Thursday, December 29, 2005

Little Canadian Content on Soulseek

Now what does this mean, folks -- are bands like Rough Trade and the Payolas still alive on the radio in Canada ONLY BECAUSE OF CANADIAN CONTENT LAWS? I've been looking for Rough Trade's "All Touch" on Soulseek for an 80's New Year's Mix disc I'm making for a friend's party for about three days; I also wanted to find "Never Said I Loved You," by the Payolas with Carol Pope. I've heard both these songs on the radio in recent weeks, and I basically only ever hear the radio in waiting rooms or in friend's cars. I'm shocked at how hard these songs are to find, though; they seem almost completely forgotten. The only Payolas' tune that turns up regularly is "Eyes of a Stranger" -- occasionally I've bumped into "You're the Only Love" or "Christmas is Coming," the latter being a seasonal accident, but otherwise it seems like no one is trading this stuff on the 'net at all, not even Canadians! I finally did locate the latter tune, but I've yet to find "All Touch." Worse, there isn't a Payolas CD to be found anywhere in Vancouver -- Hammer on a Drum has never been reissued, in fact; the only thing available is an embarrassingly-titled compilation, Between a Rock and a Hyde Place, but even that appears unfindable, from Zulu to HMV (with a stroll through the Granville used shops to boot). I can understand why Doug and the Slugs recorded output is all out of print, much as I miss Doug (and sincerely love Cognac and Bologna; by the way, none of them on Soulseek, either); and as amazing as it was, it's not at all surprising that Slow's Against the Glass has yet to be reissued; but the Payolas, condemned to obscurity? When meatheads like Bryan Adams and Celine Dion are world-famous... there's something very wrong with thus picture. It's the downside of CanCon laws, I guess -- they give people who listen to the radio an exaggerated sense of the survival of music that is almost completely extinct, allowing us to take it for granted...

...anyhow, that's kind of a trivial post, but it's been on my mind...

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Derek Bailey is dead

His bio/obit from Wikipedia.

The Winks play Dec. 29th!

I have not forgotten the Winks, folks. True, my stint as a Winks groupie flagged after about six or seven shows (or maybe eight if you count the Tights), and I have not seen them nor written much about them in a few months, but my fondness for them remains, as well as my desire to see them succeed at the wonderful, rare, and quirky thing they do... They will be performing on December 29th at the Candy Bar. (Explore the site for MP3s and such). They've been described as doing a sort of baroque pop, though that doesn't really do a lot of justice to the Sonic Youth influences on Todd's mandolin playing. I have reacted to them in different ways at different times but they're usually at the very least an engaging and interesting musical (and visual, since they're pretty fascinating to watch) experience; on a great night they approach a transcencent state, where the audience leave aside being entertained and begin to Believe. What exactly the Belief is that Winks performances engender I cannot say, but in these post-Christian times you gotta believe in something...

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Minutemen, D. Boon, a Spooky Synchronicity Involving the Number 23, and Work

Okay, so, dig, the other week I bumped into the good natured, hard-working, and super-competent manager of the school I work at at Starbucks and had a casual chat with her about the music she liked -- mostly classic rock and 80's pop. It struck me as a greatly inspired idea to buy her the Minutemen's DOUBLE NICKLES ON THE DIME -- she ain't hip enough to have heard of it, but she may just be hip enough to appreciate it, and that's the point. A great Christmas gift, right? I handed it to her at work today, in the busy teacher's room, as I was doing my photocopying.

Well here's something spooky: it turns out that today is the 20th anniversary of D. Boon's death, something I never knew about until just a few minutes ago, when I bumped into David "Get Your War On" Rees' appreciation of Boon and the Minutemen, liked off his site. What a day to give this particular gift! I have emailed my manager (with a hopefully helpful bit of background on how the fact this is December 23rd would freak out a certain synchronicity-minded portion of the population, which will, we hope, not necessarily implicate ME in that crowd of people... I haven't dropped acid in years, really!); I am now going to post a comment on Rees' blog.

Meantime, here's to D. Boon (and George and Mike, too, but mostly to Boon). We love you, man. Guess I'll be listenin' to some Minutemen tonight...

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Frogs with Extra Legs, Fish with Extra Mouths

There's a fair bit of fascinating stuff on the internet about the hundreds of deformed frogs found in Minnesota and Quebec (and elsewhere), mostly in ponds on agricultural lands. Frogs, as you may have heard, are considered "sentinel species;" because of their porous bodies -- they usually take water in directly through the skin, without having to drink -- and their complex life cycles, they make a good index of environmental degradation. It seems bizarre, but no-one has been able to prove that these sorts of deformities are caused by pesticides and other agricultural chemicals, though it's ones immediate assumption.

Disturbing to hear, anyhow, that similar things are being found in trout. Even though it's an isolated case, I wouldn't eat a fish like this.

Unusual Comic Books

On a short scan of Ethan Persoff's website, which is very cool indeed, I discovered government-produced comic books about heroin addiction and about the invasion of Grenada (anti-communist propaganda distributed by the CIA at the time in Grenada, which is primarily English-speaking; like the Donald Duck comics distributed in Chile during the CIA-sponsored coup that overthrew Allende -- comics Ariel Dorfman wrote about at length in How to Read Donald Duck -- this was not meant for reading in the US). Also got to virtually flip through a charmingly revealing comic advertising udder-friendly milking technology and another on what was called, in the day, "VD" (did "STD" replace "VD" because people don't know what the word "venereal" means? What was the process of replacement? Where did it begin, for instance -- on the streets? In a health clinic? In a government office? On television?). Mr. Persoff, I salute you!

Thanks to David Ashton in Japan for pointing out the site -- he's got a great eye for finding cool things on the internet.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Still Yet Another Really Hard Free Cell

15804, for those of you who like challenges. Jeez.

Cloning Mammoths

Normally biotechnology scares the hell out of me, but projects like this are kind of exciting, no? It appeals to the kid in me, though it's probably not a very good idea for people to fuck around with this sort of thing.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Segregation-Era Signs Discovered

Thought this was an interesting reminder of history that most people don't realize is so recent -- signs denoting drinking fountains for whites vs. "coloureds" have been uncovered in a store undergoing renovations in the American south.

DVD Review: High Tension

If one cared to demonstrate how little critics, or film audiences in general, care to think about the movies they watch, one need only contemplate reactions to the French meta-slasher film High Tension, particularly in regard to the film’s “surprise ending” (which, I should note, I will spoil slightly in the course of this piece of writing, though actually I doubt intelligent viewers of the movie will find the pleasures of the film lessened much by my doing this; intelligent horror film buffs and attentive viewers alike, in fact, will probably see the “surprise” telegraphed from the gitgo, when Marie says that the person pursuing her in her dream is actually herself, and simply spend the rest of the movie waiting to see how the significance of this line will play out in the narrative). The movie, and its surprise, hinge on one idea, that the good guy and bad guy in horror films, insofar as they both serve as our representatives, are really one, and that in standard horror films, the audiences get to be somewhat hypocritical about this, projecting their transgressive desires onto the one while pretending to utter virtue themselves, by identifying solely with the hero or heroine, even as they delight at seeing blood spill. High Tension plays a little trick on us to jolt us out of the comfort of this denial, and that’s basically its whole point in existing; it wants us to own our Ids, to admit that we exist on both the positive and negative ends of the spectrum, and wouldn’t be watching the film if it were otherwise. While this idea is not particularly new, or complex, or profound, and the presentation of it is not necessarily a valid pretext for having made the film (which some might find a pretty sordid piece of work), it is amazing to see how resilient critics are to at least acknowledging that an idea exists, and that the twist ending, whatever damage it does to the narrative logic of the film – and it does indeed do some -- does actually convey meaning, and in fact exists for that purpose alone. Almost none of the critics who pan the film want to acknowledge this:
Critic Daniel Kimmel complains about an “utterly moronic twist that comes out of left field and makes a hash out of much of what we have already had to endure;” Wesley Morris calls the film a “fraud” that doesn’t make an “iota of sense,” and notes that “what happens in the final minutes is narratively dumb -- and psychosexually ridiculous,” and Roger Ebert, who seldom seems worried enough about revealing the limits of his perceptions, complains about the “physically, logically and dramatically impossible” twist, which one can drive a “truck” through (punning on the fact that the “killer,” who apparently does not really exist save as a creation of the heroine’s fragmented personality, drives a truck that is apparently real). Brian Buzz Juergens gets the prize for the harshest rejection of the film’s central point, though:
I won’t speak in any detail about the final twist, but it stings like a
slap in the face. Take a step back, and it’s puzzling. Take another step
back, and it’s just stupid. Take another, and it’s actually quite offensive.
It’s bad enough to effectively ruin everything that comes before it, so I
feel that I at least have to mention it here, even without any details. If
M. Night Shyamalan’s movies piss you off, you haven’t seen anything – and
his twists actually make sense.

Well, so does the twist in High Tension, Buzz. If you paid attention to the significance of the fact that the heroine is masturbating as the killer approaches the house, say, you might actually have been less surprised by it. Even if the film doesn’t survive on the level of coherent narrative – fares even worse than Fight Club or Identity, which play similar tricks on us – there’s no reason why coherent narrative should be more important than the articulation of an idea. I mean, isn’t the watching of films intimately tied to the pursuit of meaning? Isn’t that what film is supposed to do, to stimulate our emotions and desires, so we can observe and think about them, and perhaps learn something about ourselves? Why are so many of the people who write about film so stupid, then? Why does an idea as obvious and as uncomplicated as the one behind High Tension seem to catch so many viewers unprepared?

Anyhow, while it’s far from essential viewing, the film seems like a reasonably harmless invitation to enjoy a horror film and think about it, too, which is actually quite close to my idea of a good time at the cinema; it’s a passably entertaining way to spend an evening. I’m sure Carol J. Clover would be passably amused by it and could productively include discussion of it in an updated version of Men, Women, and Chainsaws. It belongs on the lowbrow edge of the “genre” that has been ironically dubbed New French Extremity (art films with lots of gore, brutal violence, and/or sex in them – the films of Gaspar Noe being the best known other example of this style of filmmaking). The DVD, somewhat amusingly, has three different versions of the film on it: the first is partially dubbed, but (if I’m getting this right – it’s a little complicated) uncensored; the second is completely dubbed and partially censored; the third is subtitled and uncensored. Pretty ridiculous. I've yet to check to see which of the three is the default -- it'll be a handy litmus test to determine just how dumb (or how smart) the people at Lions Gate think their audience is.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

King Kong

Seeing the first King Kong, for me, was a formative experience in much the same way it was for Peter Jackson; I was about the same age, though he saw it on TV while I watched it in my elementary school gym, where one of my teachers was playing a print of it he actually owned, projecting it onto a screen. The film secured my love of cinema like no other (it helped that I was a big dinosaur fan). I had a delightful experience during the summer stumbling across the Monsters in the Meadow projection of the film in Stanley Park, and since then, I've been much looking forward to seeing Jackson's remake. My first reactions to the movie follow; I've only seen it once thus far, may see it again, though I don't think the film entirely succeeds:

1. To get this out of the way, I liked some of the special effects, but I have mixed feelings about CGI. Filmmakers tend to get overambitious with it; the dinosaurs and Kong move at such speed in certain scenes that it gets dizzying. I guess the point is to really push the audience into a state of high stimulation, and sometimes it works -- the tyrannosaur fights are pretty intense -- but sometimes the speed of the animals' motions serves to underscore their completely virtual nature; any illusion of actual embodiment is erased by their apparent weightlessness as they zip about the screen. I found myself wondering why Jackson couldn't restrict himself to only doing things that really looked good -- it's his ambition that reveals the limitations of the technology (or else the CGI needed more work). Sometimes I actually miss stop-motion; people were always aware of the limitations of the technology, so they seldom exceeded them, while CGI seems to have ushered in an age of unparallelled cinematic excess, at least as far as spectacle films are concerned...

2. I greatly liked the relationship between Kong and Ann Darrow. One understands Kong, and understands why Ann is moved by him; Jackson's elaborations on Kong's personality are marvelous, as are Andy Serkis' facial expressions, "playing" Kong. At times, we feel very fond of the big ape indeed. Kong ultimately is an enormous bullying sulking proud difficult "man"; if you can see through his tough exterior (and thick coat of fur) you realize he's got a pretty good heart, really, and that he'd go to the limit in his defense of Ann. Her admiration of him mirrors our own -- we see him through her eyes and can actually believe the "love story" that unites them. (I'd like to see a feminist reading of the film -- in ways Kong is a symbol for all the most problematic aspects of patriarchal power, which the film has no small bit of nostalgia for; Ann wants a "real man" who she can believe in, and no one can be more of a real man than a giant male gorilla.) All of this productively develops stuff contained in the original, too, though looking at it from a far more modern perspective. Watching their relationship develop and thinking about it's significance is one of the great pleasures of the film -- women with father issues will probably find it fascinating.

3. Though they're parenthetical to the main drive of the film, the Heart of Darkness references resonate disturbingly with the fact that the (black) "savages" are played as brutal and evil-looking to the point of being demons, and it's strange that a black man is given the job of interpreting Conrad as he applies to the film -- a black man whose, um, narrative is resolved in a way that isn't quite satisfying, as if the film isn't sure if he's a character we care about or not, though clearly his blackness is meant to be significant (as apologia for the racism elsewhere?). Though the point of any of this is unclear by the end of the film, there's something weirdly excessive about how savage Jackson wants these savages to be; if their savagery, along with the Heart of Darkness references, are meant to be underscore primal aspects of the human condition (thus perhaps connected to the primal masculinity of Kong), then we're left with something more than a little politically suspect, which will leave audience members with a nodding acquaintance with postcolonial theory (or, say, Chinua Achebe's essay on Heart of Darkness) feeling a little less than comfortable. One wonders what Jackson was thinking. (More can be read on this topic here, or on IMDB, where people are busily discussing the racism of Kong, though with the usual mediocre 'net-level of discussion one finds on really public forums).

4. The film's criticisms of Hollywood are milked quite successfully for much of the movie, but ultimately it is on this front that the film fails badly; though we're allowed at various points to like the Jack Black character, Carl Denham -- a ruthlessly manipulative (but somewhat comical) director/producer who doesn't care much at all about risking the men to get his movie -- there is something very very wrong about the fact that he is allowed to issue the final lines in the film, and that he ultimately has no comeuppance for his role in bringing about Kong's demise. Yes, Jackson is being faithful to the original -- Denham's final lines are pretty much the same -- but in this version of the film, it is so clearly Denham's crass willingness to exploit and use and manipulate, his desire for profit and glory and so forth, that lead to the tragic end, rather than Kong's love for Ann, that you really don't want Denham to be able to get away with milking the events for cheap sentiment, in the classic Hollywood manner. Yet he does; he dodges any accountability whatsoever, and you're left wanting someone to step in and hit him -- for Ann to slap him, say; the film screams for an explicit rejection of the ethos that he represents. Since there is none, we're left implicated ourselves in the pain and exploitation, sharing in Denham's guilt to the extent that we accept his authority to interpret the meaning of the story for us; he ends up a sort of entextualized author, Jackson's stand-in, and this is none too pleasing. The film could have been far more satisfying if Jackson had had the courage to continue his departure from the original to hold Hollywood and Denham to account for the ways they use us; in criticising Denham's ambitions earlier in the film, he awakens desires that he doesn't end up satisfying.

Of course, given the fact that King Kong IS a Hollywood spectacle film, you'd be left with a very contradictory message if he really held Denham to account; the film would be rejecting the very logic that produces it (Jonathan Rosenbaum, always ready to note these sorts of things, talks about the film's "hypocritical exploitation"). This contradiction is something you find in the first two Jurassic Park films, which reject corporate exploitive entertainment while embodying it, but... it still would have worked better narratively, would, for all its logical inconsistency, still have produced a feeling of closure more satisfying than what we're currently left with.

5. One of the reasons that one really wants to see Denham "get his" at the end of the film is that what happens to Kong is ultimately pretty painful to behold. Given how much more we are allowed to care about him, and Ann, and their relationship, it's very, very difficult to watch Kong being slowly picked off by airplanes at the top of the Empire State building. Anyone with a heart in the audience is ROOTING FOR KONG, wanting him to pull planes out of the sky, wanting him to escape somehow. Why make us love the big ape if only to kill him for our entertainment? But we're trapped in a story that can't end any other way, and that leaves you feeling pretty helpless, like Kong or Ann; we have no choice but watch a virtuous, beautiful animal being tortured and killed. (By the way, I'm not the only person who reacts that way; reading negative reviews off Rotten Tomatoes, to see if I'm alone in my perceptions, I note that Globe and Mail critic Liam Lacey phrases it thus -- "the finale is less about tragedy than cruelty, a scene about torturing an animal to death against a spectacular setting.") Maybe Jackson, in leaving this crime unrevenged, wants us to feel complicit in what we consume, I don't know -- he casts himself as one of the fighter pilots shooting at Kong, just as apparently Mel Gibson provided the hands that nail Christ to the cross in his Jesus pic, but... there's nothing guaranteed to leave you feeling crappy than to see a movie where the bad guys win, and King Kong ends up being just that; Kong's demise doesn't feel so much tragic as criminal, and the lack of justice afterwards is a major narrative flaw, which leaves us feeling like Kong's blood is on our hands.

But I guess that's Hollywood. Maybe if Kong had fallen on Denham and crushed him...?

Anyhow, a buncha previews here. It's worth seeing, I suppose, if one is hungry for this sort of entertainment. I wish I could recommend it more enthusiastically, actually. I'd really like to like Peter Jackson's transformation into a major player, given how much I enjoyed his early work... I somehow have doubts I'll ever unreservedly enjoy a film of his again.

Post-script -- Yep, second and third viewings bear it out: the first two acts of the film are beautiful, intense, and engaging, and we truly come to care about Kong and his relationship with Ann. The pain we're left with at the close of the third act, though, makes the film into a bummer, and there's something really unsatisfying about Denham getting the last word (I gather from IMDB's discussion boards that the original plan would have been to have Fay Wray utter this line, but she died before filming began; a lot of people seem displeased with this line, though mostly it's Jack Black's delivery of it that comes under fire). Not many other people seemed bothered by it - the crowd, walking away, seemed more than pleased -- a big spectacle is enough for them -- but I just felt grief that the big ape had to die... It ends on a pretty somber note, for me.

Anyhow, it was cool to discover that Andy Serkis, who "plays" Kong, is also Lumpy (the French-looking, smoking, coarse mate on the ship -- the one with the Kiwi accent). He works for Weta Digital, the company that did the special effects (and the big cricket-things in the pit, by the way, are based on weta, a unique NZ critter that grows up to 8 inches long -- a cricket longer than my penis!). He also "played" Gollum, of course. What I'm wondering, tho', is that if that was really Forrest J. Ackerman in the crowd in NY when Kong busts loose -- if anyone knows, please tell me!

Not that anyone ever comments on my blog...


A new thread has been started on IMDB about whether Denham should have been killed...

Friday, December 09, 2005

Dykes on Bikes

A San Francisco-based lesbian motorcycle group has been allowed to patent the name "Dykes on Bikes," after initially being refused because the court considered the term disparaging. I don't really know why, but I feel good about this and I thought I'd share.

Borneo Cryptid Identified?

Another tidbit off my daily scan of the Fortean Times: an unknown mammal was recently photographed in Borneo, which may be related to a species of Malaysian civet thought to be extinct. It always pleases me to discover there are still mysteries in the animal kingdom. Loren Coleman's site looks pretty cool! If only I were a cryptozoology blogger...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Terry Riley Interview in the Nerve Magazine

My interview with Terry Riley made it into the (mostly punk-focused) Nerve Magazine, which we hope will get more widely distributed around town than that last Terminal City was -- right now, you can only find it, that I've seen, in that CD store next to the pizza place by Charlie's on Granville. I won't be reprinting the interview here -- it feels kind of like cheating, and there's not much he said that didn't make it into the article. His concert on January 20th at the Chan Centre, with beat poet Michael McClure, promises to be a pretty cool event -- I highly encourage attendance! (Read the Nerve Magazine article for more info -- though the new issue is not online as I write this!). Also note the Chan's upcoming Kronos Quartet event...

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cheers to Joe Dante

...for his hour-long horror show on TV showing American war dead, newly shipped from Iraq, coming back to life, bursting out of their flag-draped coffins, and lurching, as zombies, after neocons, right-wing Christians, and conservative pundits. I have mixed feelings about the recent wave of zombie popularity -- I preferred the erstwhile elite minority status that being a zombie aficionado conferred upon one -- but I'm delighted to hear at least these new populist zombies are being put to good use. Eat a Republican for me, boys! Go to 'em!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

The Ridge Theatre is NOT closing, but St. Paul's might

Just read this in the Straight... The Ridge will continue to be a theatre, is just changing hands.

More importantly: there's a petition to save St. Paul's Hospital from the development-greed that would leave the downtown without this needed and vital resource. Those of you/us who followed the Straight's advice and voted for the somewhat dodgy-seemin' Sam Sullivan based on your/our concern over this issue might want to reinforce your views on the matter by signing the petition located here. (Okay, I admit, I voted for Sullivan, but I've got misgivings... he smiles too well, for one -- slicker even than Jack Layton, who has at least a folksy quality to him. The Straight still seem to be more or less supporting him in the face of an oncoming scandal; those seeking further reading might find this Tyee interview interesting).

Jungo's Basketball Team

I spent three years in Japan and had several hundred students in the English classes I co-taught; the best by far -- the most gifted and ambitious -- was a young fellow named Jungo Higuchi. The school, in Saitama, a suburban district (with a fair number of small farms) just north of Tokyo, was called Okegawa Nishi Koko (Okenishi for short -- you can hear the school song here, if you wait a bit -- and do explore the site; there are pictures hidden around on it, some of which are of students and teachers from my time there...!), and it wasn't by far the best high school you could go to; many of the students were content to sleep through English lessons, or covertly send text messages on their keitai, or read manga hidden in their desks, as I struggled upstream with the crappy Monbusho-approved textbooks, learning more Japanese, in my attempts to explain grammar to the students, than they ever learned English off of me... Jungo, while not the only hard-working student in the school, certainly had the biggest taste for English, and he actually went so far as to pursue his studies outside the classroom, using self-study textbooks in combination with lessons broadcast on the radio. He regularly hung out with me for extra practice -- we sat at my desk in the teacher's room, or caught the occasional movie together. He introduced me to his parents, and his grandmother even knitted me a couple of sweaters (she was a sweet old woman who fussed and played a very nervous host on my one visit to her small home). Anyhow, Jungo, who now is a member of the workforce and thinking fondly back to aspects of his school days, dropped me a line to say hello recently and sent me a photo of his basketball team. I thought posting it would make a nice break from concerts and movies and politics, the usual fare on my blog... Jungo is standing in back, second from the left, with a white t-shirt on and a black strap on his shoulder... Looks like they're in the former Omiya, now incorporated into Saitama-shi. It's not quite Shinjuku but, since it was a fair bit closer, I spent many an afternoon hanging out there, trying to figure out the Japanese alphabetization of CDs at the Nack 5 Town, drinking in the red-light district at a place called Kind House back when it had the cool Easter Island motifs, trying different restaurants, and amusing myself watching the kids who hung out around the station with acoustic guitars, hoping to be discovered... It was all pretty interesting. The Sogo Department store had a mechanical clock that would open up at certain times, displaying dancing figurines and playing "It's a Small World After All..." Odd to have places like this, maybe not even remotely the same, stuck in my brain. I could still probably find my way around... I'd love to go back for a visit. Anyhow, Higuchi-san, shashin ga arigatou gozaimasu!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Ellen Fullman continued, plus more Brett Larner (incl. notes on Haino Keiji!)

Some of the most exciting music I've heard lately was during the String Theory series at the Western Front (certainly my venue of choice for musical events this winter). Ellen Fullman's Long String Instrument was particularly a revelation; it's probably the most accessible and soothing music that could be described as drone -- the long, sustained, but complex and shifting tones have much in common with the more minimal works of La Monte Young and Tony Conrad, but are much more listener-friendly. It's music -- and I mean this as the highest of compliments -- that one could sleep to; in fact, it almost induces a sleeplike, dreamlike state, entering one's consciousness on a very deep level and grafting itself to the most vegetative of our processes (the term "deep media" seems particularly appropriate). Above we see photos of the LSI itself, which stretched the length of the venue, along with the numbers on the floor that serve as a guidepost for the player as she walks up and down between the sets of strings (it's designer and primary performer, Ellen Fullman, describes the experience of playing the LSI on her site as being "like walking in waist-high water, skimming the surface with my fingertips." This is the "travelling kit" version of the LSI, but her current studio version is in fact "slightly smaller.") Next we see Brett Larner playing one of the koto he brought from Japan, where he is based (see my interview with Brett below, for more; note the presence of Linda Hoffman of Vancouver New Music in the audience!); he accompanied Fullman, along with a Japanese friend on prepared koto, not pictured. Finally we see Ms. Fullman at work. She is now based in San Francisco. I e-mailed her with some questions after the gig.

How does it feel to play the LSI?
I sometimes concentrate to such a degree (when playing the LSI) that time
seems to stand still, it is an altered state, when things are working well. I
focus on technique, listening and making minute adjustments.

Does your music have a spiritual component?
I feel that as a performer, I am in the position of "transmitter" -- that is
that I feel my job is to bring out what is present in the sound production
of my instrument -- that what I am doing has some basis in universal
principles with a tradition.

Can she support herself with her music?

There is no comparision with arts funding in Canada and the US. It is a really a
do it yourself affair here I find for the most part. US artists rely on the
financial and moral support from other countries for survival. I have always had
day jobs.

I asked her about other musicians she likes and has collaborated with. She mentions Jim Tenney and Elianne Radique in particular. She will be performing in the Bay Area in 2006 with improvisers "hopefully including" Gino Robair, John Sherurba, Phil Gelb, Brenda Hutchinson, Krys Bobrowski, Pamela Z, Joe Colley, Kanoko Nishi, Tari Nelson Zagar and Jesse Canterberry, Luciano Chessa, Moe!, Sean Meehan, and Monique Buzzarte (of whom I believe I've only heard of Gelb, so don't be demoralized if the names are unfamiliar!). Another exciting series of collaborations which I highly recommend for anyone interested in minimal/drone music is Fullman's work with Pauline Oliveros and the Deep Listening Band, various items of which are listed here, though some seem to be out of stock.

I asked Ms. Fullman about Vancouver, and she commented that she loved playing here. "The audience was so focused, seems like a seriously vibrant scene. Playing at Western Front was like being in a living room, very intimate."

Of particular excitement to me was that Brett mentioned in my earlier interview with him that Ellen and he had played in trio with Haino Keiji (Keiji Haino, if you prefer). I'm a huge Haino Keiji fan and once saw him play a solo show in the tiny venue, Penguin House, in Koenji, Tokyo, which I actually have written about elsewhere. I asked both Ellen and Brett about the show. Ellen commented that Haino-san "was very sensitive -- we really were on the same wavelength," and added that she loves Japan. Brett, who has lived in Japan for much of his career and is currently fighting a cold in Tokyo, said that in "duo with Ellen he used cheap electronics and a million found percussion objects," but in trio he sang, with Brett pushing for greater intensity with "some of (his) hardest playing," which Ellen responded to and Haino greatly enjoyed. Brett adds:
I thought the trio encore at the WF was the other highlight of the show (along
with the song Kanoko and I did), so maybe Ellen and I will do a theme CD of
improvised trio encores with each other plus a Japanese musician. I wonder
how long it would take to get enough material together for that?

He notes that there is a recording of the performances with Haino, but there is no word as of yet as to whether that will be surfacing in any way that folks over here can get their hands on it. I'm currently pestering someone who might be able to help...

My (minimal computer noise improviser) friend Dan Kibke, in attendance at the gig, wondered aloud afterwards whether it gets to be limiting, having your work based primarily around one instrument for over 20 years. I asked Ellen Fullman about this -- did she feel the need to diversify? She responded that she is "still learning:"
In recent years I am delving into traditional instruments and standard notation,
string quartet, retuned Autoharp.

The LSI is such a rich source of sound that I can easily imagine devoting a lifetime to it, though, in the way that Indian classical musicians can devote their life to the sitar. I highly recommend that anyone interested in avant-garde music, minimalism, or drone explore the work of Ellen Fullman on CD (since it will probably be a long time until her next visit here.) Even my buddy Michael liked it, and he's usually not the avant-garde type, once having commented on the music that I listen to by saying it wasn't "musical experimentation" but "mental experimentation..." Mental experimentation of the highest order, I might add.

Thanks to Ellen Fullman and Brett Larner for participating in interviews, and to Norm Stelfox, fellow Western Front attendee, for e-mailing me some of the pictures he took of the performance when the batteries on my digital camera died... I guess I should thank DB Boyko of the Front for curating both this show and the Eugene Chadbourne concert! You made my winter!

At least I still have Terry Riley's show to look forward to...

On Koko the Signing Gorilla's Nipple Fetish

You read it here first, probably.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Eugene Chadbourne and I

What the heck, thought I'd include a photo of Dr. Chad and I together... Note that he's fairly tall, and wearing one cool shirt.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Police Beat co-author reads in Vancouver (with Liz, too!)

Charles Mudede, who co-authored the fascinating film Police Beat, which played at this year's VIFF, will be reading on Friday night in Vancouver alongside my friend Elizabeth Bachinsky. The event is described thus:

Speakeasy: Serial Spacewith Elizabeth Bachinsky (Vancouver), Diana George
(Seattle), and Charles Mudede (Seattle)

Artspeak, 233 Carrall Street, VancouverFriday, December 2, 8pm

Recently, west coast writers, artists and architects have been thinking
about how basic notions of space could be redefined. In a 2002 Artspeak
publication, Diana George and Charles Mudede approached serial space, an endless
repetition of particular spaces that appear throughout our conventions of
³urban" or "nature." Serial space proposes a shift in the way we think about
space, away from conventional dichotomies such as city/country, urban/suburban.
How can notions of space be redefined along the lines of serialized space -
endlessly repeating spaces - rather than by spatial dichotomies? How does space
form critical discourse and what are the implications of those formations, if
any? Artspeak¹s Speakeasy series of talks and readings encourage writers and
artists to continue this thinking.

It all sounds a bit spacy to me (sorry) but should be an interesting event...!

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Eugene Chadbourne at the Western Front!

(The second photo reveals that there are actually some structural similarities, previously unknown to me, between the face of Eugene Chadbourne and that of M. Emmett Walsh. Dr. Chad appears to have great cranial capacity, as well, which we assume accounts for his genius...)

Something I never thought in my youth would happen: I got to hang out with Eugene Chadbourne for a bit, chauffering him to his Western Front gig on the 25th and chatting with him between sets. Dr. Chad has delighted me since my acid-soaked early 20s, when I first discovered the music of Shockabilly. I was living with my parents in Maple Ridge, dropping every few days, avoiding a whole host of issues that I hadn't dealt with, like finishing a degree, getting a job, or finding a girlfriend... It was all pretty terrifying for me, but drugs kept life entertaining while I braced for my oncoming failure, and often I felt like I was "learning" things from them, too (tho' I wasn't always that serious about trips -- the giddy distorted weirdness and humour of Dr. Chad's take on the drug experience was equally a delight; my friends who really thought that they were developing, uh, spiritually from acid never really shared the sentiment, preferring me to keep Dr. Chad's music well away from them). "Psychedelic Basement" could have been an anthem of that time for me. In fact, it kinda was.

Dr. Chadbourne was most affable when Dan and I picked him up at the airport. "Unless you're waiting for someone from the country of Chad," he said, gesturing at our big CHAD sign, "that must be me." He was taller than I'd expected, and more, uhh, normal, and it was kind of odd noticing an "American accent," which the linguist in me was unable to exactly pin down (since I'd been hitting the pipe prior to the drive to the airport). We talked about whatever came up on the drive -- how the Canadian government is dismantling the railroads in Newfoundland and selling the rail to Europe, which everyone agreed was a very bad idea, to Dr. Chadbourne's fondness for Chinese roast duck (which, alas, we never got to partake in together -- an early soundcheck necessitated we drop Dr. Chad off at his hotel, plus I had to come home to interview Terry Riley by phone -- which interview will appear in next month's Nerve). Probably Dr. Chad's funniest moment was his imitation of talking to Terry Riley as if doing so were a Terry Riley composition; without explaining what he was doing, he began a stuttering, mellifluous "hi-te- hi-te- hi-ter-hi-ter-hi-terry-how-hi-terry-how-hi-terry-how-are-you," remarking afterwards that one should always "talk to musicians in the style of their music." He then exploded in spastic noise, commenting that he was demonstrating how one might talk to Evan Parker. (I tried to share this all with Terry Riley but it just didn't work so well by phone).

After a brief stop by to leave merch and guitars at the Front, where Eugene told us stories of customs hassles -- including one BC customs officer who wanted to search his luggage for marijuana when he was coming here from Amsterdam, as if anyone would actually try to smuggle pot into BC -- we drove to the Best Western. En route, Chad started opening up about a topic I'd tried to interview him about previously via e-mail, drugs -- wondering just how similar his youth (in Calgary in the 1970s) had been to mine (slowly going crazy in Maple Ridge in the 1980s). Pretty darn similar, it turns out; as with my parents, his folks had no idea what he was up to until he told them, and his mother was far more disapproving. He told us of how she thought the comparisons Dr. Chad's cohorts made between Reagan and Hitler were pretty outrageous, since she'd fled Germany during the war; but her own attitudes towards hippies and drug users were themselves pretty extreme, and some of the things she said in heated moments put her to the right of Reagan. During the Reagan years, Chadbourne also related, children were encouraged to turn in their parents, which was pretty scary; he explained how he offered to drive his daughter to the police station to do it, since he "wasn't going to have this come up every time they had a fight..."

The show was delightful. Dr. Chad offered goofy beatific smiles from time to time, sometimes playing with his tongue out, sometimes stamping his foot maniacially. His hair, greying, stuck out from the sides of his head like that of a mad scientist, and he included a brief Bugs Bunny imitation in his between-song patter, which gives you a sense of where he lives; his songs veered between sincere sentiment oddly played and what I can only describe as ironic send-ups of pop tunes (from "Are You Experienced" to a surprise closing number, Michael Jackson's "Beat It.") The best songs were an intense little love song about forgiving someone after being burned, which apparently appears on his CD Me and Paul, from the House of Chadula -- I forget the title and the artist -- and his cover, in response to my request for a Phil Ochs' tune, of "Knock on the Door" (available on the Psychedelidoowop disc with Camper van Beethoven). There was a lot of fun in what he did, but also surprising beauty in some of his noisier solos; he participated in an improvisatory jam with the Vietnamese musicians who opened the show, too, accompanying their strange one-stringed zithers on banjo, which was a particular delight -- I could have listened to a lot more of that. Alas, it was not to be. After selling some of his CDs out of his guitar case, with his delightful homemade covers scavenged from old LPs and then modified, he packed up and crashed, to set out the next day for Victoria and then Calgary, where his dad still lives. I went home to delight in my acquired merch. The Chadklappmuntz CD in particular is delightful, if you're a fan of Chadbourne's more noisy/out there music -- it has some wonderful, veering, and very eccentric lines and textures to it. Any fans of Eugene Chadbourne who haven't heard him for awhile are urged to visit his website, where he sells most of his recordings and has lots of further info about himself.

Dr. Chad seemed very pleased with the interview in my print-version of my blog -- I've dubbed it my "blogzine," by the way -- and gave me a pat on the back after reading it. Delightful meeting you, Dr. Chad! Come back soon!

Friday, November 25, 2005

John Pilger on Internet Reporting

Just read an interesting article by John Pilger on the failure of television and print media to tell the truth about the Iraq war, and on the value of the internet as a source of information. He focuses in particular on the American use of white phosphorus and napalm. The use of the former was finally brought to light in the mainstream media this November, but those who keep an eye on independent news sites or left-leaning/antiwar sites like Znet knew about this stuff last spring. The delayed reaction was initially somewhat surprising to see; I had gone through my shock and outrage months ago, and it was odd to see the rest of the world suddenly take notice -- I'd assumed they just didn't care! The use of napalm -- by another name, mind you -- has yet to be made much of; it was already a known thing when this article appeared in June.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Eugene Chadbourne, Terry Riley, and stuff I've missed

Well, folks, I'm currently a bit puzzled about how to write for this blog; my role as writer/"journalist" is expanding a bit, and I'm not sure what to do about that -- neverminding my self-published "blogzine," I'll be on the phone with Terry Riley on Friday, interviewing him for Nerve; the same day will be spent hanging out with Eugene Chadbourne, whom Dan and I are entertaining prior to his Friday night gig at the Western Front. All of that is exciting, but what do I do with it? Write one thing for print, one thing for my 'zine (if I do it again) and one thing for my blog? (Actually, that's what I did with the Zev Asher stuff, but... it seems a bit much). Add a busy schedule to it -- a full time job, a part time job, a recently-added gym schedule, and a need for ample culture consumption (some call it "entertainment") to give me somethin' to write about -- and we find I'm spread pretty thin. I neglected to review the Meredith Monk show (it felt so much like the show you'd expect Monk to give that it felt like it barely happened -- but just read Alex Varty on it, okay? I really enjoyed the dance elements and the short film "Turtle Dreams" was a delightful closer to the performance of the piece by the same name) and I didn't write at all, Brett Larner interview notwithstanding, about Ellen Fullman and the Long String Instrument, which was some of the most exciting music I've heard in recent years. I'm not going to catch up, either -- between them, Dr. Chad and Terry Riley are going to give me all I need to write about for a week... Plus I'm off to see Antonioni's The Passenger again tonight at the Cinematheque (the European cut is even more languid than the previously available version, and feels quite dreamlike; I highly recommend this film).

So it's a busy and fulfilling life this week; I'm not complaining; it's just my blog that's suffering. My apologies for any apparent lack of enthusiasm... I'm still around!

By the way, the world's ugliest dog has died. (Annoying Wal-Mart pop up -- sorry).

Friday, November 18, 2005

The US, the UN, and Guantanamo

An interesting and useful article on the United Nations, who are abandoning attempts to inspect Guantanamo, since they are being denied the right to do so properly and thoroughly by the US. Meantime, CIA agents are coming forward to decry "enhanced interrogation techniques" currently being employed, which, they feel, amount to torture. Tho' GWB says, of course, that the United States does not torture... Sure...

Tonight at the Western Front: Brett Larner interviewed re: Ellen Fullman's Long String Instrument

(The following is reprinted from the "print edition" of my blog, which also includes an interview with Eugene Chadbourne, not yet seen online... It's out there at the usual places one finds these things -- Noize, Scratch, Zulu, and various other places downtown and in Kits (East Van distribution is, I hope, tonight...).

The koto is a traditional Japanese harp. Though it is usually employed in the performance of Japanese classical music, it is also of interest to avant gardists. Michiyo Yagi (I’m using Western name-order for this, note) is one of the most passionate and interesting of Japan’s koto virtuosos and has recorded for Tzadik; she is part (along with Sachiko M. and Haco) of the avant-garde girl-pop trio Hoahio, and has played alongside John Zorn, Bill Laswell, Mark Dresser, and many, many Japanese musicians. Miya Masaoka is based in San Francisco and has played with Ornette Coleman, Steve Coleman, Pharoah Sanders, Bang on a Can, Gerry Hemingway, and various symphony orchestras; she has played at a few Vancouver International Jazz Festivals, alongside Fred Frith and Joelle Leandre, among others. One of the more unlikely and unusual koto players, however, was not born in Japan, but Saskatchewan. Brett Larner has played with Japanese and American avant-gardists, traditionalists and jazz musicians; his teachers are Anthony Braxton and Kazue Sawai. He is currently based in Tokyo, but will be performing in Vancouver on November 18th, accompanying Seattle-based avant gardist and Long String Instrument designer Ellen Fullman.

I first saw Brett Larner at the Deluxe Improvisation Festival, 2001, in Azabujuban, Tokyo. Almost all the other dozen or so performers on the bill that day (with the exception of NY expat drummer Samm Bennett and visiting clarinetist Gene Coleman) were Japanese, including Yoshihide Otomo, Tetsu Saitoh, and Taku Sugimoto. The music was experimental and improvisatory and often the ideas behind the compositions were as important as the music itself. Brett’s performance stood out as the most interesting to watch; it was also the most minimal, both in terms of the music he produced and in terms of the requirements of performance. Interested in generating drones and sustained tones from an instrument that is normally plucked or strummed, he set gyroscopes between the strings and let them spin. Occasionally, when they fell over, he would right them, sometimes relocating them. Otherwise he knelt on the floor, watching and listening. The audience – also primarily Japanese – quietly and intensely listened along.

It was a memorable concert. At the time, I had a hard time getting into the CD of Brett’s gyroscope drones, Telemetry Transmission: Music for Koto and Gyroscopes, and ended up leaving it behind when I returned from Japan, somewhat to my regret; but I ran into him a couple of times after that, and quite liked him. His new project in Vancouver is performing Ellen Fullman’s “long string instrument” at the Western Front, on Friday, November 18th. I asked Brett about what to expect and about his relationship to the avant garde music scene in Japan...

Allan: How welcomed do you feel in the Japanese scene?

Brett: It's varied a bit over the years, but for the most part very welcome. I've always kind of been in both the koto and improv scenes there. When I moved there for the first time in '97 I was immediately active as a koto player but it took a few years before i really started working regularly with the onkyo (minimal laptop noise) people and other improvisers. I usually felt like I was part of things, not treated differently or anything. Of course that affected my relationship with the koto world, but that's kind of a longer story. Since I've been back (in Japan) this time (a year now) I've been laying low for the most part, just practicing every day, but still hang out and periodically playing with (Tetsuzi) Akiyama, Toshimaru (Nakamura) etc. ( see for more).

A: How isolated do you feel from the North American scene?

B: Fairly, although it varies. I still have contacts and work with people in SF, but other than that no real involvement. There are a few young guys here, Jeffrey Allport, Jonah Fortune, Ryan Mitchell-Morrisson etc. with whom I play whenever I'm here.

A: Is your relocation more or less permanent?

B: Hopefully. I'm there on a Canada Council grant which goes through March. I'd like to stay, but the question of course is how.

A: What keeps you in Japan?

B: Hmmn, big question. Easiest answers: Tokyo is infinite and I like the freedom which comes from existing completely outside a thriving society. The amount and especially quality of artistic activity is stimulating too. And food.

A: Would you recommend relocating to Japan to avant garde musicians…?

B: There is a lot going on there and opportunities abound, but there are many difficulties including visas, high prices, alienation, alcoholism, etc.....I would recommend touring, at least.

A: How does Canada seem to you when you return?

B: Oh man, I thought this was supposed to be a puff piece.....Well, except for part of last year here in Vancouver I haven't actually lived in Canada since '86 when I was 13, so I don't know if I'm qualified to give an answer. The gov't support available for artists here through the Canada Council and other agencies is world-class and something everyone should be proud of.

A: What are your musical interests -- do you listen to a lot of drone music? Minimalism? Noise?

B: My tastes are very wide ranging. John Fahey was my original inspiration to become a musician, long before the O'Rourke revival. I still listen to his music almost every day. Yes, I listen to drone music, not so much Minimalism (in the Reich-Glass vein, anyway), go through phases with noise. Pop music too, especially indie j-pop.

A: Do you also play koto in a traditional mode?

B: Yes. I also play jiuta shamisen and the associated classical vocal repertoire. My emphasis is on contemporary material but I have studied the traditional body of music for many years.

A: Do Japanese ever react negatively to a non-Japanese's non-traditional use of a traditional Japanese instrument?

B: Sometimes, but such things are fairly common these days inside Japan so there is less of such a perception than people outside Japan tend to think.

A: What got you involved with the koto?

B: When I was 18 I saw Kazue Sawai, the world's greatest koto player, perform. That was it. I started studying with Miki Maruta, a former student of Sawai's, then when I finished university I moved to Tokyo to become Sawai's student myself.

A: How did you get involved with Ellen Fullman?

B: I've listened to her music for years. A friend of mine, the late Matthew Sperry, joined her ensemble when she moved to Seattle and sort of got us in touch. I didn't actually meet her though until we were both in SF a couple of years ago. I brought her over to Tokyo in Sept. for 2 days of concerts, our first actual collaboration. The highlight, personally, was a trio of Ellen, myself, and Keiji Haino. A ridiculous combination but successful somehow.

A: What can we expect on Friday?

B: The first half will be some of my compositions for acoustic guitar ensemble. This music, like Ellen's work, utilizes longitudinal mode vibration of strings to produce extremely unusual and beautiful sounds. The singer from my pop band Cinnamon, Kanoko Nishi, will be part of the ensemble and so we may also do one song from our CD "Pony Up!" The second half will be Nishi and I on koto and bass koto playing a composition of Ellen's which is an extension of our work together in Japan. Ellen's long string instrument really has to be seen and heard live to be appreciated. It's amazing.

(See Ellen Fullman’s Long String Instrument and Brett Larner at the Western Front on Nov. 18th).

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

In Print!

Well... There it goes. 350 copies of ALIENATED IN VANCOUVER are being printed up, featuring my Eugene Chadbourne interview, my Brett Larner interview, some of that Zev Asher stuff, and a brief writeup on the Cinematheque's THE PASSENGER. I scattered 50 around downtown tonight, will do another 150 around Kits tomorrow, and another 100 around East Vancouver on Friday. The rest will go wherever there's need for 'em... It's costing me about $210, all told, and for the record, no, I'm not being paid for the ads I'm running (tho' maybe Tim will kick me loose some store credit). Aside from a slightly cockeyed title bar (too late to fix it) it looks pretty good... I may do this again someday!

Monday, November 14, 2005

HMV Superstore: will they make it to 2007?

I seem to recall saying awhile ago that given the nature of the space, it would be bloody difficult for HMV to do a substantially worse job than Virgin; the need to keep the shelves full and an awareness of the diversity of Vancouver's market would surely guide their corporate hand towards bringing in enough interesting stuff to keep people like me happy. I guess I owe Virgin an apology -- I was wrong. HMV have managed to fill THREE FLOORS OF SHELF SPACE with basically the same stock you'd find in their Coquitlam Centre outlet, and pretty much nothing besides. They have six billion copies of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, shelves and shelves of mediocre "sale-price" generica, they've relegated their jazz section to a backroom and their Criterions to a tiny corner space (and they didn't even bring in Nic Roeg's Bad Timing, the release of which is a major fuckin' event); and in the process of uber-corporatizing the space have alienated a goodly chunk of the hip, intelligent, creative Virgin staff, who have split for other locales. They've then replaced said employees with a staff who seem to be about 60% buffoon (I like the big dark haired chick with the piercings and tats, tho'). Granted, they've only occupied the space for a month, and they're doing a few things right: they brought in some Fred Frith discs in time for Frith's concert, are stocking the new New Model Army CD along with the EMI reissues, and to my surprise, actually brought in some Japanese imports last week of Clash CDs in cool mini-LP-style format, which I'm partial to. All the same, I had to teach the kid I asked about "other Japanese imports" how to spell Japanese -- he tried to spell it "Japaness," as he did a completely useless keyword search in their computer system (which turned up a few Half-Japanese albums, but that wasn't exactly what I was looking for). Maybe he was tired from the commute from the suburbs, who knows... I'd like to see HMV survive, but right now they're looking pretty useless -- mismanaged, badly stocked, and staffed by... well, there are some competent people there too, I'm sure. They're probably paying attention to other job openings out there, tho'... I would.

Taking Matters into My Own Hands

Fuck! Terminal City is dead, and the Nerve and Discorder are monthlies. This means I can't run my interviews with Brett Larner (playing November 18th at the Western Front) and Eugene Chadbourne (playing November 25th at the same venue) before their gigs -- it just can't be done. Both Nerve and Discorder have expressed interest in my writing (as opposed to the Straight, which just ignores my e-mails), but it's of no use -- Nerve will run a piece I'm doing on Terry Riley, who plays the Chan Centre in January, but it's no help right now. I have one solution open to me to get things out there in time: to self-publish a brief 'zine of my own. That's what I'm gonna do, then -- assuming all goes well, I'm going to spend tomorrow and Wednesday putting the final touches on a print edition of this very blog, which I'll assemble at a photocopier shop somewhere and schlep around town Thursday, Friday, and through the weekend. Alienated in Vancouver is going old school -- we're gonna step back into the realm of print media and perhaps generate a bit of attention for ourselves (uh, that is, for me). Wish me luck.

I'd write about the Meredith Monk show at the Chan Centre last weekend, but this print-edition thing is gobbling up my free time. It was a wonderful show -- they even did a screening of the short film Turtle Dreams, towards the end of a performance of the piece of the same name, which was a delight to see -- and the Chan is a great venue. My one complaint is that it was one of those shows that I've imagined so much in advance of seeing it ("what would it be like to see Meredith Monk play live?") that in a way, it feels like the whole thing just occured in the realm of my imagination; even when it was happening, it didn't feel quite real. Solution to the problem: she should come back sometime, so I can see her again.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Another Reason to Be Afraid: Dumped Chemical Weapons

A terrifying article on how the army has dumped millions of pounds of chemical weapons into the ocean; some are washing up now and harming people.

The reports reveal that the Army created at least 26 chemical weapons dumpsites off the coast of at least 11 states -- but knows the rough nautical coordinates of only half.

At least 64 million pounds of liquid mustard gas and nerve agent in 1-ton steel canisters were dumped into the sea, along with a minimum of 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, grenades, landmines and rockets -- as well as radioactive waste, the reports indicate.

There are countless more dumpsites that are not off the US coast, the article also reveals. This practice continued until the early 1970's.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Al Neil Project at the Roundhouse

Hm... Looks like Al Neil will not be actually performing as part of the "Al Neil Project" at the Roundhouse on the 10th (8pm, at the Performance Center; tickets at Grunt Gallery 604-875-9516). From the Roundhouse's website:

New Orchestra Workshop and Coastal Jazz and Blues collaborate to produce a concert featuring Al Neil’s ultimate tribute band with Gregg Simpson on Drums Clyde Reed on Bass and Vancouver improviser Paul Plimley on piano, Georgio Magnanensi on samples and performance poetry by Kederick James. Al’s partner, artist Carol Itter will work with VJ Krista Lomax to produce images for the event. In conjunction with the 4th LIVE Biennial of Performance Art presents 4 evenings of interdisciplinary work by and inspired by Vancouver innovator Al Neil.

Al Neil’s careers as a musician, composer, writer, bricoleur, and performance artist has spanned the past 60 years. His influence on many different artistic communities in Vancouver has been profound and enduring. This project looks at Neil as an innovator and a seminal force in the multi-disciplinary practices that have flourished on the West Coast over the past 40 years.

... but really, then, this is a Paul Plimley show. I always find Plimley an odd experience to watch perform; his face, manner, style of dress, and innocent sincere smile all kind of make it look like he' s wandered in from Sesame Street, or maybe Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. He plays, however, lyrically, passionately, deftly, and in a fashion that, well, reminds me not at all of Al Neil, whose music is far more fractured and decayed -- it can actually be quite disturbing (I'm thinking of stuff off Boot and Fog, mostly, which, among other things, turns "Over the Rainbow" into something way druggy and damaged, a truly intoxicating bit of disorder if one chooses to surrender to it)... It's kind of an odd mix. Cool that Georgio from Vancouver New Music (praised as part of my Fred Frith article, below) is playing. Alas, I'm going to miss the gig, but anyone interested in an unusual night of music is recommended to check it out... Who knows, maybe Neil will pitch in a bit himself (he did get out to that John Oswald gig a couple of months ago -- Oswald name-checked him from the stage...).

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Six Reasons to see Good Night and Good Luck

1. Because it is a remarkably stripped-down and spare piece of cinema, with no sex, violence, or swearing (because, assumedly, the filmmakers want people of all ages to be able to see it, considering their topic important); because it is further filmed with great craft and period accuracy in black and white; in other words, because it's an extremely rare and unusual phenomenon in recent American cinema.

2. Because it tackles an extremely significant period in American history (the McCarthy "witch hunts" of the 1950s) at a time when the moral questions raised need badly to be raised -- questions of journalistic integrity and honesty in the face of political injustices, questions of what it means to be a courageous and responsible member of the media when corporations and politicians would seek obeisance and silence on important issues. It directly addresses every journalist, every politician, every media figure in America and shows them by example what it is to be brave and honest and to do things that matter.

3. Because it is amazing proof that it is in actors that American cinema's greatest hopes lie; as with Sean Penn before him, George Clooney is using his own name and star power to make films that could not be made by anything other than a name star in America today, taking risks that few other people could take, using his celebrity to advance the cause of art, of moral cinema, of human integrity; John Cassavetes would be proud to see his legacy (tho' Clooney's filmmaking owes nothing in particular to Cassavetes).

4. Because it confirms that David Strathairn is the best working actor in America today (and has generally fine performances by the rest of its cast, tho' it's Strathairn that one cannot stop watching)... I love to see Strathairn get big roles; he's acted so well in so many independent films -- mostly those of John Sayles, of course -- that it's great to see him get recognition and money, and this is a meaty role indeed for him.

5. Because the clarity and eloquence of the language, and the force and even beauty of the arguments issued by its characters -- primarily Edward R. Murrow, as played by Strathairn -- is a delight; it is a rare thing to revel in the beauty of the words spoken by characters in a contemporary American film -- or to see any more-or-less mainstream film that really respects elocution to this degree.

6. Because it generates an amazing amount of dramatic tension using the most minimal of means and hits its mark with both grace and force.

I could probably squeeze out a few more but I'm tired and I think I have a cold coming on... It's a good film, though!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Riots in France, plus follow-up on Paradise Now

I've been hoping to find a decent news article to provide some background/context for the riots in France; I finally encountered this, which explains the role of simmering racial tensions -- most of the rioters are young Muslim men, disaffected and underemployed, treated as "scum" by white Europeans -- the sort that are considered cannon fodder for terrorist recruiters. There's also a more politicized slant on it on Znet, here. Anyone interested in the relationship between France and North Africa should check out Pontecorvo's Battle of Algiers, a truly important and relevant film about colonialism, terrorism, and torture, which, since it's on Criterion, you just may be able to rent at your local video store...

By the way, Paradise Now, the film about Muslim suicide bombers, has opened in the States to mostly positive reviews. I seem to be the only person who thinks the film errs on the side of making the suicide bombers too sympathetic -- most people praise its "objectivity." Roger Ebert, somewhat bizarrely, says he wants to see a film that doesn't cloud the issue of suicide bombing with religion, as if religion wasn't a huge part of the reality! (My review of the film is here, for a counterpoint). I think I'll write ol' Rog and take him up on the matter.

Also in the news: two cheerleaders have been arrested for having sex in a bar washroom. Life in America is difficult, too, I guess.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Bush in Latin America

An interesting article on Bush's reception in Latin America. Also see here, for an interesting exercise in reading between the lines, as Bush claims that the United States does not torture people, while opposing a law banning the same.

Post-script -- the same story, about how America doesn't torture, has been rewritten and appears here. It mentions Abu Ghraib and is a little less ambiguous about pointing out the contradictions between Bush's words and actions (though not much).

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Jello Biafra and the Melvins at the Croatian Cultural Centre, Vancouver

There was a Noam Chomsky article on Znet shortly after 9/11 where he talked about how actions like the WTC attack would only benefit extremists, on either side. By creating a political climate of violence, fear, and oppression, the most dictatorial, demagoguic, R-complex-manipulating rulers would rise to dominate and guide the masses into greater and greater acts of destruction and hatred. No kidding. Somehow fitting, then, that Jello Biafra (who himself is a sort of extremist, tho' of the best possible stripe) should resurrect himself as a singer and get to touring again in these dark days; his particular brand of politicized frenzy seemed somewhat ill-suited to Clinton's America -- he only needed to speak to people back then -- but is the perfect counterpoint to Bush; it's like he only ever needs to really come out of the coffin when there's a Republican warmonger in power. Baldspot and slight paunch (I should talk) notwithstanding, he gave a performance as manic and passionate as when I saw him in 1984, on the Fall of Canada tour at the York Theatre on Commercial Drive (pic from that gig here), with that other backing band he had back then... I'm not exactly glad that it turns out things are no better, politically, than they were under Reagan (best t-shirt of the night, glimpsed in the mosh pit: "Punk's Not Dead -- But Reagan is!"), but it was nice to see that the man hasn't lost his edge, even if he initially briefly reminded me (sorry, Jello) of William Shatner...

Anyhow, as for the music... The Melvins, after a brief set where they got to be their slow, heavy, intense selves -- truly a great live band -- donned ski masks and totally subordinated themselves to Mr. Boucher's mania, doing a mixture of their collaborations ("Yuppie Cadillac," "McGruff," "Caped Crusader," "The Lighter Side of Global Terrorism") and old classics ("Chemical Warfare," "I am the Owl," and the updated, Schwarzenegger-dissing "California Uber Alles"). Turns out that, Cold War references aside, "When Ya Get Drafted" is more relevant now than when it was written, and "Bleed for Me" can be nicely updated, we discover, to encapsulate current events (after ranting about how America has gone into the concentration camp business, Jello offered the modified line, "so what's ten million dead/ if it's putting down the Muslims" -- changed from "if it's keeping out the Russians.") In frenzied mime, Jello illustrated everything from customs agents searching through your underwear to terrified prisoners being fitted with hoods and flown to Allah-knows-where. He splashed and spit water on the sweating moshers from time to time, showed concern for the people being crushed against the barriers at the front (and apologized that the barriers were there at all) and speechified between songs about how we need to pressure our politicians into providing haven for draft dodgers, should the need come. If financial reasons played a role in getting Jello to tour again, given the destruction wrought by the DK's in their lawsuits against him, there was no trace in his performance that he felt he was betraying anything he stands for -- he seemed to believe utterly in what he was doing, and the mood wasn't one so much of punk nostalgia (which Jello has decried) but a living, breathing, and very current phenomenon -- punk survival.

Tho' really -- one does wonder, given how adamant he was against touring with the DKs, why Jello is suddenly okay singing the same songs with someone else... but I guess we'll let that slide.

Unexpected treat of the night: Jello dropped an early reference to how there would be no "Wesley Willis headbutts" (due to the barrier) and later did as one of his two encores (the other being "Holiday in Cambodia," of course) a cover of "Rock and Roll McDonalds." Wish my buddy Mel had been there -- she actually received a Willis headbutt once upon a time ("he was screaming in my face -- it was pretty scary!").

Best DOA tune: "2+2." (What the hell did Randy Rampage do when he wasn't in DOA, other than that brief Annihilator thing? Could he have ever done anything but play rock and roll? Has he had a straight job in his life? Who hired him for it?) (By the way, whoever said Chuck Biscuits was back with the band was wrong...).

My fame whore moment -- approaching Rob Wright and telling him that as much as I appreciated his recommendation (made when last I approached him at Nomeansno's Mesa Luna show to ask him his favourite book) I simply could not make it through Ulysses, though I did try again. (He advised me the next time I try to take two shots of whiskey before I start and then two more each page). Y'all know they have a gig in Langley comin' up again, right?

Anyhow, I had my own personal small dark cloud hanging over the night (which will go unblogged), but it's nothing compared to the dark cloud hanging over the whole of America right now, and it was good to see Jello shoot a few holes in said overhang and let a bit of light in; America needs people like him, and somehow it seems to me he can do more good as a singer than as a member of the Green Party... Maybe I'm wrong.

Fantasy of the night: Jello should run for office in California again and write a fourth and final version of "California Uber Alles" where he sings about himself... A sort of updated "What if he wins?" thing...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Terminal City Blues, plus dailies rant

Heh. How's that for a sad irony? I get a writing gig with Terminal City and that issue is the last ever issue they publish -- the paper has folded, stopped publication, gone kaput, gone bye-bye. I doubt I'll even get paid for the article, now -- it would have been nice to have a cheque to cash, just for the symbolic value of it. Perhaps I should conceive of this as some kind of test of my commitment to writing -- just another obstacle to overcome... All of this ultimately amounts to another reason to hate Metro, Dose, and 24 Hours, those homages to illiteracy and idiocy, who have gobbled up the city's advertising revenue and driven something that actually contributed to local culture into the toilet. Fuck Metro! Fuck 24 Hours! Fuck Dose! Fuck these people, and fuck you if you actually take their shitty papers from their public-nuisance vendors (unless you're an ESL student or badly in need of toilet paper, or sitting in a restaurant and amusing yourself with a paper that some other idiot picked up).


Monday, October 31, 2005

On the Limitations of Free-Range Egg Farming

Thought this was an interesting article in the Independent, and as of this typing, anyway, they haven't made it part of their paid "portfolio" section...

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Casuistry: the Art of Killing a Cat at Cinemuerte

Having interviewed Zev Asher, the director of Casuistry (pictured above), I felt somewhat obliged to see his film, but also reluctant. The controversial film, dealing with the actions of and reactions to the cat killing perpetrated by Ontario artist Jesse Power, begins with a clip from a performance art piece by Governer-General's-Award-Receiving Hungarian-Canadian performance artist Istvan Kantor, in which two live cats are gutted, placed on the heads of the "performers" who gut them, and set on fire. The description in the Cinemuerte guide describes the piece as a "vivisection," a somewhat misleading word, suggesting something altogether more surgical than what you actually see in the film -- I imagined a wailing cat being cut open in close up, and I didn't much want to watch that. Also, some part of me shared, I suppose, in the reaction against Power and his confederates; I didn't really care what justifications they gave for their actions -- knowing little of the case save a few online articles, I didn't want to give them a chance to make their act of torture and cruelty into something I could understand.

Remarkably, Zev Asher manages to do just that: to make Power and his actions comprehensible, while asking some extremely disturbing and unsettling questions along the way. Power comes across as a morally serious, intense young man (of an admittedly somewhat morbid bent, but that's true of almost all intense artists in their 20s) earnestly using his art to examine the world around him, probing, for him, what is a deep problem of conscience: the consumption of meat. A former vegetarian -- a detail I left out of my article because I thought, film unseen, that it seemed a poor pretext for defending him -- Power, in deciding at age 20 to begin eating meat again, after six years of abstaining, wanted to know what the moral consequences of his action were. To this end, he got a job working at a Toronto abattoir, where he helped prod pigs along to their death, treating them with compassion where he could, but mostly just trying to come to terms with what the decision to eat flesh foods entailed. He quit when he found himself growing inured to it. "To be conscious of the slaughterhouse is to be conscious of what human beings are," Power explains; there's a lot in human life that we don't talk about, that we hide, from going to the bathroom on up, and our consumption of meat is one such thing. Why do we treat some animals as sacred while freely slaughtering others in inhumane ways? It's a difficult question, and one we seldom ask. At one point, one of the more articulate attackers of Power in the film -- because Asher interviews people from all across the spectrum -- says that she doesn't want our art galleries to become slaughterhouses, but Power distinctly disagrees: they should "merge," that we may learn what we are.

It becomes clear in the film that this area of concern is a driving force for Power in his art; after working in the slaughterhouse, he gets a job as a renderer at a University, working with exotic dead animals, and brings his video camera to work, making a short film, "Dead Animal Disco," in which he makes the animals, including a skinned baby orangutan, "dance" by a sort of stop-motion photography. He also makes -- as a school project for which he receives an "A" -- a film in which he cuts the head off a live chicken and then cooks and eats it. He makes another film involving a pig carcass, and writes a song called "The Anti-Meat-Eating Song" ("I used to eat meat/ but that's because/ I did not know/ What it was" -- he describes in the lyrics how his consumption of meat leaves the ghosts of dead animals inside him, crying to get out; Asher begins and ends the film with it). Clearly this is an area of moral crisis, for Power; it's a take on the problem of cruelty in the natural world, asked by someone for whom the concept of Original Sin cannot possibly serve as an answer. There is no suggestion at any time in Power's words or attitudes that, as police suggest in the film, these projects reflect a sadistic fixation or a sign of mental breakdown -- the first steps on the road to the creation of a serial killer, say, tho' public hysteria framed him in that light. Asher manages to convey, without ever directly stating as much, that the strong reaction that Power's actions provoke have more to do with the validity of his questions and the effectiveness of his actions in drawing certain issues to light, than they do with any exceptional evil in him. To my great surprise, at the end of the film, I had to conceed that Power is an artist, and his project here, began (at the very least) in the spirit of art, whatever its actual results.

That said, there is no excuse for what Power and his companions do to the (presumably owned) cat they steal off an Ontario street. High on datura seeds -- the issue of drugs and their effect is the one element of the film that Asher doesn't deal with quite so effectively, raising more questions than are answered -- they make a five-minute ordeal of the killing of the animal. Five minutes is a very long time to make something suffer intensely (I know, because I've killed fish when fishing, and once did such a bad job of it that I haven't wanted to fish since); the cat stays alive through its evisceration, and the incompentence of its killers, who, to their later shame, clearly were not prepared for how difficult the job would be, is captured in detail on video. (We don't see the video, thankfully, but we read onscreen a minute-by-minute description of it prepared for Power's trial). Whether drugs play a role or not, the description of what the boys do -- because they seem more like boys then men -- suggests a capacity for violence, cruelty, and denial, and there is good reason for making such cruelty illegal and for punishing those who inflict it. (Power and one of his friends involved in the piece pled guilty to the charges, and Power seems to feel considerable remorse). Slaughterhouses are also cruel places, though... There is much hypocrisy in condemning Power, particularly if we ourselves live off the deaths of other animals...

I was surprised to notice before the screening of Casuistry last night at the Cinematheque a series of pamphlets spread out on a counter -- pamphlets for PETA and other organisations with titles like "What's Wrong with Dairy?," "What's Wrong with Leather," "Pet Shops and Puppy Mills," and "Factory Farming." Had some protesters made demands that such material be made available? I asked Kier-la (pronounced, by the way, "Kayla"), and she said no. Aware of the controversy of the film, which has drawn bomb threats, death threats, and strenuous protests at other venues, she decided to act preemptively and put a table of material outside, to make clear to any protesters who came that she was not their enemy and that the festival shared in their concerns. No one showed, and so she brought the pamphlets indoors; either the event occured below the animal-rights-groups radar, or enough of them have finally seen the film to understand that there is nothing in it for them to be upset about. (It may also be possible that enough time has elapsed that people just don't care anymore -- all public hysterias have their best-before dates). I'd asked Zev Asher about the protests, which targeted him and his film as much as Power: which side of the story left him more uncomfortable, the animal rights activists or Power? Now that I've finally seen the film can I actually appreciate his answer: "The animal rights activists make me more uncomfortable because I don't understand their motives. The film serves their cause very well. They are simply too closed-minded to see it in that regard. Jesse Power made me a bit uncomfortable at first but that was due to the media's portrayal of him as some sort of serial killer in the making. Once I got to know him a bit, everything was fine. He's a nice guy, despite what he did in the past..."

Casuistry is not a particularly easy film to watch, but it's a morally serious inquiry into our nature that provides ample fuel for thought. People kill things, and sometimes do it very cruelly; however wrong Power's actions were, the conclusion Casuistry forces us to draw is that he intended the action in the spirit of serious moral inquiry. He's a confused young man with an intense conscience, not an evil pet-killer with none; Zev Asher has managed to undo some of the hysteria that greeted the case and to ask precisely those questions which motivated Power in the first place, and they're things all of us should contemplate. Thanks to Kier-la for having brought the film to Vancouver (I'll miss Cinemuerte! ...And never yet have I won a DVD draw!), thanks to Zev Asher for having assented to the interview (good luck in Venice!) and thanks to Terminal City for having published my piece!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Calvaire (The Ordeal) at Cinemuerte

To be the object of desire is a difficult thing. It subordinates one to those who desire; to receive their care, their esteem, their attention – to perceive what they reveal of themselves, as they expose their vulnerabilities, in extending themselves to you – carries the weight of a certain responsibility, whether it is wanted or not, and, in a way, places you in their power. To desire another, conversely, is to risk degradation and exposure, should your desires be rebuffed – it is also a perilous path. When we meet Marc, a rather vain young entertainer who performs old-fashioned love songs for seniors, he clearly is lacking in how he wields his responsibilities. We watch one of his older fans humiliate herself in making a pass at him; we watch a second woman, closer to Marc’s age but clearly of no interest to him, make a different sort of overture to him, and he again responds only with insensitive self-concern; having attracted the attention of these women, all he cares about is to extricate himself as cleanly as possible and move on to his next performance, perhaps feeding his vanity a little that he should be wanted so. En route to this performance, though, he is derailed, and there his education in the need for compassion begins. Calvaire – the English title is The Ordeal, which is apt – sees Marc, stranded in the Belgian backwoods, exposed to various “mutilations of the human spirit” (to crib from Leonard Cohen, actually) and forced to suffer for their needs and pleasures, and it is through this suffering that he learns that the pain of those who need is not to be taken lightly – however deluded, corrupt, or flat-out dangerous they may be. Along the way, of course, there is what the Cinemuerte program describes as “a particularly debased orgy of violence, sodomy and animal humping;” there is a crucifixion sequence, to give justice to the title – and tho’ it’s excessive, it is interesting to conceive of being desired as a sort of crucifixion. There is also abundant violence and degradation, typical of what is being somewhat ironically labelled the “New French Extremity” by some (thanks to Dan for the interesting article -- y'all should click the link and check it out for a survey of some pretty extreme cinema). There are also some fairly creepy shots of the forest, and disorienting, discomfiting camerawork reminiscent of Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible (the Butcher from Noe’s previous film, I Stand Alone, Phillipe Nahon, who also appears in Irreversible, appears in a major role in Calvaire, and one is tempted to read this as a tip of the hat to Noe).

All of that is pretty interesting – there’s an attempt to tackle a serious theme in this film, which almost manages to bridge the ground between horror film and art film – but tho’ in the end I’d have to concede the film’s success, Calvaire really does end up seeming a one-joke movie. Marc’s ordeal, while thematically driven, is simply not that complex or that interesting, and once one gets the point, there’s not that much for a thoughtful film viewer to do but wait to see exactly how Marc’s “mending of his ways” will come about (and listen to him scream, cry, and plead for mercy). Sure, the pig-fucking scenes are entertaining, in a voyeuristic way, but they don’t really add that much to the film, aside from establishing that desire can degrade (and lead to horrible squealing sounds). It’s almost as if the filmmakers, concerned that their theme might be obscured by more complex characters, deliberately chose to keep things simple, and succeeded too well...

I wonder why the innkeeper is named after Paul Bartel, though? Surely it can’t be a coincidence… Is it the anal sex scene in Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills?

Anyhow, Calvaire was my first Cinemuerte feature this fest; tomorrow I plan to devour pretty much everything on offer, including Casuistry, previously written about. I’ve snagged a t-shirt, too; since Kier-la confirms that it’s the last time she’s doing it – she’s going to settle into her new job as a film programmer in Austin -- I feel the need to have something to remember the festival by.

I hope I win a DVD this year in one of the draws… I missed out last year.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Music for a Workout Regimen I've developed a new workout regimen, and burned a special disc of high-energy, very physical tunes to listen to on the stationary cycle. Having an idle moment, thought I'd share:

1. Husker Du: Turn on the News
2. fIREHOSE: The Red and the Black
3. Eels: Dog Faced Boy
4. Copyright: Mother Nature
5. X: Johny Hit and Run Pauline
6. Flesheaters: Father of Lies
7. Nomeansno: Valley of the Blind
8. Fugazi: Full Disclosure
9. New Model Army: 125 MPH
10. Mission of Burma: The Enthusiast
11. Crass: Don't Get Caught
12. Dead Kennedys: Halloween
13. Birthday Party: Mutiny in Heaven
14. Lou Reed: The Blue Mask
15. Tad: Axe to Grind
16. Butthole Surfers: Goofy's Concern
17. Motorhead: Iron Fist
18. Danzig: Not of this World
19. Blue Oyster Cult: Dominance and Submission
20. The Clash: (White Man) In Hammersmith Palais
21. Captain Beefheart and his Magic Band: Hot Head
22. The Dwarves: Drug Store

It probably looks damn funny as I pedal away, mouthing the lyrics, a veritably psychotic expression of rapture on my sweaty face -- but fuggit, I can finally fit into those pants of shame I'd tucked away in my bottom drawer, which wouldn't button over my belly a mere matter of months ago...