This piece played on two quartertone kalimbas was actually completed nearly 3 months ago, but since then we’ve been so focused on reediting the music which will be going into our next CD (hopefully to be released by July), that we couldn’t find the energy to write a post to go with it.
Still the piece is just too good to languish unheard on our computer’s hard drive.
Indeed it’s some of the most spacious and crystalline music which we have so far produced, music that in many ways comes close to being “pure” music, to use this word as it’s sometimes been used to describe Bach’s music.
At the same time it’s music that could induce serious headaches in those musicologists who give it a careful listen. This is because its clarity, superficial simplicity, and apparent lack of discord makes it sound as though it should be easy to analyze with conventional music theory, when in fact since it’s played on instruments tuned roughly in quartertones, and since its tempo and rhythms are continually changing, this might not be so easy to do…
To create this piece we edited until we were blue in the face, because right from when we first listened to its raw recorded file we felt it had the makings of something very special, and we wanted to do everything possible to realize that potential.
In the end this meant that to cut the raw 52 minute file down to the final finished 6 minute piece took 32 separate editing sessions, or a total of about 110 hours of headache inducing eye-straining work.
And the many long intervals filled with nothing but the ring between the notes did not simplify our work. Instead they made it distressingly easy to hear every defect, either musical (clumsiness, repetitiveness, lack of beauty), or technical (playing and recording noises, background noises like the wind outside the window or the house creaking). This of course is quite different from the situation in more conventional music where there’s almost always some played sound to help hide such intrusive noises.
It’s also worth noting that for most musicians hiring someone to take this much time to edit would be prohibitively expensive. However since in line with our generalized unspecialized philosophy we do all of our editing ourselves on our own computer, it only cost us bucketfuls of nasty computer sweat. And of course since we were editing our own music we could make musical decisions (changing the levels of or even silencing some clips, etc.) without any cumbersome approval process. When there was something we thought should be done, we could just go ahead and do it.
Which is not to say that the slowness of our progress has been without financial implications, or that we have been in the fortunate position of being able to take our time without a money worry in our heads. To the contrary, way back in November of last year the flow of translation jobs on which we have been relying to cover our expenses, again dwindled to a trickle before once more drying up.
This means that rather than being able to retire our remaining debt as we had optimistically predicted in our July post (Finding the Time for Music), we have again been tumbling deeper into the hole. To say this less abstractly, once more we have been buying our food with our credit cards and paying our rent with cash advances.
But since we knew that after completing this piece we would have the 50 minutes of new music that we needed for our next CD, we felt the only choice with heart was to ignore our money related shivers and to proceed bravely. And so after finishing this piece, rather than putting aside our music and shaking every available tree for new translation work, we plunged onward into the final editing for our new CD.
Behavior like this would of course seem highly irresponsible to many of our old friends and acquaintances. It’s all too easy to imagine them clucking their tongues and saying, “that Arthur and Mitsuko… there they go again getting themselves into trouble….”
But what to do, such people who have always taken what seemed to them to be the easiest least risky course, will inevitably think that way. (Though as the years roll by and one watches folks floundering through boring and unproductive lives, one realizes that what initially seemed to be the easy route, may turn out to be a hard way or even a dead end…)
In any case since we’ve been broke many times before, rather than panicking most days we’ve managed to just be thankful that by keeping the jobs away from us, Corn Mother has given us the time we needed to do the best possible job of reediting our music.
Of course sometimes we do worry that she’s overestimating our psychological strength and our ability to do good work in the face of financial anxiety. But then we remind ourselves that divine love is usually tough love and that the gods are almost always a bit brutal on those they favor. To believe anything else, clearly is to fool oneself…
So it would be wrong to get the impression that we’ve been freaked and miserable during this period. To the contrary our life has been so rich that many times every day (on our good days that is….) we turn to each other and smilingly agree, “so far so good” (which is what the guy who had just jumped off the tall building said to himself half way down… and which of course is the best that any of us can hope for in this life…)
We’ve never cooked ourselves better meals and every evening we sit down to an exquisite dinner in an environment that’s more elegant, peaceful, and romantic than that offered by the worlds’ most expensive restaurants.
And even though we’ve been too preoccupied to read the heaviest of the world’s great literature (Virginia Woolf, Proust, the Greeks…) in minutes snatched from our busyness we have been able to immerse ourselves in writers like Confucius, Chu Hsi, Washington Irving, Defoe, Stevenson, Kipling, and Haggard.
And despite my losing yet another tooth (my last functioning molar) and in February suffering through 5 days without heat in the coldest weather ever to hit New Mexico (one morning it was –27 F), this winter we’ve even managed to avoid getting big sick.
So it really is a case of so far so good….. It’s just that part of the recipe which has made this possible is that we’ve been willing to face the fact that sometimes we’ve been more than a bit bummed and more than a bit angry…
In any case it’s clear to us that our exquisite music and bravely truthful words are the natural product of our general togetherness.
That is to say that we play beautiful music because we have a beautiful life.
Indeed we strongly suspect that the longstanding myth that to create big art one must be sensitively suffering is horseshit, and represents little more than the capture of art by the failed fucked-up offspring of the upper classes.
To be sure Joyce was an alcoholic, but then there’s Homer who must have been a pretty happy dude despite being blind. And while there have been many drug addicted suicidal musicians, there are counter examples like Bach who was merely overworked….
So nowadays when we try to read some “sensitive” bit of official literature (most recently early Mishima and late Kawabata…) it just turns us off. To us it seems that if you continue to have a taste for that sort of “me me poor little me” stuff after your early 20’s, clearly you’ve failed to do a decent job of growing up.
It’s not the claim that suffering itself is a goad towards creativity that’s horseshit. In fact a certain amount of externally imposed hardship (such as our economic troubles) certainly can fuel the search for newness, can make one less satisfied with the same old same old and more inclined take the risk of searching for a different way.
No what’s horseshit is the claim that sensitive suffering, i.e. that which is self imposed and unnecessary, is essential for an artist. To the contrary, such suffering is at the best a temporary youthful state, and at the worst a disease.
Reading a book, seeing a movie, or hearing a song about how someone who has everything (money, support system, intelligence, and a functioning body…) is miserable may make others in the same position feel better about their lameness, but that doesn’t mean that such productions are good art. More properly they should be categorized as mental masturbation.
But I’ve babbled on long enough.
Now it’s time to bring this post to a conclusion so we can get back to work cleaning up the music that will be on our new CD, a CD which already is showing every sign of turning out to be almost scary good.
Rather than sounding in any way “experimental”, the music on it is Palestrina polished, and of course for it we’ve violated all sorts of taboos by singing words that actually speak to adult concerns.
So wish us luck as we take the final steps towards its completion, and then in a couple of months we hope you’ll come back to this website to purchase your copy of “Work In Progress”.