Monday, February 28, 2011

musica practica

I mentioned Roland Barthes's short essay Musica Practica before. I cite this again.

Further, this romantic image (the meaning of which finally is a certain discord) creates a problem of performance: the amateur is unable to master Beethoven's music, not so much by reason of the technical difficulties as by the very breakdown of the code of the former musica practica. According to this code, the fantasmatic (that is to say corporal) image which guided the performer was that of a song ('spun out' inwardly); with Beethoven, the mimetic impulse (does not musical fantasy consist in giving oneself a place, as subject, in the scenario of the performance?) becomes orchestral, thus escaping from the fetishism of a single element (voice or rhythm).

-Roland Barthes, Image-Music-Text, Fontana Press, 1977, edit. and trans. Stephen Heath, p. 152.

In that sense, it can be said that a large part of 'modern music' aspires that romantic Beethoven.

There may be a certain code of today's musica practica: "code" but not "cliche." I feel so when I look around SoundCloud. Basically, it's not a song that makes the body of music: not a melody to say the least. "The fetishism of a single element" may be beat and ambiance: not rhythm, harmony, and timbre (voice may be still important though). Chord is not important. There is no secret "code." I usually don't listen to techno or hip-hop (though I dance to), but when I listen to them, I find that what interesting about those styles is that they are explicitly claim "there is no secret here:" beat and ambiance.

I'm not criticizing it. At this moment I'm making some music positively dealing with such fetishism. I want to make something belonging to musica practica.

Friday, February 25, 2011

divine violence

How many times have you had the real sense of unknown future in your life? Of course, we can always say we don't know the future, but we rarely sense it. Imagine millions of people at this moment are feeling it. The uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East reject any rationalizing.

Perhaps Alain Badiou describes it best. Verso has provided English translation of his contribution to Le Monde

Neither of them is the reiteration of something we already know. This is why it is to say “this movement is demanding democracy” (implying the one we enjoy in the West), or “this movement is demanding social improvements” (implying the median prosperity of the small-bourgeois in our countries). Born from almost nothing, resonating everywhere, the popular uprising creates unknown possibilities for the whole world. The word “democracy” is practically never mentioned in Egypt. There's talk of a “new Egypt”, of “the real Egyptian people”, of constituent assembly, of an absolute change of existence, of unprecedented possibilities. This is about the new field that will be there where the previous one, set on fire by the spark of uprising, will no longer be. It stands, this new field to come, between the declaration of overthrowing forces and the one of assuming new tasks. Between what a young Tunisian has said: “We, the sons of workers and farmers, are stronger than the criminals”; and what a young Egyptian has said: “Starting today, 25th January, I take charge of the affairs of my country”.

The other good reads: Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri on The Guardian says "The prevalence in the revolts of social network tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, are symptoms, not causes, of this organisational structure."

some good reads

'Abu Atris,' A Revolution against Neoliberalism?

I don't know why the author uses the pseudonym. He is a writer working in Egypt, Al Jazeera says. Though holding those corrupt ministers accountable is important, the emphasis on "corruption" may depoliticize things, the author says.

Paul Mason, Twenty Reasons Why It's Kicking Off Everywhere

A clever analysis on ongoing uprisings.

Judith Butler, Who Owns Kafka?

"There is no doubt that Kafka’s Jewishness was important, but this in no way implied any sustained view on Zionism."

The Guardian, Cameron Says UK Prejudiced for Believing Muslims Cannot Manage Democracy

This is not an analysis. But it is interesting how domestic affairs affect what the politicians say about international affairs. Cameron appears to claim that he is not Tony Blair. It is very unlikely for, say, Obama to say something like this.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

the saddest speech i've ever seen

I know this crazy old man always makes lengthy speech. He could be a useful American senator. Or, he could be a good actor. He can believe what he says, while he is telling lies. He speaks as a revolutionary, and I think he believes it. He is not cynical. He speaks all the topics including Fallujah and Tiananmen ("Unity of China is more important than those in the square.") which are embarrassing for the world leaders. He is embarrassing. I'm still listening his voice. It's too long so the translators are relaying. No one is following. I imagine (I can only imagine)... Yukio Mishima's last speech might have been like this.

Gaddafi must go to Hague.

Jacques Rancière summarizes Plato's polemic against theater:

This is the conclusion formulated by Plato: theatre is the place where ignoramuses are invited to see people suffering. What the theatrical scene offers them is the spectacle of a pathos, the manifestation of an illness, that of desire and suffering--that is to say, the self-division which derives from ignorance. The particular effect of theatre is to transmit this illness by means of another one: the illness of the gaze in thrall to shades. It transmits the illness of ignorance that makes the characters suffer through a machinery of ignorance, the optical machinery that prepares the gaze for illusion and passivity. A true community is therefore one that does not tolerate theatrical mediation; one in which the measure that governs the community is directly incorporated into the living attitudes of its members.

The Emancipated Spectator, Verso, 2009, p. 3.

The speech has finished.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

right patriotism (even nationalism)?

If you ask, say, any German student how he or she thinks about patriotism or nationalism, everyone may answer that it is bad. In the developed countries, anti-government rallies usually do not take national flags and anthems. Patriotic gesture won't create solidarity. (Perhaps America is an exception) I'm a Japanese just because I happened to be born in Japan. Why should I love my country? So, some of us might be surprised by Egyptian people's patriotism.

What I can know from the revolution is that state still matters. I basically agree with such a German student. I dislike patriotism. But the reality is that I cannot go across the borders freely, and I still need to be protected by my Japanese passport, which is useful to visit many places in the world, but not so useful to get the work permission in Europe. I cannot pretend that there are no borders. Only those powerful people can do that, and make a killing, exploiting the borders and the disparities.

For many Japanese people, I'm guessing, there is good patriotism and bad one. There is another reason why anti-government rallies in Japan cannot take the national flag and the anthem. When World War II ended, those symbols, the flag, the anthem, and the emperor remained the same. Which are almost the swastika for the people in the regions invaded by Imperial Japan. On the other hand, any Japanese who had common sense could not scorn the patriotism of the other Asian peoples who declared independence.

While I believe that the real problem is injustice, but not whether or not to have own state (what if all Palestinian people suddenly say they don't need their own state but justice?), I think that protesting without patriotic gesture may be a luxury allowed only to those who live in the rich countries.

By the way, Glenn Beck commented on the Egyptian revolution a couple of weeks ago, which goes like this:

The regular people in Egypt—I'm sorry they might be nice people, but they are not the people of the American Revolution—and I have been trying to make this point that you have to be much different, even than we are, to be able to have revolution and to have it end the way it ended here. Their concept of freedom is different than yours. Let's not be judgmental and say that it's ... No, I'm going to be judgmental—it sucks compared to our idea of freedom!

Of course, it sucks! Egyptian's idea of freedom and patriotism is much better than Beck's.

a short break

The first draft of my essay I mentioned before has surpassed 11,000 words, and I'm still working on it. I haven't yet written the conclusion. I have to clarify many parts. The argument does not flow well. Probably I have to rewrite more than 80 percent of it. I know: that's what the first draft is all about.

It's a modest thing. I know many students can write hundreds of pages in their second language. Yet for me, it's challenging. Though I'm not writing the history of modern art, but about a way of seeing and listening, I'm to-some-extent totalizing social life and art.

Anyway, I'm going to try to get this done, and then I'll go for more focused writing, perhaps analysis of a musical piece.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

the medium and the message

Such images are indeed able to usurp reality because first of all a photograph is not only an image (as a painting is an image), an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stenciled off the real, like a footprint or a death mask.

-Susan Sontag, On Photography, p. 154

It is part of, an extension of that subject; and a potent means of acquiring it, of gaining control over it.

--Ibid. p. 155.

Even though a photograph is a part of the original and tells "this is what has been," the medium of the photograph is not the sheer presence of the image the medium carries. And the sheer presence of the image also can tell "this is what has been." There are two types of "what has been."

McLuhan's axiom "The medium is the message," regardless of his intention, appears to be widely accepted and capturing the imagination of artists and critiques. On the one hand, the media, such as photography, motion pictures, and recorded sounds carry the message that tells a certain thing has occurred. You don't believe 24's "The following takes place between 5:00 A.M. and 6:00 A.M.," but don't doubt that it has filmed real actors acting anyway. On the other hand, if it is true that the medium carries the other messages, such messages are mostly time-oriented: it says about our collective memory: black and white, 8 mm, LP, CD, and so forth; the musical instruments are also included.

I sometimes wonder whether a musician who uses the "vintage" instruments is interested in the timbre or the collective memory associated with the timbre. Not that I'm criticizing it. I just note that there is no such a thing as a pure timbre without context. It is similar to that there is no such a thing as a beautiful single note.

Giving a new image-(or sound-)value to things deprived of their use-value and exchange-value has been practiced by many artists since what Jacques Attali calls the network of repetition began in the 19th century. But, when the new value are given to those old TV sets, LPs, photographs, those objects cease to be the media ("Ceci n'est pas une televisión" doesn't have to be a picture of the TV). Instead, it tells that it has been the medium.

I wonder whether Hegel's lantern, gridiron, and millstone are coming back. Of course, that ex-TV is not St. Vincent. We don't worship it that way. But this ex-TV affects us in two ways: as the sheer presence of the machine; as the hieroglyph its history. Some of such artworks may have some aspect of anthropomorphism (Unlike Michael Fried, I don't use this term negatively).

Sontag says:

The fine arts assume that certain experiences or subjects have a meaning. The media are essentially contentless (this is the truth behind Marshall McLuhan's celebrated remark about the message being the medium itself); their characteristic tone is ironic, or dead-pan, or parodistic. It is inevitable that more and more art will be designed to end as photographs. A modernist would have to rewrite Pater's dictum that all art aspires to the condition of music. Now all art aspires to the condition of photography.

-Ibid. p. 149.

I think I've understood what she says. What Walter Pater means by "All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music" is kind of abstract language, which is generally similar to Diderot's concept of the deaf conversing with the dumb. By saying so, Pater dreams of autonomous art. Now few believe in such an autonomy.

But, aspiring to the condition of photography, all art does not try to be simply contentless. It ever oscillates between the sheer presence and the history. Even a simple black square, a white square in white, a metal cube, or a 4'33" of silence can do so. In this case, such an art aspires to the condition of what Attali calls noise:

But noise does in fact create a meaning: first, because the interruption of a message signifies the interdiction of the transmitted meaning, signifies censorship and rarity; and second, because the very absence of meaning in pure noise or in the meaningless repetition of a message, by unchanneling auditory sensations, free the listner's imagination. The absence of meaning is in this case the presence of all meanings, absolute ambiguity, a construction outside meaning. The presence of noise makes sense, makes meaning. It makes possible the creation of a new order on another level of organization, of a new code in another network.

Jacques Attali, Noise: The Political Economy of Music, p. 33.

I'm not as optimistic as Attali. What Attali actually tells is, for me, the performative side of language (noise, objects, and so on), the effect I cannot plan beforehand.

Friday, February 18, 2011

silent speech 2

In his The Future of the Image, Jacques Rancière, criticizing Barthes, uses the term "silent speech" and also mentions Diderot's Lettre sur les sourds-muets, and that'swhy I've ended up reading Diderot. So now I can tell where Rancière's "silent speech" is from. In the 19th century, the viewer no longer read the code words in the paintings as the 17th century's people did. The 17th century Dutch paintings were "rediscovered" by the 19th century French artists and critiques, since both centuries saw the birth of many social types and the social mobilization, and both peoples were curious about what was going in their societies. But in rediscovering, the 19th century viewer saw the Dutch paintings in a different way.

What Rancière always emphasizes the relation between writing and the images. For him, the exchange between them is important. The 19th century writers "imitated" the Dutch paintings in order for them to confer what Rancière calls "a new visibility."

As I've understood--when we say that the Dutch painters painted the details of their mundane lives, to some extent we are rather expressing our own interest in the details of our own mundane lives. And so did the 19th century viewers.

For the 19th century viewer, an image as a silent speech carries two things: one is not spoken, written, or code words to be translated, but still language in Diderot's sense; the other is sheer presence of the image. And this sheer presence of the image is not the medium. Rancière's criticism of Barthes is that Barthes obsesses with an idea that a photograph is the skin peeled off from the original and mistakes it for sheer presence of the image. A painting can carry the sense of "what has been," artistic image is always a procedure revolving around the relation between the "visible" and the "sayable," and whether an image is art or not is determined by the viewer and the image. But, Barthes ignores all this, and doing so he may mourn the past notion of autonomous art, Rancière says.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

silent speech

Today I have been amazed and amused by Denis Diderot (1713-1784)'s Letter on the Deaf and Dumb (Lettre sur les sourds-muets). Here are some excerpts (from Diderot: Early Philosophical Works, LENOX HILL Pub. & Dist. Co., Trans. Margaret Jourdain):

My idea would be to analyse, as it were, a man, and to examine what he derives from each of his senses. I have sometimes amused myself with this kind of metaphysical anatomy, and I consider that of all the senses the eye was the most superficial, the ear the proudest, smell the most voluptuous, taste the profoundest and most philosophical. It would be amusing to get together a society, of which each should have only one sense; there can be no doubt that all these persons would look on one another as out of his wits, and I leave you to judge with what reason. And yet this is an example of what happens amongst us every day; we have, so to speak, only one sense, and we judge of everything. We may remark that this group of five persons, each possessing only one sense, might by their faculty of abstraction have one interest in common--that of geometry,--and that alone. (p. 165)

You know, at least you have heard, of a singular machine with which the inventor proposed to give sonatas in colour. I thought that if anyone could appreciate a performance of ocular music, and could judge of it without prejudice, it would be a man born deaf and dumb. I therefore took my friend to the house in the rue St Jacques, where the operator and the machine with colours was exhibited. Ah, sir, you would never guess the kind of impression that it made on him, nor the ideas it suggested.
You see that it was impossible to explain to him beforehand the nature and marvellous powers of the harpsichord; and, having no idea of sound, this instrument with colours could not suggest to him any musical impressions. The purpose of the machine was as incomprehensible to him as the use of our organs of speech. What, then, were his thoughts, and what was the cause of his admiration for Father Castel's coloured fans. Guess, sir, his conjectures about this ingenious machine, which very few people have seen, though many have talked about it, and whose invention would do honour to many of those who ridicule it. Our deaf-and-dumb friend imagined that the inventor was also deaf and dumb, and that each shade of colour represented a letter of the alphabet, and that by touching the keys rapidly he combined these letters into words and phrases, and, in fact, spoke in colours.(p.p. 170-171)

[...] if you fancy that everyone who walks thorough a picture gallery is really unconsciously acting the part of a deaf man who is amusing himself by examining the dumb who are conversing on subjects familiar to him. This is one of the points of view with which I always look at pictures; and I fancy it a sure means of divining ambiguous actions and equivocal movements; of being at once aware of the frigidity and confusion of an ill-arranged action or of conversation; and of seeing at once, in a scene rendered in painting, all the faults of languid or exaggerated acting. (p. 173)

[...]I am hungry, is expressed in Latin by a single word esurio. The fruit and its quality are perceived at the same time; and when a Roman said esurio he only imagined he was expressing a single idea. I would much like to eat that are only modes of single sensation. I denotes the person who experience it; would like to eat, the desire and the nature of the sensation experienced; much, its intensity; it, the presence of the desired object. But in mind there is not the successive development we observe in speech; if it had twenty mouths, and each mouth able to say a word, all the above ideas would be expressed at once. (p. 184)

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

let's have both

To discuss the ethical agency of our psyche, Slavoj Žižek often talks about Michael Curtiz's Casablanca, that of the 3 1/2 seconds shot of the airport tower: Casablanca eventually tells the two conflicting stories. The point of Žižek's reading is that a single audience have both stories. It's not that one interprets as "they did" and the other "they didn't." The film can satisfy both the part that enjoys it and the other part that censors it in one's mind.

Casablanca is a very old film. But it still appears to work that way, or, at least we can understand what Žižek says. But, how or what our mind enjoys and censors is, I think, ever changing. We today can laugh at old paintings that depict nudes under the name of mythologies, history, and biblical stories: "You just want to watch the naked body, don't you?" But, those paintings could have worked the way Casablanca does today.

In his Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Paintings, Wayne Franits discusses how the story of the Prodigal Son was subverted in the paintings and the play-writings in the 16th-17th century. He explains Frans Hals's painting so-called Jonker Ramp and His Sweetheart and W.D. Hooft's play Heden-daeghsche verlooren soon:

The play is filled with spicy language, lewd songs, provocative scenarios, and a finale in which Juliaen has returned home simply because he has run out of options. In contrast to his biblical counterpart, he is not sincerely repentant about his errant ways. If parallels can be drawn between this and contemporary paintings such as Hals's, they lie not in the presentation of admonitory messages (as is often assumed) but rather of rebaldry.

My assumption is that there were times the Prodigal Son simultaneously carried the two stories before W. D. Hooft. And yet it had taken a few centuries until Gustave Courbet brought his saucy paintings into the Salon in the 19th century. What Courbet did might have been like letting Wile E. Coyote know there was no longer the ground under him.

Back to Casablanca, if you, reading Žižek's discussion I linked above, think, "Oh, I didn't notice that," it is probably because whether they did it or not is not the center of the story. It is simultaneously important and not.

By the way, Rick (played by Humphrey Bogart) is a Prodigal Son who finally repents.

I think I've seen the similar ambiguity in a relatively recent film: Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation. Whether the relationship is consummated is in fact ambiguous, or even may be not. Bob (played by Bill Murray) touches Charlotte (played by Scarlett Johansson)'s feet, and then the scene changes, that's all. The reason why Coppola does this may be different from Curtiz's. We don't censor it any more. In the case of Bob, seemingly the less important one is easily consummated. And we (I say, "we") understand that that is life. This is a story about avoiding the catastrophe and we sympathize for their honesty. Just in order to keep the dream alive, it has to be ambiguous. What have been and what might have been: let's have both.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

notes on the 17th century dutch genre paintings

I like the 17th century Dutch genre paintings. They are interesting because they appear to say something about the discourses of today's image, film, and theater. For example, how to stage the actors: Willem Buytewech's Merry Company and Jan Steen's The Dissolute Household show that the actors attending the messy parties are showing off what they are doing to the viewer; Dirck Hals's Woman Tearing a Letter shows a woman angrily tearing a letter, staring at the air, exhibiting her expression to the viewer; Caspar Netscher's The Lace-maker, Pieter de Hooch's The Linen Chest appear to show the idea of "the fourth wall"; and then Nicolaes Maes's Idle Servant and the series of "eavesdroppers" show that the actors break this fourth wall, saying to the viewer, "Ou la la, this girl is sleeping," or "Be quiet, I want to see this"--like the actors talking to the audience in Woody Allen's Annie Hall; many of Johannes Vermeer's are like a Minimalist novel: the actors don't explain much and exploit the ambiguity.

The genre paintings are rather about the social fantasy than about the social reality. Like in fashion magazines, the characters often wear things too extravagant or too exotic or too obsolete to wear in real life. Also they depict things you fantasize but you actually do not act. In his Dutch Seventeenth-Century Genre Painting, Yale University Press, 2004, Wayne Franits explains about Gerrit Dou's Kitchenmaid with a Boy in a Window:

His depictions of pretty kitchenmaids in niches, such as the one illustrated here, must be understood within the larger context of contemporary biases against female domestics. In farces and jest books, maids humorously and stereotypically embody a plethora of vices, chiefly sloth and lust. [....] Note that Dou's kitchenmaid has rolled-up sleeves and that her blouse is untied thereby providing a casual glimpse of her cleavage. [....] Dou's comely lass is surrounded by various foodstuffs and creatures, many of which seventeenth-century viewers would have recognized as crude metaphors for fornication, genitalia, and so forth. And below the ledge Dou has depicted a calligraphic relief of Venus and putti: as Eric Jan Sluijter has pointed out, wanton women were given nicknames during this period such as "Venus wench," "Venus animal," or "Venus moppet." In sum, genre paintings of sexy maids and the texts they mirror, entertained their audiences by appealing to popular prejudices largely divorced from the social realities of actual mistress-servant relationships in the Dutch Republic.(p.p. 118-9)

Adriaen Brouwer painted smokers, drinkers, and the poor people, and Adriaen van Ostade peasants, and then Jan Miense Molenaer freaks. Brouwer is, for me, like Charles Bukowski. And also those of the Utrecht Caravaggisti, such as Dirck van Baburen, Hendrick ter Brugghen, and Gerrit van Honthorst painted brothels. Prostitution existed, but was not tolerated in Dutch Republic, Wayne says. The Utrecht's elite buyers wanted their paintings as risqué art. You may not want to have a relationship with a young girl you've met at a seedy cafe who is the most beautiful in town, exotic, a cutter, and flirts with everyone, but you appreciate that fantasy (Bukowski, The Most Beautiful Woman in Town). That those painters painted raw life and the low class doesn't mean they were sympathetic for, or familiar with such people. Rather, they were aliens for those painters and the buyers. Ostade's Peasant Family in a Cottage looks warm, sympathetic, and profound, but painting this, Ostade might have idealized the peasants' lives. What he painted was likely to be a moralistic idea. Franits says:

Rather, by 1650, notions of civility were becoming so well entrenched that certain patrons sought to demonstrate superlative taste and, consequently, good depictions of less raucuous subjects such as peasants acting responsibly and sedately within domestic settings. By comparison, older paintings of boisterous peasants, where the frenzied action often occurs in barn-like hovels, must have struck some buyers as brutish and tasteless. (p. 138)
"Class was the deepest mystery: the inexhaustible glamour of the rich and powerful, the opaque degradation of the poor and outcast," says Susan Sontag in her On Photography (p. 54):
Poverty is no more surreal than wealth; a body clad in filthy rags is not more surreal than a principessa dressed for a ball or a pristine nude. What is surreal is the distance imposed, and bridged, by the photograph: the social distance and the distance in time. Seen from the middle-class perspective of photography, celebrities are as intriguing as pariahs. Photographers need not have an ironic, intelligent attitude toward their stereotyped material. Pious, respectful fascination may do just as well, especially with the most conventional subjects.(p. 58)

But Sontag appears as if she says about the genre paintings. The difference between photography and those paintings is that photography usually needs models. A photograph comes across as "the very emanation of a body, as a skin detached from its surface (Jacques Rancière)." And also, photography usually uses the device(camera)'s eye, which means that things are often inadvertently captured. And that's why Roland Barthes could play the game of pointing out the punctum. I think it is difficult to do so with the paintings (Barthes avoids picturesque photographs). On the other hand, the painters paint ideas. Even when, say, Molenaer presents his picture as a depiction of his studio, he hasn't staged his models the way he has depicted. It is rather about a painter's fantasy and creativity. And the paradox is that photography, passing off itself as the emanation of a body, also is simultaneously being about ideas. Often how this idea emerges is ambiguous like Vermeer's paintings. So those documentary photographies are not always simply the emanation of the social realities.

The nature of photography is the pose, says Barthes, "by attesting that the object has been real, the photograph surreptitiously induces belief that it is alive, because of that delusion which makes us attribute to Reality an absolutely superior, somehow eternal value; but by shifting this reality to the past ("this-has-been"), the photograph suggests that it is already dead. (Camera Lucida, p. 79)" The people in a family photo are shadowed by the death. This man in the picture would have been dead: it is well-known Barthes has said that "the punctum of Alexander Gardner's photo of Lewis Payne who was awaiting to be hanged "he is going to die." In such a time, I feel that this photograph may work simultaneously in two ways in between the viewer and the image: as the fact of "this man would be dead" and the idea of "this man would be dead." And it is possible for painting to send the same idea to the viewer even when the painting is not a portrait. Caspar Netscher's Two Boys Blowing Bubbles shows that the idealized beautiful children (almost like the Pre-Raphaelite) are blowing bubbles in a window and one of them is staring at a bubble in the air: the nature of this painting is the pose. Franits explains:

The motif of bubble blowing in Dutch art is traditionally associated with the Latin expression, "Homo Bulla" (Man is Like a Bubble). This refers to the ephemerality of human existence: like a soap bubble which quickly bursts, life is fleeting. The connection between children blowing bubbles and life's brevity is explicitly made, for example, in a late sixteenth-century engraving by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617) with the inscription "Quis Evadet" (Who Escapes It; fig. 100). On the level Netscher's painting is certainly informed by this tradition, but on another level, at least for knowledgable cognoscenti, it subverts it. Real bubbles are completely evanescent but bubbles depicted in paintings are permanently fixed to the canvas or panel, forever immutable. Seventeenth-century Dutch art theorists stressed the capacity of painting to immortalize all that is transient in nature, thereby bestowing fame upon the artist and imputing value to his work.

Franits may be correct. I don't know. But, I feel somehow he rationalizes too much: his reading of the painting is too utilitarian. I don't care if Netscher wished his eternal fame. For me, on the one hand there is codified message: "Life is too short." And on the other hand, there is the pose. And additionally, though I may tend to forget this, I somehow imagine that: these children are dead. This painting affects me the similar way the freeze-frame that closes Truffaut's Quatre cent coups does.

By all this, however, I don't mean "The 17th-century Dutch paintings are great because they foresaw today's images." The order is reverse. As Marx put it that "Human anatomy contains a key to the anatomy of the ape," in examining today's images we can examine the images of the 17th century Netherlands.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

morning after

One of the reasons I watch Aljazeera English is that the correspondents are good. They are smart, articulated, passionate, and professional. Especially I like Ayman Mohyeldin. Even those who don't watch Aljazeera English could remember who he is: he and his colleague Sherine Tadros were the only English-speaking correspondents who happened to be in Gaza when Israel started the bombing in 2008. The world media relied on those two young correspondents.

I was watching that the live image of Omar Suleiman on the Egyptian state TV announcing Hosni Mubarak's resignation broke in, followed by the image of the jubilant people. It was also a moment for those journalists who were taking risks to celebrate. So the Aljazeera anchor encouraged the correspondents to speak up their personal views. Mohyeldin, who was born in Egypt, asked "not to be impartial" by the anchor, he at first stuttered a bit, and then, he, as usual, vividly articulated the point of the event and never puts his own personal view. In the New York Magazine's interview, Mohyeldin was asked to comment on the way the American media report about their anchorman attacked in Egypt:

NYMag: For a day or so, the story in the U.S. became “our anchors are getting attacked.” Did you think it was ridiculous?

Mohyeldin: Without sounding disrespectful, it’s really a sad state of affairs when a big part of a news show’s coverage revolves around the anchor being punched ten times in the head, in the case of Anderson Cooper. In the case of Katie Couric and Christiane Amanpour that they were jostled around by protesters. Listen, I’m not trying to take anything away from that. Those are very scary moments and we know that journalists have been harassed, but it’s really how you deal with the story that reflects the importance of it. This is a dangerous environment. The journalists are not supposed to be part of the story. Sometimes the tendency for these big personalities when they arrive in this country is to think that the story revolves around how they’re seeing the story rather than actual events that happened. But please don’t take my words out of context. I’m not trying to take any shots at these personalities. But it’s a slight disservice to the story when it becomes more about the journalist more than the actual people who are doing much worse.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sontag and Surrealism

Again, I'm afraid I'm repeating myself.... for me to digest things requires repeating. Perhaps I need 4 brains like a cow has 4 stomachs.

Surrealists did not try to use the newest technology, at least it was not their priority. Rather, they deliberately "misused" the industrial products (photogram, or rayogram, is a kind of misusing, isn't it?), or used some obsolete products. They were interested in forgotten things, garbage....yesterday's newspaper. That's what today's experimental musicians are doing. "Glitch," for example. And soon their methods are taken over by the "mainstream."

Susan Sontag says:

The Surrealist legacy for photography came to seem trivial as the Surrealist repertoire of fantasies and props was rapidly absorbed into high fashion in the 1930, and Surrealist photography offered mainly a mannered style of portrature, recognizable by its use of the same decorative conventions introduced by Surrealism in other arts, particularly painting, theater, and advertising.

The similar things are still happening. I don't care if it's good or bad. That's the way it is.

Surrealism lies at the heart of the photographic enterprise: in the very creation of a duplicate world, of a reality in the second degree, narrower but more dramatic than the one perceived by natural vision. The less doctored, the less patently crafted, the more naive-the more authoritative the photograph was likely to be.

-On Photography, Picador, p. 52

Basically, like Adorno, Sontag didn't like populism. And I can imagine that many would scorn them. But I like reading what they say.

Sontag, perhaps deliberately mixes "surreal" and "Surrealism." She states the nature of photography is surreal, then goes on:

Thus the earliest surreal photographs come from the 1850s, when photographers first went out prowling the streets of London, Paris, and New York, looking for their unposed slice of life.

There was no Surrealism in the 1850s. Then she goes like this:

Believing that the images they sought came from the unconscious, whose contents they assumed as loyal Freudians to be timeless as well as universal, the Surrealists misunderstood what was most brutally moving, irrational, unassimilable, mysterious--time itself. What renders a photograph surreal is its irrefutable pathos as a message from time past, and the concreteness of its intimations about social class. (p. 54)

There is difference between Sontag and Sloterdijk on what the Surrealists mistook unconscious for. Sloterdijk points out that it was of Romantic metaphysics, some sort of agency that drives us to desire, inspires us to create, something--I borrow from Sontag--"brutally moving, irrational, unassimilable, mysterious," and so on. Sontag's argument can read that the Surrealists mistook unconscious for time. Or, it can read the other way: time is more brutally moving, irrational, unassimilable, mysterious, than unconscious, but they ignored that fact. If this is the case, it may be possible to assume that Sloterdijk could say that Sontag also mistook time for the ideas of Romantic metaphysics.

Sontag also sees photographs the way Barthes, who pointed the punctum to tell us, "Forget all the story of the image, just watch it. You would feel 'that has been,'" does.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011


This David New's short film (produced by National Film Board of Canada) portrays Murray Schafer. Thanks to Unidentified Sound Object for the introducing. Schafer doesn't say, "Record," but "Listen." These are very different things.

Monday, February 7, 2011

two musics

There are two musics (at least so I have always thought): the music one listens to, the music one plays. These two musics are two totally different arts, each with its own history, its own sociology, its own aesthetics, its own erotic; the same composer can be minor if you listen to him, tremendous if you play him (even badly)-such is Schumann.

So begins Roland Barthes's short essay Musica Practica (Image, Music, Text, Fontana Press 1977, select. and trans. Stephen Heath, p. 149). He mourns forgotten culture of amateur pianists of classical and romantic era. What he misses is a culture of redundancy, in which the musical experience is physical: "seated at the keyboard or the music stand, the body controls, conducts, co-ordinates, having itself to transcribe what it reads, making sound and meaning, the body as inscriber and not just transmitter, simple receiver. This music has disappeared [....]" Though he acknowledges that the young generations play the guitar, he states "passive, receptive, sound music, is become the music." By "amateur" he doesn't mean those who plays with technical imperfection. He says their is a style that defines amateur. He means those aristocratic amateurs who make music, or at least show their desire to create one on their own. Those pre-Beethoven composers wrote pieces that made those amateurs think, "Oh, maybe I can write something like this, or add some ornaments, or make variations out of it." Such a musical style has "the fetishism of a single element," such as voice or rhythm. (But, wait--I think, today pop plays that role. And I even include minimal, drone music, and some experimental music.) Barthes complains Beethoven made music too difficult. His music has too many meanings, is too total, and no fetishism of a single element: "The body strives to be total, and so the idea of an intimist or familial activity is destroyed.(p. 152)" Beethoven actually wrote some pretty piano sonatas for the small hands, for example 2 sonatas of Op. 49. And I like Op. 49-1 G minor very much (here is Andras Schiff's fine lecture on this piece). Though many children ruin this sonata (I did), actually this is very difficult piece.

What Barthes wants to do is deny the notion of Romantic Beethoven which Beethoven's way of composing is largely responsible for it, and created the passive listeners who listens to professional performances. He suggests a possibility of another Beethoven who wrote music rather for reading (but not for hearing or performing), such as Diabelli Variations, Op. 120, C Major. Barthes argues that reading this score makes the reader feel as if participating its creation.

Though I've never really studied Diabelli Variations, I think I understand what he is trying to say. But, I suggest that, if you want to regain some redundancy, physicality, and creativity, hand copying whatever you are interested in, be it a musical score or a painting, or a writing, is a good way.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

"every time you say 'we,' do you think about me?" (random notes)

If I were to open my eyes
And stare at the sun
The delicate brown would burn
It's too painful
Too painful
But I never never learn

-Achinoam Nini (Noa), Too Painful

In his Noise: The Political Economy of Music (University of Minnesota Press, 1985, Trans. Brian Massumi) Jacques Attali basically discusses a history of music as, say, a lightning rod. To put it simply, from ancient sacrificial ritual to today's pop music, music has been a substitute for violence: a history of domestication of violence, noise. He classifies the history into 4 stages: 1. the network of sacrificial ritual; 2. the network of representation (music concert); 3. the network of repetition (recording); 4. the network of composition. He foresees a society in which everyone compose music: "Thus composition proposes a radical social model, one in which the body is treated as capable not only of production and consumption, and even of entering into relations with others, but also of autonomous pleasure(p. 32)." That network appears to be partly realized.

Of course, that's why I'm reading his book now. I had a bit of knowledge about this book. About "the network of composition," he is not simply optimistic. He quotes Boulez: "...everybody arouses everybody else; it becomes a kind of public onanism." It's classic Boulez! But, what Attali argues is a sort of historical necessity. In short, music as commodity no longer satisfies us. He says:

It announces something that is perhaps the most difficult thing to accept: henceforth there will be no more society without lack, for the commodity is absolutely incapable of filling the void it created by suppressing ritual sacrifice, by deritualizing usage, by pulverizing all meaning, by obliging man to communicate first to himself (p. 147).

We no longer share a big catastrophe as ritual sacrifice, but each individuals indulge own small persistent explosions: as Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, or Noa, puts it, we stare at the sun, go to the sea with an open wound, hold on to a high note, are drawn to touch the flame, ride a roller coaster, and never learn.

Or, do we? Why are we watching ongoing rallies and riots in Egypt? (Ousting Mubarak may be just a symbolic change, but they are demanding it....the symbolic is the substantial) And, who are 'we'?


I do not always agree with what Achinoam Nini says, though I believe she is genuine, because when the things often, as far as I understand, look disproportionate, just calling for peace or tolerance might be rather oppressive. When we are trapped in a dichotomy of "either peace or justice," we should think why such a dichotomy has been made in the first place. It is a false choice. That's why Judith Butler refused the prize in 2010 at Berlin's Christopher Street Day(click 'CC' to see the English subtitle).

But, Nini appears to be aware of this problem more than I am. Her song We shows that:

But, every time you say 'we,'
Do you think about me?

It's very a conventional song, but I like it. It has to be conventional in order for everyone to understand what it says and even sing. Broadcasting this song in the Netherlands gives this song another meaning.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

talking about the dead people is much easier

This Anthony Tommasini's article on his own selection of "Top 10 Greatest (dead) Composers," which is appearing in The New York Times, January 21, 2011, is not serious stuff. Perhaps it's not for those who have been listening classical music for years, but for those who are thinking, "Maybe I'm going to give them a try." So, I actually have nothing to say about it. But, Nico Muhly even reads the comments on blogs. As Muhly puts it, Tommasini's article is exactly "the horror show" for those who are serious about music. Muhly goes on:

The thing about a list like this is that immediately two things happen. The first is that dead composers are pitted against each other: Britten is shoving aside Mahler; you can have Bartók or Stravinsky but not both. It’s maybe fine for people who are dead, but the idea of this way of thinking gets really gross if you imagine in six months’ time suddenly opening the paper to read “Top 10 Living Composers” or whatever.

I sense that those dead composers are not dead for someone like Muhly, but "already living," in T. S. Eliot's terms.

The listing reminds me of 4th graders' game of listing up the coolest boy or the cutest girl in the class. At this stage, the kids already learn the mechanism of the stock markets. They don't reveal what they actually feel about their classmates, but they vote for someone they think popular. And Tommasini's writing reads the same gesture.

I even cannot hierachize all the girls I've met.

I'm still reading Jacques Attali's Noise: The Political Economy of Music. It says:

Outside of a ritual context or a spectacle, the music object has no value in itself. It does not acquire one in the process that creates supply, because mass production erases value-creating differences; its logic is egalitarian, spreading anonymity and thus negating meaning. Value may then base itself, partially or totally, on an artificial, unidimensional differentiation, the only thing left allowing hierarchy, ranking.

This part actually explains about hit parades. Though the classical music market is much much smaller than the pop music's, the way it is consumed is the same (by the way, in Japan, the tofu market is bigger than the Japan's whole music market).

Attali's book was written in the 1980s. I wonder what he thinks about today's music. Though some people are rebelling against Simon Cowell, for me it looks like beating a dead horse. He exists for those who still believe in the significance of Top 40. And those rebellious are actually showing that they believe in it more than Cowell does.

Or, do I feel so just because I've gotten old and am not following the trend?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Murray Schafer and Jacques Attali

To put it simply, the difference between Murray Schafer and Jacques Attali is how to see sounds in nature: for Schafer, nature is harmonious and it is humans who pollute it; for Attali, nature is chaos, humans have been trying to articulate harmony out of it, and how they do so reflects the dominant ideologies of each time. I basically subscribe to Attali’s view. Nature is irrational and it does not listen to us. The notion of harmonious nature is a product of our ideology. Having said that, it can be said that nature articulates in itself--there are laws of physics, rhythms--and it does not need us to be that way. Michel Gondry 2004 film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, written by Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry, says it well:

Clementine: Joel, I'm not a concept. Too many guys think I'm a concept or I complete them or I'm going to make them alive, but I'm just a fucked up girl who is looking for my own peace of mind. Don't assign me yours.

But, Joel (played by Jim Carrey) says to Clementine (played by Kate Winslet): “I still thought you were going to save me. Even after that.” The relation between human and nature might have been like this.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"thugs are paid"

I'm watching Al Jazeera (using Livestation). That pro-Mubarak thugs are paid 50 egyptian pounds (8.50USD) to show up, according to which I found when I took a look at Democracy Now!. I don't know if it's true, but it appears to be a coordinated campaign. How could they get camels and horses in?

4'33" outside the Egyptian Museum, Cairo by Stasisfield

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

random notes on Egypt, Chopin, and release technique

I'm not an activist of any kind. But it is the moment I wonder if I should use Twitter or Facebbook when I see the news from Egypt or Tunisia. I don't want to announce what I'm doing or thinking every hour: I think I just use them to receive what the other people say, think, and feel, suppose that I use them. But, receiving the voices won't change the world... or, will it? I know listening does something, or, showing that I'm listening does something. I even guess that the delusion that I can do something by just showing that I'm listening to would do something to the world. On the other hand I'm sure that I will be more distracted if I use Twitter and Facebook. I'm afraid that these will make me just busy. I actually don't want to be connected with many people. I just want to make a few who can understand me understand.

In Egypt the internet and SMS are basically blocked, though there appears some ways to circumvent the block. There was no internet in 1989. There was neither mobile phone nor TV in 1917. There was no telephone in 1789. I think the internet is overestimated. And I think it is still true that we have to march on the streets if we want to change the government. We should not underestimate the power of walking on the streets and talking with the neighbors.

Thus, as we shall see, if it is true that the political organization of the twentieth century is rooted in the political thought of the nineteenth, the latter is almost entirely present in embryonic form in the music of the eighteenth century.

--Jacques Attali, Noise:The Political Economy of Music, University of Minnesota Press, 1985, Trans. Brian Massumi, p. 4)

I'm not good pianist, but I often play classical music privately. And I'm better at it than I was, so now I try to revisit some difficult pieces I once gave up to play, such as Chopin Études. Op 25 No 6 is one of them. Yes, this one (at this moment I don't embed those YouTube clips that display pianists playing this piece...) :

I cannot play it as fast as professional pianists do, but I find physical pleasure in playing it. Chopin did not relentlessly try to make his pieces difficult. He accepted the fact that the fingers are not created equal, and also are connected with the whole body, unlike the others of his time (or before his time) who pretended that the fingers are created equal and tried to train the fingers alone. Chopin listened to the body.Playing this piece in a slow tempo makes me feel as if the fingers are rolling around on the elastic floor, sensing the weight of themselves, of the arms, of the upper body. It's like what dancers call release technique (I mean, not Skinner's, but in general terms), which includes a lot of floor excises: feel the weight, and the body will tell you how to move. I could compare this way: Czerny (and more horrible Hanon, which I had to practice from my day-one) is bar lesson; Chopin is release technique. There is some therapeutic quality in his etudes. So the proper way to practice one of these pieces is not to repeat it over and over relentlessly, but to quit when you get a slight bit of numbness (actually, whatever you practice, you shouldn't do it when feeling nothing). And sleep well. The next day you will find that the body will have learned how to move. If it won't, give up: perhaps you're not at the level to practice it.

Chopin virtually didn't take formal piano lessons. To learn music, he had to listen to not only sounds, but also the body. Physical sensation and musical sensation are inseparable for him. I think his approach to the instrument and his own habit was rather similar to jazz pianists'. On the other hand, he was very a classicist and his aristocratic tastes had a problem with Beethoven who liked surprise the public. Perhaps Chopin's contemporary popularity relies on the fact that "public" appears to be disappearing from our lives.

I guess Debussy liked this part:

My favorite part: there is something Ligeti-esque here:

By the way, I once accompanied with an amateur singer who tried to sing some chansons and an accordionist. I joked to the accordionist that we didn't have to write his part and just let him go up and down the chromatic scale.