|Le Violon d'Ingres by Man Ray, 1924|
Ceh-ll-oh, with a deep O in the end dropping down from the soft L. Such a rounded and sensual word, like the instrument itself.
A few weeks ago, in my friend’s darkroom, while I watch him bathe a piece of light in his folded palms over the paper, in the vampirish red tint of the lamp, we discover that we both love cello music. He plays his friend’s CD, some instrumental Irish band. We sigh at the unexplainable and unspeakable attraction it has over us, more nodding in some kind of understanding then really talking about it.
I forget that episode. Until recently, while I wander the streets of Dublin in search of killed time and some books, in Tower Records (why do the Irish pronounce it like Tara records?), cello music finds me again. Music stores always play music after all. But this one creeps into my brain until I realise what instrument catches my ear. It’s another Irish band, 3epkano, with an album called At Land, as I find out later. Here is how my cello fetish suddenly begins.
Obsessions actually don’t start out of the blue. There is ground work done long before; it usually goes unnoticed, until one day life leads you to a moment, small things come together, memories, smells, dreams. It takes something trivial to trigger it and, here you go, it hits you like a…ehmm…cello?
I always thought percussion to be my favourite kind of instrument. Bellydance background and all that. I always liked drummers over guitarists and definitely over piano players. I still do. Drums resonate somewhere in the very core of your body and it’s the best way to learn pure dance rhythm. It’s primal, free, beating like a runner’s heart, a soundtrack to the beginning of life. Cello, however, is a completely different story.
It’s like a love affair at fifty. Like dating an older man who has seen life.
Or like a woman…
Cello is the most humanly shaped instrument. I’ve heard its sound is closest to human voice. No matter whether a woman or a man plays it, there’s nothing more sensual in the pose, the full embrace, the slightly tilted head, the closed eyes, the tender grip on the neck of the curvy polished wood. Why look for a lover if you have a cello?
I only heard live cello once, at a boring college quartet concert. But the shivering caress it gave me that day is like nothing else. Goosebumps isn’t really the word for it.
There is nothing simple about it, from the look to the sound it makes. It’s so sophisticated, twisted with the flow from caressing velvet to mournful hoarse whisper, it suffocates and makes you claw at your heart for release. If my heart had strings I know what they would sound like. I feel the hands pluck them, feel the bow slide across the core of my body somewhere close to spine and cause it to tremble like a hollow tree. All I can do is breathe out a silent moan for the music my body can neither fully express in movement nor in song.
Cello is like the first touch of the stranger’s body, emotional and never satisfying enough to sate fully. It’s like watching smoke twist and glide from a blown candle, how long before it’s gone? It’s torturous, tantalising, soothing, loving and killing.
In dancing, the best way to express the music is to let it flow through your body, become an instrument yourself, feel the musician ‘play’ as if on you, not echoing but ‘making’ music with your body. Let the ups and downs become moves, let the silence become your expression, the rushing rhythm become your abandon.
With cello, I give up. I start and stop in the middle, embarrassed by perfection of this voice, louder then mine ever will be, telling a story so ancient I can’t comprehend it. My awkward gestures are late, running after the twisting trail of music, never really gripping it.
I stop instead, eyes closed and let the cello take me into the darker places where I can myself become a curved polished hollow wood in the tight hug of a skilled musician. I can lean back and let two pale hands open my core and extract all that sombre sweetness I can’t myself express.
It’s late at night and as I breathe along the spaces between the sounds cello makes, I slip into a dreamless state of sleep.
Here are two beautiful tribal fusion dancers who express cello so well, even if in different ways.
Mira Betz at Tribal Alchemy 2009
April Rose solo at 3rd Coast Tribal 2011