HAZARDS writing back #54

Amherst 1874

Emily,

You write of and incarnate an “elegy of integrity” dear friend. It’s true that when death comes to “our own” all we can do, as you write, is remember them. Of course we make up or discover those whose integrity we identify with, don’t we? I know you mean it that way. The man you address will die soon and you may repeat yourself. The best, those who fill our lungs with their elegies, usually die first. Gil, for instance, only recently. It’s a truth from my younger days, of which I find no trace in my clear conviction now. Every year confirms a duty to burn ourselves up if we aspire to anything worthy of song. You did, I know I must too. First, I wonder if enough of “our own” will remain to sing for us! Then, do you know, I’m so vulgarly optimistic that I hear distant voices now! And so I hasten on, with something left to gamble!

g.

Fruitstore 12.6.11

HAZARDS, writing back #34


Amherst, 1877.

Dear Emily,

I’ve been using Entourage for almost a year since Mail froze up and lost a chunk of one-offness. Even with news to announce jointly I haven’t considered grouping, nor even noticed the Reply All button until last week. So your; “a mutual plum is not a plum”, is a fruit from my own tree, sister. “I was too respectful to take the pulp and do not like the stone” belabours the metaphoricity of my location here. Again, these are my own words: “Send no union letters. The soul must go by Death alone, so, it must by life, if it is a soul.” Or, you write; “If a committee -no matter.” This was always true of all that does matter and makes for singularity in the valleys and on most peaks. It’s even more true today, despite or because of the ubiquity of those barren committees who live without your tangy bite. One to one, one on one, one plus one. One.

Yours, g.

Fruitstore 05.iv.10

HAZARDS, writing back no. 48

Amherst, Summer 1863

Dear Emilie,

Let’s have no more “I will pick no rose, lest it fade or prick me”. No matter how often you write this it smacks of insincerity. Especially when you also write of night skies that look like “Jerusalem! … mountains that touch[ed] the sky, and brooks that sang like bobolinks.” You add “I will give them to you, for they are mine, and “all things are mine.”” This sounds peculiarly American to me, not only because I first heard it in the voice of Jack Kerouac; “everything belongs to me because I’m poor.” His is ultimate truth, routinely misunderstood, though not by you. I was running last night after a long day ended with evocative Dhokla. Out in the middle of London under a bright sky, upon the Millennium Bridge as bells chimed the quarter hour before midnight. While crossing I realised that running here is a boast of residence. The great river, peculiarly low in tide, echoed my possession. I’ve taken to running on the road itself, marking it as mine. Opening out strides, I left behind a day brimming with love in a faster time than ever. I called out to friendly foxes and allow the porcelain tulips another night of potency. Poor as I may be, everything belongs to me on the “unhoused” bridge.

g.

Fruitstore 14.v.2010

varèse; very much in london april 2010

VARESE The One All Alone docu 2009

I want to share some modest thoughts about the Varèse 360º mini-festival at London’s Southbank Centre 16-18th April.

According to the programme, Edgard Varèse [b. Paris 1883, d. New York 1965] was “a sonic pioneer”. In 1955 John Cage wrote that Varèse had “established the present nature of music … this nature … arises from an acceptance of all audible phenomena as material proper to music.” His entire known work sits happily within 2 cds and has been spread over three concerts here. I caught the two featuring the London Sinfonietta conducted by David Atherton at QEH but not the larger orchestral pieces performed by the NYO.

I know the work quite well in the form of the Chailly and Boulez recordings. There are things to admire and thrill at in all his recorded work, my own favourites fell into the performances I saw and Density 21.5 -composed in 1936 for a specific platinum flute- is on regular rotation in my life. I’ve listened to these recordings with headphones and in a domestic environment but never heard it performed before now.

The first evening included a startlingly precise and mesmerising performance of Ecuatorial, in which a pair of theremin ‘cellos’ were gorgeous contributors, and ended with one of his last works; Déserts, written after 15 years in a wilderness of depression. The tightness of the performance made for a thrilling experience [Gillian Moore writes of a “blazing austerity”] in which I found myself pursuing sounds around the stage in ways unique to Varèse’s invention of what he called “organised sound”.

The second programme included Hyperprism, Octandre, Offrandes, Intègrales, all performed with the same peculiar vigorous purity. Sitting very close to the stage I could hear the instruments themselves more acutely; their timbre, distribution of sounds and peculiar rhythms, the lingering murmur from inside a mute cello at the end of one inverted crescendo.

Witnessing this made me feel as if  [or realise that] I hadn’t actually heard the music before. In a related panel discussion both biographer Malcolm Macdonald and composer Julian Anderson described how their respective favourite pieces of Varèse’s [pressed, they offered Ecuatorial and Intègrales respectively] always sounded new or completely fresh whenever they heard them. These differing newnesses may be related but in any case, I felt exactly the same way hearing old favourites of my own live for the double first time.

Varèse’s central notion of creating aural space means that it is particularly essential to hear the music performed. This is obvious as well as not because however improving it invariably is to witness performance there is something completely transformative of the music -and more- in Varèse’s case. In 1958 Morton Feldman wrote that Varèse “alone has given us this elegance, this physical reality, [in which “noise … bores like granite into granite”] this impression that the music is writing about mankind rather than being composed.”

The recording of Poème électronique played over QEH’s pretty good system sounded exactly as it always does, however, therefore comparatively shrunken and dissipated. It was accompanied with an irritatingly weak series of images, used in preference to Corbusier’s montage which was made to accompany the music at its birth in the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair of 1958. I’m including the latter because while the use of images of genocide is problematic, it’s a more convincing attempt to relate to the scale of the music [on Ubuweb here].

There were moments, passages of stunning originality and potency in this second performance, notably of Octande but also Intègrales -an effective condensation of Varèse’s range. It’s an exhilaration that can only be experienced in live performance of the highest standard like this [bad or okay performances of Varèse would be hard to take]. However these are works that should be performed regularly, even in Britain which only caught up with the 20th Century when it ended.

Varèse should be heard widely and regularly not only because of his very clear and often acknowledged influence on a mass of music throughout the 20th and 21st Centuries but also for the force and beauty that it possesses in itself. Macdonald argues that his work represents a comparable step-change to that of Beethoven or Wagner. The absence of Varèse from the British repertoire is equivalent perhaps to letting Emily Dickinson’s poetry fall back into the obscurity of her life and confining Jorge-Luis Borges or Gertrude Stein to dusty national libraries.

Edgard Varèse and Antonin Artaud 1933.

[fingers and pinholes are not mine]

Beyond the music and a panel discussion worth catching, there were also film screenings. I missed Mark Kidel’s early documentary, EV A Portrait, and only caught a few minutes of Frank Scheffer’s very recent documentary which takes its title from a never realised but ever-present all-encompassing notional work of Varèse’s; The One All Alone.

One of the impressive range of potential or partial collaborators that Varèse worked with towards this project was Antonin Artaud. Artaud is the king and fool of the 20th Century for me and it was the discovery of this image of him with Varèse, taken in 1933, just before both men began descents into physical and mental torments lasting a decade and half in each case, that really locked off my interest, passion, even enjoyment of Varèse [something comparable happened with Anne Carson]. A friend of Artaud’s is a friend of mine.

I was able only to see the beginning of Scheffer’s film in which Cage and Feldman discuss the figure who was a major influence or inspiration on and to both. It was one of the free screenings in the RFH and I’d love to be able to see it in full but as yet it has no distributor in the UK. Varèse is only very rarely performed in the UK so no surprise there, but he’s regularly performed and heard across Europe where the film has been screened but distribution is not yet finalised either.

This is the poster for it and below is a pdf of the other part of the flyer with contact details to the production company and a short director’s statement. I knew that the Varèse would be sold out -as it was- which is why I did something very strange for me and booked it months ago. However I had no idea whom it would be sold out to and the audience turned out to be pretty diverse in fact. I believe the panel’s description of teenage members of the NYO’s gradual but then real grasp and excited engagement with the music, but there were very few people under 25 in the audience.

However, the lack of appetite shown by all those really clever, super curious and on-the-ball distributors, festival organisers, British TV lunchboxes might be justified if only 17 people turned up [or, worse, the entire 117] but as it was it’s pitiful and repeats the offence of neglect that Varèse suffered throughout his extraordinary and difficult life.

The best way to encounter Varèse is live in performance, as I now know with indelible clarity, but a documentary is a foolproof introduction to the subject, the most easily negotiated threshold.

Press to enlarge

BIBLIO

 

Varèse: Astronomer in Sound by Malcolm Macdonald [Kahn & Averill 2002 pp 448]

Edgard Varèse Composer, Sound Sculptor, Visionary Ed. Felix Meyer & Heidy Zimmerman [The Boydell Press 2006 pp 505] here.

Give My Regards to Eight Street Collected Writings of Morton Feldman Ed. BH Friedman [Exact Change 2000] here.

Silence John Cage [Marion Boyars 1968] here.

HAZARDS, writing back no. 32

Amherst November,1864?

Dear Emily,

It is November, you write, which ‘always seemed to me the Norway of the year.’  No, no it feels like November, but March has come after an extended Scandinavia. Soon it will be gone. Every day is one minute better, brighter, more human. Each dies a little less. In a late 18th Century November my new Jacobin friend walked the night hills between stunted trees, full falling through combes all the way to the harbouring sea. Like water. I did it too, during this recent Finland; through coldly forecast drizzle, upwards into heavying cloud but peaked in the windworn scrub of a hidden iron age, only for the clouds to part on a little Mediterranean. For the hill and it’s seductive combes to rush at me, bent tree sentinels to be recognised and postcards from the cradles of civilisation to arrive. All the tropical months. STC was no Jacobin but a romancer of the running combes and their conjurings, spied upon by Arctic circles of the establishment mind. E. and I walked miles and miles of mud and stone in visions of poesy. Without official confirmations. Within warming words. So it’s possible, but I prefer the tropical calendar which returns my self; body and breath, a ‘spacious and untold’ mindfulness, to me. Places and times where ‘noons’ are ‘sterner’, ‘sundowns’ properly ‘laconic’. Looking forward to Mesopotamia,

g.

Fruitstore 22.iii.2010

subcon survey two/ whitechapel’s where three dreams cross & dayanita singh

The Whitechapel Gallery’s Where Three Dreams Cross [more info/artist list here] is another attempt to make up for long neglect. It’s sweepingly broad, with photographs from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh ranging across 150 years and grouped thematically; Family, Portrait, Body Politic, etc. These bundle together anonymous studio portraits, family snaps, publicity cards and photojournalism; images historic and incidental, urban and rural, plus work from artists born in 1870 through to the 1970s -including Bani Abidi for example.

I have as many curatorial queries if not criticisms as there are images and they thematise around the question of who this is aimed at? But Where Three Dreams Cross is essential viewing. It’s a pay show, but admission is free for under 18s and all on Sunday mornings from 11-1 a.m. You’ll need hours or more than one visit and can’t rely on the catalogue which has useful texts but is a frustratingly incomplete record.

Quartet & Doppleganger [Two Amritas] fromRe-Take of Amrita 2001 Vivan Sundaram

Amongst the multitudes are famous people and princes, rare images of poets and musicians, familiar ones by the A.S.I., Lala Deen Dayal, Raghubir Singh and Ragu Rai, for example. What makes it work are the glimpsed treasures; a set of hand-tinted [or miniaturised, popular-style, peacocks and all] family portraits staged before temples, another of Sufi Pir Baba by Tapu Zaveri, selections from Jyoti Bhatt, Gauri Gill [see Bidoun’s Noise] and Aasim Akhtar, as well as the brilliant Unknown and Anonymous.

Then there are the peculiarly subcontinental linkages/lineages; Umrao Singh Sher-Gil’s mesmerising self-portraits downstairs, as well as Vivan Sundaram‘s photo-montages of Umrao and his daughter Amrita Sher-Gil [aunt of VS, who is married to art critic Geeta Kapur who supplies a catalogue essay] upstairs. Then there are Nony Singh’s photographs of her family, including ‘Nixi’s’ young life up until she leaves for college in Ahmedabad, Gujarat…

Dayanita Singh: Nixi on Foot at the Dream Villa

Dream Villa 16 2007-08 Dayanita Singh

‘Nixi’ is Dayanita Singh, represented here by recent Dream Villa photographs in colour and her project of 7 fold-out booklets, Sent a Letter, which include Nony’s photographs with her own of Allahabad, Calcutta, Varanasi, etc. I’m torn between choosing one of DS’s poems -as she calls them- from Dream Villa and one of her mother’s family snaps.

Nony took photographs of her family obsessively, some of the evidence is on the wall, more of it is on Nixi’s face here. In the exhibition this image comes with vital additional notes; “Nixi on her way to study at the National Institute of Design. I just knew she was talented as an artist and fought with my protective husband to let her go. It was expensive. I had no idea what she would become one day”.

I was admiring too but a bit sceptical of what DS did in her early [intimate, ambivalent] tableaux of variously located privilege and desolate or evacuated grandeur. However, in parallel with her brilliant Myself Mona Ahmed [Scalo 2001] project -published with emails from subject to publisher- they promised much and have arrived at something very special. A few pages of MMA and Privacy [Steidl 2004] occupy a vitrine here.

Dream Villa‘s images of nocturnal street lights exemplify this specialness for me [see current Delhi show]; the familiarly angled, bolted-onto-anything lights of urban back streets and the edges of connected-up villages. I loved them when she showed them first in London [2008], recognising their airs -the times and spaces they illuminate- but wondered momentarily if that recognition was necessary for them to ‘work’. In fact, Dream Villa represents a clarified art that needs no referent -even if they can be found. It is what it is.

Nony’s image of Nixi about to set foot free is quietly exquisite. It reminds me of a letter of Emily Dickinson’s which asks; “How is your little Byron? Hope he gains his foot without losing his genius. Have heard it ably argued that the poet’s genius lay in his foot -as the bee’s prong and song are concomitant.” Nony’s image is of her own Byron gaining her foot, impatiently patient in shades of possessive release.

Where Three Dreams Cross is full of little moments of this kind. Little moments of layered resonance. Here Nixi in the eyes of Nony echoes the work of Vivan with his aunt and grandfather -minus self-consciousness and compelling perversity. Moments that insist upon further exploratory exhibitions of  depth, substance, context and celebration beyond this prefatory survey.

12.09. from josephine foster to emily dickinson; writing back

Josephine Foster’s Little Life [a “prev. unreleased home recording”] was one of several big refreshing breaths on Devendra Banhart’s The Golden Apples of the Sun sampler which Arthur magazine gave away in 2004 [here]. For me it was the most mysteriously rackety track -amongst Diane Cluck, Coco Rosie, Joanna Newsom, Antony’s The Lake- while also sounding like running water. I loved it.

Subsequent releases confirmed that it’s her voice, in concentrated form and as unaccompanied as possible, that I like. I kept missing her perform live, most recently in Porto for the opening of the new Serralves Foundation’s Collection where she was playing in the related festival at exactly the same time as my flight. I finally caught up with her at Cafe Oto, London in December, singing with a fine band but a band nevertheless.

It confirmed that the voice was her own, but I was hoping to hear from her new CD -As Graphic as a Star- on which she sings 26 Emily Dickinson poems, accompanied by crickets. I might have been a bit sceptical about the project had I not been writing notes to ED from a fruit store myself. Writing back to Emily Dickinson’s letters, wondering why it felt necessary, noting unavoidable parallels and differences.

So although I’ve completed one novel and begun another, written critical pieces of varying length but not one email in the fruit store, the first real ‘notes’ are this series which will take many months to complete. I’m tempted to claim that they’re a form of warm up exercise, in the way that Harry Mathews so nicely pretended his 20 Lines a Day were. But no, what follows are completely sincere inky whisperings which I do alone in my solitary room on the second storey of a real fruit store…