DC's

The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Yasujirō Ozu Day

 

‘What everybody notices first in Ozu is the visual form. He apparently decided at the very beginning of his filmmaking career to adopt his own cinematic language, an idiolect that is both conservative and radical.

‘It is conservative because the choices within his system are severely limited and because in some respects it is just a purification of the standard continuity system. Each scene follows the standard pattern: in, out, repeat if necessary. The scene begins with a long shot that establishes the characters, then moves into medium close-ups. If it is a lengthy scene, it will cut to the long establishing shot again and then back to the close-ups. At the end, it will return to the long shot.

‘The average shot length in his films adheres closely to the norms that prevailed in Japan and Hollywood, and Ozu keeps the duration of the shots within a film remarkably consistent: there are no long takes and very few noticeably quick shots. Most of the cuts are ‘return cuts’, to borrow Klaus Wyborny’s term – that is, they return to a shot already shown.

‘It has been written that Ozu pared down this system further by gradually eliminating camera movement, fades, and dissolves, but these figures appeared only exceptionally even in his first films. From this description an Ozu film might seem like a highly conventionalised TV series, such as Dragnet.

‘But he does everything wrong; he breaks every rule of conventional cinematic grammar. He always puts the camera too low, but he doesn’t angle it up, so the subject of the shot always occupies the top of the frame. The eye-line matches are always wrong.

‘A fundamental rule of standard continuity requires that the camera always stay on one side of an axis created by the actors’ gazes. Thus the camera may not be moved 180 degrees from one set-up to another; it must always stay within a semi-circle on one side of the axis.

‘Ozu doesn’t simply violate this rule, he overturns it: every cut crosses the axis of the gaze. Every cut is a multiple of 45 degrees, most often 180 degrees (especially when he cuts on an action match) or 90 degrees. The standard continuity system was developed to make cuts invisible, to the conscious mind at least. Ozu denaturalises the cuts, making them as noticeable as possible.

‘Then there are the shots of ‘empty spaces’: still lifes, unpeopled interiors, building facades and landscapes. They are Ozu’s trademark, the one part of his system that has been adapted by modern European and Asian filmmakers, and they have given his interpreters a great deal of trouble when they try to assign them a meaning.

‘In his essential book on Ozu, David Bordwell calls these empty spaces “intermediate” because these shots generally occur between scenes (although sometimes as cutaways within scenes). But they are not establishing shots, although some shots in a series may serve that function. They have an autonomy that led Noël Burch to call them extradiegetic, that is “on another plane of reality”, although they exist in the same space as the characters. Perhaps it suffices to define them simply by the absence of the characters and the suspension of the narrative.’ — Thom Andersen, Bfi

 

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Tributes


Aki Kaurismaki on Ozu


Claire Denis on Ozu


Wim Wenders on Ozu


Hou Hsiao-hsien on Ozu


Stanley Kwan on Ozu

 

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Documentaries


OZU Yasujiro Story / 小津安二郎物語 #1


Video Footage of Yasujiro Ozu


Yasujirô Ozu – The Depth of Simplicity


Wes Anderson & Yasujiro Ozu: A Visual Essay


Visiting Ozu’s grave

 

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Stills













































































































 

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Interview: Donald Richie on Ozu
from Midnight Eye

 

It is now about 50 years since Ozu’s heyday. What relevance do these films still have for today’s generation of viewers worldwide?

Well I think that the strongest appeal of Ozu is, certainly one of the things he was most concerned with, was character. The way he worked, the kind of films that he made – the major interest was people, how they react, how they don’t react. The way he made a film, for example, was that he and his fellow writer Kogo Noda would write the dialogue first, without even knowing who was going to say it. They wanted to create characters out of dialogue. Then they allocated the dialogue to the people who became the characters, and it was only later on that they decided the locations where this should happen. Usually most films are written the other way around: they get the settings and then they put the people in them and then they decide what’s going to be said. Ozu’s films are made completely backwards from that, so consequently there’s a rightness, there’s a logic, there’s an inevitability, there’s a reality about the character. The main thing we feel when we watch an Ozu film for the first time is that we don’t want it to end. We don’t want to leave these people. I’ve heard this from people over and over again. So since this is a universal thing, and since it never gets old-fashioned, and is the same thing we desire and look for in all films, no matter how new or old they are, I think that this is the strongest point. I don’t think anyone in Japanese film could create character as well as Ozu does, and I think that through the characters the films remain alive.

In terms of the aesthetic then, there’s nothing intrinsically Japanese about how the films look…

Certainly not when they were made, no. He was very careful. He hated locations. He liked complete control. Everything was a set. He did it because he wanted control to that extent. I mean when you compare the Ozu script with the Ozu film, there’s no discrepancy. The script is a blueprint. Everything is already decided. There’s not any room for spontaneity, or anything like that. It is going to be done exactly like it was in the script. So consequently he needed it to look as realistic as possible. And so, 1954, ’55, ’56 are there, preserved on the screen exactly as they are, forever. However, we’re now in 2003, and there are no more interiors like that in Japan, and there are no more people who act like that in Japan. The youngsters don’t act like that anymore. So what we have in Ozu appreciation in this country is a retro appreciation, like appreciating Andy Hardy or Doris Day or something like that. Abroad, it still doesn’t look as exotic as it does to the Japanese. The kids know what it is because they’ve seen pictures, but where they live looks nothing like where the Ozu characters live. They don’t have the tatami anymore, they don’t have fusuma [paper doors]. Today these features of Japanese architecture are not included any more, and so we don’t have that severity. So they can look at an Ozu film as a trip to grandpa’s house.

You have labelled Ozu a “modernist”. One thing that struck me, in terms of modern Japan, the surface details such as the costumes and the iconography seem to have changed, but the internal dynamics of the family are still very consistent with what Ozu was doing …

Remember that when Ozu started making films in the 1920s, this was the time that Europe, and consequently Japan, was becoming interested in the possibilities of the new way of observing, which is much less fussy, much less Victorian, much less Edwardian, stripped down through the age of the century of progress, the new silver bullet train in Chicago, new techniques of air resistance in design. Everything was being streamed down. Art as well, with Art Deco. Art Deco is self-conscious about its own design in the way that Ozu’s films are. Ozu was very fond of Art Deco. If you look at the number of his sets, they are very Art Deco, very modernist in their design.

He didn’t know anything about mainstream modernism, by which I mean James Joyce, Gertrude Stein, all the other people who were doing modernist literature. He knew mainly through what he observed about what came in from Europe and America, the kind of modernism which you could see in Japanese cafés in Ginza.

There’s this idea of cutting down, of restriction, of making things coherent by making them less, an avoidance of any redundancy and this great ability to make the continuity without all the links, leaving the audience the option, or the necessity to do this. In most Ozu pictures, for example, the wedding is left out. This idea of leaving out these links and testing your audience to make the links with you, or build the bridge halfway to you, these are all attributes of modernism as a literary form. And so, for these reasons, plus a tremendous influence of European photography – that is still photography, or art photography – on Ozu who would use these still lives to make something like he’d already seen in photographic magazines, all of this gives a modernist tinge to everything he did. So there are two things; he’s a traditional artist and a traditional aesthetician, because he knew Japanese aesthetics. At the same time he was a real modernist. He used the modernist visual vocabulary, and would very often take the plots of American films. A lot of his best films take their inspiration from films he had seen.

 

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Further

A Website Dedicated to Ozu Yasujiro
Missing Ozu
Ozu Teapot blog
Digital Ozu
‘Ozu’s Angry Women’
‘Yasujiro Ozu: an artist of the unhurried world’
Ozu vs. Avatar: This really is what cinema has come down to
Roger Ebert’s ‘Silence is Golden to Ozu’
‘A Great Auteur: Yasujiro Ozu
Ozu @ The Criterion Collection
Ozu @ Senses of Cinema
Ozu @ Strictly Film School
Ozu @ mubi
Ozu @ The Jim Jarmusch Resource Page
Book: David Boardwell’s Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema
Video: ‘Ozu – Color “Pillow Shots”‘
Ozu’s Lost Films
‘The Films of Yasujiro Ozu’
‘A modest extravagance: Four looks at Ozu’

 

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15 of Yasujirō Ozu’s 53 films

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An Autumn Afternoon (1962)
‘Yasujiro Ozu’s last film, about a middle aged man who gives in to his friends’ urgings to marry off his daughter, has me making associations with, of all people, Howard Hawks. Not only is the theme of individual desire subjected to communal duty typical of both directors, but this film delights in the nuances of human interactions much in the way of Hawks’ late masterpiece RIO BRAVO; both films seem to treat narrative as an afterthought for the sake of exploring and celebrating the ritualized behavior that blossoms when old acquaintances come together. The virtues of Ozu’s artistry may not be appreciated by most people, and even by those who do have trouble explaining his significance. It remains one of the great mysteries of the movies that Ozu’s seemingly light, commercial entertainments can contain such an abundance of human experience, enhanced by an assiduously developed style that demands extended contemplation.’ — alsolikelife


Trailer


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Late Autumn (1960)
‘A trio of old buddies intervenes in the affairs of their old college crush, now a recent widow, and her daughter. The daughter won’t marry, afraid to leave her mother alone; the guys attempt to arrange a marriage between one of them and the mother, with near-disastrous results. Ozu’s attentiveness to the pleasure of small moments shared between good friends is at its peak of perfection — as in all his best films, one forgets that they’re following a story and is just “hanging out” with the people onscreen. However, there’s much more to this film than a matchmaking lark — the pleasure that the viewer gets as a fellow matchmaker conspiring among the men gives way to the quiet pain of mother and daughter as they face imminent separation, leading to an ending every bit as heartbreaking as that of LATE SPRING.’ — alsolikelife


Trailer


Excerpt

 

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Good Morning (1959)
‘The story, which at times feels incidental, centers around two boys who refuse to speak when their parents refuse to buy a television set. What appears at first to be a lightweight effort is actually a remarkable meditation on human communication in all its forms: the “good mornings” of the title, insidious gossip, fart jokes, hand signals and awkward romantic conversation all figure into the cavalcade of brilliantly rendered interactions between parents, children and nosy neighbors.’ — alsolikelife


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Equinox Flower (1958)
‘Ozu’s first color feature, following the harsh, pessimistic black-and-white worlds of EARLY SPRING and TOKYO TWILIGHT, returns to the more whimsical disappointments of domestic life, and the use of color adds to the film’s soothing quality and delight in everyday details vibrantly observed, qualities that Ozu would continue to develop in his remaining color films. A father butts heads with his oldest daughter when she refuses to comply with his wish to arrange her marriage. Another quality to this film that Ozu would develop to better effect in his later works is a movement away from overt narrative — things happen in this film in a static, almost incidental manner, which seems to reflect the experience of the father, insisting on things being the same as always, and yet perceiving gradual shifts almost in spite of himself.’ — alsolikelife


Excerpt

 

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Tokyo Twilight (1957)
‘A deeply, uncharacteristically dark film, even among other “dark” Ozu films (i.e. A HEN IN THE WIND, EARLY SPRING) that may require a theatrical setting for the viewer to be fully absorbed in the strange, dark textures of the world Ozu presents. I myself was pretty alienated for the first 1/2 hour or so until the wintry chill of the mise-en-scene (brilliantly suggested in the slightly hunched-over postures of the characters) found its way into me instead of keeping me at arm’s length. And from there this story builds in unwavering intensity as it follows a family on a slow slide into dissolution: a passive, judgmental patriarch (played by Chisyu Ryu, subverting his gently accepting persona in a way that is shocking), his elder daughter, a divorcee with a single child (Setsuko Hara, playing brilliantly against type — who’d have thought the sweetest lady in ’50s Japan had such an evil scowl?), and his younger daughter (Ineko Arima, a revelation), secretly pregnant and searching for her boyfriend, get a major shakeup when their absent mother, who the father had told them was long dead, re-enters their lives. A masterpiece, without question, one that throws all of Ozu’s depictions of modern society in a beautifully devastating new light.’ — alsolikelife


The entire film

 

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Early Spring (1956)
‘Ozu’s longest feature is a tricky one to read, and quite possibly one of his best works. The running time would indicate some kind of epic statement being made, and Ozu is certainly aiming high by offering a comprehensive examination of how the corporate salaryman mentality has deeply affected the lives of ordinary Japanese people. The film, which centers around a frustrated salaryman, his failing marriage, his dalliance with a younger co-worker and his co-workers increasing concerns, is often solemn and staid but not humorless in the least; in fact I can think of few Ozu films that do a better job of capturing communal ritual in all its highs and lows, which the 2 1/2 hour running time accomodates splendidly. Typical of Ozu, the story moves in a ritualistic pattern through interactions between friends and family, in homes, offices, bars and group outings. There is the recurring instance of a group getting together to eat dinner, often breaking out into song as they celebrate each other’s company — these scenes for me are clearly a highlight of the entire Ozu oeuvre, they shine with spontaneity.’ — alsolikelife


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Tokyo Story (1953)
‘Each of the three times I’ve seen this film I wonder more if there is a more perfect film out there. My latest viewing once again filled me with a dual apprehension: that this film in its two hour span states everything on my mind that I would want to say in a movie, so that there’s nothing for me to say, my job has been done; and that I still need to say something anyway, but it will have to be in a way that stands apart from this flawless work of human beauty. No one can use the word derivative to describe director Yasujiro Ozu’s style. His way of assembling a slowly unraveling series of carefully selected, unmoving camera shots explores film space in a subtle but powerful way that brings attention to the spaces between people and comments on the physical nature of human interactions. He sets a lofty standard for original, meaningful filmmaking.’ — alsolikelife




The entire film

 

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The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice (1952)
‘An unassuming husband finds the nerve to employ non-violent resistance against his contemptuous wife after hanging out for an evening with a rebellious niece who skipped her own interview with an arranged fiance. I really could have cared less about the story as the characters were so lovingly drawn and their interactions were a joy to listen to, and that’s really where the action is in Ozu movies, the sounds and spaces between people as they repeatedly bump into each other and modify each other’s state of mind in ways both large and small.’ — alsolikelife


The entire film

 

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Early Summer (1951)
‘I can attest that not only are no two Ozu movies the same, but that each marks a notable development along the continuum of one of the most formidable artistic visions in film. This mid-career masterpiece is no exception — its unique qualities lie partly in its assiduous exploration of interior space in an ingenious opening sequence, beautifully capturing the rhythms and choreography of a family household as they go about their morning routine. It’s no wonder that this is the favorite Ozu movie of formalist film scholar than David Bordwell — Ozu frames and re-frames his compositions, reinventing spaces with each cut and shot, turning an ordinary house into a cinematic funhouse — only PLAYTIME, IVAN THE TERRIBLE and LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD have offered similar wonders as far as I’m concerned. Neither is this style for style’s sake: as we follow the story of how this family is pressured by social convention to marry off their daughter, the inevitable disintegration of this family makes the synchronicity and synergy of that marvelous opening sequence all the more poignant. In between, there is a rich variety of interactions between three generations of families and friends as they meet their fates, individually and collectively, one exquisite, fleeting moment at a time.’ — alsolikelife


Credits


Excerpt

 

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Late Spring (1949)
Late Spring provided a chance for me to collaborate with Noda Kogo. Not since An Innocent Maid did such an opportunity present itself. If the director and the scriptwriter are always at odds with each, their work relationship is bound to collapse at some point. Say if one were an early to bed, early to rise type, while the other happened to be a night bird, they’d never strike the right balance, and would just let each other down. Whatever Noda, Saito and I did were in sync, even down to when we chose to take a break or have a drink. This was very important as Noda and I tended to think through every line or dialogue together when we wrote the script. Even without discussing details on props or costumes, there was an unspoken rapport between us. There was never a problem of disagreement, even when deciding to use an “oh” or an “ah” (wa or yo) in the dialogue. It was incredible. Naturally, there were times when we clung to our own opinions. After all, we were both rather stubborn and wouldn’t compromise so easily.’ — Ozu Yasujiro


Excerpt


Excerpt


Finale

 

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Record of a Tenement Gentleman (1947)
‘Ozu’s first film after the War is a moving and highly effective piece whose plea on behalf of the underprivileged feels remarkably akin to what the Italian Neo-Realists were doing contemporaneously. Choko Iida gives a marvelous performance as a dour widow who finds herself in custody of a stoic orphan boy with a nasty bedwetting habit. For much of this film Ozu is at his best, when narrative concerns take a back seat to the unbridled joy of witnessing the rhythms of human interaction with all its quirky mannerisms: you’re no longer following a story, you’re watching life unfold before your eyes. Towards the end, the social agenda upsets this rhythm somewhat, but the last shot of numerous orphans lying about in a playground has a deeply troubling quality that lingers in the memory.’ — alsolikelife


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

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Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family (1941)
‘The family atmosphere here is similar to that of The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice. For this very reason, I paid special attention to making material love the dominating theme. The final scenes were shot hastily. The company said, “if we don’t wrap up the film today, we will miss the screening schedule.” “Today” actually meant “two hours!”. I had to resort to a long shot to finish up. Although this was not the most ideal way to film, one could not tell from the composition. If everyone got on well and had a good time during production, then I would become fond of that film, irrespective of the end result. In that respect, Brothers and Sisters of the Toda Family is a work I’m pleased with. I worked with Saburi Shin and Takamine Mieko for the first time. By the standards of those times, it was a classy production which perhaps explains why it become a box office hit and refuted the theory that my films could never sell. Ever since then, my films had started to perform better at the box office.’ — Ozu Yasujiro


The entire film

 

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The Only Son (1936)
‘Ozu enters William Wyler terrain with a somber upscale family drama about a mother and daughter who are shuttled in unwelcome fashion from one family member’s home to another following the death of the family patriarch. The thematic elements of displacement within a family unit anticipate TOKYO STORY — there’s even a bedtime scene between the mother and daughter that echoes one in the later film. There’s a startling lack of music in this film, esp. during Ozu’s normally music-filled transitional shots, that contribute to an overall sense of tense unease that touches on what might have been the general wartime state of mind among Japanese at that time.’ — alsolikelife


The entire film

 

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A Story of Floating Weeds (1934)
‘Remakably similar in structure yet different in tonal effect to Ozu’s more famous 1959 remake, this story of a travelling troupe’s last days in a seaside village was one of Ozu’s first forays into a quiet, rural background, though it still feels brisk compared to the more staid and sumptuous remake. The depictions of stage life are more slapstick-oriented than in the remake (most notably in Tokkan Kozo’s hilarious turn in a full-sized dog costume), but are counterbalanced by sensitive portrayals of all the characters, especially the great, dignified lead performance by Takeshi Sakamoto. The romantic interludes are as powerful as in the remake, though without employing the overt sensuality of on-screen kissing; instead there appears to be the use of a filter or gauze to give the scenes between the young couple an otherworldly effect, which gives more emphasis of the idea of the actress employed to seduce the troupe leader’s son enacting a “performance”.’ — alsolikelife


The entire film

 

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I Was Born, But… (1932)
‘Put in simple terms, this is one of the greatest silent movies ever made. Though the film was intended to be screened with live voice-over by a benshi narrator, this masterpiece works stunningly well without sound, because Ozu’s unparalleled sense of visual rhythm, choreographed movement, and humor keep one’s eyes dancing in delight. The story concerns two boys who fight their way to gain status and respect among the local bullies, only to realize that their father is a bottom-feeder among the adults. As such it’s loaded with acute observations of Japanese society, and not without Ozu’s penchant for subtle but potent criticism. For people who are used to the “slow” Ozu of the 50s, this film will be a revelation, inspiring speculation as to how and why he changed a style that already was exceptional.’ — alsolikelife


Excerpt


Excerpt

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** Jonathan, Hi, J! Thanks, bud. Ah, money work, but you’re getting your licks in too, so fuck capitalism and … still! Nice you saw the Sunn. Weirdly, they haven’t Paris in ages. I don’ know what that’s about. Fun music night, fun music. I like all of that. We just finished the color grading, and it’s looking good/odd, so all is very well, film-wise. Fanny Howe recommendation? She’s terrific. Well, you could go the efficient way and get her ‘Selected Poems’. She’s pretty consistently very good. Last/newest one I’ve read of hers was ‘The Lyrics’ (Graywolf). Her fiction is quite fine as well. Much love in return! ** Tosh Berman, Ha ha, your CSN&Y. Nice. Ditto, basically. Not Terry Riley? ** Marcus Whale, Marcus! How’s it, pal? I will take your sentence as a great compliment even though it would seem to speak to the non-exhaustiveness of your class maybe? No, thanks! How are you?  ** Steevee, Hi. For my money, Glass peaked in the mid-70s with ‘Einstein on the Beach’ wherein he really stretched out and found his range. After that, he mostly just played within his range, sometimes pleasurably but not challengingly. Reich isn’t what he was back in his heyday, but he still experiments and occasionally does quite good work, I think. ** David Ehrenstein, I saw Moondog on the street once during a family vacation in NYC. He was regal. ** Jamie, Hey! Yes, we finished the color grading! We almost didn’t because our Production Manager suddenly insisted on watching the final version before our producer signed off on the completion, which took 90 precious minutes, but we did. And we even had time to make a ‘computer version’ which we need for submitting the film to certain festivals. The only difference is that there’s one major scene in the film that is deliberately very dark, and, projected, it looks great, but, on the computer, you literally can’t see anything, so we had to make a second version that raises the visual temperature there a bit. Oh, I’m completely thrilled about the color, the film, everything! I really like your horror film premise. It’s simple in the best way, but it immediately sent my imagination flying about vis-a-vis possible developments and outcomes. Very, very cool. How did working on it last night go? My weekend? Some enjoying the free time in general. Catch up on a bunch of stuff I’m behind on. Probably go see some art. Hang out. It feels open-ended at the moment, which I’m thoroughly enjoying. What are you and your sis/family up to? Or I guess what did you get up to? That sounds nice. My sleep still could have used some extra hours last night, but there’s always tonight to hope towards. May your weekend be the ultimate walkthrough experience! Plenty o’ love, Dennis. ** Sypha, Hi. That’s a great Terry Riley album, yeah. Awesome about the release! I’ll go download that today. Shortly. Really look forward to it! Everyone, Here’s the mighty Sypha with some major news and a big gift. Read his words, click his links, and get consequently knocked out (in the great way). Sypha: ‘Speaking of music, today just so happens to be the official release date of “Hostile Architecture,” the debut studio LP from my new act +Passover-. As always, the curious may listen to and download it for free from the relevant Internet Archive page. Yesterday I also posted a mock interview on the MZR blog where I talk a bit about how +Passover- came to be and discuss some of its influences.’ Have a fine weekend, James! ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Oh, sure, I think the in between thing is very natural and normal. That’s so great about the fantastic initial feedback! I know exactly what you mean about the feedback proving that what you’ve written is accessible and works as you had hoped. That’s in some way always the best possible thing about feedback. Even when the response isn’t entirely positive, it’s most important to know that your work works. Not everybody is ever going to like what one does, but as long as they get it, the ‘not my thing’ part doesn’t matter so much. Great, great! That’s very happy making, and I can feel your relief and excitement! We did finish the color grading on schedule. Now we won’t be able to even look at the film for two or three weeks, which is a good thing since we’ve been studying it in such close, constant detail that we really do need a break lest we go blind to it or something. Your brother’s coming! Or, wait, is already there! Have a complete blast with him, and tell me how that was and how your weekend went in general! Hugs from here, where it’s chilly and raining gloriously. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. A karaoke version of ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ may just be the greatest idea I have ever heard in my life. Whoa. That Oscar guy was very in touch with his muse. I suppose it’s not a massive surprise that the career advisor’s advice wasn’t revelatory. But maybe there’ll be a great rabbit hole at the end of one of those links? ** Chris dankland, Hi, Chris! Cool, very happy you liked the music. Me too, duh. The Bryars piece is one of the truly great things, I think. I know and like Stars of the Lid, but not Ray Lynch. I’ll go find him/that. Thank you! No, I’ve been too swamped by the film to listen to 17776 Football yet. But now I’m free for a bit, and I will pronto. I don’t know where that gif is from. I literally did a gif search using the word ‘minimalist’ and it was one of the results, and I grabbed it. I don’t think its source was indicated. Enjoy your morning and its follow-up, man! ** Jeff J, Thanks Jeff. The Cale track is from his second solo album ‘The Academy in Peril’ (1972). It’s more oriented towards compositions, sound/melodic experiments, than songs. I think it’s great. It’s definitely one of my favorite Cale albums. Mm, I I guess I don’t have one favorite Part album or work. Maybe like you, I just know his works in pieces. It definitely sounds like ultimatum time. You’ve clearly been fully patient and have experienced frustration enough. Let me know how that goes. ** Bill, Hi. ‘[L]ibretto by Elfriede Jellinek (!) adapted from text by Leonora Carrington (!)’: whoa! I had no idea that existed. Crazy. Thank you for the link to the excerpts. I’ll get on that in about a minute and a half from now. Glad my encouragement is having a nudge-like effect. Have a swell weekend. ** Right. This weekend I devote the blog’s template to the sublimity that is the films of the ultra-masterly Ozu. Lots of greatness up there if you have the time and are in the mood. See you on Monday.

Gig #115: Minimalists: Gavin Bryars, Marc Mellits, La Monte Young, Louis Andriessen, Wim Mertens, Michael Nyman, Graham Fitkin, Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt, Karel Goeyvaerts, Terry Riley, Simeon ten Holt, John Cale, Steve Martland, Moondog, Ari Benjamin Meyers, Tom Johnson, Steve Reich

 

‘Minimalism is a long way from whatever it meant to the composers who were at its vanguard in the 60s. The big four back then, as now, were Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Steve Reich and Philip Glass. None of them, it is worth pointing out, has ever fully embraced the term “minimalism”, and the seeds of how differently the minimalist impulse would be taken up by later composers are already there in the huge aesthetic and temperamental gulfs that separate Riley’s music from Reich’s, or Glass’s from Young’s. All are now in their mid-70s: Riley is a devotee of Indian philosophy, Young lives according to a 27-hour day in his Dream-House in downtown New York, Glass writes symphonies and film scores, and Reich, the most revered of the quartet, continues to plough his furrow of pulses, phases and rhythmic richness.

‘But 50 years ago, all four did have something in common: a commitment to exploring the base materials of music with forensic, analytical detail. Reich’s early works, such as the tape piece It’s Gonna Rain and Piano Phase, for two pianists are about a single, obsessively pursued idea. Reich’s revolution was to loop different versions of the same material at different speeds against itself. Written down here, it sounds like a tortuous, solipsistic process – but it’s really pretty simple to hear. In It’s Gonna Rain, the voice of a Pentecostal preacher is looped at gradually different speeds, creating a sumptuous sonic texture, and in Piano Phase the pianists have to move in and out of phase with one another, subtly shifting from one semiquaver of a melodic pattern to the next. The effect is the sonic equivalent of slowly turning a kaleidoscope as the music comes in and out of focus. If you haven’t heard it yet, do it now – it’s a thrilling, essential listen.

‘But there’s something else in early Reich, Glass and Riley, too – an insistence on returning music to the roots that all three composers felt European modernisms, such as serialism, had left behind: melody, modality and rhythm. Riley’s In C puts all of that together in a piece that remains a masterpiece of compression, one of the great musical proofs of how less really can be more. From 53 tiny cells of musical material – the whole score fits on one page – Riley allows his performers to create an unpredictable, ever-changing tapestry of sound as the musicians (of which there can be any number) move from one bar to the next. In C is a game-changer not just for minimalism but for music history. Glass wasn’t far behind, either, in such pieces as Music With Changing Parts, while Young created music of slowly shifting chords and harmonies, extending the minimalist idea into larger, longer spheres of time and being.

‘Once minimalism became just another style for composers to use, it stopped being minimalist in any meaningful aesthetic sense. Such composers as David Lang or Michael Gordon, or any of the Bang on a Can group of New York-based post-minimalists, couldn’t have written their music without Glass; but equally, they couldn’t have written it without the influence of rock. The impulse for any composer who uses minimalism as a style today – whether you’re Thom Yorke or Nico Muhly – is the diametrical opposite of what Reich and Riley were up to half a century ago. Stylistic free-for-all has replaced forensic, monomaniacal obsession.’ — Tom Service

 

Gavin Bryars
Marc Mellits
La Monte Young
Louis Andriessen
Wim Mertens
Michael Nyman
Graham Fitkin
Philip Glass
Arvo Pärt
Karel Goeyvaerts
Terry Riley
Simeon ten Holt
John Cale
Steve Martland
Moondog
Ari Benjamin Meyers
Tom Johnson
Steve Reich

 

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Gavin Bryars Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet (1975)
‘In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song – sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads – and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one. When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song – 13 bars in length – formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping. I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man’s singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp’s nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.’ — Gavin Bryars

 

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Marc Mellits Tight Sweater (2005)
‘Composer Marc Mellits is an apprentice to Steve Reich whose own worklist stretches back into the early ’80s. Endeavor Classics’ Tight Sweater is the first all-Mellits disc and features four works performed by the new music ensemble Real Quiet. If Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians is like an 11-course meal with appetizer and dessert, then the short movements that make up Mellits’ suites, such as Fruity Pebbles and Tight Sweater, are like hors d’oeuvres. Mellits’ post-minimalist spin is to deliver the tasty treat of minimalist style minus its messy forward development, which only works when the trajectory is seamless. Mellits’ work is all “seams,” just like the seams in the tight sweater pictured on the front cover, but unashamedly so, and it is clear that Mellits is hoping to acquire an audience through cutting to the chase and not making them wait for the payoff. The strategy seems to be working, as Mellits has collected positive concert reviews even from such tough publications as The New York Times.’ — Dave Lewis

 

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La Monte Young The Second Dream of the High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer (1962)
‘Three decades after its composition, La Monte Young’s The Second Dream of The High-Tension Line Stepdown Transformer remains as radical a statement and as uniquely revelatory an experience as ever. … Long, steady tones and protracted silences gradually efface the clock, to open up an airier, unfenced domain. Facets of sound become apparent that are usually only peripheral to conscious perception. The tones diffract (via Harmon mutes) to form a brilliant corona of partials that soon flares to dazzling intensity. In a dream, events of little apparent significance may be evocative of fathomless resonances. As The Second Dream develops, the four pitches virtually turn inside out to reveal astonishing depths of sonic phantasmagoria.’ — Sandy McCroskey

 

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Louis Andriessen Workers Union (1975)
‘Workers Union is a composition by Louis Andriessen intended for any loud-sounding group of instruments; Andriessen did not want to handicap orchestras by providing a list of instruments. It is a melodically indeterminate piece; this means there is no key and no defined melody.[2] The piece is very strict rhythmically, with only a guide to lower or raise pitches. Sections may be repeated as many times as the conductor wishes, resulting in varying performance lengths. Every instrument plays different notes that follow the same rhythm and ascending or descending patterns. This creates an atonal piece with many polyphonic phrases. There are points in the piece where the ensemble splits into two groups. The groups alternate lines before coming back together again. If executed properly, the piece sounds mechanical as the instrumentation operates in perfect unison.’ — collaged

 

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Wim Mertens Often a Bird (1996)
‘Mertens’ style has continually evolved during the course of his prolific career, starting from downright experimental and avant-garde, always gravitating around minimalism, usually, however, preserving a melodic foundation to the forays that he makes into the worlds that he is exploring. His compositional quality has often overweighted the “labelling issue” and reached wider audiences although stemming from a far-from-mainstream musical context. One can follow three separate threads of musical styles throughout his work: a) Compositions for ensemble, perhaps his most accessible and “commercial” material; b) Solo piano and voice compositions, which features haunting keyboard melodies accompanied by Mertens’ unique high-pitched tenor voice singing in an invented, personal language; and c) Experimental minimalist “cycles” for single, dual, and sometimes more instruments.’ — collaged

 

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Michael Nyman Angelfish Decay (1985)
‘Celebrated for his modular, repetitive style, minimalist composer Michael Nyman was among experimental music’s most high-profile proponents, best known in connection with his film scores for director Peter Greenaway. Born in London on March 23, 1944, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music and King’s College, London, under communist composer Alan Bush and Thurston Dart, a musicologist specializing in the English Baroque. Under Dart’s tutelage, Nyman was introduced to 16th- and 17th-century English rounds and canons, their repetitive, contrapuntal lines highly influencing his own later work; Dart also encouraged him to travel to Romania in the interest of seeking out the country’s native folk music traditions. Upon graduating during the mid-’60s, Nyman found himself disconnected from both the pop music of the times and the school of modern composition heralded by Stockhausen; as a result, from 1964 to 1976, he worked not as a composer but as a music critic, writing for publications including The Listener, New Statesman, and The Spectator. In a review of British composer Cornelius Cardew, he first introduced the word “minimalism” as a means of musical description.’ — collaged

 

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Graham Fitkin Hook (2002)
‘Graham Fitkin lives and works as a composer in Cornwall. He works with dance, film and digital media alongside concert, orchestral and chamber music. He runs his own ensemble Fitkin Band of 9 soloists which tours new material each year. Graham has collaborated with many of today’s foremost performers of new music including Powerplant, Nederlands Blazers Ensemble, Yo-Yo Ma, Kathryn Stott, Will Gregory, Smith Quartet, Ruth Wall, ensemblebash and London Sinfonietta. He won the International Grand Prix Music for Dance Award in 2000 and has since won two British Composer awards.’ — Hyperion

 

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Philip Glass Music In Fifths (1969)
‘In Music in Fifths, Philip Glass’s ideas are at their most basic, using only addition and subtraction of notes in simple scales to create epic and hypnotic musical forms. Music in Fifths is in “closed form” – a predetermined structure that ends when the accumulation of repetitions fill it out completely. Glass has always considered Music in Fifths a sort of teasing homage to [legendary pedagogue Nadia] Boulanger; it is written entirely in parallel fifths, a cardinal sin in the traditional counterpoint his teacher so carefully instructed.’ — BoaCF

 

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Arvo Pärt Fur Alina (1976)
‘Für Alina, a brief and poignantly spare work for piano, represents the essence of the so-called “tintinnabula” technique for which Estonian composer Arvo Pärt has become famous. The work was composed in 1976, a year in which he emerged from a five-year period of intense study and reflection. Pärt’s study of medieval and Renaissance church music inspired a new approach to tonality, one that recast triadic tonality within an entirely new kind of musical syntax. Für Alina was the first piece in which this new triadic language coalesced into a consistent method of composition. Simply put, this technique, known as the tintunnabula style for the bell-like sonority it creates, involves two different lines moving in a consistent relationship with each other, one of them moving in a mostly stepwise fashion along notes of the diatonic scale (that is, without chromatic inflections), somewhat after the manner of plainchant, the other moving in tandem with the first but landing only on pitches contained in the tonic triad, or the chord of the piece’s home key. This creates an engaging combination of harmonic stability, melodic motion, and occasional shimmering dissonances.’ — allmusic

 

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Karel Goeyvaerts Komposition n. 5 (1953)
‘Karel Goeyvaerts’s 1953 electronic composition, Nummer 5 (met zuivere tonen) is an exact palindrome: not only does each event in the second half of the piece occur according to an axis of symmetry at the centre of the work, but each event itself is reversed, so that the note attacks in the first half become note decays in the second, and vice versa. It is a perfect example of Goeyvaerts’s aesthetics, the perfect example of the imperfection of perfection.’ — FijneWIET

 

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Terry Riley Desert Of Ice (1980)
‘Born in 1935 in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Northern California, Terry Riley launched what is now known as the Minimalist movement with his revolutionary classic In C in 1964. This seminal work provided the conception for a form comprised of interlocking repetitive patterns that was to change the course of 20th-century music and strongly influence the works of Steve Reich, Philip Glass and John Adams, as well as rock groups like The Who, The Soft Machine, Curved Air, Tangerine Dream and many others. In the 1960s and ’70s he turned his attention to solo improvisational works for electronic keyboards and soprano saxophone, and pioneered the use of various kinds of tape delay in live performance. This approach resulted in another set of milestone works, A Rainbow in Curved Air, Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band, The Persian Surgery Dervishes and Shri Camel. These hypnotic, multi-layered, polymetric, brightly orchestrated, eastern-flavored improvisations set the stage for the New Age movement that was to appear a decade or so later.’ — Other Minds

 

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Simeon Ten Holt Canto Ostinato for Synthesizers Section 17 (1976)
‘Simeon ten Holt wrote Canto Ostinato between 1976 and 1979 from behind the piano. The first public performance of the piece in Bergen, NH was both praised and criticized. It was critiqued for its sweetness and simplicity. Ten Holt wrote his pieces at a time when people were used to an entirely different kind of music; composers in aspiration for financial support from the “Fonds voor de Scheppende Toonkunst” better wrote their work in an atonal style. Nevertheless, Simeon covertly persued his own way since he realized that the atonal style he had utilized thus far was not really working for him. He used to call his work “the tonality after the death of tonality”.’ — Home Concerts

 

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John Cale John Milton (1972)
‘Taking a sidestep from his earliest solo efforts into an exploration of his classical training and influences — thus the title — Cale on Academy creates a set of songs that probably bemused more than one listener at the time of release. The predominantly instrumental release, which finds him working with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on two tracks, steers away from the more grotesque classical/rock fusions at the time to find an unexpectedly happy and often compelling balance between the two sides. The sound is at once thick and remarkably spare, a rejection of flash for mood setting without aiming toward the drones so prevalent in much of Cale’s initial work.’ — allmusic

 

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Steve Martland Beat The Retreat (1995)
‘Steve Martland was one of the most vibrant, unconventional and dynamic forces in British music. He first came to prominence in 1983 with Babi Yar, for large orchestra in three groups, championed by the Society for the Promotion of New Music (SPNM) and premiered separately on the same day by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Cleobury, and the St Louis Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin. It was later recorded to critical acclaim. After that, though, he avoided the orchestra, preferring, from American Invention and Re-Mix (1985) onwards, to compose for smaller ensembles, not usually exceeding 13 players, such as those scored for his Steve Martland Band (formed 1992), which toured internationally like a rock group; string quartets, as with his Patrol (1992) or arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor from the same year; and Wolf-Gang (1991), six operatic arias by Mozart reimagined for wind band.’ — Guy Richards

 

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Moondog Invocation (1981)
‘Moondog, who died in Germany in 1999 at the age 83, was the most celebrated of New York street denizens from the late 1940s through 1974. He dressed like a Viking, spouted short-burst poetry in a stentorian voice and cranked out unlikely consonant music on homemade instruments. The Don Drapers of the world saw him on the way to work, perched as he was near 6th Avenue at 53rd Street, near CBS’s building (a fortuitous location, as we’ll soon see). The Beats took him in, later the counter-culture hippies, then the art crowd ferried him overseas. And if you turned on a television for more than 10 minutes during the year 2003, you heard his music remixed for a Lincoln Navigator ad that played nonstop. He collaborated with the young Philip Glass, was promoted by a top rock producer, has been covered by artists as diverse as Janis Joplin and Antony and the Johnsons, and had a booster in Elvis Costello. He’s the 20th century’s avant-garde in one strangely cloaked package.’ — Vanity Fair

 

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Ari Benjamin Meyers Symphony X (Excerpts, 2009)
‘SYMPHONY X is a work of symphonic scale that combines elements of hardcore, experimental, and minimal music into an entirely original musical texture. Ari Benjamin Meyers has written this 70 minute through-composed piece specifically for his unique 17 member Redux Orchestra which includes saxophones, brass, strings, electric guitar, electric bass, drums, and electronics. This physically demanding work combines complex repetitive instrumental arrangements with electro-noise, martial percussion rhythms, and intense guitar melodies. At a constant tempo of 120bpm it escalates into a veritable tour de force. The intensity of SYMPHONY X rests on its extremes: static, pounding repetition layered against an almost unnoticeably slow variation of melodic and harmonic patterns – a compositional style that Steve Reich characterized as “gradual process“. By uniting the formalistic structures of classical and minimal music with the sonic palette of rock, hardcore, and electronic music, Meyers has further developed his musical language and with SYMPHONY X has taken it to a new level.’ — ABM

 

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Tom Johnson Nine Bells (1973)
‘Nine Bells is a conceptual album in which Johnson performs on 9 bells, evenly spaced and hanging from the ceiling. Greg Sandow (2003) describes Nine Bells, “in which he walked, at a steady rhythmic pace (and, if I remember correctly, for more than an hour), among nine suspended burglar alarm bells, systematically exploring all the possible paths among them. Which, since he strikes each bell as he passes it, are also all the possible melodies their pitches might make. As in many of Tom’s works, theory and practice are identical here… You see and hear the structure of the piece. That’s not even remotely abstract; instead, it’s pure happiness, as the pealing bells seem to ring with Tom’s concentration (visible in his face and body, audible in his steady steps), and his joie de vivre.” At the age of 55, Johnson had to stop performing this athletic piece, but Matthias Kaul, Adam Weisman, Olaf Pyras and others have developed their own interpretations of the score, using their own sets of bells.’ — collaged

 

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Steve Reich Six Marimbas (1986)
‘Six Marimbas, composed in 1986, is a rescoring for marimbas of my earlier Six Pianos (1973). The idea to rescore came from my friend, the percussionist James Preiss, who has been a member of my ensemble since 1971 and also contributed the hand and mallet alterations that are used in this score. The piece begins with three marimbas playing the same eight beat rhythmic pattern, but with different notes for each marimba. One of the other marimbas begins to gradually build up the exact pattern of one of the marimbas already playing by putting the notes of the fifth beat on the seventh beat, then putting the notes of the first beat on the third beat, and so on, reconstructing the same pattern with the same notes, but two beats out of phase. When this canonic relationship has been fully constructed, the two other marimbas double some of the many melodic patterns resulting from this four marimba relationship. By gradually increasing their volume they bring these resulting patterns up to the surface of the music; then, by lowering the volume they slowly return them to the overall contrapuntal web, in which the listener can hear them continuing along with many others in the ongoing four marimba relationship. This process of rhythmic construction followed by doubling the resulting patterns is then continued in the three sections of the piece that are marked off by changes of mode and gradually higher position on the marimba, the first in D-flat major, the second in E-flat dorian, and the third in B-flat natural minor.’ — Steve Reich

 

 

*

p.s. Hey. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi, D. Of course so sorry to hear about Irving Rosenthal’s declining health. How great, at least, that his archive is at Stanford. But still. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Shit, the heat didn’t leave you alone. Ours has disappeared for the moment, and it’s actually pretty sweet, sky-wise. I hope whatever’s hovering over Paris slides quickly into your location. Oh, sure, it’s always weird and hard to switch gears into new writing as soon as a work is finished. I try to use that time to just fool around and experiment and write random stuff without a care. Sometimes you can find something fresh that way. Good thing is that the in-between phase never lasts very long. Any news back from your book’s readers yet? Cool the zine arrived and is keeping you company. We didn’t finish the color grading yesterday, but we will on schedule today. It went very well. We’re incredibly close. We tried a couple of new approaches to the color of a couple of scenes that were flummoxing us, and they worked! But, yes, the grading was pretty much the entirety of yesterday for me. But today will be it. What did you do on your hopefully cooler Friday? ** Jamie, Hey Jouster. No, I think Toad is pretty revered. Not only is it a sublime thing, but it’s often rightly considered the father/architect of the contemporary ‘dark ride’. I’m good. Could have slept better last night, but oh well. Excited to finish the color grading today. Then we have a close-to-monthlong break from the heavy work part, although I’ll keep doing random film-related stuff. It looks great! Every time I watch the film, which we basically do every day in order to spot any slight color issues, I love it more, which has to be a good sign. You absolutely without question need to go to Tokyo at the soonest opportunity. I think you will lose at least some of your mind re: its visual (and many other) joys. We did get the big temperature drop, and I, along with presumably most of Paris, am very grateful. No, that was a cool dream. Even I, who is not normally so interested in people’s dreams, was rapt and deconstructionist about it. Yes, enter that screenplay competition! Great! I bet you could write a genius horror movie. What’s your idea(s)? May Friday dance all around you like a giddy fool. Pistachio love, Dennis. ** Steevee, Hi. It’s nice that she’s a nice person. All kinds of mediocre crap gets ecstatic buzz. No trust there. And Nolan making a great film is an oxymoron. No interest in seeing that. Possibly as a last ditch on a flight someday. ** S., Hey. Apparently, yeah. They topped the bill of my nephew’s first rock concert, which I took him to as a Xmas gift or something. He picked the line-up, obviously. Say hi to the mouse for me. I doubt he’ll remember me. ** Wolf, Wicked StepWolf! Me, comment while on rides? Hm, maybe, if it’s a slowy, and if I’m with someone who’s also into ride design/architecture like, say, Zac. But I never go ‘wow, ‘whoa’, and that kind of blah blah. When I talk, I’ll comment on the unusual or innovative way the ride uses the premise and conventions of the ride to elicit fresh responses. Ride nerd. Mr. Toad is both fun and slow, so you wouldn’t get physically ill on it, guaranteed. End credit track is as yet undetermined. We have ideas, but I can’t mention them until we decide yes or no and possibly approach their makers. It needs to be either a gift or extremely cheap because we are scraping the ultra- bottom of our budget. It’s tricky because it needs to be both interesting, pretty-ish, smart and either non-emotional or in an entirely different emotional register than our film. The film’s ending is very delicate, and it can’t be interfered with. Tricky. ** B, Hi, Bear. Yay! Best ride not only at Disneyland but ever. In my book. Oops about that snag. Yeah, you don’t want somebody hurling stress into the process. That’s for sure. Glad you liked ‘Okja’. We’re nearly finished (today) with the color grading of the film. There’s still plenty to do. The sound work, which is a big job, will take up most of September. It’ll be sad to finally finish, but I’m so excited for people to see the film that it won’t be too sad. Love back to you. ** Jeff J, Yes, a MTWR vet! Oh, the Disneyworld one. I never road it. It was well liked. I was always suspicious of it because its scale was different/larger than the Disneyland one, and the Disneyland one’s genius use of scale is one of its major points. Thank you for the congrats, but I must remain mum. Hugs about the memorial. Kind of beautiful that it almost burned its location down? I’ll look for your email, thanks. Waiting for edits! Exciting! Is there a way to extricate your collaborator? Tricky, though. If he is continually flaking out, that might be a legit reason enough? ** Nick Toti, Hi, Nick! Cool. Well, I can’t think of another ride where you’re condemned to prison, get killed, and end up in hell. All within about 20 seconds. Pretty cool. How’s stuff w/ you? ** _Black_Acrylic, That sounds like an idea of hell for damned sure. Please let me and us know how the talk with the career advisor went today. Fingers intricately crossed. ** Misanthrope, G-man. I don’t know him, but I suspect he would like the idea of you too. Uric acid crystals is a nice drug-like name. What does that Bruce Lee quote mean? I’ve never understood what the heck that’s supposed to mean. Is it as simple as, I don’t know, keep flowing, keep moving? I like to overthink things. ** Okay. As I mentioned here recently, I went to see this show that involved the Belgian choreographer Keersmaker choreographing to a live performance of Steve Reich’s seminal composition ‘Drumming’, and it got me re-thinking about minimalist music, and a post erupted thusly. See you tomorrow.

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