Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Takin' a Vacation

I love the hour before takeoff,
that stretch of no time, no home
but the gray vinyl seats linked like
unfolding paper dolls. Soon we shall
be summoned to the gate, soon enough
there’ll be the clumsy procedure of row numbers
and perforated stubs—but for now
I can look at these ragtag nuclear families
with their cooing and bickering
or the heeled bachelorette trying
to ignore a baby’s wail and the baby’s
exhausted mother waiting to be called up early
while the athlete, one monstrous hand
asleep on his duffel bag, listens,
perched like a seal trained for the plunge.
Even the lone executive
who has wandered this far into summer
with his lasered itinerary, briefcase
knocking his knees—even he
has worked for the pleasure of bearing
no more than a scrap of himself
into this hall. He’ll dine out, she’ll sleep late,
they’ll let the sun burn them happy all morning
—a little hope, a little whimsy
before the loudspeaker blurts
and we leap up to become
Flight 828, now boarding at Gate 17.

Well, I'm not taking a plane trip, but I will be going on vacation. So, expect posting to be very light until after July 4th. I might be able to pop in now and then for a brief post, but I can't promise it. Anyways, I've got over 160 posts on this blog. Certainly there must be something you'll find of interest in the archives. ;-)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Light from Behind the Screen

For Milton (2011) by Carrie Seid

The World But Seems to Be

The world but seems to be
yet is nothing more
than a line drawn
between light and shadow.
Decipher the message
of this dream-script
and learn to distinguish time
from Eternity.

The Lora Schlesinger Gallery is currently showing an exhibition of Carrie Seid's artwork, entitled "Animal and Mineral". The works are somewhere between paintings and sculptures. In essence, they are aluminum boxes with one side left open. Over this opening, a silk screen is stretched and treated for translucency. Within the box, divisions and compartments are defined with aluminum sectionals.

The aluminum box is hung like a picture, with the silk side facing the viewer. As light hits the work, the silk is revealed like a typical abstract painting. However, because of its translucency, the light passes through to reveal the structural elements beneath the silk surface and reflect off the polished metal. This reflection is enhanced by the application of mylar within the box. The end result is that there appears to be an inner luminosity within the box that acts as a "back lighting" to the silk screen.

It's a compelling exhibit. The play of light and shadow over and beneath the flat silk screen creates an enthralling sense of translucent space. It's a dynamic effect, changing with the movements of the viewer or the positioning of the light sources. And it is this quality of dynamism that gives the show its title. When you stand still and look at these works, there is a orderly and petrified feel to the image upon the screen, like a gemstone or a piece of amber. But when you view it while moving, the illuminated curves and shadowy contours rotate and flow like a living, biomorphic form.

Bittersweet (2009) by Carrie Seid

These ambiguities of animal or mineral, shadow or light, underneath or on the surface, are the heart of this aesthetic conflict. To get all artsy, these works contain an inherent Apollonian/Dionysian dialectic.

Monday, June 27, 2011

It Will Show You Your Dreams

Twenty-five years ago on this date, Labyrinth was premiered. Starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, and a whole bunch of muppets, this was a movie about a girl who unthinkingly wishes her baby brother away and then must rescue him from the Goblin King, Jareth, by traversing the magical Labyrinth and its numerous hazards within 13 hours. The acting isn't great and the muppets get a bit tiresome, but the imaginative qualities are wonderful.

Over the decades, Labyrith has developed a cult movie status. Many scenes have become iconic within the fantasy genre, from the fae masquerade to the endless topiary maze to the Escheresque castle of the Goblin King. The visual design in setting and costume has been highly influential in subsequent "fae fantasy" stories, be it literary, graphic, or cinematic.

Here in Los Angeles, there is a yearly celebration, the Labyrinth of Jareth, that originates from this movie. It is a two-day masquerade ball. Obviously, this is a big event with the local costume enthusiasts. I've never been to the event, but I have a few friends who are regulars and the photos of the costumes are amazing!!! This year's Masquerade is coming up this weekend.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Paying the Piper

Pied Piper of Hamelin by Gustave Spangenberg

In 1384, the town records of Hamelin records:
"It is 100 years since our children left."
That is our earliest documentation of the "Pied Piper" incident of the German town of Hamelin. Details regarding a piper, the infestation of rats, and the fate of the children get introduced in later eras. For instance, the Lueneburg manuscript (c. 1440-50) documents:
In the year of 1284, on the day of Saints John and Paul
on 26 June
130 children born in Hamelin were seduced
By a piper, dressed in all kinds of colours,
and lost at the place of execution near the koppen.
That's more detail, but it remains vague. What does the text mean by "seduced"? How were the children "lost"? Moreover, it's nearly two centuries after the event. Given the standards of the era, can their history be trusted?

Pied Piper of Hamelin by Kate Greenaway

Regardless of the historical particulars, the story has been a source of inspiration of writers and artists over the centuries.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Eight Dance Songs for June

It's time for our monthly celebration of Dance music over the decades!

We start our survey in 1971 and go in five year increments all the way until 2006. I limit our selection in such a manner because that's a time frame in which I feel moderately comfortable discussing. Yeah, we can hop with the "bobby soxers" of an earlier era, but my selection would be limited to a shallow sampling of pop standards. Likewise, I can discuss the modern dance/club scene, but I don't want to get all "get off of my lawn" about it.

So, here are our dance hits for June:

Windows of the Soul

Cloudy Sky (2010) by Hideaki Kawashima

A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to see an exhibit of Hideaki Kawashima's works at the Richard Heller Gallery entitled "Turning". I was fond of his previous work, but not really an "enthusiast" of it. His works are characterized by captivating eyes, filled with emotional expressiveness. However, his previous works tended towards abstract figural shapes around these powerful eyes.

Ghostly blobs with intense eyes, they were haunting and somewhat disturbing. They literally were "eyes without a face". I understand that there were Buddhist concepts of emptiness and transience underlying his paintings. They were powerful works, but I never felt comfortable with them. Something was lost in the cultural translation. These ghosts seemed forlorn.

Impossibility (2008) by Hideaki Kawashima

In "Turning", the eyes have found their face.

Friday, June 24, 2011

First Friday Flowers of Summer

White Tulips

 White Flowers

Last night
in the fields
I lay down in the darkness
to think about death,
but instead I fell asleep,
as if in a vast and sloping room
filled with those white flowers
that open all summer,
sticky and untidy,
in the warm fields.
When I woke
the morning light was just slipping
in front of the stars,
and I was covered
with blossoms.
I don’t know
how it happened ---
I don’t know
if my body went diving down
under the sugary vines
in some sleep-sharpened affinity
with the depths, or whether
that green energy
rose like a wave
and curled over me, claiming me
in its husky arms.
I pushed them away, but I didn’t rise.
Never in my life had I felt so plush,
or so slippery.
or so resplendently empty.
Never in my life
had I felt myself so near
that porous line
where my own body was done with
and the roots and the stems and the flowers

Well, that brings us to the end of another week. I've been going at a slower pace recently. The upcoming two weeks will likely be much slower, especially during the July 4th weekend. Hopefully, the posts are of good enough quality to make up for the reduction in quantity. I plan to pick up production again sometime in mid-July.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

If This World Makes You Crazy

It's been a while since we've done a "I Love the '80s" type of post. So, we'll remedy that by wishing a Happy Birthday to Cyndi Lauper, born on this date in 1953.

Back in the early and mid-80s, Cyndi Lauper was as big a Pop star as Madonna or Michael Jackson. In '84, it seemed like you could hardly listen to the radio or look at MTV without getting a dose of her music, usually "Girls Just Want to Have Fun". But the key to Pop longevity is the ability to drastically revamp your image. Cyndi's iconic style and sound weren't easy to dislodge from the public mind. Yeah, her music became more "Adult Contemporary" and she ditched the outrageous hair and make-up, but her fundamentals as a performer remained the same.

Nowadays, Cyndi Lauper has expanded her performance repertoire into numerous genres, including dance electronica and, amazingly, the Blues!!! In fact, her Blues album, Memphis Belle, was nominated for a Grammy and dominated the Billboard Blues chart for over four months!!!

Asides from '80s enthusiasts, Cyndi's primary fan base is among the GLBT community. She has been a long-time advocate for Gay rights and her music has become a staple at Pride events.

Let's listen to the music.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

I Was Good Today, I Deserve it

Recently, there has been a bit of a stir regarding a Yoplait Yogurt ad. The commercial features a lady (Emily Tarver) opening an office refrigerator and seeing a raspberry cheesecake. She is instantly struck with a desire for the cake and begins to mentally negotiate with herself to create conditions by which she will feel justified in eating it.

A co-worker arrives and grabs a Yoplait Yogurt "Cheesecake" container, expressing great desire for the yogurt. The first lady notices that her co-worker had "lost weight" so immediately decides to have a yogurt herself instead of the actual cheesecake. She is later shown to be enjoying her selection.

That sounds rather harmless. However, the National Eating Disorder Association protested the ad, claiming that it encourages a behavioral pattern utilized by women suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia. The extended mental negotiation portrayed in the ad is symptomatic of someone suffering from negative body image, at the least. Therefore, this ad is transmitting a meme to women who are either suffering from such a disorder or who may be susceptible to such disorders, encouraging them to use Yoplait yogurt as a way to placate the impulse towards mental bargaining.

In short, this ad posits an unhealthy mental disposition as a typical state. Given such a state, this ad suggests its product as way to appease the disorder. That's problematic.

Verticle Rotations

Singapore Flyer

On this date in 1893, the first Ferris Wheel was opened at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It was 264 ft. tall and took 20 minutes to complete two rotations. Currently, the world's tallest is the Singapore Flyer at 541 ft. tall. The London Eye, which was the world's tallest from 2000 to 2006, is the tallest European wheel at 443 ft. In America, we've got a dinky little wheel, the Texas Star at 212 ft. That's even smaller than the original Chicago wheel. :-(

Personally, I'm not big on Ferris Wheels. I'm slightly phobic towards heights. I can enjoy the thrill when it's brief, like when I'm riding a roller coaster, but, if I'm given time to think about it, realizing how high up I am freaks me out. It's the whole looking down thing. If I just contemplate the horizon, I can't easily put things into scale. When I look down, I can see ant-sized little people and toy cars. That's when I start getting tensed up.

Ferris Wheel at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago

But I can appreciate the attraction of Ferris Wheels.

Summer Has Arrived

Summer (1909) by Frank W. Benson

Woo hoo!!! My favorite season is upon us! Summer, a time of warmth and long days. . .

Of course, here, in the Los Angeles South Bay area, the sky is dark and grey. The standard "June Gloom" casts a shadow upon the land. It's chilly at the beach and the clouds obscure the sun setting into the Pacific.

But soon the marine layer will lift. The sky will be bright and blue. The birdsongs will fill the morning air. The bright flowers will in full bloom. You all know how much I enjoy visiting the various local botanical gardens and nature preserves to look at the birds and flora. Well, this is the best time of year for such activities!

And there's the beach! Woo hoo!!!

Summer (1896) by Alphonse Mucha

It is often said that there are no seasons in Los Angeles. That is false.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Gala of the Grotesque

Untitled #2 (2011) by Scott Radke

"Burlap" is the title of an exhibit at Thinkspace Gallery, featuring the mixed media sculptures of Scott Radke. It's an interesting show but a bit difficult to accurately describe. The problem lies in the nature of the art works themselves. They have a shifting narrative premise based upon their current environment. To a degree, these are not self-contained sculptures, but focal points to an improvised installation artwork.

The show consists of a series of sculptures and some photographs of these pieces, generally within a evocative setting. The sculptures are of chimerical figures of a "fairy tale" nature. They are gnome-like fey creatures. Some are humanoid in their general appearance, but others are animals or flowers with gnomish faces. The majority of them are covered in a dark sackcloth material either as clothing or skin. It is from this rich material that the show derives it name, "Burlap".

I really enjoyed looking at them. Each piece had a distinct "personality" and expressive presence. The craftsmanship of their design was excellent. These chimerical figures really captured my imagination.

Bird #5 (2011) by Scott Radke

And it's in the imaginative engagement that the pieces become especially noteworthy.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Father's Day!!!

To Her Father with Some Verses
(By Anne Bradstreet)

Most truly honoured, and as truly dear,
If worth in me or ought I do appear,
Who can of right better demand the same
Than may your worthy self from whom it came?
The principal might yield a greater sum,
Yet handled ill, amounts but to this crumb;
My stock's so small I know not how to pay,
My bond remains in force unto this day;
Yet for part payment take this simple mite,
Where nothing's to be had, kings loose their right.
Such is my debt I may not say forgive,
But as I can, I'll pay it while I live;
Such is my bond, none can discharge but I,
Yet paying is not paid until I die.

It's not my style to celebrate "Hallmark Holidays" but the mood is upon me today. ;-)

In looking for appropriate music to celebrate, I was surprised by the wildly inappropriate Father-themed music out there. LOL!!!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Heard, Not Seen

Calm and serene
The sound of a cicada
Penetrates the rock

The Hammer Museum had a series of performance over the month entitled "Insect Ensemble", a performance curated by Jessica Catron. Using hand percussion and simple mouth sounds, the concept was to create an ambient aural environment of insect-like sounds. Five performers were scattered across the Hammer Courtyard to create this effect.

The performers were Jessica Catron, Jessica Basta, Julia Holter, Tanya Rubbak, and Chris Votek.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fuchsias for Friday's Flowers

Vivien Lee


Light, my light, the world-filling light,
the eye-kissing light,
heart-sweetening light!

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the center of my life;
the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love;
the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light.
Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling,
and it scatters gems in profusion.

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling,
and gladness without measure.
The heaven's river has drowned its banks
and the flood of joy is abroad.

Well, it's that time of the week again. I've been wanting to do a post on a Fuchsia show that I got to visit last weekend, but blogging opportunities have been slim. So, we'll show off a few pretties today and maybe we'll do a full on post later. ;-)


Here are a few more.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Be Serious About It

Morning (1821) by Caspar David Friedrich

It's been a while since we celebrated the birth date of a composer of classical music. So, let's take the opportunity to think on and enjoy the works of the great Norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg, born on this date in 1843. Overall, I'm not wild about his music, but I usually find it charming and fun. Late Romantic compositions often incorporated nationalistic themes and styles. Grieg's work is a paradigm of this trend.

My main criticism of his works is that they are so excessively folksy and syrupy that it's a bit overwhelming. It almost becomes campy or self-satirical. However, there is such a dedicated seriousness to the underlying compositional techniques that it can't be dismissed as mere bombast or sentimentality. No, although the expressive impression of these works seems flashy and shallow upon a casual listen, they are actually deep and complex works.

Stetind I Take (1864) by Peder Balke

Let's give them a listen and you can judge for yourself.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Beware of Bears

I am not a fan of the Bible, especially the Old Testament. Yes, there is a great deal to admire and appreciate about Scripture. Giving it a full and honest reading is a worthwhile endeavor and can certainly bring knowledge and wisdom. However, there is plenty of objectionable stuff as well, products of a tribalistic Bronze Age mentality.

Since today is the Feast Day of the Prophet Elisha, let's reflect on this passage from 2 Kings 2:23-24 (KJV):

And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.

And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
Yeah, that's quite a disproportionate response. How do apologists defend this blatant act of injustice?

Well, there are three main lines of defense.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Nostalgia in Neon

El Tavern - Vacancy IV (2010) by Terry Thompson

About a month ago, I saw an exhibit of Terry Thompson's signage paintings at the George Billis Gallery in Culver City. The show was entitled "Sign of Life". I thought that was a strange name, given the aged and deteriorating appearance of the subjects. I was thinking "Memento Mori" or even "Et in Arcadia Ego" would be a more fitting title.

But Thompson's idea is that these signs are survivors. While their fellows from the late '40s to the early '60s have fallen to real estate redevelopment, these signs have persevered. The rust and wear are badges of endurance. Yes, they are from Googie era, but, in spite of the odds, they still exist. They are still part of "Now".

Canyon City Liquor (2010) by Terry Thompson

So, I spent a few weeks considering the matter. Then I returned to the gallery to reassess the paintings. Upon review, I can see his point.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

We Have Top Men Working On It Right Now

Thirty years ago on this date, Raiders of the Lost Ark was released. As a youth, this was one of my favorite movies. It had two lasting influences upon me. First, it turned my interests towards cinematic soundtracks and classical music. Second, it set me up to become interested in history.

I had heard and appreciated soundtracks previously. I enjoyed the music to Star Wars and the Godfather. The theme music for Jaws and the Exorcist were recognizable to me and gave me chills. But Raiders was the first movie were the concept behind programmatic music mentally clicked for me. I realized that the music was another form of narrative expression.

In regards to my interest in history, I was still a bit too young to take action upon my fascination with the ancient Egyptian themes but they endured in my imagination. About a year later, when I was inspired by Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, to start pursuing my studies into Roman history, my interests soon returned to Egypt and the ancient Near East.

Well, let's get to the vids.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Save Us, Erin Esurance!!!

A few years back, the auto insurance company, Esurance, had a promotional campaign centered around the animated exploits of a pink haired spy girl, Erin Esurance. Honestly, it was kind of stupid. Why was this "sexy" special agent running from nefarious criminals and killer robots while extolling the virtues of an on-line car insurance company? It made no sense, but at least it had fun mindless action and an animated cutie.

Eventually, the whole spy chase style got played out. Erin started playing in killer robot hockey games and daydreaming about baseball. Worse, she started escorting "average people" into Esurance cartoon land. What started out as incoherent action eye candy turned into just incoherent.

Clearly, something needed to change. Sadly, as bad as the later Erin Esurance ads were, the change was worse.

Dressed in Their Summer Clothes

Black Rose by Ketmara

On this date in 1966, the first "emo" rock song hit the #1 position of the Billboard chart, Paint It, Black by the Rolling Stones.

Yeah, I know that there was a long history of "teen tragedy" songs that came before Paint It, Black, such as Last Kiss by Wayne Cochran or Teen Angel by Mark Dinning. However, I'd argue that, although these are "songs of sorrow", they don't have the requisite nihilistic angst that properly marks a song as being of the "emo" subgenre.

In the "teen tragedy" subgenre, the singer is helpless and passive under the weight of despair. In the "emo" subgenre, the singer becomes an active participant in their grief. For the "teen tragedian" the world is painted black. For the "emo", they want to paint it black.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Flowers for Friday Again and Again

High Society

As in a Dream

Last night in the light rain as rough winds blew,
My drunken sleep left me no merrier.
I question one that raised the curtain, who
Replies: "The wild quince trees -- are as they were."
But no, but no!
Their rose is waning, and their green leaves grow.

You didn't think that I was out of rose photos, did you? ;-)

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gone Mad Today

On this date in 1891, Cole Porter was born. I'm really not a fan of American Musical Theater, but I make an exception for Cole Porter. Maybe it's that so many of his compositions have been interpreted into jazz classics, that I can appreciate them in a "backwards compatible" manner.

Whatever the case, I love the energy and mood to his music. The sexual innuendos that pepper the lyrics are playful and clever. The overall compositional style is distinctive and mature, but it never seems to take itself too seriously. I think that's why I appreciate Porter's work so much more than other "standard" writers. Underlying each piece is an honest sense of play, an amusement with sound and performance.

Whether it's a large ensemble piece or an intimate solo, the music invites the listener to share in the fun.

Let's listen to some music.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

La Vie En Rose

When Roses cease to bloom, Sir,
(By Emily Dickinson)

When Roses cease to bloom, Sir,
And Violets are done --
When Bumblebees in solemn flight
Have passed beyond the Sun --
The hand that paused to gather
Upon this Summer's day
Will idle lie -- in Auburn --
Then take my flowers -- pray!

This weekend I attended a Rose Show at the South Coast Botanic Gardens. Yeah, this post nearly writes itself. ;-)

Rose: Trumpeters

So, let the Trumpeters sound!!! And let's do some flower blogging.

Monday, June 6, 2011


On this date in 1984, Tetris was released!!!

In my youth, countless hours were spent watching these four-block shapes descending down the screen. Sometimes, I would dream that I was playing the game and wake up in frustration with the "Game Over" sign. Tetris was always on my mind, a sick obsession. This symptom is common among Tetris players and has been named the Tetris effect.

Years later, it's hard to see why this game was so engrossing. It's a good game, but why the passion? I think there are three elements that capture player enthusiasm. First, it is an easy access game with simple rules and quick play. Second, players can improve their level of success by dedicated play, which serves as a reward system.

And finally, there is the music.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fox Fairies and Ghosts

Although I enjoy just about any type of story, my favorite genre is the Ghost story. Unlike most forms of horror fiction, the prevalent mood isn't terror or revulsion, but a deep sorrow. Yeah, there is often some menace involved and certainly the presence of the "Weird" but it is that lingering sense of loss that makes the ghost so haunting.

My favorite stories generally come from the "Golden Age of Ghosts" in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, but I'm also very fond of the classic Chinese Ghost Story. This definitive work of this genre is the compilation by Pu Songling (who was born on this date in 1640), Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio.

This collection has had a strong influence upon the development of Chinese folklore into canonical stories, similar to the effect that the Brothers Grimm had upon European fairy tales. Fox fairies, demonic spirits, and ghostly lovers receive their lasting imprint from Pu Songling and persist in such a form into narratives of the contemporary era.

Let's get to some specific examples.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Se Tu M'Ami

Today we're sending out a Happy 45th Birthday to Cecilia Bartoli, an Italian mezzo-soprano and one of my favorite singers. (Yeah, I have a thing for mezzos.)

I have been a fan of Cecilia's since the beginning of her career. I remember when she wasn't an operatic superstar. This was back in the late '80s and early 90s. Her early recordings were of the then under appreciated works of Rossini. (It's funny, but, when Cecilia became the operatic "It Girl" in the mid 90s, Rossini's music experienced a notable revival in both recordings and live performances.)

Anyways, there is a lot to say about Cecilia. First, I delight in contrasting her image as portrayed on album covers or in her publicity photos with her image on stage. The publicity stuff depicts her as a dark, youthful Italian hottie. Well, she is dark and relatively youthful for an operatic star of her calibre. Whether or not she is a "hottie" depends on one's disposition to very prominent noses, strong eyebrows, and abundant feminine curvaceousness. ;-)

Second, I have never seen an operatic singer that makes such goofy facial expressions in performance. She's smoothed out over the years, but, when I first saw her, I was charmed by the way she would get so deep into the music that she would lose her sense of self image. This is something you see with instrumentalists all the time, but vocalists usually train away from this.

That's enough of my words, let's get to the music: