AUTHOR: IVO MARTINS
EDITION: Guimarães Jazz Journal #12 - Câmara Municipal de Guimarães/ Associação Cultural Convívio/ A Oficina DATE: November 2017
“Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards.”
In 2017, the understanding of the festival Guimarães Jazz implies an exercise of interpretation of twenty five years of history, while at the same time avoiding misrepresenting its iconographic power. A festival is always a precarious construction which reinvents itself every year in order to compensate its lack of future. The spectre of the end as failure hovers unceasingly over time, that being the reason why the event is always incomplete, and its future always uncertain. The simpler and clearer its programmatic premises, the more transparent and easily apprehended the festival will be. Debate is essential to the anticipation of its future, and the obstacles and difficulties experienced throughout the process of materializing the event offer a decisive contribute to its credibility. Guimarães Jazz survived because we figured out solutions and took balanced decisions favouring a relation of deep empathy between the event and its audience. The experience acquired during the last twenty five years allowed us to develop new ideas, adapted to new contexts. Uncertainty forced us to adopt innovative and unusual strategies which often surprised our enemies, who always acted furtively, undercover. The most resistant, and harder to defeat, were those hidden behind the masks of daily routines, common-place dissimulations, cliché rituals, mystification games, power’s vertigo, categorical criticism, ideological fanaticism and domination impetus. The festival had to face all kinds of ambushes within the fertile and slippery territories of local, national and international reality. The better things went, the more dangerous were the threats faced by the festival. Only through attentive vigilance were we able to anticipate future criticism, and such a permanent state of alert became one of the most effective means of resistance against the festival’s detractors.
Nowadays, culture is not exclusive of a specific artistic domain and is not bound to a territorial or sectorial reality. Cultural activities are propagated through wide spaces of creation in which the creative process is contaminated by all sorts of suggestions, information, commentaries, theories and opinions of different backgrounds and provenances. Culture discovers itself in the process of its own materialization. Sometimes it presents itself as a perfect and utterly finished idea, susceptible of being put into practice, extinguishing itself right after that; others, however, the cultural agent must make choices, correct mistakes, proceed to reformulations and updates. The change of paradigm determined by the emergence of a global digital reality led to the arising of new media and new forms of expression. Worldwide communication brought forth new ways of thinking and understanding ourselves and the reality around us. Within an indistinct ocean of waves of individual freedom, converted into micro-zones of emancipation circulating at different speeds, intensities and shades, only knowledge is discernable. Knowledge is the only conscious element, the base of all distinctions, both between individuals and collective entities. The survival of a cultural event is the consequence of a matured knowledge, a subjective blotch composed of tangent ideas, wide associations, oriented reflections and motivated contemplation. In that sense, imagination appears in today’s global and technological context as an enlightening and crucial element of positioning, a spectre of vitality framed within a vast movement of autonomy and independence, developed through a circular dynamics fed by multiples lines of flight. The machines which nowadays surround men may operate independently, but are unable of surpassing the limits of its technical conception. Even when backed up by technological devices, people must deal with the fragility of their idealizations. Imagination is fascinating because it is beautiful, slippery because unpredictable, intelligent because shapeless, inscrutable because dissimulated, obscure because exterior to real world. Communication has managed to overpower imagination but, on the other hand, is still incapable of determining the intentions behind human behaviour with rigor and precision. Imagination is the open door to alternative forms of emancipation, independency and refusal of power, since it is guided by the principles of individual freedom, autonomy and ethics.
Nowadays, societies develop by means of volatile causes generated within unstable and borderless zones of human interaction where everything changes at the speed of light. The contexts emerging from such an uncertain and irregular movement postulate a perpetual questioning of ourselves, an irreverent attitude towards what is easy and apparently stable. If the festival fails to recognize such a turbulent activity, equivalent to an endemic mutation of the system in which it operates, it may easily cease to exist. The world no longer understands the notion of stability, and we must undertake an effort in order to understand the consequences of that change. Contemporary reality refuses strictness of rules. In the past, visions where restricted to a narrow and predetermined landscape. The bureaucratic and orthodox knowledge of organizations believed both in the system’s continuity as well as in its balance. The environment favoured a stability of concepts, based on apprenticeship and memorization. Nowadays, those sociological parameters are in crisis. The new knowledge must operate under volatile and unpredictable circumstances, and its primordial mission is to promote a non-critical vision towards our daily routines, fomenting irregularity and oblivion. Jazz and its context have also suffered major transformations which cannot be perceived neither by the logic of its opposites nor by the manipulation of its antonyms. Those kinds of approaches are based on a premise that no longer exists – the idea that the territory in which they inhabit is steady and stable. The only possible solution to discover a praxis compatible with the irregularity of jazz’s context is by supporting cultural diverseness and artistic singularity, embracing enthusiastically their most disconcerting and unpredictable creations. These appear without notice and are impossible to anticipate, since they are the result of reason and intuition, calculus and impetus, restraint and audacity. Contemporary jazz manifests a strange dynamics which transforms it into a fractal music. In other words, every style or genre lives inside other style or genre, producing a sort of endlessly resonant dissemination through space and time. The myriad of musical ideas which are nowadays propagated at high speed through an infinite web of digital links presupposes a permanent mental effort in order to learn how to hear and read music and how to listen with images, therefore obliging us to develop a trans-visual sixth sense.
Our main task is to detect the situations, signs, warnings, manifestations or symptoms susceptible of suggesting new possibilities for the future of Guimarães Jazz. We must decode the correlation of positive or negative facts that will inevitably affect the festival, since we are aware that things do not last forever. The festival has changed, it developed its own identity, created a narrative, and its story holds its own risks. Life and death are both realities which follow the course of events, bringing forth a number of irreversible, and therefore irrecoverable, moments. In such circumstances, it becomes necessary to discover the adequate mechanisms susceptible of delaying death.
The festival’s triangular-shaped main lines of force, formed by the musicians’ reputations, the critical sense of the specialized audience and the public’s general opinion, has changed over time. The three abstract and impersonal entities forming the jazz system assume, when perceived as a whole, complex and relational forms which are always in mutation; the spectre composed by all the people involved in it manifests itself in visual terms, as if they were minorities emerging from other minorities. These small communities are subdivided, forming new minorities which, on the other hand, contain other minorities. The aggregate formed by all these correlations is condensed in an infinite and unfathomable chain of information ending in the mind of each individual. In this sense, the event has an intrinsically subjective dimension which prevents the manipulation and the subversion of its primordial meaning. Self-illusion and overconfidence, combined with the fear of failure, are susceptible of provoking an entropic and uncontrollable disorder.
Nowadays, the degree of dispersion of the audience’s interests assumes demographic and radiant features, therefore transforming the social landscape into a sparse reality in which propaganda discourses are now inadequate, even anachronistic. People are always seeking for new sensations by means of gratifying cultural experiences, which are nowadays abundant. Living in a reality saturated by an overwhelming number of solicitations and cultural offers, individuals easily change their interests, tastes and motivations, and are always shifting their focus of attention. Highly educated people seek events capable of providing them personal accomplishment, giving shape to their most intimate desires. Each event suggests a new correlation of moments experienced by the audience, and people usually adhere to the event’s general premises. Such a multiplying movement of facts and narratives generates a specific kind of knowledge base on a vast web of communication. People interact with each other within a chain of interests that evolves in spirals of transmission. Words, whether positive or negative, do not follow the same path, although they move in circles. In this sense, we may affirm that, within the relation engendered by the event’s dynamics, testimonies, ideas, opinions and thoughts are accumulated through a complex process of real-time communication. A critical judgement may feed the event as well as destroy it. In that sense, the survival of any event depends on a persistent work of recreation and invention, attempting to discover new forms of informal and spontaneous understanding between individuals who, in most cases, are unknown to each other and are constantly in motion.
The relation of the event with its audience, and vice versa, is practically a transposition of the relation of an individual person with music. The sound received by someone is reconstructed by the brain through multiple brain sub-systems which are constantly informed by memory, probability and expectations. In that sense, the reactions brought forth by music may never be considered excessive, since they correspond to different ways of thinking. In practice, each person creates his or hers own music and nobody hears or thinks exactly the same way as the other person. This is why jazz, and jazz concerts specifically, is such a fascinating phenomenon. If, at the end of each concert, every people in the audience were able of verbalizing what they felt during the performance they have seen, the differences in the way people receive the music and the consequent impossibility of reaching consent would become evident.
Communication processes suffer many interferences, provoked by the several different individuals involved in it. Each person has a different way of behaving and thinking, therefore defining the world as an aggregate of millions of distinct personal narratives. We may identify two different categories of individuals who, given their specific characteristics, can be classified respectively as handlers and facilitators. The first are guided by their most immediate interests, do not manifest empathy in their gestures and are often judgemental. They are basically selfish, egocentric, ideologically committed activists, determined, hasty and impatient; they try to arouse extreme reactions towards their behaviour; they interfere with people’s lives and are always trying to manipulate them in order to fulfil their ambitions. Handlers have great difficulties understanding the notions of cooperation and sharing. They are incapable of acting creatively and they position themselves always on the inside of the machine, that being the reason why it is hard for them to look at the outside. On the contrary, facilitators have no desire of control, are empathic, open and willing to discover new realities. They are slower and calmer. They do not feel the need of imposing their ideas or personal interests on other people because they do not suffer from compulsive ambitions of domination. They have the ability of getting out of themselves and out of the structure in which they operate; they believe in themselves and in the others, they trust themselves and the others, they cooperate with everybody. They work with other people as equals and refuse to impose their ideas and ideology to the world. Often positioned outside the machine and the system in which they interact, facilitators are often incapable neither of anticipating the risks inherent to their activities nor of predicting the moment when their ideas will cease to function. When machines collapse, seldom do they manage to save the innocent.
Handlers are usually victims of their own mental structure. They assimilate a few concepts and let themselves be guided by them. In their perspective, knowledge is an act of faith, and that is why they believe unconditionally in their own ideas. Handlers are unable to escape their own web of self-assurance and self-illusion. They do not understand that their necessity of power presupposes an irreducibility of concepts. In the act of manipulation, entropy subverts the process of acquisition of knowledge, therefore exerting a positive force on both good and bad ideas. Self-illusion and overconfidence are usually followed by rhetoric excesses. Handlers work their ideas to the point of its utter crystallization. Such an attitude is often called orthodoxy. Facilitators, on the other hand, perceive change in a completely different way; they accept change as a multifaceted, divergent, contingent, occasional and unpredictable reality, and they know how to take advantage from contradiction, ambiguity, volubility and incomprehension. A reality in transformation forces us to adapt ourselves to new circumstances and to question the nature of things, thereby bringing forth new inventions and discoveries.
The way how jazz is perceived has changed drastically, and such a change is not only uncontrollable, it is unstoppable. A facilitator follows that dynamic movement without interfering in it. He is like a surfer: he does not change the wave’s configuration, rather he takes advantage from it. Nowadays, with digital propagation of knowledge, the listener’s autonomy is almost absolute, and we may even say that jazz’s problem is related to the excess of music and information in the world. How do we distinguish what is interesting and what it is not, what is essential and what is secondary? The answer to this question presupposes a deep knowledge of the fact’s multiple dimensions, its formal structures and aesthetical categories, and such knowledge must be the result of a personal cognitive elaboration. One must not offer our mental garden to the care of a foreign gardener. In that sense, a facilitator is someone who takes care of his own garden, refusing to offer it to unknown hands.
Although still operating as parameters of analysis of reality, categories constitute obstacles to the interaction between local communities. Categories are only important when they allow us, for example, to understand a painting or a symphony in the context of a wider aesthetical movement. In that sense, categorization is not a harmful mental operation. However, categories are usually used as a strategy to establish differences between people and objects, as a negative mechanism of differentiation. In that sense, those who understand jazz according to the principle that there are effective distinctions between the different stages of this music are not completely wrong, but there is a negative effect associated to such logic. Categorization becomes a problem when the limits of generalization are surpassed, when people, distracted by their own interests and emotions, forget that a category is nothing but an approximation to reality, a mental construction, a useful compromise made in order to achieve mutual understanding. On the other hand, people often manifest a tendency to moralize their own categories, thereby diminishing the categories defended by the others, considered to be ignorant, and attributing sublime qualities to their own choices. The cognitive habit of perceiving every individual simply as an illustration of a category is a reminiscence of an anachronistic, non-global, obsolete world.
To accept a given categorization presupposes recognizing the validity and efficiency of a certain methodology of knowledge acquisition and the belief in the idea that everything is invested of an extraordinary symbolic meaning. But, in reality, what happens is that in art and in jazz every year we assist to the appearance of an infinite number of new projects, new data, new variables and new ideas. Such a dynamic reality, based on hybridism and multidisciplinarity, challenges the solidity, coherency and consistency of our previous ideas. Change is not immediately recognizable. How many times do we experience the sensation of having learnt something that changes forever our past perspective towards a given matter? When we confront ourselves with different ways of thinking, our mind expands and widens its competences, and we begin to understand other perspectives on the same subject. The festival would be something completely different had it not been created twenty-five years ago but in 2017, which means that its history is the outcome of a specific combination of contingent circumstances. Ideas arise from a dialectic contact with other ways of thinking and from the development of new processes of perception. All this happens naturally, and often even unconsciously. It can happen both in individual as in collective terms. In human societies, each person must accept rules that emanate from tradition, family culture, religion and politics, and individuals are obliged to deal with all these structures in order to survive.
Paradoxical as it may seem, however, today’s word of order, both in politics as in economy, is “freedom”. People are highly stimulated by the notion of freedom, although that notion is nowadays utterly emptied out of meaning, in result of its abusive usage in advertising as a solution to all our psychic problems. Joh Gray wrote that “when people overthrow a tyrant, they become free to tyrannize each other.” The belief in humanity as a freedom lover presupposes being prepared to perceive all human history as a total mistake.
Apparently, nowadays the world is much more democratic than it was in the past, despite democracy’s insufficiencies and imperfections. A society permanently online, living in a digital cloud, sails through contradictory waves, impelled to absurd directions towards uncertainty. In fact, the effects of globalization on economy, politics and art are unpredictable, although it is somehow evident that modern man is more insecure than confident or self-assured, and that reality seems out of control.
The power of the techno-cybernetic machine is immense and will increase in the future through the development of virtual reality and virtual mechanisms of control. In a world such as this one, we are obliged to change the way how we perceive and think about the festival. We may analyse it both ways. The first hypothesis is to look at it from the outside, as if the observer is on the eye of the hurricane, an apparent calmness that hauls floating birds and objects. The second is through a retrospective examination when the storm is over, in order to comprehend and anticipate the great wind’s positive or negative consequences. Nowadays, although there is an infinite amount of information available, there still exist several risk factors which are not immediately perceptible. When we lack the space and time to walk slowly, when speed becomes a condition of modernity, when everything must produce immediate results, ideas are inevitably less consistent. It is no longer possible to evaluate the cultural relevance of an event according to long-term civilizational processes. There is not enough time to measure the impact of things, because the world is moving too fast. Nothing is constant, and such an acceleration of time provokes uncertainty anxiety. The human being will not be able to survive in a world where the reference points are always changing and where the lifestyle standards are being constantly reconfigured. Change is the mandatory criterion. Composed of a virtual flow of information, contemporary reality is focused on opinions, apparent facts and games of symbolic power. Such circumstances provide humanity with an unprecedented degree of individual freedom but, on the other hand, are the cause of civilizational recoils, leading us towards a new form of obscurantism based on enlightened ignorance and fear, threatening to throw some of the major political and social achievements of the last three hundred years to the garbage can.
The interaction between individuals is fast and immediate, and everyone is equally capable of exchanging ideas, information and knowledge with the rest of the world; we were never so close to a situation where all our thoughts, desires and imaginary projections could be so easily materialized. However, everything seems to be more and more uniform, homogenous, standardized. If we are not careful enough not to let ourselves be hypnotized by all the advertising and rhetoric narratives engendered by an aggressive and voracious marketing system, we will become hostages in the desert of reality. It is very difficult to develop interesting and unpredictable ideas within a boring and emptied context eager for innovation, devoid of cultural, aesthetical or artistic references. To resist the status quo requires an effort of intellectual maturity; only then will we be able to escape the social and political “iron cage” in which we are trapped.
The invention of something new is practically impossible in contemporary societies, and this assertion also applies to Guimarães Jazz. The unknown works as a stimulus to new discoveries and, at the same time, as an obstacle to that same objective. Therefore, we must find a balance between what we already know and the new forms of reality yet to be created. The future is a mid-term, an indefinite time lapse between chronological present and the present-in-transformation. The future bypasses all predictions, since it is formed by a myriad of cultural, political, economic, social and ideological circumstances, and by variables interconnected in many different ways. The shape of people’s perceptions of reality is constantly changing, and all objects are like islands floating on an ocean of possibilities.
The ambition of those who try to explain the links between past and present in order to forecast the future is to establish stable and predictable conditions to develop their work. In most cases, however, what happens during a creative or artistic act is totally unpredictable. People dream of the future in order to endure the inclemency of the present. It would be of great interest to humanity if the fear and insecurity we now feel were adjured by a rational effort to understand and explain those feelings, resorting to the same strategies of natural phenomena analysis used by science to dissect our horrid visions of nature; or, in other words, if the cultural event was the subject of deep investigation about its meaning. However, in culture it is not advisable making scientific assertions about the past. We may analyse data, we may even create mathematical schemes in order to figure out tendencies; in the end, if we are analysing a music festival, those efforts will be always useless, because the knowledge produced is insusceptible of being extrapolated as undisputable visions about the future. In a sense, the meditation about the future is only important insofar as it helps us thinking about what the event is now and identifying its signs of vitality or decadence. People are fascinated by death because they feel desire for life; that’s why they try to anticipate the symptoms of a possible end. They think of events as bodies and manifest a tendency to believe that a precocious detection of its problems will allow them to interrupt its inevitable journey towards the abyss. Of course we all know that every organizational process is inexorably moving towards an entropic atrophy. Therefore, all meditations about its future constitute an attempt to delay its end.
However, the prophecies of extinction of an event such as the festival Guimarães Jazz are perilous, mere hunches within time’s void. Wise people usually draw their conclusions only when the end is near. The world is full of false obituaries doomed to oblivion. Even the most violent catastrophes are unpredictable because there are always random variables impossible to control. Despite all the knowledge at our disposition, the only thing we know is that mankind is trying to escape, running towards an unknown destiny, and that something will inevitably happen along the way. In Zygmunt Bauman’s words: “Being human imagination what it is, our current situation will not stop us from painting the images of what is there in the future waiting for us travellers. When the moment of proving or rejecting the accurateness of our paintings comes, future will already be converted into past. That is why history is a cemetery of non-accomplished expectations and frustrated hopes, and the plans of paradise are often pitifully transformed in guidebooks of hell.”
TRANSLATION: MANUEL NETO