Friday, April 21, 2017

Cooper-Moore in Illinois

Gelvin Noel Gallery
Krannert Art Museum
Champaign, Illinois
April 20, 2017

Cooper-Moore, ashimba, balloon, three-string fretless banjo, diddley-bow, mouth bow, horizontal hoe-handle harp, wind chimes, voice

Cooper-Moore’s performance at the Krannert Art Museum was part of the Sonified Sustainability Festival, devoted to ecologically minded music and art. Cooper-Moore (who took his name from his grandmothers’ surnames) is a pianist who also performs on instruments of his making, created from found and repurposed materials (a piece of a sofa frame, say) and inexpensive Radio Shack electronics. His performance on Thursday was part music-making on these instruments, part storytelling, part question-and-answer session.

Cooper-Moore began by singing “Roll, Jordan, Roll” while playing wind chimes placed horizontally on his lap, with two more chimes as mallets (adding a note and overtones to every note struck). The words of “Roll, Jordan, Roll” returned briefly as he made music on a balloon as one would play a glass harmonica — with fingers dipped in water). But this instrument (held close to a microphone) sounded like a drum kit, a running crowd, a noise guitar. “Where would they put that in Downbeat?” Cooper-Moore asked. “Under ‘Miscellaneous’?”

Cooper-Moore’s performances on ashimba, banjo, diddley-bow, and mouth bow (the last three amplified) recalled instrumental legacies both African and African-American. The ashimba, an eleven-note xylophone made from found wood, provided a dense accompaniment to the words of “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round.” (The instrument’s name combines Cooper-Moore’s original surname Ashton and marimba.) Cooper-Moore’s banjo playing was rich in blues inflections. (From the spoken-sung story that went with it: “I’m not afraid of death. It just don’t suit me to be lookin’ at it.”) The pieces for diddley-bow — a monochord that figures in the origin stories of many blues guitarists — were especially virtuosic, as Cooper-Moore played the instrument with hands and drumsticks, and sometimes with drumstick on drumstick, sounding at times like a bottleneck guitar, at times like a bass, at times like a rhythm section unto himself. The sound of the mouth bow — a bowstring played with a half-size violin bow — is one that Cooper-Moore associates with the name Yahweh, the mouth opening and closing while producing vowels. His performance on horizontal hoe-handle harp (an instrument he built after hearing the Paraguayan harp and then pricing harps) began and ended in serene lyricism, with funkier and sharply percussive moments in the middle.

Between instrumental performances, Cooper-Moore told stories of finding materials, building instruments, and traveling the world, and he sang a bit of what sounded like an old and slightly risqué song about aging. I remember the line “But it don’t rise.” Through it all was the spirit of what Cooper-Moore says his work as a musician is about: play.

Thanks to Jason Finkelman, who continues to bring the news of the world to east-central Illinois.


[Mouth bow, diddley-bow, ashimba, water and balloon, horizontal hoe-handle harp, wind chimes, three-string fretless banjo. Click for a much larger view.]

Related reading
Cooper-Moore biography and partial discography (AUM Fidelity)

And from YouTube
Cooper-Moore plays fretless banjo, diddley-bow and mouth bow (with Digital Primitives); horizontal hoe-handle harp (with Subway Girl); and solo piano

[Don’t quit on the piano performance.]

Walser on ruins

Robert Walser in conversation:

“Aren’t ruins more beautiful than something that’s been patched up?”

Carl Seelig, Walks with Walser, trans. Anne Posten (New York: New Directions, 2017).
See also Walser on ruins and “former beauty.” And Joseph Joubert on ruins and reconstructions.

Related reading
All OCA Robert Walser posts (Pinboard)

[A review of Walks with Walser is coming soon.]

Joubert on writing

Joseph Joubert:

One ruins the mind with too much writing. — One rusts it by not writing at all.

The Notebooks of Joseph Joubert: A Selection  , trans. Paul Auster (New York: New York Review Books, 2005).
Also from Joseph Joubert
Advancing without aging : Another world : “As real as a cannon ball” : Being and nothingness : Brevity : Doing something well : “Everything is new” : Form and content : Irrelevancies and solid objects : Justified enthusiasm : Lives and writings : New books, old books : ’Nuff said (1) : ’Nuff said (2) : Politeness : Resignation and courage : Ruins v. reconstructions : Self-love and truth : Thinking and writing : Wine

Thursday, April 20, 2017

It’s the Office Of Thesecretary

In December 2014, a student asked me whether it was acceptable to end a sentence with the word it. She had been told not to. Here was a zombie rule I’d never heard of, for which I (finally) discovered a source in an influential book of grammar instruction from 1795. Suffice it to say: it’s perfectly acceptable to end a sentence with it. And I was happy that my student believed me about it.

The post I wrote about ending a sentence with it continues to get visits every day, from all over. Even, yesterday, from someone in the Department Of The Interior, Office Of Thesecretary:


[They need to work on capitalization and proofreading.]

My thoughts about this detail in my blog stats:

It’s saddening that someone in a position of authority should be in the dark about it.

It’s reassuring that someone in a position of authority should be willing to look into it.

It’s alarming that someone in a position of authority (a staffer, no doubt) is relying on the Internets in such a free and easy way. (Notice that I’ve blotted out the IP address.) I wonder what else they might be looking up in the Office of Thesecretary.

It’s chilling to imagine the Interior sentences that might be ending with it. “We will eliminate it”? “We will destroy it”?

It’s disturbing to see something I’ve written prove useful to someone in the Trump administration. But public writing is public writing. One never knows, do one?
A related post
Were and was (Visits from the House and Senate)

[The #3 in the stat info makes it clear to me that the Google search had to do with terminal it and not, say, one or more of the proper names in the post. I don’t read stats closely — it’s luck that I happened to spot this visit.]

Nationalism, patriotism,
and possible futures

From the historian Timothy Snyder:

Democracy failed in Europe in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, and it is failing not only in much of Europe but in many parts of the world today. It is that history and experience that reveals to us the dark range of our possible futures. A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017).
Also from this book
“Believe in truth” : Distinguishing truth from falsehood

[Sobering and inspiring. And only $7.99.]

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

“The individual who investigates”

From the historian Timothy Snyder, writing about the importance of distinguishing between truth and falsehood:

“What is truth?” Sometimes people ask this question because they wish to do nothing. Generic cynicism makes us feel hip and alternative even as we slip along with our fellow citizens into a morass of indifference. It is your ability to discern facts that makes you an individual, and our collective trust in common knowledge that makes us a society. The individual who investigates is also the citizen who builds. The leader who dislikes the investigators is a potential tyrant.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017).
Also from this book
“Believe in truth”

[Widely available on the Internets: an earlier short list of twenty lessons.]

Willa Cather’s “picture writing”


Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918).

The image of the plough against the sinking sun has long made me think of a Chinese ideogram conspicuous in Ezra Pound’s poetics: 東 dōng, “east,” made of 木 (tree) and 日 (sun); thus, as Pound explains, “sun tangled in the tree’s branches, as at sunrise, meaning now the East.” Chinese ideograms only rarely function as pictures, but Pound’s wholesale misunderstanding of the language confirmed his sense of poetry as a matter of vivid, sharp, direct presentation of images: “The apparition of these faces in the crowd; / Petals on a wet, black bough.”

Cather’s “picture writing” suggests so much: painterly selection and arrangement of colors and forms; the ancestral labor of tool-making and agriculture; the human trace, or more than trace, on the landscape, with the plough “heroic in size,” made larger, at least for a moment, by the light; the smallness and impermanence of human traces, all going into the darkness; the preservation of those traces in memory and art. The “forgotten plough” is not, after all, forgotten, or not yet.

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)

[The traditional ideogram 東 figures in Pound’s ABC of Reading (1934) and Ernest Fenollosa’s The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry (1936), edited by Pound from Fenollosa’s notes. Pound shared Fenollosa’s misunderstanding of Chinese. The poem quoted is Pound’s “In a Station of the Metro.”]

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

If ever there was a need
for misinflammation . . .

Confidential to Anthony J. Blinken: your opinion piece in today’s New York Times cries out for use of the timely word misinflammation, coined in these pages last year.

“Believe in truth”

From the historian Timothy Snyder, the tenth of twenty lessons on tyranny:

Believe in truth.

To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle. The biggest wallet pays for the most blinding lights.

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (New York: Tim Duggan Books, 2017).
I wish I’d begun reading this book before reading yesterday’s New York Times piece politics and critical theory.

A related post
Politics and theory

Houses, homes, legs, limbs

Lena Lingard and “small-town proprieties”:


Willa Cather, My Ántonia (1918).

Related reading
All OCA Cather posts (Pinboard)