16 July 2015

Wonder tracks

I am about to spend a few days off-grid on a small island, writing.  Here are ten pieces of human music linked to wonder [see footnote] that I could imagine taking with me:
1. Pygmy polyphony. People may have probably been singing like this for tens of thousands of years and perhaps much longer. They want the forest to be happy.

2. Shen Khar Venakhi from 11th century Georgia. The last line translates as "You yourself are the sun, shining brilliantly."

3. Miserere Nostri, Domine by Thomas Tallis. 
4. J.S. Bach  pretty much passim but let's say the Gigue from 4th Partita.
5. For a bit of OTT, the Dies Irae from Verdi's Requiem conducted by Riccardo Muti 
6. Even more OTT, Das Lied von der Erde by Gustav Mahler. Dunkel ist das Leben, ist der Tod.   
7. The final scene of The Firebird by Igor Stravinksy.  
8. Once in a Lifetime from Remain in Light by Talking Heads. There is water at the bottom of the ocean. 
9. Become Ocean by John Luther Adams. Alex Ross has called it "the loveliest apocalypse in musical history."
10. For my family, What a wonderful world sung by Louis Armstrong.  
What would you take?


Any experience of wonder is, of course, historically situated and constrained in all sorts of ways. My list probably does little more than highlight my prejudice and ignorance. But all of us are, inevitably, situated — albeit in different places!  I'll go with a definition of wonder by the philosopher Martyn Evans:
an attitude of altered, compellingly-intensified attention towards something that we immediately acknowledge as somehow important – something whose appearance engages our imagination before our understanding but which we will probably want to understand more fully with time.
Tracks that didn't quite make my cut include music for Japanese flute, the fourth movement from Mozart's 41st Symphony, Artur Schnabel playing Beethoven's 24th variation on a theme by Diabelli, A Hard Rain's a Gonna Fall by Bob Dylan and Um Tom by Caetano Veloso.  As a restorative after the Dies Irae, try Tutto nel mondo è burla.  My favourite Armstrong track is West End Blues (with Earl Hines), and the song my eight-year-old would like is Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

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