Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Theatre of Life


FIRST, EXALTATION. Let us speak of that. The change that occurs when we are lifted out of the tight little cages of our daily realities. To be hurled beyond our limits into the cosmos of magnificent forces, to fly into the beams of these forces and if we blink, to have our eyes and ears and senses tripped open against the mind's will to the sensational and miraculous. To feel these forces explode in our faces, against our bodies, breaking all encrustations and releasing us with a wild fluttering of freedom. Let us first speak of that. How everything becomes new. And if we return to our daily routines, they are no longer routines, but scintillate and have become magnificent by our sensing them with fresh eyes and noses and minds and bodies. Let us speak of this exaltation which has driven us out of ourselves to experience the life we have missed or only vaguely sensed, even resisted.

This must be the first purpose of art.

-R. Murray Schafer, The Theatre of Confluence II, Patria: The Complete Cycle.

There was a Christmas in the air today. The air was crisp, and the street was quiet, except for the third part of Steve Reich's Drumming, turned on at just the right moment, the moment that took music and my senses and transformed it into theatre.

I imagine the bells, the sleigh bells, the glockenspiels in the middle of the park, where the trash can is. And then I consider the banality of the image and I realise that I don't need to imagine a situation, an artifice, because this music, in this place, at this moment, has turned the world into a stage without actors, yet here runs the show.

That feeling remains with me until I arrive at work.


I am not a fatalist. I used to be, and the traces of that desperate state linger into my thoughts when I pick a book off the shelf which weaves what some disparate thoughts into a kind of unity.

R. Murray Schafer is, they say, Canada's greatest living composer. He is also a phenomenal writer, as his book about his Patria cycle demonstrates. This is a man who should have an opinion column, or a pulpit where people can hear him. He speaks as though he knows something. He speaks like Wagner, a man I suspect he dislikes because he understands him too well. He is a musician, and a writer, and I will leave things at that.

His book, which sat on my shelf, untouched, was picked up again when I discovered that I will be very near Haliburton when he stages the Princess of the Stars at the end of August. I will attend the performance, which is on a par with Der Ring, or Stockhausen's Licht, except that as a Canadian composer, no one in Canada cares about what he's doing, and certainly not, as he describes in harrowing detail in his book, the Canadian Opera Company.

But what I am interested in now, right now, is how moments of theatre, like the moment I descibe above, happen. Music plays a large role in these experience, not as a kind of movie soundtrack, but as something greater, something that beings about a fullness of experience, ritualizing and theatricalizing our space.

More importantly, how and where do we bring them about? How do we reengage a bored, ritual-hating society?

What in the nexus between perception, concsiousness and ritual makes for art, and what makes a moment a dramatic one as opposed to a mere duration of unmarked time?

But! There is much work to be done, and Reich's American gamelan calls me to sleep.


Gawain said...

sounds fascinating. but is it any good? have you heard any of the music? seen any of the shows -- even on tape?

Otto van Karajanstein said...

Yes, a long time ago I listened to Patria 2, Requiems for the Party Girl.

He's a tremendous composer. His first String Quartet, performed by the Orford String Quartet, was the first piece of modern music I was utterly gripped by.

I will try to provide more on him and his work. Perhaps a staging of the Princess of the Stars on a lake in Thailand is in order.

Gawain said...

Well, well. Looking forward to it.
I doubt Thailand is a great place for this sort of thing, but Bali could be.

At the end of your post you ask some pretty tremendous questions -- I have lived with them for more than a decade now!