Non-Minimal Weekend

By cjohnson | April 3, 2006 10:12 pm

I was at a particularly good dinner party on Saturday night over on the West Side. It had a little under a dozen people, from professionals in academia and surrounds (such as relativist Kip Thorne of Caltech, or Legal scholar and writer/broadcaster Jonathan Kirsch) to professionals in entertainment (such as writer/performer Julia Sweeney), and journalism (such as South African Journalist and Activist Zubeida Jaffer) and several other fields…. and a good time was had by all. I only had to explain string theory and the whole of particle physics three times (to three separate groups; and I was glad for the opportunity to do so) so I managed to get some food and wine down. I’m not sure if my biggest moment was convincing the razor-sharp Julia Sweeney that maybe she does not hate string theory quite so much any more, or whether it was just finding ourselves enthusiastically in agreement over public transport issues in LA (i.e., it exists, if only people would use it more! Well, you’ve heard me on this topic a lot…..)…this is a big deal to me since a lot of people never want to talk about this matter. We also spoke a lot about getting more science into the entertainment/media realm as well (you’ve heard me on that topic a lot too) a subject we agreed was worth pursuing…

It turned out that a couple at the party could not use their tickets for the Sunday afternoon concert at the Disney Hall, and they gave them to me. This was rather nice since I’d been thinking that it would have been nice to go to the concert. All I had to do was find someone in the short time available (Sunday morning; concert was at 2:00pm) to take with me to use the extra ticket. This was a challenge (combination of it being a sleep-in day with the time change, and me not being terribly flush with contacts who I can call on for that purpose at short notice…..people my age often come in bound states, and/or they’ve planned to do stuff on the precious Sunday afternoons that you only get once a week) but I succeeded. At 2:00pm, we were in our seats, waiting for the first half:
disney hall interior

The concert was the last in the Los Angeles Philharmoic’s “Minimalist Jukebox” series. It was excellent, (although I beg to differ with the “minimalist” moniker for those particular pieces). The whole concert was conducted by John Adams, and the first part was a Phillip Glass piece (or set of pieces; selected scenes from his opera Akhnaten, in fact), while the part after the intermission was John Adams’ own Harmonielehre. It was an afternoon of wonderful music, overall. I particularly loved the opera (even with the rather silly words in places), which was beautifully orchestrated with a small configuration of the orchestra (it was in fuller configuration later for the second piece).

There was a great dramatic effect that the layout of the hall lends itself to very well. A person can stand right in the center of the wonderful explosion of wood that is the Organ (see above photo) and look out onto the assembled audience, and they look rather commanding from up there. Well, they had the actress Holland Taylor go up there, splendidly dressed and dramatically lit, to read the parts of the Narrator. She has a quite commanding voice, and so it worked very well indeed.

Ok, I admit that I did have a silly moment when I could not help but distract myself a bit when I heard things like this:

Opened are the double doors of the horizon.
Unlocked are its bolts…

Hmmm….. black holes, right? They’re talking about Hawking radiation?

And also:

Thou shalt exist for millions of millions of years;
for millions of millions of years….

I see. So it’s a decent-sized black hole then. Hmmm…..

A notable thing happened at the end of the first part. I saw Ms Taylor leave her spot in the Organ loft and leave through a door up there. Not remarkable in itself. I carried on discussing the music with my friend who I found at the last minute to come along to the concert, who we’ll call Ms Smith, just to be stupidly mysterious….(oh, and because that is actually her name so I get a kick out of that!) She’s a designer of interiors for homes in the region, and so minimalism has some resonance with her world, so she was interested to see some of that in music. Actually, it just occured to me that the rise of what’s called minimalism in music (and its predecessors… the rethinking of tonal harmony by Schoenberg, etc) coincides nicely with the movements happening during the architechtural periods from which the homes (Hollywood and surrounding neighbourhoods) she does a lot of her work in date from.

disney hall exterior Suddenly, there was the sound of high-heeled shoes going down concrete stairs, very loudly through the whole auditorium. Of course, everyone turned to look at the stairs nearest them to see who was arriving with such declamatory aplomb. Nothing. No-one in evidence.

In a flash, I knew what it was. Holland Taylor must still have her personal microphone on, and we’re now hearing the sounds of her going down the stairs behind the Organ. All of a sudden I was very very worried. Why? Several years ago, in 1998 I think, I gave some lectures in a Trieste Spring School at the ICTP in Trieste, Italy. (Love it there, right on the Adriatic….so long since I’ve been). After one lecture, I left the theatre (mostly everyone remained inside since there was another lecturer to follow) and made a beeline for the men’s room. Just before I entered the doors to the men’s room, a student stopped me and asked me a question. I began to answer it, and about 30 seconds later two of the organisers came bursting out of the lecture theatre and rushed up to me. I was still connected to the speakers in the lecture theatre via the microphone I’d forgotten to switch off or remove from my shirt! Everyone in there was listening and wondering where the voice was coming from!

Pause for a moment….

Yep, imagine what would have happened had that student not stopped me to ask a question. If I did not already love answering questions from students, that episode alone would have been enough to make sure that I take any and all questions from students for the rest of my career!!

So now you see why I was a bit concerned when I heard those footstep sounds. Ms Taylor is human like the rest of us, and has been sitting up there at the organ for an awfully long time……

But no. The sound stopped. Sigh of relief from me (and happily not from Ms Taylor). I think that the sound technicians must have figured it out too. I wonder who else knew what that sound was and if they gave it a second or third thought?

Anyway, then it was a quick dash home to turn myself into a baker. Plan was to make an apple pie (out of some rather good apples I got in the Farmer’s Market that morning) to take to… another dinner party due to start in a couple of hours. Yeah, it was a busy weekend. The baking, normally a relaxing enterprize, all started rather stressfully when I realized that for one reason or another I had no flour to make the pastry! So I had to go shopping, etc, panic panic panic, then back home…. then ran out of chilled butter because the first batch of pastry was substandard and I only had just enough butter the first time around. I eventually made it to the party almost an hour late…… but the party was fabulous, the company was fantastic, and the pie was a success! Hurrah!


CATEGORIZED UNDER: Arts, Food and Drink, Music, Personal

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