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Archive for October 30th, 2006

Alexander Knaifel

I blogged about Alexander Knaifel a few weeks ago, and his piece Svete Tikhiy, or O Gladsome Light.  The music is so simple, in a manner of speaking, yet I never tire of listening to it. I listen to it on my way to work, if I’m travelling alone. I listen to it in bed. I can listen to it three or four times a day. It puts me in the mood to write. It creates a space around me in which I can imagine and create another world, a space on which the real world does not impinge. It’s a quiet, solemn world, though, perhaps not suitable to all kinds of writing. One would not be able to do humour in that world, for example.

When the music is so-called minimalist (which Knaifel is not, and perhaps no one really is) you can begin to perceive just how complex music can be. Knaifel allows you to contemplate each note and anticipate the next one. And the note that comes never fails to surprise, to be other than what you had expected, to be other than what music most often leads you to expect. In Svete Tikhiy, you can savour each individual note.

In the second half of the piece, the voices begin. Two or three women begin to murmur fervently what I can only assume is a prayer in Russian. What amazed me when I first heard it was just quickly the words were spoken/sung. How did they say them all without ever stumbling? (I must assume they don’t stumble. Even if it’s gibberish, you’d expect some stumbling or hesitation. Probably even more so in that case, since words with recognisable meaning, meaning you can anticipate, would help with the flow.) Then one woman’s voice begins a melody which hovers over the murmured prayer, which is like a drone in eastern music. Later, the voice joins the murmur, which assumes more melody and harmony. When the prayer-like part ends, the instruments begin (a piano and some strings) accompanied by the singers. This part is the haziest in my memory. What I do remember is that I’m never sure when it’s going to end. When I do think it’s going to end, it doesn’t. And when it does end, I never realise it has, and always expect more.

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