Radical Thinking à la Carte

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Rob Bogaerts / Anefo / CC0

There is a recording on YouTube of James Joyce reading Anna Livia Plurabelle, an exquisite little prose-poem from his infamously adiaphane novel Finnegans Wake. Joyce, who had a beautiful tenor, sculpted melody out of language in a way that ought to make composers envious; it’s fitting, then, that one of the great interpretations of the Wake, Joyce’s most musical work, came from the mind of John Cage.

Roaratorio, an Irish circus on Finnegans Wake, which Cage wrote in 1979, uses recordings taken from all of the locations namechecked in the novel. Underneath these mostly Irish sounds is a ground bass…


On Werner Herzog’s “The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner” (1974)

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A man lifts off from a ski ramp, the embodiment of the dreams of our ancestors, flying without a machine. His mouth is agape. Is it fear? Wonder? His technique is impeccable, we know, for it is also beautiful. Through the eye of the high-speed camera, he seems to be in perpetual flight, supported by the minimal, elevating music.

This opening to The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, Werner Herzog’s 1974 documentary following the record breaking ski jumper Walter Steiner, is deservedly famous. But what comes next is just as affecting: someone is holding a little wooden sculpture in his…


On Werner Herzog’s “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser” (1974)

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I was deeply moved by The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, Werner Herzog’s 1974 film starring Bruno S. as the titular foundling. It is the story of a man who has lived his first sixteen years in this world chained up in an underground cellar. His only human contact is a mysteriously cloaked man who feeds him, teaches him — in the loosest sense of the term — to scribble his name, to walk, to say a phrase or two, and then abandons him in an unnamed Bavarian town. Kaspar Hauser emerges into this bourgeois society from the blackest night and…


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Near the climax of Ratatouille, an unsuspecting waiter takes an order from Anton Ego, the harshest food critic in Paris: “Do you know what you’d like this evening, sir?” Ego, voiced by the legendary Peter O’Toole, responds, “Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective. That’s it. I’d like some fresh, clear, well-seasoned perspective. Can you suggest a good wine to go with that?” Waiter: “With what, sir?” Ego: “Perspective. Fresh out, I take it?” The waiter hesitates. Ego: “Very well. Since you’re all…


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Musicians, especially flutists, are ridiculous. The field is populated by garden-variety village idiots, and the profession is largely a closed circle, of little use or relevance to the real lives of real people. Read what musicians have to say for themselves: a major flute-centered publication honors flutists “whose dedication has transformed the landscape around them” and claims that their gladiatorial competitions are “ways to be part of a collective spirit”; a highly sought-after performer fancies herself a musical doctor, healing the souls of her audiences; a well-respected professor claims that music school is more difficult than medical school, and even…

Sridhar Bhagavathula

Flutist & cohost of the Impolite to Listen podcast

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