Watching: Blacula

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to watch the film Blacula, as part of Eureka Video’s ‘Masters of Cinema’ series. I have been informed about the ‘Masters of Cinema DVD/Blu Ray series for a while and I find the choices of films particularly interesting, exploring films which have merit from a cinematic point of view significantly varies from what we might consider as the popular opinions of the public on cinema.

 

Blacula was a film that I heard about a few years ago, and I thought just by the name and discovering it was part of the blaxploitation genre, was comedic and not serious. How wrong I was, although there are comedic elements, much of the humour comes from being distant from the 1970s and observing how things have changed. Which leads me to my main consideration of the film.

 

Blacula is a story of an ‘African Prince’, Mamualde. Mamualde has impressed many of the 18th Century intellects of the time and has gained a deserved modicum of respectability. Mamualde, visiting one ‘Count Dracula’ (many of the tropes and lores of vampires are assumed familiar by the audience) who acknowledges the cultural capital and sophistication (i..e. Eurocentric things of value) but ultimately rebuffs and rejects Mamualde’s calls for an end to the slave trade.

 

Dracula entirely unconvinced or unwilling to seriously consider this, traps Mamualde in a tomb after transforming the prince into one of his own kind. Mamualde is given the additional indignity of being buried in a sarcophagus with his wife. Skip 200 years and the Prince now Christened ‘Blacula’ is discovered by a pair of gay antique dealers (one white, one black). It is established and much is made upon that these dealers are both homosexual and presumably partners.

 

Perhaps watching this film in 2014, in an age where we ‘call out’ microaggressions, injustices and the way that our culture of yesteryear was less sensitive to our own time, is the blatant and ubiquitous homophobia of the Blacula world. I am convinced that the homophobia is purposeful as a metaphor to the way that racism against the Black American was ubiquitous in the decades leading to the 1970s.

 

In one scene, a police officer seeking out the antiquities dealers asserted that ‘they all look alike’, making a generalisation about homosexuals that would be familiar to any person of colour who grew up in a white majority and unfavourable society. The way in which many black characters were in varied professions is quite progressive as a part of the story, such as the female cab driver (who refers to Blacula as ‘boy!’) and the coroner/funeral director who described the police pathologist (Thalmus Rusala/Dr. Gordon Thomas) looking into Blacula’s killings as ‘…the rudest nigger I’ve ever seen in my life!’. These are notable black-on-black racial slurs while conversely the white police chief while suspicious of the pathologist’s pet theory does ultimately trust Dr. Thomas professionally as competent at his job.

 

There’s something that I dare say aspirational about Blacula, in the way that the world depicted gives a sense of distinction to many of the black characters who are all doing a job who happen to get drawn into the Vampiric killings. The real thing to make an audience of today think is the homophobia rampant and even presented as comedic. If we can see one form of oppression, we can surely be sympathetic to another. That, I think, is one of the salient messages of Blacula.

 

Blacula: The Complete Collection is released in the UK from the 27th October 2014 as part of Eureka Classics: Masters of Cinema.

 

Watching La Boheme

This weekend I had the lucky opportunity to see La Boheme, of HeadFirst Productions. I saw the production at LOST Theatre in South London and was quite impressed. The composer was one Kelvin Lim and the Opera was Directed by Sophie GIlpin and designed by Jason Southgate.

 

The Opera was led by 4 musicians. At first I was concerned at how thin the textures might be musically given the acoustics. On the other hand it sort of reminded me of how this presented a very authentic and historically resonant challenge as a performer. At times the singers matched the fortes and fortissimos and the less said about a high latency digital piano against an acoustic one the better! The instrumentation was daring and scoring worked sufficiently well.

 

I was impressed at the power of the characters. Although I do not find the story of La Boheme as convincing as a tragedy and love story, the farcical nature of parts of it were excellently carried by the ensemble. I could tangibly grasp the 19th century cultural Italian humour of it and in some ways, even if I may critique or challenge it, I must say it does very much chime in with the blokey bravado and the men of our age and, perhaps many of us know a Musetta  in our own lives.

 

I was taken by the technical prowess of Mimi’s vibrato, which definitely moved the audience. Basses were very powerful too. I couldn’t help but consider this production more of an etude or technical study, of how to overcome space and time. In this regard of space, they succeeded in making a very small musical ensemble fill the acoustics of the physical space, I think that the doubling (in terms of scoring) role of the Clarinet worked spectacularly. The use of an Eb (sopranino) clarinet was masterful.

 

In trying to bridge a gap of time, however, between 19th Century Italy and today? I think the verdict of the audience was that of a success. In most of the press releases about this production, the ending is already given away: Mimi’s death is not of TB but of a drug related incident. As the story reaches its end, it begins to seem very dark and less like the 19th Century but more the malaise of our present day. I was not sure of the use of modern substance abuse as a supplanting theme to the 19th Century artist-hero archetypes that La Boheme explores, in doing so it tells a different but perhaps more important story. Furthermore, I was kind of thrown off a bit at the use of actual cigarettes on the stage! I initially thought they were vaping ones but there were actual roll ups! Not a good time to be given an inhaler for the first time this week I must say.

 

The Idea of North (1967) and The Latecomers (1969)

Lately I’ve been listening to the work of Glenn Gould (when am I ever not these days?). I was impressed to discover that Spotify has his Radio work. In this post I will reflect upon Gould’s CBC production of ‘The Idea of North’ (1967) and ‘The Latecomers’ (1969).

The Idea of North

I’ve talked about this documentary in the past so I will be more brief. The pianist Glenn Gould was offered to commission some radio work and came up with what has now been referred to as the Solitude Trilogy. Putting things together in a moniker is very fashionable these days, but I must say that there is a distinct sense of continuity to call it a trilogy that is concerned with a single theme (of solitude).

The Idea of North examines and debunks the romantic notions of living in a wilderness, the rosy eyed idea of being away from it all is to be replaced by living in a barren land of scarcity and survival. Being in such strong elements does make one think whether we are in the mid-late 20th Century in this documentary, or if we are still in the age of Captain Scott. Living in a city as I do things move very fast and for many that is also a downside as well as a positive. Being away from it also shows the downsides and upsides.

Racial themes are explored, economic factors and personal stories of isolation and changed perspectives. One of the interesting techniques of the documentary is the fugue like way that different vox pops are interlaced with each other all at once. We hear multiple voices telling their individual stories and it is played at once.

It made me think of the fugue in terms of as a listener. As a listener to contrapunctal music do you focus on one subject and hear how the others resonate with said subject? Or do you focus one one and sound out the others? Or, as a good music listener ideally should: listen to them all, in the same way that a good Organist sight reads their 6-stave music with panache.

The Latecomers

The Latecomers is a piece about inhabitants of Newfoundland. Again the fugal technique is used but not annoyingly over used. Perhaps Gould took his own advice to never be clever for the sake of being clever. I was astounded to hear how political themes were discussed in this documentary. One inhabitant of Newfoundland pointed out how there is not much sight of the police because not many crimes happen when people know one another and when there are so few people. Likewise the politicians and civil servants only appeared to introduce a new lighthouse or during election time and never any other time. There was a distinct individualist
bent to the life of isolation.

I wonder if the Hobbesian state of nature of a life without a state would more be like Newfoundland than a world of chaos. There was a decidedly political bent to the notion of how big government hardly interferes and has no place in such a community, perhaps because their involvement in such isolated communities are so minimal, that people live as if the state did not exist.

Of particular interest was the view of one woman who spoke of the gendered dimension of living in such an isolated place. Flirting and casual sex almost did not exist in a community where few people were around because they knew each other so well and the sense of familiarity between few people did not allow for much fun interaction, but that was suggested by the woman to change as more men appeared and people became more strangers to each other in a community. It is here that Gould has a Goffman-like edge to his documentary in capturing the micro of social interactions.

One particularly interesting point made in the documentary was on how living on the fringes shows you a perspective of society that is much wider than being in the mainstream. One of the speakers referred to Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ living on the edge of society having the most eloquent overview of 19th Century life. This panders to another sociological insight, from Becker, that sociology should be the study of the underdogs, losers and outsiders of society, for they tell us the most about what our society is about.

On reflection there might be interpreted as a moralistic tale to these Solitude documentaries. The life of solitude has a distinct moralistic dimension, that is to say, of a kind of life that affects our character and perspective on life and other agents or even our environment at large. It seems fairly evident that the world Gould portrays is of his native Canada, and reflecting on other perspectives of the solitude that he valued so much in his life. These documentaries serve not just as an interesting historical insight into the 20th Century at its fringes, but also as a way of interpreting the pianistic work of Glenn Gould.

Gould himself is a character who wished to be on the fringes and outside of the gladiatorial concert stage and the world of music tours. Gould’s playing style is a result of his own solitary practicing and lifestyle and the insular sound-world created by his playing. I am also fascinated at how a pianist could also make their life as a broadcaster as well and by being both it confuses the clear roles people seem to impose upon being in front or or behind the microphone.

Goodbye Camden Crawl

So it has turned out that the Camden Crawl has gone into liquidation. I’m a little sad, although I didn’t go this year, which is perhaps a bit telling.

 

The Camden Crawl has for maybe the past 4-5 years (basically since I started living in London again) been a tradition to visit every year. Do it once and it’s a one-shot activity. Did it twice and it’s a thing that has to be done again. Did it more times and it’s a ritual. I love Camden, for the utterly personal and self indulgent reason that it’s one of the few places this side of the Channel to hear some really neat European metal bands that I like, particularly the black metal side of things. Of course there are lots of other kinds of music and subcultures there.

 

I once referred to Camden semi-jokingly as the place where subcultures go and they don’t die. One of the things I loved about the Camden Crawl (CC as it came to be called in recent years) was that it was in the most sincerest sense, eclectic. I hate using the word eclectic because to me it suggests somebody who thinks they like a wide variety of music for the sake of appearing diverse, and has little familiarity or depth with the things they apparently like – all artifice.

 

When I went to the Camden Crawl I loved how I had no idea who the bands were, what anything meant. If a band was described as shoegaze-dreampop meets DIY Fugazi fem-punk), it was in its purest sense just about the music. I loved how I had no expectations at first and went to see music just on the basis of its name, and talking to other gig-goers about where the hype is.

 

I loved how there were a few established acts who peeked about from time to time. One year I saw Ms. Dynamite [ed. teee-heee!] and another Tinchy Stryder and everybody was having an awesome time. There are the absolutely eccentric moments like the Elvis impersonator who would dance to anything. I loved seeing acts that I never heard about before and then finding out they later got a big amount of recognition. King Charles played Glastonbury this year, I remember seeing them around 2010 (?).

 

The Camden Crawl was fundamentally a hipster pursuit, yeah, I said it! I loved how different and strange much of the music was, some of which would in a couple of years eventually feed into the mainstream, or in one case, a Carlsberg advert! (Alice Gold – fabulous performance in KoKo 2012).

 

In a way I’ll definitely miss the CC. In another way there’s an extent to which I wouldn’t have gone in future festivals anyway.

 

For me the Camden Crawl was about meeting up with my friend Phil. Phil is one of my oldest friends and one of those folks that even if you don’t see for years it is like not a day has passed when you see them again. Lately life has gotten in the way of a lot of our free time. Or to put it simply, doing the Crawl was our early-20s thing and I am definitely out of that period of my life. Now we have expanding families, non-overlapping working hours, long distance relationships and all other things that prevent us. This year we couldn’t go, I’ve been working weekends and Phil’s visiting his new little nephew in North America.

 

In a sense the personal memories between myself and Phil are not communicable being a long series of ‘in jokes’ and ‘you had to be there’s. But the one thing I will miss the most about the Camden Crawl is being able to claim some cultural cred and say: I was there. I was there when Ghostpoet was an obscure artist above the Barfly; I was there when Eliza Doolittle did a set and I was more focussed on having a Magners and feeling awkward about someone chatting me up; I was right in the front when Saint Etienne did a set and I happened to be on a roof of the Roundhouse playing obsessing over a gum brand’s promotional freebies (I can’t remember their name) while a certain Dry the River were playing in the background and handing out cards and demo CDs (I really should have bloody kept them).

 

Goodbye Camden Crawl. Thanks for the memories

 

Watching: Boss

I am drawn to cultural things that try to express some point about the society that we live in. I am especially drawn to things which really capture a sense of zeitgeist about them. I am for example, quite the fan of the recent Game of Thrones series. Perhaps a lesser known and unfortunately cancelled show that especially has recently caught my eye.

 

Boss was a television series starring Kelsey Grammer as a fictitious Chicago Mayor in a post 2008 GFC world of recession, rising national and federal debt and the difficulties of living for the citizenship. The particularly cynical look at how politicians are obviously janus faced is particularly resonant in an age where a vast voting public have little confidence in their political governance.

 

Kelsey Grammer’s Tom Kane is a character I cannot get my head around. As are many of the other characters involved. There are political alliances, compromises and complex personal relationships in the realpolitik of local government. I am particularly a fan of the lone Sentinel journalist who stands for integrity and cutting out all of the bullshit of both the media and the way that politicians use spin, or ‘chump bait’ to the frustration of Sam Miller.

 

As a personal side point I didn’t know very much about Kelsey Grammer (except for him being Beast, and Frasier Crane). I discovered that Grammer is a notable conservative and his producer involvement in Boss included a bit of creative direction. I am thoroughly impressed at how the show does not particularly have any obvious messages but focusses on the micro-interactions and nitty gritty of a democracy, or supposed-democracy.

 

I wonder to myself whether this will be one of the TV series that expresses the 2010s and what the zeitgeist of our age will be.

Amorphous, Nebulous and enthymatic, or British Values

Lately there has been a bit of public discussion about the issue of what are British values? This comes from a discussion about a suggested coup of one faith group to allegedly influencing a school in negative ways that are not just out of local educational policies, but are also unBritish. In a similar vein, this week saw the death of Rik Mayall, a comedic actor that I grew up watching through the show Bottom. I remember watching Bottom during two periods of my life. One where I was a lot younger and mostly saw the desperation of the characters in their shoddy mod-like clothes; and later on with a more critical eye which appreciated more of the dysfunctional side of Eddie and Richie. I mention this because Rik Mayall was to me, a quintessentially British character, and yet could hardly be considered an estalishment sort of figure.

 

I was watching this week’s BBC Question Time where people talked about British values and pointing to values but not defining explicitly (or in the Carnapian sense) what exhaustatively consists within the notion of “British Values”.

 

This week began the world cup. I recall this thursday going to the gym and seeing how the roads were exceptionally empty. Most people were presumably at their homes watching the opening Brazil/Croatia match. To me, the casual interest in football seems quintessentially British. I say a casual interest because when it comes to Premiership or European championships, people are passionate but not to the degree as it is with the national England team.

 

One phrase that I normally use to the ridicule of my friends is: [That’s] not cricket! British values could be linked to old traditional notions such as the commitment to observing and codifying rules. By this I give the examples of the codification of Rugby football or the Marquess of Queensbury rules. Often when I am playing Badminton we are committed to the principle of fair play. That means being honest about whether a shuttle is in or out of the perimeter of the court , even if it means you lose your point and could have gained a point if you lied.

 

It could also be said that our values are constantly under change, as the idea of what counts as British has changed over history. The intake of French Huguenots in the 16th century or the wave of migration from the West Indians in the 20th century have had impacts on the culture and it could be said that it is this integration and mix that makes of a distinct culture.

 

At the moment I am reading book V of Gibbon’s gargantuan The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It starts off with a very familiar Augustan era (contemporaneous to the time in which Virgil wrote), and I am currently on a section describing the reign of Charlemagne and the emergence of what will become modern Europe. The Roman Empire had contact with African factions of Christianity; China and India in trade; and the emergence of Islam affected it all to the point that what we consider as the Roman Empire is beyond recognition to the age of Augustus Caesar.

 

I suspect that national and cultural identities work in this way. By acknowledging the influences we find out who we are, and also by pointing out how much an identity is in flux shows the potential of how things can change. To close I recall a remark that I once heard from a German I had a conversation with when I said of my view (which I now have changed my mind on) that I am not a fan of British composers compared to the Germans. The German said to me: my favourite British composer is Georg Friedrich Handel.

 

Watching: Avengers: United they Stand (1999)

On the start of any kind of discussion about this 1999 Marvel venture, this cartoon was universally deemed an average at best television show. Avengers: United they Stand serves as an example of how the flaws of an aesthetic work serve as interesting aesthetic features.

 

I knew of this show when it was originally out but I had little interest in it. In an age nearly 15 years later where there’s a big cultural interest in comic characters and franchises/intellectual properties/money-making commercial properties (delete as appropriate), the Avengers: United they Stand (UtS) serves as a lovely obscurity.

 

After I finished episode 13 I then found out that was actually the final episode. I was then reminded of a discussion in the TV series ‘Toast of London’ (starring Matt Berry [a subject for a future blog post I’m sure]) in which the titular character, Steven Toast, wrote a book without an ending. The literary agent loved the book but said that it couldn’t not have an ending. Toast made this decision to write a well considered feminist novel but left it without an ending. As if its incompleteness left it complete.

 

I feel the same about this show. The premature ending with the unresolved plot lines and even an unresolved episode arc was a masterstroke of story. There was an unresolved romantic storyline between Vision, the synthetic lifeform created by Ultron (one of the main villains); and Scarlet Witch.

 

It is certainly true that the female characters left much to be desired in terms of developing a back story or sense of an inner world, but as far as 1990s kids shows went, it fared a hell of a lot better than most. The gender ratio was about 3:5 or 3:4 (if you consider vision as normatively male – which technically you shouldn’t as a robot is genderless). The flaw of having poorly developed female characters was not so much an issue of poor gender representation but poor representation of the character roster in general, as almost all of them hardly had much back story.

 

Perhaps the big thing that people point out was the obvious thing: How can you have an Avengers lineup that does not include Captain America, Iron Man or Thor? This notion made me think really hard. In recent comics (Uncanny Avengers, Uncanny X Men, All New X Men, Avengers, or in their unique cases: Wolverine and the X Men and Secret Avengers), characters such as Wolverine and Captain America are basically present either as main characters or significant background characters. Having a world where certain characters have so much of a role in that universe evokes a cult of personality about them. This could be said of world leaders or public figures who seem to be in multiple discourses (say, celebrity culture and political discourse combined).

 

Thinking about the B-team, or the other guys is a really neat angle for a TV show. Thinking back in 1999 when there was a dearth of big Marvel shows: X men TAS had finished, Spiderman TAS had finished and shows like X-Men Evolution or Avengers: EMH (which I have discussed in a previous post) had not arrived; having this bunch of B-teamers was inherently underwhelming for a comicbook franchise which put a high place on the heavy hitters.

 

There was something inherently equalising about the UtS lineup. Contrast UtS’s Hawkeye to the Hawkeye character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Hawkeye in the Marvel Cinematic world was basically a pawn, the lowest fodder of a chess board and his abilities in the final fight were…staying on a high vantage point with arrows? Contrast this to ARC powered Iron Man who flew all around the city; Thor and Hulk who are comparably invulnerable to anything resembling human. There’s probably a good reason why Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye hasn’t found the right time to re-appear in the Marvel Cinematic universe and that is because it’s hard to have a place in such a super-powered world.

 

UtS’s Hawkeye is perhaps the best character in the show by contrast to his MCU counterpart (next to maybe Vision, but I’ll get to him). Hawkeye has a rough edge to him, being a former criminal trained in the circus (sensitive to his comic book origin). Hawkeye is very much a loose cannon, with legitimate trust issues and complex loyalties. Except for the ridiculous costumes they had (which were a very thinly veiled toy commercial), Hawkeye’s character made a Marvel character look…human when it is not desirable to be so in such a superpowered universe.

 

Vision is perhaps my favourite character in this show. Vision has the developing humanity and exists in a show where acting wooden was actually a benefit in the context. Some of the flaws of the ‘main’ characters who appear in the show are quite notable because they reveal something very human and real about them. Captain America’s cameo in one episode shows him as brash, and an inadequate leader compared to Hank Pym’s Ant Man. Even though Cap is the universal hero he is trapped by his own reputation and seen almost as if he were a better leader than he actually is. Kids watching this show probably would have lost this level of nuance.

 

By contrast, Hank Pym appears jealous, vindictive and self-doubting as a leader, and it makes him look like a very ugly person. In addition he spies on his wife visiting a family friend of hers in the penultimate episode and when she finds this out she is a little annoyed but shes seemed to let it go pretty easily. Hank Pym does look like a pretty horrible person in this show. Finally there was the appearance of Iron Man in a one episode cameo. Iron Man seems so single minded (as he was working in one of his commercial projects) that although he appreciated the help of the Avengers and joined in the action, he had no time for small talk, reflection or even acknowledgment that he was once on the Avenger roster. This shows an interesting side of Iron Man – flawed but not like the usual flawed depiction of an hedonistic and distracted Tony Stark, who lets his personal failures have implications on his professional life.

 

To close I thought I’d mention the honorable and noble aspects of the show. Although I’d think this show was absoutely rubbish as the 13 year old that I was in 1999. There are bits of the show that are farcical. For example, the NSA liason, Raymond Sikorski (who serves as a representative of the real world) continually notes things such as the poor public perception of the Avengers; how they caused millions of dollars in damages to public property. Not to mention the episode where Big Ben  is destroyed and nothing is mentioned of it at all afterwards, except to find out how it was caused. Have no doubt that this is not a great show nor is it a good show. It’s my view though that there are interesting psychological gems in the character development (or lack of) that as an adult (who probably should be doing better things), gives an interesting complexity to the show.

A conflicted disdain for comics

I am reminded of Chris Bateman’s general view that mainstream kinds of games effectively enforce singular ways of thinking and the blockbuster game is pernicious to the extent that it basically builds on already established formats as gaming media. This can be highlighted by the ubiquity of very similar first person shooters where over the years, certain features are continually added but the genre largely remains the same: multi player death matches, or similar. This kind of view mirrors what I addressed in what I called ‘Musical Conservatism’ (albeit about music, and not games) in a previous post.

 

I am thinking along these lines about comics and even the comicbook film which seems to be so popular these days. I’ll pin my colours to the mast: I love Marvel comics and although I predominantly follow Marvel comics, I did recently voluminously read DC’s ‘Before Watchmen’ series. In recent weeks, Alan Moore wrote about his dissatisfaction with the immature preoccupation with comic book characters and the mythologies of the supertext universes of Marvel (inter alia). Marvel’s ‘cinematic universe’ has been a subject of much hype in my personal circles and yet, even though I would definitely see a film about a tree man that only says ‘I AM GROOT’ and I’d probably enjoy it; I do feel a bit that poetic license is stretched too much with a super-soldier who was frozen from the second world war.

 

Perhaps every era needs its mythologies. But I also think that mythologies and the deities that exist within them can cease to be relevant, or that their applicability can be seen to have limitations. I often joke that Magneto’s current age must be between 70s to 90s, given the history that Marvel’s mainstream canon universe (earth-616) wishes to give him. I’d be thoroughly impressed at any senior person to wear that red outfit and still have bulging abdominal muscles and ripped arms, as he’s constantly depicted in the comics today.

 

It may be the case that our mythologies are getting a little bit stuffy, and holding back our attention away from other stories that could be told. Other accounts or exemplars of heroes that might be more representative, perhaps inclusive. Marvel does have an improving record of making female protagonists and beginning to introduce same-sex romantic plotlines without making too much of a big deal about it being same-sex. The relationship in X-Men Legacy between Northstar and his partner is refreshingly mundane!

 

Alan Moore pointed out that the fixation on the superhero reflects a sense of immaturity on the part of the reader. It’s certainly true that many comics hardly aim to be high art. I do wonder however, if a moment might happen, similar to the TV show Happy Days, when the Fonz leaps over a shark in an episode reflects the fact that a threshold of interesting stories has been reached, and a new medium or a new mythology is needed. I think about this because as someone who grew up admiring the Earth 616 universe of Marvel (and notably the Age of Apocalypse ‘Earth-215’) world, if the generation of comic book movies will decline just as it peaks, like, to put a crude metaphor, what the French call a ‘little death’.

1914

Since the start of the year, the BBC has announced a few hundred hours of broadcasting content to mark the years in which the Great War occurred (1914-1919). In particulary I have been following an excellent RSS feed from BBC Radio 3 called ‘Music and Culture of World War I’. It’s an understatement and probably too premature to say that the 20th Century was one of great developments not least in the idea of a cosmopolitan and internationally involved global world (what we might call the globalised world). I’ve always had an interest in historical periods but I’ve found that the historical periods that are closer to the world I am familiar with seems more – for want of a better word – familiar.

I wonder what its like for the generation of people who were born a bit after me who took high speed internet and mobile phones for granted, and it makes me think about how much of a game changer things like international telephone networks, or even innovations such as the automobile or the logistical networks we rely on such as water works and gas piping or power lines. In this way the early 20th Century seems to be a little bit more familiar in that it has these administrative systems being put into place and progressively so. My dad worked in telecoms and it interested me to learn about the laying of the Transatlantic telegraph cable around the early 20th century, talk about a commercial project with its challenges and massive impacts!

The early 20th Century is full of stories of great industrial efforts that shaped the world today. Following the Radio 3 series of podcasts and programmes, I am thinking about the cultural aspects. There’s a view, Spinoza had it, and I learned it from my old Classics teacher Dr. Carleton when he taught us Athenian Democracy, which was that – if we understand our past, we understand how shit we are as humans (the profanity suits Dr. C’s view more than Spinoza’s I think). Maybe, just maybe, if we saw the parallels of the past of human history, we could learn a bit about our present, and anticipate the possible pitfalls. Our history has given us technologies, constitutions and ideologies, but I do think that we as a whole are no more or less intelligent as the people of the distant past in human history.

One episode from the Music and Culture of World War I describes Elgar’s Nimrod as the evening to a perfect summer. A perfect summer may be extended, but it will inevitably end. An allusion was made to Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, that at the cusp of a peak, the Romans had their downfall, and the British felt that their autumn was due. I don’t happen to subscribe to that reading of Gibbon but I see the point that is being made.

Leonard Bernstein makes suggestions that (European) composers of the first decade of the 20th Century anticipated what would come next, this may be anachronistic but it seems like the favoured view of history now that we know what the future held for denizens of the 1900s and 1910s.

My piano teacher was born around 1910-1911 and many of his influences and consequently, his influences on teaching me, were shaped by two things: classical music that formed up to the time of his life, and the (non-classical) popular music that was around during his career as a jobbing musician. In the former case, Jack introduced me to Frank Bridge, whose vignette pieces I still try to play; and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, whom I often go on about in conversations with many many anecdotes. The cultural education I had was the standard Bach-Mozart-Beethoven kind of spiel. With my music teacher ‘Bob’ (mentioned in a previous post), I learned a little bit about the 20th Century; how Romanticism went to Late Romanticism, and in another related direction, but modernist movements emerged.

I read about Modernism outside music from sociology studies. Modernist movements were multi-media, not just music, but also poetry and visual arts. Modernism pushed the boundaries of previous expectations of art. Of course not all modernist movements were the same, futurism was racist, and other movements had specific predictions and expectations that did not come into fruition. Perhaps as a catch-all term, modernism isn’t helpful.

I like reflecting on this period of history as it helps me personally connect with the world that my piano teacher was born in. It makes his history link to the world that eventually became my present. It makes me wonder what the world of his forebears lived in. The beauty of taking an historical view is that we see people in different aspects of their lives, but there is an ultimate continuity to it, a connective tissue.

The BBC radio 3 programmes of 1914 make me distinctly aware of my musical preferences. It also forces me to think about certain unresolved questions. When we have seen the extremes of the human condition and having known them realised, are we so far in the present from seeing similar in the present? Also, does our culture reflect the maturity of the wisdom of knowing that humanity’s capability of destruction is a very distinct reality.

Thinking about the past should make us think about the present. For many, the interpretation of historical events is not just an abstract matter but defines our identity for the present. Remembering the cultural moments that Radio 3 chooses to acknowledge interestingly points out how momentous that bad reactions to musical pieces were, that eventually became momentous works. Having a century of foresight gives us that advantage. I wonder if the events of 2013 in 2113 will consider lesser known moments that are under the radar, and the things that we might consider big today like consumer electronics and celebrity culture, will be as Klopstock or Telemann are to us today…hardly known except by those who take an interest in the obscure.

I do make a cult of personality about the serialist composers. Perhaps that is because I find the present so incomprehensible. With the pre-war period historians have made synoptic connections between culture and politics; philosophy and art. Today I see these things as existing in highly irrelevant, independent and unrelated ways without a unifying single narrative.

Another reason of course that I enjoy the surge of programmes relating to the war, is exactly because of the connections with the culture of that time. To wit of Tito, Hitler, Wittgenstein, Schoenberg, Freud etc. all living in the same city of Vienna during this period and not knowing each other is astounding, especially to consider their later impacts in their respective domains. I’d love to know what the people of the future considered as great works of the cultural present. I’d love to imagine who are considered the great political thinkers and who were the people that drove the geopolitics and economics of the 22nd century!