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Archive for the ‘Modernism’ Category
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Modular synth aside, that chair would be perfect at CatSynth HQ
For Weekend Cat Blogging, we have a photo of Luna once again posing with our modernist decor at CatSynth HQ. Don’t you think she would make a great model for Dwell?
As with most shots of Luna, this one was by chance. She sat down on the corner of the Le Corbusier-knockoff sofa and I managed to grab the iPad and snap a photo of her. No effects or processing, just a straight photo.
Luna also gave us a bit of a scare last weekend. I got home from one of my performances to find her quite sick with some sort of stomach problem, scary enough that we went to the emergency vet for the first time. (Whenever one sees red associated with one’s cat, it’s a major warning sign.) Fortunately, she seems to have recovered well and is back to her normal self. I still don’t know what happened, but I am grateful that she is fine now.
Weekend Cat Blogging will be hosted by Kashim, Othello and Salome at PaulChens FoodBlog?!
The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at iInfidel.
And the Friday Ark is at the modulator
Today we review The Music of ChAnGEs: Variation VIII, a concert in a yearlong series by sfSound celebrating John Cage’s centennial. This particular concert, which took place at The Lab, featured some of Cage’s more adventurous and experimental compositions, including works involving electronics and noise elements. These more conceptual pieces involved use of simple electronics, household objects, or unexpected musical sources. The scores are mostly based on sequences of instructions with absolute or relative time scales. In addition to 4’33″ (which was not on the program), these are among the most celebrated examples of Cage’s music, but also among the more misunderstood and even reviled. I fall unequivocally on the side of celebration of these more radical and pioneering works, and thus I was privileged to be able to participate in this concert myself as well.
The pre-concert and intermission music featured an interpretation of One3 by John Leidecker (aka Wobbly). The piece contains the instruction to “arrange the soundsystem so that the whole hall is on the edge of feedback, without feeding back. The result is an abstract texture that goes from silent to occasionally quite loud at the unstable boundary, but the sound was also blended with the ambience of the conversations and commotion in the hall.
The formal concert opened with Radio Music. In this piece, each performer is given a written part with a sequence of AM radio frequencies to which to tune his or her radio (traditional analog broadcast AM/FM radios are required to perform this piece, no internet or digital-broadcast radios allowed). What, if anything, is audible on those particular frequencies is of course up to chance – sometimes it is just static, while other times one tunes into an actual station. Additionally, the performers were free to walk around the hall and to interpret the flow of time among positions in their part. The result was a spatialized electronic music texture with the radios playing the part of synthesizers with noise generators, distorted sine waves, and the occasional sampled recording. Particular combinations of sportscasts, music and tuning noise could be quite humorous.
This was followed by Music for Amplified Toy Pianos. Cage is often credited with bringing the toy piano into the realm of serious music with his 1948 Suite for Toy Piano. In Music for Amplified Toy Pianos, he pushes the instrument further with the use of contract microphones, amplification, and more percussive interactions with the instrument itself. Like Radio Music, the score involves a series of instructions, indicating the pitches to be played by each performer, when to perform a “sound effect” on the instrument, and when to change the level on the associated amplifier – but in this piece, the times are given in absolute units. This was my station for the performance, with my own toy piano that was rescued from curbside dumping in New York. It has certainly had a better life at CatSynth HQ, and then the opportunity to appear in a concert like this!
Performing this piece accurately requires concentration – one must pay attention to the cues on his or her own part without being distracted by the other sounds. Nonetheless, like all ensemble music one is listening to overall sound. The texture of the piece is quite sparse, with individual disjoint notes punctuated by percussive sounds (hits, scrapes, etc.). The amplification changes add a strange sort of dynamic expression especially as the ear inevitably tries to pull together disparate parts into short phrases. There was not as much empty space in this performance as I heard on earlier recordings of the piece, in part due to our interpretation of the noise elements, which included longer-duration sounds like scraping a comb on the piano and the interaction of the amplifiers with ambient and electrical noises. It was a delight to play and to be able to at least partially listen to. The other performers for the piece included Kyle Bruckmann, Daniel Cullen, Tom Djll, Sivan Eldar, Matt Ingalls, and Hadley McCarroll.
The only piece on the program not written by Cage himself was a tribute by Christopher Burns entitled Unlit Cigarettes (for John Cage). Ostensibly a multi-movement chamber piece with voices, winds, and strings, it followed the theme of other pieces in the concert with unusual patterns and instructions for the performers. Among the most interesting were the instructions for one or more performers to play on another performer’s main instrument. For example, multiple performers attempted to make sounds from Burns’ guitar while he held it. There was also a recitation of a familiar-sounding text by Gertrude Stein in one movement. Her writing often involves repeated words and phrases, which made for very contrapuntal and rhythmic music. Burns was joined in the performance by Kyle Bruckmann on oboe, Tom Dambly on trumpet, Tara Flandreau on violin, Matt Ingalls on clarinet, John Ingle on saxophone, and Hadley McCarroll on voice. You can hear a bit of the performance in this video:
This was followed by one of Cage’s most conceptual pieces, 0’00”. The score of the piece consists of the single statement “In a situation provided with maximum amplification (no feedback), perform a disciplined action.” It is often subtitled 4’33″ no. 2, and although it has very little in common with the original 4’33″, it does represent another extreme of what can be considered music. The “deliberate action” in this particular performance involved Matt Ingalls’ sitting at a desk and writing checks to pay the musicians. A contact microphone picked up the sound of the writing and it was amplified into the hall. It wasn’t the most pleasant sound even when judged in comparison to the other extreme sounds of the evening, but it was a faithful rendition and the action was a humorous and appropriate choice for this concert. (And it’s nice to get paid for playing experimental music.)
[Photo by Tom Djll.]
The final piece before the intermission was Living Room Music. Dating back to 1940, this was one of Cage’s earlier pieces and explores the use of household objects as percussion instruments. Ingalls was again seated behind the desk from 0’00″ with the other performers (Matthew Goodheart, Tom Dambly, and Hadley McCarroll) arranged to either side. Despite what was radical instrumentation for a concert setting at the time, the rhythmic work seemed rather conventional, with repeated polyrhythms and other patterns from idiomatic music. It was the combination of the staging, to look more like a room in a house with the desk and books, and the timbres of the “instruments” that allowed the concept of the piece to enter the listening experience. Once one accepted the setting, then focus shifts to the rhythms.
The concert resumed with Music for Six, a performance of Cage’s modular piece Music for _____ by six musicians, essentially the same ensemble that played Christopher Burns’ piece minus Burns. This is one the most flexible and reconfigurable pieces, even more of a “composition generating kit” than the others. Although the instrumentation for this performance was traditional chamber instruments, the piece calls for extensive use of microtones that push the instruments into different sonic territory.
The most unusual instrumentation of the evening was in Inlets (Improvisation III). The piece called for three amplified water-filled conch shells, one conch shell played like a trumpet, and pre-recorded sounds of fire. The honor of playing the conch shells fell to Matt Ingalls, Tom Dambly and Tom Djll.
There was much of the expected splashing and gurgling sounds that one would expect from the conch shells, but also surprising details such as short percussive sequences from the action of the water. These instruments were quite difficult for the performers to control, which makes the resulting music more unpredictable. At times it was also difficult to tell what was generated by the water in the shells and the fire in the recording, adding an aspect of “elemental ambiguity” to one’s enjoyment of the piece.
The concert concluded with a performance of Cartridge Music. The piece has a similar structure to Music for Amplified Toy Pianos and Inlets, but distills the concept further to just modified phonograph cartridges – realized for this performance using contact microphones – and found objects. The piece unfolded with each performer rubbing his or her respective found objects against the microphones according to the timed instructions in the score. The resulting music was once again quite sparse, but with a wide dynamic and timbral range from the array of objects used, including Matthew Goodheart’s cymbals (a miniature version of the system he presented a few weeks earlier at the Outsound Music Summit), metal objects in a bowl played by Kyle Bruckmann, and many others. By following the changes in texture, density and volume, one can start to hear phrasing and form in the music.
In listening to (and in some cases performing) the works in this concert with their emphasis on generative techniques, “compositional tools” and indeterminacy, I could not help but think of Fluxus, for which Cage was an important influence (though not technically a member). The connection to Fluxus provides a strong conceptual context as well as connection to visuals of the time and place where Cage created these works. Nonetheless, they all still stand out as excellent on a purely musical level in the concert setting, with sounds and textures that were quite enjoyable to listen to despite Cage’s undeserved reputation of writing impenetrable music. The concert was also well attended, with a full house packed into The Lab. A very successful night all around.
architecture, hipstamatic, iphone, mission bay, Modernism, palm, Photography, San Francisco, Wordless Wednesday
Luna always loves the patches of sunshine that pour into CatSynth HQ in the morning. On this particular morning we see her posing regally in an Art-Deco-patterned sunshine spot. The shadow is cast by the table just behind her, a piece that dates back to my graduate-student days in Berkeley but still fits the overall style of our current pad in the city.
On a sad note, we learned that our friend and fellow cat-blogger has passed away. We send her family our thoughts.
Weekend Cat Blogging is hosted by Bengal Business.
The Carnival of the Cats will be up tomorrow at Mind of Mog
And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.
We return to a combined Weekend Cat Blogging and Photo Hunt this Saturday on the theme Sturdy. Here we see Luna passing by some of the sturdy support columns that hold up CatSynth HQ.
The wooden beams are quite thick, and fastened with multiple bolts and metal junctions both on the top and bottom.
The diagonal beam adds addition sturdiness, especially in the event of a seismic event. But the strength also has a modernist aesthetic quality that fits the overall style of our space.
Weekend Cat Blogging #356 will be hosted by Kashim, Othello and Salome at PaulChens FoodBlog?!.
The Saturday Photohunt theme is Sturdy.
The Carnival of the Cats will be up this Sunday at When Cats Attack!
And the Friday Ark is at the modulator.
As always, check the comments for some info on the picture. But please also check out the associated review of my LACMA visit.
We continue our series this season with a visit to the Granite State. New Hampshire typifies what we think of as “northern New England.”, with a mixture of old factory towns and mills, forested mountainous wilderness and rocky coastline.
[Photo from dougtone on flickr.]
We begin on this rather oddly named bit of highway south of Nashua called the “Circumferential Highway.” It’s not really circumferential of anything, except maybe an argument. But it does connect us to a major highway, the Everett Turnpike, as we head north through the state. I actually have visited Nashua. It was (gasp!) 20 years ago when a college friend invited me to tag along with him to go up to New Hampshire and volunteer for a presidential candidate I had barely heard of named Bill Clinton. The main thing I remember about walking around the town was that it was very cold. And it also looked a bit more gritty and rundown than the some of the more recent images I have seen.
Traveling north on the Everett Turnpike we come to the state’s largest city, Manchester. The turnpike merges with I-293 and heads north along the river, passing by downtown and the old mill buildings of the Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. This was a huge enterprise in its day, and apparently had the largest cotton textile plant in the world in the late 19th century. The company went under in the 1930s, but the buildings remain. You can see the rather narrow I-293/Everett Turnpike along the river just in front of the red brick mill buildings. Many have found new uses for contemporary industries as well as residential and commercial development.
[Image from Wikimedia Commons.]
Manchester is also home to the Currier Museum of Art. It’s plaza includes the sculpture Origins by Mark di Suvero.
[Photo by madame urushiol on flickr.]
It seems like variations on his “weird red thing” (aka Joie de Vivre) from Zuccotti Park are everywhere. After our Iowa article last week, a reader on DailyKos recommended a sculpture garden in Des Moines that also contains a di Suvero piece. I wonder how many more we might encounter as this series continues. The Currier also manages the Zimmerman House, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece in the northern part of the city.
[Photo by mmwm on flickr.]
New England was apparently quite a hotbed of modern architecture in the middle of the 20th century, and many of the designs make Frank Lloyd Wright’s look conservative by comparison.
An avid highway enthusiast who goes by the name “FreewayJim” on YouTube has a fun time-lapsed and annotated view of the drive north on the Everett Turnpike and I-293 through Manchester as I-293 merges back into I-93 towards Concord. It turns out this is his hometown, so he brings a bit of knowledge about what has changed, and especially what has not changed on these roads.
I-93 continues north from Concord and winds its way gracefully into the White Mountains region. Here we see the rugged northern New England wilderness, another defining feature of the state. Cosigned with US 3, I-93 continues north into Franconia Notch State Park, where it narrows to just one lane in each direction, a rarity for an interstate highway.
The park includes among other things the former site of the Old Man in the Mountain. This natural feature on Cannon Mountain symbolized the state. It is part of the state highway shields. It is on the state’s commemorative quarter. It is on the state’s license plates. And it came crashing down off the cliffs one night in 2003. It sounds like there was a great sense of loss for the state when this happened. A memorial is currently being built at the base of the mountain, which will feature large granite elements representing both the formation itself and the state’s identity.
One can leave I-93 here and head eastwards on NH 112, the Kancamagus Highway through the White Mountains. In addition to having a great name, the roadway provides scenic vistas of the mountains and forests (especially dramatic in the autumn) as well as rocky rivers and covered bridges.
[Click images to enlarge.]
It seems like New Hampshire has quite a few covered bridges. I was actually in this area once as a kid (even more than 20 years ago). It was quite beautiful, but even in summer the water in the river was cold.
Highway 112 ends at the town of Conway, which I knew sounded familiar for some reason. It is in fact because of the Animal Rescue League of New Hampshire’s shelter in the town. I think I crossed paths with them once via Weekend Cat Blogging. In any case, they have some nice cats available for adoption if you are in northern New England.
UPDATE: Speaking of cats, we would be remiss if we did not head north from Conway on Highway 16 to Mount Washington. This summit has famously high winds and all around terrible weather, but it is quite an experience to visit (on that same childhood trip I was picked up off the ground by a gust of wind). Plus, they have an official observatory cat, Marty. He is one in a long line of Mount Washington cats, about whom you read more here. Marty’s predecessor, Nin, was there for quite a while and posted this article in 2007 when Nin retired.
Returning to Manchester, one can head westward or eastward on NH 101. To the west, the highway is a local road that winds its way to the town of Keene. I only learned about Keene through these great photo an abandoned factory. It seems to not fared as well as its larger counterparts in Manchester and Nashua, but the ruins are quite beautiful as a photographic subject, especially with the snow.
[Photo by Lorianne DiSabato on flickr.]
East of Manchester, 101 is a large highway heading towards the coast. It passes by Exeter, a town with a prep school that many of my college acquaintances attended. But more interestingly, the academy includes this modernist library designed by Louis I. Kahn:
101 eventually hits the coast at highway 1A, just north of Seabrook. Although the beaches along this shore are quite scenic, I know them mostly from the history surrounding the Seabrook Nuclear Power Station. In 1977, the Clamshell Alliance staged what we would now refer to as an “occupy protest” on the construction site of the plant. Nonetheless, at least one reactor of the plant was built. If I didn’t know what it was or the dangers surrounding nuclear energy, I would actually think of it visually as a positive contribution to the landscape, contrasting with the low horizon, dunes, wetlands and ocean, as in this photo from along 1A:
And I think this sunset is a perfect way to conclude this short trip to New Hampshire.