This post is in the Emotions category

The Terror is a piece that was originally written for Zen Zen Zo to express the horror of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, but the movement has since been adapted to refer to the Twin Towers terrorist attack of 2001. I have included it in the dissertation because the emotional process of composing and developing the piece is quite different to that experienced when watching it in performance, and to the response of those performing it.

When I presented the piece to the director Lynne Bradley, her initial response was “there is no way that this is terror”.  I said that I when I wrote it I felt myself “inside” in the quake and in fear of what I would find in the rubble.  I had placed myself emotionally in the scene. It is interesting that music that is, according to syntactic measures, “sad” also has the ability to uplift. Harpsichordist and Bach specialist Wanda Landowska is quoted as asking, and answering this question. “Why is this music which depicts our despair so comforting too? It is not because it expresses our sorrow, but because it is a sublimation of our distress, and in this sublimation lies the consoling power … (in Watson, 1994, p. 135)

The movement is slow, intense and in places quite painful to watch, yet also depicts physical triumph. A more technical discussion on the piece is in the Music Room.

I invited Lynne and Helen Smith, another member of the company who performed the piece in reference to Kobe for their thoughts on the meaning within the music.

For me, the most prominent emotions/feelings in the movement are grief and loss; there is also a sense of imploring or beseeching to a higher power in a world that is disintegrating; and finally there is compassion.

The music conveys both a profound sense of loss, yet compassion or hope. There is also exquisite beauty expressed in it, like in a situation where a family is gathered round the death bed of a beloved grandmother.   (Smith, H. 2010 Personal Correspondence)


The emotional content for TERROR/KOBE is grief.  But the cast all agree that it’s mixed with a sense of hope – inspired by the courage and tenacity displayed by human beings in times of crisis and in the face of unspeakable circumstances.  For me personally, it is a dance of reincarnation – the dancers die and are reborn over and over in the dance.  There is a deep sadness inherent in the peace, but also a beauty born out of adversity and human courage.  In its original manifestation it was about the Kobe earthquake, as you know.  It was a tragic time, but after the initial shock, my memories are of the stories of human beings’ courage and generosity in helping each other through this crisis.

The music was completely opposite to what I expected you to write.  But as you know, I think one of the reasons this piece is still in our repertoire, and one of the favourite dances we have ever created, is because of the music which juxtaposed the tragedy. I can only describe it as “sublime” – filled with the poignancy of life.  Sometimes life is almost unbearable painful, but at the same time it so full of beauty and joy and hope.  I think this dance/music is a great example of two artists coming together to create something greater than anything we could do alone.  …  It is also a great example of a piece where the music is in major and the choreography is in minor – I didn’t need to do much because it was already so dense and rich musically. (Bradley, L. 2010 personal correspondence)

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