Tuesday, February 28, 2006

No!














The power connector to my laptop burst into flames and sparks late last week, and I wasn't even celebrating anything. Thus, I've been laptopless. I hope to remedy this situation as soon as possible.
I'm still planning on writing a piece about Charles Koechlin sometime soon. Other than that, there is not much new. I look forward to Minnesota's beautiful springtime as a soldier's wife looks forward to seeing her man back from wintery combat. Springtime hits its peak here in about late April, and it will mean lots of basketball and biking for me. Apparently sitting around and eating Wendy's hamburgers all winter is not condusive to good health. This too, I hope to remedy.

I have been seeing some good movies and listening to some good music and reading some good books though.

MOVIES
The Flowers of Saint Francis
The Mirror
Ugetsu
King of Kings (1927)

MUSIC

Bartok-Second Violin Concerto
Messiaen (especially the Trois Petites Liturgies and Catalogue d'Oiseaux played by Loriod)
Reger (Hiller Variations)
Birtwistle-Earth Dances and Gawain
Boulez-Pli Selon pli (Old recording)
Koechlin-La Livre de Jungle
Sonic Youth-Goo
Daedelus-Invention

BOOKS

Euclid in the Rainforest
The Neotropical Companion
Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rainforests of South America
Messiaen
(Peter Hill and Nigel Simeone's bio. Not an exciting life to say the least but the portrait the emerges of the man is enlightening. Most touching is the letters and pictures of Messiaen's family life in the 30s and 40s with his wife Claire and Pascal. A caring, thoughtful man who would play with his energetic little son and buy him toys in between writing some of the most daringly strange music of all time.)
A.J. Ayler's book on Hume

And of course, my tenth reading of The Da-Vinci Code. Has there ever been a more beautiful prose stylist than Dan Brown? I think not.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Radiohead Teases Delicate Nerds' Constitutionals

Posted today on Radiohead's blog, pictures like this:














This:














and This:














...are too much for me too handle. Although it's cliche, Radiohead are that good buttercup, and I, along with many others in the musical snob department drool in anticipation at each of Thom Yorke's belches and hiccups, willing to buy anything his band sells me in hopes of enrapturing myself once again in their gorgeous web of anxious and angelic sounds.
I wish I could be cool and hate this band, so I could seem 'above' it, but no one is above the creators of OK Computer when it comes to so-called "popular music."
Janáček Dream
















Last night I had a dream and I don't remember anything in the dream except the first part of Janáček's In the Mists for piano kept playing over and over again. This is strange as I don't think I've ever had a dream with music in it, much less music I can remember.
Perhaps there is something in Janáček's music that is particularly adept to work its way into the dream world. The supremely touching pieces that make up this work (1912-1913) are some of the most delicate minuatures written in the early part of the century for the instrument. Here there are none of the pianistic pyrotechnics of a Debussy Etude, or the tortured expressionistic aphorismus of Schoenberg and his lil' soldiers' piano music of the same time.
Janáček's music is deceptively simple, dreamy and quietly rhapsodic. The piano writing is not difficult to play, but extremely difficult to play well as I have found out in my own attempts at it. The best version I've heard is Leif Ove-Andsnes' on Virgin, who plays the exquisite free-floating phrases with the poetic touch comparable to John Keats petting a squirrel into a lulled slumber. When I play it, it's more comparable to John Keats taking an oafish bowel movement after some bad Venison.

Either way, it has some of the most beautiful music imaginable, and hard-to-copy music at that. There was only one Janáček all right, and his subtle and uncanny music is a fitting soundtrack for my unconscious adventures as an astronaut, viking, double-agent, etc.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Birtwistle Wisdom: Polyphony and Complexity















"Once you have a foreground, then you have a middle ground, and a background-you have a depth, you have something you can go into. That way you can have complexity. I don't think you can have complexity in a situation where it's all complex, or all thick, because then it's all of the same order, and it's not complex then."


-Harrison Birtwistle

Monday, February 20, 2006

Holocaust Denier Gets Three Years
















Why is it a British historian gets three years in a Austrian prison for denying aspects of the Holocaust, but Christians who deny the world is older than 6000 years and the greatest biological discovery of all-time demand our respect and acceptance?
Perhaps to deny the one of the biggest evils ever perpetrated by mankind is more viscerally disgusting, but one wacky guy isn't going to do much to change things. On the other hand, the anti-intellectual, anti-Science, and anti-history positions held by (mostly) Evangelical Christians is quite dangerous as they are such a powerful force in our country and have made their impact felt in the last 6 years of this Administration.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Britten Psychoanalyzation Amendment
Thoughts on Post-Modernism in Understandin' Art







I've been looking through the archives here at Clownsilly Central ('Come for the hilarity, stay for the pie' tm). A painful task for sure, full of embarrassment and 'shoulda been saids'.

One 'shoulda been said' off the top of my head is from my post about contemporary analysis of Benjamin Britten.

The post itself was inspired by a reading of Britten's biography in the online New Grove Dictionary of Music. The author, who shall remain nameless (as I have forgotten him), delves into the British master off of the oh-so-trendy postmodern theory diving board, straight into Foucaultian waters of abstruse linguistic canopies 'highlighting' the power games that supposedly inform Britten's, and apparently everyone else's music and ideas, thoughts, actions, words etc. My post should have been made into a larger, more coherent attack on post-modern theory in general, and it's use (and disuse) in musicology.

I'll admit off the bat that I'm not as smart as someone like Jean Baudrillard. I'm probably not even as smart as Jean-Claude van Damme. But I think even smarty pants people can be very misguided, even so-called 'progressives'. Post-modern theory, deconstructionist theory, semiotics, cultural studies etc. has always been highly suspicious to me. It's the only philosophy that I've ever understood so quickly, which is never a good sign: "Oh I get it! Nothing means anything because only people in power control the meaning and everything is 'discourse' and 'othering' and 'rhetoric' and the best way to see this capitalist mental slavery is by studying the super secret tricks used to make me an ignorant Republican racist woman hater in Tampax advertisements!"

After reading thousands of pages of Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, and hundreds of other faceless Kool-aid drinking hipster academics, I found not much deeper than the above sentiment. Post-modernism is at its worst, a sort of hyper-stylish computer-age epistemological Dadaism. Don'get me wrong: I love Dadaism. But this bizarre post-Marxist philosophical Dadaism has none of the playful fun of a Alfred Jarry story or Satie's Parade. It's all sorta...depressing. And bleak. And obsessed with simplistic generalizations of 'power' and 'desire' and 'signs'.

I myself count Bertrand Russell, Kant and Baruch Spinoza as my favorite philosophers. I consider myself a 'progressive'. I despise religion and dislike free-market capitalism and all that delightfully cool stuff. But I am no Marxist or Hegelian. I love my cozy Enlightenment era ideals of reason and logic too much. I like some ideas of both Hegel and Marx and even some post-war philosophers that could be considered 'post-modern'. For example Adorno's criticisms of mass culture resonate with me at times, despite not sharing his breathtaking levels of repulsion with it ("Jazz is slave music" et. al). His books on Berg, Wagner and Mahler have some beautiful pages and insights.

It is my belief however, that post-modern theory can never be very apt to deal with non-pop art. Great art, is too fluidly complex to be understood in terms of "author/reader function", or political/sexual control. Adorno using a term like 'bourgeoisie" to describe Stravinsky's music falls flat in my opinion, and is a gross disrespect to a creative mind and person as enormously multi-faceted as Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky is great because he is so endearlingly creative in an age of such anxiety and depression. Stravinsky is great because he wrote great music. Stravinsky is not great because his music is 'everything or nothing depending on what you get out of it'. Adversely, Stravinsky isn't bad because his music isn't obsessed with some Germanic notion of 'expression of the ego of man'. Stravinsky isn't bad because he had some kind things to say about fascism.
(If one reads the facts-yes, there are facts and there is reality- of the man's life, you will see he was if anything, a old-school 'We could go broke any second so save your money!' Russian who had seen the revolution; A politically naive man more concerned with his music, concert tours, income and family's well-being than the plight of the proletariat. And weren't those "brilliant" post-modern heroes Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man Nazis? Didn't Sartre praise Chairman Mao? Didn't Hegel love him sum Napoleon? Didn't Marx hate those nasty Jews? Men are men. Artists are men. Artists create art. Men kill other men. )

It is comforting to me that analyzing art and humanity in general through this lens is undoubtedly a fad. In the end, Art will survive. Post-modern theory will evolve into something else as philosophy always does and will always continue to do. In fact, everything evolves. No doubt a millenia from now the great artists will have leg up on the Foucaults, the Adornos, the Derridas. We will continue to be moved by the profound drama of Peter Grimes, the sublime ending of Symphony of Psalms, the breathtakingly beautiful sand-paintings of Buddhist monks, the plot of the greatest novel of all time The Da Vinci Code, and we will ignore and laugh at the silliness of these 'thinkers', as we do the misguided who thought the Earth the center of the Universe.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

This Woman Saw Mozart Naked














Most Mozart scholars agree that the woman pictured above is none other than Constanze Mozart (1763-1842). Apparently the daguerrotype Mozart's widow has been cropped out of was taken in 1840 at a 70th birthday for composer Max Keller. Keller supposedly helped a lot with the musical details of Constanze's second husband Georg Nissen's biography on the lady's first illustrious "baby's daddy."
Although the original photo is lost, a copy with Constanze taken out is in the hands of the Mozarteum in Salzburg.
For almost 80 years of age, and unable to walk without help from a maid, Constanze looks pretty damn good.

I've always had a thing for older women. Not old in the sense of age, but old in the sense of "Over 200 years of age and portrayed only in paintings". My historical hottie list includes among others, 16th century queen of France Elizabeth of Austria, and of course, Sappho (suck on that stylus baby!).
The young Constanze however, has always been near the top of the list:

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Third Messiaen Post (Trinity Complete)









I've just finished watching an hour long documentary on Messiaen from 1985. It's from an episode of England's "South Bank Show", and is called Music of Faith. It's a nice and relatively thoughtful little look at some aspects of the man and his music. Complete with some great interviews, images of the French countryside, excerpts of performances of the gargantuan and haunting La Transfiguration de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ, Quatuor pour la fin du temps, a lot of the piano music (Catalogue d'oiseaux) played by Yvonne Loriod, some organ music, a beautiful performance of the sublime 'Jardin du Sommeil d'Amour' (from Turangalîla), Oiseaux Exotiques etc.

The highlights of the movie are many and if you are a fan it's neccessary you try to track this down for them:

-Messiaen notating birdsong in the forest with his trademark beret
-A systematic exploration of how he transcribed birdsongs in different pieces (complete with actual clips of the birds and photos)
-Yvonne Loriod, dressed in a huge Messiaenistic technicolor dress, playing Visions de l'Amen for a small little audience including Messiaen, seen looking Messiaen-like staring in rapt silence in the background at his wife in the foreground summoning the blood of Christ into huge Messiaentastic clustered chords.
-Messiaen playing the opening bars of Pelleas et Melisande on the piano
-George Benjamin, the documentary's lead consultant, looking like a excited 12 year old boy showing off his knowledge of Yu-Gi-Oh, making effectively smart and accesible insights into his teacher's music. He also compares at the piano Debussy's impressionistically dreamy harmonic and rhymic flow to Messiaen's hard-edged and stained-glass rotating crystal sound world. He then compares the nightingale birdsong in Beethoven (The Sixth), Ravel (L'Enfant...) to Messiaen's own use of the same bird. Not only is Messiaen just simply more 'accurate', Ravel's is quite accurate as well, he also surrealistically contorts the bird's music into a hyper-kinetic, quasi-improvisitory jangle of orgasmic delirium. Boulez' writing (especially for the piano) owes a lot to this delirium, despite never being so joyful or colorful. It is obvious he stole a lot more from his master than he admits in his cruel remarks on the older composer, who also happens to be his better.
-Interview footage of Messiaen. Despite the resigned look in his eyes, and his quiet French treble (how did he never learn any English?), he is the essence of deep-rooted confidence in his art, and most of all, in his faith.

At the moment Messiaen is fascinating me more than ever, but I still have pieces I'm working on about Koechlin and a new favorite of mine, (gasp) Max (gulp) Re (NO!) g (DON'T SAY IT!) er. Max Reger.
I'm feeling a little lazy this week when it comes to writing, but forgive me as Messiaen would have.
Assurance

















I did not know what would happen to me. I had to work under forced labor. I was ill-treated by the Germans. But that did not matter to me. Even If I died, I knew, there would be
paradise.
-
Olivier Messiaen

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Pur Chased












I couldn't resist this. An 18 CD boxset of the great Olivier Messiaen's core works played by Kent Nagano, the composer's freakishly talented pianist wife Yvonne Loriod and other Messiaenites. Included in the wonderful package (with the perfectly appropriate distorted stained glass on the cover) is an interview with the man a couple years before his death in 1991.

Messiaen's gloriously wacky and gorgeous music has always been important to me, but it is only lately that I've developed a true apprecation of his genius.