The Gershwin songs that inspired Finnissy

Those who have seen my last blog post will know that on Tuesday, September 27th 2016, beginning at 18:00, at the Performance Space, College Building, City University, I will be playing all of Michael Finnissy’s arrangements of Gershwin, as well as his Piano Concertos 4 and 6. The twenty-three pieces in question (plus a few early versions) are all derived from different Gershwin songs, generally from the musical comedies and revues for which he wrote some or all of the music, and also for various films.

Whilst Gershwin’s original melodies (and some derivative of other aspects of the harmony, figuration, vocal styles of particular performers) are clearly present and generally recognisable (certainly in comparison to the much more oblique Verdi Transcriptions), albeit heavily mediated, nonetheless not all of the originals are amongst Gershwin’s most famous songs, and some are relatively, though undeservedly obscure. Finnissy avoided setting any of the songs which Gershwin had himself transcribed for piano, or which had been transcribed by Percy Grainger. Here are the two sets of arrangements with the origins of each song:

MICHAEL FINNISSY, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-1988)

  1. How long has this been going on? (from the musical comedy Rosalie (1928))
  2. Things are looking up (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
  3. A foggy day in London town (from the film A Damsel in Distress (1937))
  4. Love is here to stay (from the film The Goldwyn Follies (1938))
  5. They can’t take that away from me (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
  6. Shall we dance? (from the film Shall We Dance (1937))
  7. They’re writing songs of love, but not for me (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
  8. Fidgety feet (from the musical comedy Oh, Kay! (1926))
  9. Embraceable you (from the musical comedy Girl Crazy (1930))
  10. Waiting for the sun to come out (from the musical comedy The Sweetheart Shop (1920), book and lyrics by Anne Caldwell, most music by Hugo Felix)
  11. Innocent ingénue baby (from the musical comedy Our Nell (1922))
  12. Blah, blah, blah (from the film Delicious (1931))
  13. Boy wanted (from the musical comedy A Dangerous Maid (1921))

 

MICHAEL FINNISSY, More Gershwin (1989-1990)

  1. Limehouse Nights (from the revue Morris Gest’s Midnight Whirl (1919))
  2. Wait a bit, Susie (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
  3. I’d Rather Charleston (for 1926 London production of musical comedy Lady, be Good! (1924))
  4. Isn’t it Wonderful! (from the musical comedy Primrose (1924))
  5. Nobody but You (from the musical comedy La, la Lucille (1919))
  6. Swanee (from Demi Tasse Revue, part of Capitol Revue (1919), show produced and choreographed by Ned Wayburn)
  7. Dixie Rose (song from 1921)
  8. Someone Believes in You (from the musical comedy Sweet Little Devil (1924))
  9. Nashville Nightingale (from the revue Nifties of 1923, produced by Charles B. Dillingham)

 

There was also a further arrangement composed in 1998, called Please pay some attention to me, derived from a very little-known song, ‘Pay Some Attention to Me’ (1937) which George and Ira Gershwin had originally written for the film A Damsel in Distress, but abandoned it incomplete. Finnissy obtained the manuscript for this from the late composer Richard Rodney Bennett, and first made a version for soprano and piano duet which was performed at Steyning Music Club, then transformed this into a solo piano work in which Gershwin-derived material is alternated with a type of imaginary dodecaphonic music, as an evocation of the tennis games which Gershwin played with Schoenberg at the former’s Hollywood mansion during the last year of his life.

I thought I would post links to recordings of each of the songs in the two sets as a point of reference, in the same order. Whilst most of the Finnissy works were essentially composed as a free response to the scores (including all of the second set), a few were also inspired by particular performances, including Judy Garland’s ‘But not for me’ and some of the Fred Astaire classics. The particular choices posted here are naturally a little restricted by online availability.

Sarah Vaughan singing ‘How long has this been going on?’ in a 1957 recording with Hal Mooney and his orchestra.

 

‘Things are looking up’ as sung by Fred Astaire to Joan Fontaine in the sequence in A Damsel in Distress (1937).

 

‘A foggy day in London Town’ sung by Fred Astaire in the same film.

 

Kenny Baker singing ‘Love is here to stay’ in The Goldwyn Follies (1938).

 

Fred Astaire singing ‘They can’t take that away from me’ to Ginger Rogers, from the film Shall We Dance (1937).

 

More Astaire and Ginger Rogers: the title track ‘Shall We Dance?’ from the film.

 

The timeless performance by Judy Garland of ‘But not for me’, from Girl Crazy (1943).

 

‘Fidgety Feet’ as played by the Savoy Ophreans, recorded in 1927.

 

Billie Holiday singing ‘Embraceable You’, recorded in 1944.

 

http://www.loc.gov/jukebox/recordings/detail/id/7583/

Lambert Murphy singing ‘Waiting for the sun to come out’ (1920 recording) (click on the above to go to the site to play it)

 

A more recent performance of ‘Innocent ingenue baby’ (the only version I could find online)

 

The full film Delicious (1931) – ‘Blah blah blah’ is at around 1h 16’50”.

 

And Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘Boy Wanted’.

 

Gershwin’s own piano-roll of ‘Limehouse Nights’, made in 1920.

 

‘Wait a bit, Susie’, played by the Savoy Havana Band in 1924.

 

Fred and Adele Astaire singing ‘I’d rather Charleston’, with Gershwin at the piano, recorded in London in 1926.

 

Steven Blier and Judy Kaye singing ‘Isn’t It Wonderful?’ (requires log-in to Spotify).

 

Gershwin’s 1919 piano roll of ‘Nobody but you’.

 

Al Jolson’s 1920 recording of ‘Swanee’.

 

Rick Rogers sings ‘Dixie Rose’.

I was unable to find a linkable performance of ‘Someone believes in you’, but the track can be bought as an MP3 here as part of the first recording of Sweet Little Devil.

 

‘Nashville Nightingale’, recorded in 1927 by the Piccadilly Revels Dance Band.

 

And Lena Jansson singing ‘Pay some attention to me’ (needs Spotify log-in).


Fifth Concert of Finnissy Piano Music – Piano Concertos, Gershwins – and Lecture on Experimental Music

On Tuesday September 27th, 2016, at City University, beginning at 18:00, I will be giving the fifth concert in my series of the piano music of Michael Finnissy, to celebrate the composer’s 70th birthday. This will contain Finnissy’s two piano concertos for solo piano, nos. 4 and 6, and both books of his Gershwin Arrangements (about which more can be found on this separate blog post, including links for all of the original Gershwin songs). The concert will be in two parts, an early evening concert at 18:00, and a main concert at 19:30. Places can be reserved here. The programmes are as follows:

 

Michael Finnissy at 70: The Piano Works (5)
Performance Space, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Concert 1: 18:00
Piano Concerto No. 6 for solo piano (1980-81)
Love is here to stay (first version) (1975-76)
Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88)

Finnissy - from Piano Concerto No. 6

(From Piano Concerto No. 6 (1980-81))

Finnissy - from Fidgety Feet

(from ‘Fidgety feet’, Gershwin Arrangements (1975-88))

 

Concert 2: 19:30
Please pay some attention to me (1998)
More Gershwin (1989-90)
Piano Concerto No. 4 for solo piano (1978, rev. 1996)

Finnissy - from Piano Concerto No. 4

(from Piano Concerto No. 4 (1978, rev. 1996))

The Piano Concerto No. 4 is by some measure Finnissy’s most manically virtuosic piece, and this is a rare opportunity to hear it live. I gave the world premiere of the revised version in my 1996 series of the piano work and have since performed it many times and recorded it (as I have the Piano Concerto No. 6 and all of the Gershwin Arrangements).

There will be further Finnissy concerts in London, Egham and Oxford in October, November and December, details of which I hope to confirm very soon, including a performance of the complete (four-book) Verdi Transcriptions , and the complete cycle The History of Photography in Sound, as part of a wider day at City University of events relating to Finnissy’s work.

 

Furthermore, on Wednesday October 12th, at 17:30 I will be giving a lecture postponed from earlier this year (due to industrial action).

Lecture:Ideological Constructions of ‘Experimental Music’ and Anglo-American Nationalism in the Historiography of post-1945 Music’
Room AG09, City University, College Building, St John Street, London EC1V 4PB

Abstract: Since the publication of John Cage’s essay ‘Experimental Music: Doctrine’ of 1955, a dichotomy has informed a good deal of historiography of new music between ‘avant-garde’ and ‘experimental’ musics, especially following the publication of Michael Nyman’s book Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond in 1974. Nyman very clearly portrayed ‘experimental music’ as a fundamentally Anglo-American phenomenon, allowing almost no European composers into his pantheon. This opposition was itself foreshadowed in various writings of John Cage and Morton Feldman, and since the appearance of Nyman’s book has remained a prominent ideological construct, even feeding into other oppositions such as ‘high/low’ music, ‘uptown/downtown’ or ‘modern/postmodern’.

In this paper, I trace the history and development of the concept of ‘experimental’ music in several types of literature published in Europe and North America from the 1950s until the present day: general histories of music of this period, histories of American music, the writings of Cage, Feldman and Wolff, secondary literature on these figures, and other work dealing specifically with ‘experimental music’. I argue that from the late 1950s onwards, there was such a large amount of cross-fertilisation between composers on either side of the Atlantic that the opposition is unsustainable, but its perpetuation served an ideological and nationalistic purpose. Above all, by portraying a group of British and American composers as occupying an aesthetic space at an insurmountable remove from a (simplistic) picture of a European ‘avant-garde’, this facilitated special pleading on the part of the former for programming and other purposes. Even as some writers have grudgingly conceded that a small few continental European composers might also be considered ‘experimental’, they have constructed them as utterly on the margins of a perceived European mainstream to such an extent as to question their very ‘Europeanness’. Remarkably, this opposition has also been continued by various European writers, especially in Germany.

I also argue that the rhetoric of ‘experimental music’ has some roots in mythologies of the US frontier which have informed constructions of its canonical musicians. In place of this, I stress the strong European (as well as American and Asian) provenance of Cage’s thought and work (via that of Duchamp, futurism, Dada, the Bauhaus, Joyce, Satie, Varèse, Webern and Meister Eckhardt), and suggest that Feldman’s romantic, anti-rational individualism can be viewed not only in a clear lineage from nineteenth century European aesthetic thought (not least in Russia), but also in stark opposition to Cage’s anti-subjectivism. And finally I paraphrase Cage’s preface to Lecture on the Weather (1975) to argue that the music of the U.S.A. should be seen as just one part of the musical world, no more, no less.

 

I hope all with an interest in this subject will want to come along.


Video of debate ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists Now?’ and responses

The video of the full debate which took place at City University on June 1st, 2016 ‘Are we all Ethnomusicologists Now?’, is now online for all to view.

Participants were Amanda Bayley (Bath Spa University), Tore Tvarnø Lind (Copenhagen University), Laudan Nooshin (City University), Ian Pace (City University) and Michael Spitzer (Liverpool University). The debate was chaired by Alexander Lingas (City University).

The following are some other important links: first, reports and responses to the debate by Rachel Cunniffe and Ben Smith

I have published my own position statement online here.

Nooshin’s position statement and slides can be found here.

And here is a further blog post of mine giving the full context of Paul Harper-Scott’s remarks cited during the debate, and some other reflections.

(A full response from me to Nooshin’s position statement will follow soon).

This debate has generated much discussion more widely, and hopefully will continue to do so. Many thanks to everyone for taking part.


Culture in the EU (8): Estonia

 

[Because of other commitments, it has not been possible to post more in this series for a little while, but I am endeavouring to complete as many as possible before the referendum on Thursday. For now, I will mostly give links and text without so much commentary, which may follow later]

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Estonia

[With profound thanks to Helen Harjak for various suggestions of Estonian culture to investigate]

A major figure in the post-war Estonian literary scene was the writer and poet Bernard Kangro (1910-1994), who founded the cultural journal Tulimuld, which ran from 1950 to 1993. A selection of his quasi-surrealist poems is available in English translation, called Earthbound.

Kangro - Earthbound

Here is Kangro’s poem, ‘Late Flowers, Wind, Sea, Sand and Fish’, translated Ivar Ivask.

Wind wilts
late flowers,
tiny blossoms
at edge of bay.

Don’t blame the breeze!
The sea’s there
thundering
upon the sand.

Wave above,
sand blow.
Fish laugh
and skip away.

Another poem can be read here.

Another surrealist Estonian writer was the poet and sound poet Ilmar Laaban (1921-2000), who lived in Sweden from 1944. Here is Laaban’s poem ‘Silence and Violence’, as translated by Richard Adang and Andres Ehin

Silence and Violence

Long ago on a windy hunt
a horrible happiness abruptly bloomed in me
and the landscape congealed only its pungent
blood rustling through my veins the gun smoked
incessantly the hound did not bark
as it gazed at the clouds tightening
into meat and skinning over with fur
streaming tangled by despair

Because on the horizon a stout tower appeared
which swayed slowly between emptiness
and the overflowing clamor of hideous joy
like a gigantic latrine
the sweaty sun mottled Earth and Welkin
until suddenly it was eclipsed by cold
ravens of freedom who carried my eyes
and fresh images like flags in their bills

At twilight which was only flashes
as the sea is but the triumph of the drowned
my hunting jacket was freed of its heavy
web of lust I simply ran forward
along the mute moor coming across
animals with shining coals for hearts
I shot them so many that the road home
was finally choked with grass

Long ago I seized the empty beaker
and faced its inflexible challenge
and ever since this endless draught rinses –
my gun-barrel mouth which sparkles
in the starry sky and when it sees
some too-warm nebula defiling cosmic night
it proclaims ponderously and clearly
I DENY DEATH BUT AFFIRM ICE

Here is Laaban’s sound-text composition Ciel Inamputable (1969)

 

Amongst the most renowned Estonian writers of the post-war era are Jann Kaplinski (b. 1941), who drew widely upon mythology and Asian thought, and Jaan Kross (1920-2007), who spent an eight-year period as a prisoner in Soviet labour camps. Here is an obituary of Kross in The Guardian. Kross’s novels often had historical settings, but served as allegories of the contemporary situation under Soviet communism. His four volume sequence of novels Kolme katku vahel/Between Three Plagues (1970-1976) told the story of the sixteenth-century chronicler Balthasar Russow, who wrote the chronicle of the Livovian War, detailing his experience of the effects upon the peasantry from which he came.

Kross - The Ropewalker

 

A sparse form of poetry, reflecting post-1968 disillusionment and disenchantment, can be found in the work of Paul-Eerik Rummo (b. 1942), who also went on to become an Estonian politician. A selection of his poems can be read in translation here; here is one, ‘Crooning’.

Crooning

I am so fleeting
sighed the girl to the sea
oh, what can I do
you are eternal

I am transparent like you
sighed the girl to the window
oh, what can I do
my heart’s in full view

I open like you
sighed the girl to the door
oh, what can I do
the sun steps in

I am so small
sighed the girl to the sun
oh, what can I do
you are so large

I am so foolish
sighed the girl to the wise man
oh, what can I do
everyone is so wise

More on Rummo can be read here.

Poet and author Tõnu Õnnepalu (b. 1962), who has also published under the names Emil Tode and Anton Nigov. His novel Piiririik/Border State (1993), a short novel about the overwhelming and sometimes destructive effect of Western culture upon a Baltic citizen, comes highly recommended; more can be read about it here.

Onnepalu - Border State

Also, do check out the poet, short story writer and librettist Maarja Kangro (b. 1973). Here is her poem ‘The Butterfly of No Return’, as translated by Ilmar Lehtpere. A further selection of poems, with various translations, can be read here.

THE BUTTERFLY OF NO RETURN

‘again’ is a big word.
slowly and quickly
again

again men rejoice on the radio
that they are on the right road
and talk of the cyclical nature of time

a proper road goes in circles, even I
recognize young skin on the beach and
”et si tu n’existais pas,” is sung loudly

men on the radio speak of the connection
of everything to everything else:  ringingly
one says butterfly effect – I lift my wings

a good sleep gives you cyclical time
for after such a sleep you think you’re revived
and again

I flutter my wing
the good men on the radio start coughing
I flap my wings more amply and a wind comes up

the men cough wheezing, the airwaves revolt
ships sink and swimmers drown, the final sleep
comes stormy and grey

let’s think of a word that never was before
was just now
and now isn’t anymore

***

There’s a whining and ringing in the air.
You talk of a lout.
I’m the very one.  Through me you’ll never
reach the deeper levels or the heights,
the flash of pure being that you believe
you see in the village drunkard
or the poet gone mad.
When he drinks, secrets come to light.
When I get legless, I attack.
Or I drift off, stinking.  My gaze is dark.
I give off my exhaust in your face.
I want lovely meat that won‘t shame me.  I’m afraid of losing.
Words anger me.  I bellow.
I watch the telly, don’t read, can’t write properly.
Rubbish is left behind me.
I am rubbish. I’m the one you’re talking about.
– Ah no, what are you going on about, it’s me.
– Ah no, it’s me.
– No, I’m the one.
– No, I am.  Forgive me.
The whole road is full of us, and our fragile souls
are ringing.  Listen, how quietly, dear girls and boys.

One of the first major groups of Estonian artists to look beyond Soviet orthodoxy was ANK-64, who were responsible for resurrecting cubist and constructivist work from earlier in the century. One of the leading figures in this movement was Jüri Arrak (b. 1936), whose work employs cartoon-like imagery and surrealist ideas; other important artists who were involved with this movement include Kristiina Kaasik (b. 1943) and Marju Musu (1941-1980)

Arrak - Lennuk 6-20

Jüri Arrak, Lennuk 6/20 (1972)

 

Kaasik - Vaade treppu

Kristiina Kaasik, Vaade trepilt (1974)

 

Mutsu - Early in the Morning

Marju Mutsu, Early in the Morning (1970)

In 1967, artist Kaljo Põllu (1934-2010) created another group called the Visarid, which disseminated much information on Western artistic movements and ideas, not least relating to pop art and graphic design.

Pollu - Mangutuba

Kaljo Põllu, Mängutuba (1967)

 

Pollu - Kullatja

Kaljo Põllu, Kuulataja (Vaikus) (1968)

 

Pollu - Keegi

Kaljo Põllu, Keegi (1987)

A starker type of art came from the SOUP-69 group, also inspired by pop art and other movements. Amongst the leading figures here were Leonhard Lapin (b. 1947) and Ando Keskküla (b. 1950).

 

Lapin - Woman Machine

Leonhard Lapin, Woman-Machine X (1974)

 

Keskkula - Finish

Ando Keskküla, Finish (1979).

Also part of this movement was the architect Vilen Künnapu (b. 1948), who would later engage with post-modern architectural ideas.

Künnapu - Office of the State Farm October

 

Kunnapu - Snail tower

Vilen Künnapu, Snail Tower, Tartu (2008)

 

Other notable modern Estonian architects include Raine Karp (b. 1939) and Riina Altmäe (b. 1949), whose best known work is the brutalist Tallinn City Concert Hall (Linnahall) (1976-1980), shown here from various angles.

 

The Estonian painter Raoul Kurvitz (b. 1961) formed a group called Rühm T in 1986, whose work (which included performance art as much as painting) was described by them as ‘Cold Expressionism’. Here is Kurvitz’s painting Chapelle (1999):

Kurvitz - Chapelle

And here is a picture of Kurvitz’s ‘Reconstructed Environment’ Maelstrom (1999/2013):

Kurvitz - Maelstrom

An interview with Kurvitz can be read here, while more information on his work can be read here.

One artist inhabiting the wilder realms of video and performance art is Jaan Toomik (b. 1961), some of whose work was inspired by the Viennese Actionists, and involves various types of degradation to the body, use of bodily fluids, and so on, but also clear political themes, as well as a recurrent concert with the nature of communication. An interview with Toomik can be read here, and here are some videos of his work.

 

 

 

Another is Ene-Liis Semper (b. 1969), whose work focuses on the body, and especially the mouth and tongue. More can be read on her work here, not least her notorious Licked Room (2000), in which she literally licked a room clean with her tongue.

Here are some samples of Semper’s work:

 

 

Semper also formed the theatre group NO99 together with Tiit Ojasoo. Here is a video about their work:

 

This is one of NO99’s best-known works, NO83 How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, inspired by Joseph Beuys.

 

Another important figure in radical contemporary Estonian theatre (about which more can be read here) is writer and director Mati Unt (b. 1944). Here is a video of his production Hot (2002).

 

Best-known of Estonian composers is undoubtedly Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), whose works such as Fratres (1977), Tabula Rasa (1977), Spiegel im Spiegel (1978), and St John Passion (1982) appealed to certain Western ideals of ‘spiritualism’ and won world renown as a result. But not all of Pärt’s work is like this; the cello concerto Pro et contra (1966) is clearly indebted to aspects of a Western avant-garde language, including collage-like techniques, whilst in Credo (1968) for choir, piano and orchestra, Pärt distorts and defamiliarises Bach’s C major Prelude from Das wohltempierte Klavier, Book 1.

 

 

 

 

Here are two examples of Pärt’s later work:

 

 

 

Another composer of the same generation whose work Kuldar Sink (1942-1995), who began engaging with some modernist traditions, including the neo-classicism, the Second Viennese School, aleatoric composition, and even happenings (Sink, like Pärt, and ANK-64, was linked to an Estonian Fluxus movement in the late 1960s).

 

 

In later work, before his death in a house fire, Sink turned to Central Asian folk musics and drastic simplification.

 

 

 

A younger composer who also traversed a path from the avant-garde to modalism and postminimalism (from the early 1980s onwards) was Lepo Sumera (1950-2000)

Lepo Sumera, Pantomiim/Pantomime (1981)

 

Lepo Sumera, Senza metro (1986)

 

Lepo Sumera, Tähed / Stars for soprano and piano (2000)

In the  fascinating work of Jüri Reinvere (b. 1971), however, one finds a particular type of fusion or interplay of modernist, aleatoric, and romantic elements to varying degrees.

 

Jüri Reinvere, t.i.m.e. (2005)

 

Jüri Reinvere, Requiem (2009), excerpt.

Helena Tulve (b. 1972) combines modal elements with a wider musical language influenced in part by musique spectrale, and in some ways reminiscent of the work of Kaija Saariaho.

 

A much more pared-down music can be found in the work of composer and harpist Liis Viira (b. 1983), notorious for her Reverbeebi/Baby Symphony (2015), in which babies’ voices were combined with instruments.

 

The group Ensemble U have garnered attention through their creation of an ‘audience orchestra’ in which the audience members control much of the musical decision making.

 

Estonian cinema is generally thought to have come into its own in the 1960s. One of film which generated a fair degree of international interest was Arvo Kruusement’s Kevade/Spring (1969), based on a popular novel by Oskar Luts, a coming-of-age story set at the end of the 19th century. Here is a section of it, alas without subtitles, but which enables one to sample the visual qualities.

 

 

(the rest of the film can be viewed on the same YouTube channel)

Here is a film from the previous year, Kaljo Kiisk’s Hullumeelsus/Madness (1968)

 

And here is Leida Laius’s Kõrboja peremees (1979)

 

Of post-independence Estonian cinema, required viewing includes Hardi Volmer’s parody of the Russian Revolution, Minu Leninid/All My Lenins (1997), here available with English subtitles.

 

There is also an important tradition of Estonian animated film, in which the leading figure is Priit Pärn (b. 1946). Here is his  Ein murual/Breakfast on the Grass (1983, released 1986)

 

Here is a clip from Pärn’s 1992 film Hotel E:

Many other of Pärn’s animations can be viewed online.

An article on the evolution of Estonian contemporary dance post-independence can be read here. Here is a clip of the work of Fine 5 Dance Theatre, founded in 1992:

 

One can read about the United Dancers of Zuga here (unfortunately I have not found a good clip of their work).

 


Quilting Points and Ethnomusicology

In my last post following the ethnomusicology debate at City University, I gave links to two responses to the event, and also to the position statement by Laudan Nooshin [ADDENDUM: see also the position statement by Michael Spitzer). I will post a more detailed reply to this latter soon, believing it to be disingenuous in various ways and in others to confirm a lot of what I was arguing. But here I just wanted to post a longer section from one text cited briefly by Nooshin, J.P.E. Harper-Scott’s The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism: Revolution, Reaction, and William Walton (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). Here I should not hide the fact that Paul Harper-Scott is a friend and someone with whom I have had many discussions about these types of issues, as I have with many other musicologists and others. A good deal of Harper-Scott’s work entails revisionist views of composers and aspects of nineteenth- and twentieth-century history, from a perspective broadly sympathetic to a modernist aesthetic and firmly opposed to the values of late capitalism, from which context he can re-assess figures such as Elgar and Walton, never merely in an over-generalised fashion, but backed up by analytical detail. Quilting Points is a remarkable book with an ambitious scope; I certainly do have some reservations, not least the employment of aspects of Freudian psychoanalysis (a discipline for which I have little time), and some other theorists about whom I have serious doubts, but it is endlessly stimulating and also extremely clearly written, with incisive points springing out from almost every page. Harper-Scott, as a real expert on the music on which he writes, can move from musical detail to social and political context extraordinarily convincingly without relying merely on vague allusions, in a manner which I think many of those whose work I have criticised in my earlier piece would do well to study.

This book is one of the very few which includes a critique of ethnomusicology from an ‘outsider”s position (i.e. one who does not identify as an ethnomusicologist), and I value it especially for that reason. For too long ethnomusicology has sought to present itself as a self-regulating enterprise (often, in my experience, in a jealously defensive fashion), and the lack of proper external scrutiny and critique has in my view enabled some very poor work to sail through PhD examination, peer review, and so on,when ratified by those with an obvious vested interest in so doing. This passage in Harper-Scott’s book is part of a wider critique of various recent Anglophone musicological trends (not least the ‘new musicology’ and the work of Richard Taruskin), many of which he links to a xenophobic Anglo-American variety of late capitalism. I want to quote in full the section ‘Ethnomusicology and pop musicology as class enemies’. This I found very impressive, not least because of my own long-term disdain for Western intellectuals’ romanticising and idealising of massively unequal and reactionary social and cultural practices just because they happen to be in the third world (a legacy of Maoism, an ideology which enforces a conformity to romantic ideals in murderous fashion), an issue touched upon in the commentary by Ben Smith on the debate, and which lies at the heart of a remarkable book I have recently been reading, Leigh Phillips’ Austerity Ecology and the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defence of Growth, Progress, Industry and Stuff (Winchester: Zero Books, 2014).

I was also deeply drawn to Harper-Scott’s description of his own class background and readiness to entertain the possibility that a good deal of the liberal grandstanding to be found amongst ethnomusicologists, popular music scholars and new musicologists primarily relates to a conscience-soothing exercise for sons and daughters of privilege feeling a bit guilty for that very reason (just as the Indian Marxist writer Aijaz Ahmad has pointed out how the narrative bequeathed by Edward Said suits the interests of the sons and daughters of the ruling classes in formerly colonised nations, for they definitely need a narrative which takes class out of the equation – see the bottom of this post for the passage in question). I come from a background not so different to Harper-Scott (indeed today our parents live less than a mile from each other in Hartlepool, though are not personally acquainted). I grew up in West Park, Hartlepool, to a reasonably comfortable family, though the circumstances in which my parents themselves grew up were very different – my father was born into deep poverty in 1931, and during the Depression he and his family would be moving house every three months or so in a desperate trek for work; his father found some construction on a huge cooling tower together with a friend during this time and through inappropriate safety regulations watched his friend plunge to his death. Both parents left school at 16; I was the first in this strand of the family to go to university (both my younger sister and I went to Oxford), which naturally was a source of great pride. I learned about music and much else in large measure through the resources available at my local library, before going to music school at age 10. My background is far from typical for a musician (even less typical today than it was in some of the post-war era in the UK), and I have had to fight for it in the face of snobbery and privilege. As such, I feel nothing other than total and utter contempt for the patronising nonsense presented by academics, including some sociologists and ethnomusicologists, who would have denied either Harper-Scott or me the chances we had, by trying to make musical education more ‘relevant’ and ‘inclusive’. One of my greatest joys is when I am able to introduce students of all types of background to many types of music, literature, visual arts, complex ideas, and so on, which they would have been unlikely to encounter otherwise (and will be unlikely to in many university departments if some have their way), and to hear their own individual responses (often very different from my own), and help them gain tools for developing and framing these ideas – and also push them to read and listen widely! – such as facilitates critical perspectives which are based upon detail and real knowledge rather than generalities and stereotypes. In short I want them to have the opportunities I had; this is one of my main reasons for wanting to teach in a university, and I would like to think I achieve this reasonably well. One reason for embarking on a critique of some varieties of ethnomusicology (as well as being shocked by what passed for scholarship in many cases) is the identification of a group of scholars essentially working to deny students much of what I have described, instead using them and curricula as vehicles to flatter those very ethnomusicologists, under the auspices of spurious rhetoric of diversity and relevance, or turning wider deficiencies in British education into virtues. These are worrying trends which can be found in many places.

One factor which Harper-Scott identifies very precisely is the limitations of the empirical mentality of those people who patronise the lower classes (this is one reason why a truly progressive left is in short supply in the empiricist Anglophone world): they can only imagine what has been, can be experienced, not what might be, and thus to what various members of social groups might aspire. In short, they treat the lower classes as another variety of noble savages, just as (as documented in David Cannadine’s Ornamentalism: How the British saw their Empire (London: Allen Lane, 2001)) there is a long history in British society of portraying the poor using similar concepts and categories as used to dehumanise colonial subjects of non-Caucasian ethnicities.

Harper-Scott also touches on another point, in which context he cites Slavoj Žižek, specifically how self-styled Western multiculturalists are happy to tolerate an idealised ‘Other’, and ignore an actual ‘Other’ which might not correspond to many of their preconceptions. As a sceptic about multiculturalism myself (influenced by the thinking of Kenan Malik on this subject), I consider this to be a symptom of an ideology – certainly common amongst plenty of ethnomusicologists and anthropologists – which fetishes culture (especially local cultures) and is blind to the very universal workings of global capitalism and its effects upon peoples and cultures. As Terry Eagleton put it in his pungent critique of Gayatri Spivak (Terry Eagleton, ‘In the Gaudy Supermarket, London Review of Books 21/10 (May 13, 1999), pp. 3-6):

Much post-colonial writing behaves as though the relations between the North and South of the globe were primarily a ‘cultural’ affair, thus allowing literary types to muscle in on rather more weighty matters than insect imagery in the later James. Spivak, by contrast, has a proper scorn for such ‘culturalism’, even if she shares a good many of its assumptions. She does not make the mistake of imagining that an essay on the figure of the woman in A Passage to India is inherently more threatening to the transnational corporations than an inquiry into Thackeray’s use of the semi-colon. The relations between North and South are not primarily about discourse, language or identity but about armaments, commodities, exploitation, migrant labour, debt and drugs; and this study boldly addresses the economic realities which too many post-colonial critics culturalise away.

A ‘culturalist’ view, on the other hand, can lead to some of the most crazy conclusions, such as Germaine Greer’s defence of female genital mutilation, or Julia Kristeva’s of Chinese foot-binding, presented as some beguiling alternative model of feminine physical demeanour (in Des Chinoises (Paris: Editions des femmes, 1974), available in English as About Chinese Women, translated Anita Barrows (London: Marion Boyars, 1977)).

Anyhow, here is ‘Ethnomusicology and pop musicology as class enemies’. Below this is a passage from the conclusion from which the quote by Nooshin comes (‘According to ethnomusicology, the cultures of the non-western world should take intellectual precedence, and those of us who spend our time focusing on Western [classical] music should feel ashamed of ourselves (there is quite an irony in the fact that ethnomusicology, in the UK at least, increasingly attempts to colonize the Western-music syllabuses of our universities’). Nooshin may not ‘recognise the ethnomusicology described here and would be interested to know what it is based on’; I am sure Harper-Scott could provide plenty of examples, as could I (including some of Nooshin’s own work). As regards syllabuses, I wonder how the faculty at the School of Oriental and African Studies would feel if they were made to have a few Western art music historians/analysts on their faculties, who could then insist that the ethnomusicology core curricula must in part be fashioned around their activities and specific interests and expertise? But it is important to see this in the wider context of the critique presented in the book.

I would like to encourage others not simply to adhere to my view on this text, but submit their own thoughts and responses to this and the wider issues, whatever those may be, though keeping such responses focused on the specifics in question and refraining from personal attacks.

 

4.12 Ethnomusicology and pop musicology as class enemies

‘Henry Stobart’s study of music and potato farming in the Bolivian Andes can be taken as representative of this risk as it manifests itself in ethnomusicology.74 It is certainly not representative of ethnomusicology as a whole, though there are plenty of other ethnomusicologists like Stobart. Nor is the foil I shall use later (some work by Martin Stokes) the only example of an alternative ethnomusicological approach. The exact proportion of these kinds of studies in ethnomusicology is not germane to the theoretical use I am putting this material, which is to demonstrate the possibility for the obscure subject to emerge in this subdiscipline. My arguments may be met by one of three arguments academics habitually wheel out when their field is under attack: the ‘non-articulation’ argument, the ‘one rogue reporter’ argument, and the ‘you can’t read’ argument. The non-articulation argument says that ‘the individual or group you direct your criticisms at is of course profoundly aware of the issues you raise, even if they do not articulate them’. I am at a loss to see why we are to believe that someone has an articulable understanding of anything, if they do not evidence it, particularly when (a) it harms them not to articulate it and (b) there is no bar to them articulating it. The only possible reason for remaining silent in such circumstances is that they must be consciously deciding, perhaps for reasons of intellectual masochism, to bare themselves to attack – in which case they will enjoy what I have to say. The ‘one rogue reporter’ argument (made famous by News International in defending charges of phone hacking at its newspapers; it was plausible until further evidence revealed the alleged abuses to be more or less systemic) says ‘yes, of course, the target you have chosen here is guilty as charged, and if what you say were generally true across the subdiscipline then of course I would agree with you – but this individual is alone in doing this, and as a whole the subdiscipline is sound’. The answer to this is first that Stobart is certainly not alone, and second that even if he were, the existence of even ‘one rogue reporter’ would be sufficient evidence of the possibility of the obscure subject presenting itself within ethnomusicology in terms of the formal theory I am elaborating in this chapter. The third argument, ‘you can’t read’, which implies that the critic fails to understand the subtlety or intellectual context of a position in such a way as to undermine their criticism, is the last resort, and requires rather a lot of support if the mud is to stick. But it is at least the basis of a meaningful discussion, since it requires the rearticulation of the criticized position that explains why the criticism is wrong. I would welcome that.

In Stobart’s study, non-Western music is not only declared to be interesting, to a sympathetic and accustomed Western ear, but – and here a simplistic liberal move that is widespread but not wholly permeating in these disciplines shines through – also to evince an essential authenticity in its production and consumption that is lost, to our great discredit and disadvantage, in the West (this by way of a pseudo-critique of capitalism).75 The tacit contention is that we would all do rather better (morally, not intellectually) as musicologists if we turn away from our Eurocentric focus on Beethoven and so on. The fractured body of modernist works is therefore denied as a focus for study (¬c) and the emancipatory truth claim of modernism is denied (¬ε) and replaced by a new ‘emancipation’ for the West’s neglected Other (in this case, the potato farmers of Bolivia).

Stobart’s essay follows an exemplary democratic-materialist logic. First, six lines into the essay, he reminds us that ‘music is not the universal language that many [implicitly bad] people have often claimed it to be’, paralleling the logic that ‘there are only bodies and languages’, nothing universal in musical experience, but only a multiplicity of musical languages and persons who (re)create and experience it: this is true so far as it goes, but banal. Second, in the very next sentence, he declares with beautiful capitalist ingenuousness: ‘this does not prevent us deriving great pleasure and inspiration from the music of other cultures’.76 This statement has a double edge. On the one hand we are to submit to the superego injunction to enjoy this music: and if it sounds unlovely to an unaccustomed Western ear, Stobart proves his aretē (and his moral worth) by his capacity to love it.77 But on the other hand, the intellectual and material poverty of the farmers whose music this is should inspire us. This is the democratic-materialist manifestation of the (ironically!) disavowed Rousseauian ‘noble savage’. The authenticity of the Bolivian farmers casts our privileged Western consumerism into shameful relief. The paradoxical solution, of course, is for us to buy into the Bolivian culture, by visiting, buying CDs of the music, and so on.

The tale Stobart tells of these farmers’ use of music in the different seasons of the potato-growing year is unquestionably interesting. ‘The pinkillu flutes and kitarra of the growing season are said to call the clouds and rain up from the valleys and to help the crops to grow. In turn the dry season wauqu and siku panpipes blow the clouds away causing clear skies and frosts.’78 The farmers believe it to be vital that they play the right tunes, because both their diet and their livelihood depend utterly on the success of the potato harvest.79 Stobart is careful, early in the essay, to report that the connexion between certain instruments and tunes only has a direct climatic effect according to the beliefs of the locals, but it is essential to the ideological trajectory of the essay that by the end, all the qualifications are removed, and the music does, in all actuality cause the the right weather conditions to produce the successful potato harvest. 80 Here is the kernel of the ‘inspiration’ we are to draw from the Bolivians: their closeness to their natural world has been lost to us, and it is through their musical practices that we see it. We may not return to the subsistence farming they endure (though we may dabble in a 1970s, Good Life-style small-holding lifestyle, cultivate an allotment, or have grubby-looking organic vegetables delivered from local farmers in weekly boxes), but through their music we can approach their perception of the world, and see that ours is neither the only one (which is banally true) nor one that we could hope to universalize (which is wrong, as I shall argue, and is in fact a quintessential manifestation of the obscure subject).

I do not for a moment question the need for the West to rethink its relation to nature, and the positive component of the Bolivian experience here has a basic appeal (though the need to prevent environmental devastation is scarcely a realization that requires the reports from Bolivia to bring it to Western attention). But a nastier failing is also present here: the consequences of a refusal to speak from a universal moral position.81 One of the dances the farmers perform while they think they are aiding the growth of the potatoes involves the circling and ‘trapping’ of the male flute players by a group of women. Stobart interprets the symbolism: ‘it would seem that the dancers represent the soil or mother earth which protects, but also imprisons and ultimately destroys the parent seed potato when it has given birth to the next generation’.82 Considering this comment in the light of Stobart’s final words reveals a rich subtext. For my hosts the potato is no mundane staple, but is an enchanting and magical being whose life is seen in many ways to parallel and enable their own. Potatoes must be loved and cared for, just like human children. This sentiment is expressed through music, song, poetry and dance which, in turn, are some of the ultimate expressions of human feeling. For the people of this highland hamlet, at least, it would seem that the potato must count among the most important organizing principles of musical performance. Or rather, might it be more accurate to say that music is one of the primary expressions of the potato?83

It is easy to itemize the components of this ideological message:

• subsistence farming is not a burden, a stressful hand-to-mouth existence, but a genuine spiritual wonder that rich Westerners might in some ways envy;
• potatoes are like children, and (implicitly) children are one of the greatest things on earth, and the procreation of them is or should be the generic pursuit of all humankind;
• women, whose role is clarified symbolically in the Bolivian dance, are meant to cultivate and destroy: they should as surely be rearing children as the earth produces the potatoes.

This message of the musical and farming practices of these Bolivians is clearly both anti-feminist and pro-natalist in its focus on the reproductive duty of women. And yet, in line with the democratic-materialist refusal to acknowledge a universal moral position, this is never once questioned in Stobart’s essay. I would not accuse him of sympathy with this position, but his intellectual commitment here prevents him from raising an objection (this is the mystery of the ‘non-articulation’ argument). Not even a disarming remark that this focus on women as mere wombs and (even worse) deadly ensnarers and destroyers surfaces in the text, and since by the end of the essay we could be forgiven for thinking that the author believes, with his hosts, that the right tunes bring the right weather, Stobart forces himself into the invidious position of failing to address the unpalatable parts of the ideology of the Bolivian farmers. Are we supposed to tolerate this misogyny merely because it is an expression of an Other who we – nasty imperialist Europeans – are morally forbidden to criticize? This is of course only a single essay, and in other cases, where the misogyny is even more extreme, we might encounter criticism of the Other – but far from demonstrating the consistency of the scholar’s multiculturalist position, that of course reveals its Eurocentric basis. Such a critical form of liberal democratic materialism

tolerates the Other in so far as it is not the real Other, but the aseptic Other of premodern ecological wisdom, fascinating rites, and so on – the moment one is dealing with the real Other (say, of clitoridectomy, of women compelled to wear the veil, of torturing enemies to death . . . ), with the way the Other regulates the specificity of its jouissance, tolerance stops. Significantly, the same multiculturalists who oppose Eurocentrism also, as a rule, oppose the death penalty, dismissing it as a remainder of primitive barbaric customs of vengeance – here, their hidden true Eurocentrism becomes visible.84

Stobart’s silence on the misogyny of the Bolivians is the flip-side of this refusal to tolerate more obnoxious prejudices.85 But his message in the study of the potato farmers is also profoundly, and I am sure unintentionally, neoliberal in an economic sense, which concerns me even more. Where Stobart romanticizes his hosts’ relation to their ‘enchanting and magical’ potatoes, the materialist-dialectical response is to ask fundamental questions:

• Must we tolerate a global economic order in which it is possible that people can live in this subsistence manner?
• Can nothing be done to improve the education of these people, to give them proper scientific understanding of agriculture, so that they can take proper steps to ensure the success of the potato crop on which their entire life depends instead of just playing music and hoping for the best?

In the face of such an ethnographic study, the materialist-dialectical response could never be: well, these people live in this manner, and who am I to judge? The proper response from the Left has to be to universalize from its position of economic and material advantage, to look at the appalling material conditions of these people and, rather than to cherish and preserve (draw ‘inspiration’ from) this way of life, to strive towards the creation of a new world in which it is simply not possible for human beings to live in such precarious economic and dietary conditions. Instead of valorizing forms of life such as this, the response of ethnomusicologists who undertake fieldwork in these situations should be to encourage the rest of the West to make the systemic political changes that are required to lift these people out of their situation, to emancipate rather than to romanticize.

The error in not taking this step is redoubled by the way such relatively rich liberal Westerners use their enthusiasm for these appalling ways of life – which is tantamount to complicity in economic violence against their various Others – as a stick with which to beat their Leftist counterparts on moral grounds. Those Leftists who would like to see the end of these ways of life are of course damned for being Eurocentric imperialist monsters. The cause of this purblindness, I suggest, may be the class experience of the scholars in question. It appears to some members of the congenital middle classes that what the less fortunate majority in their own country or the rest of the world requires is respect and tolerance, rather than a means of escape. To suggest that the poor may wish to escape their poverty is, on this view, to demean them, when the reality is of course that the way to love the poor best is to stop them being poor – in theoretical terms, to break the connexion between their economic situation and their subjective existence. It is precisely this connexion that democratic-materialist musicology sets up by confusing the situation of people with the people in the situation.

As I noted first in Chapter 1, I speak from a radically different experiential position from virtually any academic I know. I used intellect and a set of cultural interests as a means of escape from the doom of living out my life in one of the greatest centres of unemployment and poverty in the country, the colliery-dominated east coast of County Durham, and from the myriad limitations inbred in a family whose education never (before me) progressed beyond the age of 16. I can therefore personally corroborate one of Žižek’s more pertinent observations about the tension between (a) the liberal bourgeoisie’s essentializing conjoining of the poor with their culture and (b) the equal and opposite non-identification of the poor with the material limitations of their existence. Here the critique should be broadened back out from ethnomusicology to include also pop musicology, thus focusing attention on the principal organs of the obscure subject that attempts to occult the truth claims of modernism in music. For just as ethnomusicology can have the unintended effect of commending the cultural practices of economically subject external Others, the pop musicologist (or, in other disciplines, the scholar of mass-market literature, art, and so on) can make a virtue of the cultural practices of the lower social orders, to valorize their educational and economic position and make an inextricable link between it and the people who occupy it. The assumption is that since the majority of people think and behave in certain ways, they must want to do so, and the duty of the privileged elite is therefore to learn to love what the masses love, to hide their privileged cultural forms away. What happens in both these cases is that the scholar fails to perceive the fact that the Other is split in itself – that members of another culture, far from simply identifying with their customs, can acquire a distance towards them and revolt against them – in such cases, reference to the ‘Western’ notion of universal human rights can well serve as the catalyst which sets in motion an authentic protest against the constraints of one’s own culture.86

Proof, if it were needed, was again seen in the Arab Spring of 2011, where far from identifying with their otherized position (‘Arabs seem naturally disposed towards dictatorships or Islamic fundamentalism; we can’t expect them to want our Western democratic values’), the people of Egypt and elsewhere rose up against their governments in pursuit of precisely the democratic freedoms and human rights that their luckier brothers and sisters in the West enjoy. Here was the universal human striving for emancipation, for political freedom, emerging autochthonously from the Other. The suffering of the Bolivian farmers, or of children educated in failing comprehensive schools during the miners’ strike in County Durham, may be worlds away from the immediately life-threatening reality of an attempted revolution, but that does not deprecate them as matters of concern.

Of course ethnomusicology is not blind to this danger of occultation. Resisting this line of thought from within both ethnomusicology and pop musicology are Martin Stokes’s studies of Turkish arabesk, popular music from the 1970s onwards whose critique of official nationalist ideology turns specifically on questions of identity. In arabesk we find another faithful response to the emancipatory truth claims of modernism. Its singers are mostly ‘migrants from a remote and barbarised Turkish “orient”, the Arab speaking and Kurdish regions of south east Anatolia, who occupy the urban spaces between squatter town and metropolitan centres’; they are also often tranvestites and transexuals.87 Far from presenting a uniform and transcendent national Body (C), these internal cultural, economic, and sexual Others more properly epitomize the ‘image of an urban lumpen proletariat dislocated and alienated through labour migration’.88 The quality of the dissenting voices in this music might be more subdued than those of protestors on Tahrir Square – the music ‘calls on listeners to pour another glass of raki, light another cigarette, and curse fate and the world’89 – but it is clearly recognizable. This dissenting quality led to its condemnation by the Turkish state as ‘foreign’ music, its filigree melodic decorations too pan-Arab, the influence of Egyptian film music (Egyptian films were banned in 1948) too strong and obvious, its ‘orientalist sophistication in the use of sitars and rhythmic techniques learned from Indian tabla playing’ and its melodic dependence on Middle Eastern modal theory (makam) both profoundly corrupting, the latter as a remnant of the culturally dangerous pan-Islamic civilization that was an external limit for the young Turkish state.90 Perhaps more treacherous still in political terms, ‘arabesk has pointed to migration and class issues as lying at the heart of Turkey’s social and economic problems’.91

Arabesk singers neither collapse their identities into one imposed by the official ideology (and understood by Westerners to be constitutive of their character as Other) nor, on the other hand, seem to proclaim a wholly universal conception of common humanity that would eradicate the particular nature of their status as internal Other. In short, arabesk neither over-particularizes nor over-universalizes, which is what demonstrates its potential as a resurrection of the universal emancipatory truth of modernism in the particular world of 1970s–90s Turkish experience. This move, essential to maintain the focus on the (disavowed) rift in all human societies, is possible only when scholars refuse to too closely identify people with a particular cultural identity; the alternative is to give the mythical impression of unity which is essential to the ‘all in this together’ ideology of the economic slash-and-burn policies dreamt up by the ruling elite in response to the international capitalist crisis of 2008 onwards.

Where that move is lacking in studies of popular and non-Western music, we therefore witness the declaration of a transcendent body, C, a body of uniformly ‘national’ or at least communal music whose practitioners uniformly compose that body (a body which is both complete and different from us, and cannot be admitted to the general, universal, fractured body, c). The Turkish state broadcasting organization, TRT, proposes just such a ‘transcendence through the characterisation of regional difference in terms of a centralised style of musical performance emphasising the role of the bağlama (a longnecked lute) orchestra, “correct” Turkish pronunciation and vocal techniques associated with the microphone and recording studio rather than unamplified singing’, and so on.92 This appeal to transcendence is just one form of the democratic-materialist insistence that no universalist position may be taken in the face of a legion of (equally transcendent) Others, and consequently that the only morally responsible intellectual possibility is to produce endlessly expanding banal lists of difference: peoples, pop bands, potatoes. And under the democratic-materialist heading for the body C we naturally also, aesthetically rather than (obviously) politically, find the insistence, in the art market, that art’s function is essentially to shock – but not in a truly shocking way, only in a way that will demonstrate the moral superiority of the middle-class consumers of it. In the proclamation of this transcendent body the democratic materialists attempt to drown out any Leftists who might say that Emin’s art is trash, or that the poor of the West or the rest of the world can find an escape route by expanding their minds beyond the narrow cultural experiences they have been exposed to. An internal Other myself, I have nevertheless more than once (by a member of the class that historically subjugated my own within my own country) been accused of ‘imperialism’ for having such a heretical thought in the democratic-materialist world. Once more we can use a Badiouian matheme to summarize the formal structure of this occultation, one which, at its (sadly common) worst, is shrouded in a holier-than-thou sententiousness that threatens to chase politically valuable study of the Western canon – and its focus on the centuries-long unfolding of the project of emancipatory modernity – into oblivion.

C [democratic materialism]⇒(¬ε [no antagonism]⇒¬c [no non-mass art])
————————————————————————–
π [modernist art as ideology critique]
(4.6)

Could there be anything more distasteful than the comfortable bourgeois who wears the clothes and listens to the music of the poor, while living in perfect material security in Highgate, sending his or her children to a high performing local state school whose catchment area prevents the poor from attending, and pointing an accusing finger at new members of their class, escapees from poverty, who want to open up rather than restrict access to the emancipatory potential of humankind’s greatest intellectual and artistic products? For the last and longest rhetorical question of the chapter I reserve my most thunderous and angry no.

A truly Leftist, even communist, musicology extends the emancipatory potential of modernism – in its faithful and reactive forms – to all, not just to the congenital middle classes who have benefited from it and now, under the conditions of postmodern late capitalism, wish to discountenance it for the sake of adopting unreflective multicultural attitudes that are calculated to demonstrate their superior difference from the lower classes. Yet as we have seen, even their obscure subjective response is motivated, albeit negatively, by the eternal communist present that the third sequence of communism will resurrect for a new day. What remains is to discern some of the signs of this resurrection, which can be seized on even in reactionary music – to reveal the political potential of musical works that have traditionally been seen to be regressive.’

(pp. 186-196)

 

[74] Henry Stobart, ‘Flourishing Horns and Enchanted Tubers: Music and Potatoes in Highland Bolivia’, British Journal of Ethnomusicology 3 (1994): 35–48, doi:10.1080/09681229408567224.

[75] Pop musicology falls foul of the presumption of authenticity too: for a critique see
Elizabeth Eva Leach, ‘Vicars of “Wannabe”: Authenticity and the Spice Girls’, Popular Music 20, no. 2 (2001): 134–67, doi:10.1017/S0261143001001386. The particular form that this error takes in studies of the Western canon is of course in its focus on the authority of the composer. The difference here is, however, that that authenticity is not then taken to extend across the entire range of performers, listeners, and writers who engage with the music. The classic critique of this is Richard Taruskin, ‘The Poietic Fallacy’, Musical Times 145, no. 1886 (2004): 7–34, doi:10.2307/4149092.

[76] Stobart, ‘Flourishing Horns and Enchanted Tubers’, 35.

[77] Here for a moment his aesthetic superiority overlaps with that of the dyed-in-the-wool modernist who is in the rare minority of superbeings capable of enjoying serialism.

[78] Stobart, ‘Flourishing Horns and Enchanted Tubers’, 37.

[79] Ibid., 36.

[80] Cf. the quotations given above with the summary of the research in ibid., 45 and 46.

[81] The irony that liberal thinking of this sort does speak from a universal and Eurocentric moral position in its insistence on universal human rights and the empowerment of the meek is of course seldom if ever acknowledged.

[82] Stobart, ‘Flourishing Horns and Enchanted Tubers’, 43; cf. the return to this symbolism, now expressed as a ‘uterine embrace’, in the summary at ibid., 47.

[83] Stobart, ‘Flourishing Horns and Enchanted Tubers’, 47.

[84] Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, 262–3.

[85] Žižek says of this that ‘the tolerant multiculturalist liberal sometimes tolerates even the most brutal violations of human rights, or is at least reluctant to condemn them, afraid of being accused of imposing one’s own values on to the Other’ (ibid., 263).

[86] Žižek, The Ticklish Subject, 263–4.

[87] Martin Stokes, ‘Islam, the Turkish State and Arabesk’, Popular Music 11, no. 2 (1992): 213, doi:10.1017/S026114300000502X.

[88] Martin Stokes, The Arabesk Debate: Music and Musicians in Modern Turkey, Oxford Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press, 1992), 108.

[89] Ibid., 1.

[90] Stokes, ‘Islam, the Turkish State and Arabesk’, 215.

[91] Ibid., 217.

[92] Ibid. This is treated at length in Stokes, The Arabesk Debate. At the same time as they objected, the Turkish state broadcasters of course paradoxically promoted arabesk singers when it suited the capitalist ideology of the state: ‘The lifestyles of the stars, often described in promotional material as the Kings, Queens, Princes and Princesses of arabesk, suggest possibilities of social mobility which are quite unrealistic for most of the population, and obfuscate the processes of class stratification which are continuing to emerge in modern Turkey’ (ibid., 221).

 

From ‘Afterword: what to do?’

‘The ideological frame of modern musicology, democratic materialism, is seldom brought into the clearing. The revolution of the ‘new musicology’ has bequeathed a proliferating collection of subdisciplines, all of which inevitably vie for position, most of them picking the easy target of ‘elitist’, ‘Eurocentric’, faithful modernism. I share many of my colleagues’ suspicion of the masculinism of some of this music’s champions but am concerned by the political risk posed by attacks on it – and through it, in scholarship on pop music, film music, and particularly ethnomusicology, an attack on Western art music as a whole. Even among musicologists who still work on Western art music there is a tendency to equate canonicity of the major composers of the first two communist sequences (Beethoven, Wagner, the faithful modernists, et al.) with political configurations in the twentieth century’s second communist sequence – essentially, ‘totalitarianism’ understood in the broadest terms.

All attacks on this tradition share the banality of the democratic-materialist mantra: there are only bodies and languages, there is no truth. According to ethnomusicology, the cultures of the non-Western world should take intellectual precedence, and those of us who spend our time focusing on Western music should feel ashamed of ourselves (there is quite an irony in the fact that ethnomusicology, in the UK at least, increasingly attempts to colonize the Western-music syllabuses of our universities); according to pop or film-music scholarship, the ‘democratic’ (read: successfully marketized) forms of music should be examined as a way of valorizing the economically underprivileged (the problem here, as I explained in Chapter 4, is the facile judgement that such listeners have an essential bond with this music, which cannot be broken, and from which they can certainly never dissent); while according to scholars of the Western ‘periphery’, including Britain, Scandinavia, and Russia, there is a danger – sometimes baldly stated as a Nazi danger – of Germanophilia in perpetuating the nineteenth- and early twentieth-century musical canon, and so on. The banality inheres in the conclusion of the mantra: there is no truth. Of course I defend the interests of scholars, musicians, and listeners in all of these traditions, and no ethically responsible musicology could ever sideline or – which is what many people seem to fear – hope to obliterate them: it goes without saying, and therefore need not be said, that the different bodies and languages of the world require fair treatment. But failing to give that fair treatment is precisely the danger that faithful and reactive modernism protects us from, and which these intellectual approaches I have just enumerated – in the form of the obscure subject – are at a particular risk of falling into.1 I have absolutely no desire to reduce the quantity of research published in any of these fields, but as they come increasingly to dominate the discipline it is vital that a strong and politically radical response comes from scholars of modernism. I strongly suggest that modernism continues to offer the best scholarly locus for an emancipatory musicology to develop, though I am delighted when, as in Stokes’s work (cited in Chapter 4), I see it elsewhere.

The neoliberal global economic system may be in its last phase. Its ideology has forced its tentacles into the heart of the universities, the home of those minds – students and their teachers – that are capable of formulating a principled and effective resistance. Academic departments are closing in the UK at an alarming rate and academic research is being pushed into ever more narrowly conceived furrows of ideologically approved ‘impact’. Academics understandably  flick jaundiced eyes at the craven managers who increasingly run universities as businesses, exploiting intellectual property for profit’s sake and imposing a neoliberal quilting point in which students show up as consumers
and degrees as commodities that can be sold for better jobs. But it is not only the managers who are colluding with the democratic materialist ideology that threatens the preservation of the commons – the ideology is vibrant in much of the universities’ scholarship too.’

(pp. 251-252)

 

From Aijaz Ahmad, ‘Orientalism and After: Ambivalence and Metropolitan Location in the Work of Edward Said’, in In Theory: Nations, Classes, Literatures (London: Verso, 1992).

For in one range of formulations, Said’s denunciations of the whole of Western civilization is as extreme and uncompromising as Foucault’s denunciations of the Western episteme or Derrida’s denunciations of the transhistorical Logos; nothing, nothing at all, exists outside epistemic Power, logocentric Thought, Orientalist Discourse- no classes, no gender, not even history; no site of resistance, no accumulated projects of human liberation, since all is Repetition with Difference, all is corruption – specifically Western corruption – and Orientalism always remains the same, only more so with the linear accumulations of time. The Manichaean edge of these visions – Derridean, Foucauldian, Saidian – is quite worthy of Nietzsche himself.

But this vision, in the case of Orientalism, gains further authority from the way it panders to the most sentimental, the most extreme forms of Third-Worldist nationalism. The book says nothing, of course, about any fault of our own, but anything we ourselves could remember – the bloodbath we conducted at the time of Partition, let us say – simply pales in comparison with this other Power which has victimized us and inferiorized us for two thousand five hundred years or more. So uncompromising is this book in its Third-Worldist passion that Marxism itself, which has historically given such sustenance to so many of the anti-imperialist movements of our time, can be dismissed, breezily, as a child of Orientalism and an accomplice of British colonialism. How comforting such visions of one’s own primal and permanent innocence are one can well imagine, because given what actually goes on in our countries, we do need a great deal of comforting.

But it was-not within the so-called ‘Third World’ that the book first appeared. Its global authority is in fact inseparable from the authority of those in the dominant sectors of the metropolitan intelligentsia who first bestowed upon it the status of a modern classic; while, perhaps paradoxically, its most passionate following in the metropolitan countries is within those sectors of the university intelligentsia which either originate in the ethnic minorities or affiliate themselves ideologically with the academic sections of those minorities. In Chapter 2 above, I discussed the connection between the emergence of the category ‘Third World Literature’ and the key changes that occurred in the patterns of immigration from the late 1960s onwards, with substantial numbers of Asian immigrants being based now among the petty-bourgeois and techno-managerial strata. Those who came as graduate students and then joined the faculties, especially in the Humanities and the Social Sciences, tended to come from upper classes in their home countries. In the process of relocating themselves in the metropolitan countries, they needed documents of their assertion, proof that they had always been oppressed. Books that connected oppression with class were not very useful, because they neither came from the working class nor were intending to join that class in their new country. Those who said that majority of the populations in Africa and Asia certainly suffered from colonialism, but that there were also those who benefited from it, were useless, because many of the new professionals who were part of this immigration themselves came from those other families, those other classes, which had been the beneficiaries; Said would pose this question of the beneficiaries of colonialism in very peculiar ways in his invocation of Ranajit Guha, as we shall soon see.

Among critiques that needed to be jettisoned, or at least greatly modified, were the Marxist ones, because Marxists had this habit of speaking about classes, even in Asia and Africa. What the upwardly mobile professionals in this new immigration needed were narratives of oppression that would get them preferential treatment, reserved jobs, higher salaries in the social position they already occupied: namely, as middle-class professionals, mostly male. For such purposes Orientalism was the perfect narrative. When, only slightly later, enough women found themselves in that same position, the category of the ‘Third World female subaltern’ was found highly serviceable. I might add that this latter category is probably not very usable inside India, but the kind of discourse Orientalism assembles certainly has its uses. Communalism, for example, can now be laid entirely at the doors of Orientalism and colonial construction; caste itself can be portrayed as a fabrication primarily of the Population Surveys and Census Reports- Ronald Inden literally does this, 32 and Professor Partha Chatterjee seems poised to do so .. 33 Colonialism is now held responsible nor only for its own cruelties but, conveniently enough, for ours too. Meanwhile, within the metropolitan countries, the emphasis on immigration was continually to strengthen. I have written on one aspect of it in relation to Salman Rushdie, but it is worth mentioning that the same theme surfaces with very major emphases in Said’s latest essays, with far-reaching consequences for his own earlier positions, as we shall see.

The perspectives inaugurated in Orientalism served, in the social self-consciousness
and professional assertion of the middle-class immigrant and the ‘ethnic’ intellectual, roughly the same function as the theoretical category of ‘Third World Literature’, arising at roughly the same time, was also to serve. One in fact presumed the other, and between the two the circle was neatly closed. If Orientalism was devoted to demonstrating the bad faith and imperial oppression of all European knowledges, beyond time and history, ‘Third World Literature’ was to be the narrative of authenticity, the counter-canon of truth, good faith, liberation itself. Like the bad faith of European knowledge, the counter-canon of ‘Third World Literature’ had no boundaries – neither of space nor of time, of culture nor of class; a Senegalese novel, a Chinese short story, a song from medieval India, could all be read into the same archive: it was all ‘Third World’. Marx was an ‘Orientalist’ because he was European, but a Tagore novel, patently canonical and hegemonizing inside the Indian cultural context, could be taught in the syllabi of ‘Third World Literature’ as a marginal, non-canonical text, counterposed against ‘Europe’. The homogenizing sweep was evident in both cases, and if cultural nationalism was the overtly flaunted insignia, invocation of ‘race’ was barely below the surface – not just with respect to the United States, which would be logical, but with reference to human history as such. Thus, if ‘Orientalism’ was initially posited as something .of an original ontological flaw in the European psyche, Said was eventually to declare: ‘in the relationship between the ruler and the ruled in the imperial or colonial or racial sense, race takes precedence over both class and gender I have always felt that the problem of emphasis and relative importance took precedence over the need to establish one’s feminist credentials.’34 That contemptuous phrase, ‘establish one’s feminist credentials’, takes care of gender quite definitively, as imperialism itself is collapsed into a ‘racial sense’. In a Nietzschean world, virtually anything is possible.

(pp. 195-197).

[32] See my ‘Between Orientalism and Historicism: Anthropological Knowledge of lndia’
Studies in History vol. 7, no. 1, (New Delhi 1991) for detailed comments on Ronald lnden’s
Imagining India (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991).

[33] See Panha Chatterjee, ‘Caste and Subaltern Consciousness’, in Ranjic Guha, ed.,
Subaltern Studies, vol. VI (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989).

[34] ‘Media, Margins and Modernity: Raymond Williams and Edward Said’, Appendix to
Raymond Williams, The Politics of Modernism: Against the New Conformists, (London: Verso,
1989), pp. 196-7 The transcript of that public discussion- and, indeed, the whole book ends on that sentence about ‘feminist credentials’


Culture in the EU (7): Denmark

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Denmark

Much read in Denmark is the tragic writer Tove Ditlevsen (1917-1976), whose work drew heavily upon an unhappy and materially and emotionally deprived life, culminating in her suicide in 1976. Here is a detailed article on Ditlevsen’s life and work, and here is an article on Ditlevsen’s 1967 autobiographical books Barndom/Childhood and Ungdom/Youth, which were translated into English as Early Spring.

Ditlevsen - Early Spring

 

I hope very much to be able soon to read Ditlevsen’s novel Ansigterne/The Faces (1968), about a disturbed children’s author with suicidal urges, tormented by her housekeeper and her family, haunted by hallucinatory visions, but ultimately finding her way towards peace through her art . Reviews of this can be read here  and here.

One of Ditlevsen’s best-known poems is ‘Blinkende Lygter’/’Flickering Lights’, a translation of which I have copied from here:

In childhood’s long night, both dim and dark
there are small twinkling lights that burn bright
like traces memory’s left there as sparks
while the heart freezes so and takes flight.

It’s here that your pathless love shines clear,
once lost in nights misty and chill,
and all that you’ve since loved and suffered most dear
has boundaries set by the will.

The first-felt sorrow’s a frail, thin light
like a tear that quivers in space;
that sorrow alone your heart will hold tight
when all others time has effaced.

High as a star on a night as in spring
your childhood’s first happiness burns,
you sought for it later, only to cling
to late-summer shadow’s swift turns.

Your faith you took with you to great extremes,
the first and the last to your cost,
in the dark now somewhere it surely gleams,
and there is no more to be lost.

And someone or other draws near to you but
will never quite manage to know you,
for beneath those small lights your life has been put,
since when everyone must forego you.

One of the most profilic of modern Danish writers was Klaus Rifbjerg (b. 1931), whose output included over 100 novels and poetry, short stories, plays, etc, often involving formal and linguistic experimentation. His novel Anna (jeg) Anna/Anna (I) Anna, which was translated in 1982, is the story of a diplomat’s wife suffering neurosis, who elopes with a hippie to a new Bohemian world, but discovers the fragmented and multifaceted nature of her character in the process. His best-known novel, Den kroniske uskyld/Terminal Innocence (1958) has recently appeared in English translation. An enticing review can be read here.

 

Rifbjerg - Terminal Innocence

 

Poet Inger Christensen (1935-2009) explored formal devices, some drawn from mathematics, to defamiliarise language and reveal other underlying patterns. This obituary gives more detail about her work.

Inger Christensen, from alphabet (1981), (as translated here)

1

apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist

2

bracken exists; and blackberries, blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen

3

cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum

4

doves exist, dreamers, and dolls;
killers exist, and doves, and doves;
haze, dioxin, and days; days
exist, days and death; and poems
exist; poems, days, death

5

early fall exists; aftertaste, afterthought;
seclusion and angels exist;
widows and elk exist; every
detail exists; memory, memory’s light;
afterglow exists; oaks, elms,
junipers, sameness, loneliness exist;
eider ducks, spiders, and vinegar
exist, and the future, the future

Christensen - Alphabet
Inger Christensen, from Letter in April: IV (as translated here)
Already on the street
with our money clutched
in our hands,
and the world is a white laundry,
where we are boiled and wrung
and dried and ironed,
and smoothed down
and forsaken
we sweep
back
in children’s dreams
of chains and jail
and the heartfelt sigh
of liberation
and in the spark trails
of feelings
the fire eater
the cigarette swallower
come
to light
and we pay
and distance ourselves
with laughter.

 

Two internationally well-known elder Danish composers, both somewhat aloof from the wider Western avant-garde, but no less original, are Ib Nørholm (b. 1931) and Per Nørgård (b. 1932). Little of Nørholm’s early work, which dabbled with serialism, graphic notation, aleatory devices, and the use of mecahnical toys, is available to listen to online, but one can read about it here. From the late 1960s, Nørholm would become associated with the so-called ‘New Simplicity’, in opposition to certain manifestations of the avant-garde, and gradualy moved back towards a form of Nordic expression with roots in the earlier symphonic tradition, whilst maintaining a degree of stylistic pluralism, as in the Third Symphony, A Day’s Nightmare (1973).

The trajectory of Nørgård’s compositional development was not dissimilar. Coming from an early influence of Sibelius, with whom he corresponded. His particular combination of microtonally-inflected exploration of natural harmonics, and textural composition, have led to his being cited as a forerunner of musique spectrale. These qualities can be heard in his Iris (1966-1967):

In his symphonic work, Nørgård demonstrated the possibility of some reconciliation of his earlier compositional achievements with the symphonic tradition to which he was earlier drawn, as demonstrated in the Third Symphony of 1975.

 

A composer associated with considerably more radical tendencies was Henning Christiansen (1932-2008) who was associated with the Fluxus movement and worked closely with Joseph Beuys. Here is a detailed article on his work, while a range of Christiansen’s work can be listened to here. Here is the score of his Audience Eve (1964), published in the Fluxus Performance Workbook:

Audience Eve

In the evening, during the performances:
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
after 5 min, turn off the light
continue through the whole program.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
If possible, then fade the light in and out,
as beautiful as possible. [like the sea]

Here is a selection of Christiansen’s remarkable and disorienting work:

Henning Christiansen, Op. 50: Requiem of Art (1970)

 

Henning Christiansen/Bjørm Nørgaard, The Horse Sacrifice (1970)

 

Henning Christiansen, Symphony Natura Op. 170 (1985)

 

Henning Christiansen, Abschiedssymphonie, Op. 177 (1988)

A leading figure in electronic music in Denmark was Else Marie Pade (1924-2016), a former resistance fighter who worked with Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and also visited Darmstadt on various occasions.

 

Gunner Møller Pedersen (b. 1943) is best known a film composer, but also wrote a number of self-standing electronic works.

 

 

Of the generation born after the war, Hans Abrahamsen (b. 1950) , a student of  Nørgård and Pelle Gudmundsen-Holmgreen (b. 1932), was also viewed as part of the ‘new Simplicity’, in reaction against the avant-garde, though as with German composer Wolfgang Rihm, associated with the same movement, time has revealed this work to entail a modification and shift of emphasis within a broad European modernist tradition rather than a clean break as one might find amongst Anglo-American neo-romantics, say.

 

 

Hans Abrahamsen, Schnee (2006-2008)

But I cannot recommend highly enough that all listen to the extraordinarily beautiful and intimate music of Bent Sørensen (b. 1958). Here are several contrasting works.

 

Bent Sørensen, The Shadows of Silence (2003-2004)

Bent Sørensen, Serenidad (2011-2012).

 

And here is a trailer for a selection of Sørensen’s vocal works.

 

An important younger figure is composer and sound artist Sandra Boss (b. 1984), whose website is here. Here is a track from her 2015 album Perfekt Termisk.

Here is a sample from her sound installation En Håndfuld Støv (Copenhagen, 2014).

A range of Boss’s other work can be heard here.

One of the leading Danish free jazz musicians was saxophonist John Martin Tchicai (1936-2012), who worked with John Coltrane and Albert Ayler.

 

And the following are a range of varied Danish bands and other artists:

The classic Danish film director Carl Theodor Dreyer (1889-1968) continued to make films after the war up until his death, maintaining his austere, stark and redemptive visions, as in Ordet/The Word (1955):

 

 

Otherwise, though, post-war Danish cinema was mostly dominated by light comedies and from the 1960s films rather obsessed with sex , such as Annelise Meineche’s Sytten (1965).

 

Lars von Trier (b. 1956) is best known for his work with the Dogme 95 collective and international hits such as Breaking the Waves (1996), Dancer in the Dark (2000) and Dogville (2003), but already had a profound effect upon the Danish film scene from the early 1980s, as with his stylised and world-weary crime film The Element of Crime (1984), made soon after graduating from the National Film School of Denmark. This can be viewed complete here.

 

Followed by Gabriel Axel’s Babettes gæstebud/Babette’s Feast (1987)

A group of film directors came together in Copenhagen in spring 1995 to issue their new Dogme manifesto, entitled ‘The Vow of Chastity’, whereby directors would swear to adhere to ten principles, mostly avoiding any type of overtly stylised cinema, in favour of a new type of exaggerated realism (which became every bit as much of a ‘style’ as any other), concentrating on personal and emotional matters. The first film of the Dogme movement was Thomas Vinterberg’s Festen/The Celebration (1998), a distressing story of a family reunion for a father’s 60th birthday, at which his son reveals how he used to sexually abuse both him and his sister when young.

 

A full list of the 35 Dogme films, some made in Italy, the USA, Chile and elsewhere as well as Denmark, can be viewed here.

As regards animation, the 1988 Den offentlige røst/The Public Voice  by Lejf Marcussen (1936-2013) is something of a classic.

 

One of the more renowned Danish painters, Richard Mortensen (1910-1993), drew upon the work of Kandinsky and Malevich:

Mortensen 1

Richard Mortensen, Garches-Suresnes (1947)

Mortensen 2

Richard Mortensen, Opus 11 (1980-81)

More individual was Asger Jorn (1914-1973), a detailed article on whose work can be read here (see also this article). Jorn had been involved with the communist resistance during the occupation of Denmark and continued into the Danish Communist Party, though he soon broke with them, finding the experience constraining. Jorn met Guy Debord in 1954, and from 1957 to 1961 was associated with the Situationist International.

 

Jorn - Stalingrad

Asger Jorn, Stalingrad, No-Man’s Land, or the Mad Laughter of Courage (1957-1960, 1967, 1972).

Jorn - The Disquieting Duckling

Asger Jorn, The Disquieting Duckling (1959)

John and Debord

Asger Jorn and Guy Debord, Fin de Copenhagen (1957)

A quite different type of approach is found in the work of Merete Barker (b. 1944), whose paintings draw upon sketches and drawings from many travels, and also produced computer-generated data landscapes. Her website is here; see in particular some essays by Barker and others on her work here.

Barker - My own Town

Meret Barker, Byen under, byen over/My Own Town (1989)

 

Barker - The Landscape Underground

Merete Barker, The Landscape Underground (2012)

The Danish artist Michael Elmgreen (b. 1961) works together with Norwegian artist Ingar Dragset to produce defamiliarising artworks employing or resembling familiar objects, as a form of social critique. Their website is here

Elmgreen and Dragset - Powerless Structures, Fig. 11

Elmgreen & Dragset, Powerless Structures, Fig. 11 (1997) 

 

Elmgreen and Dragset - The Future

Elmgreen & Dragset, The Future (2014)

Sculptor Jens Galschiøt (b. 1954) is most renowned for his Pillar of Shame project, erecting sculptures as types of guerilla actions, to protest against violations of human rights.

Pillar of Shame - Hong Kong

Jens Galschiøt, Pillar of Shame, Hong Kong (1996) – painted red in 2008 by democracy activists.

Still the most renowned of modern Danish architects is high modernist functionalist Arno Jacobsen (1902-1971):

 

Rodovoer Town Hall

Arno Jacobsen, Rødovre Town Hall (1952-1956)

 

St Catherine's College, Oxford

Arno Jacobsen, St Catherine’s College, Oxford (1964-1966)

Later architects have applied many similar modernist principles but in more eclectic and adventurous fashion.

P1070590

Bjarke Ingels/PLOT, VM Houses, Copenhagen (2005)

 

Royal Danish Playhouse

Lundgaard & Tranberg, Royal Danish Playhouse (2008)

Furniture design also has a remarkable modernist tradition in Denmark, not least through the work of Hans Jørgensen Wegner (1914-2007) and Jacobsen.

 

Wegner Shell Chair

Wegner Shell Chair

 

Jacobsen Shell Sofa

Jacobsen Shell Sofa

Physical theatre is a well-established art in Denmark, following the founding of The Commedia School in 1978. The group Neander was founded in 1998 by Kristján Ingimarsson, and have won world renown.

 

A more recent physical theatre company is the Copenhagen-based Out of Balanz, founded in 2006 whose website is here. Stressing themes of community in the face of consumerism or death, here is a trailer for their work Next Door.

 

And here is a page on their Georgette va au Supermarche (2007), about a young woman’s odyssey into the supermarket.

The largest modern dance company in Denmark is the Danish Dance Theatre, founded in 1981. Here are a few clips from their work:

A different approach is to be found in the work of the Aarhus company Granhøj Dans, founded after the meeting in 1989 of dance Palle Granhøj and set designer Per Victor, who developed the ‘Obstruction Technique’, in which one dancer is physically held back by another, but still has to carry out as much of their intended phrase as possible, in the process creating a new phrase.

 


Culture in the EU (6): Czech Republic

As a solid supporter of the Remain campaign, in the 18 days from June 5th until the European Union Referendum on June 23rd, I am posting a selection of links and other information about music, literature, film, visual art, dance, architecture, etc., from each of the EU nations.

I make no claims to be comprehensive in any case, and my choices undoubtedly will reflect my own aesthetic interests – but I believe that may be more interesting than a rather anonymous selection of simply the most prominent artists or art. All work comes from the post-1945 era, the period during which the EU has come to fruition, but may (and often will) include work which dates from before the nations in question joined the EU. As I am writing in English, where translations exist I will use these. Time does not allow for detailed commentaries, I just throw these selections out there in the hope others will be interested in the extraordinary range of culture which has emerged from citizens of the EU.

 

Czech Republic

The Czech Republic was part of the single state of Czechoslovakia from 1918 until 1993. Through the course of this blog (and in the later one on Slovakia), I will refer to the area which became the Czech Republic by that name from 1945 onwards, without neglecting the effect of the unified state.

Czech cinema was relatively conventional in the 1950s, but this changed dramatically by the end of the decade, and led to an overwhelming wave of creative imagination from then onwards. One of the first films to win an international audience, is the notorious Ostře sledované vlaky/Closely Watched Trains (1966) by Jiří Menzel (b. 1938).

 

 

Soon afterwards followed the Czechoslovkian New Wave, most active in the 1960s and early 1970s, centered around the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU). Characteristic of this movement is Věra Chytilová’s abstract, elemental and fantastical tale of two teenage girls undergoing a Candide-like odyssey: Sedmikrásky/Daisies (1966)

 

Few other major New Wave films are available online, but here are a few clips, trailers and features:

 

The Czech Republic has one of the most distinctive animation cultures in Eastern Europe. Jiří Trnka’s film Ruka/The Hand (1965) is thought by many to be amongst the greatest animations of all time.

 

The most internationally well-known of Czech animators is Jan Švankmajer (b. 1934). Here are three contrasting works.

 

This is a scene from his 1988 film Alice:

 

The complete works of a slightly younger figure, Jiri Barta (b. 1948), can be viewed here:

 

A brief overview of modern Czech literature can be read here. Highly significant in the establishment of an underground literary scene immediately after the war was the poet, writer and painter Jiří Kolář (1914-2002), a quite detailed account of whom can be read here. Kolář was a key member of Skupina 42a group of modernist artists founded in 1942, but disbanded in 1948. The writer Elinor S. Miller has written in detail about the relationships between Kolář’s work and that of French nouveau roman author Michel Butor.

Kolar - The End of Words

A selection of Kolar’s poems can be read here.

Kolar, ‘No One Ever’

Draw a square on the floor
a circle
a triangle
and a trapezium
Place into each
an everyday item
a book
a gadget
into the last arrange yourself
– test out all sixteen combinations
which can be formed
Afterwards switch on the radio
get undressed
attach to your naked body
the book as well as the gadget
clear your mind of thoughts
remain calm for several seconds and say:
“I loved you since the first moment I saw you…”
Listen attentively and after a while reply:
“I hated you since the first moment I saw you…”
Listen attentively and after a while continue:
“No one has ever love and hated you so much as I have.”

Equally central to post-war Czech literary history is the Nobel Prize winning poet Jaroslav Seifert (1901-1986). Some translations of Seifert’s poems can be read at one site here, and another here.

Seifert, ‘Fragment of a Letter’

All night rain lashed the windows.
I couldn’t go to sleep.
So I switched on the light
and wrote a letter.

If love could fly,
as of course it can’t,
and didn’t so often stay close to the ground,
it would be delightful to be enveloped
in its breeze.

But like infuriated bees
jealous kisses swarm down upon
the sweetness of the female body
and an impatient hand grasps
whatever it can reach,
and desire does not flag.
Even death might be without terror
at the moment of exultation.

But who has ever calculated
how much love goes
into one pair of open arms!

Letters to women
I always sent by pigeon post.
My conscience is clear.
I never entrusted them to sparrowhawks
or goshawks.

Under my pen the verses dance no longer
and like a tear in the corner of an eye
the word hangs back.
And all my life, at its end,
is now only a fast journey on a train:

I’m standing by the window of the carriage
and day after day
speeds back into yesterday
to join the black mists of sorrow.
At times I helplessly catch hold
of the emergency brake.

Perhaps I shall once more catch sight
of a woman’s smile,
trapped like a torn-off flower
on the lashes of her eyes.
Perhaps I may still be allowed
to send those eyes at least one kiss
before they’re lost to me in the dark.

Perhaps once more I shall even see
a slender ankle
chiselled like a gem
out of warm tenderness,
so that I might once more
half choke with longing.

How much is there that man must leave behind
as the train inexorably approaches
Lethe Station
with its plantations of shimmering asphodels
amidst whose perfume everything is forgotten.
Including human love.

That is the final stop:
the train goes no further.

Seifert’s collection Odlevdni zvonu/The Casting of Bells (1967) has been available to read in English for some time.

Seifert - The Casting of Bells

Dissident novelist Pavel Kohout (b. 1928), in his novel White Book, created a terrifying narrative developing Kafka and the Theatre of the Abusrd, relating (though not explicitly) to the craziness of communism, especially following the crushing of the Prague Spring. A short review can be read here.

Kohout - White Book

Some of the most disturbing work of writer Ota Pavel (1930-1973) (whose Jewish father and two brothers were incarcerated in camps during the Nazi era) was written when he was coming to terms with his own bipolar disorder and facing a break down. A book of unsettling but memorable tales from Pavel’s childhood was published just after his death as How I Came to Know Fish.

Pavel - How I Came to Know Fish

 

A younger, but no less important, Czech writer is former underground poet and songwriter Jáchym Topol (b. 1962). Some of Topol’s work writes outwards from his experience as a journalist; elsewhere he considers sites saturated by memory, such as the camp of Terezin, during the post-Nazi era, in his The Devil’s Workshop. Here is an important interview with Topol.

A wide range of new developments ensued in Czech theatre throughout the post-war period. One of the most innovative developments was black-light theatre, founded by Jiri Srnec in 1961, which played on the illusion to the eye which encounters black on black. Srnec founded the Černé divadlo Jiřího Srnce.

 

Here is a sample of Laterna Magika, founded in 1958, whose work mixes projected images with live stage production:

 

No-one could ignore the work of Václav Havel (1936-2011), who went onto become the first President of post-communist Czechoslovakia, then of the Czech Republic.

Here is a site devoted to Havel’s work, and here is a selection of it:

 

 

Puppet theatre is also a prominent feature in the post-war Czech Republic, not least in the theatre Divaldo Minor, dedicated to such work:

 

The theatre of Divadlo Alfréd ve dvoře focuses on motion and the body as much as words:

 

Here are some of the most notable contemporary Czech composers:

 

Miloslav Kabeláč (1908-1979):

Zbyněk Vostřák (1920-1985):

Jarmil Burghauser (1921-1997):

 

A link to earlier musical worlds, with a certain displaced sensibility, can be found in the music of Jan Klusák (b. 1934):

 

Rudolf Růžíčka (b. 1941)

Some more samples of Růžíčka’s electroacoustic music can be listened to here.

Several periodicals appeared in the 1960s devoted to experimental music, including Konfrontace (1968-1970) and Nové cesty hudby (1964, 1970).

A whole album devoted to music from the Czech Electronic Music Studios, founded in 1967, specifically from composers Vostřák, Miloslav Ištvan, and Václav Kučera, can be listened to here:

 

The Czech artistic avant-garde flourished between the wars, but was largely neutered during the communist period. A range of highly iconoclastic artists have come to prominence in this later period; here are a few examples.

Zbyněk Baladrán  (b. 1973)

Dead Reckoning (2014)

Ján Mančuška (1972-2011) – website here:

http://janmancuska.com/en/page/show/id/143/title/video

a middle aged woman (2009)

From Invisible (2011)

Here are some of the most arresting examples of post-war Czech architecture:

Jested TV Tower

Karel Hubáček, Jested TV Tower (1963-1983).

 

CKD Building

Alena Šrámková, ČKD building (1983).

 

Church at Cernocise

Zdeněk Fránek, Church in Černošice (2010)

Modern dance was an ill-developed genre in the Czech Republic until the fall of communism. But the range of new work which has emerged since then is extraordinary. One very important director of recent decades is Mirka Eliášová (b. 1975), who has done much of her important work with children.

 

Here is the group DOT504 and their work of dance-theatre Collective Loss of Memory (a wide range of other work from this group can be found online):

 

In the work of dance company TOW with their director Petra Hauerová (b. 1975), one encounters a mixture of dance with elaborate use of lasers and animation:

 

Here is a longer sample of TOW’s work.

And here is a sample from the group Farm in the Cave, who were established in 2001:

Farm in the Cave, The Song of an Emigrant (2007).