Category Archives: music

The Majlis Collaborative Experience

The Majlis “Figure of Speech” multidisciplinary experience was intense and rewarding. Tricia Postle, the organizer of the series, selected the members of our motley crew, which consisted of Gauri Vanarase, a kathak/modern dancer; Hallie Fishel-Verrette, a soprano and Baroque guitarist; John Edwards, also a Baroque guitarist; and myself, a far left field experimental poet. The point of such groupings is to throw together people from various disciplines and see what emerges from their collaboration. They gather for a series of rehearsals and then perform a concert on two evenings. Although some of the collaborations are expected to be designed as structured improvisations, our group, according to Tricia, was one of the most rehearsed ones.

The performance facility was rustic but warm. Tricia converted what I think used to be a woodworking factory into a performance area. She opened up one side of the building to create a stage, and stretched a large canvas from the roof to a nearby fence to cover the outdoors seating area. It was a nice surprise to find, just down the path between the stage and the restroom, a peach tree full of large ripe peaches.

In rehearsals I worked mostly with Hallie and John, who make up the Renaissance/Baroque duo The Musicians in Ordinary. To get things started before the first rehearsal, I emailed Hallie and John several of my poems that I thought would work well set to music: sonnets inspired by nursery rhymes and my “Poor Souls” sonnet series. I tried to select poems that were based on repetitions of various kinds or at least phrases of a fairly uniform length. And John emailed me samples of some Baroque styles that might work well for turning my poems into songs. At our first rehearsal, Hallie and John had already worked out several song settings of some of my poems and ended up performing five at the concert: “sixpence,” “if all the seas,” and “this is the tune,” “poor souls 1” and “poor souls 3.”

The blend of the poems and Baroque settings with a continuo-type guitar part worked out well. The continuo guitar part provided the structure of a repeated harmonic progression, which is very typical of Baroque composition. John’s repeated harmony gave the composition coherence and also provided opportunities for Hallie to improvise embellishments on the melody based on that harmony.

After that first rehearsal, I remembered having set a Dylan Thomas poem, “We lying by seasand,” to a capella soprano a long time ago, longer than I’d like to admit, as a graduate student at the Eastman School of Music. So I downloaded a music notation program and wrote the melody as best I could remember it. I thought, ok, I wrote this, maybe I can set some of my poems to music.

I knew that for the Majlis concert it would be good to have some pieces that I could perform with Hallie and John in various combinations, so I wrote a “shadowing” piece to perform with Hallie, based on my poem “if you are somewhere.” I’d speak a phrase or sentence, and a half a second later, Hallie would shadow my spoken words with the same words sung to a melody that I had composed. I’d seen this kind of collaboration improvised at a poetry reading in New Orleans to great effect. In performance, it worked out beautifully between Hallie and me.

Hallie and I also performed an “echo” piece based on my double sonnet “where you are when you,” which consists of a series of—I can’t believe I still remember the rhetorical term—aposiopeses, sentences that break off mid-stream. I’d start one phrase and a half-second later, Hallie would echo the same phrase. After we got the hang of the rhythm of the echo effect and the breaking off of the incomplete sentences so that they seemed to end suspended in mid-air, the echoing was very effective in performance.

I composed another collaborative piece in which John accompanied Hallie, who hummed a melody in a series of four-bar phrases. During each four bars, I spoke a sentence or phrase of my sonnet “does it take.” Hallie sang the last two lines of the poem. For the performance, Gauri joined this piece and improvised movements that beautifully expressed the sad nostalgia of the poem.

I wrote three song settings of my poems for Hallie and John to perform: “sometimes i write about cats,” “comatose in paradise,” and “dear perpetrator,” of which they performed the first two for the concert. I had never written for guitar, so there was some guesswork in my notation, but John gamely arranged them for his instrument. It was very moving to hear these songs performed—I got to experience what composers must feel like hearing their works in concert. In performance, the realization of the songs was better than I had imagined them in my mind’s ear as I was writing them. I felt as though I’d returned to an old friend, music, after my piano playing had lain fallow for so many years.

Gauri based one of her dances, which we nicknamed “the hat dance,” on a poem that has a line about putting a new ribbon on a hat. She attached a long red ribbon to a hat and used it to great effect in her dance, which seemed to address the inner conflict and restlessness of the speaker of the poem. The photos that I will soon post show some of the highlights of her choreography.

This collaborative experience allowed me to perform with others, which added one or more layers to what I normally do in a solo reading. But it’s more than just adding layers—it is learning to listen carefully to the phrasing, articulation, inflection, and tone of others to try to mesh your own part with something that is larger than just the sum of the two or three layers of the collaboration: the spoken, the sung, and the strummed. The players become a single creature that just happens to have three voices. And when Gauri joined Hallie, John, and me in “does it take,” it was apparent that she was very aware of what was being spoken and sung so that her improvisation would harmonize with the sounds of the others in the group

The collaboration sounded very classical and traditional in its realization, nothing, for example, like a performance of poet Bruce Andrews and dancer Sally Silvers. In the beginning I had tried to get a little avant-garde action going, but in reality, the collaboration needed to grow from the strengths of each person, and part of the process is finding out what those strengths are and how willing each person is to try things that lie a little beyond their usual practice. At first, I have to admit that I was a little skeptical about setting my poems to Baroque music, but I was very pleasantly surprised at the first rehearsal, on hearing Hallie and John’s rendition of two of my sonnets, to find that the blend sounded natural, even inevitable. I’m delighted that Tricia brought the members of our group together, and I couldn’t be happier with the results of our collaboration, which stretched my usual practice at poetry readings and pushed me to take risks and try new approaches to making poetry happen.

Soon I’ll post some photos from the concert, taken by Cameron Ogilvie, and Tricia will post video clips from last night’s performance, for which I’ll provide the link.



Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca

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Majlis Multidisciplinary Arts: Figure of Speech

figureofspeech2009-8

 


 

What do you get when you cross edgy poetry with Renaissance music? Find out at “Figure of Speech,” a collaborative performance of poetry, dance, and music.

I’m incredibly honoured to be performing with Gauri Vanarese, a dancer, and John Edwards and Hallie Fishel-Verrette, musicians in the Renaissance and Baroque music duo, The Musicians in Ordinary, in an evening of artistic collaboration organized by Tricia Postle.

Hallie and John have composed settings for several of my sonnets, using traditional musical forms of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some of these sonnets were inspired by English nursery rhymes, and when I heard Hallie and John perform them at a recent rehearsal, the poetry and music sounded to my ears like a perfect blend.

And for the occasion I also set several of my poems to music, which John, Hallie, and I will perform in various combinations.

In addition, Hallie and John will accompany dancer Gauri Vanarese in two of her beautiful and evocative choreographed pieces.

It will be a memorable evening. Please come!

 


 

Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca

Zydeco Gallery Four

 

Here’s the last gallery of photographs from the Zydeco Festival of 1989.

 


 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 


 

For more information about the Zydeco Festival, see the official Zydeco Festival website:

 

Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca

Zydeco Gallery Three

 

More photographs from the Zydeco Festival of 1989 or 1990. If you know the names of any unidentified musicians, please let me know in the Comments box below.

 


 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

“Boozoo Chavis”

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)


For more information about the Zydeco Festival, see the official Zydeco Festival website.

 


 

Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca

Zydeco Gallery Two

 

I’m continuing my series of photographs of Zyedco musicians from the Zydeco Festivals of 1989 and 1990.

As before, I’ve given the names that I recall. If anyone reading this recognizes anyone else, please let me know in the comments box. Merci!

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

Canray Fontenot

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

For more information about the Zydeco Festival, see the official Zydeco Festival website:

 

Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca

Part 2: “I hate my birthday!”—Or, what do elegies by New York school poets have in common with the story of an Italian anarchist?

Yesterday, I wrote about the ways in which the tip-of-the-tongue experience is helping cognitive scientists to learn how the mind stores and retrieves information. When we struggle to remember something, we will sometimes begin with the conviction that we remember a fragment, such as the first letter of a name.

This phenomenon demonstrates to researchers that information about a word or other kind of memory is likely to be stored in different locations in the brain: aural sound of a word in one location, meaning in another, and spelling in yet another. Somehow, they coalesce regularly and rapidly. But sometimes they don’t: we might know the meaning of a word that is trying to surface, but the word itself remains in hiding. The knowledge that our unconscious mind knows more than we consciously know, and knows it sooner than we know it, is an eerie thought. It brings to mind Antonio Damasio’s succinct statement of the tardiness of conscious knowledge: “We are always hopelessly late for consciousness” (127).

And sometimes the process of remembering leaves traces, clues of its mysterious origins and ways, demonstrating the imbalance between conscious and unconscious thought and proving once more that the unconscious mind knows more and knows it sooner than the conscious mind. And this is what really fascinates me: becoming aware that some pre-conscious part of my brain seems to be trying to tell me something, to throw little hints my way until the memory surfaces and I experience the eureka moment.

“I hate my birthday!”
A memorable instance of this kind of pre-conscious associative process occurred a few years ago when I was traveling with a friend in Europe. During our stay in Italy, we visited Francesco, a friend who lived near Padua. The three of us had a terrific visit. We chatted at his apartment for a while, and then Francesco showed us a printing press where he and some friends edited an anarchist newspaper.

Our next destination was the South of France to see friends in Montpellier. As the train passed through Provence, I gazed out the window at fields of poppies and lavender. I became aware that there was a memory that was trying to surface in my mind, but when I tried to remember what it was, I drew a blank. I knew that it was something that had made an impression on me, that it was somehow important to me. And whatever it was, it was tinged with sadness.

As I watched the colourful fields pass by, wondering about the elusive memory, the following phrase occurred to me:

      heavenly fields of poppy and lavender

This phrase gave rise to this sentence:

      But the people in the sky really love /
      to have dinner and to take a walk with you.

I knew this to be from an elegy for Frank O’Hara by Ted Berrigan.

Again I made an effort to recall the mysterious memory, but no other thoughts arrived. I still had the feeling that a memory wanted to surface. Then the feeling saddened and more words arrived:

      I hate that dog.

I remembered that sentence as the last line in an elegy for Ted Berrigan by Ron Padgett. The poem describes hearing a dog bark in the night and feeling the emptiness of Ted’s absence.

I thought it curious that both lines that surfaced in my mind were elegies for poets. Somewhere in my brain there must be a file with the label “elegies for poets of the second generation New York school.”

The clues from this mental file were leading me toward my memory, and the last clue, “I hate that dog,” was the catalyst that allowed me to remember what had been trying to surface:

      I hate my birthday.

On remembering these words, I experienced a eureka moment: this was the memory that had been lurking in the depths of my unconscious! It was also a poignant moment when I remembered what had occasioned Francesco’s speaking those words.

During our visit with Francesco, I showed him a cd that I had bought in Paris of the French anarchist singer Léo Ferré. Francesco told me that Léo Ferré had died several years before, in 1993. I was surprised and saddened, because although I didn’t know much about Ferré’s life, I had come to love the music of this “anarchanteur.”

Francesco then spoke of an Italian anarchist singer, Fabrizio de André, who had died just a couple of years earlier, the date of his death unfortunately coinciding with Francesco’s thirtieth birthday. So great was Francesco’s admiration for De André that after the singer’s death, he hated his birthday.

So the original elusive memory did eventually surface, but it took a circuitous path involving lateral associations. It was as though my brain were tossing little clues along the path: it knew what I didn’t know, and it seemed to be in dialogue with me, coyly leading me in the right direction.

It seems to me that the memory that “wanted” to surface was always the same memory: Francesco telling me of hating his birthday because De André had died on that day. I felt that this was so because of the eureka moment that I experienced when the memory finally surfaced. And the various memories that surfaced along the path to remembering that event were like stepping stones leading to Francesco’s statement about hating his birthday.

The first stepping stone was gazing at fields of poppies and lavender from the train and thinking of them as “heavenly.” “Heavenly” suggests the mythical abode of the dead, and the path that led from “heavenly fields of poppies and lavender” to “I hate my birthday” follows a certain logic having to do with remembering one’s fallen friends and hating something that one associates with that friend’s death. So the associative chain might look something like this:

lavender and poppy fields desire to remember

desire to remember heavenly fields

heavenly fields heaven

heaven friend’s death

friend’s death hate things reminding me of that death

hate things reminding me of that death hate birthday

If by chance you have actually made it to this point in my little essay, you may wonder at my meditating on this memory in such detail. If I do, it is because the more I find out about the workings of the mind, the more strange and wonderful it all seems. I find it so incredible that in our daily lives we make associations without thinking about them much. But if we stop to think about how the mind actually gets from A to B, things become very complicated very quickly!

There is just one more thing I want to consider. Earlier, I characterized the unconscious as having agency: it tossed little clues in my direction and coyly led me in the right direction. I know that it’s misleading to personify my unconscious that way. After all, is it really accurate to suppose that my unconscious “knew” the identity of the memory that was “trying” to surface and “concocted” a logical path of stepping stones for me to follow? If that were true, then why would my unconscious “withhold” the memory and tease me with clues?

It seems more likely that my conscious mind started guessing about the identity of the memory, shooting out trial electrical impulses to neurons that might be associated with the memory of Francesco hating his birthday. After all, the fact that the emotional aura of the memory was present from the beginning means that I knew something about the memory, just not the memory itself (perhaps similar to knowing that a word you’re trying to remember starts with the letter “b”). As Lehrer points out in the essay that I cited in Part I, the mind “makes guesses based upon the other information that it can recall.”

In other words, the meta-cognitive knowledge that I wanted to remember something was unable to link directly to “I hate my birthday.” Somehow, the direct link at that time was too weak. However, there were stronger links from “I hate my birthday” to the indirect categories that I listed above.

So perhaps my conscious mind got to “I hate my birthday” by guessing along a kind of zigzagging path. That scenario is certainly less eerie than imagining an unconscious with agency, regardless of whether it’s beneficent or malevolent! But it takes nothing away from the strangeness of the mind’s ways.

As a tribute to De André and Ferré, below are links to videos of each in concert.





Works Cited

Damasio, Antonio. The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. Heinemann: London, 1999.



Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca

Zydeco Gallery One

 

In August of 1989 and 1990, I attended the Zydeco Festival in Plaisance, Louisiana, a small community just west of the town of Opelousas. The festival’s one stage was set up in the middle of a field. Just beyond the stage was an enormous old live oak tree, where dancers and musicians could take a rest and escape the strong August sun of the Louisiana sub-tropics. The festival was small, relative to productions such as the Festival Acadien in Lafayette, or the Jazz Festival in New Orleans. And that was part of its appeal for me. You didn’t have to sit way up in North Dakota to find a spot to lay your towel on the ground and hear your favourite band. In front of stage was a dancing area, and you could get right up to the edge of the stage and see the band closeup without jostling through hoards of people. The atmosphere was relaxed, and anyone could dance with anyone, no introduction needed—you just went up to someone, held out your hand, and said, Let’s go!

The following four photographs are the first in a series; I’ll post the other installments in separate posts. I took the pictures in late afternoon, when the sun cast a golden light and the atmosphere took on the clarity of a lucid dream. It was a weekend of pure joy. And I haven’t even started on the food.

I’ve given the name of the one musician in this grouping that I recall. If anyone reading this recognizes anyone else, please let me know in the comments box. Merci!

 


 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

 

(Photo: Camille Martin)

(Photo: Camille Martin)

Terrance Simien

 

The following short introduction to the history of zydeco comes from from the official Zydeco Festival website:

 


 

History

In the days of old, the Creole Community would gather at harvest time and work together to complete their tasks. When a family would have a bouchere` (butchering of a hog), everyone in the community would come over and share in the work and cooking of fresh meat.

When the work was finished, the people would celebrate and entertain themselves with a “La La” ( Creole French for house dance.) Instruments used to create “La La” music were the scrubboard (frottoir), spoons, fiddle, triangles (ti-fers), and an accordion.

When times got tough for a family, they would throw a “La La”, a Saturday night dance in the living room. Emptying the room of all furniture, they would charge ten or fifteen cents admission and sell gumbo, homemade beer and lemonade. Even churches would give benefit “La La” to support different functions of the church.

By most of the music being sung in Creole French, “La La” music was only thought of as being for rural and “old folks. One noted musician, the late great “King of Zydeco”, Clifton Chenier, is credited with naming the music ZYDECO “les haricots” (snapbeans).

In 1981 fearful that Creole and Zydeco music was dying out, “The Treasures of Opelousas” a group of concerned citizens under the guidance and sponsorship of Southern Development Foundation, organized the Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival.

The first Zydeco Festival in 1982 was started on a farmer’s field in the Plaisance community on the outskirts of Opelousas, with four hundred of our neighbors attending.

These traditions of yesteryear may be only a memory for some, but it is the testimony that the Zydeco Music Festival serves. A testimony to those who came before….to the ancestors who toiled in the fields under the hot sun to take care of their families….to those who shared with one another during good and bad times…especially to the ancestors who celebrated, laughed, and loved despite the hardships they encountered.

The Zydeco Music Festival is their offspring – a living reminder for us never to forget where we come from, to always appreciate and respect our past, and most of all to continue our legacy in keeping the rich culture alive.
Southern Development Foundation has kept the Original Southwest Louisiana Zydeco Music Festival alive and developed it into what is now known as the world’s largest Zydeco (“LA LA”) Music Festival.

 


 

Camille Martin
http://www.camillemartin.ca