Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Days at Cold Spring Harbor (1)



Sometimes you wish you were all of a sudden brought into another reality. A reality that you can actually lose control and transcend yourself. I just travaled back from one of such reality. It was at Cold Spring Harbor, the north shore of long island. I attended a summer course on "computational neuroscience: vision" there. It was the most intense two weeks that I had over a long time. It was like you were obsessed with something. It was a little bit like a heated love-affair. The only difference is that I committed this love affair with visual neuroscience, along with all other crazy scientists. For a continuous of 15 days, I think nothing but visual neuroscience.

1) The place
The place is amazing. It is completely isolated from the outside world. It used to be an estate of a rich person. The whole estate is located above the hill on the bay. There are three major buildings. One is called The Robertson house, which is a Victorian style white house facing a huge grassland. The bay is down the hill from the house. The Robertson house is where the boys live and where they serve breakfast every morning and serve lunch every other day. Another is called Samis Hall, which is a contemporary building and where the girls stay. It is much less stylish than the Robertson house. Every room in Samis is like a coffin, small, stuffed and without any modern entertainment. It has only one function: lodging. The third most important architecture on this estate is the Banbury center. It is a beautiful white church-like one-floor house. It is where we are having our classes and where we spent most of our time at. Banbury center is surrounded by apple trees. Inside the house, there is a big lecture room with huge wooden tables. There are about 25 mac computers constantly illuminating. That 's our love affairs are taking place.

Monday, March 06, 2006

"The World" by Jia Zhang Ke

Jia Zhang Ke ‘s new movie "The World" is not as nostalgic as his other films such as " The Platform" and “ Unknown pleasures”. But I like its subject materials more than his other films. Maybe I found even more connected with the characters in the film than the characters in his previous films. Lived in Beijing and actually lived very close to a gathering center of immigrated labors, I was very touched by his characters in the films. Beijing, very much like Shanghai, has a big portion of its residents as people from other provinces and usually poor countryside. During the day, girls worked in beauty salons, hotels, restaurants and men worked in construction sites, parking lots, and many other service places. At night, they all gather around at certain part of the city and shared shabby dorm rooms with each other. These people were in many mainstream movies considered " people at the edge". They were never the focus of the entertainment industry in the economically boomed society where flashy new things appear every day. However, sadly, these people are the majority of Chinese younger generations. Their lives were almost ignored in the exciting and ever-changing society and their lives were seemingly uninteresting to those people who enjoy Korean TV shows and Hollywood movies. However, in Jia Zhang Ke ‘s film, they are his focus.

If the characters in " The Platform” were being able to experience cultural changes and tasted the various stages in life, then characters in " the world" have absolutely no future and no choice over their lives. Xiao Tao, a dancer from ShanXi who worked in a scene park, will never fly in a jet and take the real “ mono rail”. She will also never realize his longing for a committed love. All she can do is dressing in flamboyant costumes as various foreign women and pose for the tourists. Tai Sheng, the guard in the park and also tao ‘s boyfriend, carried an affair with seamstress Qun, whose husband is an illegal immigrant who lived in Chinatown in France. Their relationship was confined in the shabby workshop of Qun ‘s fake brand fashion store. A Russian dancer, who didn’t know how to speak Chinese and penniless, makes friend with Tao, and finally at one night in a hotel, Tao found her becoming a prostitute. When the Russian woman taught Tao a song in Russian and they sang together, I truly understood” hardship is our common language”. All these characters were so easily to be found on various corners in Beijing that we never look into their existence and their needs. We can easily pass by saying that they just want to make some money and bring to their poor hometown. However, when we actually came to learn about them, their stories and their dreams, we realized how unequal and cruel life can be.

"The world" is not a stylish movie. It is very much a realistic film. Though visually much more appealing than “ The Platform”, Jia still didn’t try to romanticize what he observed. It reminds me a lot of movies from the Neorealist movement of Italy, such as " the Bicycle Thief" and " Rome: 11 o clock". I can feel Jia 's sadness when I watched his camera followed Xiao Tao as she walked alone in the park or ridded in the
mono rail. If "The platform" is a memoir or autobiography of Jia, then he definitely dig deep into the social-economical situation of current China and its influence on personal fate of his powerless characters.


I also found Jia ‘s films poetic. His camera work is steady and long. It created a thoughtful spatial and temporal space for the audience. Another reason why I like his films is its closeness to the reality. Unlike Zhang yi mo and Chen Kai Ge used lavishly Chinese traditional costumes, beautiful actresses and visually powerful scenes to romanticize the reality. Jia pursues a natural and truthful style. His actors are all “earthy” and common-looked. He found beauty underneath the truth.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

High Art

I personally think the most attractive feature of a film, or any narrative art, is its sincerity. I perceive films as a way to express thoughts, philosophy, ideas and feelings of a director, truthfully, no matter if it is an epic, sci-fic or a romantic. If the sole purpose of making art is to express sincerely, then it will eventually reach out, and even if it only reached out to a small group of people, it is worthwhile. That 's why I like "High Art". It is an honest character study of two women and the crossing of their paths in their lives. I especially like the character Lucy. I don't know maybe I appreciate her character, someone who fell hard but still get a very strong hold of absolute principles of making art. I also connect to Syd. I understand her ambitions and her aspiration. And the contrast between the two is very well presented. I like the scene that when she first visit Lucy 's apartment and was instant carried away by her photography. However, High Art is not only about a love story. It has so many layers of thoughts. It displayed the director 's ideas about art vs commercialism; self-realization; self-destruction; fame and its price; what art is really about. I also very much like the atmosphere, dreamy and dark. Though there are many weakness of the movie, for example, the ending is like a forced solution and the other characters are not well-developed. But i think what winning me over is the truthfulness and the one-of-a-kind acting by Ally Sheedy. The director later on made other movies which were disappointing. However, this one movie have kept her a position in the history of independent film making.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mozart on the ceiling of a concert hall

It is a cold and rainy Tuesday. I came to the concert with an impulse, leaving behind all kinds of piled up work in the lab. Leif Ove Andnes with Mozart is a combination that I cannot let pass, especially in such a dreary winter ‘s night. I need that perfect sound to dilute the blue.

The music hall is sparsely seated. When the small chamber orchestra from Norway is quietly settled down, my heart started to speed up for the up coming of the pianist. He came with swift steps(just how he sounded in Cds), wearing a black wrinkled shirt, which is far from formal, black pants and shoes. He sat down in front the Steinway, his back facing the audience, and gave a small gesture to the orchestra. The program includes two Mozart ‘s concerto, No.14 and 20, an arranged Beethovan string quartet and Mozart ‘s Eine kleine Nachtmusik. But it is basically a Mozart night. Beethoven is there to let the audience have a breath and listen to more Mozart.

The orchestra gave a delightful performance. The E-Flat minor concerto is a dashing Mozart, happy, bold, smiling, childlike and most importantly, young. There is nothing heavy, nothing cold, nothing dark, nothing old. It is a bursting laugh and a spring brook running through the mountains. The carefully controlled orchestra and piano made layers and layers of sound. Sometimes, when the violin plays the solo, you feel like someone is singing in front of you. At other times, when the orchestra trembles quietly together, you feel like hearing sound of chorus from miles and miles away.

No. 20 is true gem, especially the third movement. I lost in the swirling enchanting world that the music created. On top of the orchestra or underneath it, rather, the pianist plays extremely fast and every key he touched flows into the heart with effortless charm. The lead of the orchestra, also the artistic director, is an amazing musician. It felt the emotion of the orchestra is under control of his bow. Sometimes, at one ecstatic moment, I looked up and see the cello-shape ceiling of the concert hall, and I seem to see Mozart in his carriage in a hectic corner of a Vienna street. He wear dazzling clothes and his face looked sad. He has a life to make and parties to go to and concerts to conduct and a whole mundane world to live and to suffer and yet, in his head, there is this pure, perfect, eternal world of joy he created. Centuries after at one winter night, his music become my own shelter.

I don’t want the music to end. Every thought is so right in the music. It ended in stormy joyfulness and I stood up and applauses. They encored with fast movement from a Hayden piano concerto while I am still singing the Mozart.

It started to pour after we walked out of the concert hall. My friend who came to the concert with me said,” What a wonderful evening!” It sounded like a cliched ending of pupil ‘s essay. But for some reason, I agree very much with her. I can not help but recalling Roman Roland ‘s saying in the novel John Christopher, ” She doesn’t know, like herself, at the same time, there are many other wounded souls who are sheltered under the warm wings of music!”

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

statement about life

Simple life is for people to enjoy; complex life is raw material to make arts.

It is a fortune to have a relatively simple life. That is a life that maximizes happiness and minimizes sufferings. But sometimes, it is not easy to have such a simple life. How about these people whose life is not as simple but always have certain "twists"? Nobody want a life that is full of struggles and conflicts. But people who can live with the struggles and conflicts might also experience more in life. Can one turn these struggles and conflicts to comprehension of pains of others and reach out? Can one turn these pains into active thoughts and hence into arts and literature? Very possible. I believe the pains and suffereings are the very motif of a lot of master work in arts. Life leaves when arts enter. I guess in this famous statement, "life" means the "simple" life that everyone persues and not everyone could easily have.

Friday, January 06, 2006

my taste in art

I found the older I am, the more rebellious I become. How did I come up with this? My taste in arts is evolving these years. I no longer only listen to classical music; I am more interested in going to art galleries of shows of alive artists than those one who are already dead; I am more interested in going to a Jazz bar than a opera house; I am only energetic in seeing modern dance(the idea of Nutcrackers and swan lake are bores). The only thing connects me to the past and tradition is history and folk music. I am more and more interested in reading about human history dating back to the prehumans. I found reading history makes me more aware of the current times and where we are seeing from a higher level, Hence, i am able to appreciate the world. Folk music doesn't froze in the time frame. That s' why I like it. Folk music continue to evolve through time and at the same time, reserves culture elements and record human activities.

So why did my taste in arts changed? I think because I no longer perceive arts as a pure creative or entertaining channel.
I still appreciate classical arts and respect tradition, I just don't only restrain myself into it. I still play harpsichord in baroque ensembles though i found it slightly boring in comparison to playing modern works. Though when I was a kid I rarely appreciate what my father 's career, now as an adult I start to look at music as a cultural activity,which exactly what my father 's perspectives are. In my world, music ( or any other creative art) is no longer a pure art form full of technique and providing joyfulness to people. It is also a basic human activity and reflects individual, culture and society at its own time. Hence, though arts, I can retrospect on culture and lives. This trend of thought is very similar to Chinese film-maker Jia Zhang ke 's approaches. Though I am not a big fun of his movies. I thought his movies are lack of basic attraction of film arts, I appreciate his effort of using music as a witness of history and human activities. In his movie" the Platform", it is the music who is the lead. Pop songs, lyrics, music bands, dancing are markers of the time from 80s to mid-90s. They represent the spirit of the time and it didn't lie. It is very truthful of him, though he could improve his technique of story-telling a little better to be more persuasive.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

current readings

Post War: History of Europe after 1945
History of Human Race
The History of Western Philosophy