Month of Ghosts

Month of Ghosts

2003, 14:00

Amplified Voice, Small Radio, Soundtrack

Written for Ayelet Harpaz


Programme notes

On the first of day of the seventh lunar month, the Taiwanese are visited by their ancestors in an elaborate festival for the dead called the Month of Ghosts. Each summer, the Gates of Hell are opened and the deceased are welcomed with gifts, huge banquets and round-the- clock opera.The living plan their days with extreme caution during this period, since if the dead feel neglected or unsatisfied, bad luck is sure to follow.

In this piece, a dead daughter returns home. She whispers in her mother’s ear a story of deceit, betrayal and murder. She accuses her mother, a notorious Hong Kong gangsteress, of betraying her two daughters to a more powerful mainland boss.

The accompaniment for “Month of Ghosts” is made up largely of a re-edited 1918 Victor recording of the violinist Mischa Elman and friends playing a Schubert minuet.

“Month of Ghosts” belongs to a series of pieces using imagery and formal ideas from Albert Giraud’s poem cycle “Pierrot Lunaire.” This piece specifically relates to “Evocation,” the twenty-eighth of Giraud’s original cycle of 50 poems, also known as “Madonna”.


Rise, O mother of all our sorrows

Oh, mama, you were the one
we could run from the sword but couldn’t dodge the gun
had we only known the whole story, that the talk was for real
had we lived to tell, had we understood the deal

Every priest in Hong Kong, all the thieves in Taipei
knew mama’s blood-stained flightjacket, mama’s glasses from Gucci,
mama’s eyes, two slivers of burning bright gray
all would bear witness to your strength under fire,
to your merciless and radiant nerves of steel
had they lived to tell, had they understood the deal

As I flew low and quiet, through the darkness,
over the Straight of Formosa
Sis should of been looking for the coast
but she was looking towards the sky
We saw ten thousand spirits raining down like black sparrows
as the moon rises up for the seventh time this year
on the eve of the Month of Ghosts

When your friends from Pingtan pulled up to the strip, all smiles and flash
I put out my hand, but they never pulled out the cash
Wulong and diamonds
a twin-engine going nowhere

My rear-view mirror gave the future away
you could measure it in seconds, in a fraction of a day
a fraction of a morning, my cigarette falls to the floor
as my head hit the dashboard, Sis crawled out the other door

How big was your trigger?
the wound would not mend
your first born floated ’round the river bend

How long were your tears?
they got Sis, too, in the end
your second born floated ’round the river bend

So farewell O mother, we bid you goodbye
We’ll drop in next year, sometime in July