Archive for Visual Arts

Five More for the Road

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Five more postcards hit the road– a moving part of the 200 Postcards/Got Mail Art? project.


Midwest Modern, Waterloo, Iowa, 1933:  “Our YMCA is the newest and most modern in the 5 state area in Midwest.”


Florida Pelican Boy


The Ghost of Radio City, New York


Million Dollar Aqua-Babe, St. Petersburg, Florida


Silver Springs Demi-God w. Maiden

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200 Postcards/Got Mail Art?

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

I love the Post Office. Aka, the Church of Snail Mail. An institution reflecting the fading vision of democratic public services. Churls say the church should cease to exist. Their mantra? Privatize privatize privatize. Buttressed by claims that long distance communication by paper is doomed. So low tech don’cha know. To which I reply–

Got Mail Art?

A project to celebrate the Church of Snail Mail and its most devoted member, Mail Art. My mission: send 200 altered postcards to 200 artists, culling their names and addresses from a list of participants in a large-scale international Mail Art show held last year. I was among the participants and like everyone, received the list as documentation. To keep the postcards a surprise, I’m not identifying the show.

Each postcard bears the question “Got Mail Art?”

We’ll see what the answer will be…

The postcards range in age from vintage (such as linen-era) to more recent. Rest assured– no rare or unique postcards are being altered for this project. Only generic ones that can stand additions. Thrift stores and yard sales are the source. Pretty much 50 cents a dance. Cheaper by the handful.

Oh yeah– I also love postcards. Little worlds that travel the big one. No digital transmission has the romance. Here are my first 10 travelers:


1. Vicksburg National Military Park w. cupcake wrapper

2. The Hi Heel Hat Lady of Silver Springs, Florida

2. The Hi Heel Hat Lady of Silver Springs, Florida

3. Rainbow Bridge & Couch, Arizona/Utah border3. Rainbow Bridge & Couch, Arizona/Utah border

4. The Monster from Clarendon Gorge-- Clarendon, Vermont

4. The Monster from Clarendon Gorge– Clarendon, Vermont

5. Florida from the bottom of the sea5. Florida from the bottom of the sea

6. Viva Las Vegas Baby Red Hat

6. Viva Las Vegas Baby Red Hat

7. Reaper Room, Mark Twain Hotel, Elmira New York

7. Reaper Room, Mark Twain Hotel, Elmira New York

8. Hawaii International Market w. Blonde Bombshell

8. Hawaii International Market w. Blonde Bombshell
9. Mission San Juan Capistrano, California with cupcake wrapper & cross

9. Mission San Juan Capistrano, California with cupcake wrapper & cross

10. Angel at Holiday Inn, New Stanton, PA.

10. Angel at Holiday Inn, New Stanton, PA.

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The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Think totalitarians are dull boys (and girls) who wear matchey matchey duds, never quaff cocktails or croon torch tunes in the wee small hours? If so, you’re wrong. No need for shame though. I thought the same. Until I found a copy of The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings! in a box of old records at a junk store.

At first I figured it was some sort of spoof production. Lenin sings? Yeah, right. Maybe in his shower after rolling out a little Red Terror. But no. Lenin did cut a record (actually, a wax cylinder) in 1922, around the time he became premiere of the newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR/Soviet Union). After Lenin’s death in ’24, the album disappeared into a memory hole dug by his successor, Joseph Stalin.

Luckily for lovers of pop culture esoterica, the master somehow survived…

After Stalin died in 1953, Nikita Khrushchev eventually emerged as head of the single party USSR. In ’56, he delivered his famous Secret Speech at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, ripping Stalin and the personality cult that let Stalin be Stalin. Among other things, Khrushchev denounced Stalin for expanding the use of the term “enemy of the people” to include Party officials who disagreed with Stalin. Thereby putting them in the same non-human, expendable category as, say, kulaks— those Greedy Gus peasants who resisted having their farms collectivized.

Khrushchev also distributed copies of Lenin’s Testament at the Congress. Lenin wrote it in late 1922, after being been laid low by a stroke. Death was on the way. In the Testament, Lenin assessed various Party biggies with an eye to future leadership. No thumbs up for Stalin. Lenin dished “Comrade” Stalin’s “rudeness” and “capricious temper” and suggested he be booted from his position as Secretary-General of the Party’s Central Committee.

Until recently few knew Lenin’s Testament wasn’t the only thing Khrushchev distributed; he also passed out remastered vinyl copies of The Swingin’ Totalitarian: Vladimir Lenin Sings!

What motivated Khrushchev to include the record? Did he hope hearing Lenin sound so presciently Rat Pack would make rude boy Stalin seem totally yesterday?

Whatever. The album stands on its own as a pop music classic. Lenin delivers the goods from first cut to last, opening with a subversively scat-shattered version of Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Ragtime Band and closing with a high octane, finger-snapping delivery of Cole Porter’s little known Ha, Ha, They Must Sail for Siberia. Twixt Berlin & Porter, Vlad turns sad. Waxing middle-of-the-night moody with lush ballads– including one written by himself titled What is to Be Done (When your Lover Leaves).

Though copyright laws make it impossible to include cuts from Swingin’ Totalitarian, I’ve reproduced the album’s cover, a gatefold hinged at Lenin’s waist with identical images front and back. The doubled Lenin is shown lounging at the type of bar typically found in suburban basement rec rooms. (Swingin’ was recorded at Lenin’s dacha on the outskirts of Moscow.) Those octopus-like suckers sprouting from his head? Symbolic. As said, the record was cut ’round the time the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed.

Album Cover

Interestingly, the graphic from Lenin’s album surfaced in altered form during the late 1960’s as an advertisement for Romanov Vodka. Not to be confused with the Romanov Vodka currently being marketed by the India-based UB Group, the Romanov Vodka that featured Lenin in its ads was produced in Romania under the aegis of Nicolae CeauÈ™escu. A swingin’ totalitarian in his own right…

Romanov Vodka Ad


Next in the Swingin’ Totalitarian series: Mao Wow! The Lost Nudie Pics of Mao Zedong



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The Soul of Shozo Shimamoto: Gutai, Mail Art, Collaboration with Nature

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

On January 25th, three days after his 85th birthday, legendary artist Shozo Shimamoto died of heart failure. A memorial event titled Shozo-ism was held  at Hotel Novotel Koshien, Osaka West in Japan on March 13th. Another memorial is ongoing. Quoting Shozo’s first son, Takashi Shimamoto “please visit Shozo’s soul, he would be so excited to see you.”

Artists from all over the world have been meeting Shozo’s soul for decades. Some two hundred mail artists from thirty countries are currently communing with Shozo at the San Francisco Art Institute exhibition Gutai: Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun.The show runs until March 30th, and includes a room filled with works by mail artists honoring Shozo Shimamoto.

The exhibition at SFAI was curated by artist John Held, Jr. and Andrew McClintock, co-founder and publisher of the San Francisco Arts Quarterly, and was arranged well before Shozo Shimamoto’s death. John Held, Jr. has been meeting Shozo’s soul since the early 1980’s in various projects. Some in real time, others in mail art land. The latter is where I met Shozo, also in the early 80’s. At the time I had no idea he was a co-founder of one of the most significant avant-garde art movements in postwar Japan. That movement was/is Gutai.

Gutai is often translated as “concrete”. An alternate is “embodiment”. A group of young artists from the Kansai (Osaka-Kobe) region formed the Gutai group in 1954 under the guidance of older established artist Jiro Yoshihara. Yoshihiro was simultaneously CEO of Yoshihara Oil, a successful company which manufactured edible oils from soybeans and cottonseed.

Jiro Yoshihara was a self-taught artist. Pre WWII he painted in styles associated with modernism, including surrealism. During Japan’s descent into militarism, modernism was suppressed. Unlike some prominent artists working in the modernist vein Yoshihara didn’t switch to producing state-approved propaganda. He withdrew to a rural agricultural community where his work became private and inward.

Postwar, when much of the Japanese art world still considered European painting the vanguard, Yoshihara realized the importance of American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. Pollock’s highly kinetic techniques made painting a gestural performance– a concept also present in traditional Japanese art forms such as calligraphy.

Jiro Yoshihara encouraged young artists to directly engage their bodies with their materials. He also told them to “challenge, not imitate”* and “not to fake, or not to follow any others”**.

Like many avant-gardists of the period, Yoshihara was attempting to forge a new and independent artistic identity in the shadow of Japan’s recent totalitarian past and the ensuing occupation by the U.S.

Shozo Shimamoto joined Yoshihara’s studio in 1947 at the age of nineteen. When the idea arose to create an art movement inspired by Yoshihara’s concepts, Shozo suggested the name “Gutai”. When the Gutai group published its first journal in 1955, it was printed at Shozo’s house. The official Gutai manifesto was written by Jiro Yoshihiro in 1956. Among other things, it contained these lines:

Gutai art does not change the material but brings it to life. Gutai art does not falsify the material. In Gutai art the human spirit and the material reach out their hands to each other.

One of the earliest Gutai exhibitions was held in the Ashiya pine wood in Osaka. At the First Open Air Exhibition of Modern Art: to Challenge the Mid-Summer Sun, the sculptures and paintings of the Gutai group were displayed in the open air, subject to weather. Shozo Shimamoto exhibited a perforated metal sheet painted white on one side, blue on the other. In the evening a lamp was lit behind the sheet; the effect echoing the starry sky above. The work was called Ana— the Kanji character for “hole”.

Shozo Shimamoto began working on his series Ana in the late 1940’s; an early piece apparently won him his place in Yoshihara’s studio. The Ana works employed various methods of surface erosion, a technique which began with an accident (an unintended tear) then blossomed into conscious exploration.

As well as producing works on canvas, paper, and less traditional surfaces Gutai artists utilized music, film and recorded sound. They also threw their bodies into their work, staging eye-popping art events such as Kazua Shirago’s Challenging Mud; in which the stripped-down Shirago dove into several tons of a wet mix of plaster and cement, twisting and flourishing his body like a paint brush.

Walk This Way

At a Gutai exhibition at the Ohara Kaikan in Tokyo, Shozo Shimamoto presented Please Walk on Here, a twisting path of wooden boards on a system of springs. It was very difficult to walk on. At the same space in October, 1956, he staged Bottle Crash Experiment. A canvas was placed on the floor with a rock in the middle. Bottles of pigment were flung at the rock, shattering color every which way.

Then there was Cannon. In which plastic bags of color were loaded into a five-meter cannon and shot onto a huge canvas…

The artists of Gutai, along with artists working in avant-garde groups and collectives in postwar Tokyo, expanded upon and in some cases anticipated such now-familiar art memes as conceptual art, action painting, installations, earthworks, happenings, and performance art.

Gutai, as well as Tokyo’s avant-garde movements, attracted international attention and strongly influenced experimental artists in the west. The influence flowed both ways in a snap, crackle, Pop of creative electricity.

Mail Art and Beyond

In 1972, Gutai founder Jiro Yoshihara died. During his final years he produced a series of paintings focused on circles, which have been described as “reminiscent of satori, the enlightenment of Zen”.

After Yoshihara’s death the Gutai group, which had become less active and prone to factionalism, broke up. Many of Japan’s postwar avant-garde groups came and went in the blink of an eye. The Gutai group lived far longer than most.

Shozo Shimamoto continued to be tremendously productive, his works and performances reaching audiences in many countries. The spirit of Gutai continued to inspire him, including its ethos of artists putting their bodies on the line. Example: Shozo invited other artists to draw, write, or place objects on his shaved head. Films were projected on it as well. The collaborations were photographed. Shozo also turned his dome project into mail art. Sending photo copy pictures of his head to mail artists, with invitations to decorate. He laughed when copies of his copies reached him with the same invitation.

A few words re mail art. Definitions are legion, as are mail artists. This is from a piece I wrote in 2002:

Mail art started simply, roughly five decades ago. A handful of artists, when sending each other mail, began making their envelopes and post cards an extension of their work. Not only did they trade art by mail but they played with the very process, adding fantasy postage stamps, sending serial image postcards and building elaborate visual jokes. Some projects were like chain letters, travelling from artist to artist– collaborations that crossed thousands of miles and took years to complete. Over time more and more artists joined in. By the early 80’s, mail artists numbered in the hundreds of thousands…

Mail art was a travelling show, visible to all along the way. It leaped out of the gallery and into everyday life. Though mail art sometimes appeared on gallery walls and enhanced artists’ careers, careerism was never its main point. Love moved mail art. It was fun. It was free. Motivations increasingly inexplicable in the culture at large.”

By the mid 1970’s, Shozo Shimamoto was secretary general of the Artists’ Union (AU) in Osaka. He was a chief representative for mail art, which he felt embodied the spirit of Gutai. He wrote the following about Gutai and mail art in a book of his work titled AH, published in 1981 by the Japan Art Press Center:

…I was determined to refuse or defy the expression of authority as seen in works of art not only in Europe but also elsewhere in the world. What inspired me and encourage me most in this effort was “GUTAI” (pronounced “gootie”), whose spirit is embodied in the activities of “mail art”, a form of expression campaigned for by the Artists Union today.

As said, I met Shozo via mail art in the early ’80’s. At that time almost anything could make it through the mail. No War on Terror raged; fear of odd objects had not yet infected the post office. I received many wonderful– and sometimes outrageous– things from mail artists around the world. And surprise surprise, most delicate non-enveloped pieces arrived in fine condition. Including a piece by Shozo Shimamoto from his series focused on the Japanese character for “A”.

While corresponding with Shozo, I was working on a series of copy-art portraits of Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong). The portraits, retrospectively titled My Own Private Mao, were collaged from vintage propaganda from the Peoples Republic of China, plus various pop culture sources– including porn from American and Japanese mens’ magazines. I was struck by the similarities between propaganda and pornography, such as the use of rote images to stoke/stroke desire for a state of perfect satisfaction. Some of my pieces countered Warhol’s comment-free celebrity portraits of Mao (though China has recently detected some comment ), others riffed on abstraction by recombining Mao’s features (wart and all) ad infinitum. The latter involved extensive recombinations of photo copies. Think copies of copies of copies. A technique inspired by being broke; I wanted to use every copy I made, even the test ones.

In the mid 1980’s, Shozo Shimamoto arranged a show of my Mao series at the AU gallery. Afterwards he sent me a photo of the show with a letter commenting on its popularity and requesting that the works remain in the gallery’s archive. It was tremendously exciting to see the Maos displayed in a country so far away.

Over several years, Shozo Shimamoto sent me a number of things. Including AH, the book containing his thoughts on Gutai and mail art. In those days it was hard to find much information about Gutai in English.*** But Shozo’s work, as displayed in the book, conveyed much about its spirit. Though somewhat mysterious due to cultural differences, the book still spoke volumes. Often about beauty detected in, and added to, common and  damaged sources.

The gestural “hand” of Shozo, as displayed in reproductions of pieces he’d painted, or applied color to in some other fashion, was bold and generous. The colors themselves were dazzling. Pictured works included examples from his “A” series, and from a shorter series called Uzamaki (Whirlpool), which he made by pouring colors onto canvas and letting the colors separate according to their individual density.

Eventually I drifted out of mail art (though I still do an occasional piece) and concentrated on individual pieces and later, on writing about the gold dust twins of political corruption and real estate fraud. But I have a collection of works by the mail artists with whom I corresponded. Shozo Shimamoto’s book is a particularly treasured item. For the last 10 years I’ve kept my collection in archival boxes in a climate controlled storage unit. Safe as houses.

But as we all know post-housing bubble, houses aren’t safe…

A few years ago a storm caused a partial roof collapse at the storage facility. My unit wasn’t severely damaged but did get some flooding. Among the damaged items, Shozo Shimamoto’s book AH.

At first I thought it was a goner. But as I turned the book’s damp, water-stained pages I determined to save it. It was still a thing of beauty. Many of the pages were stuck together by rain water; I slid sheets of wax paper between ones that weren’t and waited till the book was totally dry. Even then some pages were still melded together and despite being handled delicately, tore when separated. Water damage was visible throughout. Yet the more I looked at the book the more the damages started seeming like additions, not ruination. As if a collaboration had taken place between nature and Shozo Shimamoto.

After the storm Shozo’s book lived on my desk. I often found myself looking at it.

Last Autumn I learned that an upcoming show in San Francisco would be honoring Shozo Shimamoto and Gutai. Curators John Held, Jr. and Andrew McClintock were inviting mail artists all over the world to contribute. This was good news; I was glad to get a chance to honor Shozo. Not only because he’d been so generous to me, but because he influenced me deeply in the past and thanks to his collaboration with nature, was doing so again. My contribution to the show included copies of the “damaged” pages from AH.

A few weeks after I sent my contribution off to San Francisco, I received a letter from John Held, Jr. telling me Shozo Shimamoto had died.

When researching this piece I learned that over his lifetime Shozo Shimamoto produced a huge body of work. Of which I’ve only referenced a tiny amount, mainly pre 1990. I also came across some of his writings, thankfully in English translation. Such as Art is Astonishment and Potatoes with Worms are Ticklish. Then there’s this exchange from an interview posted at the Associazione Shozo Shimamoto in Italy:

Interviewer: While reconstructing the Gutai years, you said that the driving force was the idea that art is supposed to be completely free. What meaning exactly does the word free hold in your concept of art?

Shozo: During the war, freedom did not exist for us. After the war we were given our freedom back and were initially taken aback by it, but we later learned, more than anything else, the extraordinary nature of freedom. Life is full of problems, but freedom is the key to happiness. It was a tremendous pleasure to express freedom through art.

In the same interview Shozo talks about his commitment to pacifism, which he expressed through many major art projects. In 1996 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by artist and publisher Bern Porter, who was also a committed pacifist. Before WWII, Porter worked as a physicist on cathrode ray tube technology. During the war he did uranium separation work on the Manhattan Project. He quit after Hiroshima was bombed.

As well as translations of Shozo’s writings, I came across excerpts from the Gutai manifesto written by Jiro Yoshihiro. Including these words about the beauty found in damaged things:

Yet what is interesting in this respect is the novel beauty to be found in works of art and architecture of the past which have changed their appearance due to the damage of time or destruction by disasters in the course of the centuries. This is described as the beauty of decay, but is it not perhaps that beauty which material assumes when it is freed from artificial make-up and reveals its original characteristics? The fact that the ruins receive us warmly and kindly after all, and that they attract us with their cracks and flaking surfaces, could this not really be a sign of the material taking revenge, having recaptured its original life?

I’m very grateful to have met Shozo Shimamoto in the land of mail art and to have encountered him again through the pages of his collaboration with nature. I’ll continue to visit his soul. Which mingles with the spirit of Gutai forever and ever.


*Asia Art Archive Chair Jane DeBeoise in conversation with art historian Reiko Tomii, on the occasion of a historical investigation of Shiraga Kazuo’s work, Challenging Mud.

**Whitestone Gallery, Jiro Yoshihara  

***These days it’s much easier, thanks to burgeoning interest in Gutai and other avant-garde movements active in postwar Japan. Along with Gutai: Experimental Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Mid-Winter Burning Sun at the San Francisco Art Institute, the Museum of Modern Art in NYC just wrapped Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, and the Guggenheim Museum is currently presenting Gutai: Splendid Playground.




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Two Cameras, Two Visions: Digital Omniscience vs. Faux Analog Flaws

by David Solomonoff

Recently two new digital cameras were announced, the Lytro, a new “light field” camera that creates refocusable digital photos, and the Holga D which is “inspired from the extremely popular cult of Holga and other toy cameras”.  More than two new gizmos boasting a few more megapixels, these two devices illustrate two radically different visions of how humans use technology – and how technology uses humans.

The initial appeal of the Lytro is the elimination of shutter delays and the need to focus. But the true impact of light field photography will be when computational photography goes mainstream and the key technology inside – an array of micro-lenses that slice up a 3D scene into multiple images – turns up in more devices.

So the long-term benefit of light field photography is not in the creation of images that humans will actually view, but rather in the potential to convert patterns of light into raw data that can be analyzed by computers. The uses could range from facial recognition for law enforcement to astronomers looking for evidence of life on distant planets.

The Holga D was first announced as an open hardware project on the blog of industrial designer Saikat Biswat. Currently only a highly-detailed concept rather than a shipping product, he has had a huge amount of interest in funding and building it.

The appeal of the Holga D is exactly the opposite of the Lytro. It emulates an inexpensive, analog, film toy camera, known for the unpredictable images caused by flaws in its lens. It lacks a display so as to recreate the delayed gratification – and risk – of analog photography. “Your photographs remain mysterious until you download the images,” boasts Biswat.

The resulting images from the Holga D or the analog film cameras that inspired it, will sometimes be beautiful and sometimes awful – to the humans who view them. A musical analogy would be to when musicians first began to experiment with distortion and feedback effects. These effects are now standard – built into amplifiers and effects pedals with great reliability and precision. But the excitement when neither the performer or audience quite knew what would happen next is harder to duplicate.

The goal of the Lytro is that of a greater-than-human technological omniscience coming from a certainty of purpose. It’s the certainty that a programmer gets from a list of requirements before embarking on a software project. The Holga D exploits risk and unpredictability for a type of artistic exploration that doesn’t require advance knowledge of the end result. It’s more like life in that way.

In the end one wonders if the experience of the Holga D might benefit the user in a way that the Lytro never will be able to.



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Corzine to play Two-Face in new Batman!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

Corzine as Two-Face

This just in from Hollywood– Jon Corzine, who until about a week ago was Top Dog in the tanking Wall Street unreality series My Own Private MF Global has been cast as supervillain Two-Face in the next Batman opus. Buzz sez Bat producer Michael Uslan saw the Reuters piece The Two Faces of Jon Corzine and after reading it, got Jon on the honker. According to sources, what really wowed Uslan were these lines:

…Corzine sounded like a real Wall Street reformer during [a] speech at Princeton in September 2010, titled After the Crash: Regulating the New American Economy.…Corzine said he generally supported much of the financial regulatory law known as Dodd-Frank and believed it would lead to less risk taking on Wall Street…Corzine went on to say it was unacceptable that some of Wall Street’s biggest players were leveraging shareholders’ equity at a ratio above 30 to 1 going into the financial crisis…Yet just before [Corzine’s company] MF Global filed for bankruptcy, the firm was operating with a leverage ratio of 33 to 1…

Like, how Two-Face is that? If anyone needs more proof Corzine is perfect for the part, check this from the Newark Star Ledger:

[Corzine] has also has emerged as a key lobbyist against proposed rules that would have restricted firms such as his from, among other things, borrowing customer money to make investments.

Those rules Boys & Girls, are part of the same Dodd-Frank reform law Corzine “supported”!

Weird coincidence: Senator Chris Dodd and Congressman Barney Frank, whose names top the regulatory bill Corzine sought to undermine, were also offered the role of Two-Face (one half Dodd, the other Frank) due to their star turns in Housing Bubble: The Monster that Ate Wall Street. Both turned it down. Citing their busy schedules as financial reformers.

Though not first choice as Two-Face, Corzine jumped at producer Uslan’s offer. Snapping back “Mister, I was made for it.” Demonstrating his film savvy by channeling Tyrone Power as the master con turned chicken-chomping geek in the classic noir, Nightmare Alley.

Talking pop culture history, the original Two-Face, as created by DC Comics in the 1940s, was a good guy gone supervillain wrong. Two-Face was once Harvey Dent, the reformer district attorney of Gotham City. But Dent goes bonkers after a criminal tosses acid on him, hideously deforming one side of his face. Dent embraces his “Two-Face” and becomes a crime boss.

Fans who’ve followed Corzine’s political career know he too once appeared a reformer. In 2000, he shelled out $62 million for the role of senator from New Jersey in Mr. Corzine Goes to Washington. It was a short run; in 2005, Jersey’s political bosses on the D side cast Corzine as governor. Many in the voting audience believed the wealth Corzine garnered as former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs (1994-99) would make him immune to sleaze. The myth of the gazillionaire political savior rides again. Hope springs eternal, even in Jersey. Reviewers gave Corzine a Golden Turkey .

Inquiring minds want to know– who tossed acid on Jon Corzine and when did it happen? When he was a Jersey pol or Goldman CEO?* Or way earlier, when Corzine was climbing the Wall Street ladder in the American Psycho ’80s?**

Past is past. Big things are happening here & now for Jon. Thanks to the sudden collapse of MF Global, the mysterious disappearance of roughly $600 million of its customer funds, and the possible co-mingling of customer and company money (a regulatory no no), Corzine will now be starring in a series of federal and state investigations, plus civil litigations produced by some of the hottest firms in the biz.

Corzine has hired Andrew Levander, a former assistant U.S. attorney to help him handle the load. Levander’s celebrity clients have included John Thain, Merrill Lynch’s former boss, and Ezra Merkin, a former associate of Bernie Madoff.

Even with such high-powered assistance, Corzine won’t have much time for his usual social whirl…

Right before MF folded like a cheap Goldman, Jon Corzine was spotted on Wall Street bundling mega campaign donations for President Obama– in hopes of replacing crony capitalist superstar Tim Geithner as Treasury Secretary. (Imagine the boffo box office if MF Global had tanked after Corzine was appointed!) While bundling, Corzine sported full frontal Two-Face. Knowing his fellow players would dig the ironic Lon Chaney.

Though the Treasury appointment is now gone with the wind, don’t cry for Corzine. Being in a Batman beats hanging with the too-big-to-fail. And if the Bat doesn’t fly, there’s always the circus. Buzz sez the geek routine is making a big comeback. New twist; biting the heads off free range chickens. (First you gotta catch ’em.) And my buddy Buzz is always right about trends.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

*Trivia: Corzine’s illustrious co-stars at Goldman included his protégé, mortgage banker and bond trader Kevin Ingram. After racking up mega losses at Deutsche Bank in 1998, Ingram went on to star as a money launderer for a B movie bunch of Jersey-based terror plotters.

**More trivia: the film version of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho starred pre-Batman Christian Bales in the title role. Think Bruce Wayne, through a glass darkly.


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The Cassette Culture Sound of Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl– in Stereo!

by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

If only I were Edith Piaf. But alas, I can’t say je ne regrette rien. Once upon a wasted time (circa late 1970’s and early 80’s) I hung on New York City’s downtown art/music scene. The scene never fit me, I tried to fit it. Which was one of the stupidest things I’ve ever done. My only excuse is that I was caught in a spiritual downdraft. Couldn’t see how deeply the Punk New Wave No Wave Ironic Transgressive thing wasn’t me. Its gods weren’t mine. The Velvet Underground gave good vinyl but their legend was tiresome. William Burroughs seemed shallow. Neo-Expressionism? A few pieces were sharp (albeit over-priced) but a lot looked like puke splattered on a sidewalk outside the Mudd Club .

Oh. Yeah. Those fabulous avant-garde nite spots…

Color me ashamed for ever taking pride in being approved by a doorman.

By ’83, I was outta there. Living in Hoboken, New Jersey, across the Hudson from Manhattan. In those days Hoboken felt far from NYC. An escape from hip happening hell. David Solomonoff (my future husband) and I lived in a five floor walk-up in the tallest building on our block. No telephone. Couldn’t afford it. Up there in the clouds, where no phone ever rang, we began doing Mail Art and making music cassettes as Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl. The post office became our scene and we loved it. No cliques, clacks or clutter, just real deal underground art. Via snail mail we connected with artists and musicians all over the world.

Our first connect came via Jim Sauter of Borbetomagus. (Aka the “pioneers of aggressive improvised noise music”.) Jim gave us contact info for Japanese Mail Artist and musician Masami Akita. The work received from Akita was a revelation. His dense rich collages were non splatter and his music as Merzbow was full-tilt lush noise. Apres Akita, the deluge. Our correspondents eventually numbered in the hundreds. Some were creative trifectas (art, music, words) others specialized. We developed collaborative relationships (as opposed to just trading work) with many, both for Mail Art and cassette projects. We contributed numerous pieces to cassette compilations and also supplied material for other musicians to cut up and rework.

In no particular order, our cassette culture collaborators* included: Joel Haertling (Architect’s Office), Zan Hoffman (Zanstones, Zanoisect, Zidsick, etc.), Al Margolis (Sound of Pig; If Bwana), GX Jupitter-Larsen (The Haters), Seiei Jack Nakahara (Joke Project), Rafael Flores (Comando Bruno), Mike Honeycutt (Mystery Hearsay), M. Nomized (Fraction Studio), Hal McGee (Homemade Alien Music), Shinichi Igari (Uterus of Plant), Alain Neffe (Insane Music Productions), Rudi Tuscher (Nisus Anal Furgler), Wally Shoup, Kowa Kato, Bart Plantenga, Ken Clinger, Denier Du Culte, Calypso Now, Soft Joke Productions, Magthea, Absolute Body Control, DDAA (Déficit Des Années Antérieures), Intrendent Fansette, Bog-Art, Reportage, and So On & So Forth. The last a place holder for anyone I’ve inadvertently omitted.

Over roughly four years, we produced five cassette “albums”: In The Mood, Swim Or Die, Great In Bed, God Is Love, and finally, The Element That Defies Description. Great In Bed was a compilation which included work by some of the people listed above. It came packaged in a black nylon stocking. (We’d bought boxes of them at a Hoboken odd lots store.) In The Element we took tracks supplied by others and reworked the material into an overarching musical structure and metaphysical theme.

The Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl sound was shaped by having little money. Dirty Harry/Clint Eastwood once said “A man’s got to know his limitations.” The same goes for broke musicians. Our equipment was limited and we knew those limitations intimately. We worked them. Our apartment was our studio. Its ancient inadequate wiring meant lots of line hum. The hum would sing in shrill choruses when channeled through the frequency analyzer (aka ring modulator), a groovy 70’s effect manufactured by Electro-Harmonix. David had a made-in-Korea electric guitar and a Polytone Mini-Brute amp. Which was indeed brutish. When its spring-reverb was sproinging and its distortion was cranked the Mini-Brute turned into Godzilla doing Tokyo. We also had a vintage tube hifi amp which we played through the kind of wooden PA speakers that once hung in schoolrooms.

Our biggest (in terms of size and lineage) instrument was a 1960’s Vox Continental organ. The keyboard that carried The Doors. When momentarily flush from a freelance writing job, I’d bought the Vox for 200 bucks from The Major Thinkers, an Irish punk group. They claimed it previously belonged to Hall & Oates. The Vox was a workhorse. It had a few iffy drawbars but the randomness was a good thing; it seemed as if the Vox were actively improvising. Vox and Mini-Brute were bosom buddies.

Our other keyboards were miniature Casios. An MT-40 and VL-5. Among the earlier Casios on the market, their cheesy rhythm sections had options that allowed jump-cut transitions twixt say, samba and disco. When jacked with the line-humming frequency analyzer and/or our Doctor Q envelope filter (also made by Electro-Harmonix) samba and disco shattered into infinity. When the Casios’ batteries got weak, the shattering became even more extreme.

We also snagged rhythm from records. Most typically, ones from the 1950’s that demonstrated the exciting new audio technology of Stereo. Think demented bongos bouncing back and forth, forth and back, while Dad mixes martinis (clink clink) in the rec room. We also pulled snippets of exotic instrumentation from easy listening albums. We found countless treasures of Incredibly Strange Music and Exotica in Hoboken’s many junk shops. Prices ranged from 10 cents to a dollar. An LP had to be really special to warrant a dollar. Something like: Mario Lanza Gargles Gershwin– in Stereo.

We listened intently to the records we mined. Culling snippets of rhythm, minuscule musical phrases, and single syllables. Everything we sampled was sampled without a sampler. David was fast on the draw with our Pioneer turntable. He’d hover over a spinning platter, tone arm in hand– his other hand poised to punch the ree-cord button on our cheapie cassette deck. We had three cheapie decks. Plus a stereo amp with cheapie speakers, a good set of headphones, and a Radio Shack four channel mixer. Four tracks in, two tracks out. Layer up and do it all over again. Toss in a few guitar effect pedals (which we also used on samples and keyboards), a Roland analog micro synth/sequencer, a microphone, and me on vocals. That was our sound. Tech wise. As for the creative process–

When creating a piece we carefully assembled and structured the materials, then combined them through improvisation. We’d have a clear idea of what mood we wanted to create, how it should sound, and how the piece should generally progress. But the road was open to inspiration. Instrumentals by David and myself, together and solo, were improvised but sometimes sampled, cut-up, and recast. My vocals were fairly straight (no, no Yoko) inclining more to cocktail lounge and big band than rock. Sometimes a bit gospel. The sound of Solomonoff & Von Hoffmannstahl (in Stereo) was/is described by others with words such as Industrial, Electronic, Experimental, Sound-Collage, Noise, Art-Rock. I’ve never known how to describe it. Guess I’d just say it is what it is.

One thing I do know– we had a whole lot of fun doing it. Though being so broke was no fun. That big old railroad apartment was only heated at one end, by the kind of gas heater that even then was archaic. Up on the top floor we froze in the winter and baked in the summer. We didn’t have a stove for a year and juggled pots on a hot plate. And like I said, no phone. But hey, we always managed to scrape together enough for postage and blank cassettes. And when the no-cash blues got tough we got going. Cranking the Mini-Brute to the max and ring-modulating our cares into the international ether.

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Mondo QT

“I hear you singing in the wire, I can hear you through the whine…”

Wichita Lineman, Jimmy Webb, 1968

*So as to not clog this paragraph with links, I’m supplying contacts and/or background material re our cassette collaborators below. Haven’t been in touch with some of them for years. Apologies if I’ve missed more apropos links:

Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
Mondo QT

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