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Compose Carolina: Christian Cail

July 10, 2020 @ 12:00 pm - 1:00 pm

Compose Carolina: Summer Music Series logo

Alumnus Christian Cail is a guitarist, improviser, and composer from Mount Airy, NC. At UNC he studied music composition and history. He is influenced by many styles of music, but has a particular love for jazz, 20th century classical music, and noise music.

Christian Cail on Angelus Novus, but cut into a million little pieces.

It is impossible to “look ahead” without understanding our collective history. This can be conclusively seen in misunderstandings of history which create patently silly interpretations of the present moment, as Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis shows rather clearly. This means we need accurate measurements of history and its meaning to even imagine what tomorrow will be.

Historian and theorist Karl Kautsy, in his 1901 text The Social Revolution, predicted with near total certainty the pan-European Civil War to come, including a burgeoning proletarian revolution and its failure in a wartime scenario. This can be accredited to his Marxist analysis of class struggle, material relations, the emergence of finance, and global competitive imperialism as being important measurements by which to judge history.

Walter Benjamin in his On the Concept of History wrote of Paul Klee’s painting Angelus Novus:

“An angel is depicted there who looks as though he were about to distance himself from something which he is staring at. His eyes are opened wide, his mouth stands open and his wings are outstretched. The Angel of History must look just so. His face is turned towards the past. Where we see the appearance of a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe, which unceasingly piles rubble on top of rubble and hurls it before his feet. He would like to pause for a moment so fair [verweilen: a reference to Goethe’s Faust], to awaken the dead and to piece together what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise, it has caught itself up in his wings and is so strong that the Angel can no longer close them. The storm drives him irresistibly into the future, to which his back is turned, while the rubble-heap before him grows sky-high. That which we call progress, is this storm.”

I wanted, somehow, to depict this. He also wrote that, “There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism. And just as such a document is not free of barbarism, barbarism taints also the manner in which it was transmitted from one owner to another. A historical materialist therefore dissociates himself from it as far as possible. He regards it as his task to brush history against the grain.” This revelation is still pertinent to our moment, as we watch the supposed height of civilization (neoliberal technocracy) tear asunder.

The text in the piece is from Nicolai Bukharin’s Theory and Practice From The Standpoint of Dialectical Materialism:

“The physical landscape is ever more becoming the seat of some branch of industry or agriculture, an artificial material medium has filled space, gigantic successes of technique and natural science confront us, the radius of cognition, with the progress of exact apparatus of measurement and new methods of research, has grown extremely wide: we already weigh planets, study their chemical composition, photograph invisible rays, etc. We foretell objective changes in the world, and we change the world. But this is unthinkable without real knowledge. Pure symbolism, stenography, a system of signs, of fictions, cannot serve as an instrument of objective changes, carried out by the subject.”

To make these ideas real in music (an impossible task). I wrote down textures and then melodic ideas on notecards, scattered them about my room, and became a scribe (a historian rather than a composer). I didn’t compose the music I wanted to write, but was forced to write the combinations as chance had them fall. The general themes were my own to interpret and the textures mine to develop, but the combinations and events were outside of my hands. So is history and so is looking forward.

Compose Carolina: Summer Music Series

UNC Department of Music and Carolina Performing Arts are thrilled to co-host Compose Carolina, a weekly livestream concert series highlighting UNC Music’s composition student and alumni musicians’ original compositions, with conversations led by UNC Department of Music faculty members.

Each week, we’ll welcome a new Carolina composer, including alumni Eliana Fishbeyn, Noah Balamucki, and Christian Cail and students David Green, Alex McKeveny, and James Larkins, who will explore the theme “Looking Forward”—from the literal to the metaphorical—through an original musical piece and performance. They’ll be joined in conversation by UNC Department of Music professors Allen Anderson, Stephen Anderson, and Lee Weisert.

Streaming from FacebookYouTube, and #CPAathome!

Series schedule:
Friday, June 26, 12 PM with Eliana Fishbeyn
Thursday, July 2, 12 PM with Noah Balamucki & guest
Friday, July 10, 12 PM with Christian Cail
Friday, July 17, 12 PM with David Green & James Larkins
Friday, July 24, 12 PM with Alex McKeveny
Friday, July 31, 12 PM with James Larkins


July 10, 2020
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm
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