Archive for February, 2010

fameMonsterWhen I first heard the name “Lady Gaga” I was both intrigued and amused. This choice of moniker reminded me of the punk days, when performers called themselves Vicious or Rotten…but to choose a name associated with elderly despondence is a sign of a certain sense of humor, which I found consistently in every aspect of her work. The lyrics contain gibberish phrases that even include the word gaga. The wigs, costumes and artifacts are extreme, and so are the storyboards of the videos, from soap-opera to rap. The young woman is obviously very intelligent as she  somehow manages to express certain interesting perceptions and feelings about people and society in her songs despite the commercialism of the package.  What I noticed is that, beyond the glitter and Vegas-ness of the performance, Lady Gaga somehow escapes vulgarity by keeping her gestures precise, never lascivious. She is perfect for the smart generation who shows us how to text on the cell and other technology tricks. Her message is purposely universal with a wide appeal to dance, rock and rap crowds of all ilks, persuasions and sexual preferences. Also she appears somehow twice removed from her own stage persona, possibly by the multiplicity of her characters.

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We are living in strange times. I am contemplating the absurdity of a situation in which a nonprofit was denied funding not because of the project’s artistic merit (which was acknowledged) but because there were not enough people in attendance at the event (even though it was free of charge) and because the venue was “hard to find”.

Well, that’s food for thought. In face of the shrinking of the downtown scene, alternative spaces have to be found out of the rabbit’s ear so to speak, and venues that come without a rental fee are precious these days, although they may not offer the best facilities. It is currently very difficult to get people to go out – a lot of my friends have stopped going to events because even if the event itself is free, they hesitate to spend the subway fare or taxi. We are living through tough times. And god forbid it should be a rainy night then  no one will show. So the event is judged on the same criteria as a commercial event – how many people were there determines its success, not the piece that was presented -  and in that particular case the high-tech interactive screens and computer/camera setup took hours (the artists were up on ladders with hammers and nails with no tech help whatsoever), it is rather unrewarding for such painstaking work.

To reflect that these particular funders are unwilling to leverage the merit of the program versus the lack of attendance of one event out of a series leads to a vicious conundrum: not enough funding to properly market the event, not enough staff to coordinate outreach efforts which actually are very time-consuming and difficult to organize especially in terms of schedules, therefore no more funding for future programs, and get to the level at which funders will consider your efforts. This is enough to discourage any grass-root efforts to try and present culture in local neighborhoods, and certainly does not acknowledge good will – it’s a business, the art business, and maybe too much of a business at times for real artists who are more concerned with the work that they are producing than its ever-consuming promotion.

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pnoworks10
Usually after I finish a large-scale project such as The Two-Cents Opera, I find myself somewhat forlorn. After developing a piece for two or three years when it is done, there is almost a sense of loss. This has to do with the nature of musical activities – music is written and performed and gone… fortunately we have recordings, but there is nothing like a live performance and the excitement of being on stage with ten other people is really hard to match.

So I find myself lonely at the piano.The blues which was my first foray into songwriting, and I happened to notice how much the blues is in a way similar to the tango. There is an inherent melancholy of being in tango music, but it is offset by the dance rhythm and the ultimate rubato of the performance. Someone said about tango music that it is “a sad thought that is being danced.”

So I have been writing some tangos… and they may be a little bit French in some ways, as I recall the songs from my childhood – Edith Piaf, Juliette Greco, with actually good words by poets like Prevert and Boris Vian. My first tango was written in the 70s at the request of an artist friend, Robert Malaval, while in Paris. This predated my conversion to classical music.

A version of this tango (with a vocal in French) is on the new release from Unseen Worlds, Piano Works Revisited. Unseen Worlds carefully compiled recordings from Piano Works (Cat Collectors, 1983) and Concerto for Piano and Orchestral Memory (Cat Collectors, 1984, featuring performances by Peter Zummo and Arthur Russell), and also took the trouble to rescue a special live version of Sonate Modale in Toronto at the Music Gallery (1985), which has never been released. This release also includes my own performance of Variations on the Orange Cycle.

I have an on-off love affair with the piano. I am more often immersed in the synthesizers – hard or soft, physical or virtual – as they really draw me in, but once in a while I just have to return to the piano. It has become difficult to find a decent piano to play out downtown. Often they are not maintained and out of tune, or missing altogether from the performing space. For years I was keen on using alternative tunings such as Vallotti Young or Werckmeister III and I do prefer their more natural harmonies, but at this point I would be content to play a piano in standard tuning as long as it actually works! I had to sacrifice my grand piano as I moved to a smaller apartment… those are the times. And the one I have now – a German Neindorf from the 1920s – is nearly falling apart and I feel a great sadness as the snow falls continually.

I will perform tangos soon…
At a Haiti Benefit on March 12, 8PM – Public Assembly, Brooklyn
At Lafayette Bar and Grill on March 27, 54 Franklin St, 8PM
For details go to: http://www.lesperformingarts.org

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