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.