Category Archives: Barry Johnson

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.
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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.
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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

Scatter dodges the snass, just this once

The snass arrived last night, though here at the sprawling Art Scatter compound on the Northeast Plateau, at least, nothing like a “major weather event” occurred, which is surprising after all of the “flood of floods” warnings bleating from the television the past few days.

“Snass” is the Chinook Jargon (or Chinuk Wawa) word for rain — it rhymes with moss. It is the only word for rain I was able to find in George Gibbs’ famous 1863 dictionary of the trading language, which was used by many tribes of the Pacific Northwest, especially along the Columbia, as well as French and then British trappers and traders. I would have guessed that native peoples employed at least 111 words for the varieties of precipitation that come our way here, from mist to lashing downpour, and the languages of various individual tribes may well have such words. But not Chinuk Wawa, and frankly, I like its economy. Snass. Most of the time here, we know it means light rain turning to drizzle from sometime in November to sometime in May, with periods when it is merely overcast. Snow, by the way, is called “cole snass”, a little English sneaking in there.

Who invented Chinuk Wawa? That’s a major debate in the circles that debate things linguistic involving Native Americans. One side argues that the French started it to communicate with Northwest tribes, which explains all the French words that Gibbs recorded, word like lamonti for mountain or lapeep for pipe. But sometimes this isn’t conclusive. The jargon word for fowl is lapool, which is certainly French enough, but then the Siwash word for grouse is also lapool, according to Gibbs.

My own suspicion, and these days the majority opinion, is that a lingua franca (that wasn’t franca) united the tribes, who were big traders before the French arrived. That language was elastic enough to bend and merge with the language of the new European arrivals — each side used the words of the other. It was a living language that changed with times, until the tribes were routed by force of arms, disease and the sheer number of Euro/Americans flooding the countryside. And maybe it still is — the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde have an ongoing Chinuk Wawa language program.

The people of the Lower Columbia have been on my mind lately, especially the people who lived right here, where the Willamette meets the Columbia, the Multnomah tribe. Like many of the other tribes we gather under the name Chinook, the Multnomah have been something of an anomaly for anthropologists and archaeologists trying to create a nice, clean developmental account of human history on the continent. We’ll get to that in our next post.

A scatter for the end of the year

OK, the last day of 2008, as per one method of reckoning the revolutions of one satellite around its star. Mostly as we’ve thought about it, this year, we’ve been stunned into silence. The complexity is simply too great for Art Scatter’s feeble resources. For 2009 we’ve got one resolution and one resolution only: keep it clean, keep it basic. Well, maybe that’s two resolutions. And though we like the sound of them, we’re not sure what they mean, exactly, though we know the source. We find ourselves confused so frequently, and so easily distracted. So clean and basic. Maybe that’ll work.

One thing we’ve enjoyed about 2008? Meeting you on Art Scatter. That’s mostly a testament to your patience and tolerance as we’ve thrashed pixels about in an unseemly fashion. We’ve worked through some things, though, and we can’t help but think that 2009 will be better. Really. Way better.

One thing we know for sure? That we wish you just the best 2009 possible. That’s actually less selfless than it sounds. If you’re doing great, we’re probably doing great, too! Here’s to doing great together. Happy New Year, one and all.