Better Read: Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up

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examples of Taliesin Square Papers from the Frank Lloyd Wright Library at Steinerag
Welcome to Better Read, an intermittent experiment at greg.org to transform art-related texts into handy, entertaining, and informative audio. This text is excerpts from a pamphlet essay by Frank Lloyd Wright, “In the Cause of Architecture: The “International Style” (Soft Cover), published by Taliesin Fellowship in February 1953. It would be the last of what were called the Taliesen Square Paper Series. The editorial was republished in the July 1953 issue of House Beautiful magazine with the title, “Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up.” Wright was 85 years old at the time, and he hated hated the International Style.
I could not find print copies of either of these publications available anywhere. Library holdings of House Beautiful are spotty and incomplete. When I tried the authoritative-seeming, five-volume Frank Lloyd Wright Collected Writings, I also came up short. There are only five copies of Vol. 5 (1949-1959) listed in libraries in the US. How could this be? I ended up buying a used copy for a couple of bucks from Goodwill in Michigan, which turned out to have been deaccessioned by the library in a federal prison. Anyway, the text comes from there [pp. 66-69].
I wanted to find this text because it is the source of two popular zingers from Wright: the great opening line, “The ‘International Style’ is neither international, nor a style,” and saying supporters of modern architecture are not only totalitarians, fascists, or communists, they “are not wholesome people.” This line came up, for example, in a recent Atlas Obscura article about Hollin Hills, a nice but innocuous mid-century modernist subdivision near Washington DC.
I wanted to see the fuller context of Wright’s criticisms, partly because one of the objects of his scorn, the MoMA-affiliated architect Philip Johnson, was actually a Nazi and an aspiring leader of US fascism at one point. [I’ve come to think Johnson recognized the disadvantages of political affiliation for his real interest: himself and his career, and that his devotion for the rest of his life to establishment power was quite sincere, but that’s not the point right now.]
The main reason is because Wright’s communist and anti-modernist bogeymen sounded familiar, like they might resonate with the conservative or rightist campaigns against everything modern, from abstraction to Brutalism to Post-Modernism, to Tilted Arc to the Culture Wars, Wojnarowicz, you name it. Wright’s architecture has been generally assimilated into our historical narrative, but, I thought, it’s come at the cost of our understanding of the political context in which he created it, and from which he attacked those who didn’t ascribe to his own views, or pursue his particular agenda.
Anyway, Wright’s text is after the jump, or you can listen to the text read by a robot.
better_read_frank_lloyd_wright_intl_style_20160505.mp3 [dropbox greg.org, 18mb mp3, 13min or so]

Continue reading “Better Read: Frank Lloyd Wright Speaks Up”

Better Read: Why We Should Talk About Cady Noland, A Zine By Brian Sholis

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Cover, “Why We Should Talk About Cady Noland”, a zine published by Brian Sholis in 2004, image: archive.org
It’s been a while since I’ve put up an edition of Better Read, audio works made from worthwhile art texts read by a machine. But yesterday I listened to “Why We Should Talk About Cady Noland,” Brian Sholis’ 2004 zine essay while I was working, and I decided to clean it up for public enjoyment. Which basically involves extra punctuation marks to smooth the flow, and tweaking the spellings so the computer voice will read French or German plausibly.
As the title implies, Sholis’s essay argued for the continued relevance of Noland’s work and writing at a time when firsthand encounters with both were hard to come by. Now it’s also a useful reminder that there’s more to talk about than auction prices and lawsuits.
Better Read #004: Brian Sholis on Cady Noland 20150810.mp3 [dropbox greg.org, mp3, 25.5mb, 14:36]
Original text: Jan. 20, 2004: Cady Noland [briansholis.com]
Previous Better Reads: #003 – Rosalind Krauss; #002 – Ray Johnson; #001, the ur-Better Read – W.H. Auden

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Better Read: Sincerely Yours, An Epic Scholarly Smackdown By Rosalind Krauss

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Auguste Rodin, The Three Shades, plaster, for The Gates of Hell
This edition of Better Read, an experiment in transforming art-related texts into audio works, is awesome. I really feel like the kinks are working out, and this whole computer voice-generated pseudo-podcast thing is really going to take off in a big way very soon.
Like an hour from now, when you’ve finished listening to “Sincerely Yours,” by powerhouse art historian Rosalind Krauss. In 1981 Krauss published one of her foundational texts, “The Originality of The Avant-Garde,” in October Magazine, which prompted a long, irate response from Rodin scholar and curator Albert Elsen. “Sincerely Yours” is Krauss’s fierce, icy, and vigorously argued, 9,200-word response to Elsen’s criticisms. It was originally published in October 20, in the spring of 1982. And it is performed here by Ava, an American English synthetic voice from Apple with a surprisingly good grasp of French pronunciation. The 80mb mp3 file lasts around 56 minutes. Like I said, this is going to be big, I can feel it.
Sincerely Yours, Rosalind Krauss (1982), read by a computer [dropbox greg.org, mp3, 80mb, 56:00]
Previously: Better Read: A Lively Interview with Ray Johnson c. 1968
The ur-text: W.H. Auden’s poem “The Shield of Achilles” read by a machine

Better Read: A Lively Interview With Ray Johnson, c.1968

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Ray Johnson, The Paper Snake, 1965, published by Dick Higgins, image: rayjohnsonestate
I’ve been thinking of various audio projects, something this side of an actual podcast, perhaps. But unlike a podcast, it’d be useful and interesting and not something being done already by everyone else.
And so I’m experimenting with a series I’m calling Better Read, art-related texts transformed into audio. While I’m working, I’ll often use text-to-speech to listen to papers, interviews, essays, and other various longform writings. It’s imperfect, but also an improvement. In the car, we’ve been listening to Moby Dick | Big Read, in which each chapter is read by a different person. It generally works.
So for Better Read, I am envisioning a mix of live and computer readers. Sometimes I’ll get the author herself; other times, someone can read from a text they really like. I might read a few myself, but to be honest, I really don’t like listening to me. Maybe you do? We may find out!
That W.H. Auden poem I posted the other day may become Better Read #1, and once I figure out the frequency, &c., I’ll set up a dedicated URL
But for now, please enjoy this 1968 interview with Ray Johnson, recorded for the Archives of American Art’s Oral History project. It really is a standout among an invaluable collection. And I especially like the idea of using a transcription of a recording as a script for another recording; fine tuning this process will be useful before I tackle any large, intense deposition transcripts [*cough* Canal Zone/Yes Rasta]
So definitely let me know your thoughts, advice, feedback, suggestions, requests, &c., and we’ll see how this thing shapes up.
Better Read: An Interview with Ray Johnson [45min, 22mb, dropbox greg.org]