Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Beauty Is Holy & Holy Is Beauty: A Meditation on Language by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Beauty Is Holy & Holy Is Beauty:
A Meditation on Language

By Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)

First published on January 31, 2013, at, under:
Beauty Is Holy & Holy Is Beauty... .

"Beauty is holy, and holy is beauty."  I ponder, why I did not say "sacred", but "holy"?

I could explain my choice in terms of the explicit conventions of language, that while both terms are very close, if not identical, in their defined meanings, "sacred" has a nuance of detachment, as it implies a social consensus, an objective convention; while "holy" has a more immediate connotation, and it implies a preferably subjective experience.

Still, I could better explain this on grounds of the "feel" of the two words, or their "aura", an aggregate of not only their agreed senses, but their musical and associative evocations. Whereas "sacred" contains the "hot" letter S, the relatively strident K, and the finite closing on D, "holy" starts with an exhaling HO, a soft L, and an open vowel Y. "Sacred" feels "heavy", hot, active, determinate, demanding, despotic; "holy" feels "light", cool, relaxed, kind, compassionate, free. "Sacred" feels confined, caged, closed; "holy" feels airy, generative, expansive, filling an infinite space. "Sacred" feels complicated; "holy" feels simple, pure. "Sacred" feels suffocated; "holy" keeps breathing.

I noticed and tried to explain the contrasting "feel" of alphabetic letters first in Hebrew, as early as 30 years ago, in my teens. To me such sounds as S or SH were "hot", while the likes of H, M, N, felt "calm (cool)", each to a different degree. I might have as well gone further to organize the letters on a spectrum according to their temperatures. I imagined objective studies using oscilloscopes to observe their frequencies, or rather in my today's terms, their timbre, their wave forms, frequencies, amplitudes, and other quantifiable properties. At the end, however, I ended up sticking to the subjective side of the story, the poesia, the art of it.

On average, classic Hebrew words showed observable onomatopoeic associations in complex words, i.e. a perceptibly direct relation between the sound of the words and their ostensible senses: "esh" was "fire", but "mayim" was reserved for "water"; "sA-me-ah" was happy; "sa-ha-q" was "laughter"; but "rahum" was "compassionate". (Note that I am using the classic Hebrew pronunciations.) The same could be said of the Persian "Atash" for "fire"; or the Persian "ordak" and English "duck", referring to the same bird known for its "quacks".

Naturally, I was delighted to read and translate a beautiful article ca. 1994 by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner, in which he had gone as far as explaining the very name of the Jewish God, "Y-H-W-H", as the sound of exhalation, a breath, and observation and experience that I suspect he shared with (other) Jewish mystics. To me, the English "holy" closely reflects the same understanding.

Exhale, breathe, pure and simple. It's holy. It's love. It's beautiful.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory
By Payman Akhlaghi (Opinion; Draft 2)

یادداشت: نوستالژی و حافظۀ درازمدت (یک دیدگاه) ـ ـ نوشتاری کوتاه از پیمان اخلاقی ـ ـ

First published on December 12, 2013, at, under:
Meditations on Life: Nostalgia vs. Long Term Memory .

Nostalgia suggests two things among others. First, that the person has an active memory. Second, that in all likelihood, the person has a poorly selective and badly self-deceiving memory.

Acute Nostalgia glorifies the past while it trivializes the present with baseless exaggeration and decontextualized evaluation of some arbitrarily handpicked elements. It's as much an expression of dissatisfaction with the status quo as it is an easy way out of our never-ending responsibilities to live, to create, to improve personal and collective life, i.e. to "mend the world. " It's a perversion of the otherwise necessary process of retrospective evaluation within a productive mindset which would constitute an aspect of perception, the collection of knowledge, and the formation of experience. Whereas nostalgia dwells in the past, retrospection relies on non-biased long-term memory as an invaluable source of information and experience in the services of the present.[1,2]

Humorously, Chronic Nostalgia may turn into a kind of melancholic addiction, a form of private entertainment, through which we may leave the present for the pleasures of a moment in our mind's theater, or even share the experience with like-minded friends. Certain dramatic shifts affecting large communities, such as the pervasive loss of social status after a revolution, or the shocking change of the surroundings following a mass emigration, might provide some justifying grounds which could for long obscure the true nature of the syndrome. The late 18th century impoverished aristocrats who supported the likes of Beethoven; émigré communities such as the mid-19th century Polish aristocracy in Paris around the time of Chopin; the early 20th century Russians in exile including Rachmaninov; or decades later, a figure such as Tarkovsky who delivered in exile no less than "Nostalghia" the movie, have exhibited more or less evident nostalgic states of mind and spirit, at the least if we may read between the lines of scattered intimate reports.[3]

However, we may as well learn much from those members of such displaced social groups who managed to move on and rapidly adapt to their new environments. To draw again upon the musical community, consider performers such as Horowitz, Rostropovich, Victor Borge, or V Ashkenazy, or prominent directors such as Fritz Lang, Hitchcock, Bergman, or Milos Forman, who seem to have been adept at embracing the present tense without losing their well-founded sense of the past.[4]

We may further propose that the opportunities available to these men contributed to their success as much as their psychological propensity, receptive attitudes, and acquired skills allowed them to seize and grasp, and benefit from, those generous opportunities.


[1] An enlightened spirit and a literary client of mine, Mr. Norman Gabay is inclined to stress in his many writings addressed to the Iranian community the need for retrospection to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past, and to "remain up to date", a catchphrase of his, a basic reminder especially for the religiously oriented Iranian Jewish community.

[2] In "The Way of Transformation", K G Dürckheim offers a succinct Zen-based view of the recycling process of such experiences. Given his sad and troubling emphatic Nazi and anti-Semitic past, he's one author that offers us many questions beyond this essay, which I plan to address in separate entries.

[3] The reader may allow for my natural bias toward musical and cinematic examples, given my educational background.

[4] For a sense of the nostalgia among former aristocracy or émigré communities, you may consider pages or scenes from the following books and movies, which the author has visited partially or in full over the years:

- "Beethoven" by Maynard Solomon.
- "Chopin's Funeral" by Benita Eisler.
- "Great Pianists" by Harold C Schonberg.
- "Horowitz" by Harold C Schoenberg.
- "Nostalghia", the movie by Andrei Tarkovsky.
- "Voyage in Time", a documentary in preparation of Nostalghia, with Tarkovsky and Tonino Guerra.

© 2013, 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.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Reflection: On the Notion of God; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Reflection: On the Notion of God
(Draft 2)
By Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

First published, November 5th, 2013, at, under Reflection: On the Notion of God .

God is a product, a figment, of our imagination; but there's no need to discount our imagination. At its best, the notion of God, as varied as our interpretations and appreciations of it may be, it could mirror ourselves, reflecting our desires, fears, and ideals, even as it becomes -- by the necessity of its nature and function -- detached from us, as if it lives a life of its own, an independent life which we ourselves have afforded it, and yet attribute to itself. Remembering Martin Buber in his masterpiece, "I and Thou", this entity could be a partner in our silent, intimate, internal dialogue, a privy to our innermost secrets.

This de facto reflective dialogue with ourselves is not necessarily a solipsistic monologue in disguise; rather, it could develop and flourish quite genuinely, as we continue to nourish it, to contribute to it, via our creative imagination, with occasional input from the senses. Hence, also the possibility of confusing it with the reality, with the objective world. Authors often speak of their characters "having a life of their own", and even composers have a similar experience in the more abstract world of sounds. Indeed, even Buber discusses the relationship between the artist and the artwork as a case of the dialogue with the Thou. Quite often, admitted works of fiction may help us -- the creator and the audience -- approach the truth quite efficiently. Likewise, we may allow for the case of of God.

Ancient Jews expressed their insight into the evolving identity of such an entity in the way the God of Exodus introduces himself to Moses, "I will be who I will be." I've long found this essentially existential, enigmatic, and tautological response to be the pregnant seed that would eventually grow into the existential philosophy of the 20th century, in its sophistication, and in particular, in its understanding of the Projection of Self into the unknown. It's a liberating concept, that would find its ultimate fulfillment in liberating human from the notion of God.

Altogether, there could be still a place in our time to discuss the many senses of God, under which many names and labels that it might appear, and their possible applications, whether psychological or spiritual, for modern human beings; and that debate can continue its dialectics with the broader question that concerns a portion of humanity, i.e. the question of its existence.

But such sophisticated evolving discourse cannot be conducted honestly, intelligently, and progressively, if it's stifled by dictations from the top, by official if tacit blankets of superstitions spread over the intellectual society, by a widespread confusion of myths with the objective reality and rational collective consensus. For that matter, and more, this topic, and the people involved, would be better served as long as it remains in essence a private affair for interested but non-political individuals or groups.

© 2013, 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, December 22, 2013

In the Company of Hamlets: Milton, Welles, O'Toole, BBC, 1963; Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

In the Company of Hamlets:
Ernest Milton, Orson Welles, Peter O'Toole
(1963, Monitor, BBC, ca. 24 mins)

Short Introduction by Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 1)
First Published on December 22, 2013, LA, at,
under In the Company of Hamlets.

Here's a 1963 conversation between stage and film actors, Orson Welles (48), Peter O'Toole (31), and Ernest Milton (73), moderated by Huw Wheldon, (1963, Monitor, BBC, ca. 24 mins), on Shakespeare's Hamlet.

I find it curious that, as far as I know, Welles directed cinematic adaptations of both Macbeth and Othello, but only appeared in the stage productions of Hamlet. In this interview, he provides many insights into the character, that to him, Hamlet was the first genius among dramatic characters, and not just a prince in anguish. Not unexpectedly, he seems to have a preference toward a less affected, more natural, "modern", although he appreciates as well a fittingly "rhetorical" and well-articulated style of delivery. Welles' own genius is all too apparent.

O'toole emphasizes the Elizabethean context of the character, offers an analysis of his psycho-philosophical dimensions in terms of "passion" in the author's body of work; and remembers the humorous side of its production history, including a 19th century musical adaptation under "Hamlet Revamped", and for long a staple of 19th century productions, "Hamlet's dog", a trained company for the Danish prince to talk to on the stage. Note the fine distinction he makes toward the end between verse and prose, that the point of the pentameter is to think of it afterwards. He seems by nature the bad boy of the company, and arguably, the other thespian genius.

Milton, the most mature of the three, personally, and patient, conceptually, speaks of his more imaginative than intellectual approach to the character, that to him, "not everything happens for a reason". He also offers firsthand memories of performance styles from a past generation, and suggests that the most difficult character of the tragedy to play is the Ghost. Unlike Welles, he sees Hamlet as indeed becoming deranged and demented, as the story progresses, and as he finds himself in an unbearably complex and undesirable moral dilemma.

Enjoy this short conversation, even as you may miss to understand some words or references, as this humble did. Incidentally, it would be fun to imagine a 3-year old Kenneth Branagh, sleeping somewhere away from that table, about 50 years ago.

© 2013, Introduction by Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Sources for Dates and Titles:
-, general
- Google search.

(*) 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.

Reflections: Artists, Connection, Longevity; A Short Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Reflections: Artists, Connection, Longevity
Payman Akhlaghi (Draft 2)

First Published: December 16th, 2013, LA,,
under Reflections: Artists, Connection, Longevity .

Actors Joan Fontaine (Rebecca, Suspicion, Jane Eyre) and Peter O'Toole (Lawrence of Arabia, What's New Pussycat, Man of La Mancha, Venus) passed away recently. Few of us ever met them, yet to a degree, it seems as if we've lost someone whom we knew.

It's not just about cinema and the publicity mechanism that surrounds it. The loss of an artist, whatever the medium, and these two were wonderful artists, seems to be felt more or less like a personal loss by those who appreciated their art. It comes down to the meaning of the work of art, and to the connection.

I am thinking of how we relate to a Bach-Busoni-Horowitz , as they converged in a single performance; a Sinatra appearance even in a recording; or a Michelangelo sculpture, even via a faithful replica. There's something of a human contact established across time and space through the art work, which allows an impression of the core humanity of the artist to reach us in familiar terms. There is a sense of presence, and that entails a continuing presence, whether it be in the re-sounding of a sonata by Beethoven, reading a novel by Hesse, standing before an original by Picasso, or pondering the Stonehenge by some unknown artists or artisans of the past millennia. There lies a hint at the lures of the art as an answer to humanity's general quest for longevity, if not eternity, through an attempt to leave a lasting mark behind.

But then you think of our rapture in the ephemeral art of musical improvisation, or dance and theater for that matter, and you feel compelled to question it all over again. The answer maybe in our attempt to perceive, embody, experience an understanding of the timeless, of the eternal, in the space between the artist and the audience, captured and manifest in the work of art, even when the artist and the audience, and even the work of art, are one and the same; even though the eternal might be none but a projection of us, a transcendental aspect of our creative and perceptive imagination.

© 2013, 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, December 20, 2013

Payman Akhlaghi: The Politics of Language, Part II: Native Languages; Short Original Essay (2013)

The Politics of Language, Part II: Native Languages

A Short Essay By Payman Akhlaghi 

Draft 1, First published on December 20, 2014, at , under The Politics of Language... .

A language without sophisticated content is a fertile if empty language. Whether it grows henceforth, or it becomes extinct soon afterwards, the vacuum of content is bound to be filled by material whose nature would as much reflect as determine the culture in which it's spoken. Left to itself, a language may grow by expanding and proving its utility, or it may fade out for decreasing relevance and application. What it absorbs as long as it exists would influence the future of its speaking community and their interactions with the larger world.

Languages normally co-develop advanced content in parallel to the cultural progresses made in the speaking community. At this stage, small and neglected social groups may be helped to close the conceptual gap between them and the larger society by enriching their native languages with demonstrably sophisticated, tolerant, and non-biased content, in thought, arts, sciences, etc. This approach validates their unique cultural identity; it prevents the vacuum of data to be filled by detrimental content via an osmosis of information; and it facilitates their integration within the larger human society with an immediacy of perception which may never be fully achieved by merely adopting any dominant language. Of course, this is meant to continue in parallel to the necessary attempts of the community itself to join the larger pool of knowledge by mastering at least one dominant language. They may further appeal for a better global understanding of their local concerns by providing an array of their intellectual heritage in a dominant language, most likely, in English. Sustained efforts as such would help tear down the walls of ignorance, hubris, and cultural solipsism at their roots, on both sides.

Stating the obvious, the above highlights the crucial role of competent translators, and the need to date for increasing investment by the larger society in such localized publications and media. Both points have long been recognized, and successful examples abound, indeed going back for millennia, as it's readily suggested by, say, the Greek "Septuagint" version of the Jewish Bible. In our times, thanks to its dedicated and independent translators,  the Iranian intelligentsia has maintained a smooth and strong bond with world thought, which has shunned their short or long political upsets. On the other side, such bridges as VOA, BBC and VOI, have continued to provide much valuable content in Persian, through decades of radio broadcasts, and recently, via the Internet, alongside the incomparable multi-lingual UNESCO's Courier, whose lasting imprint on cross-cultural understanding on a global scale should be appreciated.

The above may explain in part the overall sympathetic attitude of large sectors of the Iranian people toward Western thought and modernity, despite decades of propaganda to the contrary. It should also reinforce our urgent attention, at the policy level, toward evermore effective means of bringing modernity in its best sense to smaller nations through an increasing awareness of the central role of language. This requires an attitude of natural curiosity and mutual esteem, without negating our core belief in our civilization, continuous progress, life-enhancing achievements, and life-affirming values.

Arguably, the historically prolonged "colonialist" mentality has resulted in lingering partitions between the "dominant vs. conquered" languages, as vehicles of their associated cultures and norms. These invisible walls symbolize and contribute to ongoing tensions, leading to some absurd dichotomies of values and identities that evidently may coexist, for long unresolved, within the same community, even the same mind. In contrast, a linguistically and anthropologically informed synergistic approach, open yet not absolutely relativistic, could reduce tensions between and within such conflicting social groups, even as it would acknowledge the unique contribution of each party to the global human discourse.

If so, we may as well search in language for a most effective and elemental key to eliminate hostilities and ideological violence among many distinct groups, and ease their assimilation into the larger society, whether it is a small rebellious sect in Europe, or the larger tribal Afghanistan, provincial Pakistan, many Arab societies, but especially vast numbers of small and large African nations and ethnic communities. Lasting calm depends on mutual esteem and understanding, and on absorbed values of tolerance and harmonious coexistence on all sides. To that end, we may bet safely on radical solutions that arise in essence from an improved understanding of language in its broadest sense, and the subtle yet crucial nuances thereof.

(*) Update (April.25.2014): Months later, as I read through Prof. Noam Chomsky's Language and Responsibility (1979), I found the following paragraph relevant, if obliquely, to this short essay, notwithstanding the broader and more sophisticated scope of what he has in mind: "[...] In the speech of real speakers idealized systems interact; each of us speaks a variety of these systems, intermingling them in a complex fashion. Because the experience of individuals is different, the mixture of systems is different. But I do not believe that outside these systems there exists a reality of dialect or language. [p] Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps there are constraints on the ways in which linguistic systems can or cannot enter into interaction in a single community, or a wider group, or the mind of a single person. Perhaps we shall find that certain combinations are possible and others impossible. If principles emerge which govern the interaction of these systems, then these will belong to a field called sociolinguistics."[1]

[1] See Noam Chomsky, Language and Responsibility (1979), in On Language. The volume also includes his Reflections on Language.

(*) Afterwords: My short paragraph, Politics of Language, Part I, was first published on August 21st, 2013, at Here's the text:

On the Politics of Language, Part I, By Payman Akhalghi (Draft 1)

To insult, regardless of intent or validity, is to label by the use of a perceived objectionable concept -- delivered explicitly via words, or implicitly through gestures -- with a presumably reductive effect on the image of the target. I distinguish between an insult offered To some entity in the position of power versus one coming From a position of power. In the former case, it might be an understandable, forgivable if not preferable or permissible, way to get a hold on a perceived threatening enormity: to make it more manageable emotionally; and to free up the cognitive resources to better handle its reality. In the latter case, it seems to be pure malice meant to harm. © 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

© 2013, 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.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Short Independent Film Review: Hannah Arendt (2013 American Release); Review by Payman Akhlaghi of the 2012 Film by by Margarethe von Trotta

Hannah Arendt (2012; 2013, American Release)
(113 mins; in English, German and Hebrew; Subtitled)
Directed by: Margarethe von Trotta
Music by: André Mergenthaler
Cast: Barbara Sukowa et al.
Original Review by Payman Akhlaghi (draft 2)

This review was first published on June 10th, 2013, at .

To begin with, if you have any interest in the protagonist, or more generally, in cinema with philosophic content, or just a wonderful performance, do not miss this film while it's on the screen.

What this film lacks in the visual skills -- the cinematography and lighting are too flat and rudimentary -- it makes up in content and performance. Some of the most touching moments take place exactly when the genius of the character comes across, not only in words, but in the masterful articulation by the lead actress, Babrara Sukowa. Whether subdued, as in her first observations during Eichmann's trial, or fierce, as in when she publicly defends her conclusions, here's an actress who embodies a role many must have wished to play. Indeed, this could very well be the first well-earned Oscar nomination of the year.

The writing is intelligent and convincing. The plot is organized around the central point of her career, the trial of Eichmann in Israel, the writing of the famous book, and the consequences of its publications. Arendt's past, and future, are hinted at or presented briefly in flashbacks, verbal cues, and the final few lines. This Arendt is one of the most convincing philosophers portrayed on screen. You feel her thinking in her stares, in her smiles, in every puff at her cigarette.

It's clear why Ms. Von Trotter decided to quote directly from the archival footage of the trial. Nothing but the voice and images of the Nazi criminal himself could have ultimately convinced us, the audience, of the truth of then controversial conclusions made by Arendt. To the world, that was a monster caged in glasses; to her sharp mind and eyes, he was a mediocre bureaucrat, manifesting the "banality of evil"; and there lied a much more dangerous truth.

The family discussions whether in German or English are as sharp and convincing as one could wish. She, her husband and friends, aren't talking over each other for the sake of the camera or the ambience; they are actually driving forward the point of the argument. This is a film made with conviction, with belief in the thoughts and substantial themes presented; and the director and the actor have allowed as much of these as possible to come forward in a clearly shaped linear narrative.

The music by André Mergenthaler, mostly employing the strings, is surprisingly as effective as it's simple. The casting of supposedly American characters and subsequent dubbing is often problematic, as English seems not to be their primary language, judging from their forced accent and enunciation. That's a regrettable fact for an otherwise fine film as this, which thrives on the power of its performers, even though we may understand this could have happened due to budget limits.

Altogether, however, this is a film not to be missed.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.
(*) Source for cast and crew:
(*) My earlier review of "Vision" (2009) also by Margarethe von Trotta and Barbara Sukowa.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Short Independent Film Review: The Last Days (1998, DVD 2003), Reviewd by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

The Last Days (1998, Documentary, 87 mins)
Directed by James Moll
Produced by Ken Lipper
Music by Hans Zimmer
Executive Producer: Steven Spielberg
Winner of the 1999 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature
This review was  first published on April 8th, 2013, at, under The Last Days (1998...) .

The Last Days follows primarily five Hungarian-born Americans and survivors of the Holocaust, as they remember the pain of the past and pay a visit back to their hometowns, and to the Buchenwald concentration camp. Survivors include an artist, a prominent congressman, a businessman, etc. The movie also includes interviews with a historian, and a doctor who was in charge of "human experiments" at the camp, but who was later forgiven at the Nuremberg.

This is one of the finest films made about that tragic catastrophe in human history. The narrative is formalized, yet it's full of moments of emotional immediacy, reinforced by the beautiful score of Hans Zimmer. The survivors recall honestly, remember vividly, and speakl eloquently. Below, I'll produce a transcription of Steven Spielberg's introduction to the film and his Shoah Foundation, the video of which is included on the DVD release of the film.

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.
- Sources for dates etc.: IMDB

(*) Steven Spielberg's Introduction to The Shoah Visual History and Education Foundation

"Shoah is the Hebrew word for Holocaust; and Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which I established in 1994, has now videotaped the testimonies of over 50,000 survivors in 57 countries and 33 languages. I consider this the most important work of my life, and the most significant legacy of Schindler's List. Each testimony is a window into the world of the Holocaust before, during, and after the war. We must take this extraordinary wealth of eyewitness evidence, and use the archive for the cause of knowledge, toelrance and mutual respect. And we are developing ways to extend its value beyond the primary preservation of the testimonies.

"The Last Days" takes five survivors back to Hungary to tell us and show us, in their own words, their lives before, during, and after the Holocaust. And most recently, we produced our first educational CD-Rom, and using the tools of modern media and technology, we will bring young people close to the words and faces of men and women who were young themselves over 50 years ago. We have to recognize that people are not born with hatred; they acquire it. We have the responsibility to listen to the voices of history, so that future generations never forget what so few lived to tell."

-- Steven Spielberg
From the 2003 DVD Release of the Film
(Transcription by P.A.)

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Purim: The Intersection of Judaism, Persian History, Life, and Our Everlasting Love of Fables and Drama (2013), By Payman Akhlaghi

Clouds for Purim
Digitally Modified Version of
Original Photo by Payaman Akhlaghi
© 2010, 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved. 
Purim: The Intersection of Judaism, Persian History,
Life, and Our Everlasting Love of Fables and Drama (2013)

A Short Note by: Payman Akhlaghi
Firs published at

Purim is an archetypal narrative of hope versus despair, authenticity vs. hypocrisy, free will vs. destiny, certainty vs. uncertainty, chance vs. determinism, progress vs. regression, the future vs. the past, life vs. dogma, sanity vs. insanity, fair play vs. manipulation.

Through an arduous interplay of love, hatred, prejudice, intelligence, lust, frustration, contempt, conspiracy, ignorance, desire, justice, jealousy, loyalty, revenge, despotic whims, greed, compassion, self-preservation, and rare social mobility, the high and the low echelons of power interact and confluence the course of events, against the backdrop of frozen social strata.

As it is, Purim stands at the intersection of Judaism, ancient Persian history, minority rights, feminist discourse, life and passion, and often age-defying costumes, but above all, our everlasting love of fables and a nice feel-good piece of drama.

Happy Purim, everyone...

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.
Photo: © 2010, 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. Digitally modified.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

"Our Sonata, Our Fugue", Poem in English by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Aspire MMX01c
by Payman Akhlaghi

"Our Sonata, Our Fugue" (2013)
A Poem by Payman Akhlaghi (First Draft)
First published on

The counterpoint of our words,
Our actions, our hands,
Our lips, our melodies,
Overlapping, intertwined,
Mine and yours,
In step, in conflict,
Dense, thin,
Rising, falling,
In harmony, in contrast,
Consonant, dissonant,
Convergent, divergent,
Caressing, clashing...

The drama we play, as we write.
The duet we sing, as we compose.
A sonata improvised, whose coda,
Contingent, may never be known.
A forest unraveling, dancing, whipping,
Fluttering, twisting, shielding, growing,
Desiring the heart of the sky.

Together, we weave and we walk
That tapestry which extends
As far as the horizon,
The unending fugue of a life,
Mine and yours, which remains
Always in progress...

Text: © 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.
Photo: "Aspire MMX01b". © 2010, 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.

Hamlet, English Translation (2013) by Payman Akhlaghi of Poem in Persian (1969) by Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000)

Poem in Persian (1969)
By Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000)
English Translation (2013)
By Payman Akhlaghi
Laurence Olivier, Ahmad Shamlou

Hamlet (1969)
Poem in Persian
By Ahmad Shamlou (1925-2000)

Original English Adaptation
By Payman Akhlaghi (2013)
(First Draft, Published at
هملت، شعر از احمد شاملو، برگردان انگلیسی از پیمان اخلاقی

To be
Or not to be...

That is not the question,
But it's the temptation.

Poisoned wine in the cup,
And the poison-quenched sword,
In the hands of the enemy --
Everything's planned and clear
And the curtain shall fall
At the known moment.

As if my father had slept
In the garden of Gethsemane,
So that my role turned into
The heritage of his deceiving trust,
And his bed of deception became
The pleasure chamber
Of my uncle!
[I realized these
All of a sudden,
In a chance glance
At the audience.]

Only if trust, like another Satan,
Had not put to sleep this other Abel,
In another Gethsemane,
With a lullaby, whilst ignorant of the affairs,
Oh, God,
Oh, God!

But what a deception,
What a deception!
That the one watching through
The transluscent curtain of darkness
Knows of the whole catastrophe
And recognizes my tragedy
Word by word, letter by letter,
In advance.

Beyond the transluscent curtain of darkness,
The eyes have paid silver and gold coins
For a chance to watch the sight of my pain,
To enjoy the free design of crying tears
In the interrupted voice and breath
Of the one who pretentiously
Looks upon the truth
With suspicion.

What help could I ask of them,
When at the end, they'd require
Both me and my uncle, equally,
To bow before them,
Even though my pain will have called upon them that
Henceforth, Claudius would not be an uncle's name,
But a general concept, a common name.

And the curtain,
At the sealed moment...

And yet,
Since the time when the truth was revealed
To me, as a restless, wandering ghost,
And the stench of the world
Irritated my nostrils
Like the smoke of a torch in fake scenes,
This is not a question, nor a debate,
But a temptation:

To be
Not to be.

- Ahmad Shamlou, 1969, Iran
- English Adaptation by Payman Akhlaghi (2013, Los Angeles)
© 2013, English translation by Payman Akhalghi.
© All rights reserved for pertinent parties.

(*) The original Persian text may be viewed below, or at the following site: Hamlet, Original Persian
هملت، شعر از احمد شاملو، برگردان انگلیسی از پیمان اخلاقی

(*) Thanks to my erudite friend, Dr. Scott Giles, I was introduced to a poem of the same title by the Russian poet, Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), which may be read Here and Here . The similarities are too many to be dismissed as a mere coincidence; yet the two works stand independent enough in relation to each other, and to the original Shakespeare and theatrical experience described therein, to consider the Shamlou a mere possible adaptation of his Russian colleague's earlier work. In the absence of proper documentation in my source(s), I may safely allow that the Shamlou might have been exposed to the Pasternak, then re-lived it, and came up with his extended variation.

Similarities observed include: the separation of the Character, i.e. the spectator and narrator of the poems, from the actor playing the role; Biblical references, such as Abba, "Father", which identifies Hamlet with Jesus in the Pasternak; while Gethsemane, the garden where the Last Supper takes place, identifies Hamlet's father with Abel, and not Jesus (a difference by error, or a deliberate play with the myths?); the theme of predestined fate, and the deliberate attempt to liberate us the reader from it; the despising look at life's facade, follies and hypocrisy; the presence of the audience. -- Payman Akhlaghi

(*) 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.

(*) The Persian text of poem Hamlet, from Shamlou's Official Website:
(*) برای متن فارسی شعر "هملت" برگرفته از صفحۀ اصلی احمد شاملو در پایین:

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Selene Walters (b.1924), Former Model and Actress, At Jewpers of IAJF, Los Angeles; Report by Payman Akhlaghi

Selene Walters (b. 1924), Former
Model Actress, January 29, 2013,
Jewpers of IAJF, Los Angeles

Selene Walters (b. 1924)
Former Model and Actress
Special Guest of Jewpers of IAJF
January 29th, 2013, Los Angeles

An Original Report by Payman Akhlaghi 
First published at
Copyright by the author. All rights reserved.

On Tuesday night, January the 29th, 2013, Jewpers of IAJF, Los Angeles, was host to the 89-year young Ms. Selene Walters, born Elizabeth Florence Walker, a former American model and actress, who, as we were told, had once been in a romantic relationship with the young Shah of Iran.

The program began with a succinct audio-visual introduction to the life and times of the Shah, presented by Ms. Deborah Zakariaei, the organizer and host of the event. Thereafter, Ms. Walters spoke of her childhood and education, her life as a beautiful model and rising actress, her times as a young divorcee mother among the famous names in Hollywood and New York, and of course, how she had met the Shah. An eloquent speaker, an absorbing story-teller, with a reassuring, trustworthy and attractive tone, she recounted with youthful energy the lively story of how through a hint from Aristotle Onassis, the billionaire, she made it on time to Nice and Riviera, in Southern France, and soon enough ended up dancing with a recently divorced Shah. A short while later, she was cordially invited to visit the royal palace, in Tehran.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On Culture: Recounting a Memory, A Note by Payman Akhlaghi (2013)

Alternate World MMX01e
by Payman Akhlaghi
On Culture: Recounting a Memory
A Note By Payman Akhlaghi [First Draft]

First Published on
Photo: Alternate World MMX01e, by © 2010, Payman Akhlaghi

One late night, in my early teens, I was walking home alongside my mother, on the streets of Tehran. We might have been coming back from a tutorial in physics, or a family party. The streets were mostly empty of cars and people. Only a few feet ahead of us, a tall lady in black chador, alone, had taken the sidewalks, as well. A private car passed by, slowed down, pulled over, and waited for her. Given the context, the driver's intent was rather clear. The woman, visibly offended, stood still, then after a moment of hesitation, shouted at the driver, in a subdued, almost shivering, voice, "Get lost, you uncultured man!" Whether the driver heard her, he pushed on the pedal, and drove away. Whoever she was, she wasn't what the man had thought of her.

I've often pondered that brief observation. To be sure, Persian language has its own share of acerbic obscenities. Another lady might have resorted to crying out some piercingly memorable if X-rated curses. Yet, the worst insult that this evidently educated lady could think of against what she saw as an attack on her honor was none but the adjective "uncultured", "uncultivated", "culture-less", "a man without culture." (بی فرهنگ, bi-farhang). Her means of defense did not defeat her purpose.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Independent Short Film Review: "Rust and Bone" (2012), Note by Payman Akhlaghi

Rust and Bone, "De rouille et d'os";
Original Review by Payman Akhlaghi

Directed by Jacques Audiard
Adapted from the novel by Craig Davidson
Music by Alexadnre Desplat
Cast: Marion Cotillard, Matthias Schoenaert, et al
(French, 2012, 120')

This review was first published on author reserves all rights to the textual content of this review.

Rust and Bone is a slice of life, as beautiful, ugly, kind, cruel, strong, dynamic, passionate, depressed, joyous, fearsome, intense, generous, expectant, hateful, and loving, as life could be, one form or another.

After losing both her legs to an accident involving a show whale, a young, beautiful, active woman rebuilds herself, her heart, her life, one breath, one step, at a time. Meanwhile, a strong young man, with a gypsy heart, utterly lost in life, carrying along his little son, grows to discover his center in her arms. By then, he too, has lost something of her physical potentials, due to a genuine sacrifice.

The jerky handheld camera and cropped framing, besides systemic jump-cuts and an elliptic narrative with fluid temporal skips, have all given the naturalistic feel of a homemade video to this chronicle of the trajectory of two convergent lives. The performances are equally realistic, with the actors deliberately and successfully masking their fluent technique and preparation, virtually in every shot. From Ms. Cotillard's many moments, I cite her mesmerizing walk toward her young man to empower him during a fight he's about to lose, with a facial expression so rare in its subtle display of strength and determination. From Mr. Shoenaert, his ferocious attempt as saving his son from drowning underneath a thick layer of winter ice belongs to this author's clip-album, next to the long run from "Atanarjuat", or the resuscitation scene at the end of "The Abyss", with an even more convincing progression.

The film is not short on the poetry of movements, be it in the angular violence of the fight scenes, or in the confrontation of Ms. Cotillard with the whale across glasses. This is specially true for the increasingly soulful love scenes, cohesively embedded within the fabric of the story. As for the music by Mr. Desplat, though not his most complex work so far on compositional grounds, it does contribute much to creating the atmosphere, and to the underscoring the inner drama of the characters.

Rust and Bone marks the third time that I've enjoyed the humanity, clarity and emotional sophistication of a work by Mr. Audiard, following his earlier "Read My Lips" (2001) and "The Beat That My Heart Skipped" (2005).

© 2013, Payman Akhlaghi. All rights reserved.

(*) Sources: for names, dates, and related titles.
(*) A Trailer of Rust and Bone