Slow Music vs. Fast Food oder Ketchup auf den Dolomiten

by Filippo Faes

Many years ago, when I was travelling around the world, performing on cruise ships, together with other passengers I arrived on an island in Polynesia.I can’t remember which island it was – maybe Rangiroa or Papetee – but I do remember very clearly, that on the little boat that took us to the beach, many persons were moved to tears, when they saw the colours of the sea. The laguna was shimmering more transparently than the sky. As a welcome several fishermen had prepared freshly caught fish for us.

I looked at the fish, their unfamiliar and new forms, the dazzling colours, and imagined that they had just been swimming in this water, created by the very gods present in nature here, as part of a cosmogony that included every element of this world – so that perhaps each fish embodied a spirit, an ancestor or an apparition from that sea or from the legends of the islanders. To accept the gift of the fishermen and to taste the fish seemed to me like a real communion with the sea and with their foreign culture.

Next to me was a group of American passengers travelling with their children. Perhaps to please the children, one of the adults turned first to our guide, then to one of the fishermen and asked where to find ketchup. Fortunately, there was no trace of it, probably within a radius of several miles. But their behaviour had disturbed me and I wondered why. So why did these people want to taste a flavour that was probably a unique experience in their lives, weakening it by mixing it with what they could taste every day of their lives in Dallas, Atlanta or Toledo, Ohio?

At that time I preferred to let the question rest and happily ate my fish.

But a few years later the episode came back to my mind in a completely different situation. After heavy snowfall, the Giau Pass on the Dolomites near Cortina d’Ampezzo had just been reopened. The Giau is a mythical place for those who know it: You can hear the crackling of the fir trees that frame the mountains and then make way for rocks and cliffs, each of which could tell a story, about the lost empire of King Laurin, about witches, fairies or the legendary Fanes people. I wanted to spend the night there, in a lodge high on top of the pass. As I entered the cottage, I was immediately enveloped in background music, at a fairly high volume. It could have been any current American pop star, it was just the kind of music you get to hear in any airport or restaurant in Dallas, Atlanta or Toledo, Ohio. Why was it that here, where the sound of firs, rocks and our fantasy are unique and unmistakable, this globalized music hit me and overwhelmed me so badly ? And above all: what kind of music was that?

Suddenly I realized: it was ketchup, it was musical ketchup that is dumped day in day out over our soundscapes, in restaurants, in cafés, waiting rooms, airports and subways, in order to equalize, to unify and to extinguish all diversity.

In this sense, 99% of the commercial music that sets the rhythm in our everyday lives serves the mission of the big fast food chains. In fact, a hamburger always tastes the same, whether you eat it in Tahiti, where fish swim between corals in the world’s most transparent water, or in Florence, where you can taste spices that Lawrence the Magnificent already knew.

On the contrary, the philosophy of “Slow Food” underlines the right to difference, to the uniqueness and complexity of each tradition, from which a dish is born, to be enjoyed slowly and meditatively, to be tasted in order to discover more and more of the culture and peculiarities of the world from which it comes. Likewise, every piece of classical music is born as a hub at the centre of a network of historical, cultural and artistic events – and events in the life of the composer. To understand as much of this as possible, to broaden one’s horizons, to make music one’s own, to take as much time as necessary for it, and to get involved in our inner rhythm, means to follow a path of constant new discoveries, which becomes more and more miraculous the better one gets to know it. And what is even better, the ability to choose, to make new experiences, to acquire new knowledge, is boundless. To develop these abilities – to develop our pleasure in culture – makes us live more intensely, and it becomes a political act, rich in the influences and consequences of the world in which we live.

© Filippo Faes 2008