Johannes Brahms

Brahms meets the already famous violinist Joseph Joachim, with whom he establishes a long life friendship. Brahms even lets Joaquim write the cadenza (the improvised part) of his Violin Concerto. Some composers were not too keen on letting others touch their work, certainly Beethoven was not a fan of letting people mess up with his music.

Brahms meets Liszt, the living legend, one of the icons of programmatic music (music that tries to narrate a story by blending with other art forms, something like the 19th century version of multimedia). Every composer at that time wanted to be under Liszt’s umbrella, except for Brahms, who could not care less for programmatic music (and has the nerve to let Liszt know this). Brahms is criticized and disliked by the “avant garde” of his time, like Wagner or Tchaikovsky, for being too conservative.

Brahms meets the Schumman’s, who try to help him. Robert Schumann praises Brahms as the successor of Beethoven – a strange compliment, as it puts him under a lot of pressure. Brahms falls in love with the beautiful and hyper talented Clara Schumann (14 years older than him) and even moves to her building after the death of Robert Schumann. Most likely (though nobody knows for sure) nothing happened between them, as Brahms was extremely good at falling in love, but had no idea as to what to do afterwards.

Brahms meets Death, the Destroyer of delights and the Divider of man’s days. Not too long before that, he decides to destroy a huge amount of his unpublished works.

Maybe I should mention that one of the few poems (if not the only one) that Jorge Luis Borges has ever dedicated to a musician was dedicated to Brahms:

To Johannes Brahms

A mere intruder in the lavish gardens
You planted in the plural memory
Of times to come, I tried to sing the bliss
Your violins erect into the blue.
But now I’ve given up. To honor you.
That misery which people give the empty
Name of art does not suffice.
Whomever would honor you must be bright and brave.
I am a coward. I am a sad man. Nothing.
Can justify this audacity
Of singing the magnificent happiness
–Fire and crystal–of your soul in love.
My servitude is in the impure word,
Offspring of a concept and a sound;
No symbol, not a mirror, not a moan,
Yours is the river that flows and endures.

(from Jorge Luis Borges, Selected Poems, Vol 2.)


Soviet Stamps

When I was a kid a Russian friend I had gave me these set of Soviet stamps, issued at the end of the Space Race years. I must say they have a glossy appearance that was not captured by the scanner (and I did not bothered trying to troubleshoot that), but I suppose they still look quite remarkable.




The Shaman’s Charm (New York)

This is from my recent trip to the American Museum of Natural History, in New York. The photo is a bit blurred, but the light in that gallery is too low for my point and shoot. It was made by the Tlingits, a Native American tribe from the Northwest. I am not sure of its meaning, besides it being a shaman’s charm. It reminded me immediately of the carving on the sarcophagus of the Mayan ruler Pakal the Great. Pakal is shown there riding some sort of serpent (not a spaceship, as some crazy lunatics eccentric anthropologists love to think):

(this is a picture I took from, so it is not mine)

The purpose of that trip to New York (and then New Jersey) was to visit my good friend C and his family. Since he loves to read articles on cognitive psychology we spent some time talking about that. C was talking about the Asch experiment:

I for my part remembered the very amusing concept of misattribution of arousal:

We then went on and on about change blindness and inattentional blindness, but I don’t want to post video after video here. At night we had clams with wine, and afterwards, to end the day properly, a glass of 32 yr old Macallan, to the memory of those old serpent riders (ride the snake, ride the snake. To the lake, the ancient lake)

Bear Mountain, CT

At the summit of Bear Mountain (it is part of the Appalachian Trail) I got a picture of this lonely cloud casting a shadow on a nearby mountain. I was lucky enough to get this speeding bird as well (I tried a second shot just in case but it was too late)

the cloud, the shadow and the bird

This is the same bird, now facing the lakes. The view from the top of Bear Mountain is fantastic; so the 4.5 hour hike was well worth it.

this bird has flown

In the Café

Today I went to a coffee shop and ended up making this music draft on the iPad while drinking coffee (I used GarageBand). It is pretty cool what you can do with this thing in a short period of time (though I still have a hard time playing its virtual keyboard). In case anybody is interested: the downside is that the audio or midi tracks cannot be exported to a PC to correct errors or to add other stuff. It can only be exported to a Mac computer with GarageBand on it, so that is a bummer. The GarageBand for iPad has rudimentary (as far as I know) mixing capabilities, so you cannot get too fancy when mixing down a track (I did not even use those options actually). The only “real” instrument for this track is the guitar, which I recorded once I was back home (I used the internal mic on the iPad). For the drums I used one of those loops that come with the software.

At the coffee shop I ended up buying a book on 18th and 19th century European architecture. It has a couple of pages devoted to the almost Sci Fi French architect Étienne-Louis Boullée. This is his famous (and needless to say never built) drawing for his Newton cenotaph (he thought of this in 1784!):

Friends playing

I have been lucky to meet some very talented musicians here, and I have been jamming with them for some time. I recorded a couple of them with an IPOD, and even though the resolution and sound may not be the best I still love how it enables me to capture things more spontaneously than having to set a full video recording equipment (and I don’t even have that, so it is not like I have a lot of other options!)
The first one is basically J alone (C is too busy getting the bass ready and tuned, and E never came for that session). Somehow J got permission for us to play inside that church at night, and that is actually pretty amazing in itself (I still don’t know how he managed that). You can tell how amazed I am to be playing there that I cannot stop myself from filming the church. As a side note I should have turned the iPOD around, to get the full screen view. Oh well.

This is P on the guitar, (for this one JL is accompanying him on the trumpet). Every time P plays there we get free beers. Not a bad deal.

I hope to get one of all of us playing together, though in that case I rather be playing than filming it, of course.