Finding Beauty...

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Finding Beauty...

Krystal madkins

"That was beautiful!" When I make such an exclamation, nine times out of ten, it is in regards to some musical composition or cinematic work. I appreciate many other things besides music and film but I rarely use the word 'beautiful' to describe them; other adjectives like 'nice,' 'pretty,' 'interesting,' or 'good' come to mind but hardly ever 'beautiful'. It seems that a word so loaded (at least for me) is reserved only for describing those things that I enjoy and movies. Anyone who truly knows me knows that a large amount of my time is spent drinking in music and movies, appreciating the beauty of various works and trying to understand how it all comes together in such a beautiful way.

As I write, I realize that in earlier discussions surrounding beauty that I expressed an opinion that I no longer hold. This was the generally shared opinion that knowledge can distract away from beauty. After analyzing the survey results and reactions along with the readings, I stated, like so many others that knowledge or familiarity diminishes the beauty of objects. I realize that when I reached these conclusions I was thinking in terms of artwork, like paintings and sculptures, and revered places. Things that I appreciate but rarely get as riled up about as with film and music. With these two areas, though, I find that learning about the intricacies and history behind sometimes amplifies the beauty. This is especially the case with music.

The rock band 'The Strokes' have produced numerous songs that I am in awe of and consider beautiful amongst other things. One song of theirs that stands out in particular is "Reptilia". I was amazed by the song the first time that I heard it and continue to be amazed by it which makes the idea that familiarity leads to finding something less beautiful false for me.

Listening to the song without any analysis and purely for enjoyment led me to the conclusion that I was listening to a great work of art...a real beauty. But analysis of the song in terms of composition and meaning also led me to see the beauty of the song.

The song starts with the steady beat of the drums before quickly being joined by the guitar and after a few beats, another guitar and the bass. The instruments all come together in a smooth, intricate twine with the bass and the drums providing the strong yet subdued underlying beat and rhythm. The guitar comes out as the most prominent of the instruments without, however, overpowering the other instruments. Suddenly the other instruments drop off as the guitar plays over the low beat of the drum. Seconds later the bass rejoins to offer its low rumbling to the song as the guitar and drum continue to accompany rough voice of the singer. With the strike of the cymbal the lead guitar comes in to add the final layer. A few short beats later the rest of the instruments cease to play, leaving the guitarist to strum an edgy, lulling chords over the sudden silence. This describes, ineffectively, only the first minute or so of the beautiful interplay of the instruments in the song. Only through hearing the actual music can the beautiful nature of the song be captured.

Along with listening to and recognizing how the instruments all come together to form the music that can be identified as beautiful even without all the analysis is the contribution that the meaning of lyrics provides. The song is open to interpretation and may vary from listener to listener. In my opinion this song with lyrics such as,

Yeah, the night's not over
You're not trying hard enough,
Our lives are changing lanes
You ran me off the road,
The wait is over
I'm now taking over,
You're no longer laughing
I'm not drowning fast enough,

is about a relationship that is near its end because of mixed feelings and misunderstandings. Knowing (possibly) what lead singer, Julian Casablancas, is singing about in such a raw and emotional way over the urgent, upbeat playing of the instruments only adds to the beauty of the song. All the elements come together to make the song one complete thing of astounding beauty.

Nina Simone's version of "I've Got it Bad and That Ain't Good" is also a song that I find to be beautiful. I've even been brought to tears a number of times by the song (I'm looking at you Elkins!). The instruments accompanying Simone in the song are not as complexly wound together as the Strokes' "Reptilia". It is Simone's voice, which she manipulates like a tangible instrument, which offers complexity. The simple, mellow music provided by the piano and percussion offer an appealing contrast to Simone's strong and emotion laden voice which constantly quivers and trembles and soars. In what I find to be the most affecting section of the song, the piano's keys sound softly and the drums provide a slow, serene and gentle beat as back up singers suddenly begin to coo lowly. Nina Simone resumes singing in her trademark deep quaking voice, her voice soaring and thinning out, the sound of threatening tears in her words of:

And when the weekend's over
And Monday rolls around
I end up like I start out
Just crying my heart out
He don't love me like I love him
No, nobody could
I've got it bad
And that ain't good
Lord above me, make him love me.

Reading the words would most likely alert the reader to the melancholy of a lover spurned, of the lover's desperate, unrequited lover. These words, which are indeed very poetic and touching, do not have nearly the effect (in my opinion) as they do when Nina Simone sings them with so much fervor. The words, the music, Simone's voice all combine to create beauty that would not have been possible without each of the elements interacting. As with "Reptilia," the song continues to be beautiful to me even after multiple listens and analysis of how the song comes together. Regardless of how much I hail "I've Got it Bad..." the true beauty of the song will continue to escape the reader unless the reader becomes the listener.

Cinematic presentations also have the rare ability to move me to use the word 'beautiful' as an adjective. As a lover of movies, I have watched hundreds of movies and enjoyed a good number of them. There are some films, however, with particular shots, scenes, or sequences that stick out in my mind. These parts of the movie contribute to the overall beauty of the film and are themselves made beautiful by numerous components. Similar to the songs mentioned earlier, the beauty of these piece are made up of the very moving picture itself, the various techniques used to make the image on the screen possible, and the meaning of the scene or sequence.

An example is a scene from Mira Nair's "Monsoon Wedding." In the scene, two of the secondary characters, Dubai and Alice, who will eventually marry by the film's end, meet for the first time. The scene unwinds slowly, almost in slow motion, as a classic Punjabi song about love in the air plays. Alice, a servant for the family of the main female character, is picking up cups and marigolds from the gazebo being prepared for the wedding. She picks up one marigold that is undamaged, tosses it up in delight, and with a smile places it behind her ear. Dubai, the wedding planner, is on the phone talking to his mother underneath a doorway of the gazebo being decorated by marigolds. The scene returns to normal paced motion as Alice rises. While Alice is leaving the gazebo she bumps into a distracted Dubai and drops the tray with the glasses and marigolds. The scene slows again as she bends down, apologizing, to pick up the broken glass and flowers while Dubai distractedly grimaces and writhes. She suddenly looks up at Dubai's face and appears taken back. Dubai seems not to notice with his attention held by his phone conversation and pain. The motion shifts back to normal speed as Alice rises with the tray and leaves the gazebo. Dubai ends his phone conversation as marigolds from the top of the gazebo's entrance fall down around him. One lands on top of the phone he has just placed in his shirt pocket. The scene seems to slow again as Dubai slowly picks the flower from his pocket, studies it, and puts it in his mouth. As he chews the marigold he turns to look at the off-screen, retreating Alice with deep curiosity.

The constant shifting in the speed of motion lends the scene a dreamlike quality that contrasts with the ordinary actions of the characters. The lingering shots of Alice's taken aback expression when she first sees Dubai and of his delayed look of curiosity, the presence of the marigolds, and the magical quality of the background music work with the altering picture speeds to create a beautiful scene that is difficult to articulate. The scene, with its clash of realism and dreaminess, is all the more beautiful with the knowledge, gained later in the movie, of the relationship that the two will grow to have and the symbolic importance of the marigold to that relationship.

As I look back over what I have written, I have reached another conclusion about myself and the things I find beautiful. While the examples I listed varied in form (music and film) and in genre (rock and jazz), they all share a theme of romance and human relationships. These relationships are often so complex that while there are similarities when singing or making a film about them, there is room for many varying interpretations and expressions...which can be analyzed and studied, helping to appreciate the overall beauty. As new information and revelations continue to flow into my mind and assemble together to help me better understand the things I find beautiful, I am almost led call the process beautiful.

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