Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Happy Birthday, Vincent!

One of my favorites; Van Gogh's Vase with Twelve Sunflowers.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The beautiful Japanese aesthetic of WABI SABI

Wabi sabi represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent and incomplete." Its concept derives from the Buddhist assertion of the Three marks of existence, specifically, impermanence. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

"Wabi sabi is the most conspicuous and characteristic feature of traditional Japanese beauty and it occupies roughly the same position in the Japanese pantheon of aesthetic values as do the Greek ideals of beauty and perfection in the West."

"If an object or expression can bring about a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing within us, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi."

"Wabi-sabi nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect."

The words wabi and sabi do not translate easily. Wabi originally referred to the loneliness of living in nature, remote from society; and sabi meant "chill", "lean" or "withered". Around the 14th century these meanings began to change, taking on more positive connotations. Wabi now connotes rustic simplicity, freshness or quietness, and can be applied to both natural and human-made objects, or understated elegance. It can also refer to quirks and anomalies arising from the process of construction which add uniqueness and elegance to the object. Sabi is beauty or serenity that comes with age; when the life of the object and its impermanence are evidenced in its patina and wear or in any visible repairs.

After centuries of incorporating artistic and Buddhist influences from China, wabi-sabi eventually evolved into a distinctly Japanese ideal. Over time, the meanings of wabi and sabi shifted to become more lighthearted and hopeful. Around 700 years ago, particularly among the Japanese nobility, understanding emptiness and imperfection was honored as tantamount to the first step to satori, or enlightenment. In today's Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to ″wisdom in natural simplicity.″ In art books, it is typically defined as ″flawed beauty.″

From an engineering or design point of view, "wabi" may be interpreted as the imperfect quality of any object, due to inevitable limitations in design and construction/manufacture especially with respect to unpredictable or changing usage conditions; then "sabi" could be interpreted as the aspect of imperfect reliability, or limited mortality of any object, hence the etymological connection with the Japanese word sabi, to rust.

A good example of this embodiment may be seen in certain styles of Japanese pottery. In the Japanese tea ceremony, the pottery items used are often rustic and simple-looking, e.g. Hagi ware, with shapes that are not quite symmetrical, and colors or textures that appear to emphasize an unrefined or simple style. In reality, these items can be quite expensive and in fact, it is up to the knowledge and observational ability of the participant to notice and discern the hidden signs of a truly excellent design or glaze (akin to the appearance of a diamond in the rough). This may be interpreted as a kind of wabi-sabi aesthetic, further confirmed by the way the colour of glazed items is known to change over time as hot water is repeatedly poured into them (sabi) and the fact that tea bowls are often deliberately chipped or nicked at the bottom (wabi), which serves as a kind of signature of the Hagi-yaki style.

Wabi and sabi both suggest sentiments of desolation and solitude to a simpler life. Mahayana Buddhist philosophy itself warns that genuine understanding cannot be achieved through words or language, representing liberation from a material world. Wabi-sabi describes a means where students can learn to live life through the senses and better engage in life as it happens rather than caught up in unnecessary thoughts. In this sense wabi-sabi is the material representation of Zen Buddhism. The idea that being surrounded by natural, changing, unique objects helps us connect to our real world and escape potentially stressful distractions.

In one sense wabi-sabi is a training where the student learns to find the most simple objects interesting, fascinating, and beautiful. Fading autumn leaves would be an example. Wabi-sabi can change our perception of the world to the extent that a chip or crack in a vase makes it more interesting and gives the object greater meditative value. Similarly materials that age such as bare wood, paper and fabric become more interesting as they exhibit changes that can be observed over time.

The wabi and sabi concepts are religious in origin, but actual usage of the words in Japanese is often quite casual. The syncretic nature of Japanese belief systems should be noted.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

National Cherry Blossom Festival salutes Japan

Please pause playlist at bottom of page to hear/watch video.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor (February 27, 1932-March 23, 2011)

So much to do, so little done, such things to be.
Elizabeth Taylor

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

For the Japanese workers at the nuclear reactors!

For the one-hundred fifty or more who are sacrificing themselves at the nuclear reactors to prevent another catastrophe in Japan;

They and their families are heroes!

I would hope they and their families are being compensated!

Friday, March 11, 2011

For the Japanese people...

In the darkness, may there be light.
In your loss, may there be life.
In your despair, may there be hope.
In your shock, may there be courage.
In your pain, may there be strength.
In the ruins, may there be revival.

Monday, March 7, 2011

"Chilling Out With the World's Only Ice Musician" by Susannah Pawlk

The melody playing is IGLOO by Terje Isungset, the "Ice Musician."

Please pause playlist at bottom of page to hear/watch video.

London, England (CNN) -- He's played concerts inside frozen waterfalls, on top of 3,000 meter high glaciers and inside massive ice-domes -- at temperatures as low as -33 degrees Celsius.

Although it may sound strange, for Terje Isungset, the world's first and only ice musician, these conditions are all part of the job.

The Norwegian-born musician has been playing ice instruments for over 10 years and is the founder of Norway's annual Ice Music Festival in Geilo. His love of ice music began in his 20s when he was invited to play at a concert inside a frozen waterfall.

"As a composer I decided to work with the nature surrounding me and I tried out ice instruments for the first time," said Isungset.

You have to move all the time, because if you stop, you will just freeze.

A percussionist, Isungset started with simple ice chimes, using stalactites which had formed naturally in the harsh Norwegian winter. Since then his repertoire has expanded to include ice drums, horns, harps and trumpets.

But as well as playing, Isungset has also crafted various instruments in ice form.

"I have challenged friends of mine to perform on ice and given them ideas of what to do. I've made ice guitars, ice marimbas, an iceridoo (didgeridoo) and traditional Norwegian langeleiks," he said.

Rather than having a favorite instrument, Isungset says he takes joy in finding ice in nature that can "sing."

"When I can find a piece of ice that can sing for a very long time, it's special. The longest tone I have made from hitting a piece of ice is about 15 seconds. It's very unique."

But perhaps the most extraordinary of all Isungset's instruments was his 2,500-year-old ice horn, carved from a glacier in Norway. It lasted only 50 performances, but by ice standards that's a long time.

"We normally make an ice horn out of a large cube. We cut it with a saw and then with a knife," Isungset told CNN.

"The shape of (the horn) is not so important, except for the mouth piece because the mouth piece creates a specific sound. But, as you can imagine, when you play an ice horn it melts. So the tuning and the mouth piece will change all the time. This makes it even harder to perform."

How long an ice instrument can last all depends of the length of the performance and the weather on the day, but they usually only last a couple of concerts.

"With ice, there is no exact time for anything, nature decides everything," said Isungset.

"I'm always searching for pieces of ice that can make a sound, so I'm working on a piece of ice and I'm listening to it all the time. It's kind of a communication between me and the piece of ice."

With ice, there is no exact time for anything, nature decides everything.

For Isungset, instruments should only ever be crafted from naturally formed ice. While gathering sheets of ice for smaller instruments is relatively straight forward, sourcing naturally formed blocks big enough to sculpt a horn or trumpet is a difficult and dangerous job.

For this, Isungset enlists the help of Even Rygg.

Armed with a snowmobile, shovel and various chainsaws, Rygg visits the lakes up in the Norwegian mountains in order to find the best possible ice.

"I have to do a lot of testing first because not all ice makes sounds. Some ice is dead when it comes to sounds because there are too many air bubbles," said Rygg.

Although finding the ice many not be difficult, extracting it is. Usually Rygg works on lakes which hold ice around 60-70 cm thick. The chances of falling through are slim, but the work is still dangerous, with each block taking around six hours to extract.

"It's a mix of the best job in the world, but also the worst job at the same time," said Rygg.

"You're surrounded by beautiful nature, you see the sun coming up and you often see animals such as moose and elks. But it's -20 degrees, you're soaking wet and you know you have to stand there for two more hours.

You have to move all the time, because if you stop, you will just freeze. One time I was up there for 18 hours and when I took off my jacket it was so frozen it looked like I was still wearing it. That was really cold."

But after all the hard work, no matter how perfect the quality of the ice or how well it is shaped, every concert is in the hands of nature says Isungset.

"Every concert is unique and it's nature that defines your performance. Nature decides the sound of the instruments on the day."

The Ice Music Festival's official photographer was Emile Holba. You can view Holba's photos by visiting his website.