Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I just got back from the Opera. It was Wozzeck, a modern opera--a wild 90 minutes in an atonal universe. I studied composers like Alban Berg in college, in heady course on non-objective painters like Mondrian and Kandinsky and the atonal music of Schoenberg and Webern (with a few shout-outs to Berg...) Technically, atonal music is known as such because it lacks a tonal center. It's not in any key. It doesn't land or come back to anything familiar, regular, or melodic. Sometimes it feels like speak-singing. Other times, it feels like the music was generated in a truly random way--as if Berg rolled a 12-sided die to figure out which note would go next.

Oddly destabilizing. Exhausting, when I think about how nice it would be for a rousing melody to hum along to. And yet, evocative. Raw. Even, perhaps, honest and pure.

And, afterwards, I felt strangely optimistic. Which strikes me as unlikely, given that the story thrives on brokenness and, ultimately, jealousy that leads to murder.

In the line at Starbucks, where I waited for the mocha that would bring validation for free parking, the man in front of me smiled and seemed friendly. Then he asked me, in Russian, if I spoke Russian. Then he spoke in fluent, slang-filled English to his friends. The cashier engaged in me in a long story about her day, and taxes. And, as I parked in front of our house, a man who I've seen in the neighborhood wanted to start a conversation (and get bus fare). We ended up talking a lot longer than I'd imagined, and made me uncomfortable in bits and pieces.

Conversation felt refreshingly easy, after emerging from the atonal universe. And yet, all of it feels like it lacks a center (tonal or otherwise). Nothing seemed to quite be what I expected or knew how to respond to.

So, I'm pondering what it might be like to move through a world that was centered in a particular key. Would everyone have to hear it or just me? And what would it mean missing?

Maybe I just need more sleep.

1 comment:

Marian said...

Wow! This post is provoking! I love it.