Monday, August 02, 2010

Language as art - Audible...Visual...

I had a thought a few years ago, after attending a performance of Bach's Goldberg Variations, that it should be possible to do something similar with language. To take a theme, develop it, and then spin out a number (30? - oh dear) of variations on it. Not something infrequent in music, but in writing?

I wasn't aware of such being done before. And, for a while, I forgot my maxim: "There are only six good ideas in the Universe." It's true, there are - else what is Noah's Flood doing in the middle of Gilgamesh, I ask you?

Well anyway, after much deliberation - in truth, once I got over being scared of the idea - I began a series of flash pieces on this blog, tagged with GoldbergVariations so I can keep track of them.

Of course, no sooner had I begun these than I learned of Raymond Queneau who, after attending a performance of Bach's Art of the Fugue, set about writing a simple theme - and producing 99 variations on it.

The result is a book titled "Exercises in Style". The book was written in French and translated into English in the 50s by Barbara Wright - who knew the author. It is witty, erudite, crazy-making. There's even a variation that is a Haiku. How could I not love it?

So, yet another "not-unique" idea, KjM. Maybe so, but I am in great company.

In great company, even more than I thought. Right around the other side of the globe, Rayna M. Iyer who blogs at Coffee Rings Everywhere began a series of Drabbles (exactly 100-word stories) using a painting by Van Gough - Cafe Terrace at Night 1888. Each one is a gem. To read the eight of them - go here.

There is a pleasure I take in not being unique - this time. I like the idea of inspiration, modes of expression, approaches, from one art form being applied to another. Will it all work? Who knows?

What's the Bard have to say on this - "Things won are done. Joy's soul lies in the doing."


  1. You ARE one of a kind, sir.


    I would much rather read your interpretation whether you think it's unique or not. :-P

  2. Thank you 2 for your comment. My variations are different to the Exercises and different again to the Drabbles. That's fine.

    That others, including well-known French authors, thought along the same lines as I means, in the words of a good friend of mine, I'm on the right track.

    Or, at least, some track.

  3. I agree with 2, you are one of a kind. :) Keep writing your GoldbergVariations!

    I thought there were ten good ideas in the universe? Maybe the other four are from Altair...

    Rayna's drabbles are exquisite! I love her blog!

  4. Laura, I'm well aware I'm one of a kind! (I can give you the names and addresses of people on two continents that offer prayers daily to deities so things remain that way.) :D

    Agreed, Rayna's drabbles are exquisite.

    And I am glad you enjoy my GoldbergVariations.

    10 good ideas? - an Altair-nate 4? It's all possible.

  5. Of course it was not unique to you - there are only six of them floating around, for crying out loud. ;)

    I knew about "Coffee Rings", but the other was new to me. I can't imagine doing 99 variations on a theme. Wow.

  6. Thanks Jon- glad to be able to point you in the direction of something new. The idea of the 99 variations, and the execution in some cases, is hilarious.

    I'm guessing my GoldbergVariations aren't hilarious...