Sunday, February 28, 2010


I am seated on a train with my mother and father. We are travelling
to Dijon to spend the Christmas holidays with my grandparents.
I have a place at the seat of the window. Forsaking my book and
colored pencils, I amuse myself watching houses, gardens,
telegraph poles, cars at the level crossing; farmers and their dogs
rush towards me and instantly vanish. A strong impression
comes over me:the conviction that this whole landscape,
with its forests, fields, cows, has no continuity, no permanence;
the feeling in my abscence that it will not be there; that it was
set up as the train approached, and will be taken down once it
has passed. The setting up is done with precision, with an
unremitting fidelity, since from one year to the next I find
everything in place: the same hills, the same little stations, the same
villages hugging the bank of the river. How is it that there is
never a slip? How is it that the arrival at Laroche never changes.
even imperceptibly? That the tunnels are always the same
length? ...Where was all this stored in our abscence?
If the train went faster, would it go too fast for the
stagehands in charge of the countryside? Would it arrive
in still empty places, surprising the nothingness that
must prevail there?...
(from THE STATUE WITHIN by Francois Jacob)

Saturday, February 27, 2010


There is a boat--feluca or gondola--whose rope slowly unravels at the pier.
Whether this is due to neglect or because it is fore-ordained, I can not say.
Neither can I tell you what propells it, sail, or motor,
or the current of the river. Or whether it was unmoored at all, or if the contours
of the river travel before its view. This happens every night.

It seems that the boat is also a cradle and a coffin, and as it rocks back and forth
it also travels. First it slides on the surface of the river. Then (for there is but a single
light on its prow) the darkness grows darker and the point where the river runs into the deltas
and the moment the sea begins seems vague.

My darling, I do not know whether we are still in a lagoon of
the Adriatic or drift to Asia, but I know we rise, and if I look below I see our
old home from afar, its chimneys indistinguishable from the rest of
those in town, and beyond the milky way the whirlpool in whose
coils we turn, at first slowly, but at an ever increasing rate until
our crew most hold onto the mast for dear life in such a storm as
has risen. And then I disappear, and so do you.

Friday, February 26, 2010


In the mild summer evenings of my childhood, we would play
a game called "Statues". At the first step of the porch, whoever
it was who was "It" would turn his or her back to the other children--
the rules of the game having been finally settled after a long parley--
and count to fifty as the others on the far end of
the sidewalk by the street would creep up, hoping to touch
their shoulder before the count was done but under the
rule that whoever was caught was"out".
The point was to guess how fast the count would last,
which was a question among the younger children at least,
and also how to be patient enough to freeze in place when 50 was reached
while making progress to the house. The fear of "It's"glance should freeze
you in your place if "It" began to turn.
Inevitably a dispute arose over who was seen moving or not and
one clown would hang balanced on a foot as if to emphasize the Gorgon-like look
of "It" when "It" turned round.
Another version of this fight about arrival at "It" would
center around whether the count was clear and counted
fair and square,or if It mumbled, which is a specialty of the part.
An allegory of Mortality and Time.
Such a game of statues I have played with your look and you with mine,
the fatal intersection which each crosses like electrical lines avoided
as through a second sense. But as the Game, the risk once won
as if chance shaved quite raised the stakes, and this time might transfix.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


(Ayiasma:the cult of a purifying well)
The black image
Framed in silver worn to shreds by kisses
The black image
Framed in silver worn to shreds by kisses
All round the image
The white silver worn to shreds by kisses
The very metal worn to shreds by kisses
Framed in metal
The black image worn to shreds by kisses
The darkness, o the darkness
Worn to shreds by kisses
The darkness in our eyes
Worn to shreds by kisses
All we wished for
Worn to shreds by kisses
All we never wished for
Kissed and worn to shreds by kisses
All we escaped
Worn to shreds by kisses
All we wish for
Kissed and kissed again.
(translated from the Swedish by Sjoberg and Auden)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Which of these statues would you animate, given a choice,
supposing a fairy wand should also replace missing limbs, that broken nose,
and teach it a modern language which you also spoke, all contingencies
provided for, except clothes? I myself would forego Apollo and
Venus Anadromene, as I have known their contemporary counterparts
and found them to be bores, in favor of this faun. For him, I would make
a golden chain and a supple collar studded with his name--Nijinski,
I think--and walk him in the park by day, and by night commit
unspeakable acts behind closed doors, breaking antiques, throwing
plates, and be happy for a while.




The debate between abstraction and representation. Personally, I don't
believe in such things. Mondrian was described by
Brancusi as "that great realist."

Sunday, February 21, 2010


Here is a subject with a number of puzzles attached to it,
for one finds no haloes in Egyptian art, or Greek, or in Roman art until after Augustus.
Then haloes appear fleetingly in Mithraic cults from Persia, and encircling the
heads of maenads in the House of Mysteries in Pompeii. For the most part, though,
it is what separates Christian art from pagan.( As a word, "halo'
shares a root with heal, holy, wholesome, and hallow.)
Initially, haloes are not always round, but are sometimes the shapes of the
Byzantine mandorlas in which a Christ as Pantocrator may appear. Also
such shapes as are made by angelic wings when folded in adoration. The round halo is found more consistently
in Buddhist than in Christian arts, perhaps for reasons of stricter iconic codification.
Both in Japanese and in Indian art, the halo will seem more flower-like,more
like a lotus, than ever appears in Christian Art.
Flame-form haloes appear around the wooden protective deities of Japanese
Temples, in Tibetan Buddhist art--an example would be Mahakala--
and encircling the veiled face of Mohammed as he ascends to Heaven on the back of
Buracq in Persian miniatures of the Safavid Period.
In Christian art, the battle between east and west, between the Roman Catholic
and the Eastern Orthodox church may be seen in haloes. The incidence of
gold leaf is an indicator, not only of the tension between east and west, but between
the late Gothic and the Early Renaissance. Late Gothic uses it, as in
Duccio and Cimabue. Giotto the naturalist is impelled into the expedient
of what I call the Streetlight halo.
The Streetlight halo looks much as if Jesus or Mary or some saint stood in front
of a streetlight, which follows their head around. Some are plain, like a moth ball;
some are surrounded by a nimbus of a rainbow, or a delicately crafted
etched gold halo-ring, the halo's crystallized rays.. There is always the
hard-to-negotiate question of how far does the halo go when the head is bent
in prayer, which is one of those places where naturalism will conspire with absurdity.
Jean Colombe, who completed the TRES RICHES HEURES OF JEAN DE BERRY
depicts the saints in heaven from behind, in great assemblage. Their haloes
look like newly minted coins. Michelangelo tries to ignore the subject
Leonardo employs an array of stylistic evasive-devices, Raphael 's are a repertoire
of stylistic solutions according to the type of work. He has a Perugino-type halo, and
a back-lite halo--the escape of St. Peter in the Vatican--and
a ring of filleted gold around the Madonna halo. Titian's are atmospheric,
Caravaggio's are a sudden shaft of light. Rembrandt finds the holy light within the face.
It may shine into the surround but it is no longer almost an object but
a look.

Saturday, February 20, 2010


Porchia was an Argentinian potter of Italian descent, who lived in
poverty in a suburb of Buenos Aires until his death in 1968 at the age of 84.
Roger Callois put a selection of his aphorisms into French in the 1940's.
W.S. Merwin put them into English in 1969, and this was re-issued by Copper
Canyon Press in the 2001.
"Aphorism" usually implies a flash of wit, the upshot of standing a generalization
on its head. Porchia's are not like this. His words feel turned over, felt, and shaped;
there is something turned about them which reminds me that he was a potter
---Merwin's translation conveys this--but they seem to come from a life lead
rather than the products of a personality. You pick them up and look at them like an
interesting stone found at the edge of a shore. The stone is much older than you.
Here are a few of them.

Every toy has the right to break.

He who has seen everything empty itself is close to knowing what everything
is filled with.

Not believing has a sickness which is believing a little.

I believe that a soul consists of its sufferings, for the soul that cures its own
sufferings dies.

Nothing that is complete breaths.

A ray of light erased your name, now I do not know who you are at all.

Yes, I will try to be. Because I believe that not being is arrogant.

The flower that you hold in your hand was born today and already it
is as old as you are.

They will say you are on the wrong road, if it is your own.

Chimeras come singly and leave accompanied.

If you are not going to change your route, why change your guide?

You are sad because they abandoned you, and you did not fall.

I know that I went from the brief before to the eternal afterward of
everything, but I do not know how.

You are a puppet, but in the hands of the infinite, which may be your own.

I also had a summer and burned myself in its name.

They owe you a life and a box of matches and they want to pay you
a box of matches because they don't want to owe you a box of matches.

A large heart can be filled with very little.

If I were a person who led himself, I would not take the path that
leads to death.

You can owe nothing, if you give back its light to the Sun.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Presently I am making my way through the cantatas, which I plan to
conclude towards Easter with the two surviving Passions. The last time
I did this was in a former Schule on the Lower East Side in 1980,
and it was as drafty and as cold that year as it is now. Then it was
a matter of hearing a good many of them for the first time. Now it
is to marvel at how many are familiar.
I decided to abandon my policy of ecstatic miscellaneousness, and straighten up
and be methodical, and start at the beginning instead of nipping honey at every bud.
Harnoncourt's and Leonhardt's traversal(which nearly bankrupted Telefunken)
was what I listened to then. Now I listen to the Suzuki Bach Collegeum,
whose work has won the highest praise from the Olympians of the
Penguin Guide to Classical Recordings. If they don't banish other performances
from memory, this may be because I am in a retrospective mood, but
I am happy with them, which is several rungs higher than contented.

My relationship to the music has changed perspectivally in other ways as well.
There was a time I cared about historical accuracy. Now I don't care about
historical accuracy unless I miss it.
The originalists in any case have largely won except in the case of piano versus harpsichord as a solo instrument.
Also while it is important to distinguish conductors and the differences in approach
between the various enclaves of Bach performance, I find myself caring less about this than
I do the singers. Philippe Herreweghe won me over by his choice of singers
despite his sometimes (for me) too subdued approach.So slowly,the question
has moved for me from a general view to the performances of individuals.

There is a history of great female Bach singers which doesn't coincide
with a traversal of the cantata cycle, and which includes great Wagnerians, like
Kirsten Flagstad, and great Mahler singers,like Kathleen Ferrier, and
great Mozart singers, like Elizabeth Schwartzkopf. To hear them is to
hear Bach associatively through Mozart, Mahler, even Wagner, which in
turn shows how Bach echoes through each of these great composers. The Bach
performances of each have a shining integrity which Bach seems to inspire in the great singers,
in Christa Ludwig, Elly Ameling, and more recently, the much-missed Lorraine Hunt
Lieberson. The same applies to the men, for Hans Hotter's is on par with his Wagner,
and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's with his Schubert. But there are names which I have omitted
equal to these. I heard an interview with the superb Christine Schaeffer, who said she
had to perform Bach with her Bach voice both in terms of breaths taken and
when they are taken--did I imagine it or did she say she found her breath in niches?-- and it the attack or how the note is hit.
As a visual artist I have an image of this rather than an understanding of it; for me,
because the singer of Bach becomes a herald or an angelic messenger quite often in the cantatas, this naturally has an effect on spiritual bearing
as well as physical carriage.As a painter,moreover,the singers of the Bach cantatas seem to me like the Angels found in late medieval Annunciations with scrolls unfurling besides their open, annunciatory mouths,even roses and lilies leaping from the Angel's lips, as in the case of Cimabue. As someone prone
to synasthesia, they almost appear this way to me.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


"Rain has a way of bringing out the contours of everything:
it throws a coloured blanket over previously invisible things;
instead of an intermittent and fragmented world, the steadily falling
rain creates a continuity of acoustic experience... Usually, when I open
my front door, there are various broken sounds spread across
nothingness. I know when I take I take the next step I will encounter the path,
and that to the right my shoe will meet the lawn...I know all
these things are there, but I know them from memory...The rain
presents the fullness of a situation all at once, not merely
remembered, not in anticipation but here and now. The rain gives
a sense of perspective and of the actual relationship of one part of the world
to the other...I feel as if the world which is veiled until I touch it,
has suddenly disclosed itself to me."
(from Hull:TOUCHING THE ROCK, an account of blindness)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


"In saying the word "sun" we are, as it were, taking an immense journey to which we have
grown so accustomed that we almost travel in our sleep.What distinguishes poetry
from automatic speech is that it rouses us, and shakes us into wakefulness in the middle of a word.
It then turns out that the word is much longer than we thought, and we remember that to speak is to be forever on the road."
This comes from Osip Mandelstam's CONVERSATION ABOUT DANTE(1936)writing right at the edge of the Stalinist purges, a few years prior to Mandelstam's death. To write about Dante
in the Soviet Union in 1936 was to uphold what got Mandelstam ostracized to begin with, and puts him closer to house-arrest and then Siberia. His friend the poet Lev Gumiliev, shot by firing squad in the first
days of the Bolshevik revolution, died clutching a copy of Homer in his hands. This Dante essay is like
that in slow motion. Mandelstam seems to be putting every idea he wishes to impart in coded form into his last testament. In one astonishing aside,he seems to have had a poetic anticipation
into the structure of DNA--he addresses crystallography as a discipline which he would turn
to the study of Dante's patterns, if he had time. Earlier, he compares poetry
to a carpet woven out of the waters of the Ganges, the Euphrates, and the Nile,
in which their waters weave in patterned braids without mixing. But it is to his comments
concerning poetic speech that I must return.
Two uses of the word "original" by two fine American poets, Marianne Moore and Robert
Frost, reverberated within reach of each other when I read them. Moore's:
not in the days of Adam and Eve,
but when Adam was alone,
when there was no smoke and color was fine
not with the refinement of early civilization art
but because of its originality..."
And Frost's, which is from his masterpiece, DIRECTIVE,
"Your destination and your destiny's
A brook that was the water of this house,
cool as a spring as yet so near the source
too lofty and original to rage..."

This use of the word "originality" means the near opposite of "novelty".
This rang true with me, which is a distinct sensation, like the touching of a tuning fork.
I am not sure why I believe that we hear the truth rather than see it--listening
being part of the sequence--but it is the sound of truth we speak of more often than
it is the sight. Both Moore and Frost roused me into waking in regard to the word,
(There is something else concerning Mandelstam's comment to which I wish to add:
he speaks as if language is an instrument of truth, and that truth might be found
in language. This is interesting to consider in our truth-eroded, rhetoric bloated time. The idea
that a language may be the bearer of a collective truth as a poet may be the bearer
of an individual one is an original idea which novelty has largely buried beneath static.
But Mandelstam believed it was the nature of Language as well as the art of
individual speech. In a brief aside, he apostrophe's DAL's Etymological Dictionary as a giant
proto- poem of this collective truth.)
The rootword of " original" is Er, which is to set in motion, to begin.
As it was in the beginning has a very particular sense for each of us.
It consists of something familiar in the Edenic infant sense of our earliest memories
but also something of our human ancestry. All nostalgia may be based on Eden, just as all longing might be for a New Jerusalem---sacred or secular, it does not matter which: we are irreparably between.
Even so, we each have a sense of the beginning:to utter it is to
begin to picture it:who knows if this twitch goes far?
In Islam, creation begins before time, in the convocation of all souls who will
ever come to exist. All say "Yes" to Allah and enter time. I was there
with you according to this doctrine, and this hidden memory is shared
from the beginning of time.Should Jehovah ask, "where were you
when I called the world into being and the morning stars danced for
joy?"the reply might be, I was there. I know something from the beginning of
time which I have yet to put in words.
When a work of art is original, as far as I am concerned, it is because
it is touched with the beginning, and takes a reverberation from it,
and vibrates with it. It is singular but it also
has an unexpected familiarity, a way of making something I have inarticulately
known into some know-able speech. The effect of Wagner on men as different as
CS Lewis and Gerard de Nerval, Auden and Baudelaire was one of coming across
something for the first time that they had known all their life. (to be continued)

THE FIELDS OF BACH (6)(scherzando)

Here is a stormy scene from Bosch, the battle of the instruments.
In this arena streaked with lightning the harpsichord and piano
duke it out in the Klavier Katzenjammer. Odds favor the champ,
Hamburg Steinway, over the contender, a replica after an
instrument by von Dulcken (1611), by 257 to 1, but you've gotta hand it to
the little cembalo, he's a contender. At stake is the soul of the
Well-Tempered Clavier, seen in the form of Flosshilde,
the German Jeanne D'arc, on a cloud above with the Holy Family( or the Royal
Family, depending on your view of iconography.) A skirmish, meanwhile,
has erupted among the Highland symphonists, who favor
bagpipes, and the Flemish sacbucketeers in a force which sweeps up the gambists and
the tympanists in one hellacious sea as Hamborg Steinway delivers yet another deadly blow
to van Dulkens plectrum. There is a splintering of parquetry as van Dulken spews
a handful of quills from his sounding board. It will be a long time before his
toccatta trots,again, it's Les Barricades Mistereuses for original instruments...

Monday, February 15, 2010


Our travel down the Nile is calm now that we've passed the Sphinx;
how they unpetrify after the rain, or what lengths
we go to pacify them
--that emu stuffed with opiates barely got us by them,
is kept from Tourist knowledge but it stinks!

A snoring on the shore assures me we are safe but even so Hussein I must confess
We don't have any this size in Memphis whatever sense of status they confer
Our embassage would be larger now had Pharaoh
kept them tethered in their barrow,
This vogue for zoos has gone too far in terms of human flesh
The Emir's content with crocodiles; they keep the servants on their feet,
And the slow ones furnish them enough to eat.


O stupid giants, why are your prayers so long,
and why are they always advertisements?


Then the inquisitors come, white robed inquisitors
holding the sacred text which may condemn you
to be burned as a faggot or drawn and quartered,
behind them are red robed inquisitors, the authors
of law,holding the ends of the wires wound round you.
(it is a stadium or arena from what you can hear rather than see;
the acoustics imply much)
there are the blackrobed inquisitors, so tall, carrying chains
let us be plain:there is no mercy without the admission of guilt
you must be born in death and saved by flame
your sins: in this place at this date
not as much what you have done as thought:it's in your face
I can see it in your eyes your shifty gaze admit it
don't cry we're just getting to it
just getting to baby, you're mine:
-don't gag or I'll show you what's rough
(thus the black robed inquisitors)


Vote for Caligula, folks, if you want a state-sanctioned bloodbath.
Vote for him because you like his style--that Humvee with Rifle-turrets,
the swimming pool as an abattoir, the babes with pneumatic implants, the gladiatorial combat,
that populist wink from the top of the pyramid, the breeding farm for Aryans,
the wars to trim our young people of the unfit, the plenitude of squalor!
Vote for him because you must show your allegiance--it's a must for those of
you who want to get ahead or keep theirs, kow tow and bow to the manly modesty of the self-
deified representative and leader of the people, the autocrat of the
republic which he crushes underfoot like chicks, and his hench-people of spin, his gilded regular guy status,march for him!
Let one arena fight with another and plunder the loser:it's all virtual once you step out of the sauna anyhow and anyway
no one gets hurt who doesn't deserve it; its nothing an anesthetic can not forget,
or a fence mend in a steroid world
a fact confirmed by this synthetic human skin as vibrant as novocaine
the best light-fixtures wear
(this room is bugged; destroy this note after memorizing the following :)

Sunday, February 14, 2010


We're nipped in all the ways of winter, house bound, stir crazy or lethargic
depending on the wind or the snow. Sometimes at night it feels as
if death is circling around; it whistles like a scythe.My old ones are older than old.
They are stubborn, argumentative, deaf, dotty, redundant, and I love them.
The old dogs are as old as my old. Sometimes my old black Australian
shepherd can't make it up the stairs. I carry her up like grunting
luggage. She doesn't like that much.
My other dog is a white hunting dog, and sometimes he can't get up fast,
but he can run. Snow on the ground is his favorite time to hunt. Blends
in and can sneak up.
Dad usually calls him in at around ten, but sometimes he disappears.
This happened just last week. My sister found him buried in the leaf-pile
in the morning, and concluded that he intended to crawl away and die.
Even shed a few conclusive tears as she
asked me to be sure to bring him in the next night.
But he was not to be found at nine, or ten, or midnight when the first
flurries began to fall. I called with the wind bounding back at me
from the backdrop of the woods.
Suddenly I heard the deer before I saw them, and up from the leaf
pile rose my old white dog in a flurry who had lain in ambush for them ,
then all were gone.
Better to chase deer at midnight than to sit inside chewing a bone.


I have heard the Bach Chaconne on a xylophone , a marimba, cymbalom, and celesta,
on a eighteen-string fretted lute, on a guitar, and on a banjo, I think
--though this may be hallucinated--in a version for string orchestra,
which seems besides the point, and another for brass, which was worse,and in two left hand versions only for piano by Busoni and Brahms. A chamber version of The Goldberg variations
for string orchestra confounded recognition for a few moments, so unlikely did it seem.
As for the ART OF FUGUE:piano, harpsichord, organ, wind quintet, string quartet, 'cello
quartet, in broken consort with violins and viols, and as a viol
ensemble, as in the music of Coperario or Lawes'; also string orchestra, and marimba ensemble,
in which Bach took on an unexpected Indonesian aspect.And
tonite a very beautiful version of the final, unfinished fugue by
Luciano Berio conducted by Pekka Salonen in L.A.
Busoni's piano transcriptions and Stokowski's orchestral
transcriptions are both so much richer than Bach's originals that
they seem like baby Jesus in wrapped in jeweled couturier swaddling.
Frank Martin's idea of Bach is not the Bach of Villa Lobos, the Bach of the tropics,
and Schoenberg's Bach transcriptions are a sound-world away from Stravinsky's,
as Webern's are from Kurtag's. Wooden swords and hobbyhorses attend
almost all discussions of performance practice, but for the time the harpsichords
are nearly routed, though the oboe d'amore is adopted more and more.

How much of Bach do we actually hear? Charles Rosen criticized Glenn Gould's
attempt to create maximal contrapuntal transparency--or the ability to hear
all parts at once--with the counter-proposal that the human ear does not hear
that way, but dwells on one and then another feature of the music in turn.
Rosen calls this form of hearing "terracing".

I suppose I generally "terrace", but the attempt to hear all that is going on,
which only Gould and Gustav Leonhardt among keyboard artists fulfil,
fills me with a fleeting radiance, as if the ceiling of my understanding has been lifted,
which does not happen when I inattentively "terrace".

But Bach is larger than dogma.I was raised with the
wonderful old Klemperer recording of the St. Matthew Passion , which I
rejected during the first wave of Original Instrument performance as I
could hear the parts, the inner voices, when Nicolas Harnoncourt conducted
the St. Matthew Passion with his ensemble, the Concentus Musicus. Now I can hear in the Klemperer
recording something I would have never heard in it, had I not strayed from it,
which is the healing which this music brought to its performers and to its
listeners after the Third Reich and WW2. It is
entirely wrong from what we know of baroque performance practise.
But in the history of Bach performance it stands as a shining moment of truth.
"In heaven there are many Mansions."

Our music has a history, as well as being history , from its inception to the present moment.
It is important to treat our present moment as a fulfilment
of history, not as as being apart from history as a judgment upon it from some imaginary
Cartesian perch.
Bach more than any other composer, I suspect, acts as a laboratory for musicians--
he induces or provokes experiment--
hence those arrangements of organ works for brass, of concertoes for four harpischords
being turned into concertos for five theorboes or vice versa,
not to mention a cappella jazz arrangements, synthesizers etcetera.
There was a time when I subjected all to which I listened to rigorous prior inspection. Now I
just roll with the punches.


Let me admit from the start that I am highly superstitious,
and that for me an angelus or messenger can be incarnate in a work of art.
How this is done or for whom it is done or why it is done is very
particular, and I must not judge what acts as an angelus
for you, but only speak of what so acts for me. I, in fact,
believe that music is curative, and as such is extremely important to
good health. A quick way to induce many manias would be to eliminate music.
(I also believe that art is the crucible of the imagination, and those who
oppose it are enemies of the realm where meaning is forged.)

When I was a young man, I became severely bewildered over questions of meaning,
and it seemed to me that there was no much reason to live in a world which could
countenance Auschwitz. This disturbed me so much that I began to starve myself. There is a terrible,
low-grade perpetual depression attached to hunger; it soon makes the world dull.
There is a slow despair attached to it which I would hesitate to plumb even now.
What saved me was an old recording, a wobbly LP
on RCA's budget label, which you had to flatten out before playing,so bad was the vinyl,of
THE WELL-TEMPERED CLAVIER by the harpsichordist, Gustav Leonhardt.

Leonhardt, whose career is very distinguished, is never-the-less often taken
for the leader of a particularly ascetic Dutch Calvinist tradition of Bach , mostly
due to his angular appearance and unostentatious manner; this is a polite
way of saying that his playing is felt to be as stiff as he looks. While I
don't relish his Scarlatti, and his Couperin has been superseded , no one is
quite so fluent, or as subtle in early, early keyboard work,
in the English virginalists just after Dowland, or Sweelinck, or Froberger.
What is interesting about Leonhardt's Bach is that it sounds more like John Bull or Farnaby
or Sweelinck--music of the 1640's-- than it does a premonition of Beethoven. He puts the musical time travel clock on" before" rather than" after", so to speak.
But for me, this was less relevant than the effect which his playing of Bach had for me,
which was to restore some sense of human perspective. Come on, come into the human
fold, it said,these ultimate meanings are not yours to determine; you are part of the puzzle.
I had been reading Karl von Frisch's THE DANCING BEES--it is he who decoded
their communicative process--and in it discovered that bees will always built their nest
at 90 degrees angles to the earth's magnetic fields. Bach seemed to me to
be righting my angle, so that I too might begin to build.

But I am not alone in my sense of the healing properties of music. Its
track record in the re-routing of neurological channels after strokes is
well documented. There are also such testament's as William Styron's
concerning his depression, DARKNESS MADE VISIBLE. What cracks the human
barrier--the dread wall Styron is captive behind--is the tiniest fragment of the Brahms
Alto Rhapsody. It is in the Merchant/Ivory adaptation of Henry James' BOSTONIANS
and to see it is to marvel at how brief a flicker of hope or heart
can be clung to, as this music happens in the interval in which a door is open and closed.


Paul Klee loved Bach, which he played on the violin. He wrote a poem
in which his cat complains about it. Music in Klee is about the arbitriness
of notation--music notation is always turning into pictograms , is always
just about to take an anarchic life on of its own--or the absurdity of social structures--
those twittering machines--or novice angels practising on some side street of heaven,
one which resembles Basle.
George Braque loved Bach, but his Bach had nothing to do with notation or novice angels,
but a great deal to do with multi-angled space, which a fugue might be said to be in sound.
Bach's music was one of the things which aided his recovery from a head-injury
suffered in WW1, and it is a synonym for him of quiet meditation. It is after
this injury that the violin replaces the mandolin as Braque's cubist refracted musical
instrument, so it is entirely possible that Braque recovered through much the
same music as Paul Klee's cat complained of.
This would be one of the three solo sonatas or partitas for the violin alone,
which are held to be the apex of the violin literature. There is a recording from
1903 of Joseph Joachim playing a part of the G minor sonata,
which is the first; it has a prescence which belies its years. Nathan Milstein,
Jascha Heifetz, Joseph Szigeti, Yehudi Menuhin, Arthur Grumiaux, Henryk
Szeryng,Ida Haendel, Schlomo Mintz, Gidon Kremer, Christian Tetzlaff, Hillary Hahn, Jaap van Shroeder,
among others have recorded them. This does not keep me from regretting
not hearing a gypsy violinist which Huberman(?) took Joseph Szigeti to hear
whose incredible freedom of expression in playing Bach put both these
great violinist to shame.(This story is Arnold Steinhardt's).

My niece and nephew made a bee-line for the solo violin sonatas and
partitas above almost all other music to which I introduced them.
My niece uses the chaconne to warm up before her rugby games;
it seems to work, as she is a national champion. We vote for Grumiaux
and Szeryng after numerous comparisons.

A great deal of Dan Brown-ish nonsense was trafficed in the musical press
a few years ago with the purported discovery that certain Lutheran
chorales were quoted in the great chaconne--or variations on a bass-line--
which ends the second partita. The violinist Christoph Poppen went so far
as to record the chaconne with a choir intoning chorales directly. But
when is Bach not quoting a chorale? He is so imbued with them that it will happen sooner
or later. So Poppen and crew pointed out what is after all
a salient feature.
Numerological decodings of the music are also less illuminating than is supposed,
a way of carving "To the Glory of God" into the joinery rather than an explanation
of the over-arching scheme. Like the omniprescent chorales it is part of the plan,
not the plan. The Czech musicologist, Miroslav Venhoda, compared the Obrecht
masses to medieval computers, the polyphony based on symbolism derived from
the medieval trivium and quadrivium. The question is :if of these medieval
masses be decoded,what would we have? An annotated text of the SUMMA THEOLOGICAE?
A visual model of the cathedral? Would these parts be more or less than the actual music?
My suspicion in both the case of the numerological Obrecht at the
beginning of the polyphonic tradition, and with Bach as its end, is that
it would be less.
It is the fact of Shakespeare which generates theories about the plays being
written by the Star Chamber. It is the fact of Bach which puzzles. Our silliest
theories are due to the suspicion that here magic and science mix.
(to be continued)


I descend my western course, my sinews are flaccid,
Perfume and youth course through me and I am their wake.
It is my face yellow and wrinkled instead of the old woman's,
I sit low in a straw bottom chair and carefully darn my grandson's

It is I too, the sleepless widow looking out on the winter moonlight,
I see the sparkles of starshine on the icy and pallid earth.
A shroud I see and I am the shroud, I wrap a body and lie
in the coffin,
it is dark here underground, it is not evil or pain here,
it is blank here, for reasons.

(It seems to me everything in the light and air ought to be happy.
Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave let him know he has enough)

Walt Whitman section 2 of THE SLEEPERS

("I know not how I came of you and I know not where I go with you,
but I know I came well and shall go well."
The Winter Mantra)


Among the more curious manifestations of Bach's influence is
the desire he inspires to make a counterpoint out of words.
How this is to be done is a matter of debate. Is it to be
done by cutting story against story, as D.W. Griffith did
in film? This is what Gide supposed in THE COUNTERFEITERS(1927)
with which Aldous Huxley soon concurred in his POINT COUNTERPOINT(1929).
No, say the poets lead by Pound:it is done via the inter-collision
of luminous fragments, and the cutting takes place not only with
stories but among historical epochs. It is done by layering historical
epochs over each other, in contrapuntal lines like
geological striations with dolmens sticking out says David
Jones in THE ANATHEMATA. It is done in Voices says James Joyce.

It is more than the symbolist desire to make poetry achieve the
condition of music. It is the kind of music to
which literature aspires which makes this modern,
literature which aspires to music's simultaneity of parts. The simultaneity
is what makes the great ensembles of Mozart's the Marriage of
Figaro or Verdi's Falstaff works that lift off the top of your head,
as you temporarily enter the privileged domain
of understanding six hearts and minds at once. Bach does this more
legibly, more lyrically, more often than any other composer.

This is a supposition--how could it be otherwise?--but
I feel that this need for perspectival simultaneity in narrative literature
began with 19th century urbanization. There are so many stories with
so many histories in so many faces. BLEAK HOUSE by Dickens,
which cross-cuts narratives, is one response to it. Whitman's LEAVES OF
GRASS is another. The difficulty that BLEAK HOUSE poses is
knowing what kind of story you are in; the difficulty Whitman
poses is knowing where you are in the human sea.
The attractiveness of simultaneity is knowing that you are
an individual in the context of a community. The difficulty lies
in believing this without a plenum or compass.
Contrapuntal writing organizes this in music. Narrative
writing begins to try to organize experience with something like these means.
Is Faulkner's THE WILD PALMS a narrative two part invention?
Does Virginia Woolf's THE WAVES become a kind of fugue?
We look at those moments in civilization where it all came together,
which only happens in art, and we wonder how it might be done, if it might be done,
with what we know now. We know it has been done in this medium:
can it be done in that ? This is what Bach made the story- tellers wonder.
(To be continued)


Patience and still patience,
patience beneath the blue!
Each atom of the silence
knows what it ripens to.
The happy shock will come:
A dove alighting, some
Gentlest nudge, the breeze,
A woman's touch--before
You know it the downpour
has brought you to your knees!

Let populations be
Crumbled underfoot--
Palm irresistably
Among celestial fruit!
Those hours were not in vain
So long as you retain
A lightness once they're lost
Like one who, thinking, spends
His inmost dividends
To grow at any cost.

((the two final stanzas of James Merrill's
translation of Paul Valery's Palme;
it is this poem which he refers
it was my mantra many times when
waiting for the subway,
and now I impart it to you)

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Theodor Adorno deplored what he perceived as a Nazi
transformation of J.S. Bach into a latter-day cultural icon.
a Hans Sachs -like justification for the
supremacy of the Third Reich. How unhappily Bach was
treated in his own day would refute any broad claim to
this, as far as I can see; to read Christoph Wolff's
biography is to be immersed in the details of a
sequence of contractual disputes from start to finish.
And at the end he suffered cataract surgery at the hands of the same
quack as did Handel, and was made blind. No, Germany
did not treat him well. They were as nasty, as trite,as stinting
and as underhanded to Bach as
Amsterdam was to Rembrandt.
How might they have known him, and treated him better,
who was a prophet disguised as a scholar? The accounts
from his lifetime treat him as a virtuoso in terms
of technique,not in terms of the beauty of his music or its affekt,
whereas the contemporary complaint--which in one case lead to litigation--is that
the music is stiff, overwrought, and lacks expressivity.
This seems incredible to me in regard to the
choruses of the Matthew passion or the violin chaconne,
to seize on two examples from the far ends of his reach.
But it certainly wasn't galant,that era's sugared style, and it is important to
remember that Bach's career took place during
the heyday of Rococo, of Watteau rather than Rembrandt,
which may explain much of him which is against the grain
of his own time.
Felix Mendelsohn's conducting of the St Matthew passion with the Singakademie in 1829
is said to have sparked the Bach revival after a virtual eclipse to his reputation following
his death,but prior to that Mozart heard parts
of the Well-tempered Clavier played in the salon of Baron von Swieten,
and Bach influenced him ever after. Bach is to be found in Mozart's music in the most curious places, in the Chorale preceding the tests by fire and water in the Magic Flute,
and the monumental adagio and fugue for glass harmonica.
not to mention the c minor fantasia and fugue for piano.
Later,Schumann developed a thing about Bach
(How German is it?) and canons generally,
which leads to some rather blurry contrapuntal exercises, but it is Chopin,paradoxically,who
makes him his own; more than any other composer he understands the
lyric impulse of the Well-Tempered Clavier, which he distills in op.28 Preludes in particular.
Both seek the platonically ideal melody inherent to each different key and
the underlying configuration which will catalyze it.
(Chopin played Bach and Mozart to Delacroix and
Georges Sand- during the painting of their double portrait.
Sand and Delacroix found them old-fashioned in a way that we do not.)
Bach is not always a good influence--Tovey famously compared Brahms'
use of the Art of the Fugue theme in the first 'cello sonata to the periodic
emergence of a porpoise in a muddy aquarium--and it may be argued
that he was the ruination of Max Reger, who learned from him the technique
of carting the theme uphill via the means of the fugue. There
are admittedly a few labored fugues in Bach--not many, but enough to dread
when they occur, which happens just enough for wariness.
In his early work, this is because they are prolix, as in the
Toccata and fugue in C minor for keyboard, the later as
demonstrations of ingenuity.
He is also a great attractant for eccentric performers,
more so than any other composer,as the Goldberg variations
in the hands of Maria Yudina, Rosalyn Tureck, Wanda
Landowska, Glenn Gould, and Charles Rosen attests. The Goldbergs
manages to absorb them, and the three others by Gustav Leonhardt,
my favorite of the harpsichordists,
and two by Andras Schiff, my favorite among pianists. No
one performance encompasses it, and I approach having
heard thirty-three interpretations.Gould's first recording
made in 1955 will always be the one to which all others refer,
never-the-less, and for me personally the first
I heard and the last I will remember.
Each is interesting in the sense that someone crossing
a waterfall on a tightrope is interesting as they pass through the penumbra
of its rainbow.The wonder is that they come out the other side.
(to be continued)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Deep in the coral reefs, in a dark
unlike the land's most unstarred night,
beyond quicksilver flickering shoals
of fishes where neither shark
prowls, or porpoises cavort

at the dim yet lustrous feet
of pagodas of albino white
or alizarin crimson corals
wafting in the slow
yet ever expanding diastole
of the unsurfaced sea

among anemones, barnacled debris
fluorescent polyps, bones' filigree
inconspicuous, and in disguise
the carrier shell is found

whether from Darwinian severities
or because, as ethnologist
Adolph Portmann suggests,
nature practises
concious mimesis
it performs a peculiar task

sifting through detritus from
subaquatic latitudes above
for periwinkles, wentletraps
as obscure upon
the ocean floor they drift

incessant search
chiefly unearths
fragments, shards,
these it discards
yet on a signal
may find, complete
a perfect shell

spinning out of its own entrails, then,
an epoxy which can resist
the sea's dilutions, it attaches
to its own carapace, at an exact
interval from the last
such find, the new found prize

the largest of these inevitably is placed
at center; in neatly graduated degrees
are arranged those of diminishing size
upon the outward rim;
nor are there mirrors to admire
this display--or even eyes
in our sense--all this is done
by touch

above these shells patiently gathered
occurs another of anomalous nature's
upon the topmost whorl
of the migratory carrier shell
grows a form, half mineral, half-plant
rising lightly, branching out
into a white sea-flower

as if all this eerie creature thought
as through detritus it had sought
perfection, or protective camouflage
had become a kind
of crown.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


(for Diane, this morning's muse)
When the choreographer Trisha Brown explains her work in terms of being a bricklayer
with a sense of humor, she is pointing to the process of construction of her work
as being what it is in fact" about", the steady layering of process upon process.
This is the sort of statement I can handle from an artist. The how you go about
the what you do rather than the reasons why you do it. I am always suspicious of
larger claims, in art as well as life; ideally, an artistic statement should be subsumed in the practise.
The world and social structure, of course ,argue otherwise;
therefore, we compromise in order to communicate. How much and to what degree
can be a matter of period emphasis.Presently artists'
statements are more in the nature of sales pitches than they were during the period of,say,
Mark Rothko. From Rothko's, it is obvious that he had read THE BIRTH OF TRAGEDY, and
that he believed that the painter could achieve the Apollonian/
Dionysiac synthesis--- which worries:no wonder he felt the weight of the world. . Now everyone is
succinct as an elevator ride--that critical twenty-five seconds you have to sell yourselves--which worries for more pressing reasons. I don't miss the earlier incarnation of the artists' statement as student reading of Heidegger dressed-up as a manifesto, but I resent the present demand for constant self-reification.

Words for a visual artist are always a second language. It means the stresses of
the accents will always have a foreign intonation,and this will apply to meaning as well.
In a period of artistic innovation, moreover, everyone is compelled to become
an autodidact--to teach themselves how to do(ex.:) the first cubist painting, the first light
sculpture. This is both a blessing and a curse. The curse as far as language goes will often
be in the artist's inability to make a distinction between a personal meaning and
the general usage. A word then, if I may put it so, is treated as a vessel to fill up with
meaning of their own. Alas, the poor artist, compelled to turn his or her numinous
experience into a snappy sales-pitch. No wonder such a statement will confuse.

I am no different from anyone else in this regard. If called upon to explain myself, I instantly wish myself translated elsewhere. My basic relationship to art is this: any wresting with nothingness which I may do is voluntary, and consequently I must not mistake myself for a martyr or a saint. This resolve is different
from branding. And a statement must act as a synthesis of these opposite needs.Somehow.

The earliest statement of mine is probably the verbal equivalent to the black leather
and nose bones that I wore at twenty, whereas the press release written c. 1987 might compel
the interest of a student of Mallarme,
but only them. I was caught between wishing to provide an
explanation, the desire to make a manifesto, and the need
to sell. Thus I failed the first requisite:to be clear.
Historically,the artist's statement rose from a period of manifestos, in a time which hoped for Utopia,
which now we view with more qualified hopes, to put it mildly.The first great period of modernism--the period before ww1--is
also a period of manifesto making. It's important
to note that the cubist manifestoes were made by people like
Gleizes and Marcoussis rather than Braque and Picasso, and that
Marinetti, author of the Futurists manifestoes,produced little in the way of art unless a manifesto be considered so. To me there is a great deal of
unconcious aspirant fascism in many of these. Consider what it would be like to
be compelled to live in an apartment by Mondrian in which green,orange and
purple, the secondary colors, are forbidden. Or one of
Corbusier's" machines for living " if clean lines were not your thing .
A great many of the manifestoes had the tone of messianism or prophecy to them,
as if their author believed the future might be foreordained, engineered, even.
This viewpoint was scarcely halted by so unforeseen event as the first world war.
May as well make a megaphone circumspect as far as manifesto makers are
concerned. It effected writers as well as artists, and it is interesting and
instructive to see Ezra Pound try to outdo Wyndham Lewis in vituperation
on the pages of BLAST.
Reading them today, one feels a sympathy with the poet Mandelstam,
who said to his grandstanding confrere, Mayakovski, "Quiet down, Comrade;
you are not a Rumanian orchestra."
With the making of manifestoes
began the tradition of a self-interested pleading with chronology:that this idea begins here,
that this take on an idea is....original, a beginning. The merit
lies in being first. This art-historical beaux ideal underwent a lumbering sort of death, as when an
elephant falls to its knees, during the post-modernist revision begun in mid '70's,but
as a mental habit it very much persists, though we are in an epoch of
developments rather than beginnings.It requires fabricating an ideology which argues for the
merits of your practise. This in turn leads to the pretense of certainty, the fault of concluding too much.This is hardly a recipe for clarity and self-knowledge.
There is also the pre-emptive claim of the future as your own. What art
must be taught by you. And what history must learn from your work.
This was especially prevalent during the second era of
modernist manifestos--1945-1960.
Example:the merits of Caravaggio really lie in their anticipation of Frank Stella,
-- at least according to Stella in his WORKING SPACE-- just as the merits of abstraction
lie in their refusal to record and thereby treat atrocity as quotidian. Poor Caravaggio,
to hang forlornly in the Louvre for several hundred years awaiting the advent of
Stella. As for his claims of the higher ethical status of abstraction: this is no better than saying
abstract painting is on a kind of cheap date with history, with all the
tough parts left out.
(I myself started painting" realistically" again because I see the inability to record atrocity
one of abstraction's limits)(if these terms are valid to begin with, which I also doubt)
History is polyphonic, as far as I can tell , and there are histories within histories
as far as I can see. It must be possible to state one's concerns without purporting to mesmerize
the direction of history.
Beyond that, it would be irrate not to mention artists who wrote really well:
Michelangelo,Delacroix, Klee for starters, and with Blake in a zone where poetry
nearly becomes image. The poems of Arp, Van Gogh's letters, Giacometti's essay
--replete with diagrams-- on his dreams. There are titles of a few
words which are as fine as any poem: the sur-titles of Goya's LOS CAPRICHIOS. The schism they try to cross
is the one between word and image. To arrive there would be a great thing.