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Can vei la lauzeta mover (experimental interpretation)

This creative project is a recorded interpretation of perhaps the most famous work in the troubadour repertoire: Bernart de Ventadorn’s Can vei la lauzeta mover. The song has been recorded many times in as many different styles. However, performances often still strive for “historical” authenticity, attempting to recreate how the work might have been performed in its original context. I wanted to play with this concept of authenticity over the course of my performance, beginning with a fairly traditional interpretation of the work and concluding with something that was emphatically new. In choosing an interpretive strategy, I drew lessons from Ezra Pound and from Taruskin—my focus was less on authenticity in the traditional sense and more on “personal” authenticity, or knowing what, why, and how one wants to express an idea. My performance begins with a simple drone accompaniment, which I recorded using an electronic musical instrument called a vocoder. The instrument takes vocal input from a microphone and allows it to be controlled with a keyboard, producing a ‘robotic’ vocal effect—think Daft Punk. Here, though, I played with the settings to create a grainy, distorted sound that mimics fairly closely the sound of a hurdy-gurdy or other drone instrument that might actually have been used to accompany troubadour song. And initially, the vocal delivery is as simple as the accompaniment: the first verse could almost be heard as a traditional, “historically authentic” rendering of the song (my poor pronunciation notwithstanding). As the song progresses, I begin to manipulate the timbre of the drone accompaniment, making the electronic nature of the instrument increasingly clear. Halfway through the third verse, I also begin to alter to my own voice, slowly adding Auto-Tune and a fuzz pedal. The effect—which is adapted from the end of Kanye West’s Runaway— distorts the sound of the voice, rendering the text almost incomprehensible. In taking this approach, I tried to embrace the “distance” that is central not only to this poetry itself but also to our modern reception of it. I am drawn to the idea of treating the music of these ancient poet-composers as they once treated their distant objects of affection—from afar. Rather than try to surmount the vast historical gulf that lies between us and them with a traditional, “authentic” performance, I therefore wanted to embrace this gulf with a performance that could never be mistaken for a genuine product of the twelfth century.  This is not to say that I don’t see the value in “authentic” performances. On the contrary, I am extremely compelled by those performers who make it their goal to study the Occitan language and the troubadour repertoire and tradition deeply and channel this knowledge into performance. But I currently do not have this depth of knowledge, and perhaps never will—I can only view these texts from afar, darkly, through the glass of translation. So, the joke is: what does it matter if the text is unintelligible at the end of my performance? I found it unintelligible to begin with! And I think that part of what is most interesting about this repertoire is that, as close as we get to it, something about it will always remain out of reach. For me, the greatest revelation of this course was the fact that courtly love poetry, even if it was seemingly directed at another, was always about the self. Perhaps if this repertoire is to continue to be relevant today, we have to be willing to acknowledge this. In the end, that is also why I chose to perform this piece in the way that I did—I wanted to make it about myself. 

2018: Songs of Love and War
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