Persephone Rising: A Global Sonic Retelling of the Underworld Myth

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Sat, 10/31/2020 - 12:00am to 3:00am
A smiling, mysterious woman holding a lamp revealing the night behind her


"Starry Wheels" artwork used by permission of the artist, alumni audio contributor and Portland-based local, Peter Nevins.

[Show Transcript]

Hello and welcome back to Threshold Shift, where we give the mic to nature and amplify earth, on KBOO 90.7 FM Portland, 91.9 FM Hood River and 104.3 FM Corvallis/Albany. I am your host Nicole Martin and along with this Halloween blue moon, our second full moon of the month, it is my very great pleasure to be broadcasting this final, official episode of Threshold Shift as we lead up to the historical witching hour of 3 am. Whether you celebrate Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, Samhain, or other holidays this weekend, it is undeniable that humans throughout history have found cultural ways of marking the Earth's seasons. We find ourselves at the hinge point of the harvest where fruit finishes ripening, the sun begins to fade, and fingers of winter begin brushing the community. Light and fire become essential to survival, illuminating and warming the darkness, allowing safe passage through the death-like sleep of winter as new seeds burrow down, waiting for Spring's melt water to awaken them. As it is with our American fall traditions, so it was in Ancient Greece where for thousands of years prior to Christianity the Eleusinian Mysteries were celebrated in this same seasonal time frame. Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture and good harvests, walked the roads of mortals searching for her kidnapped daughter, Kore, the Maiden. It is here she was joined by the Titan, Hecate, a much older goddess of liminal spaces such as doorways, crossroads, thresholds, and yes, later in her history, magic and witchcraft. Hecate, the only one in the whole world to hear Kore's cries as she was kidnapped, arrived too late to see who it was that took the Maiden. We start tonight's show, at these autumnal crossroads of grief and searching, with a fragment of the ancient Homeric Hymn to Demeter, from the Music of Greek Antiquity performed by the Petros Tabouris Ensemble with additional flourishes by yours truly, a composite soundscape of the imagined Grecian woods, complete with Greek crickets at twilight, originally performed within Georgetown University's A Mouthful of Birds by Caryl Churchhill. After opening our scene thusly we will follow, metaphorically, Demeter and Hecate's quest with “Particle Secrets” by Dana Reason, a pianist, composer, sound artist and musicologist working at the intersections of 21st century musical genres and interdisciplinary practices. She is the current curator of the “Site of Sound” series and Assistant Professor of Contemporary Music at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon. Her piece is made from field recordings and inspired, in her words, by “sitting in the middle of Summerlake at [the] Playa [Residency] in the fall of 2018, I imagine how water flows below my feet--underground in this desert range. I can’t hear it, and I can’t see it, but I know it is there--moving tirelessly without fanfare and in relative silence. It is only when I touch and dig and prod the earth of the dry lakebed that I notice how the earth changes and reveals itself-- from dry, crumbly and stubborn to something plodding: thick, moist, heavy. Evidence of water seeping life into the desert is now palpable in my hand in the late summer heat. This dry lakebed oscillates between the dry, the cold, the wet, and the fires. It is here, in this place of Central Oregon, that I am learning to listen-- to hear the music, to palpate and imagine the waves of sound, and the invisible pulse of the desert’s breath entombed by the wind. The vast, stark openness of the lakebed caresses my face and hands with tiny dust clouds, it’s particles holding secrets of what has been, what is now, and what is yet to become.”

Track 1: Fragment of Ancient Homeric Hymn to Demeter performed by the Petros Tabouris Ensemble w/ soundscape backing by Nicole Martin

Track 2: "Particles Secrets" by Dana Reason

Much like Dana Reason, digging down into the desert playa knowing that water flows not far beneath, Demeter and Hecate learn from humans that it is in fact Hades, Ruler of the Underworld, who has kidnapped Kore, the Goddess of Spring and Flowers. The goddesses take their illuminating torches to Helios, God of the Sun who sees all, and demand that he reveal to them whether mortal reports of Hades involvement is correct. Helios affirms that it was the God of the Depths who kidnapped Demeter's daughter with the permission of her father, Zeus. The sun god attempts to reassure them that the Lord of the Dead will be an honorable husband to the Maiden currently entombed and attempting to navigate the strange darknesses of the Underworld. We will join Kore now, traveling through the Crystal Cave with our guide Dr. Jacob Job of Colorado State University's Sound and Light Ecology Team as recorded in July 2018 at Sequoia National Park. As Dr. Job revealed, “I was granted permission to enter the cave by myself after hours to capture what it's like to be there without any human noise. I travelled about a 1/4 mile back into the earth, turned off my head lamp, and pressed record. At a couple points in this recording, though quiet, there are some strange sounds that certainly aren't dripping stalagmites.” From the mouth of the Underworld, we'll then hold space for the mysteries of Kore's transmutation into Persephone, Queen of the Underworld by following the in-the-audience percussive explorations of Greek-French composer Iannis Xenakis' Persephassa for Six Percussionists as performed by the resident ensemble of the University of California, San Diego, red fish blue fish. I'll leave it up to you, dear listener, to decide if Mr. Xenakis was thinking of caves and howling spirits while composing this piece.

Track 3:  Crystal Cave ambient, Sequoia National Park, July 2018, Jacob Job

Track 4: Part 1: Persephassa for Six Percussionists, Composed by Iannis Xenakis performed by University of California, San Diego's red fish blue fish ensemble

To catch you up for those who may be joining us on this Halloween, this is the final episode of Threshold Shift on KBOO 90.7 FM Portland, where we give the mic to nature and amplify earth. We are retelling the autumnal myth centered in the Ancient Greeks' Eleusinian Mysteries. We joined goddesses Demeter and Hecate on their search for the missing Maiden, Kore, via fragments of the Ancient Homeric Hymn to Demeter as performed by the Petros Tabouris Ensemble and Particle Secrets, a field recorded composition by Grammy long-listed composer, Dana Reason of Oregon State University. Kore, abducted into the Underworld by her uncle, Hades, Ruler of the Depths and the Dead, learns to traverse this dark interior as illustrated by the field recording of Crystal Cave in Sequoia National Park collected by Dr. Jacob Job, currently leading the Sounds of Your Park project in conjunction with the National Park Service, Parks Canada, the George Wright Society, and the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas. Sounds of Your Park is a continuously growing global collection of natural and cultural sounds from the planet’s protected places working to inspire everyone to engage with our cultural and natural heritage and foster meaningful connections with our parks. Modern Greek-French composer, Iannis Xenakis and University of California, San Diego's red fish blue fish ensemble take up the torch as Kore begins the process of transmuting herself into Persephone, a goddess with perhaps a greater capacity to recognize and navigate the unconscious, shadowy aspects of not only the world as it is, but also herself. Persephone is not alone in her trials however for her mother, Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture, in her wrath at the gods for taking her daughter without consent, refuses to allow the earth to bear fruit, plunging the human species into catastrophe, while achieving her end of denying the rest of the gods worshippers and tribute. Zeus sends all the gods to persuade Demeter to leave her temple at Eleusis and break her global fast, but she refuses until she can see her daughter again with her own eyes. Zeus finally orders Hermes, divine messenger and trickster, protecter of travelers, creator of the lyre, and pastoral god of boundaries to go to the Underworld and negotiate with Hades for the return of Kore the Maiden, who has now fully embodied herself as Persephone, Queen of the Underworld. We begin this movement with a fragment of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes as recreated and performed by the Petros Tabouris ensemble in Vol. 1 of Secular Music of Greek Antiquity backed by the composite Grecian evening woods soundscape by your host Nicole Martin. Iannis Xenakis's last movement of Persephassa for Six Percussionists and the barking and shrieks of coyotes will accompany Hermes and Persephone in Hades' fast moving chariot out of the underworld into the canyons of Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado where wild horses are heard running accompanied by more echoing howls of coyotes, in their own right and locations divine messengers and tricksters held in regard by many indigenous cultures throughout the Americas. Coyote's stories are not for me to tell. However, the Mesa Verde horses and coyotes were also recorded by Dr. Jacob Job, research associate and field recordist for the Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at Colorado State University.

Track 5: Fragment of Ancient Hymn to Hermes w/ soundscape underlayer

Track 6: Pt. 2, 'Persephassa for Six Percussionists' by Iannis Xenakis performed by red fish blue fish, w/ underlayer of Mesa Verde Coyotes at Night, Mesa Verde National Park, July 2015 recorded by Jacob Job

Track 7: Continuation of Mesa Verde Coyotes at Night, Mesa Verde National Park, July 2015 recorded by Jacob Job

Again we just heard the emergence of Persephone and Hermes from the underworld through fragments of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the finale of Iannis Xenakis' Persephassa for Six Percussionists performed by red fish blue fish, and a field recording made by Dr. Jacob Job of Colorado State University in a remote canyon on the east side Mesa Verde National Park,  Colorado in July of 2015. We continue with our seasonal story whereupon mother and daughter are reunited in Eleusis via the messenger god, Hermes. Suitable for a trickster god, prior to leaving the Underworld, a trick was indeed played on the Goddesses. It is revealed that Hades managed to feed Persephone a pomegranate seed. As one who has eaten the food of the Underworld cannot return to the Land of the Living, this seed becomes just enough to force a compromise between the Upperworld and Underworld Olympians, whereby every year Persephone will descend again into the Underworld to co-rule the mysterious realms of the dead with her husband, Hades. In due time, she will ascend to the surface, spending Upperworld seasons in the company of her mother, Demeter, tending to the growth of flowers and plants. With the bargain between life and death reached, the life cycles of descending and ascending began. Much as the summer-dry lake bed is allowed to reveal it's underground water reserves in the fall allowing turtles, the source and inspiration of Hermes musical lyre, to complete their own life cycles, Persephone flows  between the worlds, the bridge connecting destruction and growth, guided by other liminal deities, Hecate and Hermes. In honor of these ebbs and flows, the submerging and surfacing of Persephone, as well as the sacrifice of innumerable ancient turtles to humans' desire to make music, we move to two pieces recorded by sound artist Maggie Dubris in July 2018. As Ms. Dubris recounts, “I was right on the earth barrier between the pond and the ocean, [in Rocky Neck, Massachuesetts] with the hydrophone in the pond. There were definitely turtles living there, and various fish. In Central Park, New York City, there were tons of turtles swimming around. The thing I love about recording underwater is that from above I have no idea what’s going on beneath the surface, but the hydrophone gives me a picture of that hidden world.” 

Tracks 8 & 9: Underwate Field Recordings, Rocky Neck Pond and Central Park Pond, 2018 by Maggie Dubris

Again you're listening to Threshold Shift on KBOO 90.7 FM Portland, 91.9 Hood River, 104.3 FM Corvallis/Albany. We've been retelling the story of Persephone and Demeter, this 2020 Halloween-blue moon night, and we're nearing the completion of the cycle of the Maiden's abduction and descent into the Underworld, and her transmutation and embracing of Self culminating in becoming the Queen of that Underworld, Persephone. She has returned to the surface to begin a new cycle of growth. Our seasons echo the emotions of her mother, Demeter, Goddess of Agriculture, alternately honoring the loss of and celebrating the return of her daughter, ruler not only of the Dead but also of Spring and Flowers. We've just heard two underwater pieces to indicate this shifting of the tides recorded by Maggie Dubris, a sound artist residing in New York City. Please visit to find additional information on all of tonight's featured recording artists as well as links to their current projects.

Much as Persephone is moving through her phoenix cycles of birth, growth, death, and reconception, Threshold Shift is fast approaching its final piece of this radio project. We've had the immense privilege of featuring over 45 artists and field recordists in the past three years, many of whom had never featured their recordings on the radio before. Additionally some of those pieces were from locations that had never been recorded before. Our consistent quest has been to bring you long-form soundscapes as uninterrupted by human noise as possible, to provide doorways and pathways into parts of the world very few of us have the ability or permissions in which to travel. Along the way we met allies, researchers and artists who devote their lives to documenting the sounds of the world, the lifesongs of our fellow species, before they disappear. It is their expressed hope that these sonic treasures help foster within our global community the passion and empathy to join them as colleagues, as our strengths allow, in this immense work and joyous collective energy that advocates for ensuring the healthy survival of ourselves and our mother, Earth. Much as Persephone brings with her the spring and new possibilities, our last piece of this three-year cycle was recorded this spring, five weeks prior to Covid's global lock downs. It comes to us via Ben Mirin, a sound artist, educator and National Geographic Explorer who is currently pursuing his PhD at Cornell University's Lab of Ornithology. As he tells it, “I was on a two-day jungle hike into the Heart of Borneo with an indigenous community called the Penan. Leaving from the village of Long Lamai, 20 km north of the border between Sarawak and Kalimantan in Central Borneo, we trekked for three hours into the mountains, where we made camp, then set out to find an acoustically rich location to deploy our microphones. We chose a spot near the mountaintop, where the trees could insulate us from the wind while sounds from all directions still reached our ears. Together, we listened to the jungle’s heartbeat, recording hornbills, barbets, cicadas and tree frogs as the day passed into night. While we listened, Elder Garen (the senior elder in our group) narrated, telling us the time based on the changing composition of sounds. He explained that nomadic peoples often had to rely on the sounds of the jungle to keep track of their day and anticipate the onset of darkness so they could make camp. My friend Franklin (a Penan anthropologist) and I asked him what time it was based on the sounds we could hear. Pointing to the growing crescendo of the cicadas, Elder Garen said it was about 5pm. He was accurate within 10 minutes. As the crickets started to replace cicadas, we knew we had to return to our camp before the sun set. We strapped microphones to a sturdy tree trunk, wrapped the sound recorder in dry bags, and headed a few hundred meters back down the trail. We slept beneath the stars, with ants crawling all over us, listening to the changing of the guard. This recording is from approximately 2 in the morning, when the sweet whistles of katydids and the songs of treefrogs dominated. When we awoke the next morning, we brushed away our six-legged bedfellows and went to retrieve the gear. In total, we had captured 14 continuous hours of jungle sound, the first such recording made with the Penan in this part of the world.” 

Track 10: Night in Boreno, February 2020, field recorded by Ben Mirin

And it is with the spring night sounds of the threatened jungles of Borneo that we leave you, dear listeners, at the completion of Persephone's sonic cycle of rebirth. 

In the past three years Threshold Shift has sonically submerged listeners in four continents, three oceans, two seas, four US National Parks, four US National Forests, three US Wildlife Refuges, 2 National Monuments, at least thirteen states, one international audio arts festival, circumnavigated the globe in nine islands, and interviewed four doctors in sound ecology. We've gone from the Arctic to Australia, Africa to Panama to Indonesia all from the comfort of your radio. We've explored intersections between natural sounds, the evolution of humanity, and how humans now affect the evolution of the planet. We illuminated spaces between what our ears directly perceive and what they cannot, how these perceptions color the world we reside in and the imaginary worlds we create. We delved into the waters of what we feel instinctively and what we know logically. We even spent a a few nights stargazing in OMSI's Kendall Planetarium wrapped in gorgeous surround sound versions of the show audio provided by frequent contributor and guest show host, Bill McQuay of Ecolocation Sound. It has been a wild ride and there are still so many places to discover. I hope our Threshold Shift archive on will continue to serve as a set of keys, opening doors and inspiring others to cross thresholds seeking healthier relationship with our world, internally and externally, privately and publicly. I am grateful for all of this and would like to thank once again all of our contributors from over the years in order of original appearance:  Mark Vaughn, Maggie Dubris, Scott “Vernal Pool” McLeod, Aaron Geiger, Dwight Porter, Ashakur Rahaman, Bill McQuay, Ben Mirin, Phil Green, Farhad Shah-Hooseini, Dr. Jacob Job, your host Nicole Martin, Mike Fitzgerald, Jane Tigar, Bernie Krause, Richard Francis and KBOO's A Different Nature Collective, Dr. Laurel Symes and Dr. Hannah ter Hofstede, Dr. Michelle Fournet, Frank Watlington, Roger & Katy Payne, Daniel O'Connor & University of Hawai'i Manoa's HUGO Project, Chris Clark, Travis Abels and Peter Nevins, Alexander and Kenneth of Power Thought Meditation Club, Simrit Kaur, Mamoru Fujieda, Benoit Bories, Slavek Kwi, Diarmuid McIntyre & Grey Heron Media, Phil Smith, Wes Swing and Kelley Libby, Stephane Marin, John DeLore and Brendan Francis Newnam, Mark Vernon, Dungeon Master Colin Ohnemus and players Austin, Dallas, Kira and Josh, and Dana Reason. I literally could not have done this without your love, support and willingness to play sonic tag. As for your host and show creator, I'll be moonlighting at KBOO as a sometimes contributor on A Different Nature Collective. You may also find me popping up from time to time interviewing scientists and musicians. Feel free to email me through the Threshold Shift archive page on KBOO's website at where past shows and their transcripts will continue to be hosted or come and find me over at, launching before the end of 2020, if you have somewhere or someone in the world you'd like to hear on air. Thank you so much to the callers, to the KBOO community for supporting me from the start as their 2017 Sound Artist in Residence, and mostly thank you as always for listening.

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