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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000366.txt from 2004/08

From: joseph.wakeling@-----.net
Subj: Re: [kl] Copland concerto and "swinging"
Date: Thu, 12 Aug 2004 20:14:36 -0400

Tony Pay wrote:

>There are many things about the Goodman performance that I don't want to
>emulate. As I said, I hate to have to use the argument that *he* didn't
>'swing' in order to convince someone that 'swing' isn't appropriate there.
>
>The point is, the argument shouldn't be in the arena of *what people have
>done in performance* -- which is why the Etheridge book is misconceived.
>

Absolutely. "Because xxxx did it" seems to me to be a really dangerous reason
to make any artistic decision.

> Perhaps you should read the discussion I referenced. You might be convinced
> -- or not.

Yes, I was reading it just after making that post---that was a spontaneous
reaction ;-) I like very much the picture you paint of jazz elements
gradually "bursting out" as the piece progresses, which fits very much with my
perceptions of the work.

Funnily enough your discussion of "foreground elements" is very much along the
lines of some thoughts I was having recently regarding your earlier discussion
of the Etheridge book. It was sparked off by the combination of that and a
comment on a friend's website: "Why are singers who immitate Jeff Buckley so
unbearably bad when Jeff's singing was so amazingly good? He wasn't just
wailing for no reason - it's all in the expression of meaning"

(Jeff Buckley, for those not in the know, was a supremely talented singer and
guitarist who recorded one remarkable album, "Grace", before his tragic death
in a freak accident. There are also a number of live recordings which paint
a picture of an utterly magnetic and brilliant performer, both of his own
songs and of an astonishing range of songs by other artists.)

The thoughts I was having was that people often seem to want to imitate the
"surface elements" (these were the words I thought) of what a great performer
does---e.g. the people who "wail" because Jeff Buckley often wails when he
sings. There's an interesting discussion of this in Stanislavski's book "An
Actor Prepares", where one character describes having crafted his performance
by using a mirror, carefully going over all his gestures and words until they
fitted what he thought the character "should" look like. But the result just
comes across as mechanical because it is *only* surface and he has not crafted
any inner life to support it.

This seems to happen a lot in pop music---I've been at "open mike" events
where all sorts of people have got up and obviously put a lot of effort into
creating a voice "just like" some particular artist. It seems completely
perverse that all this effort is going into a surface element, and it almost
always feels like this effort is taking attention away from where it's really
needed. Actually I think this happens a lot in *all art*, whether it's music
or writing or painting or whatever, but it's more immediately noticeable in
pop (and in movies) because these are the major art forms of the moment. One
of the reasons I hated the Lord of the Rings films (well, the first of
them---I didn't watch the other two) was because I felt they had copied all
the surfaces of Tolkien---the funny-looking creatures, the epic landscapes,
with huge amounts of money and effort obviously being poured into these
things---and yet they captured none of the inner thought of those works. For
example, much of the dialogue was "modernised", yet styles of language and
speaking are key to the inner world that Tolkien creates. Someone talking in
modern dialect is still a modern person even if they are dressed in mediaeval
clothes. Someone wearing modern clothes can become unique and different by
speaking, say, Shakespearean (or Tolkieniean) dialogue, because those styles
of speech have implications for thought and belief that are different from our
modern conventions.

There's an interesting discussion in Keith Johnstone's book "Impro" where he
talks about how he feels that the notion of art as "self-expression" can
actually be misleading because it leads us to think in terms of how "we" want
to appear---and I guess in music the natural thought is "I want to be just
like [insert name of famous performer here]". Whereas he notes that in Inuit
culture, when carving a mask from bone, the Inuit are not trying to express
themselves but rather to allow a mask that *already exists in the bone* to
express itself. Later on in the book (I think it's later; it might be
earlier...) Johnstone discusses getting people to make up stories, and gives a
wonderful example of how people who are completely blocked when they are told
"Make up a story" suddenly become amazingly creative when they are convinced
that a story *already exists* and they have only to discover it. It seems a
pretty good analogy to use for music, too.

-- Joe

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