And then there were flowers

My grandma (mother of my mother) was born in 1900 and died more than 90 years later. She raised her five children more or less alone and was an independent and strong woman. She got furious about politics sometimes when she got older, fantasizing about shooting them all with a laser gun. I liked her.


Aunt Lori, grandma Charlotte, and my mother (also called Charlotte)

She was a gifted painter (I would say) but apparently she only painted flowers.

When I emptied my parents’ house after they had died, there were a number of flower paintings hanging on the wall, and several jugs, jars, trays, boxes and such everywhere over the house, all covered with flowers. I don’t want to keep it all (not sure who would want to have this stuff) but I took it home with me, and took photographs (or scans) of everything. Then I uploaded them all to flickr, a popular photo community that has lots of groups, some of them about flower painting. My grandma’s work will get a little bit of digital immortality.

Here are some of her pictures. Go to flickr if you want to see them all.








(This is the writing on the back side of one of the postcard sized paintings, from the 1960s like most of her work. Funny how the writing style has changed – I have a hard time deciphering this)

I Advance Masked

Sabine took a day off – we spent the afternoon visiting Cologne’s beautiful new ethnological museum, the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum that has moved into a spacious new building and opened a week ago. We liked the museum a lot. Some people still think that a museum about ethnology is a boring collection of dusty artifacts – this is certainly far from true here.

 
I liked the section about rituals and religion most – not so much because I’m fond of rituals or religion but because it features many beautiful sculptures and statues – and I loved the circular room with the world map and the many masks. What a wealth of ideas, colors, and shapes!


 
I liked this place a lot and will certainly come back.

Later, on the way to the Indian restaurant, we met this lady. In a way, she felt more alien to me than all the strange masks did.


 

Scrap Cities, Rubber Boats, Sepia Songs

Last saturday was very full. I worked until noon (no pictures of the ColdFusion code that I wrote, that would be too boring), then I headed towards Cologne. On the way, driving towards the S-Bahn station, I realized I would have to wait for quite a while, and I stopped by an unusual exhibition that I had always meant to visit.

 
Michael Kramer is an artist who lives not far away from my hometown. His studio, I am told, looks like a scrapyard – one thing that he does is creating sculptures from scrap metal. His sculpture “Die Stadt”, the city, is spread out on a large flat roof. Visitors can walk around on the roof and look at many very different kinds of cities made from a million strange looking metal parts. I loved this place so much that I almost forgot that I had planned to take the next S-Bahn station to go to Cologne.

 
I managed to catch the train in the last second … it took me to Cologne where I met Sabine in a sports museum. Now I don’t care for sports at all and I don’t care for the sports museum even less but today Greenpeace was here on a 30-year-anniversary tour (the German leg of Greenpeace was founded 30 years ago, 10 years after Greenpeace came into existence in Vancouver), and both Sabine and me were curious what it would be like.

(On the way from the Cologne main station to the Greenpeace event I met Dorothee, a friend of Sabine – we talked for a couple of minutes. I wasn’t aware at this point that I was going to have four (4) chance meetings of this kind on this day.)

 
I met Sabine and my colleague Michaela – I handed her the data CDs that I had worked on this morning – and we had a coffee together. Soon after I ran into my old friend Karla who was also interested in Greenpeace as it turned out.

 
The Greenpeace event was interesting and moving – we listened to a 1-hour talk about the history of this organization in Germany. I had forgotten so many things and realized that without these people, the world would be in a much worse shape than it is now. They had helped to stop major environmental crimes that would be unimaginable today. I felt moved and very grateful that this organization exists.

One ugly German word that made Greenpeace famous during the eighties was “Dünnsäureverklappung” – chemical companies got rid of their highly toxical acids by simply dumping them into the North Sea, and Greenpeace successfully stopped them.

 
On this day, families could take their kids on a ride with one of the famous Greenpeace rubber boats on the Rhine. They went pretty fast. I’m not sure I would dare to do this. I get seasick when I brush my teeth.

 
Sabine had enough adventures for this day, and drove home. I went to several concerts in the evening. The annual Kölner Musiknacht took place on this day – it offers dozens of concerts at many places throughout the city. One 15€ ticket pays for all concerts.

I had heard the quite wonderful jazz band Sepiasonic one day on the radio, 3 years ago, and my ears got really big. What was this? It sounded like a very poetic crossbred between Canterbury bands such as Hatfield and the North and modern Scandinavian jazz groups such as Hanne Hukkelberg. I loved it. Sepiasonic? They had a website with some music but no CD.

(Update: they have an album on Bandcamp now)

Anyway when I saw that they played in Cologne I was very happy that I could finally see them live, and I was not disappointed.

 
Swiss master clarinetist Claudio Puntin, jazz singer Insa Rudolph, and jazz guitarist Kim Efert (I loved his compositions and style – a kindred soul!) were accompanied by an amazing band that consisted of drums, bass, and three flutists – a very unusual setup but with everyone being a master of their instrument, very effective in creating interesting improvised soundscapes and highly sophisticated tunes in odd meters. When Insa Rudolph’s voice effortlessly soared above complex harmonic structures, and three flutes played playful and experimental compositions that reminded me of Egg and other Canterbury bands, I was a happy listener.

 
I talked to Insa after the concert and asked her about the CD. Apparently they are working on it and it might be released at the end of this year. Something to look forward to!

 
My next concert was two hours later. I walked through cold streets towards the Cologne Cathedral which was illuminated brightly. When I got there I saw that it was full of people for some kind of catholic event which had nothing to do with the Kölner Musiknacht.

 
Although this cathedral (when empty) can trigger some sort of feeling of presence in me, I’m not at all interested in Catholicism and cheering crowds of young Pope-the-popstar-fans. Actually I think that it is sad that so many kids get conditioned this way instead of learning about their conditionings in order to wake up from them, but I don’t want to go into that here. The cathedral remains a place of power to me regardless of what might go on in the people who come here.

 
The WDR Funkhaus, the old central building of the largest radio station in Germany, sits right across the cathedral. I have spent many hours of my life in its beautiful concert hall, seeing amazing concerts of many kinds, mostly avantgarde and world music. I hadn’t been here for a while. Coming here on this evening gave me a warm feeling of coming home.

 
The Iranian concert was scheduled for 10 pm – it was not yet 9 pm and cold outside, so I decided to attend the 9 pm concert with Baroque string music – more precisely, “NeoBarock” with compositions of Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber. The violins were tuned in unusual ways but coming from the quite stunning performance of Sepiasonic, I found that I couldn’t open to this music.

Although I think of myself as very open to basically all kinds of music, I have problems being interested in some periods of classical music. Although the musicians played with breathtaking virtuosity, I found myself getting bored with the predictability of the compositions.

 
The 10 pm concert was a different category altogether – classical music, and modern music in the classical style, from Iran. The band played three long compositions that gave the instrumentalists ample space to improvise and show off their quite amazing virtuosity.

One of the percussionists was Peyman Nasehpour. We had met two years ago because he is a friend of Rick Walker. In May 2008, Peyman drove a couple of hours just to meet Rick at the livelooping festival that I had organized in Cologne. On the day after the festival, we all met again in Cologne and had a beer together – a delightful mix of musicians from many countries. I have been a Facebook contact of Peyman since (he even gave a frame drum lesson to me via Skype once), and he had invited me to this delightful concert.

 
Before the concert began, I noticed my old friend Walter and his wife in the audience. We met afterwards and talked, and then we saw that Kerstin Kilanowski had also been in the audience. Kerstin and me had been colleagues as students working in the department of education … 30 years ago? Our common colleague and Kerstin’s friend Gisela Schinawa also came and greeted me … she wondered where my long hair was … it seems I have changed a bit during 30 years …

A Book That Knows All


 
My mom used to tell people that I learned to read at the age of four. I don’t know if that is true – I know that she liked to brag with my abilities, maybe that is a natural thing for mothers. Anyway one of the first things that I discovered after I could read was my parent’s bookshelf, and one book was especially fascinating – a lexicon. My mother said that I was excited because I thought that this was a book that seemed to know everything about everything in the world.

I read a lot in it, probably without understanding much, but I felt that it opened a world to me. One thing that I found particularly fascinating about it was the beautiful color plate section. It inspired me so much that I started my own lexicon, scribbling down and drawing endless lists of things – birds, gemstones, flags, fruits, traffic signs, just like I found it in the book, but extending it to cars, radio songs, cigarette brands, chemical elements, capital cities, volcanoes, dinosaurs … just anything I could find as long as I could put it into lists, page after page. Apparently lists of things were endlessly fascinating to me. Why doesn’t it surprise me that I work with databases today?


 
The original lexicon has disappeared in the meantime. A couple of days ago I found myself ordering another one from eBay for a few Euros – a worn out copy from 1956, as old as the book that I loved so much when I was very small. Now when I look at the images again, after almost half a century, there is a very distinct sense of remembering and nostalgia. Am I the same person as I was back then, or am I someone different?

My Avatar Is Not Blue


 
I went to an amazing concert yesterday – while sitting at home. Or shall we say, as my ‘real’ body was sitting at home? I was watching the performance while sitting in some kind of amphitheatre, surrounded by two or three dozen of very strange other people. Maybe I was the strangest of all because I didn’t even look like a human – for some reason, the avatar that I had chosen looks like a fox.

Since my first login to Second Life a couple of years ago, I had not spent much time there – I always thought it was a nice thing in theory, but disappointingly clunky in reality. I had originally come here with ideas of cyberspace (as William Gibson coined it) or the metaverse (as Neal Stephenson called his version), some other kind of immersive reality full of wonder (as if our regular reality wasn’t full of wonder).

Second Life was obviously inspired by these ideas, and even though we still can’t directly plug in using some kind of firewire plug in our heads, and instead have to type on keyboards and look on screens, and even though the graphics are far less perfect than I had expected, it has evolved (since its launch in 2003) into an amazing huge parallel universe full of people that interact in many ways (I read that about 60,000 people are logged in at any given moment) , and more places than one can ever visit.


 
Usually while my fox avatar had explored SL, he was more or less alone – I seem to be drawn more towards the lonely island than towards a busy bar full of strangers. It was nice yesterday though to be in the audience with at least one person that I knew (Jeff Duke, a fellow loop musician from Florida, who also took two photos during the performance – see below).

The Avatar Orchestra Metaverse is a collective of musicians from all over the world, one of them being Pauline Oliveros, to my surprise, a key figure of avantgarde music, livelooping, and deep listening. The orchestra has weekly rehearsals and performs in Second Life, but sometimes also in “First Life”. For their Second Life performances, special technology has been developed such as virtual instruments and interactive animations.

The concert yesterday lasted for about one hour. The orchestra consisted of about a dozen musicians this time (with funny Second Life names such as Flivelwitz Alsop, Bingo Onomatopoeia, Humming Pera, Gumnosophistai Nurmi, BlaiseDeLaFrance Voom), playing four compositions by four composers who also did the conducting. The performances were a mixture of very different kinds of electronic sounds, movements, and animations, and I found that I was quickly drawn into their special virtual reality kind of magic and the astonishing dynamics of the pieces.



 
Something interesting, but hard to describe, happens when one suddenly forgets about the virtuality of this, and gets drawn into this world, which is, after all, populated by avatars of real people. Amazing how quickly the brain gets adjusted to something that is so different to our usual reality. It felt similar to sitting in a really fascinating movie and forgetting about sitting in a movie theatre.

Getting out of this, and back into ordinary reality: the brain switches back, but it takes some minutes. Until then, I wonder about the amazingly high resolution of the trees on the hill and how smoothly I can move across the terrace.

Visual Futurist


 
I met one of my childhood heroes – Klaus Bürgle, a German illustrator who painted technical visions of the future when I was a boy. Readers of this blog might remember a post from last year where I wrote about the website that I created for him together with Dr. Ralf Bülow, a collector of Bürgle’s work. I was a little bit proud that the website had reanimated his fame – there were lots of newspaper articles about him after it went live, and he even earns a little money with his paintings now. Every few weeks, people send me inquiries because they want to use a Bürgle image for their newspaper or book.

 
Mr. Meyer from the local art center in his hometown Göppingen (near Stuttgart) curated a wonderful exhibition of his work, showing lots of original paintings many of which I hadn’t seen before. Because I had supplied Mr. Meyer with some images and information about Bürgle, he kindly invited me and even paid the hotel. By a very convenient coincidence, my Ridhwan retreat not far from Göppingen had ended the day before, so it was an easy 1-hour trip for me to come to this event.

 
Bürgle, now aged 84 (shown here with his wife), turned out to be a very modest and kind man – he actually reminded me of my father a little bit. Because Mr. Meyer had already written an extensive interview with him, the interview I had planned with him was no longer necessary, and we could simply do some smalltalk which he also seemed to enjoy. I was surprised to learn that he still does technical drawing jobs for Mercedes and other companies now and then.

 
What an amazing man! Just like his American colleagues such as Chesley Bonestell or Robert McCall, he inspired a whole generation and got them interested in space and the future. I met several people during the vernissage who became engineers because they marvelled at Bürgle’s paintings when they were boys.

It was a pleasant surprise for me to also meet Professor Manfred Kage during the vernissage, a pioneer of microphotography with electron microscopes and similar technologies. Back in the early seventies, he published his amazing crystal photographs in the science magazines that also contained Bürgle’s paintings, and I knew his name since I was a boy. We had an interesting talk about the world of the very small, 3D fractals, and the movie Avatar that we both loved. He asked me to send him a DVD with my collection of Bürgle’s work, and he’ll send me one of his cutting edge microphotography DVDs in return. I love this stuff !!

Crane Sunday



People do strange things. Many people (including my wife) think the things that I do are quite strange too. Last Sunday afternoon, I found myself sitting alone at the waterside in a small harbour in Cologne, recording underwater sounds. Luckily, nobody was around who wondered what I was doing. This activity would probably have looked quite boring from the outside, but whenever I do this kind of thing, I feel like a boy inside – an adventurer, a discoverer, hunting for the unknown – excitement.

The underwater sounds in this place turned out to be not very interesting, but I know that one has to be patient and record for a while just in case. Eventually, all I got were distant boat motors, and yes, there was a shoal of small fish but they didn’t talk (sometimes you find places where fish make all sorts of strange and interesting noises, but you have to be very lucky). Instead, they inspected the hydrophone which resulted in loud bumps on the recording.

While recording this, I found that the reflections of various cranes, towers, and ships in the water looked quite beautiful. I took a number of photos and they looked so nice together that I turned them into this video, very slowly fading one into each other.


 
The video soundtrack should have featured the underwater recording but since this turned out to be disappointing, it fell through. Instead I created several layers of treated sounds from these sources:

  • underwater insects of a nearby lake that I had recorded a week ago
  • a propeller plane that flew above
  • a contact microphone recording from the same day of the nearby Rhine bridge
  • a wonderful pump organ that I had played and recorded in the Stockholm music museum


 
The slowed down bridge sounds creates a beautiful drone of howling traffic and wind vibrated metal, and of course now that I hear it, it reminds me of Eno’s White Cube recordings. It still amazes me how he has influenced my musical thinking and often when I find some interesting new way to paint with sounds … he has already been there.

The pump organ with its wild pitch changes lets me think of Györgi Ligeti’s 1967 organ piece “Harmonies” (not that I would compare myself with this master of course). I found that pump organ in the Stockholm Musikmuseet – here is a short video. I played and recorded just a few minutes and this is the material that is used for the Crane Sunday video – pitched down and equalized a little. Oh how I loved this instrument, it had such a charming breathing sound – and not even keys to play! I would have stolen it but it was too heavy 😉

Small Is Beautiful

A week ago I bought a Canon Powershot A590IS which was only 99 Euros at that large online bookshop that is called after a large river in Brazil. A friend had recommended it to me and after he showed me some of the macro shots he had done with it, I couldn’t resist.

My fascination with the complexity of small things probably started when my parents gave me a kid’s microscope when I was very young. I realized that there were other worlds to be found, and the fractals that I spent years with in the nineties taught me that complexity is independent of size.

Here are some shots from the garden. I took them without any additional gear or special lenses but with the highest possible resolution. Most of these images are details from larger photos.


 
That last one was a casual shot of a glass of sparkling water which stood on a brown table with some other things on it. Here’s a detail of the tiny bubbles each of which reflects the world and each other. If some magical hi-tech trick would make these images infinitely sharp we could continue zooming and you could see me sitting on a chair, and my eyes through which I saw the bubbles, and the reflections of the scenery in my eyes.



Paper Organs and Colored Windows



 
We spent this beautiful Easter sunday going to Siegen, a small old industrial town two hours east of Cologne, to see an exhibition called Blickmaschinen (viewing machines) in the local museum of contemporary art. The exhibition shows parts of the Werner Nekes Collection … about 200 laterna magicas, camera obscuras … image distortion, perspective, and projection machines, panoramas, kaleidoscopes … all sorts of incredible historical optical devices most of which I had no idea existed …





 
… all of this successfully contrasted with 100 works of about 40 contemporary artists that focus roughly on topics of seeing and perception … e.g. this star-spangled skull:




 
My favorite was a sound installation (I’m a sucker for sound installations) called “Paper Organs” created by Pierre Bastien. It used darkness and light, movement, and music in a minimalist and very successful way, creating a magical place … I was reminded of Eno’s light and sound installations.


 
We spent several very inspiring hours here. The exhibition will be shown in Budapest and Sevilla after Siegen – go see it if you have the chance.

Colored windows and video projections in the beautiful spiral staircase tower of the museum …



 
While going back to the car, I noticed some anonymous rubber tongue sculptures on the street near the parking lot … they weren’t part of the exhibition and I guess nobody else had noticed them …

Impossible Music


 
Algorithmic Music – music composed without human intervention, based on formal procedures, mathematical formulas, computer programs.

Gumowski and Mira – two CERN physicists who found an interesting mathematical entity, a new attractor – something not unlike a fractal – while researching into nonlinear dynamical systems. It was later called the Gumowski-Mira attractor.


 
HOP – a software that I wrote in the early nineties which created graphics based on this attractor. It was successful as a DOS screensaver. Then one day, I added a Midi output module, hooked a digital piano to it, and found that the resulting musical structures were very interesting.

Impossible Music – a collection of 16 improvisations with that Gumowski-Mira attractor based software. While the computer computed the attractor, I played with the constants and various other variables, and Matthias Ebbinghaus took care of the sampler, the digital piano pedals, and the live mix.

hyperfunction – a CD label for algorithmic music, launched by Markus Reuter and me, with Impossible Music being the first release.

      theanomalouscatalogue
 

Thanks to Matthias Ebbinghaus‘s initiative, we finally have a beautiful CD with quite adventurous recordings that we had done 13 years ago, at this time not thinking about publishing them at all. The DAT tape had been sleeping in some drawer and I had more or less forgotten it but about three years ago, Matthias remembered it and suggested that we listen to it again, maybe for a potential CD release. So we listened to it again, found that we liked it a lot, selected the most interesting parts, remastered it … and then I talked to Markus Reuter about it and he suggested setting up a label for algorithmic music and publish it there.

Here’s what WIRE magazine just wrote about the CD (in the April 2009 issue). Maybe they have a point criticizing that we used familiar instrument sounds (mainly piano and percussion) for music that is so non-traditional. For me though, this music stands out because it is structurally interesting – maybe turning these strange structures into equally strange sounds would even take away some of the structural strangeness – I don’t know. (In 1996, I simply had no stranger sounds at my hands anyway 🙂

Michael Peters is primarily an electric guitarist with a long standing affinity for Frippertronics – last year he organised Cologne’s first livelooping festival. Now and then he’ll venture beyond the loop, as on this set of pieces for digital piano and sampler, recorded in 1996 but only recently edited and mixed for release. In a sense Peters here raises his enthusiasm for looping to a conceptual level: Impossible Music arises out of the zone of nonlinear dynamic systems, being based on a strange attractor discovered by physicists at the CERN nuclear research centre. By real-time manipulation of this fractal structure’s parameters, Peters and Matthias Ebbinghaus generate l6 algorithmically grounded improvisations.
Algorithms – essentially, objectified sequences of instructions – can, as John Cage recognised, produce results that personal taste might have precluded, and figures as diverse as Xenakis and Eno have used such procedures effectively. Limited interventions, such as those Peters makes, add an improvisatory aspect that can conjure up further structural variation and surprise. But beyond the glacial satisfactions of the concept and a sense of the abstracted structure, the pleasure of such music necessarily depends on the quality of the sound material. Most of the samples Peters uses are percussion. There are classical guitar-like timbres on “Alhambra Algebra”, synthetic pipe organ sonorities on “Blow Up Meltdown”, marirnba tones on “Woodenfall”. The digital piano often approximates a concert grand. It’s done well, but surely strange attractors cry out for wilder and less familiar sounds. (Julian Cowley)

 

We will try how this music sounds with more adventurous sounds on April 4 – there will be a CD release party at the LOFT in Cologne, and while I am in control of the attractors, Bernhard Wöstheinrich and his synthesizers will make them sound. Watch this space for a report if you can’t come.

More Gumowski-Mira attractors:

Nineteen Musicians

I was given a very rare and precious treat yesterday, coincidentally, one day after my birthday. The Museum Ludwig in Cologne currently shows a collection of Gerhard Richter’s abstract paintings, about 40 of them, mostly very large ones. Now Gerhard Richter is a big fan of Steve Reich’s music, and because the museum also shows an exhibition about the sixties (beat poets, hippies, minimalism) that contains some Steve Reich material, they thought it would fit in well to book him for a concert.

So yesterday, Steve Reich actually showed up, and was accompanied by the Ensemble Modern.

Their first piece was the first section from Drumming, played by four people (yesterday, one of them was Steve Reich, of course wearing his black baseball cap which is probably permanently adhered to his head) on 8 tuned small drums. They were playing in the hallway of the Museum Ludwig which was crowded with Steve Reich fans (I don’t know if the museum has ever been so full of people), watching the show from everywhere on the same floor, from the floor above, and from the stairways. The performance was stunning, lots of rhythmically difficult phase shiftings, lots of energy, wonderful.


 
After this short piece we had half an hour to walk around in the museum, and of course, take a look at the huge Richter paintings. This one called “Atem” (Breath) was the one that I liked most. I have no idea how he does that, technically – the result of his layering and scraping is very three-dimensional but in a slightly unsettling way, my poor little mammal brain was not able to really understand what the eyes saw. I liked that 🙂

Then through a door in the basement into the wonderful Cologne Philharmonie which sits right next to the Museum Ludwig. The main act for this evening was none other than Music For Eighteen Musicians, a piece that is by far my favorite piece of music ever. In the early eighties (I think 1980, but I’m not sure), I saw the European premiere of this piece and I remember that it was almost a religious experience for me – and not only for me, but apparently for many people in the audience. I have never again experienced something like that – being lifted up by that pulsating rhythm, then going through a series of beautiful rhythmic/harmonic variations, and finally landing again. It stills brings tears to my eyes every time I remember the ending of the 1980 premiere – the audience was completely stunned after this trip, there was silence for almost 10 minutes … and then standing up and cheering for a long time … the presence of gratitude was overwhelming.


 
Yesterday’s performance was very close to that, it was almost perfect technically, good enough to transport the audience to that transcendental place, and back. For some reason I always think of this piece as a giant shimmering spaceship, not unlike the mothership from Close Encounters. It takes us slowly up, goes through these permutations, rotating and twinkling like a huge diamond, and then slowly getting down again after an hour. It is fuelled by the presence of the audience; the musicians are its engine – and they have to be totally present and totally committed to make this happen. This spaceship image was even more appropriate yesterday because the beautiful interior of the Philharmonie seems to have some similarity to the mothership.

What an evening, what a beautiful treat. This time, the silence after the piece lasted not 10 minutes, but only a few seconds – one person started to applaud, and the spell was broken and everyone started clapping and cheering. Maybe people are different today than they were 30 years ago, and also, the piece is a classic today, maybe the largest musical monument of the 20th century (for me it is), and many people know it and it is no longer so surprising.

While listening, I couldn’t help but noticing how my mind stayed in control most of the time, preventing me from being truly moved. Strange that so few music lovers talk about this, it is the most striking thing to me when listening to a concert like this (but maybe many people don’t have such a problem with their heads?) – how difficult it is to get beyond the mind and beyond thinking, analyzing, comparing, commenting, and to really listen with an open heart, and to be really moved. I found myself noticing this, and trying not to stay in the mind, and noticing that of course this doesn’t help.

Fortunately, at least for a while, my mind finally stopped yesterday, and as always when this happens, it happens completely on its own, completely beyond my control. Some sudden change in the music triggers something deep and before my mind can react, it is pushed aside, making room for being moved, being present and still. Then the tears flow, what a relief, I can finally be here without being encaged in my head. This is the “religious” aspect for me – that this powerful piece of music with its merciless beauty, when executed so well, can stop my head, opening the door to what is real.


 
Now why is this blog entry called “Nineteen Musicians”? because yesterday, there were 19 musicians playing “Music For 18 Musicians”. Beyond all the stuff that was going on in my head, it was simply wonderful and very interesting to see the musicians at work, to watch how they managed to play these multiple interlocking rhythms, how they exchanged their positions at the various instruments during the various parts of the piece. Seeing this made the structure of the composition much more transparent – I wish there was a DVD showing the making of, maybe looking at the ensemble from an above position. But I bought a DVD showing the Ensemble Modern playing Reich’s City Life – looking forward to that!

Steve Reich, photo credit: Jeffrey Herman

Un tissu de mensonges

Gray rainy Sundays are good for going to a museum. Sabine and Gisela wanted to go to a Tomi Ungerer exhibition that can currently be seen in the Max Ernst museum in Ernst’s town of birth, Brühl near Cologne. Ungerer’s work is fun but I hadn’t been to the Max Ernst museum before and decided that I was more interested in Ernst’s work.

The Max Ernst collection in Brühl contains most of the sculptures, many of the collage books, the wonderful annual birthday paintings he created for his wife Dorothea Tanning, and much more. What mesmerized me instantly was a huge 1959 painting called “Tissue Of Lies” that belongs to the Centre Pompidou and will soon be given back.


 
Yes, it had nice colors and shapes, and the size (2 x 3 meters) was impressive in the entry hall, but there was something special about that painting that touched my heart. Usually, paintings don’t touch me very much even if I like them a lot, but this one did – there was some kind of joy and awe without having any thoughts while looking at it. I remember having the same heart feeling two or three years ago standing before one particular Jackson Pollock (“Number 4, 1948: Gray and Red”) – the other Pollock paintings were nice too but only this one touched me in this way. I really have no idea why and what happens when I feel this, it is a feeling of its own. Strange.

After buying a Max Ernst book and getting coffee and cake, back to the car through light rain along the magnificent Brühl palace and ponds that had been frozen and were now unfreezing, displaying nice fractal cracks.



Paradise is a state of mind

Our latest technological household item is a DVD recorder, several years old and bought used from eBay last weekend. It will eventually replace our crappy VHS tape recorder, and one of the wonderful things it can do is digitize VHS tapes and back them up to DVD.

The first tape to digitize that I grabbed this morning happened to be a 35 minute video from 1982 by Albert Falzon, called “Excerpt from The Kumbha Mela – Same As It Ever Was”. Falzon (who got known many years ago for his surf movie “Crystal Voyager” with a Pink Floyd soundtrack) went to India in the early eighties to film various religious festivities, one of them being the famous Kumbha Mela, a Hindu festival and possibly the largest religious festival on Earth. This particular video shows part of his travel towards that place: on a boat across the waterways of Kashmir.

For an inhabitant of cold Europe like me, this magical landscape seems very close to paradise. Falzon’s movie is completely filmed in slow motion, and he often uses a fish-eye lens – and there is of course the soundtrack by Harold Budd and Brian Eno. There are no words and there is no action – there is only a lush jungle landscape slowly drifting by, light reflections on water, people moving in slow motion. This stuff seems to come directly from a dream, from a timeless place. (Somehow it adds to the dreaminess that everything is lo-fi and blurry in an oldfashioned kind of way.)

How strange to enter this state of mind, watching this movie, while knowing that Kashmir has been the center and subject of wars for a long time, and is still far from being peaceful on many levels.

If you like the state of mind induced by Budd’s “The Pearl” or Eno’s “On Land”, you will like this video. Someone has put it on Youtube in the meantime (see below). You can also get it used on VHS tape if you search for it. Apparently it was also rereleased on DVD under the title “Same as it ever was”, together with a movie about the Kumbha Mela festival.






Win-Win Situation

This morning, another company called me, wanting a Klaus Bürgle painting for the cover of their traffic/transportation magazine. This has been going on for a while now, once or twice a month, somebody wants to publish a Bürgle painting for a website, a CD, a newspaper article, a magazine. This makes me feel really good – I don’t earn anything with it but all of the money goes to the painter, Klaus Bürgle, aged 82 now. I know that he is not terribly rich, and that he is glad to get a little additional money on top of his little pension. It is good for him, good for me because I feel good about it, and good for the magazine and its readers too of course.

These Bürgle paintings were a part of my childhood in the early sixties. I was endlessly fascinated by these visions of a bright future in space, under the sea, in futuristic cities. I sort of forgot about these images but about two years ago, I started searching for them on Google, and was disappointed that there was almost nothing there. Very few people seemed to know him nowadays although he was somewhat popular in the fifties and sixties as an illustrator for books and magazines.

Eventually I found a collector in Berlin (Dr. Ralf Bülow) who had all the magazines with Bürgle images that I had loved in my childhood. I talked to him and suggested to set up a Bürgle website and he was enthusiastic about it. We contacted Bürgle and although he is not online, he gave us permission to create the website. A very nice and friendly man!

Bülow then actually sent me a big package with all his material, some of the images were even original paintings (most of the originals have disappeared, so there are only the magazine prints). I spent some days taking digital photos, scanning, photoshopping, and setting up the website – that was big fun.

The rest is history, as they say. The website took off at a breathtaking speed. There were articles in big magazines and on many websites. Retro-futurism is clearly en vogue! Today, if you google for Klaus Bürgle, the web is full of his images. I’m a little proud 🙂

www.retro-futurismus.de (German language website)