Saturday, May 18, 2013
it begins with breathing, I am certain of this, but I didn’t know how it ends, I never knew how it ends until recently, everything is in the lungs, before I could breathe my mother breathed for me, she breathed and then I could breathe, and not long ago I watched and I listened and I held her hand as she breathed her last breath, so I know how it ends, it ends as it begins, with breathing
early on an August morning in 1947 my mother began to breathe, and early on a March morning in 2013 she stopped breathing, her life could be measured in breaths, in years (the years she breathed), in days, in the number of children she gave birth to, or the number she lost, or the things she made with her hands, or the dogs she kept as companions, or the places she lived, or the places she visited, or the songs she loved, or the cigarettes she smoked, the pain she endured, such could be the parameters of her life as a work
and is this a strange introduction to a performance of the work of her son? I don’t think it is, I want to situate my music in a context that is meaningful beyond the parameters of pitches and rhythms, for which, even as a musician of many years, I have limited understanding or objectivity, my work is not about sound phenomena, I have only a cursory interest in sound phenomena but a great interest in social phenomena, I have written it before, elsewhere: music is not (merely) about organizing notes, it is about organizing ourselves, and I ask myself as I perform or write or record, how do I organize myself amidst others, with others, what do we do when we listen, what do we do when we write, what do we do when we perform, what is the music that my particular body makes, a particular body my particular mother made (not to suggest there is anything special about either of us, or others, any more than any others, just that we are all particular and it follows that the music one makes will be particular too), I think about the social phenomenon of breathing in tandem with the breathing of others, it begins with breathing, I am certain of this, and it ends with breathing, I am certain of this, and why should it be anything else in between?
does this sound complicated? because I don’t want it to sound complicated, I want it to sound simple, it is simple, as simple as breathing, an act you do without thinking about it, or you do and you focus on it, or it is labored, difficult for you and so (simply, without complication, without obfuscation) it outweighs all other things you might do or think about doing, I watched and I listened and I held her hand as my mother breathed in her last hours, now faster, now slower, now louder, now softer, I watched and I listened and I held her hand and surely she did the same when I was born, so I think I understand something about breathing, but sound phenomena confuse me, and in a world of confusion why add more confusion?
this is not a manifesto, I am trying to situate my work in a context, and what I am thinking about as I write is what kind of music the sound of my first breaths must have been for my mother, because perhaps this is music that all children and all parents can understand, and we are all one if not the other, and I can approximate what my mother felt, if not in the details, then at least in the awe and the humility, by contrasting it with the kind of music my mother’s last breaths were for me, something I knew I would never hear again, but to ask what kind of music I am thinking of is to think about the parameters of this music, I don’t know, it is not delineated by temporal durations, or spatial dimensions, or structure, or word count, and there are no words to describe this gift my mother gave to me, to let me hold her hand and let me listen and let me watch as the work that was her life ended, as she died
but there is a metaphor: it was like breathing
when I was very young I told my parents I wanted to be a fire engine -- not a fireman, but the actual vehicle, it was the sound of the thing, the spectacular sound of the siren that I wanted to be, and I imitated it often, but by the time I was four years old I had changed my mind and I told my parents that when I grew up I wanted to be “a mommy”, I had learned to appreciate a social phenomenon, perhaps sirens have a social function but they don’t have an inclination, but mothers do, at least my mother did, she wanted me to be good at what I do, and for others to care for it, and for me to be “happy” doing it, and she taught herself, late in life, to appreciate the odd sounds and odd social phenomena of whatever scenes my music found a home in, experimental or avant-garde or contemporary classical or free improvisation or noise or jazz or rock and roll or whatever you want to call these attitudes toward music making and the social behaviors that develop around them, she went to all the strange concerts and talked to all the musicians and bought their recordings and invited them to her home and fed them, and she asked me what I thought and she told me what she thought, and for someone who never played an instrument or wrote a song she breathed this music deeply, and maybe the dying process began earlier than we thought, maybe it was when she stopped being able to go to concerts and see her beloved musicians and speak with them and support their work, but I will tell you this last story it was perhaps ten days before she died and I was so busy taking care of her that I hadn’t played or practiced any music or slept in weeks but I put on a Bobby Darin LP and we never really listened to that record and it held no special meaning for us but fuck, music is music, so she in her wheelchair and me in my exhaustion and deep, deep sadness at the devastating loss I was about to endure we danced a little to that music and the joy in the room was intense and now I don’t want to speak of her in the past tense I want to breathe into my saxophone, this after all is the ability she gave to me, to breathe, this is where it began and this after all is where it will end, with breathing
[note: written for the program website of Kate Moore's 'Handmade Homegrown' concert series in The Hague, for which I gave a performance on May 16.]