I am sitting in a room

Alvin Lucier exemplifies what it means to lose oneself in a boundless, immeasurable, space through means of replication. “I Am Sitting In a Room” pushes you off balance and makes you feel like you are in front of a three paneled bathroom mirror, when you angle two of the mirrors so that the image of your face reflects against its reflections and your visage becomes infinite.

He starts by talking to us, the unidentified listener, telling us what he is doing. He is sitting in a room, producing a recording of his voice which he then re-records and replays, 32 times. He claims he did not create this to prove a physical fact, but to smooth out any irregularities in his voice.

The question is raised: what is the significance of replication, and when does a replicated artifact lose its original quality and become an entirely new artifact?

Listening to “I Am Sitting in a Room” gives you the same feeling that you get when you remember that pi goes on forever, 3.141592653589793238462… or when you attempt to wrap your head around the fact that the universe is expanding at an accelerating rate. You are simultaneously compelled and terrified by the illusion of replication, of infinity.

After 5 or 6 re-re-re-re-re recordings, his voice is inaudible and no longer human. You could map out the notes on a musical score. You are now listening to something resembles a malfunctioning microphone in an auditorium of faceless listeners, like an eerie, boring nightmare. You are listening to the sounds of a child playing with an electronic keyboard, tuneless, rhythmless. That, or a drunk person playing the accordion.

The piece that was once a clear, monotonous speech has been replicated into scattered tonalities separated by consonants echoing themselves over a silently screeching hum. His voice is lost, he is lost. We belong to the record button now.

Obituary: Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse performs in Amsterdam, 2007 | Flickr

Amy Winehouse performs in Amsterdam, 2007 | Flickr

 

I started listening to an Amy Winehouse playlist and got really into it. Research lead to musing lead to writing an obituary.

Amy Winehouse, British retro-soul singer who gained international fame with her contralto voice and brazen personality died Saturday in her London home. The cause of death is currently described as “unexplained.” She was 27.

During Winehouse’s career as a singer songwriter, she composed two albums: Frank (2003), inspired by her love of Frank Sinatra and Back to Black (2006), which won Best Pop Vocal Album at the Grammy’s in 2008. The dark, confessional album was also nominated for Album of the Year. Winehouse was also the recipient of five Grammy awards in 2008. She rose to worldwide stardom with the single “Rehab,” and wrote many other hit songs like “Back to Black” and “You Know I’m No Good.” Her achievements as an artist stretched beyond her awards. Past her ability to contextualize older genres into contemporary pop, and into the influence she had on pop music in the 1990s through the 2000s.

In a time period marked by the emergence of female pop music that was superficial and packaged, Winehouse was an artist of substance, fascinated with the past. Her influences were firmly rooted in the movements of jazz and soul, marked by brassy trumpets and low, breathy vocals. She loved Motown like Otis Redding, and modeled her sound after girl groups in the 50s and 60s like The Ronettes. Winehouse was also a fan of contemporary hip-hop and rap, like Mos Def and Nas. She drew on gospel. Its clear in the gritty sincerity of her voice that she was inspired by gospel-style singers like Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin. Winehouse embraced a crossover of jazz, blues, soul and pop that the world has never seen before. She was a self-made pioneer for female vocalists who raised the bar for similar upcoming female artists like Adele and Lily Allen, who have cited Winehouse as an influence.

“There’s no point in saying anything but the truth. Because, at the end of the day, I don’t have to answer to you, or my ex, or a man in a suit from the record company. I have to answer to myself,” Amy Winehouse told the Guardian in 2004. What partitioned her as an artist and performer was her defiant yet vulnerable demeanor. Her body was a canvas of tattoos that patterned her pale skin and reached down her chest and arms. She was often covered by thigh-gripping dresses, and her face brightened by colored hoop earrings. Her petite frame was held up by chunky platform heels and ballet pumps on the red carpet. Her beehive of black hair inspired by the style of The Ronettes swooped on top of her head and became her trademark. Paired with her signature cat-like eyeliner, Winehouse was not only a musical icon, but a style icon. To the eyes, Winehouse was an emulated, visual mélange of style from the artists of the decades that so passionately influenced her.

Unfortunately not uncommon for young, pioneering talent, Winehouse had a public struggle with drugs and alcohol that both harmed and fueled her career. In what seemed like a constant battle with the press, Winehouse’s musical career was often overshadowed by the public’s obsession with tragedy. She was pegged with an image as a spiraling artist, tortured by her addiction to hard drugs and her relationship with ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil, a producer from London. Her grapple with addiction became a tabloid expose.

Nonetheless, Winehouse was a phenomenally talented singer with a deeply mature connection to her creative side. “I wouldn’t write anything unless it was personal to me. I wouldn’t be able to tell a story right or really fill out the song with words because I wouldn’t have done it.” On her songwriting process, she said, “A lot of it is stuff, I’ve been through. And even if its personal in a sad way, I would never let it just be that. I’ll make it funny. I’ll always put a punch line in the song.”

Amy Winehouse was born in the Southgate area of London on September 14, 1983 to parents Mitchell, a Frank Sinatra-loving taxi driver, and Janis Winehouse, a pharmacist. Amy’s first creative influencer was Frank Sinatra, whose songs she sang and memorized with her father as a young girl, and who her debut album Frank was affectionately named after. Her parents divorced when she was 9, around the time Amy’s grandmother recognized her vocal talent and encouraged her to attend the Sylvia Young Theatre School. At school she was continually reprimanded for her defiant attitude and rule-breaking proclivities, but she continued to sing.

Manager Simon Fuller picked up teenage Winehouse when she was performing at local pubs, and she later started working with producers Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson. Success from Frank sent her performing at jazz festivals and eventually on international tour. Her single “Rehab,” a pouty, melodic refusal of her label’s request for her to check into rehabilitation facilities became a hit, and Back to Black rose to number one on the UK Albums Chart, as well as number seven on the Billboard 200 in the US. Back to Black became Britain’s best selling album of the year in 2007, selling nearly 2 million copies.

In 2008, the singer was nominated for six Grammy awards and asked to perform live at the show. However the U.S. Department of State would not approve her visa due to a collective concern for her health and safety. However this did not stop Winehouse from appearing – it was arranged for a live taping of “Rehab” and “You Know I’m No Good” to be sent from London to the U.S. through satellite. She sang with her band at 3 A.M. London time and appeared on CBS during the Grammy awards show, proving that she was still alive and singing.

Amy Winehouse wore her heart on her sleeve with musical genius and craft for lyrical vulnerability. From London jazz pubs to worldwide success, she fought through a turbulent career path and stayed true to her roots as a singer and innovator of pop music. Elle critic Karen Durbin said of Winehouse’s transformation, “You see the moment when the girl becomes something fiercer and weirder, and the ordinary pretty-girl makeup turns to war paint.” Winehouse’s work was drawn from heartbreak, desertion and the pain that accompanies addiction and exposed outwardly and bravely through her demimonde persona. It was her honesty, pain and vulnerability as an artist that her fans identified with, and that human connection she was able to make with the world that brought her critical acclaim

Her music continually redeemed her, saving her from relapse. “I didn’t want to just wake up drinking and crying and listening to the Shangri-Las, and go to sleep, and wake up drinking and listening to the Shangri-Las. So I turned it into songs and that’s how I got through it,” she explained.

At 20 years old just after Frank was released, Winehouse said, “My greatest fear is dying with no one knowing of any contribution I’ve made to music. But if I died tomorrow, I’d still feel fulfilled in a way.”

She is survived by her mother Janis, her father Mitchell and her older brother, Alex.

“The Crowd” (1928) review

“The Crowd:” An Uninspired Glance Into One Man’s Failure

“The Crowd:” An Uninspired Glance Into One Man’s Failure

Despite its thematic truths, there really is no reason to watch “The Crowd,” as it outlines obvious societal ills and offers no conclusive solution to the hardships of life other than escapism.

“The Crowd” is a 1928 silent film written and directed by King Vidor that chronicles the personal journey of everyman John Sims (James Murray), as he is cyclically rewarded and defeated by life as an American businessman, husband and father. Sims becomes the prototype for the average working class man at the brink of the depression era, as he slaves away as an office worker at an insurance company in New York City. He hastily falls in love with Mary (Eleanor Bordman), a bland but kind young woman from a wealthy background and proposes to her during their first encounter. The viewer sympathizes with John throughout his futile attempts to connect with his brothers-in-law. Yet we find ourselves turning on him when he leaves Christmas dinner in pursuit of liquor, unable to impress his wife’s family. He finally returns home, a pitiful stumbling mess. It is here that he first begins to “slip on the ice” literally and metaphorically.

The storyline is a sped-up depiction of John’s life, from his birth to the early years of his marriage and fatherhood. Major changes throughout the plot are motivated and foreshadowed by advertisements, such as the couple’s decision to move in together after John sees the pamphlet about home furnishing, and the “time to re-tire” ad in the newspaper. The camera cuts to the couple’s decision to settle down together and start a life for themselves. The storyline progression prompted by advertisements reflects the couple’s obedience society’s expectations. Events such as these exemplify the predictable nature of the characters and the film, which not-so-subtly recreates the droning, inescapable progression of life that Vidor attempts to capitalize on.

Scenes are driven by organized chaos; daunting wide-angle shots of New York City and the faceless masses of the crowds that populate it, as well as a comical scene of the family’s hectic beach outing.

The Man vs. Society theme is beaten into the audience throughout the film, and adheres to the idea that the only real solace from life’s daily coffee-stained, number crunching torture is family. The film takes a drastic turn when John and Mary’s youngest daughter dies in an automobile accident. Vidor is telling us that just when we’ve thought we’ve finally figured it out, life will present you with unpredictable tragedy. You will be defeated and left with nowhere to turn. Title cards tell us that the crowd will stop to cry with you for a day, but will keep moving without you come the next.

Title cards replacing dialogue all too blatantly summarize the film. “We do not know how big the crowd is, and what opposition to it is until we get out of step with it,” one reads. Daily life is a test of survival of the fittest around us. It becomes easy and agreeable when you are in line, going the right direction and at the same pace as everyone else. But dare to step out of line, take a less traditional path or start slipping on the ice, and society turns against you, just as it does when John loses his job and fails to fulfill his role as the provider for his family. This message, while bleak and repetitive in the film does reflect a profound truth.

Yet the cyclical nature of life is overemphasized in “The Crowd” when John takes the job as a juggling jester, a figure on the street he and Mary made fun of on their first date. “And I bet his father thought he would be president,” they had jeered. The relationship between father and son also becomes a driving element in the film, such as when John’s son restores hope in his father after John’s almost-suicide attempt.

If a critique of the American work force during the early 1900s was what Vidor was aiming for, he succeeded. The characters are believable and the message is clear. Although the plot develops in an anticipatable way, the storyline is cohesive. However a truly successful film – at least for this critic – aims for more than a predictable societal commentary, and reaches to inspire the viewer from a constructive angle. Instead, we are presented with a depressing conclusion in which John is taken back by his wife and son out of pity. Uninspiring to say the least.

Themes in “The Crowd” are not outdated. The characters have problems and moments of success similar to those modern day Americans endure. Bliss of glittering new love dulled by marriage, the struggle of Man vs. Society and inevitable encounters with death are very real elements of the human experience. However comprising a film out of these unavoidable parts of life offers no real insight – just a pessimistic lens into the rat race that life can become, and the story of one man’s failure to hold his head above water.

Unravel

Bjork’s voice braids itself with the violin. Her vocal tone is matching and crossing itself, notes meeting each other and overlapping. The voice is like a silk scarf unraveling because someone is pulling her thread slowly, trying to destroy her, belittling her into a tangled mess on the floor and then, nothingness, silence at the end of 3 minutes. Descending scales on an organ pattern the rough grain, no strain of her voice. She continues to twist and bend the pitch, protesting against whoever is unraveling her and trying to re-braid herself. Her breath rides on strings of silver thread.

She says she’s like a ball of yarn, but her voice resonates like a different kind of material, like fingertips across silk or chiffon. She’s missing, needing someone. But there is a sense of clarity or maybe honesty, happiness, power or independence about being unraveled. She’s free.

Market project progress: Marche Raspail and Bastille

This weekend I made it to both Marche Raspail and Marche Bastille, and the website is starting to come together. The only issue with the GoogleSite so far is that I can’t figure out how to add images/video to the page in a way that is aesthetically pleasing. Other than that, it seems like a perfect platform to use for this project.

As for my experience at the markets, I learned that French people do NOT like to be filmed and photographed. One man working at a vegetable stand at Marche Raspail told me I would have to pay him 5 euro for a picture of his food. What? However everyone was fairly friendly and willing to talk about the food and where it came from, and if I chatted for long enough, give me a sample. I was able to get a lot of footage and photo. My French is sufficient when conversing with people about everyday things, and I have been able to brush up on my food vocabulary, so I had little trouble in that aspect.

The site needs organization and I owe a vegetable vendor 5 euro, but I got a nice picture of some tomatoes.

Tomatoes, illegally captured.

Tomatoes, illegally captured.

Cupid and Psyche: A moment of “volupté”

I have always believed that art is another aspect of humanity that makes life worth appreciating a little bit more. Art endures in a contemporary society that at times seems so bleak and backwards. Art is what brings color, dimension and meaning to our lives and shows us that we are not so entirely different from each other. Art saves people.

That is, if you let yourself become vulnerable to it and not be afraid of what art might make you feel. Sometimes letting yourself be moved by something artistic can be unnerving, because it could disgust you, make you sad, or make you feel so wonderful that you don’t know what to do with yourself and you end up feeling lost in your own inspiration. Baudelaire would describe volupté as a moment of overpowering wonder that can overcome a person when they view art that moves them. I experienced this feeling when I came across the statue of Cupid and Psyche at the Lourvre museum.

Mythical characters from Apuleius’ Metamorphoses Cupid and Psyche become statues intertwined in an embrace in this 1757 sculpture by Antonio Canova. The statue is captioned, “Psyché ranimée par le basier de l’Amour,” or “Psyche revived by Cupid’s kiss.”

The naked, vulnerable figures are adorned with light cloth that hangs from the curves of their bodies, and they stare at each other with an affection that is ancient and enduring.