Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Amsterdam, Sunday 16 August, 2009, Meeting with Astrid Surmatz, Part 2

Sunday 16 August, 2009
Meeting with Astrid Surmatz, Part 2

Kevin will be writing about our first meeting with Astrid Surmatz, but I’ll take some time here to talk about the second meeting, two days later. In order to explain, I must begin even further back, to the meeting we had with Wim Tigges. During that meeting, we had mentioned Doctorandus P (Drs. P), a well-known singer-songwriter who often performed silly and absurd songs. Wim thought that perhaps some of the music, or parts thereof, might fit our definition. He also was not sure whether Drs. P was still alive, because if he were, he would be quite old. We tried to find some notice of his death on the Web but could not. Kevin and I tucked all this away and were looking forward to hitting a record shop to inquire. Meanwhile, the nonsense gods (T Wang dillo dee*) continued to shine resplendent rays of runcible nonsense on our pates: it seemed that, this very Sunday, the famous and most-certainly-not-dead Drs. P would be appearing at a concert in his honor (he being 90 and too old to perform now) about two miles from the hotel! Astrid thought we might make a day of it and so invited me to her house for lunch, after which we would go to the concert. I could ask for no better plan, and walked about 20 minutes to Vondelpark, where I took the tram out to their house (alone now, because Kevin had left the day before!). At the end of the line, I found my way to their place, a lovely house filled, tip to turnspit, with books. I met her husband, Jasper van Merwijk, and of course her children, Ingrid and Ebba, whom we had met the previous meeting. We had a small feast in their back garden, as we talked more nonsense. Jasper and Astrid brought down books from their collection that they thought might be suitable, and we discussed. As Jasper is a musician, I talked to him quite a lot about the musical possibilities of nonsense, whether there can be a musical form of it (music, that is, without lyrics), and what form it might take. This is a puzzle that I have struggled with ever since having talks with Mark Sylvester, the illustrious and illusty composer for NiX, Kendra Fanconi’s play of snow and ice. As the Dramaturkey (or dramaturge, to those sensenobs out there) of that show, it was up to me to discreetly inject nonsense, which I did through various means, but in terms of the music, we went round and round without figuring out what it might sound like. It couldn’t be “experimental,” i.e., John Cage-ish, or sound poetry, or mere silliness, or something too dischordant… it has to be beautiful, and yet off-putting, paradoxical, absurd, yet melodic. That’s not asking too much, is it? I still have faith that it lies out there, waiting in the wings of Walhalla to be discovered…
Well, back to my lunch, during which time Ingrid and Ebba did some more performances, two of which you can see below:

This piece, which I believe is called “Der Trichter” or “The Funnel” (though I’m not sure!) is by Christian Morgenstern (of this I am sure). The second film is Ingrid doing it alone, and faster!



I also recorded the children doing a Pippi Longstocking song (from the ur-Pippi, the recently published manuscript that includes nonsense that the publishers and translators were not bold enough to include) and an Ernst Jandl piece, both of which I’ll have to get permission to post.

I left their house happy and stuffed with various and sundry, as we headed to the park on the tram. The concert was held on a stage surrounded by two small sets of stadium seating. We just barely found room to sit as the masses poured in. It seemed that not only Drs. P would be performing but some other group, perhaps even more popular with the young set. As I sat with Astrid, we wondered if Drs. P would really show up, and when the show started without his appearance, we began to be consigned to a P-less show.

A few minutes later, in the middle of a song, the crowed rose and everyone cheered as the Great Man, pile of white hair bouncing in the breeze, shuffled into the stands, shaking hands and signing autographs. Make sure to click on this photo to enlarge. He is in the front of the stands in the middle (with white hair)

In a mere two days, he had gone from dead to dead-ahead of me, in the other set of stands, and it was a great moment. It is not often that we are able to see in the flesh some of the nonsense figures (as I have been able to do a few times in India, thankfully, with Vinda Karandikar and Mangesh Padgavkar, in particular). Even though most of the songs were in Dutch, I could tell from the one song that they did in English that we might very well find some material here. Jasper had been kind enough to give me some Drs. P CDs, so I shall make an effort to include something in the anthology, and possibly have the music in the book’s website. After the show, we squeezed our way through the mob and went back to the cafĂ© in the center of Vondelpark, where the children went off to play again as Astrid, Jasper, and I continued to have in-depth conversations about nonsense—a great pleasure. As the park was closing, I said good-bye, with many thanks for being such kind hosts, and walked back home the long way around. I said my nonsense vespers, T Wang dillo dee, and laid down my weary noodle.

*This, according to John Keats, is the “amen” of nonsense.