Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

Brightly Visible, Yet Unnoticed, Right Above Our Heads

July 12, 2015

It happens every time I watch the sky, and I do try to make a habit of doing that at least once a day. Every time I try to decipher the atmosphere’s present convulsions, every time I’m eager to have my earth bound existence lightened by a somewhat more ample perspective, every time I simply want to enjoy the tranquillising blue haze above me, every time I am struck in awe by the outstanding beauty of ever-changing cloud formations that boil away into the higher atmosphere, every time I do this, I have my view contaminated with the puffy contrails of commercial jets zipping across the sky.

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While I am observing these cloud formations, trying to make sense of their chaotic uniqueness and creating unsuccessful models of the underlying dynamics of boiling air, I am enthralled by their magnificent orderliness. Things seem to happen linear and synchronized in an environment that happily allows for so many perfectly embedded exceptions. But what can all this beauty do when slurry lines of jet exhaust cross it out like marked by a mad teacher’s hand on the blackboard of Mr. Common man?

As you see, I could go on and on while my anger is building, but the bone of contention here, and my point of attack, is that every time I look up at the sky I have my view contaminated with the obnoxious contrails of at least five jets hasting across the sky.

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I might have a tendency every now and then to exaggerate and decorate my thoughts with bloomy ornamentations, rummaging around with rococo rosaries and rattling back and forth with illogical emotional outbursts, but for once there is not the slightest trace of exaggeration in my description! At any given time of day or night, and I guess at any given place in central Europe, when you direct your gaze upwards towards the heavens you will find four to ten jet planes navigating their very linear ways across your visual field from one point of the horizon to the other. They have created a jagged network of white streaks that starts out with the typical linear precision of most modern human intentions, and then slowly washes out with wavy and curvy slithers before ending up in a milky haze, all this of course depending on the degree of turbulence in the upper atmosphere.

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Just to underline my point, let us do some mental gymnastics that will help us understand some of its underlying economics. Imagine an average number of passengers sitting in each airplane. With this you get a vague idea of the sizeable dimension of this petrol burning madness, certainly in terms of resource occupation. Let’s say there are 150 passengers on 10 planes at an average ticket price of 200 Euros. This would make for a whopping 300’000 Euros of economic liquidity cruising the jet streams and emitting puffy featherings of cotton candy condensation from hot exhaust gases from burning highly refined petroleum. If I remember correctly the last time the heavens were for sale, Europe was still wrapped up in the Dark Ages, and some hot-headed monk came upon the brilliant idea of selling real estate in the afterlife! And there it is again, happening right up above our heads! Mankind yet again at its very best, in its latest and greatest act of self-sabotage, seemingly intent to block the very light of the sun, the source of all live, from reaching the surface of the earth?

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But if you thought that such obvious a signal from above would cause general outrage, you see yourself proven wrong by reality. As a matter of fact I seem to be once more one lonely Don Quixote angrily fighting windmills that unfortunately are invisible to my peers. I have yet to meet a person who is equally appalled by this constant attack on our aesthetic considerations. Most everybody shrugs their shoulders when confronted with my angry description of this aerial pollution. Apparently people are either absolutely oblivious or totally accustomed to it.

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It is a daunting question, that nagging wormlike wondering about what to do with the monstrous technological delirium tremens we have maneuvered ourselves into. It literally seems to squeeze the life out of our bones and it pulls that well-treaded rag right out and away from under our feet. All of a sudden we find ourselves free floating with exactly as much insurance coverage as our noble forbearers had, those who lived on the edge of a cliff overlooking the landscape, with only a humid cave as a very limited safe heaven behind them. Has this progress been leading us in the opposite direction we had been promised?

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Just in case you needed a wisdom quote after contemplating such programmed injustice, there’s a wisdom quote to keep you on good tracks:

The King of Love expands about violence

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Interlude: Rampant Reality from Hilo, Hawai’i

September 13, 2014

I’m extremely fond of my friend Rudy. He lives firmly grounded in reality with both of his big feet flat on the tiled floor when he sits in a rocking chair on the balcony of his palatial home along the shores of Hilo Bay. From there his gaze joy-hops from the rustling fronds of coconut trees high up in the sky to gentle volcanic slopes on his left and on to the lava lapping ripples on the salty water right below his feet. Taking a break from staring at glaring computer screens he conjures up exotic dancing beauties before his inner eye. Those fragile beings live in rose-colored gardens where milk and honey flows in eternal abundance. Wearing dark and pinkish cheeks their movements sing of a love so sweet and untouchable that our twisted self recoils in shame. Rudy lets those fairies wander willingly in ethereal places foreign to our understanding. There they chance upon unique moments in time and live beyond the reach of normal mortals who have long lost their desperate battles with the rules and regulations of their packs and tribes. They weave braided ties to hang suspended bridges out into the infinite space beyond the proud walls of our fortified retreats. They hum hymns of absolute bliss and utter content, and while Rudy finishes wrapping this gift of joy he has just given, they sail away and leave us longing and gingerly staring at the very spot over the horizon where they have parted our limited field of vision.

His lofty visioneering is married to a keen sense for the practical things in life. The invisible Island Maiden’s aerial trails are held on even temper by laid-back guitar strumming in a refined Copa Cabana Jazz. My memory of all this is blurry, suffers from low resolution and is extremely pixelated, while the acoustic aspect has distractive distortions and a catastrophically narrow tonal range. Maybe it proves the point that the good things don’t need presentation in the latest high definition, the physical fidelity of their memory being of secondary importance. I do hope you are able to enjoy this relic of pre-preposterous recording technology for what it’s worth.

As I already mentioned: Rudy’s firm grip on reality keeps my ever-frenetic thinking from drifting into the lofty emptiness of the stratosphere. His happy commenting provides a sturdy backdrop that frames my surreal exploration of the human spirit and its outrageous manifestations. I wish him well and am deeply grateful for his very eccentric peculiarity, and even more so for his quasi-transcendental calmness with which he lives at the edge of reason.

Here’s to you, Rudy, you have worked yourself into the limelight of the world, my friend!

What A Difference A Day Makes (Or A Week In This Case)

May 16, 2014

The life of an artist is a series of ups and downs, a roller coaster ride between heights of glory, unconditional adoration and roaring applauses, followed by dizzying descents into the pits of brutal rejection, venomous envy and absolute indifference. Encouraged by last weeks intimate performance amongst our friends we descended onto the township of Whangarei with high hopes of being able to charm today’s youth with our latest artistic creation.

The Old Stone Butter Factory looks every bit the place to be in Whangarei. Yet another slab of industrial space is reclaimed for cultural purposes. You enter from the narrow Butter Factory Lane into a patio with wooden tables and chairs and from there your gaze is drawn along a weathered mesh of creepers up along a dirt-grey brick wall before being peeled away by the wandering cumulus clouds of the turquois sky directly overhead. Back down at the level of us common earthlings a grand opening in that same brick wall is framed with deep red curtains drawn to a waste line on either side. Your curiosity pulls you into a warmly lit interior, where a central bar with heavily bearded baristas awaits your orders of delicious treats and dizzying perfumes of coffee and ales. More tables of refreshingly uncoordinated design and style lure for your comfort zone and from a high stone wall to your right ancient tools of the dairy trade gaze warily down on the busy flow of youthful patrons.

‘We cannot live without consumption!’ comes back as an angry answer from behind the limelight as I announce the name we had given our performance. Jess and Dan, the owners of the place had been helpful all the way in setting things up for us here. Since we had first met them through a good friend of ours back in March it had all gone smoothly. We had arrived at the Butter Factory in the morning and found our flyer posted on all the doors of the venue, were given generous access to the upstairs area for a solid rehearsal, and the sound system had been installed early in the afternoon while an impromptu dressing room was installed for us in the future launderette just behind the restrooms. But once they had left, tired as they said from a long and hard day of work, the place turned into a kindergarten.

I don’t want to pick a fight, much less so at the very beginning of the show. Charm goes a long way, I innocently think, and do my best at it. ‘White Sandy Beach’, our first song, was meant to go in that direction by design and it goes through reasonably well. There is some strange howling during the sweeter parts of the lyrics, but the applause sounds honest and solid once we are through. The honey has been administered; it is now time to refocus on the problems.

To set the stage for the next song, ‘Vístete de Rosa’, I take some time to describe the life of an immigrant, more precisely what tends to happen to the identity of the many involuntary immigrants, those who are driven to wander not by their own will, but by the pressures of the economy of exploitation. The atmosphere turns to ice and as I start singing in Spanish we have clearly abused the Kiwi’s patience.

It is a downhill slide from here. The fourth song ends in an eerie silence, out of which a chatter emerges, the chatter of one of those many crowds of absolute indifference only the human being is capable of. I listen into this silence for a bit to see if I can find something to hold onto and pull us forward. I could be dying up here and every single person would look the other way, goes through my head. And in a sense we are! At least our spirits are deflating rapidly. How can you gift somebody with something they don’t want?

There is one more straw in the cup. Our trilingual interpretation of my countryman Mani Matter’s sociopolitical synthesis ‘Dene Wo’s Guet Geit’ seems sufficiently funny to cut through a skeptic mass of envy. At least that was our theory when we designed the program a while back, and now that theory has to stand up to its trial by fire.

I always wanted the guitar strumming for this song to sound a bit like the portrayal of Johnny Cash’s band in the opening of the movie ‘Walk The Line’, where Joaquin Phoenix plays the absent-minded Cash backstage running his thumb over the sharp teeth on the blade of a table saw, while the band raps a mantric guitar riff hyping the foot stomping audience up and beyond the boiling point. Unfortunately my limited technique on the instrument doesn’t quite get it there, and contrary to the well-orchestrated actors on the silver screen, our audience is absolutely non-cooperative. I had pleaded for their attention before starting the song, assured them that we loved them in spite of their uncultured demeanor, but to no avail. This is a horde of unreachable disdain and the notes of my song hit a wall of glass. A teenage girl stumbles through the tables staring at her smart phone, desperately thumbing around on it. The funky gadget frees itself from the imposed embrace of the youthful technophile’s pink fingers and crashes onto the pavement, bouncing twice and then slithering under a table. But a quick and agile chase brings it back into the domain of the rightful owner. The table on the left, where a bald white guy is taking advantage of the short attention span with which today’s youth garners affection, decides to produce its own music with a chorus of babbles that smothers all distinguishable personal responsibilities. While just beyond stage right from some long extinguished ashes rises a drunken phoenix to spread her wings of brown skined despair. She stumbles towards the stage and decides it is totally polite and absolutely appropriate to interfere with Beatriz’ props in a way that must make sense only to her own blurry vision. When the stubborn and desperate want attention there is nothing on Earth to calm their drive to grab any and all opportunities. Up she comes the short flight of stairs that lead her up to our stage, the last sanctuary that has so far been our sole bastion against the madness. Throbbing movements start to convulse inside her body and you can’t be sure if she is mocking something within or without.

That’s it for us, the last slither of a spell has been broken. We haven’t made our way even half way through our program, but decide to call it off. Once the song is at its bitter end we say a hasty goodbye and make our way to the dressing room. On the way there we pass the tall gent we had seen arriving shortly after we got there in the late morning. He had gone straight to the bar and asked for a glass of red. Curious to unravel the mysterious happenings in this place I probe him with a question: Is this all an outrageous act of miscommunication? Quite obviously he must have downed a number of other glasses of red and slung a slurry response my way: ‘Communication is a broad, a broad…’ The sentence is never finished. He fumbles in the pockets of his designer grade pants and flicks a copper coin into the little jar we had optimistically brought to the stage to collect the monetary reward for our artistic endeavors. In his gesture engrained lives the depreciation of the human touch.

We pack up our stuff back in the dressing room, stunned if not a bit bewildered. We had been warned about the Kiwi’s lack of cultural sensitivity and education by many other performers, who had tried their luck here down under, but had never encountered it so right under our skin. One tries always to be overly hesitant when it comes to believing the manifold stories of mankind’s uglier sides. Only once it has hit you in the face can you accept these kinds of things as facts. Now we know! New Zealand does have a tendency to be a cultural education project of the complicated kind! The cute red-haired waitress at the bar says it has happened before, but that nothing can be done. The patrons can only be refused service if they are really drunk, she shrugs. Nothing can be done?! Yes, it looks like I’ve heard that one right! And for tonight the artistic purpose of our efforts stands defeated: We really cannot live without consumption! But we quite clearly are struggling to live within!

The Cat Is Out

May 7, 2014

This has been two years in the making. I have always been terrified to sing anywhere else than in the shower and only dared to hum in places far from any fellow human being doted with ears. And in spite of sporadic efforts the guitar remained for long time an awkward instrument requiring contortions of finger bones and even more so of my mental images of musical scales far too elaborate for my simple soul. But then the piano, my musician’s home turf, is simply not appropriate for a tireless wanderer, so about two years ago I decided to hone my stubbornness towards what had always seemed impossible: Learning to sing and accompany myself on the guitar.

Patience and persistence has paid off for me many times before. It has brought about this magnificent functional structure of maritime architecture that is Aluna, our ever wandering floating home. It has brought about the softening and slow but steady weathering away of the stiffness I have grown up with. Now I put my bet on it again and in countless hours within the safety of Aluna’s cocoon I worked my way through the limitations of body and mind, loosened up and learned again and again to let go of the old. And here is a first humble milestone presented to your judgement. It is still miles away from where it needs to be and from where I wish it were, but I oblige my nagging self to accept it as a step in the right direction.

For Beatriz too the mandate of transformation meant that coming out of the shadows of our artistic inactivity over the last couple years was a daring step. Her youthful flight of yesteryear had been curtailed by a series of injuries putting a stopper on her daredevil stunts of pure and raw energy through which her performances used to thrive. Now the focus had to be on the imagery that can be conjured up through controlled muscle tones and on motions illustrating guided thought. Again, all this is still at a very basic level of crude sketching, but the brutal contortion of birth lies behind us and now the arduous task of educating and developing the newborn weighs on our shoulders. Figuratively speaking that is, of course!

Here are two excerpts of what we proudly and maybe a bit pretentiously termed the ‘world premier’ of our new show ‘Not For Consumption’, presented on May 3 at the cozy Community Hall in Opua. I’m aware that the lighting is not spectacular, which gives a hazy flair to the video, but the atmosphere was gentle and intimate.

The first song is titled ‘Vístete De Rosa’, which translates to ‘Dress in Rose’. Its lyrics grew from a poem Beatriz wrote shortly after we had decided to settle in San Francisco and thereby brought our transcultural expedition from Colombia through Central America to an end in the land of California. It contemplates the uncertainty of life as an immigrant and the fragility of the feminine side of mankind.

Then follows a rendition of an old German folk song that played a crucial role in the resistance movement during the Nazi years: ‘Die Gedanken Sind Frei’. The song’s lyrics celebrate the freedom of thought.