Archive for the ‘Film’ Category

Gendered Voices

April 18, 2013

I går holdt jeg et innlegg på et arrangement i regi av BLUS her i København, under tittelen “Gendered Voices: Singing, Performance, and Normativity.” Jeg kannibaliserer på tidligere blogginnlegg, så for gamle lesere vil det være litt resirkulering. Men her er manuset:

(Yesterday I gave a talk entitled “Gendered Voices: Singing, Performance, and Normativity” at BLUS here in Copenhagen. I am cannibalizing on some earlier blogposts, so for old readers there are elements of recycling, but here is the manus):

Gendered Voices: Singing, Performance, and Normativity

Imagine you are Justin Bieber, you sit in a concert hall for the MTV Video Music Awards, and suddenly a talkative Italian man comes on stage, smoking, being kind of obnoxious, talking about how it is to be Lady Gaga’s boyfriend. Then the man – Jo Calderone – gets to the piano and performs Lady Gaga’s “Yoü and I.” The performance is, of course, in one perspective at least, Lady Gaga in drag as her male alter ego Jo Calderone. “Yoü and I” was at that time the latest single from Lady Gaga, and here even Brian May – from Queen – comes on stage to do the guitar solo. The reference to Justin Bieber, however, is not a coincidence. He is in the hall, and the camera pans in on him at one time in the performance. And, not to ridicule him, but he looks like he’s got no clue about what is happening. And the question, of course, is: “do we?” “Do we know or understand what is happening here?” Let us see the clip, and I’ve decided not to go into the long monologue Jo is delivering first, but we go straight to the music:

Of course, Justin Bieber is a nice guy, and he sits politely watching the performance. He can still stand in for us, in the sense that we too watch the performance as it takes place. The question is how we respond to it – intellectually and emotionally. Personally I had a big smile on my face the first time I heard and saw it, which probably comes from having been pretty obsessed with Lady Gaga at that time. Obsessed in the sense of signing up on facebook to the events when she released her new videos, watching them as they were shown for the first time, following her – obviously – on facebook and twitter, being updated by LadyGagaNews on twitter and google alert, and much more. And remind you, I am in a position to call that “work.” I am, among other things, a popular music scholar, and so keeping myself updated is of course necessary. The other thing making me smile was, however, her particular performance. I had heard the song, seen the video – which is pretty awesome too – and I’d seen Jo Calderone’s pictures from the Japanese Vogue. I even followed Jo Calderone on twitter. In other words, I was willing to go along with the construction of Jo Calderone as a person in his own right, not simply Lady Gaga in drag. That is also, one could argue, what is taking place in the video to “Yoü and I,” giving that we can see them both in the same images. Going along with this construction is obviously something we do imaginary, but it can tell us something about how we relate to pop-stars (and film-stars as well). It is not “the real person” we are interested in (obsessed with), but the star – a character, and actor, a performer. We buy into this story, leaving “real life” behind.

Remember when we were kids and saw something scary on the television and parents said, “It’s only a movie”? That’s what I am talking about, but that statement is obviously stupid. There is no such thing as “only” a movie. Movies are what they are, and we immerse ourselves in them. We live in the movies; we do, for a short time-span, live as if the movie was the world. This “as if” mode is central for the life of the imagination. One some level we know that it is not real, but we buy into it, in what related to theater and opera is often called suspension of disbelief. Our disbelief, our “it is only a movie,” is suspended, and we take what we see for the real thing, or perhaps even for something better than the real thing. This is how fiction works; it is real. And then, probably, we reenter that other reality where we can reflect claiming that, well, it was only a movie. But back to Jo Calderone’s performance. There is an interesting dimension I haven’t commented upon yet, at least not explicitly. What is happening is that we watch a man (let’s go along with the character as the real thing), and then he goes to the piano and starts to sing. What do we hear? Are we hearing a man singing, or are we hearing a woman’s voice coming from a male body? Or what? This is, as my title today makes clear, the focal point of this talk, and I hope you will all go along with me in taking as a point of departure that we don’t really know. In other words, that our expectancies about what a man or a woman is supposed to sound like is not necessarily a given. That we really try to question these presuppositions. This, obviously, has to do with the performance as an audio-visual event, and this goes both for music videos, concerts, tv-transmissions, and so on. Listening to the song alone, on the other hand, opens for other questions. The question of audio-visuality is of interest for popular music in that, not least in today’s media-world, the images are everywhere and perhaps even as important as the sound. We still think of music as a sonic event, though, with the images as a supplement, but this is hardly how it works. And we can even see that in the use of the term “image” – “image” is how the artists choose to present themselves, or how they are presented to us by some kind of “management.” And in the case of Lady Gaga, for example, that “image” is clearly built equally much – if not more – on visuality as it is on aurality or the sonic. One could even make an argument that it is not the music that is the most important dimension of the phenomenon known as “Lady Gaga,” but that the music is one component in the construction of this phenomenon. And I say that both as a musicologist and as a Lady Gaga fan, implying, simultaneously, that as musicologists – but also as fans – we need to pay attention to more than the music if we are to grasp the pop star. But what if what we see and what we hear are in some kind of conflict? This is, arguably, one of the dimensions of drag, especially related to how we perceive the voice. And thus it is time to introduce the notion of normativity, and I want to do that from the point of view of a musicologist first, that is, the normativity of voices. Seeing my title you’ve probably been thinking that this is about gender normativity, and it is, but I am particularly occupied with the gendered voice, and thus to something we could call “voice normativity.” Working with different theories of construction of gender I have discussed this with vocal coaches and song teachers. And most of them claim, immediately, that as soon as we are grown up there is female voices and male voices, and that can never really change. We divide them – in the world of classical music into soprano and alto, tenor and bass (with some other possibilities in-between – mezzo, baritone) – but the gendering of the voices, as heard, are in a sense set in stone. What I find interesting here is a couple of dimensions. Firstly, we are used to think of gender as somewhat of a performance or construction. When I say “we” here, I obviously say too much, as I include you into this “we” even while not knowing whether you would agree with me or not. But let us say, for the sake of argument, that we are in agreement that gender is a kind of a performance. And I will come back to say some more about what that might imply in a short while. Secondly, agreeing on gender being a performance might lead us to ask similar questions about sex. And no, I am not talking about performing the act of sex now, that is, not sex as action or something happening, not about the verb so to speak. As you know, in Danish we only have one word covering both gender and sex – køn – and when trying to distinguish between the two English words there is a tendency to say “social” for gender and “biological” for sex, i.e., there is a tendency here to say that the one thing is a cultural one whereas the other is a natural one. Do we accept this? Is it at all possible to argue against it? I am inclined to say that “culture” is involved in understanding what both these categories mean, and that this is, then, also the case with sex and biology. That is to say, that how we understand “nature” is to a large extend a cultural dimension. I am not, then, saying that “nature” doesn’t exist; I am not saying that “nature” is a cultural construct, but I am saying that how we understand nature – and thus biology and sex – is a part of our cultural context and background. And this has everything to do with how we categorize and talk about this thing called “sex.” So then, back to the question above, is “sex” a performance (and no, still not the verb I am talking about). The reason for stressing these two questions is, as will hopefully become clear, related to the voice, and in particular the singing voice. Are voices natural? Are there a clear-cut divide between “male voices” and “female voices” in the same sense as the classical theory about sexual difference, where biology is understood as found, incarnated so to speak, into human beings being “male” or “female” (and without any other categories, or the “all-of-the-above” box to make your cross in). And this, then, deals with how we hear voices. How we here voices as always already gendered, and how we can challenge such a gendered hearing. And, as already said, one way such a challenge presents itself is in drag, or, to take an even less loaded term, how the singer presents her or himself visually.

In my own work I have been dealing with a phenomenon from the history of opera showing this brilliantly. I am, of course, talking about the castrato. The castrati were men who had been operated upon as young boys, so that their voice did not break as they reached puberty. Their bodies, obviously, continued to grow, but that one dimension of so-called natural maturity did not happen. And so, they had high-pitched voices throughout their lives. This, however, did not mean that they only sang female roles in the opera – although they did that as well – they sang both male and female roles, and we have to assume that whether or not the characters were supposed to be seen (and heard) as male or female was obvious from their dress, from their texts, from the lyrics, in other words, from their performance. Unfortunately we cannot really experience the castrato today. The castrato business went out of fashion in the early 18th century, and we are thus left with the power of imagination here as well. With the exception, however, of two particular cases. Firstly, we Gactually have a recording. It is not from the early 18th century, of course, but from the early 20th, and it is not very well sung. It is, however, the closest thing we have to a “real” castrato. I am talking about Alessandro Moreschi, who was recorded in the Vatican in 1902 and 1904, but at that point was too old to really shine. He had not, either, been an opera singer, but a singer in the Vatican, so we can assume that his vocal training had never really tried to make him shine as a castrato-star either. And, finally, the technological equipment to record his singing had – from the point of view of today – severe limits. That said, something about his voice still speaks to us today, in this swan-song of the castrato.

The other exception is even more related to technology, and is taken from the film Farinelli – about one of the most famous castratos in history. To make his voice in the movie two singing voices were morphed together in the studio, and we thus hear a technologically produced voice that is a mixture between a soprano and a counter-tenor (a high-pitched male), so that the pitch of the voice is kind-of female and the timbre kind-of male. In addition, the movie presents him as a peacock – literally, no metaphors here – in a baroque setting, meaning that it is open for interpretation whether we see/hear him as “strange” or queer or not. This scene I am to show, inscribes him into a pretty heteronormative relation, however, as it leads to a sexual relationship between Farinelli and a German countess. In other words, he might be cut, but he can still perform his heterosexual duties – or so the film leads us to believe. That castrati could perform – sexually – is a historical fact, however, a version of safe sex given that no semen were produced, but this does not mean that “suspicions” of same-sex relationships were not part of the discourse around them.

The historical example of the castrato leads some other important questions, having to do with how gender and sexuality have been understood throughout the years, that is, in a more distant past. The history, not only of gender-roles, but also about the images and understandings of gender, the history of sexuality, including challenges to what is “natural” from particular points of view. This is important work, in so many academic disciplines, and is at the same time related to comparisons between different cultural understandings of gender and sexuality. To make this point blunt: what if your view on gender and sexuality were yours alone? That is of course never the case, but it is often the case that it is a minor collective or community having particular views on these issues. Not only that in the past human beings behaved differently, or that in “foreign” cultures human relationships are differently, but also in different strata of our own community, the last known as for example subcultures, where the subculture has different practices and values than the mainstream culture, but it could also be related to religious understandings within a more or less secular community. If I call a castrato singer “queer” I obviously mix two different historical periods into one sentence: firstly, the period when castrato singers existed, and secondly, the period – our period – when queer is understood as a category of “identity” (for lack of a better word). This is, as most historians would say, anachronistic – and many historians would add that that’s a bad thing. In some circumstances I would both defend and even advocate being anachronistic, and when dealing with different ways of organizing, understanding, or conceptualizing sexuality would definitely be high on my list. Not least because it could tell us something about our own context, and the limits set for understandings of sexuality today, leading to the normativity I’ve already mentioned. So far, at least, and perhaps even more substantial than that, I find it important to postpone any statement about what queer is. As we’ve learned from Judith Butler, and later scholars, gender/sex is not something one is, but something one does. I won’t go into any long discussion of this statement – except saying that it is also, in my view, severaly misunderstood – but rather point to how gender is experienced or understood or interpreted, that is to say, how we view – and in my cases also hear – gender. It is not as if queer is by necessity the right word to use in all cases, but what the question of queerness at least opens up is to open up the normativity found as a basis for so much of our everyday-life as well as popular culture. And as soon as one starts to listen for the sound of queerness, or, in my context perhaps even more notice the discrepancies between expectations and result, between prejudices – based, more often than not, on norms – and performances, then the whole field of gender and of gendered performances open up.

Interestingly enough this takes place within popular culture, even popular culture of the more mainstream kind. It perhaps used to be that queer expressions were to be found in some kind of underground or subculture scenes, and, of course, this is still the case, but it has also slipped into the mainstream, and it is interesting to reflect upon what happens then. To take one example, here is Greg Pritchard from Britain’s Got Talent (in 2009):

When Greg Pritchard comes on stage it is pretty obvious that what is expected, by the judges and the audience, is some kind of indie-rock, or shoe-gazer stuff. What is heard is a surprise, and one reason for the surprise is the discrepancies between expectations and result, but also between what is seen and what is heard. It is, as Simon says, “like a dog meowing” – in other words, almost like a trans-species expression. And this is definitely mainstream popular culture, even of the sort that lots of academics claim is unnecessary to deal with at all. It is also an international popular culture, and I want to move over to Thailand’s Got Talent (from 2011), where Bell Nuntita sings:

What we hear here – and what the audience hear – both relates to the normative understanding of voices while simultaneously undermining it. She sings two songs, the first in a “female” voice, the second in a “male” voice. I would still not call this a “gender change.” She can move between the two voices, back and forth. She thus undermines the very thought that the voice – the gendered voice – is “natural.” It makes sense, in my view, to call her voice a “trans-voice.” This is a transgendered voice, in one way or another; it is, in a particular sense, a queer voice. What is important, however, is to challenge all kinds of understandings of such a “trans” or “queer” voice as freakish. Here I am aware that I am getting into a kind of normative territory myself, and I just want to underline that. There is, however, a reason for this, and it comes out of having followed – from years now – the media discourse around another voice: the voice of Antony Hegarty – singer in Antony and the Johnsons. Antony self-identifies as a transperson, and his voice has been at the center for the reception of his music. And it is clear that there have been difficulties in finding the right words to describe it. In addition to being called androgynous, it has been described as “angelic” and “ethereal,” and Antony has also been called a “creature” as if to challenge any notion of a gendered human being. It is, then, as if the very humanity of Antony is questioned, in a language strongly echoing how the voice of the castrato (and the castrato himself) was described. I’ve written about Antony – some of it available on-line – and there is no time to go into details about his voice here. What I do want, however, is to underline a phenomenon of interest for re-learning to listen to voices: it is the duet. Listening to duets we hear the intersection of different voices – be the voices “male,” “female,” or whatever we should call them. And it becomes easier to hear and recognize these differences. It is not that it necessarily becomes easier to find the words to categorize these voices, but the importance in discussing this vocabulary becomes clearer. As one example of a duet, take Antony and Boy George doing “You Are My Sister”:

These voices are both coming from artists with a non-normative sexuality. Whether that makes their voices queer is perhaps still a question. And the answer is related to what is meant by a queer voice. What I hope to have shown, however, is that listening to the particular voices, and to their particularities, not taking any categories for granted – not “male” or “female,” but not “straight” or “queer” either – might open up for other kinds of vocal experiences. And to end related to where I begun I want to play the Eurythmics from the 1984 Grammy Awards, singing “Sweet Dreams Are Made of This.” Here Annie Lennox is in drag, sort of an Elvis-clone, and opens the question of whether we hear her voice differently than when she dressed as “herself.” This is not “the same” kind of drag as in the Lady Gaga / Jo Calderone case, but the resemblance is enough – I think – to make the case. The case of the question of gendered voices. (And yes, Boy George makes a cameo in the opening of this video – it is, after all, 1984).


March 28, 2013

Goodnight Moon

March 27, 2013

Shivaree, “Goodnight Moon” fra albumet I Oughtta Give You a Shot in the Head for Making Me Live in This Dump (1999)

Lady Gaga og litteratur

April 15, 2012

Det hender ikke sjelden at popmusikk blir en del av litteraturen. Referanser til en tid, for eksempel, eller som del av en beskrivelse av personene. Nettopp referansen til tid kan være interessant i forhold til hvorvidt popmusikken viser seg varig. Og dermed synes jeg også det er fascinerende hvor hurtig en artist kan bli del av litteraturen. Jeg har, så langt, funnet Lady Gaga referert i to romaner.

Den første er Lauren Beukes’ Zoo City (fra 2010).

Boken er lagt til Sør-Afrika, og har et visst sci-fi preg, og desto mer overraskende er den ene referansen til Lady Gaga som kommer (side 219 i min utgave – som er UK utgaven)

“Front of house, Conter Rev is twenties decadence meets electro glam. Great Gatsby by way of Lady Gaga, in shades of white and silver. A massive abstract chandelier cut from clear perspex hangs over the oval bar with its low, white neon counter, softly lit from underneath. Odi isn’t fucking around. This is a far cry from the music venue grunge of Bass Station. The dancefloor is hemmed in by a ripple of booths in cool cream-coloured leathFer, the curve angled just right to allow each a modicum of privacy while still sustaining maximum potential for seeing and being seen. Opposite the seating above, the DJ booths are three grand archways with raised platforms all fenced off with white bamboo bars strung with ribbons.”

Den andre romanen er Cherie Priests Hellbent (fra 2011), andre bok om vampyren Raylene Pendle (den første var Bloodshot, også fra 2011), og her er det faktisk to referanser til Lady Gaga. Den første kommer tidlig, idet Raylene ser et drag-show med Sister Rose:

“Rose strolled onto the stage and grabbed the nearest pole, and I didn’t even notice I had a big, stupid grin on my face until she saw me and winked. I was two seconds shy of screaming for her panties when the music got grinding and she got dancing. Tonight she was wearing a flamenco outfit, bright red. A Lady Gaga song kicked up – ‘Alejandro’ – and she was off, this one-woman show letting it all hang out.” (s 25f.)

Neste referanser er mer overraskende. Idet Raylene og Adrian (som er Sister Rose uten drag) skal kontakte vampyrklanen i San Francisco. For å komme i kontakt er de i en goth-bar, Ill Manner, der det spilles Combichrist.

“He ducked his chin in return and began working his way across the floor to meet me. In order to do this, he had to perform a wacky, forward-moving, martial-arts-style dancing due to the fact that it wasn’t Combichrist playing anymore – it was Lady Gaga, which frankly surprised me. What had been a half-empty dance floor five minutes previously was now crowded with clusters of spinning, bobbing, weaving dancers. Goths. Who can fathom, am I right?” (s. 102)

Det er liten tvil at Gaga i alle eksemplene er knyttet til dansegulvet. Og hos Priest også til både drag og goth – i en noe paradoksal versjon. Bortsett fra det synes det som om begge forfatterne kunne valgt annen popmusikk til mer eller mindre den samme effekten.

Det er likevel en twist ekstra hos Priest, som jeg synes er god. Reylenes jakt – og jeg vil ikke ødelegge for eventuelle lesere med å fortelle plot her – leder henne til San Juan Bautista State Park, og som det står: “Wikipedia said that one of Hitchcok’s films was shot here” (s 143). Da de ser klokketårnet kommer referansen: “Bell tower? Oh yeah. ‘Vertigo’, I said.”

“‘Vertigo. I just now remembered. That’s what movie was filmed here. There was … there was a big scene’, I muttered. ‘In the bell tower. Jimmy Stewart’. ‘If you say so’. ‘Come on. Let’s go imitate some art’.” (s. 152)

Det morsomme her, selvsagt, er at også Lady Gaga gjør referanser til Alfred Hitchcocks Vertigo (fra 1958), ikke minst i videoen til “Paparazzi” (se her), men også i det musikalske forspillet til videoen til “Born This Way” – der Bernard Herrmanns musikk til Vertigo anvendes (se her). På den måten synes jeg Priest er clever, og altså drar Gaga-referansen mer inn i bokens handling, i en slags fordobling av referanser. Og nei, jeg har ikke lest disse to bøkene fordi de refererer til Lady Gaga. Det var en tilfeldighet, men en tilfeldighet jeg synes bør registreres (for, eventuelt, å suppleres neste gang jeg finner Lady Gaga i en bok).

Queens of Disco

March 14, 2012

Det kan nesten virke som om BBC har bestemt seg for å støtte mine forelesninger dette semesteret. Ikke før har jeg fått postet The Joy of Disco finner jeg Queens of Disco. En litt annen historie enn i den andre dokumentaren, og det er fortsatt andre historier som gjerne skulle fortelles, men dette er bra.


March 8, 2012

Som jeg har skrevet om før skal jeg neste helg holde ett innlegg om Rahsaan Roland Kirk. I forarbeidet har jeg også sett filmen Sound??? fra 1966, regissert av Dick Fontaine.

Helt sentrale figurer i filmen er nettopp Roland Kirk og John Cage, og filmen setter disse to sammen. Nettopp dermed åpner det for en annen form for tenkning rundt Kirk, idet de estetiske sammenstillingene mellom avantgarde, jazz, etc., simpelthen må tenkes på ny. (Hele filmen kan ses på ubuweb). (Jeg har skrevet om filmen før, men den er verd å repetere i og med at jeg tenker videre).

The Joy of Disco

March 6, 2012

Det er mer enn gjennomsnittelig interesse for disco for tiden. Og det passer meg fint, både siden jeg underviser disco dette semesteret og siden jeg skal ha en workshop om disco under IKK Festival torsdag. I går kom det enda mer. Via Dummy fant jeg BBC dokumentaren The Joy of Disco, som på mange måter er en god historie. Selvsagt er det en historie – av mange mulige. Og selvsagt kunne man ønske andre dimensjoner tatt inn (og noen, for å være helt ærlig, som kunne vært redigert bort). Men slik er selvsagt dokumentarens betingelser. Så sett av en times tid og se gjennom. Og som Dummy skrev på sin facebook-side: Don’t ask, just dance.

Tristan og Melancholia

December 14, 2011

Da jeg var i Trondheim for noen uker siden og snakket om Wagner kom vi også inn på Lars von Trier, og jeg ble anbefalt Melancholia, som jeg ikke hadde fått sett. Det har jeg nå, og jeg synes det er en interessant film. På lydsporet er det en nærmest kontinuerlig referanse til Wagners Tristan und Isolde, og dermed er selvsagt en fortolkningsnøkkel lagt ut for oss. Samtidig som nøkkelen er gitt, er likevel fortolkningen åpen, og jeg er ikke ferdig med filmen. Jeg har bare sett den en gang, og det er definitivt en film jeg skal se igjen. Åpningen synes jeg er fantastisk, og bruken av Wagner like så. Her får vi en fordobling av preludiet, altså preludiet til Tristan und Isolde blir preludiet til Melancholia, og det kommer innen tittelen. I en viss forstand minner det meg om slutten på Dogville, som jeg har skrevet om før, der rulleteksten er en av mine absolutt favoritter. Men her, så å si innen filmen har begynt, blir effekten helt annerledes. Samtidig, når disse første syv-åtte minuttene har gått, har vi fått hele filmen i et slags mikrokosmos, “a beautiful film about the end of the world,” som taglinen er. Det er briljant:

Men så, hva skjer deretter? Filmen foldes ut, og både historien og dens presentasjon er interessant. Kvinnerollene er annerledes enn i “klassisk” von Trier (som jeg har skrevet litt om her), og jeg synes i så måte den bygger videre på Antichrist (og mer komplekst enn mange ville fortolke Antichrist også). En grunn til denne kompleksiteten er at de to kvinnefigurene, Justine (Kirsten Dunst) og Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg), gjør mulig et mer bredspektret portrett av kvinnelighet. En annen grunn er at den evinnelige selvoppofrende kvinnen – som ofrer seg for mannen, et trekk som knytter von Trier og Wagner sammen – i min forståelse ikke opptrer i Melancholia. Kvinnen går mot verdens ende, tilsynelatende vel vitende om det, men hun – eller heller de – finner veier å håndtere det på. Blant annet gjennom at barnet “lures” til å tro at det er trygt. I motsetningen til disse kvinnene er det mennene som ikke takler dette. Samtidig er kvinnene ikke friske, og det er åpenbart for meg at jeg blir nødt til å lese Freuds Trauer und Melancholie (fra 1917) om igjen – filmens tittel og dens gestaltning av depresjon synes lagt innenfor en freudiansk forståelse. Men nettopp her, fordi von Trier så ofte leses relatert til psykoanalyse, kunne referansen til Wagner være av interesse. Med andre ord, hva om man bruker Wagner heller enn Freud som fortolkningsnøkkel? Det tror jeg er en god idé, men det er også her jeg får et problem med filmen. Åpningen er som sagt briljant, men når von Trier gjennom filmen til stadighet repeterer preludiet til Tristan und Isolde mister det – for meg – noe av sin kraft. Jeg tenker ikke nødvendigvis på den kraft som er tillagt det i musikkhistoriske sammenhenger, jeg tenker den musikalsk-dramatiske kraft som ligger i musikken – og som jeg synes kommer til uttrykk i de første 8 minuttene. Denne kraften avtar gjennom repetisjonene (Alex Ross skriver noe av det samme). Hvis poenget er å minne oss som publikum på forbindelsen mellom det vi ser på lerretet og det som skjer i Wagners opera, kunne dette gjøres mer subtilt, og, viktigere, “bedre” musikalsk, for eksempel ved bruk av annen musikk fra Wagners opera. Jeg savner ikke nødvendigvis Libestod – det oppfatter jeg ikke som nødvendig for filmen, snarere tvert imot, den formen for forløsning man her kan velge å lese ut av Wagner er fremmed for von Triers film. Hadde den musikken vært med ville jeg synes det var for mye, litt som i slutten av Baz Luhrmanns Romeo + Juliet (1996), der Wagner også anvendes (fra 9:50 i dette klippet).

Det jeg savner er først og fremst at vi som tilskuere og tilhørere gis anledning til å se forbindelsen til Tristan und Isolde uten at vi skal gis det inn med teskje. I og med at vi tar poenget i åpningen kunne altså musikken med fordel vært annerledes gjennom filmen. Det ville også styrket forbindelsen mellom Melancholia og Tristan und Isolde.

Wagner og estetisering av politikken (egenreklame)

November 29, 2011

I ettermiddag holder jeg foredrag i Trondheim om Richard Wagner. Det er i regi av Vitenskapsteoretisk forum, og i tillegg til meg skal også Helge Høibraaten holde foredrag. Utgangspunktet er filosofiske tekster om Wagner, og da særlig Philippe Lacoue-Labarthes Musica Ficta (fra 1991) og Alain Badious Five Lessons on Wagner (fra 2010). Badiou går i klingen på Lacoue-Labarthe, og en helt sentral dimensjon handler om diskusjonen om en estetisering av politikken, en betegnelse som siden Walter Benjamins berømte “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit” har vært knyttet til fascismen:

“So steht es mit der Ästhetisierung der Politik, welche der Faschismus betreibt. Der Kommunismus antwortet ihm mit der Politisierung der Kunst.”

Hvorvidt det finnes et svar på estetiseringen av politikken kan man diskutere. En slik diskusjon vil også gjerne knytte an til Wagner og til effektene av Wagner. Sentralt, også for meg, er Hans-Jürgen Syberbergs filmer, og da særlig Parsifal (fra 1982).

Som Badiou skriver:

“These films are all very important because what is articulated and featured in them is the issue of the relationship between Wagner and the question of Germany.”

Eller, som Eric L. Santner skriver, i Stranded Objects: Mourning, Memory, and Film in Postwar Germany (fra 1990):

“It is thus quite interesting to note that when, after completing Hitler, Syberberg decided that he wanted to make a comedy, he chose, of all things, Parsifal.”

Parsifal (fra 1882) er vanskelig for meg å fortolke som en komedie, men jeg er samtidig ambivalent i forhold til den. Gary Tomlinson påpeker, i Metaphysical Song, det wagnerske dilemma, og skriver om modernistiske operakomponister etter Parsifal:

“Yet they also were lured to its consecrational solemnity, which came more and more to seem the gravity required of modernist ‘high art’, the quasi-liturgical seriousness by which it could distinguish itself from commodified kitsch.”

Det er definitivt mulig å fortolke Parsifal inn i en kitsch-sfære, om enn noen – og da særlig wagnerianere, vil steile. Det jeg håper er at ettermiddagens to foredrag bringer diskusjoner om denne – og andre – av Wagners operaer. Og jeg regner altså med å lære noe i løpet av dagen.

Future Shock

August 16, 2011

I går kom jeg over dokumentarfilmen Future Shock (fra 1972, regissert av Alexander Grasshoff). Jeg ble oppmerksom på filmen via Brain Pickings. Filmen er basert på Alvin Tofflers bok Future Shock (fra 1970), og det er Orson Welles som guider oss gjennom. Her er første klipp fra youtube:

(se også de fire andre klippene).

Brain Pickings kaller Toffler sosiolog og futurist, og beskriver ham som “the Ray Kurzweil of his day,” en beskrivelse jeg fant interessant også i forhold til noen andre dimensjoner jeg arbeider med. Da jeg intervjuet Janelle Monáe for noen måneder siden var hun opptatt av Kurzweil, og så hans tanker om “the Singularity” som viktige også for hennes eget prosjekt. Og Kurzweil har også en annen tilknytning til den afrikanskamerikanske musikken, der hans synthesizer ble utviklet i et samarbeid med Stevie Wonder. (Og, ja, Monáe og Wonder opptrådte også nettopp sammen).

Interessant er her at også Toeffler, og særlig Future Shock har en musikalsk forbindelse. På platen Back to the World (fra 1973) har Curtis Mayfield en sang med den tittelen. Her er den, i en utgave fra det klassiske Soul Train (i 1973):

Og, som om ikke dette skulle være nok, i 1983 ga Herbie Hancock ut platen Future Shock, der han covrer Mayfield – her i en live-utgave (fra 1984):

Og det er også her årstallene blir viktige. Kurzweil Music Systems kom med sin K250 synthesizer i 1984, og Stevie Wonder var involvert i dette. Her er et klipp med Wonder, fra filmen Transcendent Man:

Og dermed er det altså mulig å etablere forbindelser mellom musikk og den futurisme Toffler og Kurzweil står for, og på tvers av flere musikalske undersjangere. Og igjen synes jeg dette muliggjør en forståelse av afrofuturismen som bryter med noen av de avantgardedimensjonene som tilsynelatende har preget hvordan den beskrives.