Miles Davis – Dingo

I finally saw Dingo, a film by Rolf De Heer from 1991 – the only feature film featuring Miles Davis (aka God) as a character and not only as a music performer.

A nice film about an Australian kid who is blown away by a surprise concert of Miles Davis (named Bill Cross in the film) and dreams all his life about playing trumpet with the musician who opened his ears and mind. As you could expect, this dream will not be reached without difficulties, but in the end…

It is not the film that blows you away – although it is a nice and entertaining movie – but the music and the look and voice of Miles take you to heaven. And his red trumpet :-)

Enjoy this fragment – and the music. It was about time I posted something on Miles Davis…

Ludwig: Consonant Music in a Dissonant Life

I’m proud to present a new essay, published in S. Stoppe (Ed.), Film in Concert : Film Scores and their Relation to Classical Concert Music (pp. 191-204). Glückstadt vwh Verlag Werner Hülsbusch. (available through amazon)

It focuses on the intertextual use of classical music (mostly Richard Wagner) in the film Ludwig (1972) by Luchino Visconti.

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Ludwig (Luchino Visconti, 1972) is an outstanding example of how the intertextual use of classical music can alter the perception of the movie. The film focuses on the decline of Ludwig II, king of Bavaria from 1864 to 1886, who ascends the throne at the age of 18, full of romantic ambition, but cannot realise his dreams because of his lack of vigour and due to social and political changes. The film’s visual splendour is striking, but makes it look like an empty mausoleum for a long gone king, as if Visconti created an homage to a waning aristocrat who isolated himself in a crucial historical period. But, looking at the figure of Wagner – whom Ludwig patronised – and the use of classical music, it becomes clear that Visconti is idolising Ludwig nor Wagner, but has a critical attitude towards both historical figures.

Through his music, Wagner wanted to express art’s mission in society, without sacrificing music as an independent form of expression. However, in the film Wagner is squeezed between the financial dependence of patronage to be able to create freely; Ludwig is trapped between his social and political role as a king in a changing public climate and his wish to live life as a dream. The contrast between the characters serves as a pointer that both Ludwig’s quest and Wagner’s ideals are doomed for failure. These reflections become solid statements when we look at the specific use of classical music in the film. Where the music of Schumann and Offenbach function as cheeky comments, both the choice and placement of fragments of Wagner’s operas are delicate and precise, and the music becomes the critical voice the movie mostly lacks on narrative and visual level. Wagner’s music in the film does not only symbolize the arrival of a new social and political area but also illustrates Ludwig’s shortage of decisiveness and lack of sense of reality. As such, it is used as part of a ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ where different disciplines meet and reinforce each other.

The essay analyses the specific use of music in the film; for this blogpost, I’ll give one example as a glimpse of the article.

(more…)

Into the woods

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A log is a portion of a tree. At the end of a crosscut log — many of you know this — there are rings. Each ring represents one year in the life of the tree. How long it takes to a grow a tree! I don’t mind telling you some things. Many things I, I musn’t say. Just notice that my fireplace is boarded up. There will never be a fire there. On the mantelpiece, in that jar, are some of the ashes of my husband. My log hears things I cannot hear. But my log tells me about the sounds, about the new words. Even though it has stopped growing larger, my log is aware.

Log Lady intro to episode 28 from David Lynch’s Twin Peaks.

For all Log Lady intros, see wikiquote

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For more pictures, see flickr

Alvin Curran, Inner Cities

Dreaming while listening to Inner Cities from Alvin Curran, recorded by the Belgian pianist Daan Vandewalle.

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The 6 hour musical cycle makes me feel in an open space, where human presence is reduced to abstract shadows and even the landscape becomes more a feeling than a place; defined by forms and colors rather than by lines or specific shapes or objects.

The composer Alvin Curran desribes the cycle on his own website as

I offer these disconnected autobiographical fragments like a drawer full of fossilized imprints to put you in the same position I am in now, attempting to connect the dots and tell you something, anything about the pieces on this set of CDs, maybe my best music.

In these Inner Cities there is no “drive-by” anything; there’s merely back alleys, empty lots full of stubborn weeds and clear sky, trails of memory which may or may not lead anywhere or even have relevance to the music at hand. The bottom line: these pieces are a set of contradictory etudes – studies in liberation and attachment, cryptic itineraries to the old fountain on the town square whence flows all artistic divination and groping for meaning in the dark.

Samples of this fascinating and very diverse cycle are featured on Curran’s website. I feel so free to upload one of these samples, part of the first piece, directly here.

Inner Cities 1 (Alvin Curran, played by Daan Vandewalle), Inner Cities CD set, 1:21

Strongly recommended!

In Memoriam Jim Hall

Jim Hall, jazz guitarist, died at the age of 82. A fascinating musician, spanning more than five decades. Throughout this long evolution, his own guitar voice stayed remarkable. Cool and sometimes understated, but at the same time very imaginative. His collaborations ranged from working with Sonny Rollins to Pat Metheny. Even in his often introspective style, he was an inspiring voice, stimulating the dialogue between musicians without taking over. Music as co-communication…

Two fragments into Jim Hall-land – up in heaven: maybe; in our heart: surely.

Concierto De Aranjuez, from his album Concierto (1975), with a stellar line up:

Trumpet — Chet Baker
Alto Saxophone — Paul Desmond
Bass — Ron Carter
Drums — Steve Gadd
Guitar — Jim Hall
Piano — Roland Hanna

As a huge Miles Davis fan, I sometimes even prefer this version to Miles…

Another classic album from Jim Hall, Undercurrent, was recorded with Bill Evans on piano in 1963.
Here’s to you, Jim Hall…

Romain, from Undercurrent

Musical surprise: Antenna Repairmen

I discovered some nice music in a lovely way. I loaned some cds from the library. One evening, I wanted to listen to a short piece of music before going to sleep and put on a cd with some Number Pieces by John Cage. Cage’s Number Pieces date from the last phase of his life, using Cage’s time bracket technique: the score consists of short fragments (frequently just one note, with or without dynamics) and indications, in minutes and seconds, of when the fragment should start and when it should end. The pieces are named after the number of performers involved, and the last number on the disc was One4 for solo percussion. I read in the booklet that the piece is to be performed on “cymbals and/or drums chosen by the drummer.” A piece I had never heard before but that suited my wishes: not too long, a short nightcap from approximately 7 minutes; not too complex I supposed, since it was for one musician; and I was in for some percussion as well.

As the music played for some minutes, I started wondering if this was really solo percussion, but I liked the piece and continued listening. I thought that the musician might have chosen resonating drums… The piece continued to fascinate and I negated the doubts to what exactly I might be listening to. But after the 7 minutes time index, the piece still continued. I started wondering if the booklet had a typo mistake, or if it was a hidden track – even though I never encountered that on classical discs. But then I noticed on the index of my cd-player that there were four more tracks to follow. But I enjoyed the music so much that I did not want to take it out of the player, and continued to listen until the end. Carried away by delicate percussion music with unknown sounds and vibrations.

It was only once the playback ended, that I took out the cd and tried to read the label, that was nearly totally covered with a security tag from the library. My computer was already sleeping, and so should I – and I went to bed, peacefully. :-)

The day after, I put the cd in my computer and discovered that it was a disc by The Antenna Repairmen, called Ghatam. It is a percussion trio that mostly plays on clay instruments, inspired on the ghatam, a traditional South Indian instrument.

The label describes the album as “a performance work for an exotic array of handmade, ceramic percussion instruments designed specifically for the piece by sculptor Stephen Freedman. Besides Ghatam, which in performance can last over an hour, there are 2 free-improvisations as well, performed on bottles, buckets, chairs, cymbals, a ratchet wrench and other junk found in the hall where the recording was produced.”

There is not much information about the group on the net (but a lot of DIY to repair a broken car antenna), but you can find some youtube clips:

Thank you to whoever lended some John Cage and this disc from my local library and mixed the cd’s before bringing them back, you made my day! (but now I am still waiting to hear John Cage’s One4 ) ;-)

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes / the Wrath of God (Werner Herzog, 1972)

I am giving two lessons about Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (Werner Herzog, 1972) at the University of Leuven.

Even though I know this film by heart, it remains a wonderful cinematic experience.

Herzog himself told repeatedly that he invented nearly the whole story, but there are more historic sources in this film than he claims. He based the movie upon a short description in a children’s book of two expeditions in search of El Dorado. One is an expedition led by Gonzalo Pizarro in 1541, the other by Pedro de Ursúa in 1560.

Herzog uses a lot of elements out of the diary of the monk Gaspar de Carjaval, who accompanied the expedition of 1541.

The historic figure of Lope de Aguirre was part of the 1960 expedition and elements of his rebellion in the film are based upon the children’s book and some historic letters and declarations by Aguirre.

Next to these elements, Herzog enriches the film with lots of imagination and other references. As such, he creates his own patchwork that still gives a nice impression of expeditions of conquistadores in search of El Dorado.

One of these other references, is the influence of speeches by John Okello on Aguirre’s words in the film. John Okello was an East African revolutionary and the leader of the Zanzibar Revolution in 1964. During his short rebellion, he made furious radio broadcasts with texts like:

We, the army, have the strength of 99 million, 99 thousand … Should anyone be stubborn and disobey orders, then I will take very strong measures, 88 times stronger than at present.

I was a very high ranking person in Kenya in the Mau Mau army which knows how to make weapons. I can easily make not less than 500 guns per day. Undoubtedly, I can make a bomb that can destroy an area of 3 square miles. I can make about 100 grenades in an hour.

(…)I am above the government and cannot die.

The influence on this speech by Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) at the near end of the movie is striking:

I am the great traitor. There must be no other. Anyone who even thinks about deserting this mission will be cut up into 198 pieces. Those pieces will be stamped on until what is left can be used only to paint walls. Whoever takes one grain of corn or one drop of water… more than his ration, will be locked up for 155 years. If I, Aguirre, want the birds to drop dead from the trees… then the birds will drop dead from the trees. I am the wrath of god. The earth I pass will see me and tremble. But whoever follows me and the river, will win untold riches. But whoever deserts…