Friday, 20 January 2023

Carpet Piano Lessons


When you pick up a record, you start to connect with the music on it. The cover, the artwork, the type of lettering, everything is important, and especially what we call the tracklist, which shows what's actually on it.

There is now only one track, which lasts 81 minutes.
Clearly something that needs space, so much so that the 79 minute capacity of the Compact Disc has been exceeded to fit it, it's sheer luck that there's always a 3-4 minute technological spare.

I like it already. It's an open defiance of today's trampling, stepping, rolling.

Morton Feldman.
20th century composer, the age of our grandfathers, died not too long ago, in 1987.
There are many interesting facts about his life.
In 1950, at the age of 24, at a concert where the New York Philharmonic was performing Anton Webern's Symphony Op.21, followed by Rachmaninoff, Morton was there, and was particularly interested in Rachmaninoff, but ran away during the interval because he found the audience reaction to Webern's work disrespectful. And was going to get his coat when he collided with a man, also on the run, outside a cloakroom. His name was John Cage...

It became a great friendship, and through him he entered the New York art scene, and it was with his encouragement that he began to write his truly original works.


Morton Feldman's father, and later himself, worked for many years in the textile industry. In the 1970s, he developed a keen interest in old Anatolian hand-knotted carpets, particularly fascinated by the hidden asymmetry of the motifs.

Musical tissue - I use this term myself a lot; on this album it is used literally.
But even before that, again, the first oddity, in vain, you can't get rid of it in this day and age, is the length: that it's too long. Feldman was quite tormented about that, he just said he didn't think the pieces were long, they were too short, so much so that he was almost ashamed.
Who says the Odyssey is too long?
Because the works have their own natural length, with which they can live their lives. And musical ideas need enough space.

So what is it like?
Slow. Monotonous. Extremely subtle.
Different from the usual variation-forms. It uses only single notes, chords very rarely. Extensive pedal use, slow decaying notes, blending resonances.
Playing style prescription: softly, as much as possible.

It doesn't take much listening to see that after the pattern has been presented, it allows the listener to recall the motif long afterwards. Meanwhile, small modifications, they certainly are, phonetically, but they don't seem to be, it all seems more like some kind of mechanical repetition-prevention thing.
Or they evoke the growth of a flower.
The use of very, very subtle, barely audible differences, even in the rhythm, is more like a difference of colours.

So the emphasis is on the 'how'. It's quite strange, but you can't avoid the analogy with the Early Music, I'm thinking of the early variations and the Renaissance ostinato itself. When a Folia variation series can go on for 30 minutes without blinking an eye, and it's also about the 'how' of the variations. Without this, it would be just an empty and monotonous repetition of 3-4 chords, like here the pressing of 3-4 keys in succession on a seemingly endless sequence.
Now, of course, everything is slower, because of the long span. The great stillness and seemingly infinite time it takes to listen to it, yet it seems a sudden burst of boundlessness, from somewhere in infinity, straight into the depths of our consciousness. Which then disappears again, and the loop starts all over again.

It's also strange that when he opens a new composition, he practically puts it on top of the old one, not letting it run out completely. Do we know any other composers like that? One off the top of my head, yes, Vivaldi's ornamentations and melodies. Again, Early Music, obviously, in this blog that's not surprising.

After a little longer listening, something odd again, he called it Slips of Memory - a kind of slippage that doesn't seem planned at all, though it very much is, at least as much as the hidden pattern asymmetry of the rugs.

By the way, Feldman once said that in his works, as the pieces get longer, the number of musical solutions gets fewer and fewer, which, regrettable as it is, goes against the evolution of the music that is usually taught...
Perhaps it is this assumption that leads to the true organic sound of nature.

With some attention, you can nicely hear the structural irregularities in the pattern, and here again come the carpets, in Anatolia.

The old weaving techniques there were two types, one using five colours, the newer one six.
Is that a lot? On the first round, obviously, it's ridiculously little. What you're reading this text on, on a modern display with a colour depth of 24 bits, that means there are 16.7 million shades of colour that can be displayed.

A little bit, if you strain the processor in your head, you still get a different relation.
Because the wool used is dried in small portions both before and after dyeing. Different sunlight, different dye adsorption. And remember, we are talking about wool, where, if we believe that it is a living system, we also believe that no two fibres are the same, so each one reacts differently to the dye, so these two little things really increase the number of variations. How much? No one will ever calculate that; it's the metaphysical variation that matters, maybe a single carpet blows the nose off 24 bits of color depth, maybe a tenth. But once it's reached, sure enough, it will be reached soon enough, even surpassed, while our super display is hovering steadily below the 16.7 million limit....

Experienced weavers would tell a different story, but the fact is that it is these tiny differences that they exploit to achieve, for example, a 3D feel.

Feldman follows exactly this method in his seemingly grey and monochrome piano pieces.
So, you have to wear a kind of acoustic microscope if you want to see the real richness of the music. But it's not simple, because the arcs are extremly long, and this is painfully and magnificently at odds with today's music listening culture.

So it would probably stand out here from the usual minutes spent with music on Facebook; and it's not sure that everyone's resonance point is found, but with that said:

Highly, highly recommended.

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Thank you for the images.