Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

miércoles, enero 30, 2013

Butch Morris, RIP

Sad news from The New York Times:

Butch Morris, who created a distinctive form of large-ensemble music built on collective improvisation that he single-handedly directed and shaped, died on Tuesday in Brooklyn. He was 65...

Mr. Morris referred to his method as “conduction,” short for “conducted improvisation.” He defined the word, which he trademarked, as “an improvised duet for ensemble and conductor.”

He would often begin a performance by setting a tempo with his baton and having his musicians develop a theme spontaneously and then seize on the musical ideas he wanted to work with, directing the ensemble with a vocabulary of gestures and signals. An outstretched upward palm, up or down to indicate volume, meant sustain; a U shape formed with thumb and forefinger meant repeat; a finger to the forehead meant to remember a melodic phrase or a rhythm that he would summon again later.

He introduced this concept in 1985 and at first met resistance from musicians who were not willing to learn the vocabulary and respond to the signals; he was often in a position of asking artists to reorient themselves to his imagination and make something new out of familiar materials. But he demanded to be taken seriously, and he was. After 10 years he had made enough recordings to release “Testament,” a well-received 10-disc set of his work. After 20, he had become an internationally admired creative force, presenting conductions at concert halls worldwide and maintaining regular workshops and performances at the East Village spaces Nublu, Lucky Cheng’s and the Stone.

Mr. Morris, who also played cornet, began his career as a jazz musician in Los Angeles. After settling in New York in the early 1980s, he took his place among both the downtown improvising musicians of the Kitchen and the Knitting Factory and the purveyors of multidisciplinary, mixed-media art flourishing in the city.

The man was a genius. And he will be seriously missed.

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lunes, enero 21, 2013

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 - April 4, 1968)

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."

More than fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King recognized the importance and validity of direct action as a tactic in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail:

You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue so that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, we must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.

In honor of Dr. King, I think it's time for us to recall the role that direct action can play in restoring America to its most Democratic, humane, and decent principles. It's also worth recalling that Dr. King wasn't talking about political parties. He was talking about movements. Building them and nourishing them. Can we remember that? Can we remember that in the face of the sterized Dr. King the media tell us about?

Creation of constructive, nonviolent tension even in the face of threats of extremist violence is Dr. King's true legacy. My hope is that in honor of his birth we will find the courage and foresight once again to do as he would have. That we will become nonviolent gadflies. Recommitment to nonviolence and direct action might be an antidote to America's present inequality worth considering. And enacting.

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domingo, enero 06, 2013

Mechior, Gaspar And Balthazar

January 6 is Three Kings Day (Tres Reyes Magos or Epiphany). It commemorates the day the Three Kings from the East, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthazar, representing Europe, Arabia and Africa, after following the star for twelve days, arrived on horse, camel and elephant,in Bethlehem to find the child in the manger and to give their symbolic gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Three Kings Day is the day on which gifts are traditionally given throughout Central and South America.

Only relatively recently has globalization and commercialization brought Santa Claus and Christmas trees and gift giving on Christmas Day. Only recently has the gringo, capitalist commercial extravaganza taken hold. Before that, the Three Kings came with the gifts only on January 6, twelve days after Christmas, on the Twelfth Day of Christmas.

In Spain, Argentina, and Uruguay, children and many adults polish and leave their shoes ready for the Kings' presents before they go to bed on the 5th of January. Sweet wine, nibbles, fruit and milk are left for the Kings and their camels. In Mexico, it is traditional for children to leave their shoes on the eve of January 6 by the family nativity scene or by their beds. Also a letter with toy requests is left and sometimes the shoes are filled with hay for the camels. In Puerto Rico, it is traditional for children to fill a box with grass or hay and put it underneath their bed. In some parts of northern Mexico the shoes are left under the Christmas tree (an import from El Norte) with a letter to the Three Kings. This is analogous to children leaving mince pies or cookies and milk out for Santa Claus or Father Christmas.

If you consider the Three Kings Story from a mythic, rather than a religious perspective, it's a very important allegory about faith and instinct. The wise, eastern Kings faithfully follow their instinct and knowledge across the desert to the place it leads them. Do they know where they were going? Are they following the signs correctly? Are they supposed to follow the star? When they reach the destination, they give their gifts to the one they find, the one who should receive them. Is this the right person? Are these the right gifts? How do I know whether I’m doing this correctly?

I really like the story. I like to think about the kind of courage and understanding and conviction and trust one would need to play the role of one of the kings (the wise men) in the story. Would I know to follow my star? Would I understand that it was time for the journey? Would I leave immediately? Would I persist for 12 days? Would frustration, despair, fear or doubt stop my journey? Would I become distracted? Would I press on? Would I keep my focus? Would I realize when I had arrived? Would I know what gifts to give and to whom? How would I know all of these things? What an epic journey it is. Feliz Dia de Reyes!

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