Saturday, September 17, 2005

John Oswald, Mercury Theatre iii, and Eugene Chadbourne

Ah... so much has been going on, I'm feeling a bit dizzy; haven't had much time to blog, and I've now seen two very interesting shows that I doubt I can do justice to. John Oswald, of Plunderphonics fame, played a fascinating set at the Western Front last week, meditating on Bach and Glenn Gould, mostly arranged for a high-tech player piano, incorporating glitches, missed notes, and even live imitations of Gould's humming style by Christopher Butterfield (a Vancouver composer and professor who has several MP3s on Ubuweb -- Oswald is involved in these recordings, too). There was also a piece using samples of Gould speaking, the "Gouldberg Variations," by local, I think, composer Michael Vincent, whom Oswald introduced briefly -- an MP3 is available here, and will charm and please you mightily if you like Gould. All told, it was a delightful night, tho' Oswald, tho' obviously an extremely intelligent, perceptive, and dry-humoured man, was given to a muttering, meandering style of delivery as he explained different pieces -- how they were transcribed and "taught" to the piano. It made things a little difficult to follow -- it reminded me of having to take notes off certain tenured professors back when I was finishing my undergrad degree at SFU, and led my friend Dan to conclude that Oswald is "a little uppity" -- but the night was enjoyable no less, and seeing Oswald live served as impetus for me to buy the Plunderphonics 2-disc set, distributed by Negativland's Seeland (since Oswald himself cannot profit from this item). It's an amazing project, if people don't know it -- computer-manipulated, occasionally respectful, often satirical de-and-re-compositions of pop musics, from the Doors to Michael Jackson; there's a truly lovely take on Tim Buckley's music (his name is anagrammized into "A Timely Buck," which is much kinder than the reference to "Sir Jim Moron" for the Doors cut). The liner notes make for a fascinating read, and his mutations of pop tunes are uniformly more interesting than the originals (while still somehow conveying the "pleasures" of listening to pop music, however ground-up and reprocessed it might be); the artificial duet between Carly Simon and Faster Pussycat on "You're So Vain" is particularly hilarious. Oswald pops up in the documentary about Negativland, Sonic Outlaws, which is also worth catching... Someone new for me to be enthusiastic about.

Also: re: the gig, Al Neil, Canadian poet/pianist/novelist/painter, who is soon to perform (edit: or to be celebrated, while not necessarily himself performing) in Vancouver, was in attendance, as were Paul Plimley, the Winks, and my old friend Ian Cochrane, who recently released a CD of ambient soundscapes based on recordings of Vancouver's bridges (the project, Vancouver Bridges: Six Sound Compositions Honoring the Bridges of Vancouver, is available through Ian, and that's about it -- and he has almost no web presence, so if you want one, post a comment and I'll put you in touch...)... Thanks to Oswald, I finally learned that the heavy guy with the beard and glasses I see at almost every cool gig I go to is none other than Alexander Varty...

The other thing I don't have much time to write about is the Mercury Theatre iii presentation at Cathedral Square last week. Really cool environment and visuals (see pic, above -- thanks to Dan Kibke) and a tremendous display of musical, filmic, and even martial arts talent. I scribbled many excited stoned notes during the event, hoping to transcribe them later, comparing the music -- including a theremin! -- to that of Supersilent, Can, and Brian Eno (depending on which phase of the event we're talking about). Alas, I discover now that a great deal of what I wrote, in a state of high super-introspection, had to do with the effects of my relationship with my mother on my romantic life, my need to enter a more "tribal" value system and learn to serve the tribe through art, even if I don't actually have a tribe to serve at the moment (because these people around me are by and large not of my tribe), and other things that aren't particularly useful as a basis for a piece of writing about the show. Mostly, when the notes are lucid and relevant, I meditated on a) how cool it is that the Vancouver Parks Board is putting money towards events like these and b) how much of what is inspiring about seeing art of any sort performed is the display self-discipline it entails -- something the martial arts performers made particularly clear. How is live video manipulation and avant-garde theremin-centered music like a martial arts display, you ask? That was the most interesting question of the night, but you had to be there to really feel the answer. (It helps if you were as high as I was).

The funniest bit of the evening -- since the show was themed around the substation immediately below us, they'd constructed on the grounds some sort of a tent (out of plastic garbage bags) with a billowing fabric "tunnel" (funnel?) to illustrate the design; I only saw the shape of the tunnel briefly and imperfectly, as it moved about due to internal air pressure, and at first thought that it was a couple fucking in a sleeping bag. (Due to the angle I was at, I couldn't see how long the tunnel really was). My second theory was that the tent belonged to a homeless guy, twisting around in spastic discomfort in his garbage-bag tent as the music assaulted him (Dan quipped when I mentioned this theory, "Would you all just please go away?" as a possible expression of said putative homeless guy's response our descent on his turf). It was quite amusing to discover I'd been actually suckered in by art...

Further exciting news: D.B. Boyko at the Western Front confirms that I'm the official Eugene Chadbourne welcoming committee, which news Dr. Chad himself e-mailed me today... I'm so excited...! To get to meet the man whose music was just too scary to all my fellow acidheads, but usually (except for that one bad trip when I was lyin' in Benge's kitchen with a pukebowl in my lap, listening to Chris and Benge speculate on how bad it would be if I died) worked delightfully for me! Ah, joy!

Alas, this is all I have time to write -- a full life, these days. More soon.

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