Mostly About Music
I'm not tough enough or self-denying enough to give up listening to music during Lent. But I do usually limit myself to classical music, and within that tend to favor works that are either explicitly religious (like Bach's liturgical music) or at least of a contemplative and reflective cast.
To that end I swapped the CD of miscellaneous pop music MP3s in my car player for one containing only classical music. All these CDs (dozens of them) were made ten-to-twenty years ago when hard drives were much smaller and I couldn't keep all the MP3 music I was acquiring on my computer, and so had to archive some of them to CD. The music is completely unorganized except that some disks are all popular music and some are all classical. The only thing the music on any one disk has in common is that one broad classification; it's just whatever needed to be archived at the moment.
One of the classical disks is in my car now, and the music on it is a real hodge-podge, including everything from baroque flute concertos to Schoenberg. Moreover, the files are not named in any consistent way (such as album name / track number), so, as the CD player reads them, a movement from a Hummel concerto may be followed by one of Schoenberg's Four Orchestral Songs. It can be startling.
The biggest surprise was a piece of Indian classical music. In the '60s, as we all know, there was something of a fad for Ravi Shankar's sitar music--he played at the Monterey Pop Festival. I have two or three of his LPs from that time, and I genuinely liked the music and continued to listen to it now and then long after the fashion had faded.
What came, unexpectedly, out of my car speakers the other day was recognizably the same basic sort of music as those albums, but with the noticeable difference that it included much lower notes than I had ever heard from the sitar. When I got home and looked up the album, I discovered that the instrument was not a sitar at all, but something called the surbahar, which I will very naively say might be to the sitar something like what the cello is to the violin.
I was immediately captivated. If you've ever listened to any of this kind of music you know that it involves a lot of what guitar players call "bending" notes: varying the pitch of a struck string by pushing or pulling the string sideways, raising its pitch in a sort of slide--I guess "glissando" is the technical term--while the note is sounding. It may be just a sort of twist of the basic note, or a vibrato. Or it may be full notes. Half-step bends are fairly easy, whole-step bends are harder, and a combination of light string and strong hand can even do a step and a half. (You can also do "pre-bends"--bending the string before it's plucked, so that the note slides down rather than up after it's initially sounded. This is harder because you have to know by sight or feel or habit exactly where to position the string--a difficulty which is the normal playing technique for the violin family, which is why you can't just pick up the violin and play tolerably, as you can with the guitar.) It's a powerful expressive device, pretty much essential for blues playing.
These plucked Indian instruments do the same thing but with immense precision, which I think includes formally defined microtones, and notes sustained for longer than I would have thought possible on a purely acoustic instrument. I've always liked it, but hearing it done on the lower tones of the surbahar makes it, to me at least, even more expressive, with long moaning voice-like glissandos that really tugged at the apparently sympathetic strings of my heart.
I had no memory of even owning this music, and made the lazy assumption that the album was some cheaply produced thing from the '50s or '60s, licensed by some low-rent American company from an Indian original, re-issued on LP back then with minimal care and documentation, and probably with even less care converted to MP3. Totally wrong. What I was hearing was the first of the two pieces on this album:
Far from being an old and poor-quality recording carelessly thrown into the electronic market, it was recorded in this century and originally released as a CD by a company, Arbiter Records, which has a very serious commitment to the music. You can read some detailed commentary on it here. And hear the whole album on YouTube.
I admit that by something over halfway through the 36-minute piece I was no longer paying very close attention. That's a long time for a single instrument and a piece which doesn't vary much harmonically or rhythmically. Also, it doesn't speed up to a climax in the way that I recall Shankar's music doing, which may have to do with the bigger instrument being less agile. This eventually made for a certain monotony, but I'll listen to it again soon.
And I see there are a number YouTube videos providing an overview of Indian musical techniques. I may be about to go down an Indian music rabbit hole.
I had planned to listen to Bruckner's symphonies again during Lent, justifying it partly by his being a Catholic whose music has definite spiritual intentions. So far I've only gotten through the First. I listened to them all some years ago (ten? not more than fifteen I think?) and didn't immediately recognize this one. But then I got to the third movement, which I very much did recognize. It's intense and loud: heavy. And I thought "that's really metal."
Afterwards, I wondered about that use of "metal" as an adjective. I was not surprised to learn that it's common enough that it may, if its use continues, get a place in dictionaries. It means, of course, loud, heavy, and intense, but more fundamentally, and not necessarily with respect to music alone, passion, toughness, honesty, courage, and refusal to surrender. It's almost a warrior sort of mentality. Maybe not even almost.
This is not metal:
I loved my husband and was happy with the life we built. But I had to end our marriage when I realized I'm a lesbian
You can read more if you want to, but it's not really worth the bother. I suppose it might get a metal point or two for the attempt to be authentic. But there's no passion in it. It's more like being bored with chamomile tea and deciding to switch to rose hip for a while. What it says about contemporary ideas of marriage among a certain class of people pretty much goes without saying.
Tristan und Isolde is metal.
The Scherzo of Bruckner's Ninth is metal!
Posted by: Craig | 03/20/2023 at 10:14 AM
It is indeed, but I think the First's may be even more so. In both cases I think a metal band could actually lift the most prominent "riff" directly. I wonder if there are any instances of bands doing that, with Bruckner or other composers who have created similarly pounding...I can't think of a better word...riffs.
Posted by: Mac | 03/20/2023 at 11:33 AM
I'm not particularly keen on Indian music, but there is a Cambodian/Thai restaurant I frequent that always has traditional music playing in the background, and I find some of it very interesting.
Posted by: Rob G | 03/22/2023 at 06:02 AM
I don't have any idea what that sounds like, though there is a very general kind of sound that makes almost any music from India to Japan recognizable as "oriental."
I used to have a recording of gamelan music from Java that I liked...wonder if I still have it....
Posted by: Mac | 03/22/2023 at 12:42 PM