Saturday, May 01, 2004

Poor Justice Souter

Souter is one of my favorite Supreme Court Justices. I just love how he ducked under the Right's ideological radar and has managed to be one fo the more consistent and thoughtful judges on the bench. And he's the one dissenting vote on the NEA four case.

Anyway, apparently he was attacked and beaten up today. That's no good. Luckily he's doing fine.

Bush and Relgion, some more questions

Awhile ago, I suggested that Bush be put through the press ringer for his use of religion as a campaign tool. I realized that he has never really been asked a single tough question about his faith, and yet he uses his faith as a kind of cure-all guide to public policy. So I posted the following questions:
In what ways does it [religion] guide his actions? Does he believe god talks to him? How does that manifest itself? Does he see visions or hear voices? Is his policy towards Israel dictated by the Christian Zionist movement or not? Why doesn’t he go to church? What sort of worship ceremonies does he follow?

Here’s some other ones I’ve thought up:
Does he believe in evolution? Why or why not?
Does he believe he is a greater authority on the will of god than his church? If not, why did he support the war in Iraq when his church supported it?
Are hell and heaven literal places? Who is going where when they die? Why?
Was 9/11 God’s will? If so, do you have any idea why god wanted it to happen?
Jesus specifically listed earthly possessions as something blocking us from the Kingdom Of Heaven. If this is true, why are you so wealthy?

Also, if the War in Iraq is God's will, how was that will communicated? Did god mention how bad the postwar occupation was going to go?

Anyway, anyone else got some questions about Bush’s religious beliefs and how it affects public policy and the way he runs the country?

A Night at the Kitchen part two

(a rather lengthy part one can be found here)

So now for the second half of my night at Town Hall for the Kitchen Gala.

Jon and I are smoking outside. I see Fred Schneider of the B-52’s. He is dapperly dressed, and is the only man I know who can make Paisley work. I don’t go up to say hi. I go to the bathroom to get some water instead. We’re filing back in. John Schaefer is taking the stage again to announce that, as Richard Foreman might say, OVER OVER THE INTERMISSION IS OVER.

Town Hall is a beautiful place, but I think that they’re honestly not set up to handle a sold out crowd. The halls are narrow, the stairs don’t fit that many people, there aren’t that many entrances. The lobby is teeny. The bathrooms have like four people in them max. I have a feeling intermission has been longer than fifteen minutes, but whatever, on to Robert Ashley’s “Love Is A Good Example”.

Robert Ashley, like many of the composer/performers here tonight is like a genre unto himself. To give you some idea, Love Is A Good Example is one of 49 songs ranging in length from 15 to 120 minutes that make up an opera called The Immortality Songs. Each “song” (they’re really bizarrely stilted monologues) is about a character or group of characters. The Immortality Songs is apparently an opera for television. Maybe if the televised part of the opera was played during the song I would’ve gotten it but honestly, it left me a bit cold.

“Love Is A Good Example” isn’t really even a song. It consists of Ashley talking at different pitches and in strange rhythms while someone manipulates large amounts of reverb on his voice. There are two other speakers. They say “sure” after every time he says “love” and they say “person” after every time he says “schizophrenic”. There is so much reverb that I can barely understand what he says. He keeps sliding through different pitches and it basically sounds like poorly performed Chuck Mee. I can tell the man’s smart, and what few sentences I can make out are well written, but as a recital the three people at music stands lacks a bit of punch.

My mind wanders:
The last time I was at Town Hall was to see Eddie Izzards “Circle”. He was heckled. Often. But he made it work.

I wonder how “First You’re Born” is going tonight?

I can’t wait to hear Laurie Anderson’s new piece.

I wonder what Jon thinks of this.

Schizophrenic people? What does that have to do with anything?

The Kitchen. What a great idea. The Kitchen, part of the holy trinity of performance art, along with BAM and PS 122. All three exist to give cutting edge performance a house to play in. PS122 does theater though, and the Kitchen really doesn’t. But it’s amazing that this place is still around.

Look at this crowd. Who knew old people liked this music! Who knew so many young people could afford tickets to see it. Who knew you could sell out a night at Town Hall for what Laurie Anderson used to call “difficult music listening hour”

Oh wait, Ashley’s done. Maybe I’m an idiot, the crowd is hooting and hollering, but I just couldn’t get there.

It’s pretty clear when Schaefer comes out again that everyone really really wants to see Laurie Anderson’s new work-in-progress. I last saw her at Lincoln Center where she performed a stripped down piece called “Happiness”. It was awesome. I wrote a paper on her in college, and I have many of her Cds. If you’ve never heard her, go buy “The Ugly One With All The Jewels” today. All the stories on it are true, and they’re all amazing.

She’s also the only person in this group to have had a #2 hit single in the UK. Good old “O Superman” a song which might drive you crazy, freak you out, or make you burst into laughter depending on your mood.

The new piece is good. The piece seems to be primarily about beauty, but it also has a real mean streak and she’s attacking non-gender politics, something she doesn’t do all that often. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of progression in the Anderson oeuvre. She performs stories and poems, sometimes singing, sometimes talking, sometimes playing on the violin. She manipulates digital effects and soundscapes using a synthesizer, foot pedals, a sound board, a sampler and some other stuff. Often there’s multimedia work involved and crazy new musical inventions. She’s most famous for the inventions, probably, many of which involve totally fucking up what a violin in supposed to be.

She also has a hypnotic idiosyncratic way of talking. Kind of like Garrison Keilor with a lot of menace. I’ll try to approximate it versically (this is, of course, a paraphrase of what she said at one point):
And then I got to thinking
You know, it was like
Right after the Iraq war started
People were
Walking about in a daze
Just walking about in a daze
Asking themselves
“Why do they hate us?
Why do they hate us?”
And then we all decided
They hate us cause we’re rich
They hate us cause we’re free
They hate us cause we’re democratic
And I kind of thought
This is like when you’re in high school
And the pretty girl says
“Everyone hates me
cause I’m beautiful”
And you’re like
Everyone hates you
Because you’re a jerk”

The audience goes crazy when she says that. Everyone’s loving it. She does a bit about the 9/11 memorial site. Seems no one finds that one funny but me, although it’s clearly meant to be. Guess you can’t mention 9/11 and crack a joke at the same time. Anyway, Jon has never heard Laurie’s work before, and I hope he likes it (which it turns out, later, he did. Very much).

Laurie wraps up her set and even quotes her legendary “United States 1-IV”: “Hello? Can you tell me where I am?” It’s chilling when asked like a genuine question.

The crowd is happy to hear something new. Happy to hear something political. Happy to hear something leftist. Happy to see a rock star in the middle of this evening.

John Schaefer presents an award to Robert Hurwitz, the founder of Electra Nonesuch which carries many of the artists performing tonight. Robert Hurwitz seems like the nicest record executive ever.

The evening closes with a new Philip Glass piece called “Track Sweat”. “Track Sweat” is the result of a collaboration between Philip Glass and legendary kora player Foday Musa Suso. The Kora is in there in the top ten favorite instruments with the cello. It’s basically an African lute-harp. It sounds like a guitar from another planet. I love it. There’s a guy who plays the kora in the subway at 59th street. If you get a chance to hear him play, it’s hauntingly gorgeous.

Foday Musa Suso’s Kora has his website on it in big letters. Accompanying him are Glass on piano, Michael Riesman on keyboards and Andrew Sterman on saxophone.

Is there a more divisive figure in modern so-called high culture than Philip Glass? Some people think he’s a symbol of everything wrong with post-modern art. Some people rally around him, praising his simple beauty, buying boxed sets of Akhenaten and going to see the latest slow-mo collaboration between him and Robert Wilson. I’m somewhere in the middle. I love Glass’ music, but at the same time believe that too much of his work gets out in front of an audience. Every little piece he writes gets published or put on CD and the sheer quantity of it diminishes the greatness of his great work. And his great work really is great. Beautiful, soaring, moving, delicate. Pick up his solo piano CD or the soundtrack to Kundun if you don’t believe me. They’re both amazing.
This new piece doesn’t sound anything like anything I’ve ever heard from Philip Glass. There’s barely an arpeggio or duh-nuh-duh-nuh-duh-nuh in sight.

I’m having trouble trusting my judgement about this one, because at this point I had been in Town Hall for close to three hours, and the gin and tonics I had drunk at the before-party were taking their toll on my ability to focus. That said, and having spoken to several other people were there, the new piece is kind of dull. Beautiful, but really underwhelming. It doesn’t really go anywhere, it doesn’t really develop at all, and it even lacks the usual hypnotic quality of Glass’ work. What it is instead is pretty and easily forgettable. I blame part of this on the Soprano Sax, which makes it onto my top ten list of least favorite instruments. Really, the Kora is so delicate that bringing in the warm, overpowering Kenny G tones of the soprano sax seems a real mistake. And the song basically is one thing repeated twice and then it’s over and on to the afterparty.

The afterparty is a lot of fun, more booze, more food, more good people and now they’ve switched to old .45s of garage rock played along with archival video of the Kitchen in performance. All in all a great evening, and a historic opportunity for this young lover of postmodern music.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Peggy Noonan, critic at large

Besides being an apologist for the worst the Republican party has to offer, and a fawning fan of Mel "some Jews did die in WWII" Gibson, Peggy Noonan apparently also writes theater reviews. You can read her trying to claim that Raisin in the Sun is pro-life here.

I honestly don't know whether "Raisin in the Sun" is supposed to be pro-life or pro-choice. I doubt it was really trying to be either, considering all the other things that play has on its mind. What the play does contain is a discussion by a character who is thinking about abortion. Audiences have their own agency, and are going to take away from an experience many different reactions. The fact that some audience members thought her getting an abortion was the right idea and a symbol of liberation doesn't make them monsters, nor does it mean that they don't get what an abortion means. It simply means an abortion means something different to them, Peggy, than it does to you.

Maybe you should think about, for a second, just for a second, why an urban audience would view abortion as a good thing. Maybe you should just think about what your party is trying to do to people of color, poor people, women in this country. Maybe instead of condemning a portion of the audience's view point, and accusing them of supporting murder, you should realize that only a minority of this country views a fetus as a life, and that minority was actually smaller when "Raisin" was written. And maybe you should remember that there is not a single quote you can furnish from the play to back up your interpretation of it, so maybe, just maybe, there's multiple ways a scene can be, well, seen.

When I read Peggy Noonan's article I thought for a second (just a second!) we'd be seeing something about how telling it is that "Raisin" is still relevant today. But she doesn't really think it is, or rather she only thinks its portrayal of difficult moral choices is still relevant. Apparently the Civil Rights movement was not only a complete success but is now over. After all, Bill Cosby was a doctor, and his wife a lawyer.

When will the Right offer up a credible public intellectual?

Do I smell? Do I smell home cooking?

So, as I said several days ago, eventually I wanted to write a post recapping/reviewing the Kitchen’s New Music, New York 25th Anniversary Gala.

First of all, the evening was well planned and executed throughout. John Schaefer, host of WNYC’s Soundcheck was the perfect man for MC. He’s charismatic, got an amazing voice, and actually knows and loves all of these avant-garde crazies he’s throwing out on stage. The evening itself (a concert at Town Hall) was itself a recreation of an event from twenty five years ago when the then-semi-known composers Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson and Robert Ashley all performed together. The evening was a once in a lifetime chance to see these now quite accomplished artists on stage together, each performing a ten to fifteen minute set.

The evening opens. John Schaefer says some witty things. John Schaefer says some things about the Kitchen. John Schaefer pauses and says “And now… some music” his catch phrase from WNYC. It breaks my heart, but only like seventeen people in the audience seem to get it. Anyway, I see over to the side of Schaefer are three sets of bongo drums and my heart stars racing. Steve Reich is going to perform the first movement of his “Drumming”, one of my all time favorite pieces of music. Reich and his three intrepid drummers take the stage to start the evening off with a literal bang. And sure enough, when they come out in matching white button down shirts and black pants (Reich also has on a black version of his trademark baseball cap) that’s exactly what they do.

I’ve seen “Drumming: Part One” performed three times in my life, and I’ve seen the whole piece performed as part of an evening length dance piece choreographed by Anna Teresa de Keersmacher. For those of you who’ve never heard it, well, it’s everything that is great about minimalism. The first movement is for four plays playing six bongo drums. The drums are tuned to three different notes (if memory serves correctly, B, C# and F, but I’m not sure) and the drummers one by one play a pattern. The pattern is roughly two measures long, and every time you repeat it a certain number of times, you add a note until there are no rests, and then you start taking away notes. So it starts out with only one drum hit and eventually builds to something more complex.

The other thing complicating all of this is that the drummers are “phasing” live. Phasing is a technique Reich developed originally using two reel-to-reel machines. The idea is you and I play the same thing but gradually one of us changes the tempo we play at so that the patterns eventually interlock and become totally different. Drumming is an experiment in doing phasing with this cyclical pattern. The first part is nine minutes long and is played on bongos, the second part is for marimba and voice, the third for glockenspiel and whistle, the fourth movement for all of the above. I know this all sounds like the kind of music a car mechanic would write; trust me, it’s brilliant.

Tonight is probably the weakest performance of Drumming that I’ve seen. Not that it’s bad, just not the best. Because they just perform part one, they actually add in a little more variation than it’s supposed to have. Indeed, it seems like two of the drummers (one of which is Reich) are taking turns taking solos at the drums. Weirdly enough, this makes the piece less interesting by obfuscating the central rigidity of the interlocking patterns. It’s like a play whose idea isn’t quite clear so you can’t really get into it. Either way, it’s still technically impressive, and the audience (myself included) goes crazy-go-nuts at the end, hooting and hollering. Steve Reich takes two curtain calls.

A little more from the ever-affable Mr. Schaefer includes showing us some clips from the thousands of hours of archives of Kitchen performances that are being remastered. It opens with Talking Heads playing “psycho killer”. I remember reading somewhere that their first gig (pre Jerry) was at The Kitchen because no one else would let them play. They billed themselves as performance art and played at the Kitchen. Judging from this video, David Byrne has had a great amount of dental work done since striking it rich. The video proceeds, out of chronological order, and is like a who’s who of interesting music of the last thirty years and includes multiple clips from all the artists here tonight. After it finishes, Schaefer introduces Pauline Oliveros and says that Oliveros often deconstructs the boundary between artist and audience. Uh oh. It’s an often-right stereotype that theater people hate audience participation. I know I do. But whatever, it’s a gala, I’ll play along. Oliveros comes out, a sweet little bear of a woman in a reflective silver button down shirt and nice slacks. She tells us that we will be doing the Tuning Meditation. The whole point is really simple: sing a tone (any tone), when you feel like it, change to singing someone else’s tone and then, when you feel like, change to singing a unique tone, a tone you can’t hear anyone else doing. She tells us that she can’t dictate when it starts, when it ends (but it has to be ten minutes) or when we should change from unique to nonunique tones. Oh, and she’s performed this with anywhere from six to six thousand people. And here are, I would guess, seven to eight hundred people at Town Hall. So would we please start whenever we’re ready. Oh, and make a vowel sound, wouldya?

I’m game, and I turn to my friend Jon who is taking Mary’s place for the evening and who’s also a theater director and I see he’s game to. We start singing. I’m sticking pretty much with the good old “ah" sound at least until my jaw starts cramping up. So I’m sitting there singing my note and then I hear a note a fifth above it and figure “oh, what the hell” and I jump to that note. A little while later, I feel like doing my own thing, so I drop down a semi-tone. The human ear can only process something like 24 sounds at once, and there are hundreds of people singing, I would guess, many more unique sounds than that when we’re split apart. So the whole experience is living, breathing, sensory overload. Remember the Dark Crystal? It’s kind of like when the Mystics sing to open doors, but with hundreds of people.

After about five minutes bizarre things start happening. First off, some people start doing their own yipping and hooting kind of thing. This pisses me off a little bit. We’re supposed to make a tone on a vowel sound not fucking vocal percussion. And at this point I realize how committed I am to making this Tuning Meditation work, even though I don’t really know what I’m doing and even though I don’t really know what “work” would even mean. And then I notice that most of the audience and I are singing the same note. Some people are doing it two octaves beyond my range in any direction, but most of us are singing the exact same note. And it’s really really really loud, because it’s the dominant sound in the room. Then the note breaks apart and shatters into what sound like a million other notes. It’s breathtaking. I feel like weeping. Jon has this amazing shit eating grin on his face. Oliveros is on stage, eyes closed, head down like in prayer, with the microphone far away from her mouth. She’s tuning along with us. I am tuning with some of the greatest composers of the second half of the twentieth century. I am one with these seven hundred rich avante garde music lovers.

And then all of us are singing. And then 80% of us are singing. And then, within thirty seconds, 20% of us are singing, and then no one is. It ends in a flash, semi-simultaneously. The crowd goes wild. Jon turns to me and we both say to each other “I’m stealing that for rehearsal!” people are going nuts. It’s like they’ve never experienced a communion like this that they were actually part of. Pauline thanks us and leaves.

John Schaefer comes out and tells us that we were great. Everyone giddily laughs. He says that we clocked in at almost ten minutes exactly. Which is amazing. I think for awhile, I lost all sense of time, but apparently as a crowd we remembered it. We all know something amazing has happened. Schaefer introduces Thomas Buckner who is being presented with an award. Buckner is a performer, producer and promoter, who works a lot with experimental vocal techniques. He’s worked with many composers I’ve never heard of (but you might’ve) and has founded two different record labels. His current label is called Mutable Music. Everyone seems to love him. He tells us he walked in to the middle of the first Tuning Meditation performance back in 1979 and was backstage for this one, and one day, goddamnit, he’d like to perform the thing. We chuckle. He talks a bit. He leaves.

Onto Meredith Monk’s “Dolman Music” which is clearly one of John Schaefer’s favorite pieces of music like ever. Meredith Monk is kind of hard to describe. Have you seen the Big Lebowski? In the scene where Jeff Bridges meets Julianne Moore and here’s this weird breathing sound in the background as she swoops down nekkers and paints on a canvas? That music is Meredith Monk. She does absolutely crazy things with the human voice. It sounds like something very medieval and at the same time very very modern. Lots of whooping and hollering and sustained tones and gibberish. The piece is very funny and, in it’s own way, very moving. It is accompanied by cello. In the midst of this piece, I will decide that cello is absolutely my favorite orchestral instrument to listen to.

Dolman Music is just a wee bit too long. The ideas play themselves out and as someone who has relentlessly experimented with trying to get my own voice to make weird sounds, the novelty wears off quickly. Once it does, you’re left with a piece of pretty, funny but ultimately repetitive music where the whole never really adds up to the some of its parts. Still, I’m glad I saw it, and glad I finally saw Meredith Monk. The performers are amazing, their singing impeccable, their ranges broad, and if it had just been five minutes instead of ten (or even seven minutes!) I would’ve loved it.

I seem to be in the minority, however. Schaefer is in love with it, the crowd cheers and off we go to chain smoke for intermission.

I’ll stop here and post the second half later today.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Can anyone answer this question for me? Please?

This from the AP:
“The House worked Wednesday to lower taxes for some married couples, its first election-year attempt to keep alive some of President Bush's most popular tax cuts.

The bill would permanently change three parts of tax law that cause some married couples to pay higher taxes than they would as single individuals, reducing their taxes $105 billion over the next decade. Some married couples face a tax increase next year if the changes expire as scheduled.

‘‘When the only thing that changes is that they fall in love and get married, only to discover that their tax obligation is dramatically increased ... that just doesn't make sense," said Sherwood Boehlert, R-N.Y.”

Could someone please explain the following (because it is never ever explained):

When we say that the government penalizes married couples because married couples get taxed more than they would if they had remained individuals, does this actually mean:

The married couple’s total tax bills exceed the total tax bills of both individuals added together


The married couple as a unit pays more taxes than either one would on their own?

It’s a big difference. The first one really does charge married couples more, the other one simply fails to lower tax rates on individuals once they become married units.


Later on today, I hope to have a post up about the concert I went to last night for a benefit for The Kitchen. The concert was a recreation of an event in 1979, a music festival which had Steve Reich, Phillip Glass, Pauline Oliveros, Meredith Monk, Robert Ashley and Laurie Anderson in it. So, anyway, it was the first time since then (And the last time, most likely) that group, or any significant percentage of that group of important artists was on stage together. I’ll be writing more about it when I’m more awake.

But…. On my way out of the shower this morning I got to thinking about Television. Mostly this is because I just wanted the series finale of “Sex & The City” a couple of days ago and I was just thinking, it’s amazing the terrible rut that television has fallen into. I remember a couple of years ago when people were heralding a new golden age of TV. It turns out what they were actually heralding was the brief spurt of creativity that would mark that golden age’s dying out.

Now let me also be clear for a moment and say that when I say “television” I mean American Television, and there are, occasionally, very good (or at least very fun) programs to be found out there. Truth be told, however, most of it is just unbearable, including shows I used to love.

Part of the problem is that the much-talked-about golden age of television revolved around increasingly high concept shows. Once you get used to the high concept (IT AL HAPPENS IN REAL TIME! IT’S ABOUT FORENSIC PATHOLOGISTS!) the shows are revealed for the essentially boring, poorly written, poorly acted disasters they really are. I enjoyed watching four episodes of CSI on my way to Singapore this year, but the monotone acting, unfortunate penchant for talking badly about social issues, and constant Michael Bayisms rob the show of any kind of staying power. 24 on the other hand, has devolved into self-parody, eagerly accepting and then immediately casting off plot lines when they don’t work. For a show that is all about logistics and plotting, it has some of the most incoherent plots and badly constructed structures out there.

Then there are the once-greats. My list of once-greats would probably include “The Simpsons”, “West Wing”, and (if you include once-goods or once-funs) “Will & Grace” and “Friends” but whatever, I’m sure you have your own. The shows that should’ve been cancelled long ago, but keep plodding along, raking in cash and breaking your heart. It’s pretty clear that the wheels have come off all four old wagons listed above, and some of them have been on TV for less than six years.

And then there’s reality television. The old grandmothers of reality TV, “The Road Rules” and “Real World” franchises are now nothing more than blowjobs and survival competitions. I miss when they were about fighting and alcoholism. Survivor was never interesting, and continues to be filled with an arcane, inaccessible mythos all its own. The first season of “American Idol” was hilarious, like being a sober fly on the wall to America’s drunken karaoke binge. But now we have to put up with the same tired formula flogged again and again, like that karaoke binge was going on in the most boring hell you could ever think up.

On and on and on, if there’s a good idea on television (The Apprentice happens to be mine) you can be sure it will be robbed of all its life blood within three seasons. Cable, then, remains or savior. For now you can watch syndicated re-runs of the shows you used to love (West Wing on Bravo) as well as the only good original programming around outside PBS. Where else will you find shows as funny as “The Daily Show” or “South Park”. From what I hear, “The Shield” is doing a good job making corrupt cops loveable again. And then there’s “Showbiz Moms and Dads” one of the scariest, funniest reality shows I’ve ever seen.

Finally, how is HBO? Well, honestly, I don’t know. I cancelled it and rely on my mother’s videotaping ability to watch most of it. Hey, thank God, Curb Your Enthusiasm, The Sopranos, The Wire and Six Feet Under all keep coming back. But none of their new TV show ideas seem to work. Carnivale is Twin Peaks robbed of everything interesting, Deadwood is ridiculous self-parody (cowboys can swear too!), K Street was only interesting to people living in DC or from DC, etc. Hopefully HBO can keep it going almost single-handedly until the other networks figure out how to rob it of everything, make it accessible, and put it on the air.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Lifting Up The Curtain: A brief recap

So a lot has happened over the past week in the process of moving into the space, running in the space, previewing and making extensive revisions to the show. Quite a bit of it I'm not really at liberty to talk about just yet (but when I am, I will post it here, I promise, I just want to wait for the appropriate moment, trust me, the story of our second and third preview is prett priceless).

In the meantime, however, here is the first review for First You're Born and it's a good one, for the most part. Even better, this reviewer apparently came to the first preview, when the play wasn't even really done yet. In the interest of fairness, I'll try to post any negative reviews that may or may not come. Might as well present an accurate portrait of the press' opinion for those of you unable to see the show.

Anyway, enjoy it.

All my links are broken

Bit of site upkeep:

My cut-and-paste html code for linking contained a typo in it, so none of my links I've put up over the past week in my posts have worked. Sorry about that. I've corrected it, and will be linking just fine from now on.