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Better Git Hit in Your Memorial Soul

Vietnam women's memorial bykalacaw

Say a prayer for our hard fighting soldiers.
Spare a thought for their life-risking work.
How 'bout a prayer for their spouses and children,
They keep the home fires burning and still till the earth.

"Salt of the Earth"
as modified by Bettye LaVette


Photo: Vietnam Women's Memorial by Flickr user kalacaw, used under Creative Commons license.

"Salt of the Earth" appears on Bettye LaVette's Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook.


Noggin Bloggin'





    -- Rosencrantz (to Guildenstern)

Look around the streets tonight:
Everything's in ruins.
You look good by siren light.
Baby, what are you doin', 

    -- Fol Chen, "In Ruins"

Bangkok head
Earlier this week Tyler Green's recently relocated Modern Art Notes featured the above photo (via the Washington Post and later the front page of the New York Times) by Adrees Latif for Reuters, showing this seemingly unharmed colossal head standing in front of the blazing remnant's of Bangkok's colossal shopping mall, CentralWorld Plaza.  More complete details on the work, The Head (2009) by Indian sculptor Ravinder Reddy, are in Green's post and its follow up, in which he proposes

When I see a picture of widespread damage with an art object in the midst of it all left mostly untouched, I think art must have a certain authority. Why else was it spared?

He may be right.  I cannot find it again now that I want it -- I will provide a link if I can turn it up again --  but I have seen at least one photo indicating that the bronze elephants of CentralWorld also survived the mayhem.  Something tells me that representational sculpture is more likely to pull through than more abstract work. 

One thing that struck me most about Reddy's Head was its kinship to other large sculptures of heads.  With its Asian origin and location, and its obvious allusion to a long Asian sculptural tradition, one is immediately put in mind of the many enormous heads of Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom:


But the enormous head knows few cultural or geographic boundaries. Think, for example, of the Roman emperors' fondness for giant-sized depictions of themselves:

Nor should we slight our own hemisphere, and the perplexing giant heads of the Olmecs (coming soon to LACMA):

Olmec head
What triggered these musings, however, was the combination of Tyler Green's posts and a Friday trip to the San Francisco courthouse, which provided the opportunity to get a look at Zhang Huan's imposing Three Heads Six Arms, now on extended display on the plaza fronting City Hall.

Three heads six arms 1 

As the Los Angeles Times reported, Zhang began as a self-debasing performance artist,  but has changed his focus to sculpture more recently.  This work is intended in part as an allusion to the many works of Buddhist sculpture now lost as a result of their destruction in China's Cultural Revolution.  Madame Mao would surely disapprove of Three Heads Six Arms

The East-facing face is in traditional Buddhist style.  It wears a jaunty chapeau in tribute to the City Hall dome behind it.

Three heads six arms 2 

The six long arms sport five long fingers each, and tasteful accessories.  I suspect the absorbent booms are for the statue's protection from water, and are not part of the artist's vision.

Three heads six arms 3 

Heads #2 and #3 are self-portraits of the artist.

Three heads six arms 4 

Because the eyes are closed, the East face does not see the Asian Art Museum (at left), United Nations Plaza, the San Francisco Public Library (at right)  or, in the distance, Thom Mayne's San Francisco Federal Building.

Three heads six arms 5
The San Francisco Chronicle has a fine portfolio of photos of the statue's installation.  Three Heads Six Arms is scheduled to remain in San Francisco through 2011.  Should civil unrest break out in the city any time soon, I would venture a prediction that the statue will come through unscathed.


Photo of Angkor Thom head via Wikimedia Commons.  Photo of the Emperor Constantine by Flickr user cloudsoup, used under Creative Commons license.  Photo of Olmec head by Flickr user Xuan Rosemanios, used under Creative Commons license.  Photos of Three Heads Six Arms by the blogger.

Brian Cox recites "In Ruins," here.



I never said all actors are cattle.  What I said was all actors should be treated like cattle.

-- Alfred Hitchcock

If you want respect, give them Art.  If you want to make the front page, give 'em gossip.

This morning's Los Angeles Times Page One features this juicy piece in which two of the principal singers in Los Angeles Opera's new Ring cycle give vent to their displeasure:

In separate interviews, British tenor John Treleaven, who plays the hero Siegfried, and American soprano Linda Watson, who plays Brunnhilde, said German director Achim Freyer's avant-garde staging — which features a steeply tilted stage, bulky costumes and oversized masks — interferes with their acting and singing and poses excruciating physical burdens. 
'I'm not going to pull any punches here, and I want to tell it like it is. This entire production has been a trying and difficult time,' Treleaven said. 'The character development that I bring to the part is almost expunged by this clown-like makeup,' he said, adding that he has sustained two minor injuries on the angled stage. 
Watson called the set 'the most dangerous stage I've been on in my entire career.…Your whole neck is tipped wrong. It's very painful to do it for hours.' 
The soprano said that at one point, she became so frustrated with the production's lack of character development that she told Freyer to 'buy one of my CDs and put it on instead of me.'

And it just goes on from there.

Not to downplay either the challenges that are undeniably posed by the physical requirements of Achim Freyer's production or the priority that should be given to performers' safety in any production, but Ms. Watson's and Mr. Treleaven's real complaint here seems ultimately to be: "This production is not sufficiently about me."  

They're right: it isn't.  It isn't really about Achim Freyer or his directorial "vision" either.  To Freyer's credit his production is, for all its eccentricities, very much about the Ring as Wagner wrote it.  The layering of symbols, the expressionist/expressionless masks, the outré costuming, the doubling and tripling of characters, all of it serves as an elaborate mechanism for "getting at what Wagner was getting at."  Figuring it all out is a challenge for the audience, but the necessary effort and attention pays off and, paradoxically, out from all the clutter emerges a remarkable clarity.

Nor is this a production that has no place for "character development," if by that we mean what is usually meant by the term, rather than using it as a synonym for artistic self-regard.  A number of other performers -- who may have their own complaints, but who have had the tact not to spill them to the press -- have turned in performances of both musical and dramatic subtlety.  Vitalij Kowaljow's Wotan is one prominent instance, but perhaps the best example is that of Eric Halfvarson, the only principal singer to appear in all four dramas of the cycle (two Fafners, a Hunding, and a terrific Hagan). 

I have no idea what Achim Freyer really thinks about actors and singers, but the Hitchcock quote above is a relevant one.  Just as the best Hitchcock films are perfect clockwork mechanisms in which the actors are just another bit of the escapement, Freyer's Ring is a contraption in which every element, whether musical, scenic, or human, is coordinated toward the end goal.  This is a gesamtkunstwerk we are talking about after all.  

Out West Arts has some similar thoughts on the Times article.  

And while we're on the subject of contraptions, take a look at this preview of Robert Lepage's upcoming new production of the Ring for the Metropolitan Opera.  If you thought Freyer's raked stage was challenging, just wait until it gets cross-pollinated with a Tilt-a-Whirl:


UPDATE [051510]:  A.C Douglas comments at Sounds & Fury.  I have a final look back at Freyer's Ring in general, and his Gotterdammerung in particular, in the works, which will likely further address some of ACD's points of interest.


Photo: Monika Rittershaus via Los Angeles Opera.


Drive-In Saturday:
Satis House Party


A 45 turns 45.

ABC News among others, duly took note this past week that the Rolling Stones' recording of "Satisfaction" is now 45 years old, or nearly old enough to retire with a full pension in some parts of Europe.  In observance of the occasion, here are five performances of the song for your comparing and contrasting pleasure.


1.    The Rolling Stones, Shindig, September 1965

Naturally, we begin with the Thing Itself, seen here in a performance in which Mick Jagger has borrowed a checked shirt from Dobie Gillis and Brian Jones is seemingly contemplating a career as a French mime. Charlie Watts is, as ever, Charlie Watts.  This would not be my clip of first choice, but it was the best I could do.  Here, sadly non-embeddable, you can see a lovely, superior clip, In Color, from the Ed Sullivan Show. That one appeals to me particularly because it includes one of Ed's introductions offering up a British Invasion band "for all of the youngsters in the country and Canada".


2.    Otis Redding. Stax-Volt European tour 1966 

American rhythm and blues was as mother's milk to the Stones, and R&B greats such as Redding were fully prepared to return the favor.  The audience in this sequence demonstrates the pleasures to be derived from the lost art of just standing there and twitching.  Aretha Franklin's version of the song from roughly the same period is also good, but not as good.  


3.    Jonathan King [as Bubblerock], 1974

There's nothing like compiling a blog post for the discovery of gaps in one's knowledge.  Until I turned up this performance, I can't say as I had ever heard of Jonathan King.  And yet, if his Wikipedia entry is to be believed, he is a fascinating and ambiguous figure whose fingerprints are all over the last 50 years of UK popular music.  He seems also to have had his fingerprints on certain underage boys in the 1980s, for which he served a term in penitentiary, protesting his innocence throughout, in the early part of the last decade.  The "VilePervert" who posted this to YouTube is King himself, who makes the claim that Mick Jagger considers this the best version of the song after his own.


4.    Devo, 1978

If Mick Jagger actually believes that, then Mick Jagger is mistaken.  The best version of "Satisfaction" after his own, and arguably the best version of them all, is Devo's.  This is the video released in conjunction with the band's major label debut, produced by Brian Eno, but "Satisfaction" had been a staple of the Devo repertoire throughout their struggling Avant Oddballs from Akron period.  As the band demonstrates, the wearing of eye protection is prudent.


5.    Bjork and PJ Harvey, Brit Awards, 1994

A slowburning version restoring to the song its full measure of fundamental toughness.  Either of these women is entirely capable of using Lady Gaga or any of her contemporaries as the chemical sweetener of choice in a cup of tea before breakfast without so much as blinking.