Archive for October, 2011

Taste of an Apple


The taste of the apple … lies in the contact of the fruit with the palate, not in the fruit itself; in a similar way … poetry lies in the meeting of poem and reader, not in the lines of symbols printed on the pages of a book. What is essential is the aesthetic act, the thrill, the almost physical emotion that comes with each reading.

Jorge Luis Borges


Pulling Back a Swing


Performing and listening to a gradual musical process resembles:

pulling back a swing, releasing it, and observing it gradually come to rest;
turning over an hour glass and watching the sand slowly run through the bottom;
placing your feet in the sand by the ocean’s edge and watching, feeling, and listening to the waves gradually bury them.

from Steve Reich, ‘Music as a Gradual Process’


The artist’s will is secondary to the process he initiates from idea to completion. His wilfulness may only be ego.


Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist’s mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly. There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works.


The process is mechanical and should not be tampered with. It should run its course.

from Sol LeWitt, ‘Sentences on Conceptual Art’


(Image of Sol LeWitt wall drawings at Dia Beacon by Bill Jacobson)




simplicity (ii)


Oh blessed simplicity, that seizes swiftly what cleverness, tired out in the service of vanity, may grasp but slowly.

Søren Kierkegaard

True wealth consists in being content with little.

Fra Angelico

To have what we want is riches, but to be able to do without is power.

George MacDonald

The difference between a good and a poor architect is that the poor architect succumbs to every temptation and the good one resists it.

Ludwig Wittgenstein



Every human action gains in honour, in grace, in all true magnificence, by its regard to things that are to come. It is the far sight, the quiet and confident patience, that, above all other attributes, separate man from man, and near him to his Maker; and there is no action nor art, whose majesty we may not measure by this test. Therefore, when we build, let us think that we build for ever. Let it not be for the present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think, as we lay stone upon stone, that a time is to come when those stones will be held sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labour and wrought substance of them, ‘See! this our fathers did for us!”

John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture, 1849

Arvo Pärt: Kanon Pokajanen


(Photograph by Boncyclist)

On the 11th February, Arvo Pärt’s Kanon Pokajanen (Canon of Repentance) was performed by his native Estonian Philharmoic Chamber Choir in the main hall of the always-wonderful Kelvingrove Museum. The exotic, even ostentatious architecture of the former Glasgow Art Gallery and Museum played its part: the long-reverberating acoustics of the hard, gilt surfaces and soaring volume of the quasi Spanish-Baroque space allowed one to be transported. Now an Eastern-Orthodox Basilica, a wall of harmonic voice echoed amidst the congregated and long after the last notes of the Canon were sung: time stood still. Utterly timeless, yet in its undulations, repetitions, and  rigorous discipline to a rule,  sharing in affinity with Steve Reich’s Music For Eighteen Musicians which itself was performed in Glasgow at around the same time, the sentiments of the Canon are as heartfelt as Pärt’s transposition.

Of the Canon, Pärt writes:

Many years ago, when I first became involved in the tradition of the Russian Orthodox Church, I came across a text that made a profound impression on me although I cannot have understood it at the time. It was the canon of repentance.

Since then I have often returned to these verses, slowly and arduously seeking to unfold their meaning. Two choral compositions (nun eile ich… 1990 and Memento, 1994) were the first attempts to approach the canon. I then decided to set it to music in its entirety from beginning to end. This allowed me to stay with it; and, at the very least, its hold on me did not abate until I had finished the score. I had a similar experience while working on Passio.

It took over two years to compose the Kanon Pokajanen, and the time “we spent together” was extremely enriching. That may explain why this music means so much to me.

In this composition, as in so many of my local works, I tried to use language as a point of departure. I wanted the word to be able to find its own sound, to draw its own sound, to draw its own melodic line. Somewhat to my surprise, the resulting music is entirely immersed in the particular character of Church Slavonic, a language used exclusively in ecclesiastical texts.

The Kanon has shown me how much the choice of language predetermines the character of a work, so much so, in fact, that the entire structure of the musical composition is subject to the text and its laws: one lets the language “create the music.” The same musical structure, the same treatment of the word, leads to different results depending on the choice of language, as seen on comparing Litany (English) with Kanon Pokajanen (Church Slavonic). I used identical, strictly defined rules of composition and yet the outcome is very different in each case.

Arvo Pärt (translation: Catherine Schelbert)

Ode I


When Israel walked on foot in the deep as on dry land, on seeing their pursuer Pharaoh drowned, they cried: Let us sing to God a song of victory.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Now I, burdened sinner, have approached Thee, my Lord and God. But I dare not raise my eyes on heaven. I only pray, saying, Give me O Lord, understanding, that I may weep bitterly over my deeds.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

O woe is me, a sinner! Wretched am I above all men. There is no repentance in me. Give me, O Lord, tears, that I may weep bitterly over my deeds.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Foolish, wretched man, thou art wasting thy time in idleness! Think of thy life and turn to the Lord God, and weep bitterly over thy deeds.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Ode II



There is none holy as Thou, O Lord my God, Who hast exalted the horn of Thy faithful, O Good One, and hast strengthened us upon the rock of Thy confession.

Have mercy on me, O God an sinner, have mercy on me.

When the thrones are set at the dread judgement, then the deeds of all men shall be laid bare. There will be woe for sinners being sent to torment! And knowing that, my soul, repent on thine evil deeds.

The righteous will rejoice, but the sinners will weep. Then no one will be able to help us, but our deeds will condemn us. Therefore, before the end, repent of thine evil deeds.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

Woe is me, a great sinner, who have defiled myself by my deeds and thoughts. Not a teardrop do I have, because of my hard-heartedness. But now, rise from the earth, my soul, and repent of thine evil deeds.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.


I think of thee terrible day and weep over mine evil deeds. How shall I answer the Immortal King? With what boldness shall I, a prodigal, look at the Judge? O Kindly Father, O Only-begotten Son, and Holy Spirit, have mercy on me.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Ode IV

Ode V

Ode VI

Beholding the sea of life surging with the tempest of temptations, I run to Thy calm haven and cry unto Thee: Raise up my life from corruption, O Greatly-merciful One.

Have mercy on me, O God a sinner, have mercy on me.

Who doeth such things as I do? For like a swine lying in the mud, so do I serve sin. But do Thou, O Lord, pull me out of this vileness and give me the heart to do Thy commandments.

Glory to the Father, to the Son, to the Holy Spirit.

Rise, wretched man, to God and, remembering your sins, fall down before your Creator, weeping and groaning, for He is merciful and will grant you to know His will.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.


O my soul, why dost thou the will of the devil? On what dost thou set thy hope? Cease from these things and turn to God with weeping, and cry out: O Kind-hearted Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.


Think, my soul, of the bitter hour of death and the judgement day of thy God and Creator. For terrible angels will seize thee, my soul, and will lead thee into the eternal fire. And so, before thy death, repent and cry: O Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.



From the flame Thou didst sprinkle dew upon the Saints, and didst burn the sacrifice of a righteous man which was sprinkled with water. For Thou alone, O Christ, dost do all as Thou willest, Thee do we exalt unto ages.

Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.

I believe that Thou wilt come to judge the living and the dead, and that all will stand in order, old and young, lords and princes, priests and virgins. Where shall I find myself? Therefore, I cry: grant  me, O Lord, repententance before the end.

Both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Ode IX


It is not possible for men to see God on Whom the ranks of angels dare not gaze; but through thee, O all-pure one, appeared to men Word Incarnate, whom magnifying, with the heavenly hosts we call thee blessed.

Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me.

Prayer after the Canon:

O Master Christ God, Who hast healed my passions through Thy Passion, and hast cured my wounds through Thy wounds, grant me who have sinned greatly against Thee, tears of compunction. Transform my body with the fragrance of Thy life-giving Body, and sweeten my soul with Thy precious Blood from the bitterness with which the foe hath fed me. Lift up my down-cast mind to Thee, and take it out of the abyss of perdition, for I have no repentance, I have no compunction, I have no consoling tears, which uplift children to their heritage. My mind hath been darkened through earthly passions, I cannot look up to Thee in pain. I cannot warm myself with tears of love for Thee. But, O Sovereign Lord Jesus Christ, Treasury of good things, give me thorough repentance and a diligent hearth to seek Thee; grant me Thy grace, and renew in me the likeness of Thine image. I have forsaken Thee – do not forsake me! Come out to seek me; lead me up to Thy pasturage and number me among the sheep of Thy chosen flock. Nourish me with them on the grass of Thy Holy Mysteries, through the intercessions of Thy most pure Mother and all Thy saints. Amen.

(Translation: Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville, NY)



When I hear talk of enigmas, I prick up my ears … An enigma, despite the German term Rätsel we use it to translate, is not just a simple riddle [devinette] (from the verb erraten: deviner, ‘to guess’). An enigma, as I understand it, is to be distinguished just as much from a riddle as from a problem to be resolved, or from a mystery. When we hear enigmas talked of, I propose this procedure: to move from the enigma of, to the enigma in, and then to the function of the enigma in. Let me explain: when one speaks, to take up Freud’s terms, of the enigma of femininity (what is woman?), I propose with Freud to move to the function of the enigma in femininity (what does a woman want?). In the same way (but Freud does not make this move), what he terms the enigma of the taboo takes us back to the function of the enigma in the taboo. And still more so, the enigma of mourning takes us back to the function of the enigma in mourning: what does the dead person want? What does he want of me? What did he want to say to me?

The enigma leads back, then, to the otherness of the other; and the otherness of the other is his response to the unconscious, that is to say, to his otherness to himself…

…The other in the masculine we have to specify (in French) as ‘the other person’; and das andere or das andere Psychische, as the ‘physical other’ or the ‘other thing’. The ‘other thing’ is quite simply the unconscious. There is no reason to deny this ‘other thing’ the characteristics of timelessness and above all the absence of negation … On the other hand … the unconscious cannot in any way be considered the kernel of our being, the Kern unseres Wesen, in the sense of an intimior intimo meo [‘something more inward than my inwardness’]. Far from being my kernel, it is the other implanted in me, the metabolised product of the other in me: forever an ‘internal foreign body’.

Jean Laplanche, Time and the Other, in: Essays on Otherness

Open Sesame: Entrance to the Architecture Faculty of Venice University by Carlo Scarpa


The world hath been often compared to the theatre … this thought hath been carried so far, and become so general, that some words proper to the theatre, and which were, at first, metaphorically applied to the world, are now indiscriminately and literally spoken of both: thus stage and scene are by common use grown as familiar to us, when we speak of life in general, as when we confine ourselves to dramatic performances…

Fielding The History of Tom Jones, A Foundling

Carlo Scarpa Architecture Faculty Entrance, Venice

We may consider Venice as a city of liminality. It is on the threshold of land and sea, indeed its land is reclaimed from the lagoon. Its market was the meeting of east and west – did not Marco Polo set forth from Venice to meet the Kublai Khan? Modern Venice seems caught betwixt and between the old city of commerce and its newfound role as a city of tourism.

Venice also provides the perfect setting for Nicolas Roeg’s 1973 film Don’t Look Now, based on Daphne du Maurier’s 1971 story of the same name, dealing with the ‘other’ and the uncanny, particularly in its use of the double:

the “double” was originally an insurance against the destruction of the ego, an “energetic denial of the power of death”; and probably the “immortal” soul was the first “double” of the body. This invention of doubling as a preservation against extinction has its counterpart in the language of dreams, which is fond of representing castration by a doubling or multiplication of a genital symbol. The same desire led the Ancient Egyptians to develop the art of making images of the dead in lasting materials. Such ideas, however, have sprung from the soil of unbounded self-love, from the primary narcissism which dominates the mind of the child and of primitive man. But when this stage has been surmounted, the “double” reverses its aspect. From having been an assurance of immortality, it becomes the uncanny harbinger of death.

Freud The Uncanny

In the film, there are the two, elderly sisters (one blind and gifted with second-sight); there is the confusion between the image of the daughter, drowning in her wet, red mackintosh and her parodic-double – the hideous visage of the red-coated, serial-killing dwarf darting around Venice who would eventually kill the father; this murder compounding the double-grief of the mother, and the inevitable return of the repressed red-stain that befouls not just the slide of the opening scene, but the entire film. All this being staged in a city irrevocably stuck in the past but necessarily having to come to terms with the present.

As part of the restoration for the Venice architecture faculty in the Tolentini monastery, Carlo Scarpa had to address the liminal. During the early stages of this project, a gateway of Istrian stone was discovered, and it had been thought that this might be used as an entrance to the faculty. Scarpa dismissed this idea, but nevertheless curated this piece as part of the landscaping in the courtyard behind the wall that he would design as the entrance threshold. To the outside, the wall presents a concrete barrier that would perhaps not be out of place in the arsenale, but from the inside the hard-landscape folds up so that the wall all-but disappears. Nevertheless, there is something fragile about the wall, with its moving components, glass and doffed, concrete peak. Like a mask from the Carnivale Venetia, the entrance goes some way to concealing (and revealing) the identity of its wearer.

Scotland’s Shame: St Peter’s Seminary, Cardross, by Isi Metzstein and Andy MacMillan of Gillespie, Kidd & Coia


Situated atop the Calton Hill in Edinburgh, the National Monument was designed by C.R. Cockerell and William Playfair; a facsimile of the Parthenon in monument to the fallen of the Napoleonic Wars. Its lack of completion is the product of a lack of funding, and it has therefore become known as Edinburgh’s Disgrace. Local folklore would have it that the City of Glasgow offered to meet the construction costs but Edinburgh was too proud to accept. Some would argue that the fiasco over Edinburgh’s new tram-system is more of a disgrace, but when it comes to recent architectural history, what is really shameful is the way the nation has allowed St Peter’s Seminary to go to ruin:

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(photographs by middletonvanjonker and Josie Ellis)

Whilst it is almost sacrilegious in some parts of Scotland to mention the architects Gillespie Kidd and Coia and Basil Spence in the same utterance, sometimes Edgar Allen Poe’s Imp of the Perverse gets the better of one. Moreover, poignant insight regarding the loss of a great building may be gleaned from the latter architect which will help us appreciate more fully the forfeiture of one of Scotland’s finest by the former architects.

In The Phoenix at Coventry, Basil Spence, architect of the new Cathedral there, tells of his own ambition to build a cathedral and the horror he felt in witnessing the wartime destruction of great ecclesiastical buildings. Spence writes:

On D plus 2, June 1944, I was dug in just off the beaches of Normandy. An Army friend, Laurie Paynter, also dug into the ground for protection, asked me just before we fell asleep what my ambition was. The circumstances were such as to set one thinking about such mortal longings. I said, ‘To build a cathedral.’

This remark was perhaps prompted by an incident I had witnessed that day. At Oustreham and Hermanville, in the Sword Sector where I had landed, are two beautiful Norman churches. The Germans had placed snipers in each tower, and in order to winkle them out tanks were brought up which blasted away at the belfry windows. As an architect witnessing the murder of a beautiful building, I felt that other ways should have been found to remove those snipers, for I firmly believe that the creative genius of man, the spark of life that he carries while on earth, is manifest in his efforts, and that once this is lost through the destruction of great works, the world is poorer, for that particular light goes out forever.

Spence goes on to describe the loss he felt upon hearing of the destruction of Coventry Cathedral which he would eventually rebuild. He continues:

… My mind went back to 15th November 1940, when as a Staff Captain (Intelligence) I had reported the Coventry Raid to my General. I remembered telling him that the Cathedral had been destroyed in the night, the first of many as we thought, but as things turned out the only one to be completely gutted. I remembered the feeling of irretrievable loss, wondering how it could be replaced, and thinking what a challenge it would be to our generation should it ever be rebuilt.

There are several lessons to be keenly learned here. The first is the ambition of the architect to build a great building (a Cathedral, no less) in Spence’s case. This is not a temporary structure, a humble dwelling, nor even a church building. The Cathedral is a beautiful, eloquent, lasting monument built in remembrance and honour. As the highest manifestation of man’s creative industry, ‘Cathedral’ is sublimity surpassed only by the handcraft of the natural world. This is the soaring ambition of the architect – to be given the opportunity to stretch his creative powers to their very limits, the idea of the ‘Cathedral’ being the substantiation of these aspirations.

The second lesson is in the sadness and horror by which the architect is struck when witnessing the destruction of such an architecture. There is an inbuilt, empathetic sensitivity that the designer feels for the ruination even if the building was not his own, and even if the event was not witnessed first-hand. How much more so, then, if the building had been the architect’s own. One can only the imagine how distraught the architect would be at losing their own building, offspring of their drawing-board.

Such a terrible tragedy has befallen Andy MacMillan and Isi Metzstein of former Glasgow practice, Gillespie Kidd and Coia: In their lifetime, they have had to endure, and come to terms with, witnessing the painful death and slow decay of their masterpiece, St Peter’s Seminary, near Cardross. If we are using the notion of ‘Cathedral’ as being synonymous with the greatness of man’s endeavour, then surely St Peter’s is the principal Scottish seat of Corbusian High Modernism. Widely regarded as the most important piece of Modern architecture in Scotland and listed as one of the World Monument Fund’s most endangered buildings, the Seminary lies abandoned in woodland, desolate and mutilated by deliberate fire, graffiti and the pillages of west-coast elements. Not yet a skeleton, but stripped of its dignity, it lies like the rotting carcass of a once-majestic, shipwrecked whale. Even the granite high-altar has been violently cleavered. To appropriate Spence’s charged language, happening upon St Peter’s in the clearing of the dense woodland is the architectural equivalent of stumbling across a denuded, ravaged, murdered corpse. The above photographs of it have something of the chilling mood of explicit, forensic, crime-scene plates. One might be tempted to imagine what tales might be wrought from such images as these were Henry Bond able to lay his creatively psychoanalytical lens upon them. It is a shocking indictment of our attitude towards our heritage that this valiant architecture has hitherto been left thus.

The third, and perhaps most shocking, lesson to be inferred from Spence’s text is the dawning revelation that it is not an inevitably that the fallen Cathedral will be rebuilt at all. In some instances, there is the will, consent and means to do so, but in other cases the most that will remain are the ruins of something that once stood tall. This is the dreadful risk of suchlike appalling devastation. Certainly, although there is now some hope that St Peter’s, Cardross will be given a small measure of its dignity back, it seems that this will be more akin to an honourable burial – its heroic, concrete structure standing as petrified monument to its former self.

Whatever the individual scenario with regard to a rebuilt Cathedral, it is a truism to state that it will never be the same as it was, and this holds even if it has been reconstructed ‘exactly’ as it was. Such is the case in those carefully-restored monastic churches of Köln that the Allies bombed with dreadful indiscrimination during the second World-War: these include such masterworks as Groβ St. Martin, St Maria im Kapitol, St Aposteln – although put back together again (and perhaps even due to their self-conscious efforts to be true to the original) one is acutely aware that these are re-creations of a studied original. Köln Cathedral, itself, was largely undamaged; the Bomber Command deciding that it was most useful left standing as a navigational landmark.

Indeed, the task of the rebuilding of a Cathedral may even be considered a more complex task than erecting the initial building. There are the vying considerations of sensitivity to heritage, archaeology, and a desire to create anew. In what respects to remain faithful to the original ambition and how to utilise modern technology whilst being true to contemporaneous concerns must all be borne out of lengthy and often frustrating debate, and governed by the overriding economic realities. The architect must be in control of all these tugging factors. It is no wonder that Sir Giles Gilbert Scott resigned from the task of rebuilding Coventry Cathedral when his 1944 design was dismissed by the Royal Fine Art Commission and he found that the conflicting diocesan requirements made his task impossible. More wonder, then, that Spence was able to achieve the creation of the celebrated Cathedral that stands today.

Just occasionally, the rebuilding of a cathedral may result in an edifice far-surpassing its predecessor in splendour and wonder. Perhaps the most prominent example of this being the case is the rebuilding of St Peter’s in Rome, the evolving and superseding designs of Bramante, Peruzzi, Sangallo, Michelangelo and Maderno.

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to breathe new life into Scotland’s St Peter’s, the developers, NVA, propose to “utilise the ‘site as subject’, creating a profound research base that will generate annually-changing commissions and new interpretation.” It would seem that there will be no resurrection as such in the Seminary’s case, but instead a noble committal.

Insel Hombroich


Located between Dusseldorf and Cologne, Stiftung Insel Hombroich is an assortment of gallery pavilions set in wetland woods and additionally, later, on the site of a former cold-war NATO missile base. The diffusion of art and nature enhances the experience of viewing the art, which impressively includes Klimt, Matisse, Cezanne and Rembrandt as well as primitive art from across the world. The first pavilions were designed by the sculptor, Erwin Heerlich, and all the pavilions share in a modest and eloquent palette of salvaged brick, glass, and tile. This lends a disciplined homogeneity to these playful iterations that also camouflages and texturally integrates to the natural setting – emphatically with the autumn leaves. The list of architects contributing to this rhapsody of recycled-brick formalism includes Claudio Silvestrin and most poetically, Alvaro Siza. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Tadao Ando could not refrain from an insistence on concrete, glass and steel, setting apart the Langen Foundation from the other structures.



Only a fool will build in defiance of the past. What is new and significant always must be grafted to old roots, the truly vital roots that are chosen with great care from the ones that merely survive. And what a slow and delicate process it is to distinguish radical vitality from the wastes of mere survival, but that is the only way to achieve progress instead of disaster.