The Slow Spread of our Fragmented Songs of Self

Over the last few days, I’ve been talking a lot to musicians from Pakistan. (Such is the nature of my work.) And it’s fascinating to hear about the way they are approaching their art. In a society where more collective identities (family, class, etc) have profound, determining impact on people’s lives, musicians and lyricists are seeking a way of expressing the individual, the self as emotional, creative center. Often in very impressionistic, abstract terms.

It reminds me of a poem by Clemens Brentano, “Es Sang vor Langen Jahren.” Western creators waged their own battle to embrace and capture an individual’s inner world. In this poem, the poet loops around, repeating and reordering a set of images precious to Romantics–a nightingale (the lovers’ soundtrack of yore), the moon, a few simple but potent words like “pure” and “clear”–until all feels strangely fragmented. Yet it remains lyrical, creating mood more than narrative or completed statement.

The poem’s perfect balance, its novel (for the time) state of compression and intensity, of seeming spontaneity, comes to amazing life in Arvo Pärt’s stark, emotive setting.

It feels so commonplace to us now, this traced map of an inner state. It has become the norm to English, French, German speakers. We have lived with this kind of expression in our language for centuries. And the technique has slowly seeped via rock and pop songs into other places, into very different cultures, to come to the aid of artists looking for other means of engaging with life.

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