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Archive for the ‘uncategorized’ Category

Once upon a time the world was round…

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

Berlin is at war, at cultural war: in the course of the city parliament’s debate on last monday, the Piratenpartei Berlin suggested to dismiss all the public support for the Deutsche Oper, arguing that there were anyway two opera houses left in the capital; the money saved by this cut (€ 39 million) should be used to support independent cultural institutions. The highly emotional reaction that followed since then proved to be unusually unanimous – how on earth can anyone dare to question the inviolability of high-cultural accomplishments?

And as if this wasn’t enough, four long-time cultural jobholders published their book Der Kulturinfarkt. Von allem zu viel und überall das Gleiche, complaining of a completely irrational and excessively lavish public cultural sponsorship – thus mere panic arose… Within the last four decades, so they point out, the amount of cultural institutions (theaters, opera houses, public libraries, museums, music schools etc.) have more than doubled throughout Europe, the amount of public support for culture has more than tripled. The – admittedly noble – thought behind that expansion was to make high culture accessible to literally everyone. Sad to say, not everyone took advantage of that offer; and for those of us who did: did Beethoven or Goethe or Rembrandt manage to turn us into better humans?

Art is an attitude, I read somewhere – however, what exactly is this attitude made of? Is it the temporary, unstable result of our daily inner struggle against the elements while striving for the sublime? Or is it rather a near and dear custom, which occasionally has became a way of life? “Objects of art function similar to relics. People just want to be near them”, says the Swiss art historian Beat Wyss…

“The political project of the responsible, self-decisive citizen is contrary to the esthetic project of the culture-citizen, who holds on to certain moral concepts and who has achieved a certain esthetic qualification that is not accessible for everyone, and that must not be accessible for everyone.” (Der Kulturinfarkt)

The “classical” high culture we are so proud of – or better say, the political and capitalistic encroachment of high culture – has seemingly turned into an instrument of social repression: the successful, wealthy, educated people can afford to let themselves be deeply stirred by a performance of Parsifal – the rest of the society is left out! However, there are not left out because they could not afford a ticket for the show (public support guarantees for moderate entrance fees – or does anyone really believe that he gets a Parsifal for just € 30?) – they are left out, because they never had any opportunity to develop their personal intellectual, mental and spiritual access to high culture.

I remember myself attending primary school in a tiny Austrian provincial city: we were two kids out of 36 in our class, who actually learned to play a musical instrument – and I was the only lucky one whom his parents took to listen to a real symphony concert in the major town nearby every now and then. And don’t forget, that were the golden 70’s! The times of quite radical changes, when culture as inner expression of the bourgeois educational canon was displaced by the idea of art as a mode of social critic! Still I was (salary-)bourgeoisie, and it was most certainly my (high-)cultural education which slowly alienated me from my working-class and peasant friends. I learned to experience (high) art as something that elevates – not only intellectually or spiritually, but, sad to say, socially as well! Think about that: people, who normally do not attend to concerts with classical music, get easily irritated when being invited to come and listen: “I don’t know, you see, I’m completely UNMUSICAL…” (on the other hand, even the flabbiest couch-potatoe enjoys watching a downhill ski race, though he definitely can consider himself as completely unathletic)

Some years later that socio-intellectual loftiness shattered into pieces: the 18 years old country bumpkin (der reine Tor…) was terribly shocked at some class at the music academy in Vienna, when the teacher maliciously put up the quest for any ultimate legitimization for carrying on eternally all that antiquated, outmoded stuff we were dealing with: classical music! Studying at that prestigious music institute, I thought myself virtually shifting through the halls of the holy grail – and out of a sudden, doubt arose: is this idea of the universally exhilarating, mind-blowing sacred art just vain delusion?

What a stupid question to ask! (admittedly, one can’t demand from a teenage kid to ask intelligently, can one?) As we know, that very perspective in fact emerged from the social cataclysms of the 19th century (which has been quite some time ago, right?), consequently, contemplating about the inalienability of certain arts doesn’t make much sense any more, does it? Art is an attitude, so we learned earlier, and thus per definitionem impartible! As soon we start to distinguish between “good” art and “bad” art, high culture and folk culture, “serious” music and “entertaining” music, we are going to end up in hell’s kitchen: we demand more support for the “independent” scene and less for the “mainstream”, and so we just deepen the gap between the social classes (this discussion resembles in a way to that one a few years ago concerning possible actions when dealing with terroristic attacks: can we impose a law that allows jet fighter pilots to shoot down hijacked airliners in order to curtail lethal damage? Of course not! Human life is an absolute factor, there is just no way of counting single, personal lives together – five people are not less worth than 500!)

We can – and we should – complain about the social inequity imposed by a “completely irrational and excessively lavish public cultural sponsorship”, that focuses mainly on high-cultural events, however, the demand for mere redistribution is kind of naive – you don’t cure an aching stomach by banging your head heavily against the wall just to make your headache distract you from the pain in your stomach, do you? (it probably works, but before you make a habit out of it, you better go and see a good shrink…) Redistribution, nevertheless, is not a bad idea at all, if imposed on another level: imagine the public authorities giving less support to all the different cultural institutions and more to the people, so that they have to learn to chose by themselves according to their cultural interests and spiritual needs… An illusion? Yes, might be – but wasn’t that political project of the responsible, self-decisive citizen as illusionary just a few decades ago?

Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around. Everywhere there was somewhere and everywhere there were men women childen dogs cows wild pigs little rabbits cats lizards and animals. And everybody dogs cats sheep rabbits and lizards and children all wanted to tell everybody all about it and they wanted to tell all about themselves.

(Getrude Stein)

Driving a hard bargain

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Omg, what’s that? There is a guy setting up his snare drum right in the middle of the railway station’s busy main hall, he grabs a pair of sticks and starts to play very softly: ram, ta-ta-ta-tam, ta-ta-ta-tam, tam, tam, ta-ta-ta-tam, ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, tam, ta-ta-ta-tam, ta-ta-ta-tam, tam, tam… Next to him appears another chap, carrying a violoncello, joining in: bum, …, bum, bum, …, bum, bum, … We become aware of a pretty flute player, enchanting the people around her with a beautiful, elegiac tune…

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As time goes by, more and more musicians, which “happen” to cross the hall of the station, contribute to the spontaneous jam session – and out of a sudden there is a full symphony orchestra, performing Ravel’s Bolero for an astonished crowd!

A sigh of relieve blows briskly throughout all the social network pages: eureka, that’s it – the rescue of occidental music! THAT was our mistake: keeping those treasuries of symphonies, concertos, arias, overtures locked up within old fashioned noble prisons called “concert halls”! And even worse: entrusting this heritage to uncool workaholics, who have nothing better to do than spending half of their live in obscure practicing rooms, treating whatever musical instruments for many hours a day, and then feeding their pride by having them perform for an elitist audience – how dull! We just have to take this music out to the fresh air, bring it there where people gather, force these people to listen, for god’s sake – and revelation will hit them immediately: “How on earth could we miss that for so many years? Shame on us – Ludwig, forgive us!”

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So, I am just wondering, where are those brave rescuers of visual arts, who take good old Mona Lisa and place it on the wall of the nearest MacDonald’s toilet? Or dispose Karushere’s mummy in Tiffany’s windows? After all, there is a lot more people going for a Big Mac or strolling along 5th Avenue than paying (yes, even paying for that) a visit to the Louvre or the Metropolian Museum… After all, I might wait in vain: probably no one will do so. Why not? Because that would be just ridiculous!

As ridiculous as assuming that people understand a language, which they never have learned to speak! The sound of that unknown language, they way (native) speakers express themselves, might cause some pleasurable sensations – no doubt about that -, however, these sensations will fade very quickly as long the words underlying remain incomprehensible. “What the hell are you complaining about?”, I am given a slap on my wrist, “there are so many people, who just never had any opportunity to listen to a symphony orchestra! As soon they do, they are thrilled!” Right! I am quite sure my lovely daughter – who actually has developed quite strong connoisseuric features – would be thrilled if I fed her with beluga caviar (especially when out of crystal champagne glasses), nevertheless, I do not consider at all putting that stuff on her daily menu plan (as nutritious it might be)… Beluga caviar is not for kids, it’s for grown-ups – symphonic music is no temporal cure against boredom and weariness, it’s nourishment for mind and soul! And if my mind is not able to digest it, I will not enjoy any benefits from hearing it! There is just no such thing like getting something for nothing…

“It is but a small step from the sublime to the ridiculous” – well said, Napoleon! However, this argument cannot be reversed by any means, just the opposite, instead: it’s a damned long way from the ridiculous to the sublime…

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Welcome to the bazaar!

Thursday, November 17th, 2011

“The small business is the idealized social form of our time. Our culture hero is not the artist or reformer, not the saint or scientist, but the entrepreneur. Autonomy, adventure, imagination: entrepreneurship comprehends all this and more for us. The characteristic art form of our age may be the business plan […]”

(William Deresiewicz, American writer)

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We got used to consider musical pedagogic institutes being irresponsible, as they have failed to offer to their students any proper education in marketing for so long time. We hold meetings all over the world – music managers, philosophers, sociologists, PR-experts participating – in order to develop new methods in presenting classical music. We adapt operas for staging them for new ranks of audiences: infants, outlaws and pets. We literally have tons of musical instruments being dragged up a mountain in order to perform the “Alpensinfonie” in authentic surroundings. We set up reality shows in TV, having C-class celebrities “conduct” (rather move awkwardly in front of) symphony orchestras and let the people at home vote for or against the fake maestri/-ae (all that supervised by a jury of self-proclaimed experts). We compose opera-raps and techno-symphonies. We have, we do, we try, we… we are busily developing business plans – and the task is: how do we people of the classical music industry [sic!] manage to create and maintain public interest in that what we have got to offer – classical music?

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The classical concert event of our days is a rather old invention: it was developed between 1880 and 1910 – the geometrical setup (a central stage within a specially designed building), the time-wise procedure (twice approx. 45 minutes of music, an intermission of 15 to 20 minutes between), the structure of the concert program (ouverture – soloist – symphony), the solemn, almost ecclesial atmosphere during the performance, all of that has remained exactly the same for more than hundred years already. The outside world, however, has changed a lot. Or better say: our perception of the world is a quite different one than during the pre-war period. The sixties, for example, accomplishing sexual and social-political liberation, provided a rather else view of life than the dot-com craze, that swept us away at the end of the nineties.

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Sobered and disillusioned we return back to business: Entrepreneurs of the world, unite! Steve Jobs is dead. Long live Steve Jobs.

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Social networks have finally supplied us with all the instruments we need for creating and advertising the ultimate merchandise of our times: our own identity. For some funny reasons, there is no option for staying out of the business, that would resemble social suicide. Is there any “me” as long I have not set up profiles on fb, skype, twitter or linkedin? I am forced to constantly feed the golem, which is supposed to represent “me”, with new content (Update your status! What’s on your mind?). Consequently, cultivating contacts (“friends”) means hardly more than trading these highly artificial identities. The global village has turned into a global bazaar…

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A business plan is a tool for decision making: what kind of customers (audience) am I referring to? What are the ultimate goals of my business ideas? How do I pursue them in the most effective way? One needs a business plan when establishing new enterprises, arranging the succession within old ones, when changing the structure, correcting the direction, starting cooperations, when introducing new products or deciding on investments.

Does that sound familiar to us myriads of CEO’s of myriad’s of “I-inc.’s”? Striving for the sublime  – the ultimate aim of all the art that we call “great” – is out, we are too busy with performing business, too self-regarding in dealing with ourselves. We refer to us as “pragmatical” – narcissistic would be a much more appropriate term to use. In contrast to our shopping centres, the bazaar has an exceptional feature: all the adjoining market stalls offer the same products. Consequently, there is a steady screaming and shouting, all the shopkeepers are competing wildly for their possible customers’ awareness. Shamed be he who associates that to the bustling ado on fb’s news feed page…

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The audience has changed, as the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas stated already more than four decades ago, it has changed from a resonating audience to a consuming one. The audience is our customer and wants to be treated as such: the customer is the king, and – le roi, c’est moi!

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