Last week was busier than I like. I can tolerate going out about once a week, and I was busy every single day last week, due to a rare alignment of regularly-scheduled events (yoga class, cello rehearsal) and occasional, random cultural events (theater subscription, concert subscription 1, concert subscription 2, interesting concert 3).

On Monday, we (my wife and I) watched a performance of Anna Karenina at the Volkstheater in Vienna. Although I was familiar with the story, I found it very hard to understand the actors. It was a good production, the Volkstheater is generally a safe bet since Michael Schottenberg took over there as manager, we’ve been fans of his for decades. I slept very little, although I get up pretty early in the morning.

Tuesday I had yoga class. I slept very little.

Wednesday we went to the Beriosaal at the Konzerthaus for a live performance by the ensemble Phace of a new musical piece composed by American composer Gene Coleman to the 1926 Japanese silent film A Page of Madness, using both Western and Japanese instruments, if there can be said to be such categories. It was very good and I slept very little.

On Thursday we watched Bach’s St. Matthew Passion at the Grosser Saal of the Konzerthaus, performed by the Collegium Vocale Gent / Herreweghe. They were very good, the orchestra played period instruments (I noticed Baroque celli and a viola da gamba – which had a wonderful solo). It is interesting to observe how the crowd varies from event to event. It can be youngish/middle-aged and snooty but trying to appearcounter-culture, or old and cultured and somehow less snooty, and so on. The Bach crowd struck me as quite elderly and generally well-to-do or at least well-dressed (there was a lot of jewelry on display, though), quite slender in general, and very slow-moving until the concert was over, at which time they were t the coatcheck very quickly.

Friday’s event was the most interesting for me – there is a series in the town of Krems called Imago Dei, concerts in the Minoritenkirche there. We watched a performance by cellist/composer Frances-Marie Uitti, the ensemble Extracello, and Buddhist monks; the event consisted of a Buddhist Puja ceremony (ceremony to honor the creative spirit?) and composition(s) by Uitti. For this performance, Extracello tuned (according to the program) their cellos to unconventional tunings, and played primarily open strings and flageolets (which resonate longer than when you are fingering the strings), and Uitti is famous for playing with two bows in one hand. I expected her to do that to be able to play all 4 strings at once, but she somehow manages to coordinate the two bows in unexpected ways and it was quite fascinating.

For your viewing pleasure, I will include a few Uitti links here:

her website

Video 1 (Vimeo)

Video 2 (Vimeo)

Video 3 (Vimeo)

It was an interesting week, but it was too much for me and I will be digesting this for some time to come. A lot of images and ideas were poured into my head while I was in a trance state this week, as if the creative spirit unscrewed the top of my head and poured in a basket of bees, which now fly through my mouth and make honey in the empty spaces inside.

(PS: as you can see in the videos, Uitti has an ALUMINUM CELLO from the 1920s. With an awesome dent.)


Alpha and I watched Metropolis at the Konzerthaus in Vienna last night, while a 66-piece orchestra played the music. It was neat. I didn’t fall asleep once. Metropolis was shortened rather drastically after release, and the original version was lost, I guess. The film was (IIRC) restored in 2001. Then a longer version was discovered in Argentina, so it was restored again. The Argentine version was, however, only 16mm so there are quality and cropping issues. The discovery of the longer version also made it possible to restore the score, pretty much, which had also been incomplete.

Or something.

I should be a journalist, shouldn’t I.

We will be seeing a few more silent films with live music at the Konzerthaus, we bought a subscription. I really like the idea of composing film music, so I am looking forward to seeing them.

Of course with alcohol.

Alpha is in Kyoto getting a massage, or something, so Gamma was kind enough to accompany me to a concert last night at the Konzerthaus in Vienna, where the Klangforum Wien performed Donatoni, Brice Pauset and György Kúrtag. It was quite good, if you want my in-expert opinion. We subscribe to their concerts, and are really enjoying this year’s series. I fall asleep a lot, I feel bad about that. It’s like borderline narcolepsy. When I have trouble falling asleep at home in my bed, I imagine I’m in a concert and I usually fall right to sleep. It’s because I get up so early, I think, and then have a long day, and then go to the bar at a hotel that shall remain nameless for legal reasons before the concert for a drink, and not any sort of condemnation of the music. Also a little more oxygen in the atmosphere  inside the concert hall wouldn’t hurt.

Gamma is 14. She joined me at the bar last night. I had a beer although I wasn’t really in the mood for a drink, because they won’t bring you peanuts if you don’t buy a drink. Gamma ordered a strawberri daiquiri. With alcohol? asked the waiter. Sure, said Gamma. She let me taste. It was very good. That is something I find agreeable about Austria, they’re not all paranoid about carding people who order drinks.

Another agreeable thing about the country is that its president also subscribes to this modern music concert series, and sits two rows in front of us, just him and his wife. Either that or his security detail is so good that they’re invisible. Last night Gamma went over and said hi to him.

I think it’s neat to have a president who enjoys new music and is accessible like that.

And it’s also neat to have kids like I do.

Even my cats have been friendly and remarkably sane lately, except for the senile gray cat, who is as nuts as ever.

Release the Ardbeg, said Sauron, desperately.

My wife and I attended the final concert of this season’s Klangforum subscription at the Konzerthaus last night. I was early so I went for a walk and then waited for her in the bar at a nearby hotel. It was a sunny, warm evening, so it felt good to be sitting in a comfortable chair at a table in a dark bar next to the whisky cabinet.

It took the waitress a while to find me, but I was in no hurry at all. I used the time to observe a couple guys at a nearby table and when that grew too depressing I looked at the single malts in the cabinet. They were beautiful and alluring, but when the waitress found me I ordered a gin martini. As I have mentioned before, I specify gin when I order martinis but that was unnecessary this time. Maybe they know me there by now. She asked if I wanted ice. This time I said no. She asked if I wanted olives or a twist of lemon, I said olives.

My drink came. I sat there and meditated on the single malts.

My wife called and said she was almost there. I considered ordering her her frankfurters and the glass of mineral water she wanted, but decided to wait until she arrived, to avoid the frankfurters getting cold and wrinkly. Service is fast in that bar anyhow. It was the right decision because she called a few minutes later, in tears. Right after she had called me the first time, a police officer had knocked on her window and pulled her over and gave her a €50 ticket for using a mobile phone while driving, but she was unable to pay because all she had was €40 so now she was wandering the streets of Vienna looking for a cash machine and the one the policeman had directed her to was closed and she didn’t know where another one was.

I said okay. I expressed sympathy and told her no problem, we have plenty of time and so on and I’ll be here when she gets here.

We did have plenty of time.

All the single malts, or many of them, had names that reminded me of Tolkein characters. “The leathery wings of the Laphroaigs beat the darkling skies like a drum, and their screeches turned Frodo’s bones to ice.”

“He is an archer, of the Lagavullin tribe.”

“And the race of the elves abandoned Tallisker, and sailed to the Western Lands.”

“Betrayed by the treacherous traiter Auchentoshan, King Glenfarclas died a hero’s death beneath the Giant Elm in his beloved Glendronach.”

“Is it a Cnoc? You have a Cnoc in your pocket, amirite?” hissed Gollum.

My wife called after a while and interrupted an epiphany I was having about Tolkein. She changed her order to champagne, no sausages. It was on the table when she arrived a few minutes later. As was my second martini.

The waiter also brought more nuts, dispelling my fear that they had my picture behind the bar with the note, “don’t give him too many nuts, he’s like a goldfish and will absent-mindedly eat them until he bursts.”

My wife was a bit stressed but in a better mood because she had been so miserable when she finally returned to her car that the police officer, who had been abandoned there by his colleagues, standing guard with her registration in one hand and the ticket in the other, took pity on her, tore up the ticket and told her to have a nice evening. So champagne was a good call, I guess – to take the edge off the stress, on the one hand, and to celebrate not getting a ticket after all on the other.

Something you should know about my wife is that she gets out of about half of her tickets by winning the sympathy of the ticketing officer. Not always, but more than me. We both have the same approach – throw ourselves at their mercy – but maybe she looks unhappier. I have, in fact, never gotten out of a ticket.

The concert itself was, as always, good. I didn’t fall asleep until the last piece, when the hall ran out of oxygen, despite having two drinks in me. As always in this series, they performed compositions by modern composers. All but one were living, and present, and took bows on the stage afterwards. We especially enjoyed the first piece, and the penultimate one, which featured electronics and a burping soprano (an idea I had considered for a composition, but discarded out of pity for my singer. I guess that is what separates the men from the boys in the world of composition).

Needless to say, we have renewed our subscription.

Concert report

Alpha and I went to a concert last night. We have a subscription to a series of concerts in the Konzerthaus in Vienna, performances of mostly modern works by the Klangforum, which is an ensemble founded in 1985 to perform modern music. As usual we went to the bar in the Intercontinental Hotel, which is near the Konzerthaus, for a drink and frankfurters, which we ate with our hands (the horseradish was freshly-grated and made me gasp) and joked about a group of British businesspeople, mostly men, and chatted and generally had a date. I also had a cup of coffee to make it harder to fall asleep in the concert, because it turns out dissonance makes me sleepy.

The first piece performed was by Debussy and involved harp so it was real pretty. We were reminded of Beta and her harp playing and missed her, and her harp music. Alpha noticed a lot of men with ponytails in the audience, so we steeled ourselves for something artistically significant to come. The next couple pieces were more dissonant, the third piece especially. It was interesting because the harpist was playing two harps at the same time. The composer was present, and took the stage to enthusiastic applause. A group of people near us also booed him, however, which was kind of cool. I had to wonder what that was all about.

The President of Austria was there. with his wife. He apparently has a subscription to the same series, we see him there almost every time, although his wife was there with a friend last time. He doesn’t just show up at the beginning and sneak out, either, he sits through the whole thing so apparently he has genuine cultural interests. How cool is that? It is things like this that make me appreciate living in Austria.

We went out during the intermission for some fresh air. Because we were both so tired, we decided to go home. My wife gets up at 4.30 most mornings, while I sleep in until 5, generally so by 9 pm or so we are both beat.

Culture, III

After my recent concert-going fiasco with Gamma (she has announced she never wants to go to another concert with me) I was relieved last night to see that 1) the bar was open again and 2)there were no bicycle wheels on stage, but rather an ondes martenot, the name of which sounds like a small animal you trap in winter and make jackets out of, but which has a beautiful sound.

I had a  martini while waiting for my wife to arrive. I ordered a gin martini, because sometimes if you just order martini here, you get the vermouth rather than the drink. There is less danger of that at this particular hotel bar, but I wanted to be on the safe side. The waiter asked me if I wanted it with or without ice. I ordered it with ice.  I imagined there would be a few cubes, but they were real generous with the ice. It also came with three olives, and a tray of peanuts, smoked almonds and wasabi almonds. Although I know that bar nuts are a hygenic disaster, I cannot resist them and always polish them off.

My wife had a non-alcoholic drink, and we shared a pair of frankfurters, eating them with our hands.

About the concert – I bought a program this time. The Klangforum Wien performed, I’m really liking this subscription we have and the relatively new music we are seeing, my wife less so although it varies. She liked Toru Takemitsu, for example, and many others. This time, Emilio Pomárico conducted and Marisol Montalvo, an American soprano, sang. Works by André Jolivet, Karol Szymanowski, Nikolai Obukhov and Isang Yun were performed.

Marisol Montalvo, the Klangforum Wien are always great, but Marisol Montalvo was the high point for us. Beautiful, expressive voice, great personality, wonderful. Nikolai Obukhov is a Russian composer with an interesting biography who composed impossible pieces (his main work, “le Livre de Vie” has vanished, he claimed he was robbed, the only surviving part had vocal parts that were impossible for a single person to sing and, oh yeah, called for the construction of a special cathedral to perform it in) but Montalvo managed well.

Despite the martini, I didn’t fall asleep until the final piece, “Pièce concertante” by Isang Yun, who once composed an opera on the floor of his prison cell while being tortured by South Korean intelligence, which had kidnapped him from Germany because they thought he was spying for the North.

PS Thomas Bloch rocked the ondes martenot.

Culture, II

We’ll park at the hotel, he said. It has a nice bar and we can have a drink and eat all their peanuts.

She was Meh about that.

You just have that black leather jacket, I’ll leave my coat in the car, he said. That way we don’t need to check our coats and we can escape faster when the concert is over.

They parked at the hotel. The bar was full of maids with vacuums, and no one else. There was a little sign saying it was closed for rennovations.

He looked at his watch. They had an hour and a half to kill. They walked around in the cold looking for a place to eat. They went all around the Konzerthaus. There was nothing anywhere. There was a restaurant actually in the Konzerthaus, but the menu had illustrations of modern gourmet lumps of foamy stuff so they both shook their heads. They ended up eating sausages at a Würstlstandl across the street from the hotel.

The entire walk, the eating the sausages, all that, apparently took only three minutes because they still had a lot of time to kill.

Time was being weird that evening.

Very weird.

They went into the Konzerthaus to warm up. We can watch people. But they were the first guests, of course, no one comes to a concert more than an hour early. But the bar was open. What would you like? he asked the girl.

Red Bull, she said.

No little sandwich thing, he asked.

I had a sausage, she said.

A beer and a Red Bull, please, he said to the man at the bar.

The man opened a small bottle of Ottakringer Pils for him, and put it on the counter with a glass. What was the second thing you wanted? A sandwich?

A Red Bull, he said.

A what? the bartender said.

See, it wasn’t the volume of the man’s speech. The concert hall lobby was full of that background hiss you get in large, nearly empty rooms when people are setting things up and doors are opening and closing, but it wasn’t loud. It was the man’s pronunciation. He had been saying “Red Bull” with an American English pronunciation.

Rrret Boool, the man said.

Ah, said the bartender, and gave him a can, and a glass.

He and the girl killed time with their beer and energy drink.

An old man entered and walked across the lobby extremely slowly.

See, he has to come early in order to get to his seat on time, the man said. Unlike us he has a good excuse.

They finished their drinks and hit the restroom.

Eventually it was time to take their seats. Like, the earliest possible time. Just for a change of scenery.

The ticket taker told them the hall wasn’t open yet. They could go to the other bar on the other side if they wanted. So they went over there and stood around for a while.

What is it we’re seeing, anyway, the girl asked.

Something modern I think, said the man. He normally bought a program, but this time he wanted to see how he responded with no preconceived notions of this thing.

More time passed, then they took their seats without any great mishap.

There was a lot of stuff on the stage. A grand piano, and note stands and chairs. A double bass and a harp and a bicycle wheel sans tire. A few balloons. A plate of glass, a turntable and some wires and some tubes with mouthpieces.

Musicians came out. A tall skinny conductor with thick red hair came out. They began to play. They played and played. The conductor conducted with extreme precision. The musicians played with great precision. The cellist pressed the balloon to the fingerboard while he bowed, instead of fingering the strings. Other musicians blew into the tubes, or swang them about their heads, or both. An arpeggio was played on the bicycle wheel. Sounds were made on the turntable, and scraping sounds on the plate of glass, and on the wires.

Time did more of its weird thing, slowing down and speeding up, but mostly slowing down.

The man and the girl changed position now and then, trying to get comfortable. The man drifted in and out of sleep. The music played the whole while, behind his dreams and his hypnopompic visions, there in the Mozartsaal of the Konzerthaus too.

Everybody clapped when the song was over. The composer took the stage and got applause, and the guys on the mixing board. The conductor and musicians left the stage and the roadies moved stuff around.

A second piece was played, then a third piece.

The best composition involved a unique instrument that looked like a busted up electric motor attached to the top of a kettledrum. The man found it quite enjoyable. The composer of that one was female. She got a lot of applause.

The lights came on and people got up.

Is it over, said the girl.

The man looked at his watch. About an hour had gone by since the concert started.

It may be over, or it may be intermission. Would you like to hang around and see, or shall we leave.

The girl gave him a neutral look.

I  vote we leave, my ass hurts, said the man.

They got another Rret Bool on their way out.

Which one did you like the best, said the man.

Oh, my god, said the girl.

That first piece was neat, with the bicycle wheel, wasn’t it? asked the man.

The girl looked at him. With her new darker hair, and all the mascara, and that leather jacket, he imagined a certain resemblance to how the scary-looking hacker woman in those Swedish movies, you know, The Girl Who Burned The Concert Hall and so on, may have looked at the age of 13.

That second piece, Hallo Tinitus, said the girl.

The man agreed it would be a fitting title.

I did like the third one a lot, with that invention thing they  played with electric fans and stuff, though, he said.


I spent the first song trying to decide if the conductor was a man or a woman, said the girl.

I spent the first song trying to decide if he had a hunchback or not, said the man.

They drove home.

Later the man checked the program online, out of curiosity. They had left in the intermission after all.

But it was okay. His tailbone had really hurt.