Title Comment Comment Date Comment Link
Jazz Masterpieces

Bix Beiderbecke on the cornet is one of my favourite things... Otis Ferguson acutely described him as being "as fresh and glistening as creation itself". I also think what BH Haggin said about his role in Paul Whiteman's band holds true: "one heard him at most for a fully chorus, sometimes merely for a phrase, sometimes only in the background with the rest of the brass. But even the phrase detached itself from its dull surroundings as something exquisite and perfect; and even playing along with the others in the background he stood out from them, not through aggressiveness but solely through the distinctive quality of his style".

Re: Scaruffi's reading one of his recent pieces (if it can be called that), "The Origin of Copyright", is that he relies too much on intuition. He takes a very important literary landmark and makes a flailing attempt to connect it to what he perceives to be a failure in post-copyright artists. A remark such as "the advent of the professional writer distanced the writer from her world and from her audience" seems absurd from someone who highly ranks, for example, the writing of Proust and James. It's the same kind of half-baked logic that leads to his dismissal of a genius like Armstrong... His own ideas of what music should be come in the way of appreciation. For example, when writ by Scaruffi the phrase "Armstrong had introduced a dose on individualism in jazz that was the antithesis of its original socialist principles" has an inexplicably pejorative edge. It would be easier to take his criticism if he seemed to be honestly reporting what his ears were hearing, but his writing is suffused with such absurd ideas that it's often difficult not to dismiss him.

4/18/2014 View
Top 10 Movies, Music & Miscellaneous Art of the Week (2014)


Literature is one of the most exciting art forms because it takes the currency of daily life, language, and transforms it into something different and extraordinary. I doubt you need to be told, but its masterpieces rival, at the very least, the masterpieces of the other mediums... No need to even cast a wide net, as you've done with paintings/music/film. Just spending (lots of) time with the key players--Shakespeare, Chekhov, James, Wordsworth, Jonson, Stevens, Whitman, (George) Eliot, Austen, etc--is moving and transformative.

In my reading of _The Waste Land_ (which, admittedly, was not recent) I found Eliot to be almost invisible, and instead the work unfolded as a compilation of fragments of which he was not the author; he demonstrates incredible resourefulness. This is, of course, a style in and of itself, but it's very different to the style of writers like Frost, or Marvell. Eliot draws on language that has already been deployed elsewhere, but he doesn't use it to carve out his own distinct persona. Instead, he manages these preexisting imaginative/linguistic forms and disallows the reader to trace any particular writing back to him. Who is Eliot in the poem? Understanding a sense of his presence requires, in my opinion, realizing his absence. It's an extraordinary performance. _The Waste Land_ is a very ambitious poem, and I'm willing to concede it's a great one, but it's not my favourite as far as Eliot is concerned. I find myself more drawn to "The Portrait of a Lady", "The Journey of the Magi", "Preludes", etc... Is _The Waste Land_ a weird place to start reading poetry? I don't know, probably, but one has to start somewhere.

For Chopin I primarily spend time with the Preludes, Sonatas and Nocturnes... I can't begin to list particular pieces because first of all, my memory is awful and I can't wrap my head around the naming of classical music (all those numbers!!). I'd check but my music (and books) are on another continent, an ocean away. I've listened to the Concertos probably, I don't know, almost a dozen times but that still has not, I don't think, given them justice. Chopin can be so deceptive, I find concentrated listenings to even pieces I feel I am already intimately familiar with can lead to great pleasure.

2/6/2014 View
Three Hundred and Three Favorite Films

Hey, thanks for dropping by. I've stopped stopped editing this list (and virtually all of my others). To be honest, I'm sure there's lots of good films being produced in the 2010's but I don't watch movies very often anymore, and when I do I tend to see films that are little more than enjoyable time passes. That said, if there are any really great films that you think have come out in the last few years I'd be very interested to hear of them; Kiarostami's Like Someone in Love interests me.

2/5/2014 View
Top 10 Movies, Music & Miscellaneous Art of the Week (2014)

AfterHours can you tag me in? I wanna talk about T.S. Eliot. But only as long as "wastelands" stops being written... It's called _The Waste Land_. I don't understand why one would have to know several languages, a good academic gloss is a great tool. Also I think _The Waste Land_ is quite a bit of fun to read, as long as one isn't trying to impose too strong a sense of coherence (as opposed to focusing on the linguistic inflections). What's interesting is how it's impossible to pin down Eliot's poetic voice; all the allusions, fragmented tones, and varied pitches completely suffocate his poetic presence.

Saying that Milton or Blake are somehow easier than Eliot is absurd (it seems poetic that I should ask if you've read Blake's _Milton_, which is a head scratcher, to say the least). In fact Eliot's whole idea of "difficulty" was a reiteration of ideas that circulated since at least the Renaissance (refer to Phillip Sidney: "Believe, with me, that there are many mysteries contained in Poetry, which of purpose were written darkly, lest by profane wits it should be abused"). When Eliot wrote "The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning" he was talking about 20th century poets, but it can't be ignored he was acutely describing, for example, the craft of Milton, and Spenser, and Pope. Blake also strove to not be easy for the common reader, saying "That which can be made Explicit to the idiot is not worth my care".

Chopin is a God, and I would be one happy Listologist if AfterHours started making a literature list.

Also I don't understand what you mean by the Ring Cycle if only for Tristan und Isolde, which is as far as I know its own entity altogether.

2/5/2014 View
Greatest Artistic Experiences

:) It's always nice to have such a quick response!

No order yet, and although I'll eventually give it some meaningful structure (perhaps by place?) I have my doubts whether I'll ever rank them. I just drafted something and quickly put it up before I forgot. I'm still unsure what shape this will all take ultimately; defining exactly what I mean by the title is difficult. I think, for the time being, I'm going to just include experiences that can be pinpointed, unlike, say, rereading/watching Late Spring, Unharvested, The Beast of the Jungle, Michael, etc... Who knows.

PS: I have not been a disinterested observer of your foray into painting..! Quite the journey. The ubiquitous presence of Mona Lisa made me initially dismissive, and I was prepared for my indifference to be confirmed when I saw it in person. But it was transcendent.

12/9/2013 View
Favourite Literature: Graphic Literature

This short piece by Carel Moiseiwitsch may be of interest to you... I found it incredibly moving. She's from Vancouver, to boot.

9/14/2013 View
Top Albums of 2000s

I liked Yeezus quite a bit, the stand outs for me were Black Skinheads, Can't Hold My Liquor and Bound 2. Not a masterpiece or anything, but a solid album. The one I lately returned to is Late Registration, I've always liked it but it's much better and more consistent than I remembered. Even the skits aren't grating, maybe his best work.

Interestingly, Lou Reed wrote an essay on Yeezus.

7/28/2013 View
Top 10 Movies & Albums of the Week [plus other misc works of art] (2013)

The people are saying Tarkovsky, Bresson and Ozu? We may as well stop making lists, because that's one that can't be improved upon.

I'm curious to know why you regard Kiarostami as a "cult director". Plus doesn't figurehead have something to do with popularity, a dubious barometer. I always get suspicious of any looking for deep meaning. Bresson is surely deep, but it's all (like Shakespeare, Mozart and Tarkovsky) on the surface. What you see, hear and feel, not something "beyond" the screen. See Cassavetes Opening Night and Faces, if you don't like them perhaps he's just not for you.

Edit: I came across this interesting bit from Jonathan Rosenbaum: "Syntactically, Dreyer's editing and his way of combining a track in one direction with a pan in another direction are more than just personal inflections, and the same goes for Bresson's use of inexpressiveness in both performances and shots in order to make the juxtapositions between shots and what might be called the involuntary expressiveness of bodies register in a different way from how we've experienced them before. In both cases, I think what's new isn't just a new 'personal' meaning but a new way of producing meaning--and that for me signifies a change in language."

7/18/2013 View
Top 10 Movies & Albums of the Week [plus other misc works of art] (2013)

You hit on one of the reasons I broached my comment in such a manner! Straight up documentary, a form that I have problems with generally (setting up a camera does not capture reality). It would probably never make your greatest films list (it's not on mine either) but I quite simply enjoyed it so much I had to share it. It gives a great insight into a culture, a cuisine, an art, and a man... Like I said, though, I am prejudiced towards the subject matter, so a few tablespoons of salt wouldn't do you any harm!..

7/15/2013 View
Top 10 Movies & Albums of the Week [plus other misc works of art] (2013)

With something considerably less than objectivity, given my interest in the subject, I would recommend Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I might, if I took a step back, say the film sometime leaned ever so slightly towards hagiography, but that's besides the point. Really, really great and inspiring stuff. After watching read Ebert's review and, if you're like me, you'll come to its close and wonder how someone could have missed the point so entirely.

7/14/2013 View
Top 10 Movies & Albums of the Week [plus other misc works of art] (2013)

Kiarostami is, in my view, one of the ten-fifteen greatest filmmakers of all time. He doesn't have the ostentatious intellectual weight of a Bergman, but his manner is so graceful and elegant, and his vision so piercing, in just about everything he does... he functions in the vein of Neo-Realism, I'd say. DeSica, Satyajit Ray, Rossellini, etc. But, of course, great artists are rarely adequately summarized by a genre or movement... One could even find an analog in Ozu and Chaplin, Kiarostami always has touches of subtle comedy. He has his share of detractors--Ebert was probably the most prominent--but there is just about no one who's films I would rather (re)watch... I'd go with Where is the Friends Home?, Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry us as a starter.

5/25/2013 View
Greatest Opera Things

Zacharyyyyyyyy!! Now that I have your attention, I'm going to pass this comment off to my pal B.H. Haggin:

"But wonderful as [Don Giovanni, Cosi fan tutte, and The Magic Flute] are, they are surprassed by what is heard in The Marriage of Figaro: the three-hour outpouring of incandescent invention--miraculous in its varied loveliness, expressiveness, characterization, dramatic point and wit--that is one of the supreme wonders achieved on this earth by human powers. Nor do I mean only the vocal invention: Figaro surpasses the other operas in orchestral writing... with its three-hour running fir of comment that creates the atmosphere of comedy in which even the serious things happen. And in this connection I will mention Tovey's observation that in the G-minor Symphony Mozart's musical language is, as it is in fact everywhere else, that of operatic comedy--by which Tovey doesn't mean that what is said in this language is humorous: one often, he says, finds the language of comedy the only dignified expression for the deepest feelings. It is in this manner that they are often expressed by Mozart--the result being the ambiguity that is on of his outstanding characteristics...

...Three hours have been filled with the orchestra's running fire of comment, which has continued to the last to create the atmosphere for comedy for even serious happenings: even in the hush of amazement and wonder produced by the Countess's entrance the violins have softly chattered their amusement. But now at last there is an end to all this--a moment's silence; and when the Count begins his Contessa, perdono we hear music which speaks of the sublimity of human forgiveness--music which, after what has come before, is overwhelming. It becomes even more overwhelming when it is taken up by the entire group, and when it is carried to a point of superearthly exaltation. Then, in the silence which follows, solemn octaves of the strings gently ease us down to earth again--and to the bustle and fanfares of the final curtain of the operative comedy. The passage lasts only a few minutes; but those three or four minutes, coming after the three hours, create the most wonderful moment I can recall in opera."

He goes on much longer, describing the sublimity of various passages, but I'll leave it at that. I'd add my own two cents but I'm at a total loss. I'd note that I'm sure it would help a tremendous amount to actually see the opera, and follow the storyline, but even just the music without any sense of the narrative is beyond satisfying. Three hours of sheer genius.

5/21/2013 View
Favorite Music

Proust, unsurprisingly, wrote beautifully about music, and not just La sonate de Vinteuil. In the following passage he may as well be writing about Toscanini:

"At the Conservatoire concert yesterday, the pianist in the Mozart concerto was Saint-Saëns. Coming away, one met many people who had been disappointed and who, not knowing why this was so, gave different reasons for it; he had played too fast, he had played without expression, the music hadn't suited him. Well, here is the reason: it was because it had been truly beautiful. For true beauty is the only thing that cannot respond to what a romantic imagination anticipates. Everything else lives up to those preconceived ideas: dexterity is amazing, vulgarity, soothing, sensuousness, thrilling, claptrap, dazzling. But beauty which from the beginning of all things has been joined to truth in an eternal friendship has not got all these charms at its disposal.

In Saint-Saëns' playing there were no pianissimos where you feel you'll faint if they go on any longer, and which are cut off just in the nick of time by a forte, no broken chords sending instantaneous shivers down your back, none of those fortissimos which leave you bruised from head to foot, as if you had been surf-bathing, none of those pianist's writhings and tossed back locks of hair, which infect the purity of music with the sensuality of the dance, which appeal to the listener's senses, to her idle fancies, and supply her with an element of pleasure, and a reason for enthusiasm, the framework of what she will remember and the substance of what she will afterwards talk about. There was none of this in Saint-Saëns' playing. But his playing was regal. Now kings do not make their appearance wearing golden crowns and being carried in palanquins on slaves' shoulders. It is by the way they bow, smile, hold out a hand, offer a chair, ask a question, or reply, that great kings, like great actors, can be recognised. It is the parvenu who is stuck up, the charlatan who shows off. But the king's grace and nobility are so natural to him that his nobility is no more astonishing to us than the nobility of an oak-tree nor his grace than the grace of a rose-wand."

5/16/2013 View
Top 10 Movies & Albums of the Week [plus other misc works of art] (2013)

B-b-but I did not say anything about masking artistic depth, or sincerity, or any resemblance of such a statement. I said the manner, the style, the actual sounds that I hear are what I often find problematic, not the creative energy at work. The endless monumental tilt gets dull. Furthermore, I did not mention psychology (a dubious barometer for any artwork in any case, it would be asinine to dismiss The Illiad on such grounds). The dull philosophical (not, let me reiterate, sonic) writing is the only non-musical criticism I made, and it is based on the libretto (admittedly I have only seen the first three installments so the final ones may be different). Let me lastly, perhaps pedantocally, affirm that I am making no accusations, but simply personal observations. I accept Wagner was brilliant without a doubt--Tristan und Isolde is a favorite--but after spending some time with The Ring I've found it is not, as a whole, suited to my taste, although I think it hosts some very successful parts (I failed to mention the Immolation earlier and a good number of instrumental passages).

5/9/2013 View
Top 10 Movies & Albums of the Week [plus other misc works of art] (2013)

You've misunderstood me completely. When I say The Ring is uneven I am not referring to dramatic intensity or narrative events. To cite the already given example of The Ride of the Valkyries--such a section has no lack of intensity or narrative thrust but it strikes me as completely overwrought and pompous. The problem for me is The Ring is inconsistently engaging (It, personally, contradicts what Henry James wrote of as the only reasonable expectation we can have of art: that it be interesting). Regardless of the enormous artistic power at work many passages fail to cast any sort of hold on me. They can be so histrionic and dry. The manner of the music is the issue. So, to the contrary, I think less intense, less bombast, less philosophical posturing and grandiloquence may appeal to me more. But, of course, then it would no longer be The Ring.

I completely sympathize with the difficulties involved with sustaining an epic, even Milton struggled, but at the end of the day I receive great pleasure from only some of the music.

You may enjoy reading George Bernard Shaw's The Perfect Wagnerite. I found it amusing... It's clear there was a falling off in his critical facilities. Despite a distaste for Brahms his very early writing on music he was remarkably perceptive. I can't find it now, but his reading of "To be or not to be" is a particularly enjoyable attack on musicologists.

5/9/2013 View