Monday, November 25, 2013

Selfie: A New Word and Experience

My only selfie so far.  Me and Jennifer in Alaska in June 2008. 

I don't own a smart phone. I have a 12-year old flip phone that does nothing except make phone calls. Imagine a cell phone that is just a phone. Absurd, right? So, I have not taken many selfies, which are largely a phenomenon of phones that take photos. I remember taking a selfie of Jennifer and myself in Alaska just before we had our grizzly bear encounter (see pic above). I shot it from a low angle with the camera out at arm's length and waist level. Above us in the background there was a rock cropping and a cloud passing in an otherwise mostly sunny summer sky.

Now selfie has become an official word. It is new karma generated by iPhones and similar devices. It has become so commonplace that a word reflecting the behavior has entered the evolution of the English language, so the behavior, in turn, is now officially a force in the world. Selfie beat out another new action word consideration, twerk. Maybe twerk will eventually make it. It depends upon whether or not it is a lasting influence in society. Selfie has been around for awhile. The first one was apparently taken in the 1839. But that does not really count, because hardly anyone had cameras then and no one thought of it as a selfie.

My daughter started taking the inevitable teenage bathroom mirror selfies early on. We thought it was cute at first. Later we had to try to limit her exposure, both of her body and of selfies in general, on Facebook and the like. Her favored method of selfie deployment these days is Instagram and Vine. She does not visit her Facebook page much anymore. Too much drama out there.

But selfie is far from a teenage phenomenon. Arguably the most famous selfies to date were those brought out in the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal. Grown-ups take lots of selfies. That is why the word was adopted, it describes something almost everybody does or knows about. It is a pervasively obvious force in our society where, unlike the more cultish twerking, not officially naming it would be absurd.

One article covering the selfie phenomenon accentuated how the new word is a reflection of the expansion of human individualism within reality. That is an interesting take. It shows the strength of the illusionary selfhood. The selfie is a obvious self-affirmation. Here I am. Look at me look at you looking before you are even there to look. That is what a selfie is. It is perhaps the ultimate example of the brilliant insight by Jean-Paul Sartre known as "The Look." The selfie is me looking at you before before you look at me, it objectifies not only the person in the photo but the viewer of the photo by the person looking at it.

The design of most phone-cameras is to display what the viewfinder sees on the phone's screen. So many selfies are taken with people looking at the screen instead of the straight into the viewfinder. Most people experience taking a selfie as watching their physique on a phone monitor. But in reality the viewer of the image is the viewfinder, the tiny opening that captures the image to be looked at. You have to look away from the monitor and into the viewfinder to get the proper eye contact of looking at the future viewer of this photo. In that way both photo taker and looker are objectified by each other.

Selfie shows us that my camera is not just for the world, rather it is for me to show myself being in the world. Having other people take the photo is by definition not allowed. A selfie needs no one else, no one to take it nor possibly even look at it since we are taking it of ourselves for ourselves many times showing no one or a chosen few. When we share a selfie it projects intimacy in the public sphere and is therefore a bold absurdity. I am looking at myself in this photo of myself and I may choose to show it to you or not. Either way it is of me and by me and for me.

But to print it out for show or turn it loose in cyberspace is giving it away, and it is no longer mine. Rather, it becomes an object for others, just as the photo of me and Jennifer becomes as I post it in this blog; as Sartre writes about with "The Look" which is a recent human experience. The Look has not always been around. It is a modern human experience and demonstrates how human experience, like language itself, is not static. The Look is the nature of all photos but all photos are not selfies. Selfies are photos we take of ourselves in context, perhaps intimate, perhaps in public but I always take it to show me in context, always to myself, sometimes to you.

So selfie reflects human experience on the move. There were no selfies ten centuries ago. The experience and the expression were impossible.  Unless you consider the hand paintings on cave walls from the Neolithic to be a selfie. Of course, all painted self-portraits are selfies of a kind. But a self portrait is not a selfie per se. A selfie is a photograph and it shows how human experience and photography become intertwined to the point where the photo is the experience.

We are who we are without selfies. But with selfies we become something else. The digitized object of ourselves to ourselves and to others.   Is this the same as, say, a self-portrait by Rembrandt? Those brilliant and meticulous brushstrokes are an attempt to render the artist as a person in a given moment. But, these are attempts by the human hand to portray the self whereas a selfie is an instantaneous expression captured by a machine meant to be created and objectified by whoever takes a selfie. Only certain human hands can paint legitimate self-portraits whereas the camera allows anyone to create a selfie. The camera and the dissemination of the selfie changes the nature of the act from a painted work into a representation of humanity by any person, in this sense selfies are the empowerment of the self.

As you know, I hold grammar and spoken language to be a reflection of human experience itself. By officially entering our vocabulary, selfie represents a small shift of human consciousness, and probably a validation of Sartre's The Look. It may not seem like much today or tomorrow or even since I snapped that bi-selfie in Alaska in 2008, but, compared to the time of Rembrandt it is a larger change. And the change is more powerful as it continues to generate new karma.

Selfie will play a growing role in shaping our experience and our expressiveness and turning what used to be something directly known (myself in context) into the object of someone else's desire and projection (myself as representation) on a vast scale that was, until recently, impossible.  It can no longer be Rembrandt by Rembrandt. Now we are all Rembrandt. There may be nothing so adept at the expression of individual freedom and paradoxically so potentially objectifying as a selfie.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Cassini Amazes

The Day The Earth Smiled photography as fully assembled.  This is not a photo-shopped image.  All the colors are natural and reveal the beauty of our neighbor in the Solar System.  Taken July 19, 2013 and released to the public earlier this week.  The original image is much larger than this reduction.  
My continuing interest in the Cassini spacecraft mission got a shot in the arm earlier this week.  Back in the summer Cassini performed a maneuver to photograph the far side of Saturn looking back toward Earth.  Initially, the resulting photos were only fragments released to the public.  Now, after months additional work, the wide natural-color vista of Saturn was released for the first time.  The results are stunning.

Cassini took a series of 141 images from a distance of about 750,000 miles from Saturn (three times the distance of the Earth from the Moon).  The span of view is some 404,000 miles across looking back into infinite space.  The Earth was about 900,000,000 miles away as this mosaic was captured. It was all the result of a rare opportunity for Cassini to photograph during a total eclipse of the Sun by Saturn.

The gorgeous stitched photograph features over a dozen celestial objects, including many of Saturn's smaller moons, as well as Mars, Venus, and our our own "pale blue dot."  The resulting image is a HUGE 9000 x 3500 pixels in size.  Viewing it fills me with wonder.

This enhancement depicts the actual position of the Earth at the time Cassini snapped a photo of us. Notice that North America was fully visible at the time.  If you look carefully at the image on the right you will notice two dots, a brighter blue one and a fainter one just inside the box.  The fainter object is our Moon.  So that little space between the two is roughly 240,000 miles as seen from a distance of 900 million miles.
This is the result of The Day The Earth Smiled project, a fun endeavor which prompted thousands of human beings to pause this past July 19, wave and smile, in the general direction of Saturn about the time Cassini performed its maneuver.  Since it was impossible for the probe to actually photograph us as individuals this is a rare moment for science to become playful along with the serious intent of the project.

And this was historic.  This marks only the third time the Earth has been photographed from beyond the asteroid belt.  Amazing panoramic stuff.
Some of the thousands of folks that took a moment to pause and wave at Cassini - somewhere out there in the general direction of Saturn, which was not visible at the time due to the bright sunshine lighting up all those smiles this past July.
Late Note: After making this post I found this article.  Turns out that today, by coincidence, is the 50th anniversary of the first footage ever shot from space.  Cool.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Lady Chatterley's Lover: An Intensely Sexy Read

Warning: The following post contains adult content.  You can not really discuss this novel without talking dirty. There are some smutty adult words here, all quoted from the novel reviewed. Read them responsibly.

Long-time readers know that I try to maintain a certain health regime and lifestyle. Part of that is regular sex. There are numerous studies that indicate the health benefits of sex, the benefits to relationships, and to piece of mind. No need to revisit all that here other than to say that after practicing this for many years, I have discovered that in my mid-50's I am a more erotic person than I was as a college student or when I first married.

The erotic is an accentuated part of my life. It inspires, motivates, entertains, and brings fulfillment. It can be a strong thread tying otherwise loose ends of life together in a holistic fashion. For years I have read erotic novels and watched erotic films (both pornographic and artsy). As you know I also enjoy reading classic literature. So, it makes perfect sense why I would finally get around to reading D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover.

The novel was considered obscene when it was privately published by Lawrence himself in 1926. It was illegal to print it in the United States as recently as 1960. So, it is only in my lifetime that this piece of classic literature has been widely available. Eros has always competed for its survival and struggled to thrive in spite of being somebody's taste of immorality. But, slowly and steadily, it triumphs - which is only right since it is more essential to the sacred than most of religion itself.

Today it is certainly Lawrence's most (in)famous work. There are several moderately vivid descriptions of sexual intercourse throughout the work. Generally, however, Lawrence does an excellent job of describing what his characters feel as opposed to what they are doing in these acts. Nevertheless, the language he chooses is still shocking to most of our herd-like society today. To my knowledge, Lady Chatterley is the first serious literary work to use the words "fuck" and "cunt" with frequency throughout its narrative.

Constance Chatterley, Connie, was no innocent woman. As a teen she traveled to Dresden during the summers, met attractive German boys, and make love to them. She learned during this time not to give herself to any boy, but to take pleasure and keep it for herself, thereby avoiding the sex trap of getting too involved with another man. In this way the novel establishes a philosophical aspect, in this case exploring basic sexual relations between male and female and how that relates to satisfaction and possession.

Later, shortly before World War One, she married the baron Clifford Chatterley and entered the world of English aristocracy proper. The two spent a long honeymoon traveling together before Clifford went off to serve in the war. Clifford came back in pieces from an artillery blast. He was alive but paralyzed from the waist down and confined to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. For years Connie was supportive and nurturing to her wounded husband. Eventually he became a famous post-war author. Gradually, writing became Clifford's entire world and Connie was less and less a part of his mind. Connie languishes through much of the first part of the novel and Lawrence uses this to investigate the nothingness of human experience in the post-war reality of that time.

She has a brief affair with an acquaintance of her husband's. This is more out of erotic desperation than actual attraction. The sex is one-sided and unfulfilling for Connie. He comes too quickly for her and she struggles to satisfy something deep inside herself with him as her tool, without much success. She struggles with being trapped in the poverty of her innermost desires. Until she meets Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper of her husband's estate. This is the main event in the novel and the two proceed to have numerous, often intense, sexual encounters.

Sex in the novel is always performed in the missionary position except for occasional allusions to oral stimulation by Connie's lovers upon her (at no time does Connie give a blow job). Lawrence is fond of the phrase "coming to one's crisis" when orgasm is achieved. When a character does come as such it is always alone within the couple. This creates all sorts of frustrations amidst the ecstasies experienced. Except once, when things are simultaneous between Connie and Mellors, an experience which fundamentally changes Connie and leads to her ultimate (if conditional) freedom in the novel. This is some of Lawrence's best prose in the work, representative of how he describes sex acts.

"Then as he began to move, in the sudden helpless orgasm, there awoke in her new strange trills rippling inside her. Rippling, rippling, rippling, like a flapping overlapping of soft flames, soft as feathers, running to points of brilliance, exquisite, exquisite and melting her all molten inside. It was like bells rippling up and up to culmination. She lay unconscious of the wild little cries she uttered at the last. But it was over too soon, too soon, and she could no longer force her own conclusion with her own activity. This was different, different. She could do nothing. She could no longer harden and grip for her own satisfaction upon him. She could only wait, wait and moan in spirit as she felt him withdrawing, withdrawing and contracting, coming to the terrible moment when he would slip out and be gone. Whilst all her womb was open and soft, and softly clamoring, like a sea-anemone under the tide, clamoring for him to come in again and make a fulfillment for her. She clung to him unconscious in passion, and he never quite slipped from her, and she felt the soft bud of him within her stirring and strange rhythms flushing up into her with a strange rhythmic growing motion, swelling and swelling till it filled her cleaving consciousness, and then began again the unspeakable motion that was not really motion, but pure deepening whirlpools of sensation swirling deeper and deeper through all her tissue and consciousness, till she was one perfect concentric fluid of feeling, and she lay the crying in unconscious inarticulate cries. The voice out of the uttermost night, the life! The man heard it beneath him with a kind of awe, as his life sprang out into her. And as it subsided, he subsided too and lay utterly still, unknowing, while her grip on him slowly relaxed, and she lay inert. And they both knew nothing, not even each other, both lost." (pp. 140-141)

Mellors speaks in a thick vernacular throughout the novel. He is an earthy man, a physical man who has had troubles with his own marriage. When he and Connie engage in their torrid affair he is married as well but has not seen his estrange wife since he was shipped off to India for his military service in the war. Connie is attracted to his manner but more so to his sculpted yet unrefined body. He is certainly more of a worldly and crude man than Connie has previously known. He teaches her things.

"'Th'art good cunt, though, aren't ter? Best bit o' cunt left on earth. When ter likes. When tha'rt will in'!' 'What is cunt?' she said. 'An doesn't ter know? Cunt! It's thee down theer; an' what I get when I'm i'side thee, and what tha gets when I'm i'side thee; it's a' as it is, all on't.' 'All on't,' she teased. 'Cunt! It's like fuck then.' 'Nay nay! Fuck's only what you do. Animals fuck. But cunt's a lot more than that. It's thee, dost see: an' tha'rt a lot besides an animal, aren't ter? - even ter fuck? Cunt! Eh, that's the beauty o' thee, lass?'

"She got up and kissed him between the eyes, that looked at her in the dark and soft and unspeakably warm, so unbearably beautiful. 'Is it?' She said. 'And do you care for me?' He kissed her without answering. 'Tha min goo, let me dust thee,' he said. His hand passed over the curves of her body, firmly, without desire, but with soft, intimate knowledge. As she ran home in the twilight the world seemed a dream; the trees in the park seemed bulging and surging at anchor on a tide, and the heave of the slope to the house was alive."
(pp. 188-189)

The relationship between Connie and Mellors is not always sexual yet it remains totally sensual, physical and emotional, and, therefore, highly erotic. When not having sex they explore the wooded area of Wargby, the Chatterley estate. In one of the most memorable passages of the novel they are caught up in a rain storm. Connie runs and dances in the falling wetness, eventually stripping herself naked. Mellors is initially reluctant to follow suit but when he finally does so the two become childlike with laughter and delight. It is a totally erotic moment though not sexual. It is also a contrasting moment. The rain brings innocent playfulness which serves as a sharp contrast to the serious intensity of their sex and their separate, rather mundane and depressing, intimate situations in life.

There is a second, dominant theme throughout the novel, indeed intertwined with the sensual aspects of the narrative. The post-war European reality was one of a shattered world, changed forever, and driven by the quest for "success" in a heartless industrialized reality. Lawrence calls success "the bitch-goddess" whose demands make the world less sensual. Beyond this, there is the ruthless and dehumanizing effects of industrial capitalism.

From the edge of the peaceful wooded estate, a sleepless Mellors gazes one night down toward a nearby mining town. "There was no sound save the noise, the faint shuffling noise from Stacks Gate colliery, that never ceased working: and there were hardly any lights, save the brilliant electric rows at the works. The world lay darkly and fumily sleeping. It was half-past two. But even in its sleep it was an uneasy, cruel world, stirring with the noise of a train or some great lorry on the road, and flashing with some rosy lightning-flash from the furnaces. It was a world of iron and coal, endless greed that drove it all. Only greed, greed stirring in its sleep." (page 151)

Connie drives through the mining community in another section. "The car ploughed uphill through the long squalid straggle of Tevershall, the blackened brick dwellings, the black slate roofs glistening their sharp edges, the mud black with coal-dust, the pavements wet and black. It was as if dismalness had soaked through and through everything. The utter negation of natural beauty, the utter absence of the instinct for shapely beauty which every bird and breast has, the utter death of the human intuitive faculty was appalling." (page 160)

Lawrence has many passages where the natural splendor of Wargby is vividly captured in wonderful prose. The beauty of the estate and the beauty of Connie's relationship with Mellors serves a sharp contrast with the industrialized world outside that is changing the English countryside. "The industrial England blots out the agricultural England. One meaning blots out another. The new England blots out the old England. And the continuity is not organic, but mechanical." (page 165)

I am reminded of Tolkien here and how his fantasy works contain a similar, profound theme of industry as a disease against nature. It may have been a common thread in English literature In this post-war reality. The realization of this affects Connie as deeply as her sexual relationship with Mellors. "The world was so complicated and weird and gruesome! The common people were so many, and really, so terrible. So she thought as she was going home, and saw the colliers trailing from the pits, grey-black, distorted, one shoulder higher than the other, slurring their heavy ironshod boots. Under-ground grey faces, whites of eyes rolling, necks cringing from the pit roof, shoulders out of shape. Men! Men! Alas, in some ways patient and good men. In other ways, non-existent. Something that men should have was bred and killed out of them." (page 168)

The novel ends with a letter written by Mellors from a farm where he is working, having left Wargby after impregnating Connie. She is waiting for the spring to join him, having decided to abandon Clifford and join her lover to try to make a life together after the baby arrives. Mellors reveals to Connie his personal philosophy on capitalistic progress and, of course, about their shared sexual attraction. The ugly and beautiful juxtaposed thusly by Lawrence. All of this, the erotic and the dehumanization, seem as applicable to me today as it was in Lawrence's time.

"The young ones get mad because they've no money to spend. Their whole life depends upon spending money, and they've got none to spend. That's our civilization and our education: bring up the masses to depend entirely on spending money, and then the money gives out....If you could only tell them that living and spending isn't the same thing! But it's no good....They ought to learn to be naked and handsome, and to sing in a mass and dance the old group dances, and carve the stools they sit on, and embroider their own emblems. Then they wouldn't need money. And that's the only way to solve the industrial problem: train people to be able to live and live in handsomeness, without needing to spend." (pp. 319-320)

Mellors looks forward to being reunited with Connie, even though Clifford refuses upon "principle" to grant her wish for a divorce. The future is complex and uncertain, but their intimacy is well-established and they honor one another in the discovery it is not the sex itself but the sex with each other that is the ultimate turn-on. That is the powerful message of their twisted fidelity. "My soul softly flaps in the little pentecost flame with you, like the peace of fucking. We fuck a flame into being. Even flowers are fucked into being between the sun and the earth. But it is a delicate thing, it takes patience and the long pause. So I love chastity now, because it is the peace that comes from fucking. I love being chaste now. I love it as snowdrops love in the snow. I love chastity, which is the pause of peace of our fucking, between us now like a snowdrop of forked white fire. And when the real spring comes, when the drawing together comes, then we can fuck the little flame brilliant and yellow, brilliant." (page 321)

Some of Connie's "naïveté" with Mellors strikes me as misplaced. It seems her sexual experiences in her teens, with Clifford prior to his paralysis, and with her first lover would have made her more fully informed than she often expresses in the narrative. Mellors is her guide and her tutor in ways that I just don't buy. Also, Lawrence has a tendency to overuse words in sections of his prose. The repetitiveness seems more misplaced than effective in establishing erotic meter. He is overly fond of the word "ruddy", for example. I had to look that word up. It sounds sexy but he uses it to describe almost every major character in the novel at one point or another.

But these are minor quibbles compared with what the novel achieves.  Lawrence captures the erotic at its archetypal boundaries. The sex is not really all that varied but the intensity of it and its emergence at an emotional level for Connie and Mellors is coupled with the delicious prose for erotic effect. That power shocked early readers and led to its specific banning to be printed in many countries. The shock seems quaint to me now, even though some of you who have read the above will likely be shocked by it. I am much more relaxed and comfortable with it. It really captures how the erotic affects me at a physical and psychic level. This book is not the least bit kinky, you have to go to The Story of O for that, but it is an intensely sexy read. Some time in the future I will come back for more.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Other Recent Classical Music

2013 was my year to fine-tune my contemporary classical music collection. I bought probably around three dozen CDs or CD-sets during the course of the year. As I see it, I have caught up to the point where I am only buying new releases by contemporary composers that I admire and want to follow. This post is a brief overview of much of that CD collecting.

Kaija Saariaho is a rare female composer in my collection. In general, classical composition is a white male world. Although there are many woman composers through the centuries
(Clara Schumann being one of the most noteworthy), there is perhaps no more one-sided art form that is so specifically (but non-intentionally) racist and sexist. White men are the greatest classical composers in history. That is just a simple fact. Given all that, I rate the music of Saariaho highly and her orchestral works are rewarding.

In this century, Saariaho's compositional style has evolved into a specific sound. I would call it haunting, at times screeching, but not in a nerve-racking way. Indeed, her music is often soothing, ethereal, and richly complex. Her Clarinet Concerto (2010) is an enjoyable 31-minute orchestration, sometimes contemplative and sometimes panicked. Graal theatre (1997, 29-minutes) is bold and rich featuring the violin, which seems to be Saariaho's preferred solo instrument. The cello is heavily and deftly pronounced in Notes on Light, a 27-minute work for orchestra in five movements composed in 2006. When you listen to any of these pieces it is obvious you are hearing a unique artistic voice. But, for whatever reason, nothing she has composed really grips me to the marrow the way, say, Salonen's Violin Concerto does.

I already owned a lot of Magnus Lindberg before this year. Unlike his colleague, Salonen, he is a prolific composer dating from the mid-1980's with great music like Kraft (1985) and Aura (1994, composed in memory of Witold Lutoslawski). Really powerful and significant music. I recommend both compositions as wonderful modern classical works. His own Clarinet Concerto (2002) is interesting though not as effective as that of his fellow countrywoman, Saariaho. Sculpture for Orchestra (2005, 23-minutes) and 2003's 30-minute Concerto for Orchestra are both really superior works, both showing uniqueness while blending many influences (including Lutoslawski).

I have great respect for Lindberg. But his most recent compositions have not struck me with particular interest. I purchased a CD featuring three orchestral compositions by Lindberg for the New York Philharmonic: EXPO (2009), Piano Concerto No. 2 (2011-12), and Al Largo (2009-10). So we are on the cusp of contemporary composition by a world-renown composer here. Of the three the first is the strongest. The Piano Concerto entertains at times but is generally disappointing to me, it offers nothing exceptional.

Steven Stucky is a composer who I have admired yet owned nothing in my collection until this year. He is not a prolific composer. He is a bit more in the classical news these days because an opera by him premiered recently. I am not an opera lover (I have a handful by Wagner and Mozart among others in my collection) so I do not plan to purchase that. I have listened to all the samples on amazon, and I sort of get the gist of it. What can I say? It sounds like just another opera.

But, my Stucky CD purchases this year have afforded me a treasure trove of good modern composition. He is more of an academic type composer, teaching music at Cornell until 2006. Most of the works I have listened to by him are ensemble pieces for wind instruments or for piano quartet with clarinet and flute accompaniment. These are wonderful short works and I really enjoy them. Of greater length (33 minutes) and, indeed, greater quality is Stucky's Second Concerto for Orchestra (2003), which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2005.

This concerto is a real gem. Textured, layered, boisterous yet also quiet, sometimes adrift, the wonderful influence of Lutoslawski is strongly felt thoughout the piece yet it retains a distinctive and American voice. This ranks up there with Salonen's Violin Concerto and John Adams' The Dharma at Big Sur as a truly great orchestral work for this century. The third movement is the longest of the four in this concerto. It is especially noteworthy for its delicate development, setting up spaces initially for solo wind instruments. In fact it features the entire wind and brass sections prominently all the way to the tubas. The string section here provides only an atmospheric, supporting element. The strings rarely take the lead throughout the course of this movement. The finale builds to a terrific and powerful crescendo with full orchestration.

Like Salonen, Stucky has retired from his former career to devote himself fully to composition. Perhaps this is one reason that he has now expanded beyond the ensemble realm into full orchestral pieces.  He has just finished his first symphony which was premiered by Gustav Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic in 2012. This new music is not yet available in CD form but can only be heard on the Internet at this link.

I did not acquire the John Adams String Quartet (2008) until in a post-Christmas cash purchase of several classical CDs earlier this year. It is on a 2011 Nonesuch release. It is wonderfully prefaced on the disk with Son of Chamber Symphony (2007). The chamber symphony is in Adams' minimalist style, which has evolved with into great maturity. The middle movement of the piece is really a pleasure to listen to. But the string quartet is truly brilliant, the finest new music in this form of this century.

It too begins in rather traditional minimalist style. But soon it is transformed into a unique complexity that I have always appreciated in John Adams. The result is a spectacular 21-minute first movement that keeps driving yet takes frequent interesting side roads of string sonics. At times the pace is frenzied yet it only fascinates more, never tedious or tiring to hear. About one-third of the way in the music pauses and down-shifts a bit. Some slower themes are introduced. This is wonderful late-romantic sounding music. The quartet is highly accessible, anyone could get into this music.

The second half of the first movement is brilliant. It cannot be reduced to any definable style, it is uniquely and powerfully Adams. There are so many layers to what is happening, all four instruments in harmony yet each doing something completely different from any other instrument. This is what Elliot Carter and Bela Bartok did so well on their great string quartet cycles. You can detect shades of this influence here. Each instrument shines in a solo part somewhere during this section of the composition. The last portion of this movement contains the same underlying minimalist theme that started everything. But it is now an echo as other themes and elements of composition overwhelm it. This is truly unique easy to listen to yet modern classical music.

The second movement is comparably short (a bit under 9 minutes) and serves as the finale of this fine string quartet. There is very little minimalism here. This is highly stylized late-romanticism fused with an Adams technical sophistication. Again each instrument is featured in strong sections. Again the pace is quick and this time there is no breaking for slow stuff. There is an harmonic urgency here. At times this is rather anxious but mostly it is exciting, even thrilling, music. The last two and a half minutes of the piece are simply extraordinary and powerful, not introverted nor dissonant nor romantic nor pensive at all. Repeat listenings do not lessen the effect. This string quartet is the best music in this form I know of in the last several decades, an instant classic.

Adams premiered a Concerto for Saxophone (2012) just a few weeks ago.  It is not available online or elsewhere at the moment. Other recent works include City Noir (2009) which appeared on the Dudamel premiere DVD.   This is outstanding, slightly jazzy, urbane, modern, and sophisticated stuff that richly rewards attentiveness.

So this, then, is mostly what I have been listening to this year; along with Salonen and one other composer. That composer is Wolfgang Rihm and I will devote a future post to him.


Late Note:  I read this piece on sexism in classical music penned by composer Kaija Sarriaho the day after I wrote the above post.