Friday, March 18, 2011

Force majeure; Better: silence

I just wanted to catch up on the news, so I turned the TV onto the German-language 24 hour station N-24, only to discover that most of the reportage over the disasters in Japan were rolling features underlaid with the cheapest stock background music, unnecessarily over-dramatizing a story which damn well needs to be reported with only the best facts the reporters can assemble. While all reporting is going to be manipulative in one way or another, isn't it an objective of journalism to either reduce the level of manipulation or at least to be honest about it? AFAIC, this use of background music is an altogether unnecessary abuse of both the viewing audience and of music itself.


Great natural disasters seem to trump even the wildest of musical imaginations. Handel's late oratorio Theodora failed to win audiences in part due to an earthquake a week or so before its premier in 1750. John Cage long tried to write a piece, based on the ten 100-letter thunderclaps which punctuate Finnegans Wake, which was to involve electronic modifications of instrumental and vocal sounds and to be "more like going to a thunderstorm than to a concert". Although some of the ideas ended up in the Lecture on the Weather and Roaratorio, the piece seems to have defeated Cage. Ligeti tried over many years, with plenty of mathematical and computational assistance, to create a proper orchestral Tempest with which to begin a long-planned opera of the same name and he gave up as well.


In a time like this, in which a terrible catastrophe, indeed chain of catastrophes, preoccupies heart and mind, the need to respond in some musical way is simply blunted by the magnitude of the event. Not even my greatest conceits about my skills as a composer can disguise the fact that I haven't the talent to match the demands, the scale, the dynamics, the horror of the moment. A lament? Yes, perhaps, but later, when there is some concrete sense of the nature and dimensions of what has been lost. But an earthquake, tidal wave, or tempest of my own making? No, the shakes and splashes of my own music are necessarily inadequate responses. Better: silence.

1 comment:

Archivist/Cultural Liaison said...

Goethe might say, if one has only pieces, then in pieces give