Friday, 9 October 2009

'Not about conflict and resolution'

I'm listening to a new CD recommended by Gramophone magazine, Not no faceless Angel, by Gabriel Jackson - (angels keep cropping up! see previous post). It is as the review says, 'of special beauty and appeal'. But I'm provoked by the composer's explanation of his music, 'I try to write music that is clean and clear in line, texture and structure; my pieces are made of simple melodies, chords, drones and ostinatos. They are not about conflict and resolution; even when animated, they are essentially contemplative.'

It was the bit, 'not about conflict and resolution'. This would be a similar philosophy to some of the holy minimalists, such as John Taverner. What provokes me is that while I greatly appreciate the experience of 'the sonic cathedral' from time to time, I find it limiting. The essence of music is the way in which a composer sets up conflict, or tension, and then resolves it. This is what makes music so alluring.

Stephen Hough, in his blog, asks the question, 'Can atonal music move you?' And he makes this incisive observation, 'Pure atonality's problem is its lack of reference points. If you take away the compass of tonality you take away tension - the magnetic pull is annulled.' A different issue, but again, the need for tension.

In relation to our world, while conflict, or tension, can be destructive, actually it is an integral part of what it means to be human. Life would be unimaginable without tension? The issue is not to remove it, but to live with it creatively. And when it comes to conflict or tension with others, the question with which we grapple is 'how do we manage our differences'? We need the difference and can't do without it, but it creates tension, or conflict, and that needs to be negotiated.

I find myself pondering what part tension, or even conflict in its creative sense, will play in God's future, new creation. I don't believe that the music of John Taverner, or Gabriel Jackson, however lovely it might be, is an accurate foretaste of that life.

Sort of related is this provocative prayer by Martin Wroe, called Noise:
They say you're available
on certain conditions.
Quiet ones.
That if I can find an air of tranquility
it carries that still small voice.

But I don't do quiet,
stillness.
I am not tranquil except when I am asleep
and then I am not available
as far as I know.

So,
what's the chance of a still big voice
in the noise,
of hearing you in the roaring traffic,
the screaming meal-time,
the crowded train,
the supermarket queue,
the smoky, throbbing bar?

I know that time you weren't
in the fire,
the storm.
But everyone's different.
Maybe Elijah was better at quiet.

You're usually quiet.
I'm usually wired.
If I try for your silence,
perhaps you could try for my noise.

Your place or mine?
I know they say you're in
the country,
but maybe we could meet in town.

9 comments:

jim Gordon said...

This is a very fine post Geoff. The conversation between music and hopefulness, between spirituality and limitation, and human experience as inherently and necessarily tensile, creates a context for us to be touched in our deepest places. P T Forsyth would have had a similar sense to yourself; perfection as absence of conflict and tension he called a 'finished futility'. Human maturity and greatness is in the realms of moral struggle and achievement, and the spiritual resolution of the deepest human tragedy is Christus Victor. The Christian story is itself one of tension, conflict and resolution.And in it, peace is not eternal atonality, but the resolution in history of a reconciliation that does not destroy difference, but holds them together in the peace-making cross and the resurrection life.

The poem by Wroe is exegetically brilliant - if exegesis is the bringing of sacred story and our story together, in honest recognition. Where's it from Geoff?

Geoff Colmer said...

Thanks very much for the comment Jim. The prayer is from, When You Haven't Got a Prayer, by Martin Wroe, published by Lion and available at Amazon. I first encountered Martin Wroe on tv one Good Friday about seventeen years ago. He was speaking a monologue to God about the cross and it was gripping. Having recorded it I slowly transcibed it - this too is in the book, though in a shorter form! I've only read Forsyth through others. In what book does he refer to 'finished futility'?

jim Gordon said...

This superb phrase is found in God the Holy Father, page 135. "Perfect Christians would be complete ...and empty; dead and done with; finished futilities!"
This was his comment on views of Christian perfection as a state, rather than as a dynamic movement towards Christlikeness that can never be complete because it is ethical and ever transformative. Go treat yourself Geoff and read one of Forsyth's volumes - God the Holy Father is a good place to start. His is the voice of a passionate and eloquently blunt Scot, for whom the cross of Christ and the Christ of the cross is God's hapax legomena!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this blog, and an earlier one with a quote from Buechner.

Gabriel Jackson said...

As the catalyst for this original post I wonder if I might comment. I'm not sure that it is true to say "The essence of music is the way in which a composer sets up conflict, or tension, and then resolves it." All music, on a micro-level, is made up of what might call conflicts that resolve - that is what a passing note is, what a suspension is, etc. But I chose my words carefully - the "about" is important, for it is only really in Western art music from the 18th to the early 20th centuries that the actual subject of the music is conflict and resolution. Mediaeval and Renaissance music are not about conflict and resolution, virtually all non-Western music isn't about conflict and resolution, pop music isn't, etc. They are about other things.

Geoff Colmer said...

Gabriel, thank you for responding. I'm aware of the micro-level, the tensions within the tension, but you make a good point about Western art music. This has given me some more to think about. And thank you for the beauty of your music.

Glen Marshall said...

Geoff, I'd like to use the Martin Wroe poem for a sessionon Urban Spirituality I'm doing at our MA Summer School next week. I've tried hunting down the source so that I can cite it properly, but no joy. Can you help?

Geoff Colmer said...

HI Glen! The book is 'When You Haven't Got a Prayer: A journalist talks to God', published by Lion Giftlines, ISBN 0 7324 1575 6. Hope this helps.

Glen Marshall said...

Cheers Geoff, very helpful indeed.