Saturday, 20 December 2008

The Christmas Crunch

Today I saw It's A Wonderful Life for the first time. Frank Capra's 1946 feelgood Christmas drama is celebrated widely and so I was able to find a cinema showing to attend rather than hiring yet another DVD.

What particularly struck me about the film is that the altruism demonstrated during it's protracted first act is most strongly outlined in a sequence in which there is a run on Jimmy Stewart's character's building society. With some strong rhetoric, appeals to the good sense and familiarity of his investors Stewart nips a small town blistering of the nascent depression in the bud. I fear we should all be paying attention to that this Christmas more than any other in our lifetime.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Tom Service on 'Crossover' music

Do have a read through this article in today's Guardian. Tom Service is their young but fairly seasoned classical music critic: consequently his piece on the highly profitable 'crossover' industry occasionally dips more than its toe into the Stygian gutter of haughty disdain. Nonetheless it's basically a balanced and well-prepared piece on a corner of the industry which tends to flourish precisely because it's largely impervious to such analysis.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Richard Hickox 1948-2008

Framescourer is deeply saddened to learn of the sudden death of British conductor Richard Hickox.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Tokyo! at the NFT


onedotzero, the itinerant digital motion picture showcase, came to the Southbank last week with a number of presentations. This one is a collection of three mini-features, all about half an hour long, in and about the Japanese capital. As far as I can see, it's the most significant piece by Michel Gondry since the amiable but abject Be Kind Rewind and whilst the pacing isn't perfect, it's still sharp and funny. You can read what I thought of all three films here.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Boris Godunov at ENO

I've just returned from the first performance of English National Opera's new production of Boris Godunov, the political psychodrama by Mussorgsky. ENO have decided on performing the work without a break. That means 2¼ hours of peroration-led drama, which could be rather testing for the audience.

It's not at all bad. Peter Rose's Boris sings with beautiful diction and he's a substantial figure on stage too - his dialogue with John Graham-Hall's Mandelsonian Shuisky is a complex study of the crippling forces of power, paranoia and genuine mental imbalance. Arguably the best singing comes from Brindley Sherratt's Pimen, totemic and clear. Very moving. I'd also want to commend Robert Murray's Simpleton, beautifully sung whenever he's not having to dash about.

The big achievement of the evening though (and, frankly, it's colossal) is the conducting of ENO Music Director Edward Gardner. Cav & Pag hadn't prepared me for this. He doesn't so much nail the score as build an entire Dacha from scratch. This is world-class conducting, organic and assured, dredging great pathos and narrative lyricism from the pit alone. The orchestra play very well for him (I'm not sure that the bells, whilst affecting, are particularly convincing - there's a mixture of recorded sounds and foundry-slapping up near the balcony. But this is a typical issue with this opera and not of particularly great importance).

The production is an unfussy, period affair, a single set with large doors creating their own vistas and prosceniums. Similarly with the dramatic but discreet lighting. The stage floor looks rather like a freshly ploughed field but dessicated; a Godforsaken plot in which no crops can grow and whence there is no food for the fickle, whining masses. It hadn't occurred to me how Oedipal (as in Sophocles, not Freud) Boris Godunov is, with it's chorus moving between pleading and indignation but always with judicious self-possession.

So, 2¼ hours later... It's a little bare to be overwhelming really (although Jonathan Veira's spirited Varlaam does make a good fist of re-energising the fourth scene) but Edward Gardner's beautifully calibrated lyricism is enough to carry the piece through this considerable span.

St Paul's Projection Installation

The Question Mark Inside is a multiple installation projection artwork by Martin Firrell, based on and around St Paul's Cathedral. This is a grubby cameraphone videoclip of the installation on the west front of the cathedral at night:



(I agree, I really have to upgrade my cameraphone.) The slogans that appear in the centre of the picture are adapted from ideas sent to Firrell's blog specially set up to harvest opinion and thoughts directed towards this exhibit. If you want to get a sense of the scale and size of the west front of St Paul's Cathedral you might want to have a look at the opening of this rudimentary but entertaining music video I created a couple of years ago which incorporates the building at the beginning.

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Portishead Third peripherals

It's Third evening chez Framescourer which basically means trawling the interweb for live, alternative and video-amalgamated performances of the album. Here's their official You Tube site which, charcteristically, isn't terribly helpful (at first glance) and their MySpace page for the Third which is little better.

Bring on the fans.

This dude has a library's worth of material (i.e. his account is minutes away from suspension, I fear) including live performance sessions on Radios 1 & 2 and Jools Holland's show, a number of Current TV videos (Portishead's version of Radiohead's Scotch Mist series of studioy videos) and videos from the special edition of the album. One of the latter is a nightmarish, free-flowing animation video by Nick Uff (who also created the video for The Rip) which looks like this:

Elektra at the Royal Opera House



I managed to land a ticket for the General Rehearsal for this run of Strauss' one act masterpiece (the run proper began an hour and a half ago), although whether anyone should really be watching, let alone performing Grade A self-immolatingly romantic psychodrama like this before lunch on a weekday is a moot point. I can point you in its direction whole-heartedly: even if this was an underpowered, rehearsal-tethered outing of the opera it was pretty dangerous. Susan Bullock promises to sing the title role out of the ball park and she's joined with a first-class Klytemnestra in Jane Henschel, and Johan Reuter as Orestes, obviously the knight-in-shining armour du jour at Covent Garden. Anne Schwanewilms will never quite dislodge the experience of seeing Karita Mattila as Chrysothemis in this house from my mind but - again, even if she was only operating at 70% - her singing is pretty glorious. Nice to see Alfie Boe, slumming it with other regular opera stars. I liked his contribution as I did those of Miriam Murphy and the short-strawed Eri Nakamura, required to spend most of the opera lying bloodied on the stage.

If I've got one reservation with the piece, it's the late appearance of Aegisthus who has to be charmed into the slaughter that Orestes has already started. It threatens to hold the drama up, as much in the score as on the stage, although I feel that director Charles Edwards manages it effectively. His fixed-set production is set loosely in the 1930s. I'm always a little wary of Weimar to Third Reich period affectation in productions whose associations have a tendency to swamp any other intentions of the actual pieces adopting them. However, Edwards manages to be sufficiently indeterminate and discreet in his use of symbols, costuming and set, as well as using Sophoclean elements, to reposition the story at the top of the experience.

This performance was a dress rehearsal, which comes with all the attendant caveats about performances being undercooked. Where that's not applicable to the hellfire blazing on stage on Tuesday, things were different in the pit. However, my experience of the music at Covent Garden is one which is notable for its consistency and I'm sure that the orchestra will be galvanised by the first night. If Mark Elder's exhausted curtain call is anything to go by the first night will be triumphant.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Guardian Jazz covers Radiohead

Today The Guardian has a Jazz special as its Film & Music Friday supplement. Several Jazz notables have been given permission to attempt their own covers of Radiohead's Nude (from In Rainbows) which one can listen to or even download through The Guardian website.

I'm interested to see that no mention is made in the article of Eliza Lumley's She Talks In Maths, a disc of Radiohead cover versions released in 2007. I admit to only having a lukewarm interest in these covers which largely fail to capitalise on the original's potential (that'll be why The Guardian doesn't mention it then - Ed.!), and of course, In Rainbows was released after She Talks In Maths. However, Nude is a song, and for all that a Radiohead lyric may be said to be elliptic, interpreting the text has it's place which isn't fully explored by only one of The Guardian covers being sung.

In the meantime, here's a very different but IMHO successful take on it:


Thursday, 6 November 2008

Sam Taylor-Wood single (!)

... as a corollary to the previous post, here's the 'video' for her new single I'm In Love With A German Film Star, produced by the Pet Shop Boys:



Well, since you ask, I don't dislike it. It's got the same simple, undulating melodic line as The Beatles' I Am The Walrus, a distorted but homogenised soundscape which is not dissimilar to the sonic backwash of My Bloody Valentine's celebrated pre-BritPop albums and a distinct, upfront keyboard and drum machine patina that's typical of Pet Shop Boys themselves.

UPDATE: A year or so after I first saw this video, it inspired me to create a similar video for a friend's composition.


Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Sam Taylor-Wood 'Yes I No'

The White Cube gallery has taken over a disused retail site on Covent Garden to display a site-specific photographic installation, Yes I No, by Sam Taylor-Wood. It's a large space split for the exhibition by an upper mezzanine. On the one hand it look like a poorly reconstructed Victorian building where the threat of damp or collapse might be more of a promise. However there is a steel-and-glass lift in a corner which would suggest that the shell is rather more surface.

Either way it is a good, light space for these photographs, particularly the Self-Portrait series. I liked the colour of the balloons in the bleached monochrome of the building. Not only the colour but the purposefulness - the perkiness - of the balloons holding the artist's consciousless body free of the ground made me look over my shoulder as I've already described - what's holding up this derelict place.

I was less enamored by the clowns (I thought the photographic prints were a little compromised and, under glass and lit by spotlight, therefore imperfect for viewing). Much more interesting was the juxtaposition of the alternative but congruent settings in which the photographs had been shot. I recognise the need for a focal figure to offset and season the prints but I didn't really understand the need for clowns-in-themselves.

It's a good place to go if you've time, which I didn't have. Sam Taylor-Woods' work often repays a some time (her rotten fruit timelapse film Still Life (2001) in the Tate's collection makes a subject of it) and ruminating on the composition as well as the content of her work is an important part of the experience. Having said that, Yes I No is now closed...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

The Rape of Lucretia - Aldeburgh @ King's Place

King's Place, the shiny new performing and gallery space, a stone's throw from King's Cross and St Pancras Stations, has been open for a month. Consequently performers are still grappling with its benefits and drawbacks - and those attending concerts are doing the same. This evening's concert performance of The Rape of Lucretia, whilst musically and dramatically manicured, was sonically distended in the hall. The soloists, singing in front of the chamber orchestra, were often charged down by the present orchestral sound - or rather charged up, as one could clearly hear the voices balanced up towards the capacious ceiling.

This is a marginal, if consistent grumble and not enough to change the character or experience of this performance. David Parry gave us a brisk Lucretia, in keeping with it's formal, perhaps monumental character (of which more later). The orchestra play with precision and vigour. The cast, in concert dress, are split across the stage, James Greer and Robyn Driedger-Klassen's chorus on one and the named characters on the other. I disagree with The Guardian's Rian Evans about the nature of the staging, albeit in a subtle way. I don't think that the chorus become involved in the drama, but rather that the entire cast, whilst acting the drama, are closer to declaiming it. There is no division between cast and commentary.

Stephen Mumbert is an insipid Junius, all (scheming) talk and no trousers; Allen Boxer a noble Collatinus. Benedict Nelson's Tarquinius is quite a treat, vocally, with pride and sonic power signposting the disaster ahead (from my position his lust often boiled over into insanity though, which might not be what he was aiming for).

Jillian Yemen and Eve-Lyn de la Haye are comparable counterparts to Blythe Gaissert's absolutely ideal Lucretia. By the end of the evening I found that I had little sympathy for anyone, despite the clear injustices - I don't know whether Gaissert's intention was to invoke enough hubris in her Lucretia and her relationship with Collatinus to allow tempering schadenfreude to enter the audience's mind but it happened with me. As I've pointed out, the chorus simply repeat, or perhaps translate the emotional content of the cast - James Geer was most affecting and Robyn Driedger-Klassen's singing was fine.

Lucretia's a difficult opera though. A 'Greek' tale of political struggle, it cannot fail to be a vehicle for Britten's own reflection's on the recent World War. Indeed, throughout its robust formality there are snatches of pathos and satire - Bach in chorales and an oboe de caccia threnody, and pastiche dances and marches - which also appear in the later, more considered War Requiem. The opera, a stark fable, finishes with an almost schizophrenic wailing at the metaphysical: the female chorus begs the audience to decide if it 'is all', which it clearly has been on the basis of what we have seen; only for the male chorus to suddenly bring the gospel to the show and promise Christian salvation. But evangelising hope after the fact, especially in this Looney Tunes, 'that's not all folks!' tacked-on manner does nothing to alleviate the misery of the present company - neither is it sufficiently explicit in linking of the tale to modern armed conflict.

The rape of Europe, of innocence by the overcranked, baited cockfighter is lost. All this company could do was to try and present the score well and in this they succeeded.

Sunday, 2 November 2008

No Man's Land at the Duke Of York's

Small theatre, four very large personalities (well, three until you realise that the least recognisable, Nick Dunning, is far from out of his depth). I went in having been awed by The Birthday Party and bored by The Caretaker - in other words, ignorant.

In two acts, Michael Gambon's Hirst first drinks his way through reticent after-hours conversation with a lowly guest, Spooner (David Bradley) before goading and growling at him in the second. It's an object lesson in how to be a rude, self-interested host beneath the thinnest pretence of courtesy.

Yet both men are poets, it emerges, and the dreaful insecurities and nebulous existential truths coming home to roost for Hirst are offset by this abused comrade. He sees the danger in a couple of thugs, usurpers and puppeteers more sinister and dangerous than any rudeness on Hirst's part. Bradley's great moment is a peroration at the end in which he begs for the opportunity to take up a position in Hirst's employ. In humble opposition to the leech-like son-figure of David Walliams' Foster or Nick Dunning's manipulative manservant Briggs he offers self-deprecating companionship and service to a man who needs it, though he may not deserve it. It's intense but far from hectoring.

This production is all done in a single set with some very carefully arranged lighting. The 'subliminal' music is superfluous - it might as well be coming from St. Martin's Lane. Best of all I liked the set design, rather modern but with a thick burgundy carpet and an echt-1970s bar at its centre (groaning with drink), a melange in tune with the temperamentally layered script. The Duke Of York's theatre seating is fantastically uncomfortable in the great, enduring tradition of impecunious West End theatres though.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Turbine hall installation, Tate Modern

It has been raining for years now, not a day, not an hour without rain. The continual rain has had a strange effect on urban sculptures. They have started to grow like tropical plants, and become even more monumental. To stop this growth it has been decided to store them inside, among the hundreds of bunk beds which, night and day, receive refugees from the rain.
So reads a large inscription ahead of Dominique Gonzalez-Foster's turbine hall installation TH.2058 (which takes up the second, non-raked end of the building). The installation is the pod for any number of dystopian narratives, told in the text quoted above, in science fiction paperbacks placed on the aforementioned bunk beds



and in the snippets of films shown on a screen at the end of the hall.

I didn't get any sense of a dystopian world from my visit there. Whilst the uniformity of the bunk beds is consonantly stark, the re-appropriation of other artists' work is simply a fad. Indeed, even the title sounds like Geroge Lucas' own dystopian masterpiece THX1138 - which, it turns out, is one of the films being shown. As for the sculptures - well, the appeal of their living once again as plants is a comforting notion to me. The idea that this furniture gets treated in the same way as a refugee jars (this is a personal reaction).
Dominique Gonzalez-Foster's work - TH.2058 - is the ninth work in The Unilever Series. Like its predecessors it is innovative, bold and challenging.
reads the guide text. No: like it's predecessors it is large, filling the space, and that's it.

La Boheme at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden

La Boheme - and this John Copley production of it - benefits from youthful casting. The lightly-worn cares, impecuniousness and impetuousness of the first two acts are borne out in a busy staging. Last night's cast worked hard. Christopher Maltman's Marcello is a substantial presence; in an ensemble piece where everyone is always on Marcello is always at the front of both music and staging. Wookyung Kim rolled out a beautiful, consistent lyric sound as Rodolfo.

Alexia Voulgaridou's Mimi was most affecting. Despite the great tumescent blooms of love-music that both must ride and carry in the first act, Mimi's is a part of considerable delicacy. Voulgaridou's greatest achievement was in summoning a fine pianissimo at crucial moments. Her expiration in Act 4 drew an attention that no other set piece achieved to that point.

As is often the way, the greatest performance was from the orchestra who managed a more superior flexibility, tone and ensemble than their colleagues at the Coliseum had managed at the weekend. But then I'd imagine that there are probably some in the pit who have been playing this piece with one another since Copley first introduced this delightful staging when most of the cast were still children.

Monday, 13 October 2008

Cav & Pag at English National Opera

That's Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci to you and me. Which is my first gripe. Cavalleria rusticana doesn't mean anything in English - it's Italian and translates as Rustic Chivalry ('Country Manners' in the Chandos Opera in English series!). Pagliacci is a proper name so doesn't need translating but the character gets it anyway, becoming 'Mr Paxo' for reasons of both concept and scansion. We'll revisit this inconsistency-in-English business at the end.

Confrontation, contradiction and downright perversity - you can take it to the bank when two of the more familiar repertory operas get staged by Richard Jones. A director who likes to tip opera on its head to really get at it's heart, he's a bit like the playground bully who holds the small boy by his ankles until the dinner money falls out of his pockets - only to pick up the cash and give it back to him: 'See, look how much you had all along!'.

The Cav labours under some strange stage direction that has the chorus alternately embracing (it's Easter) and ignoring one another. There's no rhyme or reason for that but I did like the minor updating, setting the opera in a rough village hall in the 1930s. The romanticism of rural Italy is effectively supplanted by the kitchen-sink drama at its heart and the stage-in-the-stage lends itself to a trademark-Jonesian on-off stage inversion at the denoument. Powerful stuff.

Pag is a more energetic affair, largely as it has been saturated with ideas. There are four scene changes (not including superfluous dummy curtain call from the previous opera and the Prologue) all working an exploded-perspective view of 'the theatre'. It's not consistent enough to really roll the drama out - it's a bit choppy - but it is engrossing and subversive. You catch yourself laughing at the wrong moments and on the night I went a staged walkout by a chorus-parent concerned at Mr Paxo's lapse into obscenity was mirrored by someone stalking out of the Coliseum stalls in a huff.

In order to relocate or accommodate this opera in the 1970s variety circuit the text not only gets translated but transformed to fit the concept: 'Mr Paxo' is a case in point, a witty, inspired substitution for the eponymous principal character but bearing absolutely no resemblance to the clown of the original title or the ambiguous Harlequin lineage of the character. I think this approach is valid. The opera isn't about a clown per se. As I say, Jones is prepared to do rather alarming things in order to get at something fundamental.

Great ideas, competently dispatched - musically a little thin perhaps, across the board. Singing in English doesn't help this most intrinsically Italian of all opera but in addition to the worn arguments over accessibility and poetry - the literal vs the lyric - Jones has driven in this alternative wedge, the demands of the drama. As in all meta-operatic disputes it's the most important and the easiest to overlook. I missed a fair bit of what I might reasonably have expected from THE operatic repertory double bill on Saturday night - what I got was a fresh, thoughtful dramatic experience.

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Gehry and Richter at the Serpentine Gallery

Yesterday I wandered over to see Frank Gehry's pavilion for the Serpentine Gallery exhibition.


It's quietly spectacular. There were lots of people simply sitting in its shade, reading the paper or chatting. Whilst there's plenty to wonder at it doesn't draw attention to itself aimlessly. Rather it turns out to be quite functional - and, with some plywood bits behind either side to house a kiosk and a lift - slightly village fete!

This is in gross contrast to the rubbish on display in the gallery proper. Gerhard Richter's 4900 Colours: Version II...
comprises 196 square panels of 25 coloured squares that can be reconfigured in a number of variations, from one large-scale piece to multiple, smaller paintings. Richter has developed a new version especially for the Serpentine Gallery exhibition... formed of 49 paintings of 100 squares.
This is a shame. I've always felt rather affected by Schwimmerinnen (1965). This exhibition is trite at best. A work of 4 panels, a sort of microcosm of 4900 Colours is on sale at the entrance to the exhibition at £12,000. delicious should feel plagiarised.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Turner Prize: "Discuss"

This year we are being treated to (in order): collages of other artists' materials; stream-of-consciousness sculpture with found objects; portentous china-smashing on film; and, well, sort of an amalgam of all of these.

Viewing he work of artists shortlisted for the award is not the same as viewing anything else in the building (or so I told myself anyway as I found myself traipsing around in the shadow of Sunday Times art critic Waldemar Januszczak). The Turner Prize is not awarded to those with a particular gift for rendering an idea in an aesthetically satisfactory way. Rather, it rewards the artist trying to investigate or communicate new avenues of thought in the clearest manner.

I am not a Turner Prize contender. That much is evident by the less than clear previous paragraph. What is 'aesthetic satisfaction' if not 'clarity of communication'?! I'll try again: what struck me as I walked around this year's exhibition was that the ideas that are being communicated are not visual but literary. The ideas and their representation are distinct entities - they're not intrinsic (as they are in abstract or figurative sculpture or painting).

Consequently one of the most important parts of the exhibition is the final room in which the artists get to talk about their working basis - manifesto, subject, even motivation.

Armed with a bit of knowledge I could go back to Cathy Wilkes' ostensibly ridiculous mess of found paraphernalia (nurses uniforms, mannequins, bricks, jam jars, horse shoes). This work isn't about the objects. It's an attempt to bridge the gap between the precise nature of her experience and our experience of her explanation of the same. I like this idea. I think talking about our mutual alienation by virtue of our natural existential autonomy is an interesting, even slightly romantic subject.

However it can't make for good art. The whole point of modernism in art is about creating a new aesthetic vocabulary and syntax to approach old matters afresh and give adequate voice to the new. A piece like Claire Wilkes' readymade installation does not provide new language. Instead it is a valid invitation to engage in discussion of the topic, irrespective of whether the piece has any intrinsic attachment to that topic. It is entirely possible to confront and engage with Cathy Wilkes' Turner Prize entry without going into the exhibition as it is a philosophical, or literary piece.

I've picked up on Cathy Wilkes' entry as her interest is one that I share, philosophically. Yet this meta-art issue extends throughout the rest of the shortlisted works. Goshka Macuga's write-up on the Tate micro-site tells us that she
merges the roles of collector, curator and artist
This is the same role adopted by the curator-analyst Mark Leckey whose art is to pore over the work of others.

Runa Islam is the artist whose work has (comparably) its own merit. Yet again her focus is on the editing process in film itself - not in producing a film which can mystify, enthrall and elate by virtue of artful editing.

The Turner Prize is entirely valid, taken on the basis that it offers an opportunity to discuss ideas. Is it a good year? Yes, I think it might be. Is it a good show? Well, this issue revolves around whether the art on show has any intrinsic merit - it hasn't really (Goshka Macuga's does but that's not her point). As ever, an exhibition for the artful rather than the art-lover.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Worshipping the Golden Calf

If Damian Hirst's diamond encrusted skull made me feel a little uneasy - art and commodity almost perfectly superimposed - then his Golden Calf, made with real gold plate and sold as part of his record, middleman-negating Sotheby's auction made me shrug. I'd got used to the idea of the biggest-selling contemporary artist dealing with a preposterously wealthy top end in this premium, trade-marked product. It all seems rather removed from a crumbling credit recession-creep reality but then it's another world that doesn't really impact on me.

Then today I read two stories, side by side. First, the idea of there being a rush on gold. Second, and less innocuous, the creation of a new work by another YBA, Mark Quinn for a new British Museum exhibition: Siren, a sculpture of Kate Moss in gold.


Described by the museum as an "Aphrodite of our times", it sits in the Museum's Nereid Gallery, alongside its statues of famous Greek beauties.
Now, I dare say that Kate Moss may be not only a famed beauty but also justly so. Marc Quinn is a reasonable sculptor with some sharp ideas - there is also no reason why he shouldn't be able to sculpt in gold, if that's part of his concept and someone is prepared to furnish him with the precious metal...

Yet I can't help thinking that a having such a grossly ostentatious show of wealth is a misjudgment by The British Museum. After all, this is the week in which the chat about global recession has becoming a painful and frightening reality. The art of Hirst, Quinn et al is bound less comprehensively by the aesthetics of their work and increasingly in the ideas represented by its content, materials and context. Consequently the gold is as much on show, confrontationally so, as the sculpture (Quinn has even done this piece before, in white-painted bronze). I cannot find any information about the source of the commission and final destination of the work online at the moment. If this £1.5M piece has actually been commissioned for the nation by the British Museum it constitutes, arguably, a lack of good sense from the institution.

Martin Creed's Birmingham Ikon Lift

Ideas, yes. Musical composition, no thanks.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Rothko, Tate Modern

A strong show. There's not the consistency of the other 20th century titan blockbuster down the road but the centrepiece, the expanded collection of Seagram murals, is the ticket price in one room.

Mark Rothko was a sort of paint synaesthetic. These dark but pulsing canvases aren't the masterworks of a great colourist so much as of a great technician. Where similar works by Ad Reinhardt or Josef Albers throw colours together with a great clang (right), the surfaces of Rothko's pulse and shimmer, changing in the light like taffeta or steel.

The Tate have done a good job examining the pictures (and a poor one of exhibiting their findings) using bright and ultra violet light to expose the build and execution processes and different composite colours and textures. When one can actually get to it, the detail of Black on Maroon, 1958 is very instructive.

One doesn't need to be forearmed to have an exchange with these paintings though. As mentioned, the Seagram collection is wonderful and well exhibited. There were well-over a hundred people in the gallery when I visited and no-one was in another's way. I particularly like the single-square form paintings (the west wall) which are exemplars of the multi-textural approach to rendering the form, sheer and glossy.

I hadn't thought about it before but the polyoblong-form paintings reminded me of the hospital door studies of Gary Hume or the famous elevator in The Shining, gushing blood in a dreadful magic realist sequence.

My favourite paintings are currently the Black-Form paintings which look entirely black but which are built up (colourwise) with deep indigo and maroon as well as black. These are the canvas equivalents of (more Kubrick) the mysterious obelisk-antennae from 2001: A Space Odyssey - void of content but undeniably alive when viewed.

I am looking forward to going again, not least to try with the Black On Gray sequence which didn't grab me (although I was reminded of Goya's The Dog, a desolate, almost-abstract masterpiece of the latter's 'black' series from the early 1800s in their form and brushwork).

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

BBC's Storyville 1968

Courtesy iPlayer. What a wonderful documentary - a dense 90 mins giving an overview of the most important year of the 60s. I should watch it yourself if you're in time.

Friday, 19 September 2008

PJ Harvey

I'm watching a gig PJ Harvey played in 2004 at LSO St Luke's, a converted Hawksmoor church that serves as a rehearsal venue for the London Symphony Orchestra (courtesy iPlayer).


PJ Harvey has played a growing roster of remarkable venues - Tate Modern, Somerset House, the Hay-on-Wye Festival. This gig is in that tradition. The audience seem slightly out of their comfort zone. Not unappreciative but perhaps subdued. I wonder to what extent that's to do with the venue or the fact that there are BBC cameras all over the place. Both, no doubt.

I feel inspired so I'm going to dig this out.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Richard Wright

Framescourer is sorry to hear of the death of Richard Wright, formerly the keyboard player with Pink Floyd.

This has been a wretched month for the passing of various personalities in the arts, with the deaths of prima inter pares voiceover artist Don Lafontaine, British conductor Vernon Handley and the Japanese video installation director Nagi Noda.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Bacon retrospective, Tate Britain

I've just returned from my first viewing of the new Bacon retrospective. It's a high octane exhibition: only one room is given over to 'Archive' material (materials salvaged from his studio); the rest are mature paintings thematically grouped. It's powerful, thought provoking and occasionally scary, a much more focused, punchier show that the last big British retrospective at the Hayward ten years ago.

I noticed a few things which I'd come across before but that viewing in a group reveals as consistent and so important.

The first is the 'three-dimensional' frames he uses within pictures. His canvases are typically quite gloomy, as if artificially lit, and consequently these boxy, thin-but-solid scaffold-frames are picked out in white. The viewing notes pick these out as well:
Figures are boxed into cage-like structures, delineated 'pace-frames' and hexagonal ground frames, confining them within a tense psychological zone. In 1952 he described this as 'an attempt to life the image outside of its natural environment'.
I think that this removal from it natural environment is already achieved in the very artificial, stagy manner in which the pictures are set. The 'space-frame' gives something more. For me, that is the suggestion that the figure at the centre of the picture is suspended, free from gravity, free from contingent ties to it's own self - rather like a carcass or flayed skin floating free of the density of 'person'. With the void represented in the gaping black mouths of so many subjects, this makes for an interesting effect. There is nothing withint and nothing without.

Many of the exhibition's earlier pictures also have vertical stripes or streaks over the figure and often panning out at its base. This suggested to me the PvC strip curtains familiar from a butcher's or an abattoir, separating one working area from another. This is a more minor observation - I'm not sure if such partitions were commonplace in the middle of the last century - but I found such a connection striking given the carnal nature of Bacon's subjects and allusions.

Bacon's art is clearly highly visceral and honest, trying to expose the nature of being human. Most subjects are painted in isolation from the world (even before the framing or empty-core inventions mentioned earlier). Bacon's figures have their own take on the three-in-two dimensionality of Picasso/Braque's cubism, rather like photographs with multiple or long exposures.

More interestingly these figures are sometimes shown within their own shadow, as if placed in a cut-out space too large for them. They have their own penumbra.

As a strange corollary to this, many later works - the Dyer memorial pictures and a late portrait of John Edwards (1988) - cast their own shadows on the foreground.

But both the black halo-penumbra and the bright foreground shadow come over as materially part of the subject. It is as if the ark outlines of a subject suggests an alternative person: the inauthentic as Heidegger (et al.) has it, or a Doppelgänger. The colour bleed of the foreground shadow is just that - an extension of the subject oozing into the unoccupied space before them. The overall effect is one of precipitation. The precipitation of the void into the person that is the subject; the precipitation of the subject into the surface of the painting.

It would seem that the framing devices that are part of the content of the pictures are meant to dissociate the subjects from everything - the viewer, the picture, the world of their situation, scrupulously limited though it is. At the same time it seems that the shadows from which and by which the subjects are cast do precisely the opposite precipitating figures from an unknowable void and casting the very stuff of the figure into the physical experience of the viewer.

These are daring existential experiments. There's a very economical canvas in the final room that achieves this technically if not particularly elegantly. Blood On Pavement (1988) is simply that. But looked at close up, the paint of the upper pavement has run down into the patch of blood. Blood On Pavement, or pavement on blood?

For this reason as well has others above, I'd recommend a trip to see this exhibition (I read Laura Cumming's piece from last Sunday's Observer Review prior to my visit, which I can recommend).

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Alice in remixland

I'm sure that Portishead share the use of a sample from Alice in Wonderland with this painstaking prepared video.

Sunday, 31 August 2008

Peter Eötvös at Glyndebourne

"It's like a very posh refugee camp":


That was the verdict of a fellow lawn picnicker on the penultimate evening of the 2008 Glyndebourne Festival Opera season. It was the last night of Love and Other Demons, a new opera by Peter Eötvös after the novel by Gabriel García Márquez. You can read more here.

My experience was similar to that which I had at the Royal Opera House in May, when I went to see Sir Harrison Birtwistle's new opera The Minotaur. Awe at the commitment and accomplishment of the cast and production team; bafflement at what they had to contend with perform.

Actually, I found the dramatic experience of Love and Other Demons a more coherent, well paced and so satisfying piece, eventually. I think the opera suffers from its libretto which often abandons dialogue and direction for poetry. By poetry I mean both evocative language and rhyme, respectively well suited and irrelevant for Eötvös broad, melismatic approach to his singing lines.

The cast was rather, um, asymmetric. Huge (ridiculously huge) vocal demands were made of those who were either good, like Nathan Gunn and Marietta Simpson, or brilliant - Alison Bell, John Graham-Hall and Felicity Palmer . Whilst I was principally in awe of Alison Bell's Lulu-plugged-into-the-national-grid lead role the biggest cheer of the evening was for Vladimir Jurowski which continued when he brought the LPO to their feet.

As for the music, well: inbetween the EKG-twitches of extreme tessitura in the score there's lyricism aplenty; there's a constant gravitational pull to harmonic centres, if not outright diatonicism (which makes listening easier, it helps to hold one's attention); the orchestration starts off with a distracting raft of novelties but calms down. In general, in fact, the opera seemed to acquire more formal delineation as it went on - there are unequivocal arias for the abbess, Sierva, bishop and Sierva's father Ygnacio to close the piece. A clearer sense of the transition from one scene to another earlier on would have helped crystallise the organic progression of the score. Otherwise the staging was fairly clear - imaginatively designed, populated and lit.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Tilda Swinton in Venice

The Venice Film Festival opened yesterday with the Coen Brothers' new film, Burn After Reading. The screening was accompanied with a mad, mad press conference in which two of the stariest Hollywood lead men took boring questions, cheeky questions and a stage invasion from autograph hunting hacks.

And in the midst of all this sat Tilda Swinton, elegant, serene, one of Britain's most accomplished yet obscure actresses - ignored and no doubt thoroughly amused.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Portishead Third

The best album this year. Without abandoning it's sample-based, British New Wave cinematic melodrama the group have come up with something new and different but extreme and dramatic. Best of all it's an old-school album, not just a collection of singles, with a cumulative aesthetic and an abstract narrative contour. It's so good, tracks get used on shows as diverse as Hollyoaks and ITV4's Tour de France coverage. It's too radical to be shortlisted for the Mercury Music Prize. No I didn't buy it yesterday. I bought it the day it was released in April and have listened to it, rapt, every other day since. It's brilliant.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

BBC Maestro

It was the first show in this reality vote-em-off in which musical celebrities learn to conduct an orchestra with an eye on the prize - performing with the BBC Concert Orchestra at the last night of the BBC Proms season.

On the face of it this is hide-behind-the-sofa-cushion cringe-making TV. Amazingly it turned out to be very little of the sort. Well-mannered and sober, honestly edited, good humoured without trying to be comic - all the competitors seemed to be taking it very seriously. The most convincing 'conductor' so far by a considerable margin has been the drum and bass pioneer Goldie, proving that probably the most valuable ability in conducting is conviction, rather than time-keeping.

There's a small cloud on the horizon which I hope disperses soon. Goldie's mentor (a pro conductor assigned to each celebrity to help them technically) is the TV-acclimatised Ivor Setterfield who's behaviour so far has suggested he may not have understood that the show's about the contestants and not him. I hope I'm proved wrong about that.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Radiohead write score for Choke

Apparently 'Radiohead' have written an original score for the new Chuck Palahniuk adaptation Choke (trailer here). Whether Radiohead means 'Johnny Greenwood' or 'Radiohead' is another matter, but if it is anything like the score to There Will Be Blood it'll be a cracker.

(Whilst I'm not a particular fan of Palahniuk's disturbing prose I thought Fight Club was a good film and I'm delighted to see that Kelly McDonald, brilliant in No Country For Old Men, is in Choke).

Friday, 8 August 2008

Sarah Brightman to sing in Beijing

Sarah Brightman is going to perform at the opening ceremony of the Olympics, reprising a compering role dating back to 1992:

Monday, 4 August 2008

The Prisoner remake

Delighted by an episode of The Simpsons this evening. 'The Joy Of Sect' is a pretty straightforward satire of American cult movements. There's a short sequence, about halfway through, in which Marge has to escape from a large blob emerging from a moat in homage to Rover from The Prisoner.

This reminded me of the news that a mini-series remake of The Prisoner is currently in pre-production. Well, I'm excited.

BBC Radio 3 Messageboards

I've recently started writing on the Radio 3 Messageboards (to coincide with an attempt to listen to the Proms more regularly). My experience so far is that this forum suffers exactly the same afflictions that clog up all the others on t'internet - squabbling, irrelevance, mangled English - but there is sufficient constructive and friendly discussion fighting for air to make it worth persevering.