Tim Hinck's thoughts on music and life- There is a lady living across the street from me. She is dying of cancer. I have never seen anyone so full of life and energy. She loves to work outside in the flowers and grass of her yard. I can see her savoring every sunny day... the way she stands up from planting a flower bulb with such satisfaction on her face and claps the dirt from her gloves with resolution. I want to be like that lady.

Location: Schalkwijk, Utrecht, Netherlands

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Ralph Meulenbroeks' Viola da Gamba

The Viola d'Gamba is one of the most beautiful instruments I have ever heard. If you've never heard one, you should find a recording and snatch it up. Now that Early Music is the newest accessory to a Jaguar and a six-digit income, you should be able to find this music at any self-respecting yuppie store. If you like cello-music, this is a slightly softer and more vocal version of a Cello. It has 6 or 7 strings and can thus play very full chords. Besides having a fretted finger-board, it is played in the same way as a modern cello (with a bow). And the strings are gut instead of steel.

I took these two pictures at the Klooster Kerk in the Hague during Ralph Meulenbroeks' recent solo recital.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Thoughts on Aesthetics

So, what happens when you are left alone in a strange country and given too much coffee and even more free time? Why, you begin solving the world's problems, of course - one by one - in various scenarios, leading each to its carefully-crafted conclusion. First you end world-hunger, then illiteracy, and by the time the sun is firmly perched on the foreign horizon outside your window, you have moved on to military coups and polar ice caps.

Even though the coffee's only half gone, I have moved on even farther to questions of religion and philosophy. Yes, laugh if you will, but before you chastise my futile use of time, why don't you come over here and give me someone to hang out with instead! And before you think I've gone too far afield for the blogging audience, remember that philosophy itself was the 'internet' of its own time, attracting geeks and child prodigies who were addicted to modern trends, and the power of the possession of information.

So back on track - all joking aside, I actually do spend a lot of time thinking about what makes great music... the ingredients, the nuts and bolts. One of the principle ideas that I keep being led round to is imperfection. "Faultless is tasteless", etc. There is a very interesting idea among musicians and painters and artists in general that implies that what makes music (for example) great is not in achieving perfection, but in the striving for it. Not only are 'faults' beautiful, but a 'faulty' creature reaching for (and nearly acheiving) musical perfection is breathtaking. The opposite, is certainly true. Robert Pinsky (former U.S. poet laureate) tells us that the basis of 'horror' as an artistic genre is that a human takes on qualities of something physically and/or intellectually inferior to itself; for example, man becoming animal... zombie, werewolf, mummy, a vampire's biologically-altering neckbite, Jekyll/Hyde, etc.

Some go as far as to say that it is the subtle imperfections that actually create beauty. A few examples....
- perfume contains a very noxious-smelling substance which is added in minute amounts but is essential for the end result...
- when a recording of a symphony orchestra is digitally manipulated so that every player's note is perfectly in tune, the sound is completely terrible in the end...
-a perfectly symmetrical face is almost grotesque....

These are very obvious and extreme examples, but it works even in more subtle situations (think of the low, almost inaudible - and certainly 'unmusical' - growls from Miles Davis' horn, or the harsh scraping sound of a bow across a violin string when the player lands on a heavy accent). When I listen to an organist, or a cellist, or viol-player, I am not listening for all the right notes, or the correct interpretation, I am listening for those little gaps, those stutters, those inexplicable pauses that tell me what's really on his mind.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sacbuts and Cornetts and Jew's Harps...

Since Gerald and I like to joke about Sacbuts and Hurdy-Gurdy's and Jew's Harps and other Renaissance musical instruments, I thought it would be a fitting place to begin. But if we really wanted to start at the beginning, I suppose it would be with Pythagoras (565 BC), the guy who told us why music sounds like music (and also gave us a real puzzle that no one since has been able to solve - namely - "why is it impossible to make a musical scale of perfectly tuned pitches?") My favorite thing about Pythagoras is that he invented his own religion which was based upon several principles, including: 1. 'No picking up anything that has fallen over' 2. 'No stepping across a pole' 3. 'No picking flowers' 4. 'No laying hands on a white cockerel'. Well, anyway, I hope some of you will return to read my posts sometime.