Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Try listening to this without discrimination


A leading music critic's dismissal of a perfectly valid piece of experimental music theatre as a return "to the juvenile excesses of the Sixties" prompts me to reflect on listening without discrimination. In Journey in Ladakh Andrew Harvey writes about the 'European need to be entertained, and stimulated' and how:
The mind's terror of boredom is the more acute because the mind suspects that through boredom, through its extreme experience, another reality might be reached that would threaten its pretensions, and perhaps even dissolve them altogether.
My recent listening has included Simple Lines of Enquiry, which the admirably enlightened Alex Ross describes as "Ann Southam’s immense, mysterious piano piece". In it Ann Southam (1937-2010) creates an extreme but rich experience by developing a single twelve-interval row for fifty-nine minutes. Simple Lines of Enquiry is a perfect example of what classical music should be doing - challenging conventions. Not the peripheral conventions of formal dress and silence between movements, but, rather, the more damaging convention of satisfying the Western mind's need to be entertained and stimulated, a need deeply rooted rooted in what Carl Nielsen described as the "deedless admiration for the conventional". With its nuanced repetitions in the piano's lower registers, Simple Lines of Enquiry evokes auditory driving and meditative, or even trance states*.

In Journey in Ladakh Andrew Harvey describes the Buddhist practice of Vipassanā meditation as 'seeing without' discrimination. Similarly, the practice of listening without discrimination to works such as Simple Lines of Enquiry should be at the heart of classical music appreciation. In recent weeks I have started to feel, again, that my own deedless admiration for the unconventional has started to become conventional. So, it is fortunate that I am now setting out on my own journey in Ladakh. Together with my wife I am travelling to attend the Dalai Lamas' tantric Kalachakra empowerment in the remote 'Little Tibet' region of northern India**. In Tibetan Buddhism tantric practices channel conventional energies into achieving higher levels of consciousness, a discipline that classical music can learn much from. After one more post On An Overgrown Path will, again, lapse into voidness. During that time it will use a dynamic presentation that allows easier access to archive posts. Take care and keep listening without discrimination

* A complete performance of Simple Lines of Enquiry can be found on YouTube.

** Our journey to Ladakh is entirely self-funded. But I have been fortunate to obtain a press pass for the Kalachakra empowerment. Should any media outlets be interested in commissioning coverage of the empowerment, please make contact in the next few days via the email address in the sidebar.

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2 comments:

Philip Amos said...

Given that the (almost) complete works of Anton Webern require just three CDs, one would think that the idea of a twelve-tone work lasting an hour would have anyone seriously interested in music, in whatever capacity, bristling with curiosity. I suspect not, though, and that's very sad indeed, for this is a wondrous work.

The phrase "twelve-interval row" is Southam's own, but I must confess that, at least without the score in front of me, I'm not sure what it means. My interim suspicion is that the work is based on a 'twelve-interval twelve-tone row'. People deterred by the length should know that it is in the nature of a suite in twelve parts, each self-contained technically should they wish to sample first.

I'll just add that it would be nice if certain lazy critics would resist calling the work 'minimalist'. That is not the same thing at all.

Very best wishes to you both as you journey to 'Little Tibet', Bob. I am envious!

Pliable said...

"... one would think that the idea of a twelve-tone work lasting an hour would have anyone seriously interested in music, in whatever capacity, bristling with curiosity. I suspect not, though, and that's very sad indeed, for this is a wondrous work."

How right you are Philip. The problem today is not that the audiences can't cope, but that the critics can't cope.