Sunday, January 30, 2011

Milton Babbitt

The epitome of the "difficult" modern classical composer, he was apparently a huge fan of the American pop songs of his childhood in the 20s and 30s. I own one recording of his music, Sextets and The Joy of More Sextets, amusing titles not for the obvious reason, but because the pieces are for only two instruments: violin and piano. The music is prickly and intellectual, but eminently listenable and lovely if you sit still and try.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Marquee Moon

The most beautiful thing produced in the rock era. If you are too young, look it up, and listen.

The Social Network

Finally saw it; quite liked it. I had enjoyed David Fincher's creepy serial killer movie, Se7en, but his latest is an even more disturbing horror film. There is no world-weary Morgan Freeman character to provide the moral compass amidst all the evil-doing. I do like Justin Timberlake, but I found his performance less than compelling, perhaps because he is assigned the weakest of Aaron Sorkin's otherwise snappy dialogue. Jesse Eisenberg, on the other hand, deserves whatever awards he garners. A better performance, even, than James Franco's hallucinating and sawing. Franco reveals all of himself; Eisenberg remains a cipher to the end- at least if like me you are unconvinced that the ending implies that our hero is a human being. The soundtrack is damn-near perfect. If I were Fincher I would have tried very hard to get Larry Summers to play himself. Maybe he did.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Degas and Richter

We elbowed our way through the post-impressionist exhibition at the de Young today. I did not bother trying to fight my way to the Starry Night, though it is a lovely painting to be sure. I guess I understand why Gauguin is famous, although his pictures leave me yawning. Cezanne is... well, Cezanne, but the selection was not better than you would find at many good museums around the country. The Pisarros, Bonnards, and Vuillards, very fine to see. But my favorite painting was hiding at the very beginning of the first gallery, for some reason not attracting much attention.

Yes, Degas dancers! For so many years these paintings were just cliches to me, material for posters in dorm rooms (mostly occupied by women, as I recall). But what a painting! Was there another painter who could create the same sense of motion within such a formalized composition, all the while playing with the light, color, and perspective?

Meanwhile... in the main lobby of the museum is an immense out-of-focus Gerhard Richter op-art piece that can give you all the symptoms of a bad hangover just by looking at it. A great one. But the Degas reminded me of another side of Richter, the fuzzy, dynamic beauty of his candles, familiar to lovers of modern art and/or Sonic Youth. The motion, the light, the colors... Richter and Degas can send a chill down your spine. Eat your heart out, Gauguin.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

I had no idea...

... that the Wobblies were still alive and kicking, trying to organize a few sandwich shops in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Umiak, Kayak, Mukluk, Tupik

One of my all-time favorite songs from grade school was the Umiak Kayak song, which taught us a few "Eskimo words." Since I have not found what I believe to be the correct version of this song anywhere on the entire WWW, I provide it here as a public service.

Umiak, kayak, mukluk, tupik,
Umiak, kayak, mukluk, tupik,
Umiak, kayak, Eskimo words,
Learn them if you can.

Umiak, a boat for many men,
Kayak, a boat for one man,
Umiak, kayak, Eskimo words,
Learn them if you can.

Mukluk, an Eskimo boot,
Tupik, an Eskimo tent.
If you heard an Eskimo say these words,
You'd know exactly what he meant.

Umiak, kayak, mukluk, tupik,
Umiak, kayak, mukluk, tupik,
Umiak, kayak,
Eskimo words,
Learn them if you can.

The beauty of this song is in the dramatic dynamics of the ending. I'll be providing the musical notation for the simple but compelling melody shortly. According to Wikipedia, the umiak is a women's boat, and the kayak a men's boat. But the umiak is indeed considerably larger than the kayak, so the song seems roughly accurate, if improperly gendered.

Singing together was a wonderful part of the early grades.