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Love+Chemistry+Charles Ives: Break the Rules

As part of our ongoing American Mavericks: Break the Rules series, featuring students from the Music Humanities class at Columbia University, classmates Sophie Kuznetzov and Jorge Betanzos juxtapose clichéd words of love with the Periodic Table of Elements to the tune of Andrew Bird's "Chorus of the Swan."


Pardon me if I seem to cop an attitude
But the attitude is one of worship
And is, I think, sincere.
My heart swells
against the prison of my ribs
And grows to keep my lungs from seeking air.
Still the breath is not pushed out
By such a simple force as pride
But by the glory of my dreaming
That I might, perhaps, be loved
By you.

Pardon me if I'm moved to endless chatter
But I fear that the beauty of the silence,
As I watch your distant eyes
Caress the words I have arranged
As atonement, on the page, as sacrifice,
Might cause my soul to rise
Above this flesh
And leave inert these hands
With which I spell these prayers
Against your thighs.

Pardon me;
I burden you with too much honour.
I know you are no goddess,
Simply human,
Still alive.
The others who I prayed would love me
Ran,
Or else I was the one to run.
And yet their cracked reflections
Howl to me from pools of molten glass
Within my hidden pantheon.
I know you've missed perfection,
But your quirks and flaws
Are not personal betrayals,
But are the marks left
By the kiss of angels,
Allowing you to live within
This far too real world.

Pardon me if these songs of praise defile you
But I'll try to keep my hosannahs
To a quiet whisper,
And try, as I stroke your face,
Not to inscribe the Holy Name upon your brow,
Not to believe that you are both Creator and Creation
And that you, therefore,
Must obey my will.
For as I rest
My head upon your shoulder
My lips against your throat,
I read your pulse as the rhythm
Of the rushing of the waves,
Your breaths as the passage
Of clouds against a bright and empty sky,
The gentle motion of your breasts
As the soft processional of continents,
As, within this dark and silent world,
We define
A temporary world of our own.
 
OH
OH
Ring
C
CH
C
CH
CH
C
CH2
CH2
NH2

OH
Ring
CH
C
C
CH
Ring
C
CH
NH
C
CH2
CH2
NH2

OH
OH
Ring
C
CH
C
CH
CH
C
CH2
CH2
NH2

OH
Ring
CH
C
C
CH
Ring
C
CH
NH
C
CH2
CH2
NH2

OH
OH
Ring
C
CH
 

Charles Ives was a composer who had a different perspective on what classical music should be. Above all, he was mainly described as a modernist, experimentalist, and the inspiration for 20th century music. His style was unique, in that he was able to mix different sounds and types of music together in order to form a piece that showed different perspectives and how they could coexist in one piece.

He composed Symphony No. 2 using what he referred to as musical quotations or the process of creating a new piece using music from an older piece, thus “quoting” another composers work. Sophie and I were inspired by his musical quotations and were inspired to do just that—quote music and poetry. Ives selected radical sounds and pieces to live together in his music; we believed that his ability to musically quote pieces allowed him to convey his idea from more than one perspective, using many different voices and we wanted to do the same.

We planned to show two different perspectives of love through our work. Our composition is similar to storytelling. We have created a character, a man, who is writing to his beloved about his surreal affection and unearthly feelings for his goddess. The poem that was chosen is in many ways very cliché and “sappy” because we want the listeners to envision love in its most clichéd form. We hope that the class feels the oversaturation of these feelings of love.

The second part is an original piece created to intentionally make a sharp contrast with the poem that is being read. It is to be read very abruptly and interrupt the poem’s verse by following the rhythm of the music that was chosen. The letters that are submitted are actually chemical formulas that correspond to serotonin and dopamine, the two chemicals produced by the human body to initiate feelings of happiness as well as well-being.

When read together, these two things do not sound so aesthetically pleasing. We are attempting to create the scene of love from two different perspectives—the emotional point of view (the poem by our main character) and the biological physiological side (from the point of view of his body). Interestingly, the poem and chant seem to mix at times (or at least when practiced) and it is that sound for which we are hoping.

Our piece is to give two perspectives of love through chant and poetry. In order to tie both of these pieces together, we have chosen the song, “Chorus of the Swan” (Spotify link) by Andrew Bird. This piece was chosen because of its simplicity and “light feeling.” When first listened to, Sophie and I both believed that we had stumbled upon the perfect piece because it sounds to us like someone is floating, giving a “dream-like” feeling to our complete composition. The piece is also perfect because the plucking dictates the meter of the chant.

We hope to do musical quotation justice with our newly created piece. We believe that we will create discussion after performing our piece because of the differences that exists between our two texts. Although the chemical formulas being read are simple, they are poignant and “cut” through the very charming poem that we have selected. Our desire was to create a moment that related the artistic side of a phenomena like falling love in an emotional sense (which is usually captured very well by musical compositions) and the physiological occurrences during love (which are also present, but we are not very conscious of).


Related:
American Mavericks
Break the Rules