Monday, May 10, 2021

Very occasional quote of the day: ectopic pulse

Film editor Walter Murch talks about Richard Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries, conducted by George Solti, used in the famous “Charlie's Point” scene in Apocalypse Now. Late in post-production Decca denied the filmmakers the right to use Solti's recording of Valkyries in the movie, and Murch tells about trying to find another usable recording of the piece, and why none of them worked, and we learn some very interesting things about rhythm:

The greatest conductors and orchestras, and Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic were certainly in that group, are able to shape these minute adjustments to the rhythmic signature so closely that they are perceived as regular but in fact are not, thus enhancing the organic, living and breathing nature of the music itself. The problem with many of the versions of “Valkyries” that I rejected was that they were monotonously rhythmic: A metronomic signature had been decided upon and stuck to, regardless of circumstance. The result was a robotic stagger, a simulation of musical life rather than the real thing.

This is reflected in our intimate relationship with the rhythms of our own bodies, their heartbeat and breathing. We may think that most of the time our heartbeat is regular, but in fact it is not. It is constantly being micro (and sometimes macro) adjusted on a beat-to-beat basis, responding to neurological feedback between the heart, the brain, and the needs of the body for oxygenated blood. And the same applies to our rate of breathing, which is intimately related to our circulatory system.

The medical term for a healthy but slightly irregular rhythm is “ectopic,” and it is our largely unconscious awareness of this dynamic pulse which reminds us that we are alive. In cases of medical emergency, that closely monitored feedback between the heart and the needs of the body is often weakened or severed, and a machine-like regularity of heartbeat appears, signaling trouble or impending death.

Similarly, music that lacks this dynamic, quicksilver pulse is perceived, consciously or not, as lacking an essential spark of life.

Solti’s conducting of the “Valkyries” was instead a sublime example of what we might call ectopic music—a powerful embodiment of the living, pulsing heart and breath of Wagner’s composition.

It's worth stating again: you only get a metronomic, machine-like heartbeat when you're about to die

Read the whole article, it's fascinating. 


Nicolas Goussot said...

Hi Todd, thanks for posting this interesting excerpt.
Could you fix the link to the whole article ? It looks like it's not working.

Todd Bishop said...

Hey Nicolas! Fixed that, thanks for catching that-- I hope you're loving those Leons!

Nicolas Goussot said...

Yes they're great, i'm very found of that set !