Did you begin this series after your parents passed away? Yes. By 1999 they had all died — my German father, my American stepfather and my mother. I wish I had started the project much sooner, because it would have been wonderful to be able to ask them questions that I didn’t think of until I began sorting through the images and papers. About five years before he died I had encouraged my stepfather, who had turned to writing in his retirement, to write about his war experiences, which he did with great enthusiasm. The autobiographical sketches were never published, but I was able to use some of his descriptions in my photos.
How long did you work on this series?
It’s hard to answer this question. I began this project in 1997. I re-photographed snapshots, ephemera and documents and attempted to layer them into the sort of images that had been floating in my imagination for some time. But I was trying to do these things with film and in the darkroom, and after several months, I knew I couldn’t realize my vision in that way. Time passed — ten years, in fact. I had slowly been acquiring basic proficiency with Photoshop through workshops and manuals. But there was always too much else to do, and I felt I had to clear the decks and focus on this project alone. That opportunity came when I had shoulder surgery in 2007, which limited the movement of my right arm for about six months. I couldn’t use a camera, but I could scan images and work on the computer. Work on the project became all-consuming. Things fell together. I dreamed images and made sketches in the middle of the night. I read histories of the war and autobiographies and novels about personal journeys — psychological and real — that the war enforced. This project is a journey back to those years, so I can go forward.
The work seems primarily about your memories, and/or your attempt to reclaim or come to grips with them. Does it also incorporate the memories of your parents?
Yes, that’s true. I draw on my own memories of those years. But since they comprise my first six years, there are serious limitations to what I can remember. I do have a very early memory, one that surprised my mother when I told her. I remember being in a wicker bassinette with red-and-white-checked lining. I suppose what makes this memory so vivid, even though I was less than a year old, was that during air raids we took shelter in the basement. When the air raid was over, the adults went back to bed but left the children sleeping in the basement. I remember the dark and the sound of the metal shutters on the ground-level basement windows clanging.
My parents didn’t often talk about those years as I was growing up. I spoke to an American cousin recently who told me that she will never forget the story my mother told her about being on a train with me as a baby in her arms. The train was stopped by German soldiers and everyone was told to get out and hide under a bridge just ahead, as there was going to be bombing. My mother said she was so terrified that she stayed on the train, refusing to get under the bridge. The bridge was bombed and everyone under it was killed. She never told me that story.
We of the ANC had always stood for a non-racial democracy, and we shrank from any action which might drive the races further apart. But the hard facts were that 50 years of non-violence had brought the African people nothing but more and more repressive legislation, and fewer and fewer rights. By this time violence had, in fact, become a feature of the South African political scene.
There had been violence in 1957 when the women of Zeerust were ordered to carry passes; there was violence in 1958 with the enforcement of cattle culling in Sekhukhuneland; there was violence in 1959 when the people of Cato Manor protested against pass raids; there was violence in 1960 when the government attempted to impose Bantu authorities in Pondoland. Each disturbance pointed to the inevitable growth among Africans of the belief that violence was the only way out – it showed that a government which uses force to maintain its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it.
I came to the conclusion that as violence in this country was inevitable, it would be unrealistic to continue preaching peace and non-violence. This conclusion was not easily arrived at. It was only when all else had failed, when all channels of peaceful protest had been barred to us, that the decision was made to embark on violent forms of political struggle. I can only say that I felt morally obliged to do what I did.
Four forms of violence were possible. There is sabotage, there is guerrilla warfare, there is terrorism, and there is open revolution. We chose to adopt the first. Sabotage did not involve loss of life, and it offered the best hope for future race relations. Bitterness would be kept to a minimum and, if the policy bore fruit, democratic government could become a reality. The initial plan was based on a careful analysis of the political and economic situation of our country. We believed that South Africa depended to a large extent on foreign capital. We felt that planned destruction of power plants, and interference with rail and telephone communications, would scare away capital from the country, thus compelling the voters of the country to reconsider their position. Umkhonto had its first operation on December 16 1961, when government buildings in Johannesburg, Port Elizabeth and Durban were attacked. The selection of targets is proof of the policy to which I have referred. Had we intended to attack life we would have selected targets where people congregated and not empty buildings and power stations.
The whites failed to respond by suggesting change; they responded to our call by suggesting the laager. In contrast, the response of the Africans was one of encouragement. Suddenly there was hope again. People began to speculate on how soon freedom would be obtained.
Balthus’s fascination with the life around him had nothing to do with documenting everyday experiences and everything to do with uncovering the hidden meanings of those experiences. Such meanings, so far as Balthus was concerned, were hermetic and occult, to be decoded like the images in the Tarot deck or the constellations in the night sky. Braque, a painter whom Balthus admired, urged artists to approach their canvases in the same spirit as a medium approaches her tea leaves. We must take Balthus altogether seriously when, late in life, he spoke of “the elucidation of mysteries” and a search for “the secret connections among all things.” He believed that the painters he admired most—Giotto, Masaccio, Poussin—demanded of themselves an almost supernatural precision. “How can one paint,” Balthus wondered, “except with this deliberate and mystical progress?”
Balthus embraced a succession of mystical guises, a variety of masks, veils, and mirrors that he believed enabled him to reveal aspects of a deeper truth. Going through “Balthus: Cats and Girls: Paintings and Provocations,” the exhibition currently at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, a sensitive visitor will have glimpses of Balthus the mystical magician. These begin with the somber realist visions of Thérèse and Thérèse Dreaming, from 1938, and conclude with the anti-naturalistic opulence—by turns coruscated, burnished, and muted—of The Cup of Coffee and The Moth, from 1959 through 1960. “Balthus: Cats and Girls” is cause for celebration, the first museum exhibition in New York devoted to his work since the retrospective at the Metropolitan in 1984. It is also an extraordinarily frustrating event. Sabine Rewald, the curator at the Metropolitan who organized the show, is a rationalist, and therefore incapable of grasping the genius of this artist who is anything but a rationalist—who was one of the greatest dreamers of the twentieth century.
Sleek and sinewy, this Best of 2013 was actually made back in 2008 but only released this year. More contemporary and foundational than 99% of the music of today, this prism of sounds from our imagined youth and encumbering old age is sweet and fun-in the right way.
Originally recorded in 2008, Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues features an all-star acoustic line-up inspired by Goldberg's fortuitous meeting with saxophonist Joshua Redman. After sharing a double bill and deciding to make an album together, Goldberg invited fellow Denver, Colorado native Ron Miles to add his expressive trumpet alongside Redman's muscular tenor and the leader's supple clarinet. The longstanding duo of bassist Devin Hoff and drummer Ches Smith (aka, Good For Cows) was subsequently recruited to provide the three horn frontline rhythmic support.
Evoking stately Bachian chorales, the malleable horn section infuses Goldberg's sophisticated compositions with an evocative array of textures, their vibrant polyphony further intensified by the group's jubilant collective improvisations. They impart passionate lyricism to the old fashioned ballad "How To Do Things With Tears," celebratory verve to the ebullient travelogue "Who Died and Where I Moved To," and fervent conviction to the dramatic funeral dirge "Possible." Bolstered by the rhythm section's nimble rapport, the horn players collaboratively update cordial Dixieland-styled exchanges with freewheeling Ornettish dynamics, imbuing timeless traditions with bold, modernist vitality.
With the release of two albums from Ben Goldberg on the same day, I am overwhelmed by a good thing. The fact that I am allowed to own his two 2010 releases feels more like a privilege that just scooping up a pair of consumer goods—like I am allowed an inside peak at high art as it falls together. Classified as a jazz clarinetist for the sake of convenience, Goldberg is one of those Midas musicians who brings all of instrumental music’s best traits to roost under one umbrella. And like many past giants of great jazz, his music is his own. Sure, it has shades of unfluence here and there as most music inevitably will. But the derivative moments are pieces of magically charged homage, easily outnumbered by the highly original ones. And to stand at a critical pulpit and pound the virtues of originality into consumers’s minds is one thing. Is the music any good? Does it make me forget what I want to forget and make me remember things I never knew were there? Can a critic’s darling touch more than just the brain?
Fair questions. The “deep end” isn’t always used as a positive adjective, and experimental tendencies in music often require that you vibrate on the same wavelength as the musicians. As I type this sentence, a track is playing that perfectly typifies these dangers; “I Miss the SLA”. It’s shapeless—let’s call it shape-free—honking, skronking and guitar grrring, and on the wrong day, I won’t know to where it’s pointing (a Google search for SLA gives a few humorous results). But when the angles are just right, it’s what one could get away with calling a beautiful cacophany. When your mind and ears are allowed to open, Goldberg and his pardners can push all the right buttons at the right time. In fact, “I Miss the SLA” is more of an exception than the rule here. Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues and Unfold Ordinary Mind, two different albums recorded by two different ensembles, are both bold but not assertively so. Both albums are a great dance between jazz, funk grooves, noise rock, smokey saxes and the mighty clarinet.
Ben Goldberg's Subatomic Particle Homesick Blues (on his self-owned BAG Production label), is an album as seriously playful as its title. There's a deceptive looseness in the music's rhythm, veering toward New Orleans bar stomp, but braced by modern harmonies (Steve Lacy, Monk, and Andrew Hill are heavy influences), and swung from an early Ornette-ish sense of blues (one of Goldberg's 9 originals on the album, "Study of the Blues," is a Cubist riff on the opening bars of "Lonely Woman"), though rooted more in Coleman's deep melody than his Free velocity.
The band is topnotch: Goldberg on clarinet, Joshua Redman on tenor sax, Ron Miles on trumpet, Devin Hoff on bass, and Ches Smith on drums. (I recently raved about Miles' album, Quiver, with Bill Frisell and Brian Blade; I'm less familiar with Hoff and Smith, though intend to rectify that.)
There's a clairvoyance in their playing, an ensemble flair for stretching the tempo and snapping it back in a way that lets the music float without drifting. Even when the polyphony gets ripe, each line is crisp and propulsive.
The streams flow so clearly, thanks in part to the CD's sonic purity and dynamics. Along with Dave Douglas' Be Still (engineered by Joe Ferla), Subatomic Particle... is one of the best-sounding new jazz CDs I've heard in a long time. The horns are right there, arrayed in a row; you can practically see the air pushing through their shapes and out into the room. The bass snaps and sings; the drumkit slaps and sizzles.
October 28 marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the end for New York’s old Pennsylvania Station. It took three years and countless hours of manpower to tear down what was the fourth-largest building in the world. In remembrance of the station, last Wednesday the Center for Architecture held the event, Lights, Camera, Demolition: Penn Station Recalled on Stage & In Pictures. The highlight was a reading of a The Eternal Space, a new play about the unlikely relationship between two men – a construction worker photographing the station as he tears it down and an aging professor determined to save it. Photographs documenting the entire life of Penn Station–some famous, some never seen–are critical to the play, serving as a background for the actors, silently telling the story of a changing city and offering their own compelling provocations alongside a compelling debate about progress, preservation, and of course, Pennsylvania Station.
Following a reading of the play, a panel was convened to discuss the station, its legacy, and the photographs that continue to inspire. Panelists included playwright Justin Rivers, myself, noted biographer of Penn Station Lorraine Dhiel, and renown photographer Norman McGrath, whose vast archive of personal photos includes hundreds of never-before-seen images documenting the demolition of Penn Station, photos that feature prominently in the play (and in this post).
Pennsylvania Station was designed by McKim, Mead, and White in 1902. McKim, a Beaux-Arts educated architect and co-founder of the American Academy in Rome, was the lead designer on the project which was a grand display of his idiosyncratic Beaux-Arts Classicism. He draws inspiration from the great train stations of Europe, the Baths of Caracalla, John Soane’s Bank of England, and surely myriad other sources, all artfully combined into a monumental pink granite structure. It was a testament to the our technological prowess, craftsmanship, and artistry. It was a monument to our culture; a station scaled to the ambitions of a country at the peak of its power – a modern Rome. And indeed, at times it seemed that all tracks lead to New York – or, to be more specific, Penn Station. It was to be a gateway to the city.
But times change. And cities change. By 1963, New York was a very different place and Penn Station was no longer the gateway into the city. New highways and air travel gave travelers more, sometimes better, options. And while automotive infrastructure was being built by governments, privately owned railways were going bankrupt and bleeding passengers. In a time of high speed and efficiency, Pennsylvania Station was a decadent, inspiring and expensive masterpiece. As it fell into decay and disrepair, the owners of the railroad believed they had no choice but to sell the rights to build on their valuable property, making it possible for a new, modern, and incredibly ugly Madison Square Garden to rise where Penn Station stood, while the while the waiting rooms, ticketing areas, and train concourses were pushed underground. The opposition to the demolition was led by a small but local group, but at the time the city was powerless to stop it. And it seems that few New Yorkers held the station in high regard because although the Penn Station that exists in the popular imaginary looks like this:
Like the best food, Lanza's music is reminiscent of our not so distant teenage years, complex but yearning with all sorts of sublimated attractions. Deceptively simple this music has our soul and aspirations captured-with some sophisticated electronic vibe.
another expansive move from the enterprising, fast-evolving Hyperdub label. After releases from the likes of Laurel Halo (USA), Steve ‘Kode9’ Goodman has been looking increasingly further afield to continue his mission of relentless innovation. Jessy Lanza hails from Ontario and has worked here with producer Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys fame. This perhaps explains why, although it shares a detached, minimal and sensual aesthetic with recent Hyperdub releases by the likes of Cooly G and Ikonika, it also sounds somewhat removed from the label’s trademark sound, drawing from remnants of ’80s R&B (Lanza has cited Janet Jackson as a particular influence) and Chicago house as much as from footwork or bass music. Lanza recently guested on Ikonika’s compelling Aerotropolis album, drawing further links between what initially seemed like a London-centric bass music scene and broader global trends.
Greenspan and Lanza rigidly adhere to a less is more approach here, and the results are enticing and seductive. Lanza’s voice is fragile, wispy and full of breath, yet at the same time exudes a confrontational and physical confidence. Greenspan’s accompaniments are often limited to a percussion track and a single set of lingering piano chords, or an even more isolated bass line. What this achieves is to reduce the music to its absolute core essentials. The elements that remain in place are often irresistible – from the nostalgic, syncopated hand claps to the exciting, often near-ecstatic melodies. There is a constant sense of propulsion and energy, even though everything is handled with an enviable lightness of touch.
This music also withstands accusations of a purely retrogressive outlook, simply because there is something singular and fascinating in the combination of Lanza’s near-saccharine vocal tone, her often forthright lyrics and Greenspan’s meticulously constructed skeletal atmospheres. It is hard to think of a debut album in recent years that has sounded both so informed and so thrilling, both graceful and rough edged. The title track is both intensely sexy and tightly controlled, whilst Keep Moving is a simple, direct and powerful call to action. It does what it says on the tin.
The story behind Jessy Lanza's debut album, Pull My Hair Back, verges on a musical kismet. The album was co-produced by Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, and anyone familiar with that duo will immediately see why he was the ideal candidate for Lanza's immersive, often oblique brand of electronic pop. The two have known each other for years, and first worked together when Greenspan enlisted Lanza for backing vocals on 2011's It's All True. As noted in our Breaking Through feature, Greenspan was struck by Lanza's keen sense of musicality, and especially her knack for velveteen R&B melodies. Soon they were fleshing out her songs at his studio in Berlin.
It's that seemingly effortless reclamation of her favorite R&B staples that strengthens what are sometimes very diffuse, almost skeletal approaches to pop music on Pull My Hair Back. Another vista-widening release on Hyperdub, the album has an incredible spaciousness in each of its nine tracks, typically anchored by one of Greenspan's twilight arpeggios or, more often, the sly strength of Lanza's vocals. Her delivery is soothing and patient—hers is a classically inclined kind of mesmerism.
Throughout the album, there's an interplay between an overt sense of R&B songcraft and the duo's more open-ended sonic explorations. In a perfect world, "Keep Moving" would get as much radio play as Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," with its disco-ready guitar stabs, throbbing synths and Lanza's ludicrously insistent vocal hook. In contrast, there's the experimental glide of "Fuck Diamond," a track that stitches shards of Lanza's voice into its club-ready roll. It's this combination of shadowy unknowability and full-hearted melody that makes Pull My Hair Back such an intriguing listen, and certainly one of the year's best debuts.
With each passing year since Aaliyah’s death, her shadow has only grown longer. Her languorous, breathy approach to R&B was a revelation in its time, aided by mind-bending, rhythm-reconstituting production by Timbaland, who used Aaliyah as his muse. In modern spaces where R&B is being reimagined and remolded, her presence is more powerful than any more traditionally powerful soul singer. That’s true for Drake, who’s masterfully incorporated her into the bloodline of mainstream hip-hop, and it goes for a young generation of singers who hold her up as a vocal model.
In the same way Aaliyah brought reserve to the role of traditional soul titan, Kelela — from Los Angeles via Washington — does the same for the divas of the saccharine, bubbly club music of the early 1990s on her debut mixtape, “Cut 4 Me.” She floats elegantly and easily over the beats here, which are largely provided by modern club innovators like Kingdom, Nguzunguzu and Jam City. Her voice connotes restraint and sensuality all at once, especially on the dramatic “Go All Night (Let Me Roll),” and she manages to tame the squiggly production on “Keep It Cool.”
Where Kelela is ethereal and chill, Jessy Lanza is sultry and damp on her debut album, “Pull My Hair Back” (Hyperdub). Ms. Lanza, who is Canadian, moves with purpose and authority in and around the rhythms on this album which, produced by her with Jeremy Greenspan of Junior Boys, in places nods explicitly to Timbaland’s skittish production. Ms. Lanza is a more direct singer than Kelela, but her Aaliyah nods come in the sweetness of her voice — even when Ms. Lanza is in the thick of it, she sounds like a dream.
The most striking implication of the agreement signed in Geneva last weekend—to ensure that Iran’s nuclear industry does not develop nuclear weapons while gradually removing the sanctions on the country—is more about Iran than it is about Iran’s nuclear industry. The important new dynamic that has been set in motion is likely to impact profoundly almost every significant political situation around the Middle East and the world, including both domestic conditions within countries and diplomatic relations among countries.
This agreement breaks the long spell of estrangement and hostility between the United States and Iran, and signals important new diplomatic behavior by both countries, which augurs well for the entire region. It is also likely to trigger the resumption of the suspended domestic political and cultural evolution of Iran, which also will spur new developments across the Middle East.
Perhaps we can see the changes starting to occur in Iran as similar to the developments in Poland in the early 1980s, when the bold political thrust of the Solidarity movement that enjoyed popular support broke the Soviet Union’s hold on Polish political life, and a decade later led to the collapse of the entire Soviet Empire.
The resumption of political evolution inside Iran will probably move rapidly in the years ahead, as renewed economic growth, more personal freedoms, and more satisfying interactions with the region and the world expand and strengthen the relatively “liberal” forces around Rouhani, Rafsanjani, Khatemi and others; this should slowly temper, then redefine and reposition, the Islamic revolutionary autocrats who have controlled the power structure for decades, but whose hard-line controls are increasingly alien to the sentiments of ordinary Iranians.
These domestic and regional reconfigurations will occur slowly, comprising the situations in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states led by Saudi Arabia. The critical link remains a healthy, normal, non-hostile relationship between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which I suspect will start to come about in the months ahead, as both grasp the exaggerated nature of their competition for influence in the region and learn to behave like normal countries. They will learn to compete on the basis of their soft power among a region of half a billion people who increasingly feel and behave like citizens who have the right to choose how they live, rather than to be dictated to and herded like cattle.
Should a more normal Iran-Saudi relationship occur, as I expect, this will trigger major adjustments across the entire region, starting in Syria and Lebanon where the proxies of both countries face off in cruel and senseless confrontations. The Geneva II conference in January, to explore a peaceful transition in Syria, will be the first place to look for signs of an emerging new order in the region that will be shaped by a healthier Iranian-Saudi relationship.