Wednesday, July 16, 2014

#ROW80 3RD QTR WEDNESDAY CHECK-IN - "PRELUDE" 1ST DRAFT - "MUSIC OF THE SPHERES"


PRELUDE

Music of the Spheres. . . well. I had to call it something. Music has always been a part of my life and is something that I used as a conduit to another place. I hear that a lot and I get that; stuff about how one is "transported," or "forgets their problems," and it's a lot of bullshit. Maybe it is so for other people, but I'm not talking about that kind of transportation. I'm a musician and was born one. Something that I just knew, like a lot of stuff we just know, in an unconscious, visceral way, although when I knew it, I was too young to articulate all of that. It's an atavistic knowing, like an animal knows it must migrate along with its fellow beings. It can either be a blessing or a goddamned werewolf, or both, but it has to be answered and lived up to, even when life has other ideas. Even when you're mentally ill, like Bederich Smetana and so many other composers and players and you're not always sure you have anything like a half-assed grasp on reality, because you've seen and felt and done and experienced things that you know are true, even if the rest of the world remains either unconvinced, or worse yet, clueless, because it takes insight, guts, heart and the willingness to step off of that cliff, knowing that a convergence of faith and scientific knowledge will see you through, to do what is absolutely the right thing. Both morally and universally and I mean that both literally and figuratively. If you stick with me and have some patience, as I de-construct my tale, I promise you, it will be worth it.


The philosopher, Frederic Nietzsche once said, or is said to have said, or maybe thought it—I tend to get fuzzy on details, although the larger picture is accurate—that "Life without music would be a mistake". I absolutely believe that to be true, and not in an "oops" kind of way, but in a cataclysmic destroyer-of-worlds-Shiva kind of way. And it's not only because I yearn, cry and laugh when I hear music, but I also mourn, feel pain, rage, and dread. In short, the entire panoply of human emotions are writ large, in music, and I along with a majority of the human race get that. If you don't believe me, just listen to Beethoven's 3rd Symphony.

It is every emotion I just mentioned, plus a smattering of syncopation, that sounds suspiciously jazzy. When other artists in other disciplines are asked what they consider they highest form of art to be, it is natural that musicians say "music is the highest form of expression of the arts," but then, someone like Nic Cage comes along and says the very same thing. This from a man who can do and become literally anything on film. That is high praise for an art, indeed. I recognize and understand what he is saying, because I turn the analogy on it's head this way: Boxing is the highest form of sport and sportsmanship, because of its artistry and brutality; it is truly the Sweet Science.

In no other sport is there the complexity of thought, physicality, rhythm, discipline, harmony and timing. I have run into other musicians at boxing matches and it's noteworthy that at first we're surprised, embarrassed to be caught out, and then. . . not so much. Because we all recognize the same thing in the fighters. So, I understood Nic Cage when I first started watching his movies; my fascination with him lay not in his acting, but in his performance as an artist. I think at one time, we all shared that fascination with creating music and the inherent instincts or feelings that have been there from birth, not just as babies, but as a civilization, remain and will never become vestigial.

Tchaikovsky is one of the hardest of composers for me to listen to when I am in a depressed state. Black unto black, I could not listen at all to his 6th symphony for almost a year after my father died. The last movement of that piece, written not long before his death is completely without hope. What a horrible, horrible emotion to experience, and even more terrible for the fact that he was able to articulate it so thoroughly through his composing, and understood his own pain. It is monumental in it's suffering and truly beautiful, but if you're having a bad day, month, year, or decade, it's best to avoid his 6th Symphony; the beautiful third movement waltz in 5/4 time and all. Skip the whole thing and go zone out to that famous bubble-gum composer's greatest hits: Mozart. Ick.

But, if it took Tchaikovsky to break my heart, it took Mahler to steal it away and then, lose it in a way I could never retrieve it. Not because of the dark magic and nature of his music, but because he shows such a human side and such a hopeful one, in the face of withering and horrible circumstances. He, being a Bohemian composer, has the odd, folk-music way of playing what seems to be happy-go-lucky tunes in a Major key, while underlying all, is a minor underpinning. Mahler "got it" through his music, which is so human and heartfelt as to be terrifying, but not in his life, which is far different than Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and all the more tragic for his not knowing, or understanding how black his life would become.

Married to the beautiful Alma, he forebore her infidelities, and was to have said, just 2 weeks before his death, from myocarditis, at age 51, "Ah, Alma, we will live forever!" In his 1st symphony, he has a funeral march, that is of an animal, buried by animals, they periodically break out into the hellishness of a gypsy-klezmer group gone completely off the rails, before once again regaining their composure and fall back into their dirge-like procession, as they bear the corpse to it's final repose. The music seems to ask at the end, "Can I not linger, just a while longer? I'm having such a good time. . .” These are my impressions, my feelings; that's another great thing about music. Although we're hard-wired to accept basic fundamentals as fact, say, Major versus minor keys, music is entirely subjective. Musicology bedamned; I am sure Musicologists imparted some greater meaning to that passage, but I hear a simple plea to hang around for a bit more of the fun.

I got more out of Music History for time and place, than I did in Music Theory for ear-training (I have perfect pitch, and thus, am lazy, so I did a lot of coasting in music school) and why humans are drawn to certain tones; we all “agree” on the basic language. Interesting enough and if this be true, and I believe it to be so, what else is drawn to these tones; these chords. Because I do not for one second believe that we are the only sentient beings in the universe. You see, the universe has a tone, a note, a key, if you will. A note that we all contribute to. Some say it's E flat, some say F or F sharp. I think it's all of those and more, because the universe is ever-changing and is not an entropic thing. In a way it's like the "you'll change history if you go back in time and step on a butterfly," but not really, Because we change courses everyday, just as we change our note. It is a sonic, universal symphony.

Victor Hugo referred to it in his masterpiece “Hunchback of Notre Dame”, in his description of Easter or Pentecost in Paris in the fifteenth century:

. . . beneath the rising sun of Easter or of Pentecost--climb upon some elevated point, whence you command the entire capital; and be present at the wakening of the chimes. Behold, at a signal given from heaven, for it is the sun which gives it, all those churches quiver simultaneously. First come scattered strokes, running from one church to another, as when musicians give warning that they are about to begin. Then, all at once, behold!--for it seems at times, as though the ear also possessed a sight of its own,--behold, rising from each bell tower, something like a column of sound, a cloud of harmony. First, the vibration of each bell mounts straight upwards, pure and, so to speak, isolated from the others, into the splendid morning sky; then, little by little, as they swell they melt together, mingle, are lost in each other, and amalgamate in a magnificent concert. It is no longer anything but a mass of sonorous vibrations incessantly sent forth from the numerous belfries; floats, undulates, bounds, whirls over the city, and prolongs far beyond the horizon the deafening circle of its oscillations.

Nevertheless, this sea of harmony is not a chaos; great and profound as it is, it has not lost its transparency; you behold the windings of each group of notes which escapes from the belfries. You can follow the dialogue, by turns grave and shrill, of the treble and the bass; you can see the octaves leap from one tower to another; you watch them spring forth, winged, light, and whistling, from the silver bell, to fall, broken and limping from the bell of wood; you admire in their midst the rich gamut which incessantly ascends and re-ascends the seven bells of Saint-Eustache; you see light and rapid notes running across it, executing three or four luminous zigzags, and vanishing like flashes of lightning. Yonder is the Abbey of Saint-Martin, a shrill, cracked singer; here the gruff and gloomy voice of the Bastille; at the other end, the great tower of the Louvre, with its bass. The royal chime of the palace scatters on all sides, and without relaxation, resplendent trills, upon which fall, at regular intervals, the heavy strokes from the belfry of Notre-Dame, which makes them sparkle like the anvil under the hammer. At intervals you behold the passage of sounds of all forms which come from the triple peal of Saint-Germaine des PrĂ©s. Then, again, from time to time, this mass of sublime noises opens and gives passage to the beats of the Ave Maria, which bursts forth and sparkles like an aigrette of stars. Below, in the very depths of the concert, you confusedly distinguish the interior chanting of the churches, which exhales through the vibrating pores of their vaulted roofs.”


I sure as HELL am no Victor Hugo, but then, I'm no Jascha Heifetz and I got along just swell on the viola; maybe I can pull off the same trick in telling my story. I used to scuba-dive off the coast of California in Monterey. Too young and stupid to know better, I and a cohort dove off the pier and went towards the edge of the Continental Shelf. The Continental Shelf is defined as "a submerged border of a continent that slopes gradually and extends to a point of steeper descent to the ocean bottom". The gradual sloping part varies, however, and we knew the particular spot where the drop was precipitous and sharp. The Pacific Ocean is cold and we were both wearing full wet suits.

After clawing our way through the kelp beds and swimming off shore for a while, the water rapidly deepened, as the drop-off of the shelf came up swiftly. The water there is inky black, and seems almost viscous. We slowed as we approached and held our breaths. As I recall, we were down about 60 or 70 feet; this would not be a decompression dive. When we stuck our heads out over the shelf and took a peek, the water, no, the space, was so much blacker; stygian, more viscous-like; almost gelatinous, inky and beyond cold. So very cold, that the contrast between the warmth of my wet suit and the upwelling water was instantly felt, but the thing I remember most as we hung our heads out over this. . . thing that seemed almost alive, and, that we later found out was the sea bed, that went from 60 or 70 feet to over 2000 feet or more, was the sound it made.

The Continental Shelf makes a sound, much like the sound you hear when you put your ear up to a garden hose and listen, when the water isn't running. It's a hollow, spooky sound. It thrums and changes and seems to echo and it's all around you. You can feel it in your bones, your ears; your heart. It is deep; probably too deep a note for the human ear to discern, were one on land, but here, you are submerged in it. Not in the heart of it, but more near the top. I remember thinking that to be at the heart of this great sound would be eerie indeed, and I might not survive such an encounter. It was terrible and gorgeous in its significance and weight. It too, has its own note and changes in pitch and frequency, I am sure, with the changing of the tides, seasons and pollution and man-made structures that come and go over the centuries. Now, apply that to the universe. That, my friends, is the "Music of the Spheres".


This is the first draft of the prologue to my novel I wrote for #NaNoWriMo in 2013. Any constructive criticism would be much appreciated, since I have never done anything like this before. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!
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