Sunday, May 22, 2011

experiencing firstness in portugal

I'm currently sitting in a perfectly bizarre hotel in Porto. Positioned squarely between Ikea and Jumbo, Tryp Porto Expo reeks of newness and impermanence. Over the next couple of days, I hope to explain why this bothers me so, why I have come to find new construction--new things--aesthetically and philosophically offensive.

But Performa, and Aveiro, were wonderful.

figure wonderful: Aveiro city park

There are pages and pages to be written about my experience at Performa, but first, today, allow me offer you a litany of topics and thoughts provoked by the conference, the city, and new colleagues. 1. Taruskin is a total hipster, Turino is a total nerd. 2. More seriously, Turino offered the most lucid explanation of Peirce I have ever heard. I am waiting on bated breath for his newest book, but until then I'm looking forward to diving into his 1999 article, "Signs of Imagination, Identity, and Experience: A Peircian Theory for Music." 3. Iain Foreman presented a completely brilliant paper entitled "Performance as Resonant Listening." I have spent some time thinking about music as something intrinsically violent, but Foreman pointed out that indeed sound can be something violent in and of itself. The more I ruminated on this point, the more I agreed: sound is uninvited, unexpected, it violates our bodies in an intimate and invasive way. In a sense, we are powerless to protect our bodies from what I have been calling internal sonic micro-colonization. As I write about the presentation, all kinds of observations are coming to mind. Basically, it was brilliant. I can't wait until I can read his books. 4. At some level, almost all the papers I saw addressed the paucity of communicative relationships between audience and performer. While no one said it explicitly, it seemed that they were all getting at the following. We exist as plural entities comprised of numerous virtual, disembodied identities in combination with an embodied identity so coded and bogged down by tradition it can barely see straight (metaphorically speaking of course). Because music can be understood as a heightened form of intimate, physical communication--touch (in a very literal sense) initiated from a distance and experienced from the proverbial stem to proverbial stern--it is indeed, deeply effected in its perception, reception, and transmission by such a cultural context. 5. Speaking of disembodiment and Peirce, who has two thumbs, a scholar-crush on Turino and had a moment of firstness in the Church of Jesus? This girl.

figure firstness: Church of Jesus, Convent of Jesus Aveiro

But it didn't stop there. I went upstairs to the choir loft and was moved to tears.
 figure secondness: Choir Loft, Church of Jesus, Convent of Jesus Aveiro

On the heals of Turino's laudable and if you'll forgive me, awesome, Peirce-a-thon, my experience at the convent brought up all kinds of questions regarding the phenomenology of religious architecture. I am not a Christian, but I have to admit the incredible coercive force of this space; was it a moment of spiritual awakening? Doubtful. Was it a moment of emptiness and openness that left my body and psyche vulnerable to suggestion, co-option, and unmitigated joy? Likely. Is my experience something that has been utilized by the institution of religion over time? Absolutely. However, I should note that despite using words like coercive, vulnerable, co-option, I did not feel violated by the experience--on the contrary, I am deeply grateful for my moment of firstness. 6. The American fetishization of that which is ancient. When I arrived in Portugal, I found myself attracted most to buildings in decay: missing walls and roof tops, proudly displaying elemental wear, these buildings fascinated me. As the week progressed I attempted to articulate my interest-turned-obsession: was it their aesthetic value? Was it the mystique and probable plurality of their history? It wasn't until last night when a colleague expressed a similar fascination. We discussed our American-ness hoping to come to some sort of conclusion, eventually realizing that the allure of these structures was generated by their perceived permanence. In a fundamental way, these buildings comforted us, "grounded" us. My colleague articulated it quite well by saying that in America, architecture is not only transient, but also apocalyptic.

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