Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Schoenberg and stomach cramps

Within the classical framework, I find it difficult to appreciate fully more recent music, beginning from Schoenberg and atonal music, through avant-garde, musique concrète and electronic music. Strange enough I have great trouble with anything discordant. In Darmstadt, Germany, there is a regular festival of modern music featuring pieces by all the famous modern composers, and I have twice been invited to give sitar recitals there. If I arrive at such a venue one day before my performance, I always make a point of listening to what is going on. On those two occasions in Darmstadt, and at least two other times since, I have noticed that I develop a peculiar problem.

It is mystifying how it happens, but I find that when I start hearing those strange sounds or discordant combinations, within a few minutes I feel a stomach cramp, and from stomach cramp I develop a terrible headache and nausea. At first I thought these physical effects were coincidental, and that my suffering was due to some bad food I must have eaten; but it has happened again and again, right up to this day! I feel ashamed of myself, because thousands of people rave about this music. Though I am sure most of them are sincere in their appreciation, one has to wonder whether some are just behaving in a trendy manner, motivated by snobbery. Sometimes I can intellectually appreciate the intelligent combinations used, yet the whole gamut of this modern music, I am embarrassed to admit, is a physical problem to me. I have to try harder, maybe!
From Raga Mala, Ravi Shankar's autobiography (ISBN 1566491045 OP). Other musicians suffer worse than stomach cramps.
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6 comments:

sfmike said...

What an interesting quote. I like lots of Western music from Schoenberg onwards, but there are a few pieces that give me the same feelings of real, physical discomfort. Berg's "Wozzeck" comes to mind and so does Varese.

Scott said...

"Though I am sure most of them are sincere in their appreciation, one has to wonder whether some are just behaving in a trendy manner, motivated by snobbery. "

Hmmmm ... Shankar seems unaware if the irony here - I have little doubt that the initial wave of popularity of his playing in Europe and North America benefitted considerably from this phenomenon.

PNOGUY said...

My advice: Take two tablas and call me in the morning!

Dennis said...

I feel your pain Ravi! I get the same sense of nausea and physical discomfort when I hear Muzak invading my brain in shopping centers, most of what's played on non-classical radio stations these days (most cut from the American/Pop Idol mold), as well as rap/hip-hop...etc.

Quite like a lot of Schoenberg though (as well as Berg and Webern). Enjoy a good sitar Raga now and then too, but not a fan of Ravi's daughter's brand of bland suburban cafe jazz (seemingly made to order by Starbucks as aural wallpaper).

Scott said...

On a mildly related topic which would have fit better a few topics back, I've never really come to grips with what "world music" is. Specifically, why are Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan (to mention a personal favourite) often mentioned as world music? Surely they are classical music (or art music) as much as is Schoenberg.

Sometimes I think that world music is anything that the writer thinks is more lasting than "popular music" but which doesn't fit within the boundaries of western art music or jazz.

Dennis said...

Scott: I think "World Music" has just become the fashionable term of choice for some to refer to for any non-western music (as if the "West" itself were not part of the "World"!).

This is from the not always reliable WikiPedia: 'The term "World Music" includes Traditional music (sometimes called folk music or roots music) of any culture that is created and played by indigenous musicians or that are "closely informed or guided by indigenous music of the regions of their origin,"...Most typically, the term world music has now replaced folk music as a shorthand description for the very broad range of recordings of traditional indigenous music and song from around the world.'

Again, this seems to posit some separation of the "West" from the "World," as if "Westerners" were mere interlopers not truly at home anywhere. Thus, the term "indigenous" is itself politically loaded; everyone is "indigenous" to somewhere, but the term is typically used only to refer to non-Westerners, particuarly to favored or fashionable minority or Third World cultures.