Kolorádó, Home and Not-Home, and More

The Kolorádó Fesztivál is beautiful, with one big drawback, which I’ll get to in a moment. That said, I felt distinctly out of place there. The feeling of being out of place disappeared during the shows themselves and during some quiet hours in the kunyhó, the miniature cabin where I stayed. Also, the whole experience was made bearable, even joyous, by the shows outside the festival before and afterwards: the Platon Karataev acoustic duo at Papírkutya in Veszprém, and Felső Tízezer and Jazzékiel at Monyo Land in Kőbánya-Kispest.

Kolorádó is a fairly large but intimate music festival (with some theater and other arts as well) in the Buda hills. It has large and small stages, renowned and lesser-known musicians. Being able to hear Platon Karataev, Galaxisok, and Kolibri on three consecutive days was just great. Granted, not everything there went perfectly. Buses didn’t run often enough. There was only one phone-charging station in the whole place. Etc. Those, to me, are minor issues, things that can happen anywhere. My one big complaint is that there was a constant thumping of an electronic drum, in at least one location, almost all day and night, without any pause except for a few minutes here and there. Absolutely unnecessary—and a terrible interference with the concerts on the KERET stage. I am not against electronic music in itself—it can be brilliant and beautiful—but this was just loud and ugly. Turn it off. Or if you must have it, consign it to a few hours only. That is my one complaint and recommendation. Other than that, the festival is great.

Great, yes, but not for me. If I go again, it will be just for the concerts I want to hear. The festival is aimed at a distinctly younger crowd, and at people who come not only to listen to music, but to party through the night. I felt out of place for being older and for being by myself. Almost everyone I saw there was much younger (not the case at all music festivals here—Fishing on Orfű, for instance, has a mix of generations) and with someone else, or with a group. In fact, when I bought a Kolorádó bus ticket there on Thursday, the person at the counter asked me if I was working there. She may have asked this just to offer me a discount, but had I been younger, I doubt she would have asked.

But my feeling out of place has nothing to do with the quality of the festival; these are two separate things. It’s fine that it’s for younger people. And as I walked around and took it in, I discovered more and more of its wonders: the campfire open to everyone, the tents upon tents, the beautiful wooded valley with the bridge running over it, where people go to be quiet and read, the delicious food (which you have to buy, but still—while there, I had two burritos, a serving of fish and chips, and a gyros pita sandwich), the different performances happening, the brilliant music, the natural surroundings. (All the more reason to get rid of that thump, thump, thump!)

I stayed in a kunyhó, a kind of triangular miniature cabin equipped with a mattress, blanket, pillows, an LED light, and a lockable storage space. That was a great choice, because when the festival and hot sun were too much for me, I retreated there and read Pilinszky for hours.

That brings me to the next point. I had planned months before to attend Kolorádó and originally intended to be there the whole time. But then it turned out the the Platon Karataev duo (Gergő and Sebő) were playing in Veszprém, and if I went there first and stayed the night there, I could easily head on to Kolorádó the next morning. I was about to say “I could not have made a better decision,” but a still better one was to come. Anyway, the concert was beautiful, and I saw Zsuzsanna and Atti there and had a lovely stay at the Éllő Panzió.

At the festival itself, on Thursday I heard Mordái (very interesting but a little bit over the top for me), Platon Karataev (an exuberant and gorgeous show), Csaknekedkislány (whom I liked), and a few sound checks and bits of other concerts. On Friday, at the KERET stage, I heard Cataflamingo (my favorite new discovery from the festival—they were wonderful), the tail end of ДEVA (beautiful voice), Galaxisok (just fantastic), a little bit of Carson Coma (first time hearing them), and a few other bits and snatches. Then on Saturday I heard Kolibri (again at KERET) and took off immediately afterwards.

Let it never be said of me that I treated a Felső Tízezer concert as a “B-terv” (Plan B). That is not what happened. I had bought the ticket weeks ago, before realizing that it coincided with a few shows at Kolorádó that I was going to want to hear, particularly Ben Leavez. So until Friday morning, I wasn’t sure whether to stay at Kolorádó or to take off right after the Kolibri show and go hear Felső Tízezer and Jazzékiel at MONYO Land in Kőbánya-Kispest. But after a night of thumping electronic drums, my mind was made up, and I figured out the logistics, which were not simple.

It was good to hear Kolibri except for that thumping drum in the background, just a few meters away, through the trees. I almost went to ask them to turn it off just for this show, or at least to turn it down, but realized that the set was very short and I would end up missing too much of it. So I stayed still, and then took off.

To get to MONYO Land, I took the Kolorádó bus to the Hűvösvölgy stop, took the tram from there to Széll Kálmán tér, took the subway to Blaha Lujza tér in hopes of catching the special MONYO Land bus, realized I was going to miss that bus, took the subway back to Déli pályaudvar, took a train from there to Kőbánya-Kispest (with a transfer at Kelenföld), took a taxi from there to the venue, and arrived a little before Felső Tízezer took to the stage. The security guards kindly held my luggage for me.

I was so happy to be there. A mix of ages, a friendly open-air atmosphere. A feeling of home, though I had never been there before.

And Felső Tízezer, and then Jazzékiel, thank you for crowning these past few days so gloriously! I danced my heart out to songs I knew and loved, and songs I was hearing for the first time. “Majdnemország” was one of the highlights of the week. So were some songs whose names I don’t know.

I realized at the concert that I had heard László Sallai play on three consecutive nights, in three different bands: Platon Karataev, Galaxisok, and Felső Tízezer, the last of which he fronts. That is a first for me—I have never heard a musician play a public concert on three consecutive nights, not to mention in three different bands, not to mention bands that I love, and terrific shows to boot—and an astounding accomplishment from him, not just the three nights, but the years of work and inspiration that made them possible. So thank you, Laci and all your bandmates.

As for Jazzékiel, I had heard a few of their songs before, and commented on a song by their frontman, Péter Jakab, but the show drew me in completely, and I will be hearing much more.

Many thanks to Marianna and Gyula’s son Zalán for feeding Dominó and Sziszi while I was gone. The past few days were an important experience. I not only heard some of my favorite music and made some discoveries, but recognized that I was not at home at Kolorádó and that this did not detract from the festival itself. One’s feelings about a thing are not the same as the thing itself or its quality. And being not at home, I still managed to find my way into some beauty (quite a bit of it, actually). And then to come back home in stages, first to MONYO Land, then here, and last of all, after some sleep, to this quiet morning.

Song Series #13: “A soft spot for repetition”

At the ALSCW Zoom event in which I interviewed Zsolt and Marcell Bajnai and they gave a performance, I asked Marcell about the repetitions and subtle variations in his songs. He began by saying that repetition is part of the foundation of songs. His comment, and Kurt Vile’s song “One Trick Ponies,” which has the line “cuz i’ve always had a soft spot for repetition,” brought out thoughts for this piece.

It is difficult to think of a song that does not involve repetition of some kind. There are repetition of melody, rhythm, refrain. There are repetitions of phrases within a verse, of words within a line. There are repetitions of syntax, musical phrases, chords, syllables, single consonants or vowels, guttural sounds. Why is repetition, when done well, essential to a song?

Some of it goes to our childhood. Remember how babies love to play the same games over and over, hear the same stories over and over, sing the same songs again and again? You see them anticipate the next word, the next peak. The fun lies in the anticipation of that known and beloved moment. Adults know that kind of anticipation too. That’s partly why I love to return to favorite songs, poems, stories; I can’t wait to hear that phrase, to see that turn of words again.

Also, repetition allows us to take the songs into ourselves. Within a short while, we know them well enough to sing at least part of them to ourselves. Soon afterward, we know the whole thing, and after that, we have room to hear more details and to imagine the song being played in different ways. They become part of our waking and walking. There’s discovery too: the repetition allows us to hear the changes and variations, which would not stand out if the song as a whole were changing all the time.

I will begin with a classic form of repetition in a song: the verse/refrain structure, where the refrain repeats more or less exactly, and the verses change. (There are many songs where the refrain changes, where the verse contains repetitions, or where verse and refrain cannot be separated, but let’s start here.) The Velvet Underground’s song “Pale Blue Eyes” not only keeps to this structure but does something extraordinary with it. This slow, gentle song carries you along, verse through verse, refrain after refrain, building a story of forbidden love. You don’t realize the heartbreak until you’re right in the middle of it.

The refrain seems simple: “Linger on your pale blue eyes.” But what does it mean, even grammatically? Is someone lingering on the pale blue eyes, or are the pale blue eyes lingering on (enduring)? Is it a command, a yearning, or a statement? The phrase seems to float, like a subjunctive wish, sometimes coming closer to the present, sometimes receding away. Lou Reed’s voice cracks on the “on” itself, the word that is drawn out the longest.

The guitars, bass, tambourine, Hammond organ, and voice carry the song in such an understated way that you hardly notice the sound growing fuller. There are no dramatic shifts, just a sound and a story wrapping around you.

The second song I am including here, Péter Jakab’s “Te vagy az ellenség bennem” (“You are the enemy inside me”) has a different kind of repetition entirely: the repetition, over and over, of that single title sentence. I know nothing about Péter Jakab except that he is the frontman of Jazzékiel, that he released his first solo album, Nem fontos személy, in February 2021, and that Norbert Kristóf (who, along with Szabolcs Puha, recorded Cz.K. Sebő’s EP Junction) released a remix of this particular song. This kind of repetition is millennia old, part of prayer and incantation. Just as when you say a word many times in succession, it starts to sound strange or holy, so when you do this in a song, you become more detached from the words, and at the same time more involved in them. They take on a meaning of their own, apart from where they started out. This song is wonderfully surprising and haunting.

The next song, Leonard Cohen’s “The Partisan,” has yet a different kind of repetition: that of syntactic rhythm. I learned just recently, when listening to Jeffrey Davison’s Shrunken Planet program on WFMU, that Cohen didn’t actually write this song. (I should have realized this long ago; I have had the album Songs from a Room for many years, and it was one of the handful that I brought it to Hungary.) The song was originally written by Anna Marly during World War II. It is not clear to me whether she wrote the original lyrics herself, in Russian, or whether the lyrics were originally written by Emmanuel d’Astier, but the music was Marly’s, and the song became an anthem of the French Resistance. In the 1960s, Hy Zaret adapted it and translated it into English (changing some of the words and meanings). Leonard Cohen’s version is based on Zaret’s—but he simplifies the texture and adds a few verses of the French lyrics to it. If you listen to Marly’s, Zaret’s, and Cohen’s versions, you can hear how Cohen draws from both of his predecessors but gives the new version a soul of its own. (That’s another kind of repetition right there.)

The syntactic repetition is this: in each of the verses, the first three lines constitute an idea, and then the fourth line responds to it somehow. In Hebrew cantillation, there would be an etnachta trop, a melodic phrase indicating a semicolon-like caesura, between the third and fourth lines. Here you can hear it in the vocal pause, the stretch of rumbling guitar, between the last word of the third line and the first word of the fourth.

When they poured across the border
I was cautioned to surrender
This I could not do
I took my gun and vanished.

I have changed my name so often
I’ve lost my wife and children
But I have many friends
And some of them are with me

And so on, up to these aching words:

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come
Then we’ll come from the shadows

There’s also repetition through the translation itself, or the almost-translation; when the French verses come along, they seem like a distant memory, with the backing vocals and the feeling of wind. And just like memory and wind, the “wind” verse comes back in English at the end, and within it, the repetition of “wind” and “blowing.”

Speaking of translation, this past Sunday was Poetry Day in Hungary, and I had the occasion to think about how poems get translated into song. This often involves a kind of repetition: the songwriter might repeat words and lines that occur just once in the original poem, and may rearrange them somewhat too. This repetition and rearrangement in music gives something new to the meaning. One example of this is Marcell Bajnai’s reworking in song, released on Sunday, of Krisztián Peer’s poem “Félteni magadtól” (“Fearing Yourself”). It would be too complicated to explain and translate everything here, but I particularly like how he saves two lines until a little later in the song, and then again for the very end:

Minek simogatsz, amikor dicsekszem?
Szereted a vesztes ügyeket?

(Why do you caress me when I brag?
Do you love lost causes?)

This not only highlights the two lines, which have everything to do with the title, but also brings everything together. To me, it is supposed to be this way.

Cz.K. Sebő’s song “On a Fine Day,” whose lyrics are the János Pilinszky poem “Egy szép napon” in Géza Simon’s beautiful English translation, does something similar, though different, through repetition.

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.

After singing through the poem, the song returns to the four lines,

I will be overcome by crying,
and the old house, the rustle of ivy
will welcome me back.

That ends the song, so that those lines become the return itself: the return to the words becomes the return to the old house, and so I, the listener, have returned to the house without even realizing it.

This is just a dip into the topic of repetition in songs, which gave me a chance to bring up two old favorites, a recent favorite, and two that I heard for the first time this past week. I look forward to hearing them all many more times.

I corrected my translation of the Krisztián Peer lines on July 2.

To read the other pieces in the Song Series, go here.

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

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  • 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 February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish 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.

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