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Monday, July 7, 2014

HEADPHONES IN A GLASS ROOM

agnes martin

I have made the decision not to see a movie intended for today. Looked at the beginning last night and now I can't start it again. I don't want to know what comes next. Whatever it is, I don't care. It was a new documentary about Rummy, Donald Rumsfeld, The Unknown Known. It starts with him answering interview questions. I don't like to listen to his smug voice, nor do I believe anything he says. I don't want to focus my attention on him for an hour and a half. Everything about him tells me to stay away, don't even get my mind messed up paying attention to him. I don't care if the film makes him look like a dog. I don't care what conclusion it draws. I can't focus attention there. I look at the screen, see his face and look away. He gives me the heebie-jeebies. Can't watch any more of it. I want him out of my head, out of mind. I went to the classical cds and picked one by the London Philharmonic playing two pieces by Arvo Part (I don't know how to insert an umlaut over the a in Part), an Estonian composer, and Giya Kancheli, a Georgian composer. The album title is Kancheli-Part, released in 1996. This is among my treasure cds, one of them I love the most. There with Murray Perahia playing Goldberg Variations and Brahms, the Alban Berg Quartet playing Dvorak, Steve Reich's Music For Eighteen Musicians. The list could go on. This one that is playing was found by chance. I was in Charleston two nights and one full day, visiting. I had several hours before getting together with friends. Didn't want to watch tv. Took off walking to see the new Charleston. Right away, I came upon a big new cd supermarket. It must have been 1996. I stepped inside, thought I might listen to something. Walked by the pop, the rap, the reggae, metal, went to the back where a great classical collection lay hidden in a corner. Instead of headphones you stand and listen to, they had a room with glass walls and chairs to sit in.

agnes martin

Featured that week in the new classical recordings was this album, Kancheli-Part. I liked the cover image, a small wooden table in the center with a bottle of red wine standing in the middle of the table; to left and right of table two wooden chairs facing the table. A sepia quality in the photograph. The image struck me. I had heard a piece by Arvo Part driving on the interstate in South Carolina hearing SC public radio on the way to Charleston. I was fairly stunned by his music. I step into cd store and see a poster of this intriguing cover with some of Part's music. Had not heard Kancheli then. Had some time and stepped into the listening room, put on headphones and started listening to the album. It was bliss. I sat still through the hour-long concert in my head of music wholly new to me. I'd been in the mountains twenty years by then, listened to classical music without "keeping up," didn't know contemporary composers but a few. I tend to be drawn to Eastern European music. I'm hearing Part's Fratres now, in awe. I'm hearing this album remembering the first time hearing it, sitting alone in a glass room with headphones, eyes closed, totally relaxed. I loved every second from the start. I was in a mild swoon when it was over and had to reenter the world of commerce, pay for it and go. I went into the room thinking I'd listen to some of it and go on. It pulled me in like an electro-magnet. Beam me up. It was actually one of the great musical moments of my life, like Peter Serkin in concert playing Goldberg Variations where half the audience walked out, Jew music. Whatever. They missed a good concert. And the time I saw Carlos Montoya when only a dozen people showed up. He played like it was for ten thousand. The time seeing BB King when only about fifty showed up, we all went to the front and the band played for us like the place was full.

agnes martin

I'd never gone into a store and played a whole album. Had very little experience with a big store like that. I lived in Charleston in the last years of its Old South hundred year depression, meaning it was about as metropolitan as Sparta. It was the New South and tourism that brought Charleston to life. This big cd store was the modern world for me after living the latter third of my life on a dirt road in the hills. I heard music on NPR. It was the strangeness of it that held me. Alone in a glass room with all the privacy of home, no danger of anybody walking in, and if anyone did they'd be respectful. It's a world of peaceable people. It felt safe in there, like a chimp in a cage. I felt so at home after an hour of sitting with eyes closed dwelling in the music, the end of the album was a mild shock. I wanted it to go on for hours. Soon after the music started I knew I was going to buy it. I needed to live with this music. Every time I play it, it takes me to the experience of walking by the line of people dancing with headphones on, singing with headphones on, jamming in their own ways. I went to the sit-down place in the glass room and jammed in my own way. The whole experience felt like it had the finger of God in it. Like when I set out walking, I can see God now chuckling, pulling a trick on me, Jenny acting like she's going to bite me to see me jump, God playing to see me jump, though in God's manner of playing. A subconscious guide saying, I know where something is that you will really love. On my conscious level I was open for something to jump on me and say this is what you're looking for. Didn't care what it was, just opened up and let it happen. I could have paused at the reggae phones that were available at the moment, but that wasn't it. I kept on walking by the row of headphones to the end, the classical section. I saw the poster of this album. It had the feeling or atmosphere of German artist Anselm Kiefer, though only by suggestion.

agnes martin
 
I've turned the cd on a second time. Kancheli is playing. The result of bringing this album home was getting a couple more albums by Kancheli and a couple by Part as I was able to find them. Finding this album, I reviewed titles and composers all around it. It was like looking at a shelf of book titles you've read. Each title lives in my mind with characters, story, feelings, impressions. It's the same with looking over the composers and musicians in my classical cds. Brahms quartets speak to me personally. This week I intend to put on a 2cd set of Edgar Varese I've not heard in a long while. It is something I want to sit back with like watching a good movie. I can't listen to music and write, because I start writing about the music. I've tried playing music like Japanese koto music, something very different from what I'm used to, even Toru Takemitsu, gentle and rain-like as his music can be, it pulls me in like the Clash in concert. Any music pulls me into it. In the grocery store when I walk under a speaker with Stevie Nicks singing Rhiannon, I stop and listen til the song is over. Writing the essay on fiddler Howard Joines, I played collections of his music all the time. It kept him in the front of my mind. It was a good concert too. I read in poet Hart Crane's biography he needed to be listening to jazz to write. My friend Chris Cox says he likes to listen to jazz when he writes, and other non-vocal music. When I listen to Thelonious Monk playing piano with Charlie Rouse playing tenor, I can't pull my mind out of it. I hear every note of Monk's and every one of Rouse's. Their album, Straight No Chaser, is the one I put on when I want to hear jazz. I like to listen to it like watching a movie; sit back, relax and groove to some fine music delivered by some equally fine musicians.   

agnes martin
 
 
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1 comment:

  1. Your reaction to Rummy is identical to my reaction to George Bush. I went to iTunes looking for the London Philharmonic to see if they had this album listed, but they don't. Instead I found a piece I'd always wanted…Ride of the Valkyries. Sound filling the room. Music has a huge impact on my moods. And again, a new artist (to me).

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