Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Evolutionary Music

Sometimes, and especially after dinner in the evenings, Joel will mooch towards the piano and start to play. At this end of the day it will usually be free improvisation. He will simply start to play, sometimes after a moment's thought; sometimes immediately.

Tonight, as the kettle boiled for tea, he produced three minutes of accelerating, deepening, bubbling, rippling sounds, ending abruptly with a "click" as the water boiled.

But then, having made the tea, as his parents stretched out on the couch and a comfy chair, a new magic began.

Over a complex rhythmic bass pattern, the variations in the right hand began, overlapping and layering with the richest sounds. The lid was open and the sound filled the room. Waves and waves of echoing, woody piano patterns emerged, lit up by occasional moments of dissonance against the resonance and harmonic patterning. The rhythms were sharp and powerful; the melodies sweet and lyrical.

We are watching David Attenborough's Life on Earth (two weeks ago he'd improvised around the theme music), and had just watched the episode in which the Australian marsupials starred: all those tiny blind creatures crawling toward the pouch. I could not help but contrast the complex life-form before me: full of teenage anxiety, conflict and doubt (someone he knows, of his age, has recently died after enduring depression), yet producing this confident, emotional music. I'd look over and see his head bent down, Keith Jarrett style, as he rocked and swayed into the music. I'd catch his father's eye, and we'd raise our eyebrows together in mutual wonder.

When he'd finished (my tea was almost cold before I drank it), he spoke about the music, how he was experimenting in the right hand with melodies oriented around a semitone higher than the dominant key in the bass; how he was thinking about Attenborough's world: the earth as planet and as eco-system, with all its life forms.

I have a hundred mundane tasks to complete, but don't know where to begin with any of them.

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