Thursday, December 30, 2010

let's say, i enter a village...

Let's say, I enter a village and hear someone singing a melody like this (Fig.1).

The structure.The scale of the melody consists of 4 notes:D-E-A-B (Fig.2). The melody consists of 2 sections: the first (4 bars); the second (6 bars). Each section is concluded by the same phrase (Fig.3). The second section elaborates and also reiterates the first section. The motif a establishes tempo and rhythm; the motif b opens the territory and its quarter note suggests that quarter notes functions as commas or periods of the whole; the motif c reiterates the rhythm of the beginning and establishes the peak and the bottom: the limitation of the territory; the motif d emphasizes its function as a period by the quarter note E repeats itself (Fig.4).

But this repetition also functions as a chain connecting the two sections, as the quarter note A repeating itself introduces the next section. Also the motif d and the motif e together reiterate the interval of the first phrase; The phrase f contrasts with the first phrase by its rhythm and melodic direction; the phrase g is a variant of f; the first phrase is reduced to the cell h (Fig.5).

I said the scale of the melody consists of 4 notes. But, I don't imagine this as that one person goes up and down the 4 steps. Rather, I imagine two birds claiming each of their territories: one sings the two notes of D-E; the other the A-B (Fig.6).

Or, better, two kids playing like this (Fig.7).

The two birds extend each of their territories (Fig.8); or, they come closer to each other (Fig.9); or, each of them does their own thing (Fig. 10).

I walk to them (Fig.11). They get noisier (Fig.12).

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

"Meter is dogmatic, but rhythm is critical."

Composer Kyle Gann's recent entry titled "Resisting the Narrative," in which he reintroduces John Alden Carpenter's uncharacteristic piece called Sea Drift and discusses things revolving around composers' narratives, begins with this anecdote.

One of the things I love about Richard Taruskin's Oxford History of Western Music is its emphasis on how an evolving public narrative privileges some composers and marginalizes others. For instance, he writes about how when Ligeti came to Darmstadt, because he was Hungarian he had to rewrite (with Erno Lendvai's help) Bartok's reputation from that of a collector of folk music to that of a formalist using golden sections and axis systems. Communist Hungary needed to see Bartok as a champion of he proletariat (Lendvai's decadent-formalist book got him fired from Budapest Conservatory), but at 1950s Darmstadt, a quoter of folk music would have been merely pitiable. Ligeti needed to refurbish Bartok's narrative in order to polish up his own legacy, even to make it palatable.

I read the Japanese version of that Lendvai's book when I was a student. Then I once asked a professor/composer who taught us analysis if Lendavai's argument about Bartok's pieces was legitimate. He said, "I met Lendvai. He's a crook!"

Enough gossiping. My question at that time was that, suppose that Lendvai's claim that the structure of Bartok's work is based on the Golden Section or the Fibonacci Series (which is questionable), whether Bartok planned so: whether he decided, for example, the place of the peak of the first movement of Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta before writing it, and then he tried to get there with pinpoint precision. And then, if he did so, why?

I'm not saying such a pinpoint bombing raid is impossible. But, whether it's possible or not depends on what a composer wants to do. Bartok basically did not give up the idea of "shaping forces," so, to say the least solving the golden section puzzle was not his priority.

His harmonic sense. He liked friction (and Ligeti developed, or systematized, this effect later). For example, G and A flat are rubbing against each other. Or a movement (vibration) of G-A-G-A-G-A and another movement of G flat-A flat-G flat-A flat-G flat-A flat rub against each other (Mikrokosmos 142, From the Diary of a Fly). An old woman reluctantly sings her village's song and she has no idea why he wants to listen and even record it with his strange device. Flies are noisy. Cows are mooing. The field is muddy. The cabin is filthy. It smells horribly. And he is sweating. He is thirsty.

He might have loved all this, but he didn't want to idealize it, I believe. What's interesting for me is that "a song" and "a landscape" are intertwined in his music. The Boundary between melody and cluster is not always clear. He basically didn't do like, "This part is the song, and that part is the landscape. So the song is safe." A melody itself often becomes a landscape. Or, I could substitute "a child" for "the song," and "home" for "the environment." Then I could say, "Home doesn't preexist." The quote below reminds me of Out of Doors.

I. A child in the dark, gripped with fear, confronts himself by singing under his breath. He walks and halts to his song. Lost, he takes shelter, or orients himself with his little song as best he can. The song is like a tough sketch of a calming and stabilizing, calm and stable, center in the heart of chaos. Perhaps the child skips as he sings, hastens or slows his pace. But the song itself is already a skip: it jumps from chaos to the beginnings of order in chaos and is in danger of breaking apart at any moment. There is always sonority in Ariadone's thread. Or the song of Orpheus.

II. Now we are at home. But home does not preexist: it was necessary to draw a circle around that uncertain and fragile center, to organize a limited space.

I've just gotten a copy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus (trans., Brian Massumi), because Manuel De Landa says a musician has to read its chapter titled "1837: Of the Refrain." The above is the beginning of it. I'm still trying to understand what it says.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

melody and line: "Pedagogical Sketchbook" and revisiting Ernst Toch's "Melodielehre"

How many students who major in musical composition nowadays read Austrian composer Ernst Toch's The Shaping Forces in Music, an Inquiry into the Nature of Harmony, Melody, Counterpoint and Form? I've happened to know the publisher Dover is going to reprint it. It will be out there on April 21, 2011. So, there may still be demands. Google Books allows you to take a look at some chapters in which Toch analyzes many melodies. These chapters are the part of what was originally called Melodielehre (1923). And this is, I guess, the most well-known his writing. When I was 17 and just got my private musical composition lessons with a composer who had been born in around 1930 started, he rented me a worn-out copy of the Japanese version of Melodielehre to help me be prepared for learning counterpoint. It is a practical book that teaches how to produce a good melody in a conventional sense and how to be analytical to read scores. On the other hand, if you don't take what it tells too dogmatically, it is, as the title "The Shaping Forces" suggests, also about the intensity of music. Toch in this book sees making music as sculpting energy.

Revisiting Paul Klee's Pedagogical Sketchbook last week reminded me of this my experience as an apprentice of musical composition. The composer I studied with recommended me to draw a line before writing an actual melody. Klee suggests the intensity of lines he draws. He first lays down a reversed "S," then says, "An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal. A walk for a walk's sake. The mobility agent is a point, shifting its position forward (Fig 1):" A point goes for excursion. He categorizes the lines into three: the active, the medial, and the passive. Points regulate the move, so the line can enclose a plane (medial). Or, when the line is moved (passive) it can generate a plane within a certain shape, such as a circle or a square. In "Fig 12," titled "Three Conjugations," he draws the infinity symbol and shows how a line, oscillating between activity and passivity, can "conjugate," and notes: "Semantic explanation of the terms active, medial, and passive: active: I fell (the man fells a tree with his ax. medial: I fall (the tree falls under the ax stroke of the man). passive: I am being felled (the tree lies felled)." Nonsensical? We should listen to what he is trying to say. A line is a verb: it can be either transitive or intransitive. It can move, it can move something, and it can be moved.

Formalism is, contrary to the popular usage of "formalistic", not about making something stiff, but about an idea that "form does something." In this sense Klee shows what form can do. Why does a point take a walk? It is because form doesn't need us in order to exist, play around, and reproduce itself. Here my reference is Manuel De Landa's reading of Deleuze, that of what De Landa calls "nonhuman formal expressivity." I link his lecture here (very easy to follow). The idea of "nonhuman formal expressivity" appears to pave the way to some concepts of non-intentional music, such as something like John Cage's chance operations, Iannis Xenakis's stochastic process, or some sound-generating software. On the other hand, for Klee, a line is simultaneously being the line itself and being something else. It is hieroglyphic in the sense of Hegel's "ideal" art--his observation of a child's attempt to draw a human figure: untrue to the model, but adequate for the purpose.

Also Klee's line is as energy projection. I quote some notes here:

Fig. 54: A bullet, fired at a steep angle, rises with diminishing energy into the air, it turns, and falls to earth with accelerated energy. (Loose continuity.)

Fig. 55: A climber of stairs, ascending with increasing energy from step to step. (Rigid continuity.)

Fig. 74: In the world of physical reality every ascent must be followed by a descent at the moment at which the gravitational pull of the earth overcomes the ascending energy of the rudder. The physical curve thus ends as a perpendicular line (theoretically in the center of the earth).

The figures show that the denser the energy gets, the bolder the line becomes. And then, I quote from the Toch's book. Analyzing and experimenting with melodies written by various composers, he explains that a good melody in general has a peak near the end, and says:

It seems as though these characteristics of the middle line--the single appearance of the climax, and its location near the end, between a long ascending and a short descending branch--would have their roots outside of music or art altogether in physical and psychical provinces.

In the progress of many natural phenomena similar conditions prevail. There are thunderstorms with a marked tendency to rise to mounting fury by comparatively slow degrees and to abate quickly after their most vehement outbursts. It is a pattern of many illnesses to develop slowly towards a "crisis", after which recession and reaction set in quickly. It is also the trend of slowly developing anxieties, fears, and hopes to be quickly released after the materialization of their objectives. Finally, the phenomenon touches upon the physical-psychical borderland of our love-life.

Toch was a craftsman, known for his film music, but also as modernist as Klee was. Both were interested in the laws of nature.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Paul Klee and John Cage

(Upper) Part of Paul Klee Pedagogical Sketchbook (Faber and Faber Limited, 1968 edition, trans. Sibyl Moholy-Nagy first published under the title: Pädagogisches Skizzenbuch, 1925 as the second of the fourteen BAUHAUS BOOKS edited by Walter Gropius and L. Moholy-Nagy) and (lower) part of John Cage, SILENCE (Wesleyan University Press, 1961).

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Jacques Rancière on Michael Fried

I mentioned Michael Fried here. I quote from Jacques Rancière's "Painting in the Text," one of the essays collected in his The Future of the Image (Verso, 2007, trans. Gregory Elliott, first published as Le destin des images, Editions La Fabrique, 2003). To be honest, I haven't digested his writings really well yet, but it appears interesting. Here he discusses about Albert Aurier's text on Gaugin's Vision du sermon, and then argues "The ideal plane of the painting is a theatre of de-figuration, a space of conversion where the relationship between words and visual forms anticipates visual de-figurations still to come." He goes on:

I have spoken of theatre. This is not a 'mere metaphor'. The arrangement in a circle of peasant women with their backs to the viewer, and absorbed by a distant spectacle,obviously puts us in mind of the ingenious analysis of Michael Fried, inventing a pictorial modernity conceived as anti-theatre, as an inversion of the motion of actors towards the audience. The obvious paradox is that this anti-theatre itself comes directly from the theatre--very precisely from the naturalist theory of the 'fourth wall' invented by a contemporary of Gaugin and Aurier: the theory of a dramatic action that would pretend to be invisible, to be viewed by no audience, to be nothing but life in its pure similarity to itself. But what need would life in its pure similarity, life 'not looked at', not made into a spectacle, have of speaking? The 'formalist' dream of a kind of painting that turns its back on the surface that is peculiar to it, could well be nothing but the other side of the same identitarian dream. A pure painting, clearly separate from 'spectacle', is not the 'interactive' site calling upon the audience to finish the work denounced by Fried. Theatre is first and foremost the space of visibility of speech, the space of problematic translations of what is said into what is seen. Accordingly, it is quite true, it is the site of expression of the impurity of art, the 'medium' which clearly shows that there is no peculiarity of art or of any art; that forms do not proceed without the words that install them in visibility. The 'theatrical' arrangement of Gaugin's peasant women establishes the 'flatness' of the painting only at the cost of making this surface an interface that transfers the images into the text and the text into the images. The surface is not wordless, is not without 'interpretations' that pictorialize it.

Olivier Messiaen vs a lyrebird

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

i have something to say and i am performing it

NO, NO, NO. I didn't mean to be a party pooper. I have nothing against Cage against the Machine. It is something that won't happen in the US and Japan anyway. I'm kind of envious, maybe. I like the British bands' long tradition of appropriating "serious" music (and making it more glamorous). So, why not John Cage?

I prefer this to the Royal British Legion's.

Watching the making of the "cover" of 4"33', I find that they have a lot of things to say and they are performing it. They cannot help doing something during the performance (recording). I think that's fine. I think that Cage's famous words, "I have nothing to say and I am saying it" should be translated as "I have something to say and I am performing it in saying nothing." He is doing it. And we know such a moment of finding ourselves acting like this from time to time in our everyday lives.

The Guardian's blog by Luke Bainbridge, "Why I'm backing Cage Against The Machine" says, "To dislike The X Factor is not to dislike pop." Apart from (perhaps) Dave Hilliard's intention, saying "Love pop, hate Simon Cowell," those pop artists, if you ask me, want to save their very notion of pop. There is an aspect of class struggle imagination here.

beating an un-dead horse

So, who is this Richard Dorment? Is he very influential? He says:

This year’s winner of the Turner Prize, Susan Philipsz, creates sound installations. Cue a long low collective sigh from art lovers across the country.

I guess what he calls art lovers actually means art market lovers. I took a look up what he listed as "Top 10 art shows of 2010." As Dorment himself admits, obviously he is not the ideal person to write something about Philipsz. As Marc Weidenbaum puts it, "It's equally fair to say that what Dorment wrote is not art criticism; it's a rant, a bullying and uninformed one that is more an expression of the author's personal taste than an investigation of the subject at hand."

I suggest that Dorment "deliberately" wrote that way: he knows that many support artists like Philipsz, especially in our times Cage against the Machine is so popular. On the other hand The Telegraph may have many conservative readers who don't care for contemporary art. He just wanted to tell such audiences "You're not alone." This kind of anti-intellectualism is popular everywhere. He didn't mean to converse with those who support Philipsz in the first place.

A long time ago, there was a well known conservative criticism against Minimalism in the 1960s: Michael Fried's Art and Objecthood. In a nutshell, he denounced Tony Smith's sculpture by calling it "not art, but a performance." It triggered massive counterattacks from the Minimalists' side: "What's wrong with being a performance?" In her essay Art History/Art Criticism, Performing meaning, which is collected in Performing the Body, Performing the Text (Routledge, 1999, edited by Amelia Jones and Andrew Stephenson), Amelia Jones revisits Smith's work and Fried's essay. She starts this way:

At the risk of being perceived as beating a dead horse (dead in the letter, but one still unfortunately all too 'present' in the underlying assumptions of contemporary art discourse), I would like to turn at this point to a particular, well-rehearsed example of the tautological reasoning that subtends modernist formalist art historical and art critical analysis. Michael Fried's well-known 'Art and Objecthood' (1967), a veritable manifesto of Greenbergian modernism (uttered just at the moment in which artistic practices such as Minimalism and body art were rendering Greenberg obsolete), is an important object of analysis precisely because it stages so obviously and with such rhetorical flair the oppositional logic and lack of self-reflexivity that continues to characterize the practices of art history and art criticism.

Fried's essay was oppressive, but worth rebelling against. His observation was indeed brilliant and articulated the nature of Minimalist art very well. He was irrelevant and political only when he explained why he was against that kind of art, and this part was seen as "performative."

But, Fried showed at least his intellectual spine. That's why Smith or Robert Morris could develop their own theories while rebelling against Fried. I actually like some conservative critics, such as T.S. Eliot (and Slavoj Žižek whose tastes are rather conservative when it comes to art).

These days this word "performativity" is obsolete, I've been thinking. But Dorment shows it is "still unfortunately all too 'present.'"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Chris Hedges and Terry Eagleton

Chris Hedges on the death of the liberal class:

Terry Eagleton on the death of universities.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

the making of an illusion of...

In her article appearing in The New York Times, December 16, 2010, Roberta Smith summarizes what happened in the 2010 art scene: an unwelcome revival of culture wars, a rise in participatory art, and a strong presence by female artists. She appears not to like what she calls "rise in participatory art."

In museums participatory art was noticeably on the rise, creating an illusion of egalitarianism. Visitors to the retrospective of the performance pioneer Marina Abramovic at the Museum of Modern Art could enter the exhibition by walking between closely spaced nude performers standing at attention, and hold staring contests with Ms. Abramovic in the museum’s atrium. In the Whitney Museum’s Christian Marclay exhibition visitors wrote musical notes (and lots of other stuff) on a wall for pianists to improvise from.

Things were taken further at the Guggenheim Museum, where Tino Sehgal combined the participatory and the invisible. He demonstrated that it is possible to have an engaging art exhibition involving nothing but walking and talking. It helped to have Frank Lloyd Wright’s spiraling rotunda serving as an architectural metaphor for the path of life. (Another blow for the nonvisible was struck by Susan Philipsz, the first sound artist to win the Tate Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize.)

I did not like the way The New York Times reported about Tino Sehgal, and once wrote about it.

When creating nothing you can see or touch, those artists are actually not so optimistic about whether their creations will emancipate the spectator. For them, "creating an illusion of egalitarianism" is not what their works are all about. Generalizing like this would stop further thinking. I also felt the same about the recent The Guardian's articles about Susan Philipsz.

Smith expresses her dissatisfaction with the poor critics following the conservative attack on David Wojnarowicz's video work.

A few harsh words from the conservative Catholic League and a handful of congressmen caused the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution to order the removal of a truncated version of a 1987 video by the activist-artist David Wojnarowicz from an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The piece included 11 seconds of ants crawling over a plastic and wood crucifix that, it was said, would offend Christians. This institutional crumbling in the face of what was after all only criticism (hello!) showed a shocking lack of intellectual spine. Heaven forfend that art should challenge people with its intense emotions or with thoughts they don’t already think.

I also want to see some "intellectual spine."

smells like midlife crisis? no! but....

It's fun to see this video Kathleen Hanna explains the making of Smells Like Teen Spirit, though I'm not so sentimental about the 90s.

Umbert Eco on stupidity and ugliness

Saturday, December 18, 2010

"Das Blaue Licht" and "Avatar"

Watching Leni Riefenstahl's Das Blaue Licht ("The Blue Light," 1932), I compare it to James Cameron's Avatar. The story of Riefenstahl's goes like this: a young beautiful woman Junta living with a shepherd boy in the tranquility of the mountains, apart from a village. The villagers think her to be a witch, and responsible for the deaths of the village's young men, who have one by one been lured by the mysterious light from the mountain, tried to climb, and then fallen, on full moon nights. There is a cave filled with crystals in the mountain only Junta can reach. A young painter from a city visiting the village, attracted by her, follows her to her cabin, and stays with her. He finally finds the cave. Thinking that both the villagers and she can benefit from the crystals, he goes back to the village and tells safer way to get to the cave. The villagers greedily collect all the crystals. Junta finds the empty cave and falls to death in despair.

It's like a naive ecology film. A contemporary filmmaker can remake it with some contemporary twist: the painter eventually fights against the villager. Of course, such a remaking makes it worse. The point of the story is that a good intention leads a catastrophe of nature. In this sense, Das Blaue Licht is less hypocrite than Avatar. In terms of aesthetics, I think both share a same kind of romantic idea about nature.

By the way, this Riefenstahl's Junta is surprisingly erotic. For her, nature is erotic: and this idea might be shared by many her contemporaries. ("The beauty of nature" reminds me of some obsolete title of strip shows before I was born.) Wasn't Kurosawa remembering her when he was making The Hidden Fortress? Junta reminds me of Princess Yuki, the model of Princess Leia of Star Wars.There is a scene the painter watches Junta sleeping. The audience can suspect if she is actually inviting him. And he looks very sensitive. (In contrast, there is a young villager who is jerk and rapes her.) The tragedy is that such a sensitive guy apparently becomes responsible for the catastrophe. And I think it's often true.

Susan Sontag, understandably, connects that kind of eroticism with the ideology of fascism. It must be true that Riefenstahl believed in The Third Reich, worked for it, and then obscured her biography later on. My question is: which took over which? I think: first there was the romantic idea of nature; then fascism took over it: and then?

I think some Hollywood blockbusters took over it. The Sound of Music showed the way of climbing every mountain without being challenged by the treacherous slope appearing in Das Blaue Licht. And then, some ecologists...

Friday, December 17, 2010


Former ABC News correspondent Charles Glass names the "speech acts" of those hysteric pundits calling for murder of Julian Assange "secular fatwa."

Frontline club's blog.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

the following (including having dinner) takes place between 6:45 PM and 9:48 PM (JST)

I've recently been watching DVDs of some popular American TV dramas, such as 24, Heroes, and Lost. All of them already ended their final seasons. Watching serial dramas at once inevitably leads me to find the inconsistencies of the stories. Never mind.

Every episode of 24 starts with a bit of contradiction, as Jack Bauer tells "The following takes place between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM." He says it in present tense. But he is saying so retroactively. His position is the script writer's. He already knows what is going to happen in the next one hour. The audience is assured that Bauer is not going to die (if he dies, it would be Kafkaesque. The Kafka's narrators often die.) What if at the beginning of every episode each different main characters alternately appears and says "Previously.... The following..."? Perhaps it would undermine Bauer's authenticity and integrity. He has to do dirty jobs. The drama's point is how to maintain his integrity regardless of his deeds. That's why it is important for 24 that the person first gives account of oneself has to be Bauer. Since the beginning of the first season, he has always been part of the problems. He is simultaneously a fire starter and extinguisher. The world could be more peaceful if he weren't around.

Heroes democratizes the role of introducing the episodes. Each of the main characters alternately appears and says "Previously on...." The point is that everyone can tell one's side of the story. And also it tries to be "fair," exposing some stereotypes, such as Japanese cliche (geek, high-tech, conformity), Indian(high-tech, spiritual), and American (cheerleader and quarterback). I wonder if it is MSNBC's conscious choice as the "liberal" media. I even suspect if why Heroes ended was because 24 ended. (It is interesting that Noah Bennet appears like an imitation of Jack Bauer.)

Heroes stereotypes Japanese. But I don't think this angers many Japanese. Even those who were uncomfortable with Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation would not dislike it. (Lost in Translation was okay for me. My problem with the film was that that lovely story can happen wherever, Cairo, Shanghai, Bangkok....) These days Japanese films consciously follow the cliche:"They like geisha, samurai, high-tech, geek, and so on. Let's do it." Only Mashi Oka who plays Hiro, the time traveler, can speak "natural" Japanese, and it is too obvious that no part was filmed in Japan, but I can imagine many Japanese like it. Hiro embodies all the Japanese cliche, including his clumsiness at love affairs and the almost a-sexual appearance, but there is something very un-Japanese about him. He is too audacious. He wants to be special too much.

And that's what the American self-help ethos may be. The ethos creates an instability, insecurity, and anxiety inside of an individual, telling "Be special" and "Be yourself" at the same time. It attacks mediocrity. Officer Matt Parkman is appalled when he found himself eating doughnuts.

At such a moment, I'm almost sympathetic for Parkman. Don't laugh at him for eating doughnuts. It is a precious time for a cop to eat them.

Syler and Peter Petrelli have deeper problem: they can absorb the others' abilities, but none of them is their inherent. They are two sides of the same coin. The moral is: "Let's admit you're not really special, but your aspiration will make you special in the end. The proper way of becoming special is not killing (Syler), but empathizing(Peter)."

Lost: I've just seen the fist half of the first season. It is also about reinvention of self. What if you can restart yourself in a deserted island? The plot is somehow a melange of William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Stanislaw Lem's Solaris (your innermost desires would materialize in this island). The point of the drama may be how to postpone a catastrophe like what happens in the end of Lord of the Flies.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Guardian and Turner Prize

The major British media, such as The Guardian and the BBC are sensitive about political correctness. Especially The Guardian tends to make the audiences feel guilty about ecology, or the other ethical issues. Its target audiences are, I guess, basically people in the UK, and I sometimes feel as if it is saying "we are the most ethical nation in the world," especially when I read about many articles about the last year's COP 15.There may be pros and cons about this. But, I basically prefer The Guardian to The New York Times.

And I basically like those Turner Prize winners' works. They vividly show what should be questioned in our time. Though I haven't experienced Susan Philipszs' work and only seen the YouTube clip, I think I'd like it.

The Gurdian says, "Philipsz, 45, is the first person in the history of the award to have created nothing you can see or touch." Some say it is the first time that an sound artist wins. But, Philipsz does not define herself as a sound artist. And I think she is right, if being a sound artist means being an expert of sound. She simply makes a place, avoiding being an expert of anything. Her idea may not be new, but the fact that it is the first time this kind of work wins the prize might be received positively.

What I've found problematic about The Guardian's article I've linked above is the fact it cannot appreciate the work without connecting the work with the ongoing students' protest. For mainstream media, contemporary art can sell only as redemption. I feel the same about the recent John Cage's 4'33" boom. I've found the "lessness" of Philipszs' work can somehow be viewed in the relation to the current so-called Bologna process. I support the protest and believe that universities should do more than providing experts. But I think defending her work by saying, "She is not expert. She is not a virtuoso. But she is anyway politically correct." won't help in a long run.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Shel Silverstein's "The Missing Piece" and self-help ethos

Shel Silverstein’s children’s picture book The Missing Piece was translated into Japanese by Yumiko Kurahashi, and published in 1979, titled “Boku o Sagashi ni,” which can be translated as “in search of me.” This Japanese version was popular when I was a student in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The protagonist “it,” the a-pie-with-a-missing-slice character goes rolling in search of a piece that fits in its missing part. To achieve its goal--becoming a complete circle means, as Slavoj Žižek puts it, “somewhat like the perfect spheric human being preceding sexual difference from Plato’s Symposium.”(Žižek, Enjoy your symptom!) (I could note that since the Japanese version defines that the missing piece is a part of me, this connotation of “sexual difference” is more or less watered down, so the book tends to be a-sexually interpreted by the Japanese readers. In Japan, self-searching often does not include partner-searching. It is all about one’s own career, potential, and happiness. This translation problem may become more obvious in Japanese version of The Missing Piece Meets the Big O.) The it finally meets a perfect piece, but because its “mouth” was filled with the piece, it can no longer sing, so it decides to drop the piece. Žižek goes on: “It is paradox of desire at its purest: in order to sustain itself as desire, to articulate itself (in a song) a piece must be missing.” When I read this picture book, my question was practical one: I will never know if the piece is perfect or not. Whatever I choose, be it a partner or artistic style, I cannot do so in a way of choosing a shirt. The conclusion of the story read a bit melancholic. It reminds me of Stéphane Mallarmé’s The White Water Lily, in which the poet only indulge the proximity by hearing a faint noise of footsteps of a lady, but tries not to see her. But, in The Missing Piece there is no subtlety of “séparés, on est ensemble--being together apart,” but a slight ego-centrism. It is not something you can choose by examining if it fits in or not. It constantly changes its shape. It is not something you can deliberately pick up and drop. I like a scene from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Nausea, in which the protagonist sees his ex-girlfriend Anny. Both call each other “a milestone” or “le metre etalon,” which does not change its shape, and both deny it. At such a moment, I think they are not saying what they mean. What is important is that saying “You haven’t changed” or “I’ve changed” means something else.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

where is the road runner?

Recorded by David Michael

Coyotes at Frick Pond by David Michael

Thursday, December 9, 2010

despite? because...

Political theorist Jodi Dean generously put the PDF of her paper Blog Theory on line. Just going through this quickly takes a day or so, but it's a good read. She appears to be blogging her I cite to know how it works, and does it because blogging these days appears obsolete: she calls blog "displaced mediator." The best way of knowing something is doing it: for instance, if you want to know how dodecaphony works, just write a piece in this manner. It sounds like becoming part of a problem in order to solve it (A Japanese proverb says "A mummy hunter becomes a mummy"). But, when it comes to discourses of making the world better place, we cannot escape from the fact we are part of problems.

Because blog is obsolete, I started it this year, too.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Amy Goodman and John Vidal in Cancún

It's silent this time. John Vidal, the environment editor for The Guardian explains this is not necessarily bad, but even good. The world leaders actually messed up the Copenhagen, according to him.

Michael Pollan's dilemma

I like the way Michael Pollan writes and talks. It's easy to follow. He starts his writings as an ignoramus, so the readers can feel as if they are investigating with him. It seems easy to figure out who his target audiences are. For example, when he discusses the ethics of eating animals, he goes like this: "And yet most of the animals we eat lead lives organized very much in the spirit of Descartes, who famously claimed that animals were mere machines, incapable of thought or feeling. (Omnivore's Dilemma, Penguin Books, p306)" I imagine he assumes many of his readers know Al Gore's polemic against "Cartesian worldview." (I guess Descartes could be appalled by our feedlots.)

In In Defense of Food, Pollan tries to convince us that food is not just the sum of nutritions, yet he has to use many scientific terms, including omega 3 fatty acid. And then he says: "The undertow of nutritionism is powerful, and more than once over the past few pages I've felt myself being dragged back under. You've no doubt noticed that much of the nutrition science I've presented here qualifies as reductionist science, focusing as it does on individual nutrients (such as certain fats or carbohydrates or antioxidants) rather than on whole foods or dietary patterns. Guilty. (In Defense of Food, Penguin Books, p139)" At such a moment, I understand he is addressing to American readers. My prejudice is revealed.

György Ligeti called Kyle Gann's analysis of Nancarrow "too American," Gann says. Gann explains:

Lately I've been trying to get information, for my 12-tone class, about how Stockhausen mapped the row of Mantra onto various "synthetic" scales, and all I find is a quote from Stockhausen about how he dislikes explanation because it "takes away the mystery." Well, taking away the mystery is precisely what I'm trying to do, to empower my young composers and show them that there are no secrets out there that they can't use.

I believe Gann is a good composer and also teacher. I'm sure that his analysis helps young composers. On the other hand, I think Stockhausen shouldn't be afraid of his methods being revealed. His "mystery" --if there is such a thing!-- is never going to be taken away by analysis.

By the way, I'm not interested in mystery, but contingencies.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

arcade fireflies

More than 15 years ago, I briefly lived in a small mountain village and worked in a small town where it took about 40 minutes from the village by bike. It took more than 40 minutes by bike to get anywhere from the village anyway. One night I ended up walking home in the rain from the town. There were no road lights. Fireflies lit up instead, after the rain let up. I walked home through their lights.

I remembered that when Michael Taussig mentioned fireflies.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

only the elected are allowed to do illegal things?

Those liberals or neo-liberals who criticize WikiLeaks mainly argue, "WikiLeaks is not elected, so it has no right to mess with the power." Their argument is problematic. You don't have to be elected in order to be a journalist. And we can protest against the power: those students in the UK are not elected. Therefore Lawyer David Allen Green's argument appearing in New Statesman is categorically wrong. The true problem is the fact that those elected are endorsing wiretapping, torture, kidnapping, and killing.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

a satirical animated cartoon

from Taiwan.

memory place

6 years ago I did a field recording in a newly constructed residential area on the outskirt of Brussels, and I'm thinking if I (re)make an electro-acoustic music out of the materials I got there. One may point out that there is a privacy issue here; the more controversial may be that it includes some children's voices. But that part is actually interesting. For example, a little boy was playing with a radio controlled car; the wind was blowing. When listening to it I can sense the car moving. I could recreate this by buying a radio controlled car(and then how to move the car could become part of the composition...interesting), yet I still want to stick with the place.

I once made something with the materials. The reason why I went there was that the roads of the area were ridiculously named after Hollywood celebrities: "Clos Marilyn Monroe," "Chemin Alfred Hitchcock." I photographed those street signs. And also I asked one of my friends who had grown up near there to talk about his childhood memories and taped it. At that time I couldn't formulate the subject of the piece well, but I still have all the materials.

chemin alfred hitchcock

I've found a sound artist called Andra McCartney, who studied with Hildegard Westerkamp, on Academia edu. In her paper, Sounding Places: Situated Conversations Through the Soundscape Compositions of Hildegard Westerkamp, she details Westerkamp's works: how are they composed?; how are they responded by the audiences? She even performed Westerkamp's Moments of Laughter for female voice and two-channel tape(1988)(following the link, you can listen to the excerpts), which the female voice part can be performed at live. According to McCartney, when it was premiered, the audiences' reaction was rather disappointing. They perceived the piece "too personal." The tape part was mainly composed with Westerkamp's own daughter's voice. When a baby discovers the self and the other, she laughs. Though I've never listened to the whole piece or seen the performance, it appears to me very interesting.

Probably what we perceive as "too personal" has been changed since the time the piece was premiered. I even think "too personal" has been rather popular since the 1990s, and now it may be changing again in these times of, as Eva Illouz puts it, "cold intimacies."

Monday, November 29, 2010

spectacular silence

I certainly do not hate the fact that so many people share this John Cage's iconic piece, but...I don't know how to put's funny(thanks sound designer Tim Prebble for the posting).

4'33" is meant to be shared. It's a spectacle in the first place. In a way, sharing a moment itself is more important for this piece than listening to the silence, or the environmental sound (you can enjoy silence privately whenever you want). In this sense, there may be nothing wrong with this concert.

By the way, stop talking about "American context." I think this is the BBC's bad behavior.

Friday, November 26, 2010

you know which movie has been shot here?

I realized that the cottage was the one shot in Michel Gondry's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind before filmmaker Udi Aloni mentioned. I like that film.

By the way, I know how nice Croatian coast is.

the person pronoun and space

If I stand in front of my desk and lean on it with both hands, only my hands are stressed and the whole of my body trails behind them like the tail of a comet. It is not that I am unaware of the whereabouts of my shoulders or back, but these are simply swallowed up on the position of my hands; and my whole posture can be read so to speak in the pressure they exert on the table. (Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, Routledge)

I wonder whether this depiction of the body could have been different, if Merleau-Ponty were a dancer, or a contact improviser. I've just gotten a copy of Merleau-Ponty's Phenomenology of Perception

The word ‘here’ applied to my body does not refer to a determinate position in relation to other positions or to external co-ordinates, but in laying down of the first co-ordinates, the anchoring of the active body in an object, the situation of the body in face of its tasks. (Ibid)

Perhaps the person pronouns in Japanese language demonstrates this Merleau-Ponty’s observation that, as John Russon puts it, we always find ourselves as a “here,” which means that space occupied by the body and self-consciousness of the body are inseparable. The Japanese person pronouns mostly imply position either physically or socially or psychologically. Though I do not know the exact etymology of those words, I can tell they do not simply indicate a person. For example, the second person pronoun anata connotes "there," and the other one omae "in front of me"--so omae is more confrontational therefore rude. The third person pronoun for a male kare connotes "away from us," or "the man who is not with us." When gossiping, kare or kanojo (the third person pronoun for a female) often refers to "boyfriend" or "girlfriend" respectively. The formal first person pronoun watashi, or watakushi connotes private. One who utters watashi is fully aware that one is facing a public and expressing it. If you use the person pronouns properly, you can show you know your place. They use the person pronouns sparsely, so sentences they utter (even when writing) often lack the grammatical subject, and it actually does not matter. And also they often use kochi and sochi (colloquial "here" and "there") instead of I and you.

Genki dayo. Sochi wa?
Kochi mo genki dayo.”

“How are you?”
“Fine. And you?”
“I’m fine, too.”

When they utter "I," it often means “not the other, but me.” I almost dare say this language does not have the person pronouns in Western sense. In terms of the formula which represents self-identity, A=A, or “I am I,” "I" in Japanese language may be the last I of “I am I.” They do not initiate I in the first place.

But, I am not so interested in whether the Japanese person pronouns shows how different from Western self-consciousness Japanese one is. And certainly I do not apply the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis (that language determines perception) here. That's why I said "almost." You can actually say “I am I” in Japanese: “Watashi wa watashi desu.” Or, Popeye’s “I yam what I yam” can be translated as “Ore wa ore da” (ore is one of the informal first pronouns, which emphasizes masculinity). The Japanese person pronouns do not exclude the function of the European person pronouns.

We say, "It's me," "This is me," "Is that you?" especially on the phone. I say I find myself as a "here" when I'm not so sure you recognize that the person talking to you is me. "Here" and "there" generate space between us. But this space is not only separating us, but also connecting us. It is like a line. "Here" and "there" are two ends of a line. If the line doesn't exist, the ends also don't.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

connecting for connecting's sake

I'm not using Twitter or Facebook, perhaps because I'm not so comfortable with networking for networking's sake. Now I'm using because I want to read the other people's papers. If there was SoundCloud in 2006, I couldn't have started using Myspace Music. These days many link Twitter to Myspace, and when logging in Myspace I always find someone updating every hour. It is annoying.

But I understand the fact that Twitter and Facebook are useful for many, especially, business users. They are swelling because they are swelling. The idea of Diaspora seems interesting, because it seems to me that it shows that so many people care about social networking sites.

I assume general social networking sites inherently have a dilemma: their purpose has to remain ambiguous in order to function.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saturday, November 20, 2010

from "Against the Grain"

Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire was written between the end of the First Gulf War and the beginning of Kosovo Conflict. In the 1990s, I didn't read this kind of book much, but I can somehow remember that many were optimistic about development of the World Wide Web. Now we are (reasonably) more or less pessimistic. Reading Empire now helps me know what was going on in the 1990s retroactively.

Jodi Dean: Democracy via Technology?

Harvey on Left Organization; Coyle on Cutting the Work Week

Friday, November 19, 2010

the self-help ethos

According to Eva Illouz, Freud was well aware of the limitation that he could cure only wealthier people and curing the poor people's neurosis did not really make sense. "Freud explained, laborers' social conditions are such that recovery from neurosis will only accentuate their misery." (Illouz, Cold Intimacy, Polity Press, 41) Therapy was supposed to be meant for only the privileged. Freud's point was the fact that one is not one's master, so he did not think his study could be used to let someone climb the social ladder or achieve self realization.

On the other hand, during the process of democratization, laborers have been encouraged to behave like those privileged: "Now you can own a house, car....even Freud. You can be your master." This "Be your master" was not from Freud, however, but from very Victorian notions of individual responsibility. Illouz gives an example of this ethos of self-improvement, citing Samuel Smiles's popular book in 1859 called Self-Help, which was "a series of biographies of men who had risen from obscurity to fame and wealth."

At this point, Illouz does not explain why this self-help culture became so dominant in American society in the first place, but focuses on history of this melange of the self-help ethos and therapy, and discusses how people ended up thinking that those who do not try to achieve self-realization are sick.

in the morning, the writing pad read: "theory meets practice"

I got a copy of Eva Illouz's Cold Intimacies, The Making of Emotional Capitalism. This book is not saying, "Don't be fooled by the flight attendant's smile." but about her observation that capitalism is fostering (increasingly) an emotional culture and that our emotion has in part becomes the driving force of capitalism. I've just taken a look at the first chapter, "The Rise of Homo Sentimentalis," in which she explains how American capitalism absorbed Freudian idea and that "the cultural persuasion of therapy, economic productivity, and feminism intertwined and enmeshed with one another and provided the rationale, the methods, and the moral impetus to extract emotions from the realm of inner life and put them at the center of selfhood and sociability in the form of a cultural model that has become widely pervasive, namely the model of communication."

I remember some criticisms about Freud that he created problems which had not existed before. Perhaps he is not to blame, but conjuring up problems is part of capitalism.

I admit my therapeutic reason for learning dance. I also recall that I was once asked to write "healing" music. I am part of it.

To be honest, I don't know what an artist can do to this, or if an artist should do something against this. But, I share a feeling that there is something wrong with this.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


In his The Self as Resolution: Heidegger, Derrida and the Intimacy of the Question of the Meaning of Being, professor John Russon explains why self-inquiry cannot end, connecting Heidegger, Derrida, and Kant. He discusses a paradox of A=A: when we say "A=A," the first A and the second A are actually different. And then he discusses what "I am I" implies.

It reminds me of Popeye. He is not satisfied with uttering "I'm a sailor," then repeats "I yam what I yam."

1933-Popeye the Sailor- I Yam What I Yam

Popey in 1933, in search of authenticity, beats indigenous people.

big breakfast and a fiction (sort of)

Australian cooking shows are interesting.

I love big breakfast.

Something I got this morning, looks like a fragment of a fiction.

Captured Photos 00000

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I've just made this.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Tariq Ali at Sydney Opera House

robot actor

It's interesting BBC often reports about the development of robot in Japan....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

the happiest song...

Saturday, November 13, 2010

bush with a human face?

Tariq Ali discusses President Barack Obama.

The mood can change significantly in two years.

Slavoj Žižek on Obama in 2008.

Friday, November 12, 2010

silence as redemption, a mediocre melody

Composer/sound artist Andreas Bick wrote about the recent commercial use of John Cage's 4'33, The Royal British Legion's 2 Minute Silence and Dave Hilliard's Cage Against The Machine. "In fact, there are two opposing re-contextualisations competing with each other, both using the charity aspect as a key argument." 4'33 of redemption.

I got a mediocre melody in my brain and it didn't leave. So I jotted it down in order to forget. Using functional harmony is all about postponing the end.

a piece

Thursday, November 11, 2010

emotion, consumption, imagination

I'm just watching this.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

the Thicket, Cold Intimacies, and Empire

For a while, I will keep posting every day, bookmarking what I stumble upon.

Marc Weidenbaum introduces the Thicket and interviews Morgan Packard. Morgan Packard and Joshue Ott programmed the Thicket app, which operates on the iPad, the iPhone, and the iPod Touch, as a composition of controlled chance operations of the audio and the visual. As Weidenbaum mentions Jackson Pollock, the body (the fingers) movement alters the visual/audio pattern. Though I was not so interested in some programs with which dancers generate and alter the sound, I've found the Thicket is more interesting because the program itself is an artwork the audience can interact with.

Slavoj Žižek contributes to ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation). In this he mentions Eva Illouz's Cold Intimacies: The Making of Emotional Capitalism. Google Books allows to read the beginning. It appears interesting. Our longing for authenticity is part of the global capitalism.

I'm reading Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri's Empire.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

accept what comes easily


Research is whatever you need. It’s as likely to be about remembering something you do know, as about finding out something you don’t.

For instance, what made you interested in the first place?

What appears obvious to you (it may not be obvious to anybody else)?

What are you thinking about anyway?

What are you going to do anyway?

What are you reading, thinking, watching, doing, that you don’t know why you’re doing it?

It’s all right not to know why you’re doing something.
--Jonathan Burrows, A Choreographer’s Handbook, Routledge, 2010, 43.

I got a copy of Jonathan Burrows’s A Choreographer’s Handbook, and it didn’t take time to finish it. This book is not for finishing it, but working with it, however. This is not a how-to book at all. Instead, he lists up “what” of what a choreographer is likely to think about through the creation. It’s a to-do list to make a to-do list. He composes his writings the same way he choreographs.

This book is also about wisdom. His best advice I think is, “Accept what comes easily,” which he repeats many times.

It has been more than five years since I gave up dancing in front of audiences and also making my own performance pieces. It wasn’t just working, so I dropped it, as Burrows in this book repeatedly says, “If it’s not working, drop it.”

What made me interested in dance in the first place was my clumsiness. Whatever I tried to learn, be it piano, musical composition, or language, I was very slow, lazy, and easily distracted by the other things. And I was always nervous. So one day I was determined to give myself a shock therapy. What’s more shocking than dancing in front of someone? On the other hand, now I know that it was a way I avert accepting what comes easily. A bit romantic music with a touch of jazz might have been what easily came to me that time, and I disavowed it. Anyway I liked dancing, because I didn’t have time to think when dancing. Thinking hurts. Additionally, I was also interested in making some theatrical pieces, but I didn’t want to make an opera.

What appears obvious to me is that tastes in art are mostly acquired. I don’t know if everyone views that way.

I’m thinking it may be time for me to revisit artworks I liked, do some postmortem of my unfinished and finished projects, and write a book about them. Perhaps I’ll distribute it privately. I’m going to find not only right persons to work with, but also right audience.
I’m reading some contemporary philosophers’ writings which are rather political. My knowledge about philosophy is limited, but I like those authors expressing and explaining complicated things. That’s the best language can do. Last week I finished to translate just one chapter from Judith Butler’s Frames of War into Japanese. It took a month. I just wanted to know what I could do. I occasionally watch some indie films. I recently started to watch Heroes. I still buy DVDs of 30 ROCK because there would be no chance to find them at rental shops in Japan. Masterchef Australia is interesting in many ways.

Unfinished business:

What is the idea that refuses to go away even though you know it doesn’t make sense, can’t make sense?

How long has this idea been floating around in your mind?

What would happen if you followed this idea?

Complete and utter failure is always an option.

Even the best ideas sometimes fail. Even the worst ideas sometimes succeed.

You don’t have to perform everything you make.
--ibid, 49.

A Japanese male usually uses three different first person pronouns, such as watashi (or, watakushi), ore, and boku, depending on the situation he is in, or whom he is talking to, similar to usage of the second person pronoun in French, such as tu and vous. Watashi is formal. Ore and boku are casual. Preschool age children are often told to say boku by their parents. Ore emphasizes masculinity. When they start their career, many of them become accustomed to use watashi. Women usually use only watashi.

Perhaps I’m odd, but I don’t really like using those multiple first person pronouns. Why do I have to define who I am every time I utter “I”?

I can’t find a way to develop this question in order to make a performance piece, but it has been floating around for 8 years. I haven’t articulated the problem enough.

To write a piece for a string quartet is the other idea. I haven’t been ready for that.


The composer Morton Feldman told this story: ‘Samuel Beckett, not in everything he does, but in a lot of things he does. He would write something in English, translate it into French, then translate that thought back into the English that conveys that thought...There’s something peculiar. I can’t catch it. Finally I see that every line is really the same thought said in another way. And yet the continuity acts as if something else is happening. Nothing else is happening.’
From Morton Feldman’s ‘Darmstadt Lecture’,
‘Morton Feldman Essays’, edited by Walter Zimmerman,
Beginner Press, 1985, p.185.
--ibid. 9

Let’s try it, using English and Japanese:

Ohayo Ohaio. (おはよう、オハイオ。)
Good Morning Ohio.
Ohayo Ohaio-shu. (おはよう、オハイオ州。)
Morning the State of Ohio.
Asa no Ohaio-shu no yosu. (朝のオハイオ州の様子。)
What’s going on this morning in Ohio.
Kesa Ohaio-shu de nani ga okiteiruka. (今朝オハイオ州で何が起きているか。)
What’s happening this morning in Ohio?
Kesa wa doshitano Ohaio-shu? (今朝はどうしたの、オハイオ州。)
Are you okay this morning, Ohio?
Kesa wa Ohaio-shu to iukoto de yoidesuka? (今朝はオハイオ州ということで良いですか。)
Is it fine for you to meet this morning in Ohio?
Kesa Ohaio-shu de au to iukoto de yoidesuka?(今朝オハイオ州で会うということで良いですか。)
Shall we see each other this morning in Ohio?
Kesa Ohaio-shu de oai-simasho. (今朝オハイオ州でお会いしましょう。)
Let’s meet this morning in Ohio.
Kesa Ohaio-shu dene. (今朝オハイオ州でね。)
This morning in Ohio, do you see?
Kesa Ohio-shu de. Wakari-masitaka? (今朝オハイオ州で。わかりましたか。)
This morning in Ohio. Do you understand this?
Kesa no Ohaio-shu wa wakaranai. (今朝のオハイオ州はわからない。)
I don’t understand this morning’s Ohio.
Kesa no Ohaio-shu wa nankai-da. (今朝のオハイオ州は難解だ。)
This morning’s Ohio is unfathomable.
Kesa no Ohaio-shu wa nazo dearu. (今朝のオハイオ州は謎である。)
This morning’s Ohio is a mystery.
Kesa no Ohaio-shu wa suiri-shosetsu dearu. (今朝のオハイオ州は推理小説である。)
“This Morning’s Ohio” is a mystery book.
“Kesa no Ohaio-shu” wa tantei-shosetsu dearu. (『今朝のオハイオ州』は探偵小説である。)
“This Morning’s Ohio” is a detective fiction.

I am a detective. This morning I have just arrived in Ohio City, Cleveland.
Watashi wa tantei da. Kesa Kuriburando no Ohaio-Siti ni tsuita tokoroda. (私は探偵だ。今朝クリーブランドのオハイオ・シティに着いたところだ。)
Good morning Ohio.
Ohayo Ohaio. (おはよう、オハイオ。)

(All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. I feel like becoming the writer in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. )

Breaking the rules:

Try breaking the rules on a need to break the rules basis.
--ibid. 41.

My current definition of choreography is this: ‘Choreography is about making a choice, including the choice to make no choice.’

Or perhaps choreography is this: “Arranging objects in the right order that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.’

Or this: ‘The meaning or logic that arrives when you put things next to each other that accumulates into something which makes sense for the audience. This something that accumulates seems inevitable, almost unarguable. It feels like a story, even when there is no story.’
--ibid. 40.

It is interesting that Barrows never mentions “body,” or “movement” when defining choreography. It seems like definition of composition of any kind. The second and the third are rather definition of “good” composition. It seems to me that, in his view, choreography means being good. The first is rather about life: “Life is about making a choice, including the choice to make no choice.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

about Linda Hoaglund's "ANPO: Art X War"

On October 3, Sunday, at UPLINK, Shibuya, I saw Linda Hoaglund’s ANPO: Art X War, the film which describes how some Japanese artists have depicted American military presence in Japan, or how the military presence inspired those artists. “ANPO,” refers to a Japanese acronym for the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, which was originally signed by the US and Japan in 1951 when Japan regained its sovereignty, and renewed in 1960, and since then it has been almost automatically renewed every decade. The treaty allows American military presence in Japan. Japan has many US bases on its soil, and many of them are concentrated in the southern island of Okinawa, which was returned to Japan in 1972. 18% of the Okinawa main island is occupied by the US bases and 75% of all United States Forces Japan are located in Okinawa prefecture.

The fact that the film is titled ANPO in Japan, and ANPO: Art X War outside of Japan (it has already been screened at the international film festivals in Toronto and Vancouver) may imply that the filmmaker and the distributor expect that Japanese audience and the others would perceive the film differently: it is about “ANPO” for Japanese, “Japanese art” for the others. Here the filmmaker works as a curator. In fact, some among the Japanese audience question why such a film titled ANPO focuses on artworks instead of “ANPO” itself.

What I like about the film is, however, that it rediscovers some Modernist paintings and photographs, which appear to be influenced by Surrealism and Expressionism, because I am interested in the continuity between Pre-War Japan and Post-War Japan. Many of those artists who were educated before World War II were influenced by Modern artistic projects, such as Surrealism, Cubism, and Expressionism to name a few, but, in my view, the continuity tends to be ignored in the cultural discourse. It is also interesting that the film puts the pieces created by much younger artist such as Makoto Aida and Sachiko Kazama, who are usually seen as to some extent provocative, but not really political, in the context of those artworks of good old l’engagement, as if the filmmaker says to Aida and Kazama, “You’re making these as kitsch, but you’re actually serious.” In the film, Hoaglund interviews the artists she has chosen, asking what they think about the American military presence. Some of them, such as photographer Miyako Ishiuchi, in the film walks on a street near one of the US bases, talking about her memory of the street which was dangerous for young girls to walk. Though Hoaglund says her primary interest is rather in those artworks than in the politics, what she tries to listen to is rather those artists’ (kind of) political statements than their aesthetics. As the result, though the film appears to have a certain political statement to go against the military presence, I think what it implies is much more ambiguous.

In my view, what the film really depicts is neither the politics nor the aesthetics, but a kind of sentiment crystallizing around the Japanese experience of the US occupation and the succeeding military presence. It seems to me that the reason why Hoaglund focuses on the artworks is that she thinks that they can bring the sentiment to the audience effectively.

She lets the artists, especially those who participated in the anti-treaty movement which took place in 1960, talk about the memories of the movement. That year, a set of massive consecutive rallies against the treaty took place, surrounding the National Diet Building for a month, after the Lower House endorsed the renewed treaty without discussion. Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi forcefully pushed the opposition out of the building, using the police forces. Despite the majority of his conservative Liberal Democratic Party, Kishi was desperate. It is said that the way he organized the diet triggered the uprising. The fact that he reentered the political stage even though he had once been detained as one of the A-class war criminals--he had been a minister of the cabinet which had started the war against the US--also angered the people. Many might have seen that the military regime was coming back. Filmmaker Yukio Tomizawa in the film explains that the idea which united those who participated in the protest can be summarized as “No more war,” though the political agenda they had varied.

It is said that many participants did not know what the treaty was. Many simply did not like Kishi. Some radical students seriously wanted a revolution to happen. Unions wanted to revitalize themselves. In the 1950s, there was McCarthyism. Activities of the civil servants’ unions became restricted. And there was the Cold War. The rearmament of Japan progressed.

In a way, what had been seen as options for Japan’s future immediate after the surrender would be eliminated during the 1950s. Though I do not subscribe to the view that depicts Japan in August, 1945, as a blank slate, it has to be true that many people at that time had various ideas about the future of Japan. For instance, not a few argued Japan should be neutral, but Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida effectively defined (or confirmed) Japan as a member of the US allies, signing the Treaty of Peace with Japan as well as the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security in 1951, in San Francisco.

It is always difficult to talk about what might have been. Probably the most shared view about the security treaty is that it was a practical choice and also inevitable: the living standard of Japanese was much improved partly by this treaty and it was impossible for Japan to regain its sovereignty without playing a role in the US foreign policy during the Cold War. And what I can say about this interpretation is, “I don’t know,” because things become a necessity only retroactively.

As the Diet automatically endorsed the treaty (in Japan, the Lower House has power to override the Upper House, and the Upper House apparently did not conclude the session at that time), the protest ended. It was basically non-violent, but a female student died and many were injured amid the clash between the protesters and the police forces. Many of the participants are still alive: some of them define the protest as an utter failure and some hail it as the Post-War Japanese democracy at its best.

What I see in ANPO: Art X War is that a certain sentiment crystallizing around those photographs, paintings, and fragments of films cited by Hoaglund. Her way of framing the images causes some emotional effects. Some footage she quotes shows the protesters’ beautiful solidarity. As I understand it, that is the way she responds to not only those artworks, but a certain “Japanese” sentiment: and I am almost naming it patriotism. I even suspect what she actually wants to see is this Japanese “hidden” patriotism. I am not saying all the protesters were patriots. But, in fact, some radical students among the protesters became nationalist later on. The similar thing is happening in Europe: those right-wing populists often proudly claim that they were among the protesters in 1968.

My assumption is that what led the people to the war and what led the people to the protest are not so different. Philosopher Slavoj Žižek explains that contemporary phenomena such as Islam fundamentalism, right-wing populism in Europe, and the Tea Party movement in America, can be summarized as “every rise of Fascism bears witness to a failed revolution,” citing Walter Benjamin’s observation of Fascism. It may hold true for the Japanese military regime. In my view, the fact that the majority, including Socialists and various civil rights activists, supported the regime is more important than the state censorship or the lack of enough civilian control of the military at that time. Virtually everyone expected that the regime would bring something good to Japanese. Akira Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful (1944), the film which depicts female workers’ beautiful solidarity and is rather similar to those Soviet propaganda films, shows what Kurosawa perceived as ideal during the war. Though it might have been true that a lot of obscenity was going on in the war-time society, we should remember that what Kurosawa thought as what should have been was also shared by many. Can it be said that the people, who had seen that failed revolution, later on tried to translate what they had wanted during the war into a “just” revolution in 1960?

Moreover, one lesson of the war is that belonging to the majority does not necessarily mean being right. Kurosawa’s I Live in Fear (1955), in which an elderly foundry owner so fearful of a nuclear attack tries to take his entire family to Brazil, despite that most of his family members are embarrassed by his obsession, is not a simple anti-nuke film. The protagonist, a failed Moses-like figure poses an existential question similar to what Eugène Ionesco’s play Rhinoceros (1959) does: “Do you still want to be a human when everyone becomes a rhinoceros? Which is insane?” Many among the protesters might have shared that question, and that was, as I understand it, why they protested despite that the majority voted for the LDP. Therefore I think that the view that hails the movement as Post-War Japanese democracy at its best overlooks the complexity of the movement.

Additionally, I note my another assumption that violence might have been an option for both the protesters and the state power, even though the protest was basically non-violent. A non-violent protest is effective when violence is legitimate. Gandhi might have chose non-violence because of this. He was not a simple pacifist. On the other hand, the tragedy of the radical students around 1968-1970 in Japan was that they chose (or, had to choose) violence when violence had already become illegitimate. For us living in the developed countries, violence is always illegitimate, but necessary, and the state power decides what necessary violence is and practice it in order to, often, “spread democracy” to “the Pre-Modern world.” The way Japan maintains the contradiction between its pacifist constitution and well-equipped armed forces may represent our very ideology of non-violence:

ARTICLE9. Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes. (2) To accomplish the aim of the preceding paragraph, land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.

I do not argue that Japan should amend this article in order to legitimize its armed forces. A right question may be, “Is this enough?”

What I do not like about ANPO: Art X War is that it tends to describe Japan as a victim of the US foreign policy. Especially the part Tim Weiner explains the CIA’s role in Japan is misleading: it tells as if why Kishi became a prime minister was because of the CIA’s conspiracy. That kind of rationalizing (there may be some truth in it, though) may lead us to overlook the fundamental problem. By the way, what Weiner studies is basically how immature as an intelligence agency the CIA is, but not Japanese politics. I assume Weiner simply said what Hoaglund wanted to hear. The relation between Japan and America probably is not unilateral as it is often said. Their “mutual cooperation” is effectively functioning in Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few. I think even Japan’s pacifist constitution is playing a role in this global systemic violence and the narrative of an inequality that Japan is forced by America to maintain American military presence on its soil is obscuring this violence. I do not know how to solve this problem; though I am not for the military presence, I believe it will be a tragedy if it is Japanese patriotism or nationalism that ends it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

random note (postminimalism)

In the 1980s, Japanese composer Takashi Yoshimatsu once joked about why American composers tend to write in Minimalistic style, Europeans tend to put a lot of dissonance like in serial music, and Japanese slow and depressive one with a lot of pauses. Of course he was talking about those who have academic background. His assumption was that it had something to do with their childhood experiences, especially punishments at school. American children who didn't do their homework had to write "I'm sorry I didn't do my homework" one hundred times on the blackboard, so they would get this repetitive style. European children were spanked, so they would get this sado-masochistic tendencies. Japanese children had to stand still alone in the corridor during the class, often holding two buckets, which are filled with water in them, in the hands, so they would become depressive and sad.

Last week American composer Kyle Gann criticized two points about American young composers writing in Postminimalistic style: one is that use of vocal in opera is ineffective; the other is that too many are trying to be a John Adams. Especially the latter appears to prompt many responses. He is not opposed to a young composer imitating John Adams as a career start. What he worries about is that those excellent young composers are becoming indistinguishable. Nico Muhly appears to be a bit irritated not by what Gann says, but by many comments easily appreciating Gann's post. Galen H. Brown is trying to analyse the systemic problem of academia.

They are talking about music probably not the way I talk about. They often talk about how to be effective. They brilliantly analyze how a certain piece is structured. They talk about "American tradition." Then, they make me think.

Though I don't go further today, I feel writing about what I liked may sometimes be good.

I haven't developed any style because I haven't written a good amount of music. Also I think a style cannot be developed only by a composer, but also by the audiences and the players. I haven't developed this sort of relationship. I think Woody Allen's quote, "90 percent of life is just showing up," is not merely an irony depicting a superficial life. Showing up is important.

I have listened to many kind of music. I have always been curious how those composers and performers make music, and why. Probably "why" is what I've been more interested in. It is probably because I've been a slow learner.

So, I tend to think like, "What's behind atonal music? What makes them to write that way?" And I imitate it, just writing several pages, and then I stop it since I have no intention to write this as my own work. And then I marvel at some books about aesthetic, history, and philosophy of the time. Not that I want to know the cause and effect like the pseudo-Freudian joke I mentioned. It is more similar to the way a child learns how to desire from the others.

Monday, September 13, 2010

so, what's the problem with anti-colonial worldview?

I don't worship any. Because we've been bombarded with the stupid news from America, I'm thinking about the relation between culture and religion. My last post was actually about this, though I didn't mention about the news and didn't really conclude my post.

Watching Geert Wilders speaking to the people gathering in New York is a bit scary. Tariq Ali argues the debated Islam community center should be build elsewhere. I don't know which is better. But I agree with his view that the plan has been instrumentalized by the politics. Perhaps it's time to step back a bit.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

what i understand about shinto

It is not easy to articulate religion and culture. Notorious atheist Richard Dawkins claims to be a “culturally Christian,” since he still enjoys singing Christmas carols. I feel there is something wrong with his notion of relationship between religion and culture. In my view, what determines the way of distinguishing religion and culture is rather politics and he overlooks this. I don't think atheism is problematic, but when seeing his followers' anti-Islamic comments on his website, I feel something going wrong. Here I won't go further on Dawkins, but what I know about the history of Shinto makes me think about the complexity of relation between culture, religion, and politics.

I recently had an opportunity to walk around Asakusa, the touristic old downtown in Tokyo, with some artists from Europe. There is a well known Buddhist temple called Senso-ji in the center of the district. Though it was weekday, the place was crowded. I like the pragmatism of the people praying there. They pray for their health, wealth, and career success, but they don’t care about something like abstract enlightenment. What they worship is more like a sort of Paganism or Animism. And I can imagine many of the people claim to be neither Buddhist nor Shintoist. Actually this place also includes a Shinto shrine, which was officially separated from the temple around 1870 when the Japanese government, which was struggling to transform Japan into a nation state, started to establish Shinto as the nation’s “religion.” Around that time the ordinary people didn’t care about their national identity. It might have been no easy task for the government to tax and educate them, and also make them as soldiers. So the government used Shinto to unite the people. But, the government didn’t do it simply by declaring that Shinto was the nation’s religion. I’m going to explain this later.

Around 1870, Shintoism, however, was not really united. There were thousands of shrines and they vaguely shared some mythologies. These mythologies somehow explain how the islands which are now called the Japan archipelago were created, but doesn’t explain how the world was created. The deities didn’t create the world. Obviously, the ancient people living in these islands didn’t care about whether they were living in the center of the world or the periphery. They cared only about where they were living in.

Such shrines were the places where the ordinary people come to be socialized. There they celebrated birth, marriage, harvest, and so on, traded things, and discussed over the problems of their community. The shrines also provided entertainment for the local community. They were also theater.

Shintoism basically doesn’t preach. Perhaps it only says: “You have to do dirty jobs in order to survive, and sometimes you feel guilty, helpless, and hopeless. You feel you’ve become filthy. So just come here and purify yourself, and it would be okay. Anyway praying is good for you. Also sometimes you want to share your happiness when good things happen to you. This is the place you share things.” In Shintoism everything, be they plants, animals, mountains, potteries, clothes, fire, rain, the sun, the soil, or local heroes, becomes a deity. Those deities are like us humans, they hope, they suffer, they anger, they laugh, they cheat, they learn, and even they try to learn from Buddha (and that was why Shinto and Buddhism were mixed in Japan). Natural disasters, such as famine, earthquake, flood, and epidemic, were rarely interpreted as that the deities were punishing the people, but rather that the deities were in trouble. When a deity got sick, the people got sick. When a deity cried too much, there would have been a flood. The deities don’t have capacity to control things. So the people prayed for well-being of the deities.

Shrines originally had little to do with national identity, but probably had much to do with the identity of the local communities. What the government of the time of the modernization did was centralizing those shrines. The government claimed that, in the center of shrines, there was the emperor, who was descendant of god and he himself was god. There had been a clan which had have no surname, rarely governed, but endorsed warlords who claimed to have a capacity to govern. Which, roughly to say, had been functioning as pope in Europe. But the ordinary people didn’t know about this clan. So the government took this emperor to travel through Japan and claimed he was god of the nation. On the other hand, the government guaranteed the freedom of faith by the Constitution of the Empire of Japan (1889), and then, surprisingly, it claimed Shinto was not religion. The government well understood that, in order to be a modern state, Japan had to appear to be secularized. So, Shinto was categorized into the domain of “culture.” And the government claimed the Japanese culture was spiritual. This definition of religion and culture was thus acrobatic.

The government strengthened the hierarchy of the shrines, and also banned the people who had been maintaining the shrines and leading the worshiping from performing the traditional local theater which had been taking place at the shrines. So the local people started performing this local theater, called Kagura, on their own. While the government promoted Shinto as the central of the Japanese culture, it partly destroyed the local communities’ culture.

America, the occupier of Japan after World War II, might have seen Shinto as religion. The occupier tried to “secularize” Japan. In 1946 Emperor Hirohito traveled through Japan and declared he was no longer god. But, how this happened was not clear. It was not that the occupier forced Hirohito to do so. In my view, this “divine emperor” was a sort of vanishing mediator in the process of modernization of Japan. Through the war, Japanese people became Japanese enough. So the government no longer needed such a divine emperor.

It can be said that Japan’s imperial project, which had started around the mid 19th century, completed after World War II. Japanese sociologist Eiji Oguma, in his Genealogy of Japanese Self-Images, argues it was around the 1960s that many Japanese became to share the view that the Japanese society is homogeneous.