Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rasputina and the human/cello cyborg

After 10 years of adoration, I finally witnessed a Rasputina recital last night!! I'm finding it difficult to speak of the elation I felt, the soaring high inside me as I witnessed the organic production of what have always been for me the pristine and artificial recordings of their music. Just as any concert-goer speaks of the superiority of the live experience over the recorded music, I too feel the spontaneous iteration of the music they performed exceeds the pre-recorded and perfected nature of listening to their music from a disc or mp3. Of course, attending a concert is a more fulfilling sensory experience, combining a visual and tactile performance with the auditory, but even if I were blind and numb, I would still be relishing in my memories of last night's audio marvel.

And it's not just the usual, "I was swimming in the ocean of sound blasting from the giant speakers" notion I'm referring to. It's all the details, the cold and real details of making music, that most affected me. Hearing Melora's horse-hair bow beating on the gut strings, the tapping of her hand on the wooden body of the cello, the whispered counting of the rhythm subtly picked up by the microphone, all of these sounds are erased in the recording studio but speak so much to the reality of crafting music. Every time I heard Melora inhale, every time her voice faltered or reached for different notes than on the recorded versions of her songs, I swooned. Of course the concert was no more real than every time I listen to the music on my iPod or blasting from my computer speakers, but it was certainly more fulfilling by being more organic.

The visual spectacle didn't hurt either. I've always thought the cellist must have a unique relationship with the instrument, something as deep as what Orpheus had with the lyre. I'm sure most musical artists can and do speak of a profound, human relationship with their instruments, often personifying them with names and speaking of them anthropomorphically, and I see the musical artist as a cyborg, the union of man and tool/instrument/object. But whereas the pianist sort of enters the machine, trapped between the piano bench and the keys, with only the fingers caressing the instrument; whereas the guitarist or the violinist cradles their tool amidst arms and shoulders and often a strap around the back; whereas the woodwind and brasswind blowers have a strictly oral relationship with their instruments (except the tuba players, burdened by the onerous and inorganic brass hulk they must carry); the cellist seems inseparable from the instrument, a cyborg fully mated with the machine. Seated, Melora’s hips press against the wooden body, her knees and thighs envelope its feminine curves, her hands must grope up and down its long peacock neck, and she is hidden beneath its size and shape, as much of the player is visible to the audience as the instrument being played. They are subsumed in each other like lovers in some sexual dance, and yet the instrument always remains an object, not anthropomorphized into some semblance of man, but always a machine, and always engaged in foreplay with a human animal.

And yet the human/cello cyborg of Rasputina is still a part of a greater web; the cello is plugged into an amplifier and a microphone sits in front of the instrument to carry its voice across a greater distance; neither Melora nor the cello are the instrument unto themselves, but only through the cello’s design and Melora’s actions can music be created; atmosphere is needed to carry the music and an audience must be present to hear it; lyrics spill from Melora’s bodily instrument, her voice, combining with the cello/object to enhance the song; and of course, there are 2 other members of the live band that work with their own instruments to create the full experience of each musical piece.

I’ve taken this much farther than I planned to, I need to cut this short and get to work, but I have such a terrible memory I hope that writing all this down helps preserve the experience for me. I have been enriched by last night’s performance, and I hope I have the opportunity again someday to participate in another Rasputina recital.

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