10 April, 2009

The End of a Naive Love Affair

I have recently come to realize that one man may only have so many love affairs at once. This is not to say that I have been a skeevy philanderer, just that I now realize that I tried for far too much at once. You see, I'm not the sort of man who is satisfied with limpid, lukewarm love affairs. No, I burn for towering, epic love affairs of grand scope and sweep: steamy and heaving and deep. The kind that steal your breath in thunder and inspire epic poetry and symphonies.

The above realization was inspired by a prior, long overdue, acknowledgment that there was one love affair that I had been poking along for far too long, too stubborn and proud to admit that the free-flowing passion had cooled into quiet despair and subliminal frustration. So, logically, I ended it.

Now she stands in a corner of the room, muttering balefully and gathering dust. Sometimes I have echoes of that former lust, the ecstasy of sliding my fingers gently along her smooth mocha neck, feeling her dulcet murmur against me as my hands slid farther below. But I don't care anymore, for I have more important things to do and can no longer afford to waste my time giving far more than I have ever received in return.

I am speaking, of course, about the violoncello.

Figure A: Baby got back!

I once believed I could wear many many hats at once. While this is topographically possible due to rather large size of my head, it is metaphorically unfeasible. I cannot be a punk rock bassist, industrial electronica composer, death metal guitarist, virtuoso cellist, oddly talented visual artist, polyglot, and console gamer all at once. Especially not when I am enraptured of and captivated by the hot and sweaty passion of Science. I realize that, to be a successful Scientist, I must necessarily place my love for Science above (almost) absolutely everything else. Science is demanding and voracious and will cuckold you in the split millisecond you flinch. But I don't care, I will love it anyway.

However, cello is also a demanding love. Of all the instruments I have ever taught myself to play, it has been by far the most difficult and time-consuming. And I simply don't have the time to devote to it anymore*. What follows is the story of my tumultuous love affair with the cello.

Figure B: Apocalyptica. Eicca Toppinen (far left) is a motherfucking genius.

I was inspired to pick up the cello in addition to other instruments by these guys: Apocalyptica. They were a 4-piece cello metal band from Suomi, now they're 3 cellos + 1 drummer. More specifically, I was inspired by the song: "Path, Vol. 2" from the album Cult, which is still, as far as I'm concerned, their most innovative and daring album to date. I was completely captivated by the sound they had managed to beat out of their cellos and weave into an entirely new music, and I damn near wore that CD out. Other notable tracks from this group that have stuck to me are "Wie Wiet" (Apocalyptica, remake of Quutamo), "Kaamos" (Cult), "In Memoriam" (Cult), and "Toreador II" (Reflections, listen for the cello solo after the violins enter and the subsequent riff).

Cello was also a lot more practical to get around than a double bass, although it must be noted that I miss the automatic hipness that one acquires when playing walking jazz bass lines on a double bass (I never owned my own).

Shortly thereafter I found out about Rasputina.

Figure C: Melora Creager, the brains of Rasputina.

Figure D: Zoë Keating.

I got to see Rasputina live when they were just Melora Creager and Zoë Keating and that drummer guy and I still don't know whether or not I was staring at their cello technique or their corsetry. Zoë Keating has also played with Imogen Heap and has her own solo project.

There is also a cello-alt-rock niche, sort of. To wit, this includes Cursive and Murder By Death.

But that's not all I tried to do with cello. I also discovered what an absolute motherfucking badass J.S. Bach was. Dude was the de facto inventor of modern Western musical tradition. I've found that most people remember Bach for The Well-Tempered Clavier and his solo cello suites (which, by the way, are REALLY difficult). However, when someone mentions Bach to me I immediately think about Lara St. John's recording of his "Double Violin Concerto in D minor", perhaps because I was at one point in a chamber orchestra that tried to play this. It is such a frenetic, complex, yet powerful piece of orchestration. I've heard people obsessed with productivity blather about entering the "flow state". To me, that concerto is the flow state, listening to it is like being back in the heady romance of the initial love affair. I have pulled those notes in the Largo movement from my cello, I tried desperately to keep up and not squeak my strings or hit my fellow ensemble members (it was a small stage) during the Allegro movement. I have played death metal in a band, but Bach was so much deeper and more urgent. With death metal you ask yourself about 2 minutes into any song "Wait a moment, what was I angry about again?", but with Bach, there's no question, you're just in the music, part of it, no longer just an individual but a voice.

Without Bach I would've given up on cello much earlier. However, the fact remained that despite what I wished were true, there was simply no good way for me to devote the time to catch up with my cohort who had been playing with lessons for 15 years already. I saw a fellow group of students play Schubert's "Death and the Maiden", and they fucking rocked it. Looking back, I guess I knew right there that cello would never pay off for me like that because I was too late to the party and had too many other loves in my life to devote myself as much as it required.

Somtimes I still feel the cello notes of classical counterpoint bubbling in me, but more often than not that's backed by an industrial hip-hop beat. I mean, I play bass guitar like I breathe, so I don't need cello.

I do, however, need Science. Come hither, my love!

*This does not in any way mean that Toaster is giving up music, just cello. I have every intention of continuing to make music with bass guitar and computer, and I'm sure as hell not going to stop listening to music. Toaster without music is like powdered water**.

**I actually saw a billboard for Powdered Water in Toldeo, OH. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a joke.


Ambivalent Academic said...

Bittersweet Toaster. This is exactly how I feel about my flute (and myriad other rather obscure woodwinds). Fortunately we've been able to establish an amicable "friends with benefits" relationships.

PhizzleDizzle said...

Ahh, yes, the musical affair. My piano is dusty. :(

But sometimes I play it anyway, she lets me despite my neglect. I'm sure, with time, your cello won't hold the end of the affair against you and you can play once in a while. The rendezvous may not be amazing, but it will be fun.

scicurious said...

I <3 Apocalyptica and Rasputina!!!!! SO HOT. And cellos are extremely sexy.

Candid Engineer said...

Dude, I totally wanted to partake in your survey (at left), but the question grosses me out, and 'none of the above' was not an option. I tried to ask myself, "Self, which would you be least likely to throw back up?" But I still couldn't bring myself to answer.

Comrade PhysioProf said...

When I was a post-doc, I routinely used our 4M NaCl to salt my soup at lunchtime.

The Paper Shuriken said...

I too fell in love with the Cello after listening to Apocalyptica.