Saturday, May 28, 2011


About a year ago I was waxing poetically about morels recently found and consumed.

Francis above, Guston below

This year the dismal Spring continues; I found a total of 5 morels in three visits to my hunting grounds. Lacunae, empty spaces-that's the description of my morel bounty this year.
But my allusions to the music of Morton Feldman are still relevant because there is so much empty space in his music, and there is emptiness in my woodland floor, so devoid of mushroom. One scours the ground, and there is so much detail what with leaf litter and grass and ferns and fallen branches, but the imagined sponge- head beauties are notable for their absence. It's like there are holes in the visual field, where the morels should rightly be!
If you listen to a piece by Feldman, such as "Rothko Chapel," you'll know what I mean--the spaces between the notes, between the gestures are perhaps as important as the sounds themselves. One thinks of Philip Guston, Feldman's favorite painter who left a lot of blank canvass in his paintings. Actually, it's not blank at all, but a muted hazy coloring that in the context appears to be some kind of empty background.

But there are painters who famously left a lot of white canvas in their pictures.One who comes to mind is west coast artist Sam Francis. Betty Freeman,who was one of the great patrons of New Music in our time was also a significant collector of art. Her house in Beverly Hills, wherein she held he famous Sunday, musicales or salons, was festooned with art-=-everywhere you looked in that house there were paintings, sculptures, installations.
Some years ago I was invited to present my work at one of her Sunday soirees. I asked if it wold be OK to show images from "Alcatraz", my collaborative work with photographer Jim Bengston. No problem,, there would be a slide projector setup as well as the usual sound system. When I arrived and was shown the living room where the presentation would take place, I noticed the slide projector, but no screen. I asked Betty where the screen would be set up; she gave me a puzzled look."Oh, when we have a slide show we just project the pictures on the lower right quadrant of the Sam Francis."
Indeed, there on the wall was a huge canvas by Francis, and in his inimitable style the actual painting was confined to only about a quarter of the frame, the rest being empty with a scattering of paint bits here and there. So that evening the work of Sam Francis and Jim Bengston co mingled while my prison doors slammed away in giddy celebration.It was a sort of accidental palimpsest.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Springtime Melancholia

The sub title of my blog--Mushrooms, Madness and Music--often puzzles me. Aside from the nice alliteration why did I choose it? --the Madness part, I mean. I haven't really touched on the subject of Madness yet, nor, I think, have I exhibited behavior that might suggest it.
Oliver Sacks, the noted Neurologist, has written a book "Musicophilia" which explores all sorts of bizarre, inexplicable relationships between brain disorders or aberrations and music. One of the chapters is titled "Music, Madness and Melancholia..Perhaps what I was aiming at had more to do with Melancholy, or underlying tristesse, than madness

These beautiful springtime images with their seductive efflorescence would seem to mitigate Melancholia and conjure hope in a soul wallowing in darkness. But April and May can be cruel, as we know from the poet, and I often find myself in a bittersweet mood when the darling buds of May come round. No lilacs ever bloomed in my door yard, although they seem to do well in my neighbor's. The squirrels munch on the few scrawny tulips that have emerged, and this year the morels are in very short supply.
Sacks writes optimistically about the power of music to penetrate the deepest states of melancholy in some patients, but I also know that some music can induce this state of Melancholia, or at least complement it, and this is not a bad thing.
Take for example the Schubert Piano Trio in E flat, which I've been listening to lately; in the slow movement there is an underlying C minor shadowy mood, a kind of dark inevitability pushed by an incessant march like movement. This eventually breaks out into a major harmonic world and the sun comes out--but, the pull back to the dark side is ever present; our cheeful, bubbly brook, Franz Scubert, knew Melancholy well.