Filler by Proxy L: Special Commemorative Edition ($250 unframed, $350 framed)

Monday 30 April 2007

First, a piece of self-generated filler: I was testing for dead links and discovered that Haiku Review has finally published the Richard Tipping review they asked me for about three years ago, and which I submitted to them about two years ago:
Les techniques sont semblables à ceux employées par des «pirates de l’air de médias» et autre activistes, qui ont puisqu’alternativement coopté et reassimilated par industrie de publicité. Quant à la bureaucratie, travaux tels que retentir le silence être maladroit dans leur monumentality et leur contenu didactique, définissant un message édifiant que n’importe quel bureaucrate ou conseil à l’âme noble pourrait approuver.

It’s also available in Dutch, Korean, Portugese, and English, among other languages.

All Kinds of Stuff
John Kricfalusi regularly updates his blog with lots of strongly held opinions about cartoons: in particular, the aspects of art, design, writing and acting that go into them, and the way that corporate economics can screw them up. His last posts have been observing the decline of cereal box artwork, and the difference between acting and dialogue performed by a real person, and performed by a cartoon:

I had just read the script for “Disco Droopy” and someone tipped me off on where the scriptwriter was hiding out…. I chased him down and began to deliver God’s justice upon him… reality sunk in slowly; it produced a last rebellious and futile spasmic outcry. This is what artists face every day of their lives in the terrible icy world of animation scripts.

The real surprise in this post is his brief reference at the end to the extensive restoration work recently done on Ren and Stimpy, salvaging scenes from an old VHS tape. They had to restore Ren and Stimpy. What has the world come to?

Music Stuff

Composer Daniel Wolf has been posting frequently on Renewable Music about the ways that music seeps into other parts of life, including a recent series on Music Landmarks (see the sidebar), a bit like The Rambler’s Music Since 1960 series.
Finally, WFMU has video of John Cage performing his Water Walk, complete with bathtub, pressure cooker, blender and watering can (but not working radios) on the American TV game show I’ve Got A Secret, in 1960. The previous year, Cage had performed his music on the Italian quiz show Lascia o Raddoppia, where as a contestant he won enough money to buy a minivan for Merce Cunningham’s dance company. Has any composer beaten Cage’s record for TV game show appearances?
In case you hadn’t guessed from the description, the video is a great bit of fun.

The mummified corpse of Jeremy Bentham reads inter-office emails.

Sunday 29 April 2007

Whoops, someone chopped off a bit of Harrison Ford.

Seriously Comma

Thursday 26 April 2007

Value judgements are not in the nature of this work as regards either composition, performance, or listening…. A “mistake” is beside the point, for once anything happens it authentically is.
John Cage, “Composition” (1952), Silence, p.59.
John Cage, cover page for manuscript of 27’10.554″ for a Percussionist (1956).

Satyagraha and living with contradictions

Tuesday 24 April 2007

In the foyer of the Coliseum at the intervals of Philip Glass’ opera Satyagraha, I heard people making the same Glass jokes that I heard at the first ever Glass concert I went to – good god! – twenty-one years ago. And people complain that his music’s repetitive.

Everyone who discusses Satyagraha mentions how long it is, as though a three-act, three-hour opera is somehow unusual.

When Satyagraha was new (to me and to the world) it revealed a dramatic and emotional depth to Glass’ musical language that had previously been implicit, or repressed. Today it is heard in retrospect, after his decades of movie soundtracks and symphonies, and people find it curiously empty, flat, and static.

Or else they find it infuriating. “Works like these can have much the same effect as mind-numbing drugs, which is no doubt why they proved so popular at the time.” The same criticism was made when Satyagraha was new, by 80s yuppies looking back at the flower-power era with disdain. The major works by first-generation minimalists have long been derided as out-of-date, irrelevant. Strangely, this just makes these pieces seem even more radical to music audiences today.

The more action there was on stage, the less interesting the music became. The stage directors were smart enough to make the stage less busy as the opera progressed. If you didn’t know already, you should have learned during the evening that the music didn’t need visual distractions to work as a theatrical experience.

What was that crocodile doing on stage? If it was just to get a few chuckles from the audience, then it was a success.

Were the texts projected on the stage successful in providing just enough context to better appreciate the opera, or were they treating us like high school kids in need of a crib sheet? I think the literalness of some of the texts (numbering off the scenes, for example) demystified the opera, and so worked against it.

Why did the wind players enter the orchestra pit gradually, as needed, during the third act? Is the audience meant to notice this?

It was wonderful to hear a live performance of one of Glass’ relatively few orchestral works worth hearing. As always there were advantages (Alan Oke’s singing in the lead role, the chorus’ performance after the first scene, watching how well the orchestra kept up such an unfamiliar musical style) and disadvantages (a couple of weak singers, the conductor’s occasional habit of broadening the tempo at dramatic moments, which kills the momentum of Glass’ music) to hearing it live versus a recording.

Some of the time it felt like the singers were all a little too polite in keeping out of each other’s way. Would a full-on La Scala type display of bravura give us a richer operatic experience of the work, or would it pull this type of music to shreds?

Is a recording of a modern opera an idealised performance? Glass certainly intended his recording of Satyagraha to be a distinctive, “perfectly” performed musical experience in its own right. Instead of documenting an ensemble performance, it was a studio creation: the singers and orchestral sections recorded part by part, overdubbed, edited and mixed. No-one had tried to record an opera this way before; presumably very few, if any, have tried this method since.

Satyagraha was recorded in the mid-1980s. Most people discussing the album these days say the sound, like that of many other products of then-new recording technology, is dreadful. I loved this LP, but haven’t listened it to years for fear that hearing it with 21st century ears will ruin it for me. The memories of the album kept coming back throughout the performance at the Coliseum: the two will coexist in my head until someone tries to make a new, more conventional recording.

The day after seeing Satyagraha I didn’t think about it at all; but since then bits of it, from every scene, having been popping into my head. Mostly the music, with the staging as a semi-subliminal accompaniment.

He Comes Back from a New Music Gig Feeling Disgruntled!

Monday 23 April 2007

I have come to realise that, along with “Disco Polka” and “Contemporary Christian”, the most contemptible pairing of words in the world of music is “Spatialised Electroacoustic“.
After going to gigs like this for years I realise it’s all the same. The same shiny crunchy timbre of over-processed sound, the same repeating regularity in the loops, the same reverb in the mix, the same mystification of the source material, the same ethrallment at reproducing a surface effect for its own sake, with no thought or mood to support it, the same lack of compositional shape, the same self-contained complacency in its aesthetic goals. It’s all déjà-entendu, without the spark of individuality present in any composer’s work to distinguish one example of the genre from another.
The technology reached a level of sophistication and accessibility in the 1990s that almost nobody has been able to transcend. Everyone is so beholden to the great, potential capabilities of the software that no-one working with it for long can resist altering their creative processes in a way that better accommodates that technological potential, at the expense of their true creativity.
(A visual example: try to find a scene of CGI landscape in a film that doesn’t have some birds flying over and through it.)
This is partly a problem of composers conceiving the music as being defined by its technical apparatus. There’s good contemporary, christian music out there, but it doesn’t describe itself as Contemporary Christian. Now that electroacoustic music is ten-a-penny, spatialisation is the new incursion of ossified academicism: there’s infrastructure and funding needed to support that, with the attendant accumulation of material resources to legitimise cultural authority that the music cannot substantiate on its own.
More Uigedail!

It’s not filler it’s a trailer. Fine have it your way.

Sunday 22 April 2007

Hello. I have spent the better part of the last week helping my girlfriend decide on what kind of a small rug she should put in the hallway. In my spare moments I have thrown together a barely-coherent review of Satyagraha, and an unpleasant rant after going to see The Sound Source night at the ICA. There was also the Radius concert at Wigmore Hall on the weekend, which I should say something intelligent about.
These will all be posted very soon when I’ve made them into something readable, I’m sure. I was going to post another picture of the mummified corpse of Jeremy Bentham reading inter-office emails but I’ve had someone commenting that this blog is obsessed with death, so instead here’s another photo taken from my toilet. This is the glamorous night-time view over the Isle of Dogs towards Canary Wharf, and is as un-blurry as I can manage for now.

Filler by Proxy XLIX: “Great Expectations presented as a log flume” – I’m not making this up.

Wednesday 18 April 2007

I’ve been to the opera, but I can’t post about it today: I’m off to Dickens World!
Never mind that the books tackle child exploitation, poverty, murder and domestic violence; the indoor attraction is based on designs by the creator of Santa World in Sweden so the emphasis is firmly on fun, fun, fun.
Dickens World feels like Disney gone to the dark side. In place of the Magic Kingdom there is Newgate Prison; instead of talking animals there will be shady characters loitering in dark corners. Although the attractions are all faithfully Dickensian, the larks are very much 21st century….
The whole project cost £62m and hopes to present Dickens to coaches of schoolchildren without having to call in the Muppets for backup.
It’s all within a day-trip from my house, apparently.

The mummified corpse of Jeremy Bentham reads inter-office emails.

Monday 16 April 2007

What about YOUR horse fetish?

The Kurt Vonnegut post

Thursday 12 April 2007

I was just invoking Kurt Vonnegut’s depiction of an arsehole to describe a photograph when I heard that he had died. Tim Sterne at Sarsaparilla has posted a brief farewell.
Crud Crud has posted an mp3 of an old LP of Vonnegut reading excerpts from Cat’s Cradle.

Literary Stowaways of the Antipodes

Thursday 12 April 2007

The parlor game – which books for a desert island? – was played by America in earnest. Homer’s book was not just there, as in London or Leyden; one decided to bring it along, or send for it, or decided not to.
– Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era.
After discussing what Australian authors didn’t make the trip to London, I made a quick survey of the ones that did. This seems to be just about everything:
  • Obviously I like the more experimental poets: Ania Walwicz, Jas Duke, Chris Mann, ΠO, and several issues of 925 are all present and correct.
  • Some other small zines (see photo).
  • A little history: Michael Cathcart’s abridgement of Manning Clark, Ann Coombs’ Sex and Anarchy, a history of the Sydney Push.
  • Meaghan Morris’ Ecstasy and Economics, along with John Forbes’ New and Selected Poems and a “self-pirated” collection titled Humidity (“I’ll probably change the title to The Banquet of Cleopatra.”)
  • 22 Contemporary Australian Composers, The Pink Violin, and Violin Music in the Age of Shopping.
  • More history: The Life and Death of Sandy Stone, Bruce Petty’s Australia and how it works.
  • Noel Stock’s biography of Ezra Pound, written during his transition from being one of Pound ‘s defenders to one of his detractors.
  • Fiction: Patrick White (Voss, Riders, Vivisector, Storm, Leaves, Twyborn, Three Uneasy Pieces), some Mary Fallon/Fallin, a David Brooks (The House of Balthus) I know nothing about but picked up for a dollar shotly before leaving, a slim volume of Henry Lawson (“The Union Buries Its Dead” etc), and… where’s the rest of it?

Not Wanted on Voyage: Further Perils of Categorisation

Tuesday 10 April 2007

After reading about Elizabeth Jolley’s death, I went to my shelves to take another look through some of her books, and couldn’t find them. The organisation of my books had been hasty and haphazard since unpacking them last year, when they finally arrived in my London flat a little over a year after I left Melbourne. Besides the confusion on the bookshelves, an unknown number of books remained squirrelled away in a tower of unexplored boxes stacked in the hallway.
A month ago on Sarsaparilla, Sophie wrote about the complications of trying to organise her bookshelves for the first time after moving house. I was unable to comment at the time, as I was preoccupied with moving house myself, but was very interested to read what others had to say about bringing some order to their bookpiles, to see what I could learn. However, none of the solutions that worked for other people offered a viable alternative to the method I have adopted in the last few years. What’s more, Sophie’s question about whether she was ghettoising the Australian books in her library went largely unanswered.
I used to prefer straight alphabetisation by author, without further categorisation, to avoid the problem of overlapping and conflicting categories that so many others have mentioned. This, however, led to two problems which I found sufficiently annoying to cause me to abandon the system altogether. Both of these problems were consequences of the logical rigidity demanded by this system.
Firstly, the alphabet would dictate that books be placed on shelves too small to fit them, forcing them to be shelved perpendicularly or out of sequence on a more generously sized shelf. This is a particular problem for people with bookshelves of a fixed height, such as those older bookcases designed for a collection of Penguins and the Everyman Library, ill equipped to accommodate the influx of remaindered titles from American publishers. The problem is especially vexing when an outsize book is orphaned from companion volumes by the same author (see fig. 1).

Figure 1: Published titles by the same author can vary widely in size, as demonstrated here by Charles Olson’s Maximus and Causal Mythology. The Kit Kat is included for scale.
The second problem is that alphabetical order disregards the location of the most frequently consulted books where they are most readily accessible, being as likely to happen as not (see fig. 2). Woe betide the Walter Abish scholar of short stature with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a love of alphabetisation; likewise lament the plus-sized Louis Zukofsky buff with a need for order.

Figure 2: Predicted location of the most frequently consulted books in a collection (Stephen Potter, Ezra Pound) sorted alphabetically by author in a six-shelf bookcase one metre wide, or multiples thereof.
In the end, I abandoned any pretense of an objective, consistent system and grouped books together by the regularity with which I consult them. Or would like to think I consult them, at any rate. Basically, the position of a book on my shelves is a rough measure of the esteem in which I currently hold it.
Because my interests focus upon modernists and postmodernists, the middle shelves are given over to books by or about Ezra Pound – sheer numbers make this the default point of origin. Everything else radiates out from this central plank: Wyndham Lewis on a shelf immediately above or below, through Pound’s contemporaries and heirs to Charles Olson, and from there on to the postmodernists. John Cage, William Burroughs, Samuel Beckett, Kathy Acker form a loose alliance of convenience on the upper and lower shelves.
Stray individuals are slotted in to fit available space, grouped by subjective affinities. Laurence Sterne, Sei Shōnagon, Velimir Khlebnikov and Konrad Bayer all share favourable placement thanks to their exploration of the nature of writing. Banished to the least accessible heights and depths are the occasional Dickens and Rushdie, ancient Romans, renaissance Italians, and a surprisingly large number (more than two!) of French existentialists and surrealists.
For what it’s worth, the Australians were always mixed in with everybody else as though they had every right to belong there. This was partly to uphold the noble idea of a global village, but more honestly to hide my suspicion that the Australian section would look embarrassingly small by comparison. In turn, this would have goaded me into buying a number of books by Australian authors I could never bring myself to read.
So, after all the boxes were finally unpacked, on which shelf did I end up putting those Elizabeth Jolley novels? Nowhere, as it turned out. Jolley wasn’t there. Or rather, she had been relegated to the books left in storage in Melbourne. This may have been an accident or oversight, but seeing as all my most important books are over here, and that I hadn’t missed her until now, it looks like I made a conscious decision to leave her books behind.
Jolley is by no means alone. Now that I rack my brains to think what else is missing, I realise my library lacks some of the less helpful books about Pound, still more French existentialists, plenty of remaindered Viragos (don’t we all have those hidden somewhere?), and Australians. Peter Carey and Andrew McGahan didn’t make the cut, for instance. Patrick White did, but this seems to be more out of guilt than enthusiasm.
As a pack rat by nature, I probably knew in the back of my mind as I was marking the boxes that I would regret the decision sooner or later, but why did I make these particular choices at the time? My guess is that I had created a virtual shelf in my head, one further remove from the epicentre of Pound, Stein, Joyce et al, whose books were deemed excessive to travel and were placed in a storage crate. The distance to that last shelf is a little too great, and now I regret my mistake of banishing at least Miss Peabody’s Inheritance to the Big Shelf Down Under.
(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla.)

Sol LeWitt died on Sunday

Monday 9 April 2007

I learned about Sol LeWitt’s art at about the same time I first heard Philip Glass‘ music, which was appropriate given that the two worked together on several occasions in the 1970s (the photo above is from his cover design for Glass’ LP Music in 12 Parts, Parts 1 & 2).
The New York Times has an obituary (use Bugmenot if you’re asked to register) which attempts to explain the appeal of his drawings which were conceived as simple sets of instructions for someone else to execute:
Sometimes these plans derived from a logical system, like a game; sometimes they defied logic so that the results could not be foreseen, with instructions intentionally vague to allow for interpretation. Characteristically, he would then credit assistants or others with the results…. he always gave his team wiggle room, believing that the input of others — their joy, boredom, frustration or whatever — remained part of the art.

This doesn’t really capture the real impression these drawings first made on me: the realisation that a work of visual art could be made, and appreciated, in the same way as a piece of music. The plans simultaneously governed the form and determined the detail of the finished drawing, and the finished interpretation could be enjoyed for the individual nuances contained within the realisation of an abstract concept. (This also means I don’t care how joyous or bored those assistants were.)

Crown Point Press has a selection of LeWitt’s prints reproduced online. You can read LeWitt’s Sentences on Conceptual Art or, if you prefer, have John Baldessari sing them for you.

This Is It! This is the New Music! Again. More Stained Melodies

Monday 2 April 2007

I’ve finally gotten around to uploading some more mp3s of my music. Everything I’ve been working on lately is pretty long, so here are some shorter pieces written over the past few years that I can still stand to listen to.
The two new additions are from a series of 24 piano pieces called Stained Melodies. The material for Stained Melodies was selected through the use of chance operations on a large array of MIDI keyboard works freely available on the internet. Rather than make a conventional collage, these pieces take only one kind of pitch from each selected work, all of which are then played back simultaneously. In effect, each melody is a collaboration between numerous ghost pianists, none of whom can hear each other; the majority of their music erased. A more detailed explanation is on the download page.
This set of pieces is quite likely impossible for a human pianist to play. To put it beyond any doubt, several additional adjustments were made to take advantage of a computer realization. Dynamics change abruptly from one note to the next, and the sustain pedal only works for the least occurring notes in each piece. Finally, the tuning was modified so that the piano retunes itself in each piece to suit the harmonic qualities of the most frequently occurring note.
At the moment, only Nos. 2, 12, and 18 are available for download: they’re about 3MB each. Two other, later works are available on the main music page. Comments are welcome and may be concise as, but not necessarily limited to:

The mummified corpse of Jeremy Bentham reads inter-office emails.

Sunday 1 April 2007

Not if you drop it out of a plane.