Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sontag, Poulenc, Surrealism

Listening some of Poulenc's pieces, I remember Susan Sontag's On Photography, which I haven't finished yet. In which she was summarizing the history of photography, noting the relation between photography and a historical project of art:Surrealism. Photography changed people's way of seeing. Before the objects, while we are curious, enthusiastic, and trying to find something that surprises us, we are also detached from the objects. We frame things. When you try to shoot something on a street, you probably try to frame something appearing novel. Sometimes you could visit a shanty town or a wilderness or a war zone. While you want something exotic, you could be as sincere as Diane Arbus, who captured freaks, was so. Arbus's attitude toward her objects were rather those of Surrealists. She didn't aim at social justice or whatsoever, while she might have been sympathetic for her objects. "Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of a duplicated world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision," Sontag wrote. Also, democratization of (re)producing images was part of Surrealist agenda. She went on:"What could be more surreal than an object which virtually produces itself, and with a minimum of effort?"
So, does it have something with Poulenc? His music appears deceptively effortless, capricious, and nostalgic, with a lot of reference to classical and his contemporary popular music and effective use of instruments. I can remember when I studied composition his elegant écriture attracted many of my colleagues and they often imitated it. At that time I didn't like it that much, but now I find it very interesting. But, what interests me may be different from what interested my colleagues.
I believe Poulenc's sincerity and his huge effort to be Poulenc. And I imagine that while he was being a Surrealist, he was traumatized by Surrealism in his early career. I think he genuinely moaned what he saw as the beauty of the 18th century music.
Sontag said, "Surrealism is a bourgeois disaffection." That might have been the case for Poulenc. I think he was to a large extent Surrealist. On the other hand, he didn't just collage his materials. His skill enabled him to make his materials from, say, Mozart, sound as fake. In doing so he was sincere. Here I'm listening his concerto for two pianos and orchestra. It's an eclectic piece as I can hear even an echo from Gamelan. But the coherence is magically maintained. It's melancholic, but also elegant. His solution for connecting diverse materials and deforming them was elegant.
Is there any essential difference between Poulenc and those of laptop musicians who collage anything from electronic sounds to field recordings? I'm not ironical in any sense. This question is genuine. And I don't know the answer. The methods and the targeted audience may be differ, but I don't think this essential.
In short, I'm interested in the history. I don't think our contemporaries, including Pop, are not very far from those of Surrealists. "Make believe there is no history" is also a historical project. Surrealism and Pop share an oscillation between moaning the past and forgetting the history in common.

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