The Revolution Requires Beauty

2016 has been turbulent and a revelation, so I’m either laughing or weeping. Some favorite musicians died (Bowie, Prince), the electoral process has unburied corpses that won’t lie down, and the industrial-military complex continues to look after its own while people continue the struggle for human rights.

Hand of the Desert by Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal
Hand of the Desert by Chilean sculptor Mario Irarrázabal, from Caballito Negro concert “Resist”

Artists can either turn the temperature down, or up. I say up, and fan those flames. But not without beauty, because without its characteristic expansiveness, we lose our capacity for reason, and our reason for being. We are required to contribute to intelligent discussion, to include (or get out of the way of) others who are always made invisible. We need to create work that sustains us, does not whitewash reality, and offers hope without sentimentality.

My stay in Paris, during the month of May, in a city that prides itself on reason, touched me deeply. I cherished the view of the city from Belleville (famously Edith Piaf’s home) which sprawls like a compact, fancy octopus down to the Seine. I was struck by how the Paris got it right when it comes to public culture. Narrower, more delicate sensibilities force a traveller to slow down, take up less space, appreciate texture and sound.

Belleville Street Art
Belleville Street Art

You get some respite, some love, which is a complete contrast to the way I feel in many American urban areas, which are shouty, ugly and spread no joy, other than “buy me” and “eat me”.

I loved seeing how people in Belleville took up space, arguing for their rights in street art and protests, even as they are acutely anxious about their future ability to live and thrive. Belleville still identifies as a place of dissent (historically a revolutionary hold-out), home to many 1st and 2nd generation immigrant cultures. Paris generally struggles with prices rising, gentrification, how to respond to terrorism, holding onto their social contracts through strikes and complaint, and the day after I left, the Seine flooded.

With Nicolas Vérin
With Nicolas Vérin

I met a number of wonderful composers including Roger Tessier, Pascale Criton and Nicolas Vérin, with the generous help of the Director of a French composers archive(CDMC), Laure Marcel Berlioz, and experienced a multi-disciplinary contemporary music festival that just so happened to be running while I was there.

It was interesting to discover the cultural divides of contemporary music language between French (tending towards austerity, timelessness) and the US (more tonal than not, always the groove). It only made me want to nurture both aesthetics in compositions, and in concert, and so, hatching plans to do so, in 2017.

No Dakota Pipeline protests assisted by Aztec dancers from Mexico – this is how you are supposed to support by dancing!

Fanning the flames and staying the course of dissent requires research. I’ve been absorbing Achille Mbembe’s conception of necropolitics in the post-colonial experiences; savoring Teju Cole, Rebecca Solnit, Claudia Rankine, who weave, caress and scrutinize our cultural tangles; enjoying the poetry of Billy Collins, Ladan Osman, Terrance Hayes; and reading a swathe of articles via Facebook (its one use I don’t resent) sent by friends to reveal the nightmare we’re in. It has been refreshing to support weekly local protests of the Dakota Access Pipeline, to hearh people articulate beyond well-worn tropes of how our planet matters. A flash-mob of fresh-faced young white people cheerfully interrupted the protest one Saturday to dance to pop music, an almost a comical sign that colonization follows, no matter what.

Narration practice before Gentle Numbers concert - note cup of tea clutched to heart...
Narration practice before Gentle Numbers concert – note cup of tea clutched to heart…

Three Gentle Numbers In Eternity concerts with Mitsuki Dazai (performed in April, July and October) were a satisfying invocation of fire and tenderness. That, plus the work that Terry and I are doing with text in Caballito Negro, has been the precursor to some scholarly research that I’ll be doing next year concerning ”The Worlds Within Text and Music”.

In August, Terry and I performed at the National Flute Convention in San Diego, Terry and I playing our own piece That Which Colors the Soul for flute and tabla (a new version which gave it a darker edge), and Ivan Trevino’s This is Like Jazz. Conventions are often a mess of stressed people needing to get a lot done in very few minutes, but I was happy to meet new flutist friends with similar creative and rebellious minds, choose a new bass flute-to-be with innovative design (thanks Eva Kingma!) and hear performances that made me want to practice better, and more.

This will be me - cat will show how it's done...
This will be me after the tour – cat shows how it’s done…

Caballito Negro’s program Resist in collaboration with Left Edge Percussion is another musical ride with narrative (which I’ve created this time in the form of short prose and poetry). There’ll be lots of us onstage, lots of equipment, lots to say in a small space!

After this hurly-burly I will lie low in November and December to complete recording and composition projects labored over in the summer. Nothing like a difficult year to remind a body of the need to rest, regenerate and create beauty for the incoming year, which I’m excited to start.

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