Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Bassanda Manifesto

[In reference to this; and this; and this, coming your way in January 2014]

The Bassanda Manifesto

Bassanda does not actually exist.

Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that it exists only temporarily, and outside the parameters of conventional chronology or geography. The great musicologist and teacher Christopher Small argued that musicians, in the act of performance, bring into existence for the duration of that performance the ideal society in which they wish to live. So perhaps we could say that, like Debussy's Cath√©drale Englouti√© or the mystical Irish paradise of Tir na nog, Bassanda is a temporary, imagined experience of a place: more gentle, artful, passionate, and creative than the failing universe in which we find ourselves; a place which we bring into existence, through active will and comradely collaboration, for the duration at least of our sung, danced, spoken, written, or imagined performances. In our parallel universe, musicians drink for free, artists receive medals, dancers are bound by no laws of gravity or decorum, no animals suffer, no wars are necessary or credible. In Bassanda, children have enough to eat, women and gays and those who differ are equal partners in the experiment of human community, empires’ armies stall impotently beyond the borders, and we are free to sit in a coffee house or raki shop and together create a better world.

Who we are:

We are writers and musicians, dancers and graphic artists, historians and re-enactors, scholars and teachers, both within and beyond the Ivory Tower: we are nearly as diverse a group as is the world of Bassanda itself. But we all share two crucial convictions: first, we believe in our friends and our friends’ work, and second, we believe at some deep level that the very best stories live not in fiction but in history, or at least in those idioms that lie closest to history.

So think of us as a kind of literary folk band, whose metier is not just group musical composition, but extends also to a series of riffs upon archetypal stories and character types and modes of expression; in the General’s locution, “it's like bringing a story to rehearsal and letting everybody make up their own parts.” In the world of Bassanda, the great tales and indeed the great history are as much a product of jam-session collaboration as the songs we sing and the dances we embody. We sit in the corner of the pub, or the corners of the Internet, and laugh and talk and drink and play and dance and, together, imagine into existence our better world.

Don't think of us as a group of individuals or as individual authors. We are both more and less than that. No individual character in the world of Bassanda is a one-to-one parallel to any of the contributing authors: even the originating “General Roger Landes (US Army, ret)” and “Right Reverend Colonel R.E.C. Thompson (Army of the Confederacy, ret)” bear only a passing resemblance to any similarly-monickered characters in the mundane world.  Of course, a “Friend of Bassanda” is free to select a persona, or eponymous anagram, or formal title, or autobiographical back-story, which bears some passing or amusing resemblance to her or his own—but we don’t feel bound by the limits of “characters” anymore than Bassanda itself is bounded by a specific or “factual” geography, topography, or chronology.

Artists can be as lazy, spiteful, or petty as any more “normal” humans—so if we can imagine, in Bassanda, a place more ideal than the fallen universe to which we are exiled, then we can also imagine, in our Bassandan counterparts, more ideal, generous, and expansive ways for ourselves to be human. We may riff on canonic tales of music, dance, culture, and history (see for example “Xblt Op. 16 – The Bassandan Rite of Spring”, the fabled Bassanda cottage industry in hand-wound electric bouzouki pickups, or the wild tale of Yezget Nas1lsinez witnessing bluesman Robert Johnson’s murder in Mississippi in 1936) because, as scholars, creators, teachers, and practitioners, it amuses us to imagine just-slightly-bent variants on better-known historical characters or events—but ultimately Bassanda is a place through which we can imagine a better world.

We are historians and storytellers, authors and actors and artists. Most importantly, we are friends. If the “best stories of all are the ones found not in fiction but in history,” then, as a break from our artistic “day jobs,” we sometimes allow ourselves to play together in the sandbox of history and historical convention. The great virtue of Bassanda is that, like the common lands which pre-Industrial communities shared for grazing, gathering, and leisure—before the curse of private property and “Mine, not Thine” descended upon the peoples of the earth—it has no boundaries except those of right conduct and ethical values, shared by a community of friends.

Anyone can become a Friend of Bassanda: like all human experience of any value, it is a product of effort, imagination, and love. And the greatest of these is Love.

Welcome to our world.

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