Why I love Ravel

You’re in a room with your family at Christmas. Everybody’s home. There’s lots of food and laughter to go around and joy is in the air. Your daughter brings the family photo album and places it on your lap. She crawls under your right arm and tells you she wants to hear stories about everyone in the room. You smile and skim through the photos. Some of the people in the photos are in the room with you, by the fireplace, under the mistletoe, giggling in the kitchen. Some are not.

Looking at the photo of a person who is in the room with you is very different from looking at the photo of a person who’s no more. Nostalgia and memory have a way of being distinct in such moments.

I’ve always been freaked out by the idea that photographs exist, moments captured in time. The best photographs, however, are not ones that capture but ones that host memories. It’s graceful. It’s like the memory walked into the photograph of its own volition. There’s no hint of forced retention. It is but a moment that floods. It reminds me of Impressionist paintings. Their subjects were not mythical in nature but local; captured as a moment of the fleeting. This is the very thing we find cameras do well.

This brings me to Ravel, one of the greatest composers of all time. Here’s a video by Nahre Sol if you want to have some idea about who Ravel is:

This is the first piece from Ravel that I listened to. It was performed by Martha Argerich and it absolutely blew me away. I’m not classically trained and I have no idea what the technical difficulties are when it comes to composing or performing a piece like this but the passion that I felt as I listened to it was so powerful and pure. It was almost like somebody had taken a perfect photo of me and I was falling into it, experiencing all the intricacies of movement made still.

Many people don’t consider Ravel to be an Impressionist even though he is from that period. But if you ask me if I think Ravel is an Impressionist, I wouldn’t know how to say he isn’t.

This post is about Le Tombeau de Couperin, which l was listening to the other day.

I, being the philistine I am, had no clue what it was about. I was just another musician enjoying music. But as I listened to it, an image started forming in front of me. Unlike the usual visions I have, this was a still image. There was no movement. It was almost like a painting. Bright colours were set against dull and the brushstrokes were conspicuous but not messy.

What I saw first was a girl in a bright red dress. She was picking flowers in a garden and she seemed very happy, blissful at least. There were houses in a light beige in the background. She wasn’t looking at anything. Her eyes were set on something above the horizon. After lingering on her for a few moments, I was taken to another still image. This was of an old man. His clothes were not in focus but his face was; extremely so. He had a very thin beard and for some reason that seemed important. He had a worn hat on his head and he was holding a shovel. He was not using it but had stuck it into the ground. His right hand was still on the shovel but he was looking at something. The moment I asked myself what he was looking at, I was shown another image. This time, a baby in swaddling cloth was lying on the bank of a very shallow stream of water. Then, for a moment all these images came together. The old man was working in the garden where the girl in red was. He would stop working now and then and smile at the girl. Then he would look at the baby. The baby was far away from him; over a broken fence and across a shallow stream, on the the other bank. There was a certain pain in his eyes when he looked at the girl and the baby, the kind of pain that doesn’t hurt but rather presents itself as an opportunity for you to be aware of how deeply you can feel. I didn’t know why he felt this.

This vision was so powerful that I decided to look up what the piece of music was about. Le Tombeau de Couperin was composed between 1914 and 1917, during the First World War. The word ‘tombeau’ in the title is a musical term popular from the 17th century, meaning “a piece written as a memorial”. I found that you’re supposed to use the word ‘suite’ and not ‘piece’ although the latter still makes sense in a way. Each movement is dedicated to the memory of a friend of the composer who had died fighting in World War 1. The music, however, doesn’t feel like it’s about death per se. This was intentional according to Ravel. He said, “The dead are sad enough, in their eternal silence”. His aim, which he made clear, was to pay homage to the Baroque French suite sensibilities. At least according to Wikipedia it was.

When I found this out, suddenly the pain in the eyes of the old man seemed to make sense. So did the baby, the broken fence, and the thin beard.

Nahre Sol, in the video I linked above, talks about how Ravel’s music has a certain melancholy to it. I would take this further in the case of Le Tombeau de Couperin and associate it with the fusion of the pain of lost childhood/innocence with the perception of childhood from a place far removed temporally. Imagine a veteran of a horrific war looking at a girl in a red dress picking flowers unaware of how dark the world really is. The thin beard also made sense in this context. Thin beard is more abrasive/rough while a full beard is soft. I also associated the broken fence with the destruction of the war. It seemed right to do so. The baby is even farther removed from the old man, born beyond the fence into a broken world, one that has no explanation for the destruction.

When I learned that it was dedicated to a soldier who had died in war, I felt that this was such a perfect way of keeping him alive. It’s like Ravel took a photo of him dying on the battlefield and a photo of him as a veteran who survived the war and then fused the two together.

Let me take you back to the scene I constructed for you at the beginning of this post. Looking at the photo of a person who is in the room with you is very different from looking at a photo of a person who’s no more. If a photograph is a memory, then does the photo become truer in some way if the person is no more? I don’t think so. However, if the person is no longer in the world, then they are only in your memories. They are only in the photograph. When you look at it, you not only feel nostalgic but you also attach a value to it that can only be given after the death of someone you love.

The joy of the past, when it is lost, will turn into care for the people you shared it with. But when they are no more, it turns into care for their photographs.

The photograph becomes important.

In presenting the death of a friend as a memory that has little to do with the very death of the person and everything to do with looking at loss like the old man looks at the girl in the red dress (the girl is like the photograph in this case) or the way one looks at the photograph of a loved one who has passed away, Ravel makes the music a focal point. When listening to his music, I don’t think of the people I’ve lost but I feel for the music what I would feel if I looked at a photograph of my grandfather who died a few years ago.

To me, the music is not saying “Couperin is dead” or “how sad is it that Couperin is dead?”. What I hear is “Music is a memory! Celebrate it!”.

If Le Tombeau de Couperin was a photograph, I would place it back in my photo album the way I would put back a photo of my grandfather. With care.

It’s not easy to do that.

Le Tombeau de Couperin is not about the dead, it’s about how important the photographs of them are. This makes Ravel an Impressionist if you ask me. He celebrates the moment, and more importantly, the medium that captures it. He might only be using loss and death to inspire value but they are presented with all the more depth for it.

Ravel’s intention was the celebration of music. But he didn’t have to tell me about Couperin to make me understand that. That’s how good he is.

This is why I love Ravel.

About the artwork:

In the artwork, you’ll see the girl in the red dress on the left and the baby, who becomes a boy in the artwork, on the right. The broken fence and a flower also make an appearance. I wanted to show the thin beard but didn’t know how to. My skills are limited. This is not at all what I saw but this is the best I could do with my skills.

The Glass Ceiling

You guys have seen those creepy mirrors in interrogation rooms, right? The ones in movies where on side of the glass there are people sitting in the dark looking at people on the other side who can’t see them? Well, yeah, did you know that one side of the mirror being dark and the other being well-lit is a requirement for the mirror to work in this way?

Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it? You’ll be able to see yourself in your windows at night when the light is on in your room, but you won’t be able to during the day when the sun is shining through.

Why do I bring up this interesting-yet-too-specific-and-takes-a-long-time-to-explain-so-it-really-doesn’t-belong-in-a-blog-post piece of information?

Good question.

Well, the other day I had this vision of me standing in a room without roofing. The sun was beating down on me and it was around mid-day. The sky was beautiful, with colours swirling and dissolving into each other like clouds. I wanted to reach out and touch them. So I did.

Well, I tried.

There was a ceiling made of glass in my way.

Since the sun was really bright, it didn’t look like there was a glass ceiling. I pushed first, tapped second, and then I just stood there. I looked out at all the beautiful stuff above me and felt like there was nothing I could do to truly experience them.

Then, as time passed, the sun slowly slipped out of view. It was evening. There was a light in my room, one brighter than the light outside. And now, when I looked up, I could see the glass. I could see myself in the glass. But I could also see the sky and the colours above because the sun hadn’t gone down yet. My reflection and the evening sky were two faint images superimposed on each other, still on the glass. I stared at it without blinking.

And then night came and I was alone. With myself. The glass was now a pure reflection of me and my room.

I know what the vision was about. It was about many things things that have present significance.

You see, I’m about to spend a year at home because I didn’t get into the postgraduate programmes I wanted to get into, which is partly something I didn’t want anyway but anxiety doesn’t care about what I want. I want so many things. During the day, when the rest of the world is alive, I’m constantly reminded of what I cannot have, be it because of my interests, where I come from, who I know etc. It’s just like the sun beating down on me through the glass. And I jump all day, hoping to catch one of those colourful clouds but I bang my head against the glass. This is all I can do during the day.

Then evening comes and I realise that there is a thick sheet of glass between me and the world, that the curse the 21st century casts on youth is the ability to see all that they cannot be or have. In the twilight hours, as I see myself and the world in the glass of fate and destiny, I am inspired by how it grounds me in reality by placing the good and the bad into context. This prepares me for the hours to come, when loneliness will take hold of me.

In the deep hours of the night, I am all I see. I look at my reflection on the glass and I write, speak, and draw. I reinvent, nay find myself in the void. This act does have the power to heal and restore but it does so only if I stare at the glass in the evening. To see myself and the world at the same time, to stop fighting and observe my existence in all its beauty, glory, and tragedy is the only thing that can bring healing in the night.

Well, now you know why I create everything in the night when everyone else is sound asleep.

About the artworks:

The first artwork contains a lot of ideas that I’ve already explored in previous posts with mountains, gyres, allusions to authorship, etc. The ice from the Hemingway post makes a reappearance as this post has a lot to do with fear of losing potential (https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/07/10/obsessed-with-loss-of-potential-jpg/). Lions, as you know, mean a lot to me. They keep appearing in my dreams. I’ve been a lion in some and I’ve also been protected and attacked by them in some. There are other reasons but I won’t go into them now. If you have a good eye, you probably noticed how the speech bubble kinda looks like a human being, with the lion and its mane making up the mouth. Not exactly planned but I believe these things happen for a reason. Makes sense in context anyway.

The second artwork is more minimalistic. You can see the colours yellow and red making an appearance. And you probably know what they mean if you’ve been keeping up with the posts. If not check this post (https://thefourthdimensionoflife.wordpress.com/2021/08/04/why-i-even-try/)

All Is a Mirror For The Chameleon

Original Artwork

Today, around noon, I found myself spending a few moments alone with my imagination. Listening to Santana’s Samba Pa Ti, my mind filled with all kinds of colours and images. I was alone on a beach, my hand buried in the sand. A green beverage of some kind was pouring over me, covering me in translucent green. The green pouring over me almost felt like a hand, like I was caressing myself. It was passionate. For a moment, I tried to take control of the scene and bring a woman into the picture. It seemed fitting that a feminine presence be the reason for such passion. But when I did so, the picture almost burst into a million pieces. So I decided to let it go. I was to be alone in this.

While I’m not sure what this means, I thought it would be helpful to mention a few interesting thoughts that have occupied my mind for the past few days. I had a passing thought a few days ago of a chameleon in front of a mirror. It struck me that if the chameleon only identified itself by its colour and not its form, then the world would become its mirror. Imagine that- the conflation of perception of the outside world with that of self. For a moment, I wondered if that was what happened inside the void that I keep mentioning, that nothingness where I flail around and retrieve pieces of the broken mirror; the place where I create art out of necessity and learn more and more about myself. Was this exercise of existence a conflation of the kind mentioned above?

I believe I will be able to answer that better in time. For now, a record of thoughts will suffice.

About the artwork:

It is possible that the green in the painting and in my vision had to do with me reaching into the ground, into myself, and thus into nature itself. I had mentioned in a few other posts how I create art to “ground myself” and that no art except mine has the ability to make that happen. I have drawn from an earlier painting of mine that represents me burning in the void (from post ‘Why I Even Try’ which is linked below). This time, I chose to make the head red because recently I have found my thoughts taking a much darker turn, favoring the confusing and the self-destructive during introspection. However, my limbs continue to help me create art impulsively from the fascination I have for my pain and depression. So they remain yellow. The reason why the head is facing the sky and not the ground, which would have been more natural, can be found in my post ‘On Sublimity’ which I will link below.

Reading the following posts and looking at the artwork in them might be helpful if you are interested in dissecting this post further:

Fish At The Park

Fish 1: Yo, why you looking at me?? You’re staring. It’s not polite

Fish 2: Yo, you’re looking at me. Plus, you know I can’t blink. Staring is all I do

Fish 1: It’s not like I choose to look at you, dude. My eyes are on the right when I’m sitting down on my comfortable side.

Fish 2: I have very similar reasons

Fish 1: I see. Fair enough.

On White Walls

The walls of my room are white; not the kind that blinds your eyes but the kind that escapes notice, fading into a very light beige over the years. That tends to happen when the air where you live isn’t great.

I love my walls. I love how they reflect the diffused yellow glow of the sun that leaks through the curtains in the morning and how they don’t dissolve into the darkness when I turn off my light at night. I like how they flaunt their bruises, parts of my life that are etched into them, reminding me of a time when I was shorter and obsessed with leaving a trail of glue or paint on the wall as I ran tracing the walls with my finger. Doodles in fading pencil remind me there was a time when I wasn’t living from the table to the bed and back, of an awareness of space that belongs to the least of these, to the ones that are small enough to live in corners and edges. The white walls in my room reflect people. They reflect me. In this, they have much in common with the canvas and the paper.

Tabula Rasa. ‘Form out of me what you will’

VIBGYOR spins endlessly and dissolves into white. It’s not a lack but the fullness of personality that defines it. Infinity is a mirror. So are my walls.

A white box is the perfect cage for me. I like preserving myself way too much. In the past year, I have gone outside only twice. I spent almost all my time inside this room and I never feel like leaving it. A bit odd for an extrovert. For some reason, the white walls don’t make me feel like I’m caged in. I’m starting to believe it has something to do with how reflective they are. Of me

“There’s no skin”, I tell myself whenever I’m lying in my bed staring at the walls.

Colours are like skin; like faces. There’s so much underneath that isn’t part of the obvious; things that make us human, things that make us love, laugh, and cry. Behind colour is the universal, unifying truths of life. When I see colour, I know there’s something behind it. Experiencing it feels like reaching beyond and entering a world that is so much more than what I can see and touch. It can be an incredibly intense experience; like a passionate kiss or making love. The inadequacy of the physical body to facilitate the expression of passion makes you exert yourself in a way that ends in something that feels supernatural and sublime because you just can’t believe your body alone could provide you with something so gratifying.

The yellows of Hemingway, the red of Raskolnikov, Faulkner’s bluish grey, they’re all I can see and feel of the universal truths that lay underneath. They’re like faces of women I’ve loved, the beauty of simplicity that veils the limitless.

But let’s not speak of love today. This is about one man and one man only. White does not remind me of my ability to love another but my acceptance and regard for myself. The white walls in my room don’t tell me there’s something beyond. It tells me there is something within. It reminds me that I have things to write and say. It does not remind me of purity or flawlessness but the possibility to preserve myself because it reminds me of a blank page

I look behind dark yellows and I see sadness, I look behind reds and I know what Raskolnikov felt. But when I look behind white, all I see is me. And oh, how I love to see myself. I have things to say, things to write about. The world should know that I felt something in this life.

That’s why I never want to leave my room. That’s why a white box is the perfect cage for the artist.

P.S. I hope you understand now why the illustration/painting has the colour of skin in it.

The white wall in my hostel room

Saying Goodbye to TV Shows

When a TV show’s over after a dozen successful seasons and there’s an emotional ballad playing over shots of the cast bathing in a strong reminiscent glow, you feel like giving everyone in the show a big warm hug. But even if that were possible, it would probably be a very awkward experience. However, hugging a CD seems like an oddly appropriate response. You can’t find most TV shows in such primitive forms these days. But even if they were, CDs are way too small for a good hug. Thank goodness we can entertain such thoughts albeit only in our heads and on paper.

P.S. I know this looks weird but when conceived the thought was purged of any jejuneness by the overwhelming ending of a TV show I just finished. LOL

The Right Shoes

I’m an Indian kid doing his undergraduate course in English Literature. Most people don’t know this but in India, the number of kids trying to get into Medicine and Engineering is insanely high. The competition is so high, there are literally lakhs of unemployed engineers. It is in the midst of all this that I decided to study English. When I tell people that I am studying English at college, they are mostly extremely unimpressed. And I can’t blame them, IITs and Medical Colleges rule India. I mean it does hurt sometimes. I mean, I did get into one of the best universities in India and I love what I do. I love it so much that I would rather be at college than enjoy a holiday. I would never be at such a great place in life if I had done what everyone else was doing. A lot of people go through life doing what they don’t love. Instead of their work life nourishing their personal life, it sabotages it.

A few days ago, I made a small track and wrote a small poem (though it’s not a proper poem) to articulate how hard it is to go out and ‘do your own thing’. I hope you enjoy it.

Th track is called ‘Leg-Shoe’ and I’ll share the Instagram link to the track here. You can also listen to it at my YouTube channel at Stef Guitar Geek but there’s something wrong with audio at some parts.

Here’s the poem. I don’t have a title yet. So feel free to suggest one. 🙂

I feel burnt out. Utterly inexistent

My legs have grown out of the shoes that i have come to love

 I find myself locked into a room full of old worn out shoes

And I must choose. For the world is not for a man with no shoes.

But I can’t. They stink and they are revolting to the eye.

They are torn, bleeding leather, but  they are warm

They are warm because they are worn.

Everyone wears them. They wear ’em till they die. 

Some never even take ’em off. 

They go to bed in them. They bathe in them, some even make love while still in them

They are definitely not for me. My toes want to feel a virgin pair.

So they can in time rest in a pair of their own.

A pair that has formed into the shape of my feet.

Not in worn out shoes they can’t even feel.

But I am locked in. The keys do not even exist.

I do not know how to pick a lock that isn’t there. 

So I examine the worn out shoes.

They are introduced in pairs, yet were undeniably incongruous.

But I persist. I put aside my pernicious eyes of judgement and peek into the intricacies of creation

I see where the needle cut into the leather. I look at the lines and curves.

I search for marks made by time but seldom come across one

But I come across in plenty , marks made by man. 

Marks made in his haste to conquer, but sometimes because he lacked succour.

For years I’ve been dragging my shoeless feet, leading my eyes onto more worn out footwear.

My mission is to make my own worn out pair, a pair that Iooks like my feet.

I pick up the pieces of leather falling off the shelves, I bring them together with the threads that survived. 

I sew them over my feet. Sometimes, I feel a prick or two but never in the same place.

Like the men with the worn out shoes whose toes feel pain again and again.

I really hope this inspires you and encourages you to go out there and do what you love to do. God has a plan for all of us. So be brave!

And as always, have a blast just existing!

Silence Is A Perfect Sound

Shhh…..

Silence. In some cases, we strive in our efforts to push it out of the picture. But in others, we love it, are amused by it and find solace and comfort in it.

It’s morning. The sun just peek-a-booed into the sky. The tree leaves moved gracefully in the wind. The branch of a crooked coconut tree  was  somehow serving as an  eyebrow to the sun. The face of the earth was dipped in yellow. A yellow that smelled of novelty, hope, victory and simply colour. It was raining too. But the skies were clear. It always confused me when that happened.

There is a silence in my room. I shift inside my blankets to try and sleep some more but end up just lying there, my eyes squinting into the sunrise. The silence is loud. Outside  the window of my room, the signs of life are so evident, it’s loud. It’s waiting to enter the silence in my room and break it. Not that it is evil. The loudness outside is very beautiful, extremely calming too, ironically. But letting it in, would mean giving up the silence. I would be giving  up a  perspective of reality inside the boundaries of my room. One that I was starting to enjoy.

Silence seems to add an iridescent beauty to all movement. It does so by just existing in a world of inactivity. The only thing that let’s us know it’s there, is time. But when it takes over, it lets you know that it is not brining about a cessation to activity, but rather adding meaning to it. In other words, it is a pause. And I find that so beautiful. If you follow this blog, you would know how much I love playing the guitar. A good musician has to know when to let his instrument speak and when to keep it silent. I would spend hours and hours, honing my skill of knowing when to allow silence to take over.  When silence takes over in the middle of a song, it’s definitely not a cessation of activity. On the contrary, it feels incredibly similar to standing still while your heart is beating like it’s on a rollercoaster. It is according to me, the best example of inertia, but one on an abstract level. And that silence, I find to be an ephemeral display of amazing.

Almost everything I have has some kind of cartoon or doodle. If you look at my laptop, among all the crazy things I’ve drawn on it, you’ll see this:   Silence is a Perfect Sound.  And I hope that today, I have given the world, a muddled up, arcane reason why it’s there. And if you didn’t understand this post, don’t worry. I’m still learning how to put silence in the right places.

 

Music is Everywhere!

pexels-photo-194927.jpeg

Hey guys,

Today I am going to attempt to share with you how I see music in the surroundings around me. I hope you like it.

The sun just came out. It’s morning!

I slide out of bed on to the floor and just lie there looking at the blades of the fan on the ceiling as they cut through air. The sun fills my room with a yellow light. A flickering shadow appears on the ceiling above my fan as it’s blades cut through the light. I smile. I lie down there and say my prayers. ‘Good morning, God. It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?’ He smiles down at me.

I look at the ceiling again. The light from the sun is more of a brighter yellow now. As it flickers on the ceiling, I see a silent beat. The fan’s blades swish through the air like the drum sticks in the hands of a drummer.

I smile. Welcome to my new song, ladies and gentlemen. So glad you could drop by. I jump into action. I moonwalk into the bathroom, brush my teeth dancing, put on some clothes and grab my guitar. The silent beat I saw, playing in my mind.

I go into the kitchen, give my mom a hug, say hi to my dad and open the front door. It squeaks. Like a synthesizer.

Now to get my bassline.

I go to the lift. It’s at floor 8. I press the button. The lift comes down one floor at a time. It stops at 5, then resumes it’s descent to my floor. I follow it’s progress in the language of  music. Silent music. I hear a ping as the lift opens. Bassline?

I get in and I start ascending. I am heading for the top. On the way, I hear a baby cry. Hmm. Shorten the time period, increase the pitch and you get a classic Michael Jackson. My song starts to feel like an old 80s song.

Anyway.

I get to the terrace. I make clap sounds as I climb up the stairs to the terrace.

I am out in the open now. The wind hits me with a gentle nudge. I hear it pass through small cracks here and there. There’s a flute in the house!

I sit down and put my fingers to the guitar. I tap on it and give sound to my silent beat. My fingers now slide up the fret board, a little pressure here, a little pressure there. My fingers pluck on the strings. They come to life. The yellow morning sun makes a colourful reflection on my guitar.

I imagine myself in front of millions of people, like all amateur musicians out there ( I am pretty amateur ). The chorus comes in and I hear a choir as the wind gets faster. I smile. An electric guitar kicks on somewhere in my mind. A slow lead line follows. The clouds now move slowly. We end our first song with a crescendo.

I smile, thank God for the day. Now to get some breakfast. I’m starving!

What music do you see in your surroundings?

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