Friday, June 28, 2024

Painting With Sound: The Contemplative Music of Gabriel Vicens

Photographs courtesy of the composer.  Album cover by Krystal Pagan.

“You can’t judge a mosaic properly unless you observe it carefully from a distance." – Hiroshi Teshigahara

Allow me to observe the mosaic of Gabriel Vicens’s music carefully from a distance, and to invite you to do the same. Music is primarily a state of mind. Regardless of whether you listen to classical, blues, jazz, rock, or what used to be termed new music, the essential element is the same: we are transported to another dimension, one possibly inside ourselves, on a journey fueled by a joyful power source evoking the same result from all these disparate style territories. The arrival at an exhilarating and abrupt awakening: that is the same destination, whether it is conveyed by the operatic overload of Pink Floyd or the austere minimalism of John Cage. The joy of being liberated is what matters, much more so than the practical tools utilized for the purposes of that liberation.

Elsewhere I have written about the clearly evident potential for the somatic effects of sonic energy, and the fact that music, certain music at least, can serve as the architectural structure within which profound experiences can be contained and transmitted, virtually across time and space. This notion that music can buttress meditation, or contemplation, or whatever you choose to call the oceanic feeling that arises from losing the illusory sense of an individual and separate self, can most simply be characterized as erecting a sonic building that we can live each inside of for a while. The new album of Vicens music, appropriately titled Mural, owing to what I consider its large-scale panoramic approach to composition and performance, is just such a building of breath and reflection: a temporal dwelling.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Unexpected Journeys: Bluets and The Secret Garden

Emma D'Arcy in Bluets. (Photo: Camilla Greenwell)

The stage adaptation of Maggie Nelson’s 2009 book Bluets by Margaret Perry, directed by Katie Mitchell at the Royal Court, begins as its source material does: “Suppose I were to begin saying that I had fallen in love with a color . . . in this case the color blue – as if falling under a spell, a spell I fought to stay under and get out from under, in turns.” Nelson’s short book is uncategorizable, a series of short paragraphs that function most powerfully as commentary on two melancholy, indelible events, the end of a love affair and the paralysis of a woman, a close friend of the heartbroken lover, after an unexplained accident. But these events, which are poetically linked – the paralysis of the injured friend is a sort of actualization of the writer’s mental paralysis in the wake of her romantic loss – take up less than a third of the text, which imagines the color blue less as a metaphor for the writer’s feelings than as a gathering place for them, an environment in which we grow to comprehend them. Nelson banks a wide range of references that include Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther, whose hero’s suicide in the blue coat in which he first danced with the woman he loved spawned hundreds of young men to mimic him; Joni Mitchell’s album Blue and her painting Les Bluets; Leonard Cohen’s song “Famous Blue Raincoat” and Billie Holiday’s recording “Lady Sings the Blues”; Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie; the lapis lazuli in the mines of Sar-e-Sang in Afghanistan; and the male satin bowerbird, which strews his bower with vestiges of blue substances – including the feathers of other birds he has savaged – in order to attract the female of the species. It’s one of the most strangely compelling books I’ve ever come across.