Wednesday, August 24, 2005

De Profundis

Tonight I am listening to De Profundis composed and, in this recording, performed by Frederic Rzewski. Add this work to my short list of text compositions that pin my ears back and deliver a transcendent impact. This work is a solo for a single performer at the piano with the addition of whistles, hums, breathing and a great deal of spoken word drawn from Oscar Wilde.

The words are incredible. I really need to read some Wilde sometime soon. Written while imprisoned for "homosexual offenses" these words capture a profound sense of bitter injustice and ruthless indictment of a cruel social order. These words seem to capture the essence of so many of my own thoughts that they seem to speak "for" and "to" me with more eloquence than I would have imagined for such ideas. The sense of alienation, of feeling completely apart from the "other-ness" of society at large is palpable and familiar.

Rzewski's superb piano intensifies the passion and intimacy of the text. The sonic space is inhabited in equal parts by notes and words with neither serving as accompaniment or prop. The fact that each emanates from a single performer adds to the intensity and sense of solitude. At times the extended techniques, both in voice and playing the "body" of the piano, paints a portrait of losing battles for sanity only to snap right back with a long string of deeply thoughtful, uncompromising text over spare chordal harmony. This composition does the subject matter enormous justice. I regard it as one of Rzewski's most inspired works.

With Wilde's words: "Religion does not help me" in my ears and mind I consider the recent fatwah issued by the Ayatollah of the 700 Club against Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Apparently it is deeply unchristian for a democratically elected leader to use oil wealth to address the plight of his nation's poor. Invoking the boogie-men of "Islamic extremism" and "communism" seems to be a mere cover for despot-envy for this televangelist joker. The "other-ness" depicted by Oscar Wilde seems more vivid when Cindy Sheehan is derided as "extreme" while this vile breed of fundamentalism has the ear of those in power. Camp Casey is the current manifestation of a proud tradition of dissent. CBN is a conduit for Christian extremism that needs to be mocked and ridiculed mercilessly.

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