Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scraps from the bin

Occasionally, I end up running through mental images that have been lodged in the recesses of my mind. These images have been lodged there for a while, and more often than not, for the simple reason that they were embarrassing moments. Interiorizing them then only let the flushed-face-inducing memories fester, waiting for that moment to surface as surreal re-enactments so that even in the most private of moments, I still cringe down to my marrow.

◙ While the events of an athletic day were in progress, I found myself setting the bar at a high jump pit to vault over it. Back in the day I had done reasonably well in pole vault. Eight years later then, I was trying to relive those glory days. Only this time, it was at a high jump pit—that too a sand pit! I remember there was some significant someone I wanted to impress and could think of nothing better than a lousy vault to do that. My run up was passable. My body arced surprisingly well as I cleared the bar. Then, my hands just froze on to pole, more like a pole dancer than a vaulter. I came crashing down with the horizontal bar sandwiched by the pole still firmly in my hands. A butt landing on sand could not be harder than when compacted by poles and bars collapsing on to a man’s jewels! And she was not even around to see it were I to have gracefully executed the vault. Dang it!

◙ Some younger folk had arranged an evening of music to raise funds. I had excused myself from any participation with the vaguest of excuses, “I’ll be too busy.” I eventually showed up at the event. Well intentioned though they were, their music was floundering with every other line. “Kids,” I thought to myself. I went backstage and told them in a pep-talk manner that we would try something cool. Very filmi indeed! My supposedly cool idea was to rap-out a very common song. I would be on drums and rapping. The others would follow my lead on whatever instrument they were playing. On stage, I got the experiment going and rapped through the first stanza. It was pathetic. And then I forgot the lines to the second verse and adlibbed my way by repeating the first stanza. Even as we ploughed through the motions, every next second being more painful than the previous, it already dawned on me that I had made quite an ass of myself!

◙ A friend felt compelled to introduce his sermon with a joke. Not the natural comic, he had to cook up a scene to fit his material: a boy had his eyes on a girl but was never sure she felt the same way for him. In class, he scribbled on a piece of paper and passed it to the girl. She opened and saw a cryptic formula: 1+4+3= 3 or 2. Instinctively, the girl ticked the 3. As she was threw it back to the boy, the teacher caught eye of the ball of paper on its trajectory. Pulling up the boy, the teacher asked him to explain what was scribbled on the paper. The boy explained the formula as “I+love+you = yes or no.” The girl had, unawares, reciprocated. My friend then put his introductory piece in perspective. “You can never conceal love if your love is real.” He then went on to wax sermonic on love by excising material in 1 Corinthians 13. Come on!

The cringe in this last one is more vicarious. There are many more of such moments that occasionally re-emerge to remind me that life allows one to sidestep the lines of propriety and make occasional asses of ourselves. Personally, I will have become a little wiser while still nursing my humpty dumpties!

Thus spake the raven…

Monday, October 20, 2008

"...the music of the night"

What is it that music addresses so that we are drawn to it? Consider the variety and genres of music that are out there and it only thickens the speculative layers that one needs to wade through in order to conjure up an answer with even the remotest of persuasiveness. There seems to be something more visceral within us and in our perceptions/constructions of our selves that, somehow, music provides appropriate bridges. Within a wider symbolic world, we perceive ourselves through a detour into an other, and refine that perception in terms of desire for the object that is possessed by the other. This desire for an absent object creates longing, taste, and radical discontent. Maybe, music provides a reference for that which our selves lack, and also the medium by which we quest for a finer redefinition of our selves.

Sometime back, a friend and I went to watch Symphony X in concert. This band is a technically dextrous unit that paces its movements through multiple time-signatures; a treat for the prog-rock connoisseur. Personally, I thought Sym-X’s act was a disappointment. They raced through their set and the guitars drowned the rest of the band. The guitarist and singer hogged the entire limelight. The guitarist had his bottle of bourbon by his side and as the act progressed, he kept racing through the bourbon-induced intro-s so frenetically that, by the time we walked out, it was just noise!

A highlight for me that evening was not the headliner but the relatively unknown opening act. Not very familiar with the European genre of metal (gothic, black, Scandinavian, et al.), it was a learning experience to sit through Epica’s set. Back home, one hears of Nightwish and others often by default, but Epica caught my attention rather markedly. Part of it had to do with the lead singer. Rather well built and tightly packed in a corset top, images of her hair swaying in unison with the chunky riffs of their songs remain visibly etched in my mind. Was it a subliminal clamouring for a white other or was it a Freudian undertow? The songs were syncopated in ways quite unlike standard rock arrangements. Minor modes and alternate scales made the compositions seem to lead me through a detour into a world quite different from the three-chord rock riffs, which I realized had become a default self-position. Additionally, the lyrics were intended to cast surgical strikes on to politics and its underside. Although I never did quite catch the lyrics, I gathered this strain from a rather “aainch” intro to a song: “This song is about extremism; because extremism is not good, whether it is left or right!” “Aainch” in the sense that I thought it was trying to say too much by saying too little; almost pretentiously profound. Or were my own political sensibilities kicking in? Come to think of it, the occasional growls by one of the male guitarists were rather “aainch.” A lot of the younger people will identify with these growls, and label me an oldie for my views on it. And yet, the growls seemed to re-inscribe what Descartes had set as the modern agenda. I exist because I think, even though my thoughts come out in growls. The neglected but rational and unitary self extricates itself from societal repressions and silences to assert its existence. Breaking set meters of lyrical articulations, the growls came across as a politically charged device or gesture. Nonetheless, a discursively embedded gesture such as a growl—that even the entire Epica-package is a product of language, a system of signs—belies, contrary to the Cartesian chutzpah, the potential for self articulation it is perceived to have.

Although I adamantly refuse to growl, the trace of the night lingered. I later found out that the Epica singer who has so captured my imagination was only a fill-in. The original singer was ill and could not continue the tour. I youtubed around and came up with this clip. It was a bonus of sorts because it has both singers on it; the original singer and the fill-in singer. The fill-in singer is the blonde back-up singer (00:17) and I read that she has been long associated with the band.

Epica is just one instance that, for me, outlined the self’s desire for an objective other. I would not risk
dissecting musical tastes anymore as some aesthetics in life just lose their soul if we were to blanket them with the finality of a theoretical reference. Yup, we do categorize them for easy reference. Just step into any music store and guffaw at locating your music in a rather inappropriate category. And yet, music persists beyond such flat categorizations. So does the desire.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

"Until the sun comes up over..."

I finally got my first experience of working on a collaborative film project. My participation on the project also finally got me to the beach. Personally I prefer the mountains and have never made an effort to hit the ever-so-romanticized beaches that dot these parts. I never quite understood Sheryl Crow's now classic musings on this particular haunt. Given all these caveats, and my low expectations, the day turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise; the experience was even more engaging.

The event that got our project to the beach was an event tagged as a Sacred Music Festival. Religious expressions from groups that are generally considered outside the “mainstream” converged to celebrate their diversity from the fault lines of the religious triage that underscores metropolises like LA.

The groups marched to the beachhead in a procession and then broke off into their own performative spaces, which seemed to comment on their particularities amidst the seeming uniformity of a “religious” expression. The day’s celebration culminated in ritual signifying on the setting sun.

Working with the film crew was more demanding than I had expected. On reaching the site, my friend and I were given a highly condensed form of something close to a “film crew for dummies.” We were to be the boom operators. I could already imagine my name flashing as the credits rolled, sandwiched by the “Dolly grip” or something! By the end of the day, my shoulders were sore in places I never knew I had meat.

We had to extend the boom mic strategically above what the camera was shooting. The placement had to be close enough to pick the sound but high enough and away from the camera’s vision. Even though the mic is rather light, extend it out on a ten feet pole and the weight can multiply exponentially. Add all these and one could be taxing those shoulders rather heavily. But why should I complain. My friend’s take on his experience was that it had been quite a power trip. People moved as if the waters at Moses’ command. Even the mere sight of our equipment had this effect. We got the best ringside-like seats at all the events. We shuffled or stood at will when others were constantly asked not to do so. People also took notice of us. A man inquired whether we were a Filipino TV crew! Ass. All in all, a good day at the beach.

As an afterthought, religion does funny things. Among others, it elevates the mundane aspects and objects to the profound. Hence, even a sunset can evoke heightened emotions and drive people to tears. As the gathering roared in unison to the setting sun, my friend’s comment on this crescendo could not have been more definitively iconoclastic (see clip). And yet, our perfunctory pragmatism could also miss out on the compelling significations of the mundane that the practitioner may have accessed.