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Archive for the ‘William Gaddis’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: PHILIP GLASS FLASH CHOIR-“The New Rule” (Field Recordings, July 10, 2012).

One of the first Field Recordings I posted about was with Philip Glass.  So I thought it would be fun to complete the Field Recordings (this is the last one)  with Philip Glass as well [A ‘Flash Choir’ Sings Philip Glass In Times Square].

This is one of those super-fun, public Field Recordings.  And it’s more public than most.

To honor Philip Glass’ 75th birthday this year, we here at NPR Music commissioned Glass to create a short work that would be great fun for amateur and professional singers alike.  So Glass took a work he had first written for soprano and instruments as part of his 1997 3-D “digital opera” Monsters of Grace, and arranged it for soloist and eight-part chorus. And were very lucky indeed to team up with the Make Music NY Festival, member station WQXR and the Times Square Alliance to realize this project at one of the world’s most iconic spots, the Crossroads of the World, Times Square.

As with the Red Baraat Make Music NY Festival, this is a wonderful public event where all manner of people came out to sing along.

A big part of what we do is to try to make all kinds of music engaging and accessible — and wouldn’t it be great to invite anyone who wanted to come and sing in a world premiere by one of the most celebrated composers of our time? About 200 singers gathered to sing with the ebullient Kent Tritle, one of America’s most accomplished and beloved choral conductors, and soprano soloist Rachel Rosales. (And a handful of singers were folks who had simply been walking by and were swept up in the moment.)

Before the song begins you can hear someone say, has anyone rehearsed this?  And the response is no, I think that’s the point.  And indeed, 200 voices joined together, even if some are imperfect (and who knows if anyone is) sound fantastic.

On this sweltering day, the singers’ mindful intention to gather in Times Square and its visceral result — all breath and sweat and palpable effort in the middle of glossy Times Square, with stifling heat, noise and a zillion blinking distractions — was just amazing and honestly quite moving.

The chorus sings with typical Glassian aplomb (repeating doo doo notes) while Rachel Rosales sings the lyrics.  I love hearing the bass voices do their part, it’s otherworldly.

For his text, Glass selected words from the medieval Sufi Muslim poet Jalaluddin Rumi, as translated by Coleman Barks. In his poetry, Rumi urges the reader to break free of the constraints of daily life — to upend expectations and jettison traditional thinking in an unending quest to unite with the divine. “Here’s the new rule,” Rumi wrote. “Break the wineglass, and fall towards the glassblower’s breath.” And somehow — beautifully, magically and only briefly — this fleeting chorus became the heartbeat of Times Square

It sounds great and rally captivated everyone.  And that’s why I love the Field Recordings and hope they bring them back.

[READ: February 4, 2018] “In Dreams I Kiss Your Hand, Madam”

This is from a 1947 manuscript published in 2008 in Ninth Letter.  Gaddis used some of this material in his book The Recognitions.

The story is set in a lush apartment.  The host is a man named Alex P_____.  He had recently published a book, an anthology called In Dreams I Kiss Your Hand, Madam, “a collection of imaginative love stories, stories of beauty and devotion, tales of passion and gallantry…from writers of seventeen countries n the past seven centuries.”

It was dedicated to Christine Ludington.  She had just referred to Alex as a pig because of what he said about the wife of young writer he has just published.  Then she changed the subject to say she could not imagine the satisfaction in breeding basset hounds.

Alex muttered that it was because she had never been a basset hound. (more…)

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manualSOUNDTRACK: LUCY DACUS-Tiny Desk Concert #553 (July 29, 2016).

lucyI didn’t realize that I knew Dacus, but I’ve heard and loved her song “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” for months (I just never knew she sang it).

In this Tiny Desk Concert, the songs have a really gentle feel (she plays electric guitar without a pick, using her fingers to gently pick out the melodies.  Although on record, the songs are a bit sharper.  But it’s her that is so intriguing.  A lazy comparison is Sharon Van Etten, but she has that kind of tone and delivery.

“I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” has a super catchy vocal melody and simple steady rhythm.  But it’s the way the electric guitar swirls around and her voice sounds dry and disinterested (and yet it clearly isn’t).  She’s not posing as a cynical youth, she is full of regret.  The last line is “That funny girl doesn’t want to smile anymore.”  When the song is done she says, “I always tend to smile after that line.”

Before the second song she asks if anyone else’s biggest fear is having a runny nose on Tiny Desk?  She says she woke up with a runny nose, but its fine now.

I like the way “Direct Address” opens with her gentle strumming which gets really fast as she ramps up to a quick vocal delivery on each verse.   But even when she sings fast, her voice is almost like a deep intense whisper.  Once again, the last line is great: “I don’t believe in love at first sight / maybe I would if you looked at me right.”  The song ends with some cool swirling guitars.

Before the final song she tells everyone there that the NPR workers kind of have the coolest job ever and she envies them all–a little bit.

“Green Eyes, Red Face” is a slower song with an interesting, subtle melody.  Another great lyric: “I see the seat next to yours is unoccupied and I was wondering if you’d let me come and sit by your side.”  I love the way the guitar kind of bursts forth for the solo by Jacob Blizard.  This song is the most like SVE here, although you’d never mistake one for the other.  The middle of the song has some really great riffs juxtaposed with the bass.

I like how this lyric quite a bit: “With your green eyes on my red face” and I get a kick out of how she plays her last chord.  And as it rings out she rests her hands on top of her guitar patiently waiting for the song to fade out.

I’m really entranced by her voice.  But one of the most telling things is at the end of the show just as it fades out.  When talking about their show that night, she says “we’ll be a lot louder.”

I’d be interested to hear that.

[READ: November 21, 2016] A Manual for Sons

Back in 2014, I ordered all 16 books from Madras Press. Unfortunately, after publishing the 16 books they seem to have gone out of business (actually they are switching to non-fiction, it seems). They still have a web presence where you can buy remaining copies of books.  But what a great business idea this is/was

Madras Press publishes limited-edition short stories and novella-length booklets and distributes the proceeds to a growing list of non-profit organizations chosen by our authors.  The format of our books provides readers with the opportunity to experience stories on their own, with no advertisements or miscellaneous stuff surrounding them.

The format is a 5″ x 5″ square books that easily fit into a pocket.

Proceeds from Barthelme’s book go to the The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Okay I’ll say it.

I don’t really get Donald Barthelme.  I know that’s sort of the point of his writing–it is all anti-writing, a reaction against the novel.  But I also don’t get things like this “story.”  (It turns out it is an excerpt from a larger novel, but that still doesn’t really help).

So this “manual” is designed for sons to learn all about the different kinds of fathers there are and how to deal with them.  It states that it was translated from the English by Peter Scatterpatter.

The manual lists the different kinds of fathers: Mad fathers, fathers as teachers, falling fathers, etc.

And it’s not really helpful and it’s not really funny, and I have to wonder what keeps things like this from just ending.  How does Barthelme know when his bizarre list of things is actually done?

Some examples:

Mad fathers stalk up and down the boulevard, shouting.  Avoid then or embrace them or tell them your deepest thought–it makes no difference.

Fine, that’s good.  But then he says to notice if their dress is  covered in sewn-in tin cans or if they are simply barking (no tin cans).  If they are barking

Go up to them and, stilling their wooden clappers by putting your left hand between the hinged parts, say you’re sorry.  If the barking ceases, this does not mean that they have heard you, it only means they are experiencing erotic thoughts of abominable lustre.

What the hell?

And what to make of this “some fathers are goats, some are milk, some teach Spanish in cloisters.”

Or this: “The best way to approach a father is from behind, thus is he chooses to hurl his javelin at you he will probably miss.”

There’s an alphabetical list of fathers names which all start with  A and end with Albert.  (And the list is pretty unexpected with names like: Aariel, Aban, Abiou, Aeon and Af.

The most successful section to me was the “Sample Voice” part.  It gave three examples of a crappy dad–abusive and unsympathetic and very masculine.

The “colors of fathers” was presumably modified from a book about horses as each color is a horse color.

There’s a disturbing section about incest and then about the penises of fathers.  And finally a discouragement to patricide.

I just don’t get it.

Rick Moody provides some answers in his Afterword.  He gives some context for this story and some of his favorite bit of this manual (which was originally published in a dark book called The Dead Father.  He says he really related to this story because one of the sections opens “If your father is named Hiram or Saul” (and his father had one of those names).

He puts Barthelme in context with Gaddis and describes this manual as hilarious.

Guess you had to be there.

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dfwSOUNDTRACK: BUILT TO SPILL-Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1993).

Bts I am going to see Built to Spill this Friday.  I was supposed to see them back in 2001, but then some bad things happened in New York City and their show was cancelled (or I opted not to go–I see on Setlist that they did play that night).  Since then, I have enjoyed each new album more than the previous one, so I am really excited to see them.

I thought it would be interesting to revisit their earlier records.  In reading about the band I learned that Doug Martsch was in Treepeople (which I didn’t know and who I don’t really know at all).  I also learned that his plan for BtS was to have just him with a different line up for each album.  That didn’t quite work out, but there has been a bit of change over the years.

Their debut album is surprisingly cohesive and right in line with their newer material.  It’s not to say that they haven’t changed or grown, but there’s a few songs on here that with a little better production could easily appear on a newer album.  Martsch’s voice sounds more or less the same, and the catchiness is already present (even if it sometimes buried under all kinds of things).  And of course, Marstch’s guitar skill is apparent throughout.  The album (released on the tiny C/Z label) also plays around a lot with experimental sounds and multitracking.  When listening closely, it gives the album a kind of lurching quality, with backing vocals and guitars at different levels of volume throughout the disc.

But “The First Song” sounds like a fully formed BtS song–the voice and guitar and catchy chorus are all there..  The only real difference is the presence of the organ in the background.  “Three Years Ago Today” feels a bit more slackery–it sounds very 90s (like the irony of the cover), which isn’t a bad thing.  The song switches between slow and fast and a completely new section later in the song.  “Revolution” opens with acoustic guitars and then an occasional really heavy electric guitar riff that seems to come from nowhere.  The end of the song is experimental with weird sounds and doubled voices and even a cough used as a kind of percussion.

“Shameful Dread” is an 8 minute song.   There’s a slow section, a fast section, a big noisy section and a coda that features the guys singing “la la la la la”.  Of course the most fun is that the song ends and then Nelson from The Simpsons says “ha ha” and a distorted kind of acoustic outro completes the last two minutes.

“Nowhere Nuthin’ Fuckup” is one of my favorite songs on the record.  There’s a sound in the background that is probably guitar but sounds like harbor seals barking.  I recently learned that the lyrics are an interpretation of the Velvet Underground’s “Oh! Sweet Nuthin.”  They aren’t exactly the same but are very close for some verses.  The rest of the music is not VU at all.  In fact the chorus gets really loud and angular.  I love the way the guitars build and then stop dramatically.

“Get a Life” opens with a wild riff that reminds me of Modest Mouse (who cite BtS as an influence), but the song quickly settles down (with more multitracked voices).  I love how at around 4 minutes a big swath of noise takes over and it is resolved with a really catchy noisy end section.  “Built to Spill” starts out slow and quiet, and grows louder with a catchy chorus.  In the background there’s all kinds of noisy guitars and superfuzzed bass.

“Lie for a Lie” is pretty much a simple song with s constant riff running throughout.  The verses are catchy, but the middle section is just crazy–with snippets of guitars, out of tune piano, a cowbell and random guitar squawking and even shouts and screams throughout the “solo” section.  “Hazy” is a slow song with many a lot of soloing.  The disc ends with the nine minute “Built Too Long, Pts 1,2 and 3”  Part 1 is a slow rumbling take on a riff (with slide guitar and piano).  It last about 90 seconds before Part 2 comes in.  It has a big fuzzy bass (with a similar if not identical riff) and wailing guitar solos.  Over the course of its five or so minutes it get twisted and morphed in various bizarre ways.  With about 30 seconds left, Chuck D shouts “Bring that beat back” and the song returns, sort of, to the opening acoustic section.

While the album definitely has a lot of “immature” moments (and why shouldn’t the band have fun?) there’s a lot of really great stuff here.

btstix

[READ: September 26, 2015] Critical Insights: David Foster Wallace

It’s unlikely that a non-academic would read a book of critical insights about an author.  Of course, if you really like an author you might be persuaded to read some dry academic prose about that author’s work.  But as it turns out, this book is not dry at all.  In fact, I found it really enjoyable (well, all but one or two articles).

One of the things that makes a book like this enjoyable (and perhaps questionable in terms of honest scholarship) is that everyone who writes essays for this collection is basically a fan of DFW’s work.  (Who wants to spend years thoroughly researching an author only to say means things about him or her anyway?).  So while there are certainly criticisms, it’s not going to be a book that bashes the author.  This is of course good for the fan of DFW and brings a pleasant tone to the book overall.

For the most part the authors of this collection were good writers who avoided a lot of jargon and made compelling arguments about either the book in question or about how it connected to something else.  I didn’t realize until after I looked at the biographies of the authors that nearly everyone writing in this book was from England or Ireland.  I don’t think that makes any difference to anything but it was unexpected to have such an Anglocentric collection about such an American writer (although one of the essays in this book is about how DFW writes globally).

Philip Coleman is the editor and he write three more or less introductory pieces.  Then there are two primary sections: Critical Insights and Critical Essays. (more…)

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dec2014SOUNDTRACK: MYNABIRDS-“All My Heart” NPR Lullaby SXSW (March 19, 2015).

mynaFrom March 17-March 21, the SXSW festival raged on. And my friends at NPR Music were there so I didn’t have to be. In past years they have had a nightly recap of their favorite shows of the day. This year they upped the ante by inviting a musician to sing a lullaby.  Most of these lullabies occurred in some unexpected outdoor location at 2 or so A.M. after a long day of music.

For this lullaby, the NPR gang met by Waller Creek, giving Laura Burhenn a perfect backdrop to her 2 A.M. lullaby. It’s just her and her tiny Casio keyboard (which is on an interesting setting that makes it sound more like a harmonium).

This is an as yet unreleased song.  It is simple and charming.  And I really like the way she plays an unexpected note in the chorus. Her voice is dusky and quiet and it all works so well in this setting. It’s a beautiful lullaby.

Check it out here.

[READ: March 23, 2015] “My Mother’s Apartment”

This issue of Harper’s featured five essays (well four essays and one short story) about “Growing Up: five coming of age stories.”  Since I knew a few of these authors already, it seemed like a good time to devote an entire week to growing up.  There are two introductions, one by Christine Smallwood (who talks about Bob Seger) and one by Joshua Cohen who talks about the coming of age narrative.

I don’t know Barrodale’s writing.  She says that she was 24 and took a writing class but only lasted for one day in the class.  She felt that getting an MFA was dishonorable.  Rather, she wanted to a have a real job but to write fiction on the side:  “I wanted to be like William Gaddis.  I wanted to work, drink, wear normal clothes, pay my bills and write.”

She was 31 when she realized her plans were not going to come true. (more…)

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contficSOUNDTRACKTHAO NGUYEN-Tiny Desk Concert #5 (September 4, 2008).

thaoI had never heard of Thao Ngyuen (who admits that her last name is a phonetic disaster–it’s pronounced When) before this concert and man is she a lot of fun.

  She plays a great acoustic guitar—very percussive on the strings (and even some percussive noises from her mouth before the first song starts).  Her voice is a strange mix of a few singers, reminding me a bit of Björk (but with a kind of Southern sounding accent) and maybe Beth Orton, if Beth was a bit more excited.   Thao plays her guitar very loosely—a kind of sloppiness that is really fun—but not in a “she can’t really play” way.  It’s an I’m having a lot of fun style.

NPR dude Mike Katzif heard her band Get Down Stay Down opening for another band.  And he loved her off-kilter melodies (which are ample).  “Bag of Hammers” is played on the high strings and it has an almost Caribbean feel—boppy and fun and totally made for dancing. Her guitar playing is very fast strumming, especially on “Beat (Health, Life and Fire),” I love watching the chords she is playing up and down the neck of the guitar.

I really enjoyed the conceit of “Big Kid Table” and the Hawaiian vibe she gets from her guitar.  “Feet Asleep” brings out a bit more of a country vibe from her singing (she is from Virginia).  I love the diversity of her music and I’m looking forward to checking out both her band and her solo work. In addition to being a great singer and songwriter, she is also quite funny—the story about her grandma and her calves is very funny indeed.

This continues the greatness of the Tiny Desk concerts.

[READ: November 14, 2013]  “The Empty Plenum”

The reason I got involved with Wittgenstein’s Halloween was because David Foster Wallace had said Wittgenstein’s Mistress was one of the best books of the 1990s.

The whole list is on Salon, but here’s the quote about WM:

“Wittgenstein’s Mistress” by David Markson (1988)
“W’s M” is a dramatic rendering of what it would be like to live in the sort of universe described by logical atomism. A monologue, formally very odd, mostly one-sentence ¶s. Tied with “Omensetter’s Luck” for the all-time best U.S. book about human loneliness. These wouldnt constitute ringing endorsements if they didnt happen all to be simultaneously true — i.e., that a novel this abstract and erudite and avant-garde that could also be so moving makes “Wittgenstein’s Mistress” pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country.

I had also read his review of the book before [I copy everything I said then below].  I admit I didn’t get that much out of it before because it was mostly about Wittgenstein and a book I hadn’t read.  Well, now that I’ve read the Markson book, it seemed like a good time to revisit the review.

Two things strike me immediately–this was written after Wallace had written Broom of the System and some other fiction and yet he speaks of himself as a “would-be writer,” not a writer.  And two, this review really belongs in a philosophy journal rather than a literary journal–DFW was making the jump from philosophy to literature, but his knowledge of philosophy is very strong, so he is focusing on that aspect of the story. (more…)

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witmisSOUNDTRACK: NEIL HALSTED-“Wittgenstein’s Arm” (2012).

neil-halstead-palindrome-hunches-450Halsted was a founder of the band Slowdive, who I knew somewhat.  I don’t know anything of his solo work, although his name rang a little familiar.

This is a very pretty, slow acoustic ballad.  Halsted’s voice is whispery and with proper folk inflections. The chorus has a very catchy melody.  And yet the lyrics are really dark and sad.

And while there is a mention of an arm in the song, there’s no mention of Wittgenstein.

You can check out the video here:

[READ: November 3, 2013] Wittgenstein’s Mistress p. 181-end

This peculiar book draws to a close in much the same way that it started. There are a few interesting revelations or, if not revelations, then perhaps ponderables as to the nature of just what our narrator (who is apparently named Helen) is doing.

As this last section opens, she is revisiting some more of the things that have been on her mind for the book—the waterlogged atlas that lies flat on the shelf and that blasted arthritic should/ankle  .

I have been wondering about her constant references to her period.  In addition to simply being something that happens to her which she is recording, I have to wonder if it is a nod to her fertility and the fact that since she is the last person alive she will never bear children.  On a slightly related note, I also have to wonder if her focus on rape means she was once raped.  It’s not necessarily the case of course, but there is a lot of it in the book, like this next mention: (more…)

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witmis4SOUNDTRACK: PANIC-Requiem for Martin Heidegger (1978).

13+LP+Hoes++VoorkantPanic was a Dutch punk band.  Their album 13 came out in 1978 and “Requiem for Martin Heidegger” was the final track.  I love the album cover (and no I had never heard of this band either).

The lyrics are wonderfully simple (and no you won’t learn a thing about the man) with the completely singable chorus of “Hi-Degger, Hi-Degger, Hi-Degger, Hi-Degger, Hi!”

There are some other lyrics (including ein, zwei, drei, vier) and “Is he in heaven, is he in hell, where has he gone?  no one can tell.”

There’s some introductory chatter which I think is in German, but may be in Dutch.  But that’s all irrelevant, because this is three minutes of classic 70s punk.  And the video is a hoot too.

[READ: October 30, 2013] Wittgenstein’s Mistress p. 120-180

Although I read the first half of this book rather quickly, I took some time off before reading this section.  The good news is that this book does not require constant attention.  The bad news is that because there are so many details in the book (whether “relevant” or not) it’s easy to forget if she has talked about the different pieces before.  And that is kind of the point from her a well, since she constantly questions whether she has talked about something or not.

I’m breaking from my normal summary for a minute because I wanted to bring up something that struck me as I was reading this.  Several times throughout the book I found myself searching the web for ideas and facts that she mentions.  And it struck me that, while yes, in her world, the internet wouldn’t be working anyhow—there’s no electricity even—but she would not even have the concept of being able answer her questions with a few clicks.  This book wasn’t written that long ago, but when it was, the internet as we know it didn’t exist.  So our narrator does not know that she could have answered all of her questions in just seconds.  If this book was written now, it might even be seen as a “point” that the world no longer has such easy access to information.  But that is not an issue in this book.  Rather, our narrator simply knows that unless she is willing to dig through boxes or really wrack her brain to be able to remember where she found the information (and we know that’s not going to be successful), she simply won’t “know” what she knows.  And it’s interesting to imagine what it was like to read this book back in the 1980s without being able to quickly confirm  that indeed Wittgenstein said this or Heidegger said that or even that any of the artists she mentions really did what she says.   And I find that really fascinating.

Vaguely connected to this idea is her wondering about some details of the Savona soccer jerseys and then saying “One is scarcely about to return to Savona to check on this, however.” (122). (more…)

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