Thursday, June 14, 2007


O.K. We're talking about toy pianos, China and my illustrious* musical career.
Here's how all that comes together.
Margaret Leng Tan (I've linked her site, check it out) was in town for a concert at Cornish couple a' years ago.
I belong to one of the organizations that sponsored the event.
Margaret Leng Tan is a pianist who does 1derful things with toy pianos.
And full sized pianos.
She plays stuff by John Cage (and others)
John Cage (and others) got his start at Cornish.
This shindig took place in the Poncho (nothing to do with Mexico)
I volunteered to help out with the event.
So I got to meet her. Very nice. Beautiful hands.
I sat at the table with her selling Seedees and keeping track of the $$$.
Loads of fun, I bought one, autograph and all.
Oh yeah, here's the other thing, I borrowed, from my movie-loving friend, a VCR of "The Last Emperor of China" and' over the span of two evenings, watched it.
Fascinating story.
Chinas 20th century history is incredibly complex and painful ordeal.
Yanked out of the past and into the future with a minimum of courtesy.
The Forbidden City, Sun yat sen, Chaing Kai Shek, Mao Tse Tung, Nanking, the Japanese, Manchuko, the communists, the nationalists, Red guards, the little red book, cultural revolution, the long march.
The fake Chinese music that Amos Yang mentioned at the luncheon monday.
You've all heard it in older movies, pentatonic stuff not unlike the fake indian music in cowboy and indian movies.
The Nazi ambassador complained about the atrocities at Nanking.
Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Brits, opium......
There are several (lots, actually) good books about the subject.
Can I rememberem?
"Four Swans" don't remember the author. The story of four generations of a chinese family, from foot binding to jet set.
Anything by Amy Tan (don't know if there is any relation to the pianist)
"The Rape of Nanking" don't remember the author.
"Le Conditione Humaine" by that french guy, starts with an "M"
Just a minnit, I'll go check my library;
Well, the house is all tore up, can't find it, you've heard of him, diplomat, politician, writer.
I know I've read more, but that's all I can think of right at the moment.
All us round eyed barbarians were ever interested in was the communist takeover, which was a mistake.
As are all simplistic impressions.
About anything.
Or anybody.

Ill-lustrious = lacking in luster.



Blogger Lane Savant said...

Andre Malraux

9:39 AM  
Blogger Lane Savant said...

Ill-lustrious; sickly pale, pallid patina, pathologically dull, of an unhealthy color.

9:05 AM  
Blogger butch said...

Glad you had an opportunity to watch all those hours of Bertulucci's THE LAST EMPORER, and that you have found all these spiritual, intellectual and emotional links to your music and your personal views.

Margaret Leng Tan has established herself as a major force within the American avant-garde; a highly visible, talented and visionary pianist whose work sidesteps perceived artificial boundaries within the usual concert experience and creates a new level of communication with listeners. Embracing aspects of theater, choreography, performance and even “props” such as the teapot she "plays" in Alvin Lucier’s Nothing is Real, Tan has brought to the avant-garde, a measure of good old-fashioned showmanship tempered with a disciplinary rigor inherited from her mentor John Cage. This has won Tan acceptance far beyond the norm for performers of avant-garde music, as she is regularly featured at international festivals, records often for adventurous labels such as Mode and New Albion and has appeared on American public television, Lincoln Center and even at Carnegie Hall.

Born in Singapore, Tan was the first woman to earn a doctorate from Juilliard, but youthful restlessness and a desire to explore the crosscurrents between Asian music and that of the West led her to Cage. This sparked an active collaboration between Cage and Tan that lasted from 1981 to his death, during which Tan gained recognition as one of the pre-eminent interpreters of Cage’s music, partly through her New Albion recordings, Daughters of the Lonesome Isle and The Perilous Night/Four Walls. After Cage’s death in 1992, she was chosen as the featured performer in a tribute to his memory at the 45th Venice Biennale.

Tan takes a lively interest in the musical potential of unconventional and unlikely instruments, and in 1997 her groundbreaking CD, The Art of the Toy Piano on Point Music/Universal Classics elevated the lowly toy piano to the status of a “real” instrument. Tan is certainly the world’s first, and so far, only professional toy piano virtuoso. Since then her curiosity has extended to other toy instruments as well, substantiating her credo "Poor tools require better skills" (Marcel Duchamp).

Tan favors music that confronts and defies the established boundaries of the piano and her toy instruments and has collaborated with like-minded composers to create works for her, such as Somei Satoh, Tan Dun, Michael Nyman, Julia Wolfe, Toby Twining and Ge Gan-ru; she is also a favorite of composer George Crumb. Tan’s authority on matters of Cage has evolved from that of an expert interpreter to responsible scholar protecting the textual integrity of his work; Tan edited the fourth volume of Cage’s piano music for C. F. Peters and in 2006 gave the premiere of his newly discovered 1944 work Chess Pieces, which she also edited for publication. Tan’s Mode DVD of Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes includes a video in which she examines the original, 1940s era preparation materials for the work. Photogenic and comfortable with the camera, Tan is the subject of a feature documentary by filmmaker Evans Chan, Sorceress of the New Piano: The Artistry of Margaret Leng Tan, which has been screened at numerous international film festivals including Vancouver, Melbourne and AFI/Discovery Channel’s SILVERDOCS where it was a Best Music Documentary Nominee.

John Milton Cage Jr. (September 5, 1912 – August 12, 1992) was an American composer. He is perhaps best known for his 1952 composition 4'33", whose three movements are performed without playing a single note. He was a pioneer of chance music, non-standard use of musical instruments, and electronic music. Though he remains a controversial figure, he is generally regarded as one of the most important composers of his era.

Cage was a long-term collaborator and romantic partner of choreographer Merce Cunningham. In addition to his composing, Cage was also a philosopher, writer, printmaker[1], and avid amateur mycologist and mushroom collector.

John Cage returned to California in 1931, his enthusiasm for America being revived, he said, by reading Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. There he took lessons in composition from Richard Buhlig, Henry Cowell at the New School for Social Research, Adolph Weiss and, famously, Arnold Schoenberg whom he "literally worshipped". Schoenberg told Cage he would tutor him for free on the condition he "devoted his life to music". Cage readily agreed, but stopped lessons after two years. Cage later wrote in his lecture Indeterminacy: "After I had been studying with him for two years, Schoenberg said, 'In order to write music, you must have a feeling for harmony.' I explained to him that I had no feeling for harmony. He then said that I would always encounter an obstacle, that it would be as though I came to a wall through which I could not pass. I said, 'In that case I will devote my life to beating my head against that wall'." Schoenberg later described Cage as being 'not a composer, but an inventor — of genius".

Cage soon began to experiment with percussion instruments, as well as non-traditional instruments and sound-producing devices, and gradually came to use rhythm as the basis for his music instead of harmony. More generally, he structured pieces according to the duration of sections. These approaches owed something to the music of Anton Webern and especially Erik Satie, one of his favourite composers.

In 1935, Cage married artist Xenia Andreyevna Kashevaroff.

The Cornish School years
In the late 1930s, Cage went to the Cornish School of the Arts in Seattle, Washington. There he found work as an accompanist for dancers. He was asked to write some music to accompany a dance by Syvilla Fort called Bacchanale. He wanted to write a percussion piece, but there was no pit at the performance venue for a percussion ensemble and he had to write for a piano. While working on the piece, Cage experimented by placing a metal plate on top of the strings of the instrument. He liked the resulting sound, and this eventually led to his conceiving the prepared piano, in which screws, bolts, strips of rubber, and other objects are placed between the strings of the piano to change the character of the instrument. This creation was influenced by his old teacher Henry Cowell, who wrote pieces requiring performers to pluck the piano strings with their fingers and use metal slides.

The Sonatas and Interludes of 1946–48 are usually considered Cage's greatest work for prepared piano. Pierre Boulez was one of the work's admirers, and he organized its European premiere. The two composers struck up a correspondence which ended when they disagreed over Cage's use of chance in composing. For Boulez, this was an unacceptable abdication of the composer’s control over his art. However for Cage this was to be a wholly necessary step in his subsequent aesthetic evolution.

Another significant prepared piano work is The Perilous Night (1943). "Cage always referred to it as his "autobiographical" piece, and his biographer, David Revill has convincingly associated it with the traumas associated with Cage's sexual reorientation, culminating in divorce from his wife (1945) and the beginning of a monogamous homosexual parternership with Merce Cunningham, that lasted to the end of his life. [This piece was] Cage's attempt to express, and thereby relieve, the anxieties he was experiencing in his private life"3.

It was also at Cornish that Cage founded a percussion orchestra for which he wrote his First Construction (In Metal) in 1939, a piece that uses metal percussion instruments to make a loud and rhythmic music. He also wrote Imaginary Landscape No. 1 in that year, possibly the first composition to employ record players as instruments. It consisted of a quartet using "a muted piano, a suspended cymbal, and two variable-speed turntables on which single-frequency radio test records were played at various steady speeds and also sliding between speeds in siren-like glissandos"3. Around this time, he met the dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, who became a major creative collaborator and his lifelong partner following Cage's split from his then-wife Xenia. (The couple divorced in 1945 or 1946.)

In late 1942 and early 1943 Cage composed his "'Ten-Piece Percussion Ensemble' whose members included his [then] wife Xenia and Merce Cunningham"3. This piece was performed at the New York Museum of Modern Art, February 7, 1943. "It was widely written up in the press, including a picture spread in Life magazine, and won him his first fame"3.

Asian influences
While at the Cornish School, Cage encountered ideas that influenced his later work. From the Indian musician Gita Sarabhai he heard Thomas Mace's saying "The purpose of music is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences." Cage developed an interest in Hindu aesthetics through the writings of the nineteenth century mystic Sri Ramakrishna, the twentieth century Indian art historian Anada K. Coomaraswamy and, through Coomaraswamy, the medieval Christian mystic Meister Eckhart. These influences are detectable in such pieces such as The Seasons and the String Quartet in Four Parts, whose anti-directional and harmonically static forms suggest the cycles of nature.

Most infuential, though, was Cage’s discovery in the late forties of Taoism and then Zen Buddhism, through Japanese scholar Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki. In 1950, Cage received a copy of the I Ching from composer Christian Wolff. Rather than fortune-telling, Cage used it to make compositional decisions. The first work Cage composed by tossing coins was titled, appropriately enough, Music of Changes"3. The reduced, static expression of the Indian inspired works faded as Cage aimed to dissolve personality, intention and expression altogether via the use of chance. Another important work from this era is the Concerto for Prepared Piano and Chamber Orchestra of 1951.

John Cage put his Zen Buddhist beliefs into practice through music. He described his music as "purposeless play", but "this play is an affirmation of life—not an attempt to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we are living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out the way and lets it act of its own accord." Hence comes his favorite saying nichi nichi kore kōnichi or, every day is a good day.

After leaving the Cornish School, Cage joined the faculty of the Chicago School of Design for a time, then moved to New York City. He continued to write music and establish new musical contacts. He toured America with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company several times, and also toured Europe with the experimental pianist David Tudor, his other closest collaborator during this period.

After it was introduced to him by Christian Wolff, Cage began to use the I Ching (Chinese “Book of Changes”) in the composition of his music in order to provide a framework for his uses of chance. He used it, for example, in the Music of Changes for solo piano in 1951, to determine which notes should be used and when they should sound. Another piece Cage wrote consisted of lines, running horizontally and some verticaly across the page of all different length. The performer must determine the speed, pitch, clef, and length of each note based on what he perceived the line to instruct. He used chance in other ways as well; Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951) is written for twelve radio receivers. Each radio has two players; one to control the frequency the radio is tuned to, the other to control the volume level. Cage wrote very precise instructions in the score about how the performers should set their radios and change them over time, but he could not control the actual sound coming out of them, which was dependent on whatever radio shows were playing at that particular place and time of performance. This piece marked a move away from scores which had been merely composed with indeterminate methods, to those which were also performatively indeterminate. Such pieces as the Variations series paradoxically placed great responsibility in the hands of the performer in the demands the music made in terms of realising indeterminate (chance) procedures. When applied to the often-conservative infrastructure of the symphony orchestra, in pieces such as the Concert for Piano and Orchestra (1958) and Atlas Eclipticalis (1961), Cage’s radical demands resulted in markedly hostile performer reactions.

The detailed nature of Cage's compositional use of chance remains poorly understood. Generally, Cage proceeded from the broadest aspects of a new composition to extremely specific ones. For all these decisions, he determined the number of possibilities for each aspect and then used chance to select a particular possibility: the number of possibilities would be related to one or a series of numbers corresponding to the sixty-four hexagrams of the I Ching. For instance, Cage might choose a musical pitch from three possibilities. Possibility A could be related to I Ching numbers 1–24, possibility B to 25–48, and possibility C to 49–64. The actual choice of an I Ching number, as described in the book itself when it is used as an oracle, was accomplished by tossing coins or (later) by running a computer program, initially the print-out of one designed at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign under the supervision of Lejaren Hiller and later one designed by Cage's assistant, the composer Andrew Culver. There, at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Cage wrote a "mixed-media performance called HPSCHD (computerese for "harpsichord"). Programming the computer to make the I Ching coin tosses for him enabling Cage to make enough random decisions-more than a million-to keep seven keyboard players, fifty-two tape recorders playing random computer-generated 'tunes' in fifty-two different tunning systems, fifty-two film projectors and sixty-four slide projectors (showing scenes of space travel, some from old science-fiction movies) constantly busy for four-and-a-half hours, May 16, 1969"3. Cage called the generation of an I Ching number a chance operation.... A finished composition generally entailed numerous chance operations. Before "HPSCHD", He composed Atlas eclipticalis (1961). This piece was written for "eighty-six instrumental parts that could be played in whole or in part, for any duration and in any combination from soloist to full orchestra. The I Ching decided which staves carried which clefs, and how they were to be assigned to the various instruments. The performance was a fiasco. The orchestra rebelled along with the audience...some so enraged that they threw their microphones on the floor and stamped on them"3. These are just a few examples of 'Chance Music' that Cage comprised and the reactions he received. Most performers often felt that Cage's 'chance' music was so detailed that there was nothing left to chance (or improvise). The performers felt more like slaves of the music rather than interpreters. Cage later went on to say "In my opinion it is the composer's privilege to determine his works, down to the minutest detail".

Everything that was good about the 163-minute theatrical release of Bernardo Bertolucci's The Last Emperor in 1987 is even better in this new 218-minute director's cut. By contrast, much that was peculiarly distant and lifeless the first time around isn't really better or worse in this edition. Conclusion: the net gains are considerable if you invest time to appreciate Bertolucci's full feeling for the odd story of Pu Yi, China's final monarch. You remember the saga: taken from his mother at the age of three, Pu Yi is brought into the enclosed walls of the Forbidden City to replace the real emperor. There he becomes a pampered prisoner and hollow symbol of an older monarchy that has since given way to a ruthless, 20th century republic. With his pining loyalists beheaded or kept at bay by armed soldiers outside the City's walls, Pu Yi is tutored by an English gentleman (Peter O'Toole) and wed to a kindred spirit (Joan Chen). Eventually cast from his gated paradise, Pu Yi (wonderfully portrayed in adulthood by John Lone) becomes, by turns, a playboy, a dupe to the Japanese, and a victim of China's cultural reforms and re-education programs. This longer cut largely top-loads the film with greater reason to feel compassion for the emperor, with his often wordless sense-adventure in the mysteries that could only be known to one little boy plunged into indecipherable alien decorum, robbed of self-determination and common sense by his infinite privilege. Added scenes (including some in the political rehabilitation camp where Pu Yi is held for a decade) fill out not so much added facts as density of experience. This improved The Last Emperor is richer in soul and a pronounced sense of Bertolucci actually directing this film in the most personal and profound sense

Amos Yang, yeah, I remember now, the celloist for SSO, right? Nice tie-in the the luncheon posting. He surely made a good point. The fake Hollywood music has always been an irritant. That same beating drum and chanting Indians in a million westerns, or those same four chords that do dum, dum, and then dum, dum, dum like. And just go back to the CHARLIE CHAN films to hear the infamous fake Chinese refrains, kind of tinkle, tinkle chimes and some reed work.

The only FOUR SWANS I could find was by Winston Graham, and it was the POLDARK SAGA/Series about medieval England. So I struck out on that one.

The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II (Paperback)
by Iris Chang (Author)

China has endured much hardship in its history, as Iris Chang shows in her ably researched The Rape of Nanking, a book that recounts the horrible events in that eastern Chinese city under Japanese occupation in the late 1930s. Nanking, she writes, served as a kind of laboratory in which Japanese soldiers were taught to slaughter unarmed, unresisting civilians, as they would later do throughout Asia. Likening their victims to insects and animals, the Japanese commanders orchestrated a campaign in which several hundred thousand--no one is sure just how many--Chinese soldiers and noncombatants alike were killed. Chang turns up an unlikely hero in German businessman John Rabe, a devoted member of the Nazi party who importuned Adolf Hitler to intervene and stop the slaughter, and who personally saved the lives of countless residents of Nanking. She also suggests that the Japanese government pay reparations and apologize for its army's horrific acts of 60 years ago.

Yeah to the red man we are the "white eyes", and to the Orientals we are the "round eyes". And hell, many of us seem to be the gaggle of "no eyes" considering the president that got himself elected and re-elected.

One of my favorite books about China was 55 DAYS AT PEKING (1963) by Samuel Edwards, @ 204 pages. Hollywood rushed out its film version 55 DAYS AT PEKING (1963) directed by Guy Green, starring Charlton Heston, David Niven, Ava Gardner, Harry Andrews, and Theodore Bikel. It was slanted and over simplified, but it seemed fascinating to a 19 year old punk.

André Malraux (November 3, 1901 - November 23, 1976) was a French author, adventurer and statesman, and a dominant figure in French politics and culture.

Malraux was born in Paris. His parents separated in 1905 and eventually divorced. He was raised by his mother and maternal grandmother, Berthe and Adrienne Lamy. His father, a stockbroker, committed suicide in 1930.

Malraux studied Oriental languages at the École des Langues Orientales but did not graduate. At the age of 21 he left for Cambodia with his new wife, Clara Goldschmidt, a German Jewish heiress whom he married in 1921 and divorced in 1946. (Their daughter, Florence (b.1933), married the filmmaker Alain Resnais.) In Cambodia he was arrested and almost imprisoned for trying to smuggle out a bas-relief from the Banteay Srei temple.

Malraux became highly critical of the French colonial authorities in Indochina, and in 1925 helped to organize the Young Annam League; he also founded the newspaper Indochina in Chains.

On his return to France he published his first novel, The Temptation of the West (1926). This was followed by The Conquerors (1928), The Royal Way (1930) and Man's Fate (1933). For the latter, a powerful novel about the defeat of a communist regime in Shanghai and the choices facing the losers, he won the 1933 Prix Goncourt of literature. Included in his non-published work is Mayrena, a novel about the eccentric French adventurer Marie-Charles David de Mayrena, conqueror of the highlands of Vietnam and first king of the Sedangs.

In the 1930s Malraux joined archeological expeditions to Iran and Afghanistan. He founded the International Association of Writers for the Defense of Culture with Louis Aragon.

During the Spanish Civil War Malraux served as a pilot for the Republican forces. His squadron gained something of the status of a legend after nearly annihilating part of the Nationalist army at Medellín. He was wounded twice during efforts to stop the Falangist takeover of Madrid. He toured the United States in an attempt to raise funds for the Republicans. A novel about his Spanish war experiences, Man's Hope, appeared in 1938.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Malraux joined the French Army and served in a tank unit. He was captured in 1940 during the Western Offensive but escaped and joined the French Resistance. He was again captured by the Gestapo in 1944 and although he underwent a mock execution, was rescued by members of the resistance. He ended up leading Brigade Alsace-Lorraine in defence of Strasbourg and in the takeover of Stuttgart. He was awarded the Médaille de la Résistance, the Croix de Guerre, and the British Distinguished Service Order.

During the war he worked on a long novel, The Struggle Against the Angel, the manuscript of which was destroyed by the Gestapo upon his capture in 1944. A surviving opening book to The Struggle Against the Angel, named The Walnut Trees of Altenburg, was published after the war. It would be his final novel.

Wow, following the whirling and swirling of your mind's machinations is like endeavoring to collar a whirling dervish --it leaves an old fart like me breathless.


3:56 PM  
Blogger Lane Savant said...

Actually "Three Swans" makes more sense.
I'll try to look it up.

2:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Greetings from Schwerin, more specifically the Landeszentralbib liothek there, where my "Lovely Librarian" volunteers Mondays and I can use a computer for unlimited time, as opposed to the one-hour guillotine of the Seáttle Public Library System. Thus, here, I can read all of Glenn's interesting info without exhausting my time. This time Glenn's info (esp. regarding Cage) is especially interesting!! Thanks, loads, Glenn!!!
More on "Three Swans" and the "Amphib" video in the "3S" commentary.

2:06 AM  
Blogger butch said...

Perhaps your mind is closing in on the novel of China that you are endeavoring to recall. THREE SWANS is also hard to dicipher, or find. Perhaps this novel is the one you are striving to recall:

Wild Swans : Three Daughters of China (Paperback)
by Jung Chang

In Wild Swans Jung Chang recounts the evocative, unsettling, and insistently gripping story of how three generations of women in her family fared in the political maelstrom of China during the 20th century. Chang's grandmother was a warlord's concubine. Her gently raised mother struggled with hardships in the early days of Mao's revolution and rose, like her husband, to a prominent position in the Communist Party before being denounced during the Cultural Revolution. Chang herself marched, worked, and breathed for Mao until doubt crept in over the excesses of his policies and purges. Born just a few decades apart, their lives overlap with the end of the warlords' regime and overthrow of the Japanese occupation, violent struggles between the Kuomintang and the Communists to carve up China, and, most poignant for the author, the vicious cycle of purges orchestrated by Chairman Mao that discredited and crushed millions of people, including her parents.

This book does "sound" more like the book of your mind that you mentioned earlier.


8:17 AM  

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