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Monday, January 17, 2011

Post-Modern Avant Garde Latin American Music - Coriun Aharonian

The Uruguayan composer and musicologist, Coriun Aharonian came to the university to give a series of lectures on the future of contemporary music and how it defies the categorical frameworks of "Historical Post-Modernism."  It was, despite the language barrier, a great and interesting lecture series.  I was very surprised that Aharonian chose to give the lectures entirely in French--the surprise factor has to do with the fact that most Uruguayans are fluent in English, as English is considered the second official language of Uruguay.  At any rate, what follows is a rough translation of Aharonian's answer to the question: "You have been confined to live in the present cultural and historical epoch... how has that affected the evolution of your work?"  My translation is as accurate as I could get it down.  The excessive use of ellipses [....] injected throughout is an effort to capture the conversational and vocal nuances.

Q&A (student):  "You have been confined to live in the present cultural and historical epoch... how has that affected the evolution of your work?"

Maestro Aharonian: "I am not sure if there has been an evolution or a devolution, but I have had to live some unique stages of an epoch of change and intense discussion which I always find positive.... I have had to adapt to situations of inheritance regarding the nationalist impulses of the times when I was a child and beyond the reactionary processes against that nationalism by the generation of my musical 'fathers....'  I began searching for a new universalist Euro-centrism in order to react against something that was a 'decorative postcard' and a search for identity that is not decorative in nature, that is not superficial, that is not banal.... In this sense, a large quantity of language aspects develop along the members of my generation (also in the previous and in the one that follows).... There have been coincidences in various language elements which perhaps also appear in my work.... For example, the measure and management of time, the importance of silence as a sound space, the non-discursive processes of language (this is very important), the construction of expressive blocks and the appearance of an interest for repetitive elements that are not repeated in a mechanical manner is also a very important distinction that separates us from the Anglo-Saxon minimalist movement.  Thereafter, there was an interest for both the violent and at the same time for the small and delicate thing, not understanding them in opposition or exclusive.... [My work] has been a dialogue with a European vision that consider us primitive; that is to say, the other cultures that in the case of Latin America those cultures are our own.... [T]he relationships with technologies that are always so difficult in the developed countries but even more so in the Third World.... in that respect, the Third World has had a more natural management than that of my colleagues in the Developed World [here Aharonian uses the more typical but less politically correct 'First World' and 'Third World' to distinguish between the two cultures].... I believe we realized, before our First World counterparts, that the use of new technologies is not in opposition or substitutes vocal or instrumental music in composition.... I have been in search of the sincere interest for breaking frontiers of language in the rediscovery of the magic of those esoteric things that appear as such but really aren't.  It is the taking charge of the ideology and the polemic in general.  I am trying to write pieces that have been floating around me and around many of my colleagues--all of these things leave me both emotionally charged and spent at the same time."

Again, my most sincere apologies for a translation lacking grammatical coherence.  I have tried to get the main ideas right and because of this other textual elements have been ignored.

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Sunday, January 02, 2011

Roll Over "Mahler" and Tell the Intellectuals the News

I am not quite sure how to articulate this post, and I know I am taking some serious chances here--but what the heck, you only live once.  I feel I am becoming Isherwood by way of "bitchiness" and criticism of my associates.  What I mean to say is that there is a dispirited type of negative energy hovering over most scholarly circles.  In various conversations I've had with college and university professors, it has become apparent to me that those residing in the upper echelon of academia abide by a code of "royal" artistic enjoyment versus the "commoner" appreciation.  Case in point: One mustn't dare (especially during the refreshment part of the after-lecture setting) to argue, even for one second, that the music of Mozart, Bach and Beethoven is not blasé compared to that of Gustav Mahler or Richard Wagner.  At the mere mention of Van Gogh or any of the Impressionists, people around me cringe with displeasure while they almost whisper to me, "Oh, but you haven't heard of Gerhard Richter, or Jean-Michel Basquiat."  And of course, no matter how many times I try to defend my preferences to more traditional expression of art (both in visual art and music), they promptly sail away seeking another, more artistically sophisticated conversation partner.  This has happened to me several times, and, just recently, with a very tall level of displeasure.  Perhaps I should stick to topics more mundane, such as the quality and preference of one cat litter brand to another. (Yes, I realize I work with strange people... or perhaps I am the strange one).

I am not here to pass judgment but rather to try and come to terms with an idea that has been stabbing my side since I was in high school.  If it really is like Harold Bloom states ("Shakespeare is beyond criticism") who then decides when art becomes blase or commoner?  Borges also chimed in years ago regarding that "what is good in literature belongs to no one."  I've played both Mahler and (by way of comparison) Rachmaninoff (with the Washington Symphony), and both express those sweeping waves of strings instruments consistently throughout their pieces.  Mahler prefers a bit more brass than Rachmaninoff, but why do so many people prefer Mahler?  Is it more a sophisticated taste?  Is baroque music really as one of my most recent colleagues argued that it was "bah-roke" and couldn't be fixed.  (Yes, I also shunned at the joke).  I don't say this to take away from Mahler's music--as a matter of fact, playing a Mahler symphony (the 4th or the 5th especially) can take the air out of any of the top orchestras in the world.  I remember finishing rehearsals for both of these Mahler symphonies and feeling like I'd just finished a five hour work out at my local Bally's Fitness.  Is it really that difficult to understand that Mahler is Mahler and Bach is Bach?

Is it part of the discourse, or how people like to listen to themselves sound at such gatherings?  The phonetically deficiencies of "J.S. Bach" as opposed to "Gustav Mahler," or "Van Gogh" not as smooth a pronunciation as "Basquiat?"  I really don't know what to make of it.  I find myself perhaps a stranger in a strange land among these academics.  Funny world we inhabit.  Next thing you know, we'll be arguing that art is not really blue.

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