Sunday, 19 February 2017

Psycho Spider Story - La Tarantella

So this is some kind of a spider and a dance – that is ususally all we know about it.
In fact, these two things have somehow been connected.

Let us see
I'm just warning you it is not me to be blamed … for what?, for the fact that right now as we are reading motionless and watching, there is probably at least one spider within a distance of two feet around us. 
It is either under our chair or the floor ledger, on the ceiling or inside our laptop, in the cabinet drawer or behind the mirror. On our shoe sole or our clothes, behind the bookshelf … or even inside us … as we eat around a dozen of spiders during our lives accidentally. 
Well, this is a nice beginning, isn't it? 
Let us not pretend that a spider can be lonely … they have mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, usually between 15 to 300 in number somewhere close. Is it winter now?, no excuse, as they live with us. They are also cold and come in to warm up. 
Floating airthreads in autumn look so nice, don't you think? The tiny creatures at the end may travel up to the stratosphere drifting many hundreds of kilometres in the air ocean.

And if we are lucky, then the one spider within 60 cms of distance around us is almost invisible. For  there are big ones – the cross-spider is the most well-known one in Europe. Once you have fed them with a fly or have seen some episodes of Alien, then you are aware of their eating habits.

In far-away Italy more species live there as we move southwards. From Naples downwards some really big, exotic ones can be found. Such is the tarantula, which was originally called a Lycosa Tarantula, but the same name has also been used to refer to some giant spider species since then.
This one here is also called a Tarantula by its owner:

In order to understand what has made this extremely timid eight-legged creature so infamous, we should go back 700 years in time. In the depth of dusty libraries among loads of litter and thousands of totally uninteresting pages, there we can find some quite astonishing records.

People, either awake or asleep, suddenly jumped up feeling a severe pain as if a bee had stung them. In some cases, spiders were seen around, in some other cases there were none, however, they knew that it was the Tarantula. They ran out of their houses onto the street, the market place and started to dance violently. Soon others joined them - those who were also bitten right at that time or even years before since this illness was never finally cured. The poison remained in the body and revived in the summer heat. Only music and dance proved to be an effective cure ...

This is one of the oldest records from the 1200s, South-Italy, on some kind of a madness, mass hysteria, dance fury, or something totally different from these – who knows what it was in reality. Anyway, today we simply call it tarantism.  On the north, such as in Germany, a similar series of epidemic swept through; there the people, whole populations of settlements seemed to go mad and set out dancing to a place they themselves had no idea of just to become tattered and fall prey to famine and robbery. 
Until now no explanation has been found to these incomplete but regularly appearing chronicles.

What is of importance for us here is the music to which they were dancing, most of which has disappeared, but in Italy there is one that has survived in its full beauty: the in/famous Tarantella. Obviously, we should not think of some serious fugue like those by Bach. In fact, this one has no real structure at all, only around 7 sounds.

Which do not comprise a series of chords, rather a strange scale, and it almost always appears as a 'bass-line' on which several other rhythms and melodies are based.

Here is a fine fundamental version: 

There were periods when tarantism was so widespread that state and church investigations were launched; in the 1600s there was a Jesuit scholar, Athanasius Kircher, who submitted this whole nuthouse to an unbiassed and thorough scrutiny. Padre Athanasius was into several things: pyramids, water evaporators in rooms, metaphysics, arythmetics, entomology, sunspots and  the Apocrypha; and he was playing music, too, which is important now. 

He writes about very strange things.

The Tarantula poison gets into the human tissues; it is not a sting but a bite, this latter word is used by him. After a short period of melancholy an exalting mood sets in which develops into a frenzy with jumping around, dancing and trembling. 
With the help of 112 of the time, the detoxicating team arrives: this time it is not the ambulance or the fire brigade but some shabby looking musicians.

And now comes the essence.

They start playing music and keep asking about the colour of the spider. There are brown, white, red and even green ones. Now we should not feel bothered by the fact that these colour variations do not exist anymore. Each colour needs a different cure having its distinct musical counterpart of rhythm. If they cannot find out the colour, they start to synchronize things through gentle modifications of the rhythm. If there were two spiders, that means death … as there are two identical colours. Two poisons but only one rhythm is impossible.

In other words, they try to find what people resonate with. This is exactly what is called Resonance that makes the process of listening to music ab ovo possible. In fact, this is what happens today when we listen to records (or this blog...) and say that we 'like' them. It is only due to a melody or something else inside there instead of a spider bite.

This strangely rising-falling melody, the desperately agitating and at the same time soothing series of chords has infiltrated into the most unimaginable pieces, such as in a Caresana cantata at a time when the Church already took it off the list of sinful Forbidden Dances.

Or in a Shakira's tune - I love her - or in a crazy yoghurt ad as well as in a film score. 
We do remember Amelie, don't we?

So there we are listening to the music, to the melody of bass more specifically and all of a sudden we realise that although the rhythm is a bit different but this bass-line is exactly the Tarantella.

So it is a kind of infection in music, a contamination of the whole world of music. It has infiltrated, been absorbed and drunk by the case of musical instruments and it has completely disappeared most of the time. But it has only seemingly done so as some unique vibration has been left behind. 

This obviously means that a lot of records have been made on this theme, there are some very good ones among them, too, and some, so to say, Tarantella specific records have also appeared in  Early Music such as these two, one of which reflects the musical thoughts of the oldish, while the other one those of today's contemporary generation.

This latter record, with which L'Arpeggiata stirred up a real storm and ended up in a great deal of criticism, is by now among the cult records.
The musical formulation is so subtle that the poison slips into us unnoticed; as a Tarantella may hide in the deep bottom of an ostinato, with a completely different melody in the foreground. 

Listening to them with a good system, some of these pieces have an entirely astonishing vitality; the entrance of a phrase or a singer is so surprising and impressive at the same time as the sight of a nuclear submarine gracefully emerging from the quiet water...

On this record there is a beautiful example from the Ribayaz collection from the year of 1677. 
What is happening here? 
The harp of Andrew Laurence-King nicely carries the tune, the bite is over, things go further on, and the music is really good actually; one minute later the poison enters the central neural system and causes irreperable harm to the rhythm and the harmony: guitars simply invade and drive out the harp tune, they quicken pulse to exalted craziness, heart rhythm disorder, the rhythm fails and almost turns counterpoint when it suddenly stops...

On this other record Paul O'Dette provides a gentle, all-embracing monotony with an innocent beginning and then towards the end it turns almost frightening; it directly compels us to rise on our feet and do something at last...

Totally. Every poison is a drug, it all depends on the dosage.  It resonates with an innate part of our psyche just as much as Tarantella-musicians do so with the symptoms of the spider bite.

We should not hoover them. During the night they crawl back to their hiding places and they will not harm us anymore.
With these records the bite has been accomplished and the poison is on its  way.

This is a poison that has produced insanely good music. 

Translated by Sebestyén Rita

Thank you for the images.