Friday, July 18, 2008

Liner notes as aesthetic experience

Ineluctable modality of the financial. Organists' pockets being, unlike their musical horizons, distinctly finite, they are thought wisest who scrutinize their pocketbooks with untiring perspicacity before purchasing compact disc recordings on impulse. Yet this one called out to me in seductive tones - a twentieth-century Mass setting I've never heard, and the wonderfully titled "Seven Pious Pieces", which set amazing poetry by Robert Herrick. Ergo, on my doorstep yesterday sat a box containing these two works, and without delay up sprang my conscience and declared thus:

"You've never even heard of those two composers! Why would you buy more CDs when you still have recordings you've barely listened to?"

Whereupon the bishops of York, Durham, Toronto, Seattle, Buenos Aires, Huron, Trent, Denial, Truro, Kent, Southeastern Northern Ireland, Northwest South Dakota, Metropolitan Ivan, New York, Old York, Newest York, Fad Dieting, Capetown, Organology, Cambridge (UK), Cambridge (ON), Cambridge (NC), Cambridge (WA), Cambridge (GA), Cambridge (XQ), Cambridge (6$), New Cambridge, Westphalia, Carolingian Dynasty, and Peterborough, each in full vestments, bearing their symbols of office and attended by a train of deacons, archdeacons, secretaries, organists, suborganists, archorganists, assistant subarchorganists, vergers, chancel guild secretaries and sidespersons, did pass through in solemn procession, attended by six thousand thurifers, eighty-one acolytes and three hundred thousand, five hundred and ninety-four members of parliament, and carried away my conscience to a high rock atop a mountain, where it wailed and gnashed its teeth to no avail, for the crinkle of shrinkwrap being peeled off my new CD drowned out its piteous cries. And thus it was that the liner notes were freed from their plastic imprisonment, and spoke even unto my hungry eyes, dicentes:
The trip down Church Street has not, in this century, been felicitous for the sort of music one might call American Serious. In regard to use of tonal art, the Church continues to worry deeply about the wide range of possible effect posited between static and "all-is-flux" concepts. For the needs of the Church (in the spirit of argument choose any denomination, though this statement applies in particular to the old-line corporates with the most highly evolved rituals), music history functions more than as study of static past; rather it appears too as Dream Image, a stupendous moving picture, with sound at the center, produced at great existential cost, starring all the biggies strutting, and other abutters, wryly bred for lesser tasks, interfaced in a massive dithyramb-bam-crackle-poppity-pop of substantive chaos - hoo-wee - instructional all the more.
And so did my Conscious Mind emerge from the depths of my skull vacated by Conscience, and it did speak unto the liner notes, and its speech follows:

"Say what?"

And after the bishops of York, Durham, Toronto, Seattle, Buenos Aires, Huron, Trent, Denial, Truro, Kent, Southeastern Northern Ireland, Northwest South Dakota, Metropolitan Ivan, New York, Old York, Newest York, Fad Dieting, Capetown, Organology, Cambridge (UK), Cambridge (ON), Cambridge (NC), Cambridge (WA), Cambridge (GA), Cambridge (XQ), Cambridge (6$), New Cambridge, Westphalia, Carolingian Dynasty, and Peterborough did applaud with wild enthusiasm at the speech of Conscious Mind, hoisting it onto their shoulders and parading it through town with great ceremony, Conscious Mind was left once again alone with Liner Notes, who quothed once more, dicentes:
Holy Moses, the little touch at the end is frank and merry and well follows the ground, rounds the form, continues the trip. Pleni Sunt Coeli. And blessings follow. After the Mass there is O, O, O, O, That Shakespeherian Rag (1958), the secular voices, bard on Avon, joined by jazz combo.
Tight boots? No! She's lame! O! And so Conscious Mind thought to itself that these liner notes are not liner notes at all, but a rather lacklustre pastiche of Joyce and T. S. Eliot, and so began to skim through the booklet hoping to find some basic information on the works, such as their dates of composition. Riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation to the liner notes to the Martino "Pious Pieces", which are by the composer and in the sort of Academic English that one expects from twentieth-century American composers:
At no time before Seven Pious Pieces (1971). . . have I written or been tempted to write music even remotely tonal sounding. . . Even my very early student works were conceived as atonal or at least nontonal.
After what preceded this, I welcomed Martino's prose style with delight as something resembling actual English. You see, only Joyce can do Joyce, which is why your eyes are rolling alarmingly in their sockets as you read this blog post. It was only later that I realized how ridiculous it is that a composer could go through their entire career without once being "tempted" to write a piece "even remotely tonal sounding". Schoenberg and Stravinsky certainly didn't share this strange pathology, and I doubt that even Webern or Varese thought this way. I suppose the gap of two generations is sufficient to turn conventional wisdom into a bizarre neurosis.

The actual music on the CD? Doesn't grab me at all - the form seems diffuse and Martirano in particular seems set on setting his texts in the most bizarre way possible, for no apparent reason.

2 comments:

shereadsbooks said...

AJ, I'm so glad I know you.

shogart said...

I don't think I've laughed this hard in a long, long time.