Monday, August 13, 2018

Down Memory Lane: "Master Class", the Play (1997, L.A.); A Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2018)

Down Memory Lane: "Master Class" (1997)
A play about the operatic diva, Maria Callas, performed by Ms. Faye Dunaway, 1997, Los Angeles.

(*) First appeared on August the 13th, 2018, at, under Down Memory Lane: "Master Class"....

I had to look up the exact date (June 1997) and the venue (Doolittle Theater) for this post, yet 21 years later, I find myself with vivid recollections, and a permeating fine impression, of the play, which regrettably I only saw once. Looking back, it was a privilege to be there that evening, one occasional play among the many movies and fewer concerts which I used to attend on a regular basis. No matter how many times you might have heard of or seen a seasoned performer of her class in films, the aura on the stage was captivating, riveting, disarming.

This could become another long note, but brevity may serve us better this evening.

- Special thanks to Pinterest for the clipped ad of the event.
- Read about the play on Wikipedia.

© 2018, Payman Akhlaghi. All pertinent rights reserved. (Drtaft 3)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

A Railroad Through the Oven, راه آهنی از دل تنور; Poem in Persian by Payman Akhlaghi (2017)

راه آهنی از دل تنور
 شعری از پیمان اخلاقی
(نسخۀ نخست)

(*) First published on June the 27th, 2017 at under راه آهنی از دل تنور.

تنها یک بار برای یک میلیون و سیصد هزار تن
رخ نداد.
آشویتس یک میلیون و سیصد هزار بار
برای یک میلیون و سیصد هزار تن
رخ داد،
برای تک تک آنها
که توازی خط آهن زندگیشان
از زنگار خارزار فلزی،
از حنجرۀ سگهای آدم نما
و از گداز تونل آتش گذشت.

تنها یک بار برای یک میلیون وسیصد هزار تن
رخ نداد.

اگر هنوز در دشت شقایق
امتداد زندگی تو نیز ناخواسته
از گِل آلود روزانۀ هراس،
از خشکیده خارزار تعصّب،
از تیزدندان های ذات گرگ
و از هُرمِ تنورِ ذلّت می گذرد؛
اگر چنگال های خشم شرّ،
ورای بُهت سرد خاطره،
آن سوی حِرمان آرزو،
همه را می درد؛
اگر شبانه، آوارِ سقف
جز لایه ای از خاک بر بدن،
رنگین به دلمه های سرخ سکوت،
چیزی برایت نمی گذارد؛
اگر در دل بهشت، همچنان
راهت از جهنم می گذرد —
همان آشویتس تو است.

٢٧ ژوئن ٢٠١٧، لس آنجلس

© 2017، پیمان اخلاقی. همۀ حقوق برای نویسنده محفوظ است.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Conversational: Inside the Bubble; a Short Satirical Sketch by Payman Akhlaghi (2018)

Conversational: Inside the Bubble...
A Short Satirical Sketch by Payman Akhlaghi
(2018, Draft 9)
(*) First published at on June the 29th, 2018 under Conversational: Inside the Bubble...
Faces 12.10.2017.i
Sketches, Sunday December 10th, 2018, L.A.
Pencil drawing, Photo & Digital Modification
by © 2018, Payman Akhlaghi.
- Sir Payne! Here's our next question. Do you consider yourself to be a prejudiced man?
- In certain ways, to some extent, on most all days, I'd rather tend to assent.
- And do you think your preference for such difference would be justified?
- I suppose that I'd be predisposed to arrive at an approving inclination.
- How would you handle the "base rate"?
- Well, imagine a bubble, a big bubble, a giant bubble, with a tiny me bustling around inside the bubble. I couldn't be expected reasonably to account for more than what's been available to me inside the bubble, could I?
- But wouldn't you try to broaden your sample base?
- Shall we say it's an imposed bubble. At any rate, one finds it difficult to poke its wall too hard, lest he bursts the bubble. Too risky for my comfort. You never know what's beyond the bubble. Maybe it's freezing cold out there. Would there be any oxygen?
- But as a thinker, aren't you compelled to find out what's outside the bubble?
- Inside the bubble is my "knowledge", and what's on the outside is my "ignorance". My bubble is defined mutually by both my knowledge and my ignorance. Knowledge delineates the bubble from the inside. Ignorance delimits it from the outside. One defines my bubble by affirmation, another by negation. One is the space, another the negative space. And you can see how my knowledge and ignorance necessitate one another.
- Pardon my surprise, but could you expand?!
- If I were all knowledge, I wouldn't know that I knew. If I were all ignorance, I wouldn't know that I didn't know. To know is to know that I don't know. To know that I don't know is to know that I know. Now, to expand the bubble is to serve my knowledge, but to ill serve my ignorance. To withdraw my knowledge is to serve my ignorance, but to ill serve my knowledge. This has been one epistemological paradox which I yet have to resolve. And perhaps for the better, morally speaking.
- What's the moral significance of the conflict?
- Would you want to be the one to disturb that delicate equilibrium between your knowledge and your ignorance?
- But what happens to curiosity?
- What about our sanity?
- You mean to rather Peaceful Balance even at the cost of Self-denial?!
- Not exactly. Rather to say, Change is inevitable, so why push any harder for it?
- Don't fix it if it's working...
- Ask anybody inside my bubble. They most agree with me. And I can't know of anything outside the bubble. Take Guru Menachem, for instance. He told me once that the pleasure he took from his knowledge of the knowledge of his knowledge increased exponentially every time he almost touched the boundaries of his knowledge. That couldn't be if he knew everything. He's quite fond of his ignorance.
- But if you know about your ignorance, then wouldn't your ignorance too be inside your bubble?
- That's a thrilling thought, indeed. Let's say that I know enough to know that I don't know what I may not know. I may know the outline of my ignorance but not the content of my ignorance. And now that you mentioned, I can see how my ignorance could also pop up here and there inside my bubble. Indeed, you just illuminated a most exquisite phenomenon.
- Did I?!
- You just explained excellently that fizzy air which surrounds my girlfriend, who is more or less inside my bubble. It's rather spooky. We've even merged together much of our bubbles, yet she remains a mystery...
- May I ask if I'm inside your bubble?
- To the extent that you called me and asked to meet, you've managed to percolate into my bubble. But I still can't know if there has been more than you to the outside of the bubble, Unless I take your word for it, which is not the most reliable thing to do, save we can verify your bubble. Therefore, to be succinct, indeed, you and so far only you have crawled into my bubble.
- Well, this interview is coming to an end...
- Thank you...
- ... and I shall be leaving soon without bursting your bubble.

© 2018, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved. (Draft 9)

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

If I Were a Spider: A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi (English, Persian, 2017)

Light Forms, No. 7a1
Sunday, April 3rd, 2016, ca. 18:07
Santa Monica.
© 2016, Photo and Transformation by
Payman Akhlaghi.
All rights reserved.
If I Were a Spider...
A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi
(English and Persian, 2017, Draft 2)

(*) First published at on May the 13th, 2017, under If I Were a Spider.

If I were a spider,
I'd keep weaving
A large safety web,
All over the world,
And I'd chase you
As you swung
From the blue sky,
Hopped the treetops,
Glided the clouds,
Till you got tired
At the twilight,
And dropped at last
Safely, for the night,
Into a moonlit dream...

© 2017, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.
"اگر عنکبوت بودم..."
شعری از پیمان اخلاقی
(نسخۀ دوم)

اگر عنکبوت بودم
می رفتم و می بافتم
تار امنی به وسعت دنیا،
همه جا دوان پی تو،
که از آسمان آبی
تاب می خوردی،
بر نوک درختان می پریدی
یا بر فرش ابرها
می خرامیدی،
تا دم غروب
که خسته می شدی
و سرانجام، بی دغدغه
در سبد تار من می افتادی:
آرامِ شبی دیگر
در رؤیایی روشن از مهتاب...

© 2017، شعری از پیمان اخلاقی. همۀ حقوق محفوظ است. (بازنویسی دوم)

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Drama and Politics: Rhetoric and Truth; An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2016)

Drama & Politics: Rhetoric & Truth
An Essay By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 2)

(*) First Published on Sunday, July 17, 2016, at, under Drama and Politics: Rhetoric and Truth.

Showmanship has a place: the stage, the context of the arts. In its proper place, it can help reveal the truth. Misplaced, it could fool the minds and distort judgment.

Showmanship has power: never underestimate it. The ancient Greeks knew it, when they spoke of Rhetoric. The Nazis knew it, when they put to use their brand of modern Political Propaganda. Every architect knows it when they build a high edifice. Every child shows it who likes a topic taught by an interesting teacher. We are feeble beings. The most rational person pays more attention when a subject is presented more attractively. A piece of stone feels more valuable when it's secured on a dazzling display. Modern psychologists warn us on the impact of non-rational factors on feelings, mood, memory, thought, perception, and judgment.

You can't fault those who wish to harness such power of persuasion beyond the arts, in business, in relations, in politics. You can't blame those who like to offer their skills of persuasion to such purposes, in words, sounds, or images. You can equip yourself with a knowledge of such influences, to enhance your pleasures as much as to discern and protect yourself against sweetened lies. You can also hope for more facts and truths to be offered with a more pleasant face. At any rate, beware: attraction signals potentially subtle influences, and your soundest argument may turn out to be a mere after-the-fact justification for some induced thought.

As an artist and art-lover, I revel in the power of music, drama, words, colors, and cinema. Yet, as a thinking man, I also wish my thoughts and arguments to have roots in the reality, in the context  of a sound intellect, independent of the persuasions of the mood. Thus, I've found it imperative to try and be aware of the suggestive powers of the environment and the arts as much as I may enjoy and benefit from those effects.

To understand the enormity of the topic, I consider two films to be seen side by side. First, I think of the German director Leni Riefenstahl's dramatized documentary, "The Triumph of the Will" (Triumph des Willens, 1935), and I contemplate what followed in its aftermath. Made on a commission, the film comes across as a elf-conscious attempt at exploiting the modern forms of rhetoric to advance a political agenda. I also urge the reader to watch Charles Chaplin's responsible satire, "The Great Dictator" (1940), which I strongly suspect was developed primarily as a parody of the said German film. If you know cinema, the final moving speech feels somewhat redundant, if not superfluous, so powerful has been the preceding humor in shattering the totalitarian propaganda and promoting a humane vision of humanity.

(*) Notes:

I first learned of Riefenstahl's film as a teenager from the Iranian TV program on cinema, "Aan Roo-ye Sekkeh" (The Other Side of the Coin), to my recollection, written and presented by Ebrahim Makki. About that time, I also saw excerpts of Chaplin's Great Dictator on the Iranian TV, if not necessarily on the same program. Finding to see both films in recent months was a sure study merely postponed. I write this especially to highlight the significance of a sophisticated art culture to modern society. The recent developments in Iran were not an accident.

© 2016, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Self-Promotion: Piano Lessons & Live Piano by Payman Akhlaghi (2016, LA)

Payman Akhlaghi
Piano Lessons & Live Piano
2016 Flyer

Piano Lessons at Your Home
Payman Akhlaghi
Composer, Pianist, Tutor
MA, BA in Composition (ABD)

Near Three Decades of Experience in Private Instruction
Classical • Pop • Persian • Jewish Music
Ear-Training • Music Theory • Composition
Most Ages & Levels
Many L.A. Neighborhoods

Covering Many Areas of the Greater Los Angeles, Including West L.A.,
Santa Monica, Brentwood, Westwood, Beverly Hills, Encino & More.

 Special Rates Available Where Conditions Permit 

Lessons at Home • Live Piano at Your Events 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Amoroso, T4, Improvisation by Composer-Pianist Payman Akhlaghi (2016, Short Excerpt)

Amoroso, T4, Improvisation by Payman Akhlaghi

Amoroso, T4, a short excerpt of improvisation in the lyrical pop style,
by composer-pianist, Payman Akhlaghi (پیمان اخلاقی).
Saturday night, January 16th, 2016, digital instrument.
© 2016, Music & Video by Payman Akhlaghi. All pertinent rights reserved.
گزیده ای کوتاه از بداهه نوازی پیمان اخلاقی، آهنگساز و نوازندۀ پیانو، مقیم لس آنجلس.ـִ
© 2016، موسیقی و فیلم از پیمان اخلاقی. همۀ حقوق محفوظ است.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Solipsism, Micromanaging the Minds & The Necessary Compromise; A Personal Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Solipsism, Micromanaging the Minds & The Necessary Compromise
A Personal Essay in Three Parts by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Part I: Solipsism in Our Time (Draft 2)
(*) Part I was published first on June 12th, 2015, at, revised under Thinking Today: Solipsism in Our Time.

Solipsism goes beyond purely intellectual pursuits as a primarily epistemological concern when one rethinks a fully "personalized" world, i.e. the increasing possibility of "invisible virtual prisons." If so, progress is stifled, as the dispersion of knowledge in respect to information, itself deemed as property, will depend less on meritorious authority and natural curiosity than on the whims and interests of real or virtual entities in control. Hence, a most crucial element of true knowledge, the humbling awareness of the unknown, can be lost to the delusional mask of absolute certainty of our knowledge. As a poet said, "Not to know, and not to know that we don't know." Contained curiosity is led to play within a predefined field, to assure safe action in a blissful state of self-satisfaction. Knowledge confined and fully individualized, renders breakthrough imagination and independent creativity some rather dim and remote possibilities.
(Revised; Original via TXT.)

Part II: Micromanaging the Minds (Draft 1)
(*) Part II was first published on June 20th, 2015, at, under Reflections on Life: Micromanaging the Minds.

I step back and feel excited again to be living in the digital age, a time of flowing information, an age that promises every individual in principle to learn what they can, and express themselves for their voice to be heard. I also pause and contemplate the dangerous possibility of the illusion of an independent mind when in fact it's been guided deliberately to conform with ideas otherwise alien to its natural life, innate interests, private processes, and reasonable conclusions.

Even as enormous amounts of data are being collected on individuals based on their online and offline activity, personal and professional, we may expect to see "prediction, projection, and suggestion" to step over into "guided, defined and predetermined destinies" to an unprecedented degree. At its absolute form, for any given person around the globe, the Web, and by extension, the World, may become as large or small as what say a robotic software would permit it to be for that person. I am reminded of the excellent "Minority Report", in which among many futuristic visions, billboards change as the character of Tom Cruise approaches them in order to fit his profile. That remote possibility is now a plausible reality. Basic filters on your digital devices or on virtual accounts, or a given tag on your physical identity, could largely open, modify, or block the total information that can reach you, thus artificially defining your environment, or rather, the extent of your knowable world. Thence, it's only natural to presume that your reflections, conclusions, and emotions, could as equally be controlled by such basic and seemingly negligible means.

I am no fool to assume myself the first person to ponder this possibility. Long before, Orwell explored a form of totalitarian manipulation of personalities in "1984". More recently, filmmakers went as far as depicting a means to control audiences literally by radiation in one Batman episode. But what I am surprised  to see is how probable such sci-fi nightmares have become, and how ironic is the situation. One aims for "independence" and "individuality" by avoiding non-selective and conformist forms of mass communication, only to become a ready candidate for a fully targeted even if well-meant stream of information. Furthermore, as I "shop", or as I "meet someone finally in person", that is, as I translate a virtual entity into a corporeal reality, the distinction between the virtual and the real begins to erode. At the end, as the data is accumulated and put to use, "happenstance" becomes less of an "accident", even if the casual chain with a "consciousness" may remain hidden to us.

Increasingly, people relate to each other via virtual means. One funny image is the sight of children and parents reaching each other at the dinner table via their smart phones. At its most extreme, it's plausible to imagine us communicate to ourselves via some digital medium, a phenomenon that shares in essence with the historic pen and paper, but differs radically in its wider degree of mediation. This alone opens the possibility to intercept the very thought process as it's taking place, and hence, to guide it by manipulating its environment to arrive at desired conclusions. It also allows for a channel to direct passive thoughts, shape interests, trigger emotions, and generate behavior otherwise alien to the gestalt of the person. It would have been comforting if scientists, philosophers, journalists, and other intellectuals, were immune to such interfering influences; but I doubt if even the most intelligent of people could be fully aware of such bias when alone in the company of their laptops.

Influence and confluence are necessity components of collective progress. The present state at its best could continue to be a unique opportunity for "synergy" among the best. Yet if it loses its liberal character, if it's guided by some "intention", the outcome would be far from what those members intended.

I began this note with an appreciation of the medium, and I end it on the same point. I only remind myself that as it was the case with any new invention, we had to learn to distinguish between its uses and abuses, and we learned to choose to benefit from its gifts rather than be harmed by its damaging consequences.

Part III: The Necessary Compromise 
(*) Part III was published first on September 28th, 2015, at, revised under A Page From My Life: The Necessary Compromise.

I was kept off of the Web for a few days too many due to technical issues. Tedious details aside, the message was clear: without the digital connection, at least in principle, I could be fully cut off from the world. Someone with just enough knowledge and access could easily detach, isolate, and demobilize me, if temporarily, but just enough to inflict potentially lasting damage. I could be rendered silent in the blink of an eye. And I live at the middle of a big city.

It is not a joke. I think of all the people scattered in the small towns and laid-out villages. How easily their environments could be shut down by accidents, if not manipulated by the most absurd of beings. One gets a new appreciation of the lives of the pioneers and frontier men and women, with their big hearts and wills. How did they keep up with the world remains a mystery. I remain aware of the potential for a "virtual cage", but I am also alarmed of the "merciless cage", beyond and in the absence of the virtual. Last window closed. Good luck Mr. Crusoe.

For now, I think I have failed badly in providing myself with general buffers and parallel solutions. That wouldn't necessarily mean more high-tech equipment. Maybe it's about time to invest in a few pigeons, a portable smoking furnace, a few loud and clear Shofars, some papyrus and clay plates, and definitely a mule, in case some day my car won't oblige, too.

(*) The above compilation in whole and in parts was an original Note.
(*) The author is a musician by inclination and education.
© 2015, Parts I, II, III, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

On Bergman's "Persona" of 1966; A Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

On Bergman's "Persona" (1966)
An Essay by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 2, Extended)

(*) First published on June the 2nd, 2015, at, under Notes on Cinema: Bergman's "Persona" (1966). Draft 1 available upon request.

This past weekend, May 2015, I returned to Bergman's Persona after about ten years since my first viewing. Back then I was exploring his many films quite rapidly, quenching a long-awaited thirst, aware that I would come back to them over the years. Persona was the most different of them all: a complex non-linear narrative, deliberately fast-paced, enigmatic, intriguing, stirring. I was smitten, yet humbled, for I also couldn't say at all that "I got it" -- rather rare for me. This time around, what an utterly fulfilling experience it was. It's a strange pleasure to try and relate to, and appreciate, this film close to its own ground; although my own understanding of it will likely continue to progress and change over time, and with each new viewing, not the least due to the decided ambiguity embedded in the work.

For now, and to initiate our relation, let's emphasize its "dream logic", which reminds me most of the later film by Tarkovsky, the enigmatic auto-biographical "Mirror" (1975), as well as the many experiments in narrative and montage in several films by Godard, as well as Bunuel, among the classics. For Bergman, however, the "surface anarchy of a dream", or the visions produced in a distraught psychological state, are already organized structurally, starting with the script, followed through each move and cut, and ending on the final edit, underscored with the sound effects and the outstanding avant-garde music by Lars Johan Werle, which evokes the better known Penderecki.

I allow readily that others might have offered alternative readings of this film. For now, allow for mine: the plot does yield to a common reading -- an actress in treatment, spending time alone in a beach-house retreat, alongside a nurse. But given many cues, both verbal and visual, it also compels us to understand the story on other layers -- most saliently, to borrow from the film, the break-up of a "person" into the true "I" inside and the outward "persona", perhaps due to the shock of a loss (of the son), but furthermore, as a fundamental element taken for granted in the art of "acting". The dialectics of these two sides of a single person, the dissociation and re-composition of her character structure, is projected on the interactions of the two lead characters and into their relation to those outside their bondage -- the husband, a doctor, and the (apparently) lost son. To see the "story" as such, as an animated representation of the structure of the mind, whether healthy or in distress, and to understand this mind as being that of the leading role played by Ms. Ullmann,  allows for interpreting the interim story of the two women within a pair of large parentheses, as a prolonged dream sequence with a straightforward narrative, punctuated on several spots with decidedly symbolic dream-like interludes. Still, as the film concludes on the image of "the actress back at her job", with an expressive look reaching us through the make up, a larger encompassing parentheses is closed -- the film itself was a story, a dream, whether the dream of a woman, or a prolonged contemplation on a moment in the life and mind of an actress in her role.

Note that the verbal cues that I evidently paraphrased from the film act merely as explications to the succinct visual seeds that were already planted in the highly enigmatic and influential opening montage. Recall the scratchy footage and count down digits, which emphasize that after all, it's "a film", a means to create a "critical distance" for the audience. Remember the morgue, the lifeless bodies of the elderly, the dead adolescent boy that comes to life, reaches for an invisible wall, and lets us see what he sees: the faces of two women, that of Ms. Ullmann and Ms. Andersson, replacing each other, "morphing" into one another. What follows, in a way, is thus the world of the living from the perspective of a beloved gone too soon, yet another potent level of interpretation.

I was specially struck in this viewing by how musical is the rhythm with which the camera and the actors are choreographed. For instance, at some point, though with much fluid fluctuation, events within the shot or the cuts are triggered roughly on a basic 4-beat duration at more or less MM=c.60, an inner tempo which is largely reiterated by the regulated sound of raindrops, when Bibi Andersson's character stops to read a disturbing letter in her car. Notice that I deliberately avoid the mention of "seconds" in favor of a musical tempo, as the work relies on a more subjective sense of time than the standard clock would suggest. Other sequences, I speculate, could be measured for their inner rhythm accordingly with considrable success. The music, the score itself, often made of string chromatic clusters, dissonance contrapuntal inflections, extended glissandi, and percussive attacks, naturally responds to the director's rhythm -- unless the relation was reversed for the production, and the film was cut to the music, as say, Kubrick did to Penderecki and Bartok in The Shining.

Far from a final note on the film, this was meant as an appreciation, and as an introduction to further discussion of the film. Besides the DVD, the film is currently offered by Criterion Collection on Hulu.

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved. Revised.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Joan's Ageless Spirit: On Bresson's 1962 Trial of Joan of Arc; An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Joan's Ageless Spirit: On Bresson's 1962 Trial of Joan of Arc
An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015, Draft 2)
[A revision of this post is in preparation which will expand on some themes, and clarify certain ambiguities.]
(*) First published on Monday, May the 25th, 2015, on, under Joan's Ageless Spirit: On Bresson's 1962 Trial of Joan of Arc.

"Procés de Jeanne d'Arc"(*)
(1962, French, BW, 64 mins)
"The Trial of Joan of Arc"
Writen & Directed by Robert Bresson
Music by Francis Seyrig

It's hard to exaggerate the purity, beauty, sophisticated simplicity, and insights of  "The Trial of Joan of Arc", Robert Bresson's deliberately modest film of 1962. In straight terms, the extraordinarily powerful image that ends the movie, a prolonged meditation on the burnt stake from which the body has vanished, by itself justifies an attentive viewing of what has preceded the epilogue. Bresson, as he writes toward the beginning, attempted to approach historical veracity by relying on extant transcripts from both the trial of 1431 and the "rehabilitation" testimonies 25 years after Joan's brutal execution. He also seems to have furthered aimed for authenticity and enhanced "truth" by casting non-professionals to act in the roles. Whatever one's reserves regarding the amateur feel of inexperienced actors, at the end, one is indeed left with a striking sense of the "truth" of the events that took place centuries ago, via the eyes of the artist.

Visually, if in "Pickpocket" Bresson follows the movements of the hands -- as Dr. Babak Ahmadi noted in his 1987 book in Persian(**) -- here, beginning with the opening images, he systemically traces the movements of the feet and the legs, as a consistently recurring stylistic and conceptual element throughout. On another note, there's an emphasis on the torturous tedium of the mock trials before the bishop, yet each return to the almost same frames and positions, day after day, is uniquely enhanced by the meticulous arrangement of the tableau in the background, composed mainly of men in "white" or "dark" robes, standing still before the grey stone walls. Each body is carefully oriented, and each look in the eye is directed to maximize the composition. Expressions, whether subdued or fluidly projected, remain unique and honest to most each face of the characters.

Aurally, the mob outside is primarily suggested by off-screen crowd noise and occasional shouts; while the distinction between English and French is used to enhance the political complexity of Joan's perilous situation. Dramatically, the dangers of the proceedings are often framed in very few words in scenes that punctuate the many appearances before the judges. Musically, the minimal use of tenor drum rolls and an occasional brass melody, scant and rare, has further underscored the cold solitude of the atmosphere, while the instrumentation suggests the militarist shadow that looms over and drives a quasi-ideological interrogation.

Bresson's vision of the tragedy unfolds in no sentimental or demagogic terms. This is a solemn reflection on not only a catastrophic moment and unspeakable cruelty in social history, but on the timeless fragility of innocence and freedom of thought in the face of powers far greater than an individual, which are yet threatened by her mere dissent at their foundation. The director's screenplay and presentation, with their recurring scenes and extended conclusion, read as a poem with refrains, while the tranquil tone of this realization renders the impact of the tragedy the more chilling and lasting on the audience. Furthermore, admitting a musician's bias, one can't help notice the decided resemblance of the structure of the screenplay to a "theme and variation" form, with a prelude (the recitation of Joan's mother's letter in her defense), the theme and progressive rondo variations (several appearances before the interrogators, followed by images of her solitude), codettas (the closing remarks for each scene) and a coda (the walk and the execution). As such, I find the film highly poetic and deeply musical.

In conclusion, we would be wrong, regardless of our ideological positions or creeds, to impose our hard-earned contemporary views about "religious vision or inspiration" on the story off Joan of Arc, if we could imagine for a moment that she did not suffer for them as horribly as she did. It would be equally wrong to take our heartfelt interest in her story as an approval of the content of her beliefs, as if to unearth and relive by some medieval worldview.

To be sure, on a larger scale, one may read Joan's tragedy in terms of naive religious superstition, psychological anomalies, or innocent if stubborn fanaticism, on the one hand, against a tremendously cruel and dogmatic religious, political and economic hypocrisy, which claims to unravel the falsehood of her claims, on the other. But that would be to miss and misunderstand the timeless dramatic, philosophical, and intellectual import of the story, and to reduce it unjustly within some accepted stereotypes. Here's a 19-year old young woman, who stands for what she believes in, who's pressured to recant her position by a powerful hypocrisy that allows her no room in the world, and who suffers immeasurable cruelty for her persistence and innocence. That alone far overshadows even the religious and patriotic militant side to her life that precedes the trial. Hers is a suffering empathized virtually by everyone.

Thence, Joan's story especially as told by Bresson maintains a broad appeal as much to the faithful as to the secular and to the atheist. Read whichever way, there's not doubt about the religio-political officials as the heavies of the story. From the standpoint of individual judgment, conscience, self-esteem, human dignity, and basic liberties, among the necessary components of our ethical existence, the content of Joan's beliefs, whether "right or wrong", whether  "true or false" in our eyes, take a far less significant position than her honest insistence on the truth of what she believes in. Hence, surface differences disappear, and her story emerges to share in essence with those of Socrates, Giordano Bruno, Galileo, Spinoza, Robert Bolt's vision of Sir Thomas More, and every other thinker and visionary who was once pressed to deny their conscience, and who became a victim of ideological, religious, and political persecution. And there lies the secret of Joan's ageless spirit.

(*) The film is currently made available on Hulu by the Criterion Collection.
(**) The title of the book referenced may be translated as "The Wind Blows Wherever It Wishes" (1st ed.), Ahmadi, Dr. Babak; Persian, Tehran, ca. 1987.

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The Raccoon On the Street: A Poem by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

Sunset at Santa Monica Pier, No.2
April 26, 2015, 19:45
© 2015, Original and Digitally Modified
Versions by  Payman Akhlaghi.
The Raccoon On the Street
A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at on May the 7th, 2015, under The Raccoon On the Street: A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi.

The moonlight flows
On the pitched roads,
When a hunched silhouette,
Tugging his thick fluffy tail,
Scuttles the sidewalk,
Pauses to examine the risks,
Scurries, ever cautious,
Across the four-lane void
Of Western at the 6th.

The lonely raccoon on the street,
Wanders the dormant wilderness
Of a quiet urban night.
How well he acquired
The ways of the city!
How well he knows
His way about the town!
Has he seen the forest,
What lay on the outside
Of the bustling metropolis?

The lonely raccoon,
Though familiar,
Ever the stranger,
Knows comfort not, but he
Knows fear, for he stares,
Knows hunger, for he scours,
Knows hope, for he lives.

Far from the sung of
The uncertain woods,
He has adopted
The smog and the trash,
The cement and the honks,
The poles and the trees,
As home away from home,
Tying all hopes, fate, trust,
To the scattered kindness
Of random strangers,
To the gentle caress of
The cool midnight breeze...

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Polymeters & Polyrhythms: An Analytic Musical Approach; 2015, Payman Akhlaghi

Polymeters & Polyrhythms: An Analytic Musical Approach
An Original Post by Payman Akhlaghi
© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) The present post is meant as an illustrated work in progress. New ratios will be prepared and added over time. They constitute the core of a lecture presentation.
(*) The first three images were published for the first time at the following sites:, and  My Public Page on Facebook.

4:3 & 3:4
Click on image for larger view.
Click on image for larger view.

Click on image for larger view.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Karol Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez; A Note on Music by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez 
A Note on Music by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 3)

(*) First published at on January 19th, 2015, under Memo on Music: Szymanowski, Love Songs, and Hafez.

For long, I have heard about Karol Szymanowski (1882-1937), the Polish composer of the first order, far more than I have heard him. Polish-born American pianist Arthur Rubinstein in his biography referred to him as one of his favorite composers. One of my own professors considers him "Scriabin, Part 2". I understand that for his compatriots, he's been the true heir to Chopin at least in historical, nationalistic and cultural terms. I still wish to find the opportunity and give him my undivided attention. For now, I won't miss chance encounters.

The other night (01.17.2015), thanks to Mr. Alan Chapman of KUSC, I learned of Szymanowski's Op. 31, "Songs of a Fairy Tale Princess", the three of which were orchestrated by the composer himself. In their melodic, harmonic and timbral sensitivity, they struck me as the precursors of Lutoslawski's "Chantefleurs et Chantefables", also Polish, which I had the pleasure of hearing live a few years ago. Following up, I learned that Szymanowski's song cycles Opp. 24 and 26 were musical settings of "Love Poems of Hafiz", as much of them as had arrived in Polish, apparently from a German translation based on Arabic texts. I decided that my hitherto scant knowledge of his music shouldn't hold me back from at the least introducing them on my personal page. I don't know the words, but starting with the orchestral versions of Op. 26, they sound remarkable, evocative, and beautiful. I hope you'll enjoy them as much as I do.
-- Payman Akhlaghi

(*) Szymanowski, Love Songs of Hafiz, Op. 26, for Voice and Orchestra
- Part 1 of 2:
- Part 2 of 2:
(*) Szymanowski, Love Songs of Hafiz Op. 24, for voice and piano:
(*) Szymanowski, Songs of a Fairy-tale Princess, Op. 31, Nos. 1-3, orchestrated by the composer:

P.S. 01.20.2015.
I learned from Wikipedia, Works of Szymanowski, that Op. 26, for voice and orchestra, Nos. 6-7-8, are orchestral settings of 3 from Op. 24, which had been for voice and piano. The orchestral links above to Op. 26, however, start out with No.1 of Op. 24, "Desires" (normally, No. 6 of Op. 26), and end with No. 1 of 26, "The Tomb of Hafez", which does make more sense to me. So far, I have seen a partial score of the Op. 26 on IMSLP, the piano reduction, which bears a Posthumous (after death) notice. It's rather confusing; and the performers might have swapped things around, for the recording, in good taste. Just enjoy the music. -- P.A.

-- © 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Two Snippets on Film: Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities"; Reviews by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities"
A Note on Cinema by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 7; Revised)

(*) First published at on January 18th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: Rossellini's "Stromboli" and Wenders's "Alice in the Cities.

1) "Stromboli: Terra di Dio" (1950, 94 mins, Italian), directed by Roberto Rossellini, with music by his brother Renzo, and featuring his wife, Ingrid Bergman, whose skill and presence combines with, and rises above, an attractive, ubiquitous, but at times overbearing orchestral score. That is not to undermine the music, which from the opening frames sets an epic tone for the drama, even for its private side, and often succeeds in delineating the psychological turmoils of an expressive face in her silence and loneliness. The music of Stromboli thus acts as a character in itself, asserting its presence operatically, sometimes as the narrator, at other times as the narrative of a soul, but mostly as the voice of an ever-present colossal background, the earth, the ocean, the mountains, a volcano about to erupt, an awesome nature at large, and the harsh destiny that ensues.

The last 35 mins of the film, composed of three major sequences, a massive fishing episode, a volcanic eruption, and an escape alone through a smoking mountain, is riveting, It reminds me of "Man of Aran", charged with a convincing drama about the traps of unhappy marriage and cultural contrasts, combined with a touch of spirituality or religion in the face of nature's massive wrath, or rather, under the burdens of life. Be warned that animals are actually harmed during the fishing sequence shot in a documentary style.

2) "Alice in the Cities" (1974, about 110 mins, German) is directed by Wim Wenders. It's a rare study and an alarming appreciation of the fragile fate of children in modern urban life of the 70's. It's also a refreshing example of an almost paternal and utterly decent love and protection afforded to a child by a non-father. The film goes to show that about 10 years before "Wings of Desire", the director had already much mastered his craft, and had surely found his favorite topic: a dramatic narrative as much served by rapidly changing locations as it's serving them, in this case, American landscape, New York, Amsterdam, and several cities in Germany. Knowing that Wings of Desire originated as a film about the city of Berlin, I wonder if the trip itself was not the main reason for this earlier film, as well. In retrospect, I'm inclined to think that "Paris, Texas" of 1984 somewhat appears as a sequel to Alice.

(*) "Stromboli" is distributed by the Criterion Collection. Both films currently available on Hulu.

© 2015, Payman Akhlaghi. This is an original memo. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Film Review: Jean Renoir's "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (1932); An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Memo on Cinema: "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (Jean Renoir, 1932)
An Essay By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 3)

(*) First published at on January 15th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (Jean Renoir, 1932).

Jean Renoir was a master of character study and human nature, but in particular, an expert in the finest nuances of the aristocracy and the rising bourgeoisie, their contradictions, mores, and morals -- as a single viewing of his 1932 film "Boudu Saved From Drowning"  would attest. (Boudu sauvé des eaux; French; ca. 85 mins.) The precision of his behavioral observations and the succinctness of his language could rival those of Hitchcock and Fritz Lang; the fluidity of his character development and final rendition might at times surpass them both.

Five years before "The Grand Illusion" and seven years before "Rules of the Game", "Boudu..." bears for me many elements of Renoir's mature style: a smoothly developing script, in this case adapted from a play; a delicate balance between the words and images, with traces of both the theater and the silent film vocabulary; the seeds of his later "montage within the frame" via the performance, with minimal or no camera movements; experiments with montage and perspective(§);  the casual lingering of the words and action into a fade out to end a scene, a unique touch of this director; subtlety and sophistication of the humor; a rather straightforward sexuality depicted with self-restraint; and a fine ear for the music, mostly diegetic (source music) -- whether it's an orchestral song to set the tone of the film over the opening credits (non-diegetic), or a solo flute played by a neighbor, a piano played by amateur fingers, a street organ played on the pavement, a marching band gathered on the street, or an ensemble in the park, playing an arrangement of the Blue Danube Waltz toward the end of the film.(±)

Thematically, the farce develops out of a psychological study of a small middle-class family cell, whose feeble order is disturbed when they save and adopt a desperate homeless man with badly underdeveloped mind and manners. It's clear, however, that the setting is meant as a microcosm of the contemporary society at large. And yet, a short enigmatic prelude introduced by the card "Boudu" offers more interpretive possibilities, as it blurs established class and persona distinctions to reveal the underlying natures of the personalities that are likely hidden to themselves.

The prelude is a theatrical silent scene of love between Lestingois and his maid, dressed in a mythological costumes -- a Faun and a Nymph -- which then dissolves into a confession of the love affair between the married shopkeeper and the maid, in their modern settings. The strong association of the mythological element with the sound of flute -- a probable reference to Debussy's "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" -- is consistently reminded throughout the film as a neighbor practices his instrument at various hours. It's safe to presume that Boudu -- likely short for "bon dieu!", i.e. "good God!" -- notwithstanding their many differences, is offered as the untamed, unrefined, uncultured aspect of Lestingois, that is, his suppressed libidinous Id, which for awhile comes to the surface of his conscious life and personality to stir and reinvigorate a long settled ennui. At the same time, on the macro level, the solidity of the line drawn between the bourgeoisie and lower classes is brought into question.

Through the laughs, sympathetic sighs, and its many surprises, we may ask whether human nature is indeed more malleable or flexible than suggested by the surface of the story; or that Renoir and his playwright René Fauchois are right in their elitist aristocratic judgment of the classes, and personas; that a "bum" with fine clothes and a bulk of money is still a "bum" -- or that at the least, his old habits may die hard; that the bourgeoisie of the time, as genuinely kind and cultured as they come in the film, suffered from a hypocrisy rooted in values, norms and habits which contradicted the human nature, and at any rate, their social setting. Whatever our answers, they won't take away from the convincing and coherent drama at hand; from its deep optimism about, human goodness, innocence, and naivete; and from its appreciation of the more fundamental elements of human condition.

(§) I cite two salient examples of such early experiments with montage. Lestingois first spots Boudu about to commit suicide via a telescope he usually holds to peep on women from the window of his house. The camera pans and follows Boudu from afar until he jumps off of the bridge. The sense of distance from the action intensifies Lesingois's desire to help and foments the ensuing bond between the two men more convincingly.

Second, a carefully planned scene warrants attention (ca. min. 38), when a track shot follows the maid from the breakfast table toward the kitchen. We follow her afar from the other wing of the house, and we approach her through an opposing window across the patio. The camera then jumps to behind her, as she calls out to a neighbor on the ground for a match box. Instead of a now customary subjective view shot, we jump downstairs to see the elderly neighbor through a window, looking up at the maid, but in the wrong direction, left to right. Thus, an otherwise most clear definition of the spatial relations of the house is summarily disrupted; and this author finds the disorientation too curious and interesting to dismiss it as a mere slip by the master filmmaker.

(±) The music is credited as follows:
Générique, Danube bleu, Fin: Rafaël; Flute: J. Bouze; Orphéon: Edouard Dumoulin.

(*) "Boudu Saved From Drowning" is released by the Criterion Collection, and it's currently available on Hulu.
(*) Some dates, names and titles were checked against IMDB and Wikipedia.
(*) The author is a musician by inclination and education.
(*) The above was an original commentary.
(*) On my weblog:

© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Freedom of Expression, Means and Context; A Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2015)

Memo: Freedom of Expression, Means and Context
An Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at on 01.09.2015 under Memo: Freedom of Expression, Means and Context.

Freedom of expression is not only about being free to express myself, but also about the means of expression, the subjective truth of the expression, the context of expression, and to the extent possible, the foreseeable contingencies of its interpretation. It's about saying -- writing, drawing, singing, making, presenting, posting, commenting, behaving, etc. -- what and how I wish to, freely, honestly, clearly, with my audience in mind, and without hindering the freedom of others to do the same.

As such, freedom of expression starts with life and continues to reinforce its flourishing. Freedom of expression would be self-negating if your expression prevents his or her fair chance of expressing themselves. Censor on the one hand, and violent response on the other, in their various forms and degrees, are the two extremes of violations of the freedom of expression. Censor can find many forms: a crowd mobilized to intimidate, ostracize, and silence a voice; a regulation, almost invariably arbitrary, to strain the freedoms of authors, artists, thinkers, scientists, scholars, or any other civil person for that matter, in freely expressing themselves in their non-aggressive means; imposing the wills of a tyrannical oppression; aggressive and intrusive means of expression that would deprive others of their chances to express themselves, or to exercise their right to refuse; bullying; vandalism; and that extreme and primitive form of response, that is, acts of violence and savagery against the persons expressing themselves. The list continues.

Freedom of expression is about carrying out a civil conversation on both the small and large scales without resorting to fists and clubs to settle the arguments. To that end, you don't need to agree with what's being said; but you can neither censor, nor intimidate, nor bring harm to others, because of your disagreement. And as the countless lonely voices through history have proven time after time, this is one place where "the wisdom of the crowd" does not apply, for too often it has been that very single voice that would prove to be right, though often after a long while.

(*) I was ruminating, and enumerating, the above points especially for the past few days, when I came across the following timely, erudite, comprehensive, and fairly argued recent column by Mr. Albert Brooks of NY Times. I naturally share several of his convictions; and reading it further helped focus this essay, particularly in regards to the element of context.
"I Am Not Charlie Hebdo", Albert Brooks, 01.08.2015,

© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

On Film, Humor and Freedom of Expression: "Zéro de Conduite" (1933); An Original Memo by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

Memo on Cinema: "Zéro de Conduite"
(Zero for Conduct, French, 1933)
On Film, Humor and Freedom of Expression
By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at on January 7th, 2015, under Memo on Cinema: "Zéro de Conduite" (French, 1933).

Hannah Arendt said it best that, the surest way to undermine authority was laughter,[1] -- and who would know that better than the tyrant himself?

Thanks to Claudia Gorbman [2], I learned of a short 1933 French film, which I managed to see a few nights ago. Briefly put, "Zero for Conduct", directed by Jean Vigo, with music by Maurice Jaubert, is about a boarding school, its strict discipline, and the young students' growing defiance of it. It's a succinct and deeply poetic study of the impact of power and our natural desire for freedom that was made right between the two world wars. It's a microcosm of some larger social processes -- strict environments, rebellion, anarchy, tolerance, change -- and yet, in its method, and in its totality, about the joys of life, sympathy, and the power of humor. At the end, it's about childhood, and about the children in all of us. It's a delicious gem of the early cinema, a small film about the big picture.

The film was focused on extensively for its music by Ms. Gorbman in her book. I share it however for both the film, and the music.

(Zero for Conduct: Little Devils at School)
(French, 1933, ca. 41 mins)
Directed by Jean Vigo; Music by Maurice Jaubert 

[1] "To remain in authority requires respect for the person or the office. The greatest enemy of authority, therefore, is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter." -- Hannah Arendt, "On Violence", 1969.

[2] "Unheard Melodies: Narrative Film Music", Claudia Gorbman, 1987. I specially thank Prof. Robert Fink of UCLA for introducing me to the book, which further informed my doctorate studies. [Currently ABD] The book has remained surprisingly out of print. (Sic!)

(*) Two of my earlier original posts on humor and freedom of expression:

- Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro: An Original Essay by Payman Akhalghi.
- Freedom of Expression in Films: A short list with my original commentary, on Facebook.

© 2015, Payman Akhalghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Beethoven Virus (2008): Classical Music in TV Dramas; TV Film Review by Payman Akhalghi (2015)

"Beethoven Virus" (2008): Classical Music in TV Dramas
Film & TV Review by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published as a FotoNote at on January 5th, 2015, under "Memo: "Beethoven Virus" & Classical Music in TV Dramas

It's a delight to come across a popular TV production wherein human decency, sophisticated arguments, beautiful sentiments, culture, and striving for excellence, are intrinsic to its themes, and are consistently interwoven into its fabric. It would be a rare delight if this production were a series that revolved around a group of classical musicians, their personal, professional and social lives, who tried their best to make and share music in a small aspiring city. "Beethoven Virus", a 2008 South Korean melodrama in 18 episodes, is often such a rare delight, even as this author does not know the language and had to rely on the subtitles.(*)

The many merits of "Beethoven Virus" may easily convince the viewer overlook its many typecasts and overworked dramatic formulae, rather typical of the genre at large. The musical information is precise, down to the detail, suggesting serious "insider" involvement at the core of the production. The soundtrack is satisfying, the more so, because of the evident budgetary limitations. Despite all odds, the main theme of the series, with its touching romantic spirit, succeeds to withstand the many excellent classical excerpts.

The cast is often young, attractive, and clearly skilled in music. A love of high culture permeates its often modest air. At its best moments, emotional tension systemically avoids degrading into banal resolutions, and the anguish that the central characters endure in their relations, deemed and understood as the inevitable price of their truth, comes across as convincing. The myths and spirits of classical figures, from composers Beethoven and Mozart, to conductors Kleiber and Celibidache, have informed many facets of the drama, characters, their persona, attitudes and behavior. Yet, in its affection for art music, but also in its desire to reach the larger population, through the everyday language and the humane touch of its characters, with their virtues and modest vices, in their strengths and weaknesses, the series has further the viable potential to indeed encourage its audience to appreciate, support, even pursue high music.

To conclude, as a popular TV series, "Beethoven Virus" surely deserves to benefit from the impeccable technical sophistication of a Hollywood production in an English adaptation, which I am inclined to believe will prove more plausible than it might appear at this moment.

(*) The series distributed by MBC, is currently offered on
(*) Photo: The promotional cover of the DVD, available on the Internet.

© 2015, Original Review by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Impossible Alchemy, a Love Poem by Payman Akhlaghi (2013, English, Persian); کیمیای ناممکن، شعری از پیمان اخلاقی

Impossible Alchemy
A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi
(نسخۀ فارسی در پایین)
(*) First published at on December 7th, 2013, under Impossible Alchemy.

Impossible alchemy,
This eruption of laughter,
Rising from the fear,
The reviving gleam that buds
At the tip of despair's twig,
The tender sigh that blooms
Amidst dire anguish.

Impossible alchemy,
This metamorphosis of
A hardened slab into shimmering light,
Stridency into oneiric harmonies,
The tempest into a calm sea,
Futile timidity into noble might.

Forget the chemistry!

Impossible alchemy,
This flood of a molten heart,
This drift of a dormant mind,
The secrets to which, tonight,
You only hold,
In a wave,
In a word,
In a wink.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

"کیمیای ناممکن"
 -- شعری از پیمان اخلاقی --
(برگردان فارسی از نویسنده)

کیمیای ناممکن است
این فوران خنده که از دل ترس می خیزد،
برق نوری زندگی بخش
که بر تکشاخۀ نومیدی می دمد،
آه لطیفی که در بستر رنج شکوفه می کند.

کیمیایی ناممکن است
این دگرسانیِ
تخته سنگی به تابش نور،
آوایی گوشخراش به هماهنگی های رؤیاوار،
طوفانی به آرامش اقیانوس،
شرم بی حاصل به نیرویی شریف و پایدار.

شیمی را فراموش کن!

کیمیای ناممکن است
این سَیَلانِ ذهنِ خواب رفته،
این طغیان دلی ذوب شده،
کیمیایی که رازش را، امشب
تنها تو می دانی
در یک واژه،
یک موج دست،
یک چشمک،
یک نگاه...

© 2013، پیمان اخلاقی. همۀ حقوق برای مؤلف محفوظ است.
© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. English and Persian. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

John Ford, Stagecoach & Non-Ideological Montage; Original Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Ford's Stagecoach & Non-Ideological Montage
An Essay by Payman Akhalghi (Draft 4; Fully Revised)

(*) First published at on August 19th, 2014, Revision 4 on the 24th, under Memo on Cinema: Ford's Stagecoach & Non-Ideological Montage

I just revisited John Ford's "Stagecoach" of 1939, ca. 90'. It's not only a tightly made Western, but a sophisticated drama, with metaphorically expressed socio-political commentaries inherent to the fabric of its story. Seventy-five years later, it's remained surprisingly "modern", nearly perfect, intellectual, artful, and entertaining, at times didactic, but typically tactful, only on occasion too ostensible about its "message". Vivid characters with tangible and contrasting intentions reach far beyond generic stereotypes. This time, I found its sense of visual form and style impeccable. The framing of every shot, and the composition of lines, objects, and movements therein; the manipulation of background to highlight, reinforce, or agitate the foreground by agreeing harmonies or contrasting dissonances; interpretative applications of the depth of field; attractive camera angles and dramatic points of view; everything is closely controlled underneath a a rounded look an easy flow. Should the chance rise, I could analyze some sequences down to the frame.

One could spend a full hour or two talking on only the last 30 minutes of the film. Start out with careful build-up to the 7-minute ambush and battle sequence, mostly across the desert, ca. minute 70-ff. Examine its camera work and lighting, meticulously shaped dramatic curve, thespian and acrobatic skills, complex human and animal choreography, and especially for me, its skillful symphonic score in sync with the already perfect rhythm of the scene. Time some shots, anticipate some cues, and you might realize too how musically this sequence is constructed from the foundation, what an extravagant ballet it is. Furthermore, note how trauma, otherwise all too present, is often suggested, subdued, seldom literal, altogether, never allowed to traumatize the audience, or distract from the narrative.

Then speak of the climatic shoot-out between Ringo (John Wayne) and his three archenemies. In contrast to the previous sequence, the build up draws on tense silence or ironic use of ragtime piano coming from the bars, reserving synced underscoring with chromatic suspense for the last few steps before the final confrontation. See the sudden aversion of the camera, at the moment of carnage, away and to Dallas (Claire Trevor). Listen to the 5 shots fired, whereas you know Ringo had only three bullets left with him. Did he survive the unfair duel?

Else, focus on the director's rich vocabulary and broad range of montage techniques. Note his intuitive sense of visual-dramatic rhythm unique to each sequence. As the moment calls, he may generate momentum by numerous cuts, or by allowing the action to develop in longer takes. He may risk an extreme track-in to highlight his protagonist's static entrance, or elsewhere, let the carefully choreographed action do the edit within the frame. When it comes to montage, he remains erudite, versatile, natural, flexible, creative, non-ideological, yet polished, with a conservative veneer. Unlike a Chaplin or Renoir, with their decided preference for montage inside the frame; or an Eisenstein, or even Hitchcock in general, with a decided inclination toward shorter stable takes; Ford's mis-en-scène remains fluid, diverse, eclectic, in the service of the scene, without tying his innovative imagination down with presets. "Stagecoach" breathes naturally, at times slow, fast, deep, panting, gasping, sighing in relief. It breathes with the drama, in image and sound, from the perspective of an invisible narrator, and with regards to the point of view of a very human audience.

Examples abound. Spending the night at a roadside tavern, Ringo seriously eyes Dallas, from behind, as she graciously leaves a corridor through a carefully lit and placed door frame. He is briefly interrupted in the hallway by the owner of the tavern, who's worried about Ringo's fate. He walks on and joins Dallas outside, next to the fence, to talk her into marrying him. The sequence is developed patiently, feeling as a respite during the long and turbulent journey, broken into very few long takes, narrated by a lyrical music.

Later on, toward the conclusion of the battle scene, Hatcliffe (John Carradine), out of ammunition, decides without a word to use his last bullet to "save" the young and beautiful Lucy Mallory (Louise Platt), a lady under his protection, from falling into savage hands. From a close up of the gun being prepared, the camera pans to the right to show the fragile woman broken into prayers under stress. The gun approaches her skull from the left, while she remains unaware of her imminent fate. But then it drops at the sound of a bullet, suggesting that Hatcliffe was hit. A positive change in the underscore, the emergence of "source music" bugles, the smile appearing on Lucy's face, these herald that the passengers are finally saved. They all take place in a single long take, a first-rate cinematic moment, in a somewhat less likely place -- a successful work of entertainment.

Shortly afterwards, when a mob takes away a resented banker in the close up, Dallas emerges from within the crowd and walks toward Ringo next to the stagecoach; once more, all in a single take. Next, as they walk away, the director shows a masterstroke of mis-en-scène and montage. To date, filmmakers are warned to avoid the confusion caused by jumping, especially rapidly, aimlessly, in successive shots, and without a logic, over the so-called "imaginary line", within a continuous sequence. Without being fanatical about this elementary but useful principle, you might still be utterly surprised, as I was, how the director effortlessly hops over "the line", when Ringo and Dallas walk away from the stagecoach and the three men next to it: the two leave the shot toward the left; we track them walking from left to the right; cut back to the three men, their eyes perfectly choreographed to zoom attention on the left; cut back to the loving couple walking from the left to the right. The successive changes of direction lead to no confusion. I think it works without a glitch, first, for the director draws upon two different points of view; and second, for his intuitive sense of a space and orientation that is guided and controlled by the elements of the scene, namely, the street and the pavement.  It's well thought out, innovative, a first-rate example of advanced montage without pretension.

Much has been contributed technically by the remarkable continuity observed between the Exterior shots and their Interior counterparts, with their ubiquity of back projections. The process-shots are admirably successful for their time; and Bert Glennon's cinematography, stylish, beautiful, and fluent, altogether suggests the possibility of the artist's deep foundation in photography. More astonishing, however, are the stunt works that perpetuate the battle scene, which to my recollection remain among the most accomplished feats for any cinematic period. To gain a sense of scale, keep in mind that "Ben-Hur", with its breathtaking chariot race, was not about to appear for another 20 years.

The music direction is credited to Boris Morros, with several others credited with adapting American folk tunes for the soundtrack. Many scenes, most prominently the battle sequence, bear underscoring too original to be considered mere "adaptations"; and altogether, the music accompanies and reinforces the narrative quite beautifully. That warrants due credit be allocated to each composer for their unique contribution to this excellent film score -- a task that would call for minute records and other accurate outside information, and which would lie outside the scope of this essay, in the purview of film and music historians. I am not sure that would be an easy task. After all, in the studio system, such divisions of labor and collaborations were common place in the music department, among hired musicians par excellence, who were not expected to receive (prominent) due recognition.

All things considered, however, this remains unmistakably a director's film. This time, particularly taking into account Ford's "My Darling, Clementine", as well as "The Grapes of Wrath", I admit to better realize why the younger generation of French directors -- I think including Truffaut -- were long ago reported for their great admiration for John Ford, whom they could properly cite as an "auteur" of the cinema, without hesitation.

(*) The author is a musician by inclination and education.
(*) The excellent restoration by Criterion Collection is available on DVD, and currently, on .
(*) and were briefly consulted for basic data, such as titles, dates, and names.
(*) The above was an original note.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Score Visualization for Instrumentalists; Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

Score Visualization for Instrumentalists
From a Performance Perspective
An Original Memo by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

(*) First published at on November 28th, 2014, under Score Visualization for Instrumentalists, and also on author's public page, ComposerPA (Payman Akhlaghi).

Pianists in particular can benefit much from "visualizing scores" away from their instrument. It's a very efficient way to improve sight-reading, to learn new music accurately, and to improve your inner hearing skills.

Hold a score in hand. Study it at your own pace, as slowly as you may need. Try to hear as many notes and chords as you can by your inner ear, say, using one of several "solfeggio" methods.* Analyze passages and recognize the patterns -- rhythms, intervals, chords, scales, etc. --and the larger forms. Imagine your hands and fingers as they rest and the keys, and move about the keyboard. If advanced, imagine your foot work on the pedal. Now go through the passage again, in your mind, in "real time". When possible, move the fingers on a desktop before you. Once confident, try the passage at the piano from memory. Notice how easier it feels to practice and play this new music. Notice how much sooner than before you master the music.

Start out with very small bites, say, one measure or a short phrase at the most. As you make progress, increase the size of the portion. Keep at it. Soon enough, you'd be surprised by the results. Yo may share your success here with me. Good luck.


* Solfeggio, Solfège, Solmization: Sight-singing using numbers or syllables (solmization) assigned to the degrees of the scale (e.g. the Movable Do); or preferably for more chromatic music, using syllables fixed to pitch classes (the Fixed Do).

** Karl Leimer and Walter Gieseking dedicated a large section to "visualization" in their highly recommended book, as it was a cornerstone of Leimer's teaching method. See "Piano Technique", 1932, Republished by Dover, 1972.

© 2014, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro"; Short Essay by Payman Akhlaghi (2014)

The Song of Songs vs. The Marriage of Figaro
Continuing Series on Shir ha-Shirim
A Short Essay By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 6)

(*) First published at  on November 16th, 2014, under "Song of Songs vs. Marriage of Figaro" .

I have been convinced for long that the outline of "The Song of Songs", "Shir ha-Shirim", as poetically ambiguous as it might be in its current form, consists of the story of a maiden taken to the chambers of a king, perhaps as a slave, while she yearns for her beloved, a free-spirited young man, say, a shepherd, who roams the meadows and skips over the mountains, somewhat metaphorically -- while it also allows perhaps poetically for him to be identifiable at the same time with (aspects of) the King.

A line of thought might be pursued on the interplays of power and desire, wealth and love, possession and deprivation, in sharply stratified societies. Thus, a case could be made for this literary work as a cry of love coming to us from ancient times, and that of a woman, the cry of fragile loving souls of those who suffered the conditions of servitude, in monarchies, feudal societies, or other despotic systems. I further propose the idea in a preliminary form, that especially to Beaumarchais, and possibly to later Da Ponte, the 18th century playwright and the librettist of "Marriage of Figaro", respectively, the relevance of this plot in essence to modern times was not lost.

At this point, and pending in-depth research, I offer the following introduction to this theme, which so far I may regard as original. To begin, let's consider the names of the title characters in the play and the opera:

1) Figaro, formerly "the barber of Seville", currently the Count's valet and butler. (*)
 - I find the following explanation interesting and appealing: Figaro, from "fils Caron", a nickname of the playwright, meaning "son of Caron", where "caron" I choose to consider from the Welsh "caru", "to love". That is, "Son of Love", "Beloved Son". [1,2]
- I further consider the Latin root "figare", that is, "to fix"; and acknowledging my want of linguistic knowledge, I propose that the character's job as to "fix or do things", whether as a "barber" or the later "valet", i.e. "the handyman", or more generally, "the man of labor", is reflected in the name. I consider both of the above senses jointly. [3]

2) Suzanne (play), Susanna (opera, Italian). (*)
* Derived unequivocally from the Hebrew "Shoshan" (lily) and "ShoshanAh" (rose), both appearing repeatedly in the Song of Songs. Chapter 2 opens with:
"I am the lily (chavatzelet) of Sharon, the rose of the valleys."
"Like the rose (shoshanah) among the thorny flowers (thistles), so is my beloved among the maidens."

3) Countess Rosine / Rosina: (*)
Diminutive of "rose"; equivalent to "Shoshanah" in Hebrew. Note that in the first play before "Marriage...", that is, "The Barber of Seville", Rosine is the fair lady locked up by a doctor, who by Figaro's intervention, finally marries the Count. (**)

4) Count Almaviva. (*)
From "alma" ("soul", Italian, Spanish) and "viva", (alive, lively); that is, "lively soul".

5) Chérubine / Cherubino. (*)
Diminutive of Cherub, "little angel".

Considering the above names, and plots, I speculate that Beaumarchais developed the first of the plays, "Barber...", more linearly along the love triangle of the "Song of Songs", and offered a more literal transposition of the plot, based on then standard contemporary translation and accepted narrative of the book -- that is, with the Doctor acting as the King and his guards, and the Count being the Lover (our Free-Spirited Shepherd, yet also the King Solomon) who finally reaches his love, Rosina" (Shoshanah). Whilst in "Marriage...", with a seemingly more subtle treatment of the theme, it's Figaro (now our Shepherd) whose love of Susanna (Shoshanah) is threatened by the Count (King's) power to possess. Still, a more literal representation of the "hapless lover" is further nested in the storyline as Cherubino, who's ordered away by the Count to serve in his army as punishment for his romantic adventures which are interfering with the Count's. Notwithstanding the immense differences in period, tone, style, spirit, etc., the parallels between the plots of the plays and the "Song..." do not seem coincidental. (I postpone to detail my own contrasting reading of the plot of "Song..." to another occasion.)

The line of research may further continue to find parallels in the details of the lyrics; which would require a separate essay.

(*) See under Marriage of Figaro, opera and play, characters.
(**) See under "Barber of Seville".
[1] Behind the Name "Figaro":
[2] Behind the Name, "Caron":
[3] See "figare" on Google Translator.

© 2014, Series by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Payman Akhlaghi is a composer, pianist and piano teacher based in Los Angeles. His repertoire covers Classical music, as well as Persian (Iranian) Music, Pop Music, and Film Music. For information on the lessons in the Greater Los Angeles area, including Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Encino, Brentwood, etc. please call: 310-208-2927. Thank you.