Sunday, 21 February 2010

Untranslatable artistic terminology

I have been trying to get a grip on my experience of seeing Eva Yerbabuena at the Sadler's Wells flamenco festival on Friday. I've discovered that flamenco operates because of, in search of, through and expressing something known as Duende. Duende is a terribly elusive term - I am in the middle of Jason Webster's book on flamenco which takes its title from the term to try and work it out.

Moreover, I've been thinking about other terms that defy translation, possibly in their own language. For example, Einklang. Was ist Einklang, mein Herr? Literally 'one-sound' in English, it's a term that's often used to describe the much sought-after homogeneity of ensemble that (for example) an orchestra tries to achieve.

Yet Einklang is more than this. It also suggests a not a unified sound but a unity of intent for that sound. One-sound, one mind for the appropriation of the sound. A term whose resistance to translation reflects the difficulty of putting it into practice.

Another is Saudade. Saudade is a term that covers the feeling of nostalgia - not only a longing for what has been but what may be to come and also, consequently, lost. More than this is that it refers to the particular quality of sound in South American singing in which the vocalist seems to be smiling through their song, however bittersweet the text.

This is an interesting - but sketchy - thread and I'm keen to learn about more terms such as these. In their turn, the terms hold out an idea which can open up a whole new field of experience, so they're worth pursuing in themselves.

Conversely I'd like to know whether terms exist to describe artistic phenomena with which we already seem aware. Is there, for example a term to describe the astonishing, yet possibly cathartic aggressiveness of certain corners of hip hop music? No doubt this shares something with the greyer, noisier extremes of thrash metal, although hip hop is more about the rhythm than a sensory surfeit of noise.