Wednesday, December 23, 2009

DJ Young's Introduction to the Goldberg Variations

DJ Young hails from the Pacific Northwest. She grew up on the island of Wrangell, Alaska, surrounded by Tlingets, drunken lumbermen and lots of water. When she wasn't climbing trees and stealing cigarettes she enjoyed listening to tales of mystical land otters, ravens and cholera epidemics. As young musician in college she came across Gould's '81 recordings of the Goldberg Variations and has lived in fascination ever since. She is currently at work revising her first (well third really) novel, To the End of Love.

My introduction to the Goldberg Variations came in 1991, when I was still in college, pretending to study music. I was completely directionless at the time, unable to decide if I wanted to be a writer or a composer or a filmmaker or a chain smoking vagabond; I did not have the musicianship to be a performer (nor the discipline to attain it), and I was thoroughly absorbed by the late 19th century, Impressionism, Debussy, Satie, Les Six -what I then considered to be the last great gasp of art. Silly youth.

My professor, for reasons only he knows, decided it was time to open our ears a little further and played both the 1955 and 1981 versions of Glenn Gould’s performance of the Goldberg Variations. I remember feeling transfixed, completely removed from my immediate surroundings and later borrowed a copy of the 1981 recording from the library. I listened to it for three days straight – the clean, clarified logic of it, the mathematical precision of it and the provocative intimacy of Gould’s humming spinning me further inside of it. I was 21, lonely and felt isolated amongst peers who were more outgoing than I was, better performers than I would ever be, seemingly unafraid of anything. I had never felt comfortable as a student. Bouts of anxiety and depression kept me largely friendless and while I was crawling inside my own skin to explore my varied obsessions, I rarely showed my own efforts to anyone. Then came Gould and Bach and the Variations and very suddenly I felt almost liberated.

On practice hours when one of the choir rooms was empty, I would sneak in, keeping the lights off and put on Gould’s Variations, usually the 1981 recording, which, while less energetic than the 1955, felt more personal to me. I would listen and watch the other students go by from the window, waiting for one in particular who went the same way every day. I watched her carrying her large sack full of books, hoping she would pause at one of the benches to rest so I could take her in for a short while. I never knew her name and never approached her, not even by accident. She was The Girl, with long, auburn hair, so thin she looked lost in the bulky coats she always wore. She didn’t remind me of anyone else. I’m not sure I would remember her face today.

One after the other, the Variations was the perfect accompaniment to my own youthful, anxious thoughts. Gould’s precision and egoless finesse bringing some order to the world, a sense of something more important, expansive, ongoing – sure of itself. I did not relate to my anxieties at those moments, or my depression, the mood swings that would leave me crawling in pathetic circles, up and down walls just to find some balance, some idea of where I was headed. The world was too much then, too straight to be suddenly gay in, too serious to be crazy, too demanding to not be good enough in. When the headphones went on, all the doubts went away.

Two weeks before that class, before that momentous (for me anyway) introduction, I had swallowed a bottle of pills, aspirin tablets mostly. I never cried out for help, had no interest in being helped; my family life was a mess. I had a younger brother with a terrible heart condition that, in two years, would make him a transplant patient. My parents were divorced and uninterested in anything but their own half-lives. I could not concentrate in my classes or anywhere else in my life. I wanted to learn but had no idea what to do with myself. I did not feel necessary, just another waste of space. Realizing I might also be gay only made my reality seem that much more alien. No one wants to be an outsider, especially where it rains a lot.

My suicide attempt failed, of course, though I was sick for about a week. I returned to class with no one the wiser, I had told no one of my attempt, only felt more pathetic than I already was, couldn’t even die properly. How difficult should something like that be, anyway? A part of me knew I didn’t really want to die – I just wanted some certainty, some clarity and something approaching self-esteem. I’d stopped believing in God in my teens, but I never stopped hoping. I just wanted to find my way through that unfound door, to Wonderland or Neverland or Oz or wherever the outcasts went.

Some eighteen years later, it matters less that I never found it, but I still listen for it. Listening has become the landscape of my dreams.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Exclusive video from Celebration of Music week

Below is a video of Christian Vasquez conducting the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra playing "Castellanos - Santa Cruz de Pacairigua" in rehearsal before the October 29, 2009 Youth Concert at the Rogers Centre presented by Rogers for over 14,700 students across Ontario. Enjoy!

Stay tuned for more!
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Thursday, October 08, 2009

"Bravo Gustavo" iPhone app Review

The below blog post is also a Google Wave wave. View the wave to see screen shots of the app!

Adam Lazzarato (@adamlazzarato) is a 19-year-old Intern at The Glenn Gould Foundation. He is responsible for overseeing the Contrapuntal Blog and tweeting for the Glenn Gould Foundation at @GlennGouldFndn. His musical tastes consist of mainly North American indie rock, but over his time at the Glenn Gould Foundation, he has learned to love and respect Glenn Gould’s piano. He will be entering into his second year at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario in September to study Computer Science.

I recently sat down with the free "Bravo Gustavo" app on the iPhone.

"Ever wonder what it is like to conduct a world-class orchestra? Spend some time in the shoes of Gustavo Dudamel, the LA Phil's new music director and experience the rush of a maestro. Transform your iPhone or iPod Touch into a conductor's baton or set the tempo by tapping the screen. Your audience awaits!"

- iTunes Music Store

There were a couple things I really liked about the app:

1) Music

There are two (more available to buy) pieces that you can play, both of which are energetic, and exciting, exactly what you would expect from an iPhone app made with Gustavo Dudamel in mind.

March to the Scaffold (Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique)
Dream of a Witches' Sabbath (Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique)
Now, the app is not an mp3 player. It gives the user control of the tempo of the piece, effectively letting the user become the conductor! It is quite interesting to see how the pieces can change when you hand the app to different people.

2) Motion Sensing

Apart from the amazing music that the user has the opportunity to play, the fact that the user can physically wave the iPhone like a baton is quite an awesome feature.

Though, I prefer not to use the motion sensing. I prefer to tap the screen to set the tempo of the piece while watching some of the stunning images of Gustavo and the Los Angeles Philharmonic pass by.


I wish there was more selection in the number of songs that come with the app, but since the app is free and there are simply awesome photos of Gustavo and the LA Phil, the poor selection is not a major problem.

Overall, this app scores a 4/5.
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Friday, September 18, 2009

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Hello all!

To give a quick report on the new documentary that screened at TIFF this week - Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould - I am happy to report that this will likely become the gauge by which we measure the quality of future films about Gould.  It is a brilliant and highly accurate piece of work, in that the many interviews conducted, were done with those who were closest to Gould.  The Foss family is absolutely delightful, and one really gets a sense of how much of Gould's public facade was just that.  While the film is not just about his relationships with women, namely Cornelia Foss, it does make up a good portion.  And rightly so, because never before have we been able to see this other side of Gould.  There are some incredible pictures AND footage which has never been seen before.  The film does not sensationalize anything or anyone, nor does it perpetuate the myth of him being a recluse who wears winter clothing in the summer.  Gould definitely had issues with being in control, and totally knew what he was doing in creating his own image.  Let's face it, we all still buy into it to some extent.  This film goes beyond that, as I said, and shows us a side that has not yet been revealed.  We need to know this side existed, not to be nosy or anything, but more importantly, to have an accurate conception of who he was and what he was about.  It's a brilliant film and you all MUST see it!  It's worth it for the interviews alone, never mind the footage.  I particularly liked the interviews with Lorne Tulk, Kevin Bazzana and Pet Clark.  Yes, she's in it too!

On a side note, we were informed that the film will be in theatres across Canada very soon, and also that an American company has purchased the rights to show it in that country (not sure about overseas).  I believe that company will be announced shortly.  In the US, the film will show in about 30 different cities.  Back here in Canada, a shortened version of the film will air on Valentine's day, on the Bravo! network. As for when it comes out on DVD, I have been advised by the Estate that it likely won't be for at least another 6 months.  Indeed, something to look forward to!

Best wishes from Toronto!
Penny Johnson (Contributing Author, The Glenn Gould Foundation)
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Monday, September 07, 2009

New Horizons

Glenn Gould once said that he would stop playing the piano at the age of fifty. This happened in fact—just not in the way that he had in mind. The idea was that he would then move on to some other pursuit. Probably conducting, or further explorations in documentary radio production.

This is what you would expect. But I think it would have been interesting if GG had branched out in completely new directions. He certainly had the opportunities, if not necessarily the inclination, to do any number of things. Here's a few of the alternative occupations I would have liked to see GG try out, at least.

1.) Jazz Musician. Gould was an awesome improviser in the manner of the great composers of yore. But he said he was not cut out to be a jazz musician, claiming that he had no sense of swing. I don't doubt it. Gould had a few jazz records in his collection, focusing on pianists who were either really virtuosic like Oscar Peterson, or more cerebral like Lennie Tristano. Gould was telephone friends with Bill Evans and the two of them have sometimes been been compared to each other, kind of in the sense of being jazz vs. classical versions of the same guy.

Anyway, I think it would have been cool if Gould was just thrown in feet-first into the middle of something like Miles Davis' electric band from the late 60's with no preparation or time to think about it. Just go. It would have been way out of his comfort zone but eventually I bet it would have produced good results.

2.) News Announcer. Gould actually almost did this. I was reading about it somewhere. He was at the CBC studio and the news announcer couldn't go on for some reason. Gould was the only person around at the time who was prepared to go on mic, so he volunteered. He got as far as actually having the papers in hand and getting ready to go into the broadcast booth when, at the last second, a replacement announcer was brought in. I think it would have been cool if Gould decided to take the gig and make it his new full-time job.

3.) Variety-Show Host. In the 60's and 70's, variety shows were big TV. In those days there were only a few channels, so network executives figured that to get the biggest audiences you should make a show that had a little something for everybody. Hence, the variety show, usually featuring some combination of music and comedy. Various musicians or comedians had their own shows at one time or another: The Smothers Brothers, Glen Campbell, The Jackson 5, Sonny and Cher, Donny and Marie, and the list goes on and on . . .

I imagine that The Glenn Gould Music and Comedy Hour would most closely resemble The Carol Burnett Show, with a focus on sketch comedy featuring recurring characters, interspersed occasionally with music performances. On this show Gould would develop and expand his existing repertoire of comedy characters like Karlheinz Klopfmeister (or whatever) and Myron Chianti. There would be a regular cast of performers as well. It would be cool if the guys from Goin' Down the Road were on it.

There would be music on the show but Gould would not perform it, and it would not be classical either. It would be stuff like Ann Murray, or The Guess Who.

Apparently, Gould actually wanted to do more comedy for the CBC, but the producers discouraged him because they thought his performances weren't very funny. If so it would be the only known case of the CBC rejecting a comedy idea on the grounds that it wasn't funny enough.

4.) Game-Show Host. I believe Gould would have made a good host for a show like Jeopardy although I'm not sure why. I also think he would have been an okay panelist on Hollywood Squares, or What's My Line? But, being Canadian, he would most likely have ended up as a panelist on Front Page Challenge, which would have been best suited to his personality, but also very boring.

5.) Stock-Car Racer. Gould should have looked into this since, apparently, he drove like that anyway.

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Guest Blogger - Kamila Dameron

This is the next post in The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

Kamila Dameron is a 20 year old student in Seattle majoring in English and Journalism. She is a closet pianist, and has studied on and off for nearly 15 years. Contact Kamila:
The Invisible Artist

Thomas Mann once wrote something to the effect of “The piano is not an instrument on which to learn a skill, but rather music.” In our highly competitive, commercialized society, music, like most things, is being used as a means to an end. Conservatories and private teachers pump out Wunderkinder by the thousands, competitions establish who is surely going to end up with a record deal with Sony Classical, and eighteen-year-old violinists tour the world with their Kreislers and Mendelssohns and Dvořáks. Is this how we want to treat music? As a self-affirming tool, a spotlight for our egos? Granted, numerous gifted artists are discovered this way, too. However, the atmosphere is eerie; it is one of competition, one wherein the Self is more highly regarded than the art which one is propelling. Glenn Gould, in theory, would agree.

“The purpose of art is not the momentary ejection of adrenaline, but rather the lifelong construction of a state of wonder and serenity” (Gould). With wonder there comes a sense of smallness, a sense of being a part of something bigger; the Self is no longer the Universe, but a humble servant of its symmetries. I often find myself turning off the radio in a fit of frustration, for it seems all I hear these days are bloated performances of Chopin etudes and ballades, Take-No-Prisoners-Beethoven string quartets and German symphonies for whose interpretations the conductor had a few too many “Original Ideas.” As an antidote, I’d put on a recording of Glenn Gould, who, irrespective of his humming, had the rare gift of making himself invisible. Leonard Bernstein once said, “I'm not interested in having an orchestra sound like itself. I want it to sound like the composer.” Are we so desperate to be remembered, in a country whose arts have been ravaged by war and commercialism, that we are willing to shove Beethoven aside and say, “Look at me, look at me”? Has it gotten to the point where any sixteen-year-old pianist who can play Prokofiev without missing a note is a virtuoso artist—even though, in most cases but not all, the student hasn’t the emotional capital to understand what he is playing?

I propose we all skip a few piano lessons and listen to Glenn Gould. He said once that you could learn technique in five minutes. It’s the giving one’s self up to the music, as a servant and not a star, that makes it genuine. Music should teach us that the universe is impossibly infinite, not that we are the masters of it. As a young pianist, I used to get violently nervous about performing and piano lessons, because the music was directly attached to my ego and self-esteem. But with time and isolation from the mainstream world of music education, I was lucky enough to put myself away and pay attention to what the music wanted to say, as opposed to what I wanted to say. One might argue that Glenn Gould, in his seemingly eccentric interpretations (tempi, etc) was being selfish; but I see him as a man exploring all the possible angles of a work, simply because it is an injustice not to explore them. A fugue from the Well Tempered Clavier is a capital example. In his “official” recording of the WTC, the fugue no. 9 in E Major from book two (BWV 878) is a triumphant exclamation, whereas in a stray recording of the same fugue (year unknown to me), it is “reserved,” placid, filled with reflection and wisdom. This polarity is Bachian, for it seems in his music there lie the equations for divinity, no matter the tempo. Gould took full advantage of this, providing us with a multidimensional Bach. Though it may have been Gouldian to explore extremes, I would argue that it was his desire to portray as many true versions of music as possible, for music’s sake and not his own.

I don’t expect that many will share my form of pessimism about the modern music scene, and maybe they shouldn’t, for maybe it is not productive—but I long for the days when music was about music, and where people like Glenn Gould dedicated their lives to doing right by it.
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Guest Blogger - DJ Young

This is the next post in The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

DJ Young hails from the Pacific Northwest. She grew up on the island of Wrangell, Alaska, surrounded by Tlingets, drunken lumbermen and lots of water. When she wasn't climbing trees and stealing cigarettes she enjoyed listening to tales of mystical land otters, ravens and cholera epidemics. As young musician in college she came across Gould's '81 recordings of the Goldberg Variations and has lived in fascination ever since. She is currently at work revising her first (well third really) novel, To the End of Love.
This post can also be found at DJ's blog.

The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Glenn Gould, A Review
“As in judiciary practice, polemics allows for no possibility of an equal discussion: it examines a case; it isn’t dealing with an interlocutor, it is processing a suspect; it collects the proofs of his guilt, designates the infraction he has committed, and pronounces the verdict and sentences him. In any case, what we have here is not on the order of a shared investigation; the polemicist tells the truth in the form of his judgment and by virtue of the authority he has conferred on himself.”
-Michel Foucault

Why does Glenn Gould matter, still? This is the question I asked myself as I approached a re-reading of Peter F. Ostwald’s 1996 biography The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Glenn Gould. When I first came across this book, back in 1998, I was initially impressed with the detail that Ostwald employed to flesh out Gould’s life and the circumstances for his famously eccentric behavior; I enjoyed it as a sort of companion piece to the film 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould.

Released in 1995, 32 Short Films encapsulated Gould’s life into a series of snapshots, featuring interviews with friends, working acquaintances, colleagues and Gould’s surviving cousin, Jessie. Interestingly, Ostwald was not among those interviewed for the film, nor was he ever featured in the involving 1985 CBC documentary, Glenn Gould: A Portrait. In fact, Ostwald’s biography is the only reference I could find to his relationship with Gould (though there maybe others) and while it may mean little or nothing (one can hardly expect every Gould relationship to turn up in every documentary or biography written on the man), I do find it perhaps a little telling, especially in light of these opening lines in the introduction to Ostwald’s biography (provided by Ostwald’s wife, Lise):

“Forty years have passed since the first meeting between Peter and Glenn took place. Why was this an unforgettable event, permanently engraved in both their minds? Was it the intuitive knowledge that this was the beginning of a twenty-five year friendship – and occasional collaboration – leading to the tragic tale of Glenn Gould’s premature death at age fifty; which would be written by Peter Ostwald, a sixty-eight year old professor of medicine, a violinist, and a distinguished author, who fought an unrelenting battle with cancer for twelve years?”

There is an arrogance to this admission that is, to this reader shocking. Is Lise (through her husband) insinuating that his ‘friendship’ with Gould was such a distinctive and serious relationship and that Ostwald’s biography of Gould is somehow definitive? After all, there have been dozens of books written about Gould – before and after his death – why should this one stand out so completely?

The answer we are given here is that Ostwald’s friendship with Gould makes the piece that much more important and deserving of our special attention; yet, throughout the book, Ostwald gives us more reasons to question whether such a ‘friendship’ was as ‘unforgettable’ as Mrs. Ostwald would have us think and whether Ostwald’s insights into Gould are truly penetrating, but, perhaps more of a glimpse into the psyche of a doctor who built much of his own career writing about the mental illnesses of famous artists?

The Ecstasy and Tragedy of Glenn Gould opens with the first meeting of Gould at Ostwald, in 1957, thus setting up the potential for a memoir of sorts. Ostwald describes sneaking backstage, something he admits to being well versed in, to meet Gould after the concert. An amateur musician himself, did Ostwald carry any dreams of progressing, of some fame for himself? He mentions his friendships with other musicians at the time, including Martin Canin, a name he drops to get in Gould’s dressing room door. From there he describes a night that results in an impromptu chamber session at the apartment of a friend, and Gould’s first reaction to Ostwald the psychiatrist – a fact that, no doubt, would have been attractive to the pill-popping hypochondriac.

Does this mean their friendship began on something of a false note and progressed from there? We are not really allowed to know; Ostwald does not evolve his writing in memoir-fashion. Instead, he begins a gradual and highly detailed breakdown of Gould’s childhood and early adulthood, including the almost-Freudian take on his relationship with his mother, a woman who, after giving birth for the first (and only) time at 42, developed a controlling and protective attitude toward Glenn’s upbringing and musical training. It is to Florence Gould, an amateur pianist herself that the possibility of many of her son’s more florid manias, including his hypochondria and controlling, isolated tendencies evolved from. Yet Gould’s unquestionable musicality, exhibited before he was even three years of age, and, later, the obsessive-repetitive and increasingly narcissistic attitudes he developed may have led to a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome, a question Ostwald does not shy away from, but never explores fully.

It is through Gould’s often unconventional ideas about performance, sometimes ignoring a composer’s dynamics or tempo markings, that caused confusion and consternation from critics and even from Ostwald, who, without qualification for his objection, states plainly on several occasions that he felt Gould was ‘wrong’ in his own judgments. To some degree he openly denigrates Gould’s choices:

“…he said he ‘hated’ late works by Mozart such as the Symphony in G Minor, K. 550. (Had Glenn ever listened to the late viola quintets? How could anyone ‘hate’ such sublime music?)” pg. 249.

It is at these moments (and there are several in the book) that Ostwald the Polemicist comes to the fore: in spite of Gould’s legendary intellect and immersion into music, his deep and well-developed sense of composition, form and structure (and the artistry involved), Ostwald, perhaps out of some unsatisfied argument with Gould himself, attempts to undermine and negate Gould’s well-considered opinions.

“As a concert pianist, he came to detest what he perceived (wrongly, I believe) as a struggle to the death between the performer and the audience. And as a media artist, he expected (wrongly again) that advances in technology would reduce human competitiveness.” Pg. 265

What are we without our opinions? Gould’s were an extension of his highly evolved inner life and his own experiences as a performer. Who are we (or Ostwald) to say that he is ‘wrong’ in his thinking? For Gould, stage performance was a nightmare both personally and morally and, for him, this was nothing more than truth. A personal truth, perhaps, but to question those truths about a person derides a closer insight. Though Ostwald makes every case for the reasons why Gould gave up the concert stage, he still doesn’t seem to appreciate the real optimism that was behind it. Like so many critics before him, the emphasis on Gould retiring from the concert stage as some sort of personal failing is grossly misrepresented and exaggerated. Gould most likely did not give as much thought to leaving the stage as those who have questioned his decision to do so have. For Gould, ending his concert career was a flight of freedom. How do you question that?

Glenn Gould was an artist full of contradictions, but do those contradictions invalidate his ideas?

“What Glenn never seemed able consciously to perceive or acknowledge was his own extreme competitiveness in having to play faster and more brilliantly than any other pianist…in his highly successful gambling on the stock market, and in his sheer joy at coming out the winner in conversation and games of wit. In fact, one might consider his having won, posthumously, the biggest competition of them all, that of survival in public memory.” Pg. 266

What is Ostwald saying here? There is almost a tenor of resentment – as if being a success, for Gould, was something that shouldn’t have happened, that such an arrogant, narcissistic figure who (to Ostwald’s description) played a ‘part’ to the public – that all his moral posturing was really Gould hiding behind his own insecurities and that, perhaps Gould wasn’t the artist he wanted everyone to think he was?

Ostwald describes himself as Gould’s ‘friend,’ a perhaps overly generous title; other than their first and last meetings, he describes almost no real interplay between them, yet, obviously, conversations occurred that, one senses, Ostwald did not always care for or ‘win’ himself. He must have had very few actual meetings with Glenn for, by the time of their last visit, in 1977, he had not seen Glenn in ten years. This final event is marked by a not-so-subtle bitterness:

“I must have said something uncomplimentary about the recording [Glenn’s latest on Bach], for Joe Stephens remembers Glenn “bristling” at my remarks. Glenn in turn said something that annoyed me very much.”

Ostwald never tells us what Glenn said that ‘annoyed’ him. At the end of their meeting Glenn challenges Ostwald to write a book about a ‘really important musician’ (instead of the Schumann biography he was working on).

“Was he thinking of himself?”

Did the germ of this biography begin that night, at their last meeting? Did Ostwald decide to embark on this biography toward the end of his own life in order to ‘have the last word’ as it were? In his writing Ostwald gives much detail: doctors Gould consulted, pills he took, concerts he gave, his own thoughts and opinions on composers and performers and, most movingly, the very last days of Gould’s life. Yet Ostwald’s commentary on Gould grows like a composition that starts out with a strong, clear theme only to result in clangs and clamor of dissonance and disillusion. He does not explain all the years that he and Gould did not communicate; he does not even explain how he comes to his own conclusions to deride Gould’s many complex musical and philosophical ideas, yet the sense that he himself bristled at Gould’s self-involvement, his ‘arrogance’ is a variation he never quite lets go of.

In the end, Ostwald’ biography is still a fascinating collection of ideas; its weaknesses I think stem from Ostwald (in a Gouldian fashion) relying more on his own opinions about Gould than real conversations with those who were closer to him and worked with him for many years. I also find it strange that Ostwald invokes a word that is often used to describe Gould: ecstasy. Perhaps due to the complexities of trying to sort through the many layers of Gould’s thought processes and his wide-ranging imagination, Ostwald never really touches on this aspect of Gould’s character: the great joy he experienced as a musician, as a man who devoted himself so completely to exploring every nuance of that which he loved, that which compelled him and held him in thrall his entire life. Ostwald the psychiatrist misses this point completely.

I hearken back to my first viewing of 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould and a section of the film entitled ‘Crossed Paths:’ brief vignettes with those who knew Glenn, perhaps only briefly, giving commentary about their experiences with him. The memories range from the humorous to the dour, with one woman expressing what seems like resentment that Gould did not understand the needs of others, that sometimes it wasn’t just all about him.

Though he gives us no reason to imagine his own relationship with Gould was anything more than a ‘crossed path,’ Ostwald, in a way, attempts to interject himself into Gould’s life as something more significant and telling than it was and I cannot help but think of this as a sort of personal letter to Gould himself: part of it inscribed with the honor and wonder of that initial meeting, that initial acquaintanceship, to voicing his own complaints, ones he never dared voice to Gould personally, and, finally closing on an old heartbreak. Did he ever wish he had intervened further, for Glenn’s health? There is surprisingly little judgment toward those other physicians who may have also done more to help prevent what was, in fact, inevitable.

Ostwald himself passed away from cancer before this biography was ever published; I wonder, following Gould’s death and all the subsequent biographies and documentaries about him that aired if Ostwald felt the challenge of telling another side of the story, if that was his purpose in pursuing this work. If so, he did little to steer us away from the ‘conventional’ understanding of Gould as an eccentric, self-involved genius, but, instead, chose to focus on the effect his behavior had on those he worked with and how, often, that behavior was simply too difficult to endure for long.

There is no question that Gould’s character required sacrifices (usually on the part of others) in order to maintain any sort of connection; in his reach for perfection, he may have struck a few sour notes with others, but one cannot fault him for trying, for doing the very best of what he could do as only he knew how to do it. He was a man who lived by his own rules, his own order and while many of his idiosyncrasies fall in line with an Asperger’s patient, he was always concerned with communication and devoted himself to explore the limits of communication, ironically, to the exclusion of those who were closest to him. For any reason, this alone explains why Gould matters, still. He set a standard that no one who has come after has ever reached.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Guest Blogger - Allison Schwartz

This is the next post in The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

Allison Schwartz is an architect.

Gustavo Dudamel plays in LA VEGA

Edit (Aug. 28, 2009): Three amazing videos of the event

On Sunday August 2nd, I visited the barrio La Vega to see a free musical performance of Caracas´s Sistema Nacional de las Orquestas Juveniles e Infantiles de Venezuela or El Sistma led by the superstar Venezuelan conductor, Gustavo Dudamel.

Dudamel comes out of the El Sistema program here in Caracas, but he has now reached international attention due to his talent and energetic style. Ordinarily obtaining Dudamel tickets requires arriving at the theater at 5 AM and waiting in line all day, but for this performance, the concert was on the streets- free for anyone who showed up, without seat assignments, and without any semblance of exclusivity.

La Vega is an enormous barrio (slum) in Caracas and is known to be very dangerous- one of the many neighborhoods that gives Caracas its bad reputation. While I have seen many from the outside, it was also my first time inside a barrio, creating a heightened awareness throughout the visit that I was slightly in danger just by being within La Vega.

It was impossible to know what to expect from the performance because an orchestra playing in the middle of a slum is as rare as it sounds.
The concert was in a small piazza almost entirely filled with the stand for the musicians. Several hundred people were watching the concert from the joining street and crammed into overlooking houses. Surrounding the stage from 360 degrees, people of all ages were watching the performance from every balcony, staircase, and ledge. This type of outdoor concert would have been impressive anywhere, but the unlikely setting in the center of a barrio made it magical.

There was energy in the air from the start of the performance. The audience chanted “Gustavo” in anticipation of the conductor’s entrance, and this excitement transformed into dancing, singing, and cheering that was present throughout the entire event. Following the lead of Dudamel’s enthusiastic attitude, the musicians were also in high spirits- even occasionally standing up and dancing with their instruments. The Orquestas Juveniles e Infantile played a mixture of classical music, the Mambo, the Himno Nacional and other Venezuelan classics, that maintained an engaging and high-energy performance.

For the afternoon, everyone was there to enjoy the music and the unique experience- the music reached beyond social classes, engaging the audience and demonstrating the power of music to bring people together. It was difficult to imagine that this street corner could have been ever been used for any other purpose than a venue for El Sistema.
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Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Guest Blogger - Bren Finan

This is the next post in The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

Brendan Finan is an Irish composer, piano teacher and technology obsessive. He keeps a blog at, a Twitter page (@TheMadderHat) and runs a (usually) weekly podcast called Classical Introductions, which uses free and public domain recordings on the internet as a springboard for introductions to the world of classical music. He sometimes wonders what Glenn Gould would have thought of this new world of technology that has emerged since his death, and thinks Gould would probably have been a great Twitter user.

This post can also be found at his blog.

I’ve never understood puritanism.
I have often seen Glenn Gould described as a puritan, and justifiably so. Certainly in his approach to life, and in his taste in music, Gould was extremely conservative, but when it came to the way that he played, I think it’s fair to say that he was the greatest rebel in the twentieth century performing tradition. It didn’t seem to matter whether he was playing music he loved or music he hated; his approach was invariably to tackle it in a way that would remain completely unique. To become almost a second composer.

When Gould played, you always heard something completely new. It didn’t matter if you’d heard the piece a thousand times before, his approach was always unique and interesting. In his hands, listening to the Prelude in c minor from the first book of the Well-Tempered Clavier is like receiving two hundred tiny electric shocks. The Goldberg Variations either skate by at an impossible pace or allow you time to contemplate every note. The Brahms rhapsodies feel like they have been deconstructed and rebuilt from the ground.

But, of course, this is all well-known. And you would think that three or four records in, critics would be ready for the fact that Gould played music his way. So reading criticisms of him making music sound like it was his has always made me raise my eyebrows. The staunch complaints about, for example, his organ recording of Bach’s Art of Fugue (which is on my list of favourite Gould CDs) condemned his use of the organ as ‘creaking’ and ‘groaning’, and generally seemed to moan that he wasn’t using it properly. Well, what exactly did they expect? He had been using the piano in a completely unique way for years - why on earth should he submit a conventional organ recording?

When we listen to Gould, we are not really listening to the composer: we are listening to Gould playing that composer’s music, and I really don’t see what’s wrong with that. He did point out on several occasions that there were more than enough faithful recordings of all the established works and nearly everything else that’s been written, and that that frees up (indeed, if memory serves, he felt it obligates) performers to take what liberties they need to make the music new. If this was true in his time, it is doubly so now.

Though his approach was very different from anyone else’s, there were some general consistencies: if he didn’t like a piece, he would often rush through it at an exceptionally high speed as if he couldn’t wait to get to the end, and vice versa in his later years; his touch was always light and very carefully articulated; he used the pedals exceptionally sparingly, and didn’t seem to spare a thought for the long legato phrases lauded by most musicians. But even with these approaches in mind a new Gould purchase is always surprising. Even having an idea of his tastes and styles did not make him predictable, because he always saw things differently.

And really that’s what made him so valuable, isn’t it? He had a different definition of beauty from the rest of us - he loved cloudy skies and gloomy weather, but disliked bright colours; he preferred solitude over company; he was roundly dismissive of many of the established masterpieces of music. But when he saw a piece as beautiful, he could make us see the beauty in it too. Listening to Gould play a piece you’re familiar with is like discovering entirely new music.

Though there is of course something to be said for the ability to listen to many performers’ interpretations of pieces and the nuanced differences between them, there are very few performers alive now willing to give us that break with tradition and that assertion of personality which Gould provided. His insistence on doing things his way has ensured that we have an artist and performer of the twentieth century in possession of unparallelled individualism. It is unfortunate that few others in the classical world have taken up his mantle as ‘extreme’ interpreters, but this is a side-effect of the way we are taught music: that the composer always has to come first.

Rubinstein played Chopin. Kempf played Beethoven. But Gould always played Gould, and for that we are thankful.

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Guest Blogger - Adam Lazzarato

This is the next post in The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

Adam Lazzarato (@adamlazzarato) is a 19-year-old Intern at The Glenn Gould Foundation. He is responsible for overseeing the Contrapuntal Blog and tweeting for the Glenn Gould Foundation at @GlennGouldFndn. His musical tastes consist of mainly North American indie rock, but over his time at the Glenn Gould Foundation, he has learned to love and respect Glenn Gould’s piano. He will be entering into his second year at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario in September to study Computer Science.

Why Am I Excited for the Celebration of Music Week?
For the uninitiated, the Celebration of Music Week to celebrate the Glenn Gould Prize’s Eighth Laureate, José Antonio Abreu’s lifetime contributions to humanity through music and communications.

Dr. Abreu created El Sistema, a visionary system in Venezuela that gives children (over 1 million in the system’s 34 year history) 6 days of music education a week to inspire hope and unlock creativity in children that may otherwise be involved with drugs, violence, gangs, among other unspeakables.

From this system has spawned some of the best orchestras in the world, most notably the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra. This orchestra has been classified as one of the top 5 orchestras in the world and compared to the marvelous Berlin Philharmonic. The conductor of the orchestra is the hottest thing to hit classical music in a considerable amount of time: Gustavo Dudamel.

Gustavo Dudamel performs with the Simon Bolivar Youth Symphonic Orchestra during a free concert at the low-income neighborhood of La Vega in Caracas August 2, 2009.

So, why am I excited?

The Celebration of Music Week promises to be the musical event of the year. (Full schedule of events) On October 26, 2009, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra conducted by Gustavo Dudamel will play a Gala concert at the Four Seasons Centre. I have not been interested in classical music for too long, but I know that this event will be as exciting and incredible as a rock concert. Anyone that has seen Gustavo conduct will tell you the same thing.

Gustavo Dudamel is a rock star.

Knowing that the members of the 250-seat orchestra came from extreme poverty in Venezuela will speak volumes as to the power of music and the influence on human lives that music carries.

But that isn’t all. There will be high school tours, a day of symposium, and a massive concert for over 13,000 children at the Air Canada Centre and much more.

When all is said and done, I hope we can look back on the Celebration of Music Week and be awe-struck. There is something in this story we can take note of in Canada. There is something to be done about music and arts education.
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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Guest Blogger - Jean-Marie MELE

This is the next post in The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

Jean-Marie MELE ( is a thirty-something consultant in Information Technology Security living a quiet life in France. He was introduced very early to music and although he did not took the path of becoming a musician; it still accompanies him in his everyday life. Also he is not very good at writing biographies.

Badineries on music, Bach and Glenn Gould,
Amongst all the compositors, Bach is my favorite. As a child and as far as I can remember I always had classical music records for my birthdays. One I remember especially had a hard purple and green sleeve, almost a box. It was a record of Bach’s Toccata and Fugues. At that time I did not understand how someone could compose such thing and it fascinated me.

As I first discovered Bach through his theurgical music, it is only later in life I discovered his "piano" works and of course, the Goldberg Variations; with them Glenn Gould entered into my world — and he has been a permanent guess since then.

I remember the first time I heard his 1955 recording: The music was clear and each particular note could be heard although the partition was played at an impressive pace that was out of this world. Glenn Gould’s style — which Tatiana Zelikman in the "Russian journey" documentary qualified as “an inhuman evenness" — is without discussion unique by its “symmetric” precision and beauty.

The 1955 version is by far my favorite although I do prefer his later interpretation (1981) when I do need to concentrate on a particular task or be at peace. I like to consider the 1955 record as being the closest to how the old master intended them to be played. Johann Nikolaus Forkel, Bach’s first biographer said that the Count Keyserlingk asked Bach to write “pieces for his Goldberg, which should be of such a soothing and somewhat lively character that he might be a little cheered up by them in his sleepless nights” and I humbly think that's exactly how Glenn Gould interpreted them.

His style didn’t get him only admirers though. John Beckwith, a critic once said that Gould’s style remembered him of “a trained seal who beeps out God Save the Queen on a set of car horns”. His interpretations of Mozart’s Sonatas are very interesting as it is almost a rewrite of the partitions. The best example can be found, in my humble opinion, in his interpretation of Mozart’s Sonata for piano K331. Of course there is his famous interpretation of Brahms that feels "very baroque" although Leonard Bernstein would disagree with me if I were to find it "enjoyable".

And there is the humming. I was told that Glenn Gould tried to fight his urge of humming while playing but couldn’t help it. Although the engineers did their best to suppress it, I’m grateful they didn’t succeed. It does remarkably accompany some of his “cantabile” interpretations. More important than anything else, it does make me feel sometime, as I close my eyes and let the music flow, as if Glenn Gould is playing in front of me; and then the time stops.
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Monday, July 27, 2009

Guest Blogger - Lori Lewis

This is the next post in The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

Lori Lewis (@EverydayOpera) has spent her lifetime in music. Her childhood was consumed with its enjoyment and participation. She embarked on her first career in Radio just to be around the music and musicians. Now as a professional Opera Singer, and Host of the Video Show “Everyday Opera”, she still surrounds herself with music and all its passion! “Everyday Opera” is a Show about all people who live life full voice! Glenn Gould is a prime example of that philosophy of life.

There are some musicians that you feel with all of your heart. You feel their emotions of joy, passion, sadness, and even anger. You feel they are one with the music they are emoting. You can tell that they are in the moment of some unearthly vision. There is something electric, a movement in the air, a breathless time of amazement, as you listen. Glenn Gould is all of these things but more.

There is an indefinable mystery about him. Growing up as a Lutheran and being raised on Bach, Gould’s Bach interpretations are perfect and amazing to my ears, but in that perfection there is something more, something transcendent. He makes me feel Bach as I have never felt him before. I can’t help but think that Bach would have been amazed by him as well.

Gould is the kind of musician the world needs. In a world that is filled with temporary, fast food entertainment, he took music to a level of the divine. He gives us that sense of the “other”, of something that surpasses the confinement we often feel. He lifts us up with music to the places we dream of, he lifts us to a glimpse of Heaven itself. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer said that music was next to theology. He meant that as the highest compliment. Gould in a sense was a theologian of music.

He lets us see that there is something beyond ourselves. Something bigger and grander and more majestic. What is it about him that we are mesmerized by? It can only be that we are born to be musical people and individuals like Glenn Gould are meant to be the ones that give us that great pleasure of music at such a high level that it takes us to new heights and new enjoyment and even new understanding.

I am not able to technically analyze Gould as a pianist, but as a lifetime singer and lover of music and now a professional Opera Singer, I know music that moves me. I know what is extraordinary.

I also have a sentimental attachment to Glenn Gould. My second date with my husband was to go to see the film “32 Short Films about Glenn Gould”. I knew that any man who would take me to such a film was someone of great intelligence and passion. After 14 years I can say that is more true than I can express.

I still watch video of Gould and am intrigued. He is other worldly and I believe that is what he was created to be. He is one of those musicians given to us as a gift. Thankfully, we have the pleasure of having him captured on film for all time.

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Saturday, July 25, 2009

The G.G. Möbius

A Möbius strip is a one-sided object. It is constructed by taking a strip of paper, giving it a half-twist and joining the ends together. In theory, however, a perfect Möbius strip is unbroken—i.e. it does not involve joining two ends together, but is seamless.

The Möbius strip is a kind of infinite loop. If you were to walk along its length you would cover both "sides" without crossing an edge, and end up back where you started. Modern artists have been fascinated by the Möbius strip as well the idea of recursive looping in general. Visual artists such as M.C. Escher and Oscar Reutersvard have used infinitely looping images in their work. Musician Steve Reich has famously created musical works that loop back on themselves a well as shift through various phase relationships.

In his video installation The G.G. Mobius, visual artist and musician Matt Evans presents an infinite, phasing loop that is both visual and musical.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Guest Blogger - Yuka Zuver

The Contrapuntal Blog Guest Blogger Series begins now. The purpose is to showcase some of the worlds most passionate and creative Gould fans' creations through photo, video and writing.

Yuka Zuver (@StudioDaCapo) is a Japanese-born self-taught pencil artist.
Over the past few years she has focused her drawing talent on portraits including Glenn Gould.
The late Canadian pianist has been the main inspirational subject since 2006 and continues to motivate in all elements of her artworks.

She lives in the United States, on Whidbey Island near Seattle with her husband, two daughters, and a dog.

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Saturday, May 16, 2009

The Prospects of Cyberchondria.

Some time ago we considered the possibility that Glenn Gould would have benefited from today's technology to do stuff that he wanted to do but wasn't possible at the time. Imagine what GG could have done with today's information technologies. It may have produced some awesome results. Or maybe not. If you've ever found that the internet can be a more pernicious time-waster than TV ever was, then you know that technology can be a hindrance as much as a help. It's all up to you to determine which it will be.

For example, consider popular reference sites like If you're feeling sick you can use this site to gain useful information on your condition that will help you make a rational decision about what course of action to take, if any. Or, if you're so inclined, you can use the site to determine without exception that every little ache or pain you feel is a sure sign that you have six weeks left to live. If you fit the latter description you would be what is known as a cyberchondriac. Based on what we know of Glenn Gould's personality, do you think it's possible that if he were alive today that he would have been an obsessive cyberchondriac? Yes, that is a rhetorical question.

Gould took careful notes about every real or imagined symptom he ever felt. A typical list is reproduced in
Kevin Bazzana's biography of Gould. The single handwritten page lists: 1) escalating blood pressure; 1A) chills and shivering; 2) plugged nostrils and some difficulty breathing; 3) gastro-intestinal troubles that he associated with a hiatial hernia; and 4) several months in which he was sleeping only three to four hours at a time. Let's use the trusty Symptom Checker to find out what these symptoms mean!

Well, there isn't an entry for high blood pressure as a symptom, so we'll just assume that this means

As for "chills and shivering" this could be symptomatic of anything, including the common cold. But it couldn't possibly be that. In view of the co-incidental presentation of joint pain documented elsewhere in GG's notes, I'd say this is a clear indication of
Septic Arthritis.

"Plugged nostrils and some difficulty in breathing:" combined with other reports of mild body aches and "puffiness in eyes" obviously indicates
Acute Sinusitis.

"Gastro-intestinal troubles:" although Gould associated these with a possible hiatial hernia, with the help of modern information technology, he could have arrived at the much more alarming diagnosis of
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

Finally, the report of "sleeping only three to four hours at a stretch." According to "Conditions linked with insomnia include arthritis, cancer, congestive heart failure, diabetes, lung disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), overactive thyroid, stroke, Parkinson disease and Alzheimer's disease." So, if there was any doubt about the diagnosis of GERD, above, this pretty much nails it. And, just to be thorough, I would assume the presence of at least two of the other possible underlying causees for this symptom. sure is a lot of fun! Go ahead and try it out. As for myself, I've already determined that I am practically a dead man.
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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

One Cole

Glenn Gould called himself “the last Puritan”—a claim consistent with his seemingly Gnostic attitude toward the physical world. He took no pleasure in eating, could not tolerate alcohol, avoided physical contact with other people, had minimal regard for his personal appearance, lived in a Spartan apartment outfitted with dull, functional furniture, and had an almost allergic aversion to color. When Gould was a child, his mother took him to see Disney’s Fantasia. The film’s celebrated abundance of bright color made him feel ill, and he had to go home and lie down. In fact Gould’s favorite color was one that most of us consider depressing: battleship grey.

In Toronto the color grey is, shall we say . . . prevalent. Of course this is one of the many reasons that Gould liked Toronto. Personally, I enjoy grey as much as the next guy but, by the time it gets to be February, I’m starting to get just a little tired of it. And so I was surprised this afternoon to be impressed by a new building so perfectly grey that, right on the spot, I was moved to imagine an award for which it could be nominate
d: The Glenn Gould Memorial Award for Outstanding Civic Achievement in Greyness (GGMAFOCAG).

One Cole
, currently under construction, is the first building in Phase One of the renewal project for Regent Park, Toronto’s oldest social housing community. Back in the 1940’s civic planners thought that the best way to design social housing was to create a kind of isolated park in the midst of the city. Reality, however, did not play out according to their theories; while the “isolation” part of the concept came through pretty strongly, the “park” aspect did not. Better integration with the city was needed. Furthermore, the individual buildings of Regent Park had deteriorated to the point where replacing them was more practical than trying to renovate them.

And so Regent Park will soon have new buildings that will be much better designed, much better built and, if One Cole is a reliable leading indicator, much more grey.

Now, given the bad reputation that grey has acquired over time, I hasten to make it clear that I consider the greyness of One Cole to be a positive thing. The building’s worthiness of the GGMAFOCAG is not on account its exc
essive quantity of greyness, but rather on the outstanding quality of its greyness.

Many of Toronto’s buildings date from the 1970’s and are grey merely because the budget was tight, and pre-cast concrete is relatively inexpensive.

One Cole is not like that, however. Since it’s clad in brick it could be any color in which brick is available (which, admittedly is not the most exciting range of colors, but anyway.) The grey brick of One Cole was chosen specifically for its aesthetic properties and it shows. One Cole takes the idea of grey and runs with it. Feel the excitement.

I took the pictures here with my phone, so they’re not the best quality and they don’t really do justice to the building. But I hope you get the idea. This is just the first building of many in a large project. When the new Regent Park is finished, the whole area from Dundas to Gerrard and from Parliament to River will be covered in battleship-grey buildings like One Cole. If Glenn Gould were around today he might even be eager to move in.

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Sunday, February 08, 2009

So You Want to Play Bach's Prelude No. 3

My latest trial by fumbling is Bach's Prelude No. 3. It is beautiful and tricky and this edition includes an awkward page turn after 12 bars. Like many adults attempting to master piano, I have a sense of how I wish to render the piece (though it often sounds like RENDING), if only the synapses would fire properly. I want the poco dims and the poco crescs to come out subtly, sensitively, exquisitely too, please.
And because Bach is nearly synonymous with Glenn Gould, I have been trying to decide whether I ought to listen to his recording of this Prelude. Though I have no doubt that my Prelude and his would hardly be recognizable as the same work, there is a strange sort of alliance going on. I would like to know what he has done with these clever unexpected accidentals, the balance of the left hand reaching for that low D, the resolve of the poco rit. What does one learn from another's interpretation of a piece? Why do some musicians avoid listening to someone else's version while others study it intently? What does Glenn, not even remotely in the same musical sphere as I, have to offer me? And will it be useful to me as my fingers are wont to play Broken Telephone with my head, producing what I did not have in mind at all?
Listening to Gould has its dangers. One begins to believe his is the definitive version. But does not everyone have his Idea of What It is Supposed to Be? When I consider the two versions of the Goldberg Variations recorded 26 years apart, I am reassured. Glenn believed in exploring. And changing his mind.
The possibilities are endless. Even my ham-fisted version.

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Man of the Future?

Throughout his professional life Glenn Gould was in touch with the latest developments in technology. It wasn't simply a matter of keeping "up to date" with it but more of being inspired by it. New innovations in recording and broadcast technologies stimulated Gould's creative mind to imagine new artistic possibilities in much the same way as they did for contemporary rock musicians such as The Beatles.

The hackneyed phrase "ahead of his time" never really makes any sense. But it could be said to apply to Gould at least insofar as he had certain ideas which became technically possible only decades after his death. For example, Gould was enthusiastic about the possibility of enabling listeners to become creative partners in the recorded music experience. He recognized the potential for this simply from the fact that listeners at the time could control some very basic sonic parameters, such as frequency equalization, on their stereo systems. But this amount of control is relatively trivial. Gould wanted to go further and he imagined giving listeners kits composed of the individual parts of a piece of music which they could then re-assemble to their preference. At that time it was practically unfeasible to do this. Today however, it's easy. Simply post individual audio tracks for download on the web and then let people reassemble them in GarageBand, ProTools, or the audio application of their choice. And in fact this is now common practice.

Consider the technology available to GG. Look, for example, at the chart at the top of this page. It's a score from Gould's radio documentary The Latecomers. It is drawn on a piece of paper. With a felt-tip marker. Forget ProTools. We're going to go cut up some tape now. Let's refer to the graph.

What's more interesting, however, is that Gould's idea was ahead of its time not just technically but also socially. Even if it were possible in the 1960s and 70s to distribute the kind of musical self-assembly kits Gould envisioned, it is hard to imagine that anyone would have wanted them. This too has something to do with technology. Not the technology of recording but rather that of social networking.

As Lawrence Lessig points out in this lecture, for most of the 20th century we lived in a "read-only" society. That is to say, a culture wherein a small group of people is professionaly responsible for producing cultural goods (i.e. they do the "writing"), which are then broadcast out to a wide audience of "consumers" (who do the "reading.") In such a culture, one's role as a producer or a consumer is clearly defined. This cultural condition was largely a result of the kind of mass media that—ironically—made Gould's carreer possible. Broadcast radio & television, mass-market publishing, and record manufacturing/distribution all have a "one-to-many" profile, like someone with a megaphone addressing a large crowd of people. Again, one person does the talking. Everyone else does the listening.

Sometime around the turn of the milennium, however, that paradigm collapsed as the internet allowed everyone to become a producer and consumer in equal measure—to the point where those terms may soon become culturally meaningless. The internet is the world's first "many-to-many" communication platform. In the space of only a few years our culture has transformed from a monologue into a conversation.

And this is just the social transformation that had to take place for Gould's idea to work. What Gould was really proposing way back in the 70's was open source music. I think Gould probably assumed that most people have a natural creative impulse strong enough to create a demand for open source products. The degree to which people now post, remix, and share their own creative work online suggests that this assumption was correct. But the prevailing 20th century "read-only" culture made this hard to see at the time. In fact, not only did few people have the imagination to conceive of such a culture in the 1970s but, even today, those who have a professional stake in traditional media are seemingly blind to its emergence, even as it springs up all around them.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Its a pleasure that is bound to satisfy, when you decide that Mr. Gould must have been a very personable guy

Over the past six months, I have listened to the Goldberg Variations, watched Thirty Two Short Films, pondered the Solitude Trilogy. I have looked at pictures, met countless people who have been deeply touched by Mr. Gould, read many articles and interviews. Yet I still do not know. There is still so much to learn about Mr. Gould.

Thankfully, I do not walk alone. Every young grasshopper needs a sansei and I am lucky enough to work alongside mine. I call her "Dr. Piano." Dr. Piano is both kind and knowledgeable. She patiently answers all of my seemingly random questions. She doesn't judge me when I repeatedly need her to pronounce the words 'Salome' or 'Fidelio' before going to an opera. She understands that I am both unsure and forgetful when it comes to foreign pronunciations.

In December, I asked Dr. Piano to come with me to see the Elmer Isler Singers perform Handel's Messiah. As we sat listening, I felt like there was something familiar about the arrangement. I eagerly shot Dr. Piano a look, wordlessly asking "Is this contrapuntal!?!" She understood but quickly shook her head. I was wrong. Later, I work up the nerve to try again, looking at her like an eager puppy. This time I am rewarded with an enthusiastic nod. I have identified the contrapuntal music! I beam triumphantly. Needless to say, I like Dr. Piano a lot.

The other day, I asked Dr. Piano about the relationship between fugues and counterpoint. Dr. Piano smiled. She had just the thing for me. Liz, meet 'So you want to write a fugue.' Written by Mr. Gould, the song is in the form of a fugue and uses fugue devices in its composition. How impressively clever! (...Although doesn't Mr. Gould say in the song, "Never be clever for the sake of being clever, for the sake of showing off." Now I am confused...?) I love the string quartet paired with the utter professionalism of the singers. The best part? I think I get it. I understand the fugue and its devices! I even feel that I can appreciate Mr. Gould's dry wit.

There is only one thing left to do: I shall conquer the Art of Fugue with my newly discovered clarity!

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Fran's Restaurant

There's an unusual amount of interest in Glenn Gould's eating habits—mainly, I guess, because he didn't eat very much, so it so it ties in to the ascetic quality of his personna.

You probably know that Gould was a frequent patron of Fran's Restaurant, and I can think of at least three good reasons why he would be. First, Fran's served the kind of food that, for a long time, was the only kind of food you could get at a restaurant in Toronto: i.e. bland and/or boring food—GG's favorite kind. Here's the menu from 1940 featuring such gourmet items as Pork Sausages and Gravy, Boiled Ham, and Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches. Second, and probably more important, Fran's is open 24 hours a day, which would accommodate Gould's nocturnal schedule. And third, Fran's had locations immediately proximate to both Gould's St. Clair Avenue apartment and the Eaton's auditorium on College Street where he made many of his recordings.

Fran's is still around as a chain although the original Yonge & St. Clair location is now closed. Fran Deck and his family sold the business to independant investors in 1977.

I don't eat out much because I'm a low-budget kind of guy these days. But some days I don't feel like cooking. Okay, most days I don't feel like cooking. So, a few weeks ago I decided to go to Fran's on College St., both to get some dinner and to do some reportage for this blog here. So, what's Fran's like now?

Well, first of all, the menu has been updated insanely. Now you can get items such as "Cajun Jambalaya Pasta" or "Foil-Packed Halibut Florentine." Actually it now resembles, both in character and in scope, a menu from one of those suburban franchise "eateries" like Applebee's, typically located on the perimeters of shopping mall parking lots the size of Switzerland.

But anyway, remember the 1980's, when it was briefly fashionable to describe certain things as being "post-modern?" No? Okay, well one of the many contemporary interpretations of that term involved the concept of ironic self-reference. The idea was that (for example), whereas in the past, you would simply have a diner, in the post-modern era you would instead have a "diner." That is to say, the proprietorship of the post-modern enterprise would be aware of the cultural trope of "The Diner" and thus self-consciously conform the presentation of the establishment to match it. In the case of an artificial franchise like Johnny Rockets, you might describe the end result as a "fake" diner. And in the case of a place like Fran's, you might call it an instance of a thing's becoming a parody of itself. And if you won't, I will. Here's their website. You be the judge.

I'm not sure whether there was ever any agreement about what the term "Post-Modern" really meant. This may well be because most of the writing about it was fatuous academic mumbo-jumbo. The term has pretty much disappeared now. I think it was a passing fad. So let's move on to discussing actual food.

I just got off the subway at College St. after work, and Fran's is basically right across Yonge St. It's about minus 20 degrees outside, and so my first thought is just to go for a rice pudding and coffee, but I actually need to eat something substantial and so resolve to order an actual plate. My recent Fran's experiences have been kind of hit-and-miss. I don't trust the more "Applebee's" selections on the menu, so I decided to go for one of the few remaining "old-school" selections: Liver and Onions with Bacon, a side of vegetables, mashed potatoes, and a Coke, as shown below:

Overall, I found this to be a really good platter. The liver was cooked nicely—not over done, and with a subtle, peppery flavor. There was, albeit, a fair amount of gristle, but this is pretty much unavoidable with liver. The mashed potatoes had just the right amount of butter mixed in, and also a good, fluffy texture. The bacon was a fitting compliment to the liver and was cooked, I think, to suit all tastes—exactly mid-way between floppy and crispy. But, the big surprise here was the vegetables. I was expecting, of course, that the vegetables would be re-heated from frozen. And perhaps (ok, probably) they were. But frozen vegetable technology has come a long way from what I remember when I was a boy back in the 20's. These vegetables had a good flavor and al dente texture that was a very pleasant surprise. They were so good that I actually finished them! Imagine that.

They say that Things Go Better with Coke. I'll say, at least, that Liver and Onions go better with Coke.

I would have had the rice pudding and coffee, but I was really full and, also, over budget.

So, there it is. Fran's: now kind of an 80's theme restaurant, but you can still get good food there if you order right.
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