Friday, March 01, 2013

Things Of No Value To The Hangman

1. Two Skeletons

... among these hideous carcasses were found two skeletons in a singular posture. One of these skeletons, which was that of a woman, had still upon it some fragments of a dress that had once been white; and about the neck was a necklace of seeds of adrezarach, and a little silk bag braided with green beads, which was open and empty. These things were of so little value that the hangman no doubt had not thought it worth his while to take them. The other, by which this first was closely embraced, was the skeleton of a man. It was remarked that the spine was crooked, the head depressed between the shoulders, and one leg shorter than the other. There was however no rupture of the vertebrae of the neck, and it was evident that the person to whom it belonged had not been hanged. He must have come hither and died in the place. When those who found this skeleton attempted to disengage it from that which it held in its grasp it crumbled to dust.

“The Hunchback of Notre Dame”
by Victor Hugo
from the final paragraph

quoted in The Skeleton Of A Man

(the Disney version ends
a little differently)

2. The Prettiest Earth Colors

I really am going to paint Los Angeles
and I really am going to use earth colors
but I probably won’t be painting with brushes
I probably will be using high-tech pastels
where finely ground pigment like very pretty dust
is bound within a water-soluble wax bar
that can draw fine lines or paint translucent washes
in colors that will last something like forever
even though their names aren’t art history names
but modern names as modern as the high-tech wax.


I posted in A Sketchbook Page With No Sketches that my favorite colors among art supplies these days are in the Derwent Graphitint line of water soluble pencils. Derwent has created an entirely new line of art products called “artbars.” These are something like the beautiful colors of the Graphitint line but within pastel-like sticks that are wonderful for drawing and don’t need to be sharpened like wood-based pencils. I posted a photo of them once, in Drawings Stay Flat Falling Into Reality. Technology these days makes wonderful things, and high-tech pastels cost less than, say, a polyphonic synthesizer workstation, but they are very cool nonetheless.

Painting Los Angeles In Earth Colors

Los Angeles As An Insane Painting

Derwent artbars come in pretty colors with interesting names, even if the names aren’t traditional art history names:

3. Things Of No Value To The Hangman

I have a lot of ideas and ideas
are of no value to the hangman the hangman
will not take them they will be with me till the end
and one of my ideas is that ideas
in some way we can’t know will last beyond the end
and when a strong wind lifts up dust into the air
the wind and dust blowing against things that don’t rise
will make a noise a sound the wind wouldn’t have made
if the wind didn’t have the dust blowing in it.

4. The Musical Direction “Rubato”

I don’t much like click-tracks and metronomes. I’ve posted about that a lot. Just one for instance: Fictional Characters Can Keep Trying

But every now and then I buckle down and play to a click-track. Of the times I’ve done that, played to a click-track I mean, I was most surprised when I did the “Atomic Octopus Song” in Quasi Una Atomic Octopus Fantasia. I had originally thought-up that song with no “beat” at all, yet I was able to play it reasonably well with a structure. It surprised me and it makes me smile that I was able to do that.

These days—and this seems very strange to me—these days modern commercial music is very, very strongly driven by steady rhythms, absolutely constant times. Many modern musicians speak of “making a beat” as if that is the very essence of creating a song. Feeling the “groove.”

Click-tracks and beats mean almost nothing to me.

But it’s the modern world and, I suppose, it hurts nothing. Although I don’t know if that’s true. At any rate one interesting thing is that “commercial” reality—as pervasive as it may be, as demanding as it may be—almost never completely pushes away some deeper reality. And I’m not sure it really tries. I have no idea what is really going on, but whatever is going on, it always seems worthwhile to listen carefully, to look carefully, and to think about things as carefully as one can.

I mentioned yesterday in Karen Kilimnik And Henry Mancini that I was reading a biography of Henry Mancini by John Caps. Mancini is one of the most “commercial” composers who has ever worked in pop music. Many musicians, in fact, will just kind of shrug at the mention of Mancini, and think, well, elevator music. But reality—to my eyes and ears and thinking—is never one dimensional and always needs to be given careful thought. This is a passage where Mancini’s biographer describes a little scene—one scene within an essentially forgotten movie—a little scene from a movie that was, so to speak, all about formulas and click-tracks, but a scene that managed to be about something entirely else:

There is one fascinating musical moment in The Girl from Petrovka, though, not related to that love theme. Leonid is a young rehearsal pianist who often plays for Oktyabrina’s dance class. His real love is jazz, but since the Soviet ministry had declared American jazz to be decadent, he has to play and compose in secret. He dreams of going to the West someday to study Errol Garner and Fats Waller records. Oktyabrina brings Joe up to a loft apartment, where there is a piano, and there we hear Leonid play a small free-form fifteen-bar jazz piece by Mancini. For Leonid, it is “fresh air from a far country.” For us, it is a rare glimpse into Mancini’s personal harmonic language when encouraged to draw a direct line from his cool-jazz roots to the post-cool modernisms of the 1970s. “Leonid’s Theme” is a piece pulled not so much from the scene contexts as from Mancini’s inner ear. It is a carefully worked out piano impromptu. Mancini’s hand sketch of it says “Moodily” as a directive. The first bar is a stark, bluesy, almost dissonant chord (two flats) introducing a three-note phrase, the second bar repeats the chord but lets the phrase descend. The third bar, changing to a 3/4 meter, modulates by a run of sixteenth notes to an even colder chord, then back to 4/4, the whole progress being a meditative stroll through some rather dark nightspots of the mind. No regular meter ties these phrases together, it is played rubato, full of pauses, speculations, and resignations. The first bar appears again before the end, like a recurring motto that gives the one-minute piece more sense of structure than a mere cocktail improvisation could have.

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