All posts by Barry Johnson

Barry Johnson has edited and written about the arts in Portland since 1979.

Scatter has a birthday!

Christine Sehnaoui This phalanx of Art Scatter has been totally missing for a while. Quite a while. Which means we’ve been posting our fool heads off at Portland Arts Watch, trying to get that vessel seaworthy.

We just posted today on a visit by Christine Sehnaoui, a Lebanese-born, Europe-based exponent of experimental music. It’s improvised music, so maybe it also qualifies as free jazz. It IS listed as a Portland Jazz Festival event. Anyway, the post has a sort of Art Scatter feel to it, so I’m hoping maybe you’ll venture forth. Penguins are involved. So is Ursula K. Le Guin (but only because of the penguins). Also, there’s a little participatory journalism: At one point I was afraid that the audience would register the squeaking of my rather noisy chair as part of the performance. I’m considering the formation of the Squeaky Chair Quartet as a result of this experience. I’m looking for someone who’s good on recliner.

Yes, the Portland Jazz Festival. Which is just about where we came in one year ago. Weirdly enough, Art Scatter has passed the magical one-year barrier. That post I did on Ornette Coleman? One year ago. I started to say it seems like only yesterday, but in fact it feels more like a decade! At my age, that’s a good thing. We’re trying to s-t-r-e-t-c-h those days out.

Anyway, we thank you for joining us this past year. Frankly, if not for you, we wouldn’t be doing this. We’d be boring Scatter Wives completely silly instead! I/We have no idea what this next year will bring in Scatter Land, because we/I have no idea which way the worm will turn. But speaking entirely for myself, this space we share with you has amused me no end. And I mean amusement in the best possible way. Thanks!

Want a little review with that play?

UPDATE: The discussion at Portland Arts Watch on this post is getting robust as well. You might want to have a look.

I just posted a version of this at Portland Arts Watch, and I’m thinking that I’ll extend it to these precincts as well, because I really do want to hear opinions about this topic. It’s something I’ve wondered about for a long time: How review-centric should newspaper/site coverage of the arts be? That boils down to a multitude of individual judgments, and I’d love to hear your thinking!

Guthrie Theater in MinnesotaEveryone knows that this an era of shrinking resources at your local newsgathering operation (which we once called a “newspaper”). That means fewer staff members and less space in the paper for just about every section and department. And that in turn means a reconsideration of almost all of the coverage habits that have been developed over the decades.

The arts and culture department hasn’t been excluded from this, of course, either at The Oregonian or at other operations across the country (where the trimming often has been more radical in arts than other sections). We’re not going to go into all of that now, but a couple of posts we picked up on ArtsJournal do single out and discuss one of those coverage habits in the arts — the daily review, theater in this case, but by extension, all newspaper reviews.
Continue reading Want a little review with that play?

John Maynard Keynes gets “Network”-ed

Faye Dunaway in Network So last night, after the Super Bowl, I was channel-surfing. I’m not proud of it, but there you have it. Sometimes I think that’s the way the universe is trying to talk to me: If I happen upon the “Dog Whisperer,” I might conclude that I’m not calm and assertive enough (or maybe not submissive enough? Sometimes I get mixed messages). If “Ask This Old House” is working on someone’s water heater, then I immediately suspect that mine needs some lovin’.

Anyway, as I was surfing, I fell in with Network, Paddy Chayefsky’s great 1976 satire about television and society, just before the Howard Beale speech, the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” speech. I knew it was coming and I waited for it, because to this day, it’s the single most subversive thing I’ve ever heard in a mainstream Hollywood movie. (Maybe you have others? We could make a contest of it in the comments.) And this time, it was a swift blow to the solar plexus.
Continue reading John Maynard Keynes gets “Network”-ed

Scatter reaches out to Portland Arts Watch

Lar Lubovitch's Jangle by Chris Roesing of White BirdArt Scatter is looking over at Portland Arts Watch and saying, hey man, what about me. Over there, I’ve been posting madly the past couple of days, and of course I’m going to tell you all about it, right now!

I’ve had a couple of posts on the PNCA-Museum of Contemporary Craft merger. The first was a column for The Oregonian, arguing that Portland’s thriving design community was at the heart of it; the second, a further cogitation, having chatted with craft artist/printmaker/you name it Frank Boyden, a longtime member of the Contemporary Crafts Community. Then, I had a few observations about the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company visit on Wednesday; people love their classical modern dance. And last night I went to hear Nobel economist Paul Krugman (though I could just as easily gone to Cornell West, and I’m in a cognitively dissonant state over my choice even as I type). He had some direly smart things to say.

So, if any of those strike your fancy, please link up. Portland Arts Watch needs your minds working on these topics!

I will say that a lot of my thinking these days has been guided by the post on Anne Focke’s essay, right below this one, and it will turn up in my Monday column for The Oregonian, which is about the instability of “purist” arts institutions in our hybrid world. Well, it’s sort of about that, anyway, and suggests that new models, such as Classical Revolution PDX and Portland Cello Project, might be in the offing. It also has an interview with double-bass genius Edgar Meyer!

Meyer was pretty distracted for our conversation. He’d played like an angel the night before with the symphony, but he had something else on his mind when we sat down, namely a recording session with his old friend Bela Fleck, who has done for the banjo much of what Meyer had done for the bass, and Zakir Hussain, the tablas giant. Well, that’s newspaper talk. Is he actually a giant? Probably not. And Meyer’s not the most loquacious fellow to begin with, at least not with miserable minions of the press. But it was still great to talk to him, because what he did say was entirely pertinent. Succinct but pertinent, with traces of his Tennessee accent.

After I talked to Meyer, I made a point
last weekend of seeing Third Angle’s minimalism show (I know. I posted on that at Portland Arts Watch, too), the Superman Orchestra (which involved Mattie Kaiser and some Classical Revolution musicians) and then some Cello Project folks at Doug Fir with choirs, Irish folk provocateurs, folkies, etc., all culminating in “Carmina burana.” Mercy! I wrote about that stuff over there, too. All of which made me think that this whole musical “purism” argument wasn’t just losing — it had already lost. The world has changed, and you can stay in your bunker with your tricked out sound system and the perfect acoustical set-up and listen ONLY to Bach or hard bop or Janis Joplin, but you’re missing out on a lot of interesting music. I’m imagining those Japanese soldiers, left on remote islands, who hid in the jungle and then stumbled into some village in the 1960s and were amazed to find out that the was over — and, by the way, they lost. Bummer. I know that Art Scatter readers are profoundly post-modern, though!

So, yeah, busy. And did something happen with Sam Adams? Honestly, we’re not going to get into THAT here. Maybe Bob will turn his analytical high-beams on the situation at some point, but I’m waiting for the passion to settle and a few thoughts to bubble up. Because really, the issues involved ARE interesting and it’s one of those rare opportunities to get a fix on where the collective mind is, for example, on our sexual norms. (I’ve already heard two perfectly reasonable people say that kissing is, or at least can be, sex. I didn’t know that — I was a lot busier in high school than I thought!)

Arts management ideas from Focke and Weinstein

Dennis Cunningham's Willamette White Sturgeon. He was a Mississippi Mud artist. OK, this one’s a little long, but it tries to get at some important issues of how we organize ourselves, operate in the world, through the lens of two “artist managers,” Seattle’s Anne Focke and the late Joel Weinstein.

I was rummaging around the Matthew Stadler-edited The Back Room: An Anthology, and after I’d found what I was looking for (and it really wasn’t), I flipped to Anne Focke’s essay “A Pragmatic Response to Real Circumstances”. Which turned out to be what I should have been looking for all along — the tao of managing an arts organization artfully.
Continue reading Arts management ideas from Focke and Weinstein

Jon Raymond and the power of, gulp, discipline

Michelle Williams as Wendy with dog LucyArt Scatter has been late to the Jon Raymond celebration, which started last month when copies of his short story collection Livability started popping up and reviews started to hit various book sections. The film Wendy and Lucy, based on one of those stories, had already hit the festival circuit, winning some major prizes, and then it opened here. Raymond lives here, his stories roam around here, and the film was shot in Portland in 2007, so somehow it feels as though we have a stake in these various enterprises. Which turns out to be a good thing.

What I admire most about 1) Raymond’s short story Train Choir, 2) the film Wendy and Lucy that Kelly Reichardt has directed based on that story, and 3) Michelle Williams’ utterly central performance as Wendy in the movie, is their discipline. All three have some other pleasures, but I love how they hew so close to the line that they’ve cut for themselves. No rambles. No posturing. No baroque curlicues or cupids hovering pudgily above the stage. No windy psychological explanations or philosophical expressions of “meaning”. They are clean and bare and simply present. We observe and supply our own wind, our own meaning, our own set of explanations, maybe, but we don’t really even need to do that. They have a completeness in and of themselves.
Continue reading Jon Raymond and the power of, gulp, discipline

Scatter links, therefore scatter jams

Scatter hasn’t been lolling in the mud baths, again, daiqueri close to hand, shrimp grilling nearby on the barbie and hammock beckoning. Oh no. We’ve been busy. I started to say “burning the midnight oil”, but somewhere along the line we’ve lost that cliche, haven’t we — it wasn’t enough that the technology changed, now the expression suggests that you’re not properly attuned to coming global climate catastrophes. So no midnight oil, but busy nonetheless.

There’s been lots of news we’ve followed but not commented upon as yet, and over at my other home, Portland Arts Watch, I have posted the following:

1. An account of another of Randy Gragg’s Bright City Light series, this one with Miguel Rosales, who is working with TriMet on the new light rail/pedestrian bridge over the Willamette River, between the Marquam and Ross Island bridges. Rosales is very convincing, so convincing that I’m following up that post with a column about it all in Monday’s Oregonian. You read it here first!

2. Michael Pollan was here Tuesday night,
encouraging us to do what we’re already trying to do, which is eat sensibly. I had my notebook out and wrote that up, too. His primary message: figure out what real food is and eat it. Pay no attention to the men in white lab coats and their studied extolling this or debunking that. Oh, and get some exercise. Of course, this is harder advice to follow than it sounds.

3. “The Seafarer” and three of its principals, Allen Nause, Bill Geisslinger and Denis Arndt got yet another post, this one long and more, um, Scatter-y.

So, if any of those interest you at all, by all means make the neuronal leap through the ether. I informed visitors at Portland Arts Watch that if they wanted some super-long posts on Willa Dorsey, Camas (which we know is really spelled Kamass, right?), wapato and Blue Cranes meet Charles Ives, they should come over here. Swamp potatoes! Yummy!
Continue reading Scatter links, therefore scatter jams

Looking at Noise, or Why We Love the Blue Cranes

This is about the spot I was standing when a train passing below and the Blue Cranes in my earphones intersected in a musical way.

We walk or drive around Portland, and we are bombarded – by signs, buildings, sound, traffic, information of all sorts, every possible corner filled with the cultural stuff of the modern city, the air a battlefield of warring noises. We rush by it and through it all quickly because we couldn’t possibly pay attention to all of it, maybe any of it, if we want to focus on things that matter.

Which is all another way of saying: The city sometimes sings out to us in unexpected ways.

A few days before the Great Christmas Whiteout of 2008, I found myself listening to the new CD by the Portland jazz band Blue Cranes, “Homing Patterns,” as I walked to work. I like the energy of the band, the collage of blues, rock and noise, and I like the melodies Reed Wallsmith and Sly Pig wander through on their saxophones. Every now and then, the horns in the band collide, often in a chord, an interesting chord, that expands into another chord and then another, each one pushed to the limit of breath, to the point of honking.

Anyway, I had reached the pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks on Portland’s east side (about where the photo above was taken), right before you get to the Esplanade and the Steel Bridge. The rail line at that place curves deeply, and as I approached a long freight train, with graffiti-embellished boxcars and flatcars, lumbered underneath. They do not do this silently. They grumble along, of course, but because of the curve, they also squeal sometimes, a teeth-gnashing vibration that makes your fillings hurt.

But here, at this particular intersection, something happened: The screech of that train finished off one of those bleating Blue Cranes chords. Slid up the scale a little and finished it off. It was exactly the right note, somehow, and it pulled me up short as the delight of it all dawned on me. Amazing. The perfect sonic accident.
Continue reading Looking at Noise, or Why We Love the Blue Cranes

A little light scatter clarification biz

Monday’s edition of The Oregonian has a column in its How We Live section written by the feckless Art Scatter correspondent who addresses you now. Which would be me. It’s highly entertaining! And it’s available as part of a blog, called Portland Arts Watch, that I’ve started on OregonLive. Also posted there: an encounter with Mead Hunter and Patrick Wohlmut that I had last Monday when Patrick’s play Continuum received a reading at Portland Center Stage.

My hope is that you’ll include Portland Arts Watch in your regular surfing sprees. I’ll be doing a lot of basic arts reporting over there, and save my more speculative (and off-topic, off-color or just plain off) posts for home base here at Art Scatter. At least that’s the plan for the present. Don’t worry, it won’t be all archaeology all the time… promise. Commenting on OregonLive can be a bit of a pain at times, but it’s far easier than it used to be, and I’m hoping some of you make the jump and start up some good conversation over there.

Anthro-fantasy: Leaping about the Kamass patch

When we left you, the snass was upon us and the cole snass was a very recent memory. Both rain and snow encourage indoor pursuits — basketmaking, for example, among the tribes of the lower Columbia, including the Multnomah, who lived where I sit and type now. Without having gathered the appropriate reeds for basketmaking, I was left to my own devices, Internet devices, and I ran across two stories with Oregon connections: specifically, they were both based on research by archaeologists with Northwest roots. Both of them led me to the beginning of human habitation on the Columbia River, which is still a space that we can occupy imaginatively, because the details are so sketchy.

For grounding, I turned to Melissa Darby, an expert in these matters. She was part of suddenly, an ongoing meditation about the ideas of Thomas Sieverts, which we visited below, and as organizer Matthew Stadler suggests in the post immediately preceding, taking part in their ongoing discussion is a good idea. But I’m afraid I have to take responsibility for the conclusions to which I’ve leaped here. (After the jump: Killer comets! Cake! Idle anthropological speculation! Recipes! More!)
Continue reading Anthro-fantasy: Leaping about the Kamass patch