There are some people who have a genius for awesomeness. This is not the same thing as being cool. Having a genius for awesomeness means that you have an unerring instinct for awesome ideas, for figuring out what things out there in the big wide world are awesome, for thinking of awesome things to do. Stewart Brand has that kind of genius, as does Edward Tufte. It's the kind of genius that album producers ideally have: someone like Rick Rubin is famous not only for knowing which knobs to twist, but for having out-of-left-field intuitions about framing concepts, like being the guy who invented rapcore and then getting Johnny Cash to do a series of recordings of songs by people like Glenn Danzig, Beck, and Trent Reznor in stark minimalist roots arrangements. My friend DD liked to call such people conceptualists. The greatest musical conceptualist of them all is probably Brian Eno: indeed, his "Oblique Strategies" deck, which I have been perusing this last week, is both a stockpile of concepts and, as a mechanism for deploying them, a particularly elegant concept itself.*
My Ph.D. advisee Kim Schafer, who is writing about the carillon as a component of the collegiate soundscape in America (and is herself an expert carilloneur), informs me that Eno is now working on something called the Dartington Carillon. The carillon is itself one of the great undiscovered cool things in the world (well, undiscovered by musicologists, for the most part): when you think of it, what musical instrument is as environmental, as intimately bound up with architecture and landscape, as the carillon? And no kind of music from before the 20th century is as well suited to the style of background listening that contemporary listeners have developed in response to the 20th-century ubiquity of recorded and broadcast music.** It's probably not surprising, then, that Brian Eno (who theorized and damn-near-invented ambient music) would be interested in carillons. The as-yet-unrealized Dartington plan is a grab-bag of modern-artsy ideas — it's a combined theater and art gallery with poetry written on the bells and leather-head mallets provided to visitors so they can strike the bells themselves and participate actively, etc. — which makes it sound a little like a whole bunch of community arts project funding proposals all jammed together. But still, it's a cool idea to emphasize the carillon's environmental properties and create a building that is at the same time both a landscape and a musical instrument:
On an unrelated note, I found the most heartbreakingly sweet video clip at Parterre Box. A four-year-old boy listens to Donizetti's La fille du régiment while his Mr. Potato Head guys dance along. The look on his face at the end . . .
La Cieca also tells us that Celine Dion is planning on starring (and singing!) in a new biopic of Maria Callas. Now Carl Wilson has written a wonderful book making the case for Dion, so I'll tread lightly here and suggest that while Dion's art doubtless has its value, she might be overreaching a bit. The news article to which La Cieca links is worth a read: at one point La Dion told Kent Nagano (the conceptualist of the piece, the guy who's been putting this together) that she doesn't read music, and he consoled her by saying, well, Pavarotti didn't either. He also suggested she get some coaching from someone like Renata Scotto. I wonder what that would do. No, seriously, I'm actually kind of curious. OK, now that I think of it, I'm in favor of this. Do it, Celine! it would be kind of interesting to see what happens. I think the project is doomed to almost certain failure (as when-worlds-collide crossovers often are) but it would be an interesting failure.
*Today's oblique strategy: Be extravagant. OK!