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Scary Mouche, Scary Mouche!
(Will You Do the Fandango?)

Enter_the_fly_by_lawrence_whittemor

The world premiere of composer Howard Shore's opera adaptation of B-movie horror classic The Fly is set for July 2 at the Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris.  The libretto is by David Henry Hwang.  David Cronenberg will direct, with physical design being handled by much of the production team that collaborated on Cronenberg's 1986 remake of the film, for which Shore composed the score.  Placido Domingo conducts -- which is not necessarily the first choice on the list of things you want Placido Domingo to do, but by golly it's a free country.

Los Angeles Opera co-commissioned the work and will present the U.S. premiere in a series of performances beginning on September 7.  I am given to understand that the original plan was for Los Angeles to have had the World Premiere, this past season.  This did not occur.  You know how these things are.  Let's move on.

The production now boasts a stand-alone web presence at www.theflytheopera.com, including a promotional video -- with an actual MPAA "PG " rating attached, because parental guidance is so important in opera -- with plenty of commentary by Mr. Shore, smatterings of the music, glimpses of sinister scientific equipment of which no good can come, and the lead baritone or his equivalent doing some serious wire work, clambering about upside down and getting in touch with his inner insect. 

(There is a good quality streaming/podcast version of the same video at the Théâtre du Chatelet site as well, but some French person keeps talking over Howard Shore's explanations, for the better understanding of his fellow French persons who are not so fluent in English as they would have you believe.  Truth be told, the singers seem to be singing in French as well, in all versions of this video, even though the Los Angeles production will be in English.  It is all quite confusing, really.  It is, I submit, a good thing that Music is an International Language.)

This could be quite interesting, or an utter fiasco, or just "meh."  Time will tell me and, when the time is right, I will tell you.  Bzzz.

~~~

Photo: "Enter: the Fly" by Flickr! user Lawrence Whittemore, used under Creative Commons license.

~~~

Related in Name Only: Two years ago, I posted an MP3 of The Singleman Affair covering Tim Buckley's "Buzzin' Fly."   It's still here, and it's still good.


The Clockwork Plywood Music Box

Orange_mechanique Whether in Anthony Burgess's novel or, more viscerally, in Stanley Kubrick's film adaptation, the pivotal sequence in A Clockwork Orange occurs when young Alex DeLarge is forcibly reformed from his evil and ultraviolent ways by application of the "Ludovico Technique," in which he is compelled while drugged and with his eyes pried open to watch graphically horrific films in order (so the theory goes) to develop in him a deep aversion to the degenerate behavior they depict.  The "therapy" is difficult to distinguish from torture and the worst of it all, for Alex, is that much of the process is accompanied by the music of his beloved Ludwig van Beethoven, for which he also develops an embedded, soul-consuming revulsion.

Another Alex, the New Yorker's Alex Ross in an online exclusive entitled "Futility Music," writes today on the uses and abuses of music as a tool of interrogation or even, depending on where the definitional lines get drawn, of torture in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the detention facilities at Guantánamo and elsewhere:

In Errol Morris’s documentary 'Standard Operating Procedure‚' an American soldier talks about employing music as a means of breaking down the resistance of enemy combatants during interrogations.  They can withstand 'Hip Hop Hooray' and 'Enter Sandman‚' he says, but not country music.  Most audiences will laugh at the line, but may check themselves mid-chuckle, wondering what it means that Americans are deploying their favorite music as a way of tormenting people of another culture.

The relatively brief piece is worth reading in its entirety, as Ross does a reliably fine job of placing the U.S. government's current use of music as a tool of policy and coercion into a broader historical context.  Two of the links incorporated in the article also warrant following:

  • Professor Suzanne Cusick's article in Cambridge University's Journal of the Society for American Music, based on first-person accounts of the interrogators and the interrogated, detailing the workings of the U.S. "music program."  [PDF version here.]
  • World ORT's very thorough, and deeply deeply sad, site surveying Music in the Camps during the Holocaust. 
    • From that site: the page devoted to Victor Ullman, whose The Broken Jug (Der zerbrochene Krug) was featured this season in Los Angeles Opera's "Recovered Voices" project.

Welcome Back, Cotta

Terra_cotta_resting_by_vidguy

More than a dozen (the Los Angeles Times has variously reported the number as either 14 or "about 20") of the famed "Terra Cotta Warriors" of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259-210 BC), have taken up residence at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana though early October, accompanied by an array of related Chinese artifacts.  Despite the Bowers' notoriously high admission prices -- a weekend top of $27 while the warriors are in town -- I am hoping/planning to make the jaunt to see them some time in the next few months.

Time's Richard Lacayo posted an intriguing little item on the warriors to his Looking Around weblog yesterday, characterizing them as the output of "a system of mass production unlike anything I know of in the West prior to the shipyards of Venice in the 15th century" and focusing on the knotty and lingering question of whether any of the thousands of seemingly individualized figures portray actual people. 

Lacayo saw this particular group when they stopped in at the British Museum before their trip to Orange County, and he affirms that there are "about 20 of them."  I am going to assert my conviction that the true count is 17 (±3).

Ancient Asian terra cotta is nice, but I confess I am slightly more interested in the big Bernini exhibition -- apparently the result of a bit of quid pro quo with the Italian government after the return of those long-disputed antiquities -- coming in August to the Getty.  Hot time, summer in the city.

~~~

Photo: "Terra Cotta Resting" by Flickr! user vidguy, used under Creative Commons license.


A Plagiarist on Both Your Houses

Each of us collects personal aesthetic blind spots, artists and works that are acclaimed by those who Know About These Things and that we can understand why we "ought" to admire or seek out or even enjoy, but that ultimately Do Not Interest us.  There's none so blind as those that will not see, and one of my major personal blind spots, for decades now, has been and will remain the films of Martin Scorsese.  I just cannot bring myself to care about or to be interested in seeing (even once in most cases) any of his most lauded films -- Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and the like -- no matter how often I hear or read or am told of their consummate craft and depth and the heft of their greatness.

I make one exception, for a film usually classified as "minor" Scorsese: 1985's After Hours, which I praised and appreciated here back in August of 2004.  I had not known until today, however, that After Hours' original screenplay, by Joseph Minion, was not so original as it seemed.  Andrew Hearst reports, on his panopticist blog, on "The Scandalous Origins of Martin Scorsese’s After Hours:"

Much of the plot setup and some of the dialogue in Martin Scorsese’s excellent 1985 film After Hours — a significant portion of the movie’s first 30 minutes, in fact — were brazenly lifted from “Lies,” a 1982 NPR Playhouse monologue by Joe Frank, the great L.A.-based radio artist. . . .  Joe Frank never received official credit for his contributions, and he appears to have been paid a generous amount of money to settle the plagiarism suit and keep everything quiet.

There is plenty of detail provided, including audio of the full Joe Frank monologue.  The plaster bagels, it seems, are actually a smoking gun.

[Link to panopticist via Defamer.  If you click through that Defamer link you can view an After Hours poster that I do not recall having seen before and that demonstrates that, in 1985, (1) Rosanna Arquette was still indie cinema's sex symbol of choice (I think John Sayles' Baby It's You was largely responsible for that development) and (2) you could still use complete, multi-clause sentences on a film poster.]

We first saw After Hours at home, on a rented VHS tape, early on in our marriage.  My wife was skeptical, and watched the entire thing with the remote aimed and at the ready to fast-forward, fast, if events threatened to get too unpleasant.  She never did hit the button, and in the end allowed as how the film was nervous-making but ultimately pretty good, even pretty funny. 

The one instance of actual Scorsese-style violence in After Hours is a throwaway, the set up for one of the best and bleakest jokes in the film.  Our hero, on the run from an angry mob that blames him (in error) for a variety of crimes and civil wrongs, takes refuge on a fire escape.  Hilarity ensues:

"I'll probably get blamed for that, too.

That line immediately entered our personal lexicon, to be quoted between us with surprising frequency ever since.


Memorial

War_memorial

The Wife of the Soldier
Bertolt Brecht

What did the wife of the soldier get
From the ancient city of Prague?
From Prague she got the linen shirt
It matched her skirt did the linen shirt
That she got from the city of Prague

What did the wife of the soldier get
From Brussels, the Belgian town?
From Brussels she got the delicate lace
Oh! the charm and the grace of the delicate lace
That she got from the Belgian town

What did the wife of the soldier get
From Paris, the city of light?
From Paris she got the silken dress
Oh! to possess the silken dress
That she got from the city of light

What did the wife of the soldier get
From Libya's desert sands?
From Libya the little charm
Around her arm she wore the charm
That she got from the desert sands

What did the wife of the soldier get
From Russia's distant steppes?
From Russia she got the widow's veil
And the end of the tale is the widow's veil
That she got from the distant steppes

~~~

Photo: South Boston War Memorial by Flickr! user Joe Dunckley, used under Creative Commons License.

~~~


Orignal Intent

It is not to be gainsaid that all is well when, on a holiday weekend Sunday, one's RSS feed is amply supplied with moose.  To wit:

Via 3quarksdaily comes a fine article by Prof. Keith Stewart Thomson in the American Scientist, entitled Jefferson, Buffon and the Moose, detailing the efforts of Thomas Jefferson, in his 1781 Notes on the State of Virginia, to debunk the notion widely circulated by the great French naturalist the Count de Buffon that the indigenous creatures (and native peoples) of the Americas were in all cases smaller, weaker, pale shadows of their counterparts on the eastern side of the Atlantic.  The majestic Moose was given pride of place among Jefferson's proofs that America was a land well supplied with beasts surpassing those of Old Europe. 

Prof. Thomson writes near the end of his article:

Stubbs_moose_sketch_1773 Around the time Notes was published, Jefferson was living in Paris as the new nation's ambassador to France.  When he arrived, Jefferson sent Buffon a copy of Notes and the skin of a large panther, and was subsequently invited to dine with Buffon at the Jardin du Roi, Paris's magnificent botanical garden.  Of that meeting Jefferson later wrote, 'in my conversations with the Count de Buffon . . . I find him absolutely unacquainted with our Elk and our deer.  He has hitherto believed that our deer never had horns more than a foot long.'  So Jefferson decided to show him a full-grown American moose.  He wrote to General John Sullivan, president (governor) of New Hampshire, for help in getting a large specimen, instructing him that the bones of the head and legs should be left in the skin so that it could be mounted in a life-like manner.  Eventually a 'seven-foot tall' moose was collected in Vermont and shipped to Paris.

Many years later, Daniel Webster told the story that Jefferson had had the moose set up in the hall of his apartment and invited Buffon to see it.  Confronted with that stark refutation of his earlier thesis, Buffon was said to have exclaimed, 'I should have consulted you, Monsieur, before I published my book on natural history, and then I should have been sure of my facts.'  It would be nice if this story were true.  In fact, Buffon, by this time old and sick, was away from Paris when the moose arrived in October 1787.  Jefferson sent it to Buffon's long time associate, zoologist Louis-Jean-Marie D'Aubenton, for the great man to see when he returned.  Although most of the hair had fallen off the hide, the antlers sent by Sullivan were from a smaller animal and the whole carcass was probably rancid, Jefferson was 'in hopes that Monsieur de Buffon will be able to have it stuffed, and placed on his legs in the King's Cabinet.'

The sketch accompanying the article is by George Stubbs, the master painter of 18th Century British race horses and of other, wilder animals.  The sketch depicts a bull moose calf owned by the Duke of Richmond.  It appears from the available scholarship that this sketch represents the third moose acquired by the Duke.  Three years earlier, Stubbs produced this painting of The Duke of Richmond's First Moose (1770):

Stubbs_moose_600

This fine figure of a Moose was in New York this time last year as part of a large Stubbs retrospective at The Frick Collection, whose curators' notes show that British nobility was more in tune with mooseness than its French counterparts:

Eighteenth-century English noblemen imported North American moose to their estates for domestication and breeding. Their experiments failed, but these primitive-looking creatures remained of interest to natural scientists like William Hunter. Hunter studied Richmond’s yearling moose, and having stated, 'Good paintings of animals give much clearer ideas than descriptions,' he commissioned Stubbs to paint an 'exact resemblance' that included a pair of mature antlers.

Hunter intended to lecture at the Royal Society on his radical theory of natural extinction while displaying this work. Stubbs painted from direct observation, successfully completing his task with a scientist’s detached accuracy. Because the native habitat was unknown to him, Stubbs improbably depicted the moose commanding a mountain landscape. However, he did include a pond, as Hunter had recorded that moose ate 'the rank herbage of marshy grounds.'

Elsewhere today, the visual wine reviewers at Chateau Petrogasm offer this as their descriptor for the 2004 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape:

Moose_crash

To paraphrase a weary old groaner of a punchline, the lesson here is:

"A stolen Rhone gathers no moose."

~~~

Translator's Note: The post title is not a typo.  "Orignal" is French for "Moose."

~~~

UPDATE
: More Moose!  To honor the passing of "[o]ne of the great hobos, labor organizers, union men and singer/writer/mentors," Utah Phillips, songs:illinois offers a selection of his work, including a so unsavory it's savory tale of what one can cook up with a pastry shell and some moose, er, leavings: "Moose Turd Pie."  As a bonus, quite a dreadful pun involving rural electrification is included at the outset of that piece.  Recommended for all them's as is not easily offenced.


If You Study the Statistics
and Heuristics of the Mystics
You Will Find That Their Minds
Rarely Move in a Line

Since I mentioned him in yesterday's Erik Satie post, it is fitting that I should also mention that Brian Eno [in full, Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno] had a recent and notable birthday: his 60th, on May 15. 

  • A lovely little profile from the Independent can be read here
  • In Chicago, they baked him a cake:

Brian_enos_birthday_cake_by_chicago

For my part, I take this as an excuse to post some performances of Brian Eno tunes by persons other than Brian Eno -- a man who is himself distinctly Other in many ways.

To begin, Jonathan Meiberg and Shearwater have been rumored to perform a steamy live version of "Baby's On Fire" (from Eno's classic Here Come the Warm Jets) but I have never found a recording to prove it.  There is, however, video evidence available from a performance in Chicago.  The audio quality is not the best, but the proper spirit is certainly observable.  I particularly like the use of the bowed upright bass to provide the necessary thrumming drone beneath it all:

Compare and contrast: Marc Almond (Soft Cell) performs a dance club version of the same song.  This is Wrong in nearly every possible way, and I do not endorse Reject and Denounce it:

Sean Moeller and company at Daytrotter are the source for two more live Eno covers. 

  • First, Chicago-based Manishevitz, a band that has long carried its Eno-era Roxy Music influences with pride, performs "King's Lead Hat" -- everyone knows that the song title is an anagram for "Talking Heads," right? -- from Before and After Science:
  • Second, something rather more unusual: a cover version of a Brian Eno instrumental.  Uploaded just a few days ago, Montreal's Islands perform "The Big Ship," a piece I have always liked from Another Green World:

Happy birthday, Bre'r Eno.

~~~

Photo Credit: "Brian Eno's Birthday Cake" by Flickr! user chicagopublicradio, used under Creative Commons license.


Satie's Faction, Guaranteed

I have been remiss in not putting in a good word for Dan Hull's very fine weblog, What About Clients?  Dan's principal focus, as his title suggests, is on how to provide best-quality client service in law and business, but WAC? has a dual personality.  It's name has been known to change with some frequency -- and especially when out on the weekend -- to What About Paris?  Dan and his fellow blogger, the mysterious (and seemingly indestructible) Holden Oliver, may at any moment turn tail from the law and post some little gem relating to writing well in general, or to writing well as exemplified by John Dryden, or to the occasional toe-tapping ditty on the deployment of self-help remedies in 19th century English labor disputes.

By far the kindest thing WAC? has done lately is to wonder aloud when this weblog you are reading right now might reinvigorate itself.  Dan approves of my occasional inclination to write about Salvador Dalí.   A WAC? commenter suggested a preference for lawyers to write about Duchamp or Bunuel.  As it happens, I have written about Duchamp, and I have at least once referenced Bunuel's personal martini recipe, so I suppose I'm giving the public what it wants.  (Ever responsive to his audience, Holden also obliged with a bit of Duchamp.)

Erik_satie In that same spirit, the topic for today is Duchamp's contemporary and sometime compatriot, the composer Erik Satie, whose 142nd birthday was this past weekend.   (Wired Satie birthday link via The Morning News.)

Satie was a fixture of the early century Parisian avant-garde, friend and/or collaborator with the likes of Duchamp, Picabia, Diaghilev, Cocteau and Picasso.  Picasso sketched Satie in 1920, sitting in the same chair as appears in his similarly posed and better known sketch of Stravinsky of that same year.  Picabia sketched him as well, affixing Satie's head atop one of his scores.  Rene Magritte's Hommage converts Satie to a classical bust, with bird and mystical sphere.  (Given that Satie is a sartorial link of sorts between Toulouse-Lautrec and Magritte, it is odd that the latter's portrait omits the trademark bowler hat.)

The first of Satie's Trois Gymnopedies for piano is probably his best known work, for the dubious reason that it is just So Darned Pretty: it makes a perfect accompaniment for, say, sentimental montages of autumn leaves or clouds or ducks.  Such is the fate of avants-garde with the passage of sufficient time: if they do not drop from sight altogether, what was once revolutionary becomes either a comfortable joke [Dada, the Surrealists] or else downright cuddly [Impressionism, Gymnopedie No. 1].

At the opposite end of the Satie warm-and-approachable scale is "Vexations."  The single-page manuscript lays out a brief -- albeit extremely difficult to memorize -- passage for solo piano.  It is accompanied by the instruction:

Pour se jouer 840 fois de suite ce motif, il sera bon de se préparer au préalable, et dans le plus grand silence, par des immobilités sérieuses,

that is,

In order to play this motif 840 times consecutively to oneself, it will be useful to prepare oneself beforehand, and in utter silence, by grave immobilities.

The manuscript did not see publication until 1949.  The suggestion that the piece should be repeated 840 times in succession may or may not have been meant literally by Satie, but it has been taken so by those who have presented it publicly over the last half century. 

Generally, as with the ascent of Everest, "Vexations" is attempted as a team sport, with multiple pianists trading off keyboard duties.  The effect of all those repetitions on players and audience varies.  Here is the redoubtable Alex Ross, after attending a "Vexations" performance on behalf of the New York Times in 1993:

One pianist has even attempted the feat solo; he stopped after fifteen hours, experiencing intense hallucinations.  On Saturday and part of Sunday,  the downtown performance space Roulette brought 'Vexations' back to New York.  Once again, a crowd of pianists participated; there was also a procession of official counters, assisted by computer.  The audience waxed and waned, from five to thirty people.  There was, unfortunately, only one reviewer covering the event.

(Note that at least two future bloggers were present during that performance: Ross himself and, among the participating pianists, Kyle Gann.)

John Cage was the contemporary "discoverer" of "Vexations" in 1949, and he organized the first actual performance of the "complete" work on September 9, 1963 in New York.  John Cale -- two years before forming the Velvet Underground with Lou Reed -- was one of the rotating corps of ten pianists (with two alternates standing by in the bullpen) in that performance.  Here is the young Mr. Cale -- very serious and accompanied by the only member of the audience to have remained present for the entire 18 hour, 40 minute adventure -- appearing as the mystery guest on I've Got a Secret:

"Thank you, Mr. Cale, you have a whim of iron . . . ."

For Further Reading, Viewing and Listening:

  • Musician Mike Dickson has paid tribute to Satie by arranging several of his best known pieces for an eclectic array of instruments, heavy on the synths and Mellotrons.  The set includes a 6 minute version of "Vexations" performed on four different pianos and a clavinet.  It is all available for listening or free download at Dickson's Honfleur site.  Put "Vexations" on endless repeat on your iPod and see what happens!  a fool in the forest disclaims all responsibility for any intense hallucinations that may ensue.  (Link via DGM Live!)
  • One of Satie's final projects was to compose the score for Picabia's 1924 ballet production, Relâche, which anticipated the sort of multimedia extravaganza we take for granted today by incorporating a film -- Entr'acte, the directorial debut of René Clair -- between acts.  Satie and Picabia, as well as Duchamp and Man Ray (playing chess), appeared in the film.  That's Satie, bowler and all, jumping in slowly from the left about forty seconds in, with Picabia entering from the right:

Entr'acte can be viewed in slightly better fidelity at UBUWEB

  • UBUWEB also features several versions of "Vexations" performed on everything except the piano, as well as examples of Satie's "Furniture Music" -- music that was intended to be disregarded as much as or moreso than it was heard.  Furniture music is an acknowledged ancestor of Brian Eno's experimentation with "ambient" music in the mid-'70s:

I was trying to make a piece that could be listened to and yet could be ignored . . . perhaps in the spirit of Satie who wanted to make music that could 'mingle with the sound of the knives and forks at dinner.'

See also Kenneth Goldsmiths' introduction to Furniture Music, "Flabby Preludes for a Dog: An Erik Satie Primer."


Epithalamium Redux

Sappho

The California Supreme Court is due to release its decision on gay marriage about an hour from now, which is as good an excuse as any to reprint my double dactyl cycle on the subject, first posted -- with more trepidation than now seems warranted -- in February 2004

The original occasion for the poem was San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom's directive to the City's authorities to license and endorse same-sex marriages.  That policy was ordered stayed shortly thereafter, and the matter has been under review by the state Supreme Court until today.  What the Court will decide and where matters will go from there is as yet a mystery -- perhaps as much of a mystery as the intricacies of human affection.

I hadn't looked back at this for at least a year or two before returning to it today.  On reflection, it stands as one of the things I am most pleased with having posted here.  Please bear with me, then, as I repeat myself:

~~~

Epithalamium

I

Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Gay men and lesbians
Flock to the City Hall,
Follow their bliss,

Purchase their licenses,
Swear to their permanence,
Pose for the camera crews
Sharing a kiss.

II

Damned, sir?  They’re damned, you say?
Possibly, possibly:
Love has led millions to
Suffer a Fall.

That’s for the next world, sir;
Here with the living -- well,
What was it Chaucer said?
“Love conquers all.”

III

Poets, sir. Love poets.
Some of the best have been
Gay, sir.  Consider this
List I’ve compiled:

Wystan Hugh Auden and
C.P. Cavafy and
Sappho. James Merrill, Thom
Gunn, Oscar Wilde.

IV

Legally, legally,
Should an impediment
Rise to the marriage of
Minds that are true?

Sure as there’s only one
Race, sir -- the human race --
How would you feel if it
Happened to you?

V

Citizens, citizens,
Leave to your churches these
Questions of sanctity,
Tough and profound.

Secular governments
Ought to facilitate
Binding of lovers who
Yearn to be bound.

VI

Hymen, Hymenaeus!
Cleave to the one who’s your
Heart’s true companion, the
Thou to your I.

Now, when the times are so
Fearsome we all must, as
Auden says, “love one a-
nother or die.”

~~~

Illustration: "Sappho" from the Musei Capitolini, Rome, via Wikimedia Commons.