Posts in Category: Musical settings

Akka Mahadevi eight centuries later

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I don’t often share videos uploaded by someone other than the copyright holder, because chances are eventually they’ll get taken down and I’ll have a dead post. But these are too good to miss: five selections from Scribbles on Akka, a 60-minute film in Hindi and Kannada with English subtitles directed by Madhusree Dutta, with music by Ilayaraja, and starring Seema Biswas, Sabitri Heisnam, and Harish Khanna. Here’s a synopsis from Upperstall.com:

Scribbles on Akka is a short film on the life and work of the 12th century saint poet, Mahadevi Akka. Her radical poems, written with the female body as a metaphor, have been composed and picturised in contemporary musical language. Mahadevi, famed as Akka — elder sister, while leaving the domestic arena in search of God, also abandoned modesty and clothing. The film explores the meaning of this denial through the work of contem­porary artists and writers and testimonies of ordinary folks who nurtured her image through centuries in their folklores and oral literature. A celebration of rebellion, feminity and legacy down nine hundred years.

The female director writes,

The film is an exercise in building a bridge across eight hundred years. Mahadevi Akka, the poet, still influences the contemporary poets and painters. Mahadevi Akka, the deity, graces the packets of pickles and papads — prepared by ladies’ co-operatives. Mahadevi Akka, the legendary nude saint, adorns pinup posters and music cassette covers. The bridge is already there. But how did it happen?

Why women poets of feminist era obsessively write pieces of dialogues with Akka? Why a painter in Baroda incessantly paints various images of Akka? Why is she still marketable as a brand name? Who is she?

I don’t know, but I will say that the Indian filmmaking style seems tailor-made for videopoetry.

Emptiness by Akka Mahadevi

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Click the four-arrows icon on the bottom right to watch this full-screen: a musical, modern-dance interpretation of a suite of poems by Akka Mahadevi, A.K.A. Mahadeviyakka, the great Saivite bhakti poet. These are Jane Hirshfield’s translations from the 12th-century Kannada. For more on Mahadevi, see Kristen McHenry’s Obscure Poets column on Mahadevi at Read Write Poem.

There’s full nudity in the last few minutes, so this may not be entirely work-safe, depending on where you work. Mahadevi, like many of her male counterparts in Indian ascetic practice, dispensed with clothes.

The description on Viddler gives the full credits:

Live performance, March 3, 2007, in New York City’s Dance New Amsterdam. Amy Pivar Dances presents Songs For Solo Dance and Voice. “Emptiness,” music by Paula M. Kimper, translation of Mahadeviyakka (India, 12thc.) by Jane Hirshfield. Amy Pivar – dancer/choreographer, Elaine Valby and Gilda Lyons – vocals, Paula M. Kimper – guitar. Video by Vanessa Scanlan.

Thirteen Mahadevi poems in English translation are available on the Poet Seers site.

Tomorrow: More Akka Mahadevi vachanas, as interpreted by a contemporary Indian filmmaker.

Velimir Khlebnikov: Children of the Otter

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Contemporary Russian composer Vladimir Martynov discusses his suite, Children of the Otter, which incorporates Tuvan music and throat-singing, and is based upon the “supersaga” of the same title (also translated as “Otter’s Children”) by the early 20th-century Russian futurist poet Velimir Khlebnikov. The interview was conducted shortly before the premiere of the work in the city of Perm, near the Ural mountains, last September. The Vimeo page describes the background of the piece in considerable detail.

The story of “Children of the Otter” began in the summer of 2008 when producers Vladimir Oboronko and Alexander Cheparukhin, long-time friends and GreenWave Music partners, approached a renowned Russian contemporary composer Vladimir Martynov.

The idea was very simple: create a composition that would blend ancient sound of Tuvan folk music with the sound of contemporary chamber orchestra.

The Tuvan side of the music would be represented by Huun Huur Tu, the foremost Tuvan band, with which Cheparukhin had been working since the early 1990s and Oboronko joined him in 2005. The contemporary side of the music would be represented by Vladimir Martynov’s composing and Moscow chamber orchestra Opus Posth’s performing.

Vladimir Martynov agreed to work on the project during the first meeting. He knew Huun Huur Tu’s music, saw them live, and was excited about using contemporary composing techniques to blend the ancient Tuvan sound with avant-garde sensibilities of Opus Posth.

He wrote a composition for Huun Huur Tu, Opus Posth, and choir, and also incorporated poetry of Velimir Khlebnikov, famous Russian futurist poet of early 20th century. The composition was named “Children of the Otter” after the name of one of Khlebnikov’s poems.

Excerpts from the 75-minute composition. Again, see the video description for full details. A DVD of the performance is slated for release this month.

Ozymandius by Percy Bysshe Shelley

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This video is the work of Tasmanian “freelance visualisation consultant” Peter Morse. The music was composed by Glenn Rogers and performed by Alistair Foote, Penelope Reynolds and Samantha Podeu. Morse describes the project as follows:

The Video & Text

Percy Bysshe Shelley’s classic poem (1818) is used in the video in relation to romantic and Neoclassical architecture, with particular reference to Boullée and Speer, as a kind of critique of the ideology of power articulated by these architectures. The poem ‘Ozymandias’ is a vivid portrayal of the vanity of demagoguery and monumentalism, explored here as a trope for the moral ambiguities of these unbuilt architectures, that stand as fascinating historical symbols of the folly of certain types of power, albeit from varying political persuasions. The strong counterpoint of the ‘modernity’ of the score with the inflated Neoclassicism of the architecures is an attempt to dramatise the counterpoint of these different aesthetics, both of which have struggled for power in this last century. Ironically, these buildings will ever be as virtual as they are here: fictions of history re-imagined via computer simulation.

The Music

Ozymandias is mostly based on the enigmatic minor and the enigmatic major scales. These are rather unusual and obscure scales not generally associated with Western music. In the more polyrhythmic and densely orchestrated sections the inversions of both these scales are used. In some sections notes from the enigmatic scales act as pedal points (tonal centres). From these pedal points are used their associated harmonic series and their inversions to generate a palindromic type of effect. These techniques were largely employed as formal compositional methodologies and may not be obviously audible in the music.

Note: This was the ‘blurb’ from the “Liminal” interactive CD-ROM (2000). The video was made on a Mac in 1998, using 3D animation and compositing, with footage shot in Berlin.

“Falling ill…” by Anna Akhmatova

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A 1922 poem by Akhmatova turned into an art song by Russian-Israeli composer Zlata Razdolina, who is also the singer and videographer. According to her website, “Most of her repertoire of more than six hundred romances and songs is composed of the famous Russian classical poets, A. Akhmatova, N.Gumilyov, O. Mandelstam, M. Tsvetayeva, A. Blok, I. Severyanin, S.Yesenin and others.”

The English translation used for the subtitles is by Judith Hemschemeyer.

In-di-vi-sível (Indivisible) by Márcio-André

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Footage of a performance by Brazilian sound-poet Márcio-André. Brazil has had a thriving avant-garde poetry culture for decades, so I thought it only fitting to pay tribute to it here on Moving Poems at the end of a week featuring Brazilian videopoetry.

Many of Márcio-André’s projects don’t require a grasp of Portuguese to appreciate, being more sound than poetry. One that I found especially intriguing is his online Dot-Matrix Symphony. The instructions say (I think) to push play and then pause for all nine videos, then when they’ve all downloaded, start them going as close to simultaneously as possible.

Spleen by Charles Baudelaire

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Baudelaire’s famous poem from Flowers of Evil turned into a chanson by Léo Ferré, from a recital given in 1969. The Fench text and multiple English translations may be found here; I’ve appended the translation by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which may or may not be the best (I don’t know French), but is certainly the most song-like.

When the low, heavy sky weighs like the giant lid
Of a great pot upon the spirit crushed by care,
And from the whole horizon encircling us is shed
A day blacker than night, and thicker with despair;

When Earth becomes a dungeon, where the timid bat
Called Confidence, against the damp and slippery walls
Goes beating his blind wings, goes feebly bumping at
The rotted, moldy ceiling, and the plaster falls;

When, dark and dropping straight, the long lines of the rain
Like prison-bars outside the window cage us in;
And silently, about the caught and helpless brain,
We feel the spider walk, and test the web, and spin;

Then all the bells at once ring out in furious clang,
Bombarding heaven with howling, horrible to hear,
Like lost and wandering souls, that whine in shrill harangue
Their obstinate complaints to an unlistening ear.

— And a long line of hearses, with neither dirge nor drums,
Begins to cross my soul. Weeping, with steps that lag,
Hope walks in chains; and Anguish, after long wars, becomes
Tyrant at last, and plants on me his inky flag.

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