persona_beginningThis Saturday evening, Austin Classical Guitar will present a concert that is a sonic contemplation of Persona: that image that a person presents to the world.

The first of three concerts loosely based around the idea of “beginning”, “middle”, and “end”, this “beginning” is an exploration of the idea of identity itself (the beginning of any narrative being the moment when a subject/character first makes it’s appearance), and, by commissioning a massive work from Joseph Williams setting the poetry of Fernando Pessoa and his heteronyms, this beginning focuses in on that more external and objectified aspect of identity that we share with the world around us.

Going a bit further into the theme and just considering musical meaning itself, part of the inspiration for this concert springs from the fact that there is this philosophical, ontological discourse that is intrinsic to much musical activity. What I mean is that music conveys in many ways, it causes many effects and impressions within the listener, and one important path of conveyance is through the composer’s technique of motivic variation. By varying a recognizable musical figure, or musical object (a little “tune”; a melodic or rhythmic fragment –sometimes called a motif), continuously throughout a composition, this musical object assumes new characteristic traits, often to the point where it is scarcely recognizable as being related to the source idea from which it came. This is achieved by changing some element(s) about the musical object while keeping other things intact (for example, changing all or some of the notes of a recognizable melodic fragment while retaining the rhythmic figure). One could liken this to the way that we, as people, change physically and psychologically from day to day, while not changing so drastically as to be unrecognizable to others and ourselves. One can also see a similarity between the musical object, with all of its subsequent transformations, and the idea of persona. Musical objects often even take on a discernable psychological profile: consider, for example, the heroic themes found within Beethoven’s third symphony.

Before Joseph’s incredible work, we will hear a series of musical preludes showcasing the considerable talents of the world-class musicians who have come together to make this concert happen. Nested within these preludes, John Aeilli will read James Agee’s “Knoxville: 1915”, which was the author’s prologue to his masterpiece A Death in the Family. Agee’s fine ear always comes through in the unmistakable musicality of his prose, and this passage gives us an exemplary prelude: a pastoral, Rockwellian scene unfolds as if all of the activity (Fathers watering their lawns, the sounds of Cicadas and Crickets, cars passing by) were so many sections of an orchestra. There is a quiet malevolent undertone that emerges as a central question inquiring as to what it means to be anything at all in this world.  John Aielli’s calm cadence will narrate over ambient accompaniment from the Line Upon Line percussion ensemble.

The experience of this concert begins from the moment you arrive at the Blanton auditorium.  Have a drink, if you wish, and enjoy an electronic ambient sound installation that will include spoken-word samples of the poems used in Joseph Williams’ newly composed work, and read yourself from the many poems reflecting upon identity and beginning that will be displayed in the atrium.

I am ridiculously excited about this concert, and I hope that this relates a bit about all of the beauty that will be happening this Saturday. I’d like to close this with a piece by Jorge Luis Borges that succinctly and evocatively details the author’s complicated relationship with his own outwardly perceived self:

Borges and I

It’s to that other one, to Borges, that things happen. I walk through Buenos Aires and I pause, one could say mechanically, to gaze at a vestibule’s arch and its inner door; of Borges I receive news in the mail and I see his name in a list of professors or in some biographical dictionary. I like hourglasses, maps, eighteenth-century typefaces, etymologies, the taste of coffee and the prose of Stevenson; the other shares these preferences, but in a vain kind of way that turns them into an actor’s attributes. It would be an exaggeration to claim that our relationship is hostile; I live, I let myself live so that Borges may write his literature, and this literature justifies me. It poses no great difficulty for me to admit that he has put together some decent passages, yet these passages cannot save me, perhaps because whatsoever is good does not belong to anyone, not even to the other, but to language and tradition. In any case, I am destined to lose all that I am, definitively, and only fleeting moments of myself will be able to live on in the other. Little by little, I continue ceding to him everything, even though I am aware of his perverse tendency to falsify and magnify.

Spinoza understood that all things strive to persevere being; the stone wishes to be eternally a stone and the tiger a tiger. I will endure in Borges, not in myself (if it is that I am someone), but I recognise myself less in his books than in those of many others, or in the well-worn strum of a guitar. Years ago I tried to free myself from him by moving on from the mythologies of the slums to games with time and infinity, but those games are now Borges’ and I will have to conceive of other things. Thus my life is a running away and I lose everything and everything is turned over to oblivion, or to the other.

I do not know which of the two is writing this piece.