A Musical Breakthrough: Cz.K. Sebő’s “Kesze-kusza nyár”

For about two years now I have loved Cz.K. Sebő’s music (and written about it here and elsewhere). But his new EP Kesze-kusza (Topsy-Turvy), especially the first song (“Kesze-kusza nyár,” or “Topsy-Turvy Summer”), has new depth for me in terms of musicianship alone. The guitar is meditative and rich—he way it lets the pauses ring, the way the notes come forward and retreat. This quality was there before, but it has reached a new level. The acoustic tone (he borrowed an exceptional guitar for this) is so beautiful that I can listen to the whole EP, again and again, for the sake of that sound. You can hear not only wood, strings, and air, but wordless thoughts. On the first song, the accompaniment by Soma Bradák (drums, percussion) and Benedek Szabó (bass) is so subtle that you might not even hear them enter. And then, when you listen to what they are doing, this adds to the wonder.

The lyrics are dreamy and evocative, the syllables so well timed that they sing themselves. This time the words are not hidden. I love the sometimes muffled singing on How could I show you the beauty of a life in vain? (and with that, the ambivalence over words), but this is pure and bare.

The melody may sound familiar; this song inspired Platon Karataev’s “Létra,” the magnificent theme song of the film Magasságok és mélységek (Heights and Depths).

The album is just under fifteen minutes long; it sustains its mood and beauty from start to finish. Three of the other songs on the EP are instrumental (solo guitar, with some effects); the third song, “Értelmet,” also has lyrics. I think the last song, “1012,” is another favorite along with the first. It surprises quietly; it explores and finds its way.

Fruzsina Balogh’s wonderful cover art evokes not only the songs but the experience of listening to the EP.

I don’t think this will be a final musical destination or anything close; his capsule boy album, now in progress, will take different directions. But it touches on infinity.

The EP (and especially the first song) inspired a poem yesterday. The poem isn’t “about” the EP or the song, but this music was a source. If anything, the poem is about holding back from an instant reaction to music, giving myself a chance to take it in. The fourth stanza alludes to the last paragraph on p. 67 of Zàn Coaskòrd’s book A Valóság, Hit és léleK rejtett csodája; the last stanza hints at Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking.” So I’ll end here with the poem.

Listening

Diana Senechal

Today I tried something new
(Or old in a new way):
Saying nothing.

True, many stints of null
Had marked my days before,
But this nothing had

A pluck to it.
Tuning, muting
Its strings, gearing

Up for the miracle
(As anything that comes
From zero is miracle),

It befriended the oval.
Later I thought of how
The hush had given me time

To hear space sing,
To see the clouds converge,
Break up, glitter, and

Spatter the long sands,
Daring me into a brief
Collapse of words.

The words resurged,
But with the glint of return
From a private voyage:

“Later I looked up the name
Of that beach whose waves
Rough-sang the sky.”

The Roads are Unfathomably Bumpy (Thoughts on Dávid Korándi’s album)

The album Az utak kifürkészhetetlenül rögösek by cappuccino projekt (Dávid Korándi) came out in mid-December (2022). It’s haunting, rousing, lovely, raw. It sends me in search of music it reminds me of (I can’t figure out what just yet) but also pulls me into itself. It tells a story of a world ravaged by locusts and coming to an end, and three friends setting out on a voyage in the middle of it all. Not all of the songs have to do directly with the storyline, but they all form part of it. The lyrics move back and forth between spoken word and singing; the music, between power punk pop, watchful wandering, and slow, soulful song.

As for what it evokes, the closest I have come is Blondie, Bowie, Hüsker Dü (New Day Rising), Slint (Spiderland), Grandaddy (The Sophtware Slump), the Breeders. Sometimes it reminds me of people playing music in my living room in New Haven or San Francisco, or of obscure albums that I somehow came upon and loved. There’s a songful ease to it; “nem arra” repeats and repeats, opens and opens, changes and changes. The album’s sound is rich and thrilling, ranging from solo voice and guitar to a full band, with Korandi, Gallus Balogh, Zita Csordás, Soma Bradák, István Hromkó, and Benedek Szabó. Cz.K. Sebő wrote the vocal melody for the fourth song, “promenade,” one of my favorites on the album.

I love the album as a whole: for the scary but calm (and sometimes anxious) story it tells, the musical roads it takes (listen to “bolognai nyár,” for instance, or “egy epikureus fulladása“), the solitude combined with companionship, the outspokenness. It’s outspoken not just because of its willingness to look disaster in the face, but because of its musical freedom and zest. I think you can listen to it without knowing any Hungarian and understand so much from the sounds themselves. Or you can run some of the lyrics through your favorite translator and get a vague idea of what they’re about. Or a mixture of both. But whatever you do, listen to “kezek.”

I first learned of cappuccino projekt when I started to listen to Cz.K. Sebő two years ago; Korándi played on “Light as the Breeze,” which I have brought up many times here. I heard him play solo twice: once at a benefit along with Cz.K. Sebő and László Sallai, and another time in with Grand Bleu. He is one of the early members of Felső Tízezer, and rejoined not too long ago. It also seems that life explorations, questioning, travels are a kind of musical practice for him. The album was in the making for five years; during this time he visited and lived in various countries, including Scotland and Czekhia. The ninth song, “nao vou nao amor,” was recorded in Portugal (and reminds me a little of “Elephant” by beloved 20 Minute Loop).

I hope this album gets many listens around the world. I can imagine returning to it with wonder in twenty years, just as I have lately returned to Grandaddy and others, but long before then, I look forward to many hours with it.

I took the photo at the concert at the MANYI on May 27.

Correction to an earlier version of the post: Soma Bradák, not László Sallai, is among the contributors to the album.

On the Mixtures of Happiness and Sadness, Again

A year and a few months ago, I wrote here on the mixtures of happiness and sadness. I would like to return briefly to this topic.

Lately I haven’t been attending all the concerts I would like to hear, since I have been busy and in need of more time for projects, thought, reading, and rest. But I have chosen well. This picture, taken by Zsuzsanna Győri, shows Cz.K. Sebő’s concert on Thursday at the Béla (a bar and restaurant on Bartók Béla Street in Buda). That’s me in the foreground. I love the picture because it conveys what it was like to listen.

It was one of my favorite Cz.K. Sebő concerts so far. In the first part, Sebő played covers of songs especially important to him—by Jackson C. Frank, Blaze Foley, Bob Dylan, and a contemporary songwriter whose name I don’t remember. Maybe someone else too. In the second part, he played his own songs, three of which were renditions of poems by Endre Ady, János Pilinszky, and Attila Jószef. He talked about the songs as he went along. At one point, during the first part, he mentioned that he doesn’t feel sad when playing these sad songs. Nor did I feel sad listening to them. There’s something in them beyond happiness and sadness, beyond them but involving them.

I loved the atmosphere there: the hushed audience, the company of friends and acquaintances, the brick and lighting, the knowledge that we were all there for the same music, each in our own way.

What’s at stake here is a music that plays out life itself, but in quiet concentrated form; where you hear the many voices of the river, city, sea. Where you hear a person bringing this music across: music of others, music of his own, music of his own with the poetry of others. Happy, sad, calm, turbulent, all at once (or at different moments but brought together). Full of influences but particular, unlike any other.

What’s killing us today (or one of many things) is the pressure to be one thing or another. Happy or sad, left or right, “with us” or “against us.” Safe and summarizable. A concert like this opens into a glorious danger where we don’t have to follow the standard rules.

December 8 and 9 (the day of the concert and the day afterward) were the first anniversary of Cz.K. Sebő’s first full-length album, How could I show you the beauty of a life in vain? (Its official release date was December 9, 2021, but it came out a day earlier, as happens at times.) I listened to it yesterday with joy. Joy is both happy and sad; it has room for both and more. It reaches ecstasy and grief. I think of the end of Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking“:

Whereto answering, the sea,
Delaying not, hurrying not,
Whisper’d me through the night, and very plainly before day-break,

Lisp’d to me the low and delicious word death,
And again death, death, death, death,
Hissing melodious, neither like the bird nor like my arous’d child’s heart,
But edging near as privately for me rustling at my feet,
Creeping thence steadily up to my ears and laving me softly all over,
Death, death, death, death, death.

Which I do not forget,
But fuse the song of my dusky demon and brother,
That he sang to me in the moonlight on Paumanok’s gray beach,
With the thousand responsive songs at random,
My own songs awaked from that hour,
And with them the key, the word up from the waves,
The word of the sweetest song and all songs,
That strong and delicious word which, creeping to my feet,
(Or like some old crone rocking the cradle, swathed in sweet garments, bending aside,)
The sea whisper’d me.

The top picture was taken by Zsuzsanna Győri, the bottom one by me.

Escape into Truth

Music at its best is an escape into truth: an escape from noise, distraction, circumvention into something that you recognize and know at your core but also learn right there and cannot fully explain. That’s what Cz.K. Sebő’s concert last night at the Központ was like. A full room, most of the audience seated on the floor. A hush. A quality of attention that you don’t often find. A rich, beautiful performance: his own songs (including favorites such as “Out of Pressure,” “Hart,” “Eternal Home,” “Wide Eyes,” “Debris,” and a Hungarian/English rendition of Pilinszky’s “Egy szép napon”) and an array of covers (of songs by Jackson C. Frank, Blaze Foley, Current Joys, Sebő Együttes/József Attila, and Damien Jurado). The covers were an act of gratitude and love, and an opening into music we hadn’t necessarily heard before, or heard in that way.

There was something I learned at the concert, but I can’t explain it. It was a flash of “You must change your life” stretched into an hour. But changing your life doesn’t mean doing everything differently. It might mean, simply, a new alertness, a new way of hearing things, or to borrow from Art of Flying, timeawakenness. It is nothing to take for granted; you have to build room for it and defend it against everything that would chip away at it or knock it down.

So I’ll end here with a beautiful recording and video of Damien Jurado playing “Abilene.” I love how the song ends with a question.

Highlights of the Week

One of the great highlights of this week was reading John Cheever. I bought a big collection of his stories; this was inspired by Benedek Szabó’s online recommendation of “The Swimmer.” Before buying the book, I read “The Swimmer” and two other Szabó favorites, “Goodbye, My Brother” and “The Country Husband” (all three are fantastic) and reread two, “The Enormous Radio” and “Reunion.” Once I had the book, I started opening up to a random place and reading that űstory; in that way I have read (so far) “Clementina,” “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” “A Vision of the World,” “The Music Teacher,” and (my favorite of these five) “Metamorphoses.” Although the female characters sometimes lack depth (and not always), these stories are both brilliant and addictive, a great combination for someone who doesn’t very often sink into reading for sheer fun. My reading is usually slow and preparatory; I am getting ready for class, translation, leyning, or something else. I enjoy that kind of reading, or I wouldn’t do it—but it’s great to have this thick book of Cheever and to know that I’m going to read it fast.

I have already brought up some of the other highlights of the week, but one of them deserves a repetition. Cz.K. Sebő’s instrumental song “4224” is gorgeous. Listen to it here. The cover art is by Fruzsina Balogh.

Two interviews were published or announced this week, one from last week, one taking place next Thursday. My Chametzky Translation Prize interview with Aviva Palencia, summer intern at The Massachusetts Review, can now be viewed on YouTube.

And next Thursday at 2:30 p.m. EDT (8:30 p.m. in Hungary), Matt Barnes and Keil Dumsch will interview me about my ten-year-old book, Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture. Everyone is welcome; to join, you need to be registered on LinkedIn.

Yesterday I had a beautiful day. I went to Budapest for two performances: first, Platon Karataev at the MOMkult, for the opening of the exhibition in memory of Tamási Áron. It was an absorbing and dreamy performance; I think “Tágul” was my favorite, though it’s hard to say.

Then I walked briskly to the Városmajori Szabadtéri Színpad to see the premiere of a musical adaptation of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days (in Hungarian: 80 nap alatt a Föld körül). It was lively, funny, and inventive, with colorful song and dance, umbrellas, digital scenery, and a terrific cast. The libretto is by Réka Divinyi, and the music is by the band Lóci játszik. For years I had wanted to see Around the World in 80 Days on stage, having read about a performance in NYC. Here are some photos.

And there was much more: translating, writing, running, preparing for the ALSCW conference and October trip, listening to music, spending time with the cats, thinking, walking around Budapest, discovering new places and buildings. And now the sun is setting, and I will try to rest a little. Shabbat Shalom.

Songs, Towns, and Time

Cz.K. Sebő’s new instrumental song “4224,” released yesterday, has so much in it that I don’t want to try to sum it up in any way. I love the sound-filled silences and pauses, the beguiling chords, the changes and returns, the acoustic guitar sound, the ending. It is my favorite of his instrumental (wordless) songs so far; three other favorites are “First Day Without,” “Maybe I Should,” and “Interlude II,” but I think this one takes a new musical direction. Fruzsina Balogh’s cover picture is beautiful too.

I first heard it on the road to Szentendre, where I went yesterday evening to hear Galaxisok. Have you ever arrived in a town you have never visited before, and gone off looking for the concert you are about to attend, only to hear them doing soundcheck in the distance and playing “Gyuri elmegy otthonról” (“Gyuri is leaving home”)? And then you know you’re heading in the right direction.

And what a great show it was—on the outdoor stage at the Barlang, with ivy behind them, fir trees, colored lights, and a thrilled, dancing audience. They played so many songs that I love, including “Janó és Dzsó,” “Elaludtam az Ikeában,” “Mondo Bizarro,” the aforementioned “Gyuri elmegy otthonról,” “Focipályák éjszaka,” “Húsvéti reggeli a Sátánnal,” “M6,” “Ez a nyár,” and others.

I left immediately afterwards (to get back to Budapest in time to catch a late train back to Szolnok) but look forward to returning to Szentendre soon.

And now for the subject of time, which the post title promised. It is common to think and say that “summer’s almost over,” “time’s running out,” and so forth, and to bewail how little we got done when time was in abundance. And all of that has some truth. Summer really does come to an end quickly, and most of us don’t get everything done that we plan or intend (including relaxation and fun). But I actually did a lot: not only translating, writing, getting ready for October, but taking care of the cats (who went to the vet on Friday for shots and flea treatment), seeing friends and family, running every day, cleaning my apartment thoroughly, going to some wonderful concerts, biking around Tihany, leading Szim Salom services, and going to Szentendre for the first time. Moreover, the phenomenon of time running out is just mortality, which there’s no getting around anyway. Yes, make the most of “your” time, but is it really yours, and is there any way of knowing what “the most” is? Sure, set goals and deadlines, but also realize that such control is partly vain, and we’re always capable of being slightly wrong about what’s important.

Meanings of Craving

George Szirtes’s wonderful and bracing essay “Landscapes of Desire” in the second issue of The Continental Literary Magazine sent thoughts twining through my mind. He asks about the differences between words with overlapping meanings: desire, craving, lust, passion. He writes:

One might have a craving for food or drink or tobacco, for possession of an object, or for something more abstract, like comfort, or fame. The word implies a form of dependency in that one cannot live without, or cannot resist, the thing craved. In any case, it suggests something potentially illicit. Maybe, in English, it is simply because the word crave rhymes so neatly with the word deprave. It is excessive, intemperate, well beyond the supposed Golden Mean.

Desire is nobler than that. We all claim to understand and indeed to glory in it. It takes the best out of the notion of passion. Passion and desire are the driving forces of a heroic, if potentially tragic life. But craving? Does that not imply something slavish? Isn’t there something a little humiliating about it?

He goes on to discuss the poems in the issue of the journal in terms of the words he brings up. According to Szirtes, desire is elegaic, aware of the loss it contains; craving is aware only of itself and the moment.

Yes. But not quite.

I use the word “crave” repeatedly in my essay “To Crave the Edges of Speech: Reflections on Cz.K. Sebő’s New Album,” which was published in the online version of the same issue of The Continental. After reading Szirtes, I see that I should have defined the word a little, or maybe justified my use of it. I knew what I meant by it, and no, it isn’t quite as enclosed and delimited in my ear as it is in Szirtes’s. Instead, it’s sharp, compelling, and possibly pure.

There’s a kind of spiritual craving where you want something so badly that you are set in motion willy-nilly, even though you may have many reflections on what is going on. There is nothing humiliating about this. It can be surprising and enlightening. It can open up years of learning.

Hermann Hesse writes of this in Demian: “If you need something desperately and find it, this is not an accident; your own craving and compulsion led you to it.” In the original German, this reads, “Wenn der, der etwas notwendig braucht, dies ihm Notwendige findet, so ist es nicht der Zufall, der es ihm gibt, sondern er selbst, sein eigenes Verlangen und Müssen führt ihn hin.” Now, “Verlangen” could be translated as “longing,” but “Müssen” suggests urgency, compulsion. So the sharpness of craving comes through.

Or take Walt Whitman’s “Song of Prudence,” with these lines: “Whatever satisfies souls is true; / Prudence entirely satisfies the craving and glut of souls, / Itself only finally satisfies the soul, / The soul has that measureless pride which revolts from every lesson / but its own.” Here’s a paradoxical idea: that you can crave your way into prudence.

That is exactly where the beauty of craving lies. If we only had longing, desire, etc., we would sit around and do nothing but contemplate the yearning and the loss. Craving sets a person in motion, which can be toward the good. Yes, in craving you are carried. You do not necessarily know where you are going, even if your object seems clear. Some of the best changes in life happen because of this.

It has happened to me with music. I remember distinct times over the decades. Music touches on everything and goes past everything; its motion brings everything along with it. I have been hurled by music. Into the unknown, into new ways of life.

There is nothing humiliating about being hurled into uncertainty. Craving may be certain and specific in some ways. But in others it’s a complete unknown. What you think you want may only be the catalyst.

Craving is immoderate, yes. But even moderation must be taken in moderation. Only excess (not all kinds of excess, not excess to the extreme, not excess that blocks out thought, not excess that treats others badly, but still a certain kind of excess) allows a person to tip over, and sometimes this is the best thing that could happen.

It has its dangers too. People seized by craving can discard responsibilities, histories, awareness of others. But danger lies everywhere, even in the safest of things. It is possible to live too carefully, too courteously, too containedly. Moderation, too, has its excesses. A certain kind of craving keeps them in check.

But that’s not really craving you’re talking about, someone might say. It’s more like a state of spiritual urgency. Well, then, to settle that question (or to unsettle it), let’s look up “crave” in the beloved Online Etymological Dictionary.

Old English crafian “ask, implore, demand by right,” from North Germanic *krabojan (source also of Old Norse krefja “to demand,” Danish kræve, Swedish kräva); perhaps related to craft (n.) in its base sense of “power.” Current sense “to long for, eagerly desire” is c. 1400, probably through intermediate meaning “to ask very earnestly” (c. 1300). Related: Craved; craving.

What is prayer, if not craving of a sort? Where would craft come from, if not from a certain craving?

Art credit: Michael Pickett, The Old Piano.

An Award, A Poem, and Two Concerts

Twice in my life (so far) have I received a translation prize. The first was when I won the Scott Prize in Russian upon graduating from Yale. The prize was in recognition of my senior thesis, which consisted of translations of contemporary Russian poets and commentary. The second came just the other day: an Honorable Mention in the Jules Chametzky Translation Prize, for “Scissors,” my translation of Gyula Jenei’s “Olló.” This Honorable Mention was even more honorable than it may appear; usually this prize has only one winner, and this honorable mention comes with a cash award and an interview. But beyond that, the poem is one of my favorites in Gyula Jenei’s work, and I am fond of the translation too. I am honored that the MR editors and judges loved this poem.

“my grandmother will have other scissors too:”—the poem begins—”smaller, larger, / sharper—but most of all i will love the pair that has, below / the rings, on the wide-opening, ornate handle-necks, / the likeness of a man and woman embossed.” You can no longer make out the faces, but the grandmother claims that they belong to Franz Joseph and Sisi. The poem continues with the grandmother contemplating the two heads through her “one-templed spectacles” and telling stories: of the boy’s own family, of the coronation of Charles and Zita, “heaps / of tales she happily tells.” While she is telling her tales, the boy cuts something or other with the scissors, and the faces come close without actually touching.

only the rings make
a metal clap, and the blades scrape, and then the past
dissolves into the future, and then they bury my grandmother,
and i forget her stories, all i remember about them is their
having been, and only the scissors have remained, and
the sewing box with the thimble, then the thimble got lost too.

It goes on from there to my favorite part, which I won’t quote here, since you can read it. The poem is full of surprising gestures. Here’s a physical object that has remained over the years: the scissors (which I have actually held in my hands, yes, the scissors of this poem)—but they are about as vague as memory itself, since the faces have been worn and polished over time. But through this wearing down, some essence comes through: a statement, a retraction of sorts, and a final image and truth. The poem has tenderness, memory, forgetting, a sweep of history, and a pair of scissors whose clapping and scraping you can hear even if you never get to hold them.

I remember translating the first draft of this poem during a long break in my school day on a Wednesday morning (I think it was a Wednesday, in the fall of 2018). I remember thinking: How do I go back into the world after this? But I did, and it worked out well.

So, that’s what I wanted to say about the award and the poem. As for the two concerts, yesterday I had an exceptional evening. First I went to hear the Platon Karataev duo at the Esernyős in Buda. What a beautiful concert it was, and what an attentive audience. Several times they mentioned how much they appreciated the audience’s quiet attention. Here’s a photo taken by the venue’s photographers, I think.

Sebő then had to rush across the Duna (and southeastward a bit) to the Akvárium’s Petőfi Terasz, where he gave a wonderful Cz.K. Sebő/capsule boy concert. Many of us likewise went, as audience members, from the first concert to the next. There I did take a picture. But much better pictures and videos were being taken (see below); if the official video ends up on YouTube, I’ll include it here too. I loved hearing the songs and sounds find their way: a song he wrote that morning, some songs that are changing over time, some songs still in the works, songs ceding to sound and sound to songs, songs leading into songs, all together forming something joyous, thoughtful, and melancholic that I could get swept into alertly.

At that concert, the (very large) audience was listening closely for the most part, but there were a few loud people as well. Two young women planted themselves in front of me—when they could have stood to the right of me, blocking no one’s view—and proceeded to talk and gesticulate. The woman sitting next to me (around my age or a little younger, and intensely listening too) motioned that I could sit closer to her and see. I was grateful for that. The Petőfi Terasz, being outdoors and free, draws a mixed crowd, some there for the concert, others for entertainment and drinks. The music and listening won out; it was a beautiful show. But I don’t understand people who talk loudly without even bothering to move to the side or the back. (Update: From the photos I later realized that one member of the noisy pair is the lead singer of a band whom I have never heard live but three of whose albums I have. That’s even more disappointing. In the future I’ll just ask noisy people to move or be quiet, whoever they may be.)

So this leaves me with the thought that attention—in the form of reading, listening, conversation, or something else—isn’t just one of the best things to give or receive; it’s also essential. Where would any of us be without it? Isn’t despair the sense that no one is paying (or receiving) attention? And if we can’t give attention to everything (at least I can’t), isn’t it good to have a few people, things, and occasions to devote it to?

I added a little to this piece after posting it. The last picture is by Dávid Bodnár, courtesy of the Akvárium Klub Official. You can see the whole album here.

Update: Here’s the video of my Chametzky Prize interview with Aviva Palencia, a summer intern at The Massachusetts Review.

Song Series #18: Hungarian Songs I Missed While Abroad

I have returned from the U.S. It is good to be back. Many thanks to everyone who was part of the trip in any way: the person who fed Sziszi (update: I found Dominó and brought him back inside today!), the friends and family I saw in the U.S., the events I attended (including a play, a Kandinsky exhibition, a musical, and a songwriter showcase), all the staff at the various places I visited, the wonderful morning minyan service at B’nai Jeshurun on Thursday morning (which feels like this morning, not yesterday).

I had Hungarian songs in my head throughout the trip, not always the ones I would expect, but no big surprises either. These are background favorites, I’d say. Songs that hold their own whether I am listening to them or not. In this piece, I will not be translating the songs, but I think they come across (in large part) through the music itself.

One that kept coming to my mind was Cappuccino Projekt’s (Dávid Korándi’s) “Vidáman se.” Too hard to explain in a short space, but sad and exhilarating at the same time. It captures life somehow. Here it is. (I later updated the link; this is the reording that appears on his debut LP, released in December 2022.)

Another was Noémi Barkóczi’s “Dolgom volt” (approximately “I had something to deal with,” narrated by someone who has been out of touch with others for a while). Barkóczi sometimes seems to me (slightly) like a Hungarian Joni Mitchell in the 2020s. I love the true-to-life lyrics, the chords, the rhythms, the swooping and diving of the vocals. Here’s the video.

Galaxisok was in my ears most of the time. Which song? Hard to choose, but let’s take “Focipályák éjszaka” (“Football Fields at Night”), since I listened to it in the rental car several times, and there’s this live video.

Felső Tízezer’s “Semmi pánik 2” (“No Panic 2”) figured in there somewhere. Here’s their delightful infomercial-style video of the song.

A song that I played for others (from my phone, not on an instrument, unfortunately) was Kaláka’s “Hajnali rigók” (Dawn Thrushes), a poem by Lőrinc Szabó, which they set to music. They have a whole album and songbook of bird songs (and many, many albums on other themes: bicycles, various poets, musical instruments, psalms, and much more). I can’t wait to hear them again in August. They are legendary; just as Russian literature, it has been said, came out from under Gogol’s “Overcoat,” so contemporary Hungarian song comes out from under Kaláka.

On a tangent: At Arlene’s Grocery on Tuesday, I heard Noah Chenfeld play his song “Orioles,” which was inspired by the rhythm of an oriole’s call. I like it. Although it isn’t Hungarian, I’ll include it, because it was part of the week, and because there’s something interesting going on here. I look forward to more of his music. (My favorite music of the evening was SugarSugar—especially their song “Cruel Things“—that’s another tangent, but you can listen to them and watch their wonderful “Unbreakable” video.)

Lots of Platon Karataev songs played in my head, some of which haven’t been released yet. From Partért kiáltó, “Csak befelé” (“Only inward”) came up again and again. Here’s a gorgeous performance of the song by the Platon Karataev duo, whom I will get to hear on Tuesday.

And to finish off, Cz.K. Sebő’s musical rendition of Pilinszky’s “Egy szép napon” (“On a Fine Day,” in the translation of Géza Simon) played itself persistently, as did other favorites from his work, including “Pure Sense.” I have brought up “On a Fine Day” many times here, but there’s always room for repetition. Who knows: maybe he will play it tomorrow night.

On A Fine Day
(Egy szép napon)

János Pilinszky, translated by Géza Simon

It’s the misplaced tin spoon,
the bric-a-brac of misery
I always looked for,
hoping that on a fine day
I will be overcome by crying,
and the old house, the rustle of ivy
will welcome me back.

Always, as always
I wished to be back.

Shabbat Shalom and a happy weekend!

For other posts in the Song Series, go here.

Fishing on Orfű: Day 1 (June 29, 2022)

I bounded out the door around 9:30, took a delayed train to Budapest, missed my Pécs connection, did a post office errand and had a Vietnamese lunch, took the next train, got to Pécs, went running around (sweating from the heat and the day) in search of an ATM machine, having realized that I had to pay the hostel in cash, found one, ran to the hostel, checked in and dropped off my bags (I have a tiny private room for four days, perfect under these circumstances), caught the jam-packed festival bus, and rode up into the hills and down to Orfű with some fifty jovial, excited people. Then went through the ticket check, got my festival pass, and headed up to the “A tűzhöz közel” (“Near the Fire”) stage to hear my first concert of the festival, which will stand out among them all.

Sebestyén Czakó-Kuraly gave a solo Cz.K. Sebő/capsule boy concert: the words “dreamy, melancholic, joyous” are only tangents, since the music has so many interesting elements and is so moving at the same time. It brings up new thoughts, new emotions. Sebő seemed fully in his element. And there, in the forest shade and early evening, the large audience was wrapped (rapt) in these songs and sounds. They had classical influences (one of them was slightly Arvo Pärt-like, and in others I heard hints of baroque music); they alternated between Hungarian and English and a language of their own. They have a feeling of exploration; I don’t know whether any improvising was going on in the moment, but they keep searching and diving and returning.

After this, I heard two terrific concerts: Lázár Tesók and Felső Tízezer. The Lázár Tesók crowd was a little bit too rowdy for the music, singing drunkenly along and out of tune, but it was all in good fun, and people were having a great time. There was love in the air.

In between this and Felső Tízezer, I walked down to the lake. Lightning was flashing in the distance. Here you can see ducks passing by.

And the Felső Tízezer show was punchy and beautiful. They played old and new songs, including some of my favorites. The audience knew the songs and was involved in every moment of them. During ”Semmi pánik 2” we were all anticipating the ”pont pont pont”—it was a great moment, with fingers flying in the air.

After that, I caught just the final two minutes of the band Kaukázus, enough to make me curious to hear them again. I also heard a minute or two of Vad Fruttik, but not enough to tell me whether I want to hear more.

The evening’s rollickings were far from over! From here, I went down to the bus stop, hoping to catch a festival bus back to Pécs, but not realizing that the next one wouldn’t be until 1 a.m. A lot of others were waiting for a bus too, or for something or other. It felt a little like a Waiting for Godot situation. The trolley came along and people (including me) got on it, some of us for no reason whatsoever. Some people were riding it to another part of town, but the rest of us had gotten on just to board something or other. So I rode it around the lake.

Not having had dinner, I returned to the festival for fish and chips, walked around a little, and then headed back to the bus stop, where a large group of hopefuls had again assembled. This time, it was close to 1 a.m., and the bus did indeed arrive.

It’s good to have a room to return to after all this, even a bare-bones one. To be able to sleep, and then relax in the morning and type out memories of the previous day. Today I am keeping it short and sweet: going just for a few afternoon hours to hear Felső Tízezer and then Balaton on the water stage, followed by Szalai Anna and Dorozsmai Gergő (together) at the “fireside” stage, then coming back to the hotel to tune in to Continental Subway. That may seem odd: tuning in to a radio show from a music festival! But I regretted missing it last week—David Dichelle played Galaxisok’s “Ez a nyár,” among many other interesting things—and this way I can pace myself. Tomorrow will be quite a full evening, with Middlemist Red (whom I have never heard before), Barkóczi Noémi, Kaláka, maybe another band or two, and then Platon Karataev. And then Saturday will include a saxophone concert, Elefánt, some unexpected things, and finally Galaxisok, the last show I will hear before heading back into Pécs, getting some sleep, and then, the next morning, returning to Szolnok (where I will regather my wits and pack for the U.S.).

What makes Fishing on Orfű different from other festivals? The wonderful music (well, that’s to be found at other festivals too, but my Orfű memories stand out so far); the hills, lake, and greenery (lots of shade, lots of tall conifers); the good cheer; the people of many ages; the knowledge that we’re here for the music; and a spirit of adventure, among other things. As I have mentioned before, lodging (and even camping) here can be tricky; you have to know the options and plan well in advance. Yesterday I released my camping ticket through Ticketswap (at the original price); someone bought it within ten minutes. I was happy to know that one more person was now able to set up a tent. As for my hostel room, it’s quiet, comfortable, and secure (and just a few steps away from the buses and trains). Now it’s time to leave it behind and head off to the festival again.

  • “Setting Poetry to Music,” 2022 ALSCW Conference, Yale University

  • Always Different

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In April 2022, Deep Vellum published her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

  • Recent Posts

  • ARCHIVES

  • Categories