Perambulating the Bounds

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Announcement #2: TN Arts Commission Gallery call

Nicole Pietrantoni has sent out a call for proposals for exhibits at the Tennessee Arts Commission gallery. Their exhibits have become a really fine series, and provided the occasion for artists to try out some interesting ideas. The space is compact, and seems to lend itself to coherent shows. The Commission also seems open to people developing socially significant material. The current show by Vitus Shell is a case in point. So if you've got an idea for a small show, maybe an installation or a particular body of work, and you're a legal resident of the state of TN (but not, per the instructions, a full-time student or State of TN employee other than an instructor at state-supported educational institutions), I'd encourage you to submit something here.

Here's the brief description. There's a three-page Word document with full instructions that I'm sure Nicole will send if you ask her for it. It might be on the Arts Commission website too, but I didn't see it.

Call for Works
Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery
2007-2009 Gallery Exhibition Schedule

Postmark Deadline for Applications: Friday, August 18th, 2006

The Tennessee Arts Commission is seeking applications for exhibitions
from Tennessee artists for the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery's
2007-2009 exhibition series. The Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery is
dedicated to exhibiting and promoting the talents of professional
artists from across the state of Tennessee. Located in the heart of
downtown Nashville, this unique space features rotating exhibitions on
display for 6-8 weeks. Named the "Best Exhibition Series" in
Nashville by the Nashville Scene, the TAC Gallery is committed to
presenting diverse and challenging shows of consistently strong work.
Applications for visual art, installations, craft, media, and design
arts are welcome.

Please see attachment for more information or contact Nicole
Pietrantoni, Director of Visual Art/Craft/Media program 615-532-9798

Announcement #1: Indian Dance

Sankaran Mahadevan sent around this notice of a dance concert by a student at the Vandy Medical School. One of the remarkable things about Indian culture in Nashville is the number of people who pursue music and dance at a very high level but make their living in other ways. Mahadevan, for instance, is a really accomplished singer, but his day job is as a School of Engineering faculty member at Vandy. I suspect that Haritha Bodduluri is very good at what she does. People don't take on big public recitals like this lightly.

Indian Classical Dance (Kuchipudi) by


on Sunday, June 4th, at 3:00 pm
in Sarratt Cinema Auditorium, Vanderbilt University Campus

Suggested Donation: $ 5 (Free for children under 10)
Additional donations for Operation Smile appreciated.

Haritha Bodduluri
is an accomplished Kuchipudi dancer of the Sri Nritya Art Academy in Vijayawada, India having trained under its founder Bhagavathula Venkatarama Sarma since 1992. Haritha’s dance training began in 1987 in the Bharathanatyam style with Padmini Ramachandran in New York and has since performed throughout the USA and in India. Haritha's formal debut was in 1996, to lavish praise by critics and well known senior performers, including Kuchipudi legend Vedantam Satyanarayana Sarma. She has won the first place at the TANA dance competition in Los Angeles. She created an Indian Classical dance group at Duke University where she is the recipient of the Edward H. Benenson Award in the Arts. Haritha is now studying at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

Operation Smile: Throughout the world, children born with facial deformities lack the resources for corrective surgery. This non-profit organization has provided over 98,000 free life-changing operations since 1982. See for more information.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

End of TV Season Wrapup

I don’t think I watch a lot of TV, but I’ve got a few shows I can’t resist. Two of them are American Idol and CSI and both wrapped up seasons in the last week.

Both shows are all about their own mechanics. On CSI you figure out how to make lab work visually interesting and comprehensible to audiences who know no science. So the characters natter on about what they are doing. In the real world, they would kill each other. “Now I’m going into Excel and making a copy of the second sheet in your workbook which I will place in a new workbook, then go in and do a copy/paste special/values to get rid of the cell references to other sheets.” Shut up already and do your job.

On American Idol, every week they go through the same process of announcing the low vote getter. They have to vary it somehow to keep it interesting, so they come up with new ways to lead in to the annoucnement. Three people on this side, three on the other, which one are the top three. Of these two who got the smallest or highest number of votes: Suzy, you are/are not the one. Etc.

I heard someone argue that American Idol is good for pop music, I think they were saying because the Idol singers sell a lot of records. For me the statement is true but for a different reason. Hearing the contestants struggle through the songs makes you realize how good the best pop stars are. None of the contestants, even the finalists, seem comfortable and in control. Then you hear Stevie Wonder, and you realize how he nails each pitch, with a full, confident tone, and makes it look easy. On the show Wednesday, Prince came out and everything was dead on, the pitch, phrasing, and dancing. Of course, then you have Mary J. Blige beating up on U2’s One. Seemed like she wanted to kill the song. Guess Bono gets on her nerves.

Idol struggles with racial undercurrents. In one of the first seasons I recall that Simon Cowell complained callers were voting off the black singers. On the Wednesday show they had gag awards for the worst singers. There were more blacks than whites, even though blacks seem to be a minority of the contestants. It came awfully close to “let’s laugh at these ridiculous black people.”

CSI has cruised along for years on unconsummated sexual tension between the characters: Gil and Sarah, Katherine and Warrick. Gil’s ineptitude in this area is a key part of his character. In the finale they gave in and put Gil and Sarah together in a post- or pre-coital scene. They’ve hinted at this more heavily in the last few episodes with meaningful glances between them. Usually a series goes downhill once it gives in and resolves this tension. In Western drama, coupling constitutes the end of the story. The objective has been fulfilled. And there isn’t the same tension once you put people together. Now Gil and Sarah can argue about whose turn it is to empty the cat’s litter box.

But the producers of CSI are smart about TV, and I bet they know that putting Gil and Sarah together lets a bunch of air out of the balloon. So there’s only one thing to do. Kill off one of the characters. Then the survivor can continue on, haunted by the memory. Lots of opportunities for music video sequences contemplating some object that recalls the dead one. And since William Peterson carries the show and is a producer… The only question is whether they kill off Jorja Fox in the opening episode or try to lead up to it through the season. There’s your cliffhanger.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Dixie Chicks in the desert

I caught the Dixie Chicks doing “Not Ready to Make Nice” on Letterman last night. Natalie Maines is a fine singer, and she really got into it, letting her voice fill with anger just up to the point where it would become something more radical (like what Sleater-Kinney does every day). Then I read in the Tennessean today how the group is getting no radio play for this album, especially on country stations. At first this seems like country music being boneheaded and skipping over music within the traditional and style that sells a lot of records but happens to come up through an unexpected channel. Peter Cooper compares it to O Brother Where Art Thou? But really the guys in the industry aren’t so dumb. The banishment of the Dixie Chicks shows the extent to which consumption of country music as a category is a marker of social and political allegiance. You listen to country music to place yourself within the cultural landscape in a place you feel comfortable and that seems to reflect who you think you are. The music itself hardly has anything to do it, like Christian churches where people seem more interested in politics than theology (cf the piece on NPR about the Delay crony Ed Buckham who basically fleeced his preacher).

Furthermore, when you think about it, this reduction of country music fandom to a badge of social affiliation is not in fact a unique condemnation of country music. Most musical genres that have any sort of identifiable fan base serve as cultural and social markers. Hipness (or inclusion) is accorded in different circles with an association with often very specific musical choices. I remember fearing to confess that I enjoyed KPFT’s Sound of Texas music program around some of my free jazz friends in Houston. There were all sorts of pop and rock music that would have been cool, but not the polished mix of country, rock, and whatnot that makes up that Austin sound. Willie Nelson is cool, but not Tish Hinojosa.

Now it seems inevitable that the Dixie Chicks will get picked up by a lot of people who don’t care about country music who will see them as a cultural marker in the opposite direction. Air America listeners, not today’s KDF. I imagine it will work out fine for them, they will sell a lot of albums, which they deserve to do. The sad thing is some sense that the family of country music has been sundered. The Dixie Chicks are one way of doing country music, they carry on important parts of the tradition, and one wants to see them embraced for that. And one maybe one dreams of cultural spaces where political diversity of opinion can exist. It might be easier to see it when it comes to Ricky Skaggs (prominent on stage at Nashville’s big Bush fundraiser in 2004). But does it also mean you have to listen to Lee Greenwood. Or can we agree that he just makes crappy records?

Friday, May 19, 2006


I don’t always find myself agreeing with Bill Ivey’s ideas about the arts economy (he seems to put a strong insistence on markets as both the best way to support art and the judge of value, discounting the idea that there would be organizations or art forms that should receive other kinds of public support), but he and Steven Tepper from his research center at Vanderbilt have a good article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that includes a couple of points near and dear to me: that art-making is increasingly driven by what he (or actually Charles Leadbeater) call professional amateurs, people who take it seriously but don’t make a living at it, and that this is a “revitalization of folk culture” (a line written by Henry Jenkins in an upcoming volume Ivey and Tepper are editing).

Ivey and Tepper go from those points to argue that this sort of folk cultural experience is a matter of elite privilege, something available to people with leisure. That doesn’t match my experience so much, where it seems that the most serious people are accepting pretty marginal standard of living to pursue this, and that the socio-economic backgrounds represented are pretty broad, although most of the people I run across have had at least some college.

I'm not entirely sure, but it seems like Ivey and Tepper may be willing to take the artistic production from these sources seriously. In one sentence they credit "pro-ams" with "producing high-quality innovatice work." I'm always on guard for the tendency to dismiss as the work of hobbyists the efforts I see going on all around me.

West Wing RIP

With sadness I watched the West Wing wind down its run. Obviously it either did or did not have the ratings to make it worth it for NBC to keep airing it, and with the plot wrapping up the final term of Martin Sheen/Jed Bartlett there wasn’t much point in going on. You’d be going over most of the same ground with Jimmy Smits/Matt Santos. Hostage crises, potential scandals, etc. The soap opera stuff is what would keep you going. What will happen with Josh and Donna, that sort of thing.

The big thing West Wing did was provide an alternate reality. It was a place you could go once a week for an hour and pretend like the country was led by wise and decent leaders who wanted to make the world better for as many people as possible, surrounded by talented people who were bright and also cared about the world. The show should have been kept on not as a commercial proposition, but as a public service for the mental health benefits it bestowed, part of MBC’s FCC license requirements.

The TV West Wing was a utopia, a place that does not exist and I doubt it ever did. Maybe a brief period during FDR, but even then I imagine the staff was split by much harsher internal rivalries. I would definitely be suspicious of claims for this sort of ideal environment in the Clinton administration. I don’t think the Clinton strategy of triangulation would have been inspiring to watch..

When the show ended, it was like waking up into a cold reality and no escaping it. The sensation was like the day Bush was first inaugurated: a cold and wet scene with the parade rolling slowly down the nearly empty streets of Washington, small clutches of protesters milling around and nearly as numerous as the thin groups of people attending to celebrate. Every day of Bushworld has had the same spiritual tenor. With the TV series over, all you are left with is the bleak, dispirited reality of that day.

But at least Jack Bauer will be back to make us feel not just good, but pumped about torture.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mazurek's Mandarin Movie

Rob Mazurek brought his Mandarin Movie group to Nashville last week (at Ruby Green). Groups like this don’t make it here that often – big enough that they might reasonably expect to get paid a fair amount, but esoteric to some degree, so Nashville’s population gets in the way. Just not enough people who will pay to hear it. I gather there was a good house for a show his better known groups Isotope 217 and Chicago Underground Duo did, but I don’t know how often those groups have come through.

Mandarin Movie has a core of four guys: Mazurek on cornet and electronics, Jason Ajemian on acoustic bass, Matt Lux on electric base, and Frank Rosaly on drums. On records and some gigs guitarist Alan Licht and trombonist Steve Swell are also in the group. In the recording I focused on all that bass frequency that gives the sound a wide foundation that seeps into every corner of the aural space and sets up dense harmonics above it.

The performance on this show was more muscular, some of it because I didn’t watch much of the show from the middle of the sound so maybe the low sounds didn’t have the same physical impact. But I think it was also the case that there were more active lines coming from the basses and Rosaly was more prominent in punching the sound.

The music sounded like a lot of things, but what struck me was the role of Mazurek’s cornet playing, and its strong jazz qualities. At many times the focal point was the line Mazurek was setting out on cornet, spaced and phrased with an impeccable jazz sense of time, pace, and shape. The closest analog at times was Bitches Brew, where the trumpet picks a path over the churning sound underneath, but Mazurek’s playing was less constrained and limited than Miles on those recordings (Miles is great on the recordings of that era, but within the context of a perfect pitch minimalism). The frame of reference seemed broader, calling on the core jazz tradition of playing and also more of the range of free jazz playing.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Elemental saxophone sounds

Saxophone player Keefe Jackson and cornetist Josh Berman from Chicago came to Nashville last night to play a show at Dino’s. It was very jazz-rooted, heavy on contrapuntal textures and low on extreme technique, much of it in the middle ranges of their instruments. The two have played together a lot, and they’ve worked out pretty structured approaches and trade off and combine fluently.

Jackson surprised me, pleasantly, with his sound which has a pre-bop softness to it. It was somewhere in the range of Lester Young, but that wasn’t quite it. I was trying to explain the difference and said most guys have a tenor sound that is harder, more like wood than cloth. Later I realized an even better way to get at the difference would be to use the elements in Chinese medicine: water, wood, metal, earth, and fire. Jackson has a water sound. Chu Berry might be an earth sound. In most contemporary players you hear wood, metal, or fire, passing from a muscular, thick sound to something more strident until you get to shrieking freak-outs.

Chinese medicine uses music in healing practices based on these elemental qualities. It also assigns sounds to the elements: shouting, laughing, singing, crying, groaning. I found something on-line that lines those sounds up with the elements wood-shouting, fire-laughing, earth-singing, metal-crying, water-groaning. I don’t know if it always lines up that way.

I’ve at times thought about the idea of approaching improvisation as a cycling though those sounds, following the natural progression from one state to the next. Anything formulaic gets old, but it suggests a variation on the typical Western structure of development, climax, denouement. The Chinese sounds would be more circular, although you should still be able to have forward motion with it.