NYC: March 2011 Archives

very sharp

I'm not sure what we're in for tomorrow (April 1), but when I heard Elliott Sharp and Steve Horowitz were involved, I was already half there.

Over three days this weekend, beginning with a Sharp-curated evening of performance on Friday at 8 pm, the Electronic Music Foundation (EMF) is presenting what it calls "The Extended Piano Festival: Works for the Disklavier." It looks like the music, in addition to its considerable performance art elements, may be accompanied by a certain amount of visual art throughout the Festival.

Some of the other names in the press release include, but are not limited to, Claudio Ambrosini, Dan Becker, Anthony Coleman, Nicolas Collins, Michael Evans, Fred Frith, Annie Gosfield, Seth Horvitz, Dafna Natali, Veniero Rizzardi, Frank Rothkamm, Carl Stone, and Hans Tammen.

Many of these have works being performed tomorrow (and/or will be performing it themselves), including Sharp, R. Luke DuBois, Jenny Lin, Stefano Bassanese, Viniero Rizzardi, Miya Masaoka, Pamela Z, Nicolas Collins, and Lukas Ligeti.

Steve Horowitz, has the space pretty much to himself (and the Disklavier) for a CD release performance the next night, Saturday.

Meanwhile, during daylight hours on Saturday and Sunday (April 2 and 3) people will be able to visit "a body of installed works for the Disklavier" curated by Sharp and Horowitz, composed or "performed" by Claudio Ambrosini, Dan Becker, Anthony Coleman, Diego Dall'Osto, Carl De Pirro, Fred Frith, Annie Gosfield, Seth Horvitz, Dafna Naphtali, Veniero Rizzardi, Frank Rothkamm, Carl Stone, Paulo Troncon and Hans Tammen.

I have to thank a good number of the artists whose names I've mentioned above for finally pulling me to New York from Providence in the 1980s; the other half may have been born after I arrived, and for that none of us can take any responsibility. By 1985 I had already assembled a huge collection of recordings by the giants of what at that time I and others called New York "downtown music," or "noise music." There was also the designation, "experimental music," but none of these terms seemed to help much when it came time to approach a record store's bins. When I moved to Manhattan I was shocked to often find myself sitting (sometimes standing) in live performances where there might be as few as ten other people in the audience - this when I might have half a dozen of that performer's records at home - and everyone but me seemed to be a musician and friend of the performer(s)!

All Festival performances and music installations are at White Box, 329 Broome St. Yes, the music is still pretty much downtown.

For more information, go to EMF or White Box.


Don't let the Republican barons bring back their "good old days."

I was downtown on Friday afternoon at the corner of Greene Street and Washington Place, at 4:45, the exact moment one hundred years earlier when a fire began inside one of the three floors occupied by the Triangle Waist Company. In 1911, less than an hour after the fire began, 146 garment workers were dead, most of them young women and girls (the youngest were 14), either from the fire itself or because they had jumped a hundred feet and more to their deaths. The factory owners had locked the exits on each of three floors, to ensure that their hundreds of pawns (600 female workers, and about 100 male) could not leave their work stations, in violation of even the rudimentary safety statutes in effect before the horrific disaster which changed everything. Well, not everything, and not quite overnight.

Also, appallingly, today we see increasingly bold attacks on unions and governmental regulatory authority of any kind, which, if successful, would straitjacket all working people, even Republicans not yet become rich: The party is maneuvering to roll back everything which was won by organized labor in the years after 1911, including both safety and living wage rules.

The Republicans want to be able to lock the exit doors, just like they used to.

The Triangle Waist Company factory fire should be remembered as a tragedy dividing an age of capitalist barbarism from an age of enlightened, direct government interest in the welfare of the governed. Instead today there are ominous signs that it may be remembered as only one more horror inspiring only a temporary improvement in the condition of the powerless.


On the 100th anniversary of the tragic - and criminal - fire which engulfed the top three floors of the building which once housed the Triangle Waist Company factory, an installation on the eighth floor, visible from the street below, suggested both funerary bunting and the parachuting skirts of young women jumping to their deaths.


One man, a member of the Socialist Party USA, waved a brave red flag, telling everyone in hearing, "We were there!" He's right.


Benjamin Kurtz, 19, was one of the few male victims of the fire, represented here by one of the shirtwaist replicas which was carried to the site in a procession earlier.


On Friday, one woman in the crowd explained that the most common name among the dead was "Rosie." She carried a large bowl of rose water and rose petals into which people were invited to dip their hands and caress the side of the building or the pavement.


The names of those who had perished had been written in oddly-festive, parti-colored chalk onto the sidewalk, and here the name "Wisconcion" alluded to the unravelling of both hard-fought workers' rights and industry regulations currently underway in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S. Even in New York today, the sweatshop itself survives.

While I was standing about and photographing the group and the visual props gathered on this historic corner, I noticed in the near distance a woman dressed all in black, of brave proportion and stately manner, perfectly-costumed in the manner of a hundred years back. She carried an old-fashioned sign, and moved slowly on the edge of and eventually right through the crowd. At first it seemed that no one else had noticed her, but eventually it was clear she just couldn't be ignored.

I felt a cold shiver and my knees weakened when I first spied her, and I thought about her heroic models and at least a century of noble antecedents. Did she represent one of the founders of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) or local 25* specifically, to which the Triangle workers belonged? Since she seemed very well dressed, perhaps she was a patron, like Mary Dreier, Alva Vanderbilt Belmont, Anne Morgan (J. P. Morgan's daughter), or any of a number of wealthy and influential women who worked to share their privilege with their sisters.

As I was leaving, I heard the sad phantom speak to the crowd for the first time: She began by asking, "Are any of you members of a union?"





The figure I'll call our conscience seemed to appear out of nowhere, perhaps with a warning: The robber barons are back.

The New York State Archives has this to say about Local 25:

Local 25 [of the ILGWU] was known for its militant members. These members led the famous 1909 Uprising of 20,000 in which workers walked out of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory. The uprising eventually sparked a widespread walkout among shirtwaist workers throughout the city. Many shops met the union's demands while others including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory did not. Strengthened by a post-strike spike in membership, the workers remained active. The tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 further spurred the union's growth, finally establishing the local's position in the New York garment industry.

In its account the archive addresses the particularly-energetic radicalism of Local 25. There were communist sympathizers in all ILGWU locals, but the more conservative union leaders, regarding 25 as the hotbed, decided to divide its workers into two new locals. It didn't quite work, but eventually, reflecting the history of the American labor movement generally, the union was able to keep genuine leftists out of it leadership entirely.

surely we can hold ourselves to a higher justice than that which condemned them

The Six core members of Die Weisse Rose (The White Rose), a non-violent resistance group in Nazi Germany, were arrested by the Gestapo, tried and executed in 1943. Some of the male members had been activated for military service and been witness to atrocities, both on the battlefield itself and against civilian populations. The group had become known over the eight months prior to the arrests for an anonymous leaflet campaign describing what the government was doing and calling for resistance. The text of their sixth and final leaflet was smuggled out of the country and copies of it were dropped over Germany by Allied planes.

Today the members of the White Rose and others who opposed the Nazi regime, including those inside the government and the military who revealed the plans of the Nazis to other governments both before and after the war began, are honored as some of Germany's greatest heroes. They acted from conscience and spoke truth to power; almost all of them paid for it with their lives.

Pfc Bradley Manning is their heir. Having learned about government and military lies, official war crimes, and having even been asked to contribute to them, he could not claim ignorance, or deny his moral responsibility to expose and to put an end to the hypocrisy and the atrocities.

Manning is the real thing.

Manning is a hero, not merely for what he did, which is only what morality and codes both command, but because doing it is still today an exceptional act for anyone within government or the military. He is also a hero because he is being punished horribly for doing it - by the real criminals themselves. Finally, and perhaps most discouragingly, he is a hero because, although he has not been tried or convicted of any crime, most Americans seem to believe he is a traitor, or much worse.

The shy young army private did precisely what all members of the armed forces are supposed to do, and have been instructed to do, at least since the 1946-1947 Nuremberg Trials. Those processes established that the traditional military defense of just following orders, the "Superior Orders" plea, isn't enough to escape punishment.

These trials established the "Nuremberg principles," which provided the basis for all subsequent prosecutions, anywhere in the world, for crimes against the peace, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. They continue to stand even if most Americans do not believe this sort of thing could apply to them. They are encouraged in maintaining this perverted self-deception by their most exalted leaders: When he was asked about the possible prosecutions for American torture practices, our current President says he's "a strong believer that it's important to look forward and not backwards."

In fact, most of us share directly in the guilt for American crimes at home and abroad. We've been waging wars on the other side of the planet - shamefully - for almost ten years. My partner Barry ended a 2007 post on American electoral politics: "Americans didn't exactly reject the Bush administration in 2004, when we had all seen the images of Abu Ghraib, and knew that they had no legitimate evidence of Iraqi WMDs. When Americans . . . say the people of countries like Germany under the Nazis were guilty, what does that say about us?"

Any individual or group choosing to describe and oppose criminal U.S. policy on ethical or moral grounds is without honor in this country today, this in the nation which was so instrumental in destroying Nazism and creating the document which set guidelines for determining what constitutes a war crime. Manning's experience confirms this.

The most salient muckraker in the country today is now the least visible to his fellow citizens.

Manning remains locked in solitary confinement, ten months after being arrested for allegedly passing a mountain of digital "U.S. secrets" to WikiLeaks. He awaits his kangaroo court. Meanwhile, inside the Marine brig he is subject to no-touch-torture regimens which include being stripped naked each night and forced in the morning to stand outside his cell naked for "inspection." After the revelations about American prisoner treatment over the last ten years, I think we know what that's all about.

Meanwhile the real criminals, inside government, corporations, or the military, are free to continue the practices which were the subject of Manning's whistle-blowing (no 5 am naked inspections for them). Those at the top have flourished and become rich, but those who would point out their crimes are ignored, punished, or imprisoned (and in at least one extraordinary case, fired for speaking out).

Ours may be the least responsible government in the West. Its elected (a generous adjective) officials do not pursue even in the most general terms the policies which the voters enjoin on them, and the mainstream media doesn't cry foul. It's the height of idiocy for citizens of a modern republic to believe in the first place that they could trust the paid officers of an unrepresentative and irresponsive oligarchy to know what is best for them, but to permit them to properly administer the affairs of the citizenry in secrecy is more dangerous still. The secrets, in any event, belong to the people. Bradley Manning is the agent of their retrieval. He is our tribune.

We know that as a nation we've been bad, very bad; an impenetrable cocoon of silence at the top means that no one with any political power will admit it; but worst of all, too many "good Americans" also refuse to admit that we might be guilty of anything.

Surely we've never engaged in optional wars, tortured the state's "enemies," or killed incalculable numbers of innocents in the nations we've invaded. Nor have we enslaved many of our own people, or placed others in concentration camps solely on the basis of race, and we've never corrupted our own constitution or judicial systems in the name of "national security."

Or if we have done those things (we have, and we're still doing some of them today), maybe we stay silent because we didn't do them on a Nazi scale. Or maybe it's because we think our shit don't stink.

David House

David House is Manning's support team. He is a friend, and a computer scientist now a researcher at MIT, who visits him in jail twice a month, one of the very few people permitted to do so. On December 23, 2010, House appeared on MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan Show, guest-hosted by Jonathan Capehart, to describe his latest visit. I transcribed a section of his statement in a video shown on Firedoglake (FDL), specifically, Firedoglake TV:

After commenting that there are laws protecting whistel blowers in the United states, Capehart asked House, "Do you think Bradley Manning did anything wrong?" He replied: "If the allegations against Bradley Manning are true, I think he is an ethical giant of our generation. I think perhaps in this case America has judged him in the press much too quickly, and we should really reconsider why we keep alleged whistle blowers locked up in solitary confinement."

When he was asked if he holds Assange resposnsible for the situation in which Manning finds himself, House responded that he would have to have information about whether they had a relationship, adding that all information to that effect is coming out from one very unreliable source [Adrian Lamo]. "So I don't think that's something I could speculate on now." Capehart then suggested they talk about House's thoughts on what Assange has done with the information that he has released via WikiLeaks. House: "So I think that the underlying principles of the WikiLeaks organization are actually principles which are very much in line with most American ideals, the principles of open government, the principles of government transparency; so at least from an abstract, 30,000 foot perspective, I think the actions of WikiLeaks are very much in line with the principles of the American people.

I can't imagine a better spokesperson. House is awesome.

EXPOSING WAR CRIMES IS NOT A CRIME!, reads the banner on the home page of the Bradley Manning support site. There are demonstrations of support planned for Manning all over the world tomorrow, March 20. The site has information for all of them. The gathering in New York will be at 2 pm in Union Square. Clothing optional.

supporters of Army Pfc Bradley Manning at a rally at the State Department March 14th
(SF activist Logan Price, in the pink sign, writes on FDL about why he got naked)

APPENDIX I: Manning was, and still is, a very young man (only 21 when he first started transferring classified data into his personal computer). He was not a sophisticated undercover agent. It seems to me that he was in the place where he found himself, where he had incredible access to government documents, because he was smart and because he was a techie, in fact a computer geek. I also can't help noticing that, since Manning is gay (openly for I don't know how long), the army may have chosen neither to ask nor to tell; there just may not be enough straight men who answer that description and are also willing to serve their country, as Manning was when he enlisted (and is now more than ever, as we see). But all of that, including the impact upon Manning's story of DADT is the subject for another discussion altogether.

APPENDIX II: [This account of how Manning met House is taken from the Wikipedia entry for Manning] While he was at Fort Drum in New York, Manning regularly traveled to the Boston area to visit his then boyfriend, Tyler Watkins, who was studying neuroscience and psychology at Brandeis University. At Brandeis he "was introduced to Watkins's network of friends, and the university's hacker community, as well as its ideas about the importance of information being free. He visited the university's "hackerspace" workshop, and met David House, the computer scientist and MIT researcher who has been allowed to visit him in jail twice a month, the only person apart from his lawyer with permission to do so."

[first image from Wikipedia, the second from Jay Marx's Zimbio photostream]


It may not be New York's first crocus of spring, but it's something of an event here. On the very first day of March I looked at the plant pots outside our north-facing breakfast room window and was surprised to see several yellow buds had already appeared from within the tight bunches of grass-like leaves I'd been watching for weeks as they pushed above the surface of the soil.

We never have even a sliver of direct sunlight show up on our roof terrace, even around the summer solstice, but last year I had read that flowering bulbs have stored the sun within their corms, and so can be expected to flower the spring after they are planted even if they fail to see it, or feel it, as the days become longer and the soil begins to warm.

Right now however it looks to me that they actually do miss our great golden star: I'm sure I planted white and purple examples as well as gold last fall, and not one of those has shown up yet; also, the dozen or so flowers that have appeared are certainly scrawnier than those seen in better environments, but after this (or surely any) winter, they are certainly welcome, however imperfect.

The Dependent, where boundaries blurred (here the New York Fine Arts room)

I've found my art fair. "Armory Arts Week" worked this year: Institutions often don't age any better than people, and maybe the secret of life for old art shows is in the spawning of the new.

The Armory Show itself was, well, armorial, although there were pockets of real humanity.

Independent, which was such a hit last year on its first outing, was definitely more cerebral than both the Armory itself and even its own first manifestation. But there was little eye candy or energy, and it felt surprisingly stiff and corporate. I'm certain many individual conceptual projects would open up if only I could hang around some more, but on a frustratingly-short weekend of compelling attractions there's almost never enough time.

Speaking of candy, Daniel Reich hosted a modest, slightly roguish party inside his gallery on Friday afternoon. A salute to the 60s and the current gallery installation, Jack Early's Ear Candy Machine, it included continuous live music performances. it will probably remain one of my personal highlights of the week, and only partly for its odd folksy character (and Daniel's inimitable conversation).

The Dependent was the event I had most anticipated since I first heard about it, and I wasn't disappointed. Last night the Gramercy Fair (The Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair), the 1994 progenitor of the modern Armory Show, was resurrected for a few hours. This was no sterile reproduction however, but a brilliant, exciting original. On the basis of the magic created last night, may have already created its own legend. It was "let's put on a show," and the results were pretty compelling, beginning with the contagious enthusiasm of the crowds on both sides of the "proscenium," and continuing through the marvelous blur of boundaries between art, environment, artists, viewers and listeners. The dozen or so exhibitors were given one hour to arrange their installations inside an equivalent number of smallish rooms (inside the Sheraton Hotel on West 25th Street) before the doors were opened at 4 pm. The show was supposed to end five hours later, but the crowds were still lined up outside when we left at nine o'clock.

This page is an archive of entries in the NYC category from March 2011.

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