Anything You Are Attached to, Give That is named after the fourth in the series of instructions known as the Five Slogans of Machig Labdrön. Labdrön was a Buddhist nun in Tibet in the 11th century CE. The slogans are wonderfully counterintuitive—the second is “approach what you find repulsive”—and my original plan was to create a five-movement virtuosic work, with each movement’s construction guided by one of the slogans. This piece is, therefore, a study in subtraction, dissolution, and letting go. It is mostly very quiet and extremely delicate. The simple beauty of the beginning lullaby, rocking gently, is systematically disassembled, bit by bit, until nothing remains.
What began as a purely musical challenge (could I compose a piece without using certain musical techniques I was “attached” to?) gradually expanded to also become an emotional portrait of my experience putting this slogan, the fourth of Machig Labdrön’s five, into practice. The piece forced me to let go of many things—for example, this is the first piece I’ve composed that has no climax. I also had to let go of the thing I was perhaps most attached to: not just my elegant, clever five-movement plan, but having any plan at all. is is the first piece I have ever written without having planned it—from the largest arc down to the smallest details—in advance. This is both the result of letting go and also what letting go feels like.
In a further departure from my usual process, the piece was written backwards: the end was written first (since that was supposed to be the entire fourth movement of the five-movement work), and I then worked from the end to the beginning, bar by bar, gradually assembling the music that will be experienced as gradually taking itself apart.