by B.W. Powe
I come back to Glenn Gould and to his recording of the aria of the Goldberg Variations – the haunting, darkened second version, in 1982. See the transformed performer, plump now, hunched, leaning over his piano as if he could merge with the keys and the silence he lets speak in the intervals of the aria.
I keep returning to Glenn Gould as though I missed something the first time I wrote about him. I know that a part of the man and his vision eluded me. So I try to rehear what he said, resee his statements, and remix in my mind the music he made.
I go back to Gould to try and comprehend the bridges he built in his musings on electronic media. If I could grasp his cues and links, his eclectic connections, his playing with ideas and selves, then perhaps we could begin to crack the hidden connections, the codes in electric-city, and so find a route through our splintering selves, the rootless feel of the global culture, the masks of media power, and the repeating, entrancing beats of our city-streets.
I carry those urban-suburban sounds with me everywhere I go. The beat won't let me sleep. So I keep my notes flowing on through my journals and these scraps of paper.
Gould rarely stopped writing or talking when he was alive. His essays ramble, his interviews are garrulous, his radio documentaries mix a variety of voices, his fragments fly off and flash like captions and advertisements.
"The microphone," he said, "is a great friend, because I was brought up with it."
A child of the speed of light, electricity in his bones and soul, he was one of the first of his generation to recognize the rewiring that had taken place. The electri-fried planet sends a jolt through our nerves. We are livid with input and output. Sleepless nights are encouraged. The fascination with telepathy rises. Suddenly, we have access to powers that most generations had simply dreamed about. Television, radio, hi-fi stereo recordings, and later digital tapes, compact discs, home terminals, and video recorders...
"In the electronic age", Gould wrote, "the art of music will become much more viably a part of our lives, much less an ornament to them, and that it will consequently change them much more profoundly."
In 1978, at the Centre for Culture and Technology, I heard Marshall McLuhan (who was a tired man then) respond to a guest's speech on electronic media.
"In the electronic age we are living entirely by music," McLuhan said.
I have never been able to trace this aphorism in any book, letter, or article. Yet the statement is a clue to McLuhan, and a clue to us.
The Musicalized: those whose sensibilities and minds were shaped by recordings, for whom echo, rhythm, flow, sound and variation, are touch-points. We often can't see where we're going, but we can hear all around us, and while we feel our way we are accompanied by an unending sound track.
But what has this musicalization brought us?
Order and borders collapse; things slip, slide, perish, won't stay still; yesterday's certainty is today's uncertainty; technology replicates at such a pace that few people can keep up with the inventions and innovations that are available; and, the scientists say randomness and chaos are our universal models. Not only does God (or the DNA code) play dice with the universe; He (or She) keeps changing the rules of the game – in fact, She (or He) may change the entire game at any moment.
This throws the potential of chaos at us at every point in our lives. How do you maintain a perspective if your world model is one of motion and change? Do you begin with a rooted centre of personality that expands, contracts, grows, decays, sprouts new limbs, climbs and twists, and unfolds into another pattern? Or do you begin with a seed (a talent, a mind, a spirit, an ability to love and hate), and then proceed to metamorphose into an entirely different entity – a creature who bears no resemblance to the original?
The paradox is that there may be no paradox. We may find everything we say on the nature of our world is provisional and subject to the only laws of which we can be sure: exploration and change.
The key to modernity is transformation and crossing borderlines. Strange Hybrids. Mixed forms. Grab-bags and reversals. Fragments from the past; graffiti from the present; jazz musicians playing classics; classical musicians playing pop, or retrieving original instruments to reflect the sound of a period. Nouns become verbs. Holograms turn diamonds into birds. Everything is possible, anything can be imagined; and thus (nearly) everything is permitted.
Chaos and order collide and cohabit like lovers who meet in some cosmic bang and create mutations and permutations of forms, then squabble and divorce, and leave in their wake the children of light and the children of speed.
Gould made exploration itself his method. He was a supremely self-conscious artist who made awareness part of his subject. The world inside his head gave us the outlines of a new theatre of call and response. I know that listening to him play Bach or Beethoven or Berg or talk on the radio, was like listening to the music and to the interview format as though I'd never heard anyone perform or converse like that before.
"All the music that has ever been can now become a background," Gould said, "against which the impulse to make listener-supplied connections is the new foreground."
There is serenity and ecstasy, introspection and grandiosity in the last interpretation of the Goldberg Variations. Gould's return to this piece was poignant and ambiguous – a piece transformed by the spectre visionary of the recording studio. His version is both a farewell and a rethinking. Notes are lingered over, dynamics expanded; relations discovered; accents pronounced. His second version of the Variations exploits a new means of production and transmission: digitalized recording and Compact Disc technology. It is also one of the first popular sellers in this format. Gould's recorded presence is now overpowering; the hand's pressure on the keys is palpable in the listening room, and you can hear him singing, low and mournfully, in a way that was never before so apparent.
It is tempting to succumb to the Romantic notion of the Farewell, that he intuited his death, and this recording would be his final statement. The performance is so disciplined, so obviously shaped for precise effect, that you can't be certain that he was preoccupied with anything other than a re-seeing and a re-hearing.
Gould invites completion. Repose and tranquility are not identical to passivity. We are to ask questions, probe into the material, involve ourselves, refuse to accept the monomania of a monologue, add our own (incomplete) feelings and ideas and responses. It is the aria, the autumnal air he offers, that makes him seem death-haunted, neurotically charged, even ill. That mood asks us to slow ourselves, reflect on the touches and tones and wonder.
In a room (anywhere, in any city or town), with a stereo hi-fi, speakers, the controlling volume and balance on an amplifier and receiver, we can find place to move in the Variations. Gould left listening room in the intervals of his interpretation.
You can alter the text, change the texture, make a new context. You can't change the Goldberg Variations entirely, though. Certain coordinates are fixed by Gould. The technology which allows the user complete access is not yet available. Interactive Media (so it is called) is not mass media, a one-way channel for reproduction and reception. Once you are inside, different tracks are possible. Mass communications reverse into private engagement.
In the listening room, the solitude of a hearing is recharged: replay and storage; nothing is lost, if we have the means to connect our present with our past.
"The New Listener," Gould said, "is no longer passively analytical; he is an associate whose tastes, preferences, and inclinations even now alter peripherally the experiences to which he gives his attention and upon whose fuller participation the future of the art of music waits ... He is also, of course, a threat, a potential usurper of power, an uninvited guest at the banquet of the arts, one whose preference threatens the familiar hierarchical setting of the musical establishment."
Gould brought illumination, tenderness, rigour, and ecstasy to this performance. Accompanying his light and passion, we can trace the counter theme, the internal tension, necessary for a balanced edge. There is wild energy and fury, obsessive rhythm and solipsism (private, inaccessible meaning) here. We remember, then his cool removal and his refusal to perform in front of a crowd; how he characterized audiences in terms of smell and nerves, like a handshake with a sweaty palm; and how he loved the solitary life, and the company of things that weren't human.
An individual sometimes doesn't have a choice in his oscillations between retreat and engagement, isolation and community. The burden of being alone can be too much, and so you consciously (and unconsciously) seek abrasive behaviour and difficulty. After all, the more trouble there is, the better; trouble always brings involvement of a kind. And then there is simply the desire to blast on through your nights and days, in faster and faster rhythms, not searching for anything in particular, because the rush is all you crave.
The desire for community and human touch through public assembly and dialogue (and argument) may lure you on into the celebrity life, the public circuit. These swings between engagement and isolation, between contact and exile, may be the fuel for all of us who must navigate in the currents of electric-city.
Gould's life, prophetic and reclusive, generous and monstrous, seems emblematic for those born into the speed of light.
Yet who was this individual we hear in the sixteenth of the thirty variations?
A sound, a voice, a ghost in the groove, a series of photographs, images from television, a presence to be shut off and on according to my moods and tastes.
I have obeyed the law of motion in writing this piece. I moved from Toronto to Banff, specifically to the Banff School of Fine Arts, more specifically still, to the Media Centre, newly opened. The Jeanne and Peter Lougheed Building (pronounced Law-Heed) looks like a set design from David Cronenberg's "Dead Ringers" - a docudrama about Toronto. There are clinical white walls, red posts, black window frames, a postcard view of mountains, trees, and valleys. All day the centre vibrates jazz riffs and rhythms push up from the first floor studios; TVs switch on and off, micro-speakers pour out new wave, hypnotic and minimal, until the new wave becomes a permanent wave, endlessly repeated. Chat echoes in the halls. Word-processors hum. Conference calls link to Montreal. The architecture must be post-modern, because I have run into so many posts.
"I sometimes forget I live In Banff ... between mountains ... In all this fresh air", says Michael Century, the Media Arts Director.
We have encased ourselves in media and steel and concrete I find people reading Umberto Eco, James Gleick, Arthur Kroker, Stewart Brand, and Marshall McLuhan. At breakfast I overhear more patter about media...
"I wasn't too into the philosophy behind that movie..." "There's a philosophy behind that movie?"
"There's always a philosophy behind a movie, Amy..."
"Not when I go."
... The mountains inspire reflection and calm; the Centre itself inspires self-awareness and self-consciousness about the wiring of the place into data banks. The obsession here is with making global connections. We are media mesmerized entranced by screens, drawn to hyper-realities, doubles for life, Virtual Worlds, New Age jargon, models and rhythm boxes. It is a media high, an intoxication.
I forget to go for walks, breathe in the cool air, smell the pine, feel the snow crack under my steps, watch the coyote prowl in the underbrush, observe the elk in small herds grazing under the trees. In town, I see skiers from Japan and the United States stroll the streets wearing walkmans and stylish ski-outfits; I watch them line up for discos that have wall to wall TV sets around the dance floors.
And I wonder if we haven't created for ourselves a global hallucination and insulation; this possessed belief that TV plus computers and data bases, direct and influence our psyches. We seem to have junked nature. Every book I read over a breakfast of tea, bacon and eggs, grapefruit and orange juice, tells me that reality is hyper, that we are X-rayed pacified, and permeated, and that the person sitting next to my table may be a cyborg. The media has worked its magic into our minds and works; and our dreams have fallen under its spell.
I playback Gould here, I have tapes, a television monitor, and a video recorder. While the wind whips up snow and ice on the mountaintops, I watch Gould speak of bleak surroundings and the "Idea of North".
I look out and see the wind in the pine trees and spruce; I look back and see Gould debating with Bruno Monsaingeon. At night, the sky reveals stars and clusters surpassing any night vision I could see in the skies over Toronto: then I switch on the Sony set, and watch Gould trudge around Toronto in a CBC documentary that is dated and banal. In that film, Gould drives his Lincoln Continental around a city I have trouble recognizing; outside my window the small town of Banff (population: approximately five thousand) drifts into darkness.
Gould becomes another talking head. He recalls Toronto; then he recalls his need for silence, night and womb-like spaces. He postures about puritanism and privacy, and in these documentaries I note how his posture alters the more he becomes a creature of transmissions. The documentaries show Gould seated (in front of a piano, with an interviewer, at the steering wheel of his car), standing (with his back to the Toronto skyline, and sometimes with his back to us), and walking (scrunched up inside an overcoat, in New York City in another film, with his favourite chair under his arm). At no time does he look comfortable in his flesh. Only his hands take on vital shapes. Many of the documentaries spend a remarkable amount of time on his hands studying their leaps and falls, their crossovers and touchdowns. We see how closely Gould studies his hands, following them with his eyes, as though he is visually analyzing their spans and attacks, keeping careful watch over every touch and note and phrase and dynamic.
In the evening the Media Lab drains of talk and movement. The artist colony (dubbed The Magic Mountain) quietens. And I continue to watch, in these tapes, how Glenn Gould becomes a disembodied figure, hands without a torso, a head without a neck. He pronounces on the obsolescence of the concert stage, and on how recording studios and TV cameras will turn the world into a tele-stage, with multiple connetions and multiple auditions.
Even in the mountains, far from Toronto, this world-stage of music and images moves me.
THE AUDIENCE WOULD BE THE ARTIST AND THEIR LIFE WOULD BE ART
TECHNOLOGY HAS THE CAPABILITY TO CREATE A CLIMATE OF ANONYMITY AND TO ALLOW THE ARTIST THE TIME AND THE FREEDOM TO PREPARE HIS CONCEPTION OF WORK TO THE BEST OF HIS ABILITY TO PERFECT A STATEMENT WITHOUT HAVING TO WORRY ABOUT TRIVIA LIKE NERVES.
THE CITY SENDS
OF OUR TIME
TO THE FOUR CORNERS
OF THE WORLD
-National Film Board Narrator/Off The Record
Crowds. Streets. Neon swarms and neon-modernism. People can swamp you, engulf you, catch up and carry you to places you don't want to go. Faces around you, in those city streets, wonder at the domes, boxes, and towers (the CN Tower looking for an instant, like the world's biggest junkie's syringe), the galleries and monuments, the facades and mirrors, the gigantism and the construction. This is the time of noise, and noise of our time itself.
EAT ON CENTRE (the hidden consumerist message)
EATONS (the message continues)
Toronto. It was this city that Gould carried in his memory, like a mirage.
City streets set a stage. Electric lights turn the avenues and boulevards, corners and crescents, into platforms for performance. Punks and mimes, religious zealots and hookers, politicians and hotdog sellers, all understand the street is their soapbox and scaffold. After hours, in the dark, when Gould was fond of driving his Lincoln, the city is a showcase, a circus, an outdoor theater and cinema; you can follow groups of people into bars and clubs, and you can be followed by groups who may be gangs or cops in disguise.
The street-sound is rock'n'roll. It isn't Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. (I could quibble: Wagner does, in a peculiar way prepare you for Led Zeppelin.) Despite Gould's hope for an orchestrated city, a realm of New Listeners, the urban milieu is rock. We are shocked and lulled by the songs that pour out of car-windows from tape-decks and radios.
The music merges with car rhythms. The principle is repetition. Exhaust pipes, horns, and wheels. These segue into crowd-sounds, the inarticulate hum. On the street, conversation blurs into disconnected phrases and dissonant bits.
All of this is a great machine of noise. The machine threatens to drown our human voice, and leave us deafened. The machines of noise create the rhythms of hypnosis, the song of money and the song of new buildings.
Gould watched his environment from inside a car (a Lincoln built like an elegant tank), so that he could comment and observe and remain aloof. He could program his world: he could arrange other kinds of music on his tape deck, sing to himself, recite and rehearse a score.
Did Gould see electrification would enhance Motion, speed up the milieu, and make his Toronto a torrent of towers being raised and demolished? The Peaceful City was razed by the 1980s. Toronto was now a North American experience: a node in the new transnational state.
Rock'n'roll is the music of that state.
I'm certain that the musical monotony of cars and construction sites wasn't what Gould had in mind for his vision of mediated extensions of musical styles, of the intense involvement with the analysis of structure.
Rock stars and groups now take on corporate titles, mass names, mythic echoes, like Boston (a city), Rush (and Rushdie), Springsteen (the spring of youth), Madonna (the virgin and the whore), and Quiet Riot (the one minute newsclip, detonation of information).
Gould was an anachronism in this jolt-state. Yet it's Gould himself who pioneered the recording techniques and video production that rock stars unquestioningly embraced. A 24 Hour Music-Video Network, with links to Europe and Australia, would no doubt have struck him as a type of numbing, a case of too much choice making programmers narrow and reactionary, opposed to variety and selection.
Gould's explorations were done within prescribed limits. He did not surrender to chaos, whim, the need to seek out new territories, new residences; he was not homeless nor rootless. He needed frames of reference (bare land, an apartment, a studio, the Eaton Centre, a Lincoln Continental, a fugue) and then worked within those structures. Though the studio sent his sound flying and free – into the electromagnetic fields he himself preferred orderly itineraries. He never felt trapped; he had already accepted limits. Only someone who yearns for complete mobility feels imprisoned by form.
For Gould, there had to be a subtle coherence, a logical constraint, a puritan discipline. He came from a background that had developed from strict training and a tradition. No matter how many puns he spun, ideas he elaborated, fugues he played, there was that anchor he had put down for himself: the connection with the tradition of Bach. His individual talent would work with, and sometimes against, that ground.
Gould found freedom in re-reading classics, and searching for the ideal in the established canon. The studio was a confined space that permitted mental expansion. One melodic line could be recorded, re-edited, and then tried again.
"To be incarcerated would be the perfect test of one's inner mobility and of the strength which would enable one to opt creatively out of the human situation."
No city is sexless. Buildings and posters and sounds are full of the sex-charge, the one side of our nature that is not numbed by urban life. We move in oscillations of embrace, penetration, and withdrawal, the sex-dance that is part of the rock'n'roll style.
Gould said he was "the last puritan", and shrugged off the sex-charge. His ideal, (he said) was to speak to a universe of idealized audiences, and to find a true performance of a piece. He sometimes seems to have wished that he didn't have a body at all. He appears to have willed the absence of sex from his life – though every recording he made vibrates with tension.
We want to maintain an illusion about Gould. It would be pleasant for us to believe that he was congenial, light, free of rage, eccentric (certainly), but all in all ... a nice guy.
This Canadian illusion of the mask of civility hides the truth. Somehow we have managed to convince the rest of the world that we are a polite people in a civil society. Yet within ourselves we know the knotty facts, that we are odd, inward, spiteful, difficult, ungenerous, envious, self-protective, assuredly intemperate, balanced on occasion by a strange strain of northern mysticism. The well-tempered surface of the anonymous Canadian is our way of travelling unnoticed in a landscape populated by bellicose national masks.
The mask of civility can be put on or off according to how secretive you wish to be. Gould explored many sides of himself. But who could say finally what struggles and extravagances and rages were there?
"The role of the forger", Gould wrote, "of the unknown maker of unauthenticated goods, is emblematic of electronic culture.'
A forger is also, if you look at the history of the word, a maker of links, one who works at the forge with fire, hammer, and steel, a welder of parts.
Gould understood he could achieve more for himself by travelling incognito. The electric world favours the double agent. Gould created doubles, masks, forgeries, so he would never be caught in the constricting position of having only one identity. Andy Warhol once set a look-alike as a stand-in for himself on a lecture tour through the United States; Thomas Pynchon, who has a superstitious fear of being photographed, sent bogus Professor Irwin Corey, master of gobbledegook, to receive the National Book Award for Gravity's Rainbow. Each of these artists understood that a crowd speaks only in a unified voice. One voice, however, is a monologue (monotonous and tyrannical); many voices can bring multiple meanings and readings. With many voices, like those in a fugue, you would have to find listening room, spaces or cracks, to forge for yourself a readout of all the signals.
John Roberts, a lifelong friend of Gould's, tells of a visit to his home by Gould himself. The pianist arrived at night, late, at the door. John Roberts asked who was there. Gould replied "I'm John Roberts."
John Roberts, and other friends and associates, describe Gould's gift for mimicry, his love for accents, his delight in surprising people with inventive personae, the vaudevillian and the Wagnerian in a constant mix of points-of-view.
The same friends won't let strangers into the wild-life reserve they say was Gould's life. This child of the speed of light may have tried to fly beyond the nets of sex, and perhaps even death.
Gould searched for an "exotic Doppelganger" who would be a mirror reflection of his own self-conceived role as an explorer of the prospects of recording. "He was," John Roberts said, "supremely interested in immortality ... and towards the end of his life, he began studying theology."
For this double, Gould made his most enigmatic choice, Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus.
But why Dr. Faustus? and why Mann's version of the classic tale? There are others: Marlowe's; Goethe's; Paul Valery's; Brian de Palma's in "Phantom of the Paradise" (He Sold His Soul for Rock'n'Roll).
Instead, Gould chose a version about a composer, Adrian Leverkuhn, who was modelled on Mann's contemporary, Arnold Schoenberg.
Let us say there is a point where the 18th-century spirit of wit and education and reform flips into diabolism. Let us take Diderot and Bach as representatives of that pragmatic spirit. Then we may say that Diderot becomes Faustus at the moment the intellect seeks the secret to all life, and strikes a bargain for totalitarian control and hidden knowledge. Common humanity is then traded off in exchange for godlike power.
Again I wonder about Gould's fascination with Mann's Doctor Faustus. When I first wrote about Gould's thinking, it was his ghoul-like obsession with prowling dark streets, with the technological extension of himself through telephones and records and radio, that drew me on into speculations about his state of mind. Of course, he liked to joke with us. His constant change of masks and voices amused and entertained and educated. But what happens if you decide to absorb darkness into yourself? What happens If you put on the mask of demonology, admit the destructive force of a devouring evil, even if this is done only in your imagination? Is your mind that vulnerable to the influence of nihilism? Can you let evil ideas out once you've let them in? Can you be immune to perversion? The more voices you speak with, the more of a chance there is for you to lose control of what you say.
These are not easy questions for me to ask. I have believed that rebellious spirits must have a savage side. For a creative intellect, there must be the potential of darkness and danger. An artist without a destructive demon is likely to sound like a New Age channeller – too light, and not very bright. It is truly a New Rage that constantly revives the visionary and the rebel.
Yet why Gould and Dr. Faustus? Why not pick some other double? Why not Don Quixote? ... or Hamlet?... or Ulysses? Why not the Elephant Man ... or Gregor Samsa?
Perhaps Gould's interest in Mann's Faustus was a form of self-criticism. This may have been his way of savaging those eccentricities that annoyed so many people. It may have been how he could poke fun at his fetishes for a special chair, an overcoat, a cap, and gloves, and his prepared piano. The healthy pragmatism of a composer like Bach was subverted for Gould by the High Romantics he admired, like Wagner, Scriabin, Richard Strauss, and again Schoenberg who can be seen in the twilight of that tradition. ... Then again maybe it's wrong for me to read anything into Gould the Ghoul. He had high blood pressure at the end of his life. He put too much strain on his body. His intense existence wore him out. He had become, John Roberts said, interested in theology. An amused infatuation with Faustus may not have turned into a torrid romance.
Gould spun webs, stories, and myths about himself and his friends. Everytime I write about him, I give into the temptation to make up more stories. The Faustian story is one no writer could resist: it is too neat, too provocative to avoid.
I suggest Gould did perceive the transforming element of technology; he saw, and heard, and felt, and considered critically, the metamorphic energies present in electric circuitry, the range in this period of human fire, the forging of new links and the fury of chaos.
In 1978, Marshall McLuhan worked with his son Eric (who is a marginal McLuhan) on the manuscript of Laws of the Media. McLuhan's stroke, and the paralysis of his speech: prevented him from completing this ambitious book – which was an attempt to embrace the deep structure of electronic media, the dynamism of any human invention. The book may have been doomed from the start; only drafts and fragments, scribblings and pieces, were penned by McLuhan himself. The structure McLuhan claimed to have discovered he called tetrads, each technology, he said, obeyed a four-part law. These were: enhancement, or extension; obsolescence or the trash heap, retrieval, or the recall of something old; and the flip-point, or the reversal of the effect. These tetrads occurred all at once; they did not follow a logical sequence.
McLuhan was studying cracks in the codes of technology, these were principles, he insisted, that exposed the way we were worked over by mass media. Whether his discovery was of lasting importance hardly matters; McLuhan saw it was possible to break into the media mesmerism, interrupt the dominance, perceive the inner workings, and thus humanize and translate these overpowering mechanisms, into games, patterns of insight, like a more engaged version of the Glass Bead Came described in Hermann Hesse's Magister Ludi.
Gould may have already grasped this structural dynamic of electronic media: the flipping points-of-view, the sudden reversals, the multiple masks available, the recall of classic forms, the junking of interpretations that don't work, the retirement from live performing - an act which symbolized for him the end of the solo star, and an attack on the concept of monopoly itself.
Gould knew the danger of unleashing the forces of hate, violence, and viciousness, through electric amplification and recording systems. He understood that the machines of creation, in studios and in laboratories, could be apocalyptic: they could ignite moments of terror and illumination. Unlimited extension of the body into space – through computers, telephones, fax, televisions, and satellites – could stretch our souls onto the rack. The environment itself could be a torture chamber. We could be consumed; we would then hunger for totalitarian control – the absolute submission of humans, animals, and nature alike.
So in his writings and pronouncements he preached restraint, humour, self-control, compassion, and denial. Analyze and criticize, he said. Find a just balance in the controls. Great powers are available to us. This power, reinforced and repeated by electronic media, could inflame souls, trigger automatic acts, incite screams of pain, numb us by the sheer number of things we have to absorb.
True response to our world should bring responsibility. Gould was a born teacher whose devout faith in thinking made him believe he could block and sift and raise vicious energies into arias of repose.
ELECTRONIC TRANSMISSION HAS ALREADY INSPIRED A NEW CONCEPT OF MULTIPLE AUTHORSHIP RESPONSIBILITY IN WHICH THE SPECIFIC FUNCTIONS OF THE COMPOSER, THE PERFORMER, AND INDEED THE CONSUMER OVERLAP.
- Glenn Gould
PRESERVATION AND ARCHIVAL REPLAY ENCOURAGE DETACHMENT AND NON CONFORMIST HISTORICAL PREMISES.
- Glenn Gould
What comes after the destructive side-effects of the unlimited extensions of the self? What follows the loss of sex and physical response and the common touch, and thus of responsibility itself? What can come after the Faustian bargain for knowledge, command, and total control?
Surely our role is to continue to crack the monologue of authority. Sing for ourselves. Create openings in systems. Crash the media. Break the old contracts that bind us to isolation and feelings of impotence. Restore identity and presence to those who hide behind the scenes and hate the light of exposure.
Questions are easier to come up with than answers. Endless questioning and skepticism can bring a paralysis of the will. But we can at least burn with the questions, and ask for call and response, the making and remaking of conditions and relations. It is up to us (as it always was) to not let the fixed concentrations of power whether financial, political, and cultural – perpetuate themselves without public endorsement or contention. We have to risk the transformations of self and soul that come with electric fields, because the only alternative would be to revel in ruins, scan for signs of decay, become apocalypse addicts, and wait patiently for THE END. But if we truly listened to the currents rushing around us and through us and out of us, then for the first time perhaps we could reach --with a fuller understanding of possible effects – for the enlightened power at our touch.
I AM AN ARCTIC BUFF, MY OWN NOTION OF ISOLATION INVOLVES, AT THE VERY LEAST, A HELSINKI-LIKE LATITUDE
- Glenn Gould
PERHAPS WHAT I SEE IS STILL SO CONTROLLED BY MY MEMORY THAT IT'S NOTHING MORE THAN A MIRAGE
- Glenn Gould
One night it snowed in Banff while I sat at my desk and worked on, almost alone, in the Centre. It was snowing in the valley, and in the mountains a fog shrouded the caps in a white mist. I knew that the traffic had slowed down in town because the thick mist made it difficult for anyone to see. Slowly, that complex consecrated to technology reflected the snowfall outside; it became softer, whiter and quieter. The air systems hummed; the light fixtures hummed; a few footsteps and whispers could be heard far off in the halls. Those of us who were left in the Centre hugged the indoors, reluctant to leave, as the building itself seemed to breathe like a creature that had needed this silence and snow and near emptiness to stir.
I don't believe we will ever know the secret side of Gould. Each of us can contain myriads and mirror-images of others; each of us can remain invisible, if that is our wish. There's no reason to give anything away – if there is a secret to any of us, and not just the usual sordid exposés of sex with too many women, addiction to sleeping pills or plain old booze, or the habit of slipping of into unknown streets for nights alone. We can keep the complexity intact, accept the lack of resolution, and politely withdraw from the stage. This would leave the Gould story not closed but open, and let the silence speak.
I know more information is to follow on Gould. We will find he left the royalties of his recordings to the Salvation Army and to the Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; we may learn that he had a lover (female) in Leningrad. Biographies are soon to be printed and bound. Gould will become his admirers and detractors. The traces of this man will be remade in the minds of those who come after, each according to their tastes and twists, each according to their desire to only connect.
Interactive Media, The Society of Minds, Technologies of Freedom ... Slogans, propaganda, madness ... I cannot tell whether we have entered a promised land of democratic machinery or have smashed against another wall of noise. It may be that the next generation, the true children of the speed of light, will have the polyphonic minds Gould envisioned. I acknowledge my limits. Though television, records, and telephones formed my world, I know I am book-bound. I can see where we could move – symposiums, orality, and public theatres. I don't know, though, if I can go beyond my book-lined room. Eclectic minds can be glib ones; probing can leave us like bouncing balls of news, and not Leonardos of enquiry. Polyphony may mean too many phonies. We could be wired into electric-city with our minds shot up on junk. We have brought a great crystal of light; but who can lift it?
Once more, I'll go back from the 1982 Goldberg Variations to the version Gould recorded in 1955. If I go back to 1955 (rather than follow forward visually through to the moment in the 1982 video on the Goldberg Variations when Gould slumps on his stool), I return to a picture of a healthier figure. The contrast in the photographs and in the sound is startling. Here is an individual in full flight, on the threshold of stardom. I don't have to stay still; I can run backwards and forwards. There is no law that says I must accept the inevitability of decay. If I go back in time to the archives of images and films, tapes, CDs, and records, then I can hear and see another person (who contained within him the puritan he would later become), at the start of his contract with us.
On the Record/Off the Record. These images show Gould with the energy of his dreams. There is no trace of exhaustion; no sign of drugs; no description of an audience as a stink in the nostrils.
Only connect. I can join the two versions of the Goldberg Variations together, splicing the aria from 1982 in with the swift tempi of the variations from 1955, ending with variations twenty-eight through thirty and the reprise from the second Goldberg. Both interpretations are valid; both are true.
He knew that one day we would have this liberty; if we had the instruments, we could mix and edit and study the structures and stages (sometimes hidden) in an individual's development. This fanatically private artist left his thinking and playing open for public replay and criticism.
The media does not confer immortality on flesh. The media gives the artist and the receiver a chance to rethink and reassess the cycles of a life. In the light of that exposure, we may see at last what we were, what we are, and what we could become. When you hear the response of the aria from the 1982 Goldberg Variations, you find there a character of many fictions who grips the real, and a recording human who emerges with the sympathy and the strangeness of one breathing soul.