Wednesday, September 2, 2009

9/11: The war on terror and destruction of humanity

I play the piano. Krystian Zimerman is one of the greatest pianists alive today. He is the epitome of finickiness and has a reputation for non-compromise. He is an artist of the first magnitude. There are only a few pianists in every generation who define the pinnacle of artistic excellence - he is in a pantheon with names like Horowitz, Rubinstein, Padarewski, Cliburn or Kissin. If you appreciate classical music, you can get an idea of his talent and skill by listening to my favorite piano piece by Chopin here.

In case you were wondering what this has to do with 9/11, Mr. Zimerman's Wikipedia entry contains this short snippet: "Shortly after September 11, 2001, Zimerman's custom-made piano was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York City to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. The US Transportation Security Administration decided to destroy his piano, claiming the glue smelled like explosives." [Emphasis added] This was a $200,000 instrument but that doesn't quite capture the full extent of the value of the instrument. From another online article,

Since 1989, Zimerman has insisted on travelling with his own instrument, a Steinway concert grand to which he has made a number of modifications. As a schoolchild in Katowice (he was born in Zabrze, Poland, in 1956) he earned pocket money by helping out in a piano repair workshop.

"I started to wind strings, to repair parts of the mechanism. Poland at this time was closed off from the rest of Europe. It was the time of the cold war. You couldn't dream of getting spare parts for a Steinway. But we had plenty of Steinway pianos from the prewar era. They just needed to be repaired. So from a very early time, a piano is not just an instrument for me. I know its problems, I know what can be done to change something, and I'm not afraid to do it."

Zimerman has refined every aspect of his Steinway in order to bend it to his will, interchanging separate actions according to which repertoire he is performing. His narration would sound obsessive if he didn't couch it in such logical terms.

"You can slide out the keys and the mechanism for making the strings sound, and replace it with another one. And these keyboards have particular features. Like a human being. Every person is different, and has different ways of behaving and speaking."

Zimerman impregnates the hammers that strike the strings with specific chemicals, works on his piano's voicing and sound, has devised his own method of transportation, and permits no other technician to touch his instrument.

"I have invented my own ways of doing certain things, which are connected to the sound and its colours," he says. "It depends what the piece requires. Ten years ago, I would say that I adjusted the piano to the composer. Now I would go a step further, and say that I adjust it to a particular piece.

"Actually over the past few years, I have been moving away from sound. On one hand I'm very flattered that people like the sound of my piano. On the other hand I don't care about the sound. I'm looking for an adequate sound. If the piece is ugly, I want an ugly sound. I want the sound to do what I want, not to be beautiful. I've seen pianos like that. I sat down, the piano was beautiful, and the moment I wanted to change something, the piano was still beautiful, and I hated it — because the piano didn't listen to what I wanted to do. My piano is incredibly flexible. It almost dreams with me in the concert. I have an idea, and I don't even have to verbalise or to think how to do it. The piano reads it directly from my soul."
So, we are talking about 12 years of artistic modifications to one of the most complex musical instruments invented by human ingenuity destroyed in one act of bureaucratic fascism. In 2006, the TSA repeated its mistakes by holding up Zimerman's piano for 5 days, which impacted his concert schedule. Zimerman is one of the most well-known pianists in the industry, having recorded 10's of piano albums, hundreds of concerts, but the TSA wants to destroy or confiscate his instrument for days on end because it "smells funny".

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, ... That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, ... That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness... Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; ... But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, ... [Emphasis added]
Maybe you don't care about pianos or pianists or classical music. Maybe you're more into NASCAR or bocce ball. But, for people like me, classical music is why we're human, it's why we're here. To create new art, widen the culture, and enrich the lives and experience of humanity. The US government is a proto-fascist state. How many priceless pieces of genius must be destroyed, how many works of art confiscated, how many musical experiences cancelled, how many irreplaceable moments of time destroyed by lobotomized fascist bureaucrats operating in the name "security" before we rise up and say enough is enough?

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