Monday, August 6, 2012

Mischievous Genius

Timothy Andres remixed Mozart's Coronation Concerto the way R.Kelly remixed Ignition—better than the original, and so much dirtier.

I could describe the notes for you: A little bit of Mozart, a little bit of Andres, sometime a little bit of both at the same time, but better analysis could be done by someone other than me. 

Instead I want to share how I felt hearing and watching this for the first time. Why? My feelings aren't particularly important, but I want composers, musicians and music students everywhere to know that there are people like me watching online and in the concert hall, and that we are moved by your work. We love it.

And if you are reading this and never thought you'd ever like a piece of classical music, go with me here: for all the weight of the centuries, there is still the youthful breath of mischievous genius hanging out between the notes, in the elbows and thumbs of the musicians, and the late-night inspiration of the composer.

So here we go. A slightly embarrassing essay on how much I enjoyed hearing this piece: 

Letter A: The fingers do a dance

Music is physical—air is pushed between reeds or down tubes. Hammers strike cables and planks and skins to make even more sound; even a speaker's cone pushes the air like a baby nursing a bottle of early morning milk—there is no escaping the physical dance required to make sound. 

When you go to a concert or see a video of performed music, the physical dance is a non-trivial element of the pleasure of experiencing the piece. Part of the delight in Andres's video is watching him: his posture is taut, his arms are knowing, his fingers oddly long when he lifts them high during the non-performing moments—the way a prima ballerina's feet are extended en pointe during a lift or a writer lifts her pen after crafting a well-said love note. 

Letter B: What about Mozart? 

Mozart's music is a child running coatless in the season’s first snow; it is a bicycle race down a steep hill pitting you against your first yellow "sports" walkman and long-lost best friend; it is a jazz club, where all the patrons know the standards and no one needs a fake book. Playing Mozart is to restate the pleasure of becoming a vehicle for creation or inspiration. Poet Jack Spicer more or less called this experience the counterpunching radio of God. William Blake agreed that, as artists, we are nothing more than the vehicle of some other cosmic truth. Many contemporary creators hope for a different cause—that humans are able to chart their own course or at least learn the rules of chance. What I love about this video by Andres is that he lets us have it both ways. We are intellectual craftsmen in the process of the sublime. We are the music of the spheres, Jazz and Chance and Language all in one. 

Letter C: The clothes extend the dance

Tuxedo? of course, but there's nothing wrong with variations on a theme: Andres works a light suit better than David Byrne, and at around 6:36 in to the video he sticks a landing better than a gymnast and brings one arm up and another down (like the linking arms of a barrel of monkeys) with a twist so electric that the first time I saw it I gave a howl. I was riding to work and the Twitter shuttle bus carrying 38 near-silent programmers, accountants and product managers gave a start: they looked up and must have assumed I was watching the Olympics or playing a video game. But I was doing something better. I was re-invigorating my mind with the delight of the familiar rendered strange (but not uncanny). It was the glimpse of a man seeing the love of his life, waiting to take his arm, dressed for a party in a way that would stop traffic. It was the moment a proud father saw his children run farther, faster and stronger than he himself ever could. It was the hope for the new idea behind old ideas, not just the reverence of history. 

Letter D: Music is a living art. 

Even tunes from centuries ago must be rendered in the moment to be heard. Today's jams are necessarily reflective of our times, just as a 70s film about the 20s still looks like both, so do our sounds today reflect our current urgent ideas.

Andres's video made me happy, optimistic, inspired and ready to create.