Friday, April 27, 2007

Vernacular Appeal of Melodic Simplicity and Harmonic Redundancy

I know the classical blogosphere will be seriously mourning Rostropovich. However, I personally am finding some redemptive light at the end of the tunnel over at Prof. Heebie McJeebie's Classical Pontifications. I nominate "Simpleton Pleasures" and "Jazz Improvisations" by Ariodney Hussington to be possibly the worst pieces of music ever written by anyone. But why, oh why, can I not stop listening to them???

A highlight (?) from Ms. Hussington's interview:

McJeebie: Why is the piece called Jazz Improvisations if there's no improvisation?

Hussington: There is improvisation, but it happens in the composer's head, and, actually, it already happened. It was in the past.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Where the Heart Is

A small, recurring cast of characters works the lobby of the Greystone Hotel, my home. Behind the bulletproof glass are Joey (exhausted, balding, night school), Julia (curly, vociferous, lipsticky), Andrei (cheekboned, curt, blonde), and a surly short Hispanic woman in her 20s, whose name I have never heard. Behind a cheap table in the corner is a security guard, reading a Bible and guarding a notebook. Like a peevish comet, the owner of the building rarely orbits in; her facility, perhaps, brings out the worst in her, and I have really only encountered her pissed as hell. Lately she is absent, and waves of positive energy that are brave enough to venture into the lobby are not as quickly quashed. The building was going condo; which meant great changes were afoot; giant prospectuses were stuffed into mailslots; a new era beckoned, promising hardship for many helpless residents; but somewhere along the line inertia, muse of time, must have intervened, and I imagine some businessman in some office relenting, shrugging, in the face of some final Greystonian straw. Score one for tenacious decay. The owner has been defeated by the owned.

The lobby is not beautiful. A spectacularly boring picture of the building in its heyday (where the Hotel surely still exists, nostalgically) hung on the wall, pretending to be decor, but has been removed (the paint is lighter, yearning, where it used to be). A pot of plastic flowers stands on an Ionic dais and is moved to various seeming midpoints of invisible trajectories on the checkered floor. A sign reads “VISITORS MUST SIG IN;” I swear that missing “N” haunts me day and night. At 4 AM, after the garbage truck departs noisily, and while its honking and heaving fades into lonely quiet echoes, I dream abysses between “M” and “O.”

Most residents, like me, try to move through the lobby as quickly as possible, but some linger, and seem to enjoy it. There is one man who wears a giant gold medal around his neck, strung on a red-white-and-blue ribbon. He has liminal predilections, for instance: he leans near the door, or brings a chair into the windblown, cramped space between inner and outer doors, or stands just outside the door on the garbage-strewn sidewalk, looking longingly back inside. He adores rain-slickers, and is often impervious to water, even on the clearest days. He once ran the marathon. I know this because there is an explanatory card, also, hanging around his neck, in a plastic holder, which I have skimmed. (We could all use such cards?) He and I had absolutely no communication for six or seven years, though I saw him constantly; now, we are beginning to exchange smiles, and I have no idea what that means, or why it has happened. Some small random tenderness. It makes me feel cheaply good about myself to smile at him, and then I walk on to my destination, usually some heartless corporate chain.

To describe another regular: some eight years ago, I was in the elevator when a blonde woman in her fifties entered. Immediately the compartment reeked of scotch. It was around 11 AM. This was, I believe, the first occasion I really noticed her. She looked at me very intently, up and mostly down. “You’re an actor, right?” I applied New York Behavior Rule #1 and said nothing. “Yup. I knew it,” she continued, undeterred, “all the cute ones are actors.” It was a curious compliment, but we haven’t spoken since, and ever the jonesing approval-addict I catch myself, these days, wondering if she still thinks I’m cute. The other day, this same woman was standing at the bulletproof window, talking very loudly to Joey, with a different message. “You look terrible,” she kind of bellowed, pausing for a moment; then she said “I’m sorry” and began walking away towards the door. Joey said something through the muting window; it might have been a question; she turned back and yelled tautologically, proudly, “Because you look terrible!” She pushed the doors open, exiting the Greystone with a triumphal flourish (difficult to do). Promptly, my elevator door shut and I began to ascend. Joey was left alone, with no door.

One of the truly memorable regulars (for me) was an elderly man who sat near the door, in a corner, on a threadbare armchair (now disappeared, in an attempt to drive the elderly characters from the lobby and make the building more “presentable”). He never seemed to move. But one day, mysteriously, he was just there in the doorway, blocking my exit, and before I could summon a swift youthful refusal, he asked if I would do him a favor. He wanted me to walk him to his barber’s appointment, on Amsterdam. He had three or four hairs on his head. I stared at them and at his spotted scalp while he clutched my hand tightly in his cold hand and stood there and—as other busy normal people passed by—I started to wonder when we would begin to walk. But in a minute I realized he was walking. It was curiously intimate. Most of it was stillness and preparation, clenched breaths, but every so often he gave himself over to a passionate iota of motion. It was a harrowing, mindblowing five minutes until we were out on the sidewalk and fully thirty minutes more until we reached Amsterdam (normally a 15 second effort). I had no idea it was possible to walk that slow; Einsteinian dilemmas lurked; at that suspended speed, how could you tell if you were going forwards or backwards? I remember succumbing to fits of rage and eerie oases of calm and it was like being drawn into a black hole, maybe, while trying to hide the fact that your body is imploding.

At the corner of Amsterdam, he pitied me. His appointment (the existence of which I began to disbelieve) was allegedly on 88th and Amsterdam, and while I gazed into the receding line of buildings and onrushing stream of cabs with horror, imagining the whole day spent, he said the magic words: he would be fine, he would make it from there. I sighed in relief, wished him well, gave him hearty farewells. But, he added: he just needed to know which way was downtown. At that point, for me, the mathematics of the situation collapsed. I could bear the absurdity no longer. Sensing his helplessness, I fled from him, a coward; but he persevered, bravely, in the sunshine. I stopped near Broadway and watched him walk a few inches. To tell the truth, he’s not been seen in the Greystone in some years.

Friday, April 20, 2007

More About House

Ostensibly the subject of House, the wonderful television show on Fox, is the eponymous doctor’s attempts, week after week, to solve mysterious, tentacled illnesses. (Amazingly it always seems to take about an hour of television time, including commercials, to solve any illness.) Or else the real theme of the show is the character of House himself: complex, contradictory, savagely logical, flawed, somewhere between Richard III and Sherlock Holmes.

I prefer to dismiss both synopses. I propose that House is really “about” irony and sarcasm; it asks the question … what is the acceptable level of emotion in the modern world?

Let us take another famous medical show, E.R. I have come to dread the 10 AM arrival of this program on TNT, rudely awakening me from the supernatural, ironic meta-worlds of Angel and Charmed into an ever-so-gritty-and-overworked Chicago emergency room. Oh, the humanity! Mark Green juggling child and ex-wife, Noah Wyle struggling with drug addiction and the burden of aimless wealth, George Clooney rebelling and refusing to commit, and of course the evil heartless Romano, colder than any demon in Angel’s dark, manipulated L.A. nightscape. I have come to hate all these characters and, particularly, the writers who subject us to their maudlin trials and tribulations. Everything is so, so emotional, and yet not redeemed by soap-opera camp; interventions abound; doctors weep quietly in locker rooms, and are asked if they are “ok”; schoolbuses of children are wheeled in, seemingly, only to be wounded and pathetic, and just as swiftly wheeled out. E.R. is Dr. Phil, in dramatic form; it wants us all to tell all, to confess, and be emotionally healed in the great common waiting room. Sarcasm is not welcome. (And again, after an hour, get the hell off the set, please.)

Enter Dr. House.

House strums certain recurring themes. First: is House really a softy, hiding under a sarcastic veneer? Such seems to be the constant, desperate hypothesis of his friends and colleagues, and the scriptwriters perpetually tantalize us with the possibility of a sentimental breakdown. At the end of the last season, when House finally went into rehab, I felt with dread the sense that the show would become classically heartwarming, that he would finally “learn something.” But magnificently—of course!—it all turned out to be a sham, showing House to be more manipulative, deceitful, and selfish than one could have ever imagined. I cheered. Why do these evils make me love him? His evil is entertaining, satisfying; his reformation would be boring, saddening, life-destroying. But he is not a villain.

As one watches, then, one gets mired in meta-concerns: we think less about the fate of patient X or disease Y than the fate of the show itself; will it disintegrate into E.R.-esque empathy, or will the writers somehow prolong the moral strange ground, the absence of judgment? In other words, can the show survive its premise?

A second theme: House “needs to be healed.” The writers gave him a painful, lingering, physical wound (metaphor for the inner, emotional wound) which is almost a deal-breaker, almost dips the show in a disastrous pity-bath. The other characters in the show always seem to want to heal him up, to convert him into a lesson learned, a summable plot point; they are always thematizing, moralizing, empathizing. “House is behaving this way because he secretly loves me, or craves love …” “House loves his own mind more than other people, and needs to change …” “House is trying to destroy himself, since he has no joy in life …” And House stands alone, protecting the fort of cynicism, deflating each of these pat theories. The perpetual explainer of illnesses, he refuses to be “explained.”

A third theme of House: the patient-at-fault, blame-the-victim. House is always suspicious of the histories his patients provide; it is often some concealed fact of the patient’s life that makes the difference … The patients are somehow therefore complicit in their failure to be healed, and most of House’s most amazingly cruel, but funniest, moments have to do with targeting those-who-are-to-be-pitied, with refusing to respect the sacred cow of illness. House is ill, like his patients; he knows, moreover, that everyone is ill. The people around him who think they’ve got it all together, that they’re “normal,” usual-life-livers, who imagine that they represent a “standard” or acceptable life-method: they’re the real suckers. Plus (and here’s the kicker): they’re boring.

House is a show where two possible shows intersect: imagine the story narrated by one of House’s underlings or colleagues, an earnest tale of a flawed doctor at work, and heartbreaking patients; or imagine the story narrated by House himself, in which all are exposed for the posers they are … and you must decide which story you prefer. And then take this principle and apply it to the vast surrounding narratives of our society, to CNN coverage of tragedies, to movies, to presidential speeches, newspaper editorials … I personally fantasize about replacing Matt Lauer with Gregory House, for a week. Apply it, if you will, to music …

House confronts the vast emotional movie-music of our time. Am I supposed to feel bad if I don't like Oprah or Dr. Phil, if I feel uncomfortable with this vast buffet of amateur psychotherapy, of human emotion and confession, bundled and marketed like a creamy, filling psychic Frappuccino? Am I repressed, elitist? Letterman speaks for me (yay!) when he mocks Oprah, when he says enough is enough, and yet a disturbing question haunts me. Why do I feel (self-satisfied jerk that I am) that it is better to play Beethoven or Ives for people, displaying and communicating publicly all sorts of emotions, and receive a check … how is that “better” than Oprah doing her emotional thing and becoming fabulously wealthy? If anyone has a good answer to this question, let me know. I know Gregory House would simply snort disdainfully, reminding me how pathetic I am to worry about the question in the first place.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Thanks, Rain

As the storm began to drip from the sky I found myself (as so often) in a back seat at the mercy of a madman. Lanes were shifting states of mind. First Avenue was a long vein (I thought in my daze) along which red lights like hemoglobin ran, glowing brighter as they slowed, clumping in difficult morasses and extricating themselves for a more perfect careening flow. My guide as he drove across intersections looked left not forward, in full motion, or barely and grudgingly slowing, glancing to gauge the souls of cross-streets. Few met his needs. His braking, even, was impatient. There is enormous space there in the back seat, too much space. I am a tossed toy there. The Avenue was a red compulsion, a motion guarantee, a bumpy lustful harrowing northward necessity: there, the next light, and the next. Beckoning, greening chain of blocks. I found the drive mysterious, I asked myself: again? The Food Emporium whizzed by, as always. I belted my body in, clutched my cell phone like a charm, found the constant left and right motion overwhelming, felt helpless, between a dream and an amusement park ride. On either side, narrow misses; we squeeze by. Even my thoughts seemed crowded, frightened, in the back of my brain, holding onto my skull walls for dear life.

The next evening I was crossing at 121st and Broadway to get a downtown cab and I stepped into an unexpected river near the median. It ran black, swift, cold, slanting down the great street, and my right foot went instantly frigid, suddenly aware of the world, like a college student graduating who must now find a job: the black shoe shiny like a beetle, immersed, emerging dripping and ruined. I stopped. There were no cars threatening in either direction, the bodega was shuttered, I was alone for a stark moment. Home and warm with shoes and socks abandoned around me the windswept rain just beat its random tap-dance against the rusty airconditioner, reminding me of that moment, and its manifold causes.

Music is amazingly well suited to depict rain … A particular favorite of mine is Debussy’s “Pour remercier la pluie au matin” [to give thanks for the morning rain], from the Epigraphes Antiques, which begins with an incredible 16th note ostinato, marked “doux et monotone” … soft and monotonous. I have always found this ostinato unnervingly beautiful, like a little plier or wedge inserted into time, forcing open some joint or nook in it which is normally hidden, smooth, continuous. Watching the water drip down taxi windows and sort of swoop and sweep around 91st Street yesterday, I was really enjoying (in a depressive way) its random endlessness: sensually, engagingly boring, a monotonous pleasure, like watching someone in a library writing their notes on index cards, hearing the soft scratch of pen across paper, the friction of molecules reflecting the strange ostinatos of thought, the lost encrypted hours. The code of a person: they sniff, scratch their head, shake their arm out, breathe uneasily, yawn, random bodily details. Each drop creeping slightly differently down the window, an endless array of data, but the net total a same down-drifting, a constant vanishing scribbling over the window landing in the drain. Over Debussy’s rain-ostinato, outrageously beautiful melodies begin to emerge and flower, but they do not dominate; they don’t become annoying apotheoses; rainy days don’t make for good apotheoses anyway… the rain speaks last, and most profoundly … The person in the library eventually gets up, stretches, heads back to world and friends, stuffing cards books pens into bag, and you know nothing more about them.

Composers mostly don’t wait for rain; they invent their own water. In the slow movement of the Archduke Trio, for instance, I feel Beethoven created the theme in order that he could simply swim in it. It’s a current which carries him, and the measure of his success is his surrender.

If it begins with duples, with the hymn and the hymnic, if it proceeds in stately quarters and eighths, by the first variation a different point begins to emerge. The music dissolves in triplets, the pianist is instructed to lavishly pedal, and Beethoven writes notes which float down and up in contrary motion, the hands like two mirroring waves, washing up against each other and retreating to the far ends of the keyboard, only to turn around and return (always, again, like tides). The theme has been “fluidified,” which is a ridiculous word to express the incredibly profound: abandonment of the discrete event and the washing-over of lines and demarcations: music’s love affair with continuity, the theme’s “passing over” into a different mode of existence, in which we no longer dole out our events and thoughts in bits and tablespoons of motive but simply turn on the faucet and let sounds flow. The flow is dictated, circumscribed, by the more discrete, previous theme, a structure which feels like the thin skin of the bubble which now floats.

I relinquish myself to the beauty of this variation, and try as much as possible to do as little as possible with it, whatever that means.

Beethoven’s choice, too, is clear: the premise establishes itself, and it runs on, then, more or less on its own. He tinkers, but only behind the scenes. The strings are made to do also as little as possible; they enunciate just the larger harmonic lilt, subtle self-effacing messengers of structure. In this way Beethoven draws the curtain aside to reveal no disappointing Wizard of Oz but the self-sufficiency of the idea: powerful, like a current; seductive, without deceit; the completely compelling, sustaining, non-narrative. In the next variation, we emerge somewhat from the triplet wash, to something dryer, more pointed, humorous; there is again a pointed edge to the variation after that, with its constant hocket of the hands; but by the Poco Piu Adagio, in the perfect words of my colleague the eminent principal cellist of our cheery NY Phil, we have come back again to a “great harmonic river.” The strings, in the middle register, hold down the harmonic fort, while from the left hand of the piano streams an unending undulation of 32nd notes, and the right hand offers an endless melody in its own time zone, a 16th note off from the other forces at play. A full but transparent texture, layers of motion, water passing over rock.

This slow movement slips in and out of this state—this fluid state. It passes from etched to brushed, and this drift, from real world to water-world, becomes its deeper theme below the theme.

As in so many Beethoven variation movements, the theme meets a “dark night of the soul,” where it questions its own identity by tearing itself apart. Beethoven has such an uncanny ability to do these things without a hint of contrivance, of the overwrought; he introduces the little free-radical note, the wrong note which leads down the “wrong path,” which always seems to lead to redemption, to some outrageously beautiful crisis and slow, masterful circling back home. And lo and behold, just at this moment, when the violinist and cellist are asserting some fragment of the theme in E major (the “wrong” harmony) the pianist interrupts, morphs the dotted rhythm of the theme into triplets, and submits the entire remainder to the triplet flow … I am sure Beethoven is calling back the world of that first variation, bringing its revelation back for a second look. The triplets never stop, then; nor do you want them to; they are an absolutely desired compulsion. You, I, all of us listening, the theme itself … all are taken by the current. The theme is refracted, then, through it; the triplet stream, continuing, absorbs all sorts of melodic and harmonic intensitiies, and there is an ache, a tremendous pathos, in the push and drag between the unbelievable material and the triplets which won’t cease to flow.

It is lazy to make up words, perhaps, when a scan of your existing vocabulary comes up empty, but I would like to propose in my laziness “threeness.” Why should a number have an emotional, adjectival function? But the theme here is made so much of thirds (F#-E-D), upwards and downwards, it is in 3/4 time, and you can see I feel the triplets have some import in the movement, comprising something like its most fundamental, truest, flow … its deepest current … and I believe there is something neither made of triplets or the interval of a third which expresses some deeper, familial connection between them, a weird charge of connected meaning. This would appear to be an abstruse point, in which I dissolve the magic of the movement into a number … but it is not abstruse for me at all, rather very emotional, instinctive, and irrational. For me the onset of the triplets is like a surrender to the most natural pace, to the perfect corresponding thing, to that which is in itself enough, that which—unlike the rain—you never want to end.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Area Pianist Ignored at Local Starbucks

In the wake of revelations emanating from the Washington Post this weekend, secret sources have confirmed that Upper West Side classical pianist Jeremy Denk has been scrupulously or virtually ignored at any number of locations in the New York City area.

Our correspondent followed Mr. Denk around yesterday in a shocking and heartbreaking experiment.

He emerged from the New York Sports Club at 4:46 pm and positioned himself poetically in line at the 93rd Street Starbucks. By most measures, he was quite descript: a graying youngish (with a certain musical emphasis, or "accent," on ish) white man in workout pants, a sweaty T-shirt, and a jacket he got on sale at an outlet mall ten years ago, radiating a confident odor of the Elliptical Cross Trainer. Our reporters watched, amazed, as he hummed through several phrases of the Archduke Trio, and gestured expressively into the air around him; clearly this was an artist at work, digesting great music behind his soggy brow, and yet his artistry, if anything, seemed to dissuade the attention of passersby. Would anyone notice?

Mostly mid-level yuppies pass through this familiar location: mommies, daddies, assorted persons of fungible sexuality, the occasional painfully metrosexual European family on vacation. In this quasi-erotic crossfire, each had a quick choice to make: do you stop and notice the bedraggled artist or do you scurry past with a blend of disgust and desire, aware of your cupidity but afeared of odor or solicitation?

Showered and transformed, Mr. Denk ventured out to Chelsea. At Patsy's on 23rd Street, he sat and ate an entire Rigatoni Bolognese. It was beautiful to watch. The acoustics of the restaurant were surprisingly kind, underscoring each appreciative smack and munch. He brought passionate forkfuls of pasta to his mouth, leaving artsy swatches of tomato across his chewing cheeks, which, like a true rebel, he refused to wipe away immediately. To this reporter's mind, he oozes, even suppurates artistry. But there was no response: nothing, but the clattering, random helter-skelter of a slow night at Patsy's. Even the waitress, amazingly, seemed a bit indolent in refilling his water.

At 36, Denk's an enigma. Medium-height, big-nosed, with constantly changing but unsatisfying hairstyles, he formulates an interesting countertext within the inherent binaries of the glamorous-artist archetype. "I like to live," he said, "you know, according to the moment. I also like snacks in my dressing room. And snacks, in general."

He consented to this article on one condition. "No," he said, "don't use the word genius." He mused for a moment, crumbs of Aztec Brownie slipping out of the delicate corners of his thoughtful mouth, "what about poetic soul? or associative mind? No, no, wait, let's call my publicist."

We followed Denk into Blades of Glory at the Chelsea Clearview. We paid a friend (who prefers to remain anonymous) to go with him; we wanted to see if it was just the stigma of solitude that was causing this pianist to be ignored. But no! There, too, events seemed to proceed in total disregard of Denk's musicality. Denk hit a low ebb when the two guys in front of him started making out. "But then I realized," he debriefed us later, "they were ignoring both me and the artistry of Will Ferrell ... I was in pretty good company ... at least there was that..."

Asked to sum up the day: "I mean the guy at the gym said, 'have a good workout,' and the guy at the Starbucks asked me if the brownie was 'the one with the weird peppers in it.' That's about it for meaningful interaction."

According to Mr. Denk, the only truly artistic reception he received yesterday, April 9, 2006, from 9:28 am to 1:31 am the next day, was on the phone with friend Lisa Kaplan. "I said, 'Lisa, let me sing you something,' and she said 'let me put you on speakerphone,' and I knew she wanted her friend Barbara to hear me sing, and I said 'No, no!' and as I started to sing she put me on speakerphone anyway."

We hesitate to report the rest of the story. "Barbara said my singing was like 'I saw into her soul,' but I realized she meant it ironically," Mr. Denk told us, choking back tears. Is there nothing left untouched by irony in these uncultured days?

Thursday, April 05, 2007


I was midway through my coffee’s journey, when I required the public men’s room near the Delacorte. A man was drying his underwear under the handblowers. Where was my explaining, comforting Virgil? The fact that it was underwear and not some other more benign garment or cloth took a while to register, but once it did, I had an immediate compulsion, a tic of the mind. “Aren’t all our lives, in a sense, just a matter of drying our underwear under hand blowers?” … the situation was dire. When I got home I dialed Metaphors Anonymous.

But before that, I hit the Great Lawn. I was forcing myself to Take A Walk in The Park, to stretch my fluttering, caffeinated wings outside the majestically decayed confines of the Greystone Hotel. I believe Sunday afternoons possess some unusual time-properties; they feel spread, like plains of hours. Endless Kansas time, the road heading off in every direction through taskless sprawl and corn’s quiet rustle. In this sprawl and under the blue Central Park sky in the breeze my eyes seemed very sharp, like every leaf was there, every hexagon of the sidewalk. I thought: they’re hexagons! Oy, Sundays: something sad about the flatness of everything, the waiting for something to happen which will not, the family dinner, the slow onset of evening and the cleanup of the dishes with the sound of the TV from the other room spouting idiocy, and no one saying what they really mean. For some reason, because of one Sunday afternoon in 1989, I also always associate Sundays with egg rolls. I’m just saying.

That was two Sundays ago. Last Sunday, I was playing the Bach d minor Concerto again with the Houston Symphony and I was having a great time. Each performance, however, the slow movement was infused with a bit more sense of struggle, some wish…

I came to realize that every so often my mind darts again to the left hand, which is doing some part of the ritornello, the ground … its unrelenting presence and movement under my melody is a powerful thing. I’m playing and suddenly the percentage of my brain paying attention to my left hand spikes … Oh yes, you are still there, mover (Creator?) … still doing your thing (Fate?) and everything I am doing is governed by you (Narrator?) in some way or another. Whatever fragment of the ground I happen to notice is preternaturally eloquent, always brings some rush of meaning, some sharp edge, affects my ongoing vision of the melody (yes that’s how I mean to say it), like some editor or kindly English teacher who scoops up your confused thoughts and rephrases them into insight. Otherwise I would be a idiotic singer going on and on in my lyrical way, effusing, boring everyone to tears, lamenting like Woody Allen, ridiculous, overwrought; but instead, the ground keeps me in check, its pace keeps me honest (so I must say what I mean, and only this), stops my voice from crowding out my brain. But! If I thought ONLY of the ground the whole time, there would be tedium … I would notice the scaffolding, recurrences, the grid, my logic, or the rhythm, in a sense, “too much;” it would be like living in a parking lot, only for usage, for passing, marked off but empty …

The wavering of my attention, my inability to truly multitask, to hear everything at once, becomes part of the beauty-tragedy. I am just Jeremy; thanks, Bach, for reminding me; not perfectly able to hear the “whole piece” (what is the whole piece anyway? certainly not discoverable on the page or in my mind); but I am able to appreciate my little flashes of reminder, to enjoy my vision that wanders and is drawn back into place, a vision in parts of a brilliantly conceived totality. And each blur back and forth comes with a little heartbreak, a little scrape of the irreconcilable.

And then the last orchestral statement after I am done: on Friday I literally shivered onstage (Saturday and Sunday, perhaps, I was too jaded, did not find myself as movable?) … My melody has worked itself up into a last frenzy, a last arpeggiated struggle; and in its wake comes again the same: which means, perhaps, nothing at all. Perhaps this is just a formality; in musicological speak it is just the framing return of the ritornello which is I suppose Italian for that which returns: tautological, superfluous. Instead of my space which I filled with melody, with ornament, there is just the empty space, the blueprint: whatever was behind the scenes. The set is stripped away, the worklights are visible, bare bulbs, the actors, tired, are shouldering their gym bags and heading home to their apartments to watch TV with their lovers and fall asleep and resume “real life.” A statement slash non-statement, the seemingly impossible display of a vacant space, of that which is gone, of empty Sunday hours where your clarity of sight is a strange, disturbing consolation.

North Wind, come down,
Unloosen the hands that clutch the sandstone walls;
Scatter the books of hours on the attic floors.
Clear all away, cold wind, and then, let all
Be clearness of sight that has dominion over
The mind that does not know how to despair.

—Montale, tr. David Ferry