SecreT(uring)ly

Georg, with whom I worked on co-writing The Station, asked me if I’d like to do another piece of co-writing with him, this time an opera libretto. I said yes (duh!). Last Friday, we had a three-way chat with Henry Vega, the composer, about Alan Turing, neural networks, science fiction, queer stuff, and all, for a sharp hour (Georg’s good like that with his one-hour meetings).

Today I spent a couple of hours (after some dipping of toes last night) in installing TensorFlow-Char-RNN, a “a character level language model using multilayer Recurrent Neural Network,” as made wildly lovable by Janelle Shane of Letting neural networks be weird. That involved installing TensorFlow. I went for the direct MacOS approach (after toying with either a Vagrant VM or Docker container) of the Virtualenv flavour. Plus Python 3. And pip. Dependencies. We have them.

A bit of faffing around, and out is spat a ‘Shakespeare’:

t ‘vkdwsa avf
neu irot rS
, mvuaeea giCsouo aed renat rs
;iiweszteseooiiWhe thrr l st !htt :hsre

I mean, I was expecting a single, long ‘aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’, so this was progress.

More faffing, fans to 6000rpm, CPU to 500%, and some short while later, ‘Shakespeare’!

Before we proceed any further,
Or each doth now foul branch with thy preser’d up
Young to devise me him;
But in my jewities rebeeve me to this,
Your soul than daggers and breeding
some abrother Arms
What will be pronound with a husband; he’s beauty much or a slaughter,
But I’ll wring my false find than how ill.

Nailed it.

Video

temperance 16mm film

With all the adding of video and making newness on francesdath.info, I started looking at the footage of temperance again. It’s been years since then, reading my blogging on the project is a curious reminder of that time, and the process of forgetting, the certitude of thinking one remembers.

I decided then, to do some rough cutting of the film, beautiful 16mm stock that had been sitting in a fridge for decades, wondering if I could work around the limitations of some of my decisions in the filming. A good deal had already been done. Paul had synced the cameras and also done a first cut – though what I have done, while retaining some of this, is far from it, and also conditional, preliminary.

A thought early on, a week or so ago, was what to do about music. For the rehearsals, we’d been using a track from the Boredoms, which fitted well the mood of the rehearsal as well as of that time. It didn’t fit now, or rather it did but didn’t say or add anything I particularly cared about.

In addition to the film, there was also all of Bart’s sound recordings, including boom from the floor – also all synced. I wanted to leave this in place, as the sound of feet, breathing, scraping, knocking the floor, the hum of the cameras, was all things I felt belonged.

So to music. I thought perhaps something Cello or otherwise, but then was listening to Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations and one track, the 15th, somehow suited. Perhaps it is a bit long, perhaps one that was four minutes would have been better, but strangely the rhythm of Bonnie and Gala matches that of the piano.

This then, is a first cut. I am really not a film editor, though I can stumble and thrash my way through Final Cut enough. I decided to stop here as the only real option is to spend weeks on familiarising myself with all the footage, and carefully assembling it, for which I don’t have the luxury of such time, nor do I think I am capable; and I also know if I don’t at least call something ‘finished’ now, it will remain in the darkness of my hard drive forever.

There are a couple of edits I’m a bit cringy about, where the continuity is very off, and other places where more tightening and timetimetime would make me smile more, but there is also much in here I like. The dancing and attentiveness of Bonnie and Gala, the camerawork of Paul, the sound of Bart, the Temperance Hall, those two weeks when we made this.

You can also watch temperance on francesdath.info/video

Daniel Jaber in Kuala Lumpur

Daniel has been on an AsiaLink Performing Arts Residency in Malaysia for the last some months. Snakes? Yes! He has a double bill this weekend, of WG-Spiel (which I love) and Poetic Structure (which is new, I think). I had a strange idea he was also performing degradation, which would have been hilarious, though he probably would be put on the next plane out of the country…

Anyway, probably worth flying there if flying wasn’t so rotten for the world. (I’ll stay in Berlin and pretend I’m there, eating noodles from a street stall in the warm rain…)

WG-Spiel
&
Poetic Structure

a double bill of new works by Daniel Jaber

Where:The Fonteyn Studio Theatre, Level 5, Wisma FAB, 1-3 Jalan 14/22, 46200 Petaling Jaya KUALA LUMPUR
When:Friday 19 & Saturday 20 November @ 7:30pm

Tickets:RM 15 available at the door OR contact Bilqis bilqis@rimbundahan.org

WG Spiel is a ferociously physical dance work from award-winning Australian choreographer Daniel Jaber. The work examines the lives and living habits of 3 housemates as they coexist in close living quarters. Set to a vibrant and energetic electronic soundtrack, the work charges forth through images and choreographic scenarios regarding domestic duties, working life and relationships.

Poetic structure redefines traditional choreography in the context of a modern world. Cyberspace, chartrooms and MSN form the communicative dialogues of the performers as they engage in wickedly abstract choreography created by CSS and HTML coding formulas. Commenting on communication, technology and digital engulfment – Poetic Structure is a sophisticatedly structured short dance work featuring 4 outstanding Malay dancers and created by Daniel Jaber.

Made possible through an Asialink Performing Arts Residency and supported by the Government of South Australia through Arts SA, the Australian Government through the Australia – Malaysia Institute, Rimbun Dahan, Carclew Youth Arts.

einstürzende neubauten 30

Between U- and S-Bahn returning home, Dy said, “Why don’t you write about this? After all, it’s a performance and you write about performances.” I replied, somewhat evasively, “errr…”, something about it not really being my field of knowledge, and also blogging is a particular, spontaneous occurrence, and when I’m reviewing, I’m thinking during the performance what I’ll write. So finding the thought shoved in and having 45 minutes to kill, here is something of a review.

Not in any particular order.

It occurred to me now, Einstürzende Neubauten are one of very few groups from my teens that haven’t disappointed me when I’ve seen them years later. Perhaps because they’re not doing reunion tours for the money (though the merchandise sales of the first night of their 30th anniversary tour at Columbiadamm probably paid for half the tour), nor for some asinine ‘love of the music and performing’ vapidity which is either dissembling on the first or an excuse for moronic 12-bar riffing that tries to capture what worked for earlier ‘hits’. Not an exersise in sentimental nostalgia in other words.

The 16 year old punk-goth wannabe Psychik (Temple of ~ Youth) TV-erin would have slid over in uncontrollable rapture; I was thinking, “I’m in Berlin! … At Einstürzende Neubauten!! … With an after-party pass!!!” Had it been when I was 16, I suppose the party would have been slightly less sedentary, home-before-babysitter-charges-for-overtime, but I think much of the audience was experiencing bewilderment at how they came to be almost middle-aged anyway, and how Neubauten went from punk holocaust at the forefront of industrial music to avante-garde chamber orchestra sextet.

I wasn’t quite convinced by the first piece, only three on stage in dark suits, Blixa singing, “You will find me if you want me in the garden … unless it’s pouring down with rain”, looking much like a Vegas crooner, tumbler of something strong and neat in his right hand, (Dy said his glasses) and wow, didn’t he used to be skinny bones in a heroin habit kinda way?, Alexander Hacke in white singlet (the only not in a suit), tattoos and handlebar mustache, possibly Lemmy and Peter Hooke’s lovechild … and then …

Uh! Brilliant! Moments of fucking brilliance. I should have been up the front having my eardrums savaged. I’ve never seen such a carefully orchestrated performance from a group that nominally falls under the experimental music genus outside of classical. So well-rehearsed, and not in a ‘tight’ sense of technical accuracy, though there was that also; rather the sense of timing and coherence present as a sextet is something I’m more used to seeing in chamber music.

Blixa, not so much band leader as principal of the group and all so clearly paying attention to each other even in moments of catastrophic noise; an unconscious familiarity that comes from being together for so long. The control also – this is perhaps what the rawness of thirty years ago was exchanged for: a depth, sophistication and subtlety; understanding the effectiveness of an explosive staccato bar amidst tense restraint. Music that breathes.

The last record I remember having I think was the one with the horse pissing. In the meantime, Blixa (and others) got married and had a child, whom Dy tells me he sings about. Yes, Neubauten on the joys of parenthood. I kept thinking back to the video I saw of them, somehow it made its way from the north to New Zealand, me not really understanding what they were or what Berlin was, them with a Butoh group DaiRakudokan, Halber Mench, … one of my proto-influences in how I thought of making art and performance, and now, unlike most groups they haven’t gone too far into making ‘songs’ with recognisable verse-chorus-bridge structure, melody shortcut to boredom – for that alone, that their attention has stayed so close to what they were doing thirty years ago… I wonder also about seeing Throbbing Gristle, that other monster from my youth, that wave of industrial music which pushed the idea of avante-garde contemporary music so far and which for me is the descendant of Musique Concrète, Ligeti, Stockhausen and the other classical troublemakers.

The lighting – on a different thing now – was beautiful. A flat backdrop tinged with muted secondary and tertiary tones, winter light where the intensity of colour comes from the near-empty palette – how saturated in hue icefields can be be … and cut by stark, hard white spots, shafting across the stage to draw focus, and at times … a half-cut drum full of shining blunt metal tubes. The attention brought to it by removing the light, the backdrop darkly bare until in its absence focus could only accrue there. Then lit by a single source as the metal fell like snow, like hail.

Maybe in the third or fourth piece, a noise, so out of place, cutting through, snagging and tearing as it ascended, losing the ragged mess it dragged until becoming a sharp, hard scream. Blixa. I can’t convey its unhumanness, it should be something that strips flesh and it gives me goosebumps to remember. Like Diamanda Galas and her voice, I think if anything Blixa has gone far beyond what he had thirty years ago.

In their entirety I thought this also. While somewhat subdued – or maybe it’s just a memory of the suffering loudness of so many industrial shams who confused volume with composition, I’ve falsely attached to Neubauten – it’s obvious they’re not simply uncritically trawling through their old stuff. Met with their own artistic growth is that of the technology they’re working with … ah moments of utter, overpowering awe … sublime, intoxicating percussion (and synchronised dancing) … I thought, “If only dance could be this good”.

(I’m not sure if it’s just I’ve ruined my ears, or being far up the back, but the left side sounded a touch murky at times, particularly when the bass melody fell into the same rhythm as the bass percussion, it became difficult to separate the two. But that if it was really there and other mixing issues will probably have been sorted out by the second show.)

Anyway … Disobey Disobey Disobey It’s the Law (I heard ‘Break the Law”, Dy heard, ‘Discipline’.)

the world is a poorer place

Sometimes I feel as if everyone who made the world brilliant, whose lives and works simply took humanity to new places is slipping away, and we are only left with the detritus, the shadows and the gutter. Gyorgy Ligeti died on Monday this week.

As a man who grew up in Hungary under German and Soviet tyrannies, when home was exactly where you did not want to be, who moved to Western Europe after the Russians extinguished Hungarian independence, and who had been footloose ever since, Mr. Ligeti had no simple notion of where he belonged, and this feeling informed his work.

One movement in his Trio for Violin, Horn and Piano from 1982, for example, is composed, as he put it, of “an imaginary, synthetic folklore of Latin-American and Balkan elements”; another recalls “the Gypsy music which affected me so strongly as a child.”

What, Mr. Ligeti asked himself, is being expressed here: “Nostalgia for a homeland that no longer exists?” And there he put his finger on something: home is not just a place, but also a time.

— New York Times

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