Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eine Kleine Unpleasant Musik

Mads (UW Madrigal Singers) is launching headlong into modernism this semester with Vinko Globokar's "Kolo," written in 1988.  "Kolo" is as much a piece of performance art as a piece of music.  The choir plays the "archaic mass" to trombonist Mark Hetzler's "isolated modernist man."  We'll be circling, whooping and all manner of things on the stage of Mills Hall.  A more fitting venue than the brutalist (a descriptively named movement in modernist architecture) Mosse Humanities Building one would be hard pressed to find.

The piece opens and closes with a lovely chorale but most of it is thoroughly unpleasant.  The archaic mass is somewhat unkind to our trombonist hero.  There's truth in Globokar's portrayal of a large mass of people (particularly a choir) displaying disdain toward a modernist.  The genre never gained really wide public acceptance and, even now, there's been some dissention within the ensemble about performing a modernist piece but is it necessary that the ensemble like the piece when that wasn't necessarily the point?

As with all musical/artistic genres it's difficult to clearly date and define modernism but it's a movement that came of age in the middle of the twentieth century in a world that had just experienced two horrific world wars.  Large parts of Europe, Asia and Africa were decimated as humankind witnessed its capacity for inhumanity reach new heights.  In the coming decades, artists and composers became interested in communicating some of the darker emotions and realities that had been so prominent in the first half of the century.

Public response was . . . mixed.  Modernism certainly held considerable sway (though not total dominance) in the academy for the better part of the twentieth century.  Lay acceptance was not as general.  Audiences, especially in symphony halls, are likely to hear much of the same repertoire today as was heard a century ago.  Newer pieces in those venues are also likely to be by composers who bucked modernism in its heyday (Copeland, Barber, etc . . . ) or neoromantic composers of the post-modern period.

As time passes we can view modernism with more sympathetic eyes.  With a little perspective, the visceral and the primal can be appreciated for what they are and, with an open mind, we can start to appreciate what the composer was trying to say to us.

So what's the point of this gross oversimplification of a century of music history?  Only that beauty need not be the sole aim of art. 

Returning to the venue, perhaps the Humanities Building holds a caution.  There is certainly validity in the artistic exploration of negative emotion and general "ugliness."  That being said, people will generally find unpleasantness to be . . . unpleasant.  Attempting to chain people to a brutalist aeshtetic statement for forty years made architect Harry Weese no friends at the University.  Kolo, on the other hand, is twenty minutes long.  I think peple will be willing to Give Mr. Globokar at least that long to make his point.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I re-read this today and other than the line about "is it necessary that the ensemble like the piece..", it's pretty neutral. I think maybe you should amend the closing comments to include something schadenfreudisch or cathartic regarding unpleasant experiences, and why we love them :)