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Nothing so creative as a misunderstanding

April 24, 2016

 

In times of globalized culture, mostly with one-way direction North-South, which sometimes makes it difficult to differentiate globalization from plain colonization, cultures get in touch and misunderstand each other. There are of course horrible things arising from this contact, but I hold that nothing is so creative (at least potentially) as a misunderstanding.


When some music cannot be wholly understood, because the person who wants to understand it is completely outside of the cultural context in which it was bred, then there is necessarily a projection of what is known into what is not known. This can take the shape of an involuntary translation of unknown things to what is known, a reduction – with the necessary deformations. A perfect example is Miguel Llobet reducing the Estilo, a South American genre with tremendous history and profoundity, to a Jota (with all due respect to the Aragonese Jota). Or the ridiculous things that pass for tango in so many places. Or the unnameable industrial deformities that pass for "cumbia" in many South  American countries


But this projection may also be, creative, innocent, well-meaning. To make the projection aesthetically satisfying, one incorporates things one did not now one had, so that the projection is really good. So we have a gang of four lads from Liverpool who thought they were playing blues and rock, and in fact were realizing an unplausible mutation and recombination of a bunch of different musics, among which the tradition of British music-hall and Irish traditional music had a lot to say. You know who I am talking about.

 

This happens also in “serious” music. Maybe the most glaring example is Debussy, who discovered gamelang in the Paris Expo, and discovered also that he had always been looking for it. This feeling of “where have you been all of my life?” is an essential component of the positive misunderstanding. And, since all that is understood is in the final analysis a misunderstanding, because we digest it and make it ours, and so we make it other, I want to make a homage to the falling-in-love which comes from a misunderstanding. That is, if there is any other way of falling in love.

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