Thursday, 1 October 2009
Road Songs (Special Edition)
Amongst the many pleasures I have found in driving there is one that has become an art, at least for me: braking. There are two others to which I will refer in future special editions, but braking merits its own post.
And I am not merely talking about the act of bringing a car to a complete halt by applying force against the friction of the road, but rather the subtle changes that occur as I shift from gear to gear.
The E70 westbound from Cantabria to Asturias recently offered me the chance to enjoy this lesser-known gem. And I’ve come to think of it in the same way a musician regards his/her own playing and/or singing skills, hence the inclusion in this special edition of ‘Road Songs’.
The M25 here in the UK is not a very good place to practise the art of braking. It is usually choc-a-bloc with traffic jams everywhere and rather than enjoying the kinetic energy involved in the process, you end up feeling claustrophobic and on the brink of a road-rage fit. The 'Ocho Vías' motorway on which I drove in Cuba earlier this year was somewhat flat and monotonous, although surprisingly in good conditions, so that's another no-go. How different the picture was in the Spanish countryside. The E70, a long stretch of road that meanders from the Basque Country to Galicia - becoming A8 in the process - had plenty of soft slopes and suave bends (there’ll be another special post on bends, by the way). In the distance rolling hills helter-skeltered through the Iberian landscape. Deep valleys called out to the driver’s attentive eye and the nature lover in me slowed the car down whenever possible and soaked up the surroundings. Tiny hamlets hung on to perilous slopes.
It was this combination of driving - and braking, of course - and music playing on the car stereo that made me wonder if the arts could widen up its scope to include this dissipation of energy as yet another proof of man's creative nature. In the same way a pianist presses a key on his or her instrument to elicit a particular sound, when I press down on the brake pedal the effect sometimes can be that of the coupling of acoustic energy and air to produce sound. And no, it is not of the screeching type, although that happens all too often.
My first example tonight is Maria Rita and her excellent song 'Muito Pouco'. At 2:27, there's a tiny stop of half a second before the music goes up a couple of notches. It is the equivalent of braking smoothly around a bend on a broad motorway, bringing the car from fifth gear down to fourth and then beefing it back up to fifth. Beautiful.
My second offering tonight comes all the way from Italy (I promised more music from that European nation and I'm keeping my word). Eros Ramazzotti brings back memories galore, especially to those who, like me, enjoyed his well-deserved popularity in the early 90s in Cuba. This song, 'Musica E', is so full of stops that it could well be used in a driving lesson, teaching future drivers how to apply the brake, where and when. The way the musicians and singer meander through the melody reminds me of trips on hilly roads. I hope you enjoy it.
Third track tonight has that perfect combination of pop and classical music mixed together. I have always loved Jamiroquai but even I was taken by surprise when this track first came out. And I remember playing it on a loop on my Walkman. At 3:18 the brakes are applied and yet you have the feeling that he has let the musical car coast a little bit, as if not wanting the song to finish. The same sentiment I have when I come to the end of my journey and I brake slowly until it's time to bring the clutch pedal down. Smoothly. Thanks and happy driving!
Photo taken from flickr.com
Next Post: 'Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music' to be published on Sunday 4th October at 10:00 (GMT)