Thursday, 24 February 2011

Music No Object

After almost two years absence I received a very beautiful and appreciative email from someone who had read the three texts I included dating from 1999. So I decided to return with some more texts, this time from 1998! They form part of a book project which is still alive and well, even after such a long hibernation. The texts are the fruit of some profound thinking on the subject of musical values and their preservation, and even if they require some careful reading to be fully understood, they are central to the theme of this blog. Here is a first instalment:

1. The world of "serious" music continues to exist under the influence of attitudes that came into being centuries ago. Many an individual composer, performer or impresario has sought to develop new and more open or creative relationships between those who provide and those who enjoy music, and yet these efforts have usually only had a limited or local impact because of the strength of underlying cultural influences.

2. Any attempt to develop genuinely new and more fruitful paths for the future may very well involve an examination of these underlying attitudes and an attempt to trace their true origins. It is my belief that much which we consider as differentiating our modern artistic world from that of the nineteenth century can be more usefully seen as an extension of the latter – often an exposition, as it were, of the negative side of the same picture.

3. In order to see this more clearly it is useful, I believe, to cast a glance at some of the intellectual developments in the German-speaking world of the 1790s, which constituted perhaps a revolution as big in the cultural sphere as was the French Revolution in the political sphere. And just as we may now be witnessing (in the context of the European Union) the realisation, however imperfectly, of political dreams that came to the surface in that era, so perhaps we may now be in a position to consider some possibilities in the cultural field which were articulated in that same period but which, under the impact of other more enticing developments, have lain more or less dormant ever since.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Group improvisation session

Here is the first of four recordings made on Friday 29th May, during our improvisation session. Clarinet, NĂ©lio Silva - Harp, David Rodrigues - Percussion, Rudolfo Freitas - Piano, Nicholas McNair (myself). The recording is in Windows Media Audio format (wma).

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

3 texts from 1999: 3 - Art the dictator

Art is the dictator when the dead artist rules.
When the dead artist rules, there can be no question.
There can be no question so one must obey.
The reward of obedience is beauty.
Beauty without obedience is false.
Beauty belongs to the dead artist.
Beauty belongs to the past.
The present is ugly because we are ugly.
The present is ugly because it is the present.
The past was beautiful.
We do not deserve the past.
That is why we are living now.

The living artist seeks self-worth.
He knows the dead artist rules.
So naturally he must rule too.
He rules through his art.
So his art is dead before it is born.
Anything else would be questionable.
Beauty is questionable.
Questions are dangerous.
Answers are dangerous.
Answers imply understanding.
To be understood is to be vulnerable.
It is better to die first.

© Devil’s Advocate

3 texts from 1999: 2 - Not the same piece

When a musician sits and plays a piece of Schubert
it is not the same piece which Schubert wrote.
When he wrote it, it was not an object but a process,
through which he gave feeling to the world;
but with the passage of time it became an object,
the object of manipulation.

Feeling is universal - it belongs to us all.
Schubert speaks for us all,
and if we attribute certain feelings to Schubert
it is because we are afraid to own them ourselves,
preferring to handle them through the filter of history.

Is it possible for a player to play without manipulation?
That depends on his motivation.
His sincerity must match Schubert’s sincerity,
and then maybe Schubert can help him to express himself.

Monday, 7 July 2008

3 texts from 1999: 1 - Music belongs to the listener

If the listener owns the music
then all is changed.
If the listener owns the music
he knows his rights.

But he must also recognise
the rights of every other;
and everyone can accept
what the other knows as true.

He can say “I accept
your truth as true for you
but retain my truth
as true for me…

We agree not to differ
but rather to expand
our understanding of what
the TRUTH may be.

We agree to believe
that the TRUTH is far bigger
than anything
that anyONE can see.”

Art need not be a battleground
where people lose self-worth
but rather a marvellous labyrinth
where souls can meet on earth.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

The communicative power of improvisation

A few days ago I received a comment on Youtube from an American pianist, who said he had heard my music years ago. I was curious to know under what circumstances he had come across my improvisations, and wrote to ask. He sent me the following, which I reproduce here, both in gratitude for a personal testimonial (which I value very much) and because it is a tribute to the art of improvisation and its power to communicate.
  • "It was about 6 years ago now since i first heard your piano improv music. I quite by accident downloaded some of your piano improvisations. They've been a source of deep inspiration for me. I've probably listened to them hundreds of times over the years. i think i got them from mp3 dot com. Since hearing your stuff i've been inspired to express myself in a way that was totally authentic - i.e. not necessarily needing to conform to a certain style, but not being afraid to use the sounds typical of certain styles. My connection to music has been greatly deepened in part because of my exposure to your playing. Basically, your music helped me realize that music is first an aural tradition - purely a product of heart, soul, and mind - and then that music can be written down. So it greatly inspired and heartened a young man who was overwhelmed by the immensity of the musical field."

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Breath of music

The name in the web address of this blog – breath of music – derives from a tiny introit for the choir of Canterbury Cathedral for which I wrote both the text and the music:

In this solemn place

We sing -

To the bare bone

Of this building of stone

We bring

Breath of music

Breath of music

And the word becomes flesh.

Why did I choose this as a title? Because for me it is an apt illustration of where the power of music lies, and it provides a possible path for gaining access to our own expressive powers, closely linked as they are to our physical feelings and sensations. By taking command of our sensations, we can begin to direct our own emotional states, instead of being simply at their mercy. Here we have a clue as to the nature of the present – it can be passive and a victim, or active and a creator.

The passive present is a mere receptacle of effects from the past, and will serve to promote a repetition of what has already been. It is naturally reinforced by a lack of self-confidence, or by any other belief which undermines our primary subjective reality.

The active present is the fruit of our full acceptance of our own subjective reality, as being the true source of existence. This radical acceptance of the subjective element as the permanent foundation of our lives is one of the cornerstones of “quantum” theories of being, which take as their point of departure analogies to the Heisenberg principle, Observer effect, and other aspects aired in discussions on quantum mechanics. Stated simply, our experience of the world and truth is our own, and neither can nor should be equated to that of someone else. So if we cannot separate ourselves from our own subjectivity, because in reality that subjectivity is an integral part of our reality, then we must also cease to downgrade it – which is what our collective cultural heritage has, in effect, encouraged us to do until now.

It is this undermining of our subjective sense of Presence which, more than anything else, causes us to lose the Ariadne’s thread of our existence and wander aimlessly in the Labyrinth, with little more for our sustenance than the hope of avoiding the hidden monster at its centre.