Saturday, December 13, 2008

And While I'm on the Subject

I just now, like yesterday, linked to this silly thing I wrote for the local paper, but failed to mention: 1) that you should be sure and read all the way through, to the thing Chris Arnott wrote about Jack Vees' new piece, because Jack Vees is completely lovable, and his new David Koresh opera sounds freakin' insane. 2) that Wei-Yi's first rehearsal with de Leeuw took place the day after I interviewed him, and so I didn't get to find out till after my deadline "what's Reinbert de Leeuw REALLY like???", the answer to which is, "Awesome." The reports I heard from last night's concert were pretty glowing, so I'm looking forward to catching the show at Carnegie Hall tomorrow. 3) that writing such a short piece about Olivier Messiaen was a little frustrating, because I didn't get to go very far below the surface. I've been thinking a lot about his music lately; the essay that keeps coming to mind is this one, "On the Marionette Theatre" by Heinrich von Kleist. I know some of you have read it already, but those who haven't, please click and read the whole thing right now, because it will make you feel funny inside, it is that beautiful. Conclusion:
"Now, my excellent friend," said my companion, "you are in possession of all you need to follow my argument. We see that in the organic world, as thought grows dimmer and weaker, grace emerges more brilliantly and decisively. But just as a section drawn through two lines suddenly reappears on the other side after passing through infinity, or as the image in a concave mirror turns up again right in front of us after dwindling into the distance, so grace itself returns when knowledge has as it were gone through an infinity. Grace appears most purely in that human form which either has no consciousness or an infinite consciousness. That is, in the puppet or in the god." "Does that mean", I said in some bewilderment, "that we must eat again of the tree of knowledge in order to return to the state of innocence?" "Of course", he said, "but that's the final chapter in the history of the world."
You'll probably remember this exchange from the Japanese sci-fi anime Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence, in which it is quoted almost verbatim. Right guys? Guys? Hey, where'd everybody go? Anyways, Messiaen's music takes this proposition seriously. His stated project is a struggle towards the Divine; it is dramatized as a dialogue between the human—the sentimental (an expressive vocabulary drawn from our common archive of tonal signs)—on one side, and the the mechanistic—the mathematical—the animal (not-so-tonal melodic and harmonic structures; overdetermined rhythmic processes; all that damned birdsong) on the other. Messiaen is writing out his desire to eat that second apple; he's trying to roll over that odometer of experience and return to the infinite/zero consciousness of the animal, the puppet, the god. (Or in this case, the God.) Don'tcha think? This is how I hear Messiaen, though I'm pretty sure it's not how the man himself would have articulated it. (Though when I was telling this hypothesis to somebody, he told me this Kleist is a very important essay to Martin Bresnick, which is exciting, and which I shall have to investigate.) But, so, yeah, I heard great things about last night's performance at Woolsey Hall, and I'm looking forward to hearing the program tomorrow at Carnegie, if any of you New York people are gonna be there. Holler at me! Just not during the quiet parts.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just for the record, the New Haven performance was magnificent! Bravo to all involved.

December 15, 2008 at 2:21 PM  

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