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Music critic Stephen Holden wrote a recent review, in the New York Times, of a new documentary about the history of gospel music, “Rejoice and Shout.”

Here is a trailer for the film:

From Holden’s overview, it looks like an excellent travelogue through influential phases and names in this proud and extraordinarily influential tradition. Holden gets bonus points for theological sophistication when he writes that “African-American gospel is a continuing dialogue between roots on one side and technological innovation and secular influences on the other.”

He wonders aloud whether, while watching the film, you might (like, presumably, him) “feel that music is God, or if not, a close approximation of divinity.” This musement has not haunted theological research on music nearly enough. This is a question also raised by Stew in his recent postmodern, post-soul African-American rock musical, “Passing Strange,” when he has the cast sing “Music is the freight train in which God travels / Bang! It does its thang and then my soul unravels / It heals like holy water and it fights all my battles.” He also has the lead character declaim, in a revelatory moment in church: “Church ain’t nothin’ but rock and roll.” (My post on these quotations from “Passing Strange” is here.) Here is part of the scene:

In this scene “Passing Strange” celebrates its deep debt to gospel, and shortly afterward, when the “Pilgrim” equates church with rock and roll, transcends it. (Or to use Holden’s language, “secularizes” it.)

Tom Beaudoin

Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, USA

Zoe Keating: Don’t Quit Your Day Job

Posted in: Fandom,General,Practices,Teaching by David Dault on June 4, 2011

One follow-up to the earlier post on Zoe Keating.  Here she is giving a five minute “tech talk” about the lifestyle of a touring rock musician.   Her advice, in a nutshell, is “don’t do it, become a songwriter (or an iPhone app developer) instead.”  How she gets to that conclusion, though, is quite fun (and informative) to watch:

Zoe Keating and the Trinity

Posted in: Christianity,Recommend,Recommended by David Dault on June 4, 2011

I was listening to the most recent episode of WNYC’s Radiolab a couple of days ago, and was struck by the music I heard throughout.  It’s the work of cellist Zoe Keating, and after doing a little research, I came across this video of her performance of her composition, “Escape Artist.”

(My apologies for the advertisement in the beginning.  The video is worth the wait):

There may be some who view this who will assume she’s playing along to overdubbed tracks.  In a sense, that is true, but in this case the tracks are being created in real-time, as you watch.  She is not pretending to play over a pre-recorded track.  At around 4:00 into the video we get a close-up shot of the software running on her Mac that allows her to sample and hold the various tracks she is creating.  She controls the recording, playback, and mixture of the tracks through pressing a combination of the programmable bank of foot pedals in front of her.

What she is doing is nothing new, of course.  The use of delay and sampling technology to create multi-layered musical compositions is by now a well-established practice.  One of my favorite bands currently, El Ten Eleven, makes this the basis of their entire sound.

That got me thinking, though.  Here Keating is playing in an ensemble — or at least creating the sound of an ensemble — but her ensemble partner(s) is/are Keating herself.  More specifically, they are multiple Zoe Keatings that have, through the provenance of technology, been brought forward from the past into the present.  They are different Keatings, in that they are displaced in time from the “present” Keating, and yet they are all “present” in the moment of the performance.

Without getting too Derridean about all this, I started to think about this self-being-present-to-displaced-self idea in terms of the ancient idea of perichoresis — a concept by which the Triune God (if you’ll forgive the Billy Idol reference) “dances with itself.”

In Keating’s performance, we get as close as possible to this concept with regard to a being bound to time.  That is to say, the various Keatings are all “present” for the performance thanks to a trick of digital technology, but we understand that only one “Keating” is actually there at the performance at any given moment.

In perichoresis, however, the temporal limitations do not apply.  As Christian doctrine has come to understand it, the Triune God is fully present to itself through the three Triune Persons — traditionally known as Father, Son and Holy Spirit — simultaneously one and multiple.

So I am pleased to present this video to Rock and Theology readers who may be unfamiliar with Keating’s work (as I was before this week).  Not only is it a great performance, but it is a performance that can excite our imaginings of the divine.  What could be better than that?