Sentimental Education

Thursday 19 March 2009

When I was growing up I walked past this object all the time, for years, without realising what it was. As a small kid I simply thought it was a triangular, walled-off space and never thought about it being a work of art. I just wondered why that area was walled off, why there was no way in, and what was inside (I was too short to see over it).
Later on, I figured out that it was art: I’d found the plaque nearby which said it was ‘Untitled’ by Donald Judd. It was ‘modern art’ – minimalist and blank – but it still intrigued me because it was still extremely difficult to see what, if anything, was inside its walls (I was a late bloomer). Its featureless sides frustrated small kids’ attempts to climb it.
For a while I thought that was the point of the sculpture: to zone off an area you couldn’t see into. Finally attaining normal height put paid to that delusion, although the thickness of the walls still inhibit an easy view into the centre.

In any case, I grew up thinking of it as just one amongst many pieces of ugly public art scattered around Adelaide. It wasn’t until much later that I understood the size of Judd’s reputation and how unusual it was to have regular contact with a site-specific outdoor work by him. I assumed he had stuff like this scattered all over the world. I still can’t see it without thinking it’s bigger than it really is.
It doesn’t surprise me to hear the work described as “controversial for Adelaide” although I never heard that when living there. Adelaideans tend to be pretty reticent. Unusually, the controversy seems to have been less about the art, and more to do with the artist visiting Don Dunstan’s Adelaide being an American:

In the last phases of the Vietnam war, anti-American sentiment ran high and both the exhibition and Judd’s sculpture commission caused a public outcry in Adelaide. Local academics joined with students, political groups and the media to denounce this “American imperialism” and “servility to things foreign” through protests and a debate which continued into 1975.

(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla Lite.)

Redundens 1k

Monday 16 March 2009

The series of works collectively titled Redundens was begun in 2001. All the pieces take Arnold Schoenberg’s Three Pieces for Piano, Op.11 as their starting point: only the top line in Schoenberg’s pieces is retained as an unaccompanied melody (or as a list of pitch classes if you’re more technically-minded.) Each set of pieces uses a different method of encoding this melody; by pitch, register, timbre, duration, dynamics, or other means.
Redundens 1k retains for each pitch class in the melody the same register and duration throughout the piece, as determined by the nature of their initial appearances in the original. This new melody is then arranged for solo flute by transposing each note up one or two octaves to fit into the instrument’s range. Dyads are replaced by the actual pitch-class occurring in the original sequence.
Redundens 1k (14’33”, 22.33 MB, mp3)

Please Mister Please

Saturday 14 March 2009

(Henri Pousseur memorial edition)
Henri Pousseur, “Scambi” (1957).
(6’34”, 10.42 MB, mp3)

They’re Doing It On Purpose

Saturday 14 March 2009

Another week, another VW camper parked outside my house. Pretty blue, though.

Total Immersion: Iannis Xenakis

Friday 13 March 2009

There was a battle of loud, irridescent shirts on stage during the Saturday evening Xenakis concert at the Barbican – quite possibly to match the music. Pianist Rolf Hind played Mists again, this time in a shiny green shirt, instead of the shiny red shirt last time I saw him play. Not to be outdone, Christian Lindberg trotted on stage in a shiny red shirt of his own, but much tighter, covered with Chinese symbols, and unbuttoned to reveal a silver medallion as well. Game: Lindberg.
Lindberg’s trombone playing was equally flashy during Xenakis’ late concerto for the instrument, Troorkh. The long, swooping glissandi, sudden leaps in register, and repeated excursions into the highest range of the instrument make this a fiendishly difficult piece for the soloist; something well telegraphed by Lindberg as he jogged on the spot, nodded his head and hummed along with the orchestra to psych himself up between phrases. The orchestra sounded good but remained in the background through most of the piece, though this may have appeared so due as much to the soloist’s antics (and tight-fitting clothes) as the solo itself.
A much stronger work was the earlier orchestral work Antikthon, who roiling mass of conflicting textures was employed as a statement in itself, instead of providing support to a solo. It’s incredible to think the heaving, protean force of this music was conceived as a ballet.
The evening also included a rare performance the Anastenaria trilogy. The final section, Metastasis, is famous as Xenakis’ Opus One, all but completely obscuring the seldom-heard preceding sections. I thought the programme notes’ comparisonsof the first two pieces to Carl Orff and Bartok were a bit silly, until I heard the music. Metastasis is another thing entirely, compared even to Xenakis’ previous music, let alone any other.
To complement the Xenakis, the rest of the Barbican was given over to organised chaos for the day. Thousands of small children were running around doing various activities, making craft projects that spread debris throughout the building, and generally creating pandemonium. For some reason, a late-night knitting circle was set up immediately outside the concert hall. It was annoying to come straight out of the hall with Antikthon still ringing in your ears only to be instantly confronted by a Latin American folk band serenading the punters (and the knitters) at the bar.
It was also annoying that there was a late night gig by Haswell and Hecker using Xenakis’s UPIC system, but it hadn’t been advertised anywhere in the rest of the promotional materials, and it started at midnight, two hours after the last Xenakis gig. Anyway, I’d seen ’em so I went home to bed.

So Close, Yet So Far

Thursday 12 March 2009

I swore off making fun of newspaper columnists a long time ago, but this one’s too good to let pass by. Sue Sharp, head of Guide Dogs Public Policy and Campaigns, has an opinion piece in The Guardian decrying proposed changes to London’s pedestrian crossings (I’ve added my own emphasis):
… plans to introduce “speedy street crossings” in London to free up traffic will seriously undermine the mobility of blind and partially sighted pedestrians in London.
Under these proposals, the amount of crossing time for pedestrians will be cut by up to six seconds, and there will be a reduced number of green man phases. As pedestrians walk at an average speed of 1.2m per second, such a reduction in crossing time could potentially leave them 7.2m short of the kerb when the light goes green to traffic, and more if they have a slower walking pace than the average.
If the metrics confuse you, here are some people under two metres tall walking at an average pace on a typical London street crossing:

More Secrets of the Vatican Revealed

Wednesday 11 March 2009

Thanks to Bodgieman for his comments on touring the Vatican; in particular, for his reminiscence of the time he “stole a brown plastic coffee cup from the restaurant /bar on top of the dome at St Peters”. The most shocking thing about this revelation is that there’s a restaurant hidden away in the top of St Peters. I had no idea. It sounds like the sort of thing the British would do in St Pauls.
I haven’t been inside St Pauls yet, because I hear they charge admission. Mind you, they charge admission to go up in the dome of St Peters, which is why I didn’t find out if there really is a bar up there.
On the plus side, the toilets at St Pauls are free, although they use a cheap type of toilet paper you can see your reflection in.
The Bodgieman also accurately notes that “it wasn’t like tv at all where there is commentator and no-one else”. Actually, every time I watch one of those programs where some historian is happily flitting about the Sistine Chapel all to himself, I wonder about all the pissed-off tourists outside who took their one chance to see the place only to discover it’s closed for filming a poncey TV show.
Sometimes, the presenter and camera crew aren’t quite so alone as they would like you to think. I’ve already mentioned the time my visit to the Tate was thwarted by a TV crew butting in every time I’d found a nice painting to contemplate.

Sarsaparilla Lite

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Where did Sarsaparilla go? The group blog I sometimes contribute to has been down for a while now.
What started as a simple redesign and overhaul for the new year has become a bit complicated. Our web hosting service suddenly got shirty about having to host us. Apparently, a small blog with no audio, video, or other multimedia is a huge drain on its bandwidth.
So, while we’re looking for a new host to get the spiffy new blog up and running, please enjoy the temporary delights of Sarsaparilla Lite.

A Lesson in the Bleeding Obvious

Sunday 8 March 2009

Don’t take your severely hungover girlfriend to an early afternoon concert of percussion music by Iannis Xenakis.

Please Mister Please

Friday 6 March 2009

The Fall, “Dr Buck’s Letter” (2000).
(5’21”, 6.35 MB, mp3)

What are they trying to tell us?

Friday 6 March 2009

Make that six outside my house.

Redundens 6j

Thursday 5 March 2009

The series of works collectively titled Redundens was begun in 2001. All the pieces take Arnold Schoenberg’s Three Pieces for Piano, Op.11 as their starting point: only the top line in Schoenberg’s pieces is retained as an unaccompanied melody (or as a list of pitch classes if you’re more technically-minded.) Each set of pieces uses a different method of encoding this melody; by pitch, register, timbre, duration, dynamics, or other means.
Redundens 6j takes the sequence of notes as a melody without regard to rhythm, duration, or register. The melody is then split between two voices within a common octave, alternating from one note to the next. The second voice is shifted one beat back to produce intervals. Unisons are doubled two octaves lower, and played at half duration. For solo piano.
Redundens 6j (4’16”, 6.84 MB, mp3)

It’s Not The End Of The World

Wednesday 4 March 2009

Kyle Gann has reluctantly closed down his PostClassic Radio internet station. It’s a pity: over the past few years it’s been a superb way to hear hundreds of pieces of great music by composers who don’t fit into the standard pigeonholes of “modern classical” or whatever you want to call that stuff.
I can’t blame him. It’s not as if he doesn’t have other things to do besides update and maintain that service; and there’s no way I’d spend hundreds of dollars each year on letting everyone hear other people’s music.
Besides, over PostClassic Radio’s five years of existence a number of other internet resources have arisen (and some have fallen again). Although it will be missed, there are more ways today than when it started, of exploring a wider range of music, by hook or by crook. Even when a corporate behemoth crushes a technological innovation that gives people what they want, an alternative soon emerges. Goodbye Muxtape, hello Seeqpod – or whatever becomes next week’s vehicle of choice for sharing music. The situation will remain in flux but still active, as long as we can access the means of distribution.

What’s on top of the (virtual) pile?

Sunday 1 March 2009

New Directions in Music 1 (Robert Craft et al.)
This 50-year-old LP of Pierre Boulez’ Le Marteau sans maître and Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Zeitmasse* is just one example of many Vinyl Age recordings of the post-war avant garde I’ve been enjoying lately. This guy conveys some of the thrill in hearing performances made of music when it is still brand new and something of an unknown quantity (when this record was released, both of these pieces had been completed only the previous year**.)
That’s not all, though. These old recordings have a starkness to them, a thinness of sound which emphasise just how unfamiliar the music was to a contemporary audience. Modern recordings too often have a sweetness and softness to them that is appealing at first, but eventually sounds bland.
Lux and Ivy’s Favorites, volumes 1-11
Speaking of scratchy old records…. The Cramps have always been a band I intellectually admired but not subjectively liked. Lux Interior’s recent death has spurred WFMU into hosting on their website the complete set (so far) of Lux and Ivy’s Favorites: fan-compiled CDs of songs mentioned by Lux and Ivy in their various interviews. Liking random collections of old records as much as I do, this plethora of pop, soul, blues, and novelty records from the 50s and 60s has made my week – and given me a better-sounding copy of The Five Blobs’ “The Blob”.

* Or Zeitmasze. Stockhausen seems to have changed his mind later about how to spell it.
** And now they are old. And yet…

(Last time on that conceptual pile.)

A Conundrum

Saturday 28 February 2009

Which is slower, more tedious, more frustrating? Going through a piece of music in a computer program, modifying it note by note? Or writing a script to modify the whole thing automatically, inevitably having to subject the whole thing to trial and error, running it numerous times before you’ve fixed all the stupid syntax errors and made it do what you wanted it to do, then checking the modified work to make sure there are no mistakes?