Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Le Nozze di Barney

Mathew Barney has left the building.

Last week, several of my friends made pilgrimages to SFMOMA to take in Drawing Restraint before it closed on Sunday. Now the jury is all in, and I remain one of the very few people I know who found merit in the film but not in the [ahem, superfluous] exhibit. Scenes and sequences from the film run through my mind even months after seeing it, and I do appreciate a work of art that is able to transcend my momentary experience of it. Is Drawing Restraint 9 innovative in terms of storytelling or in its presentation of character, plot or theme? No. Is it a cinematographic wunderkind notable for its form, score, editing or effects? No. It poses as Epic Grandeur but, more simply, is a souvenir from a trip to Matthew Barney's dreamworld. Yes, I think it is helpful to consider Drawing Restraint 9 as a token gesture and not as a tour de force.

When presented as high art, the personal and private realm of dreams is sometimes unconvincing to a wide audience. We are quick to be curious and analyze (Björk in her bath of lemons, the Lilliputian door-near-the-floor through which the overclothed guests must go) but just as quick to dismiss it all as fun and fantasy. Barney's work unfolds like a dream, full of striking images that seem fraught with symbolism, but it is also a formal explication of being bound (er, drawn) together...of consummation and its consequential power to set free. It is a dream presented as a manifesto, and that's what I think is difficult for its detractors: DR9 documents Björk and Barney, two practically superhuman personas, in a very public and personal declaration of unification, and maybe that, in the form of a big-budget art film, puts some people off.

The film reminds me of those enormous, weighty, leather-bound tomes one is likely to find on the coffee table of many a sweetly married couple. The albums are ridiculous, revealing indulgence and frivolity and (in the most interesting cases) cultural symbols and actions taken quite out of context. Sometimes the appropriations are blatant (a huppah of Tibetan flags held above a couple as they share the communion cup, for example) but rarely do we ever pull out the political correctness megaphone and criticize the absurd details of our friend's and acquaintance's "big day." After all, a wedding is about two people's blissfully narcissistic vision of themselves as a ceremony, and we tend to accept that vision whether or not it aligns with our own personal tastes. I viewed Drawing Restraint 9 as a voyeuristic peek into two people's wedding album, and I happened to like their personal tastes (from setting and location, props and costume, to cultural and ritual action) very much.

As a beautiful dream and formal ceremonial statement, and nothing more, DR9 works for me. But I can also understand why those qualities might not appeal to everyone.

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Morning Rant

Camille Saint-Saëns: overrated

Benjamin Britten: underrated

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Tuesday, September 12, 2006

In the Water

For five years I've been swimming.

pool_wideAs a graduate student at Mills College, I took to the water almost daily as an escape from my studies, though ironically, in the pool I found yet another facet of music. Counting laps and measuring the breath between strokes is its own kind of musical activity and may explain why so many musicians swim, even if we lack the polished form and grace of a true athlete. What really impresses me about swimming--as a metaphor for life and learning--is that it can only be learned by jumping in and doing it. One does not learn to swim by sitting with a notebook on one knee, plotting structures and designs, or by discussing the merits of form and function over a cup of coffee. To swim...one simply has to swim.

Sometimes when I speak of just jumping in and doing things (for example, I often have an artistic idea whose realization requires the use of technology in which I am relatively inexperienced) my enthusiasm elicits skepticism. The "norm" is to acquire knowledge through years of study and training--experience derives from a method--and throwing oneself into something completely new and seeing what the hell might happen upsets the logic of that revered, formal approach. But I wonder, which is more true to the definition of experience, that is: to try? A classical pianist playing with all sorts of audio and visual new media? Why not? Twenty years ago I practiced Bach Inventions, and if you had asked me then if my "practice" would evolve to include a video camera, a polished piece of ebony and a box of matches, yes, I would have thought you were crazy. But now I see such actions as the continuing swim: I jumped in, discovered a natural ability in the water, and just keep logging the miles.

All this just to say [gleefully] that 2& will be Artists-in-Residence at Stanford University this fall term, from September 25 - Dec 8. The residency is [wow!] in the Experimental Media Arts department, though I definitely hope to collaborate with people in the CCRMA as well. You see [sigh of relief] I am still a pianist at heart. At Stanford 2& plans to present our installation piece (see below) as well as engage in many other surprising activities.

And furthermore...

2& will present the performance installation Audible Memory (Triptych #1) at California College of Arts in October. We will likely place the installation component of the piece just beyond the main entrance of the San Francisco campus, and from Monday through Friday (October 16-20) visitors will have the opportunity to view and interact with our work. At the end of the week (Saturday October 21) we will perform live on the Echo de Pensées series, using material culled from the installation. Audible Memory examines the complexity of "remembering" sound (and in particular, spoken text) from coolly technological as well as somewhat nostalgic perspectives. Audio, collected, remembered and transformed, provides the basis for a musical structure. Here's a peek at something of the Visual.

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Tuesday, September 05, 2006

A Folksong

The Handsome Butcher

Seven locks upon the red gate, seven gates about the red town
In the town there lives a butcher and his name is Handsome John Brown
In the town there lives a butcher and his name is Handsome John Brown

John Brown's boots are polished so fine,
John Brown's spurs they jingle and shine
On his coat a crimson flower, in his hand a glass of red wine
On his coat a crimson flower, in his hand a glass of red wine

In the night, the golden spurs ring, in the dark, the leather boots shine
Don't come tapping at the window, now your heart no longer is mine

Don't come tapping at the window,
now your heart no longer is mine

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