Germany

J.S. Bach: The Violin Concertos, Amsterdam Soloists with Emmy Verhey (Brilliant Classics, 2006)

“Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach Artists: Emmy Verhey (violin), Camerata Antonio Luco, Rainer Kussmaul (violin), Henk Rubingh (violin), Thomas Hengelbrock (violin), Amsterdam Bach (Soloists)

About this album: Available as a separate release: all concertos for 1 violin by Bach. They are BWV 1041 and 1042: the well-known concertos. BWV1052, 1056 and 1064 are reconstructions. The latter one being for three violins. Soloists are among others Emmy Verhey and Rainer Kussmaul.”

Information taken from the YouTube video

In praise of: ‘Manifesto,’ dir. Julian Rosefeldt, starring Cate Blanchett (2017)

‘Nothing is original (okay?)’/‘So you can steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration and fuels your imagination (okay)?’

Cate Blanchett, ‘Cinema’ Manifesto, playing the part of an Australian primary school teacher

'Manifesto  is a 2015 Australian-German multi-screen film installation written, produced and directed by Julian Rosefeldt. It features Cate Blanchett in 13 different roles performing various manifestos. The film was shot over 12 days in December 2014 in locations in and around Berlin. The film premiered and screened at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image from December 9, 2015 to March 14, 2016. The installation was also shown in Berlin at the Museum für Gegenwart (at Hamburger Bahnhof), from February 10 to July 10, 2016, and the Park Avenue Armory in New York City from December 7, 2016, to January 8, 2017.

A 90-minute feature version premièred at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017

The film integrates various types of artist manifestos from different time periods with contemporary scenarios. Manifestos are depicted by 13 different characters, among them a school teacher, factory worker, choreographer, punk, newsreader, scientist, puppeteer, widow, and a homeless man. The film consists of 13 segments, each 10:30 minutes long.' 

Six people in the cinema, including me, it’s around lunch-time at the Cinéma des Cinéastes (Place de Clichy is just outside, the location written about by Henry Miller in books I thought about re-writing, or at least parts of them, from the point of view of the absent women). All very appropriate when watching Cate Blanchett feminise, embody, the great texts I studied as a much younger woman at high school and university. 

Listening to her intone the pop-sensibility of Claes Oldenburg as if it were a prayer, when saying grace to her own family (eyes closed, to their sudden laughter at one point) or declare the Dada manifesto at a funeral, spitting out the words with spite, at times. Here is an extract from one of the many manifestos written by Tristan Tzara, this is from 1918.

Every product of disgust capable of becoming a negation of the family is Dada; a protest with the fists of its whole being engaged in destructive action: Dada; knowledge of all the means rejected up until now by the shamefaced sex of comfortable compromise and good manners:

DADA; abolition of logic, which is the dance of those impotent to create:

DADA; of every social hierarchy and equation set up for the sake of values by our valets:

DADA: every object, all objects, sentiments, obscurities, apparitions and the precise clash of parallel lines are weapons for the fight:

DADA; abolition of memory: Dada; abolition of archaeology: DADA; abolition of prophets: DADA; abolition of the future:

DADA; absolute and unquestionable faith in every god that is the immediate product of spontaneity:

DADA; elegant and unprejudiced leap from a harmony to the other sphere; trajectory of a word tossed like a screeching phonograph record; to respect all individuals in their folly of the moment: whether it be serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, determined, enthusiastic; to divest one’s church of eve ry useless cumbersome accessory; to spit out disagreeable or amorous ideas like a luminous waterfall, or coddle them—with the extreme satisfaction that it doesn’t matter in the least - with the same intensity in the thicket of core’s soul pure of insects for blood well-born, and gilded with bodies of archangels. Freedom:

DADA DADA DADA, a roaring of tense colors, and interlacing of opposites and of all contradictions, grotesques, inconsistencies …

Originally created as an art installation with all the texts being heard at the same time, here they are transformed into ‘readings’ - as in readings for an audition, we are always aware that they are being performed because of Blanchett’s technique (see, for instance, that striking scene where she is a ‘tattooed punk’ inhaling smoke on the word ‘incandescence’ as if mocking the pretentious nature of the word and language itself. When checking this scene after writing that sentence, I realised this is my imagination, the inhalation of smoke follows the words, it does not frame them).  

I like the way the characters are named, this in itself is poetic: 'Burning flame; homeless man; broker; worker in an incineration plant; CEO at a private party; tattooed punk, scientist; funeral speaker; puppeteer; conservative mother with family; choreographer; newsreader and reporter; teacher.'

Watching this film with its emphasis on foregrounds and still scenes (or aerial shots in the dramatic opening sequence) makes you think more about how cinema is something that is constructed. With this in mind the sequence with the mother leaving her sleeping child is particularly touching (and honest, I was grateful that there was no last-minute close-up of the mother embracing her child).

Outside as the dishevelled woman goes to her motorbike in an environment that echoes her face, etched with neglect, the scene reminded me of the great artist Chantal Akerman’s portraits of women and women’s lives. (Minutes earlier the character has the most remarkable language, poetry and politics fill her mind, as she wearily gets ready to go to work). 

Here are links to all the texts and the scenes and this music makes up the soundtrack:

Terry Riley/Don Cherry Köln (February 23, 1975) w/ French film of Don Cherry, 1973

Personnel: keyboards, Terry Riley, trumpet, Don Cherry, vibraphone, Karl Berger

Recorded one month after and in the same venue as the famous Köln concert by Keith Jarrett – see my earlier article on Jarrett’s 'Endless' here – this album was first released as a limited edition of 500. As the Discogs description has it, it is ‘a legendary recording that pairs Don Cherry's heavenly trumpet stylings, Terry Riley's psychedelic/minimalist organ work and the vibes of Karl Berger ...’

More than four decades on the concert has never received an official release, possibly as one person states (in another Discogs summary) 'due to the fact that Cherry's trumpet distorts throughout.'

Within jazz, the trumpet always has a transcendent quality - cutting through, providing definition. What is so evocative here is the way Cherry’s contributions are truncated, broken in a way that reinforces the totalising effect of the dense, underwater repetition behind it. This is, at once, disorientating but also offers comfort, as if these moments are remnants of a forgotten melody (or melodies). The lack of development fascinates me.

Such music requires a different kind of listening experience. The details, the absences – the fact that Cherry’s contributions are so infrequent – become more important that the idea of completion; see here in particular ‘Descending Moonshine Dervishes,’ which invites us to make connections with Riley’s great album Persian Surgery Dervishes from 1971 (and then later was used by Riley for the title of a 1982 record)

Here is Chad DePasquale’s take on the Köln concert, published at the Listen to This website: 

In 1975, pioneering minimalist composer Terry Riley and jazz trumpet cosmonaut Don Cherry joined forces for a magnetic performance in Köln, Germany. Recorded live, but never commercially released, the concert is something of a hushed treasure, as well as the only record of a profound spiritual experience and meeting of two free form jazz titans. Riley’s swirling synth, droning and clairvoyant and prescient in its clarity, parades along with a triumphant Cherry, leaving behind trails of mystery and a sense of beauty in a larger, more universal form. Side A, the twenty-minute “Descending Moonshine Dervishes,” is a transcendent moment of improvisational experimentation and spiritual jazz. As Cherry’s physical presence slowly liquifies, “the lonesome foghorn blows” into some kind of misty dawn. His mournful trumpet immerses the listener into dense layers of playful percussion and dissonance. When Karl Berger joins the duo on vibraphone for side B, the tone becomes more hypnotic and reedy – a strange mystical noir – with the final three-and-a-half minutes of “Improvisation” exuding a vivid imagination. A lucid and rhythmic front row seat to the startling beauty of minimalist explorations and eloquent fusions of Eastern and Western ideas.

Online reviews of this concert are few and far between but follow the tone above, lush in their description (one strange diversion from the pattern being this odd, gnomic line: ‘The best album by Terry Riley & Don Cherry is Live Köln 1975 which is ranked number 13,072 in the overall greatest album chart with a total rank score of 95.’)

There is something affecting about this music, but its power lies in the way it avoids over-statement, or display (Cherry principally, but also Riley and Berger refuse to please or perform or provide dramatic moments). Perhaps it is this quality that encourages us to seek out and perhaps overuse language - adjectives, but also verbs in unusual forms - in an attempt to express how it connects with something inside us.

Coda: ‘Don Cherry’ -

Director: Jean-Noël Delamare, Nathalie Perrey, Philippe Gras (...) Don Cherry, trumpet, illustrating an André Breton poem in various Paris locations.

Fr: Un homme noir, trompettiste de free-jazz, débarque sur la terre, venu d'un autre monde. Il recherche la vérité de ce monde, mais ne sait quel chemin prendre... Il parcourt plusieurs chemins, abat des monstres, pour enfin découvrir les trois vérités : MUSIQUE, SAGESSE, AMOUR. (Eng: A black man, a free jazz trumpeter, comes to earth from another planet. He searches for the truth of this world, but doesn't know which path to take. He wanders various roads, kills monsters, and finally discovers the three truths: MUSIC, WISDOM, LOVE).

The Reader, Bernhard Schlink, trans. Carol Brown Janeway (New York, Vintage, 1998)

After a long, long time of reading, certainly, but reading snippets and slashes, feasting on morsels of information/arguments – so many arguments – chosen by others, unfolding in an endless scroll, I am reading books again.

Appropriately, the second book since this return is one I first read many years ago: Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, published in 1995. What struck me this time around was how strange, in the best possible way this novel is despite its massive commercial success, both in Europe and the United States and elsewhere. (The same success that makes me hesitate to even write on the book at all: it was selected as a favourite on Oprah’s Book Club).

Something about the depiction of the central character, Michael Berg, struck me as incredibly true, so honest; the way Schlink evokes his silence and apparent indifference, but decades-long devotion to this woman he had loved as a teenager. Reading the novel the dominant impression you get of this man is that he has no feeling, he seems callous to the point of indifference (when, for example, Hanna Schmitz is sentenced). But still, he makes cassettes for her – reading aloud – for her to listen to while she is in jail, for years with no messages included in the packages he sends.

I never made a personal remark on the tapes, never asked after Hanna, never told her anything about myself. I read out the title, the name of the author and the text. When the text was finished, I waited a moment, closed the book and pressed the stop button.

It is the combination of the repeated act and the way that it is presented that conveys the power of the unspoken commitment. In contrast, Hanna's responses have a wonderful spontaneity about them, as she responds to the authors as if they were still alive: 'There were always only a few lines, a thank you, a wish to hear more of a particular author or to hear no more, a comment on an author or a poem or a story or a character in a novel, an observation about prison.'

‘The forsythia is already in flower in the yard’ or ‘I like the fact that there have been so many storms this summer’ or ‘From my window I can see the birds flocking to fly south’ - often it was Hanna’s note that made me pay attention to the forsythia, the summer storms, or the flocks of birds. Her remarks about literature often landed astonishingly on the mark, ‘Schnitzler barks, Stefan Zweig is a dead dog’ or ‘Keller needs a woman’ or ‘Goethe’s poems are like tiny paintings in beautiful frames’ or ‘Lenz must write on a typewriter.’

In praise of: “Aground/Aerial” Rhythm & Sound (Rhythm & Sound, 2012)

There’s something extremely attractive about the stripped-back, but highly insistent minimalism of this 2012 release from Berlin producers, Rhythm & Sound. As even though you’d expect the cool of the music to reduce the feeling, in fact, it does the opposite.

Allowing the elements to be exposed like this makes the music appear rich and redolent of meaning (full of heart), while demonstrating a deep knowledge of the essence of the dub genre, which is all about purity. It helps that I discovered this music via these kinds of super-simple videos as well, forever my preference.

Below the videos is a sweet and earnest request that appeals to me : “To be played on a suitably loud system, bass being of great importance.”

My favourite of the two is perhaps “Aground” mainly because of the way the music maintains a self-contained universe, rarely diverging from the centre; and I just really like that sound that reminds me of drops on rain on animal-skin, alongside all those incidental sounds that create the highly textured background.   

Rhythm & Sound don’t seem to have a big online presence, at least based on my fairly speedy research; here’s some info from Discogs on their releases, dating back to 1996.  

Wikipedia tells us:

Rhythm & Sound is a dub techno German record label, a sub-label of Basic Channel. It was founded in Berlin by the duo Moritz von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, also known as Basic Channel. The label released seven 12-inch singles and one CD compilation album between 1997 and 2002.

But how about this, in 1998 they re-issued, or released, Chosen Brothers / Rhythm & Sound - "Mango Walk / Mango Drive"? See my appreciation of this pretty obscure track from 1979 that I published in June last year. Birds of a feather, it seems … (Or once again some angel looking out for me).

Bach: 'Erbarme dich' St Matthew Passion - Andreas Scholl (and 'Ruht Wohl ihr heiligen Gebeine' St John Passion)

The subtly rhythmic “Erbarme Dich” is as meditative as “Ruht Wohl” but far more melancholy. It is no lullaby. And yet how could anything be sadder than mourning the dead? 

(...) The secret of the aria lies not in its melody but its rhythm. The time signature is 12/8, which is that of most slow blues ... Bach has 12 beats to play with per measure, each one worth an 8th note (yep, that’s why it’s called 12/8). Like any good bluesman, he arranges them in runs of triplets. His runs go down the natural minor scale of B (recall that natural minor scale = scale of relative major, which here would be D). Hamari - the singer - sustains that B over 9 beats: GGG-F#F#F#-EEE. (By all means, go ahead and count the 3 triplets by tapping gently on your keyboard 9 times.) This is just like a jazz walking bass line. But instead of Charles Mingus, we’ve got cellists plucking the strings of their instruments to evoke the tears flowing down Peter’s cheeks. (We know that from the prior recitative and the fact that Bach was always big on sound imagery ....) The descending line is relentless. The walking bass goes down and down and down, then comes up for air only to resume its plunge.

Yehudi Menuhin was crazy about the violin obbligatos. He called the “Erbarme Dich” solo the most beautiful piece of music ever written for the violin. To me, the genius of the music’s pathos is that it isn’t the slightest bit manipulative (that minor-mode affliction so common in popular music.) Here, it’s about the sting of remorse. I find the humility and intimacy of the music almost overwhelming. Like a blues tune, it is a deeply personal statement, not a collective one. 
— From 'Erbarme dich' Tiny Revolution website by Bernard Chazelle, http://www.tinyrevolution.com/mt/archives/002903.html