Saturday, July 07, 2007

Sounds of Love

Scenes of Love come readily to mind. Stars flicker overhead. There is Champagne and sparklers, or chocolates and flowers and a killer bottle of Italian red wine. Feet wear fuzzy sox. The fireplace chews on a good blaze. Hmm... these props and scenarios are too pat, eh? They suggest love but so remotely...so superficially...which is perhaps precisely why they are also so easily rendered in visual terms, from classical dance and sappy television commercials to a photograph or piece of poster art. Quirky me entertains visions, too, and sometimes they're as predictable as what I've listed above, and sometimes they're a bit more peculiar:

[Scene 1]
At my favorite bar cafe, the bartender will set a dish of olives in front of you as he asks, "what are you drinking tonight?" The olives are a mix, Arbequeñas and Picholines as well the ones I call Scaries (they are enormous bronze-green orbs) and your basic Kalamatas, and these olives spark conversations. Everyone has a favorite. The nutty Arbequeñas are delicious and charming, but I have, on more than one occasion, professed a predilection for Picholines, so my "love scenario," if you will, goes like this. Having been intentionally composed (behind the scenes and entirely without my knowledge, of course), the little dish appears and is 100% Picholines. 100% just for me. Someone Loves Me.

Now, I do not even really like olives all that much. But the scenario still says to me, however absurdly, Love. The strength of the scene lies in the visual impact of that dish of pale green olives. The image, so pow! potent in my mind, like some bit of Warhol iconography, trumps the intention that was necessary to create it. That is an interesting conundrum to me, whether speaking of love or... Hmm?

It's easy to visualize the scenarios of love, isn't it? They are so filmic. But what of the soundtrack? What of the complex co-mingling of audio and visual, ear and eye? What if you turn off the eye? Could audio provide something that the visual cannot? Maybe the soundtrack can assert--subtly, sneakily, pointedly--something else about love. Maybe the aural can focus [!] our attention on what is not usually (so obviously and visually) perceived as love. But what is the sound of love, of the intention of love? I am a musician for crying out loud! And I'm asking, what are the sounds of love?

The question caused my rather audible intake of breath a week or so ago when I met with my dear choreographer. Randee is putting together her graduate thesis program, and she has asked me to provide-design-create "sound." [Yippee!] Her general theme is Love, and she is bouncing around enough ideas for ten programs. [!] We discussed all the usual suspects: Romeo & Juliet, Tristan & Isolde, Orpheus & Eurydice, Plato's "lover" and "beloved." But then our discussion led to messy philosophizing. What do we "put on" for love? Randee asked. What do we "put on" the ones we love? This made me think of costumes and disguise and playing "dress-up," but I think Randee intends to investigate slightly less winsome ideas. She spoke so animatedly about visions, and of how she may choreograph or realize them in movement or staging, that I realized how we cling to visual representations of love. We refuse to give them up.

Randee's brainstorms, however, had not forgotten about love letters, about the writing down of sentiment, about our awkward scratching of a pencil or pen on paper and its forming these intimate loops and arcs and curves. Choreographic elements aside, talking about letters and writing led to the query: what is the grammar of love? I began to wonder if I could realize grammar in sound, and what of this very specific grammar...the grammar of love...what might its rhythms and cadences sound like? We contended, of course, with the contemporary analogy: email and [groan] online dating and the clicking of computer keys, all, equivalently, our modern professions of love. [sigh] As I contemplated writing/written love, including its context, grammar and (mis)comprehensions, I felt myself getting somewhat closer to the sound of it. Why was I so hung up on image? Why had I never really stopped to consider the sounds (idealized or realistic) of love? Again, what on earth are those sounds? I can paint you a hundred scenarios, but can I score love?

One could conjure up all the same clichés: Poets' rhymes trigger tears and laughter. Bossa nova beats consume the hips and feet. Steaks sizzle on the grill and wine corks pop when released from their (deathkiss!) necks. Pen nibs scratch on paper as fingers cause computer keys to clickety-clack. Cell phones ring and the bells of the ice cream truck--signaled from blocks and blocks and blocks away, just to intercept your beloved's path--chime merrily. Lovers breathe and coo and murmur, mimicking something in between birds' gossip and the bellows of a tuneless accordion, all with the intensity of an old car accelerating just a bit too rapidly. Leaves or gravel or plain old pavement is amplified underfoot when lovers' conversations fall into satisfying, Cageian silence. This all sort of sounds like love to me! There are more sounds, of course. But these might do, cliché or not.

Morricone sounds like love to me. He is luscious and sentimental, and then in an instant twangy and rough and unshaven. A harmonica, some bizarre bird call, an unharmonized soprano melody. Those sound like love. Wagner? Prokofiev? Mahler? The infamous opening to Tristan does indeed sound like love! (The other two I do not, at the moment, wish to touch.) But Chopin does not sound like love. Brahms does not. Beethoven does not. (It is no wonder people raise eyebrows when I say I am a pianist.) So who else, what else sounds like love?

[cue audio: Schönberg, second piece from Sechs Kleine Klavierstücke, Op.25]

I call this the "happy and irate car horns" piece; I hear a traffic jam with not one iota of road rage. (The intensity of musical design, while persistent, is not furious; and because of the piece's overall brevity, the persistence becomes something almost precious...something at which to giggle and not care who hears you.) The piece obsesses over its little motive, the major-sometimes-minor third, relentlessly, yet it is not an overdone sentiment. It is 100% focused, 100% intention. Paradoxically, it is as efficient as it is committed. You may remark, as I did about the olives, that you do not even like Schönberg all that much. But he can write Love music. He can!

Contemplating sounds and music, I am struck by how Love has been perhaps too long represented through vision/sight/looking, whether in a classical ballet or fanciful photo or some low-grade porno. Sure, we can identify gestures and physical manifestations of "love," but can we identify love by listening? Without any visual cues at all? Can we hear its grammar? Hmm. I'll think about it while working on this project. And you can come to the performances next February and contemplate my results!

2 Comments:

Well...I'd buy that "Transfigured Night" sounds like love. But Pierrot Lunaire...not so much. But I can't say I've heard Schoenberg's Opus 25.

Having actually seen Tristan und Isolde recently, I must say that it does NOT sound like love. I wanted it to...but...no.

I went to the symphony tonight and Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet sounds like a commercial (but it's still great). Strauss' Don Juan was passionate, but not like love. Rachmaninov's 3rd Piano Concerto was amazing and it certainly was complex like love.

If I had to choose, I'd say Ravel. Concerto for the left hand. If not love, then music to fall in love to.

By the by...I like the green olives at THAT PLACE.

By Blogger Josh, at 11:34 PM  

Great Post. I always thought of Chopin as love music but after reading your post I contmplated and I think you're right for the most part but I would make a strong argument for Prelude No. 15 In D Flat as being a love song. Do you think Felix Mendelssohn qualifies and a sound of love.

By Blogger Salah, at 6:00 PM  

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