Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Spirits Moving Musically

A steadfast fan of the gothic in literature and film, I can't remember when it started. I know that Edgar Allan Poe was an early inhabitant of my reading world since he replaced Oscar Wilde when I was 12.

I shall have to add this link to my sidebar. The poem, The Haunted Palace (1839), is worth a read:

In the greenest of our valleys
By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace-
Radiant palace- reared its head.
In the monarch Thought's dominion-
It stood there!

Never seraph spread a pinion
Over fabric half so fair!
Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
On its roof did float and flow,
(This- all this- was in the olden
Time long ago,)
And every gentle air that dallied,
In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
A winged odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley,
Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically,
To a lute's well-tuned law,
Round about a throne where, sitting
In state his glory well-befitting,
The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
And sparkling evermore,
A troop of Echoes, whose sweet duty
Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
Assailed the monarch's high estate.
(Ah, let us mourn!- for never morrow
Shall dawn upon him desolate!)
And round about his home the glory
That blushed and bloomed,
Is but a dim-remembered story
Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms, that move fantastically
To a discordant melody,
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever
And laugh- but smile no more.

Speaking of spirits and music, for my birthday today I received the DVD collection of Ken Burns' Jazz documentary. Very cool.

Jazz, for me, is at once cerebral, visceral and spiritual. I don't produce it myself but I have long-suspected that it emanates from the very core of our existence, from the "soul" of the world. What I know is that when I listen to it, there seems to be a perfect intersection of my interior being with the external world. It just tugs at the universal strings of thought, emotion and the desire for transcendence.

Imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon this interview with Ken Burns:

There was something about jazz that reminded me of something bigger and larger, more than myself, more than who we are. Jazz was the Holy Ghost. You thought you were in the presence of something that could transform, could transcend the mundane and the ordinary of our lives, and really point in the direction of harmony, not just between people and races and sexes, but between just the normal stuff of everyday life.

So, what exactly does this music mean to Ken Burns and how is it expressed in the documentary?

The first thing we recognized is how controversial it was, how powerful it was emotionally for the people who play it and write about it all the time. We listened to them, and sort of sampled and selected and got a big, rolling machine of a film. It's about two world wars, and a depression, about race, always race, about sex. I mean, this is the music that men and women speak to each other with. It's the mating call, the ritual of courtship.

And it's also about drug abuse and its terrible cost, and extraordinary creativity. Naturally, it's going to be filled with lots of controversy. It's going to touch on lots of social issues. And at the heart, it's going to be about joy, about communication, about this language that is so much more precise than my moving my mouth right now.

In my opinion, Ken Burns "gets" the music and I'm glad that I've got the documentary.

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