The Music of Language: Phone Calls and Inspiration

One wonderful aspect of the Bushwick Book Club: it conducts art across fields, generating new creation. From textual to musical, prose to lyrical. Inspiration via artistic translation and cross-pollination is a wonderful phenomenon with a rich, varied history.

I heard my own favorite example of this occurrence at a Seattle performance years ago. Back when Consolidated Works was a happening venue, the pianist Jason Moran (a recent MacArthur Award winner, deservedly in my estimation) came to town and used mesmerizing artistic translation in a solo piece.

The video below is the same song he played that night. Check it out–I’ll bet you’ve never heard anything quite like it. (Although this version is with a trio, you’ll get the idea even if you only listen for a minute). Do you know Turkish? In addition to piano, bass and drums you’ll hear a woman in Istanbul chatting with her mother on a cell phone. What to listen for? Hint: the night I heard this tune my friend turned to me, noticed my furrowed brow, and said: “He’s playing a note on every syllable.” This ordinary conversation becomes the tonal palette for Moran’s composition.

What do you take from the performance?

When liberated from a focus on the meaning of the words (I personally don’t speak Turkish), the listener can focus on the “singing” of the words, the spontaneous improvisation of conversation. I was struck by the melodiousness of the human voice, not to mention the idea of using it as the harmonic center of a tune. “What,” Jason Moran asks, “is the musicality of language?” I left the show thinking about the sound of our everyday lived experience of the world.  Nearly all of us hear it, but few of us stop to listen.

Here’s an explanation of the tune from the artist himself:

When I hear some of the amazing Bushwick artists do their thing I’m inspired, as I was with Moran, by the possibility of artistic translation.

What (or who) inspires you, Bushwick fans? We want to know! 
Email [email protected] or tweet @iReadandSing