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Banbury Cross

a pillow for lost thoughts...

Post details: Music as a Form of Energy

Music as a Form of Energy

Exhibit A

I think first time I realized that music is energy was when I was a teenager and watched a performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony with Carlo Maria Giulini. Most conductors gesticulate furiously during the performance. They direct, they prod, they convey emotion and, of course, they set the pace. Not so Giulini. His body language was subdued and sparse. He was playing with an orchestra that knew him well so no histrionics were necessary. When the theme of Joy in the last movement percolated into the full orchestration - a place where most Maestros go flat out mercurial - Giulini just raised both of his hands like a sorcerer and kept them up for the duration of the passage, a whole minute at least, just letting the music flow through the V-shaped opening he created. It was like optical lens for some mighty yet invisible force. I could almost see the stream of its field lines rushing through that gap. At that moment, the whole concert hall turned into an electric lake which had many tributaries, but only one exit - through the narrow channel over Giulini's head.

Exhibit B

Talk is one of the lesser known albums by Yes, my favorite rock band. But it has a small jewel in it. The last number (Endless Dream) has a short instrumental overture and that 3 minute piece is pure magic. Its charm rests in a strange way in which it generates its momentum. See, in our Universe being at rest is the default mode for things. Normally you have to spend energy to get things going. You have to generate it, you have to push the pedal to the medal, and that often makes you look awkward - panting, sweating, trying too hard, gasping for breath and in general unappealing. But in this overture, it appears that motion is the natural state of affairs and the way to accelerate it further is not by stepping on the gas pedal with your eyes bulging and fingers gnashed into the steering wheel, but rather by releasing the brake pedal with a casual elegance of a worldly lady. In fact, at the beginning as the music gradually revs up you can almost hear the tension of the engaged brake pedal. And then it happens. Release it - and off you go - straight into a parallel Universe. With an unbearable lightness of speeding.

Exhibit C

I have heard several recordings of Mitch Leigh's classical musical Man of La Mancha. I saw several men in the leading role of Don Quijote, some good, some adequate. But all of their heroic efforts were completely blown out of the water some 15 years ago, when I first saw the rendering of Linda Eder on PBS. And yes, that is a female name. The level of knee bending energy she projected into her singing was in a league of its own. None of the other Don Quijotes came close. To put them in the same sentence with Eder would be like comparing Sunday afternoon paddling on a local fish pond with riding down a class 8 Himalayan rapids. But I always found it ironic that it had to be woman who unleashed all the elements dormant in this song. Once in a while I still watch her tour-de-force on you tube and am stunned every time. At times it looks like she has to do dig her heels deep into the floor so she can better withstand the gale force winds gushing through her vocal cords. There she is - pacing up and down the stage like a hungry tigress, tossing her mane around, scouting the audience for prey and taking absolutely no prisoners. Every move of hers is shaped by the flow of music. In this well mounted resonance, she and Don Quijote emerge as one. And onward to glory they go.

Exhibit D

When I first heard a piece called Magnum Opus by Kansas (American progressive band popular in 1970s and 1980s) I thought "these guys must have lost it". The composition takes about 8 minutes, most of which are spent on hurling ear pulling dissonances in your general way. Quite a jarring experience for most audiences: up the keyboard, down the keyboard, up the keyboard and down again - torn melodies and mangled harmony fly all over the place. You feel like sitting in an experimental chair of a mad scientist. You wanna scream and pull your hair out and run away in despair and all of the above. Until almost at the end a majestic spark suddenly jolts the electrodes and in one fell swoop gives meaning to the whole etude. The seven minute ordeal has been but a preparation for that one moment. It's not even a tune or a phrase, it's just a massive burst of harmonic plasma. You would not be able to take it without some serious conditioning. You need to elevate your soul to a higher level to be prepared for this fleeting arc of energy. Your mind has to be turned into a powerful capacitor and charged. Only when you think you can't take it any more, the air crackles and flares eject into the open space. Now you know what it feels like to be a laser beam. Your eyes are wide open. All that noise you couldn't stand a minute ago was but a flashing sign: "prepare for a daring escape from gravity".



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