Saturday, May 23, 2009

Giacometti and Chicago

Considering Henry Moore at the Art Institute

The Modern Wing of the Art Institute welcomes the visitor with a soaring plaza perched above the mundane tracks of the Illinois Central. And even higher than that is a pedway that offers a thrilling walk over everything in sight. Outside melts into inside with the vast central hall leading subtly to the galleries along the sides, and the museum experience begins.

It’s just a step out on to the street to another world – the new Millennium Park seduces us into a fantasy world of the future. Children dance to building-high faces and shiny public art adorns gardens named for corporations.

Chicago’s Cultural Center, formerly the Public Library, is a great chunk of stone at the corner of Michigan Avenue and Randolph Street. It has survived the years and the vagaries of taste through sheer weight, it seems, since there is little about it of artistic quality. The stolid architecture is mostly notable for housing a multifaceted (and richly adorned) interior. Abuzz with activity and music, the building is a hub of information with a slant on the “Cultural” part of its name.

Art Institute stairway

Art Institute stairway, originally uploaded by gmf45.

Main staircase of the Art Institute during the free days to celebrate the opening of the Modern Wing

Monday, May 11, 2009

Paperless Papers

A good article from the Ft5/9: I thought Kindle was to replace the book, but that kind of stalled, so now it's going to save the newspaper? Nevertheless, something is struggling to be born and it will be paperless.

(Copyright Financial Times Ltd. 2009. All rights reserved.)

Newspaper executives increasingly believe gadgets such as the Kindle, Amazon's sleek e-book reader, might fix their industry's malfunctioning business model. This week, The New York Times, Boston Globe and Washington Post announced plans to subsidise the cost of new Kindles to win electronic subscribers in certain markets. Even Rupert Murdoch, chief executive of News Corp, is making noises about handheld gadgets. If enough people bought them, the NYT, for example, could theoretically save up to 35 per cent of its flagship paper's operating costs if it sold only paperless subscriptions.

One problem is how to reach the point whereby electronic subscriptions make up for lost newspaper sales. Subsidising hardware - the latest Kindle costs almost $500 - might help; mobile phones only became ubiquitous after mobile operators handed out free handsets in return for multi-year contracts. But there are problems applying this to newspapers.

First, subsidies require an element of cash upfront - something many newspapers lack. Second, Kindle revenues may be measly. The NYT wants Kindle subscribers to pay about $170 a year to read news on its 10-inch screen. Yet one publisher reckons 70 per cent of that will go to Amazon, leaving $50 for the paper itself - enough to cover a small hardware subsidy but little else. Mobile phone operators make their margin by charging for extras such as data plans and roaming services. It is harder to see what premium services a newspaper could offer. Counting on advertising is difficult as no Kindle ad market yet exists.

A paperless future, therefore, remains some way off. But investors can draw one conclusion from the recent hubbub. Asking readers to pay for an e-book edition of The New York Times makes little sense if they can access the same content from a computer for free. If newspapers are serious about e-books, they will all have to start charging for online content as well.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Moldavan protest and internet

Two articles from the BBC website show the political power of the new communication modes out there. The first is dated 4/8 and the second 4/26. Who's gonna be the McLuhan of the Twitter era?
Riot police in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, have regained control of the parliament building that had earlier been stormed by protesters.
This followed the re-election of the Communist Party in Sunday's elections.
Thousands of anti-communist demonstrators stormed parliament, smashing furniture, throwing computers through windows and lighting fires.
More protests, which President Vladimir Voronin said amounted to an attempted coup, are expected on Wednesday.
In a televised address on Tuesday, he said he would protect Moldova from what he called a handful of fascists drunk on anger.
State TV quoted police as saying one woman had died from carbon monoxide poisoning during the protests. BBC 4/8

It all started in a Chisinau cafe, when Ms Morar and a handful of friends decided to hold a peaceful protest against the Communist victory in what they thought was a rigged election.
"It just happened through Twitter, the blogosphere, the internet, SMS, websites and all this stuff. We just met, we brainstormed for 15 minutes, and decided to make a flash mob [internet-organised spontaneous public gathering]...
"In several hours, 15,000 people came out into the street."
BBC 4/26

Monday, May 04, 2009

Glenn Gould

Glenn Gould's later recordings got progressively more remote from the real world of error, imperfection and the messiness of life. There is a dead feel to them, a lack of pleasure in the doing. Is this the result of the obsessive editing and tweaking he subjected them to? His search for perfection was ultimately sclerotic. It was no surprise that he died of a stroke. The following from the Canadian Encyclopedia discusses his recording technique.

"Gould became a leading exponent among classical performers of a true aesthetic of recording, which he passionately defended in articles and broadcasts, and practiced in dozens of albums for Columbia/CBS, developing a hands-on expertise in recording techniques.
A studio performer, he felt, need not be concerned with projecting musical effects into an auditorium for the purpose of catching and holding the attention of an audience; rather, he could subject the music to minute inspection of detail at every structural level. Moreover, he could allow the technology itself - placement of microphones, splicing, overdubbing, reverb, etc. - to influence the interpretation, and could defer many final interpretive decisions to the post-production process.
For Gould, recording had fundamentally altered the traditional relationship of composer, performer, and listener. He justified his interpretive experiments in part by arguing that there was no point in making yet another recording of, say, the Emperor Concerto without offering significant departures from conventional readings already available. Outside popular music, no artist to date has expanded the technological possibilities of recorded music, or explored its aesthetic and even ethical implications, more than did Gould."
Canadian Encyclopedia

Friday, May 01, 2009

Chicago Sinfonietta at Shedd

Starting out on the right foot is generally a good idea for a performance of any kind. But it was at the beginning of their multiculturally inspired musical event at the Shedd Aquarium on April 30th that the chamber ensemble of the Chicago Sinfonietta was most flatfooted.
Playing the “Spring” section from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons may have seemed a good idea on paper for a program dedicated to “The Glory of Creation,” but the actual performance was unpolished and offkey and lacking in any rhythmic spring and one wonders why they bothered.
An equally dubious performance of some light music by the Czech composer Fibich followed, but things came to life thereafter as the group switched into avant-garde mode for a tasty morsel of the Japanese modern dance form known as Butoh.
Chicago-based Butoh artist Nicole Legette began her performance as an animated pile of white sheets at stage right, moving center to extrude herself as a pale humanoid figure doing complex and inexplicable moves in time with richly percussive musical back up.
Also intriguing (and demanding) was “Chewing Neckbones,” in which the reedist Mwata Bowden, a veteran of the legendary AACM, made profoundly otherworldly noises on the Australian didjeridu (aboriginal long trumpet) following up this virtuoso turn with an equally challenging avant-garde flight on the baritone sax. The jazz-inflected group of musicians provided prime backup on this piece, and gave a smooth rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Chelsea Bridge” to redeem their earlier missteps.
This was already an ambitious program, but it concluded with a section of all-out gospel singing, as the Steward Wilson Gospel Singers (seven strong) took to the stage to present some swinging versions of classic gospel hits. Well and truly done.
There was a lot to criticize in this rough-around-the-edges performance from awkward transitions to faulty intonation and pointless visual projections. But the Sinfonietta still deserves kudos for attempting this kind of program. They pulled no punches in the challenges they presented to their audience. And the sizeable group, who had trekked all the way to Chicago’s beautifully situated Museum Campus for the event, were quite enthusiastic in their appreciation. Nice to see so many people galvanized by so much unaccustomed sound.!