Hi to all from Buenos Aires. I’m here for a week on a fairly relaxed assignment, pushing paper and making minor corrections, as I’ve completed all of the prep work back in New York. But more on the project later.
I’m not a natural tourist. I’m reluctant to go see the sights, I want to stay in San Telmo and practice, read, and write. I didn’t buy a guidebook, so I have no idea of “what to do” and “where the locals are”. Tomorrow, some of my local friends will hopefully show me where they go. I’ve never seen the sights in New York either, unless I happened to be working there, in which case I was fulfilling some well-paying tourist’s pipe dream.
I want to escape the myth of Buenos Aires, the mystery of the tango, the allure and horrors of its past, the sound of its radios, the smog of its cars & trucks, I want to escape the diet of white bread stuffed with a variety of unhealthy ingredients, to walk after dark and feel relatively safe. This afternoon, in my hotel room, I played through a dozen tangos, both real and improvised, just trying to shake them off, so they would go away; in the evening, while eating dinner, I left the Bar El Federal when techno music started playing from one of its corners. I want to be one with the city, but all of these things stand in the way, all these things that make the city what it is, its residents who they are, and my wish to close my eyes to all this is consciously ridiculous. But it persists – I do not want to “taste” the city as a tourist, I want to collaborate with the city, on something that would help it thrive forward, that would help me respect and see it in the present, not just in its storied historical classic memory.
I had a similar experience with Cuba, though I didn’t actually visit it. Instead, my Buenos Aires-bound plane hovered over it for a good half hour on our way south. I tried to conjure up an image of Cuba, listen to the music below, to see if I could find a way to help it musically push forward. But I couldn’t conceive it just then. I was raped of inspiration with the thought that Cuba’s best musicians moved to New York and Miami, and that the only way to do anything interesting was to dissolve the source with something from another direction / tradition, and blur forever the idea of authenticity. (Authenticity is a word from the marketing department anyway, there is no authenticity amongst the authentic, only the natural and the present.)
Often, I catch myself thinking that my main concern of recent years — the attempt to push musical rhythm further without anyone noticing, and to do it with soul — is too narrow. But it’s the only thing I truly care about in new music, and the time is ripe. We’ve had a harmonic revolution (revelation) with Wagner & Debussy & Schoenberg & progressive jazz, we had a cross-cultural revolution with the Kronos Quartet & Yo-Yo Ma, and earlier with Philip Glass and others, and we continue to experience a timbral revolution thanks to anyone who plays with Ableton live & MAX/MSP. We even had an attempt at a rhythmic revolution with Stravinsky & Xenakis & Carter, but all that was more-or-less lost when John Adams and Steve Reich compressed all rhythmic complexity into a nice 4/4 measure. That leaves hope only in the remaining folk music of Eastern Europe and the Americas, still preserving the framework for an angular direction. Few people listen to it, and you’ll rarely hear it on the radio, which leaves me with the provisional hope that I can create something user-friendly, but purposefully not.
Clearly, I’m a New Yorker. I have little interest in preserving local traditions, and seek to repair anything that I deem wrong or past its time, from the choice of bread Argentinos use in their sandwiches, to the number of beats in a measure. Thankfully, I’m probably in good company overall – sadly, few of these kindred spirits work in music. For now.
long day tomorrow awaits, but a fun one.