August 30, 2013

James Davies: Instruments of empire

Filed under: hearing landscape critically,music — ABRAXAS @ 7:03 pm


This paper links the island of Java, metropolitan London and rural South Africa. It reflects on the space of empire, and nineteenth-century musical instruments conceived to play into that space, or to ‘annihilate distance,’ particularly in the work of Charles Wheatstone, instrument inventor and Chair of Experimental Philosophy at King’s College, London. I’m interested in connections between landscapes of ‘British Dominion,’ Wheatstone’s experiments on sound conductance, his telegraphic/telephonic fantasies, popular science, the dissemination of useful knowledge, and the imperial search for a truly global instrument – one tuned to the ‘scale of nature’ and capable of ‘speaking’ a universal musical language.


I will focus on the sixth of Wheatstone’s Lectures on sound presented in 1835 at King’s College, London. Wheatstone laid before the London public a free-reed talking machine or vowel synthesiser, a Chinese sheng, Chladni figures, and an oversized Javanese gendèr, which Sir Thomas Raffles, ‘Father of Singapore’ and former Lieutenant-General of Java, had brought back from the East. In these performances, sound was figured as an enigmatic force for propagation, a way of collapsing space – extolled as an annihilator, or (more benignly) as a political force for global intercommunication and understanding. Not all of Wheatstone’s instruments conducted sound through wires. But even these would eventually have the effect of acting as transportable technologies important to networking the imperial landscape.


One was the Wheatstone concertina, a laboratory prototype of which appeared as an acoustic demonstration device during the 1835 lectures. Later versions of Wheatstone’s multi-‘tongued’ reed instrument would be advertised as the sound of ‘British Dominions and Colonies.’ They were taken to the Antarctic by Shackleton, Central Africa by Livingstone, and were instruments of choice for colonial missionaries. In South Africa, the concertina had many names – the squashbox, izibambo zika Satan (Satan’s handles), or as Zulu migrant workers named it, after a cheaper Italian derivative, the Ibastari. This paper will reflect on the political reach of such technologies, addressing issues of migration, temperament, portability, and expropriation. It will draw on insights from sound studies, cultural geography, the history of science, organology, and music studies.

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James Q Davies (California, Berkeley) is assistant professor of music at the University of California, Berkeley. He trained as a pianist in Johannesburg (at Wits with Malcolm Nay and Pauline Nossel), Manchester, and London. In Cambridge (UK), he wrote his doctoral dissertation on ‘1829’ in 2005, before becoming junior research fellow in music at Gonville & Caius College, University of Cambridge. His book, Romantic anatomies of performance is due to be published by University of California Press later this year. It explores economies of piano-playing hands and operatic voices in Paris and London. Articles and chapters on a range of topics appear in 19th-Century Music (2003), Opera Quarterly (2005 and 2012), Cambridge Opera Journal (2005), Journal of the Royal Musical Association (2006), Keyboard Perspectives (2010), and The arts of the prima donna in the long nineteenth century (Oxford, 2011).

Mark Duby: My native country: Place, landscape, and memory in some South African accounts of exile

[T]he Leader’s anger done, grant me the right to die in my native country. Ovid, Tristia

In this paper, I consider the roles of place, landscape, and memory in some South African accounts of exile. I focus on recordings, photographs, personal narratives, and auto-ethnographic perspectives that tell musical stories of both ‘exiles’ and ‘residents,’ often classified simply as those who left or those who stayed behind.

To my mind, this unexamined binary precludes the possibility of a third ground – ‘those who wish to be elsewhere.’ For a certain class of residents, ‘elsewhere’ may have involved an imaginary Europe, to which these individuals were tied by virtue of cultural links to a close or distant ancestry. For exiles, the homesickness and sense of being a foreigner in a strange land would lead them to wish to be home even under the dire circumstances of apartheid. I explore this notion of a third ground by drawing on the work of Jeff Malpas (1999, 2006) and Ed Casey (1993, 1998, 2000) who theorise place, respectively, as critically constitutive of identity and entirely subjugated to the philosophical concept of space.

In addition, I share some more personal thoughts on my early experiences as a musician in Cape Town as well as during a later period spent in Europe at the end of the 1970s. Through various narrative accounts the uniting thread is the relationship between place, landscape, and memory in Cape Town, as lived out in the personal and musical biographies of participants in a particularly turbulent time in South African history.

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Marc Duby (University of South Africa) was born in Cape Town, South Africa, where he obtained a BA degree (majoring in English) from the University of Cape Town in 1975, having begun his professional career as electric and acoustic bassist in that city in 1972. He returned from overseas to begin musical studies at UCT in 1980, culminating in the award of the first masters’ degree in jazz performance (cum laude) in Durban in 1987, under the supervision of Prof Darius Brubeck. Duby completed his PhD thesis at the University of Pretoria in 2007 on the topic of soundpainting, the framework for live composition developed by the New York composer/saxophonist Walter Thompson. In a professional career spanning more than four decades, Duby has worked professionally with a wide range of local and international musicians, including Feedback, Syd Kitchen, Steve Newman, Darius Brubeck, Barney Rachabane, Feya Faku, Winston ‘Mankunku’ Ngozi, Jonathan Crossley, Philip Tabane, Paul Hanmer, the Kalahari Surfers, Nataniël, François Jeanneau (France), Sanjoy Bandophadyaye (India), and Ernest Ranglin (Jamaica) among many others. Awarded established researcher status in 2010 by the National Research Foundation, he has presented academic papers in Bologna, New Orleans, Spain, Greece, and Cambridge University, as well as serving as visiting lecturer at the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) and Universidad Veracruzana (México). His research interests include improvisation, embodiment, critical theory, jazz studies and philosophy of mind, as well as semiotics, phenomenology, music cognition and perception. A prize-winning composer of film music, Duby is active as a performer, composer/arranger and music educator, and currently serves as professor of musicology in the Department of Art History, Visual Arts and Musicology at the University of South Africa.

hannelore olivier & Laura du Toit: Klei-klank (Clay-sound): The hearing of a kla’ landscape

Clay kla’
Noun: a stiff, sticky fine-grained earth, typically red, yellow or bluish-grey in color and often forming an impermeable layer in the soil. It can be molded when wet, and is dried and baked to make bricks, pottery and ceramics.
Poetic: The substance of the human body.

The hearing landscape of a ceramic artist’s creative environment is not typically heard or documented in any society. The sound of the rural people from the Transkei (South African Eastern Cape) is also not considered of any importance, although their daily task of breaking the earth for brick-making forms an integral part of their culture. Both work from the earth, using clay for survival.

Klei-klank was inspired by, and originated from, spontaneous organic sounds as byproducts in ceramic artist Laura du Toit’s studio. Human hands interacting with earth; the flow of water used in creation; the staccato pitches of heat escaping from the potter’s fired pieces – all random sounds in the transition of virgin clay to art, and mostly ignored as part of the creative process. But when listening carefully, these random sounds organise themselves eventually into rhythm, timbre, harmony – effortlessly and spontaneously creating a soundtrack for the broken earth.

Hannelore Olivier composed a soundtrack incorporating these unmethodical sounds with acoustic instruments and synthesisers. A drone-tone beat of brick-making as bass-line. The pain of a ruined and broken earth echoes in the dissonance of poli-tonal piano and organ sounds, which fight for harmonic and melodic survival.

This project consists of a sound installation with ceramic objects and soundtrack. The composer and ceramic artist will discuss the creative processes underlying the capture and creation of Klei-klank (Clay-sound).


Laura du Toit is an independent artist who has been working with clay for the past 23 years as a studio potter and also as a teacher. Her training includes a BA (University of Stellenbosch), studies in ceramics and drawing (Paarl Technikon) and a course in oil painting at the Denver Art Museum. Klei-klank (Clay-sound) in 2012, a collaborative work with composer-performer Hannelore Olivier for the Woordfees, is a culmination of the recording of landscapes, sounds and voices in a production as two soundtracks. Photography is another of her main interests, and this genre she combined with her clay work in two solo exhibitions: Element (2008) and Deep field (2010). Recent exhibitions include Women in clay and a commission for the Women’s Memorial, Bloemfontein War Museum. Her work can be found in collections at the Durbanville Clay Museum, Sasol Art Museum and Iziko Social History Museum in Cape Town. Laura favours the ancient slow processes of coiling and pinching clay. Multiple firings allow her to represent her interest in the colours, textures and geological formations found in nature, on earth and in space. Unspoilt virgin landscape has carried her to the top of many mountains and it is on these trips that she finds her inspirational reference.


Hannelore Olivier, an independent artist, has collaborated with numerous film and television producers, directors, fine artists and theatre groups during the past ten years. She works in the capacity of composer, musical director and performer, and has been a lecturer in the Sound Engineering Department at CityVarsity and at SAE in digital music production. Hannelore obtained degrees in music (University of Stellenbosch); honours in psychology (UNISA), and a masters in music technology from the University of Stellenbosch (cum laude). She is the author of Musical networks: the case for a neural network methodology in advertisement music (2005). Her creative style is diverse, and influenced by studies in Western art music, electronic music, as well as the traditional music and sounds of South-East Asia and the Oriental East. She disregards the traditional boundaries of genre, instrumental timbre and cultural restrictions in music, and aims to marry diverse sounds and instruments, mix serious music with popular styles and to fuse ‘western’ with ‘world’ and ‘electronica.’ This musical approach leads to soundscapes which are colourful, ambient and experimental.

coming soon: www.hannelore.co.za

William Fourie: The aesthetics of crime: Urbanscapes and markers of place

Filed under: hearing landscape critically,music,William Fourie — ABRAXAS @ 1:34 pm

South Africa, post-2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, is, according to Sarah Britten (2012) eliciting a grim cultural narrative, dominated by tales of ‘crime’, ‘corruption’, and the ‘impatience of the masses’. This narrative is not isolated to one particular space, rural or urban, but instead permeates the whole country. It is in the urban space, however, that tensions suggested here by the use of the word ‘proximity’, can aggravate these social problems. Based on this premise, the following paper will explore the electroacoustic work Breach by the South African composer Angie Mullins. This work can be heard as a ‘breach’ of personal proximity but I will argue that the work could also be understood to sound larger environmental tensions. These tensions, I posit, are represented aesthetically here as a product suspended between the tropes of ‘proximity’ and ‘breach’, terms that in the context of the work become theoretical tools by which we can understand a notion of ‘the aesthetics of crime’. The question I then pose is whether the representation of the urban space is an attribution to the aesthetics of crime.


William Fourie (Stellenbosch) is a BMus student in his third year at the University of Stellenbosch and specialises in musicology. Under the guidance of Dr Ralf Kohler, his current research focuses on computer music and aesthetics.

Myron Gray: Landscape and soundscape in the construction of order at Philadelphia’s French fête, 1782

Filed under: hearing landscape critically,politics — ABRAXAS @ 12:45 pm


On the evening of July 15, 1782, Philadelphia’s elite convened at the home of the Chevalier de la Luzerne, France’s foreign minister to the United States. They were there to celebrate the birth of Louis XVI’s first son, but were no less glad for their recent success in the War of Independence. In addition to a diplomatic tribute, the event provided a testing space for the nation’s untried political order.


For the occasion, Luzerne had appointed Pierre L’Enfant, the military engineer and future planner of Washington DC, to transform his property into an enchanting garden (an ‘elysium’, according to one attendee) fitted with temporary buildings. It featured an illuminated palace, artificial groves adorned with hanging glass lamps, and a central dance pavilion. L’Enfant’s radial design enabled guests to see the impressive structures – and to hear the orchestra – from the remotest enclaves of the garden. This fostered a surprising conviviality among the invitees, who were otherwise divided along political, economic and cultural lines.

The sight- and soundlines that united constituents on Luzerne’s property, however, also reached beyond it to affect the larger population. For every invited citizen, ten less prominent ones crowded outside the gates. Though excluded, they saw and heard the entertainment through a palisade fence. At ‘old world’ state festivals aristocrats distracted the lower orders with material handouts, for example coins and drink, but L’Enfant’s gift to the masses was sensory inclusion. By blurring divisions between the garden and the city, private and public, rulers and ruled, he turned Luzerne’s grounds into a crucible of the new social order. He positioned the people as eye- and earwitnesses, whose attention conferred legitimacy on the fledgling national leadership. The event was ephemeral, but it engendered a passive mode of political identification that anticipated future applications of media technology.


Myron Gray (Pennsylvania) is a doctoral candidate in historical musicology at the University of Pennsylvania. His research on the politics of ‘Frenchness’ in late eighteenth-century Philadelphia music has been supported by the American Antiquarian Society, the American Musicological Society, and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture. Myron’s work has appeared in the online journal Common-place, and in July he participated in the Mellon Early American Literature and Material Texts Summer Workshop, co-sponsored by the Library Company of Philadelphia and the McNeil Center for Early American Studies. He plans to defend his dissertation in spring 2014.

Stephanus Muller: Spectres of excess

Filed under: hearing landscape critically,kaganof,music,stephanus muller — ABRAXAS @ 8:23 am



Stephanus Muller (Stellenbosch) lectures in musicology in the Department of Music at Stellenbosch University, where he also heads up the Documentation Centre for Music. In this capacity he has produced Aryan Kaganof’s documentary, An inconsolable memory (2013). Muller’s book on the South African composer Arnold van Wyk, Nagmusiek, will be published by fourth wall in 3014.

list of compositions by giacinto scelsi

Filed under: Giacinto Scelsi,music — ABRAXAS @ 8:13 am

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This is a list of compositions by Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905–1988). An asterisk (*) indicates that the piece has appeared on recording in the United States.


1 First period (1929-1948)
2 Second period (1952–1959)
3 Third period (1960-1969)
4 Fourth period (1970-1985)

First period (1929-1948)

Chemin du coeur (for violin and piano) – 1929;
Rotative (Symphonic poem for three pianos, winds and percussion) – 1929;
(version for 2 pianos and percussion) – 1938;
40 Preludes (for piano) – 1930-40;
6 Pieces from “Paralipomeni” (for piano) 1930-40;
Dialogo (for cello and piano) – 1932;
Sinfonietta (for orchestra) – 1932;
Tre canti di primavera (for voice and piano) – 1933;
L’amour et le crane (for voice and piano) – 1933;
Tre canti (for voice and piano) – 1933;
Suite No. 2 (for piano) – 1934;
Toccata (for piano) – 1934;
Poems (for piano) – 1934/39*;
Sonata (for violin and piano) – 1934;
Concertino (for piano and orchestra) – 1934;
Trio No. 1 (for violin, cello and piano) – 1936;
Preludio, Ariosa e Fuga (for orchestra) – 1936;
Suite No. 5 (for piano) – unknown;
Suite No. 6 “I Capricci di Ty” (for piano) – 1938/39;
Hispania (Triptych for piano) – 1939;
Sonata No. 1 (for piano) – unknown;
Sonata No. 2 (for piano) – 1939;
Sonata No. 3 (for piano) – 1939;
Sonata No. 4 (for piano) – unknown;
Trio No. 2 (for violin, cello and piano) – 1939;
Variations (for piano) – 1940;
Variations and Fugue (for piano) – 1941;
Ballata (for cello and piano) – 1943;
String Quartet No. 1 – 1944*;
(version for string orchestra) – 1962;
Introduction and Fugue (for string orchestra) – 1945;
La Nascita del Verbo (Cantata for mixed chorus and orchestra) – 1948
Trio (for vibraphone, marimba and percussion) – 1950

Second period (1952–1959)

Suite No. 8 “Bot-Ba: Evocation of Tibet with its monasteries on high mountain summits: Tibetan rituals, prayers and dances” (for piano) – 1952*;
Quattro Illustrazioni “Four illustrations of the metamorphoses of Vishnu” (for piano) – 1953*;
Cinque incantesimi (for piano) – 1953*;
Suite No. 9 “Ttai: A succession of episodes which alternatively express time – or more precisely, time in motion and man as symbolized by cathedrals or monasteries, with the sound of the sacred ‘Om'” (for piano) – 1953*;
Piccola suite (for flute and clarinet) – 1953;
Suite No. 10 “Ka: The word ‘ka’ has many meanings, but the principal one is ‘essence'” (for piano) – 1954*;
Pwyll (for flute) – 1954*;
Three studies (for Eb clarinet) – 1954;
Preghiera per un’ombra (for Bb clarinet) – 1954;
Divertimento No. 2 (for violin) – 1954;
Yamaon (for bass voice and alto sax, baritone sax, contrabassoon, double bass, percussion) – 1954-58;
Action Music (for piano) – 1955;
Divertimento No. 3 (for violin) – 1955*;
Divertimento No. 4 (for violin) – 1955;
Coelocanth (for viola) – 1955*;
Hyxos (for alto flute in G, 2 gongs and cow-bell) – 1955;
Suite No. 11 (for piano) – 1956;
Four Pieces (for trumpet) – 1956*;
Three Pieces (for saxophone or bass trombone) – 1956*;
Four Pieces (for horn in F) – 1956;
Ixor (for reed; Bb clarinet, oboe) – 1956*;
Divertimento No. 5 (for violin) – 1956;
Three Studies (for viola) – 1956;
Three Pieces (for trombone) – 1957*;
Trilogy “Triphon, Dithome, Ygghur” (for cello) – 1957-61/65*;
Rucke di guck (for piccolo and oboe) – 1957;
String Trio – 1958*;
I presagi [The Forebodings] (for 10 instruments, brass and percussion) – 1958;
Tre canti popolari (for four-voice mixed choir) – 1958;
Tre canti sacri (for eight-voice mixed choir) – 1958*;
Kya (for Bb clarinet solo, and seven instruments) – 1959*;
Quattro pezzi su una nota sola [Four pieces each on a single note] (for chamber orchestra) – 1959*

Third period (1960-1969)

Ho “Four Songs” (for soprano voice) – 1960;
Wo-Ma (for bass voice) – 1960;
Hurqualia “A Different Realm” (for large orchestra, with amplified instruments) – 1960*;
String Quartet No. 2 – 1961*;
Aion “Four Episodes in one Day of Brahma” (for orchestra) – 1961*;
Taiagaru “Five Invocations” (for soprano voice) – 1962;
Riti “Ritual March” (version for Achilles, for four percussionists) – 1962;
(version for Alexander, for tuba, double bass, contrabassoon, electric organ & percussion) – 1962;
(version for Carl the Great, for cello and 2 percussionists) – 1967;
Khoom “Seven episodes of an unwritten tale of love and death in a distant land” (for soprano voice, horn, string quartet & percussion) – 1962*;
20 Canti del Capricorno (for soprano) – 1962-72*;
String Quartet No. 3 – 1963*;
Hymnos (for large orchestra) – 1963*;
Chukrum (for string orchestra) – 1963*;
Xnoybis “The ability of energy to ascend to the spirit” (for violin) – 1964*;
String Quartet No. 4 – 1964*;
Yliam (for female choir) – 1964;
Duo (for violin and cello) – 1965*;
(version for violin and double bass) – 1977;
Anahit “Lyric Poem on the name of Venus” (for violin and 18 instruments) – 1965*;
Anagamin “The one who is faced with a choice between going back and refusing to” (for 12 strings) – 1965;
Ko-Lho (for flute and clarinet) – 1966*;
Elegia per Ty (for viola and cello) – 1958/66*;
Ohoi “The Creative Principles” (for 16 strings) – 1966;
Uaxuctum “The Legend of the Maya City which destroyed itself for religious reasons” (for 4 vocal soloists, ondes martenot solo, mixed choir and orchestra) – 1966*;
Ko-Tha “Three Dances of Shiva” (for guitar) – 1967;
(version for double bass) – 1972;
(version for six-string cello) – 1978*;
Manto I, II, III (for viola and female voice) – 1967;
Ckckc (for soprano voice and mandolin) – 1967;
Natura renovatur (for 11 strings) – 1967;
Tkrdg (for 6-voice male choir, electric guitar and percussion) – 1968;
Okanagon “Okanagon is like a rite, or if you will, like grasping the heartbeat of the Earth” (for harp, tamtam & double bass) – 1968*;
Konx-Om-Pax “Three aspects of sound: as the first motion of the immovable, as creative force, as the syllable ‘om'” (for mixed choir, and orchestra) – 1969*;

Fourth period (1970-1985)

Il est grand temps (for voice) – 1970;
Meme si je voyais (for voice) – 1970;
Three Latin Prayers (for voice) – 1970*;
Antifona “on the name of Jesus” (for male choir) – 1970*;
Nuits (2 pieces; for double bass) – 1972*;
Pranam I “In memory of the tragic losses of Jani and Sia Christou” (for soprano voice, 12 instruments & tape) – 1972;
L’ame ailee (for violin) – 1973*;
L’ame ouverte (for violin) – 1973*;
Arc-en-ciel (for two violins) – 1973*;
Sauh I & II (for two female voices) – 1973;
Sauh III & IV (for four female voices) – 1973;
Pranam II (for nine instruments) – 1973*;
Voyages (2 pieces; for cello) – 1974*;
Et maintenant c’est a vous de jouer (for cello and double bass) – 1974;
Kshara (for two double basses) – unknown;
To the master “Two improvisations” (for cello and piano) – 1974;
Manto “per quattro” (for voice, flute, trombone and cello) – 1974;
In Nomine Lucis (2 pieces; for electric organ) – 1974*;
Aitsi (for electronically prepared piano) – 1974*;
(version as String Quartet No. 5) – 1985*;
Le réveil profond (for double bass) 1977;
Pfhat “A flash… and the sky opened!” (for mixed choir and large orchestra) – 1974*;
Maknongan (for low-voice instrument: double bass, contrabassoon, etc) – 1976*;
Daharma (for Cello and Double Bass) – 1986*;

Christabel Stirling: Listening in ruins: Aural atmospheres of the historical present

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What would a history of place look like if it were conceived through the ethnographic ear and body? In what ways does aurality and sentience embody the freight of a place’s past, the dissenting forces that comprise its present and future? Where – amidst the complex relations between sound, selfhood, landscape, and historical time – do atmospheres come from, and moreover where do they leave us? Seeking to address these questions, this paper elevates the sensory, sonic and affective realms of experience as a methodological means of examining places and their histories. It is argued that sound, which encrypts the movement between objects, bodies, and matter, has a special capacity to render the processes and change inherent in place; while affective atmospheres mediate our aural perception in ways that pry into the socio-cultural significations we attribute to sounds, opening up liminal spaces that disturb the historical stability of the landscape. Focusing on a collaborative installation sound work that took place in Orford Ness, Suffolk (2012), a historically opaque ruin deliberately shrouded in secrecy, I then ask what a historicism that takes seriously the sonorous and affective event might have to attend to. I suggest that by changing the relational nature of a particular sonic spatio-temporal assemblage, installation sounds works forge new subject-object, inter- and intra-subjective connections and discontinuities in place that engender the emergence of new historical environments. They side-track perspectives, generate diversions, and allow spaces to speak in unsuspecting ways, revealing the palimpsest-like qualities of our terrain. Thus, in a bid towards a more far-reaching ‘non-cochlear’ sonic art (Kim-Cohen, 2009), sound works might be seen as an oblique, non-linear historical tool, eliciting glimpses of pasts and futures becoming present that are ‘always there’ in virtual co-presence, but that may otherwise never surface.


Christabel Stirling (Oxford) is currently pursuing a doctorate in music at Oxford University where she holds an Ertegun Graduate Scholarship in the Humanities, working under the supervision of Georgina Born. She completed an MA in popular music studies at Oxford Brookes University in 2012 funded by an AHRC award, and prior to this, obtained a bachelor of music from King’s College London in 2011. In her PhD research, Christabel works on questions surrounding the socialities of co-present musical publics and crowds in London. In particular, she focuses upon the technological and affective mechanisms by which subjects are individuated or aggregated through music, and the ways in which the spatial location or incidence of a musical event inflects how its public is micro- and macro-socially mediated. Her other research interests include dancing and dance music cultures post 1950, music and urban geography, and theories of affect and embodiment in relation to music, sound, and spatial politics.

Mareli Stolp: Post-everything poster boy: Spoek Mathambo’s Control as urban landscape

Filed under: hearing landscape critically,music — ABRAXAS @ 12:52 am

In 2010, South African musician Spoek Mathambo released his debut album, Mshini Wam. This album was enthusiastically received both locally and internationally, and has been hailed as breaking new ground in South African popular music. Mathambo’s unique brand of house music is deeply rooted in American rap and house and British dubstep traditions, combined with elements of South African kwaito, Afro-fusion and Afro-dance.

Included on the album Mshini Wam is a cover version of a 1979 song entitled Control, by the British post-punk band Joy Division. An award-winning music video for Mathambo’s version of this track, created by South African photographer Pieter Hugo and shot on location in Langa Township, Cape Town, provides a powerful depiction of life in a South African township, and plays on various issues such as ritual cleansing, initiation ceremonies, teen gangs and township cults. The disturbing events depicted in the video – children caught in the thralls of epileptic-type fits, being subjected to torture and physical abuse or doused in and excreting black and white fluids – are accompanied by a driving dance rhythm and pulsing bass line. This is dance music with a very grim beat.

Mathambo’s combination of musics with agency in black cultural production with post-punk idioms allows for a musical language that reveals his interests beyond his own immediate musical heritage. Mathambo’s Control depicts a complex and multilevelled urban landscape. Another level of complexity is added through the dichotomous relationship between the disconcerting visual material and the easy listening dance music that accompanies it.

The urban township landscape visually depicted in the music video for Control and musically represented by the composed material is essentially South African, particularly in the way it samples musics from different areas of our musical lineage, but also in the free engagement with international musical styles past and present. This paper will attempt to deconstruct the musical landscape created by Mathambo in a post-apartheid, post-rainbow nation South Africa, and to show ways in which this music confounds simple definitions of urbanity, race and musical heritage in South Africa today.

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Mareli Stolp (Rhodes, Grahamstown) is a lecturer at the Department of Music and Musicology at Rhodes University, Grahamstown. She completed a practice-based research PhD in 2012 at Stellenbosch University, and is currently active as both performer and researcher. The integration of practice and research constitutes her main academic focus.

Michael Titlestad: The South African life and afterlife of Jim Reeves

Filed under: hearing landscape critically,music — ABRAXAS @ 12:04 am


Jim Reeves’ mellifluous ‘Nashville sound’ made him the most global country singer of all time. He enjoyed widespread popularity in, among others, East Africa, India, Ireland and Scandinavia. His relationship with South Africa was, and has remained, deep and abiding: he toured the country twice (in 1962 with Chet Atkins and Floyd Cramer, and in 1963), he recorded in Afrikaans, and, this was the only country in which he was repeatedly mobbed by thousands of fans. In 1963 he made his only film, Kimberley Jim, during his three-week stay.


Reeves is renowned for being a singer far more famous after his death than while he was alive, but his afterlife in South Africa has been remarkable and particular. Not only has he continued to be one of the top selling recording artists, he spawned a number of local imitators and fundamentally influenced the style and repertoire of South African country music. His Afrikaans songs were reissued on CD again this year.

The paper seeks to explore, through press reportage at the time of the tours, radio broadcasts, and interviews with contemporary country musicians, the nature of, and reasons for, Reeves’s South African popularity and legacy. Using the two biographies of Reeves (by Michael Striessguth 1998 and Larry Jordan 2012), as well as the cultural studies work of Richard Pells and others regarding the circulation of American popular culture and its recuperation in various contexts, it argues that the self-consciously urbane Reeves represented an ideal habitus – and offered explicit acceptance – in the increasingly isolated South Africa of the 1960s.

Along with the international credibility his presence suggested, the field of country music, its pioneer ideology and iconography, offered a symbolic language to an increasingly defensive population. I argue that the ‘Nashville sound’ specifically – with its smooth, urban version of roots music – provided the perfect ameliorative, anodyne soundscape in a community tussling with accusations of its parochialism and anachronism. I conclude with a series of complicating questions relating to the enormous popularity of Reeves among black South Africans and elsewhere in Africa.


Michael Titlestad (Witwatersrand) is an associate professor, head of the Department of English and deputy Head of the School of Literature, Language and Media at the University of the Witwatersrand. He publishes widely in the fields of South African literary and cultural studies, and on maritime literature. In addition, Michael is an editor of both literary and scholarly publications. He makes a lot of mistakes, but not often grammatical ones.

August 29, 2013

Gavin Williams: Imagining Crimea

Filed under: hearing landscape critically — ABRAXAS @ 10:58 pm


In the first of his 1855 Sevastopol sketches, Leo Tolstoy guided his readers through a city at the heart of the Crimean War. He offered an intimate, second-person tour of an idyllic landscape repeatedly punctured by sights and sounds of violence – above all the eruption of cannon fire, which ‘shakes you to the core and inspires you with a profound sense of dread’. His Sketches encapsulate what Peter Brooks has called the ‘oblique’ relationship between realism and melodrama. They were published in newspapers and eagerly read by a Russian elite, yet owing to these Sketches, Tolstoy is routinely counted among the first modern war correspondents.


In this paper, I take Tolstoy’s resonant panorama as my cue for a broad inquiry into contemporary imaginations of Crimea – the peninsula devastated by several notorious theatres of war and the site of much attention from international news media at the middle of the century. Alongside journalistic representations such as Tolstoy’s, I will consider another crucial medium in the nineteenth-century experience of wartime: the military theatrical entertainment. Newspaper coverage resulted in a rush of such melodramas in European capital cities. I will focus in particular on those rapidly assembled in London in response to battles at Alma and Sevastopol. These entertainments offered the public sonorous evocations of battlefields, providing counterpoint to well-known (and famously unpeopled) landscape photographs of the time. They also provided an enhanced sense of the Crimean War as a ‘war at a distance’ (a term recently discussed by Mary Favret). What is more, I argue that melodramas gave voice to contrasting and contested perspectives on the war, above all through the semantic excess of noisy sound effects. My paper ultimately argues both for a political interpretation of these melodramatic sounds, pervading as they do the war’s legacies of journalistic, literary and artistic realism.

Gavin Williams (Cambridge) has recently ended a stint as a graduate student at Harvard University where he wrote a PhD dissertation about music, noise and crowds in Milan ca. 1900. Next month, he starts at Jesus College, Cambridge, as a research fellow.

Flora Wilson: London, Paris, New York: Opera’s global networks c. 1890

Filed under: hearing landscape critically,music — ABRAXAS @ 10:41 pm


During the 19th century, opera became a global phenomenon. Beginning with the dissemination of Rossini’s unprecedentedly popular works in the 1820s, operatic culture spread from its strongholds in major European cities to new urban markets on other continents. By the end of the century, opera’s worldwide transit had become an essential characteristic of the art form – one in dialogue with a complex layering of communication networks. In this paper I seek to explore this fundamental mobility by focussing on one particular instance of opera on the move: the paradigmatic international path taken by the renowned soprano Nellie Melba.

Born in Australia, Melba moved to Paris in 1886 to complete her training. Following her European debut in Brussels in 1887, she spent much of the next half-decade travelling between London and Paris – cities whose competing claims to be ‘capital of the 19th century’ were staked in this instance on attempted appropriations of this most distantly travelled soprano star. Melba’s peregrinations around Europe’s major cities in the early 1890s followed long-established routes, but in 1893 she crossed the Atlantic to make a wildly successful debut at the newly rebuilt Metropolitan Opera in New York. My paper examines the consequences of Melba’s American triumph and of the changing operatic order it seemed to epitomise. Taking a cue from recent calls in the history of technology for ‘use histories’ able to address the persistence of the old after the dawning of the new, I place Melba’s New York success in a larger geographical context, considering its effects in the venerable operatic centres she had left behind. I want, in other words, to consider how opera’s expanding topography at the end of the 19th century complicated its status and discourses in an increasingly anxious Old World.


Flora Willson (Cambridge) is a junior research fellow at King’s College, Cambridge, where her research centres on nineteenth-century opera and urban culture. She has published academic articles and reviews in Cambridge Opera Journal; Cambridge Verdi encyclopedia (forthcoming from CUP), Nineteenth-century Music Review and the Journal of Modern Italian Studies, and is currently working on a book about operatic exchanges between London and Paris in the later 19th century. She writes regular reviews for Opera, has given pre-performance talks at Barbican, English National Opera, Glyndebourne and Royal Opera House, and has appeared as a guest on BBC Radio 3. She is the editor of a new critical edition of Donizetti’s Les martyrs, due to be recorded for Opera Rara in 2014 by Sir Mark Elder and the OAE.

Lizabé Lambrechts & Ernst van der Wal: Lingering absences: Hearing landscape through memory (An experiment)

This exhibition offers a visual and auditory perspective on the dynamics of opera production in a time and in places subject to involuntary removals of coloured communities in Cape Town. The Eoan Opera Group was founded in 1933 by Helen Southern-Holt as a cultural and welfare organisation for the coloured community in District Six, Cape Town, which developed to include an amateur opera company that produced the first full-scale opera performances in South Africa. In spite of growing apartheid legislation during the latter half of the 20th century, the Eoan Opera Group continued to play an active role in the cultural life of Cape Town, presenting eleven opera seasons, two arts festivals and numerous tours over a period of two decades. During the 1960s the Group Areas Act gradually edged the Eoan Group out of the centre of Cape Town’s cultural life. District Six was zoned for white occupation, and legislation increasingly enforced racial segregation. By 1969 the group was relocated to the Joseph Stone Theatre in Athlone. This move seemed to be a watershed moment for the group, as from this time onwards support from the white community diminished due to the difficulties of attending concerts in a coloured area. The group was also politically compromised in their own community because they accepted funding from the Department of Coloured Affairs, a contentious apartheid institution that drew heavy criticism from coloured communities for its entrenchment of racist policies. By the 1980s, Eoan was performing to empty concert halls.

Eoan Group

Presenting both physical and lost localities, as well as imagined, political, personal, bureaucratic and cultural landscapes, this exhibition investigates the various layers of history and memory that sediments the Eoan Group’s complex legacy. Instead of presenting a contained and resolved historical narrative of the Eoan Group, this exhibition provides a space for experimentation. It is a site that tests the degree to which memory, archival material, music and noise can act as sites of interaction and interchange. By following the grain of the voice and the traces of memory, this project traverses the Isaac Ochberg Hall in District Six, the Cape Town City Hall in Cape Town’s city centre and the Joseph Stone Auditorium in Athlone, three key sites that stand as markers of the Eoan Group’s relationship to the landscape. As recounted through the memories of members of this group these three spaces bear loaded testimony to the apartheid system’s impact on the human being’s life in sound and image.


Lizabé Lambrechts (Stellenbosch) holds a PhD in musicology on the subject of power and politics in South African music archives. She is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Documentation Centre for Music (DOMUS), Stellenbosch University, where she is working on a project to make a part of South Africa’s unknown music history accessible through sorting, cataloguing and curating the Hidden Years Music Archive.

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Ernst van der Wal (Stellenbosch) obtained his PhD in visual arts at Stellenbosch University, and he is a full-time lecturer in the Department of Visual Arts. Working under the rubric of cultural studies and art theory he investigates the embodiment and visualisation of queer and/or non-normative identities within post-apartheid South Africa. He has published widely on this subject.

giacinto scelsi – Khoom “Seven episodes of an unwritten tale of love and death in a distant land” (for soprano voice, horn, string quartet & percussion) – 1962

Filed under: Giacinto Scelsi,music — ABRAXAS @ 9:09 pm

The departure point is the disturbing composition by Giacinto Scelsi ‘Seven episodes of a love story and of a non-written death in a faraway land’. Three dancers, a singer and six musicians lead us on a journey where gesture accompanies even the most intimate vibration within the music and where the space, swept by the dance, reflects the depth of Scelsis most particular sounds. Initiated at the Théâtre du Manège in Mons, Khoom is the fruit of a collaboration between the Compagnie Mossoux-Bonté, the Ensemble Musiques Nouvelles and the Centre des Ecritures Contemporaines Numériques (Centre for Contemporary Digital Writings).

Giacinto Scelsi – I Riti: Ritual March, “The Funeral of Achilles” –

Filed under: Giacinto Scelsi,music — ABRAXAS @ 6:17 pm

Riti: Ritual March, “The Funeral of Achilles” (1962)
-Giacinto Scelsi

“Giacinto Scelsi, a prominent Italian composer of experimental music, is known for his compositional exploration of sound, specifically his acute approach to individual tones. Where Scelsi usually focuses on the single tones of melodic instruments, he approaches I Riti: Ritual March, “The Funeral of Achilles,” with a focus on rhythmically thematic material. As the rhythmic material repeats throughout the piece, the dynamic constant in each instrument gradually changes, creating continuous shifts of timbre, while maintaining the rhythmic structure. This compositional approach is unique to Scelsi, as this is his only work for percussion ensemble.”

-Program notes by Trevor Saint

This performance by Ensemble 64.8 took place on Nov. 21st, 2009, in the Davis Concert Hall of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

The performers from left to right:
Caitlyn Hatcher
Brandon Thomas
Chris Reichmeier
Trevor Saint

Giacinto Scelsi – Hurqualia “A Different Realm” (for large orchestra, with amplified instruments) – (1960)

Filed under: Giacinto Scelsi,music — ABRAXAS @ 9:43 am


Orquesta RTVE.

Director. Luca Pfaff.
Hurqualia (1960)
Scelsi’s Third Period begins with the great orchestral masterpiece, Hurqualia. The work is in four movements, lasting under eighteen minutes, and scored for piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, bass clarinet, two bassoons, four horns, three trumpets, two trombones, two tubas, timpani, four percussionists, strings excluding violins, and three sets of amplified instruments: microphone one: oboe, English horn, Eb clarinet; microphone two: horn, tenor saxophone, musical saw, viola, double bass; microphone three: two trumpets, trombone. Hurqualia was not performed until June 18th, 1986 at the Holland Festival in Amsterdam directed by Arturo Tamayo – Scelsi attended every rehearsal.

It has been impossible to trace the origin of the term ‘Hurqualia’ to this point; a Sanskrit origin was conjectured, but now abandoned. It would seem to have some sort of dramatic (or perhaps rhythmic) connotation – Hurqualia is a tensely dramatic epic in sound. As opposed to the Quattro Pezzi of the previous year, intervals play a definite role here, particularly the third: hence there are harmonic references, though true harmony has to wait until Scelsi’s later orchestral music. Still there is an underlying unity of sound, at times admitting contrasts contained therein. Hurqualia reaches a new level of rhythmic sophistication – Harry Halbriech likes to take every opportunity to compare Scelsi’s massive sound and seemingly immense lapses of time with Bruckner, though this comparison is quite overdone by the second mention of Bruckner’s 9th Symphony. Scelsi’s rhythmic constructions emerge out of breathing rhythm, even when quite intense; and the sophistication with which he constructs episodes outside of time and subtle time relationships within the piece is far beyond Bruckner. The closest comparison is with the extreme rhythmic complexity of South Indian Carnatic music. So, in Hurqualia we have a massive (despite its length) orchestral masterpiece, an epic in sound. It is subtitled simply as “A Different Realm” and one could probably read into it various dramatic interpretations: here the epic of choice will be the Ramayana, the world’s leading epic.

The first movement is a sort of overture, beginning with low and quiet sounds reminiscent of the syllable ‘om’, and gradually building into a massive fanfare of foreboding on brass and percussion. The world is in chaos as the Demon King is extending his power – yet there is a glimmer of hope expressed by the woodwinds as it is decided that the great god Vishnu will descend to earth in the guise of the Prince Rama to defeat the Demon. The fanfare continues, ending abruptly to start the story in the next movement.

The second movement is the beginning of the epic proper: Rama and his wife Sita leave for the wilderness, Rama is tricked into leaving Sita alone for a moment at which time she is kidnapped by the demons; the movement ends in quiet, tense realization of this event, hanging on the major second.

The mysterious and contemplative third movement is a time of gathering information for Rama and forming alliances; Sita’s whereabouts are discovered and her serenity is played on flutes. Overall, though, there is an extreme fatalism about the horrible battle which lies ahead, and of course Rama knew all that would come to pass before he was even born.

The fourth movement gradually gains momentum, complete with a march to battle starting pizzicato on the strings, and the first part ends with a composed confidence resting on Rama’s incredible prowess as the battle proper is about to begin. The second part of the fourth movement is the battle, complete with intense percussive outbursts and brass fanfares – it ends with the total defeat of the demons, and a view of the horrible carnage. This rather far-flung interpretation might act to undermine the absolute quality and unity of thought behind Hurqualia, however it is included simply as an entrance which one might take into this ‘different realm’ which certainly admits of an epic interpretation of one kind or another. Regarding the instruments which are provided with specific amplification, it is unclear from the recording exactly what role they play: whether they are meant to represent characters, or simply to be heard above the din of brass and percussion.

Marietjie Pauw Concert: Water, stray cattle and the urban: Dwelling in South African landscapes

This performance remembers a century of change, with South Africa in a process of de-agrarianisation, and with its peoples still affected by the extreme social engineering of apartheid. A century after the passing of the 1913 Land Act (ultimately reserving 87% of the land for ‘white’ use), musical performance, here brought into relation with ‘landscape’, prompts an immersive engagement towards layered hearings of the history and ‘lay’ of the land.

The performance responds to a challenge by sociologist Cherryl Walker (2010). She argues for the need to move beyond an over-simplified master narrative (of restitution and redistribution of land) that ‘omits too much’. She motivates that ‘[w]e need intellectuals, artists and activists who can script a multiplicity of narratives about the land’. The distinct role of musicians as soundscapers, the way they tell stories and critically reflect in and through music, accepts Walker’s challenge by exploring the poetic implications of this call to activism. Musicians ‘scape’ (etymologically ‘shape, create’) not only narratives through their music, they also amplify memories and expectations with regard to the topography, demography and struggles for the land. The ‘natural’ land, the cultivated land as nurturing soil, the mined land rich in minerals, and the acknowledgement of this land as a rural and increasingly urbanised home for a diversity of peoples, underpin these aural propositions. Tim Ingold’s notions of ‘embodied landscape’, and ‘landscape as dwelling’ underscore this performance. The programmed works are by South African composers.


Marietjie Pauw (Stellenbosch) is a PhD student at Stellenbosch University where her practice-based research interrogates curatorship, South African flute music, and landscape as central themes. She teaches flute in Stellenbosch, and she plays in chamber music ensembles that have performed throughout South Africa, also on national festivals. International duo concerts include a series of performances in Ulm, Germany and Princeton, USA. In addition to numerous commissions and performances of South African compositions, she has made commercial recordings of works by composers Hendrik Hofmeyr and Neo Muyanga on commission of the International Huguenot Society and the Distell Foundation, as well as on the Afrimusic label. She produced the CD Fofa le nna: Music for two flutes with Barbara Highton Williams in 2012. She received flute tuition from Éva Tamássy at the University of Stellenbosch, where she was awarded the degrees (cum laude) BMus, BMus(Hons) and MMus (Performance). She obtained the Licentiates in Flute Performance (UPLM) and in Flute Teaching (UTLM) from the University of South Africa.

August 28, 2013

Thomas Peattie – Sonic mapping and Mahler’s mobile subject

Filed under: 2014 - Marikana Symphony,hearing landscape critically,music — ABRAXAS @ 11:29 pm

Screen shot 2013-08-29 at 7.02.31 PM

Contemporary fascination with the idea of the auditory map – and in particular its role in helping us navigate the spaces we inhabit – has led scholars to consider an increasingly diverse range of twentieth- and twentyfirst-century approaches to the way in which sound can be understood to map space. Yet this practice has a surprising and largely unrecognised nineteenth-century analogue in the celebrated musical evocations of landscape from Rossini and Wagner to Berlioz and Mahler. The music of Mahler offers an especially compelling example of this idea of sonic mapping in terms of the unprecedented precision with which the instrumental forces in question are deployed. The early symphonies in particular feature sonic landscapes that aim to capture the experience of sound in all its unpredictability: from the First and Third symphonies, where individual instruments are instructed to play without regard for the tempo, to the finale of the Second symphony, where the distant sounds of an offstage ensemble are meant to convey the effect of being ‘carried on the wind’. Until now this practice has been interpreted almost exclusively in terms of the composer’s famous remarks to Natalie Bauer-Lechner in which he describes ‘polyphony’ as the experience of listening to the simultaneous sounding of unrelated sonic events. In this paper I argue that Mahler’s late symphonic writing offers an entirely different approach to the possibilities of sonic mapping. Drawing on passages from the first and second Nachtmusiken (Seventh symphony) and Der Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde, I argue that while Mahler’s late music continues to address the listening subject as a stationary auditor, it also offers a tantalising glimpse of a more mobile subject. For in contrast to the ‘bird’s eye’ view that often characterises nineteenth-century representations of musical landscape, these examples instead offer traces of the auditory perspective of the wanderer, a figure whose metaphorical ears serve as an unexpected guide to the composer’s imaginary symphonic landscapes.

CFA Faculty H&S Session

Thomas Peattie (Boston) is assistant professor of music at Boston University. He holds a PhD from Harvard University in historical musicology as well as degrees in musicology and composition from the University of Calgary. His publications include In search of lost time: Memory and Mahler’s broken pastoral in the collection Mahler and his World (Princeton, 2002) as well as articles in the Journal of the Royal Musical Association and Acta Musicologica. He is the recipient of fellowships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Boston University Humanities Foundation. His book Gustav Mahler’s abstract theatre is forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.

Mia Pistorius – The violence of landscape: Spatial metaphors and the disembodiment of listening


The critical act of reading landscape into music is in itself an act of ‘landscaping’, and, as with any act of landscaping, can impose certain structures upon space. Those structures are immanent within the critic’s apparatus. They are structures of metaphor, governed by and rooted in linguistic systems. The ear of the landscaping author necessarily moves beyond any direct connection between sound and embodied experience – as soon as landscape is ‘heard’, the transition from participant to observer is inevitable. The mysterious relationship between sound and listening (the ‘essence’ of the lived experience of music) is arguably damaged or distorted by the act of hypostatisation – the turning of what is heard into a metaphorical landscape, an object. The extent of such damage or distortion emerges when the mapping of metaphors onto seemingly neutral works is evaluated as an exercise of cultural power. In speaking about landscape, the interaction between sound and embodied experience is infused with the assumptions and boundaries inherent in language. Accordingly, ‘landscaping’ becomes an act of structural violence.

How does this impact upon the relationship between sound and space? The direct experiential links between music as metaphorical representation of space (whether social, cultural or physical), on one hand, and space as a metaphorical source of sound, on the other, cannot be denied. Nor, however, can they be divorced entirely from language. What, then, is the responsibility of the listener who inflicts language upon the primary embodied experience? Is it possible to talk about music and landscape without committing violence?

This paper takes as a case study music created as a direct result of violent acts: Zim Ngqawana and Kyle Shepherd’s performance in Aryan Kaganof’s Exhibition of vandalizim (2010). The improvised performance within the broken space of Ngqawana’s vandalised studio not only signifies a representation of a space of violence, but also a response to it. By considering a landscape of violence both as a source of the music and as a consequence of interpreting it, a bi-directional process of mutual signification between violence and music arises.

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Mia Pistorius (Sheffield) received the MSt in performance with distinction from Magdalen College, University of Oxford in 2013. She will commence studies towards a PhD in piano performance at the University of Sheffield in October 2013. Her research engages with metaphor theory and the relationship between language and music, particularly in performance.

Akin Omotoso on roger corman’s little shop of horrors

Filed under: akin omotoso,film,Frieda Grafe — ABRAXAS @ 4:24 pm


In the 1961 film by Nicholas Ray, »King of Kings«, John the Baptist asks Jesus: »Was it you who was foretold or are we to expect another?« I can imagine someone asking Roger Corman this when his first film »Monster from the Ocean Floor« in 1954 burst into cinema’s collective conscious. For me, the other is of course that boiling pot of an industry called Nollywood. An industry that I respect totally and share some of the values and ethos of the Roger Corman canon. To stretch the quote from King of Kings: »…we didn’t expect another but another rose.«


I can’t remember the first time or where I heard of Roger Corman but what I saw and heard was enough, and the man’s name stuck with me then and ever since. I was three feet high and rising at the time in the South African film industry and similarly to Roger, I never went to film school. What I knew then and believe now with all my heart is that telling stories was the fuel that drove me. As a child I would devour stories. I wrote my first novel at six. One of my Uncles used to ask me: »Why do all the characters die?« My response apparently was that »otherwise it would be too long.« Later at drama school I decided to become a director, having long abandoned my dreams of being a novelist. The cinema would be my canvas of choice. In the absence of decent film schools at the time in South Africa, I turned my attention to the masters and mistresses of cinema.

Directors and their films became my teachers. I devoured everything I could find on directors. Ousmane Sembène, Raoul Peck, Spike Lee, Julie Dash, Martin Scorsese, Sidney Poitier, Djibril Diop-Mambety, Alfred Hitchcock to name a few. I would read up everything about these directors and watch their films, and by so doing I was learning the language of cinema from these pioneers. And what was that language? Not just visual story telling but also the power of cinema. There is no music like that musical score in the Korean film »3-Iron« directed by Kim Ki-Duk, no drama like the drama in the cinema of Iranian filmmaker Majid Majidi, and I have never seen anything to equal the fire and excitement of Mira Nair’s »Moonson Wedding«. Watching these films fuelled my passion.

Then I re-discovered »The University of Roger Corman«. His films were never my focus. I am not entirely sure how I feel about all of his films or even if their genres appealed to me. This of course has never been the essence of Roger Corman for me. It was what he was doing and how he was doing it that I latched on to. I liked the idea that he was independent; I liked the fact that his films cost less and made him money; independence is a huge aspect of the film industry. Kwame Nkrumah said first of his newly independent Ghana: »Seek ye first political kingdom and all else shall be added unto you«. If I had Commandments for filmmakers I would start with that. It is a difficult position to negotiate. Independence. In this day and age, when most African filmmakers source funding from Europe and key on the list of requirements is that your film has to say something about AIDS or poverty, I like the independence of Nollywood. And it’s that independence I recognize in Roger. I like the passion with which he empowered younger filmmakers and actors. The roll call of people he gave opportunity to reads like the hall of fame today: Jack Nicholson, Ron Howard, Peter Bogdanovich, James Cameron, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese and Jonathan Demme. Sometimes filmmakers affect others without even knowing it. In one of my early short films I had no idea about framing a scene in a restaurant with two characters talking. While it seems absurd now, it wasn’t to me at the time. I had no idea where to put the camera. I saw a documentary where Jonathan Demme (a »University of Roger Corman« alumni) said when he made his first film he had gone the night before to watch some other film and he copied the shots in that film to help him get through at least his first day of the shoot. Cut to: me fast forwarding through all the VHS tapes in my mother’s house trying to find a film that had a scene with two people talking in a restaurant so I could copy the shots. That’s »Corman 101« in action.

If the »University of Corman« or »UniCorm« as I like to call it, has a curriculum it would be something like this. Firstly, the emphasis on the low budget. As Jack Nicholson says in the documentary »Corman’s World«: »They (the films) weren’t pretending to be something else.« Fast forward years later to »Nollywood 101«. Those films stand out because they weren’t pretending to be something else. They were a true voice. Nollywood for me, at the time when I discovered it, was a breath of fresh air. The first Nollywood film was »Living in Bondage«. An industry was born. Today in the popular hit track »Oliver Twist« by D’banj he references Nollywood actresses as well as Hollywood royalty. The music video also features an appearance by Kanye West. It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish. I might not have ever made a film that could be classified as Nollywood but I most certainly have adopted, like Corman’s students have, some of their ethos. I remember Ron Howard talking about filming the mega big budget film staring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman called »Far and Away«. If memory serves, he spoke about how on a particular day they were running out of time and losing light. He found himself, he said, channelling his inner Roger Corman, and rushing with one cameraman and Tom and Nicole to chase the light. Corman has made over 200 films. Throw a stone in the Nollywood shop of talent and you would find filmmakers with a standard 200-film résumé, and that’s before breakfast. Nollywood might have started with »Living in Bondage« but today the films are screened in multiplexes the world over. Corman might have started with »Monster on the Sea Floor« but he inspired the blockbusters of today. Spielberg’s masterpiece film »Jaws« was essentially a B-Grade movie done with better production value. The rest is history. »Jaws« and »Star Wars« changed the tide of American films and also Roger Corman’s cinema. A high gloss big budget blockbuster had replaced the low budget film. We don’t know where Nollywood will end up but we have seen what Corman has influenced in America. Corman continues to make films but refuses to change his ethos.

I had an interesting experience watching »The Little Shop of Horrors«. I couldn’t remember if I had seen it before. An image popped into my mind of a plant eating people but I couldn’t quite place it. As the film started with that beautiful cartoon drawing and the voice of the detective, I found myself remembering that I had seen it all on stage. As a child I always liked macabre stories and I enjoyed this one immensely. The fact that the success of the shop is tied to blood reminded me of the line from »Interview with the Vampire«: »Drink from me and live forever«. The constant craving of the plant, like Cookie Monster from »Sesame Street«. The film is hilarious as well. I love the interplay of the characters. It is filled with great lines like: »It’s a finger of speech!« Shot over two and a half days, the tale of a man ultimately destroyed by his creation. It’s the stuff of movie legend.

In the documentary »Corman’s World«, he is compared to the Arab maxim: The dogs bark but the caravan moves on. Corman and Nollywood for me continue to move mobile memories forward, the rest of us are barking.

first published here: http://www.friedagrafe.net/film-view/128

Gary Minkley & Helena Pohlandt-McCormick on boris barnet’s “by the bluest of seas”

Filed under: film,Frieda Grafe — ABRAXAS @ 4:15 pm


»By the Bluest of Seas« (»U Samogo Sinego Morya«) was released in the Soviet Union in 1936. Made by Soviet actor and director Boris Barnet, it was his second sound feature film after »Outskirts« (1933). As such it is routinely identified with the new instrumentalisation of the ›Socialist Realism‹ mode of film-making and with Barnet’s own location within popular (and with sound, musical) comedy, which as Beumers (2003) has pointed out, had become the dominant film genre of the later 1930s in the Soviet Union, »reinforcing the function of cinema under the pressure of ideology … within the popular form of the musical and the predictability of the fairy tale«. And yet responses to the film at the time criticized »By the Bluest of Seas« for being ›overly emotional‹, the script derided for its emotional nature and the director chided for cutting up Sergey Potosky’s score and for continuing to rely on montage forms that were seen as increasingly antithetical to Socialist Realism modes. It is what we might call this anomaly between the film’s designated political mode (by time and place as officially made in the Soviet Union in the mid-1930s under Socialist Realism) and its contrary ›emotional‹ content that we wish to reflect on and through which we will prompt our own feelings of both fidelity and desire for its significance and worth.


This anomaly also has contemporary relevance. Current reviews (of »By the Bluest of Seas« recent DVD format release) echo the view of the film as being a musical comedy, describing it as a ›cinematic fairytale‹, as a ›buddy rom-com‹ (romantic comedy) and as a comedy melodrama. Others, almost predictably from within this inherited discursive placing, refer to it as reflecting a ›fairly lightweight‹ or ›whimsical‹ tale, often connected with a ›thin plotline‹ and showing ›pure frivolity‹, and ending up most tellingly describing it as a … »sweet film and ephemeral. Much like the two sailors, it arrives, stirs the waters and then recedes, slipping easily from your mind but leaving behind a sense of warmth« (Close-Up, Film website). At the same time the film is lauded, given worth, and the reading of it as cinematic fairytale enabled by simultaneously pointing to its apparent apolitical nature. While this is primarily read back through an uncritically inherited critique of Socialist Realism and communism – through such claims as that it is ›lacking any particular propaganda‹, that it is ›completely removed from politics‹, and that it is ›astounding that Barnet was able to make such an apolitical film‹ – a bigger, larger, more pervasive articulation resides within these formulations. This is to deny ›emotions‹ a political frame, to simultaneously read the political as beyond affect and to devalue and reduce in importance, along strongly formed gender lines, the relatedness between the political and the personal, between politics, emotion, feeling and desire. Against this we wish to propose that »By the Bluest of Seas« enables such lines of flight.

In this regard, for us there is also a third frame. We have both recently been centrally involved in a Southern African focused research project under the broad, provoking title of Love & Revolution. What is meant by this and how this can be connected to our discussion of »By the Bluest of Seas« is well articulated in the following: »Love & Revolution widens the frame through which studies of liberation struggles, nationalism and political cultures have been understood, by insisting on the parallel treatment of ›the personal‹, be it the forces of desire, affiliation or emotion. In southern Africa for instance, popular cultural expressions since the 1960s suggest the transformation of individual subjectivities in the midst of nationalist political struggle and social change, especially in urban areas and exile camps. Love & Revolution seeks to co-examine the social and the subjective, the political and the unconscious. There is the potential to explore the way these, and the forms and hierarchies of knowledge produced around them, have often obscured one another despite possible inter-connections. In discursive terms there are deployments of revolutionary language to express the personal, and narratives of affect with the mobilization of powerful symbols to lay claim to the political and the economic. By the same token, Love & Revolution instates the political at the heart of enquiries about gender, sexuality, aesthetics and creativity. The platform provides opportunities to question the dominant categories and archives of analysis, within the subcontinent and beyond. The thematic conjuncture of Love & Revolution interrogates the underpinnings of the nation and shifts in consciousness of the self and the other, and more philosophically, it raises questions about the humanities and humanity itself.«

Boris Barnet, then, clearly occupies an ambiguous position within the canon of Soviet film-makers. Born in 1902 to a family that owned a typographical business, he studied as an architect and painter and then worked as a set designer at the Moscow Art Theatre. In 1919 he enlisted in the Red Army and then, after being discharged due to ill-health, learned boxing in the Main Military School for Physical Education of Workers (Glavvosh). Lev Kuleshov persuaded Barnet to join his collective as an actor in »The Extraordinary Adventures of Mr West in the Land of the Bolsheviks« (»Cowboy Jeddie«) one of the Soviet cinema’s first great comedies, joining a cast that included future directors Pudovkin, Obolensky and Komarov (Vivaldi, 2011). He then worked as a scriptwriter and then director with Fedur Otsep in the serial adventure ›red detective‹ film »Miss Mend« (aka »The Adventures of the Three Reporters«) released in 1926. Becoming part of the Mezhrabpom Studio collective, Barnet directed his ›Keatonesque‹ first silent feature, »The Girl with the Hatbox« (»Devushka s korobkoy«) in 1927 and »Moscow in October« a state commissioned 10th anniversary film also in 1927, followed by »The House on Trubnaya Square« (»Dom na Trubnoi«) in 1928. This was followed by »Living Things« (1930), »The Ghost« (1931), »The Thaw« (»Lyodolom«) (1931) and Outskirts« (aka »Patriots«/ »Okraina«), his first sound film, in 1933. »By the Bluest of Seas« followed in 1936 as a joint production between Mezhrabpon and Azerbaizhan Film Studios and was shot in the region of the Caspian Sea.
Importantly, although interrupted by features such as »Moscow in October« and »Thaw«, Barnet is firmly located within the Mezhrabphon Studio collective and as such, within what has been located as a more popular and comedic tradition. However, as a number of commentators have pointed out, Barnet has been seen to have straddled the more traditionalist (Protazanov)/ innovator (as in maintaining Kuleshov’s montage influences) divide (as proposed by Nikolai Lebedev, one of the first significant historians of 1920s silent Soviet cinema). More significantly though, in positioning Barnet as a comedy director, and in the rather simplistic associations of him as a director of ›popular comedy‹ and with the advent of sound, ›musical comedy‹, he falls between what Anderson (2008) has called the two ›golden ages‹ of Soviet cinema: the heroic age of Soviet silent cinema with its montage filmmaker theorists (Eisenstein, Kuleshov, Pudovkin, Vertov), and the later ›Russian Thaw‹ (Kalatozov, Tarkovsky, Paradjanov, Iosseliani). Rather, as he points out, his ›complex disposition‹ within Soviet film history seems to map him more closely onto the far less esteemed ›Socialist Realism‹ period and brand of film practice, and in his association with Mezhrabphon, with its more popular, comedic and lightweight disposition – he was called the ›Peter Pan of Soviet cinema‹ (Margolit, 168) and ›infantile‹. (Vivaldi, 2011) Against this we might want to register Bela Balasz, the Hungarian born film theorist, critic and writer: »In your films there is an explosion of laughter in the saddest of scenes. A tragic moment is at one and the same time comic … you don’t give a caricature of serious things. You show them in a serious manner … but you simply don’t sift them, you don’t cleanse them of the grotesque and comic details which may stick to the most serious of things …. Tragedy and comedy are no longer in your films two different categories and thanks to this you have overcome that dualism which forces people to see life as either tragic or comic«. (Bela Balasz in Vivaldi (2011))

Our purpose here, though, is not to enter some form of canonical rescue of Barnet. Many have done so, from calling him the ›father of Soviet comedy‹ (Anderson, 2008), to various recent authors calling him the ›forgotten master‹, arguing that he is ›unjustly unknown‹ and ›long overlooked‹ and that he has still ›not been accorded the central place that he deserves in the appreciation of the first half century of Soviet cinema‹ (Vivaldi, 2011). Rather, our purpose in rehearsing Barnet’s genealogy of location and production is twofold: first to suggest the ways that the very categories attached to him limit possibilities of reading and viewing Barnet and »By the Bluest of Seas« beyond the imposed biographic as deterministic; but also secondly that, while he does fit within the parameters of Socialist Realism, this is not just an uncomfortable, or incongruous fit which, while mostly read as determining the ›superior quality of his art‹ might also enable a talking back, if not to Socialist Realism, then to the political ›without shores‹ (to plunder the title of a recent edited collection of essays entitled Socialist Realism without Shores, 1997). Put somewhat differently, we want to hold Barnet’s »By the Bluest of Seas« up against Brody’s (2013) observations that he had »the misfortune of being a lyricist in a time and a place of mandatory declamation, an ironist under a regime of deadly earnestness, a discerning psychologist in a reign of subordinated individuality« and couple this with Vivaldi’s (2011) observation that his »lyrical voice … in which life ›seeped into and washed away‹ all the stereotypes he was directed to shoot« enable a re-seeing and a re:working (following John Mowitt) of the political as affect. In the process, we may further see how ›Soviet man was (un)made‹ (following Lilya Kaganovsky, 2008) and how ›socialist senses‹ (following Widdis 2012) can be brought into critical view.

So – the film. »By the Bluest of Seas« features Nikolai Kryuchkov (Aliosha/ Alyoshka), Lev Sverdin (Yussuf/ Youssouf) and Yelena Kuzmina (Maria aka Misha/Masha/Mashenka). Kuzmina was also Barnet’s wife at the time. Filmed by cinematographer Mikhail Kirilov, written by Klimenti Mints and scored by Sergei Pototski(y) the film is routinely described in terms of its light, lyrical tone, for its depictions of joy, for its ›unfettered enjoyment in visual delight‹ and as an ›uplifting and intelligent comic exploration of love, friendship and humanity‹. It is relatedly stated that it is ›one of the most inspiring, poetic and harmonious cinematic achievements to come out of that great Soviet era of filmmaking‹ and that it is ›in its uncluttered, lyrical and emotional simplicity that the film excels‹. Not surprisingly, the film itself is as routinely, described as ›beautifully crafted‹, as a ›visual poem‹ and the cinematography and score equally praised (albeit that Barnet chopped up Pototsky’s score without his agreement). Perhaps this is best summarized by Anderson (2008): »the evidence is on the screen. That is, whether one cites the filmmakers’ land and seascape photography, the bodily and performative representation of desire and feeling or the emotional stakes for which the protagonists are playing, the unadulterated pleasures of Barnet’s film are there for those with eyes to see and hearts to feel. This is a film with which to fall in love«.

The film opens (and closes) with a montage of the Caspian Sea. Often depicted as some of the ›most beautifully-shot seascapes in the history of cinema‹, this bluest of seas (albeit in black and white) features as the ›emotional scenario‹ for the film as a whole. Actor Lev Sverdin (Yussuf) suggested that Barnet and cinematographer Mikhail Kirilov’s sublime long-lensed filming ›captured the sea’s emotions on film‹. After at least twenty edits, montaging a humanless sea as a central character, two shipwreck survivors enter the scene (Alyoshka and Yussuf). For two days and nights they are pushed southwards and end up being rescued and taken to the island that was their original destination. They are engineers/mechanics dispatched, in the adventure narrative Stalinist mode of the aviator figure to the island where the fishing kolkhoz (collective farm) named ›The Flames of Communism‹ (Lights of Communism) requires intervention. This is so because the majority of the men are away in the East, involved in the Sino-Chinese-Japanese conflict of the 1930s, and Barnet reconstructs a tension between an idyllic island of predominantly women residents (and thus the fulfillment of the shipwrecked sailors’ desires) and the island as a working fishing commune about to encounter the fishing season. This collective soviet Socialist Realism backdrop, though, is about as much as we get to see in this mode. Rather, the majority of the story involves the two engineer shipwrecked friends caught in a love triangle with Masha, who is also an outsider, but the president/chairwoman/farm manager of the kolkhoz. Much of the film is taken up with their friendship, with romantic antagonism and with the rivalry for Masha’s heart where their mutual affections for her threaten both their relationship and their positions within the collective. However, she is, in turn, in love with a soldier fighting in the East. She remains faithful to him and they depart. The sea returns.

As Vivaldi (2011) has suggested »the structure is symmetrical and tone is one of pure nonchalance – no question of meeting production quotas, fulfilling plans, building communism. The film ignores all the rhetoric of the time, all the mannerism of Socialist Realism; all the drama is based on small misunderstandings without any conceivable importance.« There are also some telling formal Barnet devices: the love triangle, or perhaps more accurately quartet (with the absent soldier figure) related to montage, equally visible elsewhere; the crossing of silent and sound film techniques and tones, and the extension of slapstick humour drawn from its silent antecedents, laughter and the grin and his concerns with the body, the surface, and the acts of looking and of feeling. Similarly the film holds a sense of dialogue and narrative that is improvised and gestural, and Barnet’s use of detail and the minimalism of everyday life, as well as his use of irony are all visible as a collective individuality accretes. As Yelena Kuzmina demonstrates, this meant that he ›never kept to the original scenario‹. Rather »[h]e [Barnet] would write out each shot painstakingly and stick these pieces of paper one after another to make a long scroll. Then he would unroll this on the ground and get down on his knees to search for the shot he was about to do. And in the end he would shoot something quite different, improvising on the spot. This is the reason for the ›freedom‹ in his films«. (quoted in Eisenschitz, 1994)

Particular scenes resonate: the opening (and closing) scenes of the emotional sea as humanless subject; the sacralisation of lives in the shifts from turbulence to calm and the ›saving rebirth‹ of Alyoshka and Yussuf, but more dramatically in the ›rebirth‹ of Masha after being lost at sea, washing up on to the sand in front of the two men; the bitter sweet sensuality of this love triangle (not yet a known quadrant and the desired resurrection of her lover from the East) in the eating of lemons whilst declaring attraction and desire; the suit scene where Yussuf is fitted and tickled into a new suit by the kolkhoz whilst attempting to get to declare his desire for Masha over Alyoshka, who has the advantage; the bead scene when Masha intentionally breaks her pearl necklace and the pearls fall in complete melancholic silence; and the scenes of the two men displaying their bodies and dancing shirtless in erotic acts of performative display (and »By the Bluest of Seas« might be seen as one of the sexiest of Soviet films) – these scenes are all compelling in enabling a complex narration of emotions, feelings and desires that are sacred, intense and meaningful. Life is about labour and love and about the love of life within and beyond the collective and the kolkhoz – beyond Socialist Realism. Emotion, if you like, and sexuality and desire, the body, gesture and laughter, if also hurt and bitterness are its dissenting complex subjectivities coming to presence beyond the ›collective make-believe‹ (Kaganovsky, 2008).

Nicole Brenez has suggested that Barnet’s ethology, in the context of Soviet cinema, that was totally ruled by the Administration and that nevertheless produced this outsider film, is the ›euphoria of the body‹. For her the »joy of the body exuberantly plunged into sensations: sensual editing that displays his love of motifs – the sea, the seagulls, the faces – in place of treating a story, and the empathetic literalism of the music that grabs the emotions with the image as abruptly as an impulse and submerges the sequences like an irresistible wave« define this film and Barnet’s ethology (Brenez, 2008). Brenez proposes, then, that the film’s ›long rebirth‹ delivers characters without a past, without a becoming, without a mission, without psychology – they are as they appear concretely, that is to say a sum of gestures; a poetry of gestural invention that brings the cinema back to its origins of live performance: circus, acrobatics, vaudeville, gymnastics. And it is in these repertoires of conflicting gestures: the dramatic rescue becoming burlesque (Yusuf tickled); the declaration of love in grimaces (the lemons); the joy suspended in terror (resurrection of Masha) that both draw on these performative repertoires and give them life. She says Barnet films in the mode of the ›found gesture‹ that articulates with Bulgakowa’s (2005) notion of a ›factory of gestures‹ where the language of the body – posture, manner of walking or sitting, how one holds one’s head – is a series of signifying codes that shift and change alongside social change. As importantly she asks how does the art of cinema register and construct new bodies?

Lilya Kaganovsky (2008) provides one means. She proposes that Stalinist visual culture (and Socialist Realism) propagated Soviet supermen (›new soviet man‹) of extravagant virility. Another form of masculinity (the wounded, disabled, even paralysed hero) was also present and not at odds with the former, but rather that »the two forms of masculinity exist together, together they create the ideal Stalinist man: hyperbolically strong, yet without arms or legs; committed to the cause, yet permanently chained to his bed; visionary, yet blind«. Here, in the double fantasy of Stalinist subjectivity, discipline and failure, enhancement and disfigurement, heteronormativity and heterosexual panic co-exist and co-constitute each other, as Kuntsman (2009) remarks. »By the Bluest of Seas« offers a different reading – one that both brings ›the relations between cultural fantasies, state power, the body and sexual and political subjectivity‹ (Kuntsman, 2009) into play, but which also, in the ways that the love plot fails to work, and in how his ›euphoria of the body‹ and the conflicting and originary lived ›factory of gestures‹ in the film subverts Stalinist (Socialist Realism) masculinities and exposes them as a ›dominant fiction‹ (Kaganovsky, 2008). At the same time in producing these heterosexual anxieties through body and gesture new ›euphorias of the body‹ that are simultaneously both between desire and fidelity and between heterosexual and homosocial bodies and bonds are revealed. Barnet’s film, then, brings dissenting subjectivities of affect, love, feeling and emotion and the political together as gesturally subversive.

For us then, there is a moment (or two such moments) in the film when this is most powerfully articulated. They evolve around the moments when first Aloyshka and then Yussuf discover that their official instruction and directive to provide necessary labour to the kolkhoz has been erased by the sea. In their exclamation of its disappearance the official collective of Socialist Realism is erased by the emotional sea, replaced by their desiring and desired bodies and with gesture and indeed laughter.
Brenez (2008) has articulated how Barnet reflects the registers of laughter as frank and happy, a laughter that »wakes up sympathy to others, that gives us the assurance of being able to overcome all difficulties, small and large; this laughter that makes more reasonable, that destroys spite, resentment, doubt, jealousy.« This moment, from erased word to seen gesture moves subjectivities beyond the empty pages of ›new soviet man‹, beyond the shores of Socialist Realism and into our imagined blue of Barnet’s seas of life and love.

1 The project has been based at University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the Centre for Humanities Research (CHR) and centrally Patricia Hayes and Premesh Lalu, and includes the University of Minnesota (UM) and its Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Global Change (ICGC) with Helena Pohlandt-McCormick and Karen Brown, the SARChI Chair in Social Change at the University of Fort Hare with Gary Minkley, and also involving Gopinath Arunima, director of the Women’s Studies Programme, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Martina Rieker, Institute for Gender and Women’s Studies in the School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, American University in Cairo.

Anderson, Michael J. Film in New Haven: Boris Barnet’s »By the Bluest of Seas« (1936), from www.taitivelle.blogspot.com, accessed 7 March 2013.
Beumers, Birgit. »Soviet and Russian Blockbusters: A Question of Genre?« Slavic Review (2003): 441-454.
Brenez, Nicole. By The Bluest of Seas. Youtube video, alsolifelike.com/shooting, uploaded 19 November 2008.
Brody, David. Critics Notebook about Boris Barnet’s Outskirts, from www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/movies, accessed 13 March 2013.
Bulgakowa, Oksana. »The Factory of Gestures: Body Language in Film«, Potemkin Press, 2008.
Eisenschitz, Bernard. »A Fickle Man, or Portrait of Boris Bamet as a Soviet Director’. « Inside the Film Factory: New Approaches to Russian and Soviet Cinema: 151-164.
Kaganovsky, Lilya. »How the Soviet man was unmade: cultural fantasy and male subjectivity under Stalin«. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2008.
Kaganovsky, Lilya. »how the Soviet Man was (un) Made.« Slavic Review (2004): 577-596.
Kaganovsky, Lilya. »The Factory of Gestures: Body Language in Film (review)«. Cinema Journal 51.3 (2012): 168-170.
Kuntsman, Adi. Review: Lilya Kaganovsky, »How the Soviet Man was Unmade«, in Europe-Asia Studies, 61, 8 October 2009, 1483-1511.
Lahusen, Thomas, and Evgeny Dobrenko, eds. Socialist Realism without shores. Duke University Press Books, 1997.
Vivaldi, Giuliano. “Boris Barnet The Lyric Voice in Soviet Cinema”. 2011
Widdis, Emma. “Socialist Senses.” Slavic Review 71.3 (2012): 590-618.

first published here: http://www.friedagrafe.net/film-view/78


Filed under: kaganof — ABRAXAS @ 1:46 pm

In short, framing is everything.

I think it was Frank Zappa who said that music was merely time framed.

Obviously it begins in film with the four sides of the image we stare at.

This film has in common with painting, and particularly with the history of the landscape painting. (Portraiture is something else altogether that makes its return in the vertical stand-up frame of the iPhone and other smart phone cameras – presenting, I believe, the first really great break with the history of cinematic framing as we know it).

But as Jean-Luc Godard noted astutely, the cinematic frame is in fact six-sided – the other two being the “sides” in time from the commencement of the shot to its end. Every cinema shot is in this sense a moebius strip taking us outside of the history of painting into the history of theatre. There is something dizzying about this device of framing that is always evident in the cinematic experience. The rug of reality is pulled out from under us. Anything is possible within the sixth sense that is cinema. Not to explore these possibilities for reasons of authenticity is not merely Luddite, it’s positively anti-mediumistic, or, let’s be frank, moralistic.

Frames within frames and framing devices are central to the ontology of cinema.

Finally, it is not by any chance that the fundamental trope of the fundamental cinema genre; the film noir, is that the protagonist is framed. An innocent man is accused of something he did not do. The evidence is provided. We say he is “framed”. Isn’t this exquisite framing device the key to understanding the immense power of the twentieth century’s great art form? Kafkaesque and Brechtian at once, the six frames of the cinema shot interlink with each to form a vast geodesic labyrinth of infinitude, like Borges’ poem that is never finished, there is only one film really, one movie, and that is the eye of death. The Act of Seeing With One’s Own Eyes Stan Brakhage called it.

aryan kaganof

August 20, 2013

aryan kaganof interviews shane cooper

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 9:58 am

It’s not easy to improvise, it’s the most difficult thing to do. Even when one improvises in front of a camera or microphone, one ventriloquizes or leaves another to speak in one’s place the schemas and languages that are already there. There are already a great number of prescriptions that are prescribed in our memory and in our culture. All the names are already preprogrammed. It’s already the names that inhibit our ability to ever really improvise. One can’t say what ever one wants, one is obliged more or less to reproduce the stereotypical discourse. And so I believe in improvisation and I fight for improvisation. But always with the belief that it’s impossible. And there where there is improvisation I am not able to see myself. I am blind to myself. And it’s what I will see, no, I won’t see it. It’s for others to see. The one who is improvised here, no I won’t ever see him.
Jaques Derrida

1. What are your immediate plans for the future and has the award affected these?

1) I am launching my own quintet in April and recording an album with the group. I will be presenting 3 shows in Grahamstown at the arts festival. Two of the projects are collaborations with some local and international artists, where we will all contribute compositions. The third project is my quintet, and it will be an unofficial CD launch. I’ll have an official launch soon after in Cape Town.

2. You play in so many different contexts one might think you have Multiple Personality Syndrome. Please describe the persona that operates in the Darkrrom Collective.

2) Darkroom Collective is just a side project for myself and some friends, we only get together about once a year, and play completely improvised music to images projected on a screen. A live spontaneous soundtrack. I don’t like to perform with that group too often cause it would ruin the freshness of it.

3. Please describe this other (alter)ego in Card on Spokes.

3) Card on Spokes is my electronic music project. I launched it a few years ago, and it’s a way for me to release and perform my electronic music under a different alias. I’ve been passionate about jazz and electronic music since I was a kid, and it’s great for me to be able to explore both worlds of sound.

4. Are you comfortable with being a “leader” now? Does this mean you have found your musical voice? And what is the voice of the bass?

4) I am comfortable with leading a band, I’ve worked as a co-leader before, and in several democratic projects, and I’ve had to lead at different times in these groups.
Have I found my voice? I don’t know, but I’m on a path of discovery and searching, and that’s what it’s about for me at this point. The voice of the bass can be many things, I was driven to it by the groove first and foremost, but it can play many different roles in music, and I like playing with these in mind.

5. Does coming from PE mean anything special? Jazz-wise? Were you connected to the jazz history of the town when you were coming up?

5) When I was about 16 in PE I was fortunate to play in a band with multi-instrumentalist Graham Beyer, and the great guitarist Gerard O’Brien (of the Genuines), and the drummer Marcel Scullard. We played in bars around town for several years, and I cut my teeth playing with them. I learnt a lot from their wealth of knowledge. I also didn’t have to be a runner in a restaurant anymore, so I got my first taste of earning bread from music. There were a number of good jazz musicians and mentors in PE for me to look up to, and they were the ones who brought me into the music.

6. Is jazz a good place for a musician to be? Are you allowed to evolve and mature over time in a way that the “rock” or electronic musicians are not?

6) I think the work of any true artist in any genre will evolve over time, because it reflects their growth and experiences as people. The rate of growth might slow down, but I like to see seasoned musicians who are still searching and trying new things. Look at Wayne Shorter as an example. I’ve been to plenty of jazz gigs where some people in the crowd start calling out for some old classics of theirs, when the artist is presenting new music. You get that in every genre. It’s more important to move forward. Every song writer has songs inside them, and it’s important to get them out while they have energy and spirit.

7. Finally, please, something about your relationship with Zim, what he meant to you as a player and as a composer.

7) Zim had a big influence on me. He had such commitment, and this incredible energy when he played, a really immense musical force. He wrote such moving music, and had such a distinctive sound. When I first met him he encouraged me to write more. I was very lucky to play with him. I wish I could have played with him more.

August 11, 2013

scelsi – trio for strings (1958)

Filed under: Giacinto Scelsi,music — ABRAXAS @ 7:03 pm

Trio for strings (1958)

I. 1er Mouvement
II. 2e Mouvement

III. 3e Mouvement
IV. 4e Mouvement

Robert Zimansky, violin
Patrick Demenga, cello
Christoph Schiller, viola

When the scores for Scelsi’s string works at last came into the hands of Irvine Arditti in the late ’70s, the great violinist said “It appears rather a large fish has got through our nets.” By that time, Scelsi, though still alive, had virtually stopped composing. All that he did compose after about 1975 were new versions of older pieces. The Arditti String Quartet, among numerous others, became energetic champions of his work, presumably agreeing with Franco Donatoni that Scelsi was the third of three great Italian composers born in the early part of the twentieth century. Members of the Arditti in fact performed the world-premiere of the trio in 1986, in London, almost 30 years after it was composed. The musical world has indeed been tardy in granting Scelsi, a mysterious, controversial, elusive figure, the recognition that he so richly deserves. The process of fighting for his cause goes on even today, when some continue to unjustly accuse him of dilettantism.

The birth of Scelsi’s String Trio is tied intimately to that of the famous Quattro pezzi su una nota sola (for chamber orchestra, 1959). Together they are the first pieces Scelsi would compose in his characteristic monotonal style, music focused with maniacal intensity on the elaboration of single pitches. Whereas his earlier music had depended heavily upon use of the piano, his new direction required instruments capable of microtonal inflection, of which the piano is incapable. The String Trio is his most important first step in that direction that would take him so far. It is in many ways a study for the Quattro pezzi which, by their timbral lushness, outshine the trio in influence and importance.

His division of the trio into quasi-classical movements betrays his sustained respect for tradition. Despite his radical simplifications, Scelsi didn’t abandon belief in the need for clear formal designs. Each of the four movements of the trio elaborates a single pitch, using microtonal fluctuations, complex rhythms, and varying expressive manners, and deft changes of tone color, using mutes, and varied articulations. Unlike the later music, which tends to exclude lower registers entirely, the trio focuses on the middle to low registers, even descending to the low C of the cello at one point. The melodic path of the movements is as follows: F sharp (first movement), C (second), B (third), B flat (fourth). The pitches are expressed in three different octaves each time so that, although frequently piano piano, the sound is always full. Indeed, there is something tremendous and “Sphinx-like” in the sound of naked octaves. Some other notes are occasionally introduced to the mix, resulting in some thirds and sixths, but we always hear these entirely in relation to the home pitch of the movement, as if they were only overtones of it. The addition of these ornamental pitches in no way undermines the focused integrity of the piece, which never wavers from its goal of opening our ears to the third, “spherical” dimension of sound. [Allmusic.com]

August 6, 2013

Giacinto Scelsi (1905-88)

Filed under: Giacinto Scelsi,music — ABRAXAS @ 2:25 pm

Giacinto Scelsi

A long ignored eccentric and outsider of the new music world (who never wanted his photograph to appear in connection with his music), the Italian composer and poet Giacinto Scelsi (strictly speaking Count Giacinto Scelsi di Ayala Valva, 1905-88) gained considerable recognition in the mid-1980s, just as his creative powers began to slacken. Hence he is often called the Charles Ives of Italy. While it took music publishers nearly 50 years to take on and promulgate his works, three collections of his poetry were published in French in Paris in 1949, 1954 and 1962.

Scelsi was mainly a self-taught composer, but received some instruction from Giacinto Sallustio in Rome and Egon Koehler in Geneva who acquainted him with Scriabin’s work. He also studied with Walter Klein, a music theorist and friend of the Schoenberg circle who introduced him in 1936 to the music and theory of the “Second Viennese School.” Shortly thereafter Scelsi, made extended visits to Asia and became interested in Eastern philosophy, theosophy, yoga, and Buddhism, all of which affected his compositional approach as did his musical studies in Geneva and Vienna. Eventually settling in Rome, Scelsi once remarked: “Rome is the boundary between East and West. South of Rome, the East starts, north of Rome, the West starts. The borderline runs exactly through the Roman Forum. There is my house: This explains my life and my music.” Thus it is not surprising that Scelsi’s artistic ideas and compositional procedures, thwarted Western concepts of composition, improvisation, interpretation, and performance. He did not consider himself a composer, but rather a medium or vessel who transcendentally received musical messages while meditating and improvising at the piano or on the guitar and percussion instruments. Such “intuitive” or “real time” compositions were taped and transcribed and edited by others since the 1940s. (After Scelsi’s death, some of his assistants, whom Scelsi had merely viewed as interpreters of his sonic messages, publicly and provocatively claimed to be his ghostwriters.) The resulting scores, however, did not allow for flexibility or improvisation. Like Scelsi and his assistants, the performer assumes the role of a medium, who merely conveys the sounds to the audience. For Scelsi sound was cosmic energy and three-dimensional: “The sound is round like a sphere, yet when one hears it, it seems to have only two dimensions: register and duration-of the third [dimension] we know that it exists, but it escapes us in some way. The high and low overtones sometimes give the impression of a more comprehensive, manifold sound beyond duration and register, but it is difficult to comprehend its complexity.” Searching for the “third dimension” or “depth” of sound, Scelsi attempted to expand the tonal realm and focused more and more on one or two single pitches. These were treated like focal points and were reiterated or embroidered while subjected to very subtle modifications in intensity, timbre, dynamics and pitch. This approach, however, led Scelsi to embrace microtonality and write music primarily for winds, strings and voice from the mid-1950s on. Such works as Tre pezzi (1956) for trombone, Quattro pezzi su una nota sola (1959) for chamber orchestra or his last three String Quartets (1963-85) are based on single notes and their iridescent microtonal nuances. Herewith Scelsi incidentally anticipated compositional techniques developed further by La Monte Young and Phill Niblock.

How do Scelsi’s works for solo piano and piano chamber works fit into his ouvre? Most of his numerous piano compositions, among them forty Preludes, eleven Suites, four Sonatas, Quattro illustrazioni, Cinque incantesimi, and Action Music, were written in two batches, from 1930 to 1943 and from 1952 to 1956 (if one wants to trust the dates of composition given by Scelsi, who intended to fool musicologists). In 1974 Scelsi employed the piano for the last time when he created Aitsi for amplified piano and To the Master (two improvisations in collaboration with Victoria Parr) for cello and piano. Assuming a special position within Scelsi’s compositional output, his works for piano shed not only light on his outstanding pianistic talent and his abilities as an improviser, but they indicate major changes in his compositional development. Twelve-tone procedures in his early piano works reveal the influence of Schoenberg, Berg and Webern. His Quattro Poemi (1936-39), for instance, of which the last piece is dedicated to Alban Berg, feature quotations from Berg’s Piano Sonata, op. 1, fourth chords and suggestions to dodecaphony. In following works such as the Second Sonata (on mode 92) and the Sixth Suite, Scelsi concentrated more and more on the exploration of pitch centers and clusters as focal points and on the autonomy of single tones or sounds. When after more then a decade-long psychic crisis, Scelsi resumed composing for the piano, he fell back upon techniques he had used in his early works, namely motivic organization contrasted by somewhat amorphous pitch or sound centers. Yet, more and more of these pieces focus on the repetition of single pitches. They also reveal meditative aspects which are emphasized by such Sanskrit-derived subtitles as Bot-ba – An evocation of Tibet with its monasteries in the high mountains: Tibetan rituals, prayers and dances, (Suite No. 8, 1952), Ttai (Suite No. 9), or Ka (Suite No. 10). In his search of the “depth” of sound and its microtonal qualities, the piano with its half-tone step limitation could no longer correspond to his artistic ideas; and as a consequence he stopped composing for this instrument in 1956. However, Scelsi did not discard the piano, which had served as one of his imperative composing aids since the mid-forties. Instead, he employed the “ondiolina,” an electric keyboard instrument which made possible quarter-tone differentiation. Aitsi, Scelsi’s last work for amplified piano solo of 1974, in which the sustained pitches are distorted, incidentally originated due to a malfunction of his tape recorder. It was ultimately arranged for string quartet in 1985.

–Sabine Feisst (from the notes to mode 92)

first published here: http://www.moderecords.com/profiles/giacintoscelsi.html
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