Archive for January, 2012

SOUNDTRACK: PINK FLOYD-“Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict” (1969).

I‘ve mentioned this song a few times here so I figured I’d talk about it itself.  This bizarre song comes from PinkFloyd’s bizarre album Ummagumma.  Back in high school we ranked albums by a very specific content rating and this one received the highest: SDI-seriously drug induced.

Disc One is a live album but disc two contains compositions by each of the band members.  They each received about thirteen minutes of time to do what they wanted.  And they really seemed to go to town.

Roger Waters created this track, and it is very, very weird.  I’ve always loved it, probably because it is so audacious.  Wikipedia gives us this:

The track consists of several minutes of noises resembling rodents and birds simulated by Waters’ voice and other techniques, such as tapping the microphone played at different speeds, followed by Waters providing a few stanzas of spoken word in an exaggerated Scottish burr.

The Picts were the indigenous people of what is now Scotland who merged with the Scots.

You can hear it in all its glory (and then marvel that the guy who made it later when on to make some of the most famous music ever released) in this video.

I also love that someone liked this bizarre thing enough to put it on a Pink Floyd compilation (Works) as well.

And the wind cried Mary.

[READ: January 25, 2012] “Terminator: Attack of the Drone”

I found a link to this story somewhere, I can’t recall where, now.  It was mentioned with excited breath that Moshin Hamid, who I don’t know, had written this exclusive short story for The Guardian.  Hamid has been shortlisted for the Man Booker prize and has written two novels: The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007) and Moth Smoke (2000).

This story was not quite what I expected from the brief biography I’d read.  Because of the ominous title, I assumed it might have something to do with Iraq (I realize that this came out before the recent downing of the U.S. drone in Iraq, but it still seemed plausible).  Rather, what we get is a bit of sci-fi about smart machine that are on a murderous rampage.

The story is not really as sci-fi as all that, except that what I wrote is true. But it’s more about two boys as they try to deal with this new world of death, machines and heroism.

It begins with the note that “the machines are huntin’ tonight.”  (There’s an interesting dialect in the story, especially from someone who lives in Lahore, New York and London.  We get lines like “Sky’s light enough so’s we’d maybe see the machine but all’s quiet and it ain’t about,” which I register as Southern American.  And yet the characters are named Omar and Yousuf.  I can’t decide if that’s an attempt to show a future world of total integration or just a total disconnect.)

There aren’t many humans left–his Pa is dead, his ma got her leg blown off by a landmine.   But at least his sisters are still alive–that’s more than most people have.

The machines come thundering through, crushing everything in their sight.  They also fly–you can’t see them, but you can hear them.  No one has ever killed a machine. (more…)


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SOUNDTRACK: LES MOMIES DE PALERME-Brûlez de Coeur [CST070] (2011).

This is the second disc from Constellation’s MUSIQUE FRAGILE 01.  Les Momies de Palerme, comprised of Marie Davidson and Xarah Dion, create ethereal music that would not be out of place on NPR’s Echoes (wonder if John Diliberto knows about the album).

There is a female vocalist who has qualities of Cocteau Twins’ Elizabeth Fraser (big surprise there) as well as early Lush.  But while the music is often swirling and intriguing, it is also sometimes odd.  There are moments in “Solis” which remind me of Pink Floyd’s “Several Species of Small Furry Animals Gathered Together in a Cave and Grooving with a Pict.” (That’s the second time I’ve mentioned this song in just over a month).

“Incarnation” has a vaguely middle eastern feel and works more in a Dead Can Dance kind of vein and “Le Cerf Invisible” has some really cool sound effects that spring up throughout the song.

The title track has a spoken word section that reminds me of the spoken word part in Sinéad O’Connor’s “Never Get Old” from The Lion and the Cobra (probably because it’s spoken by a woman and is in a foreign language, although on Sinéad’s album it’s Gaelic (spoken by Enya(!) and on this one it’s French).  I rather like it.

Most of the songs are longer than five-minutes, but there are two short ones: “Médée” is just under three and “Outre-Temps” is just under two, but they retain the same style of music, although “Médée” introduces acoustic guitars.

“Je T’aime” ends the disc with a bit more acoustic instrumentation.  The album kind of becomes more grounded as it goes along.  But it’s always ethereal.  It’s a neat experience.

Their website has a great front page, too.

[READ: January 23, 2012] Five Dials Number 22

Most Five Dials issues are chockablock with different ideas: contemporary issues, flashbacks to the past, fiction, poetry, ethics, music.  A wonderful melding of interesting ideas.  But Number 22 is entirely different.  Simon Prosser and Tracy Chevalier co-edited this issue and as they say in the editor’s note, they asked a group of contributors “to write grown-up fables about nineteen trees native to the UK.”

This issue is also promoting trees by highlighting the work at http://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk, an organization with three aims:

1 Work with others to plant more native trees…

2 Protect native woods, trees and their wildlife for the future…

3 Inspire everyone to enjoy and value woods and trees…

Simple but noble goals.  You can even buy a copy of this book in print from them at their store.

Even though I love nature and like being in the woods, I don’t know a lot about different kinds of trees.  I’m always stumped when it comes to tree identification.  So this issue was kind of enlightening for me.  Each fable has a picture of a leaf (presumably from that tree) which were painted by Leanne Shapton.  The fables also create backstory for what tree-lovers know about their favorite trees, and so this was also helpful just to learn what people know about trees.

But at the same time, it makes me uniquely unequipped to really talk about these fables.  So I’m just going to list the authors and their trees and say a word or two about their style. (more…)

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On the show New Girl, my favorite joke in the pilot (which was brought back in a recent episode) is the douchebag jar.  Every time someone in the house (well, Schmitt, really) says something a douchebaggy, money goes in the jar.

This song has a crazily simple bass line–which sounds like “Another Bites the Dust,” but isn’t.  It’s unclear from the beginning exactly what the song is about.  But once the chorus comes in, the song is just perfect: “D-Baaaaaags: Hey I’m calling from a handicapped stall, dude; D-Baaaaaags:oh I’m a jerkwad? I’m a jerkwad?  D-baaags, Don’t tell me how to carb load, I know how to carb load.”

There are three rappers in the song.  Mitchmatic takes the first verses.  Mikey Maybe gets the best line: “say irregardless while trying to seem smart.”  The Joe has a really fast delivery that reminds me of Paul Barman (in lyrics and style).

I’m really enjoying Mitchmatics’s beats.  You can download Two Week Off for free.  Or you can watch the video (which seems to have the studio version of the song over a live video)

The video goes on a little long after the song, but the song is pretty great.  It might actually do to give it a proper video.


[READ: January 24, 2012] “Shore Ting”

When I signed up to receive Narrative magazine, I also signed up for their emails.  And the January 9 email contained this story (as well as many other things).  This story was chosen as their Story of the Week.

I really wanted to not like this story.  There were so many things about it that seemed like they should be red flags to me: a tourist getting entwined with a local urchin; the tourist “doing good” for the urchin when none of the locals want anything to do with him; a wife who is very Christian; and the implication of forthcoming violence throughout the story.  Not to mention a piece of foreshadowing that I assumed gave away the ending (although it doesn’t).

The story opens with an interesting scene.  The tourist, Dale, gives the urchin (named Sammy, although this was obviously a name for tourists) a cigarette and then realizes that he has personally started this boy on a lifetime of smoking. And he feels bad about that.

Sammy hits up Dale for work.  Dale doesn’t have work, but since he is looking into renting a sailboat, he more or less hires Sammy to help him on the boat.  Dale asks Sammy if he can do various things and whatever he asks, Sammy replies, “Shore Ting.” (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MITCHMATIC-“Why Don’t You Know” (2012).

This song reminds me in spirit of the old Fresh Prince songs–buoyant and fun, funny and a little silly.  And although it doesn’t sample I Dream of Jeannie, the mood is the same.

The track opens with a great sound of an old rotary phone.  When the music comes it, it’s completely loungey: strings and easy music propel this song to the heights of Cool.

The delivery style is gentle but fast and the lyrics are funny “I’m gonna tell you some reasons that you wanna date me.”

Mitchmatic is a Canadian rapper and his record is coming out soon on Old Ugly records.  Listen to the track at NPR and explore his stuff at his bandcamp site.

Darling I would like you so much more if you loved me back…

[READ: December 31, 2011 and January 24, 2012] “Wolves at the Door” and “Comment”

This is a blog post from Barry that deals with politics.  Although it was written in 2004 it is completely relevant to the current state of affairs in American politics.  I suppose it was ever thus, but it sure seems worse now.

He opens, “Stop me if I ‘m getting too cynical, but I think elections are won by the guy with the stupidest policies.”  He explains that it’s not because people are dumb; rather, it’s because when you are marketing to an entire country, “your best strategy is to scramble straight to the bottom of the barrel and start groping around in the muck there for the lowest common denominator.”  This is very true.

But I think the perfect summary for politics is (as Barry writes): “smart is complicated, but dumb is catchy.” (more…)

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I learned about Le Butcherettes from their Tiny Desk Concert.  So I thought I’d check out their album.  I’ve listened to it a few times now and it’s really quite good.

While the Tiny Desk Concert showed a subtle side of Teri Gender Bender, this album rocks really hard.  All three songs from the Tiny Desk Concert rock much harder here, and are actually better in this full band context (especially “Henry Don’t Got Love”).

It has a punk feel and reminds me of a more commercial sounding Bikini Kill or other Kill Rock Stars punk.  “Dress Off” is all Teri’s voice shouting over drums: “You take my dress off. Yeah, you take my dress off.
Yeah, You take my pretty dress off.”

In the Tiny Desk concert, Teri Gender Bender channeled PJ Harvey completely.  On the album, she has a bunch of different vocal styles that all work well for the songs.  Although “New York” is totally PJ, “The Actress That Ate Rousseau” reminds me of punkier No Doubt and”Tainted in Sin” has a simple stark keyboard melody with Teri singing a more aggressive guttural style.

Unsurprisingly for someone named Teri Gender Bender, there are some political songs as well.  “Bang!” has the lyric, “George Bush and McCain taking over Mexico.  Next thing you’ll see is their army banning seranata

Although there’s a lot of short songs (7 are 2 and a half minutes or under), there’s a few long ones too.  “The Leibniz Language is over 5 minutes and “I’m Getting Sick of You” and “Empty Dimes” are both over 4.  There’s also an instrumental, “Rikos’ Smooth Talking Mothers” which is a simple song spurred on mostly by scratchy guitars.

The final song, “Mr. Tolstoi” is the anomaly on the album.  Teri “sings” with a fake Russian accent  over a very Soviet-style keyboard march.  The chorus:

I want Raskolnikov To be inside of me.  I want Sonya’s eyes.  I want Sonya’s eyes.

Weird.  But not outrageously crazy for this record.  It’s good noisy fun.

[READ: January 23, 2012] “Labyrinth”

It’s no secret that I love Roberto Bolaño.  And I’ve said before that one thing I love about him is the astonishing variety of subjects and styles that he comes up with.

So this short story is forthcoming from his newly translated collection of unpublished short stories called The Secret of Evil.  What I love and find so unique about this story is that the entire story is based upon a photograph.  The New Yorker includes the photograph (I wonder if the The Secret of Evil will include it also).  In the photograph, eight writers/thinkers sit around a table.  Thy are: J. Henric, J.-J. Goux, Ph. Sollers, J. Kristeva, M-Th Réveillé, P. Guyotat, C. Devade, and M. Devade.  The only person I know of this list is J. Kristeva, whose work on semiotics I have read.  [I just looked her up on Wikipedia and learned that she has also written novels, including: Murder in Byzantium, which deals with themes from orthodox Christianity and politics and has been described by Kristeva as “a kind of anti-Da Vinci Code.”  Gotta put that on my list].  But the others are (evidently) prominent in their fields as well (editor of Tel Quel, author of several novels and non-fiction, etc).

The beginning of the short story is an extensive detailing of the photograph.  Bolaño looks at each man and woman in the photo and describes them with exquisite accuracy.  Beyond that he imparts a bit of speculation about what they are wearing, where they are looking, their attractiveness and even, about the length (or lack) of necks. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: tUnE-yArDs-Tiny Desk Concert #179 (December 1, 2011).

tUnE-yArDs perform three songs in this Tiny Desk concert.  Merrill Garbus doesn’t chat a lot between songs, but she’s clearly having a good time (witness them all jumping at the end of “You, Yes You” and how much she smiles at the end of the set.  This is a wonderful opportunity to see and hear her live sampling technique in a small setting (with close up cameras!).

Her voice sounds great–she pulls off all of those voices that she conjures on the record.  And her ability to sample herself and make it work is wonderful to witness (I never imagined that some of those “sirens” and “keyboards” are actually her voice).

The live band is also really hot.  The bassist really hold everything together and the horns sound great–duplicating the sound of the record with just enough flare to keep it original.

And to think she’s making all of  that guitar noise with a ukulele!  It’s pretty groovy.

Watch it here.

[READ: January 21, 2012] The End of War

This is a non-fiction book in which Horgan believes that in the not too distant future (his lifetime I believe), we will see the end of war.  Not the end of violence, nor anger nor aggression–he’s not crazy–but military campaigns against another country could be ended if we reversed our fatalism about war’s inevitability.

Horgan is a writer for Scientific American and in this book he uses the scientific method to show that ending war is utterly possible.  Now, although Horgan is himself kind of a pacifist (he’s not entirely one, this interview explains), his family is not–his father and grandfather are both veterans and his son is looking to enlist in the army.  Nevertheless, Horgan feels that war is not a viable way to solve problems and that the cost of human life is never worth it.

His research shows him that war should be thought of as a solvable, scientific problem—like curing cancer.  The difference is that cancer is outside of our control, while war is not.  But like cancer, war can infect any society–there is no “reason” for it, but it is like a virus–it infects all cultures, even peaceful ones.  If one culture is aggressive the peaceful neighbors need to prepare for war or move away.

Horgan anticipates skepticism, indeed, many of the sources he quotes are skeptics, and he deals with all of their arguments accordingly.  He looks at those who say that war is genetically part of humanity (as many people believe) or that the best way to prepare for peace is to prepare for war (as just about everyone seems to believe).  He looks at those who say that scarcity causes war (not necessarily true), to those who say that as long as there are guns there will be war (he disagrees).  He has a reasonable, believable argument for all of these doubts.  He even shows that the whole “alpha male, XXY chromosome” argument has been disproven and while men are more prone to violence, they are not more prone to wage war.

He also shows scientific evidence that war has not been around as long as people (or even apes) have existed.  Indeed, the first evidence for “war” (as opposed to violence) is 10,000 years ago (not much in humanity’s timeline).

He culls data from previous wars to show that the causes of wars can never be narrowed down to one thing.  And yet, rather than seeing this as a negative–that so many things cause war, he sees it as a positive–that causes of war are not monolithic and impervious to breakdown.

I was skeptical of this book when I started reading it.  I was willing to accept the various scientific answers that he showed (that war is not innate, for example) but my skepticism came because of what I guess you call the military industrial complex–that our military budget is huge and is not going to go down any time soon.  Just see how much protest is garnered by the miniscule amount that President Obama wants to reduce it.  [Everybody knows this truth but it’s worth seeing in print–our military budget is more than almost every other country combined.  China, who spends the next largest amount on their military has a budget that is 1/6 the size of ours.  That is shocking and depressing and a horrific waste of money].

But his point is that like with so many other things that we have outlawed or abolished over the years: slavery, apartheid, monarchy (as opposed to democracy), acceptance of torture; if we have enough consensus we can also abolish war.  He gives examples that it’s actually not as hard as we might think.  Germany and Japan become pacifist virtually overnight (it was forced on them, but they have taken to it with no problem) and even better, Sweden and Switzerland are pacifist voluntarily.

He also points out that war is already on the wane–although the United States was in two wars very recently, the warlike nature of the world is much less than it was even as recently as the first half of the 20th century.  The number of casualties from war has dropped dramatically compared to World War I.  We simply need to find ways to solve crises that do not involve killing people.

All of the chapters were interesting in this book (the book is more or less set up to deal with an issue per chapter).  Some of the chapters were a little long but at 186 pages (plus a bunch of citation pages) this book is short overall.  I appreciate all of his scientific rigor and his ability to show the arguments and then knock them down.

For me, the most interesting and satisfying chapter was the one that found that preparing for war, despite claims that it is necessary, actually does not keep a people safe. That the allocation of resources towards war removes resources from things that actually make people’s lives  better: art, culture, medicine, health.  Preparing for war doesn’t keep us safe, it actually harms us.

Similarly, he shows that competition for resources is not necessarily a cause for war.  To the contrary they have found that in some cultures scarcity brings out altruism.

In short, he says that the only thing that prevents us from abolishing wars is our fatalism that war is inevitable.  The more fatalistic we are about war the more we accept hawkish ideas which perpetuates more war. Once we stop believing that and we try to work towards the end, he believes that we war can end very quickly.

Horgan doesn’t really calm my fears about the military industrial complex–but who knows with enough popular opinion, maybe voters can change things.  It’s a wonderful thought.  And here’s hoping that this post can spread the good word.

And here’s an interview with Horgan that addresses a lot of these questions.

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SOUNDTRACK: LE BUTCHERETTES-Tiny Desk Concert #185 (January 9, 2012).

The write up for this Tiny Desk show implies that I should know who Le Butcherettes, and leader Teri Gender Bender, are.  I don’t.  But that doesn’t matter.

In this set, it’s just Teri Gender Bender and her acoustic guitar.  And she is channeling early PJ Harvey like nobody’s business.  If you like PJ’s new album but miss the less than subtle aspects of her earlier  records (and who doesn’t, honestly), this is a very enjoyable set.  Teri is angry and it shows.  But it’s all done on an acoustic guitar, so the anger is modified by the music.  It’s a neat trick.  But it’s also a little disconcerting.  Not least because she seems so nakedly honest when she sings (when she coughs aggressively during “Henry Don’t Got No Love” it’s not entirely clear if that’s part of the song or not.  But also because Teri is not afraid to look right at the camera (or, indeed, the audience) when she sings the songs.  Teri is very pretty but there is something haunting about her, which makes these songs of loss and love all the more effective.

See for yourself here.

[READ: January 22, 2012] “Notes on The Chelsea Girls”

I’m not going to start reviewing films, or, worse yet, reviewing reviews of films.  But since I like to try to read all of the academic articles that get recommended to me, I wanted to mention this one too (I admit I will not be subjecting myself or readers to a thirty plus page article about Charles Darwin and pigeon fanciers (which seemed interesting, especially the pictures, until I saw that it was over thirty dense pages).

It’s childish to laugh that a reviewer of Warhol’s The Chelsea Girls is named Battcock, but I’m not above that sort of joke.  What is amazing, to me, is how intellectual this review is.  I’m used to reading reviews in Entertainment Weekly or even The New Yorker, which talk about the plot of the film and the quality of the direction and what not.  And The New Yorker often trashes mainstream film on highfalutin grounds.  But even that doesn’t come anywhere close to:

Warhol still questions the very nature of the medium and its relationship with the cultural matrix and the contemporary value structure–for which he clearly holds no brief.  He is determined to prove that only vital institutions can provide vital art statements; his challenges to the medium serve ultimately to assure its legitimacy.  If in his earlier movies he attempted to redefine the nature of film and to clarify its limitations, the new works may be said to check out the remaining restrictions of the art form.  These include such physical aspects as the two distinct types of images (the retinal-visual and the cerebro-visual), as well as the nature of the auditorium, projection and screen.

Battcock is kind of hash on the film–which is actually several short films–two of which are projected side by side at the same time.  He says the individual shorts, which run about 30 minutes each, are “a little bland.”  Although, as he points out above, the actual films themselves are kind of beside the point.

Indeed, he criticizes other critics for missing the “point” of these films, which is that Warhol is “stripping the cinematic medium of its pretension and decorations.”  Rather, he complains, “Nearly all the other critics writing in the popular press dwelt with the lugubrious insistence on the squalidness, sordidness, perversion, etc of the lives depicted in the film” (more…)

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