Thursday, April 14, 2011

Hunched over a typewriter, you'd call it painting in a cave



When a great musician saw the potential of vinyl long plays in distributing music cheaply and efficiently, he remarked something in the line of "I can't imagine all the crap that will be produced and sold under the name of music." Unfortunately, I cannot recall who made this remark. But history proved he was right.

However, the technological improvements that started with LPs had an effect not only on the quality of the music. Even timeless compositions such as Mahler's Sixth or Stravinsky's Agon had to suffer.

Trying to get rid of the musical Whiggist in me, I sometimes imagine myself listening to the compositions as someone who lived around the time they were first composed. This Gedankenexperiment showed me that LPs and mp3s stole from us something that I call the "wow efect." 

Imagine your favorite composition, or the song. Imagine you heard it for the first time, when a orchestra or the band came to your town, and you were struck by the composition or the song. The melody, the rhythm, the vocals, the solos were stuck in your mind. But you had to wait a year, or travel miles to find the opportunity to listen to the composition again... This would have definitely driven me crazy. 

Last Monday, I was fortunate enough to have a similar experience. We watched Werner Herzog's -imho- life changing documentary "Cave of ForgottenDreams" in 3D, during Istanbul Film Festival. Let me try to explain a little more. 

The documentary is about the Chauvet Cave in France. This cave hosts the oldest cave paintings known to modern humans, dating back to 30 000 (30 thousand years) ago.  It was shut of from the outside world after a rock collapse few thousand years ago. It was discovered by brave cave explorers who were curious enough to descent into a black unknown through a shaft that is just wide enough for a human to pass.Thats how the paintings were preserved until this day. 

Understandably, the entrance to the cave is limited only to scientist. Werner Herzog obtained a rare permit to film in the cave, and may have produced the one and only documentary on the cave available to a large audience. He was very well aware of his "duty" to his fellow human companions, who cannot go in the caves and experience the timeless art.

He shot in 3D. He had to, and he did it. It was the first time that I was glad that the movie was in 3D. I guess its not even right to call this work of art and science a movie. It is more of an experience, the best tour available of the cave and the incredible paintings. It is also the best way of trying to experience the true vastness of time.

Like someone attended a Mahler premiere in Wien at the turn of the 20th century, I am struck by the beauty and timelessness of the paintings and the documentary. I am willing to wait another year to see the documentary again, or to travel to watch it once more.

The painting above is the first abstract painting in human history. Its the painting of a bison, made entirely by red human hands. Just like Bright Eyes said:

Painting in a cave, guess you would call it typing over a laptop in modern days...

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