AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL KAPLAN
As Conducted By Ervin Bartha
Paul Kaplan is a talented composer and musician
whose work has been used in film, television, theatre, and planetarium
productions. The release of his highly successful albums, Earthtalk
and Streams Of Consciousness, have brought his musical abilities
to the attention of an ever-increasing and appreciative audience. This
candid and insightful interview into the creative process of composing
music for the planetarium was conducted during the International Planetarium
E: As a musician, what is the essence of music as you understand it at this point?
P.K.: That's an easy question, but a difficult answer. I suppose if I think about it, the essence of music for me is the way I have chosen to communicate certain inner feelings, inner thoughts. Perhaps language falls short, but in the harmonies and the motifs and the implications in the music, some of these inner feelings, longings, connections, help me to realize or to express whatever's inside.
E: It sounds alright to hear that because I think many musicians I've spoken with have expressed ideas along the same lines ÷ that music for them is an essential necessity. It somehow helps them to get out what is not possible through other media.With the kind of musical instrumentation that you work with what sorts of feelings and impulses are you trying to communicate, what sort of language are you trying to express through the music?
P.K.: We'll talk about the music for the planetarium because at this moment in my life, 99% of the music that I write is about space or for the planetarium. It's funny that you asked this question because I've never been able to really put it in words until about two weeks ago when I wrote a poem. This was sort of subconscious but in retrospect what I did was try to get into words the feelings and thoughts that I've been trying to express musically about the universe, about my place, our place in the universe, the connection between me and the stars, the night sky.
E: What is that connection you're trying to express?
P.K.: Perhaps I should recite the poem for you. It's called 'Solitude'.
The night sky
E: That's very nice. I really got that directness of connection that you're speaking about as you said the words. I felt the scope of what you were trying to say.
P.K.: To be able to write that poem and to get the ideas across, I was lying in bed; it must have been about two in the morning. And I had to transport myself to a mountain top at night under the night sky, and try to really feel that loneliness, that solitude, yet at the same time a deeper understanding, a connection that we're all of the same stuff. We're a part of a larger kind of being. Unless I really close my eyes and put myself there, I wouldn't be able to feel that feeling without going outside.I had a lot of trouble with the title. In the end, I called it 'Solitude', although I talk about solitude only for the first half of the poem. The night sky is solitude, yet when I talk about the soul, it's not - there's a connection.
E: Samuel Avital, a great living mime master talks about being alone. Not loneliness, but being alone and at the same time all-one. For him, the real meaning of alone is to be all-one. It's not a sense of isolation, of separation, but all one being. There is no other to be separate from. So you have complete solitude but at the same time a connection such that there is no disconnection....But what part does the universe at large play in your musical expression? Conveying that solitude or aloneness. How is it that the stars make you feel this way and how do you express that?
P.K.: To me the stars are beings. They're not just balls of gas; they're beings with consciousness. Standing alone by myself under the night sky, there's this understanding that there's a universal connection, communication, a vastness of consciousness. See, it's so hard to put into words.
E: Yes, you've got a very difficult task in communicating what space and scale of that magnitude is. But what kind of relationship is it that you're referring to - between you and the stars?
P.K.: Just a knowing, an awareness that there is life within those stars, that there is consciousness. As I said in the poem - 'a deeply spiritual bond leaving language useless to communicate our Covenant'.
E: And through the music that you create for planetariums and also for yourself I imagine, you're trying to convey something of the essence of this agreement, this covenant?
P.K.: I suppose I am but perhaps I don't know what it is.
E: What you're stating seems to open up a great deal of potential. You're talking about something that I think can exist in a practical way for all of us.
P.K.: To me when I look up at the sky, I know there are beings other than just on this planet. Stars are beings to me. I'm simply aware of their consciousness and perhaps there's no particular message other than 'I know. We're all here.'
P.K.: A presence. That's a good word. Very comforting. If I walk out at night when there's a sky and it's not being blocked by buildings and light and I see the stars, I get an immediate feeling that goes through my entire body that I am connected to the stars. I'm aware of a soul, a spirit, a presence, a consciousness. When working musically I try to recreate the feeling of looking at the stars for myself. I try to create a situation where I can feel that I'm with the stars, looking at the stars, sharing some sort of communication.
E: I think that's a very profound kind of experience you're speaking of because most people would feel totally separate from them; the stars seem to be too far away and too inaccessible.
P.K.: Well, that's the thing. I say at the beginning of the poem, 'The night sky is cold...lonely....distant', but the 'soul of the night sky touches me directly'.
E: When you compose, do you actually visualize pinpoints of light?
P.K.: Absolutely. On my second CD, when I was writing the music for 'Sailing On A Galaxy Of Light', it took me a long time to get to that title, but visually I could see what I was trying to get across ÷ rushing through galaxies with balls of light going by. Musically, I represented that with marimba-type sounds, lots of brilliance. But it took me forever to describe it in words. So yes, I sit there and picture these things because I can't look at them through my ceiling.
E: Many people have felt a great deal of wonder and awe when confronting the vast, shimmering, sublime beauty that the sky can be. I wonder whether that's a commonly shared response that we human beings have toward that particular situation, being face-to-face with numberless stars.
P.K.: I'm sure that to some people it doesn't faze them at all. Well, I'll take that back. What I will say is there are people that have never seen the night sky. I know there are people that have grown up in big cities that not only have not seen the night sky because of light pollution and buildings, but just have never had the idea to look up. Now that's not to say if I put them on a bus and took them out to the country and they looked up that they wouldn't have the wonderment and awe. I think they probably would.
E: What does 'looking up' mean in terms of our own condition as beings, as human beings? When we look up what does that suggest to us? Is that something significant?
P.K.: It's looking up, looking out, looking at a bigger picture, realizing that we are not alone. Being aware of a greater consciousness. Certainly you would hope on a small, global, political kind of level that we would view ourselves as one people and one planet. Not fighting over borders and different ideas. Killing each other. And you would hope that as humans we would move up a tiny rung in our evolution and enlightenment. If we all looked up a little more, we wouldn't be so down.
E: Wouldn't have a tendency to be fixated on things that bring us down?
P.K.: Yeah, and fight and quarrel over small, insignificant things. When you see the photographs that the astronauts took of the Earth, it's one blue marble instead of the way it looks on a map....
E: It's quite stunning. It's beautiful too. It's also hard to believe that you can have a viewpoint like that if you're grounded in petty concerns. Do you think that music of the specific kind that you create is capable of taking us into those perspectives that are above and beyond, more complete in a sense?
P.K.: I don't think that my music is so deep and so important that it's going to change humanity or that kind of thing. Perhaps the music is one small effort by one person, his contribution toward that goal. Other people do it through writing books, do it through lecturing and do it through meeting other people. So it's one small part in that movement.
E: I suppose every change starts very small but it can have a profound effect eventually.
P.K.: If my work allows someone to picture the stars and puts them in a situation where they can contemplate the stars, then perhaps it does do some good.
E: Maybe. In terms of the music, let's go a little bit deeper into that. For you, what are planetariums used for and what brought you into that medium and that context?
P.K.: Planetariums have always been a place that I've been attracted to. It is a place that can simulate the stars and planets. It allows me to sit back and relax - it almost puts me in the situation of the real night sky. Over the past thirty-some years I've been to a lot of planetariums, and in combination with the music that I have heard - this big spatial music that moves from one color to another - it's always been an attraction for me. I always knew that if I was going to write music, I'd like to write music for planetariums. I love astronomy. I love astronomy more just thinking about it than perhaps the mathematics of it. I have a mathematical background, in engineering, but I think my interest is in the "wondering about" as opposed to Keppler's laws or such equations.
E: This is an extremely interesting point. As I've listened to you during this conversation, you keep coming back to the profound effect that the stars have upon you and I wonder whether or not there isn't something slightly deeper in your own consciousness that would help to unravel why you're so connected to the stars.
P.K.: Not that I'm consciously aware of. My father is into astronomy; he has a telescope. As a young fellow, he'd take me on outings. So that was my introduction to astronomy. Presently I am not aware of anything like you're saying that would really draw me to the stars. I'm drawn to them, but not to study astronomy any more as an academic thing. I don't even know if I really want to know why I'm drawn to them. I don't know if I want to unravel it. I don't know if I'm interested in getting to the root of it. I think perhaps I'm just happy being connected, being aware of my connection though I don't really know what the connection is. I think the music allows me to express the feeling I have for stars and space.
E: Sometimes listening to your music I do feel a sense of what you're trying to say in words, although it does seem more direct because I feel it in myself as if I'm doing the playing. Something in me seems to awaken.
P.K.: Yeah, if we just open up and be conscious of what is around us and within us, we get a bit enlightened.
E: Yes. That's for a single person or an individual but is there something to be gained in a real way by many of us awakening to this kind of thing all at once, you know, together, rather than just separately, individually.
P.K.: Well, of course. I think if we all do this it brings us closer together. We're all one person instead of 18 billion different countries with different political agendas. Then we just become one planet among many.
E: What would that do, knowing that?
P.K.: We'd work together to solve problems on this planet.
E: Oh, instead of being in competition.
P.K.: Yeah, we put so much money and energy into war and separation. It'd be nice if we could turn that around and redirect our attention on peace and commonality.
E: Is that something that music as a discipline, as a science, as an art would be readily at the service of? Would music then be a means of nonverbally communicating the togetherness, the connectedness, and the recognition that we're not separate.
P.K.: I never thought about these things in depth but I guess so because in speaking with you now and verbalizing these feelings and thoughts....yes, I suppose so because this music is my feeling, my communication Yes, music is used for this; it's a nonverbal way of helping.
E: Could this kind of an aim possibly be at the root of all music. Is that what music is actually for?
P.K.: No, I don't think that's the root of all music. All music is used to communicate, but not that particular message.
E: In terms of the specific qualities that are evoked in the interface between yourself and the universe, what sort of qualities are you conscious of during these moments of interconnectedness?
P.K.: Serenity. Serenity, peacefulness, hugeness, enormity. Yet, individuality. Totality and understanding. The way I'm using the word is.....two people have a certain understanding about a particular situation, an acknowledgment; that's how I mean understanding.
E: It's not easy to find the right words because perhaps our language itself is devoid of ways of expressing those things.
P.K.: Which is why I write the music.
E: So essentially for you, music is a means whereby you get in contact with a level of consciousness in yourself. Can the music that you write also be capable of arousing these kinds of things in the listeners?
P.K.: I'm going to say yes. I know some people are. I get feedback from people that have heard the music and apparently I do hit a chord with some of them. I'm able to convey the message, or they're able to pick up a message that works for them. It does something for some people, not everybody.
E: If you had a way of communicating something of how this can be done by other composers or musicians, what would you say?
P.K.: I don't know if I would want to tell someone; I don't know if I could tell someone else how to do this and I don't know if we should impose rules and ways of doing things. But the only thing I can say is they need to write music that touches themselves, that reaches their higher self, for themselves. I think in doing that, it's true and it's real; other people will pick up on it.
E: So for any musician, regardless of musical form, if they wish to access these higher levels of consciousness, they have to genuinely have connection with what you term the higher self?
P.K.: I think so.
E: Is it accessible to anyone who's interested in music, this kind of process, this kind of connectivity? Is it accessible to myself if I decided to start working on it?
P.K.: I think if you try to write music that expresses your innermost feelings, how could it not?
E: If there were one word that you could use in describing this music, what would you call it?
P.K.: Connected. For me. But it may do nothing for anybody else. I try to attain that connection, to get that specific feeling.
E: Without the feeling, the music itself is lifeless?
P.K.: It's not as meaningful.
E: I think that would pretty well state what it is that you are doing with music. There is one further question we could ask. How does one connect with one's deeper self, one's essential self?
P.K.: I don't think there's one way. Perhaps there are as many ways as there are people and perhaps the way is not important. What is important is for people to realize that there's more than just this physical body, that there are many possible levels of existence. Just be aware that your present existence is a certain level of enlightenment and the task of getting in touch with yourself in totality is the unfoldment of your uniqueness. How does one get there? Everyone has to find their own way.
E: Are the stars catalytic agents in such an unfoldment? Is there some kind of profound effect on human consciousness that the stars have?
P.K.: To me, yes. To the rest of humanity, I don't know. I can only hope.
E: The hope is what?
P.K.: That it does have a profound effect because part of that effect is peacefulness and serenity and being in touch with the universe. A wholeness. Not being isolated from the greater whole. When I look up I feel that I'm an integral part of the universe.