Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ambushed by art

On my commute today, I walked into a strange métro painted deep ocean blue. There were architectural line drawings on the windows, and various samples played over the PA - voices of old men and children in French, English and Chinese, cows mooing as we pulled into a station, sitar runs evoking clichéd exotica and more. I'm still a little unsure of what this was apparently it was this (French-only); it got me thinking again about the role of art in our everyday lives. The UK's recent No Music Day raised this point as well. We're all surrounded by music all day, but I don't know that I would characterize it all as "art." For me, I'd prefer to make the choice of being immersed in an arts exhibition rather than being bombarded with buskers and inescapable eavesdropping on others' playlists. I suppose I did make that choice by stepping on that car instead of finding another one. (Aside: when did blasting music out of one's cellphone, sans earbuds, become all the rage?)

To me, the argument that being surrounded by music inherently devalues it doesn't hold water for me. I think the opposite is true - the music I devote my time to is imbued with a higher value because I'm actually setting aside space, time and undivided attention for it.

***

The resurrected Cinéma du Parc is running the first annual Brazilian film festival until December 20. I went to see the documentary on Capoeira Regional pioneer Mestre Bimba. Having little prior knowledge of the subject, it was a highly educational film for me. It was intriguing to learn the roots of capoeira in its Angolan form, as a real, violent and illegal martial art practiced by stevedores. Mestre Bimba was the inventor of Capoeira Regional, the most common form of it today. What was truly fascinating to me was the musical element of it all: the way the berimbau and pandeiro rhythms influence the moves capoeristas improvise; the various mythologizations of Bimba in folk song, MPB and capoeira chants. The influence Bimba had on his students was immensely powerful, and that sense is conveyed in the film. Because capoeira is an improvised art form with an underlying vocabulary and structure, many parallels can be made to jazz. I won't make them until I've seen the film a few more times. Some of the quotes from historians and students of Bimba were quite profound and beautiful, but I can't remember any of them right now.

Dan Levitin, in This is Your Brain on Music, cites the figure of 10,000 hours of practice to make a virtuoso. I wonder if the musicality of certain cultures - definitely Latin America, and to a different extent South Asia - is due to the fact that music isn't a rarefied thing in those regions, but rather part of its lifeblood. Go to Cuba or Brazil and everyone, or almost everyone, can play percussion, or guitar/tres/cavaquinho, or sing; the familial percussion groups profiled in Susie Ibarra's Electric Kulintang are part of a weekly ritual. I would assume that this 10,000 hours of practice is built up a lot faster in these regions than in North America due to mere exposure. This suggests to me that it's not that being surrounded by music is the inherent evil, as above; it's music as wallpaper, rather than actively engaging subject, that's the culprit. And really, isn't that the fault of the listener?

1 comment:

Mwanji Ezana said...

"Aside: when did blasting music out of one's cellphone, sans earbuds, become all the rage?"

I first noticed this trend last summer, I think.

Really nice penultimate sentence. I don't agree with the last one, though: when I walk down the street and am bombarded with piped music from the small speakers that inexplicably line the streets of my town's centre, treating it as wallpaper is almost a survival tactic.