Saturday, January 29, 2011

sunfish, or mola mola

The proper METHOD for studying poetry and good letters is the method of contemporary biologists, that is careful first-hand examination of the matter, and continual COMPARISON of one 'slide' or specimen with another.

No man is equipped for modern thinking until he has understood the anecdote of Agassiz and the fish:

A post-graduate student equipped with honours and diplomas went Agassiz to receive the final and finishing touches. The great man offered him a small fish and told him to describe it.

Post-Graduate Student: 'That's only a sunfish.'

Agassiz: 'I know that. Write a description of it.'

After a few minutes the student returned with the description of the Ichthus Heliichtherinkus, etc., as found in textbooks of the subject.

Agassiz again told the student to describe the fish.

The student produced a four-page essay. Agassiz then told him to look at the fish. At the end of three weeks the fish was in an advanced state of decomposition, but the student knew something about it.

--Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading, Volume 0, New Directions Paperbook, 1960, first published in 1934, p.p. 17-8.

Actually sunfish, or mola mola is fascinating to see.

But at this moment I don't want to write 4 pages to describe this. Totally distracted by the news from Egypt, though I've just gotten a copy of Jacques Attali's Noise: The Political Economy of Music, I haven't read it yet.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Vermeer's "View of Delft" and photography

Vermeer’s View of Delft: though he may or may not have used a camera obscura as his aid, it is known that he reconstructed the view in order to satisfy his purpose. He could remove or add things and changed the proportion. For instance, the actual Nieuwe Kerk had to be taller than what he depicted. He, painting this, may have not changed his manner from the way he painted the other genre paintings; though the genre paintings are presented as a slice of life, the painters did not see the models placed like a scene of a play on the stage in order to depict. Rather, they constructed the scene on the canvas. It was like novel writing. In this sense, the difference between the historical paintings and the genre paintings is the difference of the subjects, but not the accuracy of resemblance. But View of Delft has a strikingly photographic effect. It presents itself as a pose, in the sense that Roland Barthes explains the nature of photography. Barthes says, “for the pose is not, here, the attitude of the target or even a technique of the Operator, but the term of an “intention” of reading: looking at a photograph, I inevitably include in my scrutiny the thought of that instant, however brief, in which a real thing happened to be motionless in front of the eye. I project the present photograph’s immobility upon the past shot, and it is this arrest which constitutes the pose (Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Vintage Books, Trans. Richard Howard, 1980, p. 78).” And I could argue that, in order to present the pose in that sense, it does not have to be photography. But here I do not aim to praise Vermeer’s mastery, but I point out the character of this painting because I assume it can help us examine what photographic reality is.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

random notes on listening

Generally speaking, the way knowing of what we hear comes to us is slower than the way knowing of what we see does. While the number of people who regularly record environmental sound is still fewer than the number of those who regularly take photos, if it is true that the number of people who record environmental sound is increasing, it is probably because sound is invisible and we are becoming more serious about things we cannot see, be they the climate or system of society or some sort of conspiracy theory. We tend to believe truth or reality is always hidden. In other words, it is real because it is hidden, and the minute the once hidden is explicated, it is no longer called real.

Listening is physical. Your dance or yoga or pilates instructor may tell you, “Don't watch the mirror. Listen to your body.” Seeing is distancing, and that is why trying to capture reality through seeing can be aggressive. Seeing is bold, listening is subtle. Seeing is brave, listening is coward. You may not listen to furiously, but sound can make you furious. The sense of hearing is passive. At a certain moment, we become aware that we are hearing something, and then listen to it. It takes time to know what we are listening to, but it does not take time to apprehend the sounds. Or, rather, it is sound that apprehends us, just like an emotion. Music sometimes makes you cry. We probably are increasingly interested in rather what have gotten us than what we have gotten.

Some of those who are keen on listening may be taking sound as some sort of Romantic metaphysics. Like Surrealists took the Freudian concept of unconscious for their rather familiar notion of Romantic metaphysics, as a reservoir of their inspirations.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Again, I quote Sloterdijk's Terror from the Air. I wish I could paraphrase this:

Freud's approach led to the unfolding of a domain of latency of a particular type, to which the name the "unconscious" was given, a term borrowed from the idealist philosophies of Schelling, Schubert, and Carus, and from the philosophies of life of the 19th century, particularly those of Schopenhauer and Hartmann; this term defined a subjective dimension of non-unconcealment, of internal latencies and of invisible latent presuppositions linked to I-like states. After its Freudian redefinition, the concept's meaning was radically narrowed, becoming sufficiently specialized to make it useable for clinical operationalization; no longer did it designate a reservoir of dark, integrating forces, a nature capable of healing and generating images, situated upstream of consciousness; nor did it designate an underground comprised of blindly self-affirming currents of will existing beneath the "subject": it designated a small, inner container that becomes filled through repressions and that is placed under neurogenic pressure by the impulse of the repressed. The Surrealists' enthusiasm for psychoanalysis was based on their mistaking the Freudian concept of the unconscious with that of Romantic metaphysics.

-Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, Semiotext, 2009, p.p. 82-3.

Monday, January 24, 2011

on Le sacre du printemps

If David Lynch created Twin Peaks now, he wouldn't have to reveal who killed Laura Palmer. I could jokingly say that the most popular TV dramas today have entered the late Romantic period. Like Wagner's Tristan und Isolde, the solution is perpetually sustained: a cliffhanger for the cliffhanger's sake. When watching a drama like this, we basically forget the direction, and focus on the details, the soundbites, instead. Lost, for me, appears to be determined to go nowhere. I'm not ranting. I'm actually watching the third season. I like all the details, conversations, music, the visual effects. The island is so beautiful so why do I have to go somewhere else? Lost's clever use of pop music as allusion is not so different from John Cage's use of the classical cliche in his Credo in Us. And the orchestral (plus electronic) music claims the drama's authenticity. The score is very much like Stravinsky's.

But, the most of scores for films or TV drama are basically descendants of Stravinsky's. That's why Adorno criticized Wagner and Stravinsky. Adorno always goes against catchy soundbites.

Well, it's just a TV show.

The well-known Le sacre du printemps (The Rite of Spring) riot occurred at its premiere on May 29, 1913, at Théatre des Champs Elysées in Paris. How this happened is opaque. It is generally said that Stravinsky's score which was quite novel to the audiences caused this. But whether the audiences booed Stravinsky's score or Nijinsky's choreograph is not clear. I even read a modern musical history book that tells Diaghilev deliberately planted some kind of theater hooligans in order to make his product scandalous. Anyway, the audiences' punching each other over the style of music or dance is quite unusual. I imagine that, if it had been a politically controversial performance, such a thing could have happened, but this performance's pseudo-anthropological theme rather fit the ideology of that era after the series of Paris Expositions. I guess Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro is more political than Le sacre du printemps.

By the way, I imagine, this was very luxury project. 8 horns? 4 trumpets? The complex music that requires much rehearsal. Getting financial support might have been quite an achievement. This was not a project in a small dance studio.

Le sacre du printemps did not happen all of sudden. It was not some kind of cultural mutant or fringe. Before its premiere, the Dalcroze system, which aimed at creating chorus of bodily movements, was already established. In 1913, Isadora Duncan was already famous (that year she lost her two sons), and Mary Wigman, who left Dalcroze school, met Rudolf von Laban in Monte Verità, Ascona (she would create her first version of famous Hexentanz in 1914). Watching Jeffrey Ballet's recreation of the original choreograph, I see that it shares much in common with Modern dance (or, German expressionist dance). It's surprisingly asexual. In this sense it goes against Romantic ballet. The gentlemen who watched the premiere of this might have booed for this. The point of this work is, I think, presenting the Otherness. It doesn't tell the people described are from where. You don't see the absolute Other sexually, so the choreography has to be asexual....I imagine so. Even it's not about folklore. It's rather an aliens' dance. It alienates the audience who wants to see something exotic.

There are 3 famous choreographs for this: Nijinsky's (we see as Robert Jeffrey's recreation), Maurice Béjart's, and Pina Bausch's. Though its feminist twist is all too familiar, I like Pina Bausch's the best. At 1:36, when the music gets louder again, the dancers just repeat small simple steps, this part is so scarely.

I hate Béjart. When watching something like this, I feel like watching the 70s Bond girls. And I don't understand why he made a pas de deux out of Sacrificial Dance. The orgy itself is not the problem for me. But I think it fits Carmina Burana better. Le sacre du printemps needs an aspect of alienation. If a choreographer wants an orgy, it has to be like one described in Stanley Kubrik's Eyes Wide Shut.

Carmina Burana (1975)

Saturday, January 22, 2011

the world according to Schütte-Lihotzky

I like the following paragraphs from John Irving's The World according to Garp:

He spent his day writing (or trying to write), running, and cooking. He got up early and fixed breakfast for himself and the children; nobody was home for lunch and Garp never ate that meal; he fixed dinner for his family every night. It was a ritual he loved, but the ambition of his cooking was controlled by how good a day he'd had writing, and how good a run he'd had. If the writing went poorly, he took it out on himself with a long, hard run; or sometimes, a bad day with his writing would exhaust him so much that he could barely run a mile; then he tried to save the day with a splendid meal.

Helen could never tell what sort of day Garp had experienced by what he cooked for them; something special might mean a celebration, or it might mean that the food was the only thing that had gone well, that the cooking was the only labor keeping Garp from despair.'If you are careful,' Garp wrote, 'if you use good ingredients, and you don't take any shortcuts, then you can usually cook something very good. Sometimes it is worthwhile product you can salvage from a day: what you make to eat. With writing, I find, you can have all the right ingredients, give plenty of time and care, and still get nothing. Also true of love. Cooking, therefore, can keep a person who tries hard sane.'

--John Irving, The World according to Garp, Black Swan, p.236)

I have just one thing I disagree with the above Garp's statement about cooking: even if you have great ingredients, still so many things can go wrong. Cooking reality shows, such as MasterChef, prove that (I always wonder why Top 50 of the 5000 participants cannot separate egg yolk and egg white....they remind me of Columbo appearing in a cooking show). And it drives the contestants mad. But I couldn't agree more that cooking can save your day, as long as the "ambition" of it is controlled by the other activities.For me, cooking at home is good not because I can make something splendid, but because I can always pick up a fallen pancake, as Julia Child put it.

I love mediocrity and decency.

I'm nostalgic especially for public housing. When it comes to housing, Japan in the 1970s was, I imagine, more egalitarian than today. The government built public housings everywhere and a young engineer who worked for a not-so-big company could afford a decent flat which consisted of the living room, kitchen, dining room, bathroom, 2 bedrooms, and modest balcony. It was allowed to play piano there, so he put a modest upright piano in the living room and his son could practice it (that was me). It was a 5 story building with 5 or so stairways, and each stairway led to 10 units, so the children from one or two stairways could form a baseball team (there were so many children that time). The government had been building such housings since the 1920s to a decade or so ago (Japan as a welfare state started in the 1920s, especially after the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923). But, since the 1980s, it has been busy privatizing things, and Tokyo completely ceased building public housings, I think, in 2000.

Mass production is often scorned. But we should remember that it used to have something to do with the egalitarian dream. Grete Schütte-Lihotzky, the architect who designed Die Frankfurter Küche, or the Frankfurt Kitchen, embodies this dream. MoMA recently acquired a model of the Frankfurt Kitchen, and it is featured at the MoMA's exhibition called Counter Space: Design and the Modern Kitchen. It is the earliest work by a female architect in MoMA's collection. You can see the pictures and the plans here. It says:

The Frankfurt Kitchen was designed like a laboratory or factory and based on contemporary theories about efficiency, hygiene, and workflow. In planning the design, Schütte-Lihotzky conducted detailed time-motion studies and interviews with housewives and women’s groups.

Each kitchen came complete with a swivel stool, a gas stove, built-in storage, a fold-down ironing board, an adjustable ceiling light, and a removable garbage drawer. Labeled aluminum storage bins provided tidy organization for staples like sugar and rice as well as easy pouring. Careful thought was given to materials for specific functions, such as oak flour containers (to repel mealworms) and beech cutting surfaces (to resist staining and knife marks).

Martin Filler in The New York Review of Books introduces this exhibition.

Rotifer, The Frankfurt Kitchen.

By the way, I always enjoy reading Marc Weidenbaum's blog Disquiet, which almost every day introduces experimental music, sound art, and things revolving around them. And today I was very (and positively)surprised by him, finding my name on it. He introduced my track of super slow J.S.Bach's Aria (the theme of Golberg Variationen BWV 988), which was originally provided for Thomas Plischke and Kattrin Deufert's dance performance based on a scene from Ridley Scott film Hannibal, in which Lecter cuts out part of Klendler's brain. They first translated the scene into language, then into movements. The choreographers at that time were working under the name of Frankfurter Küche.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

thinking how to begin

Sorry, this sounds like a broken record player repeating the same things. The following is the beginning part of my draft....anyway I'm using this blog to draft, formulate, and reformulate things....

Notes on Photographic Seeing and Schizophonia

I am going to discuss the relation between things recorded, such as photographs and recorded sounds, and our seeing and listening. Regarding this relation, some kind of split with reality has been problematized by critiques of image and sound ecologists, such as, for example, Susan Sontag and Raymond Murray Schafer. Sontag uses the term “photographic seeing,” when she criticizes that the original is dismembered and appropriated by dissociative and voyeuristic viewers. Schafer’s term “schizophonic” environment refers to one that we hear electroacoustically reproduced voices from the walls and the ceilings, or, using the headphones, we separate ourselves from the environment we are in, or our sense of hearing from the other senses. To put it simply, their criticisms can read that, using the technologies, we are disconnecting ourselves from reality, nature, and community, and also exploiting such disconnections. While it would be easy to counterargue, saying that the split itself is not the problem, or that there is no such a thing as split, those criticisms of the split appear to have an impact on popular discourses of understanding of the relations between technology and our being, and between reality and perception. My position is that the split, if there ever is one, may not be the problem, but problematizing what we see or hear is nonetheless important in order to think what art can do. My intention is neither to try to foresee the future of art, nor to try to make up some useful theory, but to try to reflect those critiques’ model of interpretation and to rethink what should be problematized now. Many artists have dealt with those devices, and what those critiques see as the split probably keeps inspiring those who practice collage.
Collage has been crucial for many artists since the heyday of Surrealism, hand in hand with the development of the technologies and consumer society, though the very act of assembling things to make artworks is not exclusive of Modernism or Postmodernism: for example, no one may call Beethoven’s use of some Hungarian or Turkish folk music collage. Generally speaking, collage is about using consumer products and has often been part of those artists’ antiestablishmentarian expressions. I am neither positive nor negative about collage, but I want to examine the very premise of it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"The naming act was of greater import than the real origin"

Another funny story from Sloterdijk's book.

Marcel Duchamp spent the Christmas of 1919 with his family in Rouen. On the evening of December 27, shortly before he was about to board the SS Touraine in Le Havre to go to New York, he sought out a pharmacy in rue Blomet, where he convinced the pharmacist to pull a mid-sized vial from his sfelf, open the seal, empty its liquid contents and re-seal the bell-shaped container. Duchamp took the empty ampoule with him in his luggage and presented it to his hosts in New York, the collector couple Walter and Louise Arensberg, as a gift, explaining that because the wealthy couple already had everything, he wanted to bring them 50 cubic centimeters of Air de Paris. And thus it happened that a volume of French air made it onto the list of the first readymades. It apparently didn't concern Duchamp in the least that his readymade air-object was a counterfeit from the beginning, since it was not filled with Parisian air, but with that of a pharmacy in Le Havre. The naming act was of greater import than the real origin. Nevertheless, the "original" did still matter to him; when in 1949 a boy accidentally shattered the vial of "Parisian air" in Arensberg's collection, Duchamp had an obliging friend in Le Havre procure the same vial from the same pharmacy. (Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the Air, Semiotext, 2009, trans. Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran, p.p.105-6)

some old japanese songs

Tokyo Rhapsody (1936)

Ringo no Uta ("Apple Song" 1945)

Jonetsu Musume ("Passion Girl") and Jungle Boogie (1949)

Tokyo Boogie-woogie (1947)

Kaimono Boogie ("Shopping Boogie" 1950)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

no one is cynical

Last week I spent 3 hours to watch Tavis Smiley's America's Next Chapter, in which Panelists such as Cornel West, Princeton University professor and author, Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post, John S. Chen, chairman of Committee of 100, Maria Bartiromo, anchor of CNBC’s Closing Bell with Maria Bartiromo, David Frum, speechwriter for former President George W. Bush and founder of FrumForum, Dana Milbank, lead political columnist for The Washington Post, David Brody, CBN News chief political correspondent and Maria Teresa Kumar, executive director/co-founder, Voto Latino, discuss where America will go.

When I see something like this, I couldn't agree more with Jodi Dean arguing cynicism is not the problem.

Monday, January 17, 2011

many a

I've been googling "many a." I was wondering if this expression is common....and it appears it is. There's a saying, "Many a little makes a miracle." There is a novel titled "After Many a Summer." The musical Oklahoma! has a song titled "Many a New Day." I'm still not confident of my use of "a" and "the." Though several years ago I found this "many a" in a poem, I've never used this expression.

The Flemish-Netherlands Foundation every year publishes a book called The Low Countries: Arts and Society in Flanders and the Netherlands. It is written in English. And--I've forgotten which issue it was-- one day I found the 19th century Flemish poet Guido Gezelle's this poem in it. It begins with "I have many many an hour with you." The original goes like this:

Dien avond en die rooze

'k Heb menig menig uur bij u
gesleten en genoten,
en nooit en heeft een uur met u
me een enklen stond verdroten.
'k Heb menig menig blom voor u
gelezen en geschonken,
en, lijk een bie, met u, met u,
er honing uit gedronken;
maar nooit een uur zoo lief met u,
zoo lang zij duren koste,
maar nooit een uur zoo droef om u,
wanneer ik scheiden moste,
als de uur wanneer ik dicht bij u,
dien avond, neêrgezeten,
u spreken hoorde en sprak tot u
wat onze zielen weten.
Noch nooit een blom zoo schoon, van u
gezocht, geplukt, gelezen,
als die dien avond blonk op u,
en mocht de mijne wezen!
Ofschoon, zoo wel voor mij als u,
- wie zal dit kwaad genezen? -
een uur bij mij, een uur bij u
niet lang een uur mag wezen;
ofschoon voor mij, ofschoon voor u,
zoo lief en uitgelezen,
die rooze, al was 't een roos van u,
niet lang een roos mocht wezen,
toch lang bewaart, dit zeg ik u,
't en ware ik 't al verloze
mijn hert drie dierbre beelden: u,
dien avond - en - die rooze!

Many of you probably don't read Dutch. Neither do I. In that book it was translated into English by Paul Claes and Chritine d'Haen. But I don't have the book anymore. I've found an English version on the web, but I don't think this is what I saw that time. If my memory is correct, it was slightly different.

The Night And The Rose

I have many an hour with you
worn out and enjoyed
and never has an hour with you
bored me for a moment.
I have many a flower for you
read and given,
and, like a bee, with you, with you,
drank honey from it;
but never an hour as sweet with you,
as long as it could last,
but never an hour as sad for you,
when I had to leave you,
as the hour when I close to you,
that night, sitting down,
heard you talking and said to you
that which our souls know.
Never a flower as beautiful from you
sought, picked, read,
like that night that shimmered on you,
and I could call my own.
And just as well, as well for me as you,
-who will cure this evil?-
an hour with me, an hour with you,
wasn't allowed to be an hour for long;
And just as well for me, and just as well for you,
so endearing and exalted,
the rose, even if it was a rose from you,
wasn't allowed to be a rose for long,
yet long preserved, this I say to you,
even if I'd lose it all,
my heart three treasured images: you,
the night and the rose.

I heard Gezelle often experimented with the language. So at that time I thought this "many a" was part of his experiment. But this may be not the case....

Friday, January 14, 2011

revisiting "Camera Lucida"

What Barthes in his Camera Lucida wants to do by pointing out the punctum, the very pathetic detail of the pictures he picks up, may be destabilizing the relation between the picture and the viewer. He encourages the viewer to forget the all obvious story a picture carries (which he calls the studium), and see the image itself. He invites the viewer to more active seeing, or to photographic seeing of a photograph.

He in a way underscores a tiny thing in a picture. Here I do a thought experiment, using a paragraph from a novel:

One day he got there about three o'clock. Everybody was in the fields. He went into the kitchen, but did not at once catch sight of Emma, the outside shutters were closed. Through the chinks of the wood the sun sent across the flooring long fine rays that were broken at the corners of the furniture and trembled along the ceiling. Some flies on the table were crawling up the glasses that had been used, and buzzing as they drowned themselves in the dregs of the cider. The daylight that came in by the chimney made velvet of the soot at the back of the fireplace, and touched with blue the cold cinders. Between the window and the hearth Emma was sewing; she wore no fichu; he could see small drops of perspiration on her bare shoulders.

It is from Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary (Forgotten Books, 2008, trans., Eleanor Marx-Aveling, p.19), which is well-known for its photographic way (or, cinematic way) of describing things. The reader anticipates Emma. That's why this description of the kitchen is touching. Despite the anticipation, Emma at last appears as a surprise. It is breathtaking. But Barthes could say "Forget the all story," and then arbitrarily underscores a word in the paragraph.

One day he got there about three o'clock. Everybody was in the fields. He went into the kitchen, but did not at once catch sight of Emma, the outside shutters were closed. Through the chinks of the wood the sun sent across the flooring long fine rays that were broken at the corners of the furniture and trembled along the ceiling. Some flies on the table were crawling up the glasses that had been used, and buzzing as they drowned themselves in the dregs of the cider. The daylight that came in by the chimney made velvet of the soot at the back of the fireplace, and touched with blue the cold cinders. Between the window and the hearth Emma was sewing; she wore no fichu; he could see small drops of perspiration on her bare shoulders.

I'm not so sure whether I've succeeded to defamiliarize the paragraph, but I hope you've got the point. We can do this experiment, using also field recordings and inserting something into them, in order to encourage the listener to listen more actively.

Introduction/Attendance (Margit Island Audio Diaries 1) by Yasuo Akai

But the concept of "the image itself," or "the thing itself," is tricky one....

music and acoustics

Thursday, January 13, 2011

the moment I understand why Americans need President Obama

President Obama's speech at the memorial service in Tucson walks a fine line. He mentions the victims' individual stories. He cannot pass himself off as using this tragedy for his political agenda. He cannot be superficial like some liberals who just tell people to calm down. He is even uncharacteristically religious, even mentioning (rightly, I think) Job. I feel that he knows what is like to be an American very much. It is easy to criticize him from both sides and it is sometimes necessary to do so. But when I see something like this, I cannot help admiring him.

again, seeing and listening, active and passive

When Susan Sontag says “photographic seeing,” she is problematizing the fact that the original is dismembered and appropriated by a photographer, a dissociative observer. The main reason why she thinks this problematic especially with photography, but less so with paintings is that, for her, photographs can be fetishized as part of the originals. The big difference between sound ecologists and Sontag is that, while sound ecologists problematize the aggressiveness of the acoustic environment to one who listen to, Sontag problematizes the aggressiveness of one who see things. Though she questions also the numbing effect of sensational photographs that bombard us every day, she basically discusses the aggressiveness of seeing. For her, and probably for many, seeing is active. On the other hand, sound ecologists often discuss passivity of the listener, and encourage to listen more actively, and also to record acoustic environments.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"The only surprising thing about the Wikileaks revelations is.....

....that they contain no surprises," Žižek says. That's right.

Slavoj Žižek on Wikileaks, London Review of Books. He says that, having said that, Wikileaks appears to make sure that we can no longer pretend that we don't know the things, BUT, he goes on, "The premise is wrong. Truth liberates, but not this truth." Then, what truth? He doesn't give a precise answer, but points out the importance of maintaining appearance--which is familiar to the readers of Žižek's writings. And then, he reminds us of how pretending not to know has played an important role in some critical moments of our history. BUT, "There are moments – moments of crisis for the hegemonic discourse – when one should take the risk of provoking the disintegration of appearances."


To what degree can discourses of image be useful to think about sound? That's a big question for me.

I've often felt discourses of music are strange. They are so focused on how to make a piece. On the other hand, discourses of image are more about what a certain image is about. I probably want to be emancipated from the discourses of how-to.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Hegel and string figure

I don't know Hegel at all. I've just read some writings of our contemporary thinkers citing him. But, I know that, in order to understand those contemporaries, sooner or later I have to read his writings. I take a look at Aesthetics: Lecture on Fine Art, Volume 2 (Oxford University Press, Trans., T. M. Knox). I quote the second paragraph of the chapter called "The Ideal of Sculpture (p.p. 721-2)."

Here, in a quite abstract and formal way, taking the standpoint of the ideal, we may take the symbolic in art to be the imperfection of each specific art. Consider, for instance, a child's attempt to draw a human figure or to mould it in wax or clay; what he produces is a mere symbol because it only indicates the living man it is supposed to portray while remaining completely untrue to him and his significance. So art at first is hieroglyphic, not an arbitrary and capricious sign but a rough sketch of the object for our apprehension. For this purpose a bad sketch is adequate, provided that it recalls the figure it is supposed to mean. It is in a similar way that piety is satisfied with bad images, and in the most bungled counterfeit still worships Christ, Mary, or some saint, although such figures are recognized as individuals only by particular attributes like, for example, a lantern, a gridiron, or a millstone. For piety only wants to be reminded of the object of worship in a general way; the rest is added by the worshipper's mind which is supposed to be filled with the idea of the object by means of the image, however unfaithful it may be. It is not the living expression of the object's presence which is demanded; it is not something present which is to fire us by itself; on the contrary the work of art is content simply to arouse a general idea of the object by means of its figures, however little they correspond with it. But our ideas are always abstractions. I can very easily have an idea of something familiar like, for instance, a house, a tree, a man, but although here the idea is engaged with something entirely specific it does not go beyond quite general traits, and, in general, it is only really an idea when it has obliterated from the concrete perception of the objects their purely immediate individuality and so has simplified what is seen. Now if the idea is to be recognizable by everyone, by a whole people, this aim is achieved par excellence when no alteration at all is admitted into the mode of portrayal. In that case the result is that art becomes conventional and hidebound, as has happened not only with the older Egyptian art but with the older Greek and Christian art, too. The artist had to keep to specific forms and repeat their type.

So, what his ideal sculpture brings to us is not some general idea (even of divinity), but what he calls "spirit." And then he goes on about Greek statues in details.

I have no idea what he means by "spirit." What I understand may be that, when we call something art, as Jacques Rancière puts it, we are seeing the thing itself and outside itself simultaneously.

But at this moment I'm not interested in the distinction of art and non-art. The paragraph I quoted above reminds me of string figures: Cat's Cradle, Cup and Saucer, Jacob's Ladder, Turtle, and so on (I was rather a clumsy kid, so the most complicated figure I could make was Jacob's Ladder). A loop of string constantly changes its shape. The figures are indeed hieroglyphic. If no one tells me that the figure is, for example, Turtle, I can never figure out what it is. The fact that someone has to tell me the names of the figures is important part of this game, like the fact that someone has to tell you that this gridiron is St. Laurence. The gap between the mental image of turtle and the symbol of turtle stimulates the mind. The game stimulates the mind in many ways, and also is physical experience. It might be highly mathematical, but you don't have to understand topology. The fingers memorize the order of the moves... "General idea" is also interesting.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

with or without the headphones....

At this moment I'm writing something revolving around our listening experience and the consumer society and I'm looking around things that can help me. Simon Fraser University Library allows us to read the sound artist Hildegard Westerkamp's master thesis Listening and Soundmaking: a Study of Music-as-Environment (1988). I think this is a good example of how sound ecologists were thinking in the 1980s. She is a pupil of R. Murray Schafer. The Schafer's concept of "the tuning of the world" was in a way transcendent: "The world is imbalance because of our polluting of the environment sound, so let's tune the world." On the other hand, Westerkamp's emphasis is on the individual's listening experience. While she often cites Jacques Attali's Noise: the Political Economy of Music, her study is not exactly sociology and politics, but what happens to an individual's listening experience in the society Attali depicts. While, like Schafer, she also argues about some kind of imbalance, but her "imbalance" is not of the world, but of an individual's psyche. According to her, with a healthy individual, the act of listening and the act of soundmaking (your speaking, your footsteps, the sound and the noise your body makes...)are balanced, but in our society, an individual's soundmaking is oppressed by the massive noise and sounds of the cities.

She also makes some Foucauldian study of the Muzak Corporation, which rapidly developed during World War II. The Muzak provides not only BGMs, but also surveillance systems, and has a deep connection with the military. This reminds me of what we often say when we talk about food issues: fertilizer and pesticide are developed from the technologies of explosives and nervegas, so we are eating the leftover of World War II; in this sense, we are listening to the leftover of World War II.

Her point is that, ultimately, sound artists can do something to restore the balance, making sound outside the commodity exchange.

She is not negative about the "schizophonic" environment. She argues that schizophonia can be a tool to find the balance. Her works are indeed schizophonic, combining field recordings, poetry, and both instrumental and electronic sounds. She is not so negative about Walkman, though she calls it "ultimate schizophonia." The problem for her is the passivity of the listener and the listener's isolation. On the other hand she is positive about the fact that headphones allow the listener to choose what to listen to.

I once wrote about the headphones here. What I was vaguely trying to say was that wearing the headphones does something else other than isolating one from the environment. It would signal something to a public, showing where you belong or where you do not belong.

Marc Weidenbaum of Disquiet sees Virginia Heffernan's article appearing in The New York Times, January 7, 2011, problematic. Heffernan discusses the risk of use of headphones and earbuds: deafening. And she suggests to use headphones less. Then Weidenbaum simply suggests to use better headphones. What irritates him appears to be Heffernan's this sentence: "If you think about all the recordings, production tricks, conversions and compressions required to turn human voices and acoustic instruments into MP3 signals, and then add the coil-magnet-diaphragm magic in our headphones, it’s amazing that the intensely engineered frankensounds that hit our eardrums when we listen to iPhones are still called music." He appears to dislike her naive rejection of the technologies. He also appears to dislike her kind of moralization. He says: "She dismisses the pleasure of solo listening as 'antisocial,' quoting The Atlantic's Llewellyn Hinkes Jones about how the 'shared experience of listening' is 'not unlike the cultural rituals of communal eating.' Left out: the fact that concert attendance is, in fact, up; communal listening is on the rise."

What interests me is that, while Heffernan mentions the history of headphone and its military origin, she is in support of another kind of surveillance/protection: that of parents. Parents should know what children is listening to. She concludes her article this way:

Headphones work best for people who need or want to hear one sound story and no other; who don’t want to have to choose which sounds to listen to and which to ignore; and who don’t want their sounds overheard. Under these circumstances, headphones are extremely useful — and necessary for sound professionals, like intelligence and radio workers — but it’s a strange fact of our times that this rarefied experience of sound has become so common and widespread. In the name of living a sensory life, it’s worth letting sounds exist in their audio habitat more often, even if that means contending with interruptions and background sound.

Make it a New Year’s resolution, then, to use headphones less. Allow kids and spouses periodically to play music, audiobooks, videos, movie, television and radio audibly. Listen to what they’re listening to, and make them listen to your stuff. Escapism is great, and submission and denial, too, have their places. But sound thrives amid other sounds. And protecting our kids’ hearing is not just as important as protecting their brains; it is protecting their brains.

Of course, parents should protect their children. But could we feel that how she argues sounds a bit authoritative?: it is the authorities who choose and give what you listen to; surveillance often comes in the name of protection.

By the way, what a device provides is one thing, and how to use it is another. I saw a scene of Heroes, in which Claire Bennet shares the earbuds with her boyfriend in the bed. The scene implies the ultimate intimacy. They are together isolated not only by the walls of the bedroom, but also by what they are listening to. And that's exactly what we often do with this device, not only in the bedroom, but also in the subway. In such occasions, the device becomes a means of non-verbal communication. (Or, was it a scene of Kim Bauer of 24? I forgot!)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

"Lost" and reality show

Lost is very much like those of reality shows: "Let's put frustrated people together in one place and see what's going to happen." The way flashbacks tell each character's own past is not so different from those inserted scenes in which the participants of Master Chef tell their own story when they are eliminated. The fiction's advantage may be that the audience feels less guilty, or less annoyed by personal things. I've seen from the first season and part of the second season. Shannon, who won non-paying internship of Martha Graham Dance Company (lol), has been shot dead.

To be honest I'm a bit tired of keep watching the DVDs of those TV dramas (Heroes, 24, and Lost, like I said before). I've watched the all seasons of Heroes, and the first three seasons of 24. I've already given up to keep watching 24 not because of its torture scenes but because of its inconsistency. Perhaps I'm going to see the rest of Lost's second season and then quit all this.

Friday, January 7, 2011

thoughts and words

Matt Parkman, a fictional character of Heroes, is a mind-reader. The other people's thoughts come across as spoken words to him. When he was not aware of his ability, he responded to those words actually not spoken, and it broke his marriage. He cannot read Noah Bennet's thoughts because Bennet is thinking in "Japanese."

That's interesting, because I don't think what thinking is that way. In my view, thoughts themselves are not language. Thoughts are thoughts. They are like water of flowing river, and language is a container to scoop the water up. Language gives thoughts forms, but drawing or making music does so as well. If thinking is language, maybe I sometimes think therefore I sometimes am (I don't know how to put it into Latin).

Of course words often come to my mind, but this is rather like rehearsing. Especially at this moment I'm writing in my second language, I'm rehearsing what I'm going to write in my mind.

When words come to my mind, I'm communicating with my inner audience. When Hamlet makes a monologue, you're participating in his inner theater as his inner audience.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

the split

The sound ecologists' term "schizophonic" soundscape refers to a landscape where music/voice are electro-acoustically imposed onto the acoustic environment (which we somehow take for granted), and we experience the two splits: between the environment the listener is in and the world that is projected by the transmitted sound; between what the ears hear and what the rest of the senses perceive. The technologies have been changing our reality. But, perhaps we should be careful because we tend to say, "The technologies have been changing our perception."

Susan Sontag (I respect her very much, though) could say "perception." When she mentions "photographic way of seeing," she implies that the technologies of photography changed our way of seeing the world. When she criticizes someone's artworks, she tends to criticize someone's way of seeing, for example, Diane Arbus's Surrealist (almost equivalent of photographic) way of seeing, Antonioni's photographic way of seeing, Riefenstahl's Fascist way of seeing.

Photography changed what we see, but I'm not so sure if it changed how we see.

But, the split of space interests me, so today I have been thinking about the split of the air. Peter Sloterdijk's Terror from the Air (originally as Luftbeben, trans. Amy Patton and Steve Corcoran) cites a funny anecdote of Salvador Dalí's lecture performance on July 1, 1936, at the International Surrealist Exhibition in London's New Burlington Galleries. According to Sloterdijk, he presented himself as "a radical representative of 'Elsewhere' and in the name of the 'Other,'" and "deliver his address in a deep-sea diving suit." A "car radiator was mounted above the helmet, the artist was carrying a billiard queue in his hand, and was accompanied by two large dogs." Sloterdijk quotes from How One Becomes Dalí:

"I had decided to make a speech at this exhibit, but from inside a deep-sea diver's suit, to symbolize the subconscious. I was put into the outfit, even including the leaden shoes that nailed me to the spot. I had to be carried up to the stage. Then the helmet was screwed and bolted on. I started my speech behind the glass facepiece in front of a microphone which of picked up nothing. But my facial expressions fascinated the audience. Soon they saw me open-mouthed, apoplectic, then turning blue, my eyes revulsed. No one had thought of connecting me to an air supply and I was yelling out that I was asphyxiating. The specialist who had out the suit on me was nowhere to be found. I gesticulated in such a way as to make friends understand that the situation was becoming critical. One of them grabbed a pair of scissors and tried in vain to cut a vent in the fabric, another tried to unscrew the helmet and, when that did not work, started banging at the bolts with hammer. My head pounded like a ringing bell and my eyes teared with pain. I was being pulled and pushed every which way. Two men were trying to force the mask off, while a third kept striking blows that knocked me out. The stage had turned into a frenzied melee from which I emerged as a disjointed puppet in my copper helmet that resounded like a gong. At this, the crowd went wild with applause before the total success of the Dalinian mimodrama which in its eyes was representation of the conscious trying to apprehend the subconscious. I almost died of this triumph. When finally they got the helmet off I was as pale as Jesus coming out of the desert after the forty-day fast."

Maldives ministers in 2009 were better prepared.

Did they preach to the "fishes" as a (not so) radical representative of "Elsewhere." From the point of the fishes' view, we are the "Other," definitely.

Monday, January 3, 2011

notes on melody, line, and anthropomorphism (pdf)

An essay based on my recent entries. Key words: Paul Klee, Pedagogical Sketchbook, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, 1837: Of the Refrain, Ernst Toch, The Shaping Forces in Music: An Inquiry into the Nature of Harmony, Melody, Counterpoint and Form.