There is no past, only palimpsest

I once asked Madra, then in her late 80s and living in a retirement home, to tell me stories of her early days. She told me, “I’m too tired.” After she passed away, I cherished the short memoir she had written earlier in her life, and I typed it up. It was about nine pages in all.

I spend a lot of time archiving and documenting my own life and especially existing musical output. It is ultimately of no value to anyone but me. And yet, I do want to have stories to leave, even non-narrative, experimental music stories. All of this is for my daughter, hopefully less self-revision than continuity reaffirmed.

I’m documenting a past I’ll soon forget, if I haven’t already. I have a lot of newer pieces and unexplored ideas to attend to.

At the same time, I don’t believe in discarding, in “moving on” as though time is so linear, nor do I want to create work that is just a rewriting, colouring in over old lines. So I pay close attention to the layers underneath. It’s a personal approach, privileged by the luxury of a relatively quiet life. I’ve been lucky so far in not finding the need to stage my own creative auto-da-fé.

My wife said, memory is an unreliable narrator.

In a sense, all memories are falseI think only the sounds themselves speak with any feeling of truth about a time and place. The thing about musical sound is that no matter the vintage of its origins it is always created in the present, if it is music we are hearing at all.

John Williams is 80

(Originally posted on sleepsong, April 21, 2009. Happy 80th birthday, Maestro!)

When John Met Igor

Older fans of traditional film scores and/or 20th century music will know this one.

And almost everyone knows the main musical theme to the 1975 film Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg and his first major success as well as generally being the first acknowledged Hollywood blockbuster.

Saying the shark theme is iconic is like saying Obama got a dog; saying it is iconic is beyond understatement. It is one of the most viral musical memes ever created. It doesn’t need a ringtone to stay in our consciousness.

Last summer I heard small children passing Jaws along – still – at a public wading pool, 33 years after it was written. Spielberg laughed at composer John Williams when the latter first played the little two-note riff on the piano for him. It’s fair to say the theme – which recurs constantly throughout the film although it’s only a tiny part of a very sophisticated score – is just as responsible for the film’s impact on pop culture as the visuals.

Only true music geeks know that the theme (properly, a motif) builds into chugging, razor-toothed chords straight outta Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (“The Rite of Spring”). Le Sacre is a ballet score that famously – along with the “primitive” choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky which it accompanied – caused a riot at its 1913 premiere. The direction of concert music was thus notoriously changed, and Jaws is easily the most well-known of many film scores that were directly influenced by it, in this case over 60 years later.

For this post, I took a CD of the Jaws score – as originally recorded and conducted by John Williams in Hollywood with a small studio orchestra in 1975, and a CD of Le Sacre – as conducted by Igor Stravinsky in New York City with the Columbia Symphony Orchestra in 1960, and cross-faded and mashed them up them DJ style. We hears Jaws first, then Le Sacre at 0:33, then Williams swims back into the mix alongside Stravinsky from 1:18 until the end.

Spring Bites

I have not altered the pitch nor speed of either recording, letting them kind of wash up (ahem) over each other. I created this audio file in real time using my CD turntables – no desktop software was involved.

Williams was in essence sampling Stravinsky to create the underpinning to Jaws, the way a hip-hop producer might loop a drum break from an old R&B/funk record to make a new-school beat. Of course, hip-hop wasn’t quite born yet in 1975.

Nina

I’m blogging on my tablet from the Caribbean, sitting above the beach, looking north to the water through the palms. My wife is napping in our room. It’s a new calendar year, the last month of my 44th year, and there’s hardly been time to reflect. I wanted to update in late December, but that month was as much a blur as the months that preceded it.

I’m not the old me, nor the new one really. More alternate timeline than reboot. As always, connections are cyclical. For simplicity’s sake–it’s a fresh start in a fresh year.

Islam. Marriage. A new home, for a while. New family/configurations/potentials. We’ve arrived through struggle, conflict, ordeals, explorations, prayers and blessings. We’re both aware of how fortunate we are and are both very thankful, Alhamdulillah.

(Yes, I know the last time I checked in about this I was a secular humanist. More on the subject another time. The Darwin card has not expired.)

We are a we. A real we, like I’ve never had the chance to experience properly. It’s my third time living on our street (in Toronto) since the millennium, and yet that’s unimportant to note. It’s the kind of reference to my past I’m trying to minimize. As I said to my wife just today, “I didn’t come still in the wrapper.” It’s a challenge for her, and it’s tough for me to think in reinvent mode all the time. It works out the way it should: we didn’t get here without accepting the landscape.

It’s a beautiful landscape, and I’m not referencing my current view with that metaphor, though the view is part of it; the result of commitment to it. We got here together, and I’m confident that, InshAllah, we’re going to shape and build a lot together in it.

Her name is Nehal El-Hadi. We met almost three years ago. She comes from a good, loving family. She descends from a line of healers, academics, poets, politicians, nomads. She’s lived in several continents. She’s incredibly bright, funny, supportive. A wiki when it comes to books, culture, hip hop, fashion, journalism, urban planning and the post-human future. A super nerd, like me. Most importantly, she not only tolerates but appreciates my frequent, tic-like lapses into music monologue/humming/drumming. We do things together because we both naturally want to.

We watch sci-fi together. By mutual default.

Soul mate? I know, I gave up on that notion years ago. I’m more than willing to discover it as the product of work/years. I get to explore the possibilities with a beautiful woman who considers me an equal.

Nehal is already a great wife, and a loving/loved stepmother. She’s someone who will be a guide for me and for my daughter Aderemi, and I hope we will be for her. Right now she’s enjoying our honeymoon the way I am not, and so, update submitted. Happy 2012.

Chord Canons (On Seven Notes)

I.

g”/c”     c”/f’      a’/f’        e”/a’       e”/b’      d”/b’      g”/d”
a/f         e’/a       e’/b        d’/b        g’/d’       g’/c’       c’/f

II.

b’/e’      b’/g’      d”/g’      d”/f’        f’/c’       a’/c’        a’/e’
a/c         a/e        b/e         b/g         d’/g       d’/f         f/c

III.

a”/d”    d”/g’     b’/g’       e”/b’      e”/c”      f”/c”      a”/f”
b/g        e’/b       e’/c ‘       f’/c’       a’/’f        a’/’d       d’/g

(2005)