Archive for usa

Lee Friedlander: America By Car

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on September 3, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Lee Friedlander went looking for America by car – but unlike other photographers he chose to shoot it through his windscreen, producing a set of strange and powerful images of the varied US landscape.

Lee Friedlander’s exhibition America By Car & The New Cars 1964, is at Timothy Taylor Gallery until 1 October.

The frame of the car window provides a constant in the photographs of vastly different American landscapes. Here, we can also see a reflection of someone in the car, looking out

Reflections from the car’s mirrors add to the complex composition of some of the photographs.

Sometimes the lines, angles and reflections can be perplexing, in this case reflecting the chaos of the city.

Photographs: Lee Friedlander, courtesy Frankel Gallery, San Francisco

Dear Mr. Stravinsky

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 5, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

In May 1953 Boston University proposed to commission Igor Stravinsky, by then living in Hollywood, to write an opera with Dylan Thomas, who was staying in New York, and had a few months to live. They met in Boston, and Stravinsky recalled the occasion in Robert Craft’s book Conversations with Igor Stravinsky:

His face and skin had the colour and swelling of too much drinking. He was a shorter man than I expected, not more than five feet five or six, with a large protuberant behind and belly. His nose was a red bulb and his eyes were glazed. He drank a glass of whisky with me which made him more at ease, though he kept worrying about his wife, saying he had to hurry home to Wales ‘or it would be too late’. I don’t know how much he knew about music, but he talked about the operas he knew and liked, and about what he wanted to do. ‘His’ opera was to be about the rediscovery of our planet following an atomic misadventure. There would be a re-creation of language, only the new one would have no abstractions; there would be only people, objects, and words. He promised to avoid poetic indulgences: ‘No conceits, I’ll knock them all on the head.’ He agreed to come to me in Hollywood as soon as he could. Returning there I had a room built for him, an extension from our dining room, as we have no guest room. I received two letters from him. I wrote him October 25th in New York and asked him for word of his arrival plans in Hollywood. I expected a telegram from him announcing the hour of his aeroplane. On November 9th the telegram came. It said he was dead. All I could do was cry.

Here’s the letter Thomas sent Stravinsky after that meeting:

The Boat House, Laugharne
Carmarthenshire, Wales
16th June 1953

Dear Mr. Stravinsky,

I was so very glad to meet you for a little time, in Boston; and you and Mrs. Stravinsky couldn’t have been kinder to me. I hope you get well very soon.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the opera and have a number of ideas – good, bad, and chaotic. As soon as I can get something down on paper, I should, if I may, love to send it to you. I broke my arm just before leaving New York the week before last, and can’t write properly yet. It was only a little break, they tell me, but it cracked like a gun.

I should very much like – if you think you would still like me to work with you; and I’d be enormously honoured and excited to do that – to come to California in late September or early October. Would that be convenient? I hope so. And by that time, I hope too, to have some clearer ideas about a libretto.

Thank you again. And please give my regards to your wife and to Mr. Craft.

Yours sincerely

Dylan Thomas

Let’s all listen to Schoenberg …

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 18, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

I enjoy a lot of Schoenberg’s music, in the broadest sense of “enjoy”. It’s not really music to relax or wind down to, it can be so intensely personal and subjective, especially the works of the free atonal period, exhibiting a plethora of intense emotions which tend towards the dark side. I don’t expect any more than a minority of classical music listeners will ever want to listen to it on a regular basis, but I think it is unique and meaningful music (if very much a product of a particular time and place) and does have an importance for that reason.

Certainly all art is very much a product of its time and place – the question is whether it still has anything to say to people here and now? That sort of sensibility that comes through in Schoenberg – rootlessness, alienation, inhabiting a certain precipice within “high culture” and the social world it inhabits, etc., certainly speaks to me, but I don’t find it wholly surprising if many others don’t find it relevant to them.

Schoenberg’s life beyond the concert-hall – his listing by the Third Reich as “degenerate”, his escape to the United States, his life as an émigré, his teaching there, his prominent position as a Jewish refugee – brought his name to a greater prominence than many of his contemporaries. His name became a byword for a kind of purposed complexity and intellectual rigour in music … to a wider public who’d never heard a note of it, but had heard of Arnold Schoenberg.

And they fervently believed that this Schoenberg man represented the very summation of everything they wouldn’t like in music, and should be avoided like the plague.

John Cage: Idle Thoughts

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 13, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

Of course he’s not a composer, but he’s an inventor … of genius.
(Arnold Schoenberg)

A composer with often serious intentions, who was perceived a bit too gimmicky by many people.

Too many musicologists and journalists have had a field day spewing out more column inches about Cage’s ideas than his music (which perhaps says something about the influence of his ideas vis-à-vis the value of his music) and in so doing elevating his status disproportionately high, versus contemporaneous musical explorers such as (for example) Cowell, Harrison, Hovhaness, Partch or Rudhyar.

History tends to sort itself out within a century or two.

Aria and The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs, both performed by Cathy Berberian were the first works by Cage I ever heard. I was hooked. Aria is a wonderful, beautiful musical work. I recall a particularly effective performance by Sarah Walker, as part of a Cage retrospective organised by Tim Souster, if I recall correctly, back in the 1970s. Her superficial visual resemblance at that time to Cathy Berberian was exploited to the full.

I suppose that, over the years, I must have listened to at least half of Cage’s output at one time or another but, whilst I see no reason not to take him seriously, he deserves to be taken seriously on his own terms, not those of someone else. It is hard to forget what Schoenberg said of his one-time student but, for me, it is Cage’s way of taking nothing for granted that marks him out as someone worthy of note; Albumasar has put it succinctly with the words:

Something that could be characterised as a “musical” quality of attention, a heightened awareness of the relation between sound(s) and time which we associate with music … it isn’t a question of learning special techniques as a listener so much as opening listeners’ “sense of music” to a much wider range of experiences, whether a frog plopping into a pond as in the famous haiku or a pneumatic drill on a building site …

This, to me, is what characterises Cage’s rôle in the musical life of his time.

My own listening experiences nevertheless have led me to get little out of Cage, but that’s a very personal matter and not intended as any kind of value judgement. Whilst a good deal of the gimmickry of which Cage has been accused by some has its origins largely in the imaginations of the accusers (i.e. I do not see Cage as the kind of artist who would set out to do that kind of thing for its own sake), I have to admit that the Cage pieces that I find the most disappointing of all are those that would perhaps be least likely to attract such accusations in the first place, such as the string quartet pieces and the Freeman Études.

As to the “frog ploppng into a pond” and the “pneumatic drill on a building site”, I cannot help but think that Cage did himself few favours or helped his real cause when he stated that he had never heard any sound that he hadn’t enjoyed; I’m not for one moment suggesting that this wasn’t true but, taken purely at face value, it could be interpreted as seeking to undermine a sense of discrimination.

Related:

John Cage’s 4’33”

Music: Melting Architecture?

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 8, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

I’ve noticed more than once that some people perceive two distinct kinds of music, which one might call “emotional” and “intellectual”. For instance, they might say that Fauré’s Requiem and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 are “emotional” and Stravinsky’s Symphony in C and Bach’s Die Kunst der Fuge are “intellectual”. They might use different words but they still see two mutually exclusive camps.

I think this is not a valid distinction. All too often it tends to be “nice music I like” that’s in the former category and “shit music I don’t like” in the second. Some people are even disappointed to find that music has structure; they want it to be a profuse stream of unpremeditated melody. They’d be surprised, if not unwilling, to learn that Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata and Schoenberg’s String Quartet No. 2 have roughly the same proportion and density of melody and structure in them.

The idea that anyone would be disappointed to find that music has structure seems very stange to me, when those same people would presumably be less disappointed in the knowlege and acceptance that a painting, novel, building, play, sculpture, etc., has it – but there are all kinds of structures at play in a work of music anyway – harmonic, rhythmic, melodic, timbral – OK, some works are more overtly and consciously structured in one or more ways than others are, but that’s really rather beside the point.

When I compose the basic ideas just come straight into my head and for me it’s a highly emotional process, but at the same time you have to know how to put a piece together so, yes, the rational brain has to come into it otherwise what you write wouldn’t go anywhere and more likely than not would not make a satisfactory experience for the listener. The great composers have that special and rare ability to control and utilise both the emotional and rational and that is why their music is so satisfying and why it lasts.

I don’t accept that the composed and the constructed are somehow opposed categories. Unless one still buys into the ludicrous 19th century mythology of the composer waiting for some mystical inspiration, then simply committing this to paper – I doubt whether that could be said of almost any composer of note.

Both advocates and detractors of new music can frequently fall into the trap of judging new music in terms of how it was put together rather than what results.

Woody Allen

Posted in Culture with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 14, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

With nearly 50 movies behind him, the veteran director says his latest film took ‘years of disillusionment’ to make. Here he talks with Carole Cadwalladr about his controversial marriage, the three children he lost in a custody battle, and his desire to work again with Diane Keaton.

The reason for the interview is the UK release this week of You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger, the fourth film he’s shot in the UK.

Woody Allen: ‘My wife hasn’t seen most of my films… and she thinks my clarinet playing is torture’

(Source: Observer)

In Woody Allen’s universe there is no reason why some things happen and others not. His atheism allows no delusions of that kind, but what about age, I ask him? Do you resist hearing that you’re old?

“I do, I resist. I feel the only way you can get through life is distraction. And you can distract yourself in a million different ways, from turning on the television set and seeing who wins the meaningless soccer game, to going to the movies or listening to music. They’re tricks that I’ve done and that many people do. You create problems in your life and it seems to the outside observer that you are self-destructive and it’s foolish. But you’re creating them because they’re not mortal problems. They are problems that can be solved, or they can’t be solved, and they’re a little painful, perhaps, but they are not going to take your life away.”

John Adams

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2011 by Robin Gosnall

I’m not sure that he’s a composer I could listen to a lot. It takes too much work to listen to (if that makes sense). But I’m reluctantly reaching the conclusion that I’m quite a fan of John Adams.

Reluctantly? Yes. A few years ago I would have told you I didn’t like any “minimalist” music.

I must be getting more tolerant in my old age.

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