Archive Page 2 of 70



Mattawamkeag, Maine

My high-school English teacher, Gary Whale, interviewed by ABC radio about the town of Yamba, NSW, Australia, available as a podcast.

image

Yamba Surf Club was founded in 1908. The photo shows Tommy Walker surfing at Yamba around 1911. (Photo by O. B. Notley, from Manly Life Saving Club Australian Surfing Museum.) The post title is a reference to an O. Henry story.




Transitions 2014

People who have passed on during 2014 whose life or works have influenced me:

  • Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) (1934- 2014), American poet
  • Charles Barsotti (1933-2014), American cartoonist
  • Sid Caesar (1922-2014), American comedian
  • Al Feldstein (1925-2014), American artist and editor of Mad magazine
  • Nadine Gordimer (1923-2014), South African writer
  • Stuart Hall (1932- 2014), British cultural theorist
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman (1967-2014), American actor
  • Rik Mayall (1955-2014), British actor and comedian
  • Tony Meale (c. 1963-2014), Australian wit
  • Maximilian Schell (1930-2014), German actor
  • Peter Sculthorpe (1929-2014), Australian composer
  • Pete Seeger (1919-2014), American folk singer
  • Horace Silver (1928-2014), American jazz pianist
  • Edward Gough Whitlam (1916-2014), Australian statesman
  • Robin Williams (1951-2014), American comedian and actor

Last year’s post is here.




A great Norwegian Messiah

Until this month, the best performance of the Messiah I ever heard was in 2011, an event I recorded here. I have now heard its equal.

This latest Messiah was performed on 19 December 2014 by The BBC Singers and the Norwegian Wind Ensemble, in an arrangement by Stian Aareskjold, under David Hill (conductor), with Fflur Wyn (soprano), Robin Blaze (counter-tenor), Samuel Boden (tenor) and Mark Stone (bass), in Temple Church, as part of Temple Winter Festival.

My heart sank when I first saw that the music had been arranged for wind-band, since groups of woodwinds, so often shrill and ineffectual, are not my favourite ensembles. But in fact this version turned out to be a wonderful arrangement and was realized in a thrilling performance. The secret, I think, was that the ensemble included a double bass and cello, some marvelous natural horns and three sackbuts, and, most spectacularly, saxophones. The solo for soprano sax in “O Thou That Tellest” played by Kristin Haagensen was just superb. That solo soared, as so did the saxes on “Surely He Hath Borne our Griefs and with His Stripes we are Healed”. A modern Briton, of course, cannot easily hear baroque music played by saxophones without thinking of Michael Nyman, and, just as with his great music, this was a truly sublime experience. The trombones in “He Trusted in God” were also inspired. Mr Aareskjold should be congratulated on this arrangement, and I hope it is soon recorded.

In addition, the performance rocked, and often literally. I was sitting as close to the orchestra as I could possibly get, and even had the two baroque trumpeters between me and the orchestra for the second half – Stian Aareskjold and Torgeir Haara, who had played angelically from the organ loft in the first half. So I could see the movement of choir and players as they performed, and there was a distinct bounce in some of the numbers, particularly in “His Yoke is Easy”. Perhaps the presence of saxes played by jazz musicians, who (unlike most classical musicians) move in time to their playing, led to this. Mr Aareskjold is the son of a trumpeter and the grandson of a trombone player (the reverse of my own ancestry), and brass players are often crossover musicians. The Church acoustics were, as usual here, superb.

For the “Hallelujah” Chorus, only part of the audience stood. Until this performance, I had never heard of the action of standing being construed as showing support for monarchical systems of government, and, frankly, such an interpretation is ridiculous. One stands for the “Hallelujah” because it is a tradition to do so, even if a tradition started by a Hanoverian monarch. Like Karl Marx, I believe traditions are the collected errors of past generations. But, like Morton Feldman, I’ve realized in adulthood that errors are not necessarily always to be avoided.

The concert is available to listen until mid January 2015, via BBC Radio 3.

And on the way out of the Middle Temple, in the offices of law-firm Gibson, Dunne & Crutcher in Temple Avenue, a late-working Friday evening team could be seen around a white board, making at least one observer envious of their camaraderie and collective efforts. How much fun it looked!




Brisbane Life 2

Customs House Brisbane elevation_tcm16-47612

New Customs House, Brisbane QLD Australia (completed 1889).




Brisbane Life

GVHotel-Brisbane

Grand View Hotel, Cleveland Point, Brisbane, QLD, Australia (established 1851).




Henry James’ advice to writers

Earlier this year, The Spectator magazine ran a competition asking for 150 words of advice to intending writers purporting to be from well-known writers.   Had he still been alive, this would have been the advice that Henry James would not have given:

The – and it is, one would venture, most appropriate to deploy the definite article in this, admittedly ambiguous, context, although many may well disagree, and so the utterance will surely not remain uncontested, but, one hopes, always unrebutted – first – because the established custom in our society, at least that part having a certain level of education and – how shall I best acknowledge this? – breeding, is to denumerate from the first numeral, for, after all, exactly how could no elements even be articulated, let alone counted? – rule – although our society, however flawed, and it is flawed, is law-governed, or rather aspires to be thus – is – and there can be none, at least none of social consequence, who could argue or question what the meaning of is is – to be – for we are dealing with the invocation of existence in reference to something primeval, inchoate, even struggling to be birth-éd – concise.”




Chickens, roosting, home

Re-reading Ian Hancock’s fine history of liberal white politics in Rhodesia reminds me that the first politician in that sad country to harass and intimidate his political opponents was not Robert Gabriel Mugabe, but Ian Douglas Smith. Smith and his Rhodesian Front party arrested, tortured, silenced, detained, and killed black opponents of white rule.  As far as I know, no white opponents were murdered, but they were arrested, deported, silenced, shouted-down in public meetings, made the victims of malicious innuendo, traduction, and defamation, and otherwise intimidated if they dared oppose RF rule.  I know at least one opponent who committed suicide rather than kill his fellow citizens in defence of white privilege.  These actions, Smith insisted, were for the maintenance of Western, Christian, values. Bah, humbug! As early as May 1965, in Smith’s first election as an incumbent prime minister, he prevented any white or black opposition politician from gaining access to state-owned media.  In contrast, Smith himself was treated with great deference and respect, despite continuing to hold racist views that would have shamed a Klansman, after Mugabe came to power in 1980.  He should have been tried as a war criminal.  In a more just world, he would have been.

The terror that Robert Mugabe has unleashed on his homeland is different in scale, perhaps, but not in kind from that of Ian Smith.  The evil that men do may well outlive them.

Reference:

Ian Hancock [1984]: White Liberals, Moderates and Radicals in Rhodesia 1953-1980. New York: St Martin’s Press.




London comedy life

JesterJester’s open-mike nights at the intimate basement home of Betsey Trotwood:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA




Mash-up culture

If one trope could define the full diversity of artistic endeavour in this Millenium period, it is the mash-up. For visual art, we have become used to collages of images, videos, fashion, and even material junk.  Ditto for sound objects and events.  In movies, Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1982) became a popular example, at least among college students. And now computer scientists are exploring mashups of programming languages, for instance, here. But not even architecture has escaped.  The increasingly widespread Bauhaus-influenced style seen in new office and apartment buildings in Europe and North America these last two decades is one of  life’s great pleasures of looking.

What distinguishes this architecture? The influence of Bauhaus and de Stijl ideas is evident in straight edges, flat roofs, vertical walls, and structures comprising rectangular prisms.  But these are not the single-box prisms of the International Style skyscrapers of 50 years ago.  Rather, each structure comprises multiple, intersecting prisms, expressing a multiplicity of interpenetrating shapes.  The result is that external walls are not flat or simply lying in a single vertical plane, but extruding or withdrawing into multiple vertical planes. The effect of this interleaving mash-up is most pleasing.

Second, external surfaces are no longer a single, uniform colour or material.   Typically, the different prisms, or the different interpenetrating vertical planes, will be made from different materials:  red-brick, white stone or concrete, grey aluminium sheets, etc.  Here, the mash-up of materials and colours is unlike most western domestic or office architecture of the past two centuries.

Here are some examples.  First is the red-brick apartment building across the street in this photo, in Madison, Wisconsin (Source: via The Dish).  Notice how the external walls do not all lie in the same vertical plane, and note the use of different coloured and perhaps even types of surfaces – red-brick, light-coloured brick, and grey slate.   There is a white trim.

Madison-Wisconsi-Dish-2014-08-24

And here is the Jaclyn Building, in Sofia Bulgaria (Architects:  Aedes Studio), again with red brick, grey and white surfaces, but this time less balanced vertically.

Jaclyn Building - Sofia Bulgaria - Aedes Studio

And here is an apartment building, The Reach, in Leeds Street, Liverpool, UK, with all the familiar elements along with a curved corner.  The only thing lacking from this building is a single tree in green leaf right up against it, to give the image a textured asymmetry of colour and line.

TheReach-LeedsStreet-Liverpool




London life – the past and the future

In the same week:

  • A meeting at Google Campus London – a superb space, a hive of activity, buzzing with energy and ideas, casual, and a wonderful vibe.
  • An invitation to a reception at the British Computer Society (BCS):  jacket and tie compulsory for all.

Here we are, one-sixth of our way into the 21st century, and the BCS is still insisting on formal dress?  Do they also require that only unmarried women be allowed to program these new-fangled machines, too?  That social, religious, and intellectual radical, Charles Babbage, would be appalled at such deference to established tradition.

You know that one of the people sitting beside you at Google Campus is the next Zuckerberg or Brin.  Maybe it is even you yourself.  Not  a single person at Google was wearing a tie or a suit, though.  I doubt anyone intent on changing the future – or even the present! – is attending events requiring formal dress, but I guess the past is not evenly distributed either.

NOTE:  An early review of the Google London Campus is here.