Sunday, October 29, 2006

Le Voir Dit

Translated A True Tale, this collection of poems set to polyphonic music is considered Machaut's masterpiece. It is the tale of the author's sorrowful separation from his beloved. It is absolutely lovely. He has been considered the "last great poet who was also a composer."
While in Minnesota, Eric Alness, Ben Wright, Tim Beardshear and I, walked downtown in the crisp air and sunlight to a Dunn Brothers coffee shop, and a great used bookstore. Where I am going with this is right here: I found a book of Petrarch's sonnets - in the Italian, with translations. As some of you might know, as I didn't know before this week, his best sonnets were love sonnets written to a certain Laura.
So I have Dante and Beatrice, Petrarch and Laura, and now Machaut and his lost love, all milling melancholy in my mind.
I went on a run in Minneapolis - down into the heart of the city, back to a cathedral we had seen - a lutheran church. A woman was at the enormous organ practicing. I sat in the cruciform building, under the stainglass light, and listened in shorts and a white bandana. This has almost nothing to do with Le Voir Dit, except that it is a true story, and was full of music in many ways. Joy always surprises us when we least expect it.

Guillaume De Machaut

After a 3 day visit to Minneapolis Minnesota, and its neighboring towns and cities, I have returned to my little black laptop computer, my potted plant, and some Bailey's on ice. Palestrina's week in the limelight has passed, and now I find myself listening to the spare, and very different, Messa de Nostre Dame by Guillaume de Machaut. He was composing in France in the 14th century, and was apparently the most prominent figure of the French Ars Nova - a musical movement in France that consisted essentially of 14th century music and its innovations. It sounds quite different than Palestrina's Misse. I can't quite describe it - it's clear that Machaut's music was much earlier. It is polyphony in its youth - healthy and strong, but simple. The picture below, an early illustration for a manuscript of his music, depicts Nature giving a gift to Machaut: her three children, Sense, Rhetoric, and Music.

(No such bird) VII

It wasn’t a conspiracy.
Hers had been the shop
he’d come upon in his urgency
to know, and she had known.

When the third syllable had
dropped he had waited for another
word, but none had come.
He shifted, hesitated,
wanting her to catch herself,
to take it back, wait, you know,
there is one just like that,
yes, let me think,
it’s called…

The animals had crunched their seeds
audibly, and stared.
The parrot turned away –
looked out the window.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

(No such bird) VI

He stood in the center of the city street.
Manned cars mashed their horns in angry loops around him,
but he did not pull in his feet – he did not blink.
Sunlight angled down, clear and bright, between
the glass and steel - a solvent, and the air grew
thin enough for hurried forms to cut right through it.
Round and round him, without effort - there was
no conscious struggle. Some sentiment,
yes, between apathy and wrath,
but the city flashed around him easily.

Nothing escaped his notice.
The light went through his hair and skull.
He knew better now: this was not confusion.
It was the quiet aftermath
of a detached hope – variation in the repetition,
but always some form of the same answer.

The bells of the shop were still jingling.
The trees in the park moved only for the wind.

(No such bird) V

The branches domed above his head.

Lifted up, the leaves
would press against the light

and translate through their porous flesh
the story of heaven.

In the still air,
on the soft floor,
he would turn and read the prophecy
written in that brilliant green,

looking for the figured one
that would come: Postured
centerward, a heralding of red
amidst the native green.

A scribe, he waited with his pencil ready.

Monday, October 23, 2006

(No such bird) IV

It’s time to grow up,”
he lipped with observation’s
overaction. He lifted a hand
to the mirror and crunched it
tight. “To be a man one must

kill everything he loves.”
It made him glad to say it.

Meanwhile, she flipped precisely
through blunt-cornered, hardbound books,
looking for a name. Funny, the feelings one has
despite being sure.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Giovanni da Palestrina

Palestrina is a small town 23 miles east of Rome; ancient stone resting on a hilltop. Giovani Pierluigi was born in Palestrina during the 16th century - took it as part of his name - "da" meaning "from". First Question: why don't we do that anymore?
Palestrina was a medieval composer, pre-baroque, composing mainly polyphonic (intertwining harmonious melodies) religious chant. Most of his famous works are Masses, which traditionally consist of five parts: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. You should be able to figure those out.
He has taken the place of Mozart as composer of the week. Sit down Mozart, were playing it old school now.
Apparently he composed Mass in and for St. Peter's for a large portion of his life, achieving great renown. Also, pertaining to his reputation, Bach's masterpiece Mass in B minor was inspired by Palestrina's Missa sine nomine.
My apartment bedroom sounds like a monastery.
I don't have a second question. Click on Palestrina's vague medieval smile to hear one of his compositions.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Intransitive Verbs and Mozart

Have you ever been a victim of unrequited love? - that insatiable longing, that sucking inconsolable desire, all heart and all mind aimed toward one specific being. It's like being half mad, where everything in all of life ends up bending back towards that one person, like a glaring red arrow, a grasping hand.
This (oh soul, take heed) is different than an intransitive verb. I was grading student summaries of Stanley Milgram's "Perils of Obedience" essay, when I came across the word "inquired" used without being followed by a preposition or a prepositional phrase, and it didnt seem right. I think it might be an INTRANSITIVE (!) verb. Someone correct the government paid english professor if he is wrong. He wants to know.
Regardless, an intransitive verb takes no object. For example, you couldn't say: Justin sleeps bed. "Sleep" is an intransitive verb; it has a subject performing its action, but does not have an object upon which it is performed.
Which, of course, brings us to Mozart. It is the last day of Mozart Week, and boy howdy, it has been a good week. But Mozarts music has not taken me as a direct object - in fact, it takes no object at all. Music, in general, does not take an object - has no end it is trying to effect through its action. Or something. I swear it ties together in my head.
And somehow a bleary-eyed heart calms a little, with the music of verbs and violins pointing skyward, shooting brilliantly just for the sake of lovely sound.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Purple Finch

I have never seen one of these, but it is lovely, no? Apparently, they are a local species; another Californian I haven't met. I was trying to find a green-bellied bird I saw yesterday, but this wine-drenched gent will have to suffice for now. He suffices well.
(Click on our local purple friend to hear his song.)

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

(No such bird) III

This often happened. His pen
rendered the paper still
beneath it's thought thing:
a bird, in flight. Each sounding
stone pulled across the page made
the repetition of the extended wing,
and it's curve, a reality. He
was careful. He was in earnest.

And as often, one
would blink into existence
over his shoulder - no bird, but
a known face, speaking words
in a manner of speaking, chiding,
"What, this again? My God
friend, it's time to grow up."

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Lark Sparrow

This is a good picture for the local Lark Sparrow: he is seated on a native So Cal plant. I saw these birds in downtown Los Angeles often, when I spent my time there. Out here in the desert, where things are certainly different, (more smells, wild and herbal), this little sparrow seems very much at home.
(Click on his russet stripes to hear him sing. )

Monday, October 16, 2006

Wolfgand Amadeus Mozart

I've decided to learn a bit of music history while I am here at UC Irvine. This isn't a new decision - I originally began wanting to try during undergrad - but never had the chance to follow through. Meaning: didn't. But now....!
So, out of the names milling around in my head tagged with the label "Classical Composer", I chose Mozart first.
He was a composer of the Classical era, which is a name given to the distinctive era in music history generally recognized as beginning in the early 1700's and ending in the early 1800's. It seems that this era in music corresponded nicely to the developments in philosophy at the time. It was the Age of the Enlightenment, the Age of Reason, in Europe, and philosphers were looking for clean logic-driven explanations of the world - new refined simplicity, order, science.
Mozart wrote lovely concerti, which were arrangements with the orchestra that highlighted one instrument, exploiting its individual characteristics and capabilities. I've been listening to the Violin Concerti numbers 3 and 5. Click on Mozart to hear the Adagio movement of Concerto #3.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

(No such bird) II

They leaned in together, and
together clapped their hands
and he waited. They swung
their heads like strung balls,
prolonged pause on each outer edge,
and through this he waited.

He asked again, the same as he had
the first time: "Any such?"

and they launched back into it, balled
yolks rolling back and forth, together.

No such bird

A smudge of light, hole
in the leaf layers 50 feet away,
moved across the glass pane
as he pushed open the door.

Bells accompanied his coming
and the lady, bent over
at a mouse cage but alert,
leaned up and straightened
her shirt and smiled at him.

"Hello" she said, mouth pinched
into an arc.

"Hello" he replied, and shifted
his eyes around the busy room.
The smell he liked and so passed over
for the sound of crickets burrowing
into the sawdust.
Mice broke kernels apart.
Something licked its chops. A parrot
squawked obnoxiously, inches from his ear,

and he drew back, hesitated, then said "Do you have
a small-boned bird, chestnut-red,
with a bright golden beak?"

She paused long enough for the light
reflected from a passing car outside the glass to move
across her face.

"There is no such bird."

Friday, October 13, 2006

The People, Yes

This is an audio clip of Carl Sandburg reading an excerpt from his masterpiece, The People, Yes. (103 poems long).
Click on his photo to hear him reading.

Black Phoebe

I see these little gentlemen in my field. They perch on the chain-link fence that surrounds a garden on the northern end of the field.
(Click on the picture to hear his song.)

Yellow Warbler

Just too lovely. Now if I could find the local birds.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More Blog Changes

So, I'm trying to figure out how to make all of this work for all browsers. Apparently my banner wasn't showing on any browers other than Internet Explorer, which is a little pathetic. I am embarrased. Not that it looks much better now, but at least it looks like I intend it to look.

Ah, so, in order to refresh ourselves after that little bit of madness, lets consider the Swainson's Thrush. Click on the picture to here his song.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Another Sighting

I was walking through my field, attention turned inward to thoughts, syphoning then upward into the sky (it was a lovely day today), only vaguely aware of the crunch of cut wild grass stalks and the stirring of peripheral plantlife, when a commanding squawk exploded on my right. I turned, and there behind a chain-link fence a Roadrunner was proudly waiting for me to be aware of his presence.
He stayed motionless for a moment, pointed like a weapon. I found respect for him. His crest was smaller than his cartoon counterpart's, his body mostly mottled-brown, and his legs very much bird-legs, but thicker, stronger looking - somewhere between a chicken's fat taloned limbs and a songbird's delicate twig-legs.
He began to move - it was very quick, but all seemed graceful and purposeful. His movement was not reckless. Up and over the fence in a flash, then down onto the dust and mown grass floor, he started performing the famous run from which he earned half his name. It was entrancing. It was not wild; not two churning propellors whirring madly at his sides. It was like a slow-motion dance, that somehow happened to burn across the landscape. I see where they got the stopping-on-a-dime thing, and the sudden-cloud-of-smoke departure. Wile E., you have a worthy adversary.