Sofia Gubaidulina and THE Scream

On Friday, when I learned that Chechens were suspected in the Boston marathon bombing, I found my thoughts turning to composer Sofia Gubaidulina.

I mis-remembered many things about the one Gubaidulina CD in my collection, which my father gave me sometime in college, I think, after both the bassoon and Russia were well developed themes in my life.

I remembered that Gubaidulina was Armenian; in fact she is Russian and Tatar. I remembered this CD, which consists of the “Concerto for Bassoon and Low Strings” and a couple of other chamber works, as primarily a soothing soundscape, except for one shocking moment. In fact, much of the work – no, all of it – seethes cloudily, an ocean simmering.

I did, however, remember that one moment correctly. A little more than halfway through the fourth of five movements, the bassoonist, set upon by the low strings in the title, lets out a most unexpected scream – a scream of anger, of not-belonging, of inability to deal. Of rage against the machine. As I recall, I was doing homework, not really paying attention to the music in the background the first time I listened to this, when this scream came out of nowhere, and freaked the crap out of me.

The past week was, as noted ad nauseum by everyone, including, most effectively, the Onion, a horrible week. It was also a week that I couldn’t rip my eyes away from, no matter how hard I tried. As the New Yorker elegantly put it, “As always in America, what actually happened near Boston braided entirely into what was being shown and said, so that the two became inseparable.” The story and our reaction to it became one.

My own reaction was, beyond horror, to do a great deal of thinking about alienation and displacement. (Are they the same?)

First, I took the purported involvement of these two Chechen young men as a manifestation of how the nastiness that man has inflicted on man stretching back into the past builds and influences more such down the road. From Stalin’s deportations of the entire Chechen people, to Russia’s wars against the Chechens in the 1990s, to the terror campaigns carried out by Chechens more recently, it is all too easy to see how two such, displaced in the world, could have very little affection for it.

Second, I find echoes of their displacement inside myself. What is this world I am living in, where things like this have become so routine? Where I can’t tune out despite my disgust with myself for paying so much attention to it? For, I worry, the more attention we all pay to these things, assuredly the more of them will happen in future? Surely I’m not the only one feeling this way. Or, as someone tweeted regarding a more normal piece of news this week regarding three planets like Earth being discovered, “When can I move?”

In short, I wanted to scream. And so I remembered Gubaidulina, and found this CD, and wondered, listening to this music written almost 40 years ago, itself an echo of other things long before – why is it so hard for people to find a place they belong?

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