Bastet's Lair

News, book reviews, essays, interviews, fiction writing, politics, and my view of the world

August 3, 2010

Time? What's Time? by Miguel Kertsman makes head spin

The musical production of Miguel KertsmanTime? What's Time?reminds me of the expansive musical experimentation of the old radio show, Musical Starstreams, that born-in-the-'80s program featuring "space music" and later, trance music, trip hop, and all sorts of exotic music that had no category. (Much to my amazement, Starstreams and host Frank Forest are still around and available by streaming from his Internet site.)
But Kertsman is so much more than far-out noodling in space-time. The Brazilan-born artist has performed with orchestras all over the world and is at home with a grand pipe organ as he is with electronic instruments. In the lush and fantastic Time? What's Time? I was expecting Philip Glass-like play with dynamics and time signatures, but that's just a beginning for Kertsman. He's all over the place, layering tribal sounds over a bed of ambient music, string ensembles, a full symphony, baroque singing, and even pop singing with lyrics. It could have been a mess, or just a head trip. And, well, sometimes it is. But mostly it works, sending the listener on fantastic flights of fancy that are best listened to at home and not in a moving environment such as a car. I'd hate to see the accident caused by listening to one of Kertsman's involved and wound-up musical adventures. Talk about distracted driving!
I'm not at all sure the listener is going to get as much out of the album that Kertsman intends with his ambitious liner notes (If he indeed wrote them: no other credit is given.) They give a long, and fairly pretentious story of "the Masters of Vega" who live within the Universal Music. They somehow make themselves known. Gravity tunnels form and humans must choose which ones to take. (Why?) The ones who take the right tunnels prepare new worlds….blah…blah…blah. I can't go on with this stuff. Nor could I follow it with the music.
But it didn't detract from the artistry one bit. There was some very intensive musicianship on display including great jazzy piano work on "Promises, Lies, and Deception," "The Drifter" just rocks out. I thoroughly enjoyed all the ethereal musical touches, whether they were electronic or orchestra, for Kertsman avoided that drifting-off-into-space sound. However, and I may just be idiosyncratic about this, I didn't go for the vocal work. It seemed too hokey for a musical production of this magnitude. The "Masters of Vega" were operatic in sound and they grated on my nerves. Let's keep opera in opera. I've never liked the sound of traditionally trained singers fighting off electric guitar or synthesized sound. It just doesn't work.
On the whole this is an astounding work, full of musical genius, and brimming with ideas that may make your eyes pop. On the downside, Kertsman may have tried to pack too much into one album. He's done plenty in his career, having produced Four Choruses & Lullabies,AmazonicaRhythmic Fission and Gravity Tunnel, so another album is not out of the question. I'd have been happier without the vocals. As for the liner notes, if you can follow them, more luck to you. If not, I doubt the listener is missing anything.
For those with PCs, his Web site also offers a Conyclism game (for a limited time) on his Web site. There also are more videos on the site.

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Article first published as Music Review Time? What's Time? by Miguel Kertsman on Blogcritics.

August 1, 2010

Angelology tries to answer puzzles of Genesis' giants

Passages in Genesis, Chapter 6, Chapter 1-2 , have puzzled theologians for centuries with some simple yet strange words: "The Sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair and they took them wives of all that they chose."

The "sons of God" were in Hebrew bene ha elohim, which is usually translated as "angels." Later, Genesis goes on to say:

"The Nephilim (sometimes translated as 'giants,' especially in the King James Version) were in the earth in those days, and also after that when the Sons of God came unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them: the same were the mighty men which were of old, the men of renown."

The words have puzzled thousands of readers throughout history, no less Danielle Trussoni, author of Angelology. An apocryphal Book of Enoch, popular in the Middle Ages, described a whole history of fallen angels — separate from Satan's flock — who left the Watchers God sent to keep tabs on humanity. Instead these angels mated with human females to beget a race of giants, also called the Nephilm (or fallen ones). And the Nephilim were so powerful and so lacking in human kindness that God had to wipe them out with Noah's Flood.

Danielle Trussoni
Enter, then,  Angelology.

Many books have dealt seriously with the subject of the Nephilim over the years, although not many authors wanted to consider that the beings were really angelic in nature. One excellent book asking the question of who these giants were is From the Ashes of Angels by English writer Andrew Collins. He produces pictures of totem-like giant heads from Mideast cultures and quotes copiously from the Book of Enoch (which can be read in The Other Bible). Clearly, he doesn't believe in mythic beasts, but he does believe there is something to the story of the Nephilim that gave rise to the Biblical passages.

So what does Trussoni create in her obviously fictional creation? Well, angels. Really, really bad angels. Her scholarship is top-notch and she researches the very beginnings the beliefs in the Nephilim. But where a writer like Collins allows archeology to take him to ruins in Turkey or to turn to myths of several Mideastern lands, Trussoni allows flights of fancy to create ruling families of Nephilm that populate Europe. (One family name is Grigori, which is Greek for Nephilim — all very clever.)

A few critics called Trussoni's work similar to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, but nothing could be further from the truth. This is an extremely well-written book, whereas Brown's work, with its three-page chapters, was largely pop trash.

Trussoni takes religion seriously, for one thing. She also is careful to to not only create characters, such as the protagonist Evangeilne — a young nun with a past that is revealed slowly and deliciously — who are believable and true to their cause. Their goal is to wipe out the Nephilim before the enemy wipes out humanity.

The author maps out villains who do what they must from their perspective. There are no pure killing machines here. The fallen angels have their own feelings and own needs. Surely the best villains are those who think they are doing the best, for who truly thinks they are wrong? Trussoni does a great job of getting into the heads of the Nephilim, repellant as they are.

The plot blends into the story of an aged nun, Celestine, who turns out to be a former anti-Nephilim agent. She supplies necessary narrative mid-stream when Evangeline's memories are lacking. All in all, the strategy works smoothly despite the change of narrator. Only the robo-killer angels at the end are a bit too much. And the apotheosis at the culmination strained credibility for me. Some might go for it, but I rolled my eyes.

Still, the novel stands head and shoulders above anything with the word "angels" that has appeared in the fiction category in long time. Too bad it can't answer what Genesis, Chapter 6 was talking about after all these years, for I hardly think Europe has been run by Nephilim for centuries. But then, after eons, no one can has a handle on the fallen angels yet. Why not Trussoni?

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Article first published as Book Review: Angelology: A Novel by Danielle Trussoni on Blogcritics.