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SUBJECT: Soundtracks for pure imagination Back to Subjects
Feb 13 2020
at 8:56 PM
It’s been suggested Pat Metheny’s writing is "cinematic." The first time I was hit by it was ’As Falls Wichita," which absolutely seems to be telling an unseen story. A soundtrack to a film we must produce in our minds. Many other of his lengthier pieces seem to be "about" something, but Pat himself has insisted his listeners supply the story; he’s only interested in music, not meaning. Fine with me. At times, "First Circle" or "Minuano" have provided soundtracks to whatever was happening in my life, always inspiring me to move toward the exciting conclusions to those songs. A particular fascination for me has been "The Way Up." In that case, at least, Pat gave us some context about his mindframe and the contemporary affairs that bothered him. From this, I always felt that the simple acoustic in Part 1 evoked the Pilgrims and early America, and as the parts progressed, we went through other phases of history toward chaos, and finally an inspiring and mystical conclusion that seems to ascend and ascend--"the way up," in other words. Where he’d like to see us go. Interestingly, the next album of this PMG style (as this is, in my opinion) is not "the way up" but "from this place," which almost seems to complete the sentence. Of course, the place is much darker than it was 15 years ago, when TWU was released. But as I listen to "America Undefined," again I realize Pat has a film in mind for his soundtrack. And just how tantalizing are the clues. This piece is built on a four-note ascending scale pattern, repeated over and over with some solos along the way and building up to a massive, ominous conclusion that never really arrives anywhere, which is what makes it so frightening. There are sounds of children, as in "Wichita." There is, in particular, a train that seems to come pounding into our listening space. What train? Are we fleeing somewhere? These are the clues. I know as a writer that the scariest monster is the one behind the door, the one you never actually see. This is why Metheny is such a great artist. He never shows us what he’s describing, just lets the music surround it, and in the end, our imaginations are left to worship or laugh or cry or recoil in fear.
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