Bach again…

Happy Birthday Johann Sebastian Bach (21 March 1685, O.S.31 March 1685, N.S. – 28 July 1750) – my favourite Baroque composer and whose music I’m particularly addicted to – especially the Goldberg variations and his Partita No. 2 in D Minor.

Here is a video of the timeless Aria from the Goldberg variations:

For more on the video click here.  https://gipsygeek.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/random-acts-of-sunshine/

The best renditions of Bach’s piano works are quite arguably those recorded by Glenn Gould. In this link, Glenn Gould plays the entire set of the Goldberg variations. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah392lnFHxM

Bach’s Partita No.2  in D Minor for solo violin, widely named as ‘Bach’s chaconne’ was written by him possibly during 1717 – 1723, in memory of his wife Maria Barbara Bach. The second movement is considered a pinnacle of the solo violin repertoire as it covers every aspect of violin-playing known during Bach’s time and thus it is among the most difficult pieces to play for that instrument.

J.S. Bach’s chaconne for solo violin (click to enlarge)

My favourite modern-day rendition of this piece is of course by Hilary Hahn and the entire chaconne in two parts can be hear here:

But why is the chaconne considered one of the most beautiful and profound pieces ever composed? Is it because in a short span of 20 minutes it takes you through every possible human emotion, or because it is like the fine balance between Logic and Love, ecstasy and sorrow, fantasy and reality and combines all those extremes into a multidimensional paradox? I certainly am addicted to the piece. My father played the violin so I was exposed to it at an early age (not that he could play the chaconne), but even without this exposure, those who understand music will invariably feel the depth of the piece.

In October 2008 filmmaker Michael Lawrence released ‘The Bach Project’ featuring various distinguished musicians to discuss the effects and legacy of J.S. Bach’s music. In one scene of the documentary, musicians are scanned in an fMRI machine in an effort to study the neural basis of musical improvisation. The DVD is available here: http://www.mlfilms.com/ (As usually happens in our world, people shell out $100-a-ticket to watch the antics of some vulgar “reality stars” (who have composed, invented, created and  explored absolutely nothing), but Michael Lawrence’s Bach Project has to ask for donations on its website because his documentary – which is about the works of a REAL genius artist, i.e. Mr. Bach, and features a group of jazz and classical musicians – has fewer takers in our world.) Here is a clip from the film explaining possible reasons for the Chaconne’s appeal:

And here is the link to one of my all time favourite books – Godel Escher Bach : An eternal golden braid. If you loved the movie ‘Inception’ you will like it, since this book was one of its inspirations.

Spring is just round the corner in New York city – nay – has officially begun today. A grey rainy morning has followed a gorgeous sunny weekend…..and through the dark clouds today, the routine and the prose of life, the uplifting music of Bach (especially the lovely short piano pieces) reminds one, once again, of the poetry, the peace, the joys of life’s simple little pleasures. more than 325 years since Bach was born, and his music still lives on, still inspires.

Now that’s what you call timeless.

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Random Acts of Sunshine

RANDOM ACTS OF SUNSHINE

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Nothing starts a day better than a little dose of sunshine with the timeless music of Johann Sebastian Bach on the piano and the optimistic joy of sunflowers. This is the first of my ‘Random Acts’ short video series that I’m working on to celebrate the little pleasures  of life. And Bach and sunflowers have been two of my favourite ways to start a morning for as far back as I can remember……Perhaps, like the Himalayan mountains beckon my blood, as does the Mediterranean Sea, so do the sunflowers of Provence and the music of Bach.

My personal favourite in this collection of sunflower photos is the one of the sprightly lone helianthus bravely blooming at the edge of a grey sidewalk. A symbol of spunky joy indeed! I hope you like viewing this little piece as much as I loved making it, though of course Bach sounds its best when the speakers are good.

Please note that the last photo in the closing shot of the little child in the field has been taken by an exceptionally talented young lady Iryna Smolych from jossphoto.com who I hope to interview some day on my blog. Please watch this in the full screen mode. Happy mornings!

Random Acts of Sunshine. (full-screen it please.)

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I do not know about you, but for me – music is one of the greatest affectors of my moods and state of being. I’ve just always had extremely sensitive ears (and an oversensitive nose – but that’s another story). My dad had to take me to several trips to an audiologist or ENT specialist when I was a kid because I’d complain of hearing everything too loudly or pick up sounds that others would not find disturbing, or sometimes not even notice.

Turns out my ears were indeed too sensitive and I was hearing frequencies and pitches beyond the normal range. Yes – the doc played and experimented with several tuning forks and for a while I became his pet ‘freak’ patient. I later wondered if my affinity for dogs and other animals came from this auditory anomaly.

As a little kid, I had the ability to pick up any music by ear and play it on the piano (an ability which alas, my parents never encouraged, pushing me into dance instead to tone down my ‘tomboyishnes’ – but a decision of theirs that still makes me a wee bit sad at times. ok – here’s more looking at you sunflowers! to forget that!) Anyway, the solution was to wear ear plugs for a while and carry them around at all times, but even to this day, I remain very sensitive to sound, pitch, tonality and my entire body jangles in pain if a certain piece of music is incongruous in context or time of day, or just plain bad. I also like music that is ‘pure’ – i.e. the instruments are real and tangible. Till date, I still am not crazy about digital ‘instruments’.

While I haven’t done a survey I wonder how many people are affected by sound deeply, intrinsically, achingly. It was no coincidence that later ‘Acoustic Design in Architecture’ (a great help when it comes to designing concert halls) became one of my favorite subjects and I’d end up even teaching that. 

I wonder if the liquid in our inner ears that maintain ‘balance’ in our body has something to do with our intrinsic sensitivity to sound and songs. Geek readers can check out this youtube video which explains how our ear processes sounds and how the fluid in our inner ears maintain our balance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTiGskc1o48  (Don’t get spooked by the animated biological skinless face at the start – not a pleasant sight to see after the sunflowers.)

I also wonder why  certain styles or pieces of music feel so right in the morning and others only at night? In eastern cultures, classical music was composed and played according to the time of day as well as seasons of a year. I’m sure everyone has different preferences, yet somehow the ‘sameness’ of biology all across the human race perhaps leads to similar effects of different kinds of music on our bodies? I for one, love Bach in the morning. And certain pieces of Mozart. Even Debussy at times. Or Bill Evans playing ‘Here’s to that Rainy Day’. Afternoons, when I feel drowsy I don’t mind a torrid flamenco guitar tune or even a few jolly Gypsy Kings songs to wake me up – their sunny candor taking away the boredom at that time of day. Late sunny afternoons for some reason, stirs a craving for world music – Saif Keita singing songs from Mali, Bob Marley’s nasal wailing or the more classical variations of some old Bollywood song (the ones with tablas and drums), or even Brazilian carnaval rhythms. Exotic. Erotic in the essence of strange accents and exotic languages. Musical metaphors of imaginary (or real) afternoon sex in hot climates. Your lover’s sweat seeping in foreign soil. Where music and moving limbs and eyes surpass the necessity of comprehending language.

Evenings are for more somber or sensuous tunes in Jazz, or even lively big bands, poignant French ballads, or Django Reinhardt-esque brazen liveliness, or classical symphonies of Beethoven, Brahms and Tchaikovsky. And late at night, I love the pensive mood of Keith Jarrett, or melancholic versions of Jazz, and of course, the nocturnes of Chopin.  Dark nights are also for Pink Floyd, Jimi Henrix, Tool, the Scorpions, a few selected Rave beats, as well as some heavy Metal groups or songs I listen to. They seem so in sync with the mystery and terror of night, with madness and mania, fury and fire, or even just contemplation of the ‘dark side’ of psyches or moons or ‘crazy diamonds’ ;) I do not know if the ‘metal-at-night’ phenomenon is more out of a habit from the architecture-school days when pulling all-nighters was accompanied by the thrash of metal guitars – haunting, screaming thrusting one into werewolf-energy while drawing lines or making sketches in an inspired frenzy. But even without the architectural memory, I still find that genre very effective only at night.

Somehow friends who listen to the Goldberg variations in the night and Metal in the mornings seem to have it all topsy-turvy. In the open studio of my grad school, there were fellow-students who would jangle the hall with  either Judas Priest and Metallica in the early mornings or depressed ballads of Sarah Mclachlan. (Why couldn’t they hear them in earphones, instead of jangling the entire studio and all my nerves??! and I’d retreat back to that kid with sensitive ears, my state of mind anxious and muddied, wishing they would understand the subtlety of tender timid sunrays that ask for the joy of sunflowers, not the stench of death and skulls.)  

I have no problems with either thrashing, heavy and/or melancholic music at night, but mornings – ah sweet, sweet fresh clean innocent new mornings – please give me my Bach, and sunflowers, a good cup of tea, and soft, happy strums of the guitar, the sitar and the piano – and let me glide into the day reflective, alone in my thoughts, alone in the peaceful solitude of a morning-mind, and lapping up quiet exultant serenity……..

So – to those who like genial harmony and genus helianthus  in the mornings – here’s to Bach and sunflowers!

And if such indulgence in making ‘random acts’ videos and thoughts make me an idiot, so be it. There is a great quote by Bach: “If I decide to be an idiot, then I’ll be an idiot on my own accord. ” 

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