Music We Care About #3

“Natacha Diel’s Bahnhof
by Ray Evanoff

What is striking and special about Bahnhof is that it is made up of parts that do not quite fit together: punctuating clicks and sputters, lush sine tones, shrieks, blips, cantabile consonance, fragmentary phrases, a mechanistic onslaught of syllables, raw gears and alien tones unsoftened by the human voice. These disparities are sewn together before our ears. A synchronicity emerges, remarkable because each part retains its self. There is no meeting in the middle, because there is no need to. A latent accordance passes to the fore. Cake is had and eaten too. The humans, aliens, and machines of Bahnhof coalesce in their own time and in their own way, amiably following strange and inexpressible laws that are plain enough to be adhered to without intending; there is no effort or coercion, just a surprisingly comfortable unfolding alignment. These parts oblige their union, because it allows them to retain their individual quirks. They can fulfill their own impulses for motion and for cohabitation. They come to share in their selves, to shuffle together and embrace each other. Bahnhof‘s inhabitants move together in fits and starts under the pull of each others’ gravity. They mutually amuse. They travel together, enjoying their differences.

Bahnhof‘s trajectory, an asymmetrical arc, provides a scaffold for its unruly assortment to assemble. The landscape transforms into new integrations, permutating to cast new light on its constituents and how they can interact: rhythmic interlocking, pitch correspondences, coordinated outbursts. The piece builds easily to an apex of understated density, accruing rather than culminating, before waning, transformed, comfortably bidding its prior disjunctions adieu. It at first gives a tender resignation, and then even tenderness resigns, leaving the voice and the machine holding hands together, bonded by their passage while still steadfastly disparate. It is a happy resolution that (because it?) maintains their inherent friction, a fairy tale for a fractured world, a love letter to imperfection, a venue for the understated to reveal that it is, in fact, fantastic.

This is music that makes me happy to be alive, which is a fine thing for music to do.

This is music that makes me appreciate the moment it gives, which is another fine thing for music to do.

Another reason Bahnhof is special: it neither disavows nor highlights crassness. It allows it into the fold, just another variable in the churning equation, content to be along for the ride as its own bristling self. It is welcomed untempered; it is allowed to speak, and taken seriously. This crassness in turn provides consonance with a foil that allows both to sing with special lucidity–luminosity and grit coequal participants. One highlights the special character of the other, making it clear that each is not a given: the music does not have to be this way, there are other alternatives, and here are a few versions that prove this. Bahnhof delights in showing the other side of the coin. It shines because it does not discriminate.

The piece knits itself together through the parts it has available. It improvises connections, building its unlikely alliances. It does not hasten to make these pieces fit. It is happy to hold their awkwardness for a time. It does not shy away from bumps in the road or incongruencies. Like its namesake, Bahnhof is a meeting point, an interchange for various trajectories. A locus of forks in the road, whose travelers thereon dance together by virtue of occupying the same space. It is a lovely view.


Bahnhof, performed by Maria Stankova.