Saturday, July 02, 2011

Music at the Aspen Ideas Festival

After several days of financial angst and counter-terrorism, I made time today to attend two musical interludes at the Aspen Ideas Festival that I found to be very restorative.

“The Global Breadth of Cuban Music” featured Orlando “Maraca” Valle and his band in a session that was part lecture, part concert. Integral parts of the Cuban sound, particularly rhythm, were explained and demonstrated. The main unit of rhythm is the clave, with song forms like son, rumba, and timba all having different claves, each admitting of many variations and embellishments. The audience was encouraged the clap the basic figure while instrument upon instrument layered on pattern after pattern, until it was hard to tell where the bars began or ended. The sheer complexity and ingenuity of the resulting structure was exhilarating, making you want to laugh out loud. Musicians tend to be capable in many instruments, so the rotation of band members can add yet another layer of richness to the proceedings.

“School of Rock” by Graeme Boone (part professor, part DJ) took us on a lightning tour through the world of rock ’n’ roll, from the Beatles to Nirvana to Danger Mouse and beyond. Taking syncopation from jazz, scales from the blues, and even discords from modern classical music, rock ’n’ roll went through a modernist period of innovation in the 50s and 60s that ultimately settled into a ‘common practice’, albeit with disruptive excursions, such as punk rock, which attempted to break the mold. We are now living in a post-modern period in which remixes, re-recordings and multiple directions seem to be the norm. Music is as likely to be created using a computer, rather than by wrestling with a real instrument, thanks to technological advances in music software, giving composers a richer palette of sounds, timbres and textures than ever before.

These two sessions reminded me how essential music is to the human soul, or at least to my soul.