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Levi Raleigh Brown


I first approached John Barney about collaborating on a piece in 2019. I was interested in exploring interactions that could be had between music and a text when collaborating with a poet from the very beginning of the compositional process. Early on in our discussions we discovered we each had family connections in Hong Kong and had our own love for the city as well.  Specifically, we took an interest in the 800 meter Central-Mid-Levels Escalator. As the world’s largest outdoor escalator system, it provides transportation through a diversity of levels, offering glimpses into the windows of many businesses, apartments, and lives. Shortly after we had begun to formulate a piece around this concept, massive protests for democracy arose in Hong Kong along with violence to suppress them. My wife, Charlotte (a Hong Kong native and the saxophonist for the piece), and I were there visiting family during part of this time and witnessed their effect on the city firsthand, as the world did through the news. This quickly became another focal point for the piece, and as Covid-19 proceeded to effect Hong Kong and then the rest of the world, this too had an impact on the work.

The piece, then, is more an exploration of these times, spaces, and experiences, than it is any particular statement about them. Following five stops traveling up the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator, each movement looks from a different angle at the daily elements of place, relationship, work, conflict, and the masks we wear in our journey through them, with the unified hope of uncovering part of the role each plays in connecting us with something bigger than our individual selves. While each movement is distinct in sound, they each rest along this central narrative that carries us up and through the course of the work.

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Escalator images by John Barney

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