Thursday, August 30, 2007
Sunday, July 8, 2007
A little movie made illustrating one of Alexie's short stories. Even though I much prefer music and art to the written word, the single greatest artistic experience I ever had was hearing Alexie speak at the Union Square Barnes and Noble a few years ago. He read What You Pawn I Will Redeem, a story brimming with affection for it's woefully unlucky protagonist. As with all of the best of his writing, Alexie's words reveal the inherent divinity in these characters to whom we rarely give a second look, but in this reading Alexie did something I've never seen anyone else do: he not only made the audience experience the magical transformation of the main character, but somehow, at the same moment, we all realized that magic was present, in the room with us, and just as those feelings became concrete, the story ended and the whole audience was suspended in holy, silent, rapture followed by the most thunderous applause I've ever heard in my life. That night, that audience didn't just experience art, we were art.
Click here to see part 2.
Saturday, July 7, 2007
Years ago, I fell in love with the music of English composer Peter Maxwell Davies. Like his friend Hans Werner Henze, Davies never forgot that music could touch the mind, soul and heart of the willing listener. Here's a rare gem of Max's: Farewell to Stromness, arranged for guitar by Timothy Walker. Like so many pieces of his compatriot Benjamin Britten, the melody of this work seems unnecessarily simple and maybe even trite, but also like Britten, the work takes quietly takes root in one's imagination long after the first hearing, becoming a constant reminder of how magical the musical experience can be. What I love about this piece is that it's so successful in creating a sense of longing and, dare it say it, homesickness for Stromness, a place most of us have never visited or will ever visit. For all of you social activist types, Davies wrote this work to protest the potential uranium mining in the Orkney islands. A perfect jewel it is, and sorely deserving of more performances.
Monday, June 25, 2007
A friend of mine recently dashed off a quick email asking for my thoughts on Austrian composer Anton Webern. I told him I need to a few days to collect my thoughts and I would get back to him as soon as possible.
It's at least a month later, and I've been mulling over what to say. It's not that I've been trying to come up with something profound to say about the man's work. In fact, my thoughts on Webern are pretty much the same ones I've held since my early teens, but I've always hesitated in expressing my views because I never saw similar assertions in existing commentary. Funny how age makes you care less and less about how fashionable your thoughts and feelings might be, isn't it?
Anyway, here it is: Webern's legacy has little to do with his serial structure, pointillistic textures or his dramatic use of silence. Webern simply invested the whole of his creative life in, if you'll allow me to borrow from the world of literary criticism, the lyric rather than the epic.
Perhaps he felt Mahler could not be outdone in the building of epic structures, and perhaps it is because the constituent parts of such large structures became in themselves almost complete, that Webern felt that they could exist on their own, untethered from a supporting dramatic edifice to hold the up. If the 19th century was concerned with the whole human body, the discovery of the nucleus of a cell was enough to capture imagination for the totality of his compositional output. Yes, there were miniatures by composers of preceding generations, but these rarely let go of the epic thrust which informs much of Western music, in fact, it may be the single most defining characteristic of that genre, and why composers such as Cage, Feldman and Takemitsu were so taken with his work. Interestingly, Webern's rediscovery in Europe after the war was followed by a generation of composers who sought to create works of an epic nature from Webern's example. I suppose traditions die very, very hard. Thank God for amnesia. =)
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Opening my email this morning, I found the above picture sent along with a discussion about the new lights on the CN back in Toronto. It may be a sign of age, but these colo(u)red lights look tacky to me, and while the night sky may be a reflection of the city's after-hours activities, it's no real replacement for the energy, drive and passion of the people living there. And perhaps showing my age again, I don't know why these public works have to be modeled on the Wal-Mart school of design. At least it should be cool, right? Oh Toronto, will you ever win?
Friday, June 8, 2007
Years ago, I remember watching City Limits and seeing True Men Don't Kill Coyotes and thinking, "Who the Hell are these dudes?" But as the years passes, like most folks of my age (35+) the Peppers became a band to watch. Mixing funk and guitar rock was still a novel thing back then, and how could you hate them for making Stevie Wonder's Higher Ground a hit again.
Years later I remember seeing a commercial in Toronto that had a black screen accompanied by a rock song, slowly fading up. I remember jumping up on the couch and thinking, "This is amazing! Who the Hell are these guys!?" And the words flashed across the screen "Red Hot Chili Peppers New Album" and then a date. For some unknown reason, I never got the CD or knew the name of the track. And finally after some very coincidental events, I'm now here watching this video, and realizing that the Chili Peppers were one of the greatest bands of their generation, and I'm seriously bummed I wasn't a bigger fan back then.
The chorus captures some of the trepidation and excitement of meeting your friends at a rock concert, before cellphones and tv reviews let you know exactly how the night was going to unfold. This was all a secret business, especially if the band wasn't mainstream. No one knew the band, no one knew the songs. Only you and your friends were cool enough to find the truth in such out of the way places. The video can be summed up in 4 words: Flea to the RESCUE!!
Thursday, May 31, 2007
Just a quick post to tout the latest super cool offering by google maps -- Street View! Every inch of Manhattan seems to be captured in 360 degree photographs. I saw the front entrance to my building in quasi-fuzzy detail, but it sure will help finding restaurants in the twisty west village. Hazza for Google!
Monday, May 28, 2007
For some unknown reason, I had to see Grace Jones. Not personally of course, but it's probably part of a general Trevor Horn thing I'm going through these days. Horn's ZTT records and Art of Noise recording project confirm my belief that culture and high art are not beyond the reach of the public, and inform much of what we see and hear every day. But that's probably left for another post!
What I did discover is the work of Jean Paul Goude, a French photographer who applied his talents to video, live performance and media campaigns.
Above is a look at some of his work included on a DVD that accompanied a compendium of some of his life's work, So Far, So Goude. You'll notice that Grace figures into most of the pieces, and Goude later became Grace's partner.
What amazes me about their work is that they deal with images of race, or more specifically white images of black stereotypes, that is at once garish and thrilling. And all of it looks stunning. Even if you're weren't a Grace Jones fan, you'll remember Goude's work for Channel at the end of the clip. Vanessa Paradis whistling on a bird swing: who dreams of such things? Apparently, Goude.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
What's the oldest electronica track in your iTunes collection? Got anything from the late 1800s? For all of those interested in things musical and mechanical, Obsolete.com has compiled a cool list of gadgets that make beeps, doinks and twitters. Lots of details for those tinkering history buffs.
Friday, May 25, 2007
After many glasses of wine, Andy and I went to Tout Va Bien, a great bistro in midtown. If you want to hear someone speak fluent French followed by a broad Brooklyn-Queens accent, make sure to chat with the owner's son, the Bistro's very capable and warm host. I even got a extra brownie points by recognizing Stravinsky's picture on the Wall of Fame. The owner said he use to drop by on a regular basis when he pass through the Big Apple.
A couple from the gallery accompanied us on our bistro trip, and as luck would have it, the young man was a wine seller. Make sure to check out Circus and Micheal Lynch at your local wine store. Fantastic wine for almost nothing!
With all the anti-French sentiment in the US right now, I hope that people don't forget that when it comes to living well and valuing the simple pleasures of life (friends, food, romance, etc) the French still seem to consistently deliver. Thank God I live in a town that has a little piece of almost every part the world in it's back yard.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
My brother and I had an email exchange regarding Elvis Costello's appearance on Solid Gold at time of his single "Everyday I Write the Book", which I'm not posting for the single fact that Elvis' dancing is so horrible that it take away from the song. And there also exists a live recording of the song from the extending re-issue of Punch the Clock. I decided to see if there way any other video footage of Costello performing the song live on YouTube when I found this: a simple, humble, honest rendition of the song by a woman named Renee. There are plenty of missteps in her guitar playing, and the quality of the video is not great, but this little snapshot of home recording captures what I love most about the web: human beings communicating our most precious thoughts and feeling without recourse to gatekeepers, critics and big business, although I'd pressed to name a bigger company than Google, the company who runs YouTube. With all it's flaws, this little snippet held my attention for much longer than anything on that circus called American Idol. Oh well, I suppose the producers of that show will keep pitching people who will be forgotten in a year (or less) while I'll keep looking for people like Renee.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Monday, May 21, 2007
Friday, April 27, 2007
Today the world lost one of it's greatest musicians: Mstislav Rostropovich. Not only was he a master of the cello, Rostropovich was a gifted conductor and pianist, accompanying his wife, soprano Galina Vishnevskaya.
I know the world will discuss his recordings and performances today, but what I most admired about Rostropovich was his ability to use his enthusiasm and talents to defend others who were unable to think and act freely due to political or artistic oppression.
Hindsight may diminish the bravery of those who choose to take a stand for what they believe in, but I think we are extremely susceptible to the pressures of fitting in, of not rocking the boat, of not wanting to be out of fashion. But time and time again, Rostropovich's choices both as an artist and a human being proved to be the correct ones.
When the contemporary music scene was dominated by composers who followed Pierre Boulez, Rostropovich continued to support composers like Britten, Henze and Dutilleux who were no less rigorous than the serialists, but whose music didn't reject the grace, beauty and sensuous pleasure of the previous 200 years of music making. He supported the Polish composers after the political thaw of the late '50 and '60, and had he not come to the aid of Alfred Schnittke, how much more music would we have lost from this master had Rostropovich not offered him commission after commission, allowing Schnittke to complete some of his finest works before his untimely death.
But when Rostropovich and his wife harbored Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when he was on the run, his sacrifices could not have been more personal. Here, Rostropovich put his own life at risk because of his belief in the freedom of all people to express themselves without fear of persecution, imprisonment, torture or even death. And while we can all say that was a different time, in a different country, we know that the world's capacity for this kind of oppression has not diminished in the intervening years, but has grown to encompass east and west, rich and poor, democracies and dictatorships, and yet the members of the artistic community who act as selflessly as Rostropovich grows fewer and fewer. As always, we took Slava for granted when he was alive, but let's not forget his example in our own lives, no matter what our vocation or profession might be.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Albert Einstein was fasinated by Mohandas Gandhi. He watched newsreel after newsreel of Gandhi's doings in India. having seen Gandhi greet people in the street with his hands placed together, as if in prayer, and with a bow, he wondered what Gandhi was saying (newsreels had no sound in those days). Einstein wrote Gandhi and asked him what he was saying. The simple reply: "Namaste." Einstein then wrote again to ask the meaning of this hindu word, "Namaste", and the reply was: "I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. I honor the place in you of light, love, truth, peace and wisdom. I honor the place in you where, when you are in that place, and I am in that place, there is only one of us."
My natural reflex is to distance myself from all labels and associations, primarily due to my stance that one must take on all the good as well as the bad of any group if you chose to be a member, but reading this makes me intensely proud of my ancestors, and it's probably something I've tacitly understood my whole life. Strange that so much technology (google, cell phone, etc) was necessary in bringing this word's meaning to light. Namaste.
Monday, April 23, 2007
Here's a clip from the Eagles' "When Hell Freezes Over Tours". Don Henley's song of coming to terms with the end of a relationship may come off as a little cheesy to some hipper musical tastes, but I think the band's musicianship is undeniable. Not only is Henley's voice still intact, but the backing vocals by the rest of the band are simply staggering. Even though their use of vibrato and non-vibrato voice might seem a little forced, these guys bring so much more emotional weight than the throngs of country-rock band they spawned that it's not hard to think of them as one of the best groups America ever produced. Anyone know the next time Hell might freeze over? =)
Friday, April 6, 2007
A few weeks ago a friend of mine in Toronto asked me what my thoughts were on Boulez. Below you'll find my response.
The case of Boulez if very sad. At 23, he arguable wrote a work, his Piano Sonata No.2, which shows a technical mastery that only Brahms had at a similar age. Let me be clear about this, Brahms and Boulez, in their very early 20s, surpassed the technical achievements of their day, and deployed that technique with a sense of poetry that rivaled all other composers. Not Bach, not Mozart, not Beethoven, not Wagner, not even Schoenberg and Stravinsky could do with these men did before the age of 25. Brahms spent the rest of his career slightly modifying and refining his command of the language whereas most music aficionados can't tell the difference between early and late works.
The tragedy of Boulez is that his particular artistic gift only led in one direction, the destruction of everything that came before him. The Boulez Sonata takes Beethoven's Hammerklavier Sonata as point of departure, and uses it to thwart everything that western music should do. It's not just harmony that is assaulted in this twelve-tone work, but form, meter, and generally-help modes of expression are setup as if they are going to behave in expected ways, only to undergo a merciless and savage destruction.
But just like the punks of the 70s, what do you do next after you ripped to shreds what came before you? What do you do next? There's only so many times the public will tolerate the same act over an over again. How many times can we see Johnny Rotten act cheeky without it becoming expected, even boring? Stravinsky found a way out by working through neo-classicism, where the general public can hear enough of what they expect to feel their having a genuine musical experience, while all of us musical cognoscenti smile with every broken rule or inside joke that Stravinsky throws our way.
Boulez instead took it upon himself to be a phoenix-like character, who would create all the new rules and set things straight after had cleared the air of all of the past's hypocrisies and incongruencies. The problem was, there was nothing in his character to suggest that he would be capable of doing this. His early biographies are filed with his outbursts, his cursing in church, smashing furniture, and skewering his enemies. And his music was filled with this kind of passion. His way forward would be in direct opposition to his true nature, and what's even more tragic, Boulez knew this. And slowly his music grew more lifeless, his wrote less and less, and he avoided writing by conducting. And he did this to himself to ensure a lifelong career. Yes, he did invent some techniques that are interesting to anyone interested in late-20th century music, but the price of that is he's a shell of his former self who betrayed the young, brilliant composer that he was when we was a kid. I often deride Boulez in public, but I've studies many of his scores, and the Sonata No.2 is one of the reasons I devoted my life to music.
Yes, that Schoenberg is Dead article is terrible, and he is right about most concerning Schoenberg's historical position, but now it seems inelegant and distasteful. At this point, he's like a young Muhammad Ali, trash talking and doing what he does best: destroying the enemy. But while Ali went on fighting too long and is even more a hero to us now, Boulez is now an also-ran, appearing on the equivalent of sports talk shows (symposiums, pre-concert lectures, film) on the strengths of those early fights he fought so long ago. Boulez est mort. Vive Boulez!!
Old poets, what's to become of them? While digging around on YouTube for Madness' "It Must Be Love", I found an alternate version of the song from some British TV variety show. The performance was by the song's composer, Labi Siffre, and everything from the clothes to the multi-ethnic cast to presentation of the song in a medley with Siffre other hit "There's Nothing in the World like Love" reflected the glow of optimism and hope that so much of the earlier 1970 seemed to espouse.
After a quick Wikipedia search on Siffre I learned that he was one of Britain first openly gay public figures, and that he was a poet of note and had concerned himself with matter of social justice over the intervening years.
A link at the bottom of the page took me to Siffre own site, and I have to say I was quite saddened by what I saw. Not the smiling, exuberant face of years gone by greets you at the top of his web page, but an older, sullen face of a man who had fought many battles in his life, possibly robbing him of the will to write such perfect pieces of pop.
He did produce other songs that were hits in England, such as the protest song, "Something Inside So Strong", but I began to wonder the sacrifice was too much for people like Siffre, while we benefited from his activism and strength, did it also rob them of some of the simple, light pleasures of being human. Is it too hard to look away, once your eyes have been open to the tyranny of the world, or is there guilt in having fun when you know others are suffering? I'd love to know what Siffre has to say on these matters, and I'd like to know if the weight of these things might also extinguish the light of my own eyes as the years progress.
Sunday, April 1, 2007
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Thanks to French TV for making the best documentary on a composer I've ever seen. This hour long portrait of Ligeti includes information about his childhood, life in post-Stalin Hungary and covers most of his life as a composer in Western Europe. I've included the last part here not only for it's cameos of Aimard and The King's Singers, but as an added bonus, the only film footage I've ever seen of Nancarrow with his player piano. Ligeti's french is not very complex, so anyone with some high school exposure to the language should be able to follow along. Finane, are you listening? Special thanks to Tibor Torontali for bringing this to my attention, as well as making some thoughtful comments on my earlier Ligeti post.
Sunday, March 4, 2007
Another great find by the Arnold Schoenberg Center! In their continuing quest to bring all things Schoenberg to the online community (including all of his works thorough streaming MP3), they've uploaded quite a bit of video to YouTube, including this great clip of Mitsuko Uchida talking about Schoenberg's Piano Concerto.
What continually amazes me about Schoenberg is that despite his many personal failings (friends and allies were frequently the target of his caustic wit if he felt that their devotion was suspect), I can think of no other figure in music history other that Richard Wagner to garner such fanatic support amongst his enthusiasts. Uchida is simply bursting with her love and passion for the work, and hopefully some of that enthusiasm with garner the work some more (sorely) needed fans.
As an added bonus you can hear Uchida perform part of the work in concert below.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
Sunday, January 21, 2007
verb 1 [ trans. ] (often be offended) cause to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful : viewers said they had been offended by bad language. • be displeasing to : he didn't smoke and the smell of ash offended him | [as adj. ] ( offending) they must redesign the offending section of road. 2 [ intrans. ] commit an illegal act : a small hard core of young criminals who offend again and again. • break a commonly accepted rule or principle : those activities which offend against public order and decency. DERIVATIVES offendedly adverb offender noun ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French offendre, from Latin offendere ‘strike against.’
I can see not wanting to hurt anyone's feeling as a good thing, but isn't the risk of being offended inherent in human communication. We all appreciate people respecting our personal boundaries, and seeking out others who will potentially hurt us seems contradictory to our prime directive, but isn't part of our interest in others predicated on the fact that they may have views that challenge us, that they may hold core beliefs that negate ours, isn't this what interests us in other people?
Case in point, Frank Zappa. Here's an old SNL clip of Frank where his love of avant-garde classical music and free jazz are presented in a rock idiom. John Belushi makes and appearance as a samurai, allowing the band an opportunity to mimic all of his guttural antics in a music context.
It's not that I hate TV, it's just that nothing of interest, nothing that might be new, different, or challenging, ever gets through, and I'm including PBS in this assertion. But there was a time when TV was in the hands of creative people, and that once in a while, something without hit potential could be seen by millions. A shame it's all gone now. Enjoy!
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