week45: stravinsky, sam lee; pina bausch


Who wrote this fiendish “Rite of Spring”? What right had he had to write this  thing?/ Against our helpless ears to fling/ Its crash, clash, cling, clang, bing, bang, bing?/“” The Boston Herald, 1924

i couldn’t help but recall: an interview with andre3000 after portraying jimi hendrix in a biopic. he was asked what it is that made him think he’s stylistically ineligible to participate in the contemporary rap and hip-hop scene. his answer, by way of an honest kind of ‘i’m getting too old for this shit’ was as well praise for  what he thought to be the first instinct of a young artist introducing herself to a monolithic music industry—and that is to fuck shit up...

if that much is true in rap,  a genre whose edge relies on every kind of table-flipping diy attitude towards convention—then how much more difficulty, how cold and diffused the seething hiss of the audience must be, in response to an artist like stravinsky decidedly fucking shit up in the classical genre with his his Sacre Du Printemps? especially at a time when wagner was still a recent phenomenon—though his gesamtkunstwerk was already by then water-to-the-fish for an entire generation of concertgoers—

But no sooner were the first bars of the music played by the orchestra than the audience became aware that this kind of music was entirely different from all schools of composition, whether classical or modern. The very opening, a bassoon solo in an absurdly high register, stirred the audience to nervous laughter. According to reports, Saint-Saens, who was present, inquired sarcastically: “What instrument is that?”, and walked out of the theatre. “” Nicolas Slonimsky, concert notes for the recording

(a multivariety of musical ideas)——— multivariety,  that is the one word i return to the most as a rubric for the measurement of how saturated an experience is—how much it puts one in a landscape. this rubric is especially relevant to the musical experience—for it is not merely that variety should  exists in a piece of music but that there are intimations of an infinitude of musical ideas——dispensed like spores to germinate the attentive mind; rippling sprawls that cascade from each variation, and is capable, if allowed, of dominating the entire experience and itself becoming the source of the next generation of variations, ad infinitum.

the Rites of Spring is that kind of a claustrophobic menagerie of burgeoning sporophytes, a million probable motes that invade the cloistral ear. perhaps that is precisely what i meant earlier by a panoramic precipice—the music comes in from every angle, one’s attention merely survives a ricochet of images at once sharp as translucent—

Stravinsksy himself was with Nijinsky behind the stage throughout the performance, and became aware of the trouble only when the electrician, acting on Diaghilev’s orders, began to blink the lights to pacify the passions. Nijinsky made an attempt to jump on the stage and start a counter-riot against the disturbers of the peace, but was held back by Stravinsky. “” Nicolas Slonimsky, concert notes for the recording

—what is needed as much as that multivariety of sentiments?—perhaps even more?—unity, of a peculiar kind. unity that achieves synthesis of its variables through the most subterranean mechanisms—by submerging them in its own depths. that is, unity achieved by way of an intoxicating formative element… intoxication, catharsis, dionysian ecstasy, dissolution of individuation, union with that spiritus mundi through the shortest, narrowest pathways of the materia musica.

a possession is the presupposition of an experience like the Rites of Spring. to be possessed by the spirituality of a musical experience is a necessary prerequisite to the kind of cohesive dissonance abundant here. yes, cohesive dissonance—that is, the thinnest and most chaste ray of an idea is needed as much as the prism which scatters it into a thousand brilliant, dissonant, multicoloured motifs.

whenever virtu is not the spectacle in a musical performance and harmony is not achieved via consonance, experience has taught me that therein often lies the most monolithic, unifying, universal spirit of music—to which dissonance is flaunted boastfully by the surety and singularity of this spirit. perhaps Nietzsche inverted his cause and effect when he said chaos was needed ‘to give birth to a dancing star’——what is more likely, at in least musical experiences, is the preexistence of a luminous, eternally solemn star to whom chaos and dissonance is a form of dance, of jest, a way of saying ‘now, now, now’.  (clearly i’m out of the my mind’s county to suggest that the elon musk of appropriately estimating cause and effect was wrong at least once—but our dear Nietzsche made it awfully easy for himself to be misinterpreted by posterity; that quote about chaos, for example, was the main character’s raison d’etre in netflix’s The Fall: a copy of Thus Spoke Zarathustra is shown lounging on the serial killer’s desk several times in season one—pah!)

(a frenzy of nervous energy)———

The following section, which was characterized by some bilious critic as a barnyard come to life, unloosened the nervous energy of the public. “” Nicolas Slonimsky, concert notes for the recording

a barnyard come to life’—ha! what a brilliant metaphor to describe the Rites Of Spring, in line with what i meant earlier by a claustrophobic menagerie, or what i mean in general by a multivariety of musical ideas. and it’s not merely that this variety of stops and starts, solo instruments, interruptions and interjections on the ‘main theme’—it is as well the accelerating trajectory through which the over 30min long piece plays out. it unravels at a galloping pace, as if what is to be sacrificed has yet to be caught—the first part has all the makings of a hunt, and the second last episode of part one, the Kiss to the Earth, has more fangs than lips.

the most characterically ‘modern’ feature of this work is that aforementioned galloping pace, or more appropriately, nervous energy. the kind of energy in music that has the effect of tumbling downhill in an orgiastic frenzy of string and wind instruments deranged from their usual individuality, into a melismata of yelps and howls and what very much resembles a barnyard come to life.

music of that sort strikes a chord in my chest that is too deep, too sonorous, for words… the buzzing swarms of sibelius’ tone poems, for example.

as a more recent example: hardcore british folk musician, sam lee. hardcore because prior to recording his album Sam Lee and Friends, he toured the northern bits of ireland and england—living with romany gypsy communities to learn their music. he in turn rearranges these traditional british folk songs with a more urgent pace. one of the many brilliant reimagination of a traditional folk song is his Jonny o’ the Brine; the brief epic of a daring hunter and his two greyhounds taking to the woods not just for the bounty of a good catch but to satisfy an orgiastic penchant for domination. in the original version of the story, jonny and his greyhounds don’t make it back home from the hunt, but in sam lee’s version the hunter returns home wounded, battered and sated.

more than the story, it’s the galloping rhythm that makes this song so infectious, the  nervous energy that begins at the top of a hill and ends with a pair of sweaty armpits, leaving me dry-mouthed every time…


(‘Kiss to the Earth’?)———

i’m reminded here of that clumsy, blunt, fatigued, unimaginative, undignified surrender of a finish with which dostoevsky concluded the epic of Raskolnikov in his Crime and Punishment—a book whose exhilarating length was a catalogue of the most dexterous, precise, invigorating, cunning and loftiest psychological investigations. how unbefitting that this most daring character should, with an about-face, drop his courage at the latest hour, renounce every ounce of his spartan strength, disown his supreme instinct for that fearless vive le guerre eternelle—he turned his back to his eternity for the sake of kneeling down in the open street and kissing the earth. i’m forever a disciple of dostoevsky—to have read him once it to be affected as such—yet, yet, there is hardly anything i can read of his for whose sake i can forgive that one kiss to the earth.

—it’s almost four years now since i formulated that opinion, and as with everything else, long experience has amended my perspective. secretly , imperceptibly, with the most sly maneuver of psychological stealth—is it not precisely that long kiss to the earth that i’ve begun? that i’m writing a music blog, for example? when all the high-hat ideas are flung, what is left behind but that old-stock order of priorities: meine vater, mein mutter, mein frau, meine kind…

(“Dance dance, otherwise we are lost”—pina bausch)———

The nineteenth-century conception of a ‘synthesis of the arts’ was false; Wagner’s music-drama wreaked all the havoc of a decadent period. Wagnerism represented, in theological language, the ‘fall’ of Western music; that point in its evolution when individual creative insubordination, and questioning of integrating order, became artistically acceptable; even, as time went by, necessary. Gone were those accepted values that had given music  both continuity and a common language, and that had enabled composers to rise to universal greatness, like beacons of light. Instead, ‘music lost its melodic smile’. “” Friday Routh, Stravinsky

what does it mean to fuck shit up when the status quo is itself a deviation from a hitherto prevalent status quo? is it merely a return to form that, in such a scenario, constitutes a deviant? such apparently was stravinsky’s case, a deviant from deviation.

He, more than any other twentieth-century composer, rediscovered and reformulated the basic nature of the materia musica, which had become obscured by various disorderly, anarchichal developments in composition, originating in the later nineteenth century. Of these the pursuit of nationalistic folklore, academicism and post-Wagnerian decadence were the chief. “” Francis Routh, Stravinsky

this democratic spirit when it comes to the interaction of different art forms, namely the notion that music with any sense of presence can find its place amongst the others—is diametrically opposed to everything i’ve experienced of the spirit of music. having yet to find precisely the meaning i want to give to such a sentiment, i continue to rely on the multivariety of examples wherein domination of the plastic ‘apollonian’ arts by the spirit of music is the only possibility of association between the arts. stravinsky's Rite of Spring is one such a tremulous example, for it is music of the sort that presupposes the ‘terrible narcosis’ and ‘intoxicating mysticism’ of the cathartic musical experience. this dominating spirit of music, in its relation to other art forms, to dance especially, germinates their optimal level of expression.

Achieving order and unity over the element of sound means discovering the appropriate measure of subordination of the disorder of dissonance to the security of consonance; more broadly, curbing a ‘Dionysian’ self-assertiveness with an ‘Apollonian’ restraint. Although strongly clashing tone colours produce an immediate and violent sensation, this is only effective against a more stable background. “” Francis Routh, Stravinski

i’ve written previously how one is generally in need of stringencies regarding the cultivation of musical taste, especially in the lieu of a disorienting surplus of options—one is need of la trappe—that is true as well for the optimal expression of visual art forms. music can be la trappe for artforms that rely entirely on the tangible, graspable physical world as expression—the stronger the presence musical experience, the more freedom and concentration is enjoyed by artforms that employ its dominating spirit.

Whereas bodily rhythms and movements might be related afterwards to his musical rhythms, the nineteenth-century Romantics took emotions as their models beforehand for musical expression. Stravinsky was by no means indifferent to human emotion, but he mistrusted such a subjective basis for the taxing process of human creativity. Music for him could only exist objectively; it cold not ‘express’ subjectively. Therefore it achieves its highest point, its purest forms, in absolute structures, not in any subservient role. “” Francis Routh, Stravinski

take pina bausch’s choreography for her Rites of Spring, for example. just last week i described what kind of music i would set to “ a balletic performance by the lip of an active volcano”—perhaps that performance is what pina bausch had already dreamed up. it’s a mesmerizing experience to watch the choreography, but much more impressive is the ‘acting’ by the performers. yes acting isn’t the right word, for there’s this unmistakable quality of a genuine ecstatic possession in their movements. the singularity of their psyche is refracted into a dissonance of gestures, slaps, sulks, leaps and contortions. the freedom to express this multivariety of dissonance requires a dominating musical spirit as a contrasting source of consonance. the brilliance of an experience like bausch’s choreography is at its highest potency when under the hypnosis of the strong intoxicating dionysian element in music. as such, it is this dissonant dionysian element that becomes the source of cohesion and consonance in relation to other artforms (perhaps even to other general experiences). this intoxication is the la trappe that liberates the dissonant elements of other art forms whilst hypnotizing their consonant apollonian elements. within the musical experience, it is the apollonian consonance that gives the dionysian dissonance it’s structure through time and rhythm

—the instinct is to jump to the presupposition that some kind of balance has to be maintained between these two forces. but ‘balance’ is the last instinct of the dionysian spirit of music—it’s lust to dominate, to intoxicate, is what maintains the eternal struggle between those two forces; vive le guerre eternelle—sans make-out session with the ‘earth’.

it is this intoxication that characterizes bausch’s choreography, namely the seriousness of the dance. that is for me the epitome of the musical experience: that one becomes a serious dancer; a mesh of play and war, of the dionysian boundlessness of music and the apollonian structure which makes possible the coordinated mimation of a musical idea altogether known as a dance

—indeed, when this intoxication is missing, when the music has been submerged, taken off stage, made to play a subservient role: one becomes too conscious to dance—dance becomes an stiff and awkward ventriloquism. in order to dance seriously, to mean it, intoxication is needed, la trappe is needed.

the inability to dance seriously was brilliantly portrayed in the film The Almost Man—the story of an expectant first-time father who lacks seriousness in all aspects of life and is seemingly unable to rise to the occasion of fatherhood. in one scene his wife ball-breakingly calls him out on how much he relies on irony and awkwardness in order to dance, and the effect is as hilarious as it is the perfect antithesis to what makes pina bausch’s choreography so compelling—namely, a strong, spiritual musical experience.