Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Prof Returns: Catching Up I: Nichols, Drury, Takagi (and a touch of Duncan)

When the Prof got into this interwebs racket, he was determined that it was about fun--fun for the reader foremost, dear friends, but fun for the Prof, too. When the school year begins that proposition is sorely tested, occupied as the Prof becomes with reading the writing of about one hundred and twenty other folk. But here, at last, is the Prof again.

I thought this blog would be about the arts in general with a specific focus on the actual events I see and hear (you know, cats and kittenheads, the etymology of "blog" is "web" + "log") so the next few posts play catch up with October's and November's events. Posts will soon follow on anniversaries and new discoveries.

The biggest story in events is October's exhibition/concert in the New Gallery Concert Series at the Community Music Center Boston. Prof Pals Steve Drury and Yukiko Takagi played works for two pianos by Reich, Feldman, and Adams, and Beethoven's own transcription for four hands of the Grosse Fuga for string quartet. The Gallery was hung with the latest works by artist Warren Nichols (another Prof Pal known on this site by the handle Mr. Pink) and a further contribution by Prof Pal Barry Duncan (aka Master Palindromist, or should that be Profpalpalindromist?).

I'd seen most of the works in the show before, and my acquaintance with them varied over time.
But seeing them arrayed together in respective groups, carefully balanced throughout the space, gave them a cumulative force that increased their power. Apparently hanging them in these eloquent groupings took some doing on the artist's part in the brief time he had and in the, er, idiosyncratic geometry of the gallery's walls! By the way, check out Nichols' site for succinct explanations of the different groups. In different ways they re-conceive visually the classical notion of oracle as simultaneously revealing and concealing vital knowledge. I suppose by that I mean they explore the difference between information and truth. At first I felt the softly radiant colors of the Rapture series signaled some kind of hope after doubt, a kind of relief from the monochrome approach of the other pieces, like the three minutes of Andrei Rublev's frescoes at the end of Tarkovsky's film. But all the works are sensually inviting--the sure draughstmanship of the cluster of miniature studies and the luminous sheen of the white brushstrokes on the larger canvases alike.

In Warren's opening remarks he acknowledged Steve's crucial role in the art by recalling how Steve had helped open his ears to new music (and New Music) and how much listening had influenced seeing in his work. (Warren's quip: "He shares some of the culpability for what you see here today.") Steve and Yukiko's performance certainly resonated with what was on the walls. John Adams' "Hallelujah Junction" combines the rollicking rhythms of Meade Lux Lewis' boogie woogie "Honky Tonk Train" with gospel harmonies--the Pentecostal feel of the piece suited Warren's own brand of "speaking in tongues." Steve and Yukiko's fierce concentration on Steve Reich's "Piano Phase" left the audience breathless. The pianos begin with a unison statement of a twelve-note theme which is put through permutations as one begins to phase out with the other; the emerging harmonies nevertheless feel inevitable and not at all "wrong." Once again the apparent fact--here's the melody--gives way to a different sort of truth. If Warren's different groups seemed to hold up to the light different related subjects arranged in a way to illuminate each other, the Grosse Fuga certainly felt apt--the subjects of the most notorious modern music of its day (we're still catching up to it) weaving together in a soundscape that is clearly meant to convey some spiritual message, but one beholden to no specific creed.

As a lagniappe there was also Barry Duncan's contribution. Delivering on a long-outstanding commission from the artist, Barry framed a palindrome on the theme of aging in astonishing proportions--121 words in 431 letters--which imagined the metamorphosis of Mr. Pink's body and mind as he runs out of gas, "Re: No Gas in Age? Beware." The descriptions tersely and wickedly trace the amusingly horrifying breakdown of matter, time, and meaning ("Era we began is a goner"). Warren was so pleased with the results that he framed the palindrome and placed it beneath one of the groups of his work. The facts, ma'am? It reads the same backwards as it does forwards. The truth: puzzling through the auguries artists construct can lead to raptures no sacerdotal utterance ever adduced.


  1. Nice...I especially like the reference to the Andrei Rublev's frescos...very nice indeed.

  2. Nichols, The Palindromist, the Prof ... these people sound like they belong in a street gang or an anarchist collective. The TA's runnin scared!