‘What This Loss of a Language Means’
“I can’t even.”
You know the phrase, right? Another day, another pop-media whine. “I can’t even” is credited to the bloggrs of Tumblr, who apparently can’t even find it in their hearts to give us an “e” before an “r.”
Call me Portr. I am so hip that I can’t even.
While basking in my coolnees, let’s face it. “I can’t even” is easily as insignificant and fully as irritating as “what what?” These streaks of silliness course through the slang-o-rama of our oh-so-social media with slimy charm. You see so many of us slinging them with the hashtags.
I had the pleasure of spending almost an hour this week with Paola Prestini. One of the most gifted and accomplished of our composers working today. Prestini writes the kind of “contemporary classical” music that holds so much power for authors, a blend of emotional aesthetic and intellectual rigor that’s akin to what happens in the best fiction. My story on her and her newly recorded Oceanic Verses is this week’s entry in my #MusicForWriters series at Thought Catalog, with the help of New York Public Radio’s Q2 Music.
And as I was telling editor Carla Douglas en tweeterie, one of the things I like best about Prestini is that she’s a supremely conscious composer. While she’s obviously in touch with her work’s emotional currents (which run about as deep as the Mediterranean setting of her Oceanic Verses), she’s also aware of her collaborators, her craft, her career.
Not for nothing did she form a company 15 years ago, while still in school at Juilliard, and that company today serves as the production body supporting her and other artists’ mixed-media work. This translates to platforming in our world of writing. Prestini is an adept platformer. That’s how you get to Carnegie Hall.
Actually, in Oceanic Verses’ case, that’s how you get to the Kennedy Center in Washington, to the River to River Festival in New York City, and to London’s Barbican Centre. Her company is VisionIntoArt, often co-producing with Beth Morrison Projects. VistionIntoArt’s new VIA Records label also has produced her husband Jeffrey Zeigler’s solo debut album. Zeigler is a cellist, formerly with the Kronos Quartet.
In conversation, one of the things that Prestini and I talked about is her alarm at what she calls “fading civilizations” — cultures that are being quickly eroded, ironically by the homogenizing connectivity of digital. She was in residence in Lecce in 2007, in Salento at the remote heel of Italy’s boot in the Mediterranean, “a cross-cultural land full of artistic hybrids.” The experience prompted her to start putting together what she calls her own “musical language.”
She has set parts of Oceanic Verses in disappearing dialects. She tells me:
One of the main themes of the piece is found in a section sung in Griko. [That’s the Italiot Greek dialect spoken in southeastern Italy.] There are only about 400 people left who speak it. And that led me to a deep look what this loss of a language means. And also how this land could be used as a metaphor for fading civilizations globally.
While an artist like Prestini gives us music that can inform and illuminate our own work as writers — that’s the point of the #MusicForWriters columns — I wonder if she doesn’t also have a quiet message for us as artists of language.
I’ve also spoken at length this week with another composer, Christopher Cerrone, whose Invisible Cities was the subject of last week’s #MusicForWriters. In talking with him for an interview story to come, I found out that he goes through as many as 50 manuscripts, searching for the right literature to set to music. He’s fascinated by how economically something must be said (or sung) in music-theater because the medium moves more slowly than standard speech. He says he thinks that as a child, he understood great books before he knew great music.
Isn’t it interesting how intensely these sophisticated creators of sonic worlds on stages and in studios are valuing our medium — these words of ours?