Saturday, May 14, 2011

Arriving to the future?

If this is going to be an actual thing, there’s got to be a plan. These are McCarthyisms for Your Work Week, and there will be something waiting here for you every Sunday morning, bright and early, EST. I hope you might decide to make a habit of it and would love to hear your feedback or ideas on whatever appears here. This blog has no particular focus, but since I’m in the middle of a long, drawn out end of my spring semester, you’re going to be subjected to some of the things I’m working on for my classes, such as, for example, this video by Nacional Electrónica:

If you’re interested in knowing more about this project, you might consider some of the duo’s own remarks on what they’re doing:


The sentiment expressed by Edwin Casanova in that last video, the idea that there is something limiting Cuban musicians to the performance of familiar dance genres or folkloric music, isn’t a new one. People have been saying it for at least 25 years (Peter Manuel heard it from people he met in Cuba in the late 1980s, and that was before the “special period”). One trouble is that even people who most want to promote Cuban music can end up exacerbating the situation by seeking out examples that they imagine to be somehow distinctly “Cuban” and shunning anything that sounds too much like something they could already hear in the U.S. Admittedly, it's wonderful to hear some of the thriving diversity of music from all around the world, but what Casanova seems to be picking up on is that, far from empowering him to experiment with new styles, this rhetoric ends up trapping him into playing the same genres that were already popular in the 1950s.

What makes the video here particularly interesting to me is the way that it sounds out the duo's feelings about a present-day situation in a Cuba where even Fidel is unsure what the future could hold, or perhaps more importantly, what people should want that future to hold. The percussive opening synth beats out a line that is closely based on that most Cuban of all rhythms, a 3-2 clave, and you can hear it structuring the entire recording, both at that first tempo and in a layer moving half as fast. This has two effects. First, the slow clave layered over the faster clave creates a kind of floating feeling that’s also evoked by the use of slow motion in the video. Second, since the 3-2 clave has two halves—a first half that is more syncopated and a second that is more “straight,” a first half that is denser and a second that is sparser—it is almost as if a great deal of energy is expended in “taking off” in the first half, leaving the listener to float freely in the lighter second half (and this at both the slower and the faster level). Yet this sensation is repeated again and again so that the “takeoff” is never quite successful. It’s more like a child skipping hopefully (or a cosmonaut jumping from one point to the next on the surface of the moon?) without ever getting too far off the ground.

This is the musical accompaniment for a video featuring a deluded Soviet cosmonaut strolling through a post-industrial neighborhood under the watchful eyes of a few bewildered onlookers. It’s a video that is at turns witty, absurd and perhaps even tragically hopeful. What might it say about Cuba? What are Alexis de la O and Edwin Casanova saying about the future at which they’ve arrived? Does that poor cosmonaut really end up flying away into the sky?

No comments:

Post a Comment