Friday, March 30, 2007

Jen Nechst

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


and he said "she's crying"
so he asked "who"
he answered, "the one's with crosses"


See Poeme

Optronica - An Immersive Dance Environment

Audiovisual artists and producers Addictive TV and new-media curators Cinefeel will present what promises to be a 2007 must-see spectacular celebration of visual music.

"Digital technologies have profoundly altered the way we produce and consume music and moving images. As the equipment becomes increasingly sophisticated and available, we are experiencing an explosion in personal expression." says film director Anthony Minghella "As part of the Sony PlayStation Season, Optronica is a colourful and vibrant celebration of this outpouring."

Optronica explores the fusion of music and visual poetry, and features live audiovisual performances, screenings, illustrated talks, workshops and related special presentations.

"Over the years we've witnessed the scene developing rapidly right across the world, with lots of artists from very different backgrounds all exploring the visual music genre. The global explosion of new visuals-oriented festivals also shows that there's a real appetite for this new art form. Optronica is the perfect and much needed platform in the UK." says Optronica founder Graham Daniels of Addictive TV, who has been at the forefront of visual-music and VJing for over a decade.

Optronica 2007 is the fifth collaboration in the PlayStation® Season, a six-month project that will see Sony PlayStation® collaborate with five leading cultural institutions including the newly renovated National Film Theatre, which will be re-launched, with Optronica, as BFI Southbank.


Japan has one of the most flourishing VJ and multi-media communities in the World and so it's no surprise that after the success of the sold-out Big in Japan programme at the last Optronica, that featured a stunning live performance by Takagi Masakatsu, Optronica presents another Big in Japan session with a screening programme followed by a performance by multi-media artist Ryoichi Kurukawa, who will be presenting the UK premiere of his Audio CrossMedia project.

Kurokawa explores digital realms with an audiovisual language characterised by precision and a contrast between minimalism and complexity. He composes time based sculpture with digitally generated materials and field-recorded sources, accepting sound and imagery as a single unit and not as separate entities.

Prior to the performance, Big in Japan will present a screening programme of eclectic Japanese animation and AV work featuring +Cruz, Enlightenment, Hideaki Motoki and many more. There will be leftfield music videos from the likes of Sketch Show, Hifana, DJ Uppercut, Coppe' and Ryukyudisko, quirky audiovisual work from Kensuke Amano, Manavu Muragichi, Ken Yokoi and 6nin, plus work from VJs Chikara Matsumoto, TomoGrapher & SanFrandisco.

Fast View Newcaster

Samurai FM - a new sound/vision concept station - previews one of the videos from the screening programme - PixMix09, which was created especially for Optronica by animators/VJs TomoGrapher & SanFrandisco who remixed visuals produced for their PixMix DVD series.

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Monday, March 19, 2007

Meta Strategy Visio

Post Game Analysis

You'll never know

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Shroom On...


Snow whispering down
All day long,
Earth has vanished
Leaving only sky

A cuckoo calls
And suddenly...
The bamboo grove
Lighted by moonbeams

Unknowingly he
Guided us
Over pathless hills
With wisps of hay

In my small village
Even the flies
Aren't afraid
To bite a big man

Even I who have
No lover...
I love this time
Of new kimonos

Hello! Light the fire!
I'll bring inside
A lovely
Bright ball of snow!

Gazing at falling
A baby almost
Looks like a Buddha

At last, when her song
Is still
The goddess becomes
A small green bird

A wind-bell tinkling,
Hushed in the noon sun
Is now
A shelter for bees

In a wayside shrine,
A hungry owl
Hoots and hides,
So bright is the moon!

Hop out of my way
And allow me please
To plant bamboos,
Mr. Toad!

As she washes rice,
Her smiling face
Is briefly
Lit by firefly

A snowy mountain
Echoes in the
Jeweled eyes
Of a dragonfly

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Understanding Hindu Culture

It is useful to examine Hindu attitudes to women to understand Hindu culture and society. Mainstream scripture in India stipulates similar societal status to household animals and women.

The following report by Geeta Pandey gives some illustrative details:

"Domestic violence is particularly acute in South Asia where traditionally women have been treated as the inferior sex. Talk of domestic violence usually conjures up images of poor, illiterate women, unaware of their rights and economically dependent on their husbands for survival. But with more and more educated women coming forward with their experiences, that view is changing.

Shruti's problems began three and a half years ago when she married Kumar. The beatings and torture started soon after. "He would literally beat me up, abuse me, abuse my parents. He would get drunk and there would be scenes the whole night. My neighbours knew about it, but I never informed my parents. I had a bad fracture [but] I told them I had slipped from the stairs." Shruti is educated, speaks English and belongs to the upper middle-class. She works for a well-known private firm in Delhi and makes enough money to live independently. But she says she put up with all the abuse believing it was hers to bear for being born as a girl.

It was only after Kumar sent her off to her parents' house and refused to take her back that she sought help. Now, she has been doing the rounds of the Crime Against Women Cell, a special police unit to deal with cases faced by women. Vimla Mehra is the police officer in-charge of the unit. She says of the 1,000 complaints they receive each month, about a quarter are from women with backgrounds similar to Shruti's. "Earlier, women from very high classes were not complaining, but now they are aware and do not fear the social stigma as strongly as they did earlier," she says. The social stigma may be diminishing, but the number of cases is not. And the provocation for abuse can be anything from suspicion about an extra-marital affair to a badly cooked meal. "There are people who beat their wives only because she has not prepared the food they wanted or at the time they wanted or she has not spoken well to or behaved well with her mother or father-in-law or some other relative of her husband," says Ms Mehra.

Some say the biggest problem is convincing the women that they do not deserve abuse. "Most women who face domestic violence think it's a normal part of their life, it's a part of being a wife, daughter or a sister in law," says Manjima Bhattacharya, who works for Jagori, a group that uses music and theatre to spread awareness about domestic violence. "So to convince them that it's not something that they have done that provokes such a response [is] quite a challenge. "We get cases all the time of educated women who face domestic violence, who are in abusive relationships but it's just that their walls are much higher and much thicker and you often can't hear them speak about it. It's difficult for them to come to terms with it. "You consider yourself to be an empowered woman. You consider yourself to be independent, strong and yet it still happens to you. So how do you come to terms with it?" That is a challenge the government and society has to deal with. While the government is debating legislation to reduce the level of domestic violence, activists say real improvement will come only if women themselves confront their abusers."

Note: It is important to note here that misogyny is by no means unique to India and is in fact found codified, albeit in diverse ways [with unusual and diverse resultants in female characteristics], in all non-afric cultures and merits a more detailed meta-theoretic examination.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Musical Ideas

Nocturne/Doubles, for piano and computer
Nocturne/Doubles for Piano and Computer is the second in a series of works for instrument and computer. Doubles is a term used in 17th and early 18th century French music for a technique of variation in which more or less elaborate ornamentation is added to the original melody, while the supporting harmonies remain the same. The Doubles series takes this idea as its starting point and applies the variation technique to the timbre of the soloist as well as the pitched material. The computer also responds to the piano’s music; sometimes confirming (doubling) and summarizing, sometimes extending, altering or recontextualizing the piano’s melodic and harmonic material.

Unnatural Selection
In Unnatural Selection the performer improvises freely on Tactex MTC Express touch-pad. The synthesizer music is performed by an improvising computer program inspired by the computation technique known as a genetic algorithm, which takes a set of possibilities and generates new ones by recombining aspects of the old ones. The notes played by the human performer become a population of possibilities from which the program derives its musical material. The data from the touch-pad is interpreted by the program, which derives information about the pitches and rhythms being played, and produces a closely related accompaniment. The program "learns" the music on the spot, at the moment it is played by the human performer, and joins in with a synthesizer accompaniment it improvises based on the music it receives. Thus, the human performer has the ability to influence the computer's composition in real time, but cannot wholly determine it. Since the accompaniment is composed at that moment, the performer has never heard it before and is required to interact with this new sonic environment.

Variations for Piano
My Piano Variations is a set of eight variations on an original theme. The theme itself is cast as a moderately long, two-part rounded form, and ends with three sets of reiterated chords which are used at times as cadential material, and at other times to make a transition, preparing or anticipating the succeeding variation. The fourth variation - in a poignant and contemplative mood, played una corda - provides a centerpiece, the other variations deployed symetrically around it, with lighter, dance-like variations preceding, and more turbulent ones following. The turbulence reaches a climactic moment, leading to a final, incomplete variation reminiscent of the opening. Considered another way, the variations group themselves together harmonically and rhetorically into a sonata-like structure: the theme and first variation are expository in meaning and character; variations 2, 3 and 4 are developmental; and variation 5 returns to the original tonal area dominated by D and Ab, with a richly figured variation on the opening theme.

Quintuple Escapement
Our musical knowledge is heavily invested in the concept of discrete musical events which form measurable inter-event relationships (i.e. pitch intervals). Digital musical instrument paradigms now offer a fundamental decoupling of the generation of physical sound from instrument’s physical design responding to performance gestures. This raises the question of what musical potential lies in the domain of a single performer engaging instrumental interactions that go beyond control of individual event streams and entering into the realm of inter-event intervals -- the direct playing of many kinds of musical relationships. Pianist Daniel Koppelman asked me to work with him on a project exploring these ideas. The first result of this project is an interactive laptop instrument running in Max/MSP. The instrument, named Erard’s Springs & Levers after the developer of double-escapement piano action, owes philosophical and sonic debts to John Cage’s developments of the prepared piano half a century ago. Unlike the prepared piano, this virtual instrument allows for the triggering and continuous control of complex musical events as well as single tones. Composed for this instrument, Quintuple Escapement presents five short pieces that explore what might be considered to be idiomatic music for this new instrumental paradigm engaging the intersection between traditional performance and the domains of freedom recently made available. The pieces grow out of two principal ideas: a series of movements that are compressed, nearly rarified character pieces, and each movement built up from juxtaposed and inter-related musical statements that are constrained by the notion of 8-second ‘sound bites.’ Erard’s Springs and Levers is based on a combination of patches designed by the composer and modifications of patches included in the distribution of Max/MSP as help files and tutorials all using standard-issue Max/MSP objects. Daniel Koppelman provided a design for rehearsing sections in the instrument. In addition to the standard Max/MSP objects, this instrument uses the tap.shift pitch shifting object which is part of the TapTools set by Timothy Place, and the Newverb~ object by Richard Dudas which is available as a public domain reverb object. The sound sources for the instrument are recordings of plucked, struck, and scraped piano strings, short excerpts from solo piano recordings of Kleinsasser’s Available Instruments for piano and computer, and sampled recordings of piano tones from and Steinway Model C piano tones by Soeren Bovbjerg.,

Psychic Driving
Psychic Driving is a method employed after the original personality has been excised through sleep induction, sensory deprivation, electro-convulsive therapy, and mega-doses of Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD) and other psychotropic drugs. Tapes are played continuously to the subject, installing the desired personality modifications. The psychic driving technique was developed under the aegis of the MKULTRA program for mind control experimentation. A central concern in Psychic Driving is the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate forms of homicidal insanity. This is represented musically in distinctions between music composed in familiar classical style, and live computer transformations of this music which call the stylistic boundaries into question. The work is bordered by two text quotations. The first quotation is from cult leader Jim Jones, exhorting parents to make their children drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid in Guyana: "Everybody hold it, hold it, hold it. Lay down your burden and I'll lay down my burden. Down by the riverside. Shall we lay 'em down inside of Guyana? What's the difference?" The second is from a 1996 60-Minutes interview with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright who explains why infanticide is official U.S. policy in Iraq: Leslie Stahl: "We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Madeleine Albright: "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it."

Voices: In Memoriam
This work began as a commission from two wonderful and talented pianists: Leah Hokanson and Daniel Koppelman, both of whom have performed my music on a variety of occasions for many years, and both of whom are extraordinarily gifted interpreters of contemporary music. It also served as a re-entry for me into the world of instruments-with-electronics, which I had not worked in for four years. The medium of choice for 2001 is undoubtedly interactive electronics, where a computer system “listens” to the live performer and provides further interpretation and commentary on the instrument’s sound world. The advantage over pre-recorded materials is one of freedom for the performer, where the computer ‘accompanist’ reacts to the instrument’s sounds, rather than the reverse. I had just started the composition when the attacks took place on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001, and by a month later I found myself making little progress. During a trip to New York in October, 2001 I found myself making a pilgrimage of sorts to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, where I discovered a chapel area which had been dedicated, apparently for many years, to the Firefighters of New York. There I saw special displays by school children, a newspaper tribute to the 343 firefighters who were killed at the World Trade Center, and, most significant, I saw a letter, bravely hand-written by a school-age youngster to his father, who had been killed. Its sentiments were at once universal and specific — lauding a hero’s bravery and looking forward to a distant but much anticipated reunion. This, more than any of the television coverage, newspaper reports, or memorial ceremonies, brought home to me the full impact of this tragedy on the individual and collective spirit. I decided, even before leaving the cathedral, that I needed to start over — that this work should somehow memorialize these firefighters. Hence the tones of the piano honor their voices and create a sound world, while the computer does what computers do best – hold these voices in memory, and bring these memories back, changed – as memories always are – by time and by new experiences and associations. The piece itself is an example of this process of change: once the voices have been stated, there is a significant change of mood, and the sound world of the piece changes its context completely. Yet memory persists and, in the end, brings us inevitably back to these now-silent yet very audible voices. In fact, our memories argue convincingly that nothing that we love ever really leaves us.

Four Preludes for Solo Piano
My PRELUDES were completed in December of year 2000. They are dedicated to an acclaimed pianist who encouraged their creation. My goal was to write a group of straight-forward pieces which were united by a common musical language. While the PRELUDES are formally coherent in an abstract sense they all bear programmatic titles suggestive of a scenario or mood. MAELSTROM endeavors to capture the terror of the violent tornadoes I experienced while growing up in the flat agricultural country of southern Minnesota. In this prelude moments of uneasy tranquility alternate with sudden, tempestuous outbursts which eventually climax and dissipate, returning to the ominous calm of the beginning. FADING EMBERS was inspired by evocative lines from a ninth century Chinese poet, Li Shang-yin: "Dreams of remote partings, cries which cannot summon…" In short, FADING EMBERS is a wistful, nostalgic reawakening of poignant events buried in the past. Strictly speaking, VALSE SUBLIMINALE is not a traditional waltz. It is, rather, a series of surrealistic, often mercurial flashbacks concerning various aspects of the waltz repertoire which have produced vivid impressions on me. Throughout the work are indirect references to the music of Brahms, Berg, Ravel and Bill Evans. CACCIA is an Italian word meaning chase. The early Trecento applied the term to poetry dealing with the hunt, and to music which portrayed the hunt via extended imitative passages (canons). Instead of counterpoint, however, this prelude's scenario focuses primarily upon a victim trying desperately to elude its predator. Midway there is a brief, nervous respite—as if the quarry has at last found secure cover. This illusion is abruptly shattered and the pursuit resumes with renewed ferociousness. A volatile cadenza spells the beginning of the end. The victim, becoming progressively weaker, finally stumbles and meets its demise in the clutches of the predator.

Church Keys
I have long loved the simplicity and clarity of the four-part hymns I used to sing in church as a child. I view these hymns now as a foundation upon which highly complex structures can be built. I have often been perplexed, however, by the range of emotions expressed in many of these hymns. On the one hand hymns like “Far Far Away From My Loving Father,” portray a heartfelt loving and forgiving image based on the prodigal child story. On the other hand, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” contains violent war imagery and language. The opposed polarity of these two types of hymns can be striking when they appear side by side in a worship service. I have come to realize that both compassion and confrontation seem to be equal parts of human nature. Church Keys is the ground on which these halves of myself struggle to coexist.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

Self Similarity

A Rainy Night In Mumbai

Accounts of environmental catastrophy in India - and other parts of the world - are routinely suppressed as per government policy. Some leading scientists, however, maintain that India has been more severely affected by catastrophe in the last three decades than most countries on earth. The following account of the recent Mumbai floods is illustrative and indicative of common experience year after year.

Anjali Krishnan, a Mumbai-based advertising professional, describes her night-long trek home through neck-deep water in the flooded city:

"I had driven out of home for a business meeting in Mumbai on an overcast rainy afternoon on Tuesday. Mumbaites are used to torrid monsoon rains that routinely flood its roads and bring all public transport to a halt. So it was no big deal that I was venturing out for work on a grey, rainy afternoon like most of the people in this go-go city. I was on the way to Bandra when I joined a queue of cars, and instantly realised that the rain had thrown the traffic out of gear. No big deal, I thought. It happens every monsoon. Then I got struck in the gridlock on SV Road near the Milind Subway. It was half past four in the afternoon. I had already spent an hour and a half trying to negotiate through the traffic.

For the next 10 hours, till two in the morning on Wednesday, I was stranded in my car. I had been a bit luckier than many of my fellow travellers - my driver had pulled the car into a lane and parked it there. As the hours passed, I realised that I had gotten myself in a big mess - Mumbai had been inundated, everything had come to a halt, there were power outages. The rain was slapping ferociously on the wind screen, the sky was inky black, there was darkness all around, and the city's cheery FM stations spewed romantic Bollywood rain songs on the car radio. A radio jockey on one of the stations was even holding out the promise of rain-soaked stranded Mumbaites meeting potential partners during the long, rainy night. I laughed and looked at my watch. It was 2am. I decided to begin walking home - the sheer tedium of sitting in a cramped car was taking its toll. Waddling out to through knee deep water, I ran into some friendly firemen who forbade me to walk further. "It could be risky madam," said one of them. Then I saw three girls stranded in the water. They said they had been walking for hours to get home, and were exhausted. I took them back with me into my car.

Suddenly a few men emerged out of the darkness and knocked on the car window. Stranded passengers slept the night in the buses they were travelling in. They had seen us in the car and were offering some snacks. We were famished and took up the offer. They took us to a half-constructed building nearby and fed us. There was a school bus packed with children nearby - the men had dropped some snacks for the trapped students. Around three in the morning, we decided to finally begin our long march home through the swirling, near neck-deep water. It was still pouring, and we couldn't hold our umbrellas in the gale. There was not a soul on the road when we held hands in the water and began walking. One of the girls was shorter than us, so we asked her to walk along the road divider holding our hands. People took out boats to negotiate water logged streets. The water was deep - I mean if you were 5ft tall, you would easily drown. As we waddled into the eerie, rain-whipped night, we felt like we were floating.

As we walked on more and more people joined the trek, holding hands. The water was black and greasy right up to our necks and swirled fast around our waists. There were broken bottles floating all around. I saw two Mercedes Benz cars and a Toyota Lexus floating in the water. We crossed dark homes, and shops and police stations. We met a lot of friendly firemen trying to keep order, but not a single policeman on the way. Soon, it became a long, happy, wet trek as can only happen in Mumbai. Our fellow-travellers, boys and girls, men and women, young and old, chanted hymns, sang songs, cracked jokes. Some heartily sang "Just chill out, chill out" - a Bollywood ditty rocking the nation these days. Others cracked the night's best silly jokes - whenever they would come across a car floating in the middle of the road, they would shout: "No parking! No parking please! This is a traffic offence!" "Don't feel ashamed, madam. Hold my hand. Bindaas pakro (Hold me coolly)," said a young man in the queue lending a helping hand to a girl. I saw a man sitting in a fancy car scooping out water with a small tiffin box - at this rate, he would never get out of the place. I saw another man walking with a 70-year-old father perched on his shoulders. My rain girls sorority had now expanded to a few hundred people wading through the street. In the middle, one of them actually met her husband wading through the night, and joined him happily.

I had forgotten the tiredness, the grime, the potential dangers that such flooding held. It was a fantastic feeling, the sheer spirit of it all. When I reached my home in Juhu around five in the morning on Wednesday, my four-year-old girl was happy to see me back. My husband had stayed over at an office, and had been fed well. The trek was an eye-opener, a testimony to the indomitable spirit of the city's people. Mumbaites have stopped expecting anything from the politicians who have never cared for them. So when the city turned into a dangerous waterworld, they turned to each other and helped them out of the crisis.

It was business as usual, in a way."

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Friday, March 09, 2007

Close r

Hymn To Creation

The following is estimated to be a very early lyric poem. An example of pre-rational thought, it is, in it's original Sanskrit, truly beautiful:

-Then was not non-existent nor existent: there was no realm of air, no sky beyond it. What covered in, and where? and what gave shelter? Was water there, unfathomed depth of water?

-Death was not then, nor was there aught immortal: no sign was there, the day's and night's divider. That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature: apart from it was nothing whatsoever.

-Darkness there was: at first concealed in darkness, this All was indiscriminated chaos. All that existed then was void and formless: by the great power of warmth was born that unit.

-Thereafter rose Desire in the beginning, Desire, the primal seed and germ of Spirit. Sages who searched with their heart's thought discovered the existent's kinship in the non-existent.

-Transversely was their severing line extended: what was above it then, and what below it? There were begetters, there were mighty forces, free action here and energy up yonder.

-Who verily knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation? The gods are later than this world's production. Who knows then whence it first came into being?

-He, the first origin of this creation, whether he formed it all or did not form it, whose eye controls this world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or perhaps [even] he knows not.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007



The development of Baudrillard's work throughout the 1980s saw him move away from economically-based theories to considerations of mediation and mass communication. Although he retained an interest in Saussurean semiotics and the logic of symbolic exchange (under the influence of the anthropologist Marcel Mauss) Baudrillard increasingly turned his attention to the likes of Marshall McLuhan, developing ideas about how the nature of social relations is determined by the forms of communication that a society employs. In doing so Baudrillard actually moved beyond both Saussure's and Roland Barthes' formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically understood, and thus formless, version of structural semiology.

Most famously he argued — in the book Symbolic Exchange and Death — that Western societies have undergone a "precession of simulacra". This precession, according to Baudrillard, took the form of "orders of simulacra" from

1. the era of the original
2. to the counterfeit
3. to the produced, mechanical copy, and through
4. to the simulated "third order of simulacra" whereby the copy has come to replace the original.

Referring to "On Exactitude in Science", a fable by Borges and Adolfo Bioy Casares, Baudrillard argued that for present day society as the simulated copy had superseded the original so the map had come to precede the territory. So it was, for example, with the first Gulf War: the image of war came to precede genuine conflict.

Using this line of reasoning, Baudrillard came to characterise the present age — following on from Ludwig Feuerbach and Guy Debord — as one of 'hyperreality' where the real has come to be effaced or superseded by the signs of its existence. Such an assertion — the one for which Baudrillard has drawn most and his heaviest criticism — is typical of Baudrillard's "fatal strategy" of attempting to push his theories of society beyond themselves, so to speak. Rather than saying, for instance, that our hysteria surrounding pedophilia is such that we no longer really understand what childhood is anymore, Baudrillard argued that "the Child no longer exists".

Similarly, rather than arguing — in a similar manner to Susan Sontag in her book On Photography — that the notion of reality has been complicated by the profusion of images of it, Baudrillard came to assert: "the real no longer exists". In so doing Baudrillard came to characterise his philosophical challenge as being no longer the Leibnizian question of: "Why is there something rather than nothing?", but rather: "Why is there nothing rather than something?"

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Sunday, March 04, 2007


Music Review - Erik Satie [1866-1925]

In the minds of some observers, Erik Satie was simply an eccentric composer of weird little ditties. True, his early musical education was unsatisfactory, and most of his works were miniatures for the piano which seemed very much to defy any of the expected conventions of music. Yet, his ideas were to have a profound influence on many musical developments over a broad timespan. Foremost amongst those composers influenced by Satie were his contemporary Debussy, and later the French composer Ravel, and Stravinsky.

In his 40s, Satie made up for his earlier lack of dedication at the Paris Conservatory when he decided to study with d'Indy and Roussel, passing these exams with distinction. Nevertheless he was always well acquainted with the music of composers past and present, and did not like the large scale Romantic trends led by Wagner. For a while he earned a living playing the piano and accordion in bars and cafes in Montmartre, where he also wrote a number of popular songs. The picture we have of Satie the man is of someone who was pointedly independent, rebellious, even ruthless and scathing. He observed life with a wit frequently thick with satire and parody, yet underlying this he appeared to have a philosophical, deeply spiritual side. He became something of a celebrity among other composers, notably Debussy and "Les Six" [including Georges Auric, Poulenc and particularly Darius Milhaud] towards whom he was very supportive. He remained the avand-garde father-figure until his death from cirrhosis of the liver.

Satie's music seems to mirror this multifaceted nature. On the one hand it is outwardly simple, straightforward in terms of harmony, using short melodies with little development, even repetitive at times. He used unusual scales such as the old form of modes, and others of uncertain origin suggesting folk tunes from different parts of the world. Yet behind this outwardly simple music, is something different and thought-provoking. There is attitude, a certain sadness, and often an ambivalence making it hard to fathom [or allowing different interpretations by both musician and listener]. This ambivalence was enhanced by strange instructions written with the music like "wonder about yourself" or "open your mind". Satie's music shows life from different angles, and is a genuine and new means of expression. Yet Satie demonstrates his non-conformist attitude, mocking his critics and the pretentiousness of other composers by giving some of his works titles such as "True Flabby Preludes", "Three Pieces in the Shape of a Pear" and "Desiccated Embryos".

The music of Erik Satie was instrumental in opening doors in musical expression, so that a number of sub-genres or "schools" could explore new territory. Firstly, Satie provided one of the sparks that set Debussy on a course towards the "Impressionism" movement, and he continued to support Debussy on this course until this style became fashionable and mainstream when the non-conformist in Satie poured scorn on his follower. While several previous composers had looked to folk music for ideas, Satie was one of the first to use elements of Jazz and Ragtime. Then there were the "Experimentalists" such as John Cage who later in the 20th Century admired the father Bohemian's approach of breaking down barriers and carried this ideal towards new extremes. The humorous use of sound effects from real objects such as typewriters would later evolve into the ideas of "musique concrète". There were also the "Minimalists" such as Philip Glass and Michael Nyman who must surely have been aware of Satie's method of combining short phrases and his trend-setting instruction in "Vexations" to repeat a section 840 times. Many musical schools have parallels in the visual art world: the impressionists such as Monet, the Surrealists like Dali and the Cubists like Picasso. Satie himself painted from time to time, and worked with Picasso on a couple of Ballet projects where the artist was involved in the set and costume design.

Among Satie's best known works are:

Trois Gymnopedies [two of these (1 and 3) were orchestrated by Debussy]
Six Gnossiennes [inspired by images of ancient Greece]
Waltzes, Nocturnes, Sarabandes
Dances Gothiques
Embryons Desseches
Veritables Preludes Flasques
Trois Morceaux en Forme de Poire
Sonatine Bureaucratique
Vexations [this work with the 840 repetitions was first performed in 1963 by several pianists working in relay]
La Belle Excentrique [for two pianos]
Piccadilly [a short piece based on ideas from the world of Ragtime later to influence others such as Debussy]
Parade [a ballet with Jean Cocteau, Diaghilev and visual input by Picasso, the music sound effects including a typewriter]
Les Adventures de Mercure [another ballet, also with Cocteau and Picasso]
Relache [a surreal ballet]
Socrate [a drama]
Cinema [early film music premiered shortly before Satie's death]

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Friday, March 02, 2007


Conserve, Rethink Use

Two-fifths of the world's people already face serious water shortages, and water-borne diseases fill half its hospital beds. The present is dire but the future looks grim. Cut it how you will, the picture that emerges from today's data and tomorrow's forecasts is so complex and appalling it can leave you feeling powerless. The world cannot increase its supply of fresh water: all it can do is change the way it uses it.

Climate change has had a profound effect on water - just what effect, though, nobody can really say. Some regions will become drier, some wetter. Deserts may well spread and rivers shrink, but floods will also become more frequent. Most of the world's water is already inaccessible, or comes in the form of storms and hurricanes to the wrong places at the wrong times. But there is certainly room for better management of water in agriculture - which currently takes ups 70% of the water we use. Drip irrigation, for example, minimises waste, as do low-pressure sprinklers and even simple earth walls to trap rainfall instead of letting it drain away too fast to be used. Desalination may play a part, but it is energy-hungry and leaves a brine mountain for disposal. Dams will impound more water, but bring other horrifying environmental problems in their train.

One of the disappointments of the World Water Forum in Japan in March 2002 was its focus on mega-engineering solutions like dams and pipelines, rather than using natural systems like forests and wetlands to conserve water. Because the world's water suppy is finite, most of life's other necessities are finite as well. If we do not learn to live within our aqueous means, we shall go hungry as well as thirsty. A world where consumption is a means to survival, not an economic end in itself, will have enough water to go round.

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