Beautiful Pictures

from Tuesday, September11th of the year2007.

Sometimes I really am so happy with the Times. Did anybody else see this article about these mummies? The little slide show is amazing, especially the picture of the young girl in the plexiglass tube – isn’t that what they said Michael Jackson used to sleep in to keep his skins supple? I find images of ancient objects in ultra-modern or sterile settings to be inherently emotionally charged for some reason (although this did not extend through, say, Encino Man).

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I don’t know what it is; is it the lighting? I’ve always had a mild interest in the archaeological process but not so much the digging around (which seems to be what excites most people) ““ more, rather, the research and then the eventual weird dissection (“They ate corn!”) or what have you.

11parrot-600.jpgThe other amazing thing in the paper today is, of course, the Obituary (?) for Alex, the Parrot Who Knew Over One Hundred Words. Jenny put it best ““ it is unbearably poignant.

This reminds me of the similarly beautiful ending of Steve Reich’s video-opera Three Tales. I am going to do something totally scandalous and put an excerpt up on here, with the instructions that if you like it, you should go buy the whole thing. Listen to how outrageous the choral harmonies are on the slow chords behind the active snare drum anxiety in the foreground: “Here we are, under the tree again!”

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excerpt from Steve Reich Three Tales Act III

Dawkins
Once upon a time there was carbon-based life, and it gave over to silicon-based life. I don’t view the prospect with equanimity. Maybe I’m just sentimental.

Deech
Here we are

Voices
Here we are

Deech
under the Tree

Voices
under the Tree again
at the end of the day

Steinsaltz
The sin of Adam – in eating
he was too hasty.

Kismet
Every creature has a song, what do they say?

Cynthia (To Kismet as her robot baby)
So how’s your day goin’?
Yeah?
You got it all planned out?
You do?
You got it all planned out?
Maybe you’ll play with your yellow toy?

As is his wont, Steve Reich ends it in this weird modified six-four inversion, so you get the simultaneous feeling of resolution and suspense. This is a very effective technique for creating precisely the emotional ambiguities that works like Three Tales rely on. I have a hard time with this Opera. Its three acts (the first about the Hindenburg, the second about Bikini Atoll and the third about Clóning) are weirdly mis-balanced sonically ““ the first act is sort of stuck in this Pérotinny all-boys sound, the second is really lugubrious and anxious as we wait for the kidpix.jpgatom bomb to happen, and then the third finally gets exciting and richer in feel. The biggest problem for me, though, was the strange video-art by Beryl Korot which, for The Cave works great because of the focus of the story (Abraham & Isaac & Ishmael). Here, though, the typing and the weird splitt-screen and the Kid-Pix ass fonts makes the whole thing a little silly when it’s not madly beautiful. Cynthia, though. The way she talks to that robot, it sort of terrifies me. The first time I heard that I had to take a moment alone to collect my thoughts viz. it. Enjoy the excerpt and be sure to buy the whole thing if you get a minute.

1 Comment

  • I have to agree re: Korot/Kid Pix. To be fair, I can’t help thinking that a live performance of Three Tales would be a heck of a lot better than watching it on my TV, where instead of a live performance with clever video accompaniment it’s a stiff video presentation with a Steve Reich soundtrack.

    But one of the great things about Steve Reich is the way he embraces the “flaws” in live realizations of his most mechanical process-music, e.g. the way the dirty timbre of the Six Organs complicates that piece and brings it to life. Korot’s Three Tales video doesn’t match up. It smacks of machine presets–like listening to the MIDI file of a string quartet instead of the real thing. All your ingenious counterpoint and motific development (and there’s certainly a lot of that in her libretto/visuals) ain’t worth a dang if it doesn’t have that nuance. Maybe she should go the Gann route, and get somebody to remix it for her?