Carpet of Memoryby Aryan Kaganof / 29.07.2011
There are no tunes as such in Michael Blake’s composition Carpet of Memory. There is no thematic development. There is no traditional harmony. There is no teleology. There is no narrative. What is it then that the performers do that lasts 13 minutes? Well about halfway through the piece the instruments start hocketing in different combinations, a technique whereby the instruments fit in between each other. And then something else happens.
On paper it doesn’t sound promising but Blake’s pugnaciously uneasy listening string trio composition goes in search of, and finds, the miraculous, as it is performed by the Canadian Fibonaccio Trio who played the first leg of their South African tour last saturday in Franschhoek. One isn’t accustomed to attending world premiere performances of important new music in Franschhoek, perhaps the organisers of the tour wanted the composer and the trio to spend some time rehearsing the piece together in the peaceful heart of the country before they moved on to the, arguably, more important urban venues.
Whatever the reason the fifty or so classical music devotees who descended on the NG Kerk despite a vicious black South Easter were gifted with one of the most remarkably well rounded programmes of chamber music ever put on in this country. Haydn, Mozart and Schubert might seem intimidating company for a local boykie to have his work contextualized in, but one thing Michael Blake is not is shy. Hendrik Hofmeyer has, rather uncharitably, sniped that “for Blake there are no composers before Michael Blake.”
Of course that is exactly the kind of attitude one must have if one is ever to add anything of lasting significance to the repertoire, to extend the canon. Unfortunately the mediocre composers never get this, meek and humble as they are!
Carpet of Memory is inspired by the Paul Klee painting from which it takes its title. The painting looks like a dirty ochre ground littered with arcane symbols that suggest antiquity and meanings long forgotten rather than remembered. Blake translates this image into music using cryptic passages from Klee’s Pedagogical Sketchbook. “An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal. A walk for walk’s sake.” And “the same line, circumscribing itself.”
Of course all of this intellectual pedigreeing would be merely a wank for wank’s sake if the music wasn’t any good. And this is the paradox with Blake. Yes there is no narrative, and yes there aren’t really any hummable tunes, and there certainly is NOT any development – instead “Something else happens” (again). There isn’t even any teleology. (I had to look that one up) That’s another way of saying that the music has no purpose. It doesn’t want to DO anything to you. It just IS.
And what it is, as brought to life by the wondrous six-handed creature that is the Trio Fibonacci is a series of moments that appear to crystallize and then disappear, rather than rushing forward like the waterfall of sound that is the chief characteristic of the Mozart piece played, Piano Trio in C major, K548.
Gabriel Prynn’s virtuoso cello technique brings a dramatic involvement to how one watches the music and whether Blake likes it or not, suddenly Carpet of Memory reminds us of epic narratives. Within the sublimely ego-less interplay of hands that is the Trio, the cello emerges as the performative “I” of the piece, individuating and acquiring knowledge of self through its mythic journey into the underworld and subsequent, heroic, return.
The hocketing heralds the homecoming. The piano goes silent. Violin and cello close the piece in what might be the whispered remonstrations of lovers. “Where were you? What took you so long? Kiss me…!”
Blake is thwarted by his own romantic impulse. He wants to be Adorno’s iron man but he ends up comfortably niched between Mozart and Schubert. Contrary to his austere ambitions the music is utterly gorgeous. The Fibonacci Trio are not to be missed.
* Trio Fibonacci play:
Friday 29 July @ 20:00 Brooklyn Theatre, Pretoria
Saturday 30 July @ 20:00 Linder Auditorium, Parktown, Joburg
Monday 01 August @20:00 Beethoven Room, Grahamstown