Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I am just the generation, at 34 years old, to still be surprised by internet technology. Still, somehow a world of Googleing, Blogging , Twittering and Facebooking makes sense to me, as I tend to have rather jumbled thoughts, and interests. I like jumping from topic to topic, and even more I like trying to connect seemingly unrelated ideas and disciplines. It is similar to the “Six Degrees of Separation” theory of human connectivity. The same shorter sequence of connections must also exist with thoughts, and experiences. So, when I speak of two things that seem to have nothing to do with each other, the truth is they probably don’t, but it is still interesting to make the connection, and for me to see if there is any insight to be gained.

Last night I saw the play “Impressionism”, which, while likely to be forgotten (if the reviews are any indication), and though it is fairly unoriginal, it did make me think about perspective. The play deals with life and art in a way which is rather cliché, with metaphors that involve impressionist painting and real life complexity. Reflections on the need to step back to see the beauty and meaning, which the eye can not perceive when viewed too closely. It went a little further with this thought by saying that even photorealism is in itself impressionistic. It is a moment as captured by the photographer and interpreted by the viewer. The main point was to compare this to a growing love of an older couple, which is not so important to me here. So, when I left the theatre, I was neither overly impressed by “Impressionism”, nor unimpressed. It was a well acted play that again made me think about art and love, even if only in fairly commonplace ways.

This morning, after reading the reviews of “Impressionism” on the subway, I read the cover story of this month’s Scientific American. I was especially intrigued by the sub title of an article on Dark Energy which reads “Does Earth occupy a very unusual place in the Universe?”. The issue of Dark Energy and our inability to as yet accurately view it, or understand it, is an interesting one, but one that was less related to my recent experience with the play. More important is one of perspective. It has, as long as modern science has been in existence, been understood that from anyplace in the Universe the same laws of physics will apply. This has been especially well observed in recent years with accurate measurements of the microwave background. The research for this article suggests however that the place our planet resides may be unusual in the Universe. It may be in a void of sorts. It is nicely compared to a balloon, with rubber whose densities are not completely uniform. The bubble will have bumps, which do not conform to the rest of the sphere. Our Universe may, though it is still uncertain, be like this. Therefore to see ourselves as a part of the whole, our perspective would be unlike if we were viewing Earth from a far away galaxy, which may be in a different portion of the “balloon”. This is not to suggest that Physics is subjective in the same way that the Universe is. After all, there are laws, and fundamentals, even if we have not yet learned them all. The similarity though, in my mind, is the need to take a step back in order to see the truth. Maybe by doing this we can learn a little more about the big picture of the cosmos, as well as how to enjoy a night on Broadway.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Turn off The Picture

My father has an interesting custom when traveling over seas. He always turns on the movie at his seat, and watches most of it. The odd thing about this though, is that he doesn’t often even put on the headsets. He can’t read lips, as far as I know, yet he laughs at all of the right moments, or simply falls asleep. For many years I thought this was rather crazy behavior. The more I watched films though, the more I realized that this was not such a bad test of a movies worthiness. After all, film is essentially a visual art. The early films didn’t even have sound, and they didn’t need it. The highest in emotions and most hilarious of comedy were expressed without words. So, my take on my fathers approach is that he is putting contemporary cinema to the highest test. That is, if it is funny, or touching, he should be able to see it. If it is not, no need to waste anymore time. Better just to sleep.

Over the last few years, I have noticed television doing something that is completely shocking to me, and actually encouraging for me, who is a semi pro- semi\ fanatic musician, and music lover. The scores of some television are becoming so complex, that if a classical critic or patron were to ignore the show entirely, they would think that this music was the quintessential music of our age, and should be performed at Carnegie Hall. A blend of minimalism and 12 tone structure. Of electronic and of postmodern eclecticism. The shows themselves are often good too, but this phenomenon is often lost to music audiences I believe. Some really moving examples are the shows “Lost”, “Battlestar Galactica” and “Doctor Who”. There are many others as well which you may have discovered more of than me. But before some of you argue with me about the possibility that our next Beethoven or Stravinsky is doing cable TV; turn off the video and listen to any episode of the shows I mention.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Mentalist Insomnia

I started watching the CBS series “The Mentalist” on a flight from Europe last week, and found that I like it a lot. I won’t go into any great detail about the premise, but in a way the show is great publicity for rational thinking and behavior. The main character is so good at reading human behavior that he was able in a previous job to become famous for being a psychic. In the show however, he is in a post blatant deception career with the police, helping them solve cases. He is not a psychic, but just very observant. This in itself is nice to see, when so much superstition is in essence promoted on TV. Still, I was most struck by another recurring event in “The Mentalist”. The hero is an insomniac. Completely unable to sleep at night, (apparently because he is haunted over the death of his wife, but that is not important to this blog) and so stays up drinking Coca-Cola, and doing his most creative work at solving homicide cases. I often can’t sleep, and love the idea that those hours between midnight and 7 can be spent doing important work, but I have never found this to be true. I can’t really focus, and often just watch youtube videos, and old episodes of “Doctor Who”. I haven’t seen all of the episodes of “The Mentalist”, so I am not sure if he ever took sleeping pills, but I do take them from time to time, and have found that my nighttime experience is completely different. The type of sleeping pill I take is Ambien, which I was prescribed a year or so ago. Normally I just take it and go to bed, but there has been the occasion when I have not fallen asleep straight away, and the strangeness irony occurs. I am more tired and ready to sleep than ever, but I become inspired to work. I am more creative. This creativity doesn’t last long, because I do fall asleep, but I always find this frustrating. An even more interesting thing about this is that a common side effect of Ambien is a mild form of amnesia. I have found this to be true. So not only I am having what I think are good ideas, which I can’t complete because I am too tire, but I also forget what the ideas were the next morning.

Several months after I started taking Ambien I read a study about a man who was in a vegetative state for 4 years. He only moaned, and not in a way that was expressing himself at all. His mother, wanting him, and herself to rest, gave him an Ambien, and to everyone’s surprise, he did not fall to sleep, but instead came out of the comma. He is still using Ambien as therapy to stay conscious.

So I wonder if late night productivity can be found somewhere between Coca-Cola and Ambien, or if it is best just to get some sleep and work well before night comes.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Solo in Time

Marine and I went to see "Solo in Time", the Savion Glover piece at the Joyce last night. It was a musical, as much as theatrical event, that makes most others feel timid, tame and lifeless. Savion is what Jackson Pollack was to painting, or Thelonius Monk to Jazz. He is complete in commitment to experiment and expression. This type of hard hitting dedication, where subtlety exists only because of complexity, not from false tenderness, is what I strive to achieve (always coming up short), and wish for my daughter. For her to sing in full voice, play the drums in her own rhythms, and scribble outside the lines. Then with years of practice at the art of being herself, she can hopefully achieve, at least privately, what Savion shared with us.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Nature Always Wins

I was once a vegetarian, because the more I watched animals, the less I thought that humans were very special. Then I would watch the news and think that actually humans are a lot worse than animals, destructive to each other, to the planet and of course to any other creatures that gets in our way. After craving a steak for 3 years though, I gave in to the temptation to eat meat again, and now continue to live life as a hypocrite, talking about how nice animals are, and then cooking them with a port wine sauce. In the self justification for this, I have also been known to fall back on an old rationalization about why we humans are unique, and that is our ability to create art. Art is all of the things that we think it is. It enriches us, provokes us and allows us to understand something which rational means cannot. Even this notion that only we create art is perhaps a little questionable. The architecture of the beaver for example is both beautiful and utilitarian, though they wisely may not care how the lodge looks. After all, the main hall at MoMa always leaked, and never stayed warm, even though it is beautiful. The beaver lodge near our home in the Catskills may not have that same problem. Anyway, I do tend to think that art is importantly, mostly uniquely human. So this last weekend I found myself pondering a question that people must have been asking for centuries: who does better art or nature? I was sitting in a friend’s living room on the beach looking at the Atlantic, when off to my left there was an amazing painting of ocean water. I looked back and forth at them, and wondered why I would bother to look at the painting when I could look at the real thing. It then occurred to me that it is the artist, and the art lover who use art to understand nature. The investigation of nature for an artist, not unlike a scientist, is to probe. So in fact creating art is indeed as natural as the waves of the ocean itself.