Friday, January 10, 2014
Without all six senses there is no music
That Yugoslav flag on the customs house at Jelsa on the Dalmatian island of Hvar dates the photo above. It was taken when I was 18 during my never-ending rites of passage travel. In 1968 Tito's benignly Communist Yugoslavia was a lotus land two decades away from the the humanitarian carnage that was to engulf and destroy it. Back then the currency was soft, wine and food was ridiculously cheap, and life was extremely good. Rock music had opened my generation's ears and eyes to cultures beyond Western Europe and North America, but Yugoslavia, with its volatile mix of Rome, Byzantium and Islam, was my first taste of the real thing. But back then it was not the nuances of culture that hit me, instead it was the sensory impact of the Balkans: the sounds, sights, tastes, smells and other sensations that exploded from the market seen below, and from everywhere else I visited on this unique cultural watershed.
Western thought recognises the five senses of hearing, seeing, touching, smelling and tasting, to which Buddhism adds the sixth sense of mind with its associated processes of cognition and reasoning. Jordi Savall's new project is titled Bal-Kan; the word Balkan is a compound of the Turkish for honey and blood, and those two words provide the sub-title of the lavish triple CD and book project seen below. In his introduction to this celebration of Balkan music and culture Jordi Savall quotes Voltaire's observation that 'Without the senses there is no memory, and without memory there is no mind'. Similarly, without the senses there is no music, and the art of performance depends, in varying degrees, on the engagement of all six senses. Yet in our reductionist digital age, music has been reduced to a mono-sensory hearing experience, with a de facto standard of hermetically sealed binary music files delivered via headphones. Jordi Savall's book and CD projects are the ultimate anti-reductionist statement; none more so than Bal-Kan, which seduces the hearing (SACD music content), seeing (book content), touching (tactile content) and cognitive senses (meta content) so powerfully that, when auditioning it, I swear I could smell and taste that market on Hvar. Without all six senses there is no music, and Jordi Savall's Bal-Kan project provides a vivid reminder of just how deracinated today's mono-sensory music has become.
* My 2008 radio interview with the perenially anti-reductionist Jordi Savall can be heard on SoundCloud.
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