Golijov and Composing for the Laptop

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Golijov and Composing for the Laptop

Post by Ralph » Sun Jan 29, 2006 10:25 am


Let's all listen to those laptops
>By Andrew Clark
>Published: January 23 2006 02:00 | Last updated: January 23 2006 02:00

The laptop is a 21st-century folk instrument. Popular music thrives on dirt - the opposite of classical music, which sterilises impurities. If music is good and true, it has to speak instantly.

This is the gospel according to Osvaldo Golijov. It is a form of liberation theology, at its most provocative in Golijov's own music - a wild and impulsive mix embracing klezmer, tango and gypsy idioms, occasionally overlaid by soothing western lyricism. Like the intellectual and social movements that swept Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, Golijov's artistic credo has a strong emotional foundation. It attacks power centres from the periphery. It replaces old hier­archies with democratic models. It seeks to generate a new vitality of expression. It thrives on a culture in ferment.

Golijov (pronounced Golly-hov), a 45-year-old Argentine Jew with family roots in eastern Europe, is being hailed as classical music's Messiah. His evangelical message has already taken root in the US: a month-long Golijov festival began last night at New York's Lincoln Center. Next week he will attempt to storm the citadels of Europe, starting with two concerts at the Barbican in London.

Golijov writes music that is pleasantly exotic. He can do all the things modernism can't, such as good melodies and dance rhythms. This is new music that audiences can feel safe with because it is totally tonal. In the US, midstream orchestras and middle-interest promoters have joined the believers. Dawn Upshaw, Yo-Yo Ma and theKronos Quartet are advocates. Deutsche Grammophon recently signed up to the cause.

The best way to understand Golijov's appeal is to attend a live performance: the effect of the music is so bewitching in the moment, even when its substance is weak, that you get swept away. It doesn't needsustained concentration. His St Mark Passion - a rollercoaster of samba, rumba, flamenco, Gregorian chant, Yiddish inflections, wailing chords and brief, Bach-like solemnity - calls on the performers to dance, writhe, clap and chant. Ayre is a cycle of folk songs of Christian, Islamic and Jewish origin, coloured by ronroco (a small fretted lute), electric accordion, klezmer-inspired clarinet and, yes, laptop.

What appeals most to Golijov's admirers is a style that - in the words of Francis Ford Coppola, for whom Golijov is writing a film score - conveys "a sense of modern life, clashing cultures and the integration of past and present into a generous musical canvas". A more critical analysis would say Golijov is a dabbler, a stylistic magpie. In recordings his music sounds likeable but thin: the emotions it arouses in live performance do not respond to repeated listening

In conversation at his suburban Boston studio, he comes across as a man with wide horizons and deep convictions. He talks of the need for classical music to lose its blinkers and break out of traditional borders:

"I respect tradition but we are being bombarded by new stimuli all the time. If you say you can write only classical music, you're limiting yourself. I don't believe in a pure line that I have to evolve out of."

Nor does Golijov believe in a palette of "pure" sounds. When writing for singers, for example, he is not interested in the pitch of the voice but the grain. "It's a matter of using the real throat to convey emotion. When Luciano Berio wrote his folk songs in the 1960s, only Cathy Berberian knew how to sing them. Today two dozen can do it really well and, in 20 years, it's going to be hundreds."

Golijov justifies writing for instruments that do not belong to conventional western ensembles by pointing out that "it's not so innovative": he gives Mahler's use of the mandolin as anexample. Golijov has tried to echo this with the laptop, tapingsamples of knives and other kitchen implements and modulating the sound.

"Folk music has always re-invented things by recontext-ualising them, changing thefunction for which they were invented. I learned this from [the Argentine composer] Piazzolla. When Alberto Ginastera [another Argentine] and Aaron Copland tried to bring folklore to a mainstream audience through the symphony orchestra, they homogenised and aestheticised it. They lost the grit and stain and sweat. I was always attracted to the other group, more chaos and democracy. There is a hierarchy in the orchestra and that is not who I am."

Golijov recalls Piazzolla's use of the word mugre, slang for dirt. "He would say, 'Throw in some dirt there because popular music thrives on it'. That's why he championed the bandoneon [a type of concertina]: yes, it was hard to reproduce but he communicated with people and blew them away. Now there are bandoneon players all over the world.

"The human fire of creativity today is not necessarily where people think it is. I don't think it lies in the classical conservatoire system. Maybe Björk will produce the next masterpiece rather than someone from classical tradition. It's a question of relevance to the world."

There could be nothing more relevant to the Christian experience in Latin America than the St Mark Passion, with which the Golijov festivities in New York and London end next month.

Expressing surprise at thesuccess of the work since its 2000 Stuttgart premiere, he says he deliberately avoided a "modern-istic Passion that only rich whites could hear. The point was to write a Passion out of respect for people who live their lives according to Jesus under the harshest conditions, who keep a rock-solid faith amid dictators, disasters, corruption and violence. My experience as a teenager was of the televised mass in Argentina, where the archbishop would bless weapons of the Junta; of low-ranking priests who were given up and killed."

He sees his Passion as a musical metaphor of this. "People hear only the Latin American rhythms but it goes deeper. For westerners coming from the European tradition, dancing is only a pastime. For Latin Americans it's a spiritual activity, like Bach's arias. It is a state of ecstasy, of communion with spiritual matter. That's the amazing thing about music, as opposed to philosophy: you just have to open yourself."

That fundamentalism is bound to arouse suspicion in European temples of culture. But Golijov says he deals with the same core questions as great music of the past - "the pain of lost love, the grief of death, the joy of being alive, just like Mahler but in a different language". And Golijov's language is the one that, for the time being, is sweeping the musical marketplace.

Golijov's music will be performed at London's Barbican Centre on January 31 and February 24. 'The Passion of Osvaldo Golijov' is at New York's Lincoln Center until February 21

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein

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Re: Golijov and Composing for the Laptop

Post by Dalibor » Sun Jan 29, 2006 11:57 am

Ralph wrote:Maybe Björk will produce the next masterpiece rather than someone from classical tradition.

Bjork's music is not very tastefull neither creative at my opinion. I don't see a way for her to produce a single decent song, and not to speak about a "next masterpiece".
Ralph wrote: ....classical music, which sterilises impurities. If music is good and true, it has to speak instantly.
This is ironic, since the notation system of classical music is the most remote, the least instant way of producing music ever. Plus, classical composers ussualy don't compose instantly, in a flash of inspiration, but ponder over their's ideas for a long time.


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