Saturday, June 28, 2014

Modern Madness

The kind of modern madness I want to talk about is not the idea of hammering away at a dissonant tone cluster for twenty minutes, or going to great lengths to have no repeating rhythms or droning away at a single note for hours. Those are mere aesthetic misdemeanors. No, what I am talking about is a political modern madness that affects musicians in a most unpleasant way: the dangers of traveling by air or across borders with a violin and bow. Here is the article.
Over the last year, air travel with a stringed instrument has grown much more difficult in the United States. Violinists have been left on the tarmac while the plane left, after being denied onto the plane with their violins. Others have had their bows confiscated because they possibly contained ivory. It's stressful and confusing.
Here are some further remarks from a bow-maker:
"Thanks for posting about the current problems with trying to travel internationally with a bow. However, there were a couple inaccuracies in your blog post.
First, it is currently OK to travel with a pernambuco bow. The CITES listing is only for raw wood, but a finished bow is OK from a pernambuco standpoint.
Second, it would be great if a letter from the maker was accepted by importation officials, but there's no guarantee. It's better than nothing, I suppose, but still agents on the ground may or may not accept it. And while almost all bows made in the last 20-25 years by modern makers like me would have a mastodon tip, there's no way an official can easily tell the difference so your at the mercy of their whims.
Third, there's also a species of shell which is subject to import/export restrictions. And so, even though no maker uses this shell, a government agent might decide to confiscate your bow for that.
Fourth, the New York legislature is considering a bill which will make it illegal to sell ivory. There is an exception in the law for musical instruments made before 1975, but that still outlaws a lot of bows from being sold. And the New Jersey Legislature this week also passed legislation for signature by Governor Christie that would ban the import, sale, purchase, and possession with intent to sell of any ivory (elephant, hippopotamus, mammoth, narwhal, walrus or whale) or rhino horn, with no exceptions. I'm not sure, but that sounds like a New Yorker couldn't even legally drive across the bridge to play a gig in Jersey with a legally purchased bow which has a mammoth tip.
And we all need to start organizing, because the next possible banned substance will potentially be ebony, which is in every musical instrument.
Bowmakers are working to try to find a suitable replacement material which will be easily distinguishable from ivory, yet not ugly as sin. But it needs to be good and stable and glue well to wood, which not all plastic materials will do. But we're trying." 
 And the profound irony in all this is that harassing musicians and confiscating their instruments will save not one African elephant. Not one! The real purpose of this sort of regulation is to morally reassure if not not glorify those people who think the Correct Thoughts. Protecting endangered species is Good, therefore regulations that punish people who are in possession of ivory is also Good. But most importantly, if I support these regulations then I am a Good Person.

A similar situation obtains with the Department of Homeland Security which harasses innumerable travelers every day and, it is most likely, even at a cost of untold billions of dollars, has not prevented one terrorist attack. Well, maybe one, but the cost/benefit ratio is insanely bad.

When you think of it, there are parts of the US where it is probably safer to travel with a bag of marijuana than with a violin bow containing a tiny amount of ivory...

No comments: