06 April 2009

Very Ivesian

The American composer, Charles Ives (1874-1954), was not very popular during his lifetime. Only after his death - like so many other artists before him - did his music start to get the recognition and reputation it deserved. Rather than go into a boring Cliffs-notes version of a paper I wrote in Grad School, though, I'll just get to my point.

Ives' music is recognizable and different from his predecessors' for a few main reasons, all centered around his fascination with contrasts: he'd write a song in two different and simultaneous keys (polytonality); in another piece of music, half of the orchestra played the music backward, concurrent with the other half playing it forward; Ives used lots of polyrhythms and was a big proponent of aleatoric/chance music as well as traditional Americana songs and hymns. He was a prolific writer (about his craft) and wrote about what it was like to say stand in the street and hear one thing - a parade for example - in one ear, whilst hearing a completely different kind of music in the other ear. Those are the types of experiences he recreated in his songs.

All that being said, it is to Charles Ives that I dedicate yesterday afternoon's walk through my neighborhood:

SCENE: A sunny Sunday afternoon, 73 degrees, middle of my San Francisco residential neighborhood. I stepped outside to take a walk

The second story windows in the house across the street are open - white, filmy curtains bellowing in the breeze; country music BLARES, uninhibited, from them.
Clearly, someone is enjoying their Sunday afternoon chores, or delight?, to the twangy-pop sounds emanating from above.

In the adjacent house, the second floor windows are open as well. An elderly man sticks his head out of one, clutching a mechanical fan.

"WILL YOU SHUT OFF THAT *BLEEEEEEP BLEEP BLEEPIN BLEEPITY BLEEP BLEEP* GOD-AWFUL MUSIC? SOME OF US ARE TRYING TO LIVE AROUND HERE."

No response from the Country Music Listener. The volume of the music neither rises nor falls.

"THAT IS HORRIBLE NOISE! WHAT KIND OF PERSON LISTENS TO HORRIBLE MUSIC LIKE THAT? TWANG TWANG. BLAAAAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAH BLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH BLAAAAAAAH." [note: he really was shouting the word "blah," all whilst clutching his fan.]

Again, no reponse from the Country Music Listener.

"BLAAAAAAAAAAH BLAH BLAH BLLLLLLAAAAAAAAH! BLAH BLAH BLAAAAH BLAH BLAAAAAH BLAH BLAH BLAH...." etc, ad nauseum. [note: he was now singing the word "blah" in time to the Country Music.]

FIN

As I walked down my street, in one ear I heard fast guitar and a woman singing with a country twang. In the other ear, the angry neighbor's "blahing" song cut through the bass and drumming of the Country Music to mix with the woman's voice. The whole cacophonous melange cracked me the hell up, and I continued on my way, reveling in the wacky and wonderful Ivesian moment I had just had.

2 comments:

sunnygirlsf said...

soooo funny! especially how the Blah-er was singing the word int ime to the music! things like that just don't happen in wisconsin..maybe because walking seems unheard of unless it's around a lake?!

Bag Blog said...

That whole scenario seems foreign to me or something out of a movie. But it is a very funny movie.