Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shutter Island: Addendum

If anyone has seen the movie, I'd be curious to hear your opinion, especially as to the efficacy of the soundtrack

Monday, February 22, 2010


Sitting in the movie theater last Friday, nervously waiting for the familiar fog horn blasts which announce the beginning of my old chestnut "Fog Tropes" I had some apprehension as I knew my music would start the actual movie, Shutter Island starring Leonardo di Caprio, but I had no idea what would appear on the screen.
Well, Leo and his US Marshal pal, Mark Ruffalo, are on a small ferry boat in choppy seas heading out to their island destination, and the music syncs up nicely with the image (Leo is leaning over the bow--a not so subtle allusion to Titanic?), and suddenly cuts to him violently vomiting in the head--Fog Tropes continues with the French horns and trombones weighing in.

So my musical debut in a major Hollywood film, seen and heard by millions, accompanies one of the biggest stars tossing his cookies. Great.

But it does get better; there's a couple of more cues where the mood is set quite well by the music--not just Fog Tropes but "Prelude: The Bay" from "Alcatraz"
If you see this quite unique film (critical opinion is about evenly split--you either love it or hate it) you'll also hear music by Penderecki, Ligeti, Cage, Scelsi and a host of others. The most ominous affect is garnered from Penderecki's Third Symphony "Passacaglia" which barks out in a sort of anunciatory way at least four times in the film's course.
All this music was assembled by Scorsese confidant Robbie Robinson, formerly of "The Band."I have to say, it works for the most part--The ultimate re-mix approach to film scoring.

They say the film was shot in Massachusetts, but the outdoor scenes on the rugged island with its pine forest and verdant cliffs remind me more of Maine; I imagined that a good bounty of chanterelles might be lurking in those woods (Maine in the early Fall is great for mushrooms).Too bad Mark and Leo didnt have time to do some foraging (or maybe they did?) Perhaps when the DVD comes out with its "Behind the Scenes" doc we'll see the cast out in their spare time prowling around those cliffs and mossy copses in pursuit of the golden beauties--after all, Scorsese and diCaprio with their Italian heritages ought to be fanciers of funghi selvaggi.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


No snow for us today in New England (although they are getting inundated further south in DC) but it's very cold and windy. Good weather for staying home, but I ventured out into the frigid world taking my usual route up to Whitney Peak. Too cold a day for Schubert on the iPod. Sibelius somehow seemed more appropriate.

En Saga--one of Sibbe's lesser known tone poems but one of my favorites. its all about inexorable forward movement and retreat-or more a kind of stasis or slow motion. I think. But oh how wonderful it is to have music like that in one's ears just when one needs it! It complements the icy weather to a T and kept me moving. It got me thinking about the saturation of our society now, sonic saturation that is. Supposedly a hallmark of Post Modernism. It's so easy to have any music where or whenever!! I think the twenty-somethings just take this for granted and why not?) But I can remember back in the 80s when portable music became feasible how miraculous it could be. I remember my first visit to Venice when I walked through San Marco with the antiphonal sounds of Gabrielli on my headphone, and in the"Frari" Basilica I listened to Monteverdi's Magnificat, and out on the lagoon on the vaporetto, the slow movement of Mahler's 5th just as it was in Visconti's marvelous film of "Death in Venice."

And today I thought of another Thomas Mann book, one I've been reading in fact-- The Magic Mountain. Hans Castorp, the protagonist, becomes enamoured and possessive of the new Gramophone the Kurhaus has acquired (this is pre WW I remember). It's like a miracle to him; he stays up late into the night listening to his favorite records which he treats like sacred objects; he can't get enough of it. Mann's description of the amazement and wonder this musical machine inspired in its early days is one of my favorite parts of the lengthy novel. While he doesn't directly talk about it, the idea of the commodification of music is the underlying theme.
For me, listening to music while out walking or driving is still special in that I choose to do it only when I want to, which isn't all that often. But I think for many young people its part of life-- the soundtracks of their lives are habitually running.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Postmodern Mushrooms

I am teaching a course called "Post Modernism in Music of the last 30 years" (or something to that effect)
When I mention this to people they often ask me flat out,
"What is it?"
"Well, I don't rightly know for sure," is what I usually mumble.
"I think the idea of the class is to find out."
PM, whatever it is, seems to be a necessity, a way of getting out from under the suffocating blanket of Modernism, or at least the "high" kind with all its ideological trappings and high falutin language.Modernism in music seems to me to have been just plain wrong, a seriously wrong direction.
BUT, there are some excellent composers in the early experimental days of Modernism--early Schoenberg, Webern Varese, Cowell, Ives, Ruggles et al. With them the idea was to "sound "modern" at any cost, structure and formality being relatively less important. Of course, with later Modernism, structure, process and form became all important.

Just as Modernism is not a "style" but more of an aesthetic inclination, a cultural context, so it is with PM, which will, I think, be remembered as a general cultural trend, a "correction," if you will.

The more obtuse and serious purveyors of "theory" see PM in a much broader way--it is a "condition." And we are all living in it, so in a way all music, all art for that matter, being practiced now is, by default, PM

So, mushrooms themselves cannot be PM, but one's attitude towards them, use of them, general relationship to them, could be PM where the grand narrative of fungi, the scientific taxonmomic ordering of species is no longer relevant.But in this context,let the consumer beware!

But what would John Cage think about that, and it reminds me that no one seems to know if Cage himself was a Modernist or Post Modernist. I think He was very PM, but his music (whatever that is) is not--it is in fact quite Modernist.

But why, you may ask, is the mushroom illustrated above "postmodern? It might be because it's called, in the vernacular, "Old Man of the Woods," and I can relate to that. BTW, Strobilomyces floccopus is edible, and I have tried it, but I don't recommend it; its rather insipid as I recall.