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Archive for the ‘Enrique Vila-Matas’ Category

secretevilSOUNDTRACK: ABAJI-Tiny Desk Concert #47 (February 15, 2010).

abajiThis is the only time I have heard of Abaji. He is an unimposing man with roots in Greece, Turkey, Armenia and France.  He sings gently (often in Arabic with some English) and he plays while he sings.

The impressive thing about Abaji is his skill and love of musical instruments.  The notes say “when recording his latest album, Origine Orients, he played 10 different instruments, many of them simultaneously, with no second takes or overdubs. It took him just two days.”

“Min Jouwwa” (which means “From Inside”) is played on  what looks like a normal guitar but which sounds so very different. The notes say it’s “a tricked-out Western-style guitar with extra strings, giving it the sound of an Egyptian oud.”

“Steppes”  is a brief haunting instrumental.  It’s played by bowing a soft-toned kamancheh (a three-stringed instrument that you hold upright on your lap for a scratch, middle eastern sound).  He often times rocks the instrument instead of the bow back and forth.

The final song is played on the Greek bouzouki (with whistling as accompaniment).  “Summertime” is the Gershwin song (which is only recognizable from the words–the first verse anyhow, which he sings in English–the second verse he sings in Arabic).  It sounds nothing like the original with the serpentine riffs and that unique bouzouki sound.

I only wish the cameras were still rolling after the set because “he demonstrated a large duduk (an Armenian cousin of the oboe), an Indonesian suling (flute) and a Colombian saxophone (of sorts) made from bamboo that looked more like a snake.”

This is what I love about the Tiny Desk–seeing very different instruments and unconventional performers up close.  Abaji is fun to watch.

[READ: May 7, 2015] The Secret of Evil

This has got to be the final posthumous collection of writings from Bolaño.  The Preliminary note from Ignacio Echevarria explains that this book is a collection of the final fragments that were found on Bolaño’s computer.  As such, the book consists primarily of works that are unfinished (some barely even started).

This isn’t as disappointing as it sounds because Bolaño seemed to write very thoroughly right form the beginning with his stories.  So even though they are incomplete, the section that is written feels fully fleshed out–and you can imagine that more will be coming. Echevarria says that “Bolaño rarely began to write a story without giving it a title and immediately establishing a definitive tone and atmosphere.”  This of course made it difficult for Echevarria to know what to compile here.

Not everything in this collection if unfinished.  And indeed, with Bolaño sometimes it’s unclear if the unfinished things were actually unfinished. (more…)

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42SOUNDTRACK: IRON MAIDEN-Iron Maiden (1980).

Steve Harris was on That Metal Show recently.  Harris is the baimssist and primary songwriter for Iron Maiden and has been since their first album in 1980.  When I was in high school Iron Maiden was my favorite band hands down.  I had all their albums, I had all their singles, all their hard to find British vinyl 12 inch singles, even a few pictures discs.  Wonder if they’re valuable?

Every album was an epic event for me–I even played “Rime of the Ancient Mariner “off of Powerslave to my English class (not telling anyone it was 13 minutes long).

And then, after Somewhere in Time, I just stopped listening to them. Almost full stop.  I did manage to get the first four albums on CD, but the break was pretty striking.  I actually didn’t know that they’d had personnel changes in the ensuing years.  I’d vaguely heard that Bruce Dickinson  left, and that others followed, but I don’t think I quite realized that they were back to their big lineup these days.

Anyhow, Harris was so earnest and cool that I had to go check out some of their new stuff. Which was okay.  I’d need more time to digest, but then I had to listen to the first albums again.

And wow I had forgotten how much the first Iron Maiden album melds punk and prog rock into a wild metal hybrid.  There’s so much rawness in the sound and Paul Di’Anno’s vocals, not to mention the speed of some of the tracks.  And yet there’s also some epic time changes and starts and stops and the elaborate multipart Phantom of the Opera….  Wow.

The opening chords of “Prowler” are brutal.  But what’s surprising is how the second song “Remember Tomorrow” is a lengthy song that has many ballad-like qualities, some very slow moody sections–although of course each chorus rages with a great heavy riff and a blistering solo.  On the first two albums Paul Di’Anno was the singer.  He had a fine voice (it was no Bruce Dickinson, but it was fine).  What’s funny is that Bruce does the screams in “Remember Tomorrow” so much better in the live version that I forgot Paul’s vocals were a little anemic here.

However, Paul sounds perfect for the rawness of “Running Free” a wonderfully propulsive song with classic Harris bass and very simple metal chugga chugga riffs.  And this has one of the first real dual guitar solos–with both players doing almost the same riff (and later Harris joining in on bass).

“Phantom of the Opera” is the band’s first attempt at an epic multi-secton kinda-prog song.  It opens with a memorable, if slightly idiosyncratic riff and some wonderfully fast guitars/bass.  There’s a great slow bit that morphs into an awesome instrumental soloing section with bass and twin guitars playing a wonderful melody.

“Transylvania” is an instrumental that is challenging but probably not one of the best metal instrumentals out there, although again when Dennis Stratton and Dave Murray play in synch solos it’s awesome.  This track segues into “Strange World” a surprisingly trippy song (with effects that seem like keyboards but which aren’t).  It’s slow in a “War Pigs” kind of way, but it doesn’t entirely break up the album, because there are other slow bits on the disc.  It is a little out of place though.

Especially when “Sanctuary” blasts forth.  True, it wasn’t originally on the album (in the UK), but man, blistering punk or what!  “Charlotte the Harlot” was always one of my favorite songs (it taught me what a harlot was after all), it’s quite proggy, with a lot of stuttered guitar work and a middle section that features some loud and complex bass.  The disc ends with the by now almost immortal “Iron Maiden.”   A great raw riff opens the song, a harmony guitar partners it and the band blasts forth.  Who even knows what the lyrics area about, the song just moves and moves–There’s even a great chaotic bass/drum break in the middle.  And listening to the guitar noises in the solos at the end.  Amazing.  It’s quite the debut.

[READ: June 7, 2013] McSweeney’s #42

I have made it a point of (possibly misguided) pride that I have read every word in every McSweeney’s issue.  But this issue has brought that to an end.  As the title states, there are twelve stories in the book.  But there are also sixty-one authors writing in eighteen languages.  And there’s the rub.  One of my greatest (possibly misguided) shames is that I don’t speak any other languages.  Well, I studied Spanish and German, I know a few dozen words in French and I can read the Greek alphabet, but none of these would help me read any of these stories.  So, at least half of this book I didn’t read.

But that’s kind of the point.  The purpose of this book is to make a “telephone” type game out of these stories.  Stories are translated from one language to another and then re-translated back into English.  The translators were mostly writers rather than translators and while some of them knew the second language, many of them resorted to Google Translate or other resources to “read” the story.  Some people read the story once and then rewrote it entirely, other people tried to be as faithful as possible to the original.  And so what you get are twelve stories, some told three times in English.  Some versions are very similar and others are wildly divergent.

I normally write about the stories in the issues, but that seems sort of beside the point as the original stories were already published and were selected for various reasons (and we don’t even see any of the original stories).  The point here is the translation(s).  So, in a far less thorough than usual way, I’ll list the contents below. (more…)

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bartelbySOUNDTRACKOS MUTANTES-” Picadilly Willie” (2013).

Iosmut enjoyed this album so much (thanks NPR for the stream) that I had to talk about this song and how radically different it was from yesterday’s track.  “Picadilly Willie” is this wonderful old-sounding rock song.  It’s got a very classic rock riff, but there’s something slightly off-kilter which makes it sounds more like Frank Zappa classic than radio classic.  And when the vocals come in (with a sinister laugh) it sounds more like Mr Bungle than anything else (I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Patton was a fan of Os Mutantes).

The song ends with what sounds to me like Middle Eastern sitar music and echoed chants of “Bra-zil!”

And these are just two of the styles of music on this wonderfully wild and diverse CD.  I can’t wait for its release.

[READ: April 22, 2013] Bartelby & Co.

I read about this book in the Bolaño interview book.  Vila-Matas was one of many authors that Bolaño highly recommended–this book ion particular.  And, it was one of the few books on that extensive list that has been translated into English.

This book follows in the rich tradition of books that are more or less lists about people and not really novels at all. (This seems like a peculiarly Latin American pastime, at least in my experience, as there are nearly a half dozen books that seem to do this, including several by Bolaño).

The key to this book is in the title: Bartelby.  The narrator is a hunchbacked loner, and he decides to catalog all of the instances of writers who have in the grand tradition of Herman Melville’s Bartelby the Scrivener said “no, I would prefer not to” write anymore.  And so this book becomes a series of notes without a text.  The glorious list includes many famous and not so famous writers (the most famous being Salinger) who whether famous or not, decided to write no more.  And thus we have 86 “sections” in which the narrator writes about writers who stopped writing.  For most of the he gives their reason for no longer writing, for others he simply likes talking about how they stopped writing or what their circumstances were before they stopped. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PUBLIC ENEMY-Fear of a Black Planet (1990).

NPR recently broadcast a PE show from the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival.  I didn’t know that PE was still touring, so that was a surprise to me.  The show was largely a celebration of Fear of a Black Planet, which meant that I had to go back and listen to the original.

Man, is this a solid album.  The lyrics pack a punch even twenty years later and what is perhaps more amazing is that the sound collages that Terminator X created, which were something of an oppressive sonic assault are now fairly mainstream-sounding (forward thinking or what?).

What I like about this (and most PE) albums, is that  they have little skits between songs, but unlike most rap skits they’re not one-not jokes that you listen to once and then skip every future time.  A wonderful skit (for lack of a better word) is “Incident at 66.6 FM” in which we hear an amazing amount of racist epithets thrown at PE apparently on the radio.  Or the rather disturbing “Meet the G That Killed Me.”  “Anti-Nigger Machine” is a great collage of samples like “Think” and James Brown and a dozen more songs.

“Can’t Do Nuttin for Ya, Man!” is a (sort of) comic song from Flav that is catchy as anything. While “Reggie Jax” is a confusingly titled song that has nothing to do with baseball, but everything to do with funk.

Of course, this disc has some of PE’s best songs as well.  From the awesome “911 is a Joke” to one of the best rap songs ever, “Welcome to the Terrordome” (my favorite story of this song is when I was wearing a  Welcome to the Terrordome shirt and my philosophy professor asked me quite pointedly, “What in the hell is a terrordome.”  That was a fun conversation).  “Terrordome” is still amazing–powerful, musically intense and for all of its lyrical acuity, it still has funny moments….boing.

And of course, “Burn Hollywood Burn” is an amazing critique of the movie industry (and it’s catchy too).  I got Black Caesar back at the crib, right Lar?

I’ve always been a little confused by “Pollywannacracker.”  Not lyrically, but vocally, as Chuck’s (is it really Chuck?) voice is treated in a surprisingly tinny way.  I liked the song more on this listen than any other, I guess in the past it just kind of snuck by me.

The album is a little front loaded with greatness.   “Power to the People” is another powerful song, but it’s not quite as memorable as the other tracks.  “Fear of a Black Planet” has some really cool sounds on it (where did they get that “black man, black woman, black baby” sample?).   “Revolutionary Generation” is a great track in which Chuck and Flav stand up for black women: “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, my sister’s not my enemy.”  Not your average rap subject.

And the last couple of proper songs, “B Side Wins Again” and “War at 33 1/3” are fast paced and furious, but they don’t really have much in the way of a hook.  Nevertheless, lyrically they are really great, and I love to hear Chuck D flow that quickly.

The biggest surprise for me is the censored version of “Fight the Power” (the song that got me into PE in the first place, thanks Spike).  It’s really surprising to me that PE allowed their music to be bleeped–unless it was just for a deliberate radio play (which I can accept).  Although they also list a title as “Leave This Off You Fu*Kin Charts” (did I buy a Columbia House version or something?)

This is an amazing album, one that still sounds fresh and sadly, is still relevant.

[READ: October 15, 2011] Between Parentheses

I never expected to get so addicted to Roberto Bolaño.  And despite his death, there is no shortage of works coming out in English (that is one of the advantages to reading a translated author–even death doesn’t cease the available materials).  Indeed, this year alone, New Directions is publishing Between Parentheses, and Tres and FSG is publishing The Third Reich (a collection of non fiction, a collection of poetry and a novel respectively).

When I really get into an author, I fall for his or her works, not necessarily him or her as a person (heck, some author are downright jerks).  But there are some authors that I want to know about, personally.  Bolaño is a pretty polarizing figure–he seems obnoxious, his works don’t shy away from very specific opinions, and sometimes it’s unclear what kind of views Bolaño himself has in his works (or if he’s even telling the truth about his so-called truths).  One thing in particular is the constant use of the word “faggot.”  It is used often in 2666 (and I know that is a translator’s choice, but still) and used derogatorily.  Now, clearly the context is everything for something like that.  But it seems to speak badly of Bolaño.  And yet, when reading these essays he is not homophobic in the least.  He is obviously well aware of institutionalized homophobia in Latin America, and he is obviously not supportive of it.

But that’s just one interesting thing about this book.  So let me back up. (more…)

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