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Archive for May 2009

KATE BUSH: THE SONG OF SOLOMON (1)


JOSEPH AZIZE PAGE

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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kate 3

Kate Bush: The Song of Solomon (1)
The Kick Inside

There should be an annual holiday in celebration of her birth, when the community allows the springs of business and commerce to wind down, and the machines of industry to lie idle for 24 hours. On that glad day, families will be reunited to their ancestral hearths from all ends of the lands, and after feast and thanks, will gather around their stereos, in communal silence before their heirloom recordings of the exalted one, she who was sent to us in the evening of the world, Kate Bush.

But such a holiday there is not. Popular as her work is, it is still not esteemed at its true worth. To a significant extent, her music is still, as Shakespeare said, “caviar to the general”. Yet, for my money, of all the contemporary recording artists whose work I have heard, she is among the very greatest and the deepest. Interestingly, she is also the only modern “pop star” I know who has referred approvingly to Gurdjieff in recorded song (“Them Heavy People” from The Kick Inside). But it isn’t as if I think she’s insightful because she has referred to Gurdjieff: it’s because she is deep that she has been interested in his ideas, if not his methods (I shall return in future blogs to “Full House” from Lionheart, and “Sat in your Lap” from The Dreaming). I am not simply identified with her music because she wrote some “Gurdjieff songs”, to coin a rebarbative phrase. Indeed, I think that “Full House” fails not only because the melody seems pedestrian, but because it is too much a frontal assault on something which is too subtle to survive such an approach; and those songs which I consider to be her very best (“Wuthering Heights”, “Lionheart” and “Some Moments of Pleasure”) do not seem to be at all indebted to Gurdjieff.

She is extraordinary for another reason: she is the greatest prodigy I know of in modern music. Stevie Wonder was younger, and even more talented as a musician, but not even he, or Donovan, ever matched her for the extraordinary work of art which was her first album, The Kick Inside, released in 1978 when she was 19 years old, although some of the songs were written when she was yet younger. In fact, I still consider that to be her best record, rivalled, but not surpassed, by The Dreaming and Aerial. And it’s with that album that I’ll begin.

The striking, almost the stupendous thing about The Kick Inside, is the consistency of its quality, and the integrity of the album. It has an overall sound, an aural signature, based around Bush’s distinctive vocals, and the basic ensemble of piano, guitars and drums. Side one, containing six songs, is dominated by the supernatural. For example, the last four tracks on side one are “Strange Phenomena”, “Kite”, “The Man with the Child in his Eyes” and “Wuthering Heights”. They deal with psychic phenomena, transmogrification from woman to kite, a phantom visitor, and the star-struck Cathy from Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights. So, side one effectively closes with two songs about wraiths. Side two, with seven songs, is largely given over to romantic love. However, each side features some of the themes of the other side. For example, while side one closes with Cathy, side two ends with the tale of Lucy Wan, who suicides when she becomes pregnant to her own brother, vowing: “I shall come home again, but not until the sun and the moon meet on yon hill.”

So the last image which Bush impresses upon us, on each side of this record, is a woman desperate in love, whose passion has led her to her premature death, but will also bring her back from beyond the grave. Perhaps teenage life in England was not so terribly idyllic back then.

Kate Bush’s voice was distinctively high at the time of this album: when her voice deepened she re-recorded “Wuthering Heights”. The newer version has a certain depth, but the very pitch of her singing on the original possessed an inimitable natural eeriness. Oddly, when I hear it now, the manner in which that young voice embodies the spectre of Cathy, is reminiscent of a tale she would tell on Never Forever, the possession of a boy and a girl in James’ “Turn of the Screw”. So convincing is her precocious performance on “Wuthering Heights” that it is as if she is haunted.

To an extent which, to my ear, she did not match again until the triumph of Aerial, Kate Bush as a person dominated The Kick Inside. It is as if her very spirit was infused into the grooves of the record. The intimacy commences on the very first track, “Moving”. “Moving stranger, does it really matter, as long as you’re not afraid to feel?”, she sings, seemingly inviting us to drop our fears and open ourselves to an experience of emotion. She continues: “… how my open arms ache … how you move me with your beauty’s potency … You crush the lily in my soul.” In the next track, “Saxophone Song’ she is “a surly lady in tremor”, telling of “the stars that climb from her bowels”. These lyrics are more intimate, by light years, than any vulgar assault with terms for genitalia could ever be.

The extent to which her body and bodily sensations feature in these songs is almost amazing. The list continues: on “Strange Phenomena” she mentions how “every girl knows about the punctual blues”, and on “Kite”, “Beelzebub is aching in my belly-o”, while she feels “a rush along my body like a bullet”. In “L’Amour Looks Something Like You”, she is “dying for you just to touch me, and feel all the energy right up-a-me … The thought of you sends me shivering … All the time I’m living in that evening with that feeling of sticky love inside”. And I won’t even bother quoting “Feel It”, but, if you have heard it, you know that she is not referring to a sensory encounter with fabrics and materials.

Bush is fond of the genre of the ‘story song”, where she adopts a persona and narrates a story or a scene from some tale. Sometimes, I think, she is too fond. The most glorious successes of course, were “Wuthering Heights” and “The Man with the Child in his Eyes”, where she turns stories into opportunities for apparently intimate self-disclosure. In “Man with the Child”, the brilliant but simple piano accompaniment conjures the waves rolling in to the shore, while she sings of a man “Telling me about the sea, all his love, ‘till eternity”. Once more, love is not bound within the fence of earthly life. And, as in “Wuthering Heights”, it is ambitious but believable: she has made us believe from the first lines with the most innocuous yet individual of details:

I hear him before I go to sleep
And focus on the day that’s been.

Who else has ever spoken in song of reviewing the day? It is no stock phrase: it suggests a real person. “But I feel him hesitate”, she sings. Once more, have you ever heard that in any other song? However, I have to say, that by the time I come to “James and the Cold Gun”, I am getting tired of the succession of story songs (“Remember Genie, from the casino? She’s still a-waiting in her big brass bed.”) And it is not necessary for Bush to rely on stories: she does first person so well.

Probably the best example of speaking as Kate Bush on Kick Inside is “Them Heavy People”. It opens with a the phrase “rolling the ball (rolling) … rolling the ball to me” tossed around in air, as it were, with her voice and piano, echoing the word “rolling”, to musically establish a sense of the ball being airily passed to and fro. It’s almost a prelude rather than a part of the song. Then the other instruments kick in, and we’re into the first verse:

They arrived at an inconvenient time,
I was hiding in a room in my mind.
They made me look at myself.
I saw it well: I’d shut the people out of my life.
So now I take the opportunities,
Wonderful teachers ready to teach me.
I must work on my mind, for now I realise that
Every one of us has a heaven inside.

Once more, for the chorus there is a change of pace: “Them heavy people hit me in a soft spot, them heavy people help me …” and we’re back to the “rolling” theme, and then the final verse:

They open doorways that I thought were shut for good,
They read me Gurdjieff and Jesu,
Break me emotionally, it’s nearly killing me,
But what a lovely feeling!
I love the whirling of the dervishes,
I love the beauty of rare innocence.
You don’t need no crystal ball,
Don’t fall for no magic wand,
We humans got it all, we perform the miracles.

In one place, I believe, Bush described this song as “a prayer”, and one can see that. It is deliberately broad in its scope, including not only the two teachers but also the dervishes and innocence, which I take to mean openness to impressions. This is an important theme in Bush’s work, and shall achieve ever greater importance until it culminates in the triumph of disc 2 of Aerial. However, “Heavy People” does suggest a certain serious personal immersion in the techniques of Gurdjieff which, as I understand it, is not and never has been the case with Kate Bush. In an interview she stated that she had heard of Gurdjieff from one of her brothers, and read some books, but that he was far more concerned with it than she was. My own guess is that she had read In Search of the Miraculous, because if “G.” in “Strange Phenomena” is indeed “Gurdjieff”, then such an odd way of referring to him could only, I imagine, have come from reading that book.

I shall pull further ideas together in future Kate Bush blogs, but for now, I will wrap up on this album. The more I listen to it, the more I am impressed with its artistic unity. In addition to the features I have already mentioned, the very first sounds we hear are ghostly sounds, as if of spirits, presaging “Wuthering Heights”. The sounds which introduce “Moving” are in fact whale calls. And in case you didn’t know it, “wuthering” is an old word for the moaning made by high winds.

A feature of this album, distinguishing it from her others (or so it seems to me) is that even when she seems to be composing songs for the sake of composing songs, she composes good songs. For example, “Oh to Be in Love” strikes me, as it has other reviewers, as rather short on purpose (“I find it hard to face my face … Why did you have to choose our moment? … Why did you make it so unreal?”). And yet, the music is good: to my ear, very good indeed. The chorus with its marked rhythm “oh – oh – oh to be – e – e in love” is memorable and enjoyable, and in the last verse we are sprung a surprise:

All the colours looks brighter now …
Slipping into tomorrow too quick,
Yesterday always too good to forget,
Stop the swing of the pendulum, let us through!

We have seen these two ideas before: the joy of seeing everything with enhanced vividness, and the desire to escape from time (here represented by the clock). And we shall meet them again. That such ideas occur to her mind, however, is a tribute to her natural depth.

Another essential aspect of Kate Bush is her thorough English-ness. The two striking stories which close each side are based on an unmistakably English fiction: Wuthering Heights and the poem of Lucy Wan respectively, although Lucy is not named on “The Kick Inside”.

Then, the final matter for this blog, is Kate Bush’s individuality. She is not affectedly idiosyncratic, nor is she bound to fashion, the twin vices of “music celebrities” which Spinal Tap so accurately parodied. Consider “Room for Life”: she addresses a woman crying on account of her lover, telling her that men don’t care whether her tears are real or not, for the men it’s all part of the game. But, as for you, woman:

Like it or not, we were built tough
Because we’re woman!
No, we never die for long,
While we’ve got that little life to live for
Where it’s hid inside … Oh, woman two in one
There’s room for a life in your womb, woman …

Then, in the second verse, having consoled her friend, she tells her that she needs “a lover to free her desire” and urges her to “get up on your feet and go get it now.” It is unique, it’s personal, and yet it’s also public. I would not call this feminist, or, for that matter, any ideology. To me, it’s just wisdom.

Joseph.Azize@googlemail.com

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Joseph Azize has published in ancient history, law and Gurdjieff studies. His first book The Phoenician Solar Theology treated ancient Phoenician religion as possessing a spiritual depth comparative with Neoplatonism, to which it contributed through Iamblichos. The second book, “Gilgamesh and the World of Assyria”, was jointly edited with Noel Weeks. It includes his article arguing that the Carthaginians did not practice child sacrifice.

The third book, George Mountford Adie: A Gurdjieff Pupil in Australia represents his attempt to present his teacher (a direct pupil of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky) to an international audience.The fourth book, edited and written with Peter El Khouri and Ed Finnane, is a new edition of Britts Civil Precedents. He recommends it to anyone planning to bring proceedings in an Australian court of law.

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Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

May 10, 2009 at 3:14 pm

AN EVENING OF MOVEMENTS & EXERCISES


The John Robert Colombo Page

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jr-colombo-review

An Evening of Movements and Exercises
A Review by John Robert Colombo

Toronto is a metropolitan area with a diverse population of 3.3 million people and is very well named. The aboriginal meaning of “toronto” is “place of meeting”. Assuredy it is a meeting place if only because every second Torontonian was born outside Canada. In keeping with this sense of diversity, I like to note that the city has one Anthroposophical Society, two Theosophical Societies, and three Gurdjieff centres.

That statement is true enough, but it would be more truthful to say that it has not three such centres, but four Gurdjieff centres, taking into account the growing number of people in the city working in the line of J.G. Bennett. Followers of Bennett were out in force last month when the city hosted the “All & Everything Conference.” This marked the first occasion that the fourteen-year-old conference, devoted to the study of G.I. Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” was held in Canada. It may not be the last time because the conference attracted numerous Canadians from across the country, including some followers of Bennett.

“An Evening of Movements and Exercises” had nothing to do organizationally with Bennett or his supporters, for it was sponsored by the Gurdjieff Foundation of Toronto: Society for Traditional Studies. This is the premier group of those recognized by the Gurdjieff Foundation of New York City.

It is hard to believe that this Toronto centre has been active since 1954, so it is only one year younger than the New York Foundation. It boasts an illustrious founder: Madame Olga de Hartmann, wife of composer Thomas de Hartmann, as well as an illustrious, long-time leader: Mrs. Louise Welch, both of whom, as they say, “knew Gurdjieff.”

The Toronto group has standing in the international world of Work for the activities of its publishing imprint, Traditional Studies Press. Among its publications is the invaluable and pioneering “Guide and Index to ‘All & Everything’” (1971, 2003). Under the long-time direction of David Young, the avuncular former museum curator and retired highschool teacher, this group sponsors semi-public events – a lecture or book launch here, a concert somewhere else – every six months or so. There has not been a public (or semi-public) demonstration of the Movements in Toronto since 1984.

“An Evening of Movements and Exercises” was held Sunday, May 3, 2008, 7:00 p.m. The venue was the Toronto Dance Theatre, 80 Winchester Street, in the area of the city known as Cabbagetown, where two social classes meet: those professionals who live in renovated brownstones and the occupants of the few remaining rooming houses in the district.

Here the innovative Toronto Dance Theatre has occupied a renovated church building since 1968, where it operates its own theatre for experimental dance performances and its school for training in dance. The edifice is historic St. Enoch’s Presbyterian Church; the congregation was founded in 1878. It is interesting to note that a venue dedicated to avant-garde and non-traditional dance should be the stage for the most traditional of dance-forms, the Gurdjieff Movements.

There is no need for me to describe these movements or their history here, or to characterize the contribution of the composer Thomas de Hartmann, who of course was no stranger to the city. As for the aim of the movements, rather than attempt to describe that, I can do no better than to quote the following, quite eloquent passage from the Toronto group’s website:

“We realize in the movements that we are rarely awake to our own life – inner or outer. We see that we always react in a habitual and conditioned way; we become aware that our three main centres – head, body and feeling – rarely work together or in harmony. We begin to try to move always intentionally – not mechanically – and we discover in ourselves many hitherto unexpected possibilities. We find that one can collect one’s attention; that one can be awake at times and have an overall sensation of oneself; that a quietness of mind, and awareness of body and an interest of feeling can be brought together. This results in a more complete state of attentiveness in which the life force is felt and one is sensitive to higher influences. Thus one has a taste of how life can be lived differently.”

The author of those words is work leader Jessmin Howarth. Here is another passage, an excerpt from the writings of composer and pianist Laurence Rosenthal:

“What can we consider to be the purpose of Gurdjieff’s music? Perhaps it is related to man’s work on himself, what Gurdjieff called ‘harmonious development.’ He offered food for the growth of a man’s being through the different sides of his nature: ideas for the mind, special exercises and dances for the body and mind together, and music as a way to awaken a sensitivity in the feelings, to arouse in the deeper level of the listener’s interior world questions and intimations beyond words. And perhaps, in dissolving the barriers created by associations and conditioning, these sounds could bring the listener into closer contact with his own essential nature.”

It was a sold-out house. Tickets were only $15 for general admission, $10 for students and seniors. The 130 or so raked seats were occupied by a youngish group of sloppily dressed people who nevertheless paid rapt attention. I would judge that two-thirds of the audience had some familiarity with the Work, the other third being curious about. There was no stage per se, but there was a large rehearsal area that served the occasion quite well. The proceedings were videotaped.

A few minutes after seven-thirty, David Young, who was seated in the audience, stood up, stepped onto the rehearsal area, faced the audience, and made some general announcements: no recording devices permitted, turn off cell phones, no applause. He greeted “old friends and new faces” and stated that the exercises that would be seen and heard were dances, rites, prayers, etc., “based on cosmic laws as expounded in Gurdjieff’s teachings.”

He emphasized that the twenty-five or so “dancers” were students of the Work, not professional performers; they were drawn from various levels of classes. Their ages ranged from the twenties to the seventies. The reason for the request to refrain from applause is that this is not a “performance” but “work.” Addressing the audience directly, he said, “We have a part to play. They need your attention.” They audience willingly granted it.

The dancers were both male and female and all wore white tunics with cummerbunds, black trousers, and black slippers. The cummerbunds came in a rainbow of colours. The musicians were similarly attired. At the keys of the baby grand piano sat Casey Sokol, a professor of music, who must be the ideal pianist for the Movements, given his sharply defined stroke and his strong sense of rhythm. There were also two younger violinists, one of whom also played the drum, Kousha Nakhaei and Ivan Ivanovich. When Sokol joined the dancers, which he did periodically, his place was taken by the dancer Lindsay Smail who played the piano with very rich emotion.

David Young in his yellow-orange velvet jacket, classy tie, and black trousers, exhibited genuine authority as in effect he acted as director from his seat in the centre of the first row. I wish I could identify the thirteen compositions that were performed, but there was no printed program, and Mr. Young, on purpose I guess, did not identify the names of the movements and the music compositions by G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann by name. The result is that there seemed to be a progression, not from simple to difficult, as each exercise is difficult in its own way, so much as an increase in intensity, so that by the end of the evening, two hours later, the sounds and sights seemed more deep and more subtle.

The dancers performed expressionlessly, tirelessly, blinking from time to time on their own but otherwise doing everything as a group. I thought of the troupe of Whirling Dervishes from Konya who performed in Toronto about ten years ago. I also remembered those “stiff-arm” Irish colleens of “Riverdance” who bring to their routines an immense energy. Mostly I thought about Tai Chi exercises which, without the rhythm of music, require individual effort and group identification. Yet the Movements are performed with musical compositions that are captivating all on their own, though the dancers seem to regard them as clocks that tell them the time and set the tempo and require their individual movements to be performed without any other direction or cue.

Between some of the performances, Mr. Young would read a passage from A.R. Orage, Gurdjieff, or Madame de Salzmann. The group unhurriedly but deftly reformed for each “number.” There were no “star” performers. I remembered studying some of the exercises myself more than fifty years ago. They were as demanding then as they are today. One I remember quite clearly: it has the dancers describing circles in the air with their right hands.

At one point Mr. Young identified the compositions as “sacred dances” that Mr. Gurdjieff oberved in temples and monasteries and tekkes: “ceremonies that are inaccessible and unknown to Europeans.” The dances are to be felt, for they speak of cosmic laws and also of various organs and other parts of the human body. A couple of the compositions call for performers to say “Ha!” or “Na!” or their equivalents. One number struck me as the dance that a crazy man – an idiot – might perform when he lost control over his body. But no control was lost!

I always found it unexpected and moving when the dancers in one row or in one file would begin to perform acts that the dancers in the other rows or files would then begin to perform. It created a sense of contained movement, a spiritual stasis. It brought a secular image to mind: “the wave” introduced by baseball fans at Toronto Raptors games.

Near the end of the program, Mr. Young quoted Madame de Salzmann who said, “Behind the visible there is much that cannot be seen. Attention is your only chance. Without it you can do nothing.” The thirteenth and last exercise seemed to embody the need for attention and aim. It had the troupe arranged three deep in six rows. Dancers began to lean to and fro, rocking, their fingers fluttering, as if uncontrollably. Again, everything visible was under control.

Suddenly it was 8:30 p.m. and the demonstration was over. The audience emerged as if from under a spell. There was the urge to applaud, but this was suppressed, though instead there was more than the usual animation and conversation. Mr. Young announced that while the demonstrations were finished for the evening, after a short break members of the audience who were interested could return to their seats and take part of “an exchange.”

About ninety members of the audience accepted the invitation to the “exchange.” Mr. Young and Mr. Sokol sat on chairs on the stage and encouraged questions and comments from the audience. The first question concerned the country of origin of the movements and the music. Someone compared the music to folk tunes and found in them echoes of Bela Bartok who collected folk melodies.

Mr. Sokol admitted not much was known about the composition of the Gurdjieff-de Hartmann music; some of the tunes might be traditional, others not. There was an allusion to the collecting of Armenian melodies by a composer Alexander Comitas. Asked about performing these compositions on the piano, Mr. Sokol said that they were composed so that ordinarily talented people could handle them. He noted, “You don’t have to be a concert artist to perform them, but you do have to be very attentive.”

Mr. Young referred to the effect of the Work on Pamela Travers, author of the Mary Poppins books, and how she found new meaning in the word “understand.” When you watched the Movements, you “under-stood” them: it is as if the “knowledge” that they have “rains down on you.” He reiterated the description of the Movements being meaningful “like a book.”

Mr. Sokol found in them “quietness in motion.” He spoke about “flow” and occupying “musical time, not in my usual associative time.” You have to look with intention. Mr. Young said the music is unique in that it “speaks to the whole of man,” and the Movements are not learned or performed for purposes of exhibition. “We do not try to do the movements well per se, but we try to do them well as a source of knowledge.” He noted that when students are about to master one set of Movements, another more difficult set it introduced. He went on to discuss conditions for work on attention – “something that is larger than a cell in, say, the liver of the body.”

He recalled an ominous remark made by Madame de Salzmann to the effect that one needs to work alone but one does this with others. “If you don’t, the Earth will fall down.” With Mr. Sokol, he took a pass on some of the rambling questions that seemed to touch upon important concerns which were not really articulated. He left the audience with the message that a new series of classes for people who were interested in learning the Movements was to begin in a few days. Information was available.

Now it was 9:45 p.m., and it a lovely evening, quite warm. My wife Ruth and I left the rehearsal space of the Toronto Dance Theatre with a lightness of step and instep. In my mind’s eye I entertained images of the faces of the dancers, whose eyes (when not blinking) were perhaps still staring into the middle distance. Some of the participants were younger, some older; some looked to the future ahead of them, some to the past behind them; some looked apprehensive, some fulfilled; some would no doubt flourish, some falter; all would experience disappointment, yet all were working together for inner knowledge and its outer expression. The Work here has meaning for all and everyone.


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John Robert Colombo, who participated in the Movements with the Toronto group in the late 1950s, is a Canadian author and anthologist. His current books include a collection of causeries titled “Whistle While You Work” and “The Big Book of Canadian Ghost Stories.” Later this month, the Humanist Association of Toronto will designate Colombo to be their Humanist of the Year.

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Written by SOPHIA WELLBELOVED

May 5, 2009 at 3:55 pm

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