Fooling Around with Connections and Variations of Connections

In the NYT Book Review yesterday I read Deep Chords: Patti Smith’s wonderful review of Haruki Murakami’s new novel Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. At the end, she writes of the book, “The writer sits at his desk and makes us a story. A story not knowing where it is going, not knowing itself to be magic. Closure is an illusion, the winking of the eye of a storm. Nothing is completely resolved in life, nothing is perfect.The important thing is to keep living because only by living can you see what happens next.” 

Her words were echoed by Yuko Shimizu, whose illustration accompanies the review of Haruki Murakami’s new novel to be released in English this week. Shimizu explains her process in an embedded video in the online article (see link above). Shimizu says that much starts off “unexplained” in Murakami’s novel, and that she used images of water to capture this sense of unformed-ness. She made a series of “scraggly drawings” and noted that “some things work, and some don’t.” She believes that her art does not have to “explain everything” : i.e. that the viewer will add his/her own story.

Laying the Review aside, and with little time to practice, I nevertheless read through Beata Golec’s Toccata again. As I become more familiar with “the notes,” I am starting to feel the vitality and movement of the piece and am thinking, given that, as well as its relative brevity, of perhaps starting out my recital with it before going on to Bach’s 300-year-old version of the Toccata form.

Steve and I then spent Sunday evening at the American Players Theater   seeing The Importance of Being Earnest (about a man frantically trying to become who he already is!) with friends from Chicago–the artist/sculptor Philip Livingston and the actress Lona Livingston.  In the course of conversation after the play, I mentioned this blog’s recent consideration of the idea of variations, and Lona told me about a 2009 play by Moisés Kaufman called 33 Variations , described here by NPR reviewer Jeffrey Freymann-Weyr:

In the early 1800s, a music publisher named Anton Diabelli wrote a waltz and invited the best composers in Vienna to compose one variation on it for publication in a single, handsome volume.

According to legend, everyone accepted the proposal except Beethoven, who initially considered Diabelli’s composition trite and insignificant. But he eventually became obsessed with it and wrote 33 variations, taking the better part of three years to do it.

Diabelli’s theme has been criticized for its predictability, lack of imagination and repetition. It is split into two 16-bar phrases, each of which repeats exactly.

The original work lasts about 45 seconds, but Beethoven’s variations can last 45 minutes or longer. In Moises Kaufman’s play, we see Beethoven attempting to wring every possibility from the waltz. Pianist Diane Walsh, also onstage, plays the music going through the composer’s head.

A third character, modern day musicologist Katherine Brandt, is studying Beethoven’s sketchbooks at the Bonn archives. She’s terminally ill, and desperate to solve the riddle of his fascination.

If anyone knows when/where that play will be next shown, please let me know.

Yes: what is the “riddle of Beethoven’s [or anyone’s] fascination” with the theme and variation form? Is it merely to affirm that the “predictability, lack of imagination and repetition” of the mundane can actually be transformed by an artist creating a variation that does not know “where it is going, not knowing itself to be magic”?

Freymann-Weyr says that he himself is obsessed with Beethoven’s process “because mistakes and dead ends can often shed the most light.” Hmmm. Yes. Sounds familiar.

(Coincidentally, Moisés Kaufman also wrote the 2009 play about Oscar Wilde’s life, Gross Indecency.)

I then (over after-theater drinks) asked Philip if he made a distinction between “variations” and “series” in his own sculpture/painting. He said that they were very similar; however, he thinks his current work would best be described as a “series” because there is no pre-existing “theme”: i.e. instead,  one work holds the seed of the next and thus his whole work forms a kind of (I’m not sure he said “narrative” though I supplied it) arc from past to future. Looking over his website, I was taken by Six Reflections (2006) which seems less, perhaps, variations, as it is what it says it is—a series of reflections in time (and thus a narrative of sorts).

Stephanie Bowman, in her Sculpture Magazine 2005 review of Philip’s series Breath, writes, “Livingston’s intuition allows him to find invisible forms in infinite space, connections that would otherwise be ignored. He makes the invisible visible….” 

He goes to his studio every day for a specified length of time and “fools around” (my words). Like Murakami–indeed, like Murakami’s latest character–Philip does not see “where his work is going, not knowing itself to be magic.”

I also noticed, perusing his website, Philip’s video inspired by—who else?–Haruki Murakami!

Some days are just like that—connections so tangible and ready to be seized. Things come around full circle (almost) like the full moon overlooking the stage at APT last night.

One musn’t make, perhaps, too much of such “coincidences.” As Algernon says in Wilde’s play, “I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever nowadays. You can’t go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.”

Steve and I got up at 4:30 this morning to come back to Milwaukee to make a 9:45 appointment. We are both tired. Tomorrow I will perhaps fool around a bit more with my own variations.  Some fools are considered holy.

One thought on “Fooling Around with Connections and Variations of Connections

  1. I've pre-ordered Murakami's new book and can't wait for it to arrive (tomorrow). His books tend to be fairly slow-paced, with lots of different strands waiting to be connected. I don't remember if you've read any of his stuff, but if you want to I think you might respond best to either "Norwegian Wood" or "The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle." They're both great, but the former is more straight fiction while the latter is more surrealist. He's also an intense lover of music (jazz, classical, rock), and peppers his fiction with references to various pieces. I think you might like him.I also love that Wilde quote about cleverness 🙂

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