Absolutely no sense of moral responsibility

There’s a good diner in spit distance from my flat. I go there often, and always sit at the bar, with a book or a tablet.

The server is always the same — a very sweet and helpful man. My conversation with him is limited to weather chatter and food orders — a man with a book is not in seek of conversation, and he is smart enough to take the hint. But I can see he is a talkative guy, always bantering with colleagues and clients.

Tonight he is engaged in a loud, lively talk with another patron. I order him a sandwich. He accomplishes my order with the usual virtuosity, and then resumes his chat. He stops now and then to ask me if I need something (“Cutlery, if you please ! And mustard.”)

I have my book open in front of me, and mostly ignore them, but I infer from their conversation, by tone and bits of content, that the men are not just client and server, but also friends — or at least, acquaintances. Or are they ? Am I considering the prior information that this is Brazil and not France ?

“And then she was there by the door, knife in hand, yelling ‘I’ll kill you’ !”

I am snatched from my book to reality.

The phrase having been announced by the server as the punchline to a joke, both men are now laughing their heads off.

Against all my instincts, I decide to intervene : “I’m sorry, you’re telling a fictional story, I presume ?”

“But no !”, the patron protests. “This is about his women, the one he lives with.”

“I’m terribly sorry. I really don’t want to meddle. But I don’t think this is a matter for laughing. I think this is a very serious matter. Criminal matter.”

They suddenly look very serious. The patron says, still half in jest, “this is the woman besides whom you sleep every night. Aren’t you afraid to wake up missing any bits one day ?”

“I really think this is something to be taken seriously”, I insist. “What you’re describing has a name : domestic violence.”

They look at me even more seriously. But it’s the server who liquidates the matter : “I know. She is just crazy jealous ! I’ll tell you : I live with my father and she’s even jealous of the time I spend with him ! The other day she asked me ‘why don’t you screw him as well ?’, and I had to shut her up with a slap.”

Blank. Don’t say anything. Nod. Smile and nod ? No, just nod.

I promise : next time I let my interaction with the commoners stray from the weather and the roads, I will shut myself with a slap.

Faith mismatch

They repeat this dialog every week.

“May god bless you with heavenly blessings.”

“Thank you.”

“May god be with you as you leave.”

“Thank you. You stay well.”

Her religiousness does not bother him, though every time he wonders if his dissonant answers hurt her feelings.

But the decision to remain secular in his civilities is final.

Fisiológico

A palavra rasga a página em branco, maculando a serenidade do vazio, impondo-se sozinha, vazando pelos meus dedos sem que eu queira ou me oponha. As letras se alinham formando algo que parece uma frase, a sintaxe lembra algo inteligível. Mas eu apenas sentia uma pressão que agora escapa pela tela limpa, nem penso e o movimento da mão faz aparecer o texto. Como bater ao piano uma velha melodia, lembrada mais no músculo que no cérebro. Um movimento amigo traz, aos arrancos, a sequência esquecida.

Pode ser que essa cadeia estranha de símbolos carregue em si alguma verdade, ou pode ser apenas encarnação de algum processo aleatório da alma. Assim de perto fica difícil distinguir sinal de ruído : é fácil querer dar forma às nuvens, como é fácil ignorar sinais de fumaça.

Não importa. Martelo as pequenas letras, que vão surgindo obedientes à minha vista. Vou batucando e descobrindo — ou fabricando — o sentido desta prosa : tec, tec, tec. Alguém que esbarrar nessas letrinhas enfileiradas pode também querer por nelas uma forma, ou então passar adiante sem vê-las, uma opção me parece tão boa quanto a outra. A broca cava o túnel por imposição da termodinâmica, que haja nisso qualquer arte é acidente. Consumir a madeira preserva a sanidade do inseto; sujar o silêncio, a minha.

Prelude to a Transaction

I’m on a street, the place has the flavour of the East, but the location is vague. Turkey ? Israel ? Europe de l’Est ? Iran ? The sun is high on the sky and the sharp daylight turns everything into a collage of glowing shapes and dark shadows. I stop in front of a building and walk up a few steps, rusty-green copper steps with a pattern of raised perforations, held on each side by greasy slabs of soapstone.

The interior is ample, and, to my eyes, very dark. Dusty rays percolate from a row of small clerestories. I hear, before seeing, the rush of merchant activity. Undoubtedly, it is a market of some kind. If I could smell, I know I would scent spices, herbs and men.
I walk aimlessly, until I see people at a square table, calling for me enthusiastically. A rendez-vous or a fortuitous meeting ?

I approach them. Three men occupy the sides of a heavy wooden table. There is no chair for me: instead, the solid table has, on opposite corners, a footrest and a small, flat, rotating seat. I climb it with easiness, casualness even, and install myself in a comfortable position. Three pairs of eyes follow every move.

The conversation is relaxed and pleasant, but without affectation of being anything other than a transaction. The men never touch me, but keep watching me intently. In my turn, I wear my best charmante et attentionnée façade, while observing them discreetly.

The man in front of me is the tallest and youngest, perhaps younger than me; the man almost to my back is the shortest and oldest, perhaps on his late 40’s. I don’t remember much from the other man, but all three are clearly Semite, maybe Jews, probably Arabs. They are dressed in very plain, white, used linen clothes, somewhat stained on the hems, but not all the way dirty. Above all, they are this kind of men uncannily able to be simultaneously very ugly and very attractive.

The older marchand, the one behind me, is the one I remember best. He has a tanned skin and dark, vivid eyes. His face has deeply carved expression lines and a three-day stubble. His teeth are a yellowish orthodontic nightmare, but none is missing. His hands are big for his small size, with short, powerful fingers.

I am taken aback by how much they already know about me. Have I sent them all this information ?

“— You speak four languages ? English, French, Portuguese…”

“— And Spanish. But not Arabic, I’m sorry. Will that be a problem ? ”

They all protest: “— Not at all !” “— Not at all !”

“— Do you really have a Ph.D ? ”

“— How do you know that ? ” — I try to conceal any concern ; to keep smiling and being lovable.

“— We know things about you…” — his answer is malicious, but playful.

“— I do. Does it make any difference ? ”

They all answer: “— Oh, it does !” “— Of course it does !”

I voice my main concern.

“— Am I not too old for the job ? ”

They feign to be outraged:

“— Never say that ! ” “— Are you crazy ? ” “— Aren’t you 31 ? ” “— It’s the perfect age.”

My pragmatism kicks in and I address the old marchand directly.

“— I would like to have a clearer picture of what is expected. Of the kind of clients you cater to. Of the revenues and how they will be shared.”

His smile broadens — now we are talking business !

True Names

A contemporary wizard is no less a slave of names than his ancient counterpart was. Naming is owning, a fact known to the point of cliché in every culture. It is revealing that the first act of domination is always naming.

Nothing is more frustrating than failing to perform a spell because of a forgotten name. The judicious wizard will carefully take note that the most precious names are precisely those rarely used, and thus, those at once hardest to acquire and most prone to be lost. He will systematically take note of them, in whatever way suits him most.

This practioner has learned that the hard way, and — he is ashamed to admit — it has taken several annoying instances to teach him that hard lesson.  Despite his passion about the Typesetting School, it is very seldom he actually practices any magic above level 3. This very week he has spent hours preparing a spell that would have take him considerably less time, had he remembered the name “imposition“.

A name he was sure he had once known.

Quick Recipe for Anachronist Video Game

Taking inspiration from Guitar Hero, Rock Band, and other games of similar concept; and using a full body game controller like XBox’s Kinect, create a Orchestra Conductor Game.

The idea is simple: put the gamer in front of a simulated orchestra and let him learn that all that gimmicky is actually hard work. Forgot to cue the violas ? Disaster ensues. Time for a change of tempo ? Beat that measure or else… Missed the opportunity of that dramatic crescendo ? A drowsiness spell falls on the public .

This basic idea can, of course, lead to wonderful variations. The gamer could, for example, choose from a variety of famous composers, orchestras, conductors and even specific performances. There could be a multiplayer mode, with other gamers occupying  the seats at the strings, woodwinds, brasses and percussions. Imagine the sequels: “Orchestral Wonder: Chamber Magic”, “Orchestral Wonder: A Night at the Opera”, “Orchestral Wonder: Concertanti”… the possibilities are endless.

What I love the most about this concept is the subversion on the feedback visuals and sounds. If you are being world class, the public will stay extatic and static, silent and still. If you start to mess up, people will start to shift on the seats. Start to drop the ball and you’ll hear some coughs here and there, and that lady at the front row will appear definetely sleepy. If you really tangle everything, people will start to whisper, someone will noisily unwrap a candy drop.

If you really ruin everything, a cellphone will ring. And the person will answer.

(As my friend M. says — it would only sell 7 copies, but those 7 people would adore it !)

Unbreakable

As far as I know, the Piano Sonata n. 2 in F K 280 (189e) was composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in late 1774, early 1775, in Munich, while he overlooked the production of his opera La finta giardiniera. He was just turning 19 years old. It was his second sonata for keyboard, though he had already composed two dozen other keyboard pieces.

As far as I have researched, Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2 is almost canonically in sonata-form, which is quite remarkable, given that sonata-form was not a prescribed set of rules which composers followed, but an artificial instrument of musical analysis. The second movement of the sonata is an adagio in the parallel key of F minor, whose time signature is a compound meter of 6/8. The Adagio itself is heavily based on sonata-form.

As far as I have found out, Mitsuko Uchida interpreted Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2 for Philips Records in July 1987, at a time during which she was playing all his piano sonatas for Philips (from 1983 and 1987). Uchida was then 38 years old. The recording took place at the Henry Wood Hall, London, England. Therefore, though that sonata was one of Mozart’s first, it was one of Uchida’s last in the cycle.

As far as I could discover, Philips has issued those records several times, first around the time of their taping, and then in several reissues, among which one in 1991, as part of a Complete Mozart collection, and one in 2003, as part of a budget-price Complete Mozart Piano Sonatas collection.

As far as I remember, I have been a friend of M. P. since 1993. His parents have a quite impressive classical CD collection, which, as a teenager, I intensely coveted. I am not sure of the dates, but I remember clearly that he has lent me his parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas album at least twice. First, he lent me the physical CDs — I was somewhat apprehensive, but M. was sure that his parents wouldn’t notice the CD’s were missing for a few days, and in the case they noticed he would just tell them (M.’s parents were really cool and carefree). I don’t remember well, but I think I hastily copied the CDs and returned them the next day (my own parents were very anal and uptight about anything with a hint of dishonesty — which, in my logic of the time, applied to sneaking the CDs, but not to copying them). There were 5 CDs in the album, and I remember I botched one of the copies, which I only discovered too late, but nevertheless I was happy. Then, maybe around 2005 (when M. had moved back, and I was in vacations in Brazil), but maybe as late as 2007 (when I had also moved back to Brazil), maybe as early as 2003 (when we both still hadn’t left for Europe), M. copied some of his parents’ classical music CDs for me. At that time, nobody in our generation used physical CDs anymore, and he just ripped the MP3 tracks using Apple’s iTunes. Among them, it was M.’s parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas.

As far as I can faithfully recount, these are the circumstances which led me to burn a data CD with the Apple’s iTunes ripped MP3 tracks from M.’s parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas: in late 2008, I was back to France when I met my future post-doc supervisor. In August 2009, I moved to Campinas, Brazil, to a small rented studio near the University. It was then that I met S. G., with whom I would find an intense intellectual affinity. I found out that, due to poor architectural choices and construction, my studio was barely tolerable to live in. In July 2010, when S. moved to the United Stated for his sabbatical year, I sublet his flat, which was much older and much farther from the University, but also much bigger and much better furnished. (One thing that we did, before we parted, was to exchange our MP3 collections, so S. has now my Apple’s iTunes ripped MP3 tracks from M.’s parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas.) Because the flat was far from the University, it was no longer practical not having a car, so S. offered me to buy his old car. But by this time, my father was just about to buy a new car, and my parents decided that I should get his old one (my parents may be uptight, but they are also generous like that). My new car audio played MP3 tracks, but only from CDs, and only from certain CD formats (CD-Rs were ok, CD-RWs were not, for example). I’ve decided to use Gnome’s Brasero to burn a CD-R with some basic survival pieces: the Well-Tempered Clavier, my favorite Mozart Piano Concertos, some Schubert stuff, and, of course, Mozart’s Piano Sonatas.

As far as I believe, my passion for that Adagio happened suddenly. Just because you hear a piece it doesn’t mean you listen to it. I’ve heard the Well-Tempered Clavier hundreds of times, but I only really listened to the two first preludes and the two first fugues of the first book. Then, one day, something unexplainable happened and I started to listen to the other pieces: at first it was the 7th prelude and fugue, then it was the 10th pair, then it was the 4th, then the entire first book was mine (I am eagerly awaiting for the same magic to happen to the second book). With Mozart’s Piano Sonatas (which I’ve also heard hundreds of times) something similar happened. I would only listen to the later pieces, the ones K 330 (300h) or later. Then one day I’ve listened to the Adagio of the K 280 (189e) and I fell in love with it. I would listen to it in loops for entire hours, days. Nowadays, my passion is more reasonable, but still, whenever that track comes up, I repeat it three, four times, before letting it go.

As far as I am honest with you, that night, late at night, I was driving from the University and arrived at the garage of the flat I sublet from S. in Campinas, and I thought of all things but of making a conceptual piece. The audio of the car my parents gave me was playing the Adagio of Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2 in F K 280 (189e), from a CD-R I have burnt with Gnome’s Brasero with the Apple’s iTunes ripped MP3 tracks from M.’s parents’ Philips’ Uchida’s Mozart’s Complete Piano Sonatas. As it often happens, I’ve decided to stay in the car and wait the piece to finish. My father has died two months ago, without ever listening to that Adagio, neither to the Well-tempered Clavier (though he has heard them, I think), but then, my father heard a lot of music, listening to very little, as far as I dare to guess. As the song played I noticed (not for the first time) how the car audio distorted the sound, aggressively emboldening some harmonics, and merciless dampening others. How could I listen to a piece, if hearing it was so difficult? I remembered G. F., my friend and erastes, who once told me, about another Mozart’s work “il y a des pièces qui sont indestructibles”. G., as far as I dare to guess, hears to not that much music, but listens to most of what he hears. Indestructible. Indestructible is not a word I would dare to apply to anything human, but as far as it could apply, it may apply to the Adagio of Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2.

As far as I have compared, Uchida has chosen not exactly to play Mozart’s score: in the reprise of the exposition, for example, she adds considerably to the ornamentation; she also entirely forgoes a reprise for the second part. Then there was the choice of Philips’ engineers — the recording, mixing and mastering — but to me that barely exists: I was not beside Uchida at the playing, Philips’ promise sounds good to my ears, I take it as truthful enough. Then there was Apple’s iTunes parameters, and the choices that M. has made to rip the CD’s. Then there was MP3 compression, which is lossy, but quite human-ear friendly. Then there was my car audio, and how it has chosen (or was able) to render that file. Then there was my car passenger compartment, its peculiar resonances. Only a few steps in that chain, the ones where numbers were faithfully copied, didn’t add to the final result. I was thinking of this (and looping the piece, more hearing it than listening to it), when I decided to make an experiment: I would record the piece in my Nokia E63 cell phone, with video and audio. Could someone hearing it (and possibly seeing it) still listen to it? Suppose someone hears my Computer rendered Web browser interpreted WordPress’ laid out Dailymotion embedded Apple’s iMovie retouched MP4 encoded Nokia’s E63 cell-phone recorded Fiat’s Palio car audio rendered Gnome’s Brasero burnt MP3 encoded Apple’s iTunes ripped Philips Records’ recording of Uchida’s interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Sonata n. 2 in F K 280 (189e)’s Adagio. Can they still listen to Mozart? Is the piece indestructible? Does Mozart’s creation survive Uchida’s? Does it get tainted by our questionable copying (which at the time, was clearly legal in France, clearly illegal in the States, and “its complicated” in Brazil)? Warmed up by my friendship with M. and S.? Does it learn from going round the world so many times? Is there any of my father’s death in it (the fact he was just turning 58, the fact he has barely enjoyed his new car, the fact his death has thrown me in a bottomless existential pit?) Does any of its path survive in the end? There are some who believe in the aura of history, that things are indelibly imprinted by those who touch them, that the hand of the artist makes things magical. I am skeptical: I believe in statistics, thermodynamics and information theory. I believe in signals, but also I believe in noise. I think that it is not enough to show, it is not enough to tell, that it is the alliance of both that gives the world sense.

As far as my knowledge is possible, that is the chain of events which led me to write this piece. I am 32 years old. In heart I am much older, but not in wisdom, I’m afraid. As far as I feel.