Reading Analogically: Ideas From René Redzepi’s “A Work In Progress”


“We’re always searching for an association that allows the dish to make sense on a fundamental level–a connection we can build the finishing elements on.”

“We made a dish with no reference points in the past nor in other lands.”

Examining in depth a single ingredient.

Mapping ingredients and creating a knowledge bank.

“It’s almost as if our intuition wants more than our mind is capable of understanding. But from that moment, you subconsciously start gathering the tools for it to make sense down the line.”

“A new tool for us, a way of creating brightness…a way to sharpen anything, really.”

“Creativity is the ability to store the special moments, big or small, that occur throughout your life, then being able to see how they connect to the moment you’re in. When past and present merge, something new happens.”

“Gut reactions are just as important in discarding an idea as they are in generating one. The answer that appears milliseconds after a question is posed is likely to be the purest, most honest answer you have.”

“Efficiency and longevity are the difficult things to achieve in any creative activity.”
(Ferran Adrià)

Umberto Eco (1932-2016) On Writing, Symbols, Interstices, Creativity, Stubborn Incuriosity, Theory And Story

“I think an author should write what the reader does not expect. The problem is not to ask what they need, but to change them…to produce the kind of reader you want for each story.”

“The more elusive and ambiguous a symbol is, the more it gains significance and power.” (Foucault’s Pendulum, page 420)

“I always say that I am able to use the interstices. There is a lot of space between atom and atom and electron and electron, and if we reduced the matter of the universe by eliminating all the space in between, the entire universe would be compressed into a ball. Our lives are full of interstices.”

“Critical creativity–criticizing what we are doing or inventing better ways of doing it–is the only mark of the intellectual function.”

“I like the notion of stubborn incuriosity. To cultivate a stubborn incuriosity, you have to limit yourself to certain areas of knowledge. You cannot be totally greedy. You have to oblige yourself not to learn everything. Or else you will learn nothing. Culture in this sense is about knowing how to forget.”

“When you are unable to construct a theory, you narrate a story.”

– Umberto Eco, The Art of Fiction No. 197″, The Paris Review

Curating The Week: Human-Sounding Computer Voices, Computer Creativity, And How Paintings Sound


An article about the challenges of creating a human-sounding computer voice.

“Most software designers acknowledge that they are still faced with crossing the “uncanny valley,” in which voices that are almost human-sounding are actually disturbing or jarring. The phrase was coined by the Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. He observed that as graphical animations became more humanlike, there was a point at which they would become creepy and weird before improving to become indistinguishable from videos of humans.”

An article about computer creativity.


“The unresolved questions about machine art are, first, what its potential is and, second, whether—irrespective of the quality of the work produced—it can truly be described as ‘creative’ or ‘imaginative.’ These are problems, profound and fascinating, that take us deep into the mysteries of human art-making.”

• A video interview with artist Beezy Bailey about his project with Brian Eno, The Sound Of Creation.

“Kandinsky was the whole pioneer on this concept of hearing colors…There is certainly the philosophy of that involved in our process.”

On Beauty

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‘We make beautiful things’
he said to himself,
thinking about it means
to be a musical maker.

‘The point is not to think
but to arrest thinking’
as he fiddled with a sound on a string.

‘Beauty is ever-open
to reconfiguration’
an idea accompanying
his plucked note.

‘Beauty thrives on analogies’
a thought while listening
to the pattern connecting the connections:

description is beauty,
shape and form are beauty,
sensation is beauty,
music’s sounds and time are beauty.

Notes on John Berger’s “Portraits”


“The given is a prison.” – John Berger, Portraits, p. 37.

For a few years now I’ve been loving the writing of the English critic, novelist, and cultural historian John Berger. I came to him through the work of Geoff Dyer, who is a huge Berger fan himself and made me aware of Berger’s classic book About Looking. A few years ago Berger published Bento’s Sketchbook (2011), a meditation on art, the creative process, and perception. His most recent book is Portraits which traces a history of painting from cave painting to the modern era. Each chapter focuses on a single artist and explains to us what we see and what it means. This narrative approach to surveying the history of art has been used before by others, but there is something deeply personal here about the way Berger brings his own artistic experience to bear on his assessments and reflections on the dozens of works discussed in the book. His knowing is integrated—he’s like a super museum tour guide whose commentary weaves the art’s presence into that of your own life. But that sounds too formal. Sometimes when reading him I have the odd sensation the he’s talking to me—to us—as we putter around a large overgrown garden, stopping here and there to chat as we gather vegetables for dinner. As Berger says in Bento’s Sketchbook, “I’m taking my time, as if I had all the time in the world. I do have all the time in the world.”

In Portraits Berger writes magisterially about expressive culture. What makes his sentences incisive and epic and his language clear and simple is his grasp of art’s underlying urges and details. For him, the details are everything and even when we think we see everything (the book includes numerous black and white photos) he reveals details that we didn’t know were there in the first place—the shape of a hand, an unusual or impossible perspective, the way light falls, or the striking stillness of gaze in an otherwise chaotic face. The next step is how Berger connects these details to meanings. Through him we see that artistic practices are “the exact measure” (48) of things going on in the wider world at the time–sometimes in times that are surprisingly like our own. For example, here is Berger discussing The Garden of Earthly Delights (1500-5), a triptych by the Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch (c.1450-1516) whose three panels depict Adam and Eve in Paradise, the Garden of Earthly Delights, and Hell.



Berger uses our own hyper-present, hyper-connected moment to make sense of what he considers to be the prophetic perspective in the hell panel on the right side:

“There is no horizon there. There is no continuity between actions, there are no pauses, no paths, no pattern, no past, and no future. There is only the clamor of the disparate, fragmentary present. Everywhere there are surprises and sensations, yet nowhere is there any outcome. Nothing flows through: everything interrupts. There is a kind of spatial delirium” (36).

As you read Berger you come to wonder about the relationship between the artist and the critic and how they need one another. Berger is both. In other parts of the book his practical experience sings in passages in which he discusses how drawing, like criticism, is a two-way activity that gives back to the maker:

“To draw is not only to measure and put down, it is also to receive. When the intensity of looking reaches a certain degree, one becomes aware of an equally intense energy coming towards one, through the appearance of whatever it is one is scrutinizing” (85).

Insights like this are all over this 400-page book. My takeaway is that when Berger explains the elements that make art so powerfully revealing you have the sense that he could locate exactly those signifying details in just about anything he turns his attention to. This kind of writing—well, it’s not a kind really, since Berger’s prose is singular—shakes us awake. Berger rattles us into understanding that all of our pursuits—from the personal to the political to the technological—have the depth qualities of art. In Portraits Berger the critic and painter helps us see that there’s always more here than meets the eye.

Brett’s Sound Picks: Kara-lis Coverdale’s “Ad_renaline”

“Music is an adjectival experience.”

-Simon Frith (Performing Rites, p. 263)

The mood of Canadian organist and composer Kara-Lis Coverdale’s “Ad_renaline” is optimistic, though tinged with mystery too. The music is made up of layers of organ (organ-ish?) sounds and voices. We hear three pulsing staccato chords of uneven counts repeating a two measure phrase, with echoing and swirling counter lines floating high above, answering and filling in the texture, low and slow bass tones stretching things out below, and a choir of female voices (the composer herself?) singing four melancholy descending notes. Like ice cubes melting, the layers of organ and voices soon dissolve into transparent traces of their former state, leaving us at the end of this inspiring piece with just a sketch of that original pulsation.

Curating The Week: On Synchronization, Turning Art Into Sound, And How The Mind Affects The Body


A piece about the reason why a group of metronomes will eventually synchronize with one another.

“This process, known as phase synchronization, was first observed in pendulum clocks in 1657 by Christian Huygens. It has since been found in systems ranging from thermoacoustic engines in the lab to the rhythmic blinking of fireflies in nature.”

An article about a musician who turns paintings into soundscapes.

“In order to convert images to sound, he breaks down paintings in thousands of  cubic particles, which he then associates with sound frequencies based on the warmth and intensity of the tone. The warmer tones correspond to high frequencies that go up to 800 Hz, while the cooler tones dip to low frequencies, around 50 Hz.”

An interview with Jo Marchant about her book Cure that discusses the effects of the mind on the body.

“Your brain reflects the way that you think throughout your life. You kind of shape it by your thoughts and your behaviors. If you play violin for eight hours a day, then the parts of the brain responsible for helping you to play the violin will get larger. If you’re thinking stressful thoughts for the whole day then those parts of the brain are going to get larger and other parts of the brain will deteriorate.”

Juxtapositions: Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” (1942) And DJ Richard’s “Nighthawk” (2015)



Edward Hopper’s most iconic painting depicts several people in a city diner late at night. As with much of Hopper’s work, the mood of the scene is desolate, empty. The people seem more like concepts than characters, their individual life stories forever hidden  from our view. In the Hopperian world, time itself is frozen.

DJ Richard, originally from the coastal town of Portsmouth, Rhode Island (which, by the way, is not far from the Cape Cod settings depicted in many of Hopper’s other paintings) makes a kind of techno that evokes its own kind of desolate night scene. There are just a few sounds in Richard’s “Nighthawk”–a three-note pulsating chordal drone, some hints of low bass, and a repeating single note melody. The star of the texture is the percussion–a syncopated, jagged weave of synthetic Roland TR-909-esque kick drum, snare drum rim click, handclaps, and hi hat cymbals sounds–none of which articulate the conventional four-on-the-floor beat.

This is where the juxtaposition between Richard’s music and Hopper’s painting begins to come into focus, bridging the seventy-four year gap between them. It’s not just the outward or surface mood of loneliness that these two works share. Underneath both of them is also a deep sense of absence. In “Nighthawk” Richard’s percussion play what sounds like a continuous drum fill whose tensions never resolve themselves, suggesting the pulse of the underlying 4/4 beat without ever playing it. The drone, the bass, and single melody note do nothing to resolve the music’s rhythmic tensions. As we listen we’re held suspended, waiting for something that never arrives. Similarly, in Hopper’s “Nighthawks” we feel the palpable silence of what is about to unfold but never does–in the uncertain back stories of the characters in the diner, but also in the details around the painting’s focal point such as the street intersection, the buildings in the background, and indeed, in the perspective afforded by Hopper’s point of view. He has set us up to look in on the scene–to know things the characters in the scene do not. All this raises questions: When assessing a famous painting or piece of music what do we know and how do we come by our knowing? How does seeing shape how we listen, and listening shape what we see?