Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Ludovico Technique

Classical music, the music that dinosaurs and Jesus listened to. It's incredibly old and makes me think of boring movies and commercials, stuffy brits speaking with haughty accents and boredom. Incredible boredom. I'm a crash and bang kid, if anything, I like my music loud and melodic, fun and easily quotable on Facebook. Classical music isn't my cup of tea, nope, not at all. I'd much rather just play some Ziggy Stardust or Spank Rock, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or Nine Inch Nails. I don't know, perhaps I'm not cultured enough, perhaps my blood isn't blue enough to indulge in such sophisticated sounds and silences. Keep it away from me.

So, you could imagine my complete surprise when I was assigned an article on classical music. Not only would I have to listen to it, I'd have to write about it, great! To be honest, I was met with shock, that shock eventually turned in to horror at the fact that I was completely out of my element, alone with the sounds. Where could I begin? I decided to start from home and work my way out. I had no classical music at all on my Zune, cycling through for anything I might possibly have accidentally put on there. Disgust, anguish, surprise, wait! Depeche Mode had done a cover of something called "Moonlight Sonata" with Alan Wilder playing it on piano. A good place to start, I put it in my ears and closed my eyes. Where could it take me?

As the music played, the chaos and anarchy subsided within me and I felt this..calmness come over me out of nowhere. If I could focus hard enough my imagination could coincide with the music. It reminds me of something, something close to silence, it's hard to describe, but unlike the music I normally listened to which my brain would constantly just react to, that beat, those lyrics, that guitar solo, that sweet pronunciation of a certain word, that was all gone, just the music and me. The music was somehow forming a backdrop with my subconscious and I could feel my brain feeding off it. Maybe this is why they say classic music raises your IQ, or that it's good for babies to hear. I can't say for sure but my thoughts run freely as I write this.

Okay, so maybe it's not that bad. That was however, just one song, and Depeche Mode had covered it, so that might have something to do with it. I'd have to hear something else, something more visual. One more brainstorm and I found myself thinking of A Clockwork Orange, what was that song, that song that Alex was brainwashed into being horribly afraid of? Ludwig Von Beethoven's Ninth Sonata, enough to drive a man to jump out a window...let's hear it!

To me, the sudden bursts of energy ranging forward describe Beethoven as a loud, frantic ball of composing energy. To think about it from the writers perspective, to conduct it, to play it, so see it played and then just hear it, it's all very frantic. You can feel the emotion, the actions of it, you can feel all that unravel and build up into these intense climaxes, danger, chaos and anarchy, it's all there. It seems I've underestimated the power of music again, because as my fingers dance over these keys they react to the music. I have to keep pounding it out or I'll lose it. There is a balance, just when I think it's over, it isn't, it feels good for the brain though, I will say that.

I thought about the Ludovico Technique used in Clockwork Orange and the strong bond between songs and memories. There are certain songs, certain albums I just can't listen to because they strongly remind me of an ex, or the past. Songs can dig up old memories and feelings, just like the process in the movie. The chain reaction between triggers and memories happen all the time without people ever noticing. Lexical chunks and all that mess. So, after that I decided to research some really great classic music songs. I now fully understand the audio aesthetic and what can be done with it. Now I want to hear something that speaks to my very soul, something old and yet classic, something new and unfamiliar that I can really sink my teeth into and rest my ears on. Where would that take me? How would that feed my head?

I looked through the list, Beethoven's Ode To Joy reminded me of something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I'm tempted to say it was in the Rules of Attraction but I'm not sure. I moved on to Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture which was famously used at the end of V for Vendetta when everyone's wearing their V Mask and everything is being blown to smithereens. Such an piece of music set to such a dramatic scene ties everything together. How wild. The Overture is always a Fourth of July favorite, the song by itself just conjures up such summer memories that it's hard to separate the song from what it represents, what it stands for. Playing it loud though, I hear the story in it unravel, new parts I've never heard that you never hear unless you make a point to really listen. Then it builds up into something epic, perfect firework music, there's an essence of time, a lot of things happening at once almost to the point where the sound is bigger than any single person, the sound is a force of nature in itself, and then BAM, the part that everyone knows! Familiar and yet distant. It's exhausting, especially to play or perform piece, I'd say.

After that one I listened to Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D minor with the organ, classic horror stuff. It paints a picture of dark, shadow castles in Transylvania, the night, and other scary monsters and super creeps. These tunes are all subliminally familiar, just like the movies and the pictures they paint. It's wild, all over the place, it really makes me want to play an organ. I also think of Sesame Street and the Count, thinking of that makes me crave cookies, about 6 of them. One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six Cookies, for me, all mine.

I got a text from Sabrina saying that Debussy's Claire de lune was a good one, and I like the sound of that. Why not? I don't think I know this song, some people say it was used in Twilight but I didn't care to read any of the books or see any of the movies so it's new to me. Surprise again, the slow, easy notes are full of life, they breathe and speak to me, they slow everything down. I'm looking at the sun shining out the window, writing furiously and I actually feel this wave of serene calm wash over me. The notes are played with such effortless grace, no rush, no hurry, all the time in the world. It honestly reminds me of life. Or what life should and could be, my brain is actually happy with how it's going and I wholeheartedly agree, I feel it. I had to text Sabrina back and thank her for introducing me to this song, I suddenly understand that classical music is a thing of beauty, just because I hadn't taken the time to sit down and listen, I've missed out. Now however, it's right here and it's fueling that fire, stimulating my thoughts and allowing me to really see the glory of the classic song.

I can dig it.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bob Dylan, Rolling Stone Interview

In 1991 at the Grammy's, Jack Nicholson presented a Lifetime Achievement Award to Bob Dylan. A wise and world-weary Bob greeted this award with a little bit of suspision, "Well, we all know that they give those things out when you're old, when you're nothing, a has-been. Everybody knows that, right? So I wasn't sure whether it was a compliment or an insult." Nevertheless, with a 104 degree fever and a growing disillusionment for the music industry Bob accepted the award and made this short speech: "My daddy [once said] "Son, it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own mother and father will abandon you. And if that happens, God will always believe in your own ability to mend your ways." An interesting statement coming from someone like Bob Dylan, more of a chameleon than David Bowie, more surreal than Salvidor Dali and just when you think you know him, you don't.

He's been called the voice of generation and he didn't like it. He's been called a social conscience and he's collected enough accolades and awards over his long and decorated career spanning several decades. His influence is far reaching and glorious, he's been drunk, hopped up sharing car rides with John Lennon, he was there when Martin Luther King made his I have a dream speech and his view on the world is something interesting to say the least. He's been through a lot, success, international fame, love, divorce, fatherhood, and just..life in the ever changing stratusfere of pop culture, the mainstream. So how does a man like Bob possibly mend his ways?

"I was thinking more in terms of, we're living in a Machiavellian world, whether we like it or we don't. Any act that's immoral as long as it succeeds, it's all right. To apply that type of meaning to the way I was feeling that night probably has more to do with it than any kind of conscious effort to bring out some religiosity, or any kind of biblical saying about God, one way or another. You hear a lot about God these days: God, the beneficent; God, the all-great; God, the Almighty; God, the most powerful; God, the giver of life; God, the creator of death. I mean, we're hearing about God all the time, so we better learn how to deal with it. But if we know anything about God, God is arbitrary. So people better be able to deal with that, too."

One thing that is not arbitrary is death, and not even someone of Bob's caliber can escape it. In 1997 after recording his platinum selling, grammy winning "Time Out of Mind" album Bob was struck with a heart condition that left in the hospital for a while. The condition was painful and debilitating, one would think such a close brush with death would have a new impact on Bob's view of life. However, for someone as stubborn and steadfast as Dylan, the impact was null. "It was like I learned nothing. I wish I could say I put the time to good use or, you know, got highly educated in something or had some revelations about anything. But I can't say that any of that happened. I just laid around and then had to wait for my strength to come back." Whats left for Bob to learn? He's already written a staggering amount of songs that contain a sort of knowledge and wisdom about the world at large. "It's Alright Ma (I'm only bleeding)" from his "Bringing it All Back Home" album is a startling, lucid view of a chaotic and troubled world, and that song was written in 1965. "Isis" describes a troubled relationship that leads our narrator on a wild treasure hunting adventure in a far off land. If songs are stories than Bob Dylan is a master storyteller, and if songs are just songs than he's still amazingly good. During his long career he's had highs as well as lows, fame is an odd mistress and Bob's chameleonlike nature left a lot of people guessing. His 1970 album "Self Portrait" is surreal collection of covers and halfhearted songs, apparantly released as a joke. No song is more interesting than his cover of Simon and Garfunkel's The Boxer, where Bob does a duet with himself, one voice is his odd country singing croon, and the other voice is his classic 60's voice, to hear both on one track is...somewhat startling but nevertheless, very interesting. How does his new stuff like 2001's Love and Theft compare?

"No one should really be curious or too excited about comparing this album to any of my other albums. Compare this album to the other albums that are out there. Compare this album to other artists who make albums. You know, comparing me to myself [laughs] is really like....I mean you're talking to a person that feels like he's walking around in the ruins of Pompeii all the time. It's always been that way, for one reason or another. I deal with all the old stereotypes. The language and the identity I use is the one that I know only so well, and I'm not about to go on and keep doing this- comparing my new work to my old work. It creates a kind of Achilles' heel for myself. It isn't going to happen. "

"[Love and Theft] deals with power. If life teaches us anything, it's that there's nothing that men and women won't do to get power. The album deals with power, wealth, knowledge and salvation - the way I look at it. If it's a great album- which I hope it is- it's a great album because it deals with great themes. It speaks in a noble language. It speaks of the issues or the ideals of an age in some nation, and hopefully, it would also speak across the ages. It'd be as good tomorrow as it is today and would've been as good yesterday. That's what I was trying to make happen, because just to make another record at this point of my career...Career, by the way is a French word. It means "carrier". It's something that takes you from one place to the other. I don't feel like what I do qualifies to be called a career. It's more of a calling. "

Ironically enough, "Love and Theft" was released on September 11th 2001, the same day as Jay-Z's Blueprint album. The times were a-changin again and this time Bob was wiser, older and thoughts were with us. "One of those Rudyard Kipling poems, "Gentlemen- Rankers," comes to my mind: "We have done with Hope and Honour, we are lost to Love and Truth/ We are dropping down the ladder rung by rung/ And the measure of our torment is the measure of our youth/ God help us, for we knew the worst too young!" If anything, my mind would go to young people at a time like this. That's really the only way to put it. Art imposes order on life, but how much more art will there be? We don't really know. There's a secret sanctity of nature. How much more of that will there be? At the moment, the rational mind's way of thinking wouldn't really explain what's happened. You need something else, with a capital E, to explain it. It's going to have to be dealt with sooner or later, of course. "

Almost ten years after September 11th, and almost 20 years after winning the Lifetime Achievement Award, Bob Dylan is pretty much immortal, he's captured moments and scenes of the past century and presented them to us with a style all his own. The best advice Bob could leave us is already there in song. If ever you should feel doubt, or that apprehension or turning fear, play something of his low and pick out peices of hope. "I don't really know what I could tell you. I don't consider myself an educator or an explainer. You see what ut us that I do, and that's what I've always done. But it is time now for great men to come forward. With small men, no great thing can be accomplished at the moment. Those people in charge I'm sure they're read Sun-Tzu, who wrote The Art of War in the sixth century. In there he says, "If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself and not your enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer a defeat." And he goes on to say, "If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle." Whoever's in charge, I'm sure they would have read that. Things will have to change. And one of these things that will have to change: People will have to change their internal world."

It's alright Ma, it's life and life only.