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click opera - Is anybody talking about originality?
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Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 05:46 pm
Is anybody talking about originality?

"What's the first sign of a masturbator? Hairs on your palm. What's the second sign? Looking for them!" That trick used to do the rounds at my school -- people invariably checked their palms between the first and second parts, and were therefore inevitably proved to be masturbators (which they all were anyway, of course, so the proof was infallible).

A similar trope appears in psychometric research into creativity, a subject that's always fascinated me. For educational psychologist Gary A. Davis, "personality characteristics of creative people include awareness of their creativity, originality, independence, risk taking, personal energy, curiosity, humour, attraction to complexity and novelty, artistic sense, open-mindedness, need for privacy, and heightened perception". The first sign of creativity, you might say, is believing in it, the second is looking for it. Belief in originality is productive of originality.

So who believes in creativity and originality in 2009? I decided to look at random at some NME reviews to see if they -- explicitly or implicitly -- talked about the originality and creativity of the records on offer. An AK Momo review -- the first I looked at -- didn't; it was more concerned that the record was twee, creepy, sexual. A review of the new Hatcham Social record also makes no references to originality, unless comparing the record approvingly to Lloyd Cole and The Fall is actually a statement about originality -- if it is, the message is that originality doesn't matter.

Okay, let's try the art press. Here's a review selected randomly from Frieze. It's a group show called Modern Ruins. It's mostly about the past. There's talk of "inspiration", but the word is used to mean "reference" -- "inspirations" here are simply acknowledged references to pre-existing works. One artist is commended for making a "playful comment" which is also a "political comment". (It's almost as though the playfulness has to be balanced by something more serious and worthy.) One artist makes work that's "beautifully executed", another has a "gothic imagination". The show's theme (the failure of modernist ideals) is described as "hackneyed", ie the opposite of original. So the idea of originality is present here, even if postmodernism's constant chain of references makes it problematical. Interestingly, it's the curator whose originality comes into question. So are curators not allowed to have "inspirations" and make "references", then?



Let's try another Frieze review. It's picked at random, but this happens to be a review of a performance show by a friend of mine, Jen Ray (she's Jason Forrest's partner). Rather than her "creative personality", the review locates her talent as something rooted in geography: "The North-Carolina born, Berlin-based artist possesses an edgier variant of the Southern talent for colourful fun." After several paragraphs of description, some qualitative evaluations come, but they're not about originality: "the degree of precision and clarity is impressive". There's approving talk of the work's "sources" in ritual and pop culture. There are some gender studies observations about the absence of men and the strength of women in the show. In a negative note, the reviewer says that negatives like aging and death, ugliness and sickness are absent. "But Ray’s work is undeniably beautiful and imaginative, its commitment to visual pleasure refreshing, and the artist clearly a fantastically talented draftswoman."

Finally, I scan my LiveJournal Friends List. Here there are signs of hope: Lucy Huntzinger is talking about pirate names, and says "Your name should be fierce, clever, imply unions with disgusting sea creatures or reference earlier pirates." Tradition, then, but originality too. Lord Whimsy is talking about the "ero-American patriot painter" Justine Lai, who paints herself having sex with historical American presidents: "I really like how Justine Lai went about this--and the work is nicely done, love the brushwork", says Whimsy, obviously a man who rates technique pretty highly. Elsewhere on the F-list there are Twitter star ratings that don't explain why, club invitations which say "the music is good and it's a lot of fun" and rock shows which, it is promised, "will rock". The hedonic seems to outrank the ideational here, but it is a Friday.

In this (admittedly brief and random) sampling, originality is not dead, but it's clearly rather low on the reviewer's list of things to look for. Postmodern appropriation and referentiality seems to have bumped it down the priorities list, and I'd argue that where it isn't looked for, originality won't flourish. If nobody's even talking about the hairs on your palm, they might as well not exist.

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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 05:18 pm (UTC)

I just fired up my iPod and the first thing that appeared on the screen was the review I linked to yesterday for Hypo's Random Veneziano:

"In his previous albums, Hypo already made himself noticed because of the originality of his experimental electronica, without being too cerebral. And indeed, it's difficult to compare Hypo with anybody else."


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 05:38 pm (UTC)

Well sure, execution is vital, but it's the artist's conceit that's the real draw, which in this case is fresh, if not original:

"I approach the spectacle of sex and politics with a certain playfulness. It would be easy to let the images slide into territory that's strictly pornographic—the lurid and hardcore, the predictably "controversial." One could also imagine a series preoccupied with wearing its "Fuck the Man" symbolism on its sleeve. But I wish to move beyond these things and make something playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous, but exuberantly so. This, I feel, is the most humanizing act I can do."


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lord_whimsy
lord_whimsy
whimsy
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)

And I might remind your readers of this tract of yours. It seems your affections for the ideas expressed in this old post have cooled.


ReplyThread Parent
imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 06:05 pm (UTC)

I'm interested in the statements you made about Lai's work, and Lai made about her own work. Your statement was of a technical nature, Lai's (the one you chose) is about denying a political or pornographic reading of the images.

I think her work is original, and it is in the "conceit", the idea of herself (an American-born Chinese, I'm assuming) fucking historical American presidents. Put that together with her chosen title, Join or Die, and it seems to me -- pretty inescapably -- to be about how you don't have a choice but to embrace your socialisation, as a first or second generation immigrant, with enthusiasm. You basically have to "fuck the president" or fuck off. And that would seem to relate to the idea that there is no place outside of society, even for an immigrant who might still have some ties to another society.

It seems to me that making this work a political statement is pretty much the same as denying this work makes a political statement, in that it's a focus on political statements. None of us are talking about originality at that point, and I'd suggest some reasons:

1. Lai herself can't be seen to blow her own trumpet. Nobody is allowed to say "I'm hella original", even though they probably think they ought to try to be.

2. There may be something like "structural originality" -- an editorial implication that "the very fact that we're talking about this artist means we think she's original". That's the "so-obvious-we-don't-even-need-to-mention-it" line, but I think it's a fudge. You do need to mention things that don't get mentioned.

3. There may also be, in the case of a female artist, a sense that for a male to declare her "original" is patronising -- an implication that women are not, in general, original. It seems more acceptable to praise her workmanship. Although of course that might also imply that women are not, in general, good workmen.


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pay_option07
pay_option07
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 01:57 am (UTC)
Symbolism on its sleeve

Impressions of party policies flashed through my mind
when viewing the positions of congress.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 08:32 pm (UTC)

originality, like beauty, tends to be in the eye of the beholder... people will spend hours arguing over what details in an artwork/piece of music/whatever are copied, where they're copied from, who has done something similar before, etc...

it is tricky though, there are often pieces of music or art made up of samples or appropriated images that are more innovative and fresh than "original" music or art that is using tired ideas. just because you wrote a song on a piano rather than a sampler, it doesn't mean you're not doing something that isn't tired or full of cliches.


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 08:41 pm (UTC)

also, i think you've got to be wary of signifiers of "originality" things like the use of new technology, "difficulty" "attitude" etc... if someone sticks a few electronic bleeps and bloops on their pretty bog-standard indie song, that doesn't make them original, but can give the impression of being cutting edge, new, whatever...


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 10:44 pm (UTC)

Well, I think it's a case of "you know it when you see it, because you know you haven't seen it before". But that just means that perceptions of originality correlate to ignorance of what's been done, doesn't it?


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 10:51 pm (UTC)

ah yes... and everybody's knowledge is limited, meaning we can never know what is original! ;)


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 11:12 pm (UTC)

Well, naturally it's subjective and relative.


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timmccready
timmccready
Tim McCready
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 08:37 pm (UTC)

Momus, will you please add me to your friends list?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)

Done. I look forward to reading screeds of stuff about originality!


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count_vronsky
count_vronsky
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 08:43 pm (UTC)

Interestingly, I just stumbled across this today, and it has an image of Zelig, and Lafcadio Hearn -- Tactical Museum. Tokyo


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 10:00 pm (UTC)

Isn't the pursuit of originality a little unoriginal at this point, being the primary aim of avant-garde modernism, a movement which is nearly 100 years old?

Or at least the whole idea of dispensing with aesthetic, technical, spiritual, and whatever other aims, strictly in favor of originality, might at least seem a bit like a stale perspective.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 10:41 pm (UTC)

Isn't the pursuit of originality a little unoriginal at this point

Argh! Endlessly recursive slippage! You mean, if it's hackneyed to be original, it must be original to be hackneyed? But that if it's original to be hackneyed, it must be hackneyed to be hackneyed, and therefore original? Ack!

Disqualified, sorry. As Cage said: "If I can't say "non-goal" and mean non-goal instead of goal, then the language is of no use."


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(Anonymous)
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 10:57 pm (UTC)

Doesn't subjectivity imply an impossibility to give a firm definition? If ugly can be beautiful, then beautiful means nothing. Why should the concept of originality escape this problem?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Fri, Mar. 27th, 2009 11:08 pm (UTC)

Well, I would say "no new legislation is necessary"... and no self-defeatingly paradoxical new definitions either. If something is trying to be original, but doing it in an old-fashioned way and ending up hackneyed, then it clearly isn't being original. The attempt failed, but originality didn't.

So you can't tarnish the very idea of originality by saying "they were trying to be original one hundred years ago too, you know". It's whether we succeed that makes us original, and we need to know the current context, not Ezra Pound's context.


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fishmonkeytrip
fishmonkeytrip
fishmonkeytrip
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 12:27 am (UTC)

Are these questions? Or, feelings? What's driving this search for originality?

Does this search have more to do with an escape from reality, than an investigation of originality?

Do you want to escape the world, or examine the nature of originality within it?


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 01:27 am (UTC)

The art world is rarely driven by technology and it still finds ways to be original. In the last several years, Vanessa Beecroft simply had models stand around in formation, and Rirkrit Tiravanija served food to anyone who came in. But of course, even though they seemed original, they had precedents. There was a long history of tableau vivants that's merely been abandoned for the last many decades, and there's a more recent tradition of Happenings which resemble Tiravanija's work. Likewise for almost all of the major transitions in art history.

(And I'm only using Beecroft and Tiravanija as examples because they're obviously original, obviously have little to do with technology, and ultimately come out of a tradition.)

I'm not saying that technology doesn't have a part (the invention of oil paints in the Renaissance or this century's synthetic house paints shows that it does) but in the art world, technology is usually a secondary motivator and today is no exception.

Also, technology doesn't explain the originality in fiction, e.g., Belano's 2666. That book's originality is based simply in original ways of stringing words and stories together. No technological advance needed. Similar thing for painting and art.


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 02:48 am (UTC)

"I could say "im going to write a book using only numbers". it would be a nonsense book. I'd then write a book using entirely made up words like Tjuwehewohwe and it'd have many chapters. All of this is "original" (and if not original, rare) but it wouldnt impress anyone"

...don't be too hard on yourself, kuma. I'd read it!


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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)

not bad, almost as good a read as the phone book!

And I hope the one with the nonsense words surpasses this:



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eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
eclectiktronik
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 11:05 am (UTC)

I think we are in danger of mixing things up a bit here. we seem to be blending ideas on what is and isn't art, the value of originality as a concept, what is and isn't 'original' .

your example of the murder as art isn't in fact as original as you seem to suggest above.
Perhaps not the best example but what about the mexican artist's Guillermo Vargas' installation with the dying dogs? Even The Police sang about murfder into art in the 80s! And of course murder has been used or hinted at in various artistic disciplines and events, from Hermann Nitsch to the film 'Seven'!

In fact at the end of that film ISTR there' s a sequence where the cop is letting rip a tirade of accusations against the (receptly captured) murderer about how he is seeking his moment of fame, etc. with his murders, and how he despite his theological or conceptual pretentions, he is just 'a murderer'.




ReplyThread Parent
uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 04:39 am (UTC)

You love to argue, even when you're full of shit.

Saying technological change is the base drive of innovation in the art world (or many other worlds) is not true.


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 01:31 pm (UTC)

Even today, in the visual arts and in literature (and obv. in math and philosophy) technology takes a minor role, as it usually has (with massive exceptions for major relevant tech changes like photography, the camera obscura, various print making techniques, perspective, oil paints, silicon mold making, etc.).

If originality is a myth today, then it was a myth three hundred years ago. With few exceptions, the visual arts and literature find "originality" in changing their framework of what is to be shown, and how, and how to combine the physical stuff, datum, etc.

Check out Rosalind Krauss' essay "On the Originality of the Avant Garde and Other Modernist Myths."

Also, just because YOU don't like a particular art piece means nothing. Most non-art people originally hated Impressionism, the Romantics, late Caravaggio, Cubism, ad infinitum.


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 02:25 pm (UTC)

You, as usual, are arguing just to argue. You're twisting the definition of "technology" to a point where it no longer means anything, since it covers everything. Technology, for people other than you, encompasses the invention of a shovel, not the invention of a stanza.

You're also an insufferable pain in the ass.

But let's test your theory; explain the following in technological terms: Ok, go (in chronological order):
Fluxus
Happenings
Pop Art
Abstract Impressionism
Surrealism
Dada
Cubism
Picasso's portrait of Gertrude Stein
Post-Impressionism
Impressionism
The Pre-Raphealites
Van Gogh
David
Ingres
late period Goya
Goya
The Romantics
Rembrandt
the Dutch in general
ad infinitum


ReplyThread Parent

uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)

I find that utterly unpersuasive.

Again, you stretch the definition of "technology" so wide that it becomes a metaphysical catch-all term. You could easily substitute "love" or "mankind" or "selfishness" or any other God term for your claims for the role of "technology."

Saying shit like, "Cubism as a concept is abstract" is bullshit. Cubism was created by Picasso when he fucked up Gertrude Stein's portrait, and then refined first with "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and then further with Braque. It was not a concept until years later.


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 09:54 pm (UTC)

Cubism was not a defined concept. It was not an abstract. It was a vague practice that was first created by Picasso, then elaborated on by a handful of people, most of whom had different ideas of what it meant. History proves you wrong.

And again, you are willfully and abstrusely misusing the term "technology". You can take any sufficiently vague term and claim that it is the fundamental base of any category X.

Again, you're just arguing for the fuck of it, to get off on claiming something silly and unprovable and utterly semantic.


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 10:16 pm (UTC)

The point isn't the fucking definition. Quit being abstruse. The point is you can make the same claim with ANY vague word. (Furthermore, very, very, very few people make the claim that art is about controlling the environment, and only a few make the claim that art is about adapting to the environment.)

Again, bullshit arguing for the hell of it.

And your equation is so full of idiocy that I don't know where to start. I've been an artist and been around artists for my adult life and NO ONE, I repeat NOT A ONE, approaches art with such an idiotic, pedantic, and formulaic approach, and that certainly included Picasso. I've also read a lot of art theory and no art theorist makes that simplistic of a claim. Your formula is foolish and too simplistic to talk about.

I don't have time for this. I'm sorry I engaged you. Just assume you are right, assume you know all about art making and art history; I'm going outside to enjoy the sun, and then will come home and draw (not using your formula, of course).


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 01:13 am (UTC)

It's rarely mentioned because it's rarely experienced. Even when you do encounter the original, often you find out that it was only original to you, and soon find the precedents of the work in question.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 01:48 am (UTC)

I'm with Uber on this -- technology is just one of many kinds of context that can change, and, in changing, generate new possibilities for originality. And time passing is itself contextual change enough, as we saw in the anxious interval piece.

For instance, while you've been here debating, I've posted a new entry, so this one is old news! There's context change for ya!


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 02:30 am (UTC)

I try to combine the new and the true, or, to put it in another way, what's disorienting and what's reliably moving.

It was Goethe who said "Every good idea has already been thought. Suffice only to think it again." I think originality comes into it adverbially; how you think it.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 04:34 am (UTC)


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georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)
Originality is theft plus lack of skill...

It's generally accepted that one of the most original works in the history of music is the Rite Of Spring (1913). The audience at its Paris premiere rioted, ensuring the work a succès de scandale.

What was original about it? The subject matter - pagan fertility rites and human sacrifice - was very different from anything you'd find in a Tchaikovsky ballet. The sheer noisiness - partly created by the huge percussion section - was new. Stravinsky's approach to rhythm was new - at least within the western classical tradition. The musical structure - a series of abrupt interruptions and discontinuities, probably inspired by the jump-cut editing of early silent movies - was also new to western music.

But some aspects of it aren't so new. Stravinsky was taught by Rimsky-Korsakov; he inherited a whole Russian tradition going back to Moussorgsky. Audiences and critics outside Russia weren't so familiar with this exotic musical tradition, so didn't notice the lineage of Stravinsky's art. Recently, musicologists have shown how whole pages of the Rite were effectively "sampled" from Skryabin - although these "sampled" pages feel very different in the context of the Rite from how they feel in Skryabin's music. Those same killjoy musicologists have also traced pretty much every melody in the Rite to two books of Lithuanian and Ukrainian folk songs known to have been in Stavinsky's possession.

And yet - with all that, I still think the Rite Of Spring really is original.

Someone said that originality is basically theft plus lack of skill. You try and rip something off, but you're not able to pull off a really good imitation. Almost inadvertently you hit on something really original instead. This isn't the whole story with Stravinsky, but it's an element of it, certainly. And I think he became aware of "incompetent forgery" as a conscious technique in his later music.

Another artist who was like that was Miles Davis. Miles invented the Cool partly because he wasn't able to play bebop properly. He just didn't have the chops. Later on he got really worried that jazz was no longer relevant to African Americans. So he set about trying to sell out, trying to incorporate sounds and approaches from music he thought was popular with African Americans, from Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, James Brown and others; trying to make "crossover" albums. But he almost always got it wrong - thank goodness. Albums like "On The Corner" and "Bitches Brew" are brilliantly original precisely because they're failed crossovers. Only "Tutu" successfully imitated the styles it was trying to. It's really a Marcus Miller album with Miles as guest soloist. I used to hate it. Now I think it's much better than I realized. But it's not as interesting as the albums where Miles gets it wrong (therefore right).


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 01:57 pm (UTC)
Re: Originality is theft plus lack of skill...

originality is basically theft plus lack of skill

Yes, or repeating what someone said in a funny accent!

I looked at the link between "wrongness" and originality in this piece. And then in So wrong it's right.

I think the most original novel I read in college was Kathy Acker's Blood and Guts in High School, which starts as a poorly-executed copy of Great Expectations and then wanders off into other stuff.


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)

What's amazing about The Rite of Spring (with Nijinskys's re-created choreography and what's his name's backdrops) is that it STILL packs a punch. It's still intense, still a little shocking, and still looks unique, which to me translates to a type of "original." But the same piece in Disney's Fantasia doesn't have any of that; it's still good, but it's not shocking or intense, and even the animation isn't as good as other parts of the same movie. Weird how that works.


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georgesdelatour
georgesdelatour
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 03:34 pm (UTC)

Stravinsky got ripped off by Disney for the Fantasia version of the Rite.

His three most popular works (Firebird, Petrushka and the Rite) were all published by a Russian publisher whose catalogue effectively lapsed after the Russian Revolution, when the Bolsheviks refused to sign the Berne Convention. Disney's lawyers knew they had Stravinsky over a barrel. He was forced to accept a terrible agreement for the use of his music in the film. Eventually Stravinsky's principal publisher, Boosey & Hawkes, acquired the rights to the Rite, and they recently sued Disney for using it in DVD versions of Fantasia not covered by the original agreement.

Stravinsky said he hated Nijinsky's choreography, because he felt Nijinsky couldn't handle the complex rhythmic structure of his music. Others around at the time say tStravinsky's criticism wasn't fair.

I'd love to see a new Fantasia-type version of the Rite, done by Alex Rutterford, in the manner of his Gantz Graf video for Autechre.


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Sat, Mar. 28th, 2009 04:42 pm (UTC)

You can see the reconstructed Rite with Nijinsky's choreography, and I think Stravinsky was wrong; Nijinsky's moves are amazing and utterly contemporary. Nijinsky himself was constantly annoyed with Stravinsky's claims that he didn't understand his music. He thought Stravinsky was a self-important blowhard. And Stravinsky loved Disney, even though Disney screwed him.

But damn... it's still amazing. You can kinda see how it would drive the audience to riot.


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harveyjames
harveyjames
harveyjames
Thu, Apr. 16th, 2009 02:27 pm (UTC)

Is the concept of originality held in the same regard in a country like Japan?


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