Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Renewal: Some Reading Material for the Concert (parts 1 and 2)

You are at the 35th Birthday Concert of AC Charlap for which there are lots of fantastic musicians on the bill. Please ignore them all so you can focus solely on Charlap's music. If someone is making noise next to you while his music is playing, you needn't ask them to stop. They will shortly be shot. 

The composer is sure you thought you were at the concert of Evan Tucker. You are mistaken, the Evan Tucker you knew is dead; eaten by wolves, he was delicious. When he was resurrected on the third day, he became AC Charlap, a portmanteau of his Hebrew Name: Avraham Chai, and his original patrilineal surname - Charlap, a Hebrew acronym for Chiya, Rosh L'Galut l'Poleen (Chiya, head of the Exiles in Poland). Which means one of two things:

1. Someone in his family was really important and smart, for a Polish guy...
2. Some unscrupulous medieval Jewish ancestor was a merchant who knew he could make a killing by claiming he was from an important family.

This reading material exists to be consumed as you listen to Charlap's music. Please do not read this while other people are performing. as that is impolite, and we have to make it seem as though they, not AC Charlap, are the point of this concert. 

Like all musicians, Charlap is self-conscious about presenting his music to you. It's not that he finds it bad, though he knows it suffused with that touch of bombast present in all that he does; but as all composers are, he's aware of the inevitability of finding a polite but uncomprehending audience who listen to what a friend produces out of a sense of responsibility, but then go about their lives unaffected by what he's written - another forgettable experience that takes years to assemble, minutes to consume, and an instant to forget.

This anxiety is present in all artists of every form and every genre, but how much more true is it for the composer? It is a truth universally acknowledged that most Americans of the 21st century can find classical music of any kind to be a chore. Therefore the thought occurred to him that it might be a good idea to give a little bit of reading material to go along with it so that listeners might slightly better understand what his music might be alluding to. 

Writing about music, as the saying always goes, is like dancing about architecture. There is no reason to write about music unless the music is too boring to love without help. This thought is slightly despair-inducing in this composer, because in the context of 2017, it either means that his music is too dull for most people to love, or that nearly all the music he loves is too boring for most people to love. 

Of course, AC Charlap thought about turning this explanation of his music into a fire and brimstone Jeremiad like those he issues every day on social media to which you've become so accustomed to glazing over. He won't deny feeling the sore temptation to issue another denunciation/lecture of tempora and mores he types every day into the ether(net). 

But in this era of trial and tribulation, our troubles are so omnipresent that they needn't elaboration even from those who are clearly willing to give it. What is there that he can say about the universe you haven't heard from him a thousand times before? He has always found your universe a rather dispiriting, dull place. What could it matter that he says, yet again, that its recent turn to make manifest all those ugly things which always seemed to him to exist just beneath its vapid surface was, to his eyes, inevitable?

Whatever he has to say about this universe matters not at all. For the great AC Charlap, as I'm sure you've come to realize by now, does not exist in your universe. He is, rather, a holographic apparition hailing from a parallel universe, perhaps even from a parallel Twenty-First century; in which the crises of the Twentieth Century never obliterated the Nineteenth. In his universe, words like culture and civilization never acquired boredom's patina - let alone imperialism's. The world of this universe was always a dreary place to him, deserving to be burned to the ground by a President who is its most perfect incarnation. 

Whether or not this universe is as dirty and decrepit as it now seems to you, and always has to him, there is a better verse at just one remove from us all, and will remain at one remove no matter to what dark places the future shall remove us. A multiverse of ten dimensions exists where all things are possible - a decaverse where the trials and verdicts of our particular universes are met with a cosmic shrug.

The beginning was without form and void. When humans first attained consciousness, we perceived some form of infinity in our natural surroundings, to which we attributed the properties of higher beings. Whether or not higher beings are what endow us with the infinite, the infinite nevertheless exists for the simple reason that as a metaphor, we can conceive of it - shape without form, shade without color, paralyzed force, gesture without motion. 

Many thinkers believe that the simple fact that we can conceive of a dimension in which impossible concepts might exist is evidence that such dimensions do exist - and the best evidence we have of this is the arts, where the mission is to redefine how we conceive of possibility itself, and within the arts, the best evidence is music. 

How do you even describe music to someone who's never heard it without sounding like a schizophrenic? The most literal description of music is that it's vibrations that make patterns in your head that strongly suggest you to feel certain emotional states.... And yet music makes perfect logical sense to everyone who hears it. How do you possibly explain it except to say that it's a trans-dimensional experience that bends the rules of any universe of which we're yet familiar?

Perhaps this is why music and religion go so hand in hand for so many millennia. By any physical law yet discovered, music is an inexplicable miracle in itself. No neurologist can yet explain why or how the brain perceives music, only that it does. Music can open worlds of self-expression to both the performer and the listener, yet can also express things beyond the self that make each individual listener feel like just a quintillionth of speck within the oneness of all things - yet bonded with them all. To this composer's mind, music does not exist to change the world because music is not of this world. The world cannot be changed, it will always be the dreadful place whose chaos dashes hopes on the rocks. But it is the arts that give us a speck of order and harmony and peace that a better world is possible, if not here, then elsewhere. And of all the arts, none of them conjures that alternate dimension of peace with the specificity of music. Music is the only partial scientific proof we yet have of a spiritual world made manifest on earth. Every ring of a musical vibration you hear is comprised of aural rings at still higher frequencies. When it comes to music, we've never gotten a better explanation than the astral ones we got from Aristotle, Pythagoras, and Kepler.

This is, of course, the kind of pompous explanation of music that turns everybody off of classical music permanently. There isn't much Charlap can do about that. This composer's long since learned that he's a piss poor advocate for classical music. How can he possibly advocate well for something so embedded in the fabric of a life lived so differently from every other person in his generation? Not even his brothers grew up learning Yiddish. Not even his Jewish friends from Northwest Baltimore had grandparents from the 'old country,' let alone Greenie grandparents whom they'd see three or four times a week. No other family in Pikesville seemed to have his steady influx of relatives, not especially educated or wealthy, coming through the house who'd switch between English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, and Spanish as though it were something everybody does at the dinnertable - and half-a-dozen other languages on special occasions. For a kid from Pikesville, it's astonishing how Europe seemed right next door.

Somehow, he never got the memo that America was something different than this. He was once the golden child of a paradise completely apart from America, who seemed to assimilate information as soon as he read it, and to leave this paradise was a decade long nightmare from which he shall never completely wake. How could he take to the music of this new world completely when so much of it reminds him of what he lost? There's a lot of music from these other genres which he likes very much, but he can never truly love them. He can love the people who make their music, he can esteem the music enormously, but it is that fusty, dusty, musty old music from a civilization everybody hates that has his heart and always will.

Because he is not of the 21st century, he is of the 19th and the 23rd. In the 21st century, he isn't much, just an eccentric in a small and declining American city. In the 23rd, he'll probably be even less. Not much he's written yet is worthy of any kind of posterity, though he's very proud of Psalm 2, but even if his music's better than he thinks it is, what use is posterity to a creator who isn't around to enjoy it? Nevertheless, when a musician encounters a tortuous path in his own time, he tends to find some solace in the idea that somewhere, someone, eventually, will dust off the manuscript (or eliminate 200 years worth of bugs from his Bandcamp website) and appreciate in the early 23rd century what people neglected in the early 21st.

No doubt this sounds like self-pity, a characteristic for which this composer is certainly not immune. But in his defense, as he's begun to age, he's come to pity the world more than himself for all which they've missed.

What is it that separates music like this from the music of surrounding eras? Surely, this is not 'better music' than other music. There is no such thing in the arts as 'better than', there are only different types of greatness - be it the joie de vivre of Louis Armstrong, the macabre resolve of Johnny Cash, the hallucinatory innocence of The Beatles, or the simplicity that conceals infinite complexity of Mozart. Once music strikes you as great, there is no way of saying one music is objectively greater than another. And yet the greatness of some art eludes people. Indeed, the greatness of some art eludes entire generations and centuries. This composer had the bad luck to be born in an era that wants nothing to do with the era whose music captured his heart. Friends seem to hear it and hear their parents yelling at them to practice piano, which as they get older, perhaps got conflated in their subconscious with all sorts of patriarchal concepts from masculinity to imperialism to social class.

What separates it is neither that the music is more intelligent or more emotionally expressive. What separates it is its ability to articulate an extremely specific tension between emotion and intellect. What the majority of great classical music expresses is not emotion or thought, but the thoughts that our emotions generate,  the emotions between emotions, the process by which one emotion gives way to another, then another, and then another. Perhaps part of the reason that what is generally called 'classical music' is so neglected by his generation is that most people have much less need for it. In an era when people can speak their minds and freely say what they feel, there are few emotions left to bottle up. Classical music is very good at articulating emotions within you that you weren't necessarily aware existed, but in a culture that combs every hair of our emotional selves, what need is there for that?

Around this time two years ago, Evan Tucker seemed, relatively speaking, cock of the walk, yet fate ordained to teach him, yet again, that he is cock of nothing. In the span of three months, he endured the end of multiple friendships, multiple bands, and a relationship. Were his life ever made into a biopic, this would be an era when he, like John C. Reilly as Dewey Cox, would stare into the camera and say 'Wow, this sure is a dark period.'

Four years of trying to make something resembling a living as a non-classical musician was fun - but the party was over, and the more he listened to the music, the less reward he derived from it. The dance music reminded him that the party was over.The jazz reminded him of how uncool he was.  The rock reminded him how apart from the general crowd he always was. The earnest singer-songwriters articulated simple primary emotions while the emotions he felt were incredibly complex.

Only the classical music that everybody else in his generation ignores, grown like ivy over a thousand years to express the ambiguities of emotion with a specificity otherwise unknown to history, spoke to him anymore, and reached him in a dark time when every other music felt like sonic wallpaper.

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