photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
with DECONSTRUCTIVIST fashion designers like REI KAWAKUBO (COMMES DE GARCON), YOHJI YAMAMOTA (Y-3) and the late VIRGIL ABLOH (OFF-WHITE) being the current exalted avatars of a distinctly MINIMALIST AESTHETIC, the timing seems correct to reappraise the lasting and continuing cultural relevance of BELGIAN designer MARTIN MARGIELA of MAISON MARGIELA and his INNOVATIVE approach to FASHION DESIGN and PRESENTATION. NOTORIOUS for not granting interviews or appearing on camera, in the recent retrospective documentary MARTIN MARGIELA: IN HIS OWN WORDS (AMINATA PRODUCTIONS, 2020), MARGIELA functions as an of-sorts narrator to his own story while maintaining his complete anonymity.
the conceit of the film is in essence in an INDUSTRY where FAME and CELEBRITY are fleeting come and go with new collections each subsequent season, MARGIELA was able to construct a NOVEL VOCABULARY and DESIGN AESTHETIC that has lasted far beyond his twenty year reign at his former namesake fashion house, which ended in 2009. he was in COMPLETE CONTROL throughout and resigned only when the business side, due to expansion and the success of the brand, began to inevitably dictate and encroach on his ARTISTIC VISION. in this manner his departure maintained the PURITY of his collections, which were his legacy.
and that focus on the product was INTENTIONAL. famously, MARGIELA left the press alone to make sense of his COLLECTIONS, providing no input, direction or CONTEXT as is the INDUSTRY PRACTICE. in this manner he cultivated an EXPECTATION of INNOVATION and spurred fierce discussion, expression and enabled free thought with regards to his critics. he let them decide on their own how to approach and evaluate his work, with no pushback or encouragement on his end. this is basically unheard of in the FASHION WORLD where HYPE is inextricably part of the game. for MARGIELA, THE WORK AND ONLY THE WORK was what mattered. period.
and what about the actual clothes? MARGIELA is so REVERED because he essentially INVERTED all sorts of explicit and implicit EXPECTATIONS in the INDUSTRY. for instance he was CELEBRATED for REPURPOSING, RECYCLING, RE-CONTEXTUALIZING, discarded NON-PREMIUM MATERIALS with an almost MARCEL DUCHAMP-ian ability to RECONSTRUCT and REDETERMINE their VALUE and UTILITY through the power of CONCEPT. a MARGIELA item had value because of the IMAGINATIVE idea behind it, not the SCARCITY of the MATERIAL itself. similarly, his GARMENTS provided an almost META-NARRATIVE regarding their creation, DECONSTRUCTING for the wearer the process by which they were conceived and constructed. even the labeling was UNIQUE and somewhat of an ANTI-LABEL statement, with four RUDIMENTARY corner stitches along a rectangle of light FABRIC, sometimes unmarked itself. the result was four corner stitches exposed on the outside of the GARMENT, making it appear INCOMPLETE and still in the process of being manufactured. MARGIELA even confronted the PRESENTATION of his work, often casting NORMAL women as models (known as street casting) and utilizing UNCONVENTIONAL off-site venues (such as parking garages, beneath bridges, vacant outdoor lots) to unveil his work in UNEXPECTED CONTEXTS. in summation, his work was highly CONCEPTUAL and played around and CHALLENGED LONG-HELD IDEAS concerning the INCEPTION, CONSTRUCTION and PRESENTATION PROCESSES involved with the design of clothes. virtually anyone today that is SUBVERTED EXPECTATIONS through DECONSTRUCTING such in a NOVEL way is taking a cue from the playbook invented by MARGIELA, which is why he is still more than a decade later into his retirement such a REVERED figure.
my interest is not so much with FASHION itself, but with visionaries that CHALLENGED, TRANSGRESSED and ultimately SUBVERTED the STATUS QUO to their will and invented a NEW LANGUAGE unto themselves in the process. people like FRANCIS BACON, HUBERT SELBY JR, PATTI SMITH, BILL HICKS, LOU REED, JENNIFER DOUDNA & EMMANUELLE CHARPENTIER, FRANK ZAPPA or MARLON BRANDO. MARTIN MARGIELA: IN HIS OWN WORDS is beyond compelling and most definitely worth checking out regardless of your interest in haute couture.
photo & text by nacrowe
as a COMPOSITION, GLASSWORKS (SONY, 1981) was the celebrated MINIMALIST composer PHILLIP GLASS' concerted effort to provide POSTMODERN chamber music to a wider listenership beyond lovers of EXPERIMENTAL classical music. it was COMPOSED, RECORDED and MIXED with the portable cassette player in mind as its vehicle, not a traditional setting such as a sterile church or grand ballroom. as such, HUMAN MOVEMENT is interestingly included in the mix making such GLASSWORKS potentially an IMMERSIVE and INTERACTIVE listening experience.
maybe because of my knowledge of such, whenever i listen to this recording it reminds me of something called "walking zazen" i came into contact with ZEN BUDDHISM when living in JAPAN. essentially such is walking MEDITATION which one does in silence in the intervals between seated MEDITATION, or zazen. this practice pedals back in forth for a few hours as practiced in that centuries-old tradition. given the PORTABILITY of the cassette player, there is a sense that all the hallmarks of GLASS' compositional tropes, such as REPETITIVE PHRASING, ARPEGGIATED MELODIES and ODD TIME SIGNATURES, are being interpreted through the act of PHYSICAL MOVEMENT in the real world, not seated disassociation. when experienced outside while walking in the city or im a park, the effect is the same of ALL-CONSUMING MANTRA both shielding you from and immersing you into your surroundings.
GLASS himself was a regular practitioner of MEDITATION in the TIBETAN tradition and i have no doubt utilized his work as an extended EXPRESSION of such along the same lines. for me GLASSWORKS is interesting in that it almost beckons the listener to actively seize the content and seamlessly integrate such into their own lives and daily routines far behind the confines of stuffy society functions and overwrought concert halls.
at least that is my take. im probably just projecting but either way, GLASSWORKS is an excellent entry point into epic aural soundscapes of one of the past century's most RENOWNED and INFLUENTIAL composers, PHILIP GLASS.
photo manipulation & text by nacrowe
mirroring the structure of his twelve-part composition MUSIC IN TWLEVE PARTS (1971-1974), which concerns itself with structural elements like REPETITION and VARIATION, GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS (KINO, 2007) provides a multi-faceted look at the life, career and cultural impact of the legendary AMERICAN modern MINIMALIST composer PHILIP GLASS.
what i especially appreciate about this film is its structure. you get a glimpse of the man from varying perspectives including that of his immediate family, peers including film directors (GODFREY REGGIO, MARTIN SCORSESE, WOODY ALLEN and ERROL MORRIS), artists (CHUCK CLOSE) religious teachers (BUDDHIST, QI GONG and TOLTEC) and mentors (RAVI SHANKAR) as well as intimate collaborators that are a part of his creative team including conductors, sequencers, producers and fellow pianists that help bring his compositions to life in an efficient manner. contrary to the popular imagination of a composer sequestered away in solitude in an ivory tower, here is presented an engage artist that is very much in the moment and of a community. this makes sense, having read his memoir WORDS WITHOUT MUSIC (review linked HERE) where he graciously contextualizes his achievements and career amidst these varying poles of influences. in his memoir he goes out of his way to show the rich PALIMPSEST of layered experiences that were enabled by various teachers and mentors along the way. his personal narrative irrevocably intertwined with theirs. it is refreshing that such a sentiment is foreshadowed in this documentary, which came out less than a decade before his memoir.
the film itself takes place while GLASS is creating his 8th symphony as well preparing his recent opera WAITING FOR THE BARBARIANS (based on the J.M COETZEE novel) for its opening in GERMANY. its interesting that a documentary which is very much concerned with themes related to COMMUNICATION and CULTURAL APPRECIATION includes a composition concerned with issues related to STATE OPPRESSION and COLLECTIVE SUBJUGATION, which was very much on the mind of everyone at the time given that it was only a few years after the invasion of IRAQ under fabricated pretexts. the opera was very much concerned with COMMUNICATION as a state-sponsored tool for OPPRESSION. seems fitting that an artist so willing to listen and collaborate would be the perfect vehicle for such themes related to INTOLERANCE, HUBRIS and NARCISSISM. definitely quite the juxtaposition.
GLASS: A PORTRAIT OF PHILIP IN TWELVE PARTS is definitely worth watching, especially for those interested in the subtle art of creation and collaboration. required viewing in my opinion.
photo & text by nacrowe
in his incredible memoir WORDS WITHOUT MUSIC (LIVERIGHT, 2015), composer PHILIP GLASS looks back at a life and career filled with music and attempts to make sense of it. now i wish to say straight off that this is one of the most THOUGHTFUL, ERUDITE memoirs i have read in recent memory and that likely i will be returning to it in the future when i feel the need to think about the origins of the wellspring of INSPIRATION and CREATIVITY. it goes without saying that this book is a must-read whether or not you appreciate 20th CENTURY COMPOSERS or classical music in general. just wanted to get that out of the way right at the beginning.
for me distinguishes GLASS throughout his memoir is both his intense DISCIPLINE and his equally ravenous need to EXPERIENCE and UNDERSTAND cultures and musical traditions outside of his own. having left BALTIMORE to attend the UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO as a teen and then pursue composition at THE JULIARD SCHOOL, only to further refine his skills for two years with celebrated tutor NADIA BOULANGER on a FULBRIGHT SCHOLARSHIP in PARIS, GLASS took his studies seriously and pursued them with DEDICATION and PASSION.
just as equally he followed his PASSION for musical traditions outside his comfort zone, especially INDIAN music (for which he took more than 20 trips throughout his life) as well as indigenous traditions in SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, BRASIL, MEXICO and the ROMA populations of EUROPE. for him, projects were an opportunity to further develop his ability to APPRECIATE and UNDERSTAND unfamiliar traditions that potentially he could INCORPORATE their TECHNICAL INNOVATIONS into his compositions. for me, it is this capacity that makes his work special, even if it may be hard to decode on a layman level.
being a former ENGLISH teacher, there were capacities in my students i would have to build up, but ultimately the point of such was for them to utilize these new tools to find and articulate unique insights. GLASS talks about this EDGE OF INNOVATION IS WHERE INNOVATION LIES and i could not agree more. his compositions, like my classrooms, were spaces for pushing limits of understanding, even looking foolish in the process. my thought was always that if i did the same thing over and over again, that there is no PROGRESSION, just brute REPETITION with no PURPOSE. putting DISCIPLINE to use only further opens us up to new understandings, or in his case, compelling musical landscapes hitherto unearthed and unexplored.
i also appreciate his description of being in the CREATIVE MOMENT. that the person who creates is not witness to their own individual CREATIVE PROCESS. GLASS would have people ask him why he put a note in a certain place or why he chose a certain tempo, and in all honesty he couldn't respond. this is since despite his great knowledge of musical composition and a variety of world traditions, when in that CREATIVE MOMENT he is just responding on INSTINCT. i found that compelling not only as an accurate description of my own experience when writing, but also as an interesting notion to put in a memoir concerning one of the most celebrated and dissected composers of the modern age. to take back music to an experiential phenomena as opposed to that which is academic and laborious studied ad nauseam is refreshing.
just like the act of CREATION, when a listener hears music they are completing the process, the cycle. there is one passage in the memoir when GLASS asks a student what is in book of compositions. the student responded with "music." "wrong" he states, "its dotted lines on a paper." music is interpreted and created anew by musicians and composers who work in tandem with the audience to experience a composition. there is no ideal, platonic version of a piece of music. it is continually being reinterpreted.
and for me that is what i love about MUSIC, ART and LITERATURE. its fluidity of meaning given the context of TIME, GEOGRAPHY and CULTURE of its audience. again, i will return to this book in the future. could not recommend it anymore fervently.