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.
Tuesday. The delightful Ms. V. is once more in Berlin, this time without the other of the previous visit’s VNS Matrix duo. Three days only. Of those, only two full, and of those, only one not spent talking breakfast ’til past the witching hour. What to do then, on the one day when things can be done? Go lake wandering in Brandenburg? How about museums? Museuminsel! Virginia has never been there, and there is an exhibition I’ve decided I need to see. Better yet, a day card for all the museums on the island, and we can gorge ourselves on art.
The exhibition is split into twelve greater and lesser sections, each one filling one of the large halls or the smaller chambers which horseshoe around the central atrium: Bathing, Diversions (dancing, opera, theatre, cabaret…), Behind Closed Doors (portraits of private life), Artists (self-portraits and portraits of each other), Art Mediators (collectors, critics, dealers…), Animals, Still Lifes, Out of Doors, Country Homes, City, Premonitions of War, and where we ended, Relationships (they all sound less stiff in German). Many of the works I recognise from my previous visit—some even remaining where they usually hang, and the room’s theme built around them; others come from the museum’s archives; others from private collections, public and private galleries across Germany—Dresden, Düsseldorf, München … of course also Brücke-Museum in Berlin—from Paris, Brussels, London, New York, Madrid, Amsterdam … a surprising amount though from Berlin and the various galleries and institutions in the city. It’s massive, comprehensive, overwhelming in that way the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin excels at.
Context? I’m not so sure. I didn’t use the audio guide, which a) cost an extra four euros and b) I didn’t feel like going that deeply into something with such a narrow timeframe. I do know the audio from my previous visits, and for some works it is comprehensive—for this exhibition with the audio, it would take a minimum of four hours to get through. Many of the works I photographed didn’t have an audio accompaniment, and I don’t think I was especially favouring the odd or lesser works, in fact I photographed over half (not all of those are below), as well, the catalogue is in German, so I’ll put it out there that the SMB tripped itself up once again when it comes to context.
I—we: myself, Virginia, and Sarah-Jane–arrive in the Bathing room. Immediate conflict between the bourgeois Impressionism and the Punk’s Not Dead Expressionism. I appreciate the former, it’s all very nice and pretty and earnest, but it’s far more of a fantasy land than the brawling lascivious colour and porn of the latter. Impressionism is the art of colonial, racist, imperial Europe about to go to war and already busy with genocide. Expressionism exists in that world, yet it’s against everything Impressionism represents, even if it can’t articulate that without falling into the racist and misogynist language of the former. It’s telling that all the people of colour, all the queers, all the revolutionary politics happens in Expressionism (occasionally in Post-Impressionism). It’s a middle finger, and one that’s going to get stomped on.
Emil Nolde’s Papua-Jünglinge, three Papua kids sprawling on a beach before an emerald ocean. It’s almost ugly caricature, yet next to Max Pechstein’s Sitzendes Mädchen (Moritzburg) and Paul Gauguin’s Tahitianische Fischerinnen it looks far more believable and honest than the vapid Renoir.
Into the dance hall. First a bunch of works on paper from the Kupferstichkabinett. Ballet dancers, cabaret girls, really famous works like Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s Der Loge mit der Goldmaske and Die sitzende Clownesse, Mademoiselle Cha-U-Kao, aus der Mappe Elles, or Edgar Degas’s Mademoiselle Bécat im Café des Ambassadeur. There’s also Lautrec’s Der Tanz im Moulin Rouge, which I looked at, looked at again, yes, it’s exactly that, two older women dancing and they are definitely in love. I would steal that.
On to the paintings, Emil Nolde’s Tanz II is a raw, harsh riot of colour and vicious brushwork shoved hard onto canvas. It’s glorious and I wish contemporary dance could be half as fucking useful and alive as this. Nearby is Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s Zwei Tänzerinnen, Kirchner who I saw over and over and adore, and this one just reminds me of Dasniya, all glaring yellow tutus and serious bedlam. And beside that … yup, the one I nearly cried over, Edgar Degas’ Tänzerinnen im Probensaal, which I gave it’s own post—and forgot to mention Degas is a nasty anti-semite.
Then there’s Auguste Chabaud’s explosive French Cancan, Georg Tappert’s Kreolin, which you can’t miss because it’s the first thing you see when you enter, and it’s huge and loud. On to portraits and still lifes like the beautiful Die Frau des Künstlers by August Macke, and Paul Cézanne’s Stillleben mit Blumen und Früchten—this time properly lit and placed so it wasn’t a glaring hell of glassy reflection, and was right beside Alex von Jawlensky’s Stillleben mit Blumen und Früchten, which is basically the same work on a week of LSD.
Kirchner returns with Gründe Dame im Gartencafé, then Nollendorfplatz followed by Potsdamer Platz, all highly political and scornful of monied Berlin social life, he’s more or less the Chris Morris of Expressionism. Kirchner also finished the exhibition (for me, as usual I wandered improperly) with what he passes off as Skizzierender Künstler mit zwei Frauen; Künstlergruppe, but is in fact a mid-way drawing pause during a romp with two naked babes. His work was labelled “degenerate” by the Nazis, and hundreds of pieces destroyed before he committed suicide, survived by his wife Erna, who is probably one of the two woman.
A few of the works are not to be photographed. The museum assistants are usually strict in enforcing this, yet inadvertently I photographed all but one, even taking closeups of Kirchner’s Künstlergruppe while an assistant was standing right beside. Something about both of us not paying attention. One work I was diligent in casing was Claude Monet’s Charing Cross Bridge, 1899 which no photograph can even approximate. It’s like a portal out of this universe. It hangs on the wall looking altogether alien, present but not belonging. I’m not a fan of Monet, it’s a whole lot of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons at the eyes, but this one, to see it here, ok, I get it, I get this. He makes everyone, Impressionist, Post- or otherwise, Expressionist, Die Brücke, the Fauvists, all of them look like tiny, insular variations on a single argument, and Charing Cross Bridge lands in the middle, a total Outside Context Problem. The image below, any image isn’t going to convince anyone of this, only this, hanging inappropriately like it’s pulled its pants down and is flashing the other works in this exhibition will do that. I still don’t really like it, just can’t deny it’s fucking uncanny.
What else? A few works by women, Maria Slavona’s Häuser am Montmartre, Marie Braquemond’s Die Teestunde are two that made it below. It’s mad popular, 100 000 visitors so far. It needs a proper half-day with audio guide, and supplies air-dropped. Probably going again (anyway, I have the Neues Museum to see also, and it’s right next door.)
From the airy natural light of the Oldmasters Museum, it was along, down, around, down some more, turn some corners, past some more art, ricochet off the gates of the Chagall exhibition, more stairs. Sort of how the Gründerzeit of the Zeughaus unfolds into the 21st century of I. M. Pei’s Deutsches Historisches Museum extension. Or something like Daniel Liebeskind’s Jüdisches Museum Berlin. Lots of angles. Kinda dim also. Dim with blobs of light. Or occasionally shards of natural light, in whose line delicate paintings were placed rendering them unviewable from the usual position art is viewed from.
Yes, I’m on my regular hate paragraph about shithouse lighting in museums. I actually noticed it when Medieval POC reblogged one of the works from Oldmasters Museum and I was horrified at how shoddy it looked, especially as I’d spent a disproportionate amount of time trying to unshoddify it. The orb of blue glare was strong in the upper parts of too many works in Brussels. But Henri Evenepoel’s De annkondiging van het negerfest te Blida which suffered from the ridiculous, “Let’s place a work that’s generally quite muted and dark, with figures who have dark skin, where all the details are in variations of dark tones, let’s place this work, covered with a pane of glass, in the one place on the entire floor where direct, natural exterior light will bounce off it and into the viewer’s eyes.” Did no one stop to think, “Nah, crap idea”? Obviously not. I photographed it from around a 45º angle to the left, underexposed it hugely, and photoshopped the crap out of it.
Ooievaars by Louis Dubois was also in a dim, obscure location. I guess it looked something like this. It was one of my favourites, brooding, eerie, entirely untrustworthy. I don’t think anyone meeting a gang of fowl like that would come out the other side of the swamp intact.
There were a lot—in fact probably one of the two main themes in the museum—of paintings of poverty, poor migrant workers, farmers, exhausted labourers at work or stumbling to and from the factories, single women working alone in ill-lit rooms. Léon Frederic’s triptych De krijtverkopers was one of the strongest, muted colours, lack of contrast, general hopelessness, the expression of the girl in the centre of the middle panel looking out directly at the viewer is incalculably grim.
The other main theme: women alone in similar situations, or in ateliers, or straight portraits. Maybe it was where my attention went. James Ensor’s Een coloriste, Portret van Marguerite Khnopff by Fernand Knopff, Henri Fantin-Latour’s De tekenles in het atelier. If anything marked fin-de-siècle art besides mysticism and romanticism, it’s this acutely political work.
Speaking of mysticism, Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones’ De bruidsstoet van Psyche struck me as the endgame of whiteness in European art. Go back through the museum and there’s works of orientalism in various forms; go back through the history of art and people who aren’t excruciatingly white are regular occurrences. This Pre-Raphaelite piece though pushes skin colour to a particular, uniform monotony (something I do see in the movement’s inspiration, Italian Quattrocento). They’re all exactly the same light tone, all also besides their hair colour have identical faces. I wanted to include it here because it spoke to me so clearly of this complete erasure, and the European fantasy of the pure white woman.
Just after, an utter treat for me: a whole corridor devoted to opera in Brussels, starting with and dominated by Wagner and Parsifal. The staging from Act II, Klingsor’s enchanted castle where the Flowermaidens attempt to seduce Parsifal, where Kundry emerges to face him. This scenography for the Belgian Première, all hot reds, oranges, yellows, looks completely modern, also for the empty blackness of the door, almost a signifier of Amfortas’ wound. Next to this, a commemorative book with Wagner’s profile on the frontispiece. Then the restaurant menu, Parsifal mounted on a horse, Klingsor’s cloud-wrapped castle hanging in the distance. And two large bronze coins, one with the Holy Grail, the other with the dancing Flowermaidens. On the wall behind all this, posters for the premiere, and for other Wagner operas staged in La Monnaie De Munt.
Three other paintings: Théo Van Rysselberghe’s Arabische fantasia. Dumb name for awesome painting. The right half mostly empty sand, a man with a long rifle riding a chestnut horse with white facial blaze. He’s in orange robes and light yellow turban, pulling the horse in, his rifle smoking, mouth open, eyes looking left and down. Behind him a mounted quintet in white all brandishing similar rifles. The thin border on the right is populated with a standing crowd of which two boys stand out. The triangle on the left is full with riders watching the scene, on horses with vermillion harnesses. One in white leans back, his bare arm supporting his weight on his horse’s grey back. Behind him, another rider in grey-blue robes looks out into the viewer’s eyes. Behind all, a white walled city blocks the horizon in a low line, above that, intense blue sky. The painting is from the artist’s second trip to Morocco in 1883/4. All the riders and audience are North African, arabic, muslim.
Then two by Henri Evenepoel, De annkondiging van het negerfest te Blida (the horribly lit one), and next to it, Sinaasappelmarkt te Blida, both from the artist’s time in Algeria in 1898.They’re substantially different to Arabische fantasia, brushwork less detailed, blocks of moving colour Fauvist rather than realism and light of Rysselberghe. Thematically also they’re more intimate, smaller, a corner in a market alley, the market itself, but mostly obscured by the figures in the foreground.
Completely opposite this these three works are three by Guillaume Vogels, all dour, grey, winter Belgium realism, skeletal, leafless trees, snow, light only through clouds and low on the horizon, everything a formless, inexact mash. I loved these also, as unique as the harsh light and colour of North Africa.
Lastly, Xavier Mellery’s La danse. I’m not sure what to make of it, it’s kinda ugly, the solid gold background, the female dancers somewhere between dark-skinned and in shadow, but not quite either, moving and jumping yet not quite either, for such a scene of movement it’s annoyingly concrete and unmoving.
And 293 images later (plus another score with Hans and in the theatre) that’s the end of four museums on a weekend in Brussels.
Last time I was performing in Parsifal, Laurence Dreyfus’ Wagner and the Erotic Impulse had just been published and was my and Dasniya’s reading during the rehearsals and performance. This time around in Bologna, I’d hoped to bring along William Kinderman’s Wagner’s Parsifal, part of Oxford University Press’ series Studies in Musical Genesis, Structure, and Interpretation. I waited, hoping it would arrive before our flight. It didn’t. So it was one of the stack of books I collected on my return (and for my profligacy have now banned myself from St George’s until at least April 2nd). I began reading it while ploughing through Dayal Patterson’s Black Metal, and got seriously stuck into it earlier in the week.
Much work (of which I also have to write) has kept me from blog, and I’m not going to write a massive exegesis on this, nonetheless, it’s a seriously well-written and researched work (aside from saying on p91 that the Flower Maidens are singing “Komm! holder Knabe!” in Act 1; that’d be Act 2, just before we begin to seriously plot our Act 3 pizza), which I would appreciate more if I remembered how to read music, knew my intervals, and all the rest.
Kinderman writes at length on Kundry, partly because Wagner himself did, and partly because as much as the work follows Parsifal, it also follows her. He writes that certain parts of her character and what happen to her can be seen as a crypto-anti-semiticism, or shaping her as either Jewish herself or a stand-in for Jewishness as it was represented in the late-19th century. I’d planned to write something on Kundry during Parsifal; it’s not going to happen, but perhaps to say, I was following a reading trail across various blogs, and came to Black Knights, Green Knights, Knights of Color All A-Round: Race and the Round Table, which is well-worth reading, not the least for a summary of how Mediaeval European and Arthurian knights were far from the white, Aryan nationalism they were pressed into service for by the time of Wagner.
This morning I was reading once more about Stephen Hawking’s misinterpreted statement on the existence of black holes, which led to a blog I’d not read before. My great loss. I’ve since spent several hours catching up, and Backreaction is definitely my new favourite blog for all things physics, astro~, quantum~ or otherwise. And philosophy!
The higher the density, the slower the speed of light. At half the critical density, the speed of light reaches zero – this means points become causally disconnected. But things become even more interesting when the density becomes larger than half the critical density and increases towards the critical density. In this range the speed of light becomes an imaginary number and its square becomes negative. This means that time stops existing and turns into space. Physicists say space-time becomes Euclidean.
“… time stops existing and turns into space.”
Parsifal: Ich schreite kaum, – doch wähn’ ich mich schon weit.
I barely step, – yet believe myself come far.
Gurnemanz: Du siehst, mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit.
You see, my son, time here becomes space.
A matinee is a strange performance to finish a season on.
I thought to take some photos of the theatre, Teatro Comunale di Bologna, where we’ve been the last month; particularly the piazza where the theatre is placed on the north-west-ish side. Saturday, following the wet greyness of Friday was oppositely calm, warm, and a vault of blue. The theatre looked spectacular.
There was another photo I wanted. The first time taking the elevator to the Salle Ballo, thinking it was high up and therefore on the top floor, I ended up in the roof space above the grid, with a small window looking out across the city, through the towers to Santuario della Madonna di San Luca, a view scarcely bettered by any other high point in the city, and one only for those fortunate enough to be lost in the theatre.
We warmed up for the last time, Bonnie, Dasniya, Pericles, and I, pinning on wigs, slathering white body paint, tying up ropes, and then, once again, it was finished.
One final evening in that beautiful city, and today fleeing across the directions of the compass: Bonnie southwards, Pericles east, and Dasniya and I splitting the difference between North, her to Zürich and me to Berlin.
There was no applause after Act 1, so we didn’t have our aural cue over the backstage speakers to begin our final preparations. At the end of Act 2, the only sound was the rumble and grind of machinery and single voices of the tech crew. No applause. It was Valentina, the stage manager who said it was because the conductor Roberto Abbado, had asked there be no applause until the end in respect of his uncle, the conductor Claudio Abbado, who died the previous day.
This morning I read his obituary in Deutsche Welle. He is quoted, “Many people learn how to talk, but they don’t learn how to listen. Listening to one another is an important thing in life. And music tells us how to do that.” and “Theaters, libraries, museums and movie theaters are like little aqueducts,” and “Culture overcomes social inequities. Culture frees us from poverty.”
While the third Act played, we sat in our dressing room Tersicorre, the four of us eating pizza and drinking wine. Dasniya read a message from Anna (the Mad Anna) describing the first time she met Claudio. At the end of Act 3, there was applause.
Tomorrow is the premiere of Parsifal and yesterday was delightfully lazy (I walked as far as a nearby café with Bonnie and ate croissants), so today was intended to be a gentle couple of hours in the studio waking up my body enough to have some momentum for what’s coming. A couple of hours turned into three, which could have gone on even longer but more excitement was at hand.
Last time, when we were in Brussels, I met the breathing/voice teacher of Anna Larsson, the other, Mad Anna, Anna Sims. A couple of times we joined them for some breathing and four-minute pauses, out of which I sensed the dim possibility that I might be able to sing. Today, primed with coffee and those hours of yoga (much sternum-elaboration at the moment), we all climbed the five flights of stairs to the rehearsal studio we’d just been in and … well, to write about it properly would take the rest of the night. I made notes though, and seemed to remember much from the last time, three years ago, and seemed also to be able to put it to use this time.
Many questions, some dizziness (and some tips from Anna, who is almost as tall as me for breathing my way to avoiding it), some singing, humming, buzzing, much talking, joined by Bonnie around the halfway point, some really interesting discoveries (like I can sing very high notes I could never previously find my way to, even though I sensed it was just a matter of sorting out the thinking and it would work), strange, uncoordinated use of muscles and breath that were I walking would be the equivalent of forgetting how to and falling over, and three hours later we plunged back down the stairs and out. It’s days like this I’m unfathomably grateful I decided to be a dancer, for all the amazing things it’s brought me.