Saturday, October 24, 2009

Compelled to chill

Music: side one of an LP put out by Sublime Frequencies called Group Bombino, Guitars from Agadez Vol. 2
(Agadez is a city in northern Niger that is in midst of a violent struggle called the Tuareg rebellion. There is only one road that connects this city to the rest of Niger and land mines are strewn across it, thereby leaving it functionally isolated. This music comes out of this struggle and was recorded live in 2007, amidst the dunes and stars of the desert surrounding Agadez. I'm not sure what it is about music that forms directly out of the burning embers of violence and oppression, but it emanates such a heaviness to its sound, I might as well be submerged in a blanket of warm tropical waters when I hear it, or in this case, sliding down the side of a desert dune while my body is covered with sun-baked sand. It must be that when so many of the luxuries and basic necessities for life and freedom have been stripped away from people and yet they still create music to energize their spirits, this music necessarily has a quality carved out of the core of existence. Because when everything else is stripped away, bare existence is all we have, and the music that stems from this must contain a certain piercing quality, since it aims to inflame or calm the emotions caught in the fire of massive personal struggle or loss.
(you can get this music here)

Last weekend I went on a cultural field trip designed by the local education office for all of the foreign teachers in town. We visited two different Confucian academies, a soju and food museum, a traditional village where we slept (apparently in the same house that George Bush the 1st slept in when he visited there), a ginseng festival, and a temple stacked up a mountain that is the second oldest structure in Korea.

At the second Confucian academy (in images above and below) there were these beautiful trees plush with Chinese quinces and this wooden platform, raised on pillars, constructed for rest. While sitting and resting there, leaning my back against one of the wooden pillars, I became interested in the idea of whether a place can emit a memory. By this, I mean that for 400 years Confucian scholars et. al. have been chilling on this wooden resting platform, and, at least for me, the moment I shedded my shoes and stepped up onto it I seemed to feel the full weight of the deep history of relaxation that the place had. And I don't mean this in any supernatural sense, but in the natural process by which our minds interpret information we have about a place and then how that information helps us to behave in ways that befit those places. For instance, we behave one way at a library and an entirely different way at a house party because we know what type of behaviors are socially acceptable or expected because of our memories from past experiences at those places. And although I don't really have any memories from past experiences at Confucian academies, I felt sucked into the energy of the place so that, I too, like scores of Confucian students and scholars for 400 years previously, was compelled to chill.

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