Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Music and place

In this quiet room above the sea I've just played the fourth [Beethoven Piano Concerto] again. I know it now - every stitch of it - more intimately than I know Nancy [LD's wife]. I've got it in my bowels. Sort of empathy. I've been it, I act it, sleep it, shit it, sleep it - everything. And I can tell you that compared to it, the Emperor is a collection of musical platitudes written for a lavatory-paper musical box by a deaf mute. So There!
Lawrence Durrell wrote those words in Corfu in 1935. I took the photo above at the Lac du Der Chantecoq in the Champange-Ardenne region of France last week. During the three weeks we spent on campsites in remote locations in rural France I was struck once again when listening to my iPod, as to how place affect the way music is heard. Just as light determines the way we see a landscape, so the aura of a place seems to change our perspective on a familiar piece of music.

The mystical relation between music and place is nothing new, and Britten's Aldeburgh is the best example of how intimately sound and geography are linked. In Buddhism it is called 'dependent arising' and is expressed by the formula, "When this arises that becomes". That dabbler par excellence Herbert von Karajan toyed with Zen Buddhism and also had thought-provoking views on the mathematical relationship between the rhythm of music and natural phenomena such as heartbeat, which are in turn affected by place.

Last year I wrote about some an excting new initiative started by Antony Pitts of the Royal Academy of Music, London to map music and place, describing it as 'Google Earth for classical music'. Antony's project has now become part of a group working on musicDNA, an ambitious attempt to produce a multi-dimensional map of the musical universe. Today musicDNA has launched musicGPS for iPhone and iPod touch. Here is a screengrab followed by a description from their website:

Whenever you listen to music on your iPhone or iPod touch (OS 3.0) you can use musicGPS to keep a record of what you listened to, where and when. Open up musicGPS to browse and zoom in and out of your own timeline. And play any combination of tracks on your iPhone straight from musicGPS.

musicGPS records the soundtrack of your life™ - wherever you go. Discover what it was that caught your ear during a journey. See a map of where you’ve been and what you listened to and add a note or photo.
Antony Pitts is a man of many parts, and I was very impressed by his recently released electro-acoustic collage In Memoria which combines music by Ockeghem, Dufay, Obrecht, and Josquin with ambient sounds, children's songs, poetry, real stories and a new motet composed for the project by Antony. In Memoria, which is available as an iTunes download for £4.49, is a direct descendant of Glenn Gould's contrapuntal radio experiments which resulted in the Solitude Trilogy created by Gould for CBC. These three sound portraits of different aspects of solitude were pioneering investigations into the relationship between sound and place. Which is where today's path started.


Now read about raindrops falling on Antony Pitts' chant.
My opening quote comes from Spirit of Place, Letters & Essays on Travel by Lawrence Durrell, published by Faber ISBN-13: 978-1569247228 and, you guessed it, out of print. A review iTunes download of In Memoria was supplied at my request. Header photo is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2009. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

4 comments:

Antony said...

Hi - the full press release for musicGPS is now here: http://www.musicdna.info/musicGPSpressRelease20091001.pdf

Antony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Antony said...

And much easier on the eyes - here's a first time user video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6rjDHbeVqY

Plus lots of screenshots (hold iPhone top button and then press Home button to make your own) on Facebook:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=1008&id=100000336016625

[apologies for not previewing the previous time!]

Tone said...

How can 40 years of study in zen buddhist practice be classed as "toyed" with the idea of the practice?

Vojtech Jasny, the Czech film director stated to me that during the making of "Impressions about Herbert von Karajan" Karajan and he practiced and studied zen meditation, breathing, and vibration.

According to Jasny, Karajan literally took him "across the cosmos".