Archive for the ‘Set Fire To Flames’ Category

clowns SOUNDTRACK: LE FLY PAN AM: N’écoutez pas [CST031] (2004).

flypanam31N’écoutez pas (Do Not Listen) was the third and final full length album from Constellation’s Fly Pan Am (or in this case Le Fly Pan Am).  There are several short tracks on the disc as well as two 11 minutes songs

“Brûlez suivant, suivante!” (Burn Next, Next!) Opens the disc and hints that it’s going to be a standard rock album—4×4 drums and a dense buzzy electric guitar.  And even when the song proper starts, there’s chanted worded in French and some noisy guitar—its very far from the bass and funky glitchy stuff of previous albums.  The song has very conventional element—a drum break where one might clap along and what sounds like people singing lalalalalala, but all under a veneer of noise and decay that makes it anything but poppy.  There’s a deep voice speaking insistently in French and way in the background a person screaming.  So, really it’s rather unconventional, but within a relatively “normal” framework.  “Ex éleveurs de renards argentés” (Ex breeders silver foxes) is the noise of completely detuned guitars getting plucked and strummed for 30 seconds until a piano plays a chord and all else stops.  It seems like a song will begin but, no, more noises—industrial waves and cars honking takes over.  And then a cacophony of voices begins talking all over each other (including a couple in English).  It’s all over after about 2 minutes.

“Autant zig-zag” (As much zig-zag) is a totally apt name for this song.  This is the first 11 minute track.  After a minute or so introduction, the song comes in with a propulsive bass (not funky at all like the last album) and the song feels like it’s ready to rock.  And it does.  It keeps up this rhythm for a bit and then shifts to a new part with wordless vocals.  There’s even a call and response section with sung words and ooh ooohs as response.  The song shifts to a kind of pummeling section that continues for several minutes until the end.  It contains pretty much everything the band does.  “Buvez nos larmes de métal” (Drink our metal tears) is a noise collage with dramatic movie soundtrack type music played behind the static and distant voices and noises.

“Pas à pas step until” (Step by Step until) has a commanding one, two, three, pause, four, riff going on that is at once catchy and noisy.  The song proper comes in with whispered singing and a wild bass line.  Alexandre St-Onge contributes his wonderful chaos to this song which has some really catchy backing vocals in it

“…” opens side two with what sounds like a voice repeating Fly Pan Am over an over amidst the sound of someone else chewing.  It segues into “Très très ‘retro'” “Very Very ‘Retro’” is the other 11 minute song.  It has two guests, Dominique Petrin on vocals and Tim Heck on electronics.  The song opens with a high-pitched bass and some great counterpoint rhythms.   There’s more hidden vocals throughout the song  Around three minutes in, the bass gets funky.  This runs on for several minutes with some interesting sound effects thrown in until there’s a loud pop and silence.   And then another pop and organ music takes over.  At about 9 minute the song resumes the funky bass line. Again, the band has crammed a lot of stuff into this song.

“Vos rêves revers” (Your dreams setback) has a nice bass sound with some ringing guitar notes.  There’s whispered vocals that sing a melody of sorts.  It’s a fairly conventional song—catchy and bouncy with vocals and everything (true they are whispered and hushed vocals but they do follow a melody line).  At about 4 minutes (of 6), the songs crashes unto itself with the drums and the guitars seeming to fall apart

“Ce sale désir éfilé qui sortant de ma bouche” (This dirty tapered desire coming out of my mouth) has a deep echoing drum kick which keeps a beat.  In the distant background a keening voice kind of follows the melody.  The disc ends with “Le faux pas aimer vous souhaite d’être follement ami” (The false not love you madly want to be friend).  It’s a one minute song with sliding guitars and rock drums which propel this to as close to punk as the band has gotten.  There’s chanting and excitement and fun and then the whole song unravels after about 40 seconds at the end with a sloppy piano denouement.

And that was it from this avant-garde band. The members went on to make lots of other music, Jonathan Parant went on to form Feu Thérèse. Felix Morel has played drums with all kind of interesting bands including Et Sans.  Roger Tellier-Craig has been in Et Sans and Set Fire to Flames among others.  And Jean-Sebastian Truchy has played in several bands including Avec le soleil sortant de sa bouche.

[READ: February 6, 2016] City of Clowns

In the afterword to this book, Alarcón explains how it as written.  He lived in Lima, Peru for a year, teaching.  But while he was there, he had writer’s block.  So he moved to a farmhouse in the middle of America–pure solitude.  And there he wrote the story “City of Clowns” (which I read back in 2013 in the New Yorker) in English.  Sheila Alvarado talked to him about turning the book into a graphic novel.  And so it was completed (after much labor, he says) in a slightly condensed Spanish edition to be released in Spain.  And then, eventually, it was translated into English again, from the Spanish graphic novel.

Since the story really doesn’t change from the short story version, I’m going to put my original comments here:

It opens with Oscarcito going to the hospital because his father died the night before.  He finds his mother mopping floors because his father’s bill was unpaid.  And in that very first paragraph, she introduces her son to Carmela—the woman whom his father left them for.  She was mopping the floor with Oscarcito’s  mother.  He is confused and enraged by this.

His half brothers are also there.  He had never met them before, preferring to stay away from his father’s other life.  But he saw them in front of him and clearly saw that they were related to him.  But the most galling thing was that although he was the oldest of all the children, they were clearly the chosen children—after all, his father stayed with them.

Then we learn about his father’s life.  He was born in Cerro de Pasco and moved to Lima when his young family was still young.  He worked hard in semi-legitimate businesses and then brought his family to the city.  Young Oscarcito, age 8, loved it.  But his mother hated missing her family in Cerro de Pasco.  And now they were living with his father who was practically a stranger. His father worked hard and succeeded, but he was rarely home.

Between flashbacks to his father’s story we see that Oscarcito is now a reporter for the local newspaper and he has been asked to write about the clowns that are prevalent around the city.  Oscarcito is on a bus when a clown approaches.  The clown is pelted by water balloons but still manages to climb aboard the bus and peddle his wares—gaining a few coins for his “act.”  Oscarcito is not interested in the subject and puts it off.

So he travels to his mother’s house to see how she is doing, but a neighbor there tells him she has been living with Carmela since his father got sick.  His mother was embarrassed by this and asked the neighbor not to say anything to him.

His mother had been a cleaning lady since they moved to Lima.  She worked for the Azcártes, a wealthy local family who treated her very well and treated Oscarcito practically like their own son.  Oscar was even sent to a nice school where he was welcomed until they realized where he was from.  Gangs would steal anything from anyone, and were called Piranhas.  And that became Oscar’s nickname at school.  And soon he was made fun of by just about everyone, but especially by one boy.

A flashback then shows that Oscarcito went to work with his father doing construction on a few occasions—they worked very hard on expansions of people’s houses—working hard and working well and making good improvements.  But all the while, they were waiting patiently until they could rob them of all of their fine things.

So when he found his father was working for the father of the boy who made fun of him, he wanted in, and he stole the boy’s suit.

Finally, after putting off his article for ages, Oscarcito meets and interviews a clown.  And that clown tells him how he started and invites him along.  And Oscarcito does.  He finds that he likes the anonymity of the job.

All of the threads come to a head as the story reaches its close—where Oscar will confront his mother and deal with his newfound joy at being a clown.

The ending was very powerful and I enjoyed this story immensely.

There are few details from the original story that have been changed (and I amended my comments accordingly).

There is also an extra scene added of him dating a girl named Carla who walked on stilts.  There’s an erotic moment which is really interesting and which brings a whole new level of fascination to Oscar’s clown life.

Obviously the biggest change is Alvarado’s illustrations.  She does an excellent job recreating these scenes much as I imagined them.  I really  enjoyed the way she worked within the mens’ professions–putting words on bricks as his father was laying them, hanging papers up to dry with text on them, and using excellent distinctions of black and white to show the different settings in Oscar’s life.

The biggest change I think is the depiction of Oscar in his clown suit.  It’s nothing like I imagined and is all the better for it.  Alarcón says that now this is “its true and definitive form” of the book, and I imagine that this is what I will think of when I think of the story.

For ease of searching, I include: Daniel Alarcon.


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c28SOUNDTRACK: HISS TRACKS-Shortwave Nights [CST104] (2014).

hissThe Hiss Tracks album begins with a rumbling roiling and yes a kind of hissing sound.  There was a moment of concern that this would be literally 40 minutes of static . But no, there are some interesting electronic blips and phrases amidst he roiling rumble.

Some context about this band from the Constellation site:

Hiss Tracts is an ongoing collaboration between “sound sculptors” David Bryant and Kevin Doria. Both players are known for their work within various strains of drone-inflected and experimental music: Bryant as a member of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Set Fire To Flames, Doria as a member of Growing and for his solo work as Total Life.

Hiss Tracts opens new collaborative, procedural and narrative pathways for these fine musicians to continue exploring soundscape-based composition and production. Both are guitar players, and the electric guitar figures as both recognizable and unrecognizable source instrument on Shortwave Nights, but the deployment of a wide range of additional analog sources and signals ensures that there is no confusing this for a guitar-based drone, noise or post-rock record.

So there you have it.  Once the rumble of that first song, ‘…shortwave nights,” dissipates there are some ringing guitar sounds quietly repeating amid a low static and other sounds.   The song ends with some dissonant guitar notes.  It’s eight minutes in total and has the feeling of an ambient soundtrack, but not a relaxing one or of background music.

“half-speed addict starts with broken wollensak” does indeed begin slowly, at about half-speed, with more rumbling sounds.  The song speeds up at the end, with muffled sounds keeping a very fast pace and a keyboard note rings out as the song finishes.  “slowed rugs” has a kind of one note drone while some vibrating drones continue over it—it’s a gentle electronic sound manipulation.   The oscillating notes fold in on themselves and mutate into some thing else.  As the song nears its end, a repeated series of unusual notes seems to rise from the din.

“drake motel / “9 gold cadillacs”” is a one minute interstitial that opens and closes with someone playing a harmonica.  The player offers it to someone else and then the rest is a series of statements from an unnamed person:

I would never put my mouth on something that you had put your mouth on.
The more you love people the worse they treat you I am so tired of it.
My daddy spent million of dollars trying to by a friend and he died without one.
You can give a sumbitch a million dollars cash tax-free and tomorrow they wouldn’t give you a cracker if you were starving to death.  That is a bible prophecy.

“windpipe gtrs.” sounds like a bunch of didgeridoos trying to overtake each other.  “halo getters” is an ominous piece, with more of that rumbling static and some portentous chords over the top.  The five-minute song doesn’t change much although about a minute in some guitars ring out sounding very outer spacey.  The song repeats and eventually warbles to and end which somehow feels warmer than the rest, like little explosions of quiet sound which almost sound like car horns.

“for the transient projectionist” opens with ringing bells/gongs.  After a few minutes of this peaceful sound, some music bubbles up—waves of warm keyboards and washes of mild static.  It seems to have a natural progression before ending.

“ahhh-weee dictaphone” is a 41 second interstitial of what sounds like vocal goofing around.  “test recording at trembling city” has mechanical ringing tones coming on in waves.  The song builds in intensity as it sounds almost like a high-speed-something about to crash, or a siren going off.  It is rather unsettling.  “beijing bullhorn / dopplered light” is mostly staticy radio and voices muttering under some gentle washes of chords.   It is a relatively pretty ending to a somewhat unsettling disc.

The instruments included on the disc include: guitar, tape machine, piano, mellotron, portasound, bowls, field recordings, oscillators, sampler, synthesizer

This is a pretty esoteric disc that many people won’t enjoy, but if you like experimental ambient textures, it’s worth a listen.

[READ: March 10, 2016]  “Undecided”

After last night’s debate, in which evidently there are some 36% of the population undecided about whom to vote for, here’s a political piece from the 2008 election.  What I especially loved about this one was just how relevant it all seemed 8 years later.  The “undecided” voters aren’t getting as much airtime yet, but one wonders how poll numbers can shift when the candidates are so radially different.  I recall in the 2008 election how people seemed genuinely undecided about the two candidates and Sedaris (and myself and many others) just ask: HUH?.

Sedaris notes how the undecideds get interviewed about being undecided and they all look “very happy to be on TV.” And oh dear, they just can’t make up their minds.

“I look at these people and can’t quite believe that they exist.  Are they professional actors? I wonder or are they simply laymen who want a lot of attention?”

And then he says to imagine their perspective as if you were on an airplane.  The attendant brings the food cart over and in what may have been the most apt analogy:

Can I interest you in the chicken? she asks.  Or would you prefer the platter of shit with bits of broken glass in it?

To follow through he says that being undecided is to “pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.” (more…)

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