Rashomon

Rashomon directed by the legendary Akira Kurosawa in 1950 is one of Japanese cinema’s finest exports.

Three men take shelter from a storm: a woodcutter, a priest and a commoner. The woodcutter and priest have just been to a hearing at the police station. A bandit Tajômaru was being tried for the rape of a wife and the murder of her husband. Both the priest and the woodcutter gave evidence. The priest had seen the couple earlier in the day walking through the forest. The woodcutter had found the body whilst at work.

The film is told through four different perspectives. First we hear Tajômaru’s tale. He is proud and arrogant, not afraid to take credit for the murder. He embellishes the truth to cement his reputation as a hardened criminal. The wife also testifies, her story contradicts the bandit’s. On the basis of these two accounts the crime seems irresolvable. Then the murdered husband gives the third testimony via a medium. He gives yet another contradictory account. The audience is left not knowing which is the honest account.

And yet there is more, it turns out the woodcutter had more involvement than merely uncovering the body. He was also a witness. His account threatens to be the true valid one. However as he finishes the commoner protests and cannot believe this account either. The woodcutter’s initial secrecy jeopardises the validity of his story.

Rashomon is a tale woven from several uncertain strands. Each account of the crime is unique and coloured by the owner’s personal prejudices and desire for self-preservation. The contradiction and open-endedness not only creates polyphony, it creates an unsolvable moral dilemma. One is left with the feeling of unending ethical solipsism, as one must hold personal truths and act selfishly in order to survive.

IMDB

Polyphony in African Music

Across the vast continent of Africa there are many diverse uses of polyphonic song in different communities. The music may differ in the use of instruments or voice, number of musicians or singers, or in tonal or stylistic quality. However there are many similarities in the structure: vocals overlap, individual parts may be different in length and not begin and end simultaneously, each voice carrying a different text or syllables. The songs move in non-aligned cycles, once completed the part is repeated.

The above video shows the polyphonic singing of Aka Pygmies in Central Africa.

The video below shows more music and dance from Cameroon.

Stockhausen’s Spherical Concert Hall

“New halls for listening must be built to meet with demands of spatial music. My idea would be to have a spherical chamber, a platform, transparent to both light and sound, would be hung for the listeners. They could hear music coming from above, from below and from all directions.” (Karlheinz Stockhausen 1959)

In 1970 a World Fair was held in Osaka, Japan. Germany’s pavilion took the form of a spherical concert Hall. It was conceived by 20th Century composer and musical visionary Karlheinz Stockhausen. With the creation of new forms of music, Stockhausen had identified the need for a new kind of concert hall, one that could suitably convey the spatial qualities inherent in his compositions.

The ideas proposed were realised at Osaka. The spherical concert hall was constructed along the lines Stockhausen had suggested. The concert hall’s dome was lined with 50 loudspeakers in seven circles. There was a platform raised above the ground where the audience was positioned. The platform was just below the centre of the sphere, and underneath ran three of the circles of loudspeakers. Music could be heard from all around.

For the 180 days of the exhibition Stockhausen performed with a 19-piece ensemble. It was also used to play multi-track recordings of composers such as Bach and Beethoven.

The spherical concert hall is an incredible example of how music can be explored spatially. Janet Cardiff did this by re-working Spem in Alium, dividing it up to be played back in separate parts. This explored the structure of the composition. Stockhausen worked with a similar idea on much greater level. Cardiff’s The Forty Part Motet provides a method of listening back to a pre-recording in three dimensions. On the other hand, Stockhausen provided a way for the performance to occur within the same expanded spatial conditions. This created a new all-encompassing live experience of music.

Resources

Media Art Net- Karlheinz Stockhausen: Spherical Concert Hall

Stockhausen.org- Osaka

Ihatemusic1943- Stockhausen Spherical Concert Hall for the 1970s

Guardian, the- Obiturary

Google Books- Living Music by Simon Emerson

Brian Eno

With Brighton Festival on the horizon, and Fabrica’s coinciding exhibition only ten days away from opening its doors, it is an ideal opportunity to reflect on last year’s exhibition and the work of the artist.

Musician and artist, Brian Eno, curated Brighton Festival 2010. During this period Fabrica hosted his 77 Million Paintings installation. The installation consists of a collage of overlapping slides on high definition video screens. The effect created is like a kaleidoscopic stained glass window. This mesmerising projection of light is accompanied by a ubiquitous ambient soundscape. It illustrates Eno’s interest in combining the visual and sound. This position can be traced through the evolution of his career.

Brian Eno was born in Woodbridge in Suffolk. He began studying Fine Art at Ipswich, then at Winchester art school where he achieved a diploma. At art school he was influenced by minimal painting, which is somewhat evident in 77 Million Paintings, he also began making music and playing in bands. Eventually music took the forefront and for the time being, he left behind fine art to pursue his musical career.

Eno is probably best known for his glam rock days in Roxy Music. After much make-up wearing and two albums, he fell out with Brian Ferry and left the band. After his departure, Eno was free to pursue more experimental approaches to music and sound. This took the form of many solo and collaborative projects and the creation of a record label called Obscure records. Alongside this he worked on albums with David Bowie, new wave bands such as Talking Heads and Devo, and then in the 1990s U2.

Eno returned to a visual art practice in the 80s when he was given a video camera. His practice developed to co-opt both audio and visuals juxtaposed in installations. The culmination of this trajectory can be seen in 77 Million Paintings. It has been described as ‘visual music’. The piece merges hand painted slides, slowly fading in and out of one another, to create nearly infinite combinations. It has an immersive effect that is akin to music.

For more information on Brian Eno and 77 Million Paintings please refer to the Fabrica archive.

Resources.

All Music- Brian Eno

The Independent- Eno on art schools

Time Shift- Art schools (BBC documentary featuring Eno)

Hyperreal.org- Brian Eno Bio

Nonsuch Palace

The construction of Nonsuch Palace began in 1538. It was an epic undertaking. The ruling monarch at time Henry VIII commissioned it to rival the glorious Chateaux of Chambord and Fontainebleau. The palace was intended impress the French King François I along with the rest of Europe.

The site of the palace is located between modern day villages of Cheam and Ewell, Surrey. It was formally the site of a village named Cuddington. In order to build the castle, Henry VIII levelled the village along with its manor house. It was the first palace Henry built from scratch, rather than drastically modifying existing buildings. It was also to be the last palace that he constructed.

It became known as Nonsuch as it was thought there was no such place elsewhere to equal its magnificence. The intricate and ornate renaissance decorations drove up the cost to total more than Hampton Court Palace, which was twice the size. Henry died before the palace was fully completed, it was passed on to his son Edward VI, and then on to Mary I who sold it to Henry Fitzalan, the twelfth Earl of Arundel.

Henry Fitzalan’s son-in-law Thomas Howard is thought to have commissioned Thomas Tallis to compose Spem in Alium. The earliest known record of the score was listed in the catalogue of Nonsuch Palace’s library in 1596. It is possible that the palace was also the site of the premier performance of Spem in Alium. It is further imagined that Tallis wrote the piece to be performed in one of the octagonal towers. The audience is thought to have listened from below whilst above them the choir, divided into sections of five, would sing from eight separate balconies.

The picture here is a watercolour by Georg Hoefnagel

Resources

The guardian- Early image of Henry VIII’s lost palace up for sale

Epsom and Ewell History Explorer- Nonsuch Palace

Tudor History- Nonsuch Palace

Shafe- Art and Architecture at the Tudor Court

Pastscape- Nonsuch Palace

Ecce Beatam Lucem- Alessandro Striggio

The Score: Spem in alium

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Download full score here