As the process continued I came to see the composition in terms of death generally and began to smooth out some of the more literal turmoil.

A few literal elements remain in the final draft – although in a muted state. The opening altered-tones, for example, repeat throughout the piece as a juxtaposition to the unaltered-tones, which create the bulk of the song. The allegorical function of these altered-tones is to represent human self-awareness and consciousness, while the unaltered-tones represent the body. Early drafts had a strong divergence gradually build between these elements as the song progressed towards full separation of body and consciousness. As the process continued it became clear that these "consciousness-tones" could follow a much more subtle path and still represent a conflict leading to eventual separation.

Considering the composition as a figurative path through the final stages of death, selecting the final note was the most important decision of the piece. Ending with a single F-sharp "body-tone," exaggeratedly delayed, reflected my fear of bodily decay. This note had been part of a set cycle through most of the song to this point. Having it appear a final time, alone and out of place, seemed an appropriate means of expressing this decay. Leaving the final "consciousness-tones" resolved at an ambiguous point within—or after—the composition is similarly a reflection of the inevitable yet universally unknowable state consciousness meets at the body’s end.

Having completed the process of writing "When the Earth Leaves You," I can now see that it has followed a path typical of my creative process. An unresolved departure has been the catalyst, while the end result retreats to a personal expression of private anxieties. The angry reaction against a brutal death evident in the first drafts remains only in the author of the work, while the work itself became an attempt to express hope constructed from, and set against, fear of the incognizable state that receives the final notes of every human body.

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