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Some Thoughts

from Tuesday, September4th of the year2007.

Detroit. Wow, I was not expecting half of that. First of all, the place feels like a ghost town. Half of the stop lights are flashing yellow, which, although not exactly the same, reminded me of the streets of New York immediately after the blackout a few years ago. But, as is the way with places that seem deserted, when you do actually see people, it’s that much more exciting. img_0612.JPGThe new music marathon (which lasted from 2 PM to 2 AM, and miraculously ran on time) saw maybe 300 people into the small, hidden space over its twelve hours. Check out the picture of the backyard, where the eerily same-looky brother of the man who runs the museum was cooking brats and chicken legs all afternoon and into the night. The curation was weirdly genius, featuring a bunch of classic percussion-heavy ensemble rep (Cage’s Third Construction, which I think is actually the only piece that uses quintuplets successfully in the history of ever), solo percussion things (David Lang’s Anvil Chorus, which is really really just so great, I haven’t heard it in such a long time and it is a classic), ensemble-with-percussion things (Andriessen’s Hout, Julia Wolf’s Lick) and then the first two string quartets of young composeress Alexandra Du Bois. A very satisfying mix, and even more satisfying to see the diversity of the audience, ranging from the usual young new music crowd to Crazy New Music Older People with Elastic Waist and Cane (who are secretly the bread and butter audience of the genre) to curious Jazzers to enthusiastic family members. There was one woman who could not have been a day younger than 90, sitting merrily through John Luther Adams’s four snare drum explosion…

The most striking architectural thing in the city, I think, is Michigan Central Station, which looks a lot like Grand Central in terms of scale. But: it is Entirely Deserted. Like, Tötalli Deserted. img_0604.JPG I took this picture, but wanted to secretly go inside and take more. I was strangely moved by how empty it was, and how grandly it had been conceived. I can’t find a screen capture here, but the first scene of Godfrey Reggio / Philip Glass’s Naqöyqatsi features an exploration of a similarly grand deserted space.

blue190.jpgYou know what’s obnoxious? Is a review like this one. This is a review of this slightly wretched new Tschumi building in the Lower East Side, which you can see from basically any point near our apartment. The review is irritating because it basically praises the building’s awareness of its surroundings, and then ends with “…But it nonetheless captures an aspect of the city that is slowly fading from view: its role as a sanctuary for misfits and outcasts, a place full of dark corners and unexpected encounters. If only such people could afford the price tag.” Okay, so, what is the moral of the story? What is the review? If the clincher is going to be a commentary about how expensive the Lower East Side has become, why not let that be a thread that pervades the writing? A Nuanced Description is not really the most exciting thing to read in the paper, I can ask my friends for Nuanced Descriptions. Also, using Broadway Boogie Woogie as a visual reference for this thing seems like a major cop-out; She look like TETЯIS to me. I want to be told something, I want to have this structure put in context by somebody who knows what’s up. I am suspicious of the idea that reviews of anything can shift around and self-negate and hope that nobody notices that nothing has been, in point of fact, said.

I should add here that Bernard Tschumi designed the student center at Columbia, where I did my undergraduate. I always secretly liked being inside it, because of the cool ramps, but actually, it was a really dumb, offensive, building whose interface with the campus was pointlessly sideways and whose interface with chandigarh-assembly.jpgBroadway seemed to exacerbate the preëxisting Town/Gown conflicts surrounding that campus. I think somebody should write an article called, “Swiss Architecture and Race,” with a focus on this student center as compared to, like, Chandigarh or something.


  • Re: quintuplets – what about Pines of Rome? I do the admire the Cage so much though, being a percussionist; my school’s percussion ensemble did it the year after I left.

  • Oh, that review was even worse than you’re making it out to be, I think. Seemingly without a trace of self-consciousness, he describes the repackaging and commodification of working-class symbols (“old tenement buildings”, “public housing complexes”, “rusting infrastructure”) in the cheeriest terms, saying that the building owes more to the “gutter” (!?) than to the museum. And no, he doesn’t mean the actual gutter, he’s just using that as shorthand for, I suppose, people who lived in the neighborhood before Guiliani’s second term. Unlike you, I would say that the class issue is one that very much pervades the writing, but not in the way that you might expect. Or, maybe that’s exactly what we should expect.

    I was thinking about this building, recently, when I saw yet another Neo-Ugly tinted-glass building being constructed, this one on Grand Army Plaza. Is this what it felt like in the 70s? When every college campus got its Ugly Important building that now has some derisive nickname? Do we need Neo-Everything? Of course, I don’t mind “ugly”, as long as it’s ugly like an heirloom tomato, and not like a handlebar mustache in 2007, which is exactly what all this architecture feels like, to me. It’s “That Seventies Show” for architects, except we have to watch. Or it’s like that absurd car campaign where they’re like “we know we’re ugly” which is fine if you’re finding ways to embrace your own lack of facial symmetry but not fine if you are Building A Car. Or a building.

  • Fantastic picture of Michigan Central. Also very interesting answer to the question of why it’s so out in the middle of nowhere…”a hope that the station would be an anchor for prosperity to follow.” If they only knew. Also, it was actually this building in Nagoyqatsi.

    Nico responds: That’s so funny that it’s actually that building! I knew it looked familiar. I totally played synth during the sequence of the film where we explore that building, such a lovely passage.

  • Composeress, wtf? 🙂