Sunday, September 5, 2010

Day 21: Tama "Nostalgie" and Peter Maxwell Davies "Job"

So much of the Albatross is made up of pretense. It's easy to be pretentious when the CDs you're getting are free. I don't know that it's all that uncommon for people to want their music tastes to say something about themselves and who they are to other people. We play our music loud, our clothing styles are often influenced by the music tastes we have, at least in our youth.

It's hard to say exactly what message I was trying to send with this collection (obsessive hoarder?), but for a lot of these selections it's hard to argue that they weren't as much for the bookshelf as they were for the CD player.

To be fair to myself, there was an equal amount of curiosity involved, too. I mean, at free there was no risk for me in taking home a CD and trying it out. Except that I never got to all of them and they just kept piling up. Two curios make the selection today in that vein.


I had no idea what this was going to be. African, clearly, but no idea what part or in what way. iTunes classified it as pop. It's on the Real World Records label, started by Peter Gabriel as part of his whole WOMAD festival thing (which I attended in San Francisco).

Real World is also responsible for the spinning display rack I took home and made into one of my many storage shelves for the Albatross. It's one of the better ones, because I can just tape the CDs into the tall spinning rack and move the whole thing, CDs and all.

The liner notes are a write-off, and the license sticker obscures the translation of the tracks. Before I go looking this guy up and seeing what he's all about, it does sound like that kind of pretentious mid-nineties pop by long-established artists like Gabriel and Paul Simon, where there is an electronic underpinning that is then bolstered by African percussion and some string instruments. This is clearly the music that Gabriel was listening to when he did songs like Biko. The only real difference is I can't understand what the guy is saying, but as I mentioned before, most the time I don't care anyway.

Well, right off the bat, I'm already wrong about at least one thing. It's a band, not a guy (Did you hear Lynyrd Skynyrd was marrying Molly Hatchet? Pink Floyd is the best man...etc.) Real World really promotes them on the idea of a 'band of equals' and doesn't really tell me much else except that they're from Mali, the UK and Guinea-Bissau. I don't know if this is a dominant feature of the band or if Real World is just really committed to that whole 'one world aesthetic.'  There doesn't appear to be a Wiki page on them.

I guess there is something to be said to experiencing the music without being pitched, to only know so little about it.

This doesn't really jump out at me, but I do find myself moving my head to it now and then.

It's good enough, and has a unique sound to it. There is a legitimate reason to listen to this even if you're not from Mali. You're only likely to get imitations of this music elsewhere. But I don't know that it would be that easy to give someone listening to this the benefit of the doubt. It's completely unfair, as I write this, to be that way about it, because on at least some level I'm genuinely enjoying it. But if I was hitching a ride with someone who had this on their car stereo, I'd expect it to be a beat up Subaru with a worn dreamcatcher hanging from the mirror, the driver to be barefoot and laying a lot on me about 'one world' or things of that nature. Or, if they looked 'normal', I would think they're really like that and trying to 'pass.'

Peter Maxwell Davies
This is the first 'complete' work to go into the hard drive, a modern oratorio based on the book of Job, obviously. Or at least obviously I think. The book is fused together.

There really are two classes of modern composition, there's the evolution of harmonies in the vein of Shostakovich and Stravinsky that use unconventional voicings, structure, and the like. And then there is the clanking and banging kind that stretches what our definition of music is and should be, à la John Cage.

This is the former. The sad thing is that when operas, operettas and oratorios are in English, I can't help but think I'm listening to an overbearing musical. Though this would be a pretty damn intense musical. I can't really make out what they're saying all the time, just a few choice moments.

So far the only information I can find is from a British website selling sheet music to the whole thing. Rather than paraphrase, here it is:
A substantial work for four soli, SATB chorus and orchestra, using text from the translation of Stephen Mitchell's The Book Of Job.
Like Vaughan Williams in his Job: A Masque for Dancing, Davies was inspired in part by William Blake's 21 engravings for the Book of Job. His oratorio, however, is less dependent on find parallels for Blake's visual details, given the direct poetry in David Lemon's adaptation of the Stephen Mitchell translation from the biblical original, it is hardly surprising that the spotlight should be so much on Job's suffering litany. The baritone has the lion's share of the setting, though the other soloists occasionally reinforce his plea and chorale-like episodes universalize his predicament. Davies frames with work with two seminal plainsong-like passages; there is also plenty of dramatic contrast both within Job's monologues and in the vivid orchestral writing for the smarmy Comforters, the initially shrill God who finally appears out of a dazzling orchestral whirlwind and the animal life he uses to illustrate the wonders of creation to a humbled Job.
Commissioned by the University of British Colombia, it was first performed in May 1997 by Valdine Anderson (soprano), Linda Maguire (mezzo soprano), Paul Moore (tenor) and Kevin McMillan (baritone) with the Vancouver Bach Choir and the CBC Vancouver Orchestra, conducted by the composer.
Vocal score with piano reduction of the orchestral score. Duration c. 70mins.
 I have to say, I've never really got what the book of Job was supposed to be all about. Like, if you're life sucks and bad things keep happening to you don't worry, it's God getting into a pissing contest with the Devil and fucking you over to win a bet? I always kind of feel like the Devil won this one. It sort of proved that God is a fickle, insecure douche who will grind your life to butter just to prove a point to someone else.

A friend and fellow playwright in college wrote an allegory of the story of Job as rival gangs where the loyalty of a henchman is tested. When you see it played out like that, it's hard not to see the guy buying into the bet as a tool and jerk. I don't know if he's still shopping that play, but at the time it was called "The Job." If you see that playing somewhere, check it out.

Unfortunately, it seems that the CD player wasn't able to get all the tracks off in their entirety. That's too bad. I'm never sure how to handle this, it's not the first time. I guess I'll put it with the discs that need repair and later try and re-import it.

I wish the book wasn't deteriorated; from some of the lyrics I'm catching here and there it seems like there is some cool stuff going on. Orchestrally, it has the expected, really. All in all, an interesting piece. I'm sort of surprised I didn't listen to this when I got it. Though I might have and just turned it off once I realized it was in English. Well, I've listened to most of it now...

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