Friday, July 18, 2008

Someone Turned on the Lights...

Karl Mullen-Untitled

Mater-Godar/Bittova/Valent/Bratislava Conservatory Choir (ECM 2006)

Now it's dark.

Sure it's my predisposition to say so. It was, today, after all, 90-something degrees--an unkind 90-something degrees at that. Just--as was once bandied about in the gulags and other accelerative camps of human disambiguation, like yesterday. Ideal weather to vanish down the rabbit hole as freedom allows.

I say air conditioning is the poison of the modern age. Anything that could turn blue sky into a congestive cell, responsible for sneezes, muscular atrophy and a stiff monthly bill, that could keep the sun behind glass as if component to a museum for basic nouns, must be. I had the blinds down, and the dog slept. Restlessly looking at the mounds of household stuff, I ventured to reexamine cds I had once loved, though never quite as respectfully as I imagined was their due. The things I have loved. I'll say it again, the things I have verily loved.

Iva Bittova monopolizes Vladimir Godar's gut-punching Mater cycle the way all divas must: selfishly. Blood-drinkingly. With an incandescent dynamic not felt, nor feared so, since Fra Angelico ensconced the Virgin in flakes of gold. How apt that a single man, his dog and his now cable tv-free apartment should make the trappings for a delusion.

Just the other day I was discussing my potent milf affinity with a friend, who suggested I might give the opera a go. Lots of mature gals with athletic training. Might be just the thing. Iva Bittova sounds like love. Nightly curious fellows in dark burglar attire, not unlike myself I suppose, are arrested and led from the hind entrance of her home, for climbing a trellis, then through a window, then there, nearly beside her to catch the white petals with cross-running irisine blue lines inside them as they fall from her sleeping mouth, not to sell on eBay, mind you, but for covetous personal reasons, so strong is my milf affinity.

Which makes Mater all the trickier an undertaking; the Freudian snare is bigger than old Louisiana. Godar constructs this cycle as a kind of armchair tour of motherhood, heard in a string of ethnic contexts, set to multiple languages--I counted at least three, and with broadly arrayed emotional and religious premises. What is revealed, not so much contrarily, as secondarily, is the pulsating eroticism this endows Ms. Bittova, who inhabits these roles of the unfurling of womanhood, with a kind of pink multiplicity. Mind you, there's some anguish and grief expressed in the course of Mater, which I readily set aside with reverence and all due civility; I'm no wackjob.

Godar, in a composer's note, discusses the prison of narcissism into which we fall when we neglect either parent or child--that we are not only bound to duty, we are so bound against the perpetuity of all time, that if we can imagine, as is so helpful, the path stretches once to the dimming age we'll reach, and backward to the genesis gone by. So I have to agree with him, a fool would stray and not taste that sour magnificence each moment thereafter and be called a bad son of the Earth.

But wait, I wanted to address something, you know, sexy. Perhaps best that I said my peace about goodness first. For if there is any resonant lesson in Mater to be found it concerns the rich, reflective joy available between a selfish, and selfishly burning voice, and the more than nearly delusional thirst that waits, listens and consumes it like a wise and patient cactus in the sun.

Certain moments, the flamboyant "Regina Coeli" for example, a basic "he is risen" yarn Godar informs us originated in Slovakian early music revivalism (!!!), are magnetic. They open such brilliant vocal territory to Ms. Bittova that, ecclesiastical subject be damned, her irrepressibly sensuous sound flattens all secondary notions. Not that the godly and sexy are mutually exclusive. In Daniel Wolff's trenchant, You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, the author goes so far as to say lifelong spinsters actively sought sexual gratification in the tremulous fire of gospel music. The difference in this case being my happy inclination to fetishize the reward.

"Magnificat" dwells, with its plunging icy strings, near the earthly spiritualism (!!!) of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill"--even if, anachronistically, Ms. Bittova puts me in mind of Lisa Gerrard of the curiously maligned, Dead Can Dance. But it is that precise flirtation with pop music--not the exhaustive linguistic, archaeological and compositional density, which gives Mr. Godar's work such heft, and Ms. Bittova's performance such dimension. It has a wise timeliness--when's the last time that happened without the Kronos Quartet, the art department at Nonesuch, and a shoe horn?

I don't want to sell short the academic achievement of Mater, nor especially the thrilling execution--it, I confess, never feels a fraction of the haughtiness its erudition suggests. This grace and agility with heavy objects in pop music simply does not happen.

My current thoughts however remain with that woman flitting through this rigorous septych. One can hardly cast stones at a man in my position, whose mereness of gratitude sets after fresh air, rabbit's end, and fabulous women. That it might all find me too.

Am I right or am I right?

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