Sunday, March 30, 2014

Viku Zen and Dark Star Howl

The crack of doom on the hydrogen juke box. Eyeball kicks. This is the Howl for the 21st century, a meandering back track of Tangerian bone grindings with the thick diction'd text of brilliance chanting into eternity.

Viku Zen's Howl

What reading of Howl is this? Late Howl. Ginsberg is adamant! Certain. Full of the poem. Fully realized. A masterpiece delivery. The soundtrack's atmospheric sketches compliment instead of overlay the text. The whole forceful incantation fully audible.

Resting briefly in catatonia

Contrast that with this wholly different collaboration, one across time. Howl, an early reading, certainly the 1950s, back by an ethereal "Dark Star" by the Grateful Dead from February 24, 1974.

We are all great writers on the same dreadful typewriter.

Vladislav Surkov on Allen Ginsberg

Russian businessman Vladislav Surkov's response to Western sanctions being imposed against him as a result of Russia's annexation of Crimea.

I see the decision by the administration in Washington as an acknowledgment of my service to Russia. It's a big honor for me. I don't have accounts abroad. The only things that interest me in the U.S. are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don't need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.

I'm not sure how Allen would take such a comment, were he alive today. He'd be wryly amused, probably.

But Allen's memory of Russia ran as deep as the 20th century. He cultivated a relentless disdain for Joseph Stalin and would, at the least prompting, recite a litany of Stalin's crimes and the crimes of the Soviet state against the likes of Osip Mandelstam, Joseph Brodsky, Anna Ahkmatova, Eugenia Ginzburg, and many others.

Allen Ginsberg was a tireless voice on behalf of many persecuted artists in the former Soviet Union. He would harbor no illusions about present-day Russia, about Vladimir Putin, or about the fate of free speech in today's glowering Russian nation.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

David Sibley on Using Photography in Bird Guides

Christopher Leahy conducted a conversation with David Allen Sibley, author and illustrator of the well-renown bird guides to North America, on stage at the Brattle Theater in Cambridge Friday night, March 14th. The occasion was the publication of the 2nd edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds.

Sibley is particularly noted for his fine illustrations, all of which are paintings that begin as field sketches. When asked whether he found photography useful in the field as a means of capturing an image for later use in the studio, he confessed that it was not very helpful. He recalled that, when digital cameras became widely available, he'd purchased one with a good zoom lens and took it with him for that very reason, to record images to which he could later refer. The problem, he confided, was that he spent too much time concentrating on the camera - framing the shot, getting the light correct - and ended up not really seeing the bird. So he abandoned the camera.

Instead, he relies on sketching the bird. Often, he'll sketch parts of the bird - the beak, the tail, the feet - in order to record the detailed particularities of whatever he's observing. The sketching, he says, is a form of "interviewing" the bird, getting at those things that distinguish it from other kinds.

Asked about the actual use of photographs in bird guides, he suggested that they weren't as valuable as one might suppose. The problem is that a photograph captures a bird in a particular pose and in a specific setting (trees, marsh, seaside dunes, cliff, etc.) and this very likely contrasts with the circumstances under which a birdwatcher sees the bird. It can unduly influence you and provide context that might run counter to your experience. That is why his illustrations are all fairly uniform (the birds all face in the same direction, for example) and why he leaves out all depictions of habitat.

I could relate to his experience with the camera. Just last week while on a long bike ride I came upon a flock of turkeys on one side of the road. There may have been thirty or more and as I approached, they began crossing the road in front of me. Instead of focusing my full observational attention on them and really seeing them, I fumbled around with the small camera I carry with me trying to take their picture. I got a picture but not a very good one, and in the doing I sacrificed the chance of experiencing them on a deeper level.

Hawk and Habitat
photo by lescaret