BALKAN AS A METAPHOR IN THE FILM COMPOSITION OF GORAN BREGOVIC
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DOCUMENTATION OF THE PRACTICAL ACTIVITIES AND THE OUTLINE OF THE LINKS BETWEEN THEORETICAL RESEARCH AND CREATIVE APPLICATIONS
The following discussion involves both practical and theoretical research, including various experiments and trial performances.
The discussion addresses:
Three most important minor projects discussed in this section are:
Valhalla (a performance art adaptation of Richard Wagner’s Ring Cycle);
Plea to my Mother-Equinox Jam Session;
Sybil in a Suitcase (a cabaret odyssey)
Although Vasko Popa’s output is vast, it is fair to say that “Give Me Back My Rags”, written in 1956 is one of his best known cycles of poetry. But who is Vasko Popa?
Vasko Popa, Zbigniew Herbert and Miroslav Holub belong to the Eastern European generation of poets who were caught by World War II in mid adolescence. Their work can also be described as a reaction to the European Surrealism that was predominant in the continental literature during the fifties and the sixties. Each individual poet’s reaction was either a matter of personal temperament or a gesture reinforced by the situation in the writer’s country of origin.
Vasko Popa is a particularly interesting case. His work was always full of folkloric symbolism highly evocative of Serbian culture and mythology. During the time of Socialism in SFRY, this type of work was not appreciated and Popa was blacklisted as a nationalist and a separatist. Although he was to live in exile or to keep a low profile (of which he chose the latter), Popa’s work still made its way to many Yugoslav readers of all nationalities and religions, and made a particular impact on the educated Serbian population.
Popa’s works, regardless of their subject matter, are always anchored in reality. They seem closer to real destinies (those which would be possible under the circumstances of the time when the works have been created) of his compatriots than to some idealistic dreams which fuelled many writers’ inspiration.
It seems closer to the common reality, in which we have to live if we are to survive, than to those other realities in which we can holiday, or into which we decay when our bodily survival is comfortably taken care of, and which art, particularly contemporary art, is forever trying to impose on us as some sort of a superior dimension.
(Hughes, 1978/79, pp.1-2)
I believe that Ted Hughes suggests that the fundamental difference between Popa (or perhaps the whole generation of writers from Eastern and South-Eastern Europe which he represents) and the Central and West European writers is that of the world or the environment from which he/they drew their artistic inspiration. The quotation suggests that his inspiration derived from the realism of the socio-political condition, while the West was heavily driven by the idealism of the socio-political condition to be.
This cycle is in a league of its own amongst Popa’s works of poetry. Human beings rarely appear in Vasko Popa’s poetry; instead the reader faces magically vitalised objects with strangely familiar (quasi-human) qualities. Like many writers of his generation Popa also avoids writing in the first person.
Give Me Back My Rags is a marvellous artistic invention in which the allegorical monster becomes the subject of the story. The monster portrays basic elemental laws of human chemistry. The centre of gravity is inside the person’s sense of self and subjectivity as described through a particular view of and attitude towards the subject, the allegorical monster.
“Rags” are symbolic of life with the monster – a life which must have been led prior to the monster’s arrival, but becomes the object of the poetic drama, because it seems impossible without (and therefore after) the monster. These “rags” portray the degraded remains of the narrator’s life, the threads of his/her identity that must be regained.
The cycle is written in a language full of old Slavic expressions and folkloric metaphors. Ted Hughes (1978/79, p.3.) describes Popa’s poetic expression as “a return to the simple animal courage of accepting the odds.”
One of the easier decisions in this adaptation regards the vocal delivery of the text. As the composition is influenced by the traditional music of the Balkans, the vocalist sings the setting of the Serbo-Croatian text to music, while the second performer (preferably an actor) speaks the English translations.
I made some musical decisions to connect the language of the text to the particular forms of vocal production characteristic of Yugoslav folk singing. The English translation is never sung because the language does not suit the chosen vocal style that bases many of its techniques around the sound production used in the Southern Slavic languages.
The singing style that inspired most vocal lines and the overall ensemble composition is evocative of the traditional vocal deliveries heard in Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Bulgaria. It explores intense, raw-sounding singing that uses widely open throat and nasal sound production. In such vocal deliveries, the breath in is taken in right to the bottom of the abdominal region and husky, resonant laughter is released upon exhalation. This quasi-belly laugh is then musically notated into simple melodies.
My work is an exploration of the traditional influences situated in the context of the contemporary “Western Art Music”. The composition is essentially my personal reaction to the Balkan music. Initially, I attempted setting the English translation of the poetry to this style of singing. My first discoveries were that English was too sharp and disjointed to be throat vocalised. It was difficult and physically uncomfortable to sustain a vocal line because some of the consonants are sharper than they are in the Slavic languages and there seem to be fewer vowels. On a more subjective note, there was a part of me that felt extremely unauthentic about the ideas of setting the English text to ethnically flavoured music.
I was also attracted to the challenge of translating Popa’s poetic techniques and strategies into music.
Popa’s language is extremely rich and imaginative: except for special effect he avoids terms recently borrowed and smacking of the international urban culture; he prefers older, native Slavonic words for which he draws on medieval literature, folk, poetry, charms, riddles, games and legends: sometimes he also invents new compounds on traditional models. He manages to do this without becoming obscure or artificially folksy: he is not trying to take the language back into an older period, but is enriching it and showing it a way froward.
I found this description of Popa’s language very similar to Bregovic’s concepts of traditional music as an inspiration and a form of expression even in the popular musical genres. Having studied both Bregovic’s source materials (the “White Button” repertoire) and his adaptations (the recycled and appropriated soundtrack examples), I attempted to create an original work in which the original source material (the sung Serbo-Croatian text setting) and its possible adaptation (the spoken word English translation) are applied simultaneously.
The English text is narrated during various sections in the music, and it is used in three combinations with the sung Serbo-Croatian setting: overlapping the sung text, running simultaneously with it and running independently of it, during different musical sections.
This placement of the English translation suggested slightly more complex adaptations of the original material than applied in Bregovic’s work.
In Bregovic’s soundtrack recycling, the melody lines are kept to the closest possible version and new texts are written in different languages or translated from the Serbo-Croatian originals. In my song cycle, the spoken English text is placed in specific sections of each composition and does not melodically resemble the source material in Serbo-Croatian, as it is not sung.
Certain musical motives in these songs were inspired by the musical qualities of the spoken phrases in Serbo-Croatian. In the first movement, the very phrase: “Give me back my rags” (spoken or sung in Serbo-Croatian) suggests a rhythmic and melodic pattern that becomes the foundation of the entire composition. This phrase was crucial in mapping out the architecture of the cycle as a compositional construction.
My introduction to the cycle of poems was in the original Serbo-Croatian version, after which I started reading the English translation, always returning to the original and comparatively observing the expressive qualities of the two languages.
It became apparent that poems/movements no. 1,7,9 and 13 carried particular structural key points that I needed to follow in order to connect with the composition’s literary unity. There were also different levels of anger and compassion, hope or desperation, triumph or loss that needed a lot of attention. The reader of this poetry was, very much like a Butoh performer; about to encounter the origins of his/her fears magnified through the allegorical monster and the rags. Those four movements (1,7,9,13) were important because they all clearly addressed both the subject and the object of the poetic expression – the “monster” and the “rags”.
Because of the strong thematic link across the entire cycle, it was important to find textual cells that produce similar or close musical equivalents. The title phrase and the opening line of the first movement “Give me back my rags” suggested certain melodic and rhythmical patterning that built one of the first musical motives of the work.
This musical development reinforced the alteration of textual use. The phrase “Give me back my rags” appears both independently and is followed by the conclusion “Give me when I ask you nicely”. The implied motivation led me to repeat the phrase several times both in the sung text and the instrumental allegories of the line.
The first setting technique appearing in the composition was textual manipulation and fusion of texts. As the cycle starts with a prologue and then the first poem (movement), I decided to blend them into one composition with a purely instrumental interlude between the poems in order to preserve the poet’s literary structure. Although the phrase “Give me back my rags” does not appear in poetry before the first movement, I musically anticipated it during the prologue and increased its structural influence during the instrumental bridge. The arrival of the actual sung text was a natural progression of the pre-conceived musical idea.
The musicality of the opening phrase provided a solid musical structure for the final, movement, which once again addresses the same text in its closing lines.
There are two movements that could function as the central or the middle point in this cycle. The seventh movement would be a prefect mathematical middle, especially after the musical compression of the prologue and the first movement into one, while the ninth movement is a somewhat delayed middle – the golden section of the entire work.
Chants of the ancient Balkan churches (movt.1.) are explored, as are the contemporary reactions to the traditional dances (movt.2- based around “kolo”-the ring dance in 5/8). The tavern songs of the Bosnian and Serbian villages (movt 3. with its clarinet melody evocative of musical numbers from Kusturica’s films) are followed by the sounds of the Sarajevan and Belgrade underground performing arts scene (movt.4. inspired by the late-night jam sessions in the Yugoslav artistic underground).
After this, the listener is taken through the world of the army tales (movt 5. inspired by the East European military band music) and through the Balkan mythology (movt. 6 with its use of old Slavic words and musical returns to the sounds of charms and riddles). The circus and cabaret sounds (movt.7.) are a musical homage to the road-life of the ever-travelling circus performers and musicians. In the next song we are on the Adriatic coast with its alluring love songs inspired by the Italian language and this neighbouring culture (movt 8. is a seductive love song, inspired by both Dalmatian klapa songs and canzone (songs) from the neighbouring Trieste in Italy).
The ninth movement is a culmination of the presented styles, recalling the thematic and the compositional structures of the opening prologue and the first song, but in a more contemporary, minimalist-inspired compositional manner. So after the chant, the ring dance, the tavern song, the jam session, the soldier’s tale, the curse and riddle, the circus, the love song and the climax, the final third is a reflection of the journey. After the ninth movement, we are already on the other side, the lights are dimmer and the circus is now quieter, in a post-performance mood (movt.10 musically fuses aspects of both film noir and an imaginary freak show). The tavern songs and the late night jam sessions are now fused into an early-morning tango (movt.11) and the curses, riddles and the love songs are melted into a nursery rhyme- like song (movt.12). The closure (movt.13) forms a perfect circle and takes us back to the ancient Balkan sounds of the opening bars, only this time not in pain and rage of the “Just come to my mind, my thoughts will scratch out your face” prologue-lines, but through hope and forgiveness of “Give me back my rags, I’ll give you yours”.
This final third is a return to optimism and courage with greater understanding of the reality of living. Popa and his contemporaries have always been described this way, and I could not have found a nobler creative example to follow.
Like men come back from the dead they have an improved perception, an unerring sense of what really counts in being alive.
(Hughes, 1978/79, p.3)
Ash Randomly is a student band formed in April 2002 during the early performance stages of sketches for the cycle, Give Me Back My Rags.
Two of the most important role models for Ash Randomly were Boris Kovac’s LaDaABa and Bregovic’s Price i pjesme sa svadbi i sahrana (Weddings and Funerals Band).
But who are these two bands?
LaDaABa (La Danza Apocalyptica Balcanica)
La Danza Apocalyptica Balcanica is, in short, my answer to the offered “choice” between two kinds of oppression I experienced in the last years: one of Milosevic’s dictatorship regime and another of the NATO air campaign in Yugoslavia. My answer is: “Just imagine, there is only one starry night left til the end of this world…What would we do? Let’s dance, let us be happy at least one more time in life!
The saxophonist and multimedia artist Boris Kovac leads the six-piece band LaDaABa. These musicians from Pannonia, in the North-Serbian region on the Hungarian border, indulge in the wild rides across the musical languages of the Balkans and also enjoy other eccentric dance-cycles including: tango, calypso, waltz or rhumba, to name a few.
The members of LaDaABa are mainly children from various Balkan mixed marriages between Serbians and Hungarians, Muslims and Jews, Croats and Austrians, etc. That wild and furious ride across the musical languages is not a merely self-indulgent musical step – this is their creative homage to the eclectic Balkan population.
They really play in the weddings and in the funerals, as in the Orthodox tradition. After the funeral ritual you’ve eaten, you’ve drunk so, for a while, your pain is estranged by the music.
Bregovic, the leader of “White Button”, the Yugoslav and Eastern European legend of rock music, spent the entire first decade after the disintegration of his band in the late eighties without performing live in concerts.
The situation was drastically changed in 1995 when he returned to performing live together with ten traditional musicians, a choir of fifty voices and a symphonic orchestra. This was just the beginning. Today the “Weddings and Funerals Band” consists of a Gypsy brass band, a string orchestra, a large choir, several traditional Bulgarian singers (who sometimes go under the name Paganke [“Pagan Women”]), a percussion section led by the Yugoslav marimba virtuoso Ognjen Radivojevic and Bregovic himself on the guitar.
“Weddings and Funerals Band” celebrates the culturally and ethnically multi-faceted Balkans – their work is a sound documentary about the political, ethnic, cultural and sociological issues of the Balkan Peninsula and their raging music advocates tolerance and acceptance.
Some of Bregovic’s recent and upcoming projects with the “Wedding and Funerals Band” are Hot Balkan Roots in which he was asked to be the guest of honour for the festival of music from Orthodox countries. For this occasion, Bregovic gathers three brass bands from Romania, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia and teams them up with the Russian female choir.
Hot Balkan Roots were followed by the Big Wedding in Palermo in which Bregovic gathered his “Weddings and Funerals Band” to play all night under the stars at the main square in Palermo. At dawn, the band was joined by about eighty newly married couples, approaching the square from all sides to dance their final wedding dance to the sounds of this eclectic and flamboyant ensemble.
The most moving and both, politically and culturally significant project in recent times is Bregovic’s Moje je srce postalo tolerantno (Tolerant Heart) premiered in the Basilica of St Denis in Paris.The project is Bregovic’s musical overview of the past and current political situation and of the growing tensions and lack of tolerance that unfortunately still exists in the world.
Moje je srce postalo tolerantno gathers three star singers from three religions (Christian, Jewish and Muslim), an Orthodox Church choir from Moscow, a string ensemble from Morocco and the brass players from “Weddings and Funerals Band”. The work has since then been performed at the Academia di Santa Cecilia in Rome (composer and Head of the Academy Luciano Berio made a special invitation) and in Milan.
Bregovic’s most recent project, Carmen With a Happy End, is the first “Carmen with a Balkan accent” and it incorporates a fake documentary (collaboration with countryman videographer and multi-media artist Milos Radovic), naïve theatre and live music. The controversial Balkan ambassador continues touring Europe and South America with his “Weddings and Funerals Band” – the road-life continues for the Gypsies, and those who love them and musically celebrate them like Bregovic has for over a decade now.
Ash Randomly is my attempt to develop a band inspired by the examples of LaDaABa and “Weddings and Funerals Band” in my creative, student and living environment.
Closer to LaDaABa in numbers (always between 6-10 members) and still stylistically near “Weddings and Funerals Band”, this student ensemble from Western Australia presented the songs and stories from the song-cycle Give Me Back My Rags and enabled my Balkans to live both in music and creative concepts.
The rehearsals are not only focused on articulation and intonation perfecting, because Give Me Back My Rags is essentially about story telling. Players have also spent time acquainting themselves with characters from Kusturica's films and concepts from Bregovic’s music.
Interpretation of each individual movement was developed in discussion with players through theatrical instructions implied in the musical concepts. Although the band might initially visually appear as a regular university music ensemble, the theatricality of their performance is more implicit and understood in the performance, rather than through any elaborate staging design and other theatrical tricks and embellishments.
Just like dramatic and agitated playing is meaningless if it is not supported by the adequate sound that explains the gesture, Ash Randomly does not need an elaborate stage design. They create their own stories and journeys through the multiplicity of their musical expression.
Valhalla (2002) was conceptualised by a Visual Arts Honours student Emma Margetts who wanted to work with the impact of the socio-cultural concepts that the given Scandinavian mythology, presented in Wagner’s work, could have on contemporary society. She was also interested in exploiting the climax scene in each opera. The concept supported the climax as the emotional heart of the entire work, and a team of performers including actors, musicians and visual artists was gathered to create a short story.
I was involved in the third opera Siegfried and had a role of the hero’s totem animal –his faithful bird. The bird character was given to me as to the only musician in this ensemble, so the requirement was also an original music score that would be performed live during the show.
During the time of the Valhalla project I was three quarters of the way through the song-cycle project. As the project developed, the cast became increasingly aware of the mythological implications and the metaphorical power that reaches to the present day. This realisation instantly attracted my allegorical monster from the Vasko Popa cycle. Although the Siegfried music consists of many different motives that are very loosely or not at all connected with the large-scale work, the main motive structure derives from some song-cycle fragments. During this project, I understood Bregovic’s concepts about the importance of language for text-based artists.
Although I have received extensive musical training and am not primarily a text-based artist, the Valhalla project includes a large body of poetry set to music. The most substantial vignette in the “Siegfried collage” is the final song for voice, piano and the dancer character of Mother Earth.
Si la muerte (If Death) a poem written by Miguel Huezo Mixco is an entirely contrasting work to this writer’s more politically coloured opus. The violently emotional poem is very similar to Vasko Popa’s expression. Readings of the Spanish text uncovered many similarities between the flow of music and words. The song developed from the recycled first melody of the sixth movement from the song-cycle Koren ti i krv i krunu (Damn Your Root and Blood and Crown) and the second theme deriving from one of my short solo piano pieces. This fusion is similar to Bregovic’s recycling techniques that fuse various materials into new homogenic collage work. The “cut ‘n’ paste” method as I sometimes call it resulted in a very stylistically appealing and emotionally evocative choice. The process and the outcome are both very close in their concept and musical framework to Bregovic and Iggy Pop’s work on In the Deathcar, in the Arizona Dream soundtrack. The text is appropriated, the language is changed and the second theme, recycled from the piano work serves as an instrumental bridge and a contrasting motive to the sung verses.
A long time ago I read some wonderful books about three integral elements of flamenco: singing, dancing and instrumental (mainly guitar and percussion) playing. Throughout the course of research, I discovered that one of the most important rituals in the Spanish Gypsy mythology is the Spring Rite – the ritual of Mother Earth worshipping. The Spanish Gypsies have also transmitted these rituals to many other European cultures. As the last scene of Siegfried was the dance of Mother Earth [Queen Erda in Scandinavian mythology] I found this musical choice evocative of the explored social commentary.
Just as Bregovic uses the Balkans as a metaphor for theatrical conflict I used the music and mythology of both the Balkan and the Pyrenean Peninsula as a metaphor for the last scene in Siegfried.
Sybil in a Suitcase is a cabaret odyssey devised in collaboration with the writer/director Francis Italiano and writer/performer Michelle Hovane.
The character of Sybil (played by Hovane) portrays an oracle who, after a sexual encounter with the God Apollo receives a gift of eternal life. Sybil’s habit of always being the last one to leave the party leaves her, once again roaming throughout the centuries and desperately in need of a good drop. She has had a particular liking for the world hot-spots which take her through Paris during the time of the Commune, through the great siege of Leningrad and to Havana and Guatanamo Bay during the Cuban missile crisis.
Sybil’s prophetic songs travel the world with her as Italiano, Hovane and I explore our interests in different cultures and their histories through text, movement and sound.
The Sybil project brought me the role of the prophetess’ pet cat together with the collaborative role of a composer/performer/musical director. Sybil’s songs are her own cries as well as well as the distant echoes performed by the ghost of her Machka/La Gata.
Together we performed most of the songs in two-part harmony, but also introduced several solo numbers for both Sybil (The Prophetess’ Song, written in the style of Marlene Dietrich songs) and the Cat (Little Song of an Unborn Child, a setting of Federico Garcia Lorca’s poem to music).
Following Bregovic’s tradition of ethnic music arrangements in combination with original materials, I arranged the Russian song Podmoskovnija vjecora (Moscow Nights) for Sybil’s Leningrad section of the play. The arrangement also included a small instrumental bridge of original material developed as a variation of the given melody. The second arrangement in the Leningrad scene incorporated the melodic outline of The Internationale accompanied by a bass line extrapolated from one section of Necu te uprtiti (I Won’t Carry You) the third movement from the song-cycle.
Chika Boom [Don’t Underestimate the Rhumba] – Sybil’s Cuban Song was also a source of many leit-motives throughout the entire scene. Although largely based on original materials, Chika Boom is a rhythmic potpourri of many different elements from the large-scale project.
With a pinch of tango from Izbrisao sam ti (Erase – movt 11. From Give Me Back My Rags) and even some Cubanised cocek from “I Won’t Carry You”, Chika Boom also combines the newly developed materials Boleros Tristes and Rhumba.
During this project I also studied the solo-piano works of the Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona. His opus for solo piano is large and consists of small character pieces, based on Spanish, Portuguese, Central and South American and African dance forms. These works are very significant, as a lot of Lecuona’s compositions are also rich and evocative of the Central American salon-style entertainment music.
Both, the Paris Commune song Unruly Women and the opening number Miseria es el Rio del Mundo (Misery’s the River of the World) recalled the Kurt Weilesque qualities of my own creative opus and some other references to both Latino and East European cabaret (as appropriate according to the scene).
In Sybil’s final lullaby, Little Song of the Unborn Child, I close the play with the musical homage to the main character’s everlasting life. Based on Garcia Lorca’s poem, the song is essentially about the closeness of a curse and a blessing and the severity of world disasters that keep this prophetess as innocent as an unborn child despite her ancient wisdom.
“Plea to My Mother” was a poem Pier Paolo Pasolini wrote in 1966 on learning that his mother had been diagnosed with a terminal illness. The spring equinox might be seen to constitute a time of fecundity during which we might thank our biological mothers, the mothers of our children and Mother Nature for firstly providing and then nurturing life. Two strangers improvise throughout this spring equinox night on two pianos facing each other, but configured as one. They share common origins rooted in the same narrow strip of coast that stretches from Venice all the way down to Albania. Their common history is connected to the history of the Adriatic Sea. As they touch the keys a kind of language may be sounding, that belongs to neither and to both. In this way they attempt to celebrate a return to increasing light yet again, as the cycles of birth and death are repeated endlessly in a dance in which the quest for harmony might seem to be the only principle that prevails over time and space. There are no desired outcomes here except to wait awake till dawn, I’m told wildflowers bloom now in the sand…
Tonglen is a Tibetan Buddhist practice that proposes breath as the instrument through which darkness might be inhaled and then light exhaled: it’s considered to be the most useful practice sentient being can engage with in order to benefit the whole creation; this equinox event aligns breath with the movement towards increasing light.”
(De Clario, 2003)
The Equinox jam session was Professor de Clario’s and my musical attempt to explore some of the concepts of the spring rituals that are celebrated widely around the world.
The thematic and ritualistic closeness of this concept to the Valhalla project and the research of Kusturica’s Time of the Gypsies immediately gave me many ideas.
Although it is quite difficult to recall all the processes that developed throughout this “dusk to dawn jam session” some of the most important structural elements that linked my improvisation possibly derive form Bregovic’s Ederlezi (St George’s Day) and different appropriations of fragments from the song-cycle and the “Siegfried collage”. This twelve-hour process brought together many elements of all the musical materials that have been developed for the past two years.
The other important structural element was Pasolini’s poem “Plea to My Mother” that serves largely as a conceptual basis for both players. This material is also important in its connection to text-based artists and their emotional, cultural and creative links to the text – we read both the Italian original and the English translation. Italian is de Clario’s mother tongue and still has an enormous impact on his creative consciousness.
As the improvisation is developed between two players, the dialogical qualities of its structure gave us both different roles; more and less dominant participation, equality of team work or entirely soloistic roles. The second part of the challenge was the developed/trained musicianship (my own) in combination with de Clario’s entirely intuitive approach to music, which gave our dialogue even more musical layers. The outcome is not defined (as de Clario described in the programme notes.) There are no requirements, except to honour this process in its entirety, and embrace its multiple possible outcomes.
Some of the fundamental questions to address are:
The nature of Give Me Back My Rags is not far away form that of Bregovic’s Weddings and Funerals Band as the work journeys through many different places and the magnitude of its musical formulae celebrates the cultural and creative multiplicity of the Balkans.
The intention of the work is to tell a story and create a journey – this music is experiential and inclusive because of its constant attempts to give an insight into the human essence.
It is my belief that there are really very few or almost no restrictions in such creations and that the liberties are endless. Give Me Back My Rags and my student band stand somewhere between LaDaABa, “Weddings and Funerals Band” and the world of “Western Art Music”.
Unlike my two idols, I have spent many years at the conservatory studying piano and composition. I thought that the formal training would give me greater opportunities to return to the roots of traditional musical expression and to those essential parts of creativity that transmit stories of the beginning and the development of the world.
The song-cycle is based on the conceptual synthesis of different traditional influences into the contexts of “Western Art Music”. The intention is close to traditional music concepts, the execution classical, and what propels the work is the equilibrium of these two components.
The ensemble Ash Randomly gathered classically trained musicians who have other strong musical interests. Give Me Back My Rags is my artistic attempt to provide a space in which such musicians can enjoy the virtuosity and knowledge of the conservatory training in a more robust context.
Some music institutions in the world have lost the power to encourage an individual to own the work to the maximum because of one’s creative development.
In the beginning of the project development, the song-cycle was not written for specific players, but it took more individual shape as certain instrumentalists joined the team. Although the music is fully notated, all players were asked to individually consider their part in relation to the surrounding ones, to the topic of each song and to their potential part in that story.
In most such bands this individuality is a factor that is inseparable from the music. Bands such as Kovac’s LaDaABa and Bregovic’s “Weddings and Funerals Band” are as homogenic as the individuality of their players.
The song cycle Give Me Back My Rags has been performed on numerous occasions and for various audiences. The performances include an appearance at the West Australian monthly New Music event Club Zho (May 2002) and 3 presentations at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts. Among these three performances are the annual Totally Huge New Music Festival (April 2003), the Conservatorium Lunchtime Concert (June 2003) and the graduation recital (October 2003).
Retrospective outlook on these performances suggests that Give Me Back My Rags was conceived for the audiences similar to those who normally attend the concerts of Bregovic’s “Weddings and Funerals Band” or Kovac’s LaDaABa. The work and its performers seek listeners who journey together with the ensemble, travel with the music and allow for the music and their reaction to it to completely overtake their entire persona.
An acting student once told me that she felt extremely self-conscious among an audience of classical music students. Upon asking her to explain what she meant, I was very sad to find out that this person, trained not to be embarrassed of the sensual and impulsive nature of human responses to creative art felt inappropriate in the room full of silent, polite listeners.
Operas (from as early as during the baroque period) were written for completely reactive, crying, laughing, cheering and “booing” audiences.
Most of the performances of my song-cycle were delivered to very sedate audiences of expressionless faces. Although there has been a lot of constructive criticism after the concerts, I found it fascinating to observe that there were not too many immediate reactions throughout the journey. You don’t see the audiences at LaDaABa and “Weddings and Funerals Band” waiting for Goran Bregovic and Boris Kovac after the concert to give them constructive criticism.
During my next meeting with the same acting student, I shared some new understanding of the audience reactions to my music. One of the key factors is the performance venue. Many music auditoriums and various other halls in conservatories and other such institutions frequently carry an aura of certain expected behavioural codes.
During the graduation recital, my supervisor and the conductor of the song-cycle Lindsay Vickery made a brief speech about the song-cycle tradition in the history of music. This compositional form has certain characteristics that accentuate the importance of the journey and an allowance for that journey overtakes the listener’s polite, rational or even socially acceptable (according to the “Western Art Tradition”) essence. I sometimes imagine the listener of such music like a wild rider travelling across the emotional spectrum of the set poetry.
One of the most interesting and possibly delicate subjects is whether such work is appropriate for assessment purposes in academic institutions. The importance and value of this type of composition as a vehicle of (deliberate or incidental) socio-artistic commentary still does not seem to be completely understood or acknowledged in all institutions. There are still many schools of music in the world where the composition graduate is almost by definition expected to be a follower of Pierre Boulez and Luciano Berio.
Interestingly enough, inspired and moved by the socio-artistic impact of Bregovic’s work “Tolerant Heart” Luciano Berio, the head of Academia di Santa Cecilia in Rome invited the performers to play a concert for the academy students and general public.
Give Me Back My Rags with all its guiding models and the psychology behind its concepts remains a work with possible social impact, a composition that will not change the world-situation, but may make some difference to those who have heard it or performed it. Just like Kovac’s Balkanski Apokalipticni Tango (Balkan Apocalyptic Tango) or Bregovic’s Hot Balkan Roots, the cycle is based on a traditional principle, executed through classical concepts and inspired by the multitude of different musical genres. The aim of all these elements is the same – to always tell a story, warm the hearts and move the feet. This cycle is not a palette of the studied compositional techniques, it doesn’t demonstrate the years of conservatory lessons. It is more of a creative space where the players can explore their intuitive musicianship.
They are in their element, all immersed in a culture with those with little possess inner riches, and the music they play is guided by pure instinct. They are themselves, living life to the full.
Tony Gatlif (notes from “Vengo” CD sleeve, 2000, Warner Music, France)
The work aims to take the traveller/listener through many different places during its first two thirds of the cycle. The final third is a reflection of the entire emotional spectrum explored throughout the journey.
The journeying qualities of such music accentuate the importance of live performance and the band’s musical and theatrical impact on the audience during and after the performance. Just like Bregovic’s “Weddings and Funerals Band” and Kovac’s LaDaABa repertoire, the songs and tales of Give Me Back My Rags (as told and sung by the vocalist and the actor) echo long after the final chord has been struck.
Vengo is primarily about that: a call, a song, a hymn to life, to love, to mourning, to blood money. A hymn to the Mediterranean spirit.
Tony Gatlif (notes from “Vengo” CD sleeve, 2000, Warner Music, France)
And the song-cycle Give Me Back My Rags is primarily about that too: it is my hymn to life, to music, to story telling, to dancing under the starts: a hymn to the beauty of music as a creative cultural connection among the nations.
The most significant connection point between the theoretical research and the creative applications addresses the purpose and intention of traditional music and folk elements in original composition. Theoretical analysis of the studied soundtracks together with evaluation of the creative projects shows that such elements heighten the sense of story telling and the theatricality of music. Some of the most powerful suggestions for the compositional framework of the song-cycle developed from Neyrinck’s analogies of “Orientalism” and “Occidentalism” as portrayed through use of traditional elements in original composition
During the course of research and project development, I constructed a compositional pattern based on Neyrinck’s analytical framework. The pattern is most obviously applied in the sixth movement of Give Me Back My Rags as the “Oriental/Occidental” principle can be followed in Popa’s poetic expression through his use of old traditional Slavic expressions and more modern language.
The sixth poem titled “Damn Your Root and Blood and Crown” is a gigantic curse, expressed through two very distinctive poetic voices. The first one is pathetic in a modern way – the pain is expressed in the contemporary urban Serbo-Croatian. The second voice uses the language frequently found in the ancient Slavic mythology – this is the language of the charms and riddles.
Damn Your Root and Blood and Crown
Damn your root and blood and crown
And everything in life
The thirsty pictures in your brain
The fire-eyes on your fingertips
And every every step
To the three cauldrons of crossgrained water
Three furnaces of symbol fire
Three nameless milkless pits
Damn your cold breath down your gullet
To the stone under your left breast
To the cut-throat bird in that stone
To the crow of crows the nest of emptiness
The hungry sears of beginning and beginning
To heaven’s womb don’t I know it
Damn your seed and sap and shine
And dark and stop at the end of my life
And everything in the world
This dichotomy of poetic expression in Popa’s language also divides the compositional story into two voices. If we consider that these words are expressed by one character, it is possible to relate the analytical framework to the second level ideology conceptual split that is present in Chereau and Kusturica’s films.
Just like Perhan is an innocent Gypsy boy and a gangster, Axel is a dreamer and a fighter and Margot is the daughter, sister and wife of a king and a lover of an enemy, this poem exposes the devil and the muse of one’s internal essence as the two voices slide around each other in a complex and bitter interplay.
The other important aspect of Popa’s poetic expression in this example is that the “Orient” is the conceptual angle of the past. If we take the voice expressed in the modern language as “Occident” (proximity) then the “Orient” is not only the other but also a legend. This also opens the possibility that the “Orient” was actually once proximity and it became simultaneously past and distant. In this poetry, the “Orient” is distant because it is ancient. This is the conceptual other which is really the forgotten conceptual self – otherness is reinforced by evolution.
In Popa’s poetry, the “Orient” presents the cradle of emotional essence which is now addressed as other in relation to the urbanised “Occidental” awareness.
This paper has been both a valuable research document and a stepping-stone in my personal acknowledgment of the necessary principles that assist in the development of any composer’s creative consciousness. The principles include:
My concepts are based on the idea of “roots” (traditional music) as a possible creative and cultural reference point for any artist. Recognition must not be misunderstood for acceptance, since that part of the process is every individual’s personal decision. Socio-cultural awareness is always a possible framework for one’s artistic discourse.
Acknowledgment of the conceptual principles in applied composition (particularly in the soundtrack genre) provides solid frameworks for the creation of musical analogies that replay the depicted dramatic conflict in their own creative medium.
I found Bregovic’s use of the Balkans as a metaphor to be a very encouraging method for many misplaced artists around the world. It is common that migrants and refugees go through tremendous psychological crises throughout their assimilation process, and just like Bregovic discusses in the section about the recycling and collage techniques in composition, many artists feel incapable of continuing their creative work in these different environments. The metaphorical use of one’s own socio-cultural creative resources narrows the ethnic, cultural and emotional gap between the artist in exile and his/her new environment. Although arts do have their own independent languages, many creative forms are still very reliant on verbal language and cultural understanding. This is why these flexible frameworks that are based on metaphors and analogies become possibly the most powerful tools of creative commentary.
In Bregovic’s sound analogies both, “Orientalism” and “Occidentalism” are translated into “Balkanism”, as its cultural and conceptual multiplicity finds possible answers for both of these elements. So if we look at the conceptual principles in applied composition from the cultural perspective, it is clear to see that not only did Bregovic use the Balkans as metaphor, but that he specifically used this paradoxical sense of identity to portray conflict.
In a recent interview in Yugoslavia a journalist asked whether the world recognises Bregovic’s composition as Balkan music or Bregovic’s music.
What would I know? They (international audiences) know my name. I am first and foremost a Balkan composer and my musical address is Balkan. The music is inspired by the Balkans and written for the Balkans. The fact that the world has accepted it – that is really nice.
Increasing acceptance of different types of ethnic music in the contemporary arts and the reconstruction of preconceptions and taboos have taken a long time. Perhaps the next paradox for us all to realise is that even this freedom and acceptance does not resolve everything. It only provides more options and potential answers because when all is taken into account any artist’s creative journey is just like the nostalgic subject of a Gypsy song – o lungo drom (the long road).
for the English translation of the poetry see appendix
Although the monster is boldly present in the second movement, immediately after the prologue and the opening number, the second poem provides a place for exploration of the contrasting musical elements to portray similar literary subjects to the ones from the previous numbers.
klapa-(a group, a gang) this expression is frequently used in Dalmatian music as a name for unaccompanied vocal ensembles
I continuously refer to the work as the collage as it consists of several vignettes that take us through the character development and the story line in a miniature form.
Miguel Huezo Mixco (born 1954) a poet, journalist and writer from El Salvador is a prominent cultural ambassador of the Central American culture and a recipient of many awards across the Americas.
the italics – the first modern poetic voice
the bold letters – the second ancient poetic voice
My old history teacher in Yugoslavia use to say: “The paradox of the Balkan identity is that our Ottoman heritage constantly verses our European dream.”
BALKAN AS A METAPHOR IN THE FILM COMPOSITION OF GORAN BREGOVIC - by Nela Trifkovic (Nela Trifković)