Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Soundtrack 18

Edward Artemiev, soundtrack to Solaris*
Tom Waits, "Bottom of the World"
J.S. Bach, "Ich ruf' zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ" BWV 639
"I'm Henery the Eighth I Am" (Herman's Hermits version, natch)

*for some of the most beautiful electronic drones I have ever heard...

continue reading...

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Out of the Pits

Sidecar anni 30
Sidecar is soon to announce details for the Summer 2007 concert season! We hope to cross-pollinate our audiences by presenting concerts at traditional and non-traditional venues, including the Oakland Columbarium on the summer solstice, the Midummer Day's Dream Festival and 21Grand sometime in July, and the Monday Night Marsh series in August. There may even be a tandem (two-part) performance event! The Children's Hour expands on our previous work and promises to stretch imaginations.

continue reading...

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Slow Unwind

Been listening to a lot of Tom Waits lately. Consequently, I do not have to drink whiskey. [thank god!]

Waits has an uncanny way with timing and tempo, and it's a musicality that feels unconscious and intuitive rather than like a worked out plan. I love it, even though it's sometimes disconcerting to my classical ear. Listening to his songs, my inner Heather--the one who lives and breathes by her DB60--is constantly screaming, 'Wait a minute! We're not halfway through the song and you are in a radically different tempo from the opening!' And thanks to modern technology [finger on the CD player's scan back button] I can check the opening against the end of the third verse, against the end of the fifth, and so on:
And if I have to go
will you remember me
or will you find someone else while I'm away

there's nothing for me
in this world full of strangers
it's all someone else's idea

I don't belong here
and you can't go with me
you'll only slow me down.
The instrumental opening of the song ("If I Have to Go" is on Waits' latest three disc collection Orphans) seems confident and sure of itself; the piano carves out a lilting rhythm, its last eighth note into the second full measure quite deliberately [soberly] placed. As soon as Waits begins singing, however, the accompaniment begins a long, slow stumble. Slackening the pace at the line, "you'll only slow me down," makes musical sense. ('Text painting! Text painting!' The inner Heather blurts out, always a measure ahead of a polite raised hand.) In the classical tradition, after such a ritardando, one would probably return to tempo primo, and in fact, if I (accompanist) were to NOT return to tempo, I'd likely be reprimanded for dragging, for not "picking it back up." For this reason, perhaps, I am acutely aware that Waits does NOT pick it back up. From the opening line to the last, in so many of his songs, it's a long slow unwind. I admire this. I want to embody it. Metronomes and perky conductors be damned. Waits continues:
until I send for you
don't wear your hair that way
and if you cannot be true, I'll understand

tell all the others
you hold in your arms
I said I'd come back for you

I'll leave my jacket to keep you warm
that's all that I can do
If these aren't pure Romantic (yes, capital R) art song lyrics, I don't know what is. The narrator of the song is the rugged individualist, a resigned adventurer at odds with the world, a hero with something to prove...to the strangers, to someone else, to himself...and so, without good reason, or for that very reason, he must go. Yet wanderlust is contradicted by expressions of love and sentimentality (aw, he notices how she wears her hair!) that ring true and steadfast. In just a few simple lines, Waits taps into that vein of overwrought, self-defeating angst--beautiful angst--that I associate with the fine art songs of Brahms, Schumann, Wolf and Schubert. Ah yes, Schubert. In fact, the first song on which I plan to take a Waitsian approach to tempo is Der Leiermann (The Hurdy Gurdy Man). One might argue that the accompaniment should never falter, that over its precise, metronomic insistency the voice, the weary traveller of memories, ought to manage the unwinding. [Eh, she shrugs.] If you've made it through twenty-three songs of Die Wintereisse, you--whether performer or listener, or, more aptly in both cases, survivor--deserve one more final torture, and so I'm curious about bringing both the vocal and piano parts, in tandem, to an unbearable halt. It will be very Tom Waits, that sort of tortured unbearableness, and it will still be very German Romantic lieder. Hmm...
and if I have to go
will you remember me
or will you find someone else while I'm away
Sing it, Tom. I'm overwrought. But you can always unwind me.

continue reading...

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

In the Mirror

Ulysses. Santiago. Skywalker. Quixote. They were all looking... looking... looking.

Perhaps we turn to music, dance, art or film, because we, too, are looking. My short list of most memorable performances or exhibits is short because only the ones that show me something for which I am--consciously or unconciously--looking make the cut. When I find something familiar but that is altogether new, something recognizable against the grain of "an other" (the composer, choreographer, filmmaker or artist), then [cheering] I am satisfied or inspired or moved. But what is it? What exactly feels "known" to me? I have wondered this again and again.

I should have asked not "what" but "whom," for the answer is: a little piece of myself. I say this, not steeped in narcissism, but just simply so. I look at a piece of art (music, performance, dance) as I look in a mirror, knowing that it will not literally be my reflection but longing anyway for a certain resonance, that sureness, that comes from glimpsing oneself in the glass. Seeing--however tiny, however distorted--a reflection of me in a completely foreign landscape (the stage, the page, the canvas) is kind of magical, and it must be what transports me from opining, "it's ok," to ripping my corset off and telling everyone I know that I just saw the best show of my life. That's just how it...works. For me.

Looking makes life fun. It makes experiencing art an active engagement. Finding yourself in surprising places, around that least expected corner...yes, this is why we live, I think.

This past weekend I found me. All of me. The Spirit of the Beehive (El espĂ­ritu de la colmena) is a Spanish film from the 1970s, and it is me. It sounds like me (the out of tune piano, the pocketwatch that plays like a carillon, an operatic wind, a reedy Hammond organ), it smells like me (the fallow Spanish fields, smoke, bees' honey), and it feels like me (girls jumping through a fire, a fidgety haircombing). But it is not necessarily me at all.

Ana, a little girl haunted by a screening of Frankenstein, is the focus of the film. Set in the contexts of school, play, home and, especially, family (a beekeeper/writer father, a mother seemingly plagued by ennui, a stern and sassy older-than-you-by-a-year sister), we watch Ana translate the fiction and the monster into her everyday reality. Her imagination allows her to be at once completely vulnerable and boldly independent. The style of the film and the way it tells a story is similarly evocative: it is a narrative that just opens and circles round and folds back up, and it presents a way of thinking that I imagine most adults have packed away with their sturdy old lunchboxes and dried-out first lipsticks. Ana is a child but she speaks to and for the adult, whether the year is 1940, 1974 or 2007.

Thus, the film succeeds in tapping into personal and universal truths, and that is a quality about art that makes me want to run screaming in the streets. It's about me! It's about the world! It's me...in the world! Ah hah!

You begin to see. You wonder if this, too, is a mirror...

This was all on my mind when I went to Zellerbach on Sunday to see Sylvie Guillem and Akram Khan's Sacred Monsters. Guillem and Khan are dance superstars (she of Paris Opera Ballet fame, and he the hot modern choreographer with a thorough training in Indian classical dance), and I was prepared for a little bit of celebrity hype, but I was not prepared to so actively dislike how it was manifesting onstage. Sacred Monsters allows the audience "in" to the performer's life (choreographed dances are punctuated by moments of onstage informality) and it raises questions and makes statements about the artists' life in general, from practice to performance. The virtuoso pursues perfection but not without sacrifice and inner conflict. Once tradition is mastered, is it ok to experiment? Is it "ok" to ask questions? Is it "ok" to do what you love and love what you do? Is doing that--oh wonderful guilty pleasure--a worthy endeavor in the scope of ... things? I can relate. (Do I not write about such things?) Yet as their questions and perspectives were given meaning in movement, Sacred Monsters didn't seem to become anything more than Sylvie and Akram. I could not find a "universal." I saw no glimpse of myself in any mirror. I was just me, just a body, sitting in Zellerbach Hall, and onstage, dancing beautifully, were two wonderful superstars.

I particularly liked moments of true duet, when they clasped hands and refused to let go for example, and so under and over and around a series of arching arms their bodies twisted and moved as if one. And later, with Guillem's legs clasped about Khan's waist, their arms reflected each other as if separated by water. I found this quite poetic.

But overall [she opines]: "It's ok."

After the performance (it was an early show) I drove up to Grizzly Peak to watch the sunset. From Tilden one can see almost all the bay's bridges, and in the finest performance of the weekend (special kudos to the subtle and unwavering hand on the day's dimmer switch) the lights of the cities--from San Francisco and Marin to Berkeley and San Mateo--all began to sparkle a little more determinedly, and the urban nervous system, thus illuminated, began to hum. I finally felt that sense of recognition--artistic recognition--that I felt when I had watched The Spirit of the Beehive. Here, on Grizzly Peak, against a soundtrack of enthusiastic crickets, watching the hive of my environs simultaneously go to sleep and come to life, I got that "aha" of artistic satisfaction. The "piece"--this sunset--was a personal reflection, beautiful and humming and visceral and imperfect, but I also knew that a hundred other people could experience it and find satisfaction, too.

And so I add "Sunset May 6th, 2007" to the short list with Bill Viola (and a few secret others). And so I continue looking...for truths in a universal mirror.

continue reading...

Monday, May 07, 2007


for Sean

Ships at a distance have every man's wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

--Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

continue reading...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007



I am working on a piece of visual/audio that uses butterflies as the subject. The audio is a subtle and sometimes shocking imagining: "if butterflies could talk, and if we could hear their wings." Little beeps and snippies. Nothing revolutionary here. The piece does not pretend to have the grandeur of a 9th symphony. It's purely fun and play for me.

I think about it constantly, however, and woke at four this morning wanting to work on the piece. So I did. Then, at nine, I switched to practicing piano. And in the midst of trying to disentangle my fingers as they played an endless trill, I thought, "just pretend it's a butterfly!" And it worked. Trills have always been a thorn in my side; I never seem to access the right muscle for the fast, limp shake that they require, particularly when they go on and on for several measures. But imagining my fingers as colorful little wings, and hearing the sound take fluttering flight...it worked!

So maybe a little fun and play (at four in the morning) never hurts! That's my tutorial for the day. Happy May Day!

continue reading...