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On 20 July 1942, Time magazine led with a story on ‘Fireman Shostakovich’. ‘Amid bombs bursting in Leningrad he heard the chords of victory,’ the caption on the cover said, under a picture based on a Soviet propaganda photo taken on the roof of the Leningrad Conservatoire in September 1941. Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony, dedicated to the besieged city of Leningrad, had received its American premiere on 19 July 1942, played by the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini. On 22 June, the first anniversary of the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union, it was broadcast live by the BBC: the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Henry Wood raced through the score, finishing four minutes earlier than the scheduled time, to the studio manager’s dismay.

The School of Music (8)

Igor Levit about the dead, sad and beautiful world of Dmitry Shostakovich
04.10.13
1 min
Post

Shostakovich*s probably most famous work. The 7th symphony. The Leningrad requiem. His beloved city, his beloved home town was suffering the most horrible blockade. People were dying of hunger, millions. Shostakovich himself was forced to be evacuated. During that period he wrote that magnificent piece. Perhaps the most famous (and most horrifying part) is the mid par to the first movement. Percussions, unstoppable, powerful, again and again the same theme. Each time nearer, each time louder, more and more frightening. But what is it? The German army? Isn*t it too easy? Isn*t it much more? Goose bumps each time I hear what happens after the idyll in the beginning and how this idyll comes back in the end, dead, sad, hopeless? Do listen to the whole symphony!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-ZEoNTtRB8

Martin Fengel
People

I love travelling with Martin. He is funny, he is calm, he is out there in the world because he wants to see. It is out of curiosity that he gets out of bed in the morning, it is out of curiosity that he takes pictures. He is a great stylist, too, he has an eye for colour, he has a humour in his work that is dark and light at the same time.
When he drinks, he gets even funnier. Then he gets tired.
He is a great friend and a true artist. But above all, he is a great traveller. We went to visit William Eggleston together in Memphis, Tennessee. The Master of the Ordinary, the Surrealist of Everyday, this idol of ours fell with his face into a plate of Chinese food and was not particularily disturbed, he took it with stride. Just whiped the shrimps away and asked to be driven to a gas station to get some  Gatorade to go along with his Vodka.
Martin and I went to visit Richard Prince in the Catskill Mountains and Prince drove with us to this house which was an artwork of his and would burn down a few years after. The house hadits  skin ripped off, so to speak, the isolation was like a silver mirror of the surrounding forest – later that day he took us to this very remote restaurant, like Twin Peaks. The waitress was a white trash queen which Richard Prince had photographed for Purple magazine. A few years later we met him in Venice somewhere in Dorsoduro, he had the Uomo Vogue with him which featured his portrait on the cover and was his most polite.
But my favourite and truly Martin-like journey was to this dinosaur land somewhere in Arkansas. They said it was the biggest in the world. We drove for eight hours and almost bought a Devo tape on the way, but then opted for more country music––when we got there, it was sad and beautiful, it was a man*s dream, that*s for sure, these giant statures in a decaying plastic. The colour like a post-apocalyptic memory of a pop culture that had given up its reign on the world just as the dinosaurs had lost their battle. We felt blessed. Failed dreams are the stuff that grace is made off.

Wilson Chamber

30.09.13
3 min
Post

Last night I came back to Berlin after a month of mundane travel — London, Rome, New York, and finally two days with my family in Westphalia (a location I mainly mention because Christopher described 60pages’ interests as seemingly gravitating toward West Germany). (His exact list of prevailing topics was: “Wien, Delhi, LA, Lichtenberg, Fußball (und auch Kochen) West-Deutschland, Musikschule“).

At 1:24 in the night I woke with a jolt and stereotypically had the urgent realisation that I didn’t know where I was. I searched the night-grey room for anchors of recognition, trying to fit a New York stencil over the sketchy abstract wispy grey forms I couldn’t quite interpret (which much later turned out to be the withering willow next to the bed and its shadows thrown onto the amorphous wall by the array of Berlin street-lights at eye-level outside the windows). The way my mind was flitting through the room trying to find its bearings reminded me in a sleepy epiphany of something I had seen a few weeks ago in Cambridge. After the shock of dislocation subsided, I dreamily fixated on this flash of an idea which solidified into a note I soporifically somnambulated into the ugly Notes app on my phone.

The Cavendish Laboratory owns the first and only so-called cloud chamber built by its inventor Charles Thomas Rees Wilson in 1911, subsequently known as the Wilson Chamber (an object I naturally adopted as my totem apparatus). The Wilson Chamber is a device to track the paths of flitting, flirting, unstable particles through supersaturated vapour, leaving trails of indecision, collision, pirouettes and nervous elopements. In the frenzied attempt to fill the nebulous void with charged forces, the particles ionise the hazy mixture.

Lightweight methanol vapour saturates the chamber, the alcohol falling as it cools down and the cold condenser providing a steep temperature gradient. Alcohol vapour condenses around ion trails left behind by the travelling ionizing particles. Clouds form, visible in the cloud chamber by the presence of droplets falling down to the condenser. As particles pass through all they leave behind are ionization trails.

My nocturnal self added behind this vaporous thought a quote by Ernst Jünger that I had heard on the radio the same day: “Mein Gegner ist die Sprache” / “My enemy is language”. I can’t retrace the logic behind this association — I think it had to do with leaving linguistic traces in the thick mist of a medium whose enmity you can only express within it, enclosed in the cloud chamber of language. When I woke up in the morning the sun was shining.

Amanda Prorok
People

I met Amanda three times in my life (at least recorded times). The first time was in Bern at the Aare river (nice river, hellish city). The second time was in Hasenberg, near Zurich, in a Japanese restaurant (nice food, hellish interior). And the last time was two weeks ago in a pasta restaurant in Zurich (nice food, nice interior). We share a common past of being strangers in Japan. Amanda went to Japan before me, that makes her my sensei (teacher) or senpai (the “older”, not by life age necessarily). I might have even crossed her at the beach in Kamakura near Tokyo. The strange thing about the swimming season in Japan: it’s ridiculously short. It lasts, depending on the beach, from July 1 to around August 16. You can melt away from the heat in May, June, in August, September, but you are not supposed to go into the water unless you are an ignorant gaijin. I guess Amanda couldn’t care less. She is waiting for the final call of a big tech company located in Seattle. They want her because she has a PhD in robotics. Amanda is the perfect reminder that we don’t live in times of humans and human language anymore (although she is perfectly fluent in French, English, German, Japanese, even more languages?), but in the times of robots, software. Watch out 60people from the old world. Amanda is the new world.

Dominique Koch
People

I met Dominique through Yoshi. There was a time when Yoshi got to know dozens of new people every weekend. That was in the age before my first cell phone. Dominique called me once at home and my sister was taking the call. She said Dominique called. I don’t know if I ever called back (Dominique said that I did and her brother took the call). She usually invites me to her exhibitions on very short notice (which is not true), I always show up. When I was in Paris last February, I went to see her at the Centre Culturel Suisse while she was working in the shop there. I got coffee for free, but I had to help her preventing people from stealing art books of famous Swiss artists (we failed, the shoplifters in Paris are quick bastards). That was a long introduction to say: Yes, she lives in Paris. Yes, maybe she will write in French. Once I saw her brother in Berlin in the Volksbühne when Bibiana Beglau and others were performing Berlin Alexanderplatz, put on stage by Frank Castorf. It was always the same song for five hours. And then there was this American car sliding on stage. That night, it was snowing, and there was a thunder-stroke. We hid in the Rosa-Luxemburg-Strasse. It was minus 20 degree Celsius. Dominique has many brothers. She has Hungarian roots. Hungarian is one of the very few languages you can do Hexameter the same way as in Latin. All important things come at the end of a word.

Gina Folly
People

Gina sat one evening on the sink in my kitchen, when I lived at Agnesstrasse in Zurich. She sat next to Ronnie. I knew Ronnie for a long time, but I didn’t know Gina. (You will always find me in the kitchen at parties, listen to this song by Jona Lewie). I still don’t know if it’s true, but they became a couple there in my kitchen on the sink. At least that’s what I keep believing (se non è vero, è ben trovato, sure). Two years ago I gave my girlfriend a photography work by Gina as present. It shows a mountain pass. The pass looks very much like a pass in Afghanistan (never been there, Gina neither), but it’s the Susten Pass in Switzerland. People keep guessing what place it shows. The glass of the picture broke some time ago. I told Gina that the wind had taken her pass down (it was really the wind, the West wind coming from France, the one who brings the weather to Switzerland, like Napoleon brought new boarders for half of the Swiss cantons with him). She just said “Scheisse, jaa, but now it’s lighter”. That’s how it is. Sometimes it’s Scheisse, and sometimes everything is good. Sometimes the wind from France brings good weather, sometimes not.

The School of Music (5)

27.09.13
2 min
Post

Are politics allowed? Should musician be political? I have been present at some heavy discussions on the topic.

To be clear: Musicians who think that politics are absolutely unimportant for an artist (a famous one once told me: “If you are interested in political realism, quit music and go into politics!”) are naive, not very intelligent and somehow … Well, you can judge for yourself.

As a matter of fact, musical influence on politics (and vice versa) has always been quite important. Here we have a song, performed by the wonderful folklorist John Greenway, “Dreadful Memories”. Just read the lyrics. Try to understand what it meant for the people who wrote every single one of these words.

This is realism for so many. Even in 2013! Is it naive to think about it? Is it naive to follow up on these problems? It is naive to ignore them, no?

Dreadful memories, how they linger,

How they ever flood my soul.

How the workers and their children

Died from hunger and from cold.

Hungry fathers, wearied mothers,

Living in those dreadful shacks,

Little children cold and hungry

With no clothing on their backs.

Dreadful gun thugs and stool pigeons

Always flock around our door.

What’s the crime that they committed?

Nothing. Only that we’re poor.

Oh, those memories, how they haunt me

Make me want to organize

Makes me want to help the workers

Make them open up their eyes.

When I think of all the heartaches

And all the things that we’ve been through,

Then I wonder how much longer

And what a working man can do.

Really, friends, it doesn’t matter

Whether you are black or white.

The only way you’ll ever change things

Is to fight and fight and fight.

We will have to join the union,

They will help you find a way

How to get a better living

And for your work get better pay.

Igor Levit
People

Is everybody reading James Salter these days? Dirk Kurbjuweit of Der Spiegel, the voice of reason in politics, just shook his head in admiration as he talked about Salter*s work. Our dear friend Finn Canonica of Tages-Anzeiger Magazin can go on and on about how manly this writer is, how well he writes about women and the things that men and women to do each other and with each other. And Igor Levit wrote the other day in an email, it was rather early in the morning, I thought, to be reading a book (but then it might be different for me because I have kids and cannot even start to imagine to begin a day by sitting down and reading a passage like this: “There was a time, usually late in August, when summer struck the trees with dazzling power and they were rich with leaves but then became, suddenly one day, strangely still, as if in expectation and at that moment aware. They knew. Everything knew, the beetles, the frogs, the crows solemnly walking across the lawn. The sun was at its zenith and embraced the world, but it was ending, all that one loved was at risk.”), Igor wrote that he was going back to reading All That Is, the new novel by the soldier, the pilot, the jew who changed his name from Horowitz to Salter: An 88-year-old writer who commands the prose in a way that speaks to the souls of the rationalist, the hedonist, the cosmopolitan, the German, the Swiss, the, right, what? Where he comes from, Igor, I could tell you, but what would that matter? What he is I could tell you, but that is not why he is important to me. What I want to tell you instead is that I was struck by how he talked when we first met, a few months ago, how fast and friendly and full of excitement, I could say a bit like a puppy if that would not be a cliché. But he stayed with me, in the best possible way, he followed me, through reading and texting back and forth, he sent me messages – about what was going on in this country, what he thought about politics, what he thought about literature, television, life, at least on the borders of what he wrote I could gather that. His is a vibrant intelligence, and he is at odd with the way things are. Not only or not specifically in this country, Germany, at this moment in time. Not even mainly about this country, its past, its present, yet still, in a way that is the focus of what we discuss. This country. In a very pleasant way. Like a constant verbal drive-by shooting. Stray bullets everywhere. Igor does not like to stand in line, neither do I. He does not believe what he is told, neither do I. He will not do what people expect him to do, quite the contrary. So he made his first record for Sony Music and played Beethoven*s last five sonatas, something you just don*t do as a young pianist. I am glad he did it.

Listen for yourself

Let Us All Meet Mid-Atlantic

26.09.13
2 min
Post

Now that Armen Avanessian brought it up, it might be time to talk about Mid-Atlantic. It was Anne Philippi who said the other day in the skype chat that we had between Los Angeles, Zurich, Delhi, Vienna and Berlin that she had heard people talk about this new form of English, crushed, broken, used, abused, cherished. This is us, we said. We use and abuse English like a language should be used and abused, not always, but why not by us at this moment in time? The world changes, languages change, and it is strange that the people who might critize our broken English are the people who live that change the most. But maybe that’s just the way it is. I really do think that it is good to strip language from this barrier of ownership, to set it free to be the lingua franca it is, to let people take its share, to move the language this way and that way across the Atlantic and further West and East as we please. Language is a tool, after all, a means, not an end – and the bastardisation of the language that we might further here is just a reaction to the way the words, the brains, the mores expand and contract, have a different meaning at different times without the necessary relativist draw-back, should offer the openess to redefine who you are, where you come from, who you want to be and where you want to go. Or, more easily said: Everybody understands when we meet Mid-Atlantic. (Obviously this story is only half-true, as Mid-Atlantic English originally refers to “a cultivated or acquired version of the English language once found in certain aristocratic elements of American society”, a blend of American and British, as Wikipedia, the home of mid-Atlanticism, points out. There is also a list of famous mid-Atlanticians: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, Gore Vidal, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Maria Callas. Quite a list.) So is Broken English a song of freedom?

My elder brother, my father and me
Helmut Schmidt in the 1970s

What is the weight of a sentence?

26.09.13
3 min
Post

The first German politician my father showed me was a man with the same hairstyle, Helmut Schmidt. That was in the 1970s, and who could know he would become the nation’s wise old statesman, the ultimate authority of Germany, and the most popular chancellor of all times, turning 95 on December 23?

My father was born in 1928, turning 85 soon, and after slowly recuperating from a post-cancer operation in spring, the doctors diagnosed a calcification of his brain arteries, which leads to symptoms that resemble Parkinson, they call it Parkinsonism. Everything slows down: thoughts, short-term memory, his walk and talk. His physical shape has changed, except the shape of his hair, which reminds of his behavioural accuracy that takes now more and more of his time. When I was in Turkey this summer I found him old for the first time, and so I decided to stay longer than intended, working there, sharing every day life, talks and memories going back to our early years when television was ritual like the morning schedule before going to school.

The last few meters to catch the school bus leaving down the street of our house at 7:43 was tight. On some days the bus driver looked down from his seat and we had eye contact for a second before he pushed his button of power to open the door again, silently asking why this little boy is always late. Leaving bed was an agony, however, once up I was looking forward to the stand in the bathroom watching my father’s shaving procedure, and particularly his ritual of combing his slightly wet hair to create the perfect side partition on the left side of his head. With his eyes focussing the mirror, the ridge was oscillating until the first draft was shaped for first inspection, slightly bending his head left, right, up and down in front of the mirror. It took him then seven or eight attempts to finalize the procedure with a gentle tone, which I perceived as a self-acclamation, acknowledging his first skilful act of the day. Once he held my head and started dividing my hair to left and right. It didn’t work. My hair is curly.

It was on my father’s birthday, December 23, somewhen in the late 1970s, when he switched on the television: a man with bold hair, accurately done side partition, left hand side. My father said this is Helmut Schmidt, our chancellor, a Social Democrat and, with his particular humorous way, he mentioned casually, that he was born on the same day as him, but – with an ironic tone of relief in his voice – ten years earlier.

He really liked him. I think it was Schmidt’s aura of non-corruptible principles, the unbendable backbone and integrity that he liked most, and may be also his hairstyle. He was just a bit said when he heard Schmidt saying that it was a mistake to have so many Turks immigrating to Germany, but that’s another story.

Today, I wished Schmidt wouldn’t have said another thing: go see a doctor in case you have a vision.

In other words: any pleasant anticipation of the future will condemn us by the punishment to be naïve. Looking around after the German general elections it seems that all politicians and the majority of our people adopted this as principle.

Isn’t that a fatal poison, a massive mental burden when thinking about the future?

The School of Music (8)

Igor Levit about the dead, sad and beautiful world of Dmitry Shostakovich
04.10.13
1 min

Wilson Chamber

30.09.13
3 min

The School of Music (5)

27.09.13
2 min

Let Us All Meet Mid-Atlantic

26.09.13
2 min

What is the weight of a sentence?

26.09.13
3 min