Friday, November 12, 2010

when 2 non-musicians make music...

ozumandolin

nelsonSHO

i recently discovered these images in different books.

the top image is film director yasujiro ozu playing a mandolin at age 19, from a japanese book on ozu and his work.

the bottom image is designer george nelson playing the japanese sho, from a japanese trade magazine in english, circa 1955.

since i don't read japanese, i can't tell you much more about the context of the ozu image, but the nelson image is from his first trip to japan, accompanied a somewhat lackluster article he wrote regarding the preparation and serving of tempura (nelson was a fantastic writer, but this was clearly a fluff piece).

when i discovered the nelson image several weeks ago, i was completely obsessed with it for a number of reasons. i've written before about how nelson's design-work and writings inspired me to immerse myself in mid-century industrial design; but i'd never really come across any reference in his writings to japanese music.

the sho is probably my favorite sounding instrument in the world, and the fact that someone captured an image of nelson blowing through one, leaves me wishing there was an audio recording to go along with the visual. it might be my favorite image of sound and architecture colliding...

the image of ozu was also a surprise, as i'd never seen an picture of him playing an instrument either. of course, ozu used a ton of music in his films, most of it relatively straightforward sounding japanese film music, the earlier films infused with a healthy dose of folk songs, children's school chorus, etc.

music was clearly important in ozu's films, and he used it kind of like the way he used trains. both are always present, and both create atmospheric situations and suggestions - the trains tending to always take one away or bring one back home (for what else can trains really do...); the music usually more grounding than emotional, repeated motifs occurring less as transitions and more as reference points - more of a grounding presence than music usually is in films.

of course, more than anything, i wonder what sounds, melodies, musics, were played at the moments these two photographs were taken, and of course, they also lead me to wonder what kind of music these two might have listened to (i'm guessing ozu probably listened to folk music, while nelson most likely listened to jazz).

to tweak this duo into a trio, i would include one of the early photographs of strindberg playing guitar... but perhaps that is best left to another post...

a month or so ago i went on the MAK center's annual architecture tour, and one of the stops was the home of julius shulman (designed by raphael soriano). shulman passed away last year, and it was a bit strange to visit his house under the circumstances. it seemed as if some family still lives there, but the house is for sale, and a lot of the furnishings are gone, and it feels like life has moved out of it... not to mention his studio being entirely empty.

when i walked into the living room, the first thing i did was take a few pictures of the speakers that were embedded within the walls, thinking about shulman sitting in this room and listening to music or radio emanating from certain locations. then i noticed the hi-fi near the couch, and next to it several records... i had my phone camera with me, and so i snapped a pic of shulman's record collection - one more collision of architecture and music...

IMG_2163

the strange thing is that i did a post a few years ago related to a photograph of the living room i was standing in. in the old image, featured on the cover of a sunday newspaper magazine, there was an LP visible on shulman's end table containing the sound of famous architect's speaking about the future of architecture. i have the LP in my own collection, and at the time, loved the idea that shulman and myself had both listened to the LP, although of course, in different listening spaces.

when i got home from the tour, i pulled out the image of shulman's living room and compared it with my own experience of being there. it felt incredibly odd to look at an image of a space 50 years before i visited it. the room was emptier now of course, but it still looked the same, even the light in the space was similar, and it was nice to know the room hadn't been remodeled since it was built. while we were walking around, looking at the emptied space, i couldn't help but think about putting one of shulman's records on the turntable, to give back to the space a little more life...

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