MIGUEL CARTER-FISHER in an interview: You hit the nail on the head. I believe that when
composing a work of art, formal qualities take on metaphorical importance. You
are not truly using the visual language until those forms transcend description
and take on content. A classical guitarist I know named Jonathan Rodriguez
once said to me, "Miguel it is not what the notes are but what the notes
do that gives them meaning." I feel the same about light in my work. It is
the means through which concept and narrative enter. When I paint light is
never just a way of illuminating form, but how I attempt to encompass aspects
of the human condition.
Last Thursday, the gay GOP group Log Cabin Republicans (LCR) placed a full-page ad in the New York Times that attacked Chuck Hagel as anti-Israel
and anti-gay and urged President Obama not to appoint him as Defense
Secretary. This was quite a strange event for multiple reasons.
First, full-page ads in the NYT are notoriously expensive, particularly for a small, poorly-funded group like LCR; published rates
indicate that such an ad can cost well in excess of $100,000, though
some discounts are possible with flexible dates (five years ago, the published rate for a black-and-white full-page political ad was $142,000). Second, LCR - which touts itself
as "the only Republican organization dedicated to representing the
interests of LGBT Americans and their allies"- has virtually no
demonstrated prior interest in Israel; the only mention of that country
on its entire website is as part of a laundry list of nations which allow gay and lesbians to serve in the armed forces, while its only substantive position on Iran policy is a tepid 2010 statement advocating a single 2010 bill for increased sanctions, something which Obama supported and signed (the group did lend its name to a coalition against Iranian nuclear proliferation). Third, since when does LCR - which endorsed McCain/Palin in 2008 and Mitt Romney with his abundant anti-gay advocacy in 2012 - oppose GOP officials on the ground that they have some anti-gay aspects to their record?
of those facts made me deeply curious about what prompted LCR to place
this ad and, especially, who funded it. That curiosity was heightened by
another fact: a favorite tactic of neocons - who have led the smear
campaign against Hagel - is to cynically exploit liberal causes to
generate progressive support for their militaristic agenda. They
suddenly develop an interest in the plight of gay people when seeking to
demonize Iran, or pretend to be devoted to women's rights when
attempting to sustain endless war in Afghanistan, or become so deeply
moved by the oppression of Muslim factions - such as Iraqi Shia - when
it comes time to justify their latest desired invasion.
As it so
often does, this tactic has worked magically here, as numerous
progressives who do actually care about gay issues - from Rachel Maddow to the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force - dutifully popped up to attack the neocons' number one public enemy. Andrew Sullivan is right
that this is a classic technique of the neocon smear campaign - recruit
progressives to their cause with exploitation of unrelated issues - and
he's also right
that Hagel's record on gay issues is hardly uncommon or unusually
disturbing for DC officials (particularly given his apology and
disavowal). Indeed, very few of these progressives had difficulty
supporting Obama in 2008 despite his opposition to same-sex marriage on this warped ground:
"I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now,
for me as a Christian, it's also a sacred union. God is in the mix." But
the LCR ad is designed to rile up progressives against Hagel by making
it appear that Good Liberals oppose the former Senator for reasons
having nothing to do with his heresies on Israel (just as so many Good
Liberals were convinced to support the attack on Iraq, and will do the same with an attack on Iran, on the ground that the war advanced their Liberal Values).
PP: I’ve been a big fan of yours for a long
time, and have always thought of you, like some other notable players of
this generation, for instance, Thomas Zehetmair or Peter Wispelwey, as a
musician who is not grouped into a stylistic category. You are an
artist who have a keen historical sense, not just of 18th century music,
but also 19th century performance practice, and also contemporary
music. Do you have any comment about how you approach music from
different periods, how it affects your ideas about interpretation?
Well, I try to study as much information as I can possibly find on
music of earlier centuries. I collaborate quite often with a number of
period ensembles. I also play regularly on gut strings. I play with
Frans Bruggen and his orchestra quite a lot at the moment, as well as
with Andreas Steier (talking now about the so-called “early” music). I’m
very keen on getting as close to the original sources as possible,
absorbing whatever information I can find (and there’s a huge amount of
information out there, of course), and then integrate it into my own
personal vision of the music that I play.
Of course, it has been incredibly exciting, and still is, to
play with people who are so-called experts in the field of historical
performance, in order to get, sometimes, a completely different view of
pieces which I play a lot with “normal” orchestras. When I play the
Beethoven concerto or the Schumann concerto with Frans Bruggen on gut
strings, it is always incredibly enriching, because I immediately
perceive a totally different way of approaching music that I have played
for so many years, music which I thought I knew very well.
This is very refreshing to me and, of course, always creates a
lot of new questions for which I am keen to find answers, which can be
difficult. Difficult, because you can ask one so-called expert about
something and he gives you an answer, and then the next one will give
you the contrary answer! There is so much insecurity, even among the
specialists, that in the end it is always the best, I find, to decide
what solution is the closest to my personal feelings about a particular
piece, about a particular passage. In the end, it is always going to be
up to the individual to choose the right answer for themselves.
I think that this process of inquiry is absolutely necessary
and that we live in a fantastic world for accomplishing this kind of
work. With the internet, we have an enormous opportunity to look into
manuscripts which have been digitalized. It has become so much easier to
do this kind of research and maybe become more aware of certain things.
This is absolutely a big, big, part of my work.
With my Bach recording, if in the end I decided not to record
on gut strings but only use a baroque bow, then of course it seems much
less baroque-inspired then really putting on gut strings and doing it in
a clearly historically-performed way, but it doesn’t mean that I didn’t
go back to those sources. I also have a baroque violin at home, and I
prepared for this CD on that violin.
In the end, though, I am a violinist who lives and works now,
not in Bach’s time. I play this repertoire for the public of today. We
have all, of course, grown up with music which Bach never heard, living
in a different world with different knowledge, and this has to be
mirrored in the interpretation of Bach’s music. I absolutely think it is
a very natural thing to involve the personal experiences of our times.
Still, I am absolutely keen to put as much energy into looking into all
the sources possible.
A huge amount of work also went into studying the manuscripts
when we recorded the Beethoven sonatas, and I spent a lot of time in
libraries studying the Schumann violin concerto manuscripts. It is
extremely exciting to discover what kind of character the composer
wanted, even from observing his handwriting, and also how different
editors would interpret, maybe wrongly, maybe rightly, the handwriting
of a certain composer. This is only one little aspect of the work, but
it’s really highly important, I think. And then, in the end, what one
does with this information is a very individual and personal thing.
I am also extremely thankful for my colleague, Zehetmair, whom
you just mentioned, because he’s one of the few colleagues who takes
these things extremely seriously. He always proposes a totally new way
of looking at well-known and often-played pieces, and in the process
inspires you to do the same, to ask yourself, over and over, the same,
or even new questions about the so-called main repertoire pieces.
Otherwise, they become routine, and this is the worst thing that could
happen. They should always be very fresh, and I think one should never
be too sure about how to interpret these pieces and what the composer
actually meant, otherwise one stops asking all these questions.
Speaking of Zehetmair, as I was saying before, the artists that I find
most interesting today are also very involved with contemporary music
and I wanted to ask a couple questions about that. First of all, if you
are working with any interesting composers right now, and secondly, to
what extent you find your role as an interpreter of contemporary music
affects your approach to early music, in terms of things like rhetorical
phrasing and gesture, and also visa versa, how playing pre-classical
music affects your approach to new music.
at the moment I am working with a Swiss composer, Michael Jarrell. I’m
actually leaving for France tomorrow to play a concerto which he wrote
for me, and which I premiered, two years ago. I will be playing it for
the second time, which is quite a lot of work, because technically, it
is really an extremely difficult piece. If you play it once and then you
only play it again after two years, it is almost the same amount of
work to relearn the piece. So, I am quite busy with that at the moment,
but it’s wonderful music and I hope I will play it a bit more in the
near future. I also play a concerto by an Austrian composer, Thomas
Larcher. The premiere was also two years ago, but unlike the Jarell
concerto, I’ve had the opportunity to play this piece five or six times
in the past two years. and it is very pleasant not to have to learn a
completely new piece for just one or two occasions, before it is
forgotten again. This is a piece that has actually been successful in
Otherwise, I always remain in close contact with pieces like
the Ligeti violin concerto, which is a classic, and which is actually
requested by presenters quite regularly. It’s a fantastic piece, and I
love playing it! I am doing a piece by Morton Feldman, Violin and
Orchestra, again next year. I haven’t performed it for many years
because Feldman is a composer who must be placed carefully in a concert
program, at least in Europe. It tends to be performed in special
contemporary festivals and series. In this case it I will perform it in a
Berlin festival where they do a lot of contemporary music. Contemporary
pieces can only be programmed with a lot of attention to time, because
preparing those pieces always requires a lot of time, and you can’t play
a different piece every week if you have a very tight schedule with
your Beethoven and Mendelssohn concertos and stuff like that!
I think it should be absolutely normal for all musicians to
play, more or less, the entire repertoire available, from every epoch
and century, as long as the quality of the music is very high. It is
very easy for me to see, for example, Bach’s influence on Schumann and
also on contemporary pieces, such as Ligeti’s music or Kurtag’s music.
It is so clear that those composers were inspired by the older
composers. The connection between them is easily made, and it doesn’t
seem to me that contemporary music is a completely different field, or
that one must be completely specialized in that field, or that it has
nothing to do with classical or pre-classical music. Not at all!
Of course they all studied their good old Bach and
Beethoven and whatever else they were interested in, and it all comes
out in some way in the contemporary pieces. So, actually I don’t try to
look at contemporary pieces like contemporary pieces, but I always try
to see where a composer comes from, and what inspired him in the music
of earlier composers, because they all come from somewhere! It can also
come from folk music, or, in Ligeti’s case, African music, but it always
comes from somewhere, it did not just fall out of the sky without any
Maybe working on contemporary music also helps us take a fresh look
at the older composers, but this is less the case, I find, because, of
course, music all comes from one direction. Bach didn’t know what came
after him. We have all the music of the past in our ears, and the
contemporary composers have all this repertoire to study. With Bach we
know about his influence on the music which followed him, but going the
other way, is more difficult.
So as a photographer, I would say, looking at you, I see something in
you, just the way you wear your glasses—something like that? Something
is particularly human in you at this instant?
Yes. And they can understand that. Maybe for [that] person: “Nobody’s
ever told me that before.” They might feel [that] inside, but again, for
you to recognize greatness in a person that others may not recognize,
it makes them feel good that you saw it.
Rumpus: So, at the end of the day, it’s basically about sensitivity and human connection.
Totally, and that’s exactly it, too, because for me, it’s about
engaging in conversation with people. My camera is my compass; it’s
guided me to so many different places.The majority of
the people I’ve taken photographs of, I’ve had conversations with. “What
are your goals and aspirations?” “What are you about?” It’s not just
about me capturing the image; I want to know what you are about.
do believe in angels and I believe that a lot of these people I’m
supposed to meet. The photograph serves as evidence; it causes me to
reflect on when I met this person. The photograph is to a great degree
evidence of the conversation I had with the person. It’s a part of my
Rumpus: Do you have a favorite image that you’ve produced over the years?
One that stands out is a young boy flipping on a mattress in Brooklyn.
That image is close to my heart because the process that I used is a
direct result of the knowledge my father imparted to me.
Rumpus: The one on the cover of Seconds of My Life?
That one’s breathtaking, truly. I love the way the children are holding
their bodies, the expressions on their faces. What’s the story behind
Shabazz: I was walking in
the neighborhood of Brownsville, and these kids had taken this old,
beat-up raggedy mattress and improvised. These young acrobats were able
to have fun, and show great skill and the ability to work that mattress,
which I thought was phenomenal. Imagine if those kids would have gotten
the right schooling, where they could have gone. For many kids, that
was normal; when I published that photograph, so many people were able
to relate. They’d say, “We used to do that all the time.” It goes to
show you the potential alive in the community, if properly nurtured,
where those kids could have gone. Where they are at now, I do not know.
think this goes back to what is so significant about your portraiture.
There is the vitality of the individual in your photos, that intimacy,
but there is also the larger framing of urban life, the history of life
on the streets. What photographers, besides your father, inspired you
when you were younger?
Shabazz: The main book was
a book that [my father had], Leonard Freed, who had documented black
and segregated America in the 1960s, called Black and White America. There
were photographs from New York City—also from the Deep South, from
Mississippi, Alabama—that gave me a firsthand history lesson on [things]
happening in America that weren’t being taught to me in history class.
Philip Jones Griffith documented the Vietnam War, and through his images
that were published in Time LifeMagazine, it showed
me the horrors of war and at that time, I wanted to be a war
photographer, based off his work, and based off the work of Robert Capa,
who documented the D-Day invasion during WWII.
was James Vandersee, who documented the Harlem Renaissance; his work
served as a benchmark, to what I’m doing today. I’m actually striving to
continue what he’s doing, by documenting different fraternal
organizations that exist, primarily in African American communities
Shit, was it Obama winning or was it really that good of a year in music? For those of us whose ears feast on the bounty of varied sound dribbled in from all over the place, 2012 continues the string of very positive surprises we've come to experience in recent years with the torrid influence of the Internet. Some would say that the Web facilitates, or better yet, expedites the free market of music to facilitate the so called best of the crop to rise. Many believe that the "market" will resolve everything when it comes to what is best for all of us and eventually dictate what is the best in this new evolutionary dictated environment. And so we become inherently market believers, followers of the crowd, thinking that the Web will do its magic, exposing us to a plethora of noise and letting the best rise to the top. Letting things go and develop as they be, knowing that all and any obstacles will be overcome in the name of legitimately good and listanble music that takes today and moves us forward to tomorrow in the ears of the beholder. Is good, dependable art really like this? That is the business of music, but is it really the workings of the higher level and soul of truly good and meaningful music?
In terms of the higher level of music and all of its nuances-its a little different since we need to take influence into account when thinking of music mattering in the field of time, history-think of Otis Redding vs. Iron Butterfly. What makes sense-what is original and strikes at our unknown sensibilities becomes a different problem. What I know is that I do prefer the
sound of the New and real-simply put, that which surprises and directs my attention to it but having a firm foundation in principles of the past. My music genes are aligned that way and so when
I heard Polica, Grimes, Dan Deacon and Neneh Cherry and The Thing I was attracted and the their new elaborations-grounded in the past but also looking forward. Definite new possibilities away from the same old known roads. And mmpsuf, a Lithuanian electronic voice duo that appears to travel all over the music universe. For me it is obvious that the influence across the globe is clear and
marked-it is accelerating where musicians are seeking new sounds.
Jazz, not sure what it means now except improvisation, continues to evolve in dependable directions with Sanchez, Fernandez, and Iversen showing the way.
Sounds from outside of the U.S. will continue to dominate in coming years. this year is not any difference as sound sophistication in many cultures is direct and profound-think of Brazil, think of Cuba, think of Hungary- look at the eastern European and Latin American influence and it is coming up strong.
The more solid and dependable sounds of house and electronic dance music also continues to progess rapidly towards a more natural logic: Fort Romeau. Holy Other, and Petar Dundov are navigating in dense and infrquently traveled spaces but places tht ring true to many-a little new and some retro, no doubt. But there was a lot ot appreciate in 2012-and here is my list in alphabetical order of what you should not miss: