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ClassicsOnline Home » SANTANA, L.: Viola da Gamba and Lute Music (Perl, Santana)
The Star and the Sea
“Writers don’t write, they read and transcribe. They are only allowed access to the books at certain times. They have to make the most of these occasions.” (William Burroughs)
Hille and I were driving through the night after a concert one late summer evening in 1987. We had to make the long drive from Berlin, through East Germany back to our home in Bremen. As we waited through pass control the 11 PM news came on, there were several bits about the contamination of the north sea. Coastal Germany was practically ‘closed for the season’ and there were predictable complaints of the unemployed, backed by the heavy hand of the agencies of tourism and chambers of commerce. Unpredictable were the moronic protests of tourists, irate about not being able to swim in the salted algae soup of raw sewage and chemical waste, garnished with a variety of dead or dying animals, still at the time generic to the area.
As we finally got through the border control, the radio went on with more detailed coverage and analysis of the greatest ecological disaster ever to hit our part of the North Sea. As the report slowly fizzled into static our mood was sustained, transposed into the clear, starry transit- night which lay before us; the guilt, sadness and irony of our private, short stay on Planet Earth.
Our idea was to go around playing music, which shall be possible in a post-industrial world; i.e. music that uses little energy and natural resources.
The irony of course was and is that the exportation of these sounds require inordinate amounts of waste and pollution, in this case our car. We spend our lives fiddling in protest, while Planet Rome just goes burning on and on. So it goes…
At any rate, such was my frame of reference this long clear night drive, as a shooting star flew right over the dashboard, sending a white flash through our minds, lighting up every nook and cranny of thought.
I felt consolation and hope, simultaneously near and far, simultaneous but peacefully existing inseparably with the ‘real’ feelings of sadness and despair. And I heard music; not great symphonies of revelation or bombastic gesamtkunst, but a very small, clear, sweet stream of sound, bubbling and winding its way down a mountain, indifferent whether it was or was not listened to, sufficient unto itself. I listened.
For about three and a half hours, thundering down the highway, complete crystal silence and sound inside my head. aWake dreaming, Dreaming awake. When we got home, and unloaded our gear, it was like turning off the radio and going to bed.
Most of the music on this disc comes from that night. The work of composition mainly consisted of remembrance, rationalisation, and transcription. I’ve tried to be a faithful scribe, and where I could not remember literally what had sounded, I at least got the mood of it.
The improvised bits here performed also belong to this vision as an important element of expression and interreaction. A final form would of course not be dreamable, but the potential for ‘free space’ is as clear a compositional element in these sounds as any thoroughly composed section. Even if the listener is not always certain where the boundaries between ‘written’ and ‘made up’ are: Alas poor Critic! Everything is accidental and predetermined. Accidentally intentional, intentionally accidental.
Lee Santana, Los Angeles, California, April 19th 2002 (10 years to the day after the LA race riots )
P.S: special thanks to the good people of GREENPEACE who so bravely dedicate their lives to keeping us from self destruction. We pray that you can stop this hell-bound train.
What Hille said:
For almost two decades Lee and I have been moving around together, over the surface of the earth, in different realms of sound and through great distress and pleasure. Also, sometimes through the mysteries of existence, hidden in each other’s minds. The everchanging continuum of playing music together has made us almost forget or neglect the realisation of how quickly not only time flies by (flies like a banana), but also, how fast things change and how rapidly the human mind can adapt to changes: this is a fantastic but also scary fact.
As we were starting out together into the adventure of our musicianship, people didn’t have answer-phones or fax-machines, nobody ran around with portable computers, no one had email. No one had a mobile phone. This was more or less the situation when most of the music on this disk was ‘conceived’:
In a society where communication devices like mobile phones and email become an essential part of how people communicate with each other, no one has the choice to ignore them. Not musicians anyway for whom the concept of regular income is an illusion, and who are therefore dependent on most efficient communication between themselves, agents and promotors.
It took a while until I understood and heard the music that played in Lee’s head, it took even longer until I was able to play it the way it sounded it my head—or was it Lee’s head? Music is a communication device that also reaches through time.
By playing music of composers that are long dead, we can still relive their emotions, find the colours of their lives, feel their sense of order and freedom and find possibilities to use our instruments that cannot be thought up in one lifetime only. This is what we have studied to do and learned, like people who learn a language to communicate with people from a different part of the world: we learned languages to communicate with a long lost past that somehow is nevertheless the roots of our cultural existence and would otherwise not conceal its specific significance to us.
By playing music by Lee all those possibilities and his vision/utopia of life are combined and put into the context of our existence right here, right now. We are inviting you to walk with us into an atmosphere of concentration, into a space of peace and quiet where we realize that we are only here now. The knowledge that we are responsible for our own lives is the key to freedom.
The words of Caliban, as we borrow them here from Master Shakespeare are for us the expression of the conflict between ‘civilized man’ and the everforceful and unspoiled power of nature. The taming of beasts is hardly ever unviolent and always an exploitive act.
The predomination of ‘man’ over ‘nature’ has so far only proven to be disastrous for the latter, and since man keeps forgetting that without nature there is no life whatsoever the destruction of the wild is progressing at an ever faster pace. There is, for many of us the search for the island: for all of us the endless dream of—what: peace? the ever-romantic past? the final and unspoilt truth of life?
and then when you find it: when you are out in the wild woods you will find it full of dreadful insects that are after your blood, full of strange and disconcerting noises and millions of creatures that insist of living beyond our control…and in all: totally unsanitary—so what do you do: try to understand it? Live with it? Kill it? Make it your own by loving and accepting it?
Mankind has come to a point where it is absolutely essential to realize that we not only need the terrible Caliban, but that he is a vital part, THE VITAL part of us: we need to realize the wild beast is so much in ourselves that possibly we cannot even claim to have a free will—scientists aren’t even in agreeance about this: how much of what we decide is actually ‘decision’ in the rational sense of the word…we are a far too complicated animal to ever find the true answer for the question if we actually posses free will or if we do not.
The everlasting conflict between the different species of men and women is only a slight and unimportant example for the complexity of this question. We shall not go into detail why even people of the same genetic material insist of killing each other in the meanest of ways every day at this point in time…why it really seems that the only thing history can teach us it: that it cannot teach us anything:
are we really doomed to repeat into eternity the same old mistakes (only on bigger scales), have marriages break up in prelived patterns, have wars be fought in same old manners? We hope not :—we only sit here very still and play this music for you which is the essence of all our thoughts that cannot be put into words—it is not without conflict, but it is without war…in the end it is full of forgivenness and understanding and it is this why we are lending our voice to Caliban and maybe you can hear our music in the desert of all the twangling noises of your life—and then you will know that everything in this life is somehow connected…
Winkelsett, August 7th 2002 hp
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