Monday, September 29, 2003

Playing the Part

I have recently discovered the music of Arvo Part. I mean only by that a strictly personal discovery, because his music is well enough known. One good thing about age is that the boundaries that you built up as a kid lose their meaning, so that you become able to contrast apples and pears, and do not feel that one type of music must be a different kind of experience to another.

So for me, the aching space of Part is something akin to the glowering sullen ferocity of the Baroque music I've always loved. Yes, yes, okay, it's not very educated of me to love the Albinoni, the Pachelbel, the easy-to-listen to bits of Bach (I hope you're feeling the wink). Where the Baroque can be full, though, Part is empty, his work an austere vastness. I adore that - you have to reach into it to make it beautiful. You cannot stand outside it. If you do, it's not there enough. It makes you a partner (no pun intended).

It is even a cousin, albeit a distant one, to the parched figures of Joy Division (particularly the still centres of Unknown Pleasures, maybe the last third of Decades). This whole idea got me thinking. You'd think Kraftwerk were closest to the modern classical music, their repeated motifs, their mechanical quality something akin to the serial composers. But I don't think they are. Their arch commentary on the modern world somehow excludes the listener. It is full. You cannot interpose yourself to complete Kraftwerk, the way you can with Joy Division. It doesn't feel like it was written for you.

To cap the brilliance of his music, he also gets across, in the following quote, the belief that I share that each artist has a limit to their art, no matter how great the bound:
Perhaps there will come a moment, even for the greatest artist, when he will no longer want to or have to make art. And perhaps at that very moment we will value his creation even more--because in this instant he will have transcended his work.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Fearful symmetry

In the Natural History museum, Zenella crawled across the floor, pretending to be a tiger. We took her to see the dinosaurs, but I was disappointed to see that they've moved the model T Rex into its own gallery and are charging money to see it.
Wow, said Mrs Zen, look at these bones.
I noticed that some - most - of the bones are casts. I suppose they have to be, to be out on display. What I know about curating bones you could write on a stapes, but I suppose they'd quickly crumble if they were out in the open.
It's not that Mrs Zen was wrong to be wowed, even so. A representation of a dinosaur humbles you with its great size. That such things lived! (We are talking now exclusively of the monstrous top-end dinos, not the squirty things that eventually evolved into us.)
But even the model T Rex would be no match for the model of the blue whale that dominates the mammal section. The model is something like a hundred years old, so it's out of proportion (it's the right length, but way too fat - blue whales are svelte, lithe, almost eel-like beauties). But it's quite awe-inspiring.
I know, they're just like big, dumb cows, grazing on plankton, and we romanticise them solely because of their size. Still, what's more human than to be impressed by bigness (or smallness - nothing excites the mind more than to contemplate how tiny a quark is!)?

Zenella did not like the whales, blue or otherwise. She didn't even like the faded tiger. She barely noted the kangaroo, which she insisted was a wallaby (it is a thing with her, since she learned the word "wallaby" to so identify kangaroos, and who knows why?), but the bears caught her eye. Her favourite, she said, was the dugong. I think probably that was because we had sat and watched the film about the seacows, or maybe she liked the name. Knowing too much about how a child works - how your own child works - would take away some of the magic. I am scared of knowing too much about her. If I know too much, I will want to put right what is wrong, and save her from some of the things that are too right; I fear descending into the pit that waits for parents, of wanting to make the world too perfect, too just so.

*sigh* The other night, watching her sleep, I couldn't help thinking of the times I have feared she would not wake, when I ran from my bed to her room (when she had a room of her own), to check that she was still breathing, before I managed to engage reason, reminding myself that if she had stopped, nothing in this world would start her again. And you have that melancholy feeling - I know it can't be original to me, I don't claim that - that one way or another this child will one day die, and all the energy you have invested in it will be dissipated. It doesn't mean anything, except that things come and go. Then I stop myself, because I am not feeling sorry that I have created her and endowed her with an inevitable death, I am feeling sorry for myself, and what I will lose, in a time and at a place yet to be revealed.

Friday, September 12, 2003

Up in smoke

First you look so strong,
Then you fade away.
The sun will blind my eyes,
I love you anyway.
First you form a smile,
I watch you for a while.
You are a vapour trail,
In a deep blue sky.

Tremble with a sigh,
Glitter in your eye.
You seem to come and go,
I never seem to know.
And all my time,
is yours as much as mine.
We never have enough,
Time to show our love.
Ride - Vapour trail

Music uplifts me. It inspires me. The only people in this world I even begin to be envious of are people who can make music. I can program a sequencer - and I do - but I can never place the music in my head on to paper. The music I do make is technically correct, but it doesn't have my heart in it. Sometimes it sounds to me quite heartful, but I know it's lacking.
Does it matter that I know? Surely it only matters what it sounds like. Doesn't the birth of the listener mean the death of the musician?
"Vapour trail" is one of the life-defining songs for me. It's meaning for me is all about me. When Ride made it, nearly thirteen years ago, I needed it. I needed to feel that there were people out there that *felt*. That sounds a little silly, soft, now, but you can't help what you feel when you're a scared young man in a bad place. It never mattered to me who Ride were - although I knew they were middle-class boys from Oxford with nice homes and daddy's money -definedly not like me. What mattered was the way Vapour trail made me feel. I couldn't explain it. Words fail me. But I could hum it.
Now, my life is different. I recently bought the Best of Ride CD (because I had the albums on vinyl, and all my vinyl was sort of stolen) and when I played it I realised it still made me feel inspired, but quite differently. It sounded like something I feel about Zenella, about my aspirations for her. Jeez, I haven't grown any less ridiculous with the passing years.
But, you know, Vapour trail is still a beautiful song, and if it moves you I can love you, but if it doesn't, I'm not sure I ever really could.

Tuesday, September 9, 2003

All you good good people

There must be a time
Between the well meaning
When the good will come out
And start the healing

You won't know
How well you've played
Until you've won

And if at first you find
You can't imagine
How good can heal
When you've got nothing worth healing

You won't know
How well you're made
Until you're down
And all you have is gone.
Embrace - The good will out

You know, it sounds awfully old-fashioned these days to suggest that good, feeling good, doing good, even wanting there to be goodness is, you know, a good thing. But I do have faith in people, in the goodness that lives in them. I haven't let the times leach that faith away, although gawd knows it takes a battering every day. It needs only awakening - I won't stop believing that. Every now and then, something inspirational is needed to keep the flame burning.
This album did it for me. I was down and approaching extinction when I bought it.
I will never forget rolling across the Deccan plateau on a slow, slow train, maybe an hour after dawn. with my Walkman (all trademarks are blather blather, whatever the right thing to say is when you use a trademark - although my Walkman is actually a Walkman ) shutting out just for an hour the sound of the wheels on the rails (no sound from the others in my carriage but their breathing), and the soft intro of the Good will out piling in... the lilt of the guy's voice... the soaring coda... the sheer heartfulness of it. Gospel for the godless, almost.
A couple of days later I met Mrs Zen in Chennai, our marriage was back on track, and I knew I wasn't wrong to have faith in myself.
Mind you, before you get to thinking that's a disgusting, soppy ending to a disgusting, soppy post, you should know that a week later I ruptured a disc in my back and had a week alone in a sweltering hotel room to reconsider the goodness of life.