Anti-gravity has taken the limelight lately: real hoverboard technology on Kickstarter, Interstellar confounding and astounding audiences in theaters, space programs in the headlines for better or worse. The premise of anti-gravity is a uniquely modern concept surrounded by equally modern gizmos that are beyond my understanding. But even hundreds of years before the rocket, man harnessed this power of taking people off the ground. Move over Wright Brothers, I’m talking about music!
I’ve found that a piece of music creates its own gravitational pull. With this gravity set, composers play with it, creating moments that break this pull. Anti-gravity is harnessed, taking the performer and audience out of their seats.
About two hundred years before the first space launch, Bach wrote the aria “Schlummert ein, Ihr matten Augen”, part of his church cantata “Ich habe genug” (BWV 82). Bach grounds us with a gorgeous lullaby. We think we have solid footing until 1:30 where Bach writes a firmada at a rest: in mere seconds we have lift off, floating off the ground. With fear of leaving the atmosphere, Bach resumes the lullaby and lulls us gently back to earth. He repeats this instance of anti-gravity throughout the aria. This gives an otherworldliness that compliments the yearning for heaven in this cantata.
From Baroque to contemporary pop, Kimbra’s “Love in High Places”, off of this year’s The Golden Echo, brings anti-gravity to the mainstream. The drums keep us grounded amidst the ethereal keyboards and vocals. Pockets of silence in the song take the drums away and the gravity with it, breathlessly levitating us to those high places. This only emphasizes when the gravity kicks in, creating head bobbing goodness as the groove reenters.
Wow, what power anti-gravity has on music! Pop and electronic artists today understand this power. I mean, the whole idea of “dropping the bass” is reliant on this play of gravity. Classical music is no different: What if performers of this music channeled this ability of music to lift us up? What if someone could show that Mozart and Mahler drop the bass too? The possibilities!
Igor Stravinsky said that music’s purpose is to explain man’s relation to time. I’d like to add to that: music’s purpose is to explain man’s relation to time, and the ground!