Monday, 7 December 2009

The Old IV-I-IV-I...

I don't have absolute pitch, but I do have the beginnings of it; when listening, I'm often overwhelmed in a sort-of Proustian way by the memory of another piece of music, which always turns out to be in the same key. I suppose with practise I could hone this down to naming the notes themselves, but it's a bit late for me to become a child prodigy so I'll just stick with what I have thank you very much. Anyway; after writing yesterday's post I've been pissing around at home a bit with the 'Liebestod', and as I was playing with it I involuntarily made one of these musical connections, and seeing as yesterday's post was about the ubiquity of a certain progression, and seeing as it's the end of a decade that was at least partially defined by the technique, I decided to do something about it: I made a mashup.

It's horrible. Paul Morley would not be proud.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

The Old I-IV-I-IV...

One very strange thing about music is the emotional quality of a plagal cadence. For some reason, repeating the transition from the subdominant to the tonic (or the other way around of course) in a major key, for some inextricable reason the effect is more melancholy than any other progression I can think of (although you could make a case for the old I-iii-IV-iv, as used by Radiohead on 'Creep'). And if you add major sevenths to the chords, well... you might as well just start crying right away.

So this post is just a wee tribute to that strange phenomenon. Here are four seminal examples:

Lou Reed - Coney Island Baby (I-IV-I-IV)
I think that Lou Reed owes a lot of his success to his repeated and skillful use of the old I-IV-I-IV. For example, all three of the slow songs on The Velvet Underground & Nico are based upon it, and a few of the fast ones are too. He often uses it to signify that particular feeling of serene defeat that his characters tend to express, and this song might be the best example.

Erik Satie - Gymnopedie No.1 (IV-I-IV-I)
Only one of the most recognisable melodies in the entire world, you can here really appreciate the power of the major sevenths when added to the voicings, giving this seminal use of the progression that particular dreamy sadness that everyone and their granny loves.

John Coltrane - Naima (I-IV-I-IV)
The coda from this unbelievably brilliant composition is a simple rising melody over the old I-IV-I-IV in, again, major seventh chords (from around 6:30). I used to have a really really big thing for 'Trane, almost a decade ago, although he hardly ever gets listened to now, for whatever reasons. In these late performances it's incredible how he takes such a pretty ballad and slowly destroys it, before reigning it all back in; this process of extension and contraction I always preferred to those pieces which started 'out' and then just stayed at one level of intensity. I used to have a particular Coltrane recording, Live at the Village Vanguard Again! and on this composition it featured one of the most ridiculously mental solos from a young Pharoah Sanders, sounding at times like a baby being fed through a blender feet first. I loved that record. I loaned it to someone, it never came back, and it seems now that the record label have discontinued it.

Richard Wagner - 'Liebestod' from Tristan & Isolde (IV-I-IV-I)
And; if you want to know what it feels like to be roughly slapped about the face by a plagal cadence, then Wagner's your man (the big one comes at 5:00)
A couple of things to note; the scene here is of Isolde literally dying of grief, a fatal romantic swoon, the melancholy-major tonality perfectly suited to evoking the required mixture of passion and abjection. In this case the sixths of the chords are prominent rather than the jazzier sevenths, resolving downwards as an outrushing torrent of vitality (or Will, of course). This particular plagal cadence comes at the end of an entire opera's worth of teasing, deferred non-cadences; you need only look at Simon Rattle's face to get the idea of just how much of a release it is for that tonic chord to finally 'arrive', as it were... dirty boy.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Meet the worthless grasping bastards...

The following is BS from the Arthaus brochure:

A development philosophy

Union is an alliance of six of london’s foremost property developers with unrivalled experience and expertise in delivering outstanding residential developments. We believe in delivering more than expected, specialising in distinctive apartments in urban london locations that offer added value with unique features and services to enrich quality of life and enhance an urban lifestyle.

We work with the most progressive architects and designers in the industry; creative people who understand how to add value, delivering beautiful spaces using the highest quality materials, allied with clever functionality.

Our projects are carefully chosen in emerging and convenient locations where the london lifestyle can be enjoyed fully. We appreciate that our buyers are looking for a stylish home in a location that makes the most of their lifestyle. they also need to know that they are making a wise investment. It is important to us that the people who live in our apartments enjoy their home and feel a sense of pleasure and pride when they walk through the door. From this we have created our own unique philosophy. the ‘expect more’ philosophy is all encompassing. Every development is designed with this ethos in mind and always offers something more that will add to the pleasure of living there.

We think of ourselves as ‘minds’ and the apartments as ‘matter’ and use the phrase ‘mind + matter’ to signal our company values and intentions. We draw a sharp distinction between ‘life’ and ‘living’ – between simple existence and the celebration of a lifestyle.

If we do not deliver beyond expectation, beyond comparison, we will not be true to our ambitions nor to your aspirations.

They deserve credit I suppose, for managing to condense so much of what is shit about life into one short blast of villainy.

Architecture of Failure III

Well; ever since I moved into the cupboard that has been my home for the last year, I’ve been haunted by the sounds of architecture. That is to say, nearly every morning I have awoken to the sounds of the construction industry hammering away through the ventilation grille in my wall. For the first few months it was the sounds of demolition, and now it is the sounds of erection. The site for all this activity is just around the corner from my hovel where they are building what I initially presumed to be a pile of yuppie flats, and upon consultation of the planning application turned out to be a big, tasteless lump of yuppie flats (pictured below - take a bow, Hamiltons). The developer is 'Findon Urban Lofts' who, if you follow this link would appear to be connected to a Mario Leznick, previously convicted of "securities related offenses" (don't you just adore property developers?). Anyway, what’s particularly egregious about this particular shitty pile of ‘dromes is that the building being demolished was a former light industrial complex, which had come to house a variety of artist’s studios, galleries and workshops. This is how regeneration works- like a clumsy child who, with their overzealous affections crushes their pet to death, the charms of yuppie-living in an area alongside skint ‘creatives’ nearly always throttles any chance of said ‘creativity’ occurring any longer; hence my living in a cupboard that reeks of damp.

UPDATE:- I've found out that the development is called, wait for it, waaaaaaiiiiit for it............


It's just absolutely fucking sickening, isn't it?

Due to the Mare Street Conservation Area, the developer wasn’t permitted to demolish all of the previous complex; the façade had to be retained. As they tore the building down they exposed the innards of its previous life, but I’m reluctant to describe this as the interesting part; I’m writing something about reactionary-ghost aesthetics and I’ll hopefully deal with wistful-demolition love in that piece (you know the stuff, wallpaper and fireplaces floating on a wall high above the ground). What’s really interesting, to me, about this structure is its current condition; the façade is there on its own, and is being held up by a temporary structure, which of course had to be designed. This intermediate situation creates a number of interesting effects:

One of the problems of engineering-qua-aesthetics is the paradox of selling a design that looks more functional than functional. There are reasons for this of course, I’ve heard of a quote from Foster about how if an architect speaks about aesthetics, they instantly lose the client; this might partially explain the degeneration in architecture from Hi-Tech fantasy into Solutionist ennui. In a recent piece for icon I made the following argument about Santiago Calatrava’s Liège train station; engineering architecture is often nothing other than an expensive sculpture that expressively interprets the language of engineering. The Solutionists are thus caught in a paradox; they cannot create architecture that matches their rhetoric, but they cannot speak truthfully about their architecture. But if we want to see truly utilitarian engineering in action, if you need an example of what an ‘honest solutionist’ designs, then here we have it; a temporary structure whose sole purpose is to hold a façade up until the new structure is built behind it. The specifically fleeting nature of this structure means that it must be built as cheaply as possible, without ‘elegance’ or any other aesthetic consideration, Thus, like the entrails of a building that are hidden under floors and behind walls, it is as close to ‘pure’ engineering as we can possibly get.

The next significant aspect is the collage effect that is created by the juxtaposition of support and supported. The ‘retained façade’ as architectural element is usually retained because of some consideration of its architectural merit; this is basically and fundamentally an aesthetic choice. The façade in this particular case may be rudimentary, but it is well proportioned, has been designed with an eye for detail and is a good example of an inter-war building of its type. Put simply, it is architectural. The formal relationship that is generated between the solid, detailed façade, into which effort has been put, and the perfunctory steel frame that abuts and perforates it is a clash, a discord. It is not harmonious, in fact it is a dissonance. We could say that it performs in miniature the attempted sweeping away of bourgeois academicism that was one of the intentions of early modernism, or we could say that it is like a bricolage, a juxtaposition of two incommensurable spatial logics. At the very least, it jars.

I wrote, what feels like a long time ago, about Witley Court, one of the largest ruins in Britain, which has a number of similar structures created to stabilise it. Two of the main effects I noted there are present in my local stabilised façade; the surreal effect of seeing more sky through windows, with its resultant ambiguity of envelope, and the clashes of levels of detail, ornament and of material. When juxtaposing pre-modernist architecture with modernist in this way, we encounter the clash of a logic of perforated skin (in the old fashioned sense, a solid masonry wall with thickness and ornament, punctured by fenestration), with the logic of frame. The rhythms and proportions cannot match, they make no sense together, and this nonsense is the source of much of its aesthetic power. Note also that in this case, there is little or no decay in evidence. Besides the weathering of the materials, we have very little of what we can call ruination here.

But I am reluctant to suggest that we can work with this kind of thing. Eventually this façade will be backed up with a concrete framed yuppiedrome of almost no architectural, cultural or economic merit, and it would be folly to suggest that something like this temporary condition could be put to a genuine use, except as a stabilised ruin, but that is not something I tend to defend as a typology. I also don’t think it’s enough to merely ooh and ah at it, take a few pictures and then wait for it to be filled in. There is something genuine here, but I still can’t quite make it out, as I am too worried that we have here an example of deconstructivist mannerism, a pseudo-radical, wasteful game. At best we see here the power of dischord that Brutalism showed can be deeply radical (and deeply loathed), a non-proportional, non harmonic, anti-ordered architecture. But whereas Brutalism subscribed to the modernist paradigm of forging a new context (chaos becoming language through repetition of deeper structure), any architecture based upon this logic of juxtaposition can only ever be post-modern, playing registers of language off each other in the hope of a new truth.

In the spirit of speculation, however, I’ll have a look at some other examples of this kind of thing, just off the top of my head, of course. Perhaps we’ll be able to see some ways the ideas can be pushed, or not.

Wexner Centre for the Arts, Eisenman Architects, 1989
Well of bloody course. I have to admit that Peter Eisenman is sometime very interesting in spite of himself. Being a deconstructionist at heart, I have to admit I do sometimes find Eisenman’s ‘artificial excavations’ quite fascinating. It would seem that this building is the perfect example of what I was discussing above; awkward juxtaposition, the conflict of different languages of architecture, the plush and the plain. But there is way too much of everything here; it’s an art centre for starters, it’s an expensive, landmark building and the historical aspect had to be built from scratch, somewhat defeating the point. The conceptual underpinnings need explanation, which we really need to get past, and generally it’s over-blown and flabby.

Lloyd’s Building, Richard Rogers, 1986
Oh hello! What’s this? On the most avant-garde building in the UK there is an example of exactly what I’m talking about. This is the façade of the original Lloyds building, retained as part of the development. This aspect of the design is not really talked about much, and you don’t normally see this element in images. But when you visit the building, the effect of looking through the grand doors and seeing just the very bottom of the oil-rig behind is exhilarating.

Ulster Museum, Francis Pym, 1962
Sticking with the brutalism, here we have one of the most glorious juxtapositions of architectural register I know of. An extension to a stern inter-war neo-classical building, this joyously bonkers Chernikov-like composition is just sublime, although it leaves the deeper solid/void relationship basically intact. (do note that if Zaha didn’t emulate this for her Cincinnati building, then she obviously doesn’t know her architectural history).

Ok, and here’s a couple of bits of my work from my MA, where (now that I think about it from a distance) I was basically banging my head against these ideas of juxtaposition of register and collage over and over again, never able to find the escape route from indulgence and flamboyance. No wonder all my teachers were bemused; they’d both seen it all before but also didn’t know what the hell was going on, a condition not helped by my tendency to never eliminate an idea, creating projects that were thick conceptual soups, never resolved. Anyway, please don't be judgemental…

This project was an attempt to reinterpret the language of GLC housing as something radical again. Most importantly here, it involved the creation of a gigantic atrium in the shape of a shroud that would be constructed from white tarpaulin and scaffolding poles. The idea was to create a complexity that was also vulgar, rather than bespoke, and also to give the whole thing a sense of incompleteness; modernism & mass housing as unfinished business, y’see?

And this; the project that has begun to turn into a book, which perhaps was what it should have been in the first place. It’s basically a fairly standard deconstructivist premise; a building uncovered from the archives, creatively resurrected upon the same site, with a partial demolition of the buildings currently occupying that space. Again, there’s a million other ideas going on here, but just have a look at the partial demolitions and the juxtaposition of various registers of solidity and so on.

So after all this, another comparison – if brutalism is the modernity of a Schönberg, emancipating dissonance in the hope of cementing a new common language, then the effects I describe here are perhaps the architectural equivalents of the spectro-aesthetics we’re all surely by now so tired of discussing. Unable to either exorcise nor live up to the past, we create new complexities and abstractions from revealing the complicity of the historical in its own disappearance. This, at the very very least, is a step above ruin-worship.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Then He's a FOOL!

And to round off three little jazz posts.
This is an astounding piece of music, the uncensored version of 'Fables of Faubus' by Charlie Mingus from 1961. It's this kind of mock-sloppy, deeply political and conceptual music that would later be taken on by artists like Archie Shepp and Marion Brown as the radical wing of the 'New Thing' in the late 60s. I'd pay close attention to an absolutely incredible solo by Eric Dolphy on the alto saxophone, a searing example of his twisted, distorted and yet utterly faithful adaptation of Charlie Parker's musical language (and with a vicious 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home' quote for good measure).

It's a shame about jazz really, the way it fell apart into anachronistic heritage, bland 'fusion', desperate cheese, and the academy (where many of the conceptualists ended up). I spent my late teens listening to, practicing and performing jazz, quite promisingly in fact, before like most things I drifted away from it. It was always performances like this that attracted me to it though; rather than 'dinner jazz' or some sort of Kerouac-ian 'Magic Negro' vibe, what was so thrilling was the notion that here was a 'hardcore' musical form of unashamedly intellectual content, and this was never really inextricable from the politics of the scene.

dum dum da dum (V)

Bit of a digression, but listen to Freddie Hubbard quoting the funeral march at the beginning of his solo, approx. 30 seconds in.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Jazz Beards

Just thought I'd point out a whole other stream of musical beards that have been almost completely forgotten... The avant-garde black jazzman beard of the late 50s/early 60s, which is almost exactly the same as the VI Lenin beard. Deeply intellectual and uncompromising, I definitely prefer it to the ecstatic-quasi-tribal beard that would appear on some of the same faces in later years...

Friday, 13 November 2009

Sold on Suicide

Well I don't care-for, th' things I eat,
Can't stand that boogie-woogie beat-
But I'm sold, on, suicide!

You can keep Der Bingle too, a-
And that darn "bu-bu-bu-boo,"
Cause I'm sold on suicide!

Oh! I'm not too keen on ration stamps
Or Mothers who used to be baby vamps,
But I'm sold, on, suicide!

Don't like either, the Cards or Browns,
Piss on the country and piss on the town,
But I'm S.O.S., yes well actually this goes on, verse after verse, for quite some time. In its complete version it represents a pretty fair renunciation of the things of the world. The trouble with it is that by Gödel's Theorem there is bound to be some item around that one has omitted from the list, and such an item is not easy to think of off the top of one's head, so that what one does most likely is go back over the whole thing, meantime correcting mistakes and inevitable repetitions, and putting in new items that will surely have occurred to one, and - well, it's easy to see that the "suicide" of the title might have to be postponed indefinitely!

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow, p.320

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

dum dum da dum (IV)

Chopin, Funeral March op.72, (1827)

A bit obvious this, but oh well; he did write another one when he was 17...

Albert Speer and the Fascist Theory of Ruins

I recently attended an interesting little talk by Brian Dillon on the subject of ‘Modern Ruins’ at my beloved Barbican. The talk was tied-in with an installation by Robert Kusmirovski, called ‘Bunker’, which is basically a reconstruction of a generic underground military installation which revels in its artifice, its aestheticised faux-dilapidation and its ambiguous play of historical sign. Dillon (who had to rush off to an awards ceremony for which he was nominated) gave a whistle-stop tour of theories of ‘the Ruin’, most of which he suggested was covering old ground, and in a way it was. We whizzed past Rome, ‘the Grand Tour’, Soane and Gandy, Speer, Virilio, Pasmore and so on, up to Jane & Louise Wilson, Cyprien Gaillard and other contemporaries.

It was all very fascinating, especially when Dillon spoke of “layers of fiction & distance”; reminding me of one main functions of the romantic – the aestheticising of utterly banal space-time and thus the self insertion into the fictional. But he also pointed out how on the one hand, the whole field is riddled with cliché; “there is an overinvestment in ruin space”, while on the other hand there is still work to be done in working out the intellectual structure of ruinenlust and nostalgia. Here’s a little hint of where I think it might lead – there are lessons that we need ruins to teach us, but it is vital that the latter be left behind in this process of working out.

Anyway; I think it’s not a particularly controversial point by now to note that there are numerous theories of ruins, all of which overlap to some extent, making some kind of claim to politicised melancholy, but which all point in very different political directions; this can be a very difficult idea to negotiate around. Somewhat predictably, very possibly the worst theory of Ruins comes from the Nazis…

Lots has been said about Albert Speer and his ‘Theory of Ruin Value’, which is strange considering that the discussion thereof takes up a very small section of his rather thick memoirs. I recently went for a quick read of the passages in question. Thankfully the book was a hardback, so I was spared the very dubious privilege of walking around the British Library carrying a book emblazoned with swastikas. I’d like to perhaps try to properly delineate what it is that makes his theories unique, and what political implications there are in them. To do so I’ll quote the entire section on ruins, which comes as Speer is recounting his designs for the Zeppelin Field at Nuremburg:

Hitler liked to say that the purpose of his building was to transmit his time and its spirit to posterity. Ultimately all that remained to remind men of the great epochs of history was their monumental architecture, he would philosophize. What had remained of the emperors of Rome? What would still bear witness to them today, if their buildings had not survived? Periods of weakness are bound to occur in the history of nations, he argued, but at their lowest ebb, their architecture will speak to them of former power. Naturally, a new national consciousness could not be awakened by architecture alone. But when after a long spell of inertia a sense of national grandeur was born anew, the monuments of men’s ancestors were the most impressive exhortations. Today, for example, Mussolini could point to the buildings of the Roman Empire as symbolising the heroic spirit of Rome. Thus he could fire his nation with the idea of a modern empire. Our architectural works should also speak to the conscience of a future Germany centuries from now. In advancing this argument Hitler also stressed the value of a permanent type of construction.

The building of the Zeppelin field was begun at once, in order to have at least the platform ready for the coming Party Rally. To clear ground for it, the Nuremburg street-car depot had to be removed. I passed by its remains after it had been blown up. The iron reinforcements protruded from concrete debris and had already begun to rust. Once could easily visualise their further decay. This dreary sight led me to some thoughts which I later propounded to Hitler under the pretentious heading of “A Theory of Ruin Value”. The idea was that buildings of modern construction were poorly suited to form that “bridge of tradition” to future generations which Hitler was calling for. It was hard to imagine that rusting heaps of rubble could communicate the heroic inspirations which Hitler admired in the monuments of the past. My “Theory” was intended to deal with this dilemma. By using special materials and by applying certain principles of statics, we should be able to build structures which even in a state of decay, after hundreds or (such were our reckonings) thousands of years would more or less resemble Roman models.

To illustrate my ideas, I had a romantic drawing prepared. It showed what the reviewing stand on the Zeppelin field would look like after generations of neglect, over-grown with ivym its columns fallen, the walls crumbling here and there, but the outlines still clearly recognisable. In Hitler’s entourage this drawing was regarded as blasphemous. That I could even conceive of a period of decline for the newly founded Reich destined to last a thousand years seemed outrageous to many of Hitler’s closest followers. But he himself accepted my ideas as logical and illuminating. He gave orders that in the future the important buildings of his Reich were to be erected in keeping with the principle of this “law of ruins”

Albert Speer, Inside the Reich, p.96-98

So, what’s this all about? What can we ascertain about ruins from this brief and (given Speer’s proclivity for telling porkies) uncertain passage? At first glance it is a perfect little example of the intellectual shit that was the Nazi brand of romanticism. Zeitgeist? Check. Nationalism? Check. Institutionalised self-pity? Check. But should be taken at least a little bit seriously.

The first paragraph in particular goes against the usual grain of ruinenlust, the Ozymandius-style ‘all things pass’ attitude, by pushing through the melancholy and seeing it as an exhortation to greatness. It’s a bitter and reactionary sense of the lost object, one so very common to fascism, which requires a fictionalised eden-like historical condition that must somehow be returned to (We even see this now in the UK with the appeal to some mythical ‘indigenous Britain’). The contemporary left-variation on this sense of the ruin is that longing for the future we were promised yesterday, so it shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. But what the ruin is doing here is that the condition of stable decay, of disuse, is creating the conditions for the fictionalised history to be narrated in the first place (for example; if Hitler was really interested in what had remained of the emperors of Rome, a certain basement in Siberia would have given him a better answer). Ruins here become totems, fetish-items for invigorating ideological narratives.

The second paragraph is brilliant however. Reactionary aestheticisation unfolding before our very eyes. Speer, with posterity and grandeur on the mind, finds himself traumatised by the sight of a bus station being demolished, which sends him scuttling further into the syrup of pseudo-posterity. Sighting the genuinely perishing remains of concrete and steel, he encounters the trauma of guaranteed disappearance, but has to somehow contain it. It’s almost as if ‘the ruin’ here becomes a safe point after encountering an unbearable truth- with the knowledge of disappearance now apparent, any disavowal has to concede at least some ground to it – ‘the Ruin’ here becomes an adopted immortality, a quasi-immortality. Even if the complete object is no longer viable, rendered meaningless through guaranteed loss, the ‘trace’ has become reified. There is also the irony of his fear of modern materials and their ‘ugly’ state of decay, which is a gut-reaction that casts a long shadow into architectural aesthetics. I’d be wary, however, of suggesting that this particular reaction guarantees the progressive power of reinforced concrete, even if that is hinted at.

And the third paragraph, which mirrors JM Gandy’s paintings for Soane, or Hubert Robert’s paintings of the Louvre, is a classic example of using the sentimental image of the ruin as a ‘temporal flag’- staking a claim for posterity, based on the persistence of architectural objects of antiquity. It’s not a particularly controversial point, to be honest.

So what are the basic points of the ‘fascist theory of ruins’? The ‘nationalisation’ of victimhood and melancholy, the attempted closure after an encounter with genuine disappearance, a distrust of modernisation, and lashings of sentimentality. It’s quite easy really. What complicates matters somewhat is that Speer also designed the ‘cathedral of light’, which was part of the very same bloody Zeppelin field building and party conference event, which is perhaps one of the most successful pieces of modern architecture of the last century, marking the apotheosis of the trends towards dematerialisation and lightness in architecture that were started by the ferro-vitrous buildings… just read this:

The actual effect far surpassed anything I had imagined. The hundred and thirty sharply defined beams, placed around the field at intervals of forty feet, were visible to a height of twenty to twenty-five thousand feet, after which they merged into a gentle glow. The feeling was of a vast room, with the beams serving as mighty pillars of infinitely high outer walls. Now and then a cloud moved through this wreath of lights, bringing an element of surrealistic surprise to the mirage. I imagine that this “cathedral of light” was the first luminescent architecture of this type, and for me it remains not only my most beautiful architectural concept, but after its fashion, the only one which has survived the passage of time.

Albert Speer, Inside the Reich, p.101

This all becomes very difficult at this point. How can a producer of such turgid, leaden and portentous architecture also create the ultimate in hi-tech architecture as early as the middle of the 1930s? If we take seriously the fantastical effects of technology, if, after Benjamin, we suggest that “not architecture alone but all technology is, at certain stages, evidence of a collective dream”, then we have to hand it to Speer for the creation of this event, the limit point of the process of making-transparent of architecture. One has to be careful in how one criticises this, as one will be running close to admitting that architecture is an ideologically ‘flat’ set of forms, able to be utilised by any form of power equally.

Is it possible to synthesise these two aspects of the Zeppelin field? Given that it still exists, truncated but not yet in what one could call a ruined state, it doesn’t necessarily seem like a call to arms for a future great Germany. Now used as the grandstand for motor racing events, with the field used for sports, the banality of the space and its occupancy is its genuinely uncanny aspect. Rather than venerating fragments, the fact that things are continually re-used is more significant than that they are sometimes worshipped as ‘dead buildings’. The fact that their use often fails to live up to their proposed social scale is also significant. I would tentatively suggest that rather than ruined stone worship, the “cathedral of light” is the more intellectually interesting and potent form of disappearance. But as far as synthesis comes into it, I think that the vanishing architecture of iron and glass offer us a route out of the dead ends of ruination and its idolatry. The crystal palaces are often both failed ‘ruin’ and immaterial event, and I think I’ll stop here before I start talking about ‘spectrality’ again…

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Yet More Self Promotion

I have a couple more things in this month's Icon, one of which is a quick article on a little silver box in Denmark by Dorte Mandrup architects, and another which is a slightly longer article about a big school in Zurich by Christian Kerez (who on the phone sounds almost exactly like Werner Herzog). As it's Icon it's print only, but if you like it when I write about things that I don't necessarily despise, but can't bring yourself to actually pick up a magazine, then by all means go to the Icon website where you can find some little articles by me that hopefully exceed your expectations of a typical web-story by having a light dusting of criticism attached. Find me pointing out that some of the SCI-Arc people are making retro-googie, or 'bigging up' the Catalan modernism of the post-Miralles lot, all in 200 or so words.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Haunted Piano

This is exceptionally interesting.

What is happening here is that a chap has written a patch and designed a machine to mimic human speech patterns. The composer starts by recording a sound, in this case a child bizarrely reciting a document from the European Parliament. This sound can be analysed spectrographically, with particular regard to the speech formants, which are the resonant frequencies of various parts of the mouth and throat that allow us to create and distinguish the different vowel sounds. Speech generally doesn't have a specific 'tone', and so the defining character of the sound will be these formants, of which two are usually enough to distinguish any particular vowel. What the composer has also done is created a 'map' of the potential resonances of a piano. Each of the piano's 88 sets of strings vibrate at numerous different frequencies, in an arithmetic sequence (x,2x,3x,4x,5x... etc), diminishing in amplitude as the vibration rate increases (it is the clash of the logarithmic sequence of apparent pitch (octaves at x,2x,4x,8x,16x,32x... etc) and the arithmetic sequence of vibrations that makes harmony possible in the first place). By mapping out the potential frequencies of the piano as a sort of 'palette' of sound, and then constructing a machine that is capable of highly sensitive fractional nuance of tone, the original sound can be retroactively mapped onto the piano and then reproduced.

Now; this stimulates a number of little ideas we like; one - This ability to hear the voice through only partial recreation is known as 'auditory pareidolia', a sort of sonic 'gestalt' whereby a mostly random pattern is interpreted as a recognisable voice. Familiar as 'EVP', this is H-logy in a nutshell; the uncannily possessed technology (i.e. the machine inhabited by spirit, the non-present in presence etc etc.), which has been discussed at much length in various places.
two- one of the standard tropes in criticism of musical performance is what is often called 'the cry'; especially with woodwind, brass and string players, the ability to mimic human voice patterns is considered to be one of the most important paths to excellence of performance. What the video above suggests to me is that in the technique of 'great' pianists, there might already be barely conscious variations in fingering pressure that shape the overall tone slightly towards the timbre of vowel sounds, which would partially explain the emotional power of certain performances.

ps- this double coding of sound is something that I've done a fair bit of research into...

Sunday, 1 November 2009

dum dum da dum

The 'original' dum-dum-da-dum. Chopin's Funeral March (1837)

Chopin's Prelude No.2 in A minor (1838)

many more to come...

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Nouvel Différance

It’s a bit of a truism that most architects of a certain age have a bit of pastiche pomo in their closet, and in a way this often makes the appreciation of their other works a bit suspect. Take Jim Stirling as an example here. The fact that he ended up making No.1 Poultry retroactively puts a bad taste in your mouth when you’re marvelling at the ridiculously refined staircase details of the Florey building in Oxford. The point here is that you often realise that an architect was only ever following orders, despite how much virtuosity they might have followed them with. If there is a project to reinvigorate the polemic power that was a part of modernism, we have to accept that there are always those who do what they’re told no matter who’s telling them.

Now, regarding closeted skeletons, it has to be said that postmodernism is - to make a ridiculously ironic understatement - something that the French have always done well. I recently pointed out a pomo-bridge design by Francois Soler, an extreme example of the latent expressionism of engineering structures, a sort of hybrid pomo-tech. Jean Nouvel also had a habit of designing buildings in this manner, his Institute du Monde Arabe with its photovoltaic mashrabiya screen being a good example. But I found a really interesting little skeleton in his closet from 1984; a deconstructivist skeleton, no less.

I think decon suffered greatly from the interference of Philip Johnson, a recurring theme in the 20th century. Compared with his aestheticisation of the ‘International Style’, what happened to decon after it was passed through his hands was not a depoliticisation, but rather a de-intellectualisation (although – decon architecture’s intellectual credentials are never entirely credible). Dumbing it down into issues of shape is less of a hatchet job of course, but it’s still a disservice which led easily into wanton formalism and very much assisted in decon’s eventual metamorphosis into the ‘iconic’ building.

Decon as a method was always far more interesting and successful when it had to deal with a rich site; Eisenman’s excavatory projects are more interesting than his pure-formalist projects for example, and Bernard Tschumi had some great ideas that were only ruined by them having to have been built in the 1980s. Nouvel’s Belfort Theatre, completed in 1984, would appear to be a good example of decon in its more challenging and satisfying variant.

Effectively a renovation/extension, the theatre contains some stock decon tropes; Nouvel plays two local geometries off of each other, setting architectural features at seemingly strange angles from the volume of which they are elements. A grid of lightweight structure is added to one façade, running through the windows and off at the ends. Certain aspects of the previous buildings are retained in various ways inamongst the new structure, creating a collage effect that the best decon sought to achieve. There are other features that Nouvel uses here though that I’ve not seen anywhere else. He had workmen go at some of the previously badly renovated facades with a jack-hammer, creating patterns with the revealed brickwork underneath them. He even went so far - and this is where decon spoils itself by becoming an architectural parlour game – as to have ‘hatching’ hammered into walls that appear to have been truncated, and to have the profile of the concrete floor projecting beyond the walls. These mannerist in-jokes combine with the grid try to make the building into a technical section drawing of itself. Other over the top aspects are the half windows onto nothing, and it must be said that there are some typically embarrassing bits of 80s detailing here and there. But overall it’s an interesting building, thankfully without the floating trapezoidal forms or wonky pilotis that would be the only things that decon qua architectural method would carry forward to the 90s and beyond.

But this saturated-site approach didn’t necessarily disappear. Some of the work of EMBT, for example, was capable of creating resonant juxtapositions of old, new and quasi-old elements, with an attitude that while not necessarily theoretical, was intelligent and self assured, and which had a great sense of ‘specialness’ and bricolage, like a series of posters that have slowly and unevenly been worn away. Their work leaves the more esoteric aspects of decon behind while still being rich with reference to architectural history, both of the contextual and canonical sort.

I think that overall it’s worth noting that there were aspects of the ‘pomo’ project that were serious attempts to create a synthesis of modernism and historically embedded architecture, that at the very least attempted to address the difficulty of creating buildings within an archive of built statements.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

biased bbc etc...

And also, I cannot recommend the following posts related to some tv programme that I definitely did not watch the other night enough:

Anton Vowl's one,


K-Punk's one & two.


This would be a particularly brutal caricature, yet it nevertheless contains a grain of truth: there is indeed an undeniable respect in which Derrida (along with Heidegger) and to a lesser extent Deleuze (along with Nietzsche) provide the most immediate reference points for understanding Laruelle’s thought, in which the negative characterization of philosophy provides the precondition for the positive creation of ‘non-philosophical’ concepts.
Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound, p.134

This reminds me slightly of that trope of the synthetic construction of new cultural material, common in film (Alien as 'jaws-in-space' etc) and music (xband sound like yband meets zband) and seemingly accelerated or concentrated in the current cultural climate of hyper-information, epitomised by the 'mash-up'.

Ads has an interesting post about this, porn and modernism, and Evan(who with every post makes me embarrassed to be pretending to write at the same time as him) has had a mini-project on this for a while.

I know it's stupid but I quite like the idea of imaginary cultural artifacts defined by their being explicable in terms of a dyadic synthesis. Think of it as perhaps a kind of Borgesian fiction for the internet age, or something banal like that. More seriously I do think it is symptomatic of a greater relinquishing of novelty, for the fallacy "nothing new under the sun" is ever-increasingly taken for granted...

ps- the main reason for this post is to ask if anyone strongly recommends or discourages reading Laruelle. Should I bother investigating? Is it worth the effort? There's an ironically entertaining debate between Derrida and Laruelle that has been translated online, which consists mostly of Derrida raising objections to Laruelle's non-philosophy, to which the response is usually "Aha! You're doing it again!"...

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

A very brief note on arranging.

One of the most common textures in piano music is a slow right hand part with a quicker left hand part, often outlining a self-similar arpeggio whose consistency ties the piece together logically, and whose variation helps to emphasise the harmony of the piece. When arranging piano music of this character for the guitar, there are a few very common problems that occur. I'd like to have a wee look at them, using bars 18-19 of Chopin's Prelude No.3 in G as the basis.

Example 1
This is the original music written as a guitar part (on one stave and written an octave above natural) We're in the sub-dominant region at this point, and in a few bars we'll prepare for and move onto the last cadence. At the moment though, it looks pretty non-sensical when written out this way, we'd need a lot of extra guitar and a few new hands to play it.

Example 2
Often the first step in arranging piano for the guitar is to move one of the hands a whole octave. Depending on whether you're transposing (we're not here), it's usually pretty obvious which hand to move, one usually drops the right hand, but that lowering is somewhat offset by the brighter tone of the guitar. Often various sections of a piece will have to remain and others moved up or down, and that presents its own set of problems. Another thing that is usually helpful is to get rid of doubles, which we've done here, as the low E is not a significant voice in the piece. The problem is; the low C in what was the left hand part is still a major third below the low E of the guitar. We'll have to do something about that.
(ps - the overlapping of the G in the right hand melody with the A and G at the top of the left hand melody is a crack one has to smooth over in performance).

Example 3
Leopold Godowsky's arrangements of Chopin for the left hand only have been invaluable in suggesting ways in which the character of a piece can be preserved even while condensing it drastically. A technique that he is often forced to use is to eliminate the first note of the left hand part, before jumping down to continue the lower melody (see his version of etude 6, op.10). I've also seen Mahler use this left hand rest in arrangements of his own pieces for piano. If you do utilise this approach, the next problem is that you then have a melody whose lowest note is the fifth of the chord, and we don't want this to sound like a 6-4 chord. One advantage is that left hand parts like this are often spread out in the lower register, meaning that you can replace a melody such as C₂,G₂,C₃,G₃... with rest,C₃,E₃,G3... with only a small change in the character of the melody. In this case that isn't possible, so...

Example 4
We reinstate the root, but an octave above. This might be better, but in my opinion this is a rather ugly solution, with the low G still being conspicuous after the root.

Example 5
This is my preferred solution to this particular problem, a quasi-turnaround of a B after the root, creating a more sinuous melodic effect in keeping with the curvaceous feel of the piece. The G at the end of the bar is retained to create a stronger dominant effect.

A very brief note on M.D.

The following short passage might help to contextualise a little of the father-slaying that went on earlier this year:

At this juncture, Badiou can respond in two ways: he can either choose to correct the anti-phenomenological bias of the concept of presentation by supplementing the subtractive ontology of being qua being with a doctrine of appearance and of the ontical consistency of worlds albeit at the risk of lapsing back into some variant of the ontologies of presence. Or he can accept the stringency of his concept of presentation and embrace the prohibitive consequences of the logic of subtraction. The recently published Logiques des mondes (Logics of Worlds) suggests that he has – perhaps reasonably, albeit somewhat disappointingly from our point of view – opted for the former.

-Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound p.115

I think, perhaps naively, that the appropriate question here is - "why is disenchantment the object?"
We can trace the development of this copernican disenchantment over the last thousand years, we can outline the current vectors of disenchantment, but unless Meillasoux or somebody else can develop his hyper-chaos=noumenon argument into more than a virtuosic curio, then I am yet to be convinced that this push for disenchantment is anything more than a tautological 'we are against phenomenological mysticism because it is mystical'.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Extra! Extra!

A few assorted things from the British architectural press this last week.

First- a rather inconclusive and rambling article about 'doily-tecture' or 'neo-pomo', or 'cyberoque' or whatever you want to call it.
by yours truly in icon, only in print I'm afraid...

As usual I'm trying to make a number of points at once, and thus making no real point at all. I'm well aware of the banality of trying to claim that there is something novel in any 'return to ornament', of which there has been one in each of the last four decades, but I suppose that with this piece I'm trying to begin to put things into a certain historical context; with the thesis being that there is a distinct sense of eclecticist deck chair shuffling going on in the aesthetic indulgences of some academic architecture at the moment, and that this will only disseminate outwards in a vulgar and demeaning manner, no matter how intelligent the initial protagonists are. This is something that I want to unpack at greater length soon, but in the meantime please read the piece and don't be too mean about it.

Second - Olympics produces good building shocker!
This little bad boy, visible from the train between Hackney and Stratford, shows how easy and how powerful a little bit of 'real architecture' can be, and is likely to end up being the only worthwhile building to come out of the olympics. Ellis Woodman's little paean to the simple black brick box got people chatting, with some being charitable, some less than charitable. For what it's worth, it's a clever idea, executed well, and shows an intelligence that is very sadly lacking from anything else nearby (do I see Plečnik in there?). I'm not about to make a plea for 'background architecture', but it is 'Good', and that's about as much as we can hope for these days. What I also like about it is some of the chat that Alan Pert from NORD gave BD:

The Substation wraps around the internal pieces of infrastructure, it is a structure scaled not to its context but in relation to its purpose. The height, width and length of the structure is modulated as a direct reflection of the objects held within. The formal resolution is therefore a mere consequence of the requirement of the structure to contain equipment. There is no formal agenda, it is not aspirational, and it makes no attempt to connect to the city through scale or language. Rather it expresses a kind melancholy acceptance of its place in the city.

The brickwork skin is either solid or perforated according to the need to contain or let air pass. The brick is not just an enveloping surface to the building; it is variously surface, skin, load-bearing structure, veneer, roofscape and landscape. It refers to the context of utility structures within the city of London through the use of brick, as it's homogenous skin. Those magnificent 19th century structures adopted the language of the city to place themselves side by side with the Victorian urban and utopian social ideal in the form of the factory, school and hospital. The Substation however responds to a different context, post industrial and post utopian. No longer aspirational as the Victorian models were, the Substation expresses a quiet acceptance of the world.

Nice: Defeatist architecture, something I can really get behind.

ps - Does anybody know of quietly subversive utility buildings other than this and Outram's Pumping Station? It would be good to collate a wee list.

Third - This quite frankly bizarre article.
Rory Olcayto seems to have decided that everyone is being a little unfair to cheap-as-shit-blatcherite-aspirational-class-cleansing-city-killing-pseudomodernist-yuppiedromes, and so has decided that they needed some mature analysis. Rather than calling them by their rightful titles, he's opted for the term 'Cabe-ism':

England has a new mode of architectural expression. It’s called Cabe-ism (by me, at least) and has taken ten years to perfect. It draws upon many sources: Gordon Cullen’s Townscape philosophies, Ian Sinclair’s psychogeographic musings, public-private (usually develop-led) ideas about brownfield regeneration and transparent decision-making inspired by New Labour.

Throw in a bit of old-fashioned modernism, concern around climate change and some mixed-messages about ‘iconic’ design. Finally, sprinke liberally with branding concepts culled from 80s-style advertising culture, and what you have is Cabe-ism.

I think this must be satire; I mean, he couldn't possibly be serious, could he? He does at least mention some of the aspects of 'Cabe-ism' that are so horrible, but he takes a strange, detached, 'ho-hum' attitude to them, rather than the splenetic despair of the architectural critics that I am more familiar with. The point where my credulity is snapped is the passage where he congratulates the architect for being able to use so many materials at once, which is surely damnation by faint praise.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Go and read and look...

Two excellent posts up at the Sesquipedalist, one about the Apollo Pavilion and one about St Peter's Seminary, two architectural objects close to my heart, one of which I've never seen, one which I've visited a number of times. You may recognise the Apollo Pavilion from the cover of Mr. Hatherley's book, an illustration created by yours truly, and St Peter's has become a strange and haunting combination of Romantic sublime and failed-Modern utopian, an architectural masterpiece, and a great place for a barbecue to boot...

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

the Infomart Uncanny

One of my main theses, if not my main thesis, is that the 19th century iron-and-glass building is even now one of the most significant phenomena in architectural culture. If you’ll allow me a cheap metaphor, their reflective surfaces act as prisms that have the potential to refract our understandings of modernity, technology, commerce, ideology, power, history, etc… They are not empty signifiers like the Ode to Joy, another problematically iconic 19th century cultural achievement, but they can be and have been seen in different ways at different times.

Regarding technology, the link between the Crystal Palace itself and Hi-Tech architecture is a strong one; there is a very powerful and settled image of the Victorian Engineer-Genius such as Paxton or Brunel as the forerunner of our giants of architecture, Foster, Rogers, Balmond, via people like Buckminster Fuller and so on; what at another point I would like to properly define as the ‘Solutionist’ narrative of twentieth century architecture. But even a figure like Brunel does not possess a clear identity when it comes to modernity; his futurism is simultaneously regarded with sickly nostalgia for the ‘Great-ness’ of Britain (sandwiched as he was between Winston Churchill and Diana Spencer in that horrifically vulgar 2002 BBC poll).

Another example of this strange forwards and backwards straining of modernity is the Infomart building in Dallas, Texas. Completed in 1985, slap bang in the middle of the most horrid phase of Pomo architecture, it is a pastiche of the Crystal Palace. Like much postmodern architecture it combines the cheapness of then-contemporary commercial construction techniques with ‘historic reference’, although in this case rather than generic historical signifiers like keystones or pediments there is actually only one source of reference. As the building is large, square planned and generic, this reference is achieved mostly through the detailing of the curtain wall along the façade, although it features a few small vaulted rooms and a single large atrium that comes complete with a replica of the Crystal Fountain from the CP (made by the same company, Barovier-Toso). The building certainly doesn’t achieve the dizzying internal vistas and rhythms of the original.

But how perfect an example of architecture as a self-legitimising activity! The Informart was built as the ‘world’s first successful technology community’, and is specifically filled with telecoms companies, IT, software companies and so on… Housing an industry that was still very young, and whose future significance was not at all guaranteed, the building uses the Crystal Palace in a ridiculously ideological way:

INFOMART opened in 1985 as a permanent trade center for the information technology industry. Covering 1.6 million square feet, the building was modeled after London’s Crystal Palace, the site of the first World’s Fair, the Great Exhibition of 1851. Like the Crystal Palace, INFOMART Dallas is a stunning landmark whose bold design and elegant seven-story atrium reflect the forward-thinking purpose for which the building was constructed. For this reason, England’s Parliament has declared INFOMART Dallas as the official successor Crystal Palace.

Now, quickly passing over the most obvious error (England doesn’t actually have a parliament, let alone one that would need to judge an ‘official’ successor to the CP), there is another significant fail; much as it is easy to understand the attempt at channelling (conjuring?) the historical power of the first ‘World’s Fair’ building, akin to digging up the bones of a giant so that one can attempt to stand on their shoulders, the Infomart building wasn’t modelled after the Great Exhibition at all. The multiple vaults are rather copies of the ill-fated, sprawling melancholy of the Sydenham Palace of 1854, a building which -despite being constructed from the same iron and glass as its earlier incarnation - was a much more complex and uncertain building than the shed of 1851. This has a historical echo in the fact that the Infomart was for a long time considered a failure, a “a huge silver and white elephant.”

There’s another level to the unintended significance of the Infomart building. It may well have been seen as pretty damn modern at the time, but this was only a couple of years after Beauborg & Lloyds, or Willis Faber Dumas and the HSBC building. The supposedly egalitarian transparency of British Hi-Tech was not yet the all-suitable architecture of choice for commerce that it would later become. In retrospect the Infomart building looks doubly dated- both explicitly historicist and also now deeply unfashionable, part of a stream of design that ran dry. That one of the first physical gestures of the new immaterial landscape of the digital age would be so awkward, so insecure, is perhaps apt.

“If Infomart is a cultural symbol at all, it surely represents high tech’s lack of self-confidence, its ambivalence about the present and the future, and its consequent neet to establish close ties to the past. Infomart’s intriguing façade thus remains merely a façade.”

Howard P. Segal, The Cultural Contradictions of High Tech, in Technology, Pessimism and Postmodernism, 1994


Monday, 5 October 2009

Who said romance is dead?

or: Gravissimum est adamare nec politiri.

Yunghalm relates that he saw in Java a plain far as the eye could reach entirely covered with skeletons, and took it for a battlefield; they were, however, merely the skeletons of large turtles, five feet long and three feet broad, and the same height, which come this way out of the sea in order to lay their eggs, and are then attacked by wild dogs (Canis rutilans), who with their united strength lay them on their backs, strip off their lower armour, that is, the small shell of the stomach, and so devour them alive. But often then a tiger pounces upon the dogs. Now all this misery repeats itself thousands and thousands of times, year out, year in. For this, then, these turtles are born. For whose guilt must they suffer this torment ? Wherefore the whole scene of horror? To this the only answer is : it is thus that the will to live objectifies itself.


Females lay the eggs in well-protected areas scattered around the reefs. After competing with 2-5 other males, the largest male approaches the female and gently strokes her with his tentacles. At first she may indicate her alarm by flashing a distinct pattern, but the male soon calms her by blowing water at her and jetting gently away. He returns repeatedly until the female accepts him, however the pair may continue this dance or courting for up to an hour. The male then attaches a sticky packet of sperm to the female's body. As he reaches out with the sperm packet, he displays a pulsating pattern. The female places the packet in her seminal receptacle, finds appropriate places to lay her eggs in small clusters, and then dies.


Monday, 21 September 2009

The Proverbial Toolbox

This latent religiosity is only too observable among those disciples of Deleuze who are busy blessing, in unbridled Capital, its supposed constitutive reverse, the 'creativity' of the multitudes. These disciples believe that they saw-that's what you call seeing-in the alter-globalisation demonstrations of Seattle or Genoa, when an otherwise idle youth partook in its own way in the sinister summits of finance, the planetary Parousia of a communism of 'forms of Life'. I think that Deleuze, often sceptical vis-à-vis his own constructions once they touched on politics, would have laughed up his sleeve about this pathos.

-Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds

I’d like to pass on a little anecdote, if I may. While recently attempting to enjoy an needlessly overpriced burger in the **** public house, I experienced one of the worst cases of Marshall Mcluhan Syndrome* I’ve ever had to endure. The whole meal was spent in direct earshot of a group of students from a certain establishment of architectural education, and their chat was some of the most conceited prattle I’ve ever heard (outside of recordings of my own voice, of course!). The thing that upset me the most wasn’t the ridiculous ignorance of people who are at the very top of the human pile (21st century global jet-set bourgeoisie), but the ridiculous sense of intellectual entitlement these young architects had; they almost embodied the preening self-importance of a profession that considers itself to be the last bastion of the renaissance-man. I nearly spat out my maris-piper chips in disgust as my auditory companions discussed how their rudimentary studies in Latour or whoever is fashionable this week meant that after studying architecture “they really ought to get a sociology degree as well”.

It's really strange how often one has to defend a thinker against their defenders (with Derrida-against Derrideans, with Deleuze-against Deleuzians etc), and it's more than a little disheartening. It's not as if I'm an expert in the field by any means, but I do personally know experts in the field, and thus can usually tell the difference between them and your fashion-theory types, and so-called-'radical' architecture has been completely ridden with those for about thirty-years. I can honestly say I've never tried to use ill-read Lacan to get somebody into bed, but I've certainly witnessed that occurring more often than I care to think about.

So it's extremely interesting to read Simon Reynold's brief history of pop-theory, which, although speaking of a scene I wasn't privy to, certainly has a lot of parallels with the cargo-cult philosophy of the architecture scene. But where Simon likens the 'theory basher' music journalist to a drug dealer, encouraging their audience to intoxicate themselves on the rush of intellectual hypertrophy, I'm always left with the impression that nothing ruins a good idea like its dissemination, which is of course a position of almost limitless misanthropy. If only it weren't so.

*Marshall Mcluhan Syndrome, for the last person in the world who might not know what I am referring to:

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

But to your further content, I'll tell you a tale. In Moronia Pia, or Moronia Felix, I know not whether, nor how long since, nor in what cathedral church, a fat prebend fell void. The carcass scarce cold, many suitors were up in an instant. The first had rich friends, a good purse, and he was resolved to outbid any man before he would lose it, every man supposed he should carry it. The second was my lord bishop's chaplain (in whose gift it was), and he thought it his due to have it. The third was nobly born, and he meant to get it by his great parents, patrons and allies. The fourth stood upon his worth, he had newly found out strange mysteries in chemistry, and other rare inventions, which he would detect to the public good. The fifth as a painful preacher, and he was commended by the whole parish where he dwelt, he had all their hands to his certificate. The sixth was the prebendary's son lately deceased, his father died in debt (for it, as they say), left a widow and many poor children. The seventh stood upon fair promises, which to him and his noble friends had been formerly made for the next place in his lordship's gift. The eighth pretended great losses, and what he had suffered for the Church, what pains he had taken at home and abroad, and besides, he brought noblemen's letters. The ninth had married a kinswoman, and he sent his wife to sue for him. The tenth was a foreign doctor, a late convert, and wanted means. The eleventh would exchange for another, he did not like the former's site, could not agree with neighbours and fellows upon any terms, he would be gone. The twelfth and last was (a suitor in conceit) a right, honest, civil, sober man, an excellent scholar, and such a one as lived private in the university, but he had neither means nor money to compass it; besides he hated all such courses, he could not speak for himself, neither had he any friends to solicit his cause, and therefore made no suit, could not expect, neither did he hope for, or look after it. The good bishop, amongst a jury of competitors thus perplexed, and not yet resolved what to do or on whom to bestow it, at the last, of his own accord, mere motion, and bountiful nature, gave it freely to the university student, altogether unknown to him but by fame; and to be brief, the academical scholar had the prebend sent him for a present. The news was no sooner published abroad, but all good students rejoiced, and were much cheered up with it, though some would not believe it; others, as men amazed, said it was a miracle; but one amongst the rest thanked God for it, and said, Nunc juvat tandem studiosum esse, et Deo integro corde sevire [now at length it proves worth while to be studious, and to serve God whole-heartedly]. You have heard my tale: but alas! it is but a tale, a mere fiction, 'twas never so, never like to be, and so let it rest.

-Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy