I have been a hack for nearly 50 years now. Because most of those years were during the age of newsprint, large swathes of Brazilian rain forest now lay barren as a consequence of my commercial renderings. Most of the stuff was crap that I didn’t bother to read the first time, much less a second time. I occasionally stumble across something on the Internet that I wrote years ago and don’t recognize it as my own. I was reminded of this last week after I got an e-mail from a German broadcaster named Rainer Schlenz:
I’m journalist working with the nationwide airing radio station
Deutschlandfunk. I’m gathering music pieces in the context of 9/11 at the
moment and read your article in sequenza 21 about Michael Gordon’s
composition “The Sad Park”.
I just would like to say that compared with other articles from all over
the world your text appears to me the most profound comment on this great
By the way the other pieces I will use for my feature are:
Steve Reich: WTC 9/11
Julia Wolfe: my beautiful scream
David Lang: Men
Terry Riley: One Earth, One Love, One People
It will be broadcast on 10th September, 10:05 pm CET, that means 04:05 pm
New York time. (Available live on the web at www.dradio.de.)
I searched S21 for “The Sad Park” and started reading the review he mentioned and was well into it before I realized that I had written it. I’m pretty sure it’s not “profound” but it’s not terrible. I could send you to the link but since it’s on one of our ugly old pages I thought I would reprint the whole thing here…right after the break.
The Horror. The Horror.
My bride of the past 41 years and I got into such an Ali-Fraser dustup at intermission of the Kronos Quartet concert on Friday night that we had skip the Gorecki piece to avoid embarassing ourselves in front of others. It wouldn’t have been the first time, I’ll admit, but now that we’re approaching senior citizenship it takes a fairly decent provocation to get the gloves on. The something in this case was Michael Gordon’s new chamber piece The Sad Park which I thought was brilliant and she thought wasn’t.
The problem I now realize (beyond Suzanne’s obvious lack of taste) is that I made the mistake of describing The Sad Park to her beforehand as a “9/11 piece,” a claim that clearly colored her expectations and one that Gordon wisely did not himself make. The Sad Park was certainly not intended to be a “9/11 memorial” in the sense that John Adams‘ Transmigration of Souls is a memorial (although he, too, avoided making that claim). While both pieces use recorded voices as elements, the similarities end there. Transmigration is about 9/11; a fully-formed adult assimilation and artistic reflection on the events of that tragic day.
Gordon, it seemed to me, had a vastly different ambition for The Sad Park and that was to show through music how a small group of very young pre-schoolers–2 and 3-year-old–children who lived in the WTC neighborhood–directly experienced and assimilated the tragic event.
Gordon began by taking four brief observations from kids–recorded by their pre-school teacher on 9/ll and in the days, weeks and months after–and than distorting the voices electronically to expose what he believed to be the hidden demons beneath. I say “believed to be” because there isn’t a hint of genuine trauma in the way the kids state their impressions. Heard naturally, the childrens’ voices are confident, musical, exaggerted and yet oddly flat, reflecting the incomplete understanding of the dimensions of the tragedy they have witnessed. The children seem protected–as they should be–by their innocence.
Is it possible that there are delayed psychological reactions that will haunt the kids later? Sure. My personal feeling is that the kids were probably not mature enough to have the event affect them all that deeply–then or later. But, I don’t have any kids and I could be wrong. One of the children in this particular preschool was Gordon’s son so his interest is more than academic.
In any case, The Sad Park accepts the premise that there are probably 9/ll demons lurking in the psyches of these children and this is what they sound like. The music that surrounds the distorted voices is spare, intense, repetitive, and scary, mirroring the arc and rhythms of the childrens’ sing song voices. The final section, which struck me as a different voice–more of an adult comment or coda–builds to a shattering cry to the heavens that I found breathtaking.
Suzanne felt that looking for profundity in the voices of children who were too young to comprehend what was happening anyway was a “cutsie” premise that trivialized a historic tragedy. Out of the mouths of babes comes mainly impressions they have picked up from adults and are simply parroting. To ascribe hidden fears to those words is to venture into the minefield that is the brave new age of hands-on parenting. Having lived long enough to see some of the adult outcomes of the first generation to never leave their children alone long enough for them to learn to cope with the real world, has made me share Suzanne’s distrust of parents who are overly sensitive to every stupid thing their kid does or says.
But, whether you accept its premise or not, I found The Sad Park to be absolutely faithful to its own internal logic. Like many a film built around some dubious Freudian turn, it is persuasive on its own terms. It is Michael Gordon’s most mature, tightly controlled and emotionally felt piece to date and while it is not a 9/11 memorial, it is a small masterpiece destined to become an important part of the musical literature of that sad September day.
posted by Jerry Bowles 3/29/2006