Thursday, May 31, 2007

bang the drum

Two nights ago I had the great pleasure of attending two vastly different creative spaces. First, Tabitha and I went to see the Chicago Symphony play a concert under the baton of Alan Gilbert, the same person who conducted my last Civic concert of the year. The program started with a piece for orchestra and two pianos called "Tabuh-tabuhan" by the Canadian composer Colin McPhee. Interesting in concept (McPhee lived in Bali for seven years after becoming intrigued by a recording of a Javanese gamelan, an ensemble of percussive, bell-like sounds), the piece was just kind of too busy for my ears. It was hard to focus on any one thing, although it was interesting to hear eastern influences and rhythms in such a western ensemble. The second piece was Ravel's "Mother Goose" ballet suite, one of my personal favorites since playing it with Civic my first year. It's a beautiful atmospheric piece, with many gentle and touching moments. Ravel originally wrote the melodies as a piano duo suite for the two children of a couple he had befriended, and later arranged the piece as ballet music. The final piece on the program was Aaron Copland's third symphony. I didn't dislike it, but all I could think about while it was happening was how much Copland sounds like nobody else but Copland. (Well, maybe Bernstein on occasion.) It sounded so american to me. And I think if I heard it on the radio, something about the harmonies or the overall musical language would tip me off almost immediately. It's interesting to hear somebody with such a distinct style.
So the concert was fun and well-played, despite my lack of love for much of the music. Afterwards, we headed out to a music and art party at my friend Isabel's place. When we got there, we entered this incredibly hot apartment to find a set of "double-duets" happening, i.e. four people total playing one cello and one violin (one person bows each instrument, and the other fingers). There were also people writing on walls and painting the communal canvas in the living room. Pretty soon, this girl started playing an electronic patch she had written on her laptop, and people started improvising around it, singing and playing instruments. I could feel so much energy and intensity passing around the room. It sounded and felt amazing. I can't think of two more different ways to spend a single evening. Both were exciting, but the creativity was much more palapable, tactile, at the second event. I hope I get to do that again sometime soon.
And now, off to Arizona until Monday.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

would you like "bronze" or "copper" today?

I am once again in the position of a) looking for a "real" job, and b) being very unqualified to do almost anything other than work in an orchestra. One of the side effects of being in this state is that I am forced to imagine myself working in almost any business I walk past. I pass the funeral home and think "Hmmmm..." In the strip mall by my house, the following places are hiring: a cell phone store (maybe cingular? I forget), Toys 'backwards R' Us, and a sunless tanning place. Every day, I wonder how I would feel about myself if I worked, for instance, at the tanning place. It seems like selling out is part of surviving, especially for the minimally-skilled-but-not-in-high-school group of potential employees that I currently belong to. But how low am I willing to go? At what point do I draw the line?

Sunday, May 27, 2007

clarity of thought

I recently read "The Hours" by Michael Cunningham. (It's been suggested to me before and I'm fairly fond of the movie, but it's still taken me this long to remember that i want to read it.) Of course I had to read it in the context of having already seen the movie (I prefer to do it the other way around), but I still enjoyed it far more than I expected to. Cunningham's writing is sensory, encompassing sight, sound, smell, taste , and texture, but generally not in an offensive or distracting way. It's more like what your own interior monologue would sound like if you were being particularly observant and had a poetic bent. I liked his descriptions of people's motivations as well, the ways in which he told us why people where acting as they were and also giving us insight into how they related with the other characters. It was very omniscient narrating.
"Richard cannot imagine a life more interesting and worthwhile than those being lived by his acquaintances and himself, and for that reason one often feels exalted, expanded, in his presence. He is not one of those egotists who miniaturize others. He is the opposite kind of egotists, driven by grandiosity rather than greed, and if he insists on a version of you that is funnier, stranger, more eccentric and profound than you suspect yourself to be... it is all but impossible not to believe, at least in his presence and for a while after you've left him, that he alone sees through to your essence, weighs your true qualities... and appreciates you more fully than anyone else ever has. It is only after knowing him for some time that you begin to realize you are, to him, an essentially fictional character, one he has invested with nearly limitless capacities for tragedy and comedy because he, Richard, needs to live in a world peopled by extreme and commanding figures."
The book and the movie center around three women from different times and their intertwined-ness, most graphically illustrated by their relationships to Virginia Woolf's "Mrs. Dalloway." (I haven't read "Mrs. Dalloway" or I'm sure I would have much more insightful things to say about this particular aspect of the book.) Each woman, in the course of her story, experiences a kiss that is somehow pivotal to what she is feeling. Virginia Woolf kisses her sister, Vanessa; Laura Brown kisses her neighbor, Kitty; Clarissa Vaughan kisses her closest friend and past lover, Richard. (Actually, I'm not sure that happens in the movie. I remember a kiss with her long-time partner, Sally, but I can't recall if she kisses Richard or not, or whether it's framed as inportant.) What I thought was interesting was how different these events were in the book, and what a different feel they had to them. Particularly, I'm think of the Virginia-Vanessa kiss; in the movie, I was shocked by the awkward and uncomfortable seemingly out-of-nowhere kiss. I felt that the kiss abrupty broke up the continuity of action, that it was so out of place that everything before it had to come to a stop and the narrative had to take a different direction. Even though the kiss in the book is framed as unusual for the two, it is not a breaking of what has come before, just an outgrowth of it. It is a postive action, not a negative disturbance.
"...Although it is not at all their custom, Virginia leans forward and kisses Vanessa on the mouth. It is an innocent kiss, innocent enough, but just now, in the kitchen, behind Nelly's back, it feels like the most delicious and forbidden of pleasures. Vanessa returns the kiss."
Basically, what I liked about the book was that I finally felt like I understood character motivation and the connections between the three women. There was just so much more clarity. Now I want to see the movie again, to see if it resonates differently with me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

found it!

This is the quote I was looking for.
Q: Its premise is that those who have recently died are taken to a waiting room for one week, during which time they must choose only a single memory from their entire lives which will endlessly replay for them, while all of their other memories are erased.
Vonnegut: So everybody's fucking, right?
Q: See, that's the peculiar thing. Maybe in your world or mine, everybody's fucking. But in this movie, some of the memories are much simpler, almost elegant. Many people can't choose a memory at all.
Vonnegut: See, that's a whole different culture. I don't know anything about it.
Q: Any idea what memory you might choose?
Vonnegut: [Long pause] I think it would be the moment where I was doing everything right, where I was beyond criticism. It was back in World War II. It was snowing, but everything was black. The trucks were rolling in. I was surrounded by my buddies. And my rifle was between my knees, my helmet on my head. I was ready for anything. And I was right where I belonged. That would be the moment. It would have to be the moment.
Q: There are not many moments in a man's life like that, I would imagine.
Vonnegut: No. But you know who gets those kinds of moments all the time? A musician. They're doing exactly what they're supposed to do. I look at a symphony orchestra and everybody's doing exactly right. How the fuck do they do that? It's like watching somebody's who's just inherited a big bunch of money. "Well, enjoy yourself.... I'm just gonna fuck off — you know what I'm saying."

Sometimes I feel like that. The transcendent concerts are the ones where you've felt like that for weeks, but suddenly you're playing and people are there and none of it matters anymore. You know exactly what to do, but you forget it all and just play because you love it. That's about half of what he means, I think.


So yes, I haven't been writing. Sorry for anybody who keeps checking. (Thank god for statcounter...) I've been trying to find this Kurt Vonnegut quote about orchestras from a McSweeney's interview that they re-posted when he died, but so far I've been unsuccessful so here's an update in the meantime. This week, I played my last quartet and Civic concerts for the year, painted my toenails orange, re-affirmed the fact that my ability to cook has apparently been severely crippled at some point, and rejoiced that some of my friends know what the hell they're doing with at least the next few months. I also had a dream about my friend who is getting married next week (I'm going back to Flagstaff for this) in which we had to sew a hundred pairs of socks before the wedding. That seems anal and stressed out to me. Whatever. I have rehearsal in 9 hours in Evanston (far away by public transit) and I'm not so tired. Ugh.

Friday, May 11, 2007

not my own words, but close enough

So there's been kind of a lack of posting lately... Life proceeds apace, but nothing too noteworthy has happened, at least that I can think of right now.
I'm reading Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body right now. It's oddly beautiful, a little schizophrenic, and entirely intriguing. There's not a whole lot of plot (my favorite type of book!), but basically just this person (gender unstated) talking about this relationship with a married woman, continuously interrupted by mostly comedic digressions about past lovers or virtual reality or whatever. But it's all about love and desire and bodies and hearts, and there are many beautiful things said.
"Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referencing me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap your message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interfers with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut."
There is also a lot to be said perhaps about the usage of language. The semantics of what is said and what is not seem very important.
"...I mumbled something about yes as usual but things had changed. THINGS HAD CHANGED, what an arsehole comment, I had changed things. Things don't change, they're not like the seasons moving on a diurnal round. People change things. There are victims of change but not victims of things. Why do I collude with this mis-use of language?"
The back of the book points out that the narrator is gender ambiguous, but as I read I am noticing that many, many books probably have unintentionally gender ambiguous narrators, at least for a while. All you really have to do is take out any reference to a name, and it's pretty much done. However, I think I'm ending up reading the narrator as male because of a lack of female signifiers. In real life, in studies anyway, people assume someone is male until they can see or otherwise sense a certain number of traditionally female traits, like long hair or painted nails or breasts or whatever. I suppose it makes sense that the same things would happen in print. I guess that says something about the way our brains process details maybe.