I’ve chosen to do my last blog on the song Color Line by the Asian Dub Foundation, from their 2000 album Community Music released by Ffrr Records. Although the band is based in the UK, its members are of South Asian heritage and use sounds and instruments from Asian music combined with rapcore, electronica, and dub, to create their sound [1,2].

The song Color Line features a track of Ambalavaner Sivanandan- A Sri Lankan novelist and activist, currently the head of the Institute of Race Relations in the UK- speaking on race, global economy, and politics [3]. Color Line, like many Asian Dub Foundation songs, addresses inequality and racism, and focuses on aspects of non-white, non-Western culture, identity, and struggle in the face of pressures from a Western dominated world economy and culture [4].

I heard Color Line for the first time on an album of world music from many genres that a friend had given me. As much as I enjoy the musical aspects of the song, Color Line immediately stood out to me because of the politically conscious nature of its lyrics, and it has been a favorite of mine ever since.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asian_Dub_Foundation

[2] http://www.asiandubfoundation.com/?page_id=204

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ambalavaner_Sivanandan

[4] http://www.proxsa.org/resources/ghadar/v4n1/hutnyk.htm

Georgia is a country in the Caucasus region of Eurasia, bounded by Russia, Turkey, Armenia, and the Black Sea; its cultural influences include ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, and Mongolian influences (often invasions!) and later Russian influences, when it was incorporated into the USSR from 1921 to 1991 [1]. Georgia’s musical traditions reflect at least 15 distinct regional styles, characterized by acappella singing and the early development of polyphony [2].

Orovela is a traditional Georgian folk song from the eastern region of Khateki [3]. The music of the Khateki region in eastern Georgia usually features a bass drone with two solo parts singing over top [2]. In this song you will hear the Rustavi Choir singing the drone and Hamlet Gonashvili singing a solo part. The Rustavi Choir is a group that performs traditional music and dances from the various regions of Georgia, seeking to capture the unique musical styles of each distinct region while also crossing ethnic boundaries  [4]. Hamlet Gonashvili, called “the voice of Georgia”,  was the star performer of the Rustavi Choir until his sudden death in 1985 when he fell from a tree [5].

I heard Orovela on NPR a few months ago and was immediately immersed in a sense of sorrow and longing; when the song ended I realized that I had no idea what it was but I had to hear it again, so I looked it up. It turns out that Orovela is a ploughing song, which surprised me. “Apparently Georgians take their plowing seriously,” I thought. Later, in researching the song for this blog, I found a translation for the lyrics below another video (the sound quality isn’t as good but you can see Hamlet Gonashvili singing) [6]. I was particularly struck by the lyric, “Your pain to me plow (love you plow).”  It perfectly captures the essence of the song.

გადი გამოდი გუთანო,
Go there [and] come back here you plough,

ღირღიტავ ბანი უთხარო
Ghirghita tell[give] him a bass[voice]. (to give him a voice, help in singing)
(“Ghrighita” – name of ox)

სახნის საკვეთო გაუსვი
You Plogh cutter cut it [cut it plough-cutter] [line it, cut in line]

რომ კაჭაჭს ძირი უთხარო
To dig out a bottom to Kachach [weed] [to sap out, to undermine a weed](“Kachach” – a kind of weed)

შენი ჭირიმე გუთანო
Your pain to me plough [love you plough] (“Let your pain to be mine”, a Georgian phrase, simlar to “love you” or “my darling”.)

მაგ შენი მრუდე ყელისა
[pain] Of that your curved neck

შენა ხარ პურის მომყვანი
You are the bringer[leader] of bread

დამძველებელი ქერისა
The grower[old] of barley (To olden a barley, oldener of barley)

Here are a few more Georgian folk songs that I enjoy:

Chakrulo (also from the Khateki region [2]. Note the two solo parts on top of the drone.)

Daigvianies (I’m not sure about this song but the drone/soloist style makes me suspect that it’s also from Khateki.)

Sources

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georgia_(country)

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Music_of_Georgia_(country)

[3] http://poeticoneirism.blogspot.com/2009/05/orovela.html

[4] http://www.ensemblerustavi.com/eng/

[5] http://www.jaro.de/php/endex.php3/page/content:artist/artist_id/7ae9701831344420740e42107106ed49/sid/46b7dc97d4010ebe4896f5fc365a4e8a

[6] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNpFDrXvyXQ&feature=youtu.be

Nature and Artifice

 


Above and Below, 2007

Maya Lin

Wire installation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art

                Above and Below is modeled on the White River, the second largest underground river system in America, which flows under Indiana [1].  The flowing forms contrast with the hard metal wire used to model the system, juxtaposing the natural with the constructed. When I first glanced at this work I thought that it was made of tree roots or branches, meant to contrast with the hard, straight lines of the stone building. Like many of Lin’s works, this piece creates a beautiful and simple statement about the relationship between nature and the human-made world by straddling the line between the two.

 

Pebbles Broken and Scraped

Andy Goldsworthy

 

Pigeon Feathers

Andy Goldsworthy

Oak Leaves and Holes

Andy Goldsworthy

                These works by Andy Goldsworthy are temporary pieces, created with natural objects from which he draws inspiration. Although made from natural materials, with the purpose of drawing attention to natural forms and processes [2] , these works also point out the unavoidable artificial component of the creative process, in which the deliberate action of the artist changes nature in order to create an arrangement that has meaning to the viewer. The geometric forms in Pigeon Feathers and Pebbles Broken and Scraped mimic natural patterns (they remind me of the fractures in ice on a pond, and the spiral of a nautilus’s shell) using natural materials. The results look, unsurprisingly, natural, but in a way that draws attention to the careful, precise work that shows a deliberate creative intention. Oak Leaves and Holes particularly stands out to me, with the holes seeming almost surreal in their darkness. The curving shapes of the leaves remind me of the female figures painted by Jenny Saville.

 

 

Plan

Jenny Saville

1993, Oil on Canvas

                Plan shows a woman covered in the target markings used for liposuction surgery [3].  Although she is preparing for surgery, introducing an element of artifice to the work, the woman’s body is depicted in a much more realistic and natural way than is depicted in mass media, in magazines and on television. The surgery lines are reminiscent of topographical maps and therefore in a sense of nature, but those maps are a human mental construct imposed on a natural landscape.

Branded

Jenny Saville

1992, Oil on Canvas

                In Branded we see another example of human mental constructs being imposed on natural forms. The posture of the woman in this painting is distorted, exaggeratedly foreshortened so that the size of her limbs is unrealistic, but somehow she still appears more natural and relaxed than a woman in a standard “model pose”. The words branded into her skin, including “decorative” and “supportive”, reveal some of the social constructs assigned to women; artificial, yet internalized to become almost natural, something worn so close it’s been burned into our skin.

 

Reverse

Jenny Saville

2002-3, Oil on Canvas

                In Reverse we again see Saville’s use of exaggeration of nature, this time in her use of saturated, high contrast color. We can see brush strokes, and the work is not photorealistic, yet somehow it seems like a more accurate depiction of what the eye sees over time when looking at a face up close. This work gets past what the mind creates from the sensory input of the eyes to create a hyper-realistic image. Saville skillfully uses the artificial to create an image that somehow breaks through the paint to instill a sense of connection to a real, vulnerable person. At first I found this painting almost repulsive, but the more I look at it, the more I think it’s beautiful. I have that reaction to many of Saville’s works, and I think the initial repulsion is a reaction to seeing the absolute nakedness, not just of figures bared, but of humanity revealed in a realistic and unpolished way. The more I study her work, the more I feel a sense of recognition and connection that makes the work beautiful.

[1] http://www.mayalin.com/

[2] http://www.morning-earth.org/ARTISTNATURALISTS/AN_Goldsworthy.html

[3] http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth200/body/saville.html

______________________________ 

About the Artists:

Andy Goldsworthy (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Goldsworthy) (http://www.morning-earth.org/ARTISTNATURALISTS/AN_Goldsworthy.html)

                Born in 1956, Andy Goldsworthy is a British environmental artist. He works with found natural objects to create temporary art that is captured with photography. Goldsworthy has also created permanent sculptural work, but generally his work is meant to reflect the transience and change inherent in the natural world.

 

Maya Lin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maya_Lin)

Born in 1959, Maya Lin is an American artist and architect whose most famous work is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The pocus of Lin’s work is often on bringing attention to the natural world, either through recreating natural forms from artificial materials or though creating art out of the landscape itself.

 

Jenny Saville (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jenny_Saville)

                Born in 1970, Jenny Saville is a British painter who focuses primarily on the female nude figure. Saville often paints larger-than-life images of large women, sometimes with plastic surgery marks on them, and often in exaggerated and distorted poses that emphasize their solidity and presence.

Raymond Breinin’s The Dead Tree was painted in 1937[1], commissioned by the Federal Arts Project, a Works Progress Administration program that was a response to Depression era hardships[2]. Breinin immigrated to the United States in 1923 and lived in Illinois for a time[2], so this painting was likely painted there; it certainly evokes a Midwestern landscape to me.  The Illinois State Museum suggests that this painting could be a representation of the Dust Bowl, and Breinin’s landscape, with its dead trees and lack of greenery, definitely could be a literal interpretation of that devastating time. It could also be a metaphorical interpretation of the entire Depression and its effects on the emotional states of people. The use of muted tones and the disconnectedness of the objects (with houses literally floating away) conveys to me a sense of the transience of material life, which fits with the Depression theme. Overall, I found this to be a striking and beautiful work despite its bleakness.


Rue de la Princesse

A few years ago, I stumbled across Alfred Sisley’s painting Rue de la Princesse (1873), a painting of a street in the village of Louveciennes in France. Immediately I was struck by a feeling of light and heat; I felt like I was standing in that village with the sun pounding down on my neck, on one of those hot spring days that feels like a promise of summer. Impressionist art often transports me in this way. Looking at one of Monet’s paintings of water lilies, Water Lily Pool (1900), I feel as if I’m sitting in the cool shade, and have just looked at the lilies in the bright sun, their vibrant colors in the bright light almost hurting my eyes. Alternately, Degas’s art often focuses on interior light, like The Dance Class (1873-76). Although it includes figures, it seems to focus more on light and conveying the mood or moment. In Impressionist and Post-impressionist art, figures seem to be used to convey a sense of light or of twisting space; although they may be centered physically, they don’t seem to be the central content, mentally, of the painting. Paul Gaugin’s 1892 oil painting Manao tupapau (The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch) features a nude woman lying on a bed (looking as if she’s about to fall off!), but my mind isn’t occupied solely by wondering who she is, or who the (dead, I suppose) figure in the background is. My mind simply enjoys the scene as it is, while feeling slightly off balance because of the unusual composition.

The Spirit of the Dead Keep Watch

This is a contrast to art from the Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical eras, in which figures were the central focus of paintings, often having symbolic significance attached so that a painting was also a story, like DaVinci’s The Last Supper (1495-98). In Romantic and Realist art, as well, figures often have stories to tell, like Liberty Leading the People (1830) by Romantic artist Eugéne Delacroix, and The Gleaners (1857) by Realist Jean-Francois Millet. Romantic landscapes tend to focus more on nature’s awe and human insignificance, but on the whole, human stories are central to this art. Technique, and the realistic conveying of figures and scenery, can also sometimes make works from these eras feel overworked, stifled, or stiff, in comparison with the freedom of Impressionist works (although at the time, it was seen as Impressionists being sloppy compared to the careful craft of most artists.) Compare Bierstadt’s Looking Down the Yosemite Valley (1865) to Sisley’s painting above to see what I mean. Both are beautiful, but I’d rather look at Sisley. There’s plenty to see in Bierstad’s work, but despite the expansive landscape, there’s little room for the mind to wander.

Looking Down the Yosemite Valley

Although there are many works of art that I love from all eras, I find I prefer Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art because rather than conveying a story or asking my mind to create one, it allows me to simply be caught in a moment of pure awe. The sheer variety of styles– like Mary Cassat’s The Bath (1890/91) and The Child’s Bath (1893) which show a strong Japanese influence– also makes Impressionism stand out as a time when painting became far more individual; works from past eras begin to take on a sort of sameness in comparison.

Sources:

http://artfromlouveciennes.blogspot.com/2007/02/alfred-sisley-rue-de-la-princesse.html

http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/artwork/claude-monet-giverny-paintings10.htm

http://www.edgar-degas.org/The-Dance-Class-1873-76.html

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/09/Paul_Gauguin-_Manao_tupapau_%28The_Spirit_of_the_Dead_Keep_Watch%29.JPG

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last_Supper_(Leonardo_da_Vinci)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eug%C3%A8ne_Delacroix_-_La_libert%C3%A9_guidant_le_peuple.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Millet_Gleaners.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mary_Cassatt_-_The_Bath.jpg

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Child%27s_Bath_by_Mary_Cassatt_1893.jpg

The Voice of God

I decided not to analyze Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 in B flat major “Gran Partita” K.361, but I wanted to share the 3rd movement anyway. The first time I heard this piece was when I watched the film adaptation of Amadeus as a child. In Amadeus, the composer and Italian opera’s director, Salieri, describes Mozart’s music in the words that describe how I’ve always instinctively felt about certain works of Mozart. Salieri says, “It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.” If anyone were ever to convince me that God exists, it would be through music, probably Mozart’s. It makes me feel a sense of peace and of longing at the same time; I feel like everything else in the world has gone silent, and yet like I’m connected to everyone and everything. It’s a transcendent experience.

(Using instruments of the era? Natural horn is so hard to play in tune!)

(Another excellent performance, possibly my favorite.)

(The scene from Amadeus.)

I’ve chosen to analyze Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major, particularly the second movement, the Allegretto. The piece was composed in 1811-12 while Beethoven was at a spa in Teplice and premiered in Vienna on December 8th, 1813 at a public charity concert for wounded soldiers[i] (an interesting side note: Antonio Salieri, made infamous in the play/movie Amadeus by Peter Shaffer, performed in the premier.) The last movement of the symphony used the tune of an Irish folk song[i], sure to have mass appeal, a sign that this music was written with the middle class and not just rich patrons in mind; and the second movement, the Allegretto, was so popular that it was encored immediately[i]. The work was so popular that it was repeated at three more concerts within ten weeks, with the Allegretto again being encored at one of the concerts[ii]. The piece was dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries[i], but it doesn’t seem that he actually commissioned the work , although he did commission two violin sonatas at an earlier time and continued to assist Beethoven financially[iii]. Although some of Beethoven’s works were commissioned by wealthy patrons, and he did receive additional financial support from them[iv], Beethoven was one of the first composers to substantially support himself with a freelance career rather than yoking himself to a single rich patron or series of patrons and writing exclusively for them[v]. He made significant amounts of money by performing and conducting public concerts aimed at middle class patrons (rather than limiting himself to the private performances the upper class preferred) and selling his compositions[iv].

The first time I heard the Allegretto from Symphony No.7  was in Mr. Holland’s Opus (it’s also been used in The King’s Speech and other movies to enhance, or perhaps create, dramatic moments) and it’s been a favorite of mine ever since. In the scene from Mr. Holland’s Opus, Mr. Holland is describing Beethoven’s life to his class. He puts a recording of the Allegretto on and tells his class that at the time Beethoven wrote it, he was almost completely deaf (this is not actually true, as Beethoven didn’t completely lose his hearing until 1814 or ‘15)[iv, v]. He talks about Beethoven’s struggles to compose, laying on the floor next to the body of his piano, with its legs sawn off, feeling the vibrations as he bangs the keys; Mr. Holland is also dealing with his own grief at finding out that his son is deaf. It’s an excellent example of pairing music to story, and I’d say that Beethoven’s music actually makes the scene, rather than simply enhancing it- the scene just overlays some interesting detail on top of a work of music that expresses profound loss. The music doesn’t enhance the grief of the character; rather, the character’s grief mimics the true grief coming from the music.

That’s how I feel when I listen to Beethoven. He isn’t trying to capture emotion and put it into music. His music somehow is emotion, purified and exaggerated into its simplest and most potent form. It takes me completely outside of myself.

(Here’s a great video of the Berlin Philharmonic performing the Allegretto.)

(I love these visualizations. They make my brain really happy. If you’re too busy to watch the whole thing, start around 5:55.)