This is a section in which I will note books, authors, artists, music and other things of interest to which I would like to draw attention: a bit like a favourites playlist, this will be very eclectic: I am, perhaps, the only point these items have in common. Everything noted here is part of the conversation I have with myself and others.
Last updated: February 25, 2018
- Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality. Timothy Morton. Open Humanities Press (2013).
Not many philosophers could, as Timothy Morton does, open a book with a memory of trauma -- in this case, the experience of watching a brother slipping into schizophrenia. Yet that experience frames the way Morton views reality -- as a web of traces connecting beings through what affects them, and what they affect. Reality, for Morton, is both aesthetic and causal. He writes, "[N]o object truly contacts another one. They really only share what [Graham] Harman calls their "notes"." When we hear the sound of the wind, we are "hearing two objects as they relate to one another". This vision -- which Morton calls on music and poetry to support -- seems to me both beautiful and true. Morton again: "Anyone who has trouble imagining causality as magical and uncanny need only consider the existence of children."
- The Blue Notebooks. Max Richter, Deutsche Grammaphon (2004).
This album was released 14 years ago tomorrow. Another chance find -- I heard the track "Written on the Sky" in a yoga class last year -- it became my personal soundtrack for a melancholy month. Although the album is ostensibly a protest against the invasion of Iraq, it does so mostly by pitting music of often intensely emotional beauty against the ugliness of war (that is otherwise absent from the album). The mixture of the spoken word (from Franz Kafka and Czesław Miłosz -- read mellifluously by Tilda Swinton) and cinematic melodies can make you feel as if you are walking around in a movie of your own.
- Luminitza, Balanescu Quartet, Elektra Records (1994). Tracks: Luminitza, Still With Me, Mother.
- Possessed, Balanescu Quarter, Elektra Records (1992). Tracks: Want Me, No Time Before Time.
I first heard the Balanescu Quartet in a small theatre room in Cambridge in 1994, where they played from their then-new album, Luminitza. The electrifying emotional pitch of this music, its complex layers and stunning rhythms, the virtuousic playing, have stayed with me since. Listen to how, at the end of Still With Me, all the myriad percussive elements (including an isolated /s/ from the word "Still" used percussively) gradually fall silent, until only the rhythmic clapping of human hands remains. That moment underlines for me the deep humanity of this extraordinary music.
- Sharakan / Medieval Music, The Music of Armenia, Volume 2, Celestial Harmonies (1992). Tracks: Sirt im sasani (My heart trembles with fear), Chinar es (You are a plane tree), Ter voghormya (Lord have mercy), Ov yeranelid (O you blessed).
The voice of Armenian opera singer Anna Mailian soars, vaults and flutters in these extraordinarily beautiful, melancholy and joyful, liturgical songs. Listening to them is like entering the space of a great cathedral in late afternoon: even sharing nothing of their beliefs, nothing of their language, you can't help but feel uplifted, expansive, drawn out of yourself into something far larger.
- The Mandé Variations, Toumani Diabaté, World Circuit (2008). Tracks: Elyne Road, Kaounding Cissoko, Ismael Drame.
I discovered this in 2015 at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris. To quote the liner notes, "Toumani Diabaté is without doubt the world's greatest kora player, and one of Africa's most remarkable musicians". The kora is a harp-lute developed in Western Africa; the sound has a sweetness that is impossible to describe, coupled (in Diabaté's hands) with a rhythmic and tonal complexity that seems miraculous, coming as it does from a single instrument -- Diabaté plays together the bass line, the accompaniment and the melody. World Circuit's introduction of Diabaté and the album is well worth watching: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-hVZ96W61Eo.
- High Violet, The National, 4AD (2010). Tracks: Sorrow, You Were a Kindness, Bloodbuzz Ohio, Conversation 16.
This one takes me back to the misspent youth I didn't have. Intense, dark, moody lyrics and melodies and constantly shifting emotional colour (if stanza breaks could have as powerful an effect as some of these transitions!). The weirdly metrical drum beats at the start of Bloodbuzz Ohio get me every time. That, and the series of melancholy keyboard notes that enter with the line "I'm a confident liar..." in Conversation 16. For this band, the genius is in the detail...
- Bronwyn Oliver (The Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver, at TarraWarra Museum of Art, curated by Julie Ewington, Nov. 1016 - Feb. 2017).
Oliver’s works are unique in the power and intensity, yet vulnerability, of their vision. Through the astonishing newness and purity of their style, the sculptures speak in an intimate way to our minds and memories. As Julie Ewington has said: "her work has the same compressed energy as poetry, the same decision, and poetry’s way of making refined propositions. " (http://www.art-almanac.com.au/the-sculpture-of-bronwyn-oliver/).
Island magazine published my essay on "The Poetic in the Sculpture of Bronwyn Oliver" in October 2017: https://islandmag.com/pages/151-contents.
- Interglacial: New and Selected Poems and Aphorisms, James Richardson, Ausable Press (2004).
- As If, James Richardson, The National Poetry Series, Selected by Amy Clampitt, Persea Books (1992).
I came across James Richardson's "Late Aubade" in The Best American Poetry 2016, and felt such an affinity with the work I went back to the first book, Reservations, and have started reading everything from there. Richardson is a poet with vision: he sees the emotional or philosophical situation happening through the physical, and makes both of them present in his poems. But he doesn't only see: like a musician, what he sees he transfers to hearing, and we, the readers, hear the subtle movements of emotional tenor and timing as we move from stanza to stanza, line to line. He builds and releases tension with all the resources of language and line. Which is to say, he is a beautiful prosodist. Beyond that, as he has stated, he has an interest in science, which finds its way into the poems as another angle from which the poet understands the world and the little we know of it.
- Solaris (1972), Mirror (1975), Stalker (1979), Nostalghia (1983), director Andrei Tarkovsky.
Natural events have a voice in these films, alongside the human voices, and it feels as though they have an equal stature: a gust of wind, a cuckoo's call, a sudden downpour, weed flowing in an underwater current, a fire. Tarkovsky's attention to human memory and the detritus of life unfolds in a slowed-down time that makes time itself visible.
- Soy Cuba (1964), director Mikhail Kalatozov.
Sweeping aerial cinematography in the opening scenes develops into a feverish portrait of human beings damaged by colonial exploitation.
- In the Mood for Love (2000), director Wong Kai-Wai.
The music, the elegance, a kind of slow rhythm within and between the scenes, the restraint of the relationship depicted, the rain -- the beauty of this film left a deep impression on me.