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untitled (Bertoias) 2012


I spotted this group in the MoMA Sculpture Garden today at about 5:30, when friends and I were leaving the museum. The Bertoia chairs were waiting patiently for the audience to assemble.

but the shame of sentencing the man to prison, and it endures today

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Henry Cowell at the Forest Theater, Carmel, 1913 (we were all once very young)


Henry Cowell, born in the last years of the 19h century, was a brilliant composer, one of the wildest, most original of the 20th century, and his work remains radical today in the 21st. He was also a magnificent pianist, in great demand all over the world while still in his 20s. Two months after his 40th birthday he was arrested in his Menlo Park home on a 'morals' charge, and two months after that he began a 15-year term in San Quentin prison. He was paroled after four, and pardoned two years after that.

Joel Sachs' short 2013 account of Cowell's public martyrdom is essential reading on the subject. The year before Sachs had published a major study of the composer, musician and theorist: "Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music".

I have not read the book. As someone very much on the outside of musical theory, even outside of musical practice, I'm not likely to, and yet, as a fan and as a queer, I feel very connected to Cowell's story.

I was born the year Cowell's family, friends and many major composers and musicians were finally able to persuade the California authorities to release him early. Unfortunately, for the rest of us the nightmare was still not over. I remember very well the era of entrapment, prison, and violence that continued for another generation, and beyond. Brutal laws and brutish attitudes warped the personalities, aspirations, careers, dreams and loves of millions, when they did not actually physically cripple or murder the victims. I was lucky to have escaped physically, but there was serious internal scarring. Some of my friends were less fortunate.

Sadly, the hatred and the violence continues all over the world, and it has not disappeared in the U.S.


Note: I published this post after hearing a piece by Cowell this morning on the excellent internet station, Counterstream Radio. "Atlantis" was composed for dance; it includes a small ensemble and three singers moaning wordlessly in sexually explicit ways. The mission and the operations of both Counterstream and its parent, New Music USA, are described by their names. Cowell's music lives today; it's still going against the stream and it's still new.


[image from OUPblog]

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lines (empire) 2014


The sun is able to reach this wall, fifteen feet from the window, only secondhand: It needs the help of a casement across the street, propped opened at just the right angle.

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untitled (kale wave) 2013


I saw this wave of ornamental kale assembled inside the pedestrianized area of Broadway just to the east of the Flatiron Building today, and snapped this picture with my phone camera. The little guys were waiting to be distributed around the neighborhood, where they will be transplanted into large pots or sidewalk cuts, usually at the base of a small tree. One of New York's ways of recognizing the arrival of fall is to replace the flowering plants which had graced the streets during the summer (yeah, things certainly have changed around here since the 70s and early 80s).

I love kale, and I think I appreciate the ornamental kind almost as well, but I can never quite empty my head of the knowledge that even these plants are actually quite edible. In a pinch they could ward off starvation, but lets hope it won't be a long hard winter.

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Leo Borchard (b. March 31, 1899, Moscow - d. August 23, 1945, Berlin)


On this day in 1945 the conductor Leo Borchard was killed by an American sentry in occupied Berlin while the musician was being driven home after conducting a concert of the Berlin Philharmonic. His British driver had misinterpreted the sentry's hand signal to stop.*

Three months earlier the artist had been appointed to replace the somewhat-compromised, and now-exiled Wilhelm Fürtwangler as musical director of the orchestra. At the time of Borchard's death he had conducted 22 hugely-welcome and greatly-acclaimed concerts, wining the affections of the traumatized population of the shattered city.

Born in Moscow to an ethnic German family in 1899, Borchard grew up in St. Petersburg, studying there before moving to Berlin, after the Russian Revolution, in 1920. In the German capital he was enjoying an increasingly important conducting career, which included promoting the music of young composers, when he was declared undesirable by the Nazi regime in 1935, for protecting Jewish musicians and for being "politically unreliable".

He remained in the city, hiding his identity, and gave music lessons in his apartment. He also became a member of the German resistance, and, along with his stunningly-beautiful partner, the author Ruth Andreas-Friedrich, formed the humanitarian resistance group, Onkel Emil ("Onkel Emil" was their warning signal), a secret network which committed sabotage, destroyed Nazi propaganda materials and broadcast their own leaflets - and those of the tragic "White Rose". They expertly created fake medical certificates which would enable the bearer to avoid military service. They rescued war resisters, political enemies of the regime and, above all, Jews, finding hiding places, procuring food, supplying false identity cards, and supporting families which would otherwise be without resources or protection..

I first heard about Borchard years ago while reading the memoirs of various members of the Widerstand, some of whom referred to him, always with love and admiration - for both the man and his art. At the time I could find very little information about either. Although even now very little has turned up, there are a precious few recordings, and at least one video.

I've also learned about the two memoirs** written by Andreas-Friedrich, one about her experience during the war, the other about Berlin in the years immediately following. I expect to read them both.


*
Borchard wasn't the only victim of American security forces in Europe that year: Anton Webern was killed three weeks later in Mittersill, near Salzburg, on September 15th. The composer had gone there from Vienna to be safe, but that night, just before the military curfew, when he stepped outside his house in order to smoke a cigar, he was shot by an American Army soldier, in circumstances which are not really clear to this day..


**
"Berlin Underground, 1938-1945", and "Battleground Berlin: Diaries 1945-1948"


[image from Discogs]

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detail of Stampflehmbauweise (rammed-earth process) wall


Berlin's Kapelle der Versöhnung (chapel of the reconciliation) was built on the exact site of the Versöhnungskirche, which had survived the Anglo-American bombings of Berlin but not the pathology of the GDR. The 1895 church was destroyed in 1985 in order to improve the security of the wall standing adjacent to it. The history is a little complex, making the story of the new chapel, and its construction, even richer than it might be otherwise.

Today the Kapelle is a part of the Berlin Wall Memorial on Bernauer Strasse.

The image at the top shows pieces of various materials (which here or elsewhere include stone, tile glass) which came from the rubble of the original church.

This is a view of the entire chapel, the rammed-earth wall can be detected behind the vertical square-section raw wood slats:

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untitled (radish water) 2013

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large detail of the seating in the anatomical theater


It was an immense privilege to visit the newly-restored 1789/90 Tieranatomische Theater in Berlin's Humboldt University today. The building, designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, using Palladio's Villa Rotonda as a model, was commissioned by King Frederick William II to serve as a research centre to control and combat animal and equine diseases.

Barry and I, along with our friend Daniel, were almost alone today while we explored the outer rooms, the staircases, the vault, and especially the remarkable steeply-tiered auditorium where veterinary students learned their profession.

Horses and other large animals were dissected by their teachers on a large round platform which could neatly be raised above and lowered below the floor in the center by the wooden machinery designed by the architect. The didactic which accompanied a working model in the undercroft explained the rational for the device: The route chosen for introducing and removing the bodies to and from the elegant space was intended to minimize both the smell and the mess.

As history and architecture buffs, our own experience in the former royal veterinary faculty was less critical to world betterment, but possibly more exhilarating. And incidentally, the museum attendants could not have been more gracious.

The university will be using the building, restored between 2005 and 2012, for exhibitions and events. The artist Jodie Carey's site-specific piece, "Shroud", was installed in the auditorium in July. I wish we had seen it.


There are more pictures here.

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untitled (cutting board) 2013

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untitled (no parking) 2013


This is an image, taken in the late afternoon, of a large section of the facade of a 19th-century Berlin building on Münzstraße which is being renovated while covered with a green safety net.