Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Harry Bertoia: Sonambient Sound Sculpture Recordings - The Vintage Vinyl LP Covers

These are the original vinyl LP album titles. Harry Bertoia's work fascinates me. I had never heard of him until recently -- when I began learning about Mid-Century Modern design. He is such a creative artist that I put him on a par with Paul Klee. I don't recall learning about him at all in my art school years of the seventies. He's really something. 

You can hear some of his "Somambient" recordings for free on YouTube. I enjoy playing them at a low volume level right as I start to lay down to go to sleep.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Rod Serling

My man, Rod Serling -- tops.

One of television's brightest, most literate pioneers and a true believer in the medium, Rod Serling was known as the "angry young man" of Hollywood early on in his career, clashing with studios and sponsors in his quest to loosen the corporate grip of censorship and write freely on controversial topics.

The man would maintain that outspokenness as an artist and a thinker throughout his career. Today, the acclaimed writer is most revered for having had the ability to produce works of drama that probe the human psyche in an imaginative and thoroughly unique way, many demonstrating a deep love for humanity and the belief in the possibility of a better tomorrow.

From "The Twilight Zone" to "Night Gallery" and everything before and after, here are some fascinating facts about Rod Serling.


Serling enlisted in the U.S. Army the morning after his high school graduation. He served with the 511th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 11th Airborne Division. Sent to the Pacific Theatre, Serling fought on the Philippine island of Leyte, was part of the force that took Manila back from the Japanese and later was assigned to the occupation force in Japan. Among his military decorations are the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star, and the Philippine Liberation Medal.


Having always had an interest in sports, Serling became a boxer while training in the Army. Rising to the second round of the division finals before being knocked out, he competed as a flyweight and had 17 bouts. Serling suffered a broken nose in both his first and last bout.


While in college, Serling made extra money testing equipment for the United States Air Force. Some of the parachute jumps and other experimental tests were so hazardous that he would be paid anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per stunt, sometimes being paid half up front and promised the other half if he should survive.


The budding writer submitted a script to the annual writing contest of radio program, "Dr. Christian." Of the thousands submitted, Serling's script was one of the few selected for broadcast. He won a trip to New York City and $500 for "To Live a Dream." Another winner was Earl Hamner, Jr., who would go on to write scripts for "The Twilight Zone."


Serling's big break came in 1955 when the freelance writer's 72nd script was chosen for a live television broadcast on the nationwide "Kraft Television Theatre." The episode was called "Patterns" and dramatized the power struggle between a veteran corporate boss and a bright young executive. While Serling didn't think the script was anything special, after the program's broadcast his life would never be the same.


The early years of television were beset by stifling corporate censorship. Looking to circumvent the watering down of his social and political commentary, Serling devised the plan of creating his own show that would employ a science-fiction format, a format that would allow the exploration of ideas thought too controversial for reality-based drama. This, of course, was the genesis of "The Twilight Zone."


When Serling submitted a script to CBS as the pilot pitch for "The Twilight Zone," the network gave it to "Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse." The 1958 episode, "The Time Element," featuring a man plagued by vivid nightmares and a quintessentially "Twilight Zone" twist-ending, was such a hit that CBS green-lit the writer's proposed science-fiction series.


Of the many "Twilight Zone" episodes that he penned, Serling's favorite was "Time Enough at Last." Adapted from a short story, the episode tells the tragic tale of a myopic bank teller with a love for literature who falls victim to a classic twist ending. Serling's favorite episode written by someone other than himself was "The Invaders," penned by Richard Matheson.


Despite its many awards, critical acclaim and loyal fan base, "The Twilight Zone" drew only modest ratings and was cancelled and revived twice during its five years and 156 episodes (92 of which were penned by Serling). A weary Serling did not oppose the third an final cancellation of the series in 1964.


Serling brought a political spin to Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" in 1964 with television film "A Carol for Another Christmas," in which Serling uses the classic story to make a plea for world peace. Telecast only once, the apocalyptic Christmas special features Peter Sellers as a demagogue ruling the wreckage of a ruined world during the "Ghost of Christmas Future" sequence.


Steeped more in horror than science fiction, Serling hosted "Night Gallery" and would write more than a third of its episodes -- however, he rejected an offer to retain creative control, a decision he would come to regret. By season three many of his contributions were being rejected or heavily altered, leaving him disgruntled and, reportedly, hotly dismissing the show as "Mannix in a cemetery."


After the cancelation of "The Twilight Zone," Serling wrote the Western television series "The Loner," which aired from Fall of 1965 to Spring of 1966. When he refused CBS' request for more action and less focus on characters, the show was doomed. Years later in 1970, "Rod Serling's Wonderful World of…" debuted on KNXT in Los Angeles. The show served as Serling's soapbox to deliver stylized essays on any number of social ills. The series lasted 13 weeks.


In 1973, Serling returned to radio with "The Zero Hour," a drama anthology series that featured tales of mystery, adventure and suspense. His final radio performance, recorded just a few weeks before his death, was "Fantasy Park." The program was a fictitious 48-hour-long rock concert that aired over Labor Day weekend. The imaginary concert, hosted by Serling, was achieved using live-in-concert recordings, crowd noise and other effects.


Always busy with writing or producing his work, Serling somehow found time to teach. From the early 1960s until the time of his death, he taught college courses on subjects including film criticism, writing, and drama.


Having survived the daily threat of death in the Pacific during Word War II, it was ultimately a series of heart attacks, perhaps due in part to his heavy smoking, that resulted in the untimely end of Serling's life in 1975. Sadly, he was only 50 years old.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Harry Bertoia: Sonambiant Sound Sculpture Recordings - The CD Reissues

After nearly 40 years of silence, Harry Bertoia's "Sonambient" label has been resurrected in order to release the best of Bertoia's unheard recordings from his recently preserved archive of 1/4" tapes. "Clear Sounds" b/w "Perfetta" was cut straight from the original reels and is a true analog pressing. 

These two pieces were selected for their minimal, meditative and lush harmonic qualities; lacking in the abundance of dynamics and contrasts found on the original "Sonambient" records, these pieces show another approach to performance. Slow washes of shimmering metallic sculpture rustle thickly like the leaves of a white birch or tall grass in the summer sun. Gorgeous harmonics hover overhead, making audible measurements of the length and purity of Bertoia's metal rod sculptures. 

Both Harry Bertoia and his brother Oreste composed extensively in the Sonambient barn deep in the woods of rural Pennsylvania where Harry kept over 100 Sonambient sculptures and gongs. The first "Sonambient" LP "Bellissima Bellissima Bellissima / Nova," released in 1970, contains a Harry Bertoia composition on side A and an Oreste Bertoia composition on side B. As an homage to the original "Sonambient" LP, "Clear Sounds" is a Harry Bertoia piece from June 30, 1973 and "Perfetta" is an Oreste Bertoia piece from June 28, 1971. 

Harry Bertoia first came into artistic prominence in the late 1930s and his sculptural, ergomonic chairs were soon modernist furniture classics. Inspired by the resonant sounds emanating from metals as he worked them and encouraged by his brother Oreste, whose passion was music, Harry restored a fieldstone "Pennsylvania Dutch" barn as the home for this experiment in sounding sculptures which he had begun in the 1950s. Bertoia was an obsessive composer and relentless experimenter, often working late into the night and accumulating hundreds of tapes of his best performances -- Oreste, too, would explore and record the sculptures's sounds during his annual visits to his brother's home in rural Pennsylvania. 

Over nearly twenty years, adding, culling and rearranging, Bertoia carefully selected nearly 100 harmonious pieces ranging in height from under a foot to more than fifteen feet. Learning by experimentation was common for Bertoia and he mastered the art of tape recording, turning the Sonambient barn into a sound studio with four overhead microphones hanging from the rafters in a square formation. He would experiment with overdubbing by performing along to previous recordings, constantly improving his methods while also honing his performance skills.

Lucio Fontana

Following his return to Italy in 1948 Lucio Fontana exhibited his first "Ambiente spaziale a luce ner" (Spatial Environment) at the Galleria del Naviglio in Milan -- a temporary installation consisting of a giant amoeba-like shape suspended in the void in a darkened room, and lit by neon light. 

From 1949 on he started his so-called "Spatial Concept" (or slash series), consisting of holes or slashes on the surface of monochrome paintings, drawing a sign of what he named "an art for the Space Age."

He devised the generic title "Concetto spaziale" (spatial concept) for these works and used it for almost all his later paintings. These can be divided into broad categories -- the "Buchi" (holes), beginning in 1949, and the "Tagli" (slashes), which he instituted in the mid-1950s.

Monday, July 17, 2017

RIP Laurence Scholder, Printmaker and Mentor

Farewell to my fine printmaking instructor at SMU, Larry Scholder. He mentored me 1975-1981. Thanks for all you did for me, Larry. My condolences to Larry's family, many students, and friends.

Laurence (Larry) Ted Scholder (1942-2017)

Born in 1942 in Brooklyn, New York to Arthur and Kate Scholder, Larry grew up in New York and attended Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) where he met and married his wife Carole. 

He graduated in 1965 with a BFA and pursued graduate studies in printmaking at the University of Iowa, graduating in1967 with an MA. During this time daughters Erica and Alix were born.

After graduation, the family moved to Texas where Larry was a Professor in the Department of Art at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He taught at SMU for 44 years, retiring in 2012. 

In addition to teaching, Larry exhibited his artwork extensively throughout Texas and the United States. His prints are in the collections of numerous museums including the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Modern Art Museum in Ft. Worth, as well as in many private collections.

Survived by wife Carole, daughters Erica Scholder and Alix Perritt, son-in-law John Perritt, granddaughters Shelby and Darcy Perritt, sister Janet Scholder, and numerous cousins, including Joel and Marsha Selden.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Vladimir Kagan: Fine Furniture Design

No designer of the day steadily offered works with more verve and dynamism than Vladimir Kagan. While others, it seems, designed with suburban households in mind, Kagan aimed to suit the tastes of young, sophisticated city-dwellers. With signature designs that feature sleekly curved frames and others that have dramatic out-thrust legs, Kagan made furniture sexy.
Kagan’s father was a Russian master cabinetmaker who took his family first to Germany (where Vladimir was born) and then to New York in 1938. After studying architecture at Columbia University, Kagan opened a design firm at age 22 and immediately made a splash with his long, low and sinuous Serpentine sofa. Furniture lines such as the "Tri-symmetric" group of glass-topped, three-legged tables and the vivacious "Contours" chairs soon followed.
Kagan’s choices of form and materials evolved through subsequent decades, embracing lucite, aluminum, and burl-wood veneers. By the late 1960s, Kagan was designing austere, asymmetrical cabinets and his "Omnibus" group of modular sofas and chairs. For all his aesthetic √©lan, Kagan said that throughout his career, his touchstone was comfort. “A lot of modern furniture was not comfortable. And so comfort is -- form follows function. The function was to make it comfortable,” he once commented. “I created what I called 'vessels for the human body.'"
A diverse group of bodies have made themselves at home with Kagan designs. Among the famous names who commissioned and collected his designs are Marilyn Monroe, Gary Cooper, Andy Warhol, David Lynch, Angelina Jolie, and Brad Pitt, and firms such as Gucci and Giorgio Armani. His work is in numerous museum collections, including those of the Victoria and Albert and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Because of its idiosyncrasy, Kagan’s work did not lend itself to mass-production. Kagan never signed on with any of the major furniture-making corporations, and examples of his designs are relatively rare. Even decades after their conception, Kagan pieces still command the eye, with their freshness, energy, sensuality, and wit.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

J. B. Blunk

J. B. Blunk was a sculptor known primarily for working in wood. After serving in the United States Army in Korea, he met sculptor Isamu Noguchi in Japan and served apprenticeships with Japanese potter Kitaoji Rosanjin and potter and Living National Treasure Toyo Kaneshige. Blunk was the first American to apprentice into the line of descent of that country’s great ceramic tradition.

After returning to the U.S., Blunk was eventually able to build his own home and studio near Inverness, CA. In 1962, Blunk started working in wood and was crafting furniture and installations out of redwood, which were unprecedented in their size and degree of abstraction.

Blunk graduated from UCLA, where he studied under Laura Andreson.