Category Archives: Music

Back to the caves for some paleolithic multi-media

Art Scatter has declared its keen interest in Cave Doings in the past. What attracts us? Maybe it’s just that we see ourselves. Not ourselves specifically, of course, not with our sense of direction, not rooting around in the back of a cave where carbon dioxide levels are high enough to induce hallucinations and strange blind fish look up at us from cold, mineral drenched water, perhaps attracted by the pungent aroma of our dingy torches. Do fish smell? I mean with their own olfactory devices? I digress.

Those cave people, homo sapiens, were us, at least in terms of the intelligence they brought to bear on their environments. I haven’t ever seen any studies that suggest the human brain has evolved dramatically during the past 50,000 years or so. If you have, please let me know, because that would be interesting, too. So, their brains were operating in the world like ours, except without the same sort of technology, which has “evolved” over time. What we can piece together of their creativity in the face of the universe can’t help but be interesting in a deep way.

So we are preambling toward something — Judith Thurman’s story on cave art in The New Yorker. Thurman’s story examines a couple of recent books on cave painting, tests their propositions with experts studying the caves on the ground and then eyeballs those paintings itself (or rather herself). In her lead-in she cites the famous Picasso observation about the Lascaux paintings, reported by his guide: “They’ve discovered everything.” The list of painting “advances” includes perspective, Pointillism and stenciling, various colors and brushes and as Thurman points out, the “very concept of an image.” What I like about the article was the sense of amazement that Thurman conveys at just how perceptive the cave painters were — both about the caves themselves and the surfaces they offered for image-making AND the animals they created on the walls. But the primary point is to describe the dispute among cave historians, which basically comes down to this: To what extent is it possible to interpret accurately the “meaning” of the paintings.
Continue reading Back to the caves for some paleolithic multi-media

If we sacrifice the semicolon, will the sentence live on?

Earlier, we were musing about the alleged death of the sentence. We didn’t understand it. Didn’t we frequently, ourselves, muster a sentence or two? But then the Voice Inside Our Head replied, rhetorically, “You call that a sentence?” Our sentences weren’t just NOT sentences; they actually killed The Sentence as they were constructed. We sometimes hate the Voice Inside Our Head. How could we not?

We have new evidence that the sentence is not dead! It’s simple, really. If we aren’t completely sure that the semicolon has passed away, tossed into the rubbage bin with a wink, then surely the sentence has received a premature burial. The French started in back in April, though maybe the whole thing was a joke, oui? John Henley writing in the Guardian exhausted the topic, we would have thought. Every clever thing that has ever been said about the semicolon was in his article. And as a good journalist must, he left the question open: Dear, reader, it is for you to decide. But then Slate’s Paul Collins got in on the fun and proved that Henley had left some things unsaid. His point was simply that the semicolon is either always misused or always dying; we’re not sure which.

We have struggled to have an opinion on the semicolon, and a real opinion, not just a wisecrack. We find that we use them just to give our pinky a bit exercise from time to time. See? We’re just not capable of it. And did you notice the short sentence there? We aren’t just irreverent about semicolon usage; we frequently employ short sentences, even “non-sentences,” instead of erecting handsome, well-made sentences, with their interlocking pieces secured by the semicolon.
We could go on: Something makes us think that if we continue to talk about semicolons, somehow we aren’t killing the sentence.

Scatter friends go out on the town

With the summer solstice having hit town at precisely 4:59 p.m. Friday — was that a sylph we saw cavorting in the woods? — it’s a semi-beautiful weekend here in Portland, Oregon.

All right, clouds are moving in. Yet we are undaunted. Some cool things are happening around and out of town involving Friends of Art Scatter (this is not an official organization, but we like the sound of it, though not as much as we like the sound of “The Loyal Order of Moose”) and we would be remiss not to fill you in on the upcoming action. Some of these are this-weekend-only opportunities, so get on your dancing shoes, and don’t let the door hit you on your way out of the house.

Subversive operatics at Someday Lounge: We like Opera Theater Oregon. How much? Read our report on OTO’s winter production of “Carmen,” sung live to a screening of Cecil B. DeMille‘s 1915 silent-movie version of the Bizet opera. So we are happy to report that this seat-of-the-pants company, which dares to believe that opera ought to be fun (its motto is “Making Opera Safe for America”), is throwing a one-night wingding Saturday at Someday Lounge to show off its new season, raise a little money (there’ll be a silent auction) and generally blow the art form’s reputation for stuffiness all to hell.

“Gypsies, Tramps & Thieves” will preview the three-show season of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s “The Medium” (paired with a 10-minute original called “The Head of Mata Hari”) in October, “Camille Traviata” (music from Verdi’s opera accompanying the 1921 silent-movie “Camille” with Alla Nazimova and Rudolph Valentino) in February ’09, and “Das Rheingold” (a scrunching-together of the Wagnerian wallbanger with an episode of television’s “Baywatch”) in June ’09. All shows at the Someday Lounge, where you can drink to all that.

Bonus attraction Saturday night: OTO performs Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” with Classical Revolution PDX and Karaoke From Hell. Ouch, we think.

7 p.m. Saturday, Someday Lounge. $25, $40/couple, 10 bucks if you just show up for the after-party from 9 until the cows come home.

Loie Fuller in the Columbia Gorge: Maryhill Museum of Art, our favorite concrete castle on a cliff with a backside view of Mt. Hood within easy driving distance of Portland (see our report on its affiliated Stonehenge replica) was established by visionary engineering entrepeneur Sam Hill as his home and the center of what he hoped would be an agricultural utopia. That failed, but three of his far-flung friends — Queen Marie of Romania, San Francisco dowager Alma de Bretteville Spreckels (wife of the sugar king) and Loie Fuller, the American girl who became an interpretive dance sensation in Paris — turned the place into one of America’s unlikeliest, and quirkiest, art museums.

On Saturday Maryhill is sponsoring a day-long series of events in celebration of Fuller’s life and art, to culminate in an evening performance in the nearby city of The Dalles by the New York company Jody Sperling and Time Lapse Dance, which will perform three dances inspired by Fuller. 7 p.m. Saturday at At the Dalles-Wahtonka High School Auditorium,
220 E. 10th Street, The Dalles; $7-$10.

Looks like a swell day trip, and if you need a break, some good wineries are nearby. The mammoth Maryhill Winery is just down the road from the museum; we’re also partial to the little, high-quality Syncline Cellars in nearby Lyle, Wash. (The poster shown here, part of the museum’s permanent collection, is by Alfred Choubrac, who with his brother Leon was one of Paris’ first poster designers in the 1880s, anticipating Toulouse-Lautrec. She’s probably doing Le Papillon, her butterfly dance.)

Glass at the Portland Japanese Garden: As many of you know, Portland is Glass City, U.S.A. this summer, with a major retrospective of the work of contemporary master Klaus Moje at the Portland Art Museum through Sept. 7, the annual international conference of the Glass Art Society this weekend, and glass work on view at about 40 galleries and other spots around town.

One of those “other” spots is the beautiful and soul-refreshing Portland Japanese Garden, where work by six Japanese or Japanese American glass artists is on view. The work of five (including onetime Moje students Yoko Yagi and Etsuko Nishi) are inside the Pavilion through June 30. But bigger-scale outdoor installations by one of our favorite artists, Jun Kaneko, remain on the grounds through July 31. “This Kaneko piece seems as if it has always been in the Garden,” Diane Durston says of the serene glass bridge in the photo above. We first got to know Durston, the garden’s curator of culture, art and education, when she was the director of education for the Portland Art Museum, and we trust her taste and enthusiasms.

The return of Chamber Music Northwest: One of Portland’s most congenial summer traditions returns Monday night for its 38th season, and we’re not afraid to say we’re looking forward to it. Sure, the crowd’s heads are largely streaked with silver, but these are geezers (and we count ourselves as part of that category) who know a good time when they see one. Great musicians playing great music under very Portland-friendly conditions: no leader onstage, just a small group of talented artists working on something together, and paying attention to the nuances that requires. Scatter pal David Stabler gives details in The Oregonian; we’re looking forward to festival vet Fred Sherry doing a little Wuorinen and Schoenberg’s first 12-tone quartet on July 12.

Through July 27; Reed College and Catlin Gabel School. (The photo is of cellist Sophie Shao and pianist Pei-Yao Wang in last summer’s “Schubertiade.”)

Scatter’s got fly IQ, Mahler 9 and other numbers

We are SO species-centric. It’s all about US, homo sapiens, and when it’s not about ALL of us, it’s about our specific, little cultural norms. The buzzing you hear in our cognitive apparatus? We’re it. Buzz. Buzz. More buzz.

I’m referring particularly to the post entitled “Dumb Flies Live Longer Than Clever Ones.” The key finding of the University of Lausanne study: “negative correlation between an improvement in a fly’s mental capacity and its longevity”. And what was the “improvement” in the fly’s mental capacity? Why, a course of study, Pavlovian in design, that “taught” the flies to connect certain smells with food. The life loss was significant. Natural flies live 80-85 days; the smart flies only 50-60.

The researchers accounted for the lifespan deficit with an obvious, to them, conclusion — that increased neuronal activity drained their life-support systems. Not so fast Swiss scientists! What about the Pavlovian training itself? The rewards and punishments. Learning “unhelpful” connections. The sheer fly confusion. The sheer fly coercion. That takes its toll — ask any high school student — and by itself could account for early death. I’m only half-joking.

Mahler 9 Not to be Art Scatter-centric or unduly self-referential or too much like a Swiss scientist, but we read with interest a recent review in the New York Times of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony by critic Anthony Tommasini and noted that he had not taken to heart our own musings on the limitations of connecting biography to music. Frankly, I just don’t see what Tommasini has added to the discussion other than that he was pleased that Lorin Maazel’s clear or “Apollonian” approach seemed to work just fine with such “intense and transcendent” music. He spends most of the article rehashing the upsets in Mahler’s life at the time he composed the symphony and converting that biography into quasi-musical description: He imagines Mahler by turns gazing into the abyss with resignation and then sneering at death — in the music. I maintain that this is simply silly: Point to me the moment that you think he’s sneering at death and I will come up with an equally colorful, biographical and unprovable “explanation”: He awoke from his nap with a crick in his neck, for example. OK, maybe not colorful exactly. Or poetic. But it may be every bit as true as the “sneering at death” line.

94 in 4 To keep to our Scatter-centric theme: Our very unofficial record-keeping system at Art Scatter has revealed that we have been in existence something on the order of 4 months and we’ve formulated 94 posts. We’ve been SO busy! (Admittedly, some of these posts were merely stating the obvious: Hey, the server was down!) We’ve gotten lots of response, much of it positive (thank you!), and that has kept us bent to our chores. Is it possible to do somewhat longer, free-ranging “takes” on the web and find willing readers? Are we the right “Swiss scientists” to conduct the experiment? So far, the answers would be, in order, “yes” and “I dunno…maybe”. At any rate, we’ll keep at it this summer, though perhaps not at the same rate due to vacations, weddings, new grandchildren, anniversaries, grilling catastrophes, and other transitions. Stay tuned!

Working for the green, a panel discussion

Here at Art Scatter central, we’ve always thought of ourselves as environmental. Meaning simply that we believe that we share and shape a variety of environments — physical, cultural, political, literary, etc. You can carve them up as thinly as you want, but you also have to realize that they don’t stay sliced — they intrude on each other, for better or worse. Maybe connect is a more value-neutral word than intrude. Anyway, yes, environmental, and even literally so. We even have an “environment” category.

But we don’t talk about it in a specific way. Art Scatter doesn’t know solar cells. Art Scatter doesn’t have a platinum LEED rating. Despite Art Scatter’s best intentions, we are sure that we are using non-renewable energy sources as we type. One way or another. In fact, we are pretty sure that this laptop is going to be the very devil to recycle, when it blows its final gasket. (This is how technologically bereft Art Scatter is: We think our computer contains gaskets that might be blown.) So, even this construct, Art Scatter, which you would think we could manage sustainably, isn’t green.

Which is all just the preamble to the topic at hand — a report from Pacific Northwest College of Art’s Idea Studio on Friday morning at the Gerding Theatre at the Armory. The panel discussion, led by Susan S. Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis Magazine, wrenched me into thinking about the environment, the physical environment, in a much more concrete way. I’ll discard my one disappointment first: The panelists really didn’t answer the question in the title of the program, “How innovative is Portland in the quest for a sustainable city?” — which led me to think we were in for some thoughts about how to stimulate creative engagement with the problem of energy use/greenhouse gases/global warming/sustainable living/etc. This didn’t happen.

What we got instead, though, was interesting in its own right: Several intelligent people, each deeply involved in thinking about and employing sustainable practices in the world, contributed their thinking about the provocative questions posed by Szenasy, who in her opening salvo ordered them to be honest and forthright. I knew I was going to like this panel! For those who want the short-form version, here’s what the group agreed on: Portland is still a national leader in green practices; a lot of the reason for this is historical, not just our own initiative; at this point, we need to think much more boldly about making our future much more sustainable than we are now, and the panel was optimistic that the stars were starting to align politically to help make this happen (Sam Adams as mayor on the local level, a possible Barack Obama Presidency); at the same time, we have to be practical about what improvements we can make at any given time; don’t build an 8-lane I-5 bridge (it just encourages driving).

Continue reading Working for the green, a panel discussion

Nell Warren: late night thoughts

Nell Warren’s paintings at PDX Contemporary Art have been on my mind all weekend. “Quandaries” they are called. I’ve played with that notion, echoing the word in the “quaint” look the paintings have or the “boundary” Warren blurs between abstraction and representation. My doubt not about if I like them but why. In her artist’s statement, Warren says her work reflects a “delicate balance of serendipity and intent.” That captures perfectly the chance and causal links in my own reaction to the paintings.

I love things that stir the flat-line horizon of deep memory, thoughts triggering long lost impressions, crowding words and images in such a press you’re barely able to see them in the gloaming and wave before they’re gone.

I say they are landscapes but I know that word doesn’t do them justice. On the one hand, they remind me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s illustrated maps of Middle-earth. They have a lazy, rolling, bucolic feel; a cartoonish quality even, at first glance. I thought of Smurfs! On the other hand, I might claim they’re abstracts, except how then explain what can only be a meandering river, pulling the eye switchback-like across the painting. No matter; as ambiguous and as contrived as they seem when you study them closely, they pull you in.
Continue reading Nell Warren: late night thoughts

I’ve got the Mahler in me

When tickets to Sunday night’s Oregon Symphony performance of Gustav Mahler’s Ninth Symphony fell my way, the Classical Music Critic’s left eyebrow arched, he peered over his spectacles and with absolutely no edge in his voice to betray him, said, “It’s long.” Long, my brother? Long? I know long. Long is when the stream of time starts to puddle up … and then flow backward, away from me. (Like the Mississippi River after the New Madrid earthquake of 1812.) You look down at your watch and it’s 8:43. Hours pass. Look again and it’s 8:37. Have you been going the speed of light? No, you’ve been in an excruciating play or concert or movie that you can’t escape, a time eddy. Having canoed through these treacherous timestreams before, and survived, “long” does NOT deter me. And the Classical Music Critic, let’s call him Stevie, realized my firm resolve, brought out a reference book that sought to de-mystify the Mahler Nine, from here on known simply as Nine, and improperly prepared, I folded my body into the torture device known as a seat in the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

Nine trembles into life as a low, intermittent murmur, conductor Carlos Kalmar motioning to the deepest horns and strings to begin. And immediately Mozart’s Quintet in C Major comes to mind, the contrast of it, that deep cello rising confidently, a growly friction that emerges as a melody of sorts, one of my favorite openings. This is apropos nothing really, though Mahler’s wife Alma recounted that the composer died with Mozart’s name on his lips. (See how we grasp at the slightest biographical evidence to “understand” both what we hear and how we think about what we hear? This thought will escape from parentheses before you know it.) So, low and intermittent, emphasized by plucked notes. Some Mahler analysts claim to detect an irregular rhythm in this, and perhaps it really is there: They say it’s a musical reflection of Mahler’s heart problems, an arrhythmia captured in the beginning of his Death Symphony. (See previous parenthetical!) And then tremulousness subsiding, the heart steady, horns call us to a lush, stringy, sweet orchestral melody, pastoral even.

If we were in a story ballet, the happy shepherd would be gesturing to his happy bride-to-be from a nearby hillock. But this being Mahler, truly, we know this happy harmony will not last, and as I examine my notes afterwards, sure enough:”then darkening and bang we speed along darker, pulsing, too loud for sweet, too brassy, a crescendo and then back to the lush beginning.” In the long first movement, there are serious complications, returns to the melody, more complications. The trombones make a weird, throaty sound, competing musical lines clash and resolve in drumming, the simplest, quietest moment is abruptly overtaken. Sometimes it sound “exotic” like a Conan, to my ears both kitschy and cinematic (more on cinematic later). And then it ends, quietly, fewer and fewer resources of the orchestra invoked, heading for one high, barely audible note.
Continue reading I’ve got the Mahler in me

Your scatter tip of the week

Da Bearcat sez: That Mahler Nine the Oregon Symphony is doing? It’s aces, my fine scatter friends, aces. If you are in the money, give them a call, tell them Art Scatter sent you (that will definitely confuse them), secure tickets (the upper balcony is great for sound and cheaper), prepare for 80 minutes/no intermission (you know what I’m talking about) and settle in for a finely detailed account of Mahler’s last completed symphony. The symphony couldn’t play this way before Kalmar arrived, with this sort of energy and attention, enough to keep something like this interesting second by second. And Mahler in a transition state — on the brink of modern art, on the brink of death (at least he thought he was), on the brink of leaving Europe for New York — is pretty involving stuff. More scatter thoughts on this at a later date…

Friday hyper-scatter

So, what’s Art Scatter doing this weekend, you might ask… One-third is headed for Willow Lake, South Dakota, to visit its aunts and relive childhood memories. One-third is headed for the Hood Canal and oysters, glorious oysters. But what about the third that stays at home, what about that third, the third that blew his travel budget on an all-day TriMet pass last week?

1. The Ceramic Showcase 2008: We are admitted suckers for crafts — making something from the essentially nothing (clay, tall grasses, etc.) just gets us excited. It’s like alchemy! Plus they align us with John Ruskin and William Morris and the craft traditions of Asia… sweet. And actually we need a serving bowl (crash — “sorry!”) and four plates. Fire in the kiln… at the Convention Center.

2. The Stumptown Comics Fest: When we were a little kid, see, there were these three giant boxes of comic books collected by our uncle (are you starting to see the limitations of the 1st person plural? we are…), and every time I visited my grandparents, well, you get the idea. This is the most important comics event in Portland this year (and Portland is a serious comics town). Just about all of our local stars will be there, and we have lots! You don’t have to be totally geeked out to go, either. I have a feeling the “spotlight” sessions with the likes of Mike Richardson (Dark Horse Comics), Craig Thompson (long-form graphic autobiography), Brian Michael Bendis (comic book supernova), etc., will be jammed, so pick a couple and get there early. To get you in the spirit, here’s Mike Russell’s comics introduction(published in today’s Oregonian) — it’s a beauty. The convention is at the Lloyd Center DoubleTree hotel.

3. Mahler’s Ninth Symphony: The Oregon Symphony takes on the last finished Mahler symphony. It’s long (90 minutes without intermission), but I will prepare: I’ll eat right, plenty of exercise and do some puzzles for my mental agility before arriving. Maybe I’ll also drift over to Music Millennium and buy a recording of it before heading in. I like the idea of a massive Mahler overlay of the comics convention! Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall

4. Portland Timbers v. Seattle Sounders: And if the weather behaves itself at all, those mighty Portland Timbers will play a bit of footie (that’s soccer) against their hated Northwest rivals. We love Chris Brown! PGE Park

Joplin, Ditto, Duchamp, Machu Picchu, more!

A few random events that caught our eye.

images-2.jpg Is writing about visual art just getting worse and worse? That’s what Eric Gibson, the Wall Street Journal’s Leisure and Arts feature editor, contends
in a column today
. Look, I know what he means, and I don’t disagree with his primary charges (actually, he employs several other writers to make his case for him) — that arts writing often takes hundreds, if not thousands, of messy, imprecise words to make the very simplest points. Use fewer words and/or have better thoughts.

But I don’t buy the conclusions he draws from reading impenetrable criticism (the Whitney Biennial catalog is the case study). First, he blames the “unwitting” Marcel Duchamp for the current state of affairs. Come on, was Duchamp ever unwitting about anything? Gibson suggests that Duchamp introduced “philosophy” into “art,” and that gave critics the license to abandon good old-fashioned aesthetics for philosophical riffs. Decay then set it. Then obfuscation. We note that Gibson uses the word riff here as a pejorative, and so Art Scatter must take offense. After all, we are nothing if not a collection of riffs! We’re just trying to make the clear riffs, no matter how half-baked. And we love to read riffing in others, something maybe that applies Lacan, say, to Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Long live Slavoj Zizek!

Admittedly, since the recent discovery of very early human DNA in the Paisley Caves of south-central Oregon, which we, um, riffed on in Cave doings, Art Scatter has had artifacts on its mind. So, we were attracted to the announcement yesterday that Peruvian researchers have counted more than 40,000 objects in the collection of Machu Picchu artifacts taken by Hiram Bingham in the early 1900s (after he “re-discovered” the site) and delivered to his alma mater, Yale University. That would be about 10 times what Yale said it possessed. The university and Peru reached a complex agreement last year that involves repatriation of the objects, the construction of a museum, research rights for Yale, etc., and the first step was this cataloging. So, it’s too bad things that Peru has reason to be immediately distrustful of Yale, still, more than a century later. Just for the record: Our new arts-based foreign policy initiative would have directed the U.S. to help Peru preserve, study, display and otherwise broadcast its Incan art heritage once we learned about it, not colonize the best bits. Here’s hoping, along with Eliane Karp-Toledo (writing in the Times in February), that Yale acts responsibly from here on out.
Continue reading Joplin, Ditto, Duchamp, Machu Picchu, more!