Iain Cameron's Diary
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2004-04-25 - 9:08 a.m.
The BBC2 programme on Degas little dancer turned out – against my expectations – to be a cracker. The object itself is so complex – especially the way it was offered in 1880 under a specially made glass case – as if it was a specimen. It was keying off the recently opened Parisian medical museum which showed unartistic gruesome specimens in that way. Also the strange shape of the face – related to anthropometric studies of criminality but – aeven at the time – reminding some observers of the mystical values of Egyptian sculpture. So Degas was able to compress into a single object so many different layers of meaning and association – the piece fits powerfully into different art-worlds simultaneously.
Copies were made after the event – there is one vulnerable wax original – and around 30 bronzes made not long after D died – almost certainly contrary to what his wishes would have been. Somehow the wax original was forgotten about and in the 50s made its way to the US – possibly with some skulduggery – finally ending in Washington DC. So it anticipates Warhol-type issues of seriality and provenance – and questions about uniqueness in the art-object. Degas emerged from the programme as intense and private.
Lots of fascinating stuff on the diary pages these days. John’s stuff about tuning for example. I believe its true that if you offer listeners different versions of the major third they will prefer the numerical ratio third to the enharmonic infinite decimal third – so much so that many won’t believe that most complex classical music won’t work properly with the version of the third they prefer.
I am not clear even what the best numerical ratio is. The fourth and the fifth are easy. Also the semitone and the minor third. Two fifths gives a second. With those intervals you can build quite easily most of the rest of the chromatic scale. But a decent major third emerges as a complex ratio – say 19 times 17 divided by 2 to the power 16 – a formula which is interesting in its own right. But a lot less fundamental than the minor third which is approximated well by 19 over 16. So we seem to have built our musical language around an interval which in terms of Pythagorean fundamentals is a bit of a blur. I am surprised that some people have the power to hear the enharmonic interval in its purity – I certainly don’t. Having played a lot of jazz and blues that’s not surprising.
I have even seen it said that when people sing certain tunes eg American folk songs like Camptown races, they naturally shift off the enharmonic third to something more Pythagorean. I have no idea if that’s true but it would be a strange fact if it were.
I also enjoyed Robin’s reflection on emotional engagement. This was dead centre on some points of Andrew Duncan’s which I was reading as I enjoyed the sunshine yesterday. AD sets out to define the technical agenda that powered the post Movement leaps forward in British poetry and he sets out no less than 30 different technical axioms or tendencies. Under one he observes “the modern poet tends to interrupt the meditation process in order to interrogate the process by which symbolic meanings are formed.” Or again “Formerly all levels of the poetic text were convergent…deriving from the elemental necessity of self presentation in social life – which poetry no longer feels obliged to copy.” Self expression becomes secondary to an investigation of processes. “The new at any point is contained in negative space or in the unconscious sporadic spontaneous style elements in its current practice.”
That last sentence would do for Miles second great 5tet. These few paragraphs are worth the price of the book alone for me. I recollect that Simon Fell has constructed a career of improvisational exploration on the basis of one Prynne lecture. Apparently AD first started to write about punk. The utopian fundamentalism also reminds me of the Belville Three – I suppose this is what the Village Voice is getting at when its critic said that Industrial was the pure development of the 60s Underground
Partly driven by this and partly in response to the Dorris H message, I went back into one of my Iguana articles and looked at the poetry element which I included (thank goodness) to give a flavour of what was going on at the time that I first met ND. There’s a cover of a little magazine that has the names of Ackroyd, Totton and Imac which I found very touching, Under the button are a couple of classic early Tottons which I can heartily recommend – to me that really bundle the charm and fear of the times.
But the real gem is down to Mikael who managed to get a very amusing Frith quote where he red-facedly confesses to his first in English and explains how far this is down to a journey of sustained personal exploration and erratic lecture attendance. This parallels his musical journey after the P Bell school-mate Andy Powell (producer of the Kick Inside) alerted Fred to the New York school in music esp Feldman.
This really made me want to get hold of the songs that Fred was doing eg in one of the Solomon recording session (a Frith Jones Cameron venture) . I quote the opening line in the article – “what you lose is a pair of shoes to put your mind in” which I can still hear in my inner ear. But I know (not through the inner ear) that the song becomes formally very innovative after that opening statement. As you might expect. Just possible that Richard Jones (Meridian) still has that tape.
I mailed Paul W about the article in the Guardian on Ian Sinclair – which covers some links with Ackroyd – someone I met briefly through Richard Jones. I said in the e-m that I thought something was up.
I have been thinking about the way that Totton bridges both the very theoretical Cambridge end of business with the more Gothic London cardre represented by Sinclair. I have certainly absorbed the London axiom that you can interrogate the landscape/townscape until it confesses and can do a passable job on SW1 (which does have some Hawksmoor). You might expect whole number ratios here too.
Needless to say South Warwickshire is getting the same treatment. In fact as I drove down the A3 on Friday I looked at St George’s – Surrey’s Bell Air, site of the Diggers digging and aligned across a series of similar Celtic homesteads – thinking how I could usefully dig deeper there myself especially at the London end. Sinclair honestly believed that Thatcher was w itch and that by resurrecting ancient symbolic meanings you could help contain her power – part of the reason poetry was so important. It seems he is now working on Hastings. Maybe he was right – long after the 80s are dismissed (some interesting comments yesterday on the Bonfire of Vanities in an Oleanna review) this symbolic project is a live and well.
Another kind of symbolic power was injected by Lawrence (D H) as interpreted by Leavis. Originally Leavis was at Downing (P Bell’s college) but there was some kind of argument and he left without a pension which meant that he had to do odd teaching jobs. One such was teaching practical criticism to undergraduates at Selwyn and Newnham. Without going into too much detail I used to associate with the English cardre as a way of getting acquainted with their Newnham seminar chums (one of whom was going out with Imac).
They were enormously excited about this prac crit development and this even managed to penetrate my fairly intense level of ignorance about the domain. There is a real fetish about prac crit – still. I talked to Cathy about this and she said how much easier it was working in this way with Ian Patterson – who had been a school teacher before he got the fellowship at Queens for digging deep in the hear forgotten tracts of early 20th century English modernism. In fact Paul Bell mentioned that Ian lived downstairs from Nick Totton and Denise Riley when I asked about it last week.
To say that this stuff is hierophantic is pretty much of an under statement and I only ever dabbled in the shallow end. What strikes me now is the tension between this Paradigm to use a term we were just mastering then and the Prynne crew. As far as I can work out the L-Paradigm was refracted through the second world war into the Movement and the P-Paradigm (as documented by Duncan) was the new game in town. I am very interested in the early jazz thread from Larkin. Andre Duncan picks this up in one of his 30 points – using ideas and forms from outside the European mainstream.
This is an interesting grey area – when one thinks of the NYC culture wars – midtown Marsalis school of jazz repertory against the downtown Frith-Zorn innovators. A lot to be unpacked here.
Fred mentions Steiner and how popular his lectures were. I think this must have fed the P-Paradigm with all kinds of long distance cross Continental links. I didn’t really reach this stuff until I got to Sussex and eventually settled on Habermas. That involved a lot of wine bar gigging with Pete Crowther who wrote me last week.
He sent me a job cutting suggesting that the job in question looked ideal for me. The odd thing – and I suppose its testimony to Pete’s sharpness. I actually have that job or one very much like it in the same organisation.
I mailed Laurence about the Times editorial on the great ISB fan. Vita asked about the Doors – I reminded her of the time we went to Venice Beach and told her that the lead singer was studying in film school at this point.