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Arnaud Fleurent-Didier

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Seven hours ago, I hadn’t heard of Arnaud Fleurent-Didier. I still know close to nothing about him. But he caught my ear this morning while I was listening to the internet feed of WFMU. As you may know, WFMU is a listener-supported radioi station in Jersey City, New Jersey. It describes itself as follows:

WFMU’s programming ranges from flat-out uncategorizable strangeness to rock and roll, experimental music, 78 RPM Records, jazz, psychedelia, hip-hop, electronica, hand-cranked wax cylinders, punk rock, gospel, exotica, R&B, radio improvisation, cooking instructions, classic radio airchecks, found sound, dopey call-in shows, interviews with obscure radio personalities and notable science-world luminaries, spoken word collages, Andrew Lloyd Webber soundtracks in languages other than English as well as Country and western music.

All of the station’s programming is controlled by individual DJs and is not beholden to any type of station-wide playlist or rotation schedule. Experimentation, spontaneity and humor are among the station’s most frequently noted distinguishing traits. WFMU does not belong to any existing public radio network, and close to 100% of its programming originates at the station.

I had WFMU on in the background as I read the latest news when I realized that the station was playing some guy singing in French, and that the music didn’t sound like any recognizable genre of pop, American or French. I started paying more attention, and meanwhile I got the guy’s name from WFMU’s list of what was playing, looked him up, found an extremely abbreviated description in French at wikipedia and a somewhat more extended discussion at an Air France site. An excerpt: “French musician-singer Arnaud Fleurent-Didier was born on June 26, 1974. . . . His impeccable 3-piece suit and air of a fashion model straying into the world of French chanson might be seen as pretentious. His UV-induced tan and his little songs could be taken for megalomania. But nothing could be further from the truth. Arnaud Fleurent-Didier has class – natural and sincere. And his album proves it. The songs follow each other like the pages of a secret notebook finally revealed. With finely honed irony, he confides his worries, doubts, questions, dreams, highs and lows. How he appears in the eyes of others, his need for public recognition; his failures; his desires; to change professions. be interviewed in Les Inrocks, make the cover of Magic. Ambition: In a sometimes hesitant, fragile voice he conveys all that.” And then there’s his website, which has a video in which he talks about his latest album, La Réproduction.

It soon emerged that he was actually on WFMU live as part of a several-day visit to New York. After he played a couple of songs, the DJ interviewed him. Maybe he is pretentious. I don’t know. But he’s interesting, and I am curious to hear more of his music. He’s appearing tonight at the Museum of Modern Art as part of their Music for MoMA Nights series. As explained at the website, “Music for MoMA Nights in August features a range of innovative and popular French songwriters, in celebration of the exhibition Matisse: Radical Invention, 1913–1917. Each artist in Hear France has struck a conscious balance between tradition and invention. Most draw on various aspects of the chanson heritage and place a strong emphasis on literate lyrics. All have devised personal ways to construct modern works with no hints of quaintness. Hear France offers a rare opportunity for New York audiences to sample today’s French music scene in a lively setting.” As for Fleurent-Didier, the site explains that he

is a multi-instrumentalist with a taste for 1970s synthesized sounds and an aesthetic that owes much to both Michel Legrand and the band Air (with which he has performed). He has released his music for ten years under a variety of monikers. The song “France-Culture,” from his latest album, has become a bit of a polarizing manifesto. An almost overly literate soliloquy, it indicts his parents’ generation for its failure to pass on cultural knowledge and real values. While the music is solidly anchored in its time, the lyrics are a bridge to pre-1968 preoccupations and are reminiscent of the literary dialogues of early Eric Rohmer movies. The mixture of real emotion and preciousness of expression is quintessentially French and disarmingly personal.

However good his music is, he is at least interesting as a window into contemporary French pop culture. Maybe I’ll buy his recent album. I can order it from Amazon, but there are no reviews at the Amazon site. Ah, I just realized, if I want reviews, I should go to the French Amazon site. Here. Mixed. Next step — I’ll ask my niece and nephew what they think, assuming they even know of him.

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Categories: Music

Fields Medals

August 19, 2010 Leave a comment

The International Congress of Mathematicians (ICM 2010), a quadrennial affair, began today in Hyderabad, India. The opening ceremony lacks the grandeur of recent Olympics extravaganzas, but it does bring the awarding of Fields Medals to the latest winners. As explained at the website of the International Mathematical Union, “The Fields Medal is awarded every four years on the occasion of the International Congress of Mathematicians to recognize outstanding mathematical achievement for existing work and for the promise of future achievement.” The medal is generally considered the mathematical equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

To confuse matters, the Norwegian government established a mathematics prize in 2001 to serve explicitly as the mathematical version of the Nobel Prize. It is called the Abel Prize and has been awarded annually since 2003 by the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters. (The prize’s eponym, Niels Abel, was a Norwegian mathematician who would make anyone’s list of the greatest mathematicians of all time and who died of tuberculosis in 1829 at the age of 26.) I wrote posts about the two most recent Abel Prize recipients, Mikhael Gromov and John Tate.

Whichever prize is more Nobelic — and anyway, who cares? — they do play different roles in the profession. The Fields Medal’s dual mission of recognizing outstanding achievement and promise of future achievement has come to be interpreted to mean that recipients not be too far along in their careers. Specifically, they should not be over 40.

Enough background. You can read about this year’s four Fields Medalists by going to the prize webpage at the ICM 2010 website. They are Elon Lindenstrauss of Princeton University, Ngô Bảo Châu of Université Paris-Sud, Stanislav Smirnov of Université de Genève, and Cédric Villani of Institut Henri Poincaré.

I don’t yet see an ICM press release providing general background on the four recipients, so I can’t link to it. What you can read now, at the prize webpage that I just linked to, are descriptions of their mathematical work written by other mathematicians. Don’t expect to understand too much. Maybe return later when there are biographical sketches.

In any case, this is a day mathematicians around the world eagerly await, ending months of speculation about possible winners. I didn’t want it to pass without mention.

Categories: Math