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NYU Orchestra does The Forest

PostPosted: February 7th, 2012, 1:49 am
by Wickeddoll

Here's a revision of a blurb I wrote in 1991 that will be included in their program:
To me, The Forest is less a piece than a tool—A tool for discovering what it is we are made of, what kinds of ideas, what prejudices, what propaganda fills us up, what we think is beautiful and what we think is ugly, what we consider Nature and what we think is God. That’s some heavy lifting for any bit of music, maybe I can be a little clearer.
When I first began this work, I was reading a lot of myths. The epic of Gilgamesh is the oldest story known to us, and it struck a resonant chord in me. This tale is sexy, action-packed, mysterious, gentle, brutal and spiritual. It speaks of, among other things, relationships between nature and culture, people and civilization versus animals and nature and about immortality and death. The old story dealt with many of these themes simultaneously and in a way that seems very contemporary—The hubris of man, the lust for immortality, the balance between our animal selves and our “civilized” selves. This piece was written for a theater piece based on this ancient epic, set during the German industrial revolution. The almost godlike ruler of the city in that early tale was replaced by a titan of industry, at a time when industry and it’s almost limitless possibilities were seen as both a savior and curse on civilization.
The Enlightenment period and Industrial Revolution were truly set to make us masters of the universe—and this was viewed as a good thing. The process of writing this piece therefore demanded a little diving into the unconsciousness of that European Mind. I wanted to use the music to help me empathize with that way of thinking that I might normally find strange and alien.
My means of taking stock of where we came from and what our assumptions are sometimes takes the form of writing music. This piece involved writing music evocative of that period in our history. I've tried to write music that draws a lot from the Romantic composers who seemed to represent both the attractiveness of industry as well as it’s opposite—the presence of the divine in nature. I found that I was able to sympathize with those who feel the romance of the factory—The beauty, the power, the possibilities of the machines that would change the world.
Many of these same concerns were widely discussed during the Industrial Revolution in Europe and North America. It seems to me that this was a period when most of the ideas that we live with now, most of the concepts and feelings we think are so "modern" — like nature being beautiful and cities being ugly, like the assumption that God is a part of Nature, and Man not being a part of that Nature — became common currency. Our ideas about the concept of progress, about work, machines, sex, love and the spirit were largely generated during the advent of machine culture. It's strange to see that we believe most of the same things now, even though this industrial culture is on its way out. It's even being preserved in museums.
In the process of working on this project I discovered that yes, I could allow myself to believe in the glories of science and industry. Part of me comes to the fore and is extremely useful in following where these characters want us to go—some part I might deny. We in the present, living with the ravages and detritus of industry, might have trouble remembering how promising it seemed at one point. I tend to see factories as William Blake did, as “dark, Satanic mills,” and view the mechanized view of the world and its inhabitants with a great deal of skepticism.
Some of the music borrows from other sources as well—old style film-music mainly, which is not surprising, I guess because that music, in a way, was a continuation of the romantic tradition that arose in the nineteenth century. While the 20th century classic composers were busy with serial music and dissonance (machine allegories of a different sort), the music of movies became the sounds that people came to associate with the feeling of awe, mystery, adventure, terror anguish and joy. Sometimes the music can sound kind of corny or a little bit too much but, in a way, it might better express what people were feeling at the time—more than modern or contemporary music.
We’ve moved on to an "information culture," a "software culture." It's not really a culture of big machines anymore. We think of them as relics. And yet, we still live with the biases, assumptions and beliefs that come out of this earlier age. We are filled up with these ideas in our schools, throughout newspapers, our televisions, our music, art and literature.
I realized while working on this project that we're a lot less "modern" than we think we are. For the most part, we're living and breathing in a new world, while thinking and feeling in an old one.
David Byrne February 1991; updated January 2012