Outside my window, yesterday afternoon

Tuesday 4 July 2006

I don’t know why the street was roped off: they were there when I got home and there was no evidence of what had happened. Whatever it was, it doesn’t seem to have been newsworthy; unlike last time the street I lived in was closed by the police, when I was living in Melbourne and Brenden Abbott decided to hole up on my block after breaking out of gaol. That was more exciting, if waiting for six hours to be let 25 metres down your street to get home is your idea of excitement.
He got away, in case you were hanging out to find how that last anecdote ended.
Wait! I’ve just had a leaflet slipped under my door. There was a shooting at the dodgy pub across the street. This place feels more and more like home every day.

Filler by Proxy XXXVI: Harry Pollock and the Halftone Prints*

Tuesday 4 July 2006

*Yes, it’s terrible. Just terrible. But I can’t be arsed finishing the longer post I was writing about art or something, and I’ve been ragging on Pollock lately. Also, this synopsis conjured up pleasing images of the series ending with a thick-set, balding Harry Potter getting liquored up and wrapping his car around a stobie pole. Thanks to the Flickr Crappy Bootleg DVD Covers Pool.

Previously: More fun with shithouse Chinese bootleg DVDs.

Speaking of crap photos…

Monday 3 July 2006

Fresh gherkin! Now part of the 30 St Mary Axe Flickr pool.

Filler by Proxy XXXV: More and more, these people run your world

Monday 3 July 2006

Found via Greg.org: The Online Photographer presents Great Photographers of the Internet:

Edward Steichen
Much too dark exposure and not sharp. I suppose you may say that you tried to make it unsharp but what the hell’s the point in that. I like things sharp. Maybe you should study some other peoples’ photographs here on this forum and get an idea of what a good photograph should look like.

There’s a heap more like this, in the same post and subsequent entries on the Online Photographer’s blog, culminating in some navel-gazing about how everyone feels compelled to point out “mistakes” photographers such as Cartier-Bresson have made by not following “rules” of exposure, framing and focus. Oh, and not using a Nikon. No, a Canon. No! A Nikon!

Taking a photograph in complete ignorance of the “rules” hurts no one, costs nothing, and might even be more fun.

You can read those posts and laugh at the silly nerdboys (there may be a girl or two in there) with their techincal hairsplitting, valuing process over results. But as you do, please spare a thought for those of us who tried to learn music composition at university. I doubt there is any other artform taken so seriously, which is so dependent on the same type of pointless nitpicking as which these internet kibitzers thrive on.
At about the same time as the Online Photographer was making his point, Kyle Gann at PostClassic had finished teaching another semester:

I’ve been becoming aware that, even among the Downtowners, there is a standard academic position regarding electronic music, and am learning how to articulate it. I’ve long known that, though much of my music emanates from computers and loudspeakers, I am not considered an electronic composer by the “real electronic composers.” Why not? I use MIDI and commercial synthesizers and samplers, which are disallowed, and relegate my music to an ontological no-man’s genre. But more and more students have been telling me lately that their music is disallowed by their professors, and some fantastic composers outside academia have been explaining why academia will have nothing to do with them.

Two generations ago, composition professors would promote the careers of unlistenably dull, academic composers who would say approvingly, in all seriousness, that a piece of music was “better than it sounds.” Today, those same fossils are still taking up space in most music schools, but now a whole new exciting branch of electronic music has opened up, so that a fresh batch of careerists can stifle it all over again; and refuse to state whether or not a piece of music they have heard is any good, until they know what technical equipment was used to make it.

Euston: Bend Sinister

Saturday 1 July 2006

In keeping with the overall character of London, there is no consistent plan to the design of the Underground stations. Some haven’t really changed since they opened in the 1860s, others try to keep some semblance of uniformity to distinguish one line from another, and then there are a lot of ‘one off’ designs which may not extend even to the entirety of the station.
Euston is one of the most confusing tube stations, being combined with a mainline train station connecting the north, and joining three different tube lines, two with the same name, in an unconventional layout. As a result the lower platforms tend to become clogged with bewildered Mancunians towing luggage and walking against the flow, trying to decipher the array of diagrams and direction signs in the passageways.
Most of Euston is lined with anonymous grey tiles, in the dreary British interpretation of modernism that influenced the design of the station when it was rebuilt in the 1960s. However, two of the six platforms have a newer, fairly arbitrarily applied decoration, which at first looks like a bit of 80s abstraction. If you’re stuck waiting for a train, you may notice the small plaque explaining what the design represents. It’s a stylised version of the shield in the Earl of Euston’s coat of arms: the Royal Standard defaced with a bend sinister (OK, technically it’s a baton sinister). In other words, the first Earl was the illegitimate offspring of the King.

I wonder how it was agreed that the best way to brighten up such an awkwardly constructed station was to cover it with a colourful display of the ancient symbol for “right royal bastard”.

Have you decided to be a genius yet?

Tuesday 27 June 2006

Get the Hope-Tipping angle!
Reactionary critic, 1956: “Jackson Pollock’s paintings are the crude, formless scrawlings of a drunken lout.”
Progressive critic, 1956: “Pollock is a master of the classically conceived composition and quattrocento line.”
Reactionary critic, 2006: “Today’s artists sorely lack the skill and rigor of Jackson Pollock.”
Progressive critic, 2006: “Jackson Pollock’s paintings are the crude, formless scrawlings of a drunken lout.”
To appear especially insightful, use the above dismissive judgement of Pollock when comparing him unfavourably to a 23 year old, female video artist.

Related: Old art, new art, both are piss easy to get a handle on.

Germaine Greer: I learned everything I need to know about criticism from Stephen Potter.

Monday 26 June 2006

What is more important is that the Mona Lisa is a dull, slimy picture, with more mystery than merit.

What makes this sentence truly brilliant is that it appears in the middle of a passage about the identity of Rembrandt’s portrait sitters, in an article of thundering obviousness otherwise irrelevant to Leonardo. Greer is a worthy disciple of the Lifemanship school of criticism:

The critic must always be on top of, or better than, the person criticized. The subject may be a man of genius, yet he must get on top. How? the layman asks. By the old process – of going one better. Hope-Tipping of Buttermere had never really read a book since his schooldays, much less formed an original judgement. But he specialized in his own variations on the formula.
H.-T. first made a name for himself in 1930 by saying that ‘the one thing that was lacking, of course, from D.H. Lawrence’s novels, was the consciousness of sexual relationship, the male and female element in life.’
‘The deep superficiality of Catullus’ is Hope-Tipping’s, too. Never, by any shadow of a chance, was there a hint of a cliché in the judgement of Hope-Tipping.
Of course, Greer is famously incapable of maintaining a coherent line of thought over two consecutive sentences, so she somewhat spoils the above gem by attempting to follow it up with a tired gambit:
Raphael’s portrait of Baldassare Castiglione would put it in the shade, if only the smug boneless face of the Mona Lisa had not been reproduced unimaginable squillions of times in every known medium.

Foolishly, I was going to point out that this begs the question of why, then, this crummy painting was reproduced so often, until I realised how she had cleverly disguised the bigger question going begging: has she actually seen the Mona Lisa? In fact, how many people alive today have managed to get one good look at that painting?

Advanced East London Council Works Budget Justification Techniques

Saturday 24 June 2006


Filler by Proxy XXXIV: Another Great Italian

Saturday 24 June 2006

In one of the later, more indulgent passages of Douglas Adams’ “Hitchhiker” novels, he describes an out-of-it band’s music (from dim memory) as one muso playing in 3/4, another in 5/8, while a third played in πr². It seemed like a far-out joke to your callow, nerdy self, right up until you heard the music of Conlon Nancarrow.
Nancarrow’s Study for Player Piano No. 40 is written entirely in the rhythmic relationship of e/π. How do you play something like that? You can’t, so you get a machine to do it for you. If you’re living in 1948, in an earthquake-proof bunker in Mexico City, in exile from your native United States without a passport because of your socialist beliefs, the machine in question is a battered 1920s player piano, and you punch the notes for its piano rolls by hand, one at a time.
Nancarrow was obsessed with hearing polyrhythms of a complexity the mind could perceive, but not imagine. He resorted to the player piano when musicians couldn’t, or wouldn’t (“they’ll think I’m playing wrong notes!”) play his music, and so expanded the realm of rhythmic and temporal possibilities beyond anyone’s previous expectations.
I’m only bringing this up now because 2 Blowhards (a propos of drugs) has linked to a page of audio samples of Nancarrow’s music at Minnesota Public Radio, including photos and more neat biographical material. Listen up, he’s fun.
Wait: more Nancarrow links.
  • In addition to the Other Minds page linked above, Kyle Gann has written the book about Nancarrow (literally), and annotates his list of works with the increasingly wild tempo ratios used in his music.
  • The Other Minds Archive has a recording of the long-lost Three 2-Part Studies, written back when Nancarrow was still writing for live pianists and was conventially jazzier, only this version has been arranged for two toy pianos (why yes, it is Margaret Leng Tan, how did you guess?)
  • More from Other Minds: Study for Player Piano No. 40b (i.e. the second and final movement of Study No. 40).
  • I get cranky about live musicians playing Nancarrow’s player piano music.

Go outside and take a walk in the sunshine for once

Sunday 18 June 2006

Now you could stroll through Victoria Park, down the Bow Heritage trail, without fear…. Or so I thought – until I penetrated the north-east corner, beyond the obelisk, the rarely visited war memorial, which is sited at the point where an invisible barrier is crossed, and you move out of Tower Hamlets (Old Ford) into South Hackney.

So speaks Iain Sinclair in Lights Out For the Territory, my psychogeographic Baedeker to London. I, however, born and raised in Adelaide, am used to viewing the world from the prospect of a backwater at the arse-end of the Earth, and so habitually enter Victoria Park via this supposedly remote corner, being the gate closest to home, and walk the other way. If you replaced the squirrels with possums fossicking through the rubbish, Victoria Park resembles any other large park in Adelaide.
The memorial to the Great War casualties from Hackney Wick is small and somewhat neglected: the names carved on its base are starting to fade. The obelisk itself is set adrift in the middle of a lawn, far away from any footpath; reflecting the ambivalence of the community’s working-class population to the Great War.

Further down the path are two large stone alcoves, grandiose shelters for benches. These are the two surviving fragments of old London Bridge, relocated to the park in 1860: another item in Sinclair’s catalogue of misalignments of London monuments.
Instead of writing about art or music today I decided to go for another walk through the park. Down at the south gate of the park, beside the Dogs of Alcibiades, I was stopped by an elderly Indian gentleman who was standing around looking somewhat lost. I thought he was going to ask me for directions, but he held a letter in his hand, and asked if I could read the first paragraph for him:
Dear Sir, This is to notify you that your petition for divorce was filed with the court on 22nd May 2006, and that a copy of the papers were delivered to your wife on 6th June 2006.

He smiled, “Thank you, sir,” and walked away. It’s always a heartwarming feeling when you’ve helped a stranger.

About Bloody Time

Saturday 17 June 2006

The name and subject indices have been updated to the present. Yeah, I know…

György Ligeti, RIP

Tuesday 13 June 2006

He was that rarest of treasures, a brilliant European composer who wasn’t a megalomaniacal arsehole. A composer whose music is as sensually rewarding as it is intellectually appealing. A composer who became part of Fluxus to annoy the modernist orthdoxy, only to leave it again when he realised Fluxus wanted to be taken seriously. A man who wrote a symphonic poem for 100 metronomes.
If you’ve seen 2001 you’ve heard his music. Oh alright, and Eyes Wide Shut. No, not that piece!
  • Alex Ross gives a beautiful summary of Ligeti’s life and achievements, written in 2001.
  • The score of Poème Symphonique: note the solicitude with which he addresses the problem of how on earth you can get hold of a hundred metronomes. Unfortunately I can’t find his vivid description of his preparations for the premiere: sweating backstage in an ill-fitting, rented tuxedo, fingers aching after several hours winding up fifty metronomes, and realising he still had another fifty to go.
  • The Rambler has collected some obituaries.
  • Some small downloadable audio samples (and scores) from his list of works. The piano etudes play like Thelonius Monk orchestrating M.C. Escher.
  • YouTube has a film of the Poème Symphonique.

Looking at Looking at Art

Tuesday 13 June 2006

I forgot to mention that the main reason I was in Berlin (apart from the cheap hotels in the longueur before the World Cup) was to visit a friend showing at the Sonambiente festival. As it turned out, the Berlin Biennial had been extended for a week, so we took in some of that, too. A brief writeup of my, uh, issues with the show will appear tomorrow, but in the meantime I’ve posted a few photos from the exhibition in the Flickr group, Looking at Looking at Art. You can also see some other pictures of people gawping at Rachel Whiteread’s Embankment.

Germany is like Australia: Exhibit A

Monday 12 June 2006

I really like Berlin; so much so that when I came back to Australia from visiting there six years ago and people asked me what it was like, I said “It’s a lot like Melbourne.” This did not go down well with my German or otherwise-Europeanny friends.
How!?” they demanded to know. I give you photographic proof.

In Germany, as in Australia, Sport = Ideas.
Honestly, Australians: can’t you just imagine a sign saying “Victoria*: Land of Ideas” in front of a giant, non-functional footy boot? Really though, this should belong in Queensland, spiritual centre for Big Things. “Don’t miss THE BIG SHOE, 2km west of Beaudesert.”
This was outside the new central train station in Berlin, a week before (duh!) the World Cup.

* Or one of the other states. But never “Australia”.

‘Highway 61, revisited’ revisited

Sunday 11 June 2006