Music Covers, Translation, and Perpetuum Jazille
chez RT, the muses have been on self-ordered R&R, the Dragons of Grammar have only been occasionally sighted over distant ocean horizons, and RT himself has been attending to such nitty-gritties as the extermination of bed-bugs (victory seems imminent) and the rearrangement of household furniture after knock-down, drag-out fights with the insect world.
Whew! No wonder RT has recently immersed himself in the world of YouTube, listening to old favs and checking out the impressive poetry offerings to be found on that site. But as always, discovery awaits the explorer.
Now for the details: RT has long been a fan of the pop group Toto, a phenom of the 70s and 80s best known for its ballad-style lyrics and dramatic musical arrangements. Love and corn have been the bailiwick of this group, and more power to them: where would poetry be without love and corn?
As a result of this surfing, RT has discovered the field of musical covers, that is, versions of well-known songs performed by musicians other than those who originally created the song. Is the cover better than the original? You the listener decide. The process can’t help but remind RT of literary translations from language to language (and in particular, poetry translations), and so he has decided to volunteer his critical two cents.
Surely, covers as an endeavor are more precise and accurate than poetry translations. Music is the international language, its notation standardized (for the most part) centuries ago. Western staff notation, as it is known, tells the performer the pitch, speed, meter, and individual rhythms of a particular musical work. To balance out this precision in European classical music, improvisation, the practice of creating spontaneous music during a performance, has developed. Together with musical ornamentation, improvisation allows the musician(s) performing a piece to add his, her, or their individual interpretations, greatly enriching the musical possibilities of a particular performance.
Needless to say, poetry has a far less precise muse, yet produces its own beauty. What is the difference between poetry translation and musical interpretation? RT has suggested several times that poetry exists in the tension between meaning and music, between the thought and beauty; it grows out of the roots of the spoken word. He will now suggest that music has a similar set of roots, not in speech, but in movement. To take the argument further, RT thinks that movement is a primary means of remaining connected to the external world; spatial coordination, overseen by sight, is music’s basic mental function. On the other hand, speech is deeply internal, arising out of inner silence, the stillness that human meaning arises from. Speech, in contrast, may be rooted in some kind of crisis.
Does tension between movement and music exist? As far as RT can see, the opposite is the case: movement and motion reinforce each other.
So we are looking at what may be two very different ways of creating beauty.
Take it on home, RT! A few nights ago, YouTube introduced RT to Perpetuum Jazille‘s cover of Toto’s hit, Africa. RT was impressed by the degree to which PJ reproduced Africa using an entirely different orchestration. RT will venture that PJ’s approach to the song resembles a pointillist painting. He encourages readers to watch the YouTube videos of Toto’s and PJ’s versions of the song (the links to YouTube are below) and asks his readers to pay attention to the very different motions (and number of musicians) associated with each version. Though the two versions are meant to sound the same, do they? Which approach to the musical notation is better?
1) Toto Africa Link:
2) Perpetuum Jazzile Africa Link: