Thursday 27 March 2014

Morton Feldman, For John Cage [Café Oto, 25.03.14]

[performed by Aisha Orazbayeva (violin) and Mark Knoop (piano)]

Disregard any first-half record players positioned to ‘play’ suspended microphone-suspended violins as any old visual, cod-performance, cod-aural gimmick, complete with the dressing of quasi pop-songs spicing up the classical world in utter dilution –ok disrupt things, but for fuck’s sake do it well, not just some tolerated hoop everyone jumps through or watches someone else jump through because someone’s told someone that someone else thinks it’s cool, and everyone politely knows better. But no one really came for that, anyway. Listening to the Feldman, then, feeling the simultaneous sense of some sort of serenity, but that isn’t the right word, really, and some sort of despair or panic; things are held, things are slow and quiet but then suddenly they speed up like a tiny breathless race only to move back to something else. The piano and violin in unison or alternation unwind a scale, a unison which is always slightly morphing, always slightly off-centre. There are about four or five moves which get repeated, transitioned between: in one of them, the violin repeatedly bows a single note over piano chords, extremely high, like a constantly-repeated whispered scream, then moves back to a more conventionally varied scheme, hands execute a dance up and down the strings, the violinist could execute a note perfectly and it will still sound fluffed, edged with harmonics, scraping away at the instrument’s romantic cantabile capacity to get inside and beyond all that. At those moments of scream, the music almost gets unbearable, though it’s not a scream in terms of harshness of pitch, more in terms of long drawn-out held-in intensity which never fully extends itself, releases itself, always moves back into a repetition or a variation of a different kind of thing. Sometimes it’s actually actively funny, an obvious tonal repetition, a scale, a unison passage, a child rehearsing and repeating the simplest things with the patience a child would never have. Transposition, the return of the same material, movement without movement. It could go on. A particular scalar move starts to recur more and more towards the end, a refrain of sorts. The piece doesn’t feature much silence or many pauses, if any, the piano sustain-pedalled almost throughout, or so it seemed, not so much as a cavernous resonant quasi-religious ex-cathedra echo chamber easily posing as mystical aura, dispensing the gravity of aesthetic beauty and wisdom, extending in time that feeling of enlarged space, but instead a structural mode of slight extension and discontinuous continuity. Mostly the two instruments play together or in close proximity / alternation, sometimes one will ‘solo’ briefly. Material is shared, the players almost seem to try and trip each other up, are made to so, in tricky synchronicity, Knoop looks up each time they need to make a dual entrance, land on the same point. Orazbayeva’s legs on the floor extend into weird shadows, simultaneously extended and huge and miniaturized into a shadow-homunculus, both infinitely extended and infinitely reduced as Feldman’s late music might be said to be. Development, progression, the concerto argument of the subject extending in or against collectives, etc, the whole romantic bourgeois-revolutionary or religious tradition or nature tone-poems or what have you, has no place here, the music is not even a dialogue so much, though there are aspects of that, instruments are in the same place and the music is a whole, written for all of them. Is it a private music? In a sense it’s so familiar and so easily recognizable as a style that anyone could do it now, or think that they could do it, but what does it yield up to us or to each listener specifically and personally, what emotion is there or do I read in, shooed away for Yoko Ono to bring her jam to town when we just wanted to sit there to recover, still in that position of enforced physical stillness, the slowing down of breathing. Feldman’s music, at this length, is easy to follow, though there are inevitably moments of slight drift, even if its similarity of materials wouldn’t enable a reconstruction of the piece absolutely chronologically or in its entirety, that kind of summary. But the reduced set-up perhaps makes it less easy to get lost in, washed over, as, say, ‘Coptic Light’, the focus is easier, though equally absorptive. This is not music of drama, or struggle, except as that is, whatever, where it has come from, been distilled from, or not; not even like those moments in, bad comparison, Helmut Lachenmann, where you get musical history through the ruins, or that sort of thing – even, say, the comfortably regressive melancholy variant of that you might find in post-minimalists or post-Romantics like Valentin Silvestrov; not even that, or not at all, the concern above all with process, extension, limitation, temporal exploration, sticking with a thing and doing it, development of attention, not to some spuriously opened framework of the aesthetic beauty of hipster’s farts, toilet door squeaks, police sirens and passing trains in the extend intervals between a barely-sounded e-bowed squeak, but to the piece itself, listening to its expanded inwardness, inwardness of expansion, a room of people giving quiet regard to the work while people outside are looking in at the windows, the spectacle of a roomful of listeners to a sound you cannot hear highlighting some sense of social absurdity, open for everyone to see. You could valourize this discourse of enclosure, safety, a carved-out space against some vulgar monster outside, but would you really want to: the music is all those terms dropped out of the magic moments hat – patience, delicacy, fragility, monotony – but it is also extremely assertive, violent even, in its following-through of intention, or steadfastly pragmatic, whatever goal is or is not in sight, if that’s really the term to use – in, for instance, its insistence on extending a territory for longer than might be thought ‘necessary’ or ‘comfortable’ and then, once that extension’s been settled in, moving on to something else again. Not boring, not sentimental or easily open but tender, not easy but absolutely there in its surface, being nothing else except what it is, you there, too, sitting quite still, not even sure what to think or what to feel.

Monday 10 March 2014


[This pamphlet available with other orders through ©_© / Face Press, March 2014]

The poems in the anonymous pamphlet with its cover paper’s stuck-in scattered flowers like whited-out Stan Brakhage slides [viz. ‘Mothlight’] have a tensile poise between an excess which might, crudely, be schematised as the formal contrast between the extension of a line across the page (e.g. “Sleeping through a rain-soaked street in an unplayed city”) and the shorter lines surrounding and made to seem small by it (e.g. “I am possessed by the magnetic curve of star-/ light / In the east-facing bin”), and an actual excess in those shorter lines themselves, whose line-broken pile-up races all the more so: “my heart races / the duel / carriageway”, these two modes of transportation, dual or duel, hitting carriage return. In relation to this latter, consider the preponderance of roads of various kinds in some recent work: Stuart Calton’s ‘Torn Instructions for No Trebuchet’, and work by Keston Sutherland and Simon Jarvis; where (or specifically, here, and especially in the poem ‘A Smash Hit Glides To Your Lips And Over The Duel Carriageway’) the poem is mode of travel, dazzled by bright lights and songs on the radio and the faces lit up by those lights like a drab-glam parody of movie melancholia lighting, “Chaste like a Sofia Coppola film”, wanting to make this real fake beauty not be like that but not being able to help or stop itself: “Poetry should make nothing / jealous or beautiful // but can’t.” Those proliferating negatives, further complicated by the unclear relation of jealousy and beauty, would seem to imply that poetry shouldn’t make anything, a familiar claim, as statement of fact if not injunction (“poetry makes nothing happen [etc]”); but what exactly it is that poetry “can’t do” here? If it cannot do what it should, which is to make nothing, then it must make something, but perhaps what meaning spills out is that, because poetry cannot make nothing jealous or beautiful, therefore it makes everything jealous or beautiful. We might consider also whether the ‘or’ here is an equivalence for ‘and’ or if it really is ‘or’, so that the toss-up or the gamble in poetry would be either jealousy or beauty or both, and that the beauty itself would be a kind of falsity, a kind of possessive jealousy; as, wanting the night itself to be in intimate relation with oneself, “come and stay with me, night over my head”, the “smash hit” both the radio pop song and the car crash just waiting to happen.

Obviously the sea (sometimes, “the sea of error”) is also in these poems, especially the final one, ‘I Clean You All Over With My Tongue’, “slopped with a melancholia” in part in parody; and it (the sea) is not presented as some image of the longed-for ‘natural’ invested with hope, or, the gap between that degraded image and the thing itself is the subject of “envy,” where it’s not the boat but the train that’s slow, that froze, on the way to China (“The green was informed / with envy of everything natural / and trains froze on the way / to Henan”), caught in trapped-travel as illusion of movement, where the appeal can even be made to a god, of love (“help me eros”), but only for destruction, lashed out, actually cleaning the sea with one’s own tongue, taking in the bilious overspill of industry and capital’s digging as an erotics of wasting and spending (“help me cause to rust / the great warmth of the sea”); if I cannot have love, and if this is my love itself, jealous and beautiful, abjectly in wrong implication so that, in ‘What Does The Crisis Refer To’, “I am terrified by what we call love” both is and is not equal to its following line, “Climate change.” For the sea will freeze, the snow fall, marine as deposits drift down, nutritious in feeding-dependence cycle, trickle-down marine economics, snow and rain, falling, tears and lashes grazed by light landing which is catastrophe or beauty or both. “For you by such lights change nothing”, so “lie down alone in the universe,” when “not one of my thoughts will work anymore on anyone,” all absented, all lost or vacantly and mistakenly invested with love:  “Where are you now / Other than more dreams [...] To have regained my original purpose, to hold you / In flames”, Wieners here, even, in that self-destroying-renewing fire of desire, and the world itself internalized – “The world has gone to answer / in my heart” in bad reflection or introjection taken to be some emotional landscape as a pop song really “the radio songs. I love / Whatever comes on, to be okay with my limits”, pathetic pathetic fallacy where the image of love collected in time and space within the statement that “tonight the church will be full” is all wrong, alright, where ‘you’, as love object addressed or as speaker self-addressed, even become Christ, “slaving on a cross, melting a phone”, and there is no future to sacrifice to, you just are, that way, imagined so, imagining yourself and others as victims but holding on to the thought that, though “I’ve lost you […] I’ll never lose thing like you,” this addressed you already become a thing, object-memory in permanent image, bad mirror, container for these hopes but also generator of them, meanwhile or simultaneously though that ‘I’ am or have become “sick of a world / That makes nothing possible,” hearing the melancholy in the injunction merely not to stop in 24-hour party forever, Miley Cyrus lying in the world and gliding in flight to the next crash on Crisis mode forever; “What does the Crisis Refer to”, loving loneliness and a pleasurable pain, burning blossoms, flowers, scattering them all over stupidly all at sea white or blue “soup,” “blue water,” systematic evolutionary regression narrative even only as hint, going to the coastal limit not as okeanos mythic void-return world-curve possibility, lyric world love-curve, back-journey to actual collective-individual location, but smaller and emptier, where what drops off the not-God horizon you even said, wanting love, was God (“Like the time I knew God was the horizon”), will be unbearably everything and all there is. “There are poems”; this is nothing.