Guest post by Adam Barron
My parents, Louis and Bebe Barron, were close friends and collaborators with Anaïs Nin beginning in the 1940s. They recorded her reading some of her works and scored some of her husband Ian Hugo’s (Hugh Guiler) films with their ground-breaking electronic music. My mother told me that Anaïs was my Godmother, and she told me a story about the events surrounding my birth in 1959. I never believed it was really true until I looked up “Bebe Barron” in Anaïs’s diary index, and there was the story of a bizarre Greenwich Village baby shower, given by actress/filmmaker Maya Deren:
Maya Deren, a few years before she died, felt isolated from the community and tried to reintegrate her life in the most naïve way imaginable by giving Bebe Barron a “shower” for her expected baby, a traditional shower like the housewives of the West give, with pink decorations, pink pastry, pink-wrapped gifts. Because we loved Bebe we all joined in this celebration…
The pink shower party could not neutralize the studio, which was like a voodoo shack, filled with masks, drums, necklaces, shells, African baskets, textiles, pillows, and filled with friends provincial mothers would not have wanted around their babies, musicians, filmmakers, writers, electronic engineers, science-fiction writers, all such dangerous influences from a bourgeois’s point of view!
…Maya Deren could not permit this afternoon to remain innocent, bourgeois…and asked Bebe when she was expecting her child. Bebe told Maya in a few weeks, then Maya said: “You are wrong, it is coming much sooner, I can tell by the constellations and the formation of the clouds.” Suggestible Bebe began to have her child on her way down Maya’s stairs. (Diary 6 p. 350)
Was this power of suggestion, or the effect of an herbal cocktail Maya gave her, as my mother claimed? After the event, Anaïs started a short, but exquisite diary for me, with the story of my birth followed by blank pages in order for me to continue it someday.
Aided by my diary’s auspicious beginning, journal writing is now a vital part of my life. It helps me to relax, gain personal perspective, and record events for posterity. I’ve come to view Anaïs as the “good witch,” or Godmother, providing me life-giving forces to balance the negative ones I encounter. Sometimes I can feel Anaïs’s inspirational presence.
Following an extended illness, my mother passed away two years ago, after living a full life. Steven Reigns, the force behind 2008’s “Anaïs @ 105″ event, which my mother and I attended, loaned me a 1949 recording entitled “Anaïs Nin, Folio II, Reading From Her Own Prose Poem House of Incest (unabridged), Contemporary Classics, Sound Portraits, Louis and Bebe Barron.” It had been a very limited release on vinyl, all but lost today. I later purchased a copy myself.
The reading was beautifully done and the quality well preserved. Steven challenged me with: “Why not sell it as a CD?” Maintaining the original spirit, I had the recording cleaned up, and I designed a jacket cover and a booklet based on my mother’s liner notes, originally done in beautiful calligraphy. It was decided that all post-production profits will go to charities for Haitian relief. This collector’s-item-quality CD will be available for only $16.00 plus shipping.
The album is a tribute to the creative work of Anaïs and my parents, and to their strong bond and friendship. I hope it will delight existing and new Nin fans alike.
Stay tuned for ordering information.
A special note: my parents also recorded Anaïs reading stories from Under a Glass Bell, entitled “Folio I, Under A Glass Bell,” a recording that seems to be lost. If you have a copy, or know the whereabouts of one, please contact the blog editor here.
To see Bebe Barron’s last interview, which was presented at Anais @ 105, click here.
To see an excerpt of Bebe discussing cybernetics, click here.
Anaïs Nin is not only noted for her associations with other writers, but with artists of all genres, in particular musical innovators, such as Louis and Bebe Barron, early electronic musicians. One form of abstract music that appealed to Nin was that of Harry Partch (1901-1974), whose approach was organic but definitely unique. Nin writes in her diary in 1955:
The first time I heard the music of Harry Partch…I had the same sensation as when listening to Balinese music…the sensation of fluidity.
[Partch] was an unusually handsome man…preoccupied with metaphysics, born in San Francisco and exposed to Oriental influences. He had designed his own instruments. He lived a difficult, independent, individualistic life. He had to sell his own records.
The instruments themselves had wonderful names: Marimba Eroica; Bass Marimba; Boo; Diamond Marimba; Spoils of War; Kithara 1; Kithara 2; Harmonic Canon One; Harmonic 2 (Castor and Pollux); Surrogate Kithara; Chromelodon 1. [Click here to see and even virtually play these instruments]
The recordings came from “Gate Five,” Sausalito.
At the beginning of his career, Harry found that the extremely subtle tones he wished for his music (he devised his own scale with forty-three tones to the octave) could not be reproduced by conventional Western instruments. To solve this, he not only designed his own instruments but constructed them as well, often using exotic materials like glass carboys or Plexiglas. But he said: ‘I am not an instrument builder but a philosophic musicman seduced into carpentry.’
He had to train gifted and devoted students to play each instrument. And again, because conventional music notation could not encompass the tremendous range of notes or the very complex rhythms, he devised his own system of notation…
The affinity with nature, the sounds coming out of Sitka spruce, Philippine bamboo, Brazilian rosewood, redwood, Pernambuco reeds, played with picks, fingers, mallets and felted sticks. The affinity with Oriental music, which has a flowing, enveloping, oceanic rhythm. Rhythm was an essential part of Partch’s music, a native, contemporary rhythm. The richness of it gave to contemporary compositions the depth and dimension which so far existed only in the music of the East. (Diary 5 240-2)
Nin followed Partch’s career for years. In 1959, she writes: “Rejoicing over the success of Harry Partch in New York. The Bewitched. Everyone writes me how beautiful it was, how he made beauty out of American folklore, how fluid and marvelous the music was” (Diary 6 189). She had an admiration for him that lasted for the rest of her life, one that she readily expressed in her diary, lectures, and her biographical film, Anaïs Observed, by Robert Snyder.
Today, Partch’s music, although still undoubtedly obscure, lives on, primarily because of the dedication of aficionados—one in particular, John Schneider, leads a group of musicians who play Partch’s songs with replicas of the original instruments. When I visited Los Angeles in the summer of 2007, I was lucky enough to catch one of the performances, a photo from which is below. Partch’s original instruments are kept at Montclair State University by the organization Newband, which maintains a Partch web site.
If Anais Nin was known for her diaries, she should also be known for her circle of friends, which included the electronic music pioneers Louis and Bebe Barron. The friendship ultimately turned into collaboration with Nin and Ian Hugo (Hugh Guiler, Nin’s husband) on his experimental film Bells of Atlantis (1952). The music and images work together to provide the audience with a full range of stimulation, both aural and visual, not to mention literary as Nin recites lines from her House of Incest (1936), upon which the film is based. Thanks to NPR, a retrospective of the Barrons and their impact on the music world can be seen here.
Bebe Barron died in April 2008; a video of her last interview can be seen here, conducted by Steven Reigns and Ian McKinnon.
When Hugh Guiler, Anaïs Nin’s banker husband, began his artistic career as an engraver, he chose to use the name Ian Hugo, supposedly so that his art would be separate from his career. In Guiler’s mind, there was a sense of intolerance between the financial and artistic worlds, and he did not want the two intertwined. Guiler’s engravings found their way into Nin’s hand-printed editions during the 1940s, perhaps most notably the Gemor edition of Under a Glass Bell (the promotional photo of which can be seen on the cover of A Café in Space, Vol. 2). By 1950, Guiler began experimenting with film and became a truly respected avant-garde filmmaker, using superimposition and other effects to reflect his vision on the screen.
At a May 27, 1977 lecture, he said after screening his Bells of Atlantis (based on water images presented in Nin’s first work of fiction, The House of Incest, and in which Nin appears and narrates): “Thank you for your kind response, which I am sure is also meant as a tribute to Anaïs Nin. I do think that this film does bring her closer to you—to her style as a poetic writer of the first order, and her presence as an extraordinarily sensitive, and warm human being. I can certainly testify personally to this through the almost 54 years that we were married, to the time of her death in January of this year.” (It should be pointed out that there was an audible gasp by the audience, since they only knew Ian Hugo as an artistic collaborator of Nin.) “And I will add that her physical beauty seemed to glow as if from some inner light which, as I now see more clearly, enabled her to explore, day by day, ‘the lost continent within ourselves’ (a phrase by the poet Marianne Moore in referring to Bells of Atlantis). And it is only now that I fully realize how much I owed to her presence and her encouragement all those years in trying to explore my own ‘lost continent’ which I first tried to reach out to in making this film.” The complete lecture will be published in next year’s A Café in Space.
The 9 minute film, finished in 1952, with a score from electronic music pioneers Louis and Bebe Barron, can be viewed (in less than pristine quality) by clicking here. (Courtesy of UbuWeb) There is also a filmography of Guiler’s work, thanks to Robert Haller.
Electronic music pioneer Bebe Barron talks about her friend and mentor Anais Nin. Video by Ian MacKinnon and Steven Reigns.