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Daily Archives: January 8, 2010

Bach am Freitag

Ever since Seiji Ozawa went on the injured reserve for the global musicians’ squad, I have been feeling more compelled to get behind the axe, thus:

A joyous C-major prelude, vite:

Bitte enschuldigung für die Fehler am anfang des zweiten Minuten-zeichen [Please excuse the mistake at the outset of the second minute mark — it’s for Seiji, man]!

and some G-major semidemiquavers in the quasi-style, though not equal to even a quasi of the skill, of Pablo Casals:

Excellent Resource: DPRK TV on YouTube

I have had the signal pleasure of running across a few YouTube snippets from Korean Central Television before on that Zeitgeist-friendly medium of YouTube, but the site maintained by this particular North Korea fan in Mexico (or so it appears) is particularly rich and frequently updated.

Here is the 5-minute coverage of Wen Jiabao’s welcome at the Pyongyang airport:

 The above film really does much better justice than photographic sources of how North Koreans are encouraged to perceive the visit.  Note the dwelling, at length, of the major (or whatever his rank may be) huffing out his welcome at Wen Jiabao as the military sword quivers at his side.  For a Chinese audience used to associated sabers with Japanese imperialism (and a quick perusal through commemorative magazine covers from summer 2005 ought to do the trick), this is potentially intimidating stuff.  Which is why the KCNA editors left it in, and Xinhua/CCTV leaves it out.

Similarly, the cuts of the national anthems are interesting, if predictable.  The wind band plays the opening salvo of the PRC national anthem (“March of the Volunteers,” the Nie Er War of Resistance original) which is clipped immedately into the DPRK national anthem and the five-pointed star set in red.  No sight of the Chinese flag, symbol of the old Minsaengdan incident!

Here, by contrast, is how CCTV depicted Wen Jiabao’s trip to the Martyr’s Cemetary outside of Pyongyang, which I covered more extensively here  (in a link endorsed by Danwei.org) and here:

[Video forthcoming….trouve trouve trouve]

And, since it’s YouTube, I begin to wonder how this particular attack of North Korean soccer goalies against international referees while Chinese fans scream, win, and wave their red flags at the wailing DPRK defense played out at the time among Chinese newspaper readers and netizens.  Life is always so calm on that blue No. 2 subway from Guloudajie to Chaoyang (my summer morning bureaucratic and beautiful commute) that it’s hard to imagine someone snorting aloud at the news, but I wouldn’t put it past the Chinese press to emphasize.  Wait a minute — depicting North Koreans as wild and out of control?   I thought that was something of which only “Western media” was capable!     

Finally, here, via  is a lovely bit of song from the DPRK, also carried via that prolific Mexican fan of Juche: 

Call me easily manipulated, but you just can’t argue with the orchestration, the melody, or the voice.  This is lovely stuff which might even surpass Rimsky-Korsakov, the original orchestrator-genius (after the Frenchman Hector Berlioz, that is) whose work trickled down into socialist manuals.  Everyone always, always rips on the North Koreans for being all extra Soviet, when in some ways they are more deeply connected in their arts and literature to the Russian romantic tradition, not to mention the pop trends of Japan in the late 1970s. 

Finally, mentioning this here, although it could just as well arrive in a Sino-Japanese post, as the man straddles the line of nationality:  Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa [小澤征爾], born in Manchuria in the 1930s and one of the great musicians of our time, has been diagnosed with cancer and is cancelling all performances for the next six months.  Time to mount up some intense positive thoughts/prayers for this man and, if you can, amp up your own musical performances.  The world is going to lose a bit of expressiveness and intensity for a spell, so let’s connect to cleave the deficit and hurdle the divides. 

Seiji Ozawa, via Xinhua -- click image for story

Gratuitous Citations, or, “How Non-Interactive yet potentially Toxically (or intoxicating in a lockbox) Erudite Print Scholarship with Zero Exciting Hyperlinks Finds its way onto the S.V. Blog”: 

If you desire analysis of a more academic vintage of the musical competition and provenance of the respective national anthems within the matrix of der Aufbau des Sozialismus [era of building socialism: 1945-1950], see :

Adam Cathcart, “Song of Youth: North Korean Music from Liberation to War,” North Korean Review Vol. 4, No. 1 (Fall 2008), 93-104.

Adam Cathcart, “Japanese Devils and American Wolves: Chinese Communist Songs from the War of Liberation and the Korean War,” forthcoming in Popular Music and Society, Vol. 33, no. 2 (May 2010).

Russia’s Pacific Ambitions // Stalin and the GWOT

Working, living, and floating around the Puget Sound gives one a certain connection to the power of the Russian Far East.  Colleagues describe their struggles with Sakhalin dialect; whale-watchers plug the jukebox while wondering aloud if their mammals slide past Wonson en route to the Kamchatka spawning; sea-lion counters exude happiness upon return from the mists of mossy aerodromes in northern Kuriles; friends from Khabarovsk  thwack pungent birch branches in self-built saunas in Seattle, etching outlines of snowmobiles lost to the summer…

And Russian merchants who once fattened you with crab-meat simply disappear.

The Seattle Times reports:

In September 2007, Bellevue businessman Arkadi Gontmakher was imprisoned in Moscow and accused by the Russian government of involvement in a criminal ring that poached massive amounts of king crab from waters off the Kamchatka Peninsula. More than two years later, Gontmakher, an American citizen from Ukraine, has yet to be brought to trial in a case that has drawn international scrutiny.

As a recent resident of Bellevue, that fair city (the largest metropolis between Seattle and Minneapolis!) on the shores of Lake Washington, I can testify both to the Russian influence in that fair clime, and the tremors this case continues to send through the rather affluent Russian community, on Seattle’s sprawling, trawling, and high-tech East Side.

Gontmakher's mansion in Bellevue, Washington

Meanwhile, while denying trial to the Bellevue crab-capitalist (reminiscent of his Gaszprom coup), Vladimir Putin hunts for oil and influence in the Russian Far East.

Lors de l’inauguration des nouvelles installations à Nakhodka, en Extrême-Orient russe, le premier ministre Vladimir Poutine a indiqué que le nouvel oléoduc allait permettre à la Rusie de pénétrer davantage le marché asiatique. Photo via AFP

The great Quebecois journalistic institution, Le Devoir, reports on the hunt via AFP (in French).

If you want to better understand Russian ambition in its Far East, might I recommend two highly entertaining yet obscure little tomes?

— The first is by B.L. Putnam Weale, the pseudonym of an intrepid fin-de-siecle Brit who traipsed all over northeast Asia, resulting in on-the-spot reportage from 1903 entitled Manchus and Muscovite (available here in full text).

— The  second is by the no less interesting and yet more recent work by the Canadian scholar David Schemmelpennick Van der Oye , an intense and living scholar at Brock University north of Toronto, entitled Toward the Rising Sun: Ideologies of Empire and the Path to War with Japan.


Faces and technology change, but some themes recur: Russian interest in the sea, in reaching Korea, in containing Japan, in exploiting the tremendous mineral and natural wealth of the Far East (which is distinct from Siberia!)…Vladimir Putin reappears as Sergei Witte.

But today we just speculate, as the magnates of Bellevue cry great tears of crab meat, locked up with Georgian wine CEOs, caviar merchants from Odessa, great fortunes brought low from Baku, crammed in with would-be geo-thermal wealth from Irkutsk.  Perhaps return of the Romanov elite brings inclines celestial in Moscow’s dark halls…

And what of the North Korean loggers, or the Koryo Saram, dear Miguk saram? –Personification of futility!

*  *  *

Now, pedal tone to this failed coda, MSNBC blurts a dull cacophony, Zeitgeist drone in the background:

“war on Terror…al Qaeda prisoners….war on Terror…the President prosecuting the war on Terror…address the nation at war….on Terror…former Vice President Dick Cheney…on Terror…the message is security this week, next week we will focus on the economy…the buck stops here”

David Gregory, constant presence, certainly without equivalent paid scribe in the Soviet-era Orient, where would we be without your grave analysis, your “inside sources”, your serious demeanor, your hemmed pants, your chuckle, your seat at the table?  I suppose we should have to listen to Juan Gonzalez talk about Puerto Rico on Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now, that’s where!  And where would that get us, for, what, after all, does Puerto Rico have to do with a war…on Terror?

And, to return to our crab-man, what does Terror on MSNBC have to do — with actual historical Terror?  Such as the terror of civilians being bombed in the Finnish borderlands?  or Stalin taking out his anger on the 10% in 1937?  or Richard Taruskin’s flaying of that loveliest and most obsequious of composers, Dmitri Shostakovich?

Dmitri Shostakovich writing the Leningrad Symphony, for the state, for Stalin

What does Shostakovich tell us about living in a Terror world?  That we ought to retreat into the Vermont woods and watch the world molt, like Solzhenitsyn?  Or perhaps that we watch to watch football, and lots of it, as the generals are purged, and the great leader hunts for railroads to the Far East…

Crumbling North America

The Rust Belt continues to crumble.  This past week, my old hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, got some bad news: 18 schools, mainly on the African-American east side, would be closing for good, including East High School.  (East High had been the academic origin of some of my most ardent students at Hiram College, the old Western Reserve Eclectic Institute where I was a professor from 2004-2007).   The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports the school closing story, and we learn elsewhere that foreclosure rates on the East Side are approaching 20% in some areas.

Cleveland, St. Clair neighborhood, East Side

I spent a couple of years as an undergraduate wandering around in these parts when I wasn’t slaving away at the conservatory/university…One could find stranded American flags in abandoned church sanctuaries, whole wooden altars, CIA maps in destroyed libraries, pigeons living in crack houses — and this was in the boom years of the late 1990s!

courtesy CPD

The only thing that is propping up housing rates on Cleveland’s East Side, in the Hough neighborhood which had been the epicenter of the 1968 race riots, is Chinese immigration.  The Cleveland Chinatown is really a gem, and there is life that thrums along in Hough (pronounced “huff”).   Like Tacoma in 1885, the Clevelanders tried to run out their Chinese population in 1926 during the Tong Wars, but unlike Tacoma, they failed.  And the persistence of the Chinese is now Cleveland’s gain in more ways than one.  If LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers are purchased by a Chinese CEO, Cleveland’s Chinatown might expand further still.

At this point I could note that in its major problems, Cleveland is far from alone; Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati are dealing with similar issues, not to mention smaller cities like Erie, Pa., that one only hears about during Presidential campaigns, when the politicians arrive with bunting and temporary lies about bringing jobs back.  But such conversations typically circle back around Detroit, that symbol used to signify all that is wrong with the Rust Belt, less often as a symbol for the possibility of regeneration.  Harpers carries a gorgeous peroration of a story about Detroit’s urban decline:

The transformation of the residential neighborhoods is more dramatic. On so many streets in so many neighborhoods, you see a house, a little shabby but well built and beautiful. Then another house. Then a few houses are missing, so thoroughly missing that no trace of foundation remains. Grass grows lushly, as though nothing had ever disturbed the pastoral verdure. Then there’s a house that’s charred and shattered, then a beautiful house, with gables and dormers and a porch, the kind of house a lot of Americans fantasize about owning. Then more green. This irregular pattern occurs mile after mile, through much of Detroit. You could be traveling down Wa bash Street on the west side of town or Pennsylvania or Fairview on the east side of town or around just about any part of the State Fair neighborhood on the city’s northern border. Between the half-erased neighborhoods are ruined factories, boarded-up warehouses, rows of storefronts bearing the traces of failed enterprise, and occasional solid blocks of new town houses that look as though they had been dropped in by helicopter. In the bereft zones, solitary figures wander slowly, as though in no hurry to get from one abandoned zone to the next. Some areas have been stripped entirely, and a weedy version of nature is returning. Just about a third of Detroit, some forty square miles, has evolved past decrepitude into vacancy and prairie—an urban void nearly the size of San Francisco.

Reading this, I recalled a certain galvanizing photo gallery a friend alerted me to last year: images of Detroit, broken, tattooed, slashed with paint, but with strong and massive foundations:

Detroit Train Station -- click image for gallery -- thanks to Li Yu for the link

Isn’t this precisely the kind of space used by artists in 798 in Beijing, or by avant garde curators in Berlin?  Why can’t we converge to empower artists of whatever nationality with such refurbished spaces?  It seems to me, knowing what I do about Cleveland, that the arts community is one of the few remaining growth industries, an area where there is a massive base of potential and actual innovation.

Perhaps the answer is to turn over massive swaths of Detroit to Chinese real estate developers, Chinese architects, Chinese urban planners, and the Chinese avant garde.  The reformist zeal, the utopian vision, the futurist impulse, and the life-giving funds and energies brought to North America could succeed in themselves in revitalizing whole salients of Rust Belt cities.  And sure, swaths of Shenyang still need saving, and Fushun is dirty and depressed, and the workers are restive in Tonghua: so workers of the world unite, and demand that you get some futurist architects in your midst.

and by the way,

Dear Mr. Obama: American cities are in serious need of repair and revitalization, and it isn’t the job solely of the data-hungry Department of Education to fix.  I know you’re busy with your aerial drones over the Pakistani border areas, and those nifty plans for attacking Yemen, not to mention the insufferable egos of your former chamber colleagues, but spending some time on Detroit and Ohio would behoove us all.  And when you’re in Cleveland on January 22nd talking about jobs on the relatively well-to-do West Side, consider taking a hop over the Cuyahoga, stop in Chinatown for some dim sum, and then pound the pavement East 99th and St. Clair.  I think you’ll find it to be instructive.

Lake Erie, Cleveland, Martin Luther King Park, looking north to Ontario, Canada

I’ll close with some Bone Thugs ‘n Harmony extolling the virtues of the east side, while strolling through much of the infrastructure that made Cleveland great…If you’re not into it, blame Bruce Cumings at the University of Chicago for the hip-hop medium showing up on this blog — apparently his latest book delves into some Snoop Dogg analysis, and as early as 1992 he asserted that “rap beats Beethoven in the war for public opinion” (War and Television). Cleveland East Side fo[r] life.