Friday, February 22, 2013

Pro Pacem: CD-Book projects show how combining mediums can create something new and exciting

However much I would love to write about books, CDs and movies here at TNM, if only to get the free media from the labels, that really isn't what TNM is about. But sometimes, when looking at the work being produced in one medium, one finds important lessons to be learned about another. That is why I'd like to talk about Pro Pacem, one of two recent CD-Book releases by Jordi Savall – one of the giants of the classical music world.

By my own count, Savall has produced around nine of these CD-Books, each on containing two or more CDs, and rather than producing a small booklet to explain the music, has turned the medium around and produced a larger, bound book, usually in half-a-dozen languages. My favorite of these is probably Le Royaume Oublié, La Tradédie Cathare (The Forgotten Kingdom, The Albigensian Crusade). The reason is that I love the music of the troubadours and have read many histories of the Albigensian Crusade (the invasion of the south of France and the destruction of that culture that began in 1209). That CD-Book contains three CDs inside a book over 560 pages long.
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Pro Pacem changes the equation a bit: it contains only one CD, while the book is 1192 pages in length. The book also includes three separately printed pieces of artwork. Because the text is in eight languages, the actual reading material is not as great as it first appears, about 120 pages or so.

"Pro Pacem is a new CD-Book project that makes a plea for a world without war or terrorism and for total nuclear disarmament," writes Jordi Savall in the introduction, "It presents a sound mosaic that takes the form of a living dialogue of spirituality expressive vocal and instrumental music from a variety of repertoires from East and West."

If the artist is unfamiliar to you, I would simply say that Savall is one of the world's leading viol players (probably the best known), an expert in early music, and the leader of Hespèrion XXI, an early music ensemble. I possess over 90 recordings by Savall, either in small ensemble, group, orchestra, or solo. Now 71 years of age, Savall has earned the right to do the kinds of projects that interest him the most.

The very considerable public and media presence that we can all achieve thanks to the internet, whether as artists or as more or less committed private individuals in the public sphere, forces us to take stock of the inherent responsibilities of that situation: to contribute to the knowledge that is necessary to combat ignorance and fanaticism, to speak out for justice and peace, to work towards the increasing freedom and solidarity of mean and women, to teach understanding and intercultural dialogue, in the realization that, as Joan Miró, another great Catalan painter, said, as artists (and, I would add, as human beings) "what really matters is not a work of art, but the spiritual journey of a man's life as a whole, not what he has done during that life, but what he enables others to glimpse and achieve at some point in the more or less distant future."
This passage from Savall's own introduction probably best explains his rationale for his large CD-Book projects.

What I find interesting, from a digital media prospective, is that these brilliantly constructed projects are based on two forms of media that are in decline: the printed, hardcover book, and the music CD. Yet, Savall is combining them both in these CD-Books in a new and interesting way.
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In most the large CD-Book projects, one of the goals of the book material is to explain the music. Much of the text on Le Royaume Oublié is devoted to explaining who the Cathars were, how the troubadours fit into the Occitan society, and the origins of the crusade called against the people of the south of France by Pope Innocent III. The use of texts and music then result in something far more than an enjoyable musical experience.

What is so strange then is that in this new era of digital media, so many publishers are determined to minimize the abilities of the new digital platform to combine and rearrange different mediums. Music magazines come as they are found in print, without audio files, without performances; movie magazines may contain trailers, but fail to understand that the new tablet platform allows the publisher themselves to deliver video content of their own making.

The CD-Book projects of Jordi Savall are an anachronism. At a time when publishers are producing eBooks, Savall is making hardcover books with no digital equivalent; at a time of the MP3 download, Savall is producing high-quality recordings on Super Audio CDs (though the music is available as a download, as well).

But could these CD-Books be done as digital media products? Of course, in fact, they could be improved in this way. If a book comes in five or six languages over 500 or more pages, a digital eBook could be in a dozen languages and not waste so much material. Further, an eBook-CD could also include more artwork, photography, not to mention video material. This is not to criticize Savall, but to point out that the potential of the new digital platforms is only just beginning to be explored. The enhanced eBooks, such as those being produced using iBooks Author, such as 360 Sound: The Columbia Records Story are nice first steps, but are primitive compared not only to what we can expect in the future, but to the work being done by Jordi Savall, using older mediums, but in such a new and brilliant way.

Addendum: technically, Pro Pacem is one catalogue number behind another new CD-Book project just released – that other one is Erasmus van Rotterdam. This CD-Book contains six music CDs, three of music with narration, the other three of just the music alone. Buyers of the CD-Book also can download the music with narration files in different languages, as well.