Saturday, April 21, 2007

Found Music

I've always been more amused than moved by the whole Charles Ives concept of hearing two completely different but simultaneous musical events as one. Ives was supposedly inspired by the sort of juxtaposition one might experience hearing a marching band pass by while hymn-singing is going on inside a church. He incorporated this kind of collision collage into many of his works, albeit usually in a somewhat composed fashion. I've been generally even less impressed with the John Cage concept of "music is where you find it," but I just had the odd experience of really enjoying some found music.

Basically, I accidentally started two different recordings at about the same time on my computer. I had recently sent a link to a colleague of a Mozart trio performance with my 7-yr-old daughter on violin, my wife on cello, and me on piano. Since I hadn't listened to it for awhile, I clicked on the e-mail link to sample it. Meanwhile, what I should've been doing was grading papers; I had in front of me a student-created listening guide for a Handel sonata for recorder, cello, and harpsichord and had gone to our school's online streaming music site to cue up that recording. Somehow, in the time it was taking my computer to get the Mozart started, I absent-mindedly started up the Handel and, lo and behold, the two performances started at almost exactly the same time.

All I can say is that I really enjoyed what followed, particularly because it creates such a constant bending of perception. The basic effect is of a warped sound-world where everything sounds out-of-tune. Occasionally, one or the other of the performances will come to the fore, but mostly I hear them as a single, loopy texture that I'd rather not try to analyze too much. It's just fascinating how two such elegant and transparent worlds can combine to create something in which they both seem to lose their identity.

What fun Ives would've had with this technology at hand. Actually, Mozart himself experimented with this idea in the Act I finale of Don Giovanni where the three dance bands are heard all at once. (True story: I was just trying to listen to that scene, but was confounded by my daughter practicing Vivaldi in the next room. I can't enjoy Mozart's ordered chaos in the midst of all this chaos!) I've also always enjoyed the goofy finale of All You Need is Love in which a Bach invention on trumpets mixes it up with In the Mood, Greensleeves, and She Love You, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah and I don't remember what else. The entrance of Greensleeves is especially vague and trippy.

Anyway, back to my little "duet for two trios." The funny thing is that, as spontaneous as its 'creation' was, I then felt tormented that I wouldn't be able to recreate it exactly as it was because I couldn't actually remember which had started first. Obviously, it doesn't really matter, but I've done my best to turn its wonderful impermanence into something that is fixed for all time and can be studied and deconstructed . . . or just enjoyed for for what it is. I have no idea, by the way, what it is. Here 'tis.

    Addendum: My wife has put her two cents in to assure me that this discovery is not on a par with the invention of penicillin or the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup. ("Hey, you got Handel in my Mozart!" "It's delicious!" "No, you're delusional." "Yes, but this has managed to give me something to do other than grading, so it can't be all bad." Student Reader: "Oh, so that's why I still haven't gotten back that project I turned in six weeks ago." "Well, no, but . . . OK, back to grading.")


    Elaine Fine said...

    I think the Handel wins. Maybe its because of the fact that its a commercially-mixed recording, but the Handel is dominant and the Mozart is essentially inaudible as a cohesive horizontal musical unit.

    It is fun to try to listen to two pieces at once though. It stresses the mind in interesting ways. I would have liked to hear the Mozart by itself. I'm a great fan of your daughter's on-line reading of "Madeline," and would be interested in how she does with Mozart, now that she is a few years older.

    MICHAEL MONROE said...

    Yes, I agree that the Handel recorder is the most dominant element - that recording is a bit louder in the mix, and I think you're right that it's also recorded in a more up-front way. Still, probably because I don't know that piece well, I have trouble centering what the recorder is doing tonally. When I zero in on the Mozart, which I know well, I can pretty easily make sense of it.

    Perhaps I'll post the real Mozart soon, although its lyricism isn't best suited to a 1/4-violin and an early-stages vibrato. She does play a mean Jenkinson "Elves' Dance," which she just started as a fun piece, although it doesn't have quite the passion of the Madeline reading.

    Rob Steele said...

    Back when I was bad (well, worse) I crashed a party and got pulled apart between a hippie folk singer and a black blues dude who were jamming on guitar. There was wacky tobacco involved but the music alone would have done it. It was intensely beautiful. It was like my left brain and right brain separated and stood arms length away from each other. I've never felt anything else like it.

    MICHAEL MONROE said...

    Rob, that comment would be more appropriate for the "MM using" site, not "MM musing." (Sorry, I've been looking for a good opportunity to break that out. This seemed to be the time.)