Filed under Modigliani

October 27, 2017

I had written stories to conclude my previous art book projects. So let’s pretend to do the same to the most recently finished one, by actually writing about Andy Stott – Faith in Strangers. I could do so merely because of the cover art, which is a photo of one of Modigliani’s female head sculptures, even though my actual execution involved only paintings. When I first skim-listened (because New Romantic in another album of his sounds nice), which happened before the project, I wasn’t particularly impressed. One day, after I finished the project, I went to Andy Stott’s page again to renew my subscription to New Romantic – the two events were unrelated. Suddenly that elongated face that I lately became familiar with caught my attention. Though this particular one isn’t featured on the art book.

So I tapped in and gave it a second listen. I don’t remember if I got to my present day level of appreciation of these sounds precisely on that day, or if my turning from disinterested to infatuated was because of the realization of who made the album cover sculpture. At any rate, since then I have been drawn into this record deeper. And it reveals additional connections to Modigliani’s sculpture works: the sound palette is heavy, colossal in size, much like the African art inspired bulky legs and bodies of the caryatids; saturated, grainy in texture, just like the surface of the stone material that Modigliani worked with. The opening Time Away pretty much has them both – as if the deep and long lasting calls resounded through pre-historic time to this very moment. A third connection, there is the wonderful female vocal appearing throughout the album; unlike every other heavily processed sound, it is mostly left untouched, embodying the pristine femininity exuding from the outward roughness of the stone work… I’m probably connecting dots that never exist… So much for a clearing of the throat then.

I can very well relate why Violence is one of the hottest hits. In between the fragile, unstable, volatile singing inside a pitch-black room that is occasionally pierced by a flicker outside the window, the two grave, massive outbursts work like a slaughter machine, swallowing and grinding all your sick, deranged, and misanthropic substance to produce a gigantic organism of emptiness.

Just noticed in On Oath, between the musical sentences played by the first woodwind-like layer, the blank is filled with some faint humming of a rotating mechanism, which actually is also the last sound heard in the end. This and the previous reference to machines are enough to evoke that industrial gloom that prevails Eraserhead that I recently watched, leading properly to Science & Industry, a nice rise in tempo structurally

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Permission for reference

October 5, 2017

The third postdoc position opening asks for recommendation letters. So I wrote to several professors, naturally including sensei, asking for permission to submit their contact details. I assume it’s a matter of yes or no. But in addition to agreeing, sensei suggested a discussion about it. I related this puzzling issue during a meeting with my advisor, wondering what additional information I should pack up for such a discussion. Advisor frowned:”I have no idea what this is about. He just likes talking to you.” I know that was a stray remark. It nonetheless left such a lasting impression on me that I could get instant gratification whenever I recall it.

And then sensei was abroad, followed by me abroad. When I finally came back, I already felt like out of the application business and just wanted to steadily complete my degree in peace. The complex task of writing sensei an email to follow up on this discussion was therefore easily subject to indefinitely prolonged procrastination. Amazingly though, one day I got an email from sensei asking if I’m back already – it’s the first time ever sensei wrote to me out of his own free will, all for such a trivial matter as writing for me a reference letter? The next day, denoted by

Day 1,

sensei was startled by my arrival in the time interval he indicated would be convenient for him. After comfortably waiting for him to finish plotting an important graph, I brought myself straight to:”So what is it that you want to know?” Sensei pushed aside his work, sat back, and said in a tone more serious than one would use on a stray remark:”Would you like to do a postdoc with me?”

This line is intentionally left blank.

Stupefied stare, frozen smile, wide-eyed, all these couldn’t have lasted too long, because the conversation must go on. The ensuing discussion includes sensei explaining, reasoning, making quite a compelling case – viewed from my hindsight, and me throwing disorganized anxiety and fears here and there, formulating ridiculous sentences. If this was an interview, I would have failed miserably.

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Etude Habima

May 20, 2017

הבריכה הרבועית יושבת בכיכר הבימה גילה את עצמה בשקט לאורחים לא חשדנים. הרגולריות הגאומטרית הושלמת על ידי, לצד מהמסגרת המלאכותית הבלתי נראה, הכבידה הפעילה באופן יחיד במים, כך שהכל נח במישור אופקי גרידא. יש לחומר ההומוגני הזה עוצמה מקסימה כלשהו לא רק שהעיניים שלי קבועים בו בעוד שרגליים שלי ממשיכים להתקדם, אלא גם שהילד הרעשני הקופץ מעלה-מטה בא להפסקה לחלוטין פתאום כשנוחת בדיוק בקצת הבריכה. נדמה שהזמן והמרחב קפואים יחד איתו, והעולם מורכב רק מילד הקסום ומהורהר על המים הרבי-חן. למרות התמונה הסטטית, אני חש מתח פנימי עצור – יש משהו שרוצה לבצבץ – אולי דמיוני אולי בתוכי. נניח שזה מקיים במציאות, אז איך לשבור את שווי המשקל הלא-יציבה? יש רק לתת דחיפה עדינה בגבו…

The even-sided oblong pool embedded on the Habima square, the latter of which unobstructed by the former’s existence, quietly reveals itself to the unsuspecting passers-by. The geometric regularity is completed by, besides the artificial framework hidden on the ground, the gravity uniformly applied on this homogeneous substance of water, so that the entire surface lies purely on the two-dimensional horizontal plane. What enchanting power emanates from it, that not only its charming image remains on my mind from thereon, but also that annoying boy running around all over the place a minute ago, comes to a complete halt the moment he reaches the edge of the silent pool. It seems he is freezing the time and space around him too; my world shrinks to a static image of the contemplative boy looking into the shallow but infinite water. Yet, a kind of restrained internal tension stirs and swells – perhaps imagined. Suppose it does exist, then how can I break it free from the unstable equilibrium? How can I release the restless soul? I know. It takes only a gentle push on his back, which I could hardly forbear.

Among the Spitzen

April 18, 2017

The red arrow, or rather what remains of it, points to a narrow barrier of rocks barring my way. Technically speaking it’s not difficult to find small footholds to climb up. The problem is, after overcoming it, on both sides the slopes rapidly fell as if eager to reach the mountain valley. I could not walk upright, fearing any misplaced step, or a gust of wind would rob me of my balance and roll me down to the unfathomable depth. My heart and legs faltered at these thoughts. Surely I’m not expected to continue on such a dangerous path? Besides, no further red paint could be seen ahead. Maybe this is the wrong place. But where else should I go? At this point, the cross on top of Hönigspitz was already lost behind the final few hundred meters of steep rising.

I looked back at the small figures of the two hikers coming this way, who I descried a while ago and induced me to hurry up lest I be caught up with and lose the title of being the first one to reach the peak. That idea was completely gone. Now I only wished them here sooner. While waiting for them, I walked back a bit to find a place to rest. But wherever I moved, in front of me was always that formidable descent that gave me no peace. Leaning back against the rocks as much as possible, I imagined a stream that may rush down from here; started to comprehend how fearless the water has to be. Thankfully the anxiety did not last long. How swiftly the couple traversed the single foot path where I spent quite some time and effort finding firm rocks for both of my hands to hold on to so as not to fall sideways. Soon they popped up around the corner, Thomas and Mara!

They confirmed that horrible path is the right way to the top, and asked if I’d like to join them. Oh of course, I happily joined them – they looked so pro. On the other hand, they apparently also noticed me as the opposite. So Mara led the way, me in the middle, Thomas the rear and sometimes at the outer side to protect my flank whenever applicable. Now I understood what a mountain ridge is. All my life I had been hiking in mounds. Or at Hefelekar, the ridge was much wider and stairs were built. Yet Mara and Thomas walked the delicate string as if that 2700 meter elevation wasn’t there – they walked upright like decent human beings. While I constantly dogged down and almost crawled my way up. Maybe that was to punish the nonbeliever who wanted to reach Jesus’s cross – an unpleasant thought.

Now that I wasn’t alone anymore, and the couple kept me busy with conversations so that my small brain had no room for thinking about the risks, the danger seemed dismayed and to have retreated. The challenges were to keep up with my companions’ pace in this tough ascension and at the same time make sure each step is firmly grounded. Even though they asked me to tell them whenever I feel like taking a break or if they are too fast, I guess I could still push myself further strength and perseverance wise, so as not to bore them too much. This way after much fun of rock climbing (made easier by tracing Mara’s pioneering steps), crawling (when it was relatively level) and Thomas’ many promises such as “we are almost there”, or “this is the last small bump to overcome”, we reached Hönigspitz!

The northern side of the mountain range were clothed in virgin snow: a vast white headpiece touches her waist; the white dress develops into long stripes and finally laces at the fringe. We took a food break while admiring the views around us. Thomas remarked that I was probably the first Chinese to ever ascend this peak because it’s not so known other than to locals. “Is it because here it’s not as nice as the other side in the Texelgruppe Nature Park?” I worryingly asked. He replied:” No. It’s because here it’s much more difficult to climb.” That was a satisfying answer 🙂 Then I started to worry about the way down. There’s no way I could descend the same way I came – it was simply too steep. The couple told me their plan of going on along the ridge towards the other slightly higher peak Hirze Spitze – the namesake of this region and apparently the highest peak around, and then returning back to the middle point between the two peaks where there would be a much easier route down. While having to deal with the scarily tricky Alpine mountain ridge again doesn’t sound exactly appealing, taking the same way back is all the less so. So I accepted the former challenge.

At the descent point I opted to stay put and wait for them. The staff at Krammeben forbade me to go up to Hirze Spitze anyway. Before they embarked, Mara offered if I wanted an apple, a banana, or her jacket. Such kindness… I shamelessly took the apple… I guarded the sign post in this profuse serenity, now watching Thomas and Mara making their way to the neighboring spitze, now waving to the paragliders riding the east wind, now singing little winged songs to my silent snowy audience, most of the time nourishing my soul by inhaling the breathtaking mountainscape near and far. Alps! read more …

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Portrait of a Lady with Glasses

March 11, 2017

It is fifteen minutes before the concert starts. The crowd density around the stand that sells the program brochure is inversely proportional to the time left. There never was and never will be a queue. A young lady is in the center of this half disk. She wears very, very thick glasses.

The pair of thick glasses confesses her usual way of life immersed in the library as a musicology student. She is actually one of the contributors to the introductory texts on the program brochures. One day the philharmonic orchestra coordinator said that a person was needed to fill the post of that stand and pleaded for her help. And here she is, behind the counter.

Hundreds upon hundreds of arms stretch and point towards her; a formidable forest of lances slowly advancing. The various amounts of coins, bills in those hands are like the sharp pointed lance-tips, all too ready to charge into the lady before anyone else. It’s hard to determine at this point how much longer can the lady rightly charge everybody 20 shekels before she is unjustly charged into. Through the thick lenses, the student’s eyes struggle to identify the most imminent threat and convey it to the overburdened computation faculty for the near impossible task of figuring out how much change to return and how many brochures to hand out using which hand and giving to which direction before the next imminent threat is too late to be dealt with.

There ARE people that are not so aggressive. Me, and an old man. Aware that I came later than him, I am determined to get the brochure not before him. He held out his hand steadily until five minutes passed, during which the elbowing masses came and went and were replaced by new such masses. The old man understandably complained. The distressed lady anxiously apologized that she overlooked him and promised he would be the next to be served. While she was saying so, another hand came to occupy her whole limited vision and had to be dealt with; then another, and another. She certainly wants the old man to get his brochure, but, where is his hand? Or maybe, she thought, have I already given him? She is barely defending herself and can pursue this thought no further.

The inverse proportion relation cannot hold out forever though. At some point infinitesimally close to the starting time of the concert, people decide they’d rather forgo the brochure. Suddenly, the boiling heat vanished! She is all alone in the hall. The muffled sound of symphony playing is heard as if from another planet. She adjusted her heavy glasses that slid down her sweaty nose a bit, looked around, wondering if all the stress had been a nightmare. A gust of chilly evening wind was sent through the open door, stirring the bills inside the tin box. Oh, these are the money collected for the program brochures. These de-poled lance tips are the inerrable evidence of a real occurrence.

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