Sunday, July 22, 2012

Axe Age: Sequentia ~ The Rheingold Curse @ Ozawa Hall

 So while Mother Nature, with the able assistance of All Humankind, celebrates the Woody Guthrie centenary with weather to remind us what those Dust Bowl songs are all about, and while we water discreetly the Thirdfloorian tomato plants from the bucket under the drippy shower head and the neighborhood rodents eat the impatiens (and even I'm beginning to think they look so green and tasty) and thoughts turn all Frank Herbertish...Well, could be worse. Those moron Trojans are about to drag that ugly horse thing through the gates of the city. Not that that wouldn't serve as an apt metaphor -- "irrational exuberance", as they used to say in the financial sector, back when they were thought to have gotten over it -- but thankfully there are other venues for that vein of commentary. Still, wouldn't it be funny if it turned out we're all Agamemnon?


But while we're on the epic subject of Epic subjects...

The disclaimer up front should be that the Thirdfloorian delegation is a sucker for anything that brings that Old Norse textbook down off the shelf (I was wanting the infinitive of "grat", which they do a lot of both in The Rheingold Curse and also in Scottish muckle sangs, including one of our recent enthusiasm). And I'm a fan of Benjamin Bagby's theoretical Beowulf reconstruction, not just for its historical/performative element but also because it's fun. (Especially the part where Grendel noms the Ring-Danes, which has a certain appeal for any Godzilla movie-loving ten year old. Which I was, once.) The Rheingold Curse is, likewise, a theoretical reconstruction, involving a lot of philological rooting around in Icelandic print and sound archives and the archaeological record of northern Europe, with an ear out for current trad sources like Icelandic rimur and Faroese chain dance ballads, presumably like this one (Regin Smiður being the rough equivalent of Mime):

The end result is a selection of poems that together tell the story with which any Wagnerite will be reasonably familiar: a prophecy, a hero, a gold hoard, a ring, dwarves and dragons, a valkyrie, a guy with a hall and a sister, betrayal, revenge, murder. Plus House of Atreus style infanticide/cannibalism. Also, a snake pit (incl. commentary on proper heroic comportment when confronted with same) which Wagner should totally have left in.

Sequentia scored the piece for three voices, reconstructed Germanic lyre, medieval fiddle (very much on the hardingfele end of the fiddle spectrum), wooden flute, bone flute, and frame drum.  It begins with the high pitch of the bone flute (sounding something like a willow flute) and a calling of the listeners to order that's not far off a kulning. Then it's the creation story, with pre-creation one-voiced and creation two. Once the Ask & Embla preamble is done, the real story begins, and ends -- you know how it goes -- as it began, with two-voiced prophecy and a bone flute.

 I'd love to talk about the details more, but I don't trust my memory at ten days' remove, and here's where we run into something fantastically rare in this on-demand world of ours: the inaccessibility of an out-of-print recording. If you really want an experience from the Days of Yore, never mind the mead hall...

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