Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Air Above Mountains

One of my formative musical experiences was seeing a Cecil Taylor solo piano performance when I was 17 (in Helsinki,no less!). There was no possibility of following individual notes or harmonies in the deluge coming out of the piano - instead it seemed to call for a new way of listening, something like seeing the fractal patterns of coastline seemingly too irregular to make sense of from a closer vantage point. Currently recreating the experience by listening to the two-part Air Above Mountains, recorded around that time. I've been on Taylor binge the past few days, including such famous ensemble works as Unit Structures, but something about his solo work provides the real transcendent experience.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Notes on London Review of Books, February 3, 2005 (Volume 27, Number 3)

Linda Colley on N.A.M Rodger: the superiority of British Sea Power is a mid-19th century construction, not consistently supported by the actual history of the preceding three centuries.

Joyce’s “Stephen Hero” is a reference to “Turpin Hero” – Dick Turpin, a highwaymen and folk-hero, subject of ballads and broadsides, was probably really just a thug.

Context for “Godzilla” - not only were Hiroshima and Nagasaki still fresh in the Japanese public mind but even more recently, 1954, a boatload of tuna poisoned with radiation by US Bikini Atoll hydrogen bomb experiment had been sold in Japan before the hospitalization of its crew with radiation sickness was known. The Emperor himself stopped eating fish.

Emma Richler (daughter of Mordecai) has written two books, Feed My Dead Dogs and Sister Crazy about growing up in a big, eccentric E. Nesbit-styled family. This turns out to be more psychologically complex in real life than in Y.A. novels but the books sound charming all the same.

White Mozambican Mia Coutu, who writes in Portuguese (hence lusophone) sounds well worth reading. The Last Flight of The Flamingo and Sleepwalking Night, at least, have been translated into English.

Mendelssohn a fascinating character, must listen to more of his music. Wagner’s anti-semitism partly originates in personal rivalry with Felix, from whom he (Wagner) stole quite freely.

Documentary film Mondovino is “substantively about the world of wine and taste, but formally it’s skilful agit-prop against the forces of globalisation.” (Steven Shapin)

Alfred Wegener’s 1915 “The Origins of Continents and Oceans” posited the existence of the Pangaea supercontinent which was not commonly accepted until the late 1960s. Also beneath Yellowstone Park is a “supervolcano” whose effects, should it erupt, would be much more cataclysmic than most of the things we worry about. It is 40,000 years overdue for its cyclical eruption.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Comedians and Hoofers

Rainy February Monday nights are hard to salvage, but all travel should be as painless as a fast 3 train to Bergen Street and the two block walk to Freddy's Backroom. Freddy's is ordinarily a bastion of bar-band rock, but the creative furnace known as Mother Earth (Kyle Clyde and Dylan Hay) moved their base of operations from Port D'Or (their own living room) for one night only. I arrived a bit late, regrettably missing Ramble Tamble (whose name and MySpace tracks both get lots of points for future exploration).

First up (for me) was a trio called Try Cry Try. The lead singer, intriguingly cross-dressed in black leather pants, stiletto heels, halter top, scarf and hairpiece (the latter more of a prop than transformative wardrobe element), has a kind of psychodramatic vocal style (picture someone screaming "don't tell me to calm down!" repeatedly), while the bassist and guitarist, in black and white doom metal face paint, play black and white doom metal, but with a lo-fi edge accentuated by the "drummer", a hand-held cassette player with a vocal mike taped to it. The show climaxed with some smashing of cement blocks and overturned tables, all strobe-lit by artist Jessie Stead.

Following that was "Charlie the Singing Dog" whose name is accurately descriptive - a couple of humans accompanied on singing and hand drum. Charlie sat on a drum stool with a microphone and at the end of his set, he sort of scurried around to all four corners of the stage, as if securing the perimeter.

The old vaudeville admonition that you never want to follow an animal act was put to rest by Mother Earth, whose own psychodrama (more Maya Deren than Artaud) is extraordinary. The two times I've seen the duo, they start at opposite ends of the performance space, and work their way towards each other (using portable amplification devices to make some sounds on the way), ending in a sort of yin-yang clash/reconciliation - a stylized wrestling match, wrapping one another in plastic and so on. One of the most visually striking moments this time was the plastic wrap being stretched between them as they strained about 8 feet apart, like a visual representation of gravitational bonds. They typically end by hustling "offstage" (out of the room) in a whirl.

My other favorite Kyle Clyde performance that I've seen so far was a piece for electric guitar and fluorescent light tubes in which the latter, besides being visually compelling, are used to induce all kinds of hum and feedback in interaction with the guitar, with results quite different from the many other ways of playing the instrument.