Mr. Danger and Musical Bestiary

Ever since Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, musical creation has delighted in the zoo as extra-musical program content. Despite its Olympic gold medal in abstraction, music has the ability to evoke, to caricature, to imitate the animal world with the most diverse resources. It offers a humanized appropriation of quadrupeds, amphibians and birds on which anthropologists and linguists have commented widely, to the point of suggesting that the origin of music is the totemic assimilation of the shouts and songs of the animal kingdom.

Non-linear technology has enabled recording studios to create masterpieces of the genre such as the miniatures of Brazilian pianist and composer Jovino Santos Neto featured on the famous Hermeto Pascoal record Festa Dos Deuses (1992), in which we can hear exact musicalizations of tropical bird songs. They are not like Messiaen’s Catalogue of Birds for piano (1958) – unbearably hammered transcriptions of bird songs – but catchy Brazilian dances, unusual sound haikus made from real bird recordings accompanied by keyboards or percussion. Little jewels of Latin American poetry. Even the rooster has its samba school. Then comes the principal rooster – the political animal: Collor de Mello, former president of Brazil, about to be fired. His speeches, like those of other feathered creatures, are musicalized on CD.

The art of copying human prosody in melodies turns out to be much more complicated than copying nightingales. The sentence becomes a rhythmic and capricious instrumental figure. In Venezuela in 1995, perhaps inspired by these zoo-political pieces, composer Alonso Toro created the famous No me perdonan, based on the farewell speech of another president who was about to be fired. The swan song of Carlos Andrés Pérez, with his slight tongue twists, became a classic; every word of his speech is harmonized in a magnificent, darkly romantic bolero – a tour de force. The record, named after the Pérez piece, opens with the cumbia of Agustín Loro, presenting conceptually powerful original variants of the recording concept inaugurated by Hermeto Pascoal.

Fifteen years later, Venezuelan guitarist Felix Martin’s Mr. Danger appears (www.youtube.com/watch?v=walbMQSxZnk) – another masterpiece based on a historic presidential address, where a finely wrought progressive rock clockwork apocalyptic laser scalpel operates a ruthless linguistic dissection on a most impressive piece of Chávez oratory. With the two previous presidents, Jovino Neto and Alonso Toro remain elegantly removed from mockery – they manage to elevate the level of ambiguity. Felix Martin reaches perhaps the highest point of semantic chaos with his montage of President Chávez echoed meticulously by the electric guitar: “You are a donkey, Mr. Danger.” (Chávez refers to George W. Bush as Mr. Danger.) In this game of musical reflections arises a certainty: our judgments judge us more than they judge others, as Sainte-Beuve put it. But with this “Mr. Danger” we are helpless. Here, “bestial” means that all aesthetic codes are smashed. Such is art.

Translated from Spanish by Rosemary Holland

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About pauldesenne

Composer / Writer
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