[Jakarta, LTTW] The world recognizes the beauty and important role of tropical land, but we often shut our eyes toward the challenges it’s facing. Mono-culture malpractices which wiped out natural ecosystems and also “profit-oriented” tourism that exploit local cultures and environment instead of cultivating friendships and cross-enrichment between nations, are only a couple of examples of the challenges we have ignored. Therefore, as representatives of the tropics from Indonesia, together with campus community Friday Art Design Session, Listen to the World present visual works to invite and re-question the importance of nature as a place that allows us to live and have cultures.
[Jakarta, LTTW] On April 22, 2018, Namarina Youth Dance (NYD), Indonesia’s semi-professional dance company held a dance performance with the theme Dancing for the Future at Goethe Haus, a German cultural center located in Menteng, Jakarta. A week later, the world celebrated the International Dance’s Day. This series of event shows that arts (in this case dance) play a significant role in humans’ life. On top of that, the world also celebrated the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development that falls on May 21, 2018, just a few weeks ago. With those celebrations in mind, we are going to discuss further why NYD’s performance becomes important, and the roles of arts in society.
Dancing for the Future is a part of NYD’s program DanceScape Series that combines three generations of dancers; NYD, NYD’s apprentice, and youngest students from Namarina Dance Academy. Through this program, NYD encourages audiences to support the role and function of arts in society as a departing point towards a better future. To achieve that, they first must prove to the society that they have persistence to encounter many differences, possibilities, and challenges that may come in the future. Hence, Persistence in Diversity becomes the central theme of event.
The routines created for this program incorporates Western Classical ballet and Indonesian traditional dance, accompanied with a recorded and live music played by Gado-gado Ensambal and Rhythm Salad League respectively in such order, which also derived from the same central theme.
The first routine showcased a pure Classical ballet that performed by the youngest students of Namarina Dance Academy. To stand and prosper, root is a necessary foundation in which the dance academy aware of, thus choose ballet as its base – making a bold statement that can also represent symbols of how the Classical ballet struggles to survive and remain exist in the changing world.
Although Namarina’s root and implementation are “imported” from the west, they never forget the importance of Indonesia traditional dance that also – similar to the ballet – shown to put up the fight to keep itself from vanishing, being replaced and, eventually, cease to exist. A fusion of both traditions create a real diversity, opening up and complementing each other, which transform into a bond and finally, an attempt of a new form of dance is born.
The journey in finding a new form through fusion has been done by NYD to this day. For twelve years, Persistence in Diversity proves that this program is not merely a symbol for NYD – it’s a living cultural attempt.
Dance as a Tool to Materialize the Ideal
Ideally, diversity is an inevitable part of human nature. We genetically differs – from the place we live, our roles in society, perspective, and way of thinking. Even an identical twin are different, be it physically or personality. Yet, in reality, we can’t seem to grasp the notion; we still see diversity as something that stands outside ourselves. We have been avoiding, fighting, and destroying those differences. This is the reason why we need persistence so that we can achieve the supposed-to-be default ideal.
Through its form, dance (like any other form of art) has the ability to “materialize the ideal”. In visual art, for example, one can materialize his wildest, most idealistic imagination. Furthermore, dance (and music) has the ability to promote diversity in social life – strengthening social bond, and the same thing with break dance [click here to read a brief history of Breaking culture]. Besides giving an opportunity to “fight” and “kill” without victims, break dance also promotes respect and enriches the individuals and community. Dance also contains elements that can be treated as a powerful educational tool because, according to Sacred Bridge Foundation’s view, art is the only thing in the world that can ‘un-compartmentalized’ every field of study.
El Sistema, when music is a social solution to the street children in Venezuela | Youtube
With such immense ability, it is only logical to think that dance must be supported regardless the condition for the sake of the nations and a better world. The fact is, support for dance (and other arts) is huge in Western countries. In Europe, arts are fully supported by the governments of respective countries, while in the US philanthropists are very keen to become a patron. Take a look at Broadway; this institution was born because many young investors known as angel investors invest their money in performing arts.
Europe and US strongly support arts because they understand the significance of art in their society. But such immense support does not stop the artists to quit fighting. On the contrary, they keep on moving and not giving up in their endeavor to materialize their ideal – with or without support. This is what makes arts in Western countries keep evolving, because both the artists and supporters are aware of their roles.
To applaud the hard work of Namarina and NYD to materialize their ideal, it is only right if we close this article with the quote from the Dancing for the Future documentary: “Persistence is beyond physical endurance. It’s a mental state.”
Many people regard Western music as highly precise music with no space for improvisation – the absence of freedom. Is it true? Before we jump into conclusion, we should have a proper understanding of what is Western music tradition (particularly classical, a Western tradition that started when science emerged in the Renaissance period).
The reason why many people assumed what I mentioned above is because Western classical music tradition is closely related to mathematics that set up the rules. With that said, mathematics actually only helps this musical form to have its basic structure – without eliminating the freedom to improvise. In fact, there are many forms and methods of Western classical music tradition that recognize freedom. Take a look at fantasia form and music arrangement in classical music, for examples.
Fantasia or fantasie is one of the compositions of classical music that signifies freedom where total improvisation is taking place. This form is used as a counterbalance to strict musical form. Meanwhile, music arrangement is a re-interpretation of a composition that is recreated using different musical approach (in terms of melody, harmony, structure development, orchestration, and so on), while at the same time retaining the main theme of the original work. In other words, both rules and freedom are maintained proportionally in the Western classical tradition.
From time to time, Western classical music tradition has been evolving; one of its latest developments (together with African-American tradition) is rock music that emerged in the 60s. Rock music has adopted many elements of its predecessor more than we know. It adopts classical music notation system, formation, instruments, forms (such as rondo form) and so on. Such “transmission” can be seen in music arrangement of Bach’s Fugue in D Minor by Progressive Rock band Egg, among others.
This little insight into classical music perhaps would help you understand the following article better; an article on a comparative study between Japan and Western Classical tradition.
“In the future varying cultures will be unified and, assisted by technology, eventually we will have a global culture” 
It is difficult to talk about contemporary sound culture or cultures in general, their traditions and heritage while living in the age of post-globalization. Every culture has in one way or the other adopted different aspects of other cultures, and by slightly transforming them, made them part of their own heritage. Japan is one of the best examples for such a phenomenon, since this country already has ages worth of history of adopting cultural elements from other Asian countries and the west, transforming foreign ideas and making them part of their own unique heritage.
With the never-ending exchange of cultural heritage in the age of today’s global world, is it actually possible to define tradition and boundaries between? It also raises a question about the cultural identity, if all cultures borrow different aspects from other cultures and add to their traditions, do they automatically become their own heritage? Or maybe Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu was right, and we are already living in a global culture where ancient traditions as we understand them do not have any meaning anymore, and exist just as a tool to tell nations apart.
An interesting aspect of Japanese culture is that it is like a sponge which absorbs other cultures’ heritage. Japanese borrowed many of Korean and Chinese traditions and adopted as their owns. At that time Japan was a closed country and no one from the West could go there. After the Second World War Japan was invaded by the United States of America, and the Japanese people started to think of the USA as the new center of the world. They started borrowing cultural elements from the states and using them to expand their own culture, e.g. J-pop and the avant-garde movements which influenced Japanese composers and experimentalists. The Japanese viewpoint to their own heritage (which from a western point of view is very unique) and its transformation within years puts into the consideration that nothing is original and all of the ideas are taken from somewhere. As Jean-Luc Godard once noted: “it’s not where you take things from — it’s where you take them to.” The acceptance of such a fact becomes one of the key differences between Japanese and Western cultures approach to sound.
In Western cultures there is a concept of the genius creator that just magically gets an idea and makes a piece of music that it is completely his/her own. The fact that humans are influenced by environment is ignored most of the time. This leads into exploration of different ways of how Asian and Western cultures see music and its tradition. In West cultures, traditional music is seen as recreation of the past, it is completely separate from the present which is represented by a variety of modern music. In Japan modern music is played in the same way as the traditional music, using the same approach and understanding that music is not meant to be appreciated but to transport one to another dimension; to overcome our physical limitations and understand that everything is part of everything else and is constantly interlinked.
An interesting collaboration called Kintsugi happened between Kakushin Nishihara, Serge Teyssot-Gay and Gaspar Claus, where west and east tried to come together as one global culture and explore boundaries between modern and traditional music. The base of this project – Kakushin Nishihara does not meet expectations of traditional Japanese musician. She is an exceptional traditional Japanese vocalist and biwa player. She also has lots of tattoos, has a very free style of dressing, and she is a child of our times. As Gaspar Claus described her, she is a reincarnation of this modernity and tradition process, but the best thing is that she is not even conscious of this, she does not represent something, this is what she is. The instruments that are used in this project are cello, guitar and satsuma biwa. This set up is not as unusual as it may seem at first. Since nowadays it is quite popular to use exotic instruments in western music. However what makes this case slightly different is the way that the instruments are used. There is no strict score provided; it is more a group improvisation based piece rather pre-composed. It is very close to Japanese approach to music, where the freedom is given to the performer to improvise within the frame of a composition instead of empowering the composer.
Japanese music gave freedom to a performer in the form of graphic notation. These ideas would be difficult to sew into a classical score, as this would allow a pristine repetition of the piece. Music notation can be seen as another major difference between Japanese and Western approach to sonic culture. “Western music is all about searching for perfection while repeating successful composers; meanwhile Japanese music is all about creating new things by yourself.” A classical score is a great, time-checked way to preserve music for the future generations. Of course, currently there is a variety of advanced recording technologies which allow people to hear recorded sounds exactly the same way countless times. It is worth keeping in mind, however, that the first sound recording device was invented just by the end of the 19th century. This means that without classical or traditional scores current cultures would not have an opportunity to reproduce and hear works of such renowned composers like Mozart, Beethoven or Tchaikovsky. Still, this poses a series of questions: why is it important to seek a complete perfection and precision to repeat a composition which has been played multiple times? Why is it so important to write notations which are strict and hardly leave freedom to the performers to improvise? The answer to these could be that in Western cultures people with power generally want to have authority over others, and in this situation the composer is the one who is in power and takes control over the performers as all that is needed is an instrument to produce a piece.
In the Japanese music, and oriental music in general, there is an opposite side. A notion of dominating music is for performers rather than for composers. Scores are not that precise and give improvisational freedom to a performer. Graphic notation in Japan has existed for ages. The oldest music style is called Gagaku and it is still to this day written by using shodo  and graphic notation which is not as mathematically based as Western notation.  Even though gagaku could be seen as too anachronistic for our contemporary world, some ideas are worth borrowing, for instance, sounds should be free from rules of music which contain formulas and calculations; music should have a freedom to breathe. “Rather than on the ideology of self-expression, music should be based on a profound relationship to nature – sometimes gentle, sometimes harsh.” Music suffers when sound is refined by ideas rather than having an identity of its own. Since “music is shaped by many environmental conditions, collective movements of thought and theory, political events and cultural shifts, not simply by a lineage of narrow musical influence”, flexible graphical score makes that music always relevant for narrative time. There is a need to start valuing quality of sound, nature and spirituality more than an economic profit, fame and perfectionism. Oriental music provides a mirror that allows Western music to reconsider itself.
T. Takemitsu, Confronting Silence: Selective Writings. Tr. Yoshiko and Glenn Glasow. Berkeley: Fallen Leaf Press, 1995, p. 59. 2. S. Tanaka, Japan’s Orient: Rendering Past into History, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1995, p. 112. 3. J.Jarmush, Things I’ve learned: Jim Jarmush. 13 June 2013, https://www.moviemaker.com/archives /series/things_learned/jim-jarmusch-5-golden-rules-of-moviemaking/ 4, 5. G. Sedita, Vincent Moon, Filmmaker and Explorer of the Invisible, 30 November 2016, Vincent Moon, Filmmaker and Explorer of the Invisible 6. Conversation with Benas Sarka by author, 2016 December, Vilnius, Lithuania. 7. Shodo – Japanese calligraphy. 8. B. C. Wade, Music in Japan: Experiencing Music. Expressing culture, New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005, p 34. 9. T. Takemitsu, Confronting Silence: Selective Writings. Tr. Yoshiko and Glenn Glasow. Berkeley: Fallen Leaf Press, 1995, p. 4. 10. D. Toop, Into the Maelstrom: music, improvisation and the dream of freedom, New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016, p. 151. 11. J. Corbett, ‘Experimental Oriental: New Music and Other Others’, in Georgina Born and David Hesmondhalgh, Western Music and its Others: Difference, Representation, and Appropriation in Music, Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2000, p. 169.
About Guoda Dirzyte
Guoda Dirzyte is a Lithuanian-born experimental musical instruments designer, composer and sound artist. Guoda’s work is mainly orientated towards exploring world music and sound culture. It focuses on the approach to life and communication rather than cultural industry, and critically examines the Eurocentric approach towards musical culture traditions.
Although it doesn’t relate to number of age, the word “exploration” is closely associated to young people; be it in the arts or other scenes. Talking about youth, LTTW recently had an opportunity to interview an adventurous young musician.
Meet David Scanlon (Dave), an explorative and persistent young musician and composer from Michigan, USA. He had his first taste of music when he was a teenager. Since no one in his family is a musician, Dave learned about the world of music from mass media such as radio, magazines, and early internet. Much like most teenagers, Guitar was his choice of musical instrument, while Jazz became his entry point to music – which later became his way of life. Dave has always had a hunger for exploration and never ceased to learn new things; he moves from one city to another (New York, Boston, New Haven, and so on) and explores diverse musical forms (Avant Garde, Experimental, Jazz, Rock, etc.), not to mention modifying his own guitar.
When he chose his path in music, Dave understood very well the consequences of becoming a musician and the need to be self-reliant, to be able to overcome every obstacle he will be facing. Dave’s self-reliance mechanism helps him in knowing more about himself; what he needs to learn and improve. Dave’s passion for music drives him to search here and there, from learning at music institution to working in music venues. In the process, Dave gains not only diverse knowledge in theories and techniques, but also opportunities to get acquainted with many individuals and communities in the music circle. Because of that, collaboration becomes a huge part of his musical exploration; he co-founded several bands such as JOBS and Pet Bottle Ningen, just to name a few. Besides being active in his bands, Dave is still able to manage to do collaborative works with other artists.
The chat we had recently with Dave was stimulating and exciting, and we would like to share it with you in the following interview.
LTTW: Before we’re going deeper, could you tell us about yourself? Where you were born and raised?
Dave Scanlon: I am from Michigan, USA, however, I moved around a lot as a child: Michigan – Illinois – Pennsylvania – Michigan – NYC. When I moved to Pennsylvania I became a bit enamored with playing guitar. I was a teenager and it was kind of the typical thing to do. However, I practiced obsessively.
I didn’t know much about being a musician or composer and no one in my family is a musician so I was a bit on my own.
Who introduced you to music then?
Hmm… hard to say; radio, magazines, the early Internet – things like that. For example, I wanted to listen to Jazz so I got DownBeat magazine and then read about Dave Douglas and listened to him so I ended up hearing modern musicians way before I even heard say Miles Davis.
I found a music high school called Interlochen on the Internet and applied on my own. I ended up getting in and that really helped. Probably my first great teacher was there, John Wunsch.
I then went to Miami – moved to New York City to attend New School and finished my studies there. Being in NYC, I started doing the door at a venue called The Stone. That was an education and opened my eyes to an underground music community. I then started my own bands like JOBS and Pet Bottle Ningen with other musicians in the community.
So, Jazz is your preference from the beginning…
“Later a friend said, “Oh… if you like that you will probably like free jazz” and played a Peter Brotzman record. I was hooked. “
That is a hard question. When I was in High School [Interlochen.Ed] I really loved Jazz Fusion; Chick Corea, Al Di Meola, Return To Forever, Weather Report, etc. However, that music has not aged well and now when I hear it, things sound aged. During that time I was also going to the Hardcore shows that many kids go to in the USA. I was used to hearing that music and somewhat liked it – particularly a subgenre called Grindcore. Later a friend said, “Oh… if you like that you will probably like free jazz” and played a Peter Brotzman record. I was hooked.
From then on I was sort of searching for different experimental recordings. Free Jazz like Derek Bailey, classical music like Morton Feldman and the early Philip Glass ensemble, rock bands like Sonic Youth and things like that.
Why guitar by the way?
That is a great question! I still ask that a lot and to many guitarists.
At the moment I play less guitar and make a lot of music with a computer, but the guitar is a big part of my process and I think guitar causes interesting things. For example, it seems that there is a tradition of the “composer/guitarist.” If you are a guitarist in any genre it is very common to compose your own music where as that is less common for other performers.
I started guitar in the same way that many people do, trying to play in rock bands, however, that in some ways changed and I still feel grateful for that instrument; the social aspects of the instrument (there is always a guitar around) and the prevalence of the instrument in so many different cultures. In addition, a composer/guitarist, Cyrus Pireh often talks about the extremely wide range of timbres that the guitar has.
Yes, we remember Larry Coryell also loves guitar because it’s portability… By the way did your family support your interest in music?
Of Course! They were always very excited about it. Even when I was making quite experimental music they were very supportive.
After college I lived in some pretty bad apartments because I had no money. I think they didn’t love seeing that but they also didn’t seem to mind or they seemed to understand that it went with the territory. For example, I lived in the hallway of a larger apartment and then later I lived in this falling down apartment in Bayridge that had lead paint everywhere and stuff.
Wow, that’s great Dave!! While in Indonesia many parents don’t agree with their kids to choose arts (in this case music) as a way of living.Anyway, you found Interlochen on the Internet, but what made you decide to study there?
All I knew about music was that good musicians were supposed to go to Julliard and that many Julliard students came from Interlochen, so I wanted to go, however, it wasn’t until I was there [Interlochen.Ed] that I learned there wasn’t a guitar program [in Julliard.Ed]. Haha…
I also quickly realized there were many different paths to take as a musician and I didn’t want to pursue a strictly “classical” or strictly “jazz” path. Being in NYC, or any large city, was very helpful for that, seeing that music making and music participation is very porous.
As far as we know, Interlochen has a routine program that invites artists and musicians to perform and doing workshop there…Did it impact your way of seeing music, and how?
Certainly, but Interlochen was more of a place where I practiced a ton, learned a lot of music theory, and was given records by the other students. I was there during the hay day of burning CD-R mixes for your friends so I would say I was more influenced by that.
Any giants whom you’ve considered as your role model?
Wow! Well, certainly in some ways, I got to think about that!
I would say John Zorn is in many ways a role model for numerous musicians. In the way that he has created so much different music, been so dedicated to the music community, and been able to be involved in the arts outside of just music.
So because of him, you also dedicate your life to social community outside music scene?
“I think I see communities as hugely important to all of us…”
I don’t think I can honestly say that about myself. I think I see communities as hugely important to all of us, and the community that I am most actively and widely involved in would be a music community. I would like to think that I both give and take from that community but someone like John Zorn through starting both a record label and a music venue has given so much.
You told us about your study at the New Music School. Why? And what did you find and learn there?
I went to New School to finish college. I would say it was “fine”. I met so many people there and most of my closest friends and collaborators, but the classes were kind of a joke. I had tested out of all the music theory offered because of my high school background [Interlochen.Ed]. However, there were a few gems – there was a rhythm class that was so amazing taught by this person Rory Stuart. Through New School I started working at The Stone and that was more of an education than the school and it allowed me to interface with music and participate in music that was not tied to an institution.
Alright, this is interesting!Can you tell us more about The Stone?
The Stone is/was* a music venue started by John Zorn and musicians curate who plays. I did the door for a while every Tuesday and Thursday; saw so many amazing musicians and I also saw so much bad music. I also met many “younger” musicians and found out about other spaces like Zebulon & Death By Audio and places like that. I eventually needed to work a job, which kept me busy at night so I had to stop working the door, but I was there for many years. Though for a while I only worked say once a month.
*The Stone was relocated to the New School’s Glass Box Theatre on February 27, 2018.Ed
Dave Scanlon live at The Stone | Youtube
So this is one of the reasons that drive you the most…We notice that one of your groups, Pet Bottle Ningen, performed at Wesleyan, do you study there?
“About three years ago I was feeling like my artistic life was not changing/progressing so I wanted to change a few things in my life.”
I played with Pet Bottle Ningen at Wesleyan years ago…but yes, at the moment I am a composition graduate student at Wesleyan. About three years ago I was feeling like my artistic life was not changing/progressing so I wanted to change a few things in my life. The first thing I did was leave NYC, which wasn’t entirely successful, I missed the city a lot and I am currently moving back there. I also wanted to start making more “chamber music” and electronic music. I needed a bit of help to get that moving, so I came to Wesleyan.
Pet Bottle Ningen at Cake Shop | Youtube
What do you mean by “chamber music”?
Wow really hard question!! Well “chamber music” suggests a small ensemble “classical” music piece, however, it’s slightly a wider term than that. I should say I wanted to write pieces that I didn’t need to perform, like writing for cello or other mixed ensembles.
Besides Pet Bottle Ningen, you are also involved with other groups. Could you tell us more?
Yeah! So JOBS (which was formerly killer BOB) has been going on for about as long as Pet Bottle Ningen, actually about two years longer. For lack of a better word, I would say it’s an experimental rock band. The music is made collectively with Max Jaffe, Rob Lundberg, Jessica Pavone, and myself. We will have a new recording coming out soon and will be doing some touring.
In addition to these projects, you still perform as a solo artist; how different is it between playing solo and playing in the band?
I would say that is your easiest question. I get to make all the decisions. Haha…
No I am actually serious though the bands I play in are collectives, so anyone can change the composition. The same goes for the other collaborations. I value the democratic attitude of the projects. When playing solo or when making electronic music, it’s a bit like being my own boss.
Not many musicians aware that we can practice democratic values in a band. What are the challenges and the “requirements” for it?
“Part of being in a band is giving all members equal voice.”
Part of being in a band is giving all members equal voice. This does not mean that each member needs to write songs or lyrics or preconceived compositions but during the process of working on the material, each member has the ability to change the material in anyway. This process is largely fruitful and often leads to better results. I would say the only challenge is that this process is significantly slower. The decision-making, learning process, and even simply getting in the same room together can take a very long time.
We know that you invented your own instrument, and I heard that you call it electro acoustic guitar. What motivated you to design the instrument? Is it because there’s a particular sound that you want to “capture”?
Haha… I do use a modified guitar but I have not used that name… Maybe I should start!!! I think the eight-string guitar that Elliott Sharp uses on the Octal recordings is called an electroacoustic guitar.
What I use is a technique borrowed from Fred Frith [one of the Founders of the legendary Canterbury Progressive Rock band, Henry Cow. Ed] of a humbucker floating above the first fret. As a result, if I tap the notes instead of plucking them then each note is a dyad because it is resonating and being amplified from both sides of the fretting finger. What interest me about this sound is that the dyads then move in a reciprocal relationship to each other, one in 12-note equal temperament and the other with a reciprocal relationship to equal temperament. It was initially a way to bring microtonality into my music while utilizing my skill set as a guitarist.
Is there any other instrument you designed besides the one you mentioned us?
Yes!! I have been trying and constantly putting off building an amplified monochord similar to what Pythagoras used for his tuning experiments. I am sure I will get a version of it made within the year. I am a bit obsessed with the inventions made by New Complexity guitars. I don’t have the money for those instruments so I have been interested in adapting the techniques to other guitars; at least the 3rd-bridge idea that New Complexity does so elegantly.
In addition, over the past few months I have been learning fretless guitar. This is a real challenge but given my interest in tuning systems I no longer wanted to be bond to a fretboard.
As far as we know, you move to many places (From Michigan, New York, Middletown to Boston and so on). Is there any specific difference(s) that is uniquely appealing between these places (especially from the artistic perspectives)?
“Boston and New York both faces intense challenges of finding performance spaces and allowing those spaces to stay open and exist sustainably.”
First, the only places I have lived as an “adult” were New York, Boston/Cambridge, and New Haven. I spent some time in Miami and Alaska but I didn’t interact with the larger community in those two places. I lived in New York the longest, roughly eight years. I love it there and I think I will in some way always be tied to that place. It’s no secret that life is hard there. Even to give a seven year old a piano lesson, you have lots of people hustling for the position. I never quite saw a way to have my life be economically sustainable in New York.
Also, before I moved away [from New York.Ed] I didn’t feel like I was growing as an artist. I wanted to find a way to change how I made music and to interact with a music community more broadly. Cambridge/Boston is wonderful and there is so much going on there through Boston Hassle and Non-Event. I sadly wasn’t living there long enough to truly feel like I knew the town. Had I stayed, things could have developed but sadly I learned that I would be moving again after only eight months. It’s a great place though. Boston and New York both faces intense challenges of finding performance spaces and allowing those spaces to stay open and exist sustainably. I don’t have the answers to questions of that nature though.
Throughout history, art forms are the offspring of aesthetical struggle in dealing with existing or developing cultural/social/political/technological condition. In today’s situation, filled with divisiveness, racism, terrorism, mass-shooting, hatred, and so on, how do musicians in the US respond to this? Any respond in terms of music?
Music has the ability to represent or demonstrate different social, economic, and political forms. This can be used in a negative or positive way. You can certainly read various socialist/collectivist ideas into many musical practices, or authoritarianism into certain artists’ behavior; a lot of these ideas are explained beautifully by Jacques Attali. If musicians present content that is in some way subversive or subverts the situation, it ideally encourages a reimagining in both the performers and listeners/audience. I don’t know if I personally do this very well but it is a large part of my thought process. I feel that composer/performer Cyrus Pireh does this very well and I admire both the subversive and inclusive nature of his work.
Let’s talk about Internet. It provides a hell lot of data; with this amount of information, we should learn and appreciate diversity much more than we used to. But if we look at the music scene, most hardly progress in this issue. It seems people still favor the same music over and over again. So ironically we become uniformed instead. What is your view on this?
“Music with the most money behind it will be exposed to more people.”
This seems true for more than just music and tied to larger capitalistic forces. It is true, there seems to be a uniform interest in music that has a large amount of capital behind it. This seems to be a result how music is distributed on the internet, radio, and within other media sources. I don’t think the internet has the power to save us from those forces. Music with the most money behind it will be exposed to more people. There are certainly exceptions to this. Absolutely, we should be more diverse and appreciate diversity more, however, I don’t think the internet is going to save us from the economic forces that make this difficult.
Last question, what is your plan for the future?
Release a new JOBS recording, continue a project of compositions making large diverse sounds with a small amount of concise computer code, learn the organ, and build an amplified monochord.
I am a high school English teacher and an adjunct professor in the University of Ottawa’s Faculty of Education with a background in live theatre, critical pedagogy and youth culture. I teach Bachelor of Education students who may one day teach high school English classes.
Part of my course covers the importance of critical literacy, which I believe we can teach by asking teenagers to view film as more than just entertainment but as a vital source of insight on contemporary culture, issues and society.
Many of my classroom discussions focus on the ways in which this year’s top movies, not just Oscar nominees, offer clever responses to the racist, sexist and xenophobic policies and rhetoric that have accompanied Trump’s rise to the top.
Lady Bird argues that the lives of young women are worthy of exploration. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri offers a flamethrower portrayal of the corruption, racial conflict and violence at the heart of the American dream. Black Panther triumphantly demonstrates that Black actors and filmmakers can produce a Hollywood blockbuster and that African-American culture can yield an exciting, mythological story appealing to all audiences.
But it is The Shape of Water that offers the most detailed, poetic critique of Trump and the hollow promises of his “Make America Great Again” philosophy.
Lives of quiet oppression
Set in 1962 Baltimore, director Guillermo Del Toro’s film tells the story of Elisa, a young mute woman who works as a cleaner at a mysterious government facility that is home to a recently captured “Amphibian Man.” Zelda is her African-American co-worker and Giles, a gay graphic designer whose work and identity are “ahead of his time,” is her roommate.
These are the Americans who live lives of quiet oppression in the past-tense America that shimmers, mythical and revered, at the heart of the Trump campaign promise. The film both upholds and undermines the old mythologies that can provide comfort and reassurance to people whose lives have been disrupted by global trade, population movements and the emergence of AI in the workplace.
The Cold War is in full swing in the film, and the dichotomy between the United States and Russia, between “good” and “evil,” is both referenced and undermined.
Americans and Russians are in conflict, but it’s a Russian agent who acts ethically. There is a traditional Main Street dessert shop, but the affable server turns out to be a vile racist and homophobe who adopts a southern accent for marketing purposes and is actually from Ottawa.
The pies look appealing, but they are mass-produced and the store is part of a new phenomena, the franchise. The film is poised at the moment when authenticity is being lost to illusion.
A Trump proxy
Opposing the quiet, marginalized Americans is Strickland, a shadowy government worker upon whose character the filmmakers apply hateful qualities like layers of slime. It becomes evident that Strickland is designed as a bridge to Trump’s present-day political toxicity when a smooth-talking car salesman tells him: “You are the man of the future.”
A further connection to Trump is made when Strickland announces: “The future is bright. You gotta trust in that. This is America.” Here the film has fun with its ironic presentation of the past. As audience members in 2018 watching a film set in a period of time more than half a century ago, we may question whether the future has indeed turned out to be “bright.”
Reading news stories about the Robert Mueller investigation into the Trump campaign’s alleged involvement with Russia, we may feel profoundly uneasy about the relationship between trust and leadership.
But then the film also picks up on the way in which truth in the Trump era has been attacked, questioned and undermined. “Bonanza is not violent. It’s real life. The way it was,” Strickland tells his son about the popular Western TV show of the time. A TV show is said to be “true” much in the same way that Trump draws on cable news personalities as experts fit to serve in the White House.
Like Trump, Strickland boasts about his power to sexually assault women when he harasses silent Elisa with the line: “Bet I can make you squawk a little.” He has sex with his wife in a mechanical manner that diminishes and belittles her. His casual vulgarity oozes male privilege. His repellent masculinity crowds out a woman’s agency.
Strickland calls the beautiful South American Amphibian Man an “affront” and takes pleasure in torturing him with his sizzling cattle prod.
“How did they get in?” he asks of the Russian agents who infiltrated his facility, the question echoing the current political discourse around “illegals” and “shithole countries” as well as the president’s restrictive immigration policies.
A rebuke to ignorance
When the mute woman, the Black woman and the gay man act together to free the beautiful “undesirable” from his prison, the film suggests that the creativity and humanism of outsiders can prevail against cruelty and corruption.
Cowardly, vile and literally rotting from having lost fingers earlier in the story, Strickland dies by the same violence he promulgated. He is the real monster. Elisa and Amphibian Man fall in love and slip away to a watery paradise. Breathing underwater, she opens her eyes and looks at him. She is alive.
Not everyone can escape to the ocean’s depths to escape the Trump presidency, but we can escape to the movies. The Shape of Water reminds audiences of the humanity of those people who are marginalized and belittled. Its artistry alone is a rebuke to ignorance.