Yesterday I happened to look in on the Artes Mundi exhibition at the National Museum Cardiff. There were quite a few nice and interesting works (such as the film from which the image below is taken), but none of them felt really exceptional to me.
A still from 'per speculum' by Adrian Paci.
Then later that day I came across this story. A man who wanted to take some aerial photos of his house attached a digital camera to a helium balloon and eventually ended up with these amazing pictures of the Earth.
One of Robert Harrison's aerial photos.
The tag line at the Artes Mundi exhibition was ‘One World, All Humanity‘ but for me, looking at these pictures and videos of the Earth were a far more powerful statement about what our world is.
This obviously isn’t the first time people have taken pictures of the earth from above, and as Robert Harrison says in the BBC interview NASA have been doing this for years. I was also reminded of this art film of a hot air balloon ascent made by Yoko Ono in 1970. But these professionally produced documents only reinforce our viewing experience as simply that of a spectator. We have all used digital cameras, handled them, carried them with us, and have a thorough experience of using them. Putting one of these cameras several miles above the earth resulted in images that for me, were far more personal and affecting than anything I happened to find on the walls of that art gallery earlier in the day.
images via Saatchi Online and flickr
The other day I finally got round to fulfilling my duty as a Charlie Kaufman fan and got the DVD of Synecdoche New York. Seeing it for the second time (after catching it at the at the cinema almost a year ago now) I was left feeling that as well as being ‘interesting’ it was actually quite ‘enjoyable’ too.
But I really must compliment the marketing executive who managed to convince himself that this film was “The Smash-Hit Comedy of the Year!”…? I really doubt anyone could believe that the faux-sticker on the DVD artwork would manage to increase sales, but who knows, maybe this plucky marketing executive actually believed this….? or mabye he just hadn’t seen the film…. we can only hope.
I’m quite hard to please when it comes to exact synchrony between music and images. I’m sure the abstract animations of Oskar Fischinger were revolutionary at the time, but really have little to do with their soundtracks. Even in modern music videos, sections of close synchrony seldom manage to maintain a coherent relationship between image and music. This seems to only achieve two things: 1) it actually gives greater emphasise the asynchronous elements, and 2) it annoys me.
This video I stumbled across the other day, however, is practically perfect.
Sonar by Renaud Hallée (found via musicofsound)
A week or so ago Alex Ross gave the RPS Lecture for 2010 with a talk on concert etiquette. The full text is available for download here, although if you’re just after a summary, the event was also featured on the BBC’s Culture Show and should be available here on the iplayer for the next few days.
I myself have often wondered about where and when the tradition of not clapping between movements had come from. My most poignant experience of how strange this custom can be happened one year at Aberystwyth MusicFest. After a week of immersion in classical repertoire it was quite a shock when the token jazz concert came around and the audience was actively encouraged to clap whenever they felt like it. At the time I remember the contrast in social etiquette feeling far more striking than the contrast in musical styles.
A few days later at the closing concert of the festival there was a great community atmosphere – everyone had by now got to know each other and there was a relaxed spirit of camaraderie in this final showcase…. – but even then this social restraint was firmly in place. During a performance of Saint-Saëns’s Carnival of Animals, two of the most prominent personalities of the festival (Julian Jacobson, and Tom Poster) gave a rigours performance of the Wild Asses section, which was quite understandably met with great applause. This was of course ‘shushed’ away, but at the time, in that context, it really felt that it needn’t have been.
On a final note I can’t help wondering what the correct social etiquette is for responding to this piece…
On Friday evening I went to see John Adams take on the role of conductor in a performance of his Doctor Atomic Symphony with the LSO at Bristol’s Colston Hall. They also performed Sibelius 6, and Britten’s Four Sea Interludes. Now, whilst it was nice to hear the Britten performed live, and whilst I really don’t want to criticise the conducting of one of the worlds greatest living composers…. I think I do prefer the recording I have on CD that I’m far more used to.
The John Adams piece is a 25 minute symphony constructed from material from his opera, Doctor Atomic. In a pre-concert talk the composer had mentioned how those 25 minutes were really intense and full, and in the performance it did indeed feel far longer than I’d expected. The piece itself was pretty good, especially towards the end, although there were a few moments during the first half that felt rather episodic, and after just one listening didn’t make much sense to me.
If I’d already known the material I think it would have been far easier for me to appreciate how it had been treated as a symphony, and I’ll definitely try and get hold of the DVD of the opera sometime soon.
The most interesting thing about the evening was probably the friendly and quite informal interview before the show. For example it was quite a surprise actually to hear someone dismiss atonality so casually. He spoke in quite accessible terms when he said something along the lines of “So about a hundred years ago some people thought tonality was done, all used up – they should’ve tried telling that to the Beatles….”
He also spoke about how music was far better at inspiring emotions than communicating concepts. I can’t remember the specifics of how he phrased this, nor why it seemed more insightful than the numerous other times I must have heard people relate the same sentiments, but it definitely left me with something to think about.