Category Archives: music

The only philosophy

Poecard

 

From pure sensation to the intuition of beauty, from pleasure and pain to love and the mystical ecstasy and death — all the things that are fundamental, all the things that, to the human spirit, are most profoundly significant, can only be experienced, not expressed. The rest is always and everywhere silence.
After silence that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.’…..
………….But the most complete experience of all, the only one superior to music, is silence:
When the inexpressible had to be expressed, Shakespeare laid down his pen and called for music. And if the music should also fail? Well, there was always silence to fall back on. For always, always and everywhere, the rest is silence.”

From Aldous Huxley ‘Music at Night’

When I was seventeen I had my first adult trip to London. That is, I and two friends travelled unescorted from the Midlands to London in order to go to the theatre. The play was Amadeus, about the composer Mozart , and it changed my life. I remember walking out into the landscape of London at dusk with the music still playing within my head, and my heart felt as though it had expanded. I loved my life, I loved the paving stones, I loved my two companions dearer than I had loved them before, I loved the light, the sounds, the very air I was breathing.

I had experienced the transformative powers of listening with an audience to the exquisite sounds first heard by Mozart, then passed on by him to the world for all time.

I was seventeen quite a long time ago. I have lived several lives, some of them have been my own – to paraphrase Stanley Kunitz. I know more and less than then. I know more facts, more detail, more pain, more sorrow, more joy, more excitement – and yet I feel I know less. I am less prepared for life at 55 than I felt at seventeen, when nothing felt improbable, and I felt hungry for experience.

Yet last Sunday I returned to that state of euphoric shared experience when I hear Karl Jenkins conduct his Requiem for Peace ‘The Armed Man’ as well as other scores at TheRoyal Albert Hall to commemorate the Battle of the Somme. Was it Nietszche who said ‘Music is the only philosophy?’ On sharing that concert with how ever many in the auditorium , I felt again the transendence that

music can bring to me. Nature too sometimes moves me to the same level of consciousness, but music can take me there so quickly, so efficently, a motorway route to a temporary bliss. Bliss – what a good word – encompassing sorrow inside it as well as joy, that bittersweet sensation of tasting death and yet steering away.

I wanted to thank Karl Jenkins. This is it. A thank you from the depths of my being for showing me what humanity looks like in its greatest form, a generous, powerful force of love that knows no boundaries. There are no boundaries.

 

Benedictus -The Armed Man -A Mass for Peace

 

 

A kelson of the creation is love,

Finding love is your life’s endeavour. Wherever it lies, in work, in relationships, in a cause, in religion.  Wherever you find it, nurture it. Mine has been in the ordinary – the making of a family.  I look to the stars, and I bow to those who create a greater mystery than I can ever dream of – those artists and dreamers who translate the experience of being human and bring to it a touch of the divine.  I hold no dogma of religion close, but admire the conscientiousness of those truly religious people who bring the lessons from prophets to life in order that we live lives of compassion. If God is anything to me, it is the spirit of life that exists and connects all living things, a shared common understanding of sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure.  I didn’t know what I had to say today, but when I heard Mozarts clarinet concerto, I began to write. Live well.

”I mind how once we lay such a transparent summer morning,
How you settled your head athwart my hips and gently turn’d over upon me,
And parted the shirt from my bosom-bone, and plunged your tongue to my bare-stript heart,
And reach’d till you felt my beard, and reach’d till you held my feet.

Swiftly arose and spread around me the peace and knowledge that pass all the argument of the earth,
And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love,
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,
And brown ants in the little wells beneath them,
And mossy scabs of the worm fence, heap’d stones, elder, mullein and poke-weed.’

From Song of Myself  Walt Whitman

There have been moments like this for me, when I have felt the connection with every part of creation. How lovely that it is. How glorious that there are creative geniuses who take me there, and I am thinking of Mozart, and Radiohead in the same breath.  Let me know who your inspirations are, give me a chance of being blown away by something new and unexpected.  Here is Mozarts Clarinet Concerto slow movement, which sends me every time I hear it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BxgmorK61YQ

Reflections on a rolling stone with Dylan, Elvis and T.S Eliot

 

 

Stones Anne CorrI don’t often talk about music, it just is a part of my life I kind of take for granted.  Which isn’t to say I don’t appreciate it because I do, I know how much less rich life would be for my without it.  How at certain times in my life it has created pockets of succour that I view as life saving.  There are times too painful to feel your own pain, when music is able to express for you that which you can’t – likewise with joy.  But like family, it exists, it just is.

Robert Plant writes about his icon Elvis Presley so personally that he showed me both Elvis’s and his own humanity.

There is a difference between people who sing and those who take that voice to another, otherworldly place, who create a euphoria within themselves. It’s transfiguration. I know about that. And having met Elvis, I know he was a transformer.

Musicians on musicians – fascinating and wonderful.  http://www.rollingstone.com/

But what I really want to share with you today is something Bob Dylan produced last year, and I have only just discovered courtesy of  http://jjennajane.com/

This is one of his most iconic songs, one that moved a generation, how great an influence on thinking Dylan has had is unquantifiable.  One man. One young man. One creative dare-devil. Twenty-four years of age when he wrote it, it took a while to get the video right, but he did get it right. It is a brilliant commentary on the constantly blinking perspectives of the world now, seen via multi channels across the globe. Interactive, you can adjust what you see via the up/down keys on your keyboard. You won’t see what I see, but the flavour will stay the same.  You may have to put the link in your browser because I don’ think I can embed video. I swear you won’t be disappointed.

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/bob-dylan-goes-interactive-in-like-a-rolling-stone-clip-20131119#disqus_thread

Robert Plant again on Elvis:

“When he died, he was 42. I’m 18 years older than that now. But he didn’t have many fresh liaisons to draw on — his old pals weren’t going to bring him the new gospel. I know he wanted to express more. But what he did was he made it possible for me, as a singer, to become otherworldly.”

Bob Dylan on Bob Dylan;

‘My songs are personal music; they’re not communal. I wouldn’t want people singing along with me. It would sound funny. I’m not playing campfire meetings. I don’t remember anyone singing along with Elvis, or Carl Perkins, or Little Richard. The thing you have to do is make people feel their own emotions. A performer, if he’s doing what he’s supposed to do, doesn’t feel any emotion at all. It’s a certain kind of alchemy that a performer has.’

That last quote reminds me of something T.S Eliot spoke of, the surrender of the ego I suppose,

‘What happens is a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality….

…Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.’

(excerpt from T.S. Eliot (1888–1965).  The Sacred Wood.  1921.)

 

 

What was the question?

St Augustine Quotation

St Augustine Quotation

‘If one makes music, as the Orient would say, disinterestedly, that is, without concern for money or fame but simply for the love of making it, it is an integrating activity and one will find moments in his life that an complete and fulfilled.’     – John Cage.

I suppose the same goes for any occupation we choose to partake in.  Engage in the activity, and the truth begins to emerge that when we are experiencing ‘flow’, then material benefits pale in comparison.  This is a political statement because it addresses the fundamental values on which we build our societies, whether we look to increasing productivity or whether we look to increasing the value of human life, the opportunity for human beings everywhere on the planet to look toward a fulfilling, active life . Increasing productivity increases the wealth factor for a very small minority of capital providers whenever the means of production are owned by very rich capitalists.

My aim is not to polarise the argument but to raise the question amongst the producers and consumers , what are you doing? Who are you doing it for?

“Greed and envy are the real dirt in the world”

But realistically whenever the difference between the rich and the poor remains so great, there will always be aspiration to achieve the status and the luxuries in which the richest indulge. The matter then appears to reduce the divide, and how is that achieved? Only by politics. Only be sharing the ownership of both the challenges we encounter and the resources with which we manipulate the world. And that has to begin with ourselves, and knowing our motivations. Do I want to earn enough to have a swimming pool? Do I want to earn enough to feed my family?

If we can free ourselves of our ego driven aspirational desires, and address the matter of working in order to provide the necessities, then it will emerge that work itself is not what people despise. It is the kind of work they are driven to perform in order to maintain a lifestyle.

…”..My composition arises out of asking questions. I am reminded of a story early on about a class with Schoenberg. He had us go to the blackboard to solve a particular problem in counterpoint (though it was a class in harmony).

He said, ‘When you have a solution, turn around and let me see it.’ I did that. He then said: ‘Now another solution, please.’ I gave another and another until finally, having made seven or eight, I reflected a moment and then said with some certainty: ‘There aren’t any more solutions.’ He said: ‘OK. What is the principle underlying all of these solutions?’ I couldn’t answer his question; but I had always worshipped the man, and at that point I did even more. He ascended, so to speak. I spent the rest of my life, until recently, hearing him ask that question over and over. And then it occurred to me through the direction that my work has taken, which is renunciation of choices and th  substitution of asking questions, that the principle underlying all of the solutions that I had given him was the question that he had asked, because they certainly didn’t come from any other point. He would have accepted the answer, I think. The answers have the questions in common. Therefore the question underlies the answers.”  John Cage

The questions we ask ourselves is what life is all about.

” Cage linked his life and his music. Life is filled with uncertainty. Chance events happen to us all.  Each of us must take responsibility  and make decisions.  None of us should be imposing our ego image on others.  Most music tries to control its circumstances, just as most of us do. But there’s another way to live.  Accept indeterminacy as a principle, and you see your life in a new light, as a series of seemingly unrelated jewel-like stories with a dazzling setting of change and transformation. Recognize that you don’t know where you stand, and you will begin to watch where you put your  feet”

– Where  the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism by Kay Larson

Breathe.

Original map of Kneesall 1635 with illustration of butterfly by alexander marsal 1600's/

Original map of Kneesall 1635 with illustration of butterfly by alexander marsal 1600’s

Breathe, breathe in the air
Don’t be afraid to care
Leave but don’t leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you’ll give and tears you’ll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be

 

From Pink Floyd ‘ Breathe’

A Night at the Opera , in downtown Nottingham.

Opera North staged Don Giovanni on Saturdy night in Nottingham, and we were there.  It was a blast. The choreography, the set , the characterisation and the costume brought Mozart in all his libertine music hall ribald self to the fore.  Everything I think I know about Mozart is confirmed in this production.  The sense of throwing everything at life, devil may care, and the subsequent angst and despair about mortality.   Admittedly I am not a music buff, nor an opera goer, so I am giving you a personal account of my own experience.  Others may have dismissed it, who knows?  What I am saying is that the treatment of Mozarts opera made me laugh, think, and enjoy, so what’s not to like?

Some of the performance went small, and was played out using puppets inside a frame , much like Punch and Judy, and it worked.  It made me laugh.  Always good. The costumes combined all sorts of influences from victorian mourning ( Donna Anna) to teddy boy , to Edwardian dandy.  A combination that could confuse but didn’t.  It created atmosphere, pace and a sense of continuity of the human condition.

Don Giovanni is traditionally a seducer;  I got the impression he was a sociopath, a serial rapist and a killer to boot, so how this ends up making me laugh is a tribute to Mozarts understanding of the human condition.  Don Giovanni cares not a fig about anyone, or anything. He cares about the absurdity of life. He plays pranks. He is cruel in his dealings with every one he comes across  and yet,  – he is admired, even loved.  There is something in the human psyche that cannot condone his behaviour, but that admires his style.  Elvira, abominably used and abandoned simultaneously berates him and loves him.  Donna Anna somehow wants to create space between herself and her finace after having been raped and deprived of a father, as though she has experienced something she needs to get over, some sort of compulsion of attraction to her abuser.  His servant continuously tells him he is leaving, but doesn’t, and he manages to remove the bride to be from her wedding day in an attempt to test his powers of attraction.

There is an interplay between classes that Mozart clearly wants his audience to question,  the leisured aristocratic class of which Don Giovanni belongs , has all the earthly possession of good food, good drink, servants it desires.  The peasant class are lowly, and more basic in their idea of how to live.  The music reflects the two different realities.

When Don Giovanni is unrepentant about his crimes, it is not retribution on earth that he receives, but the final recognition that ones mortality is not in ones own control.  He has constantly declaimed that he will use his deathbed to repent of his atrocities, but when he is confronted by the spirit of the dead father of Donna Anna, there is no time for absolution and he is dragged down into Hell.  A timely reminder to all mortals then, that the way you live is what is important, and cannot be bargained against at deaths invitation.  Mozart had his own demons, and he demonstrates the state of all men and women who live, the necessity to understand their connection in the world, that their actions have human consequences, and that we all have to reconcile what we want, with how to live well.  Don Giovanni clearly had no compunction about the damage he caused , because he did not feel it. One of the important aspects of being human is the ability to understand that gratifying our selves may have consequences on others, and therefore may have to be deferred or impulses controlled. It might not make good opera, but then I don’t want to live with Don Giovanni. Mozart has thrilled audiences for generations with this musical narrative,  bringing comedy and tragedy together to entertain and to reflect our own selves.

Out of the window.

 

Playing with the Japanese images from Sadonubu and Hasegawai, that I love. Collaging them with the old photogravure master Coburn and ending up with the mish mash of a contemporary illustration for a book of cats.  Thinking about a book of cats in miniature. Avoiding the ironing. Avoiding the food shopping. Playing and listening to the radio. Bliss. Someone’s singing to Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding absolutely sublimely.  Great guy too. He’s talking about his craft on Radio 4 and it’s like he’s in the room, just chatting to me as I engage my brain in the magic of Photoshop. He is the archetype of a new noun he’s just said – bullshitlessness. Life is like climbing a mountain, in your youth you only see your village, and as you climb higher the village that was your whole world is just a speck now. He decribes this feeling as almost unbearable, remorsefulness. He stumbles and bumbles through his life not really knowing how and what he wants to to, he is Robert Wyatt and he is a wonderful human being. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n11cz