With this project, Iyer and Ladd have inspired each other to reach far beyond what either has done previously. Taken together, their influences cover the entire spectrum of modern music, and it shows. The mesmerizing sonic miniatures range from the ominous funk of “Security” to the luminous jazz orchestration of “Taking Back the Airplane,” from the rugged electronic programming of “TLC” to the noble cello-and-piano hymn of “Plastic Bag,” from the swirling improvisational grooves of the “Color of my Circumference” cycle to the mournfully programmatic composition “Asylum.”
The project features the creative sonic techniques of versatile engineer/co-producer Scotty Hard (a.k.a. Scott Harding), who has imbued the album with a genre-bending variety and flair. Defying expectation throughout, the project nonetheless maintains a sense of larger purpose, as the poetry and music intertwine in rich dialogue.
The poems of In What Language? comprise a series of darkly lyrical monologues by people of color negotiating the hyper-globalized setting of a 21st-century international airport. It takes its title from a pre-9/11 experience of Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi, who, transiting through JFK in spring 2001, was wrongly detained by INS officials. Panahi’s description of this ordeal was widely circulated online. Sent back to Hong Kong, in handcuffs, he wanted to explain his story to fellow passengers. “I’m not a thief! Im not a murderer! … I am just an Iranian, a filmmaker. But how could I tell this, in what language?”
“As a fellow brown-skinned traveler, I felt a need to amplify and address Panahi’s question,” says Iyer. “The need to assert one’s humanity in the face of ignorance and oppression became the driving force behind this project.” As a response, they chose to critique the deceptively neutral setting of the airport: “The airport serves as a contact zone for those who feel either empowered or subjugated by globalization,” says Ladd. “It’s a center of commerce and a crossroads of cultures. As a poet I chose to explore the myriad of ways an airport can be interpreted.” Commissioned by the Asia Society, the two worked intensely on the material for over a year, and debuted their “song cycle” in May 2003.
released October 1, 2003
Produced by Vijay Iyer, Mike Ladd, and Scotty Hard
Featuring Latasha Diggs, Allison Easter, Ajay Naidu, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Ambrose Akinmusire, Liberty Ellman, Dana Leong, Stephan Crump, Trevor Holder
Son of Indian immigrants and a 2011 Grammy nominee, Vijay Iyer is described by The Village Voice as “the most commanding
pianist and composer to emerge in recent years,” by The New Yorker as one of “today’s most important pianists” by Pitchfork as “one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today,” and by the L.A. Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star.”...more