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August 7, 2011 / Kuan

Combination & Contradiction: similarities between Arthur Russell and Aldous Huxley

John Cage shocked the world with his theory that every bit of sound is music a while ago. The moment of realization hit me, alas, when I was watching ” Wild Combination: a Portrait of Arthur Russell” at the BMW Guggenheim Lab this afternoon.

The Lab, used to be a rat-infested parking lot on Houston Street between First and Second Avenue, was renovated to a mobile laboratory that hosts movie screenings, discussions and music events. The original walls on First and Second Avenue were struck down to create an open, inviting space for creative ideas — ones that concern not only the local community on how to make the neighborhood cleaner and better, but also the global community on poverty, public health and other issues that matter. From its opening on August 3rd, curators of different disciplines have put together interesting, free events for the public.

The old parking lot now -- an open, inviting space for ideas. Photo by Roger Kisby

The screening this afternoon lured me to the Lab, and watching director Matt Wolf‘s documentary on Arthur Russell, the avant-garde musician in the 70s, with traffic noises in the background was a thought-provoking experience. Russell’s music, at his time, wasn’t largely recognized because of his futuristic vision. Almost 30 years later, his songs blend perfectly into the contemporary music scene, inspiring musicians of our time. In between the LCD screen with Russell’s music at front and the traffic noises behind me, different sound and notes flowed, clashed and embraced each other, creating such a dynamic energy in the open space. And I suddenly realized what Cage meant.

Cover of the documentary is well designed, not surprisingly.

I can’t remember his name, but one of Russell’s friends said in the film that Russell was too ahead of his time in terms of music, yet his unique vision led to an uncompromising manner that most found difficult to work with — that’s probably why Russell wasn’t immensely popular at his time. Coincidentally, author of the book I was reading before the film, Brave New Worldgave me a very similar impression. Aldous Huxley, whose work influenced George Orwell’s 1984, has quite a vision — too avant-garde to see a Utopian world at his time, yet too close-minded to how the class system works in the society. Combinations of contradictions, both Russell and Huxley’s work inspired me to pay attention to the mass in between the ends.

The quote from Huxley in an article he wrote for Vanity Fair in 1928 inspired the latest poster in the “Quotes that Inspire” series — a look into modernity and the gray in between black and white.



Leave a Comment
  1. Chris Brewster / Aug 7 2011 11:41 pm

    arthur russell is cool as hell!

    • Kuan / Aug 7 2011 11:49 pm

      Yay! This documentary is amazing, must see if you like Russell! Thanks for stopping by!

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