Saturday, June 26, 2010

Bel édifice et les pressentiments

I’m revisiting Pierre Boulez’s Le marteau sans maître. Some like this, some hate this. But few can deny that this piece is one of those that represent the European avant-garde music in the 1950s. But an adjective such as monumental is not feasible to describe it. It is an intimate chamber piece. On the other hand, I feel detachment and distance. It is probably because of his choice of the instruments: lack of bass, use of alto flute and viola instead of flute and violin. The sound is thin. The notes are scattered and diffused, but also precisely controlled (this controlling irritates some... if it was just scattered and diffused, no problem... confusion is fun). There is no chaos, no hysteria. I dare say it is in a way close to Merce Cunningham’s choreography. Of course I know Cunningham is always remembered with John Cage, it wasn’t Cunningham but Maurice Béjart who choreographed to this, and Cage was a kind of opposition to Boulez. People say Boulez is an authority figure of the avant-garde and Cage is a guru of the experimental. For those who advocate the experimental, Boulez is a control freak and Cage is democratic. But my assumption here is that the dichotomy between the avant-garde and the experimental is basically false. Though it might have been true that Boulez dismissed Cage, this fact alone cannot prove that the gap between them was as wide as the Atlantic Ocean.
Probably because I’m seeing them from the point of view of the 21st century, I can say so. I can grasp the Atlantic Ocean through Google Earth. Both composers at some point radically questioned the subject who is supposed to choose the notes in musical composition. Is it really ‘I’ who choose, or a kind of convention or a system? If I erase myself from the process of composition, what will happen? If I feel to try to intervene given automatic process, such as chance operation or sérielle, when, what, why, and how do I want to do so? I think those who regard chance operation or sérielle as the method or technique to conjure their pieces are mistaken. It was Boulez himself who denounced such his followers.
Musicologists may say the 20th century music explored methods and now we, of post-whatever generation, are a bit nostalgic about that. But such exploration might have been just one dimension of the music history. It is more important for me that both Boulez and Cage vividly formulated the question of the subject. Right thing to do now may be reformulate such a question. I wish I were wiser and more self-disciplined than I am to be able to do so.
By the way, a gap between those who admire Cage and the others who admire Boulez is similar to a gap between those who admire Dalai Lama and the others who admire Slavoj Žiżek. That’s to say, the former is what Žiżek calls Western Buddhist and the latter is Euro-centrist. I’m simplifying, but I wish you know the point.
Another thing I can note is that both Cage and Boulez are to some extent influenced by Surrealism. Precisely, they came after Surrealism. Surrealism was generally seen as an attempt to let imagination go wild, but what really happened was killing the master who had ordered an artist to make art. René Char’s poetry derived by Boulez in Le marteau sans maître appears as if it describes some Surrealist paintings. And the subject who narrates is completely passive. I’m seeing this. I’m hearing that. It is a photographic way of seeing. Even though the sight he is seeing might actually be conjured by his imagination, he behaves as if he is not accountable for it. Flaubert might have written Madame Bovary in this manner, but the intention might have been a bit different. Both might have tried to present a passive narrator and let something emerge between the lines. But what emerges between the lines is in Flaubert’s literature a bigger story than the written, on the other hand, in Char’s poetry the narrator himself. In a sense, he “has nothing to say and” he is “saying it.” And Boulez’s piece is a commentary on it.
It is well-known that Cage said, “I have nothing to say, and I’m saying it.” On the other hand, Boulez could have said, “One may say, ‘I have nothing to say, and I’m saying it.’ So let me talk about this.” Probably that was the difference. Eventually whether Boulez himself had something to say or not might have been not his concern.
In 1955, the same year Le marteau sans maître was premiered, Theodor Adorno got his Prismen published, in which Adorno said,
The critique of culture is confronted with the last stage in the dialectic of culture and barbarism: to write a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric, and that corrodes also the knowledge which expresses why it has become impossible to write poetry today. (Prisms 1955 MIT Press Reprinted London, 1967, trans. Shierry Weber Nicholsen and Samuel Weber)
Yet I haven’t read this book, so I don’t know in what context this was said. I assume this “barbarism” includes capitalism, consumerism, commercialism, populism, exoticism, escapism, and so on. After Auschwitz such isms are writing poems, forgetting that writing poetry and critique in his “culture” should have been about the impossibility of writing poetry. So, writing poetry was already impossible before Auschwitz, on the contrary to what is often misquoted as Adorno saying “After Auschwitz writing poetry is impossible.” The master was killed, but capitalism says “Forget about the murder.” What actually became nearly impossible after Auschwitz for Adorno was writing a prose about the impossibility of poetry. I recently found Žižek saying, quoting “After Auschwitz writing poetry is impossible,” that what Auschwitz made impossible was prose, instead of poem, because such an atrocity could not be talked directly. Apparently, Adorno and Žižek appear to reach the same conclusion through the different logic.
Boulez shared “the knowledge” with Adorno.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Al Jazeera on Bolivia, again


I think Evo Morales is supported by good people in his administration, such as Minister David Choquenhuanca, who is appearing in this. I know nothing about filmmaker Rodrigo Vasquez, who made this. I'm going to look up some informations about him on the internet. Making documentary like this might need to have good relationships, and he seems to be good at it.

all too human, after all

I've just read the Rolling Stone's article, which portrays General Stanley McChrystal. What I understand is that the article is trying to humanize McChrystal, describing him as an intellectual, crazy like a fox, tough, cruel, frank, tormented, techno-savvy, and so on. If the general deliberately talked all the things to the magazine, he wanted to pass himself off as the same individual as every soldier: "I'm just like you." But I cannot judge whose aim this is. Uniform jobs require not to be private. This professional attitude, however, is compensated by obscenity (as Slavoj Žiżek often puts it). The system needs obscenity to survive. If Obama choose not to fire him, it may show a sign that the project needs self-mockery. Or, I can put it that uttering "Fuck you" is no longer private...

Sacked... but I'm not so interested in who does the job. Perhaps Fox treats him as a martyr?

Monday, June 21, 2010

some clips

Oliver Stone and Tariq Ali appeared in Democracy Now!. For his new documentary film South Of The Border, Stone interviewed seven presidents in Latin America. Ali co-wrote the film.


I revisited a clip from al Jazeera English's program, Fault Lines, reporting about People's Conference on Climate Change in Bolivia, which was underreported by the major media in developed countries.


By the way, al Jazeera is not left-wing whatsoever, especially when it comes to Japanese politics, including the US military base issue, it just keeps balancing. I don't know much about Japanese academics, but I notice this Japanese professor is diplomatic, kinda embedded with the Japanese bureaucracy. He never go beyond what the Japanese bureaucrats want him to say, and never go deeper than what the major Japanese media talk about. Even though the woman from Washington and the man from London mention about that in the long run Japan and America at some point have to revise the role of the American military existence in Japan, he just say Japan needs American army more than ever.
I just note that what the Japanese bureaucrats want to eliminate is a possibility of emergence of a narrative that Japan had to obey. And I think they willingly accommodate American army. Since they have accumulated institutional knowledge, there may be good reasons for doing so. But...it is Okinawans who have to obey...

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Sontag, Poulenc, Surrealism

Listening some of Poulenc's pieces, I remember Susan Sontag's On Photography, which I haven't finished yet. In which she was summarizing the history of photography, noting the relation between photography and a historical project of art:Surrealism. Photography changed people's way of seeing. Before the objects, while we are curious, enthusiastic, and trying to find something that surprises us, we are also detached from the objects. We frame things. When you try to shoot something on a street, you probably try to frame something appearing novel. Sometimes you could visit a shanty town or a wilderness or a war zone. While you want something exotic, you could be as sincere as Diane Arbus, who captured freaks, was so. Arbus's attitude toward her objects were rather those of Surrealists. She didn't aim at social justice or whatsoever, while she might have been sympathetic for her objects. "Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of a duplicated world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision," Sontag wrote. Also, democratization of (re)producing images was part of Surrealist agenda. She went on:"What could be more surreal than an object which virtually produces itself, and with a minimum of effort?"
So, does it have something with Poulenc? His music appears deceptively effortless, capricious, and nostalgic, with a lot of reference to classical and his contemporary popular music and effective use of instruments. I can remember when I studied composition his elegant écriture attracted many of my colleagues and they often imitated it. At that time I didn't like it that much, but now I find it very interesting. But, what interests me may be different from what interested my colleagues.
I believe Poulenc's sincerity and his huge effort to be Poulenc. And I imagine that while he was being a Surrealist, he was traumatized by Surrealism in his early career. I think he genuinely moaned what he saw as the beauty of the 18th century music.
Sontag said, "Surrealism is a bourgeois disaffection." That might have been the case for Poulenc. I think he was to a large extent Surrealist. On the other hand, he didn't just collage his materials. His skill enabled him to make his materials from, say, Mozart, sound as fake. In doing so he was sincere. Here I'm listening his concerto for two pianos and orchestra. It's an eclectic piece as I can hear even an echo from Gamelan. But the coherence is magically maintained. It's melancholic, but also elegant. His solution for connecting diverse materials and deforming them was elegant.
Is there any essential difference between Poulenc and those of laptop musicians who collage anything from electronic sounds to field recordings? I'm not ironical in any sense. This question is genuine. And I don't know the answer. The methods and the targeted audience may be differ, but I don't think this essential.
In short, I'm interested in the history. I don't think our contemporaries, including Pop, are not very far from those of Surrealists. "Make believe there is no history" is also a historical project. Surrealism and Pop share an oscillation between moaning the past and forgetting the history in common.

Monday, June 7, 2010

please tell me...

Does this represent the majority in that country?