Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Gathering the limbs of Osiris

It must be in the nature of music that just as you think you've got it under control, it slips away, like a handful of sand, an experience shared by composers, performers, and listeners alike.


Some audio tapes, some thirty years old, had been in storage in my bank safe deposit box. Or at least I thought they were safe. Finally getting 'round to making some digital copies, I soon discovered that a number of them were irretrievably lost: athough stored carefully, ends out, the tapes were sometimes stuck together, sounds had often bled across tracks or turns of the reel, and some tape, upon being played for the first time in years, stretched beyond tolerance. (Ironically, one of the lost pieces was a copy of the tape for a theatre piece by a friend, entitled appropriately, Decay). I once lost a manuscript left in a windowsill to a surprise rainfall; that was poetic, this was just trouble with technology. Time now to assess the damages, do what I can to recover some pieces, and reconcile myself to a few pieces lost for good. And this temptation: to try to recreate, with present resources, some of the lost pieces.


The most famous ruin on Crete is that of the palace at Knossos. Patially reconstructed in the early part of the 20th century by Arthur Evans, it is a splendid fantasy on the basis of very little data, with an arcade here and a room there making physical Evans' best guess about what might have been. (We know precious little about this culture -- not even what the builders of the city/palace/temple/whatever-it-was would have called themselves; "Minoan" is an Evans neologism). Such reconstructions are now artifacts of an earlier age in archaeology, and have long been subject to heavy critique in the profession, which now prefers more careful study of sites, often reburying them, with the intention of leaving them better preserved for future examination with more gentle techniques.

But while there is something old-fashioned about the ethic of Evans' enterprise, it is also totally compelling, a slice of early 20th century imagination, based on both the contemporary state of scholarship and a contemporary aesthetic. If there's any fault to be found with this, I think, it's that Evans didn't go far enough in his reconstruction. ASFAIC, Evans should have rebuilt the whole damn thing, as palace, temple, labyrinth, pleasure garden, or whatever it was, going consequently wherever his intuitions led. Every once in a while, I think that it's both interesting and valuable to take the risk of a best guess like this, not only to reconstruct a distant past but also, by doing so, to capture a vital component of the spirit of the present moment.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Daniel. Sorry to hear about those tapes. I hope you are able to recover a good portion of it. That being said, I'd be very interested to hear the degraded ones. If any of them ever make it into digital form, I'd much appreciate hearing them.