The Importance of Being Beautiful
Right, and as certain philosophs have recently mused, one's personal biases and preferences lie at the heart of all this interesting talk.
Having spent a few days mulling these ideas over, I ventured to the Hemlock Wednesday night (finally meeting the enchanting M.C-) and put my ears, and my aesthetic criteria, to the test with two sets of electronic music. Surprise! My main tenet--for all its arbitrary vagueness--was confirmed: what I want from performance, whether music, theatre, dance or art, is something...beautiful. Listening to Blevin Blechdom's piece, for example, was like opening box of beautiful sounds: multi-toned metallic bell sounds, birds screeching, emphatic rhythmic beats, and even the occasional chatter of white static. Bevin (she of many monikers) built a horizontally moving collage from a varied sonic palette, full of contrasts, and she gave each soundscape time to develop in the mind before colliding in something new. The block-like structure (one foot, then the other) of so much electronic music usually fails to hold my interest--I long for the contrapuntal subtlety of Renaissance vocal music which, as layer-upon-layer of fiercely independent lines, seems a plausible (if odd) parallel to what people today are creating on their laptops--but Bevin's sense of timing and pacing made the focused linear motion somehow satisfying. Led like a child through her land of samples, I could (for the most part) appreciate this electronic music--from the sounds to the structure--as beautiful, captivating.
In contrast, as I listened to the next performer, I fell into my usual electronic music mode, the one where I swear a voice is whispering to me, "you are starting to get very sleepy..." Nearly devoid of contrasts, the limited tonal palette forced my attention to details I might not have noticed otherwise. Where was the beauty? I could not find it in the way he manipulated the computer, nor in the way he strummed the guitar or angled it in for feedback. With Bevin, I journeyed without question, rode along as a wide-eyed passenger; with Chris, I got fidgety. I needed "something beautiful" to obsess over; I needed to wonder if a certain sound might return, to wonder at its transformation, to mourn it as a memory. Instead, I found myself wondering if M.C- and I could sneak away and gossip.
Post-Hemlock I attempted to attribute some specific criteria to the "it was beautiful; it was good" theory, just in case I ever become pinned on my aesthetic premise. Like the young girls assessing their Debussy song, I can tend to behave simply. I am swayed by the superficial (accidentals in music, a change of lighting in a theatre production, the unbelievable photo-realism of a Bechtle) and often prefer design over meaning. Holding tight to the first impressions, I know I can always savor meaning in the morning. My interests and prejudices thus become clear retrospectively, after I've seen a show or heard a concert. It's time, though, to grow up, and so I shall put together "a list." Look for the post Monday or Tuesday.