Wednesday, December 13, 2006

war is bad

Rules of Engagement

Today I was told that the words
"War is bad"
Make for
Bad poetry.
Then consider
This poem
As uranium,
A poor poem,
A colored poem,
But not finished,
Out on a missing
But a little ink
Shed in the killing
Fields of university
Writing workshops.

-Demetria Martinez

Halleluia, I went to an amazing amazing concert tonight. The International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) performed George Crumb's "Black Angels" and Luigi Nono's "a floresta e jovem cheja de vida/the forest is young and full of life", both about the Vietnam War. The concert took place at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago, amidst an exhibit of (what else) photographs of soldiers and training bases taken by a vietnamese photographer. I believe the idea was that she had taken photos of real soldiers and bases and some sort of fake posed "soldiers" and the pictures were placed randomly with no commentary to distinguish them.
The concert itself blew me away. Rarely have I felt so emotionally engaged; I was practically vibrating with tension during parts of each piece. The first, "Black Angels", is for string quartet and various other instruments played by the quartet members. I've listened to it many times over the years (there's a very famous recording by the Kronos Quartet) but I mostly didn't know what it was about or understand what I was hearing. The piece is divided into three major sections (Departure, Absence, and Return) with thirteen smaller movements, and is based around religious and spiritual imagery. The performers play maracas, gongs, wine glasses (filled at different levels to produce chords and played using bows drawn over the glass rims), and speak in different languages during the performance, among other things. Sometimes effects like that can be distracting to me, or at least begin to seem like conceit, but this piece is so beautiful and intense and powerful that it still held together as an experience. I felt like I was vibrating, I was so focused on the sounds, and when it finished I felt the tension dissipate. I love it when composers just create new sounds that are so interesting to hear... It makes music into a whole new thing.
The second piece was very different. It was for multi-channel tape, soprano, clarinet, three people speaking, and five percussionists beating on huge metal sheets. The musicians were spread between two galleries, and people could walk back and forth between them and you could hear everything everywhere. The speakers and the singer read lines from various protesters, freedom fighters, and the like, while the tape had music and sounds (of speaking, screaming, crying and other things). It was interesting, but long and kind of unstructured, which tends to make me space out. But near the end, as the tape and the percussion became more fervent, the speakers began saying "is this all we can do?" (a quote from an anonymous Berkeley protester) and crescendoed until they were all SCREAMING it. I felt the hairs rise on my neck. And then it was over.


erica said...

wow. that sounds incredible. i didn't know the history of "black angels." amazing.

Anonymous said...

Oooooh, that sounds so awesome!!! I wish I could've been there. Thanks for sharing. Nice poem, too.