Saturday, 31 May 2008

City Lights and Stars and Concert Etiquette

A WARM EVENING, MAY 30TH, people are climbing into a yellow school bus that will take them to Burritt on the Mountain (a house and grounds overlooking Huntsville, AL, now a museum) for a concert in Huntsville's annual City Lights and Stars series. The heat of the valley below is suffocating, but Monte Sano is cool and the concert-goers look pleased to be outside as they set up their lawn chairs and spread blankets over the very bright, slightly damp grass.

On this night, William Kanengeiser, one of the founding members of the LAGQ, is playing guitar. He plays two pieces by Fernando Sor, Mozart's Sonata #11 (K. 331) which he has adapted for classical guitar, and several shorter contemporary pieces. His playing is warm, matter-of-fact, and technically brilliant, and as the sun sets over Huntsville and the lights of the city shimmer below, the music seems to waft over the landscape, quiet, thoughtful, and expressive. . .

Cut to image of small children running about and making noise, their parents displaying varying levels of concern, or of people clapping between movements of a sonata.

Both of these things I consider to be in very poor taste. The latter, for the obvious reason that it disrupts the performer. The former, because it disrupts the audience as well.

My worry is that the children in question are neither learning to appreciate music nor to show proper concert etiquette if they are thinking about everything except the music. Are they not listening? I was fascinated by music as a small child. . . I never thought to make noise during a performance, or even while hearing a recording-- I was too interested to do so.

Tastes and preferences. Short attention spans. These are the explanations I can imagine I would hear. . . and I do not entirely dispute them. However, such things can be refined and focussed fairly easily. Perhaps it would be clever to tell the child a few things he should listen for while at the concert, or ask him to draw what the music makes him think about (even if it is something mundane, at least he will be listening, quietly occupied, and not terribly bored). Perhaps the charming setting should have been explored beforehand. Anything would have been better than allowing such behavior and then having to say "Ok, don't play with that anymore!"

The guide-dog sitting beside the girl nearest me seemed very interested in the concert, quiet and calm, but attentive. What does it say about one's competence as a parent if one's child cannot behave more politely (and thoughtfully!) than a dog?

Monday, 19 May 2008

METROPOLIS: Class Struggle, Technology, and Society

QUITE RECENTLY, I WAS VIEWING THE FUTURE OF THE PAST; more specifically, the year 2026 as imagined by Fritz Lang and his wife Thea von Harbou a century before in Weimar Republic Germany.

I first watched Metropolis a couple years ago, and became intrigued because I was dazzled by the elaborate sets and the actors' pathos. The film could be discussed in the context of political movements such as Communism and Fascism and generally related to history, or in the context of science, design, et cetera. I was also rather interested in the use of dystopias as allegories and warnings to society, having read H. G. Wells' Time Machine quite a few times, as well as Huxley's infamous Brave New World.

The general idea usually put forth in these sorts of works is the rather common worry about where technology will lead us and how the wealthy and/or powerful will do insane things to others until men become mere cogs in a machine rendered meaningless because one requires sentience to detect meaning. The first question which comes to my mind upon considering such works is usually something to do with whether their creators were giving us a prophesy of the future or a commentary on their own eras; the answer is often "both". The next question is whether such works cause us to think about consequences more carefully (as they were intended to do) or whether they inspire us to try exactly that which we were told would be disastrous (quite possible). This is a more complex question.

Much of what we see in Metropolis seems to have come to pass. One need only to walk into any of the new "Lifestyle Centers" springing up across the United States (if not a theme park or the like) to see the most obvious example. . . ladies and gentlemen dressed in the same flashy clothing (bought from the same stores), rushing about, entertaining themselves-- the vision glitters, but what stands behind it is messy machinery, large factories, and often-corrupt means. The robot Repliee, which looks so much like a woman that I nearly typed "who" instead of "which", has caused quite a bit of talk recently. Screens dominate the lives of many people: the television screen, the computer monitor. Everyone must notice how the automobile has shaped landscapes. Technology has been a wonder to us, and yet we sometimes turn it into a monster that controls or degrades us when it might have been used for Good instead.

Yes, yes, we know this. However, what Metropolis does not take into consideration is that perhaps people will not realize that they have imprisoned themselves in such a manner. This is ultimately what is most endearing about the film, I believe; that its characters may appear to be machines, and yet are not apathetic. Perhaps this is why it is well-liked by many who view it. . . it may disturb or anger, but on the other hand, it also allows the viewer to continue to feel a bit smug about humanity. I fear that it does not force us to look within ourselves unless we were already doing so to begin with. In addition, an in-depth analysis of class and class-struggle it is not, but rather, almost propagandistic in its approach. Even so, it literally sets the stage for analysis and further discussion.

This film is regarded as a masterpiece of German cinema, lavish, put together meticulously, and an expensive production at that. It is, in fact, one of the most cited films of all time. Much of it appears to be lost to time, but the most recent restoration will not disappoint: released by the F. W. Murnau Foundation in 2002, it is the most complete restoration up to date and the most true to the original, even using the original musical score. One may or may not see the present in this futuristic world from the silent-film era, but then again, I suppose we shall have to see what life will be like in 2026.

Friday, 16 May 2008

About this blog. . .

UN PORTRAIT DE LA VIE MODERNE: this one in particular is being painted by me. Medium: words on a lit screen.

Away from the computer, I am a painter in the more traditional sense, which, furthermore, means that when I am not devising ways and reasons to cover canvas with paint, I am often thinking about things such as "the role of art in society"-- past, present, and future-- and culture in general. In the town where I have resided for the past several years of my life, Huntsville, Alabama, USA, any given member of the Humanities plays something of a cameo; Huntsville is better known for rockets than for poetry. I do not say this with scorn, of course, but I do find it ironic that in a place made famous by men who facilitated the exploration of the cosmos many people seem uninterested in exploring their own souls. Instead, the deceptively shiny and the superficial. The general and the pointless.

. . . This may apply to some people more than others, some towns and regions more than others, and indeed it is not a new criticism by any means, but I am continually alarmed to see wasted opportunities turning into wasted time, wasted space, frustrated ambitions, and wasted lives. No wonder, then, that when many people finally do allow themselves to think, to feel, and to explore, they hardly know how to do so. They show themselves only as sick, perverse, sometimes merely disgustingly pathetic, sometimes disgustingly frightful.

These things having been said, I return to this blog's raison d'être; the love of culture, art, literature, music, wisdom, refinement, the enjoyment of beauty, and all other things that are wonderful and worthwhile. My greatest hope is to paint an educated and enlightening portrait of life and thought, as it is, as it can be, in a flourish of keystrokes. . .

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Subject Index: Music

31 May 2008 City Lights and Stars and Concert Etiquette
24 February 2009 Open to Interpretation
10 May 2009 Chopin in the Afternoon: Jean-François Latour at the Place-des-Arts
5 June 2009 A Night at the Opera: Lucia di Lammermoor

Subject Index: About Town

31 May 2008 City Lights and Stars and Concert Etiquette
2 June 2008 An Evening at Luciano
8 February 2009 The Island of Montreal
11 May 2009 Montreal in Spring
28 May 2009 How to Look Like an Intellectual Without Even Trying
28 June 2009 Montreal in Summer
23 July 2009 Montreal in Summer, Part II

Subject Index: Gastronomy

2 June 2008 An Evening at Luciano

Subject Index: Architecture

Subject Index: Film

19 May 2008 METROPOLIS: Class Struggle, Technology, and Society
14 February 2009 For the Love of Ninotchka, Happy Valentine's Day!

Subject Index: Literature

24 February 2009 Open to Interpretation

Subject Index: Visual Art

24 February 2009 Open to Interpretation
20 July 2009 The Color Theory of Art and Life

Subject Index: Culture and Society

19 May 2008 METROPOLIS: Class Struggle, Technology, and Society
31 May 2008 City Lights and Stars and Concert Etiquette
10 February 2009 Bonne Journée: An Etymological Musing on Time
14 February 2009 For the Love of Ninotchka, Happy Valentine's Day!
24 February 2009 Open to Interpretation
28 May 2009 How to Look Like an Intellectual Without Even Trying
11 June 2009 Layers of Meaning: Contemplations on German, English, and Language as Metaphor
20 July 2009 The Color Theory of Art and Life