“Shamas stands in the open door and watches the earth, the magnet that it is, pulling snowflakes out of the sky towards itself.”
â€”Nadeem Aslam, Maps for Lost Lovers
“Shamas stands in the open door and watches the earth, the magnet that it is, pulling snowflakes out of the sky towards itself.”
â€”Nadeem Aslam, Maps for Lost Lovers
Disgrace is a relatively short book but it contains plenty to think about. Set in contemporary South Africa, it’s the story of David Lurie, an amorous 52-year-old university professor, who through an indiscretion with a student, succeeds in losing his position at the university. In order to escape the commotion in Cape Town following his resignation, he moves in with his daughter Lucy, whose lifestyle he does not exactly approve of, out in the country for a period of time. When his daughter is raped and robbed by three black men, he is confronted with both the difficult dynamics of his relationship with her as well as the simmering racial tensions and complexities in South Africa. His disapproval of the life Lucy has chosen for herself becomes a microcosm for the issue of race in South Africa and the differing levels of generational tollerance over what is occuring within the country. Throughout the book, the word ‘disgrace’ takes on several meaningsâ€”David Lurie’s actions that led to his losing his teaching position; Lucy’s feelings after being savagely raped; the racial climate in South Africa.
This is the first book by J. M. Coetzee I’ve read and what struck me immediately was the simplicity of Coetzee’s prose. It’s simple and yet it flows. I appreciate that Coetzee can tell an extremely compelling story in writing that is clear and straightforward.
Although Disgrace is not a cheerful novel, it does contain a little wry humor:
“[T]o me animal welfare people are a bit like Christians of a certain kind. Everyone is so cheerful and well-intentioned that after a while you itch to go off and do some raping and pillaging. Or to kick a cat.”
“All right, I’ll do it. But only as long as I don’t have to become a better person. I am not prepared to be reformed. I want to go on being myself.”
Although I don’t need to make travel arrangements to Boston for NZ’s triumphant return since I’ll already be in the vicinity, I do need to find a way back to Baltimore. In the past, flights to and from Boston have been outrageously priced, so I began by checking out the Amtrak site. $105 for a regional. Not bad, I thought. So just for kicks, I went to Expedia to see what a one-way plane ticket would cost. $92. Unbelievable. And there was more than one carrier offering that price! It’s a 7-hour train ride v. a 1-hour and 40-min flight. Even with the slightly lower cost and immensely lower travel time, I think I’m leaning towards the rails rather than the sky. A train ride just seems more convenientâ€”don’t need a ride to the airport (a T to South Station is much easier and quicker than a T to the airport), no fussing with long security lines, checking baggage, picking bags up at BWI (which always seems to take forever), and no need to find a ride from BWI to my flat in Bolton Hillâ€”and more romantic. I did a lot of train-riding last year and excpet for that one time, relished the time to myself and relaxation I felt while gliding smoothly across the rails. Even though I travel often, I still have an insatiable wanderlust and for whatever reason, a train ride seems to quench that thirst more than any other mode of transportation. Ok, train it is.
Immediately following the 37-day concert tour that I am currently in the midst of, Tim Feeney and I reunite to resurrect Non-Zero with two shows in Boston. On Sunday, November 12, we join the Boston Microtonal Society and the ensemble NotaRiotus for their debut concert at MIT’s Killian Hall, performing music by Bob Hasegawa. Then on Tuesday the 14th, we’ll head over to North Dartmouth to entertain the students at the University of Massachusetts – Dartmouth with a lecture/recital that will include music by Hillary Zipper, Curtis Hughes, and Mr. Hasegawa as well as some stuff with improvisation and electronics. A good time is certain to be had by all.
(Or: why Sacha Baron Cohen is a genius.) Sacha Baron Cohen is the chameleon-like British comedian best known for his HBO series Da Ali G Show. On the show, Cohen interviews unsuspecting people in the guise of three very unique, but equally maladroit, characters.
Ali G, the show’s namesake, is a wannabe gangsta/hip-hop journalist from the west-London “‘hood” of Staines. (The irony is that Staines is not exactly the ‘hood, but rather an upper-middleclass London suburb.) Ali G regularly interviews people who have held prominent positions in American politics and culture, including John McCain, Sam Donaldson, and Donald Trump, usually making them feel extremely awkward and leaving them extremely confused. At his core, the Ali G character is an idiot, who conducts his interviews under the premise that he is connected to youth culture and that he understands how to communicate with them. To that it extent, it is amazing how patient some of the interviewees are with SBC since by being interviewed they believe they are reaching a demographic that is largely beyond their reach.
BrÃ¼no is a flamboyantly gay reporter from Austrian television, whose topics include fashion, celebrities, entertainment, and homosexuality. The BrÃ¼no segments often leave you in a state of disbelief about 1) how apparently stupid and clueless his interviewees (often members of the fashion cognescenti) are, 2) how easily they are manipulated into agreeing with outrageous statements, like boarding all the unfashionable people of the world onto trains and shipping them off to camps, and 3) how quick some people are to change their opinions (sometimes prompted by BrÃ¼no, who informs them that their stance is not what his viewers will agree with; and sometimes purely out of their own airheadedness).
Borat Sagdiyev is an awkward and bumbling Kazakhstani journalist sent to report on American activities and culture to his home country. Unlike Ali G and BrÃ¼no, who mostly interview famed or influential members of society, Borat instead mingles with regular (and quite unsuspecting) American people. And unlike Ali G and BrÃ¼no, people generally embrace Borat because of his sincere desire to understand America. The humor with Borat comes from his sincerity. He often extolls his “cultural” beliefs, which arise out of racism and misogyny, putting his guests in awkward situations but at the same time putting them at ease, which in turn facilitates their voicing of their own prejudices and hypocrisies.
It’s hard to believe that the same person portrays all three characters. They are each so believable (and ridiculous) that it’s easy to take what Cohen is doing for granted. But SBC is a comedic virtuoso in full command of all his facets and well aware of what he is up to. Robert Siegel did an interview with him in 2004. (It’s interesting to hear Cohen in his own voice, which most closely resembles Ali G.) If people haven’t heard of SBC yet, they will soon. His new movie, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, opens on November 3.
(N.B. For those who have seen the show, I’ve actually been to the gym that Borat visits in South Beach in S1. I used to go there when I had performances with the New World Symphony.)
. . . and in with the new. It’s not that Typepad wasn’t doing it for me anymore or even that I was unsatisfied with their service, but with all the recent changes in my life I thought I’d give SLN a complete overhaul. This will actually be SLN’s
third fourth (or maybe three-and-a-halfth?) incarnation. I actually started the blog at the behest of Jerry Bowles, patriarch of the thriving new music website/community Sequenza21, who was at the time recruiting performer-bloggers for his (then) new venture. After a while I decided to branch off and start an unaffiliated blog so I could feel free to talk about cats and bikes and other non-new music-related things. That was the birth of SLN. The blue, gray, and white-colored blog reigned gloriously for well over a year before I gave it its first facelift, trading the blue/gray/white fullness for a minimal white blogscape with red accents.
SLN’s current even more minimal iteration comes from a WordPress theme that I tweaked to my liking. I’ve learned enough HTML and CSS over the years to make the actual layout and design aspects of creating a new blog pretty easyâ€”it took me no time at all to come up with the modifications I wanted. But after having a blog hosted somewhere else for nearly two years, the awful part is transferring all my old posts from Typepad to my own server. Not only that, but within my posts I’ve linked to other posts on SLN, which now requires me to make a note of those posts and then tediously re-link them. Oh, and all the images I hosted on Typepad . . .
At any rate, filling the archives has been slow going, especially on the since I’m currently on the road, where a reliable and fast wireless connection in the hotel is not always the norm. I live for the hotels with an ethernet interface. However, it is nice to have SLN on my own server for a change (perhaps foreshadowing a website redesign). Plus, it’ll be nice to not have to pay Typepad anymore. I’ll miss the TP version of SLN though. But as in life, it was time to move on. Among the changes I’ve instituted include an archive by category as well as chronologically. In addition, comments are now legal! Keep it clean. Suggestions are always welcomeâ€”let me know. Enjoy.
I decided to pick up this book because it’s supposed to be one of Pamuk’s best. One interesting feature of the novel is that the narrator changes each chapter, providing a shift in points of view and depictions of events similar to Rashomon, but different in that the narrative flows continuously rather than replaying itself over and over. And the book’s narrators include not just human characters, but also an illustration of a horse, a gold coin, and Death, to name a few. Among Pamuk’s themes are religion, matters of style and maintaining tradition v. adopting and synthesizing new modes of thinking. Although the book takes place in sixteenth-century Istanbul all of Pamuk’s themes are allegorical to modern times. The novel’s central conflict comes from a book that the Sultan has commissioned to be illuminated in the Frankish style, which is seen by many to be an afront to Islam. Ultimately, the attempts at imitating that style of painting are unsuccessul. I got the sense that the desire of the miniaturists to reject the “new” methods of painting and adhere strictly to the traditional style without variation arose out of a deep sense of prideâ€”pride which they couldn’t feel from their novice (because they hadn’t yet taken the time to master the new style) and failed attempts to imitate Frankish paintingâ€”revealing a great deal of insecurity with themselves. I wasn’t familiar with Pamuk or the part of the world or time period about which he writes, but I really enjoyed this book.
As you might have inferred from a previous post, I’m currently reading My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 Nobel Laureate in Literature. Among the many themes Pamuk deals with in the novel is the question of what constitutes “style.” The dictionary defines style as “the combination of distinctive features of literary or artistic expression, execution, or performance characterizing a particular person, group, school, or era.” Style is what distinguishes a particular artist, author, or musician as himselfâ€”their individuality, their “way,” their -isms.
How then is a style born and then perpetuated to the point where it is distinguished as a style? Here’s a quote from the novel in which Enishte Effendi, a master illuminator, explains to another how a new style of painting comes to be:
The birth of a new style is the result of years of disagreements, jealousies, rivalries and studies in color and painting. Generally, it’ll be the most gifted member of the workshop who fathers this form. Let’s also call him the most fortunate. To the rest of the miniaturists falls the singular duty of perfecting and refining this style through perpetual imitation.
A master imparts his teachings (and his style) to his pupils. And as a result, the master’s students pick up the master’s nuancesâ€”if not consciously trying to imitate them, then simply by being around a certain way of doing something for an extended period of time. As a saxophonist, I can usually tell who someone has studied with, or at the very least in which pedagogical line they’ve been trained, simply by their tone color, phrasing, articulation, and choice of repertoire. But what actually defines that master teacher’s style?
I’ve heard it said that what we hear (speaking in terms of music here) to be individuality and someone’s style are actually the little mistakes they make and their own peculiar manner of executing certain things, such as an articulation or a phrasing choice. And the way a student begins to sounds like the teacher is by imitating these subtle “mistakes.” (In the context of Pamuk’s novelâ€”illuminators and miniaturists in sixteenth-century Istanbulâ€”the only acceptable way to render an illustration is by reproducing as closely as possible the figures of the great masters from centuries ago. This is seen as the only acceptable style. Adding your own “signature” or synthesizing new or foreign ways of painting is viewed not only as a disgrace to your particular guild, but also an afront to Islam.) I don’t necessarily agree with the statement that an artist’s isms constitute subtle “mistakes.” It’s merely their particular way of executing a portion of their art. (Granted it might sound like mistakes to some.) And as far as synthesizing elements of different players into your own playing, I’ve written before that doing so is the beginning of the path to developing your own unique voice, which unlike in sixteenth-century Istanbul is something I’m told is desirable for artists these days.
The subtitle to this post could be any of the following: life update, settling in to a new groove, where I’ve been (not that I’m going to make any excuses). Needless to say, I’ve been uncharacteristically absent from the blogosphere for the past few months despite some sporadic attempts to appease my inner author. Things have changed a bit for me recentlyâ€”and indeed rather quickly. Here’s a summary for the interested to get you up to speed.
First, I’m no longer teaching at the University of Arizona. (Although I suspect that’s become common knowledge at this point.) Although I was a finalist for the position at the UA, the school ultimately decided to go in a different direction, which to be honest, left me somewhat surprised and more than a little saddened. I accomplished a great deal during my year at the UA and put an immense amount of work into the current class as well as recruiting for the following year. I’m proud of what I did for the UA saxophone studioâ€”I only wish I could have seen my vision for the class to fruition. I loved my students there and miss working with them. That was the first big disappointment of my summer. (As you’ve probably inferred from the previous sentence, I experienced more than one big disappointment this summer. You would be right. There were two. However, the second doesn’t fit into the narrative here.)
In addition to leaving me despondent, changes at the UA also left me unemployed. Since the powers that be made their decision to move on rather lateâ€”it was nearly June by the time I found out conclusivelyâ€”I was forced into a rather precarious position. Although I had a lead on a position elsewhere (more on that below) it wasn’t a job that would sustain me comfortably by itself. After weighing my options, which did indeed include toying (somewhat seriously) with the idea of becoming a bicycle messenger, I decided during my memorable trip to Korea that I’d rejoin The U.S. Army Field Band, the group that I’d performed with from 1999-2002.
Going back to the band was more or less an easy decision to make. Although I enjoyed teaching at the UA, Tucson was not really my style. Aside from the university and my wonderful students, there wasn’t much for me there aside from the sensational cycling community. Being from the east coast and having lived in metropolitan areas before, I longed for the plentiful arts and culture options that I’d grown accustomed to back east. I’m inspired by the energy contained within big cities and despite its natural beauty, the desert never invigorated me as much as the concrete jungle. By returning to the band 1) I play my saxophone for a living, 2) I’m much closer to home, 3) I have lots of free time for a) performing and b) other interests, 4) I live in an exciting city within striking distance of NYC, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, and Boston. In addition, I am now serving on the faculty of the University of Maryland Baltimore County (a.k.a. UMBC).
Aside from a few compromises, things are decent. I’m on the road now and enjoying the fall colours in Pennsylvania and western Maryland (yet another thing I missed sorely out in the desert).
“The larger and more colorful a city is, the more places there are to hide one’s guilt and sin; the more crowded it is, the more people there are to hide behind. A city’s intellect ought to be measured not by its scholars, libraries, miniaturists, calligraphers and schools, but by the number of crimes insidiously committed on its dark streets over thousands of years.”
– Orhan Pamuk, My Name Is Red