Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Art & Gaming: And Never the Twain Shall Meet

•                                         •                                        •
Ever since some European signed a urinal not with his
own name, the boundaries constituting what is art have
broken down, and there has been an explosion in types
of "experiences" accepted as legitimate art.

Many artists have come to include some interactive
element in their work.  For instance a few years ago,
Dred Scott Tyler lay an American Flag on the floor
of a gallery and invited people to walk on it.  Whether
they choose to do so or not, they were encouraged to
write their thoughts about the exhibit in a notebook,
which in turn functioned as part of the exhibition,
both in reading the comments or in leaving their own,
i.e., taking part as a co-creator in the artistic process.

Given the new flexibility in how art is understood,
it's not surprising that game designers might develop
pretensions to being artists, especially as a good
designer brings the same depth of imagination and
care for craft that artists bring to their creations.

Yet, it's also true that there are some crafts which
to be done well take the imagination of an artist,
but which in the end are incompatible with art.
Advertising is the primary example of a very
creative enterprise whose ends preclude it
from being art, since the two work at cross
purposes in the end.   Selling is not the end of art,
though it supports many an artist.

Tetris Study #1
© Hurt McDermott
Gaming is an enterprise which
has exploded into what seems
from the outside a Golden Age,
and certain programmers seem
intent on turning their games
into works of art.  Certain
non-narrative games might well
be used as tools in creating works
of art which have a random or
interactive component; but when
you get to games with a
narrative, the equation's different.

What does a narrative work of art do?  It takes
us through a specific sequence of events to
create an emotional experience the readers or
viewers would not have had by themselves.  In
doing so, art deepen the partakers' relationship
to their own emotions, leading us to fully live.
Fullness does not imply only pleasant exper-
iences, and a good novel or film often has an
ending we would not choose ourselves, if we
were controlling events.  The characters often
suffer or fail in ways which the partakers would
have avoided if given their choice.

Once you have a narrative experience in
which the partaker makes choices trying to
reach a desired outcome you have in essence
created an intellectual puzzle, not a guided
tour of particular experience.  You have in
other words:

A Game!
                                         •                                        ^•>

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Endangered Genre: The Thank You Note

•                                               •    •    •                                              •                   

I recently saw a thank you note which impressed me as the 
closest thing to a masterpiece of the genre as I have seen.  
I received the permission of the writer to post the letter here. 

Dear --

As I am sure is evident, I am writing this thank you note with my
new --  -- pen.  I do love owning two of these pens as I'm really 
never without one.  When M-- saw I had two, he immediately asked,
"Now can I use one every once and awhile?'' To which I without 
hesitation said, "no."  I really do love the heft and smoothness of 
these pens.  Plus, it would not be an exaggeration to say I think 
about you every time I used them, which in and of itself makes
me happy.    Thank-you also for the chocolate covered strawberries.  
They were spectacular in every way.  They looked great, tasted
great, and there were plenty to share.  The strawberries were huge.
I've never seen anything like them.  It was a very thoughtful gift -
yummy, but not decadent - and I appreciate your thoughtfulness. 

Finally, thank you for the autographed copy of [your book].  
P-- & I are both about halfway through,  and enjoying 
the book immensely. Although I did think it was customary to 
dedicate magic books to the --, I quickly overcame my sadness
when I saw the personalized autograph. I love reading a book by 
someone I know and love.  It's a unique reading experience and 
a lot of fun. I love you all very much and am grateful for you 
every day.  Xo xo.  

It's a wonderful letter.  It has the one indispensable element all
thank you notes must have to be truly effective: at least one
specific reference to the gift given; but the writer transcends the
ordinary thank you note when she writes, "... it would not be an 
exaggeration to say I think about you every time I used them, 
which in and of itself makes me happy."  This is much nicer than
just saying I love you.  There are many forms of love out there,
not all of them very interesting or even constructive, but to say
to someone, even the thought of you makes me happy is to say,
"You are a blessing.  You are a true blessing in my life."

What more could any of us wish to be? 

•                                               •    •    •                                              •                                                                                                                        

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Thomas Jefferson, A Poem

•                                            •                                           •

Thomas Jefferson trembled, famously, because God is just.
And also did he tremble before sweet Sally's breast.

Jefferson made himself known as liberty's staunchest friend,
And Jefferson fought for slavery until the bitter end.

History has pardoned sweet Thomas Jefferson,
And pardoned him for wielding a wicked pen.

•                                           •                                           •

For the history of Jefferson's continued defense of slavery
long after the end of the Revolutionary War, see Roger
Kennedy's book, Burr, Hamilton and Jefferson:  A Study
In Character.  Play particular attention to Jefferson's
authorship of the Kentucky & Virginia Resolutions,
which is the closest thing the Confederate States had to a
Declaration of Independence - independence in the service
of protecting slavery.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chris Sale, Ace Fireman

•                                                     •                                                     •

There is an eerie synchronicity in Mariano Rivera leaving the pen
because of injury, and Chris Sale returning to the closer role because
of concern for injury: it feels almost like a royal succession - the
best fireman of the late 20th century making way for the premiere
fireman of the 21st century.

I know Chris Sale is disappointed to leave the starting line up, but
he was born to be a fireman, that pitcher who can come into a
hostile ballpark in the late innings with a one or two run lead,
runners on, the crowd going wild because the game's on the line
and a hit will win it - and then shut down the other side.

A fireman needs ice water in his veins, a couple of wicked pitches
and an ability to intimidate the hitter to neutralize the momentum
of a potential big inning.  Just look at Sale's face when he enters
the game with everything on the line.  The determination is
palpable.  He's focused.  He's ready.  He knows what he has to do.
He's doing what he was born to do.

He has the potential to be one of the great closers.  Wouldn't
he rather be one of the greatest closers of all time than just
a very good starter?

•                                                     •                                                     •

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Gratitude of the Artist

•                                         •                                         •

Friday night I had the great good fortune of attending a New
Music DePaul Concert at which was presented Natasha
Bogojevich's setting of my song cycle, 4 Ages Through 
a Mirror, which featured four closely related poems of mine:

Canto I:         The Blake Baby
Part II:          Amphibians Lost
Book III:       Ambivalence Regained
Vol. IV:        Sybil Tiger

Bogojevich is undoubtedly one of the most underrated
composers working in contemporary music.  She is a
musical descendent of Stravinksy and Shostakovich.
Her music is inventive; beautifully textured whether
orchestrated for a full orchestra, a chamber ensemble,
or just a soprano and piano as was the piece last night -
though she threw in a baby's rattle: it's contemporary
music after all! - and her work is full of passion.

This is our at least fifth collaboration.  We met on the
TUTA production of Aristopanes's BIRDS, for which
I adapted the text and she provided the music.  As always
Zeljko Djukic surrounded himself with supremely
talented collaborators, and I was amazed by how much
her music added to the show.

Toward the end of the run she told me she wanted to set
something in English and asked me if I had anything.
This led right away to our first collaboration:  Oratorio,
which was played by the New York Miniaturist Ensemble.

Our biggest success up to 4 Ages was Bajalica, a piece
for solo wind player, electronic drone and motion picture,
which made its World Premiere Tour of Russia, Greece
and the Balkans in 2007.  So far it has been played in
over 25 cities and theaters including at the Marinsky
Theater in St. Petersburg.  I created the visual track
which plays in strict synchronization with the drone
and music.

She also did the music for my motion picture, Black
Mail, but 4 Ages Through a Mirror was special.  I
had given her the poems at the same time I gave her
Oratorio, back at the beginning of our artistic relationship.
She started with Oratorio because she knew she could
have it performed right away.  Her early efforts to
set 4 Ages didn't please her, and she kept searching for
the right approach.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

The wait was worth it!  It was sung by the truly elegant
Chicago soprano Olga Bojovic accompanied on piano
with great theatrical elan by the highly accomplished
Kristijan Civljak, and their presentation was perfect!  I
could not imagine better.  They captured immediately
the humor Natasha built into the piece.  From the moment
Olga shook her rattle and began intoning, "Baby, baby..."
I was smiling from ear to ear.  I can only hope they
continue to perform it.  I long to hear again Olga singing,
"Baldy Lox, Lox, Lox,  Baldy Lox..." and to again seeing
Kristijan playing the piece with his great sophistication
in the manner of petulant child

I have to admit to being astounded that Natasha caught
the spirit of the verse so perfectly, the mix of comedy,
self-dramatization and the poignancy of all that we
have lost or realize we are in the midst of losing.  It's no
exaggeration to say the words come more perfectly
alive in her setting than they do alone on the page.  I
think it's because this verse is at heart inherently
theatrical, and the music is what breathes theatrical
life into it.

For me the highest reward of being an artist comes
from in an audience for one of my work and suddenly
being overtaken by a great and even painful sense of
gratitude for having taken part in the creation of
something beautiful.  I by no means get it from all my
works, and a work can be very satisfying to me even
without providing such a moment; but sitting in the
audience watching Olga and Kristijan perform Natasha's
setting of 4 Ages, I did experience it.  I was grateful,
immensely grateful - and for the moment, painfully happy.

•                                         •                                         •

Thursday, May 3, 2012

4 Ages Through a Mirror

•                                           •                                          •

This Friday Night, 4 Ages Through a Mirror, a poem 
of mine set to music by the inimitable Natasha Bogojevich
will premiere at the New Music DePaul Concert. 

It will be sung by the wonderful soprano Olga Bojovic,
accompanied by Kristijian Civilak on the piano.   

This concert will take place at DePaul University School of 
Music Concert Hall,  804 West Belden Avenue in Chicago.
8 pm.

The admission is FREE and the parking is available in Lot K 
(directly in front of the School of Music).

4 Ages Through A Mirror

By Hurt McDermott

Canto I: "The Blake Baby"

The youngest girl I ever met
Was nursed on mother's milk and William Blake.
All the other babes took her for a flake,
Because she never cried when she got wet;
But in her unweaned innocence
Chalked it up to experience.

Part II : "Amphibians Lost"

"Help me" cried the little frog
Which the girl had mistaken for a lump in a bog,
"Excuse me, but you're sitting on my head."
But late did he croak it, and he was dead.

The adolescent girl mourned the frog
And kept to her bed like a bump on a log.
Thinking on that encounter always made her wince,
Knowing she had inadvertently smothered her prince.

Book III: "Ambivalence Regained"

"Help me," cries the disappointed triple threat,
"Do men also suffer such keen regret
Knowing that no matter what choices they made
There's no escaping the one bed in which they're laid?"

Volume IV: "Sybil Tyger"

The oldest woman in the world
Loves her future short and pure.
Baldy Lox is her name:
Fiercely proud, outwardly tame
Unless she hears another nears her age
In which case she shakes in a jealous rage.
Her one ambition all diseases cure.
She attacks the Sybil, her dentures unfurled.

•                                           •                                          •