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Shot from film “24 Preludes for a Fugue”. 2002

You can kill people with a sound* 1

Marta Krivade

*Arvo Pärt's quote in an interview with Björk for the BBC's “The Modern Minimalists”

If Pärt, together with the Latvian Radio Choir, Sinfonietta Riga, Vox Clamantis and the conductor, Tõnu Kaljuste, would have had the goal of killing on November 1st, in the Riga Dome Church, they would have destroyed Latvia's most valuable genetic pool. May God and the Security Police forgive me for my dark thoughts, but it's been a long time since I've seen the biggest names (and spanning many decades) in Latvian culture, politics, fashion, architecture and business, all trapped in one room.

I've arrived a bit early and am watching people (no, I'm not ashamed of myself). Except for lying in bed and looking up at the ceiling, it's my favorite way to spend time. I catch myself thinking (the very colorful and differing styles of dress must be to blame) that just one truth and the lies warring against it have long since ceased to rule the daily lives of those present. The worldly success of their lives is dictated by the ability to handle opinions and arguments. The daily rhythm of your life and mine is currently ruled by the number of interpretations of the exponentially growing amount of data, information, truths and opinions out there and their violent struggle with our capacity to perceive them, which hasn't changed at all in the last two thousand years. The winners are those who are first to come up with arguments and then loudly explain them.

Once in a while, we simply sigh and accept this new order because it's impossible to prove anything, nothing can be entirely known, it's never possible to prove the opposite once and for all, everything depends on the way you look at it, nothing is absolute, and in the end, if you can't manage to keep up the discussion, you can always say: “everyone has their own truths”, “it depends...”, and “everybody has a right to live in this world.”

But the creations of Arvo Pärt are none of this “it depends on how you take it”. As I observed, there are only three ways to take it – the first group takes it and falls asleep, because they're tired or they'd prefer a more showy form of entertainment with various stimuli of sound and visual imagery; the second group takes it and tries to exhibit “some sort of decorum”; while the third group takes it and freezes in the face of uninterpretable art. In the words of Kaspars Rolšteins, some musicians can tear down a person's inner rhythm and sense of time.

Pärt's music doesn't blast or pull of the roof, it doesn't create any illusions about “opening your eyes”, it doesn't elicit unaccountable heartache that makes you weep or cry out: “It really happens that way in life!”, as do JRT's productions. It firmly and surely takes me by the shoulders and reminds me that I am Adam and that I have a relationship with God. And that what I am hearing is our conversation – the most important, most simple and most meaningful thing in the world that explains everything.

What luck, my status is Adam. What luck. A regular and meaningful Adam. “To me, “Adam” is a universal term that not only defines all humankind, but each individual, no matter the era, their social status or religious affiliation,” says Arvo Pärt. 

Scene from the film “24 Preludes for a Fuge”. 2002

The music of this Estonian composer living in Berlin, called “holy minimalism”, has become so popular in the last decade that critics are calling for a halt in using the Orthodox Catholic's compositions in movies, lest it becomes a cliché (Times and WindsThe BanishmentThere Will Be Blood,  The Good ShepherdCandyDead Man's ShoesThe Insider,  Fahrenheit 9/11 are just some of the latest films that use his music). But has Adam ever been able to stay within the realm of good taste? Whatever people may do with Arvo Pärt's music, currently it is best described as the artists himself says, as “every blade of grass holds the weight of its blossom”. Not a single sound in his works is larger or smaller, not even speaking about an accident or adornment, than it can be, or also not be. If even one sound of silence were missing, the dialog would abruptly end. If there had been just one sound too many, the dialog would become sentimental and nonconstructive. Don't make me justify this assertion, I can't.

In the above-mentioned interview, Björk says that in the Estonian musician's works, one hears an unending dialog between “something like Pinocchio, who is learning, making mistakes, hurts others, and the small Jiminy Cricket (a Disney invention – Pinocchio's conscience), who puts things where they should be.” Pärt thanks her for the comparison, but makes it more precise: “My music is two lines – one is my sins, and the other is their forgiveness. The first is more complicated and subjective, but the other – simple, clean and objective.”

Scene from the film “24 Preludes for a Fugue”. 2002

We get up, applaud loudly, and for the first time, I am doing so not because of the performance or of the stirring up of wonder, sentiment or charisma, nor for showing honor to the choir, orchestra, conductor or the inventor of tintinnabuli – the 76 year-old, lively man with godly talent and a slightly bowed back. I applaud a certain number of times: for each sound and each word.