MP, Vital, no. 192, September 24, 1999

A fistful of new releases arrived from peerless Canadian label empreintes DIGITALes a few days back. Two were full-length CDs and two were recent additions to their ‘compact compact’ series which consists of CDs shorter than 40 minutes. This particular item contains one composition titled Cirque; 37 minutes of of electroacoustic music divided into five movements and constructed, it seems, almost entirely from recordings made at a circus.

This journey back in time tears at the tangled cobwebs of adulthood, disturbs the dust of cynicism so that it rises into the air, obscuring the view for a moment, and when it settles once more we are captured, willing prisoners of magic and wonder. Remember the first time you went to a circus — how huge the tent seemed, colourful caravans scattered close by, distant cages, the promise of candy floss and clowns. And inside, how much bigger the tent seemed when you were inside! The ring, smoothly raked, virginal, holy sawdust, and on the other side of the caged ring, the curtain and the wire animal tunnels.

The circular tiers of seats — those closest to the ring were always covered with velvet and boasted slightly frayed golden braiding and tassels — which seemed to rise like a giant’s staircase, floating high up in the semi-darkness. The sweet smell of straw, the pointing, uniformed ushers speaking in strange tongues, and oh! the anticipation, such anticipation. The whole tent, full of children (accompanied by an occasional adult), is illuminated by the excited gleam shining from hundreds of bright, wide eyes. Every mouth an ‘O.’ Neverending drumrolls acrobatic loops taut accordion. The invisible band strikes up. There are nervous flurries of spontaneous applause. Suddenly and from nowhere, a horse starts galloping around the ring in tighter and tighter circles, all the while the rider assumes increasingly more complicated positions, until he hangs upside down underneath the horse, his hair brushing fine furrow’s in the sand. Crackling whips, the urging clickwhistletalk of the animal trainers working fierce beasts into a snarl. (I once saw a man put his head in the lion’s mouth, honest!) Suspended breath holds the trapeze artiste aloft — if someone were to exhale, he would plummet to certain death. Rolling clowns dodge pies shoot stars waddle in and out of soap bubbles lose stuff find it fallover disappear. And then, when it seems that time really has stopped, the entire multifaceted cast leapfrog out from behind the curtains, whirling round and round like a spinning top until they are vaporized by the loudest cymbal crash you ever heard. And slowly because you are exhausted, you leave the tent, this temple of delight, cheeks stickysweet, faceflushed, ringing ears. In the car you fall asleep immediately filing a memory with each deep breath. These wait, sometimes a lifetime, for that knock on the creaking door which guards their innocence. And when the door opens, and the show begins again, every sense is satiated by the treasures we thought we’d lost, and for a moment we are slowly rehearsing our last dance. This music, by Michèle Bokanowski, is a knock on that door…

… we are captured, willing prisoners of magic and wonder.