November 23, 2014
Glittering glacier: a reality-melting journey
For the Herald
Winter Morning Walks is an outstanding crossover of music, poetry and vocal performanceIn a young farm in Garland, Nebraska, there is a corner — faintly bathed in sunlight — where two dresses bide their time resplendently on a long line. The fantasy lasts for a few minutes in the vital intensity of a transposition, as the sun later withdraws, retracting its light from untold lands and completely shading the figure.
The cycle will repeat itself to prompt variations — each one as a solar station is derived from a unique imagination, while remaining undifferentiated and geometrical.
Art is acceptant of its wholeness emerging only from a subjective figure. Fragmentary and disperse materials — captured from daily life — can be envisioned as a cosmos when subjected to a language or an aesthetic potentiality. This is how art universalizes subjectivity and presents it as a truth intrinsic to each and all.
‘(As) a skinny old man in your lap / while he watches the road, waiting for someone to wave to. You feel like waving.‘
When Ted Kooser pasted his daily poems on the postcards he used to send to his friend and fellow writer Jim Harrison (a pursuit which would lead to the publication of Winter Morning Walks: One Hundred Postcards to Jim Harrison), he returned to a primitive tradition: the travel narrative. A middle-aged Iowa-born poet facing the aftermath of cancer surgery imagined the archetypal journey of every man who has been summoned by death. However, he did it through the microscopic account of local life. Kooser avoids speaking openly about his illness; he implies it in smooth metaphors encircling the surroundings of his home, where he would often go for invigorating walks. His verse is built from quiet cynicism, from refreshing musings on life in Southeast Nebraska, from molecular structures oozing the silent knowledge of human experience.
When musician and composer Maria Schneider envisions an open space, in organic symmetry to Kooser’s universe, she can’t acknowledge the endless wilderness which permeates the perception of the act. She stops instead to focus on the introspective sensations of the nuances and intimate ridges of the local topography. She shapes one of her movements like drawing up insects fluttering around an electric lamp, and her stippling contains invertebrate lines of fugue that intersect and then abruptly fade away when the light goes off.
When both discover that the impossible completeness of a work can only come from fragmentary realities (arranged on the brink of a void), music and poetry meet once again, in their identical humanism. It is thus that Schneider and Kooser come together as parts of the same spirit.
Winter Morning Walks proposes — as if addressing silence — adornments that are as sublime as they are incorporeal. Removed to the outside of domesticity or articulation, a minute signifier can expand and linger, stretch and burst apart suddenly: at first in itself, from right to left, hindering its own movement and immediately recreating it, like a leap over its own possibilities. ‘Coyote, raccoon, raccoon, field mouse, sparrow, each watching from darkness this man with the moon on a leash.‘
There is no outside (as implausible as it may be) which can detach us from the spectres of reality.
The disclosure of a detail allows the manipulation of the experience and the stream of relations from which its appearance emerges, concealing an internal contradiction where the contrasting poles of the object amplify their potential, radicalizing a confrontation that is never settled.
This is how we might define the sensitive material brought to blazing life by soprano Dawn Upshaw with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Their triumph managed to confuse the synthetic-like countenances of Pop Art élite but then again, the album never claimed to be anything else but “Art, for the people.”
In itself, this can be a rather significant event in Western ethnography: it occurred recently in the frenetic Los Angeles theatre where the Grammy ceremony was held. Winter Morning Walks was unanimously recognized and awarded in every category it had been nominated: Best Contemporary Classical Composition for the song cycle; Best Classical Vocal Solo for Dawn Upshaw; Best Engineered Album, Classical for David Frost, Tim Martyn and Brian Losch; Best Producer of the Year, Classical for David Frost.
Upshaw, the ever sugar-spun fairy, walks through the farms of Garland, as if her white mellifluence might cradle a flicker of docile hope. Her voice lights up the incautious beauty of simple forms, as if that which tore us apart (the notion of death) were no longer part of the whole of reality.
Winter Morning Walks. Music composed by Maria Schneider. Poems by Ted Kooser and stories by Carlos Drummond de Andrade. Written for and performed by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Dawn Upshaw, Jay Anderson (bass), Frank Kimbrough (piano) & Scott Robinson (alto clarinet & bass clarinet). Label: ArtistShare. Available for download and purchase from: www.artistshare.com.
* Fernando Piragine (email@example.com) has studied Philosophy and Literature. He has collaborated with the Grupo de Acción Filosófica and is currently looking forward to a PhD in Cultural Analysis.