This past weekend i ran to witness a slight smear of Lightning Bolt, me prettiest band.  An hour drive to hear 35 minutes of thickrock noisypaste.  One of me favorite flavors.

Brian Gibson once said the secret of their sound, and rock in general, was volume.  Be loud, all else will fall into place.  The prime ingredient of rock is to rock, and to rock you have to turn up that volume dial, loud enough to make your ribs wiggle like they had birds perched.  Or your hat brim to vibrate, as mine did this past weekend.  Without amplification, there would be no rock music, and one fewer lightning bolt.


Japan musings 4

If you didn't know what sushi was, you probably wouldn't eat it.  Many know what it is and that's reason enough never to touch it.  Sushi doesn't really look like "food".  It inhabits strange territory that only the Japanese could have invented, and is very much a product of the Japanese attitude and relationship toward nature, and reinforces the preceding discussions about the formal structure of Japanese culture.

The invention of sushi involved the reconciliation of land and sea, a reconciliation that might describe Japan itself.  It was found that fish could be preserved if it were wrapped with rice that was allowed to ferment (along with salt).  And so fish, one of the staples of the Japanese diet, was married to the other staple, rice, which was produced inland.  The result was something that phenomenally reinforced the edge over center, as if to declare to rice that land will not own our cuisine, and to seafood that the ocean will not be central, either.  The interstice, the coast, will be our center.

The combination of fish and rice did not proceed without changing the nature of the fish or the rice.  The fish lost its fishness; it is no longer identifiable as such.  It has been sliced into an abstract of both size and form, and its canvas is rice, which must now be self supporting.  Often sticky, the rice may assume the form of the fish, or it may be bound together with the fish by a band, also eatable.  The new creation is not cooked but is raw, with the shiny flesh of the sea creature showing itself to the world, and the granular cloud of white grain beneath, as if soft bones clinging to each other.  Sushi declares itself not fish, not rice.  Its a new species, only minutes from life, served with brethren equally alien, from both land and sea.

This remaking of nature in mans image in not a new idea.  The history of the garden is the history of just such remaking.  But in Japan this remaking is allowed its own realm, where the remade version is understood not as mans interpretation of nature but as the nature of nature.  It is the essence of nature; more nature than nature.

Kani miso              ©Hiromi Kikuno

©Hiromi Kikuno


ICA Boston

Architects Diller  Scofidio + Renfro were the designers of this museum, which has received rave reviews in the design press since its opening in late 2006.  The museum is a great place to see art, and the terrace overlooking the harbor is a nice gesture to the long neglected Boston waterfront, and is part of the Harborwalk, a long walk which runs along the edge of the water from the North End to the new museum.  But as a building, a piece of architecture, this thing sucks.

Unless you're on the other side of the harbor, which most of us aren't, your view of this building is one of empty, sad looking metal panels and dim channel glass with the requisite scatter pattern of openings, trying to look interesting but failing miserably.  The building doesn't even try to connect to the city behind it, and instead is focused on the water, where it succeeds in engaging with the harbor and public walk.  For most of the design community, it seems, this is enough, and many are just relieved to have a "modern" building go up in Boston, let alone one not covered in brick.  But why does it have to be so ugly?

This building is completely lacking in grace.  It's an intellectual exercise that in the modern tradition relegated aesthetics to a residual component of the mental game being played.  Viewed from the side you can see one of the (very fashionable) games played, that of the undulating plane that alternately moves between being floor and wall, and then back to ceiling/floor.

This is most successful on the north side (above), where there is an auditorium to play into the hands of this formal game, but on the south side you have only a ball of confusion, as the plane wiggles back and forth, fighting for definition on the flat facade (below).  This makes my butt look pretty, and i'm a skinny old man.  For good reason, you almost never see a picture of it from this side.

I want to just declare this an ugly, heavy handed building, but another thing that bothers me, and which i see as rampant in the world of architecture these days, is the concealing of structure for the sake of a formal exercise.  When you look at the pictures above, don't you marvel at the cantilever?  Don't you wonder how this thing is held up?  You won't get any answers in this building, they want you to believe its all magic.  Like a 19th century neo-you-name-it, with concealed steel beneath stone pretend, structure here is suppressed.  Suppressed in the name of what?  At least in the 19th century, you got a nice, civil looking building out of the exercise.  Now we get eyesores.

i suppose i could go on and on about what has happened to beauty in modernism, but that has to wait for another post.


Japan musings 3

Last weekend i was in DC, but missed the Cherry Blossom festival.  There were still a few pink shiners around town, but for the most part they were gone.  And thats the nature of the cherry blossom, it flowers for a few days, then its poofed.  As you probably know, the cherry trees were a gift from Japan to the US in 1912 to symbolize friendship between the two countries.

Cherry blossoms carry great cultural significance in Japan.  Hanami is the name of the celebration of the blossoming of these trees, when the people of Japan go out for no other purpose than to enjoy the sight of these trees in bloom.  If you've read the previous musings on Japan, you can see where this is going.  The Hanami is another aspect of Japanese culture that exemplifies the celebration of the moment over the eternal, rebirth over extended life, and the certainty of change.  One might say it's finding the eternal within a moment.  That beauty is found and celebrated in the short flowering of the blossoms is characteristic of Japanese thought, where there's a cultural recognition that a moment may give rise to a new Era or the destruction of a foreign fleet of invaders.  So, is it the beauty of the blossoms that is celebrated, or is it their transience?  There are many beautiful flowers in Japan.  I think without a doubt it is the transience that is celebrated, and its not a leap to think of the blossoms as the visual equivalent of haiku, as they are both celebrations of the moment and the ephemeral.  In the image below, so central to the psyche of Japan, we see celebrated the moment in two of its three aspects; about to pass, and pregnant.

i love that the Japanese 100 Yen coin has on one side a depiction of cherry blossoms.  Isn't money the perfect vehicle for transience?

It probably isn't polite to mention that many kamikaze pilots would have painted on their planes imagery of cherry blossoms, but its not irrelevant, either.

Since i'm in this discussion about the place of the moment in Japanese culture, its hard not to mention their attitude toward the camera and the snapshot.  It doesn't matter where you are, if you live in an interesting enough place that is subject to bus loads of Japanese tourists, say in Paris or Rome, you've seen them pull up, unload the tourists, tourists zoom out and take group pictures, get back into the bus, and pull out to the next destination.  For some reason i thought this happened only in Europe, after having traveled half the world, but when i went to Japan i saw it to the nth degree.  The big difference i noticed between the way most tourists photograph a tourist spot and the way the Japanese go about it is the importance the Japanese place on placing themselves in the picture, as opposed to simply taking a picture of the attraction and cutting out the people as i would do.  i like to think of this phenomenon as related in its psychology to that of the Rising Sun.  Japan is the "Land of the Rising Sun", as one can see in its flag, but this description is interesting with respect to the displacement it conjures.  For whom is it the land of the rising sun?  If you are in Japan, an island floating in the sea, and you are on the east coast standing on a beach early morning, you will see the sun rising in the east, but you will not yourself experience a rising; you are separated from it by perception, and will experience only the sun rising.  If you are in China (Korea), however, the sun rises over a land to the east, and so this land may be witnessed as a land of the rising sun.  This displacement is central to the Japanese psyche, and so reinforces the notion i mentioned in an earlier musing of the Japanese aversion to "center", and shows that even where you might think they have accepted a notion of center, as in their flag, within itself one finds it is in fact a center removed.  Thus the tourist, and pictures of themselves.


Shampoo gratings

What do things feel like?  This probably seems like a stupid question, but i've found that the way things feel has a lot to do with how pleasant your interaction with that thing is.  i remember having to rent a Ford Mustang a couple of years ago, and thinking wow i rented a classic American sports car to go to my stupid job meeting.  One of the first things you do when you get into your rental car is adjust the seat, especially if you're a tall lanky dude, and so that was really my first interaction with the car.  i felt under the seat, and immediately my hand came onto some nasty, cheap, sharp piece of plastic that i was supposed to adjust the seat with.  It was a piece of plastic i never saw, as it was under the seat, but it formed my initial impression of the car, and since the rest of the car failed to overcome it, the result is that i would never buy a Ford Mustang, all because of a piece of plastic hidden under the seat.  Do you think Ford cares about this?

So, about shampoo, i bitch the following: i buy Head and Shoulders shampoo, if for no other reason than its cheap and it seems to work.  The design of the bottle is fine, nothing special, trying to distinguish itself on the shelf with raw geometry, but the experience of using the bottle makes you wish you had chosen a fistful of beetles.  The top is made of hard cheap plastic, and when you open the lid to reveal the (invisible) spout, which is nothing but a hole in the top of the bottle, it makes this thin, cheap, cracking sound that's like a tiny spine snapping, just to let you know the designers didn't think about this experience at all.  The lid is also hard to open, and you have to fight with the nasty thing to pull it up, and while doing so it chews on your fingers like an old dachshund, or maybe the seat adjustment on a Mustang.  i hate opening the bottle.

Its easy for me to imagine the designers sitting around, perhaps having an occasional meeting to discuss how beautiful their new bottle for Proctor and Gamble is, while ignoring the act of using the stupid thing.  In the end, its a bad experience.  Sort of like having dandruff.  Which is gone, by the way.


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