Ne pas céder sur son désir

Mr Lubomir Terziev from the American University in Bulgaria has written an enlightening and revealing review of my album Cassis. We artists need this kind of guidance and I am forever grateful. Here it is:

Cassis: Ne pas céder sur son désir

Centuries before Horace came up with his famous ut pictura poesis (as in painting, so in poetry), Simonides of Ceos formulated the same similarity between poetry and painting in much more specific terms: “Poema pictura loquens, pictura poema silens” (poetry is a speaking picture, painting silent poetry.”

I am not much of a believer in the continuity between the semiotic systems of the different arts, and yet if I were to extend Simonides’ analogy, I would say that music could sometimes work as a “painting of sound.” This phrase represents accurately my response, on the level of affect (blended, inevitably, with cultural memory), to Alexander Kyd’s album Cassis.

The fluttering guitar chords in the eponymous opening piece – Cassis – transport me to a grassland area in the summer. The tall green blades lean to one side pressed gently by the breeze. I wish this picture were a product of my own imagination, but I should admit it is evoked by the memorable grassland scene in Tarkovsky’s Mirror.

With a Wordsworthean “gentle shock of mild surprise,” Pegasi I pushes me uphill towards a peak that I may never reach. It’s as if a force, physical rather than mystical, carries me on, and I cannot resist it. Not that I want to. In Pegasi II, the climb is over, and the trumpet makes me see myself in an armchair amidst a well cultivated yet natural garden. I am filled with sweet nostalgia over the peak I never reached.

Faithful to its title, Sever wrests my mind out of the embrace of memory and brings me back to a present bond with the world out there. This time I see myself on the shores of a lake. The waters are alluringly still. I am blissfully alone, and yet I expect, with a hardly perceptible anxiety, the remote voices at the beginning of the piece to re-appear. They never do.

The voices do re-appear towards the end of These Waters Remember I. That’s all the comfort I need. I don’t need physical human presence, just a trace of it. I am transfixed. Now I don’t want to move away from the lake (no peaks, no seas can tempt me). I remember Horace’s dictum “Caelum, non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt” (They change the sky, not their soul, those who travel across the sea). I am self-sufficient and content to contemplate the unruffled surface of the lake. Don’t give me any fake depth, please. Thank God, the other three parts of These Waters Remember, despite the occasional screeching pizzicatos in Part IV, satisfy my yearning for the calming depth of the surface. The voices at the end of the “water” sequence come as a rewarding repetition of the human trace.

Fountains Fraught with Tears gently ruptures my peace on the shores of the lake. What bugs me is the surplus of harmony. Questions creep up in my mind. Why am I here? May I be missing out on something in the world beyond the lake? Do I need “real” human presence?

Obsidian, the last piece in the album, comes to prove that the best cure for surplus is surplus. With its uncompromisingly repetitive leitmotif and, towards the end, with the echo which sounds like ghostly human voices, Obsidian seems to be telling me: “Stay put near the lake! Don’t you dare blame yourself for your jouissance!”

Lubomir Terziev

03 August 2020

Do these rays heal?

Mr Lubomir Terziev, who teaches literature and creative writing at the American University in Bulgaria, has written a review of Rays that Heal which I find interesting and illuminating. Here it is:

Do these rays heal?

As a form of artistic expression, minimalism relies on one of the following effects:

a) the “less is more” technique leaves the reader/viewer/listener with enough space for interpretation. Think of Lydia Davis’ flash fiction hiatuses or Giya Kancheli’s unexpected silences. As one of my favourite lit teachers used to say, such works of art “begin when they end.”

b) repetition invites the reader’s/viewer’s/listener’s mind to actively pursue the signs of difference in the sameness established by, say, that several-minute-long shot with the rain refracting the neon light in the background in Bela Tar’s Damnation. Ditto the solid, mural-like soundscape of Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna. Such works of art are designed, I think, to never begin and never end.

Alexander Kyd’s minimalistic composition “Rays that Heal” seeks to constitute itself in the space of repetition. It is always an elusive space, but what makes it particularly precarious in this case is that it hangs between two identifications. On the one hand, the gentle and unruffled riffs of Kyd’s guitar, which recall the serenity of Baroque composers like Corelli, could lull the listener into perceiving this piece as yet another composition that adds to the overwhelmingly vast and underwhelmingly predictable “music for meditation and relaxation” category on YouTube. There is no daring experimentation with harmony here, and the listener’s spirit is left, as it were, to frolic in subtly melancholic delight. Hence, the healing.

A second, more careful listening yields a different vista. There is a tension between repetition and variation in Rays which stimulates the mind to discover the less than comforting dimension of this music. The dialogue between the guitar in the foreground and the orchestral echo in the background reminded me of Deleuze’s astute observation that “variation is not added to repetition in order to hide it, but is rather its condition or constitutive element, the interiority of repetition.” It is this inherently dynamic dimension of repetition that I’d rather take away from Rays. I can use some healing, but I’d rather be healed by failing to identify with an origin and a closure.

Give me repetition anytime.

Rays that Heal

A new piece of music is ready and will be released soon. Its title is Rays that Heal (there is a pun somewhere and I hope you’ll be able to detect it). David Llewellyn produced it, the talented artist Gerry Aneva created the beautiful artwork, and your humble servant wrote and recorded it on a portable Tascam recorder. Judah Armani and Tim Howarth at InHouse Records provided spiritual support, for which I am grateful. I will release it on Bandcamp soon and I expect it to hit the streaming platforms about six weeks later. Rays that Heal is intended to have a soothing and calming effect, which is obviously much needed these days.

Doni & Momchil

Doni & Momchil were a Bulgarian pop duo active throughout the 90s. Doni is a remarkably gifted vocalist, while Momchil is a brilliant, prolific composer and producer. Even their silliest pop tunes are very well-crafted. Here I’m reimagining one of their tracks as a dreamy guitar loop. I am naming this style Post-Nylon music. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more!

Julia

Julia by Emil Dimitrov – an iconic pop tune from the 70s – reimagined as a slow, dreamy loop. I like doing this to old tunes. Next on my list are some more Bulgarian pop standards (tracks by Tangra, Doni&Momchil, Atlas, etc.), a handful of songs by Ostava (my favourite Bulgarian band), and – why the hell not! – a few chalga anthems.

Time flies

I’ve just realised I haven’t posted anything in my blog for over a year. Tempus fugit. It’s been a year of busking, reading the likes of D.H. Lawrence, Roger Scruton, Geoff Dyer and Theodore Dalrymple, recording and releasing CASSIS, more busking, giving guitar tutoring a go and enjoying it, and now working on new pieces. London whets the desire to create. When somebody buys a CASSIS CD on Bandcamp, I write them a letter in which I try to explain what the music is about – an utterly futile endeavour. Music succeeds where words fail.