March 19, 2008

on bacon, chopin and the perception of time

I am an unabashed Jeremy Denk fan. Denk is an amazing classical pianist, but his blog, think denk, is brilliant. He posts reasonably frequent (but not too frequent), reasonably longish (but just long enough) items on music, travel, literature, performing, passion, Q tips and credit card offers.  His post today is quite something; it will suck you in with its delicious title, “Betraying Bacon and Boating,” distract you with a tale of an airport baggage carousel and then knock you sideways with a venture into Chopin’s Barcarolle.  Here’s some of it, worth quoting at length…

The Barcarolle could be, if you like, a kind of essay in motion, in different kinds of motion (gliding, lilting motion…) Now, the speed of motion is expressed as the ratio of two different entities

    distance / time

…so, one way to mix things up, to vary the speed (the normal way) is to increase the distance you travel per unit of time; but the other way (the freaky way) to get at speed of motion is to call into question the very existence of time itself, to try to alter or erode the parcelling of units, seconds, beats. When Chopin steps into this transition, into the ascetic single line, one feels the sudden shiver of a lack … This shiver contains, I think, some sort of hidden imperative … it is as though he shushes you, tells you to wait … And then, by sticking to just the one voice (after all those luxurious voices) Chopin compels your continued attention; he continues to ask you to wait; he compels you to continue subtracting each moment, each note added to this chain, from the passage of Time, proper; he wants you to keep regarding each note as special, as suspended, as not-time, a process which extends not-time like a rubber band. Chopin says: each note that I add onto this chain I want you to subtract from time, and I want you, I expect you, to return to time only when I am done.

Go read the whole thing. Trust me on this one.