Music Notes August 2010

August 31, 2010 at 1:26 pm (Uncategorized)

Many fine things reached my ears (and eyes) this month.

1. Dean and Britta – 13 Most Beautiful…Songs for  Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests 

Here’s the story, Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips compose 13 songs for the film collection of Andy Warhol’s legendary screen tests. Sounds simple. Beautifully so. This double CD package contains the 13 songs from the film plus eight remixes by Sonic Boom and others. There’s also two versions of the rare Velvet Underground song  “Not a young Man Anymore.” My copy came with a free poster!

2. Arcade Fire – The Suburbs

I know there’s already the beginnings of a backlash against Arcade Fire and Merge, but who cares if they are popular? The Suburbs is a return to the glories of Funeral after the dip of Neon Bible. Full of mini-anthems, you really should buy this instead of just downloading it from somewhere.    

3. Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks

People hated the Sex Pistols. I mean hated them. I don’t think most people have ever heard a song by them, but they still hated them. Just the idea.  The Sex Pistols had that effect. Thirty years after this record was released, it’s still incendiary, still unplayable on the radio, still terrifying.

4. Hoodoo Gurus – Stone Age Romeos

When I was in the third year of university, the Hoodoo Gurus  played a show in Toronto, or rather they didn’t. The show was cancelled and somehow the McMaster Students Union got them to play in the campus pub instead. The cost to us? $1. Amazing show. This, their first record, doesn’t quite have the consistency of later releases like Mars Needs Guitars, but it does have such irresistable numbers as “I Want you Back” and “Kamikaze Pilot” Should’ve been huge.

5. A Neon Rome – A Neon Rome

Another band from my youth. Punky and also trippy, A Neon Rome were important in the mid-eighties and often lumped in with others like Groovy Religion. This release seems to be A New Heroin  with one song different. Winding down music

6. Spacemen 3   – Playing with fire

Spacemen 3 always had great album titles. (My favourite titles were the post-Spacemen Taking Drugs to make Music to Take Drugs to and For all the Fucked up children of this world we give you Spacemen 3 – both demo collections) Playing with Fire was the band’s third album, and contained maybe their best-known song “Revolution.”  Combining elements from their first album (rock) and the second (drone) this one fairly crackles along. If you get the 2 CD version, you get three different versions of the 12 minute “Suicide” along with other demos and live cuts in addition to the album itself.

7. Captain Beefheart – Safe as Milk

In its own way as odd as Trout Mask Replica, and in others the most traditional of Beefheart’s records. Pop, rock, blues, theremin, Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder and much more.

8. Quest for Fire – Lights from Paradise

Ex-Deadly Snakes regroup as psychodelic  rockers? Was that a headline? Nevermind, this Toronto group’s second record comes out today. Have a listen at their Myspace page , and then go to the release at the Horseshoe Tavern on Saturday. It’s $8 for the show.

9. Gimmie Shelter  

Finally got around to seeing the documentary about the Stones’ disastrous free concert at Altamont Stadium. It’s a difficult experience, and directors Albert and David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin capture the feel with unerring accuracy. It’s terrifying. It’s horrific. It’s absolutely essential.

Within minutes of the Stones arriving Jagger is punched in the face. Marty Balin from Jefferson Airplane is knocked unconscious by security. The Angels attack the crowd with weighted pool cues, and finally there is the death of Meredith Hunter. 

Harrowing.

10 Robert Greenfield – A Season in Hell with the Rolling Stones 

You’ve heard the album now read the book. Taking its title from the Rimbaud poem, Robert Greenfield’s book about the recording of the Exile on Main Street, than an extended look at the milieu of southern France as the Stones recorded the record. Essential if you’re a Stones fan; compelling if you’re not.

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The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

August 31, 2010 at 12:03 am (Uncategorized)

In the review of Inception yesterday, I posted Goya’s print The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Here are some brief notes I made as the basis for a presentation on the subject: 

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Ambiguity occurs whenever words, actions, or images can be interepreted in more than one way. Francisco de Goya’s creation, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is a striking picture which leaves a strong impression on the viewer, and a number of ambiguous questions. I consider myself to be a rational person. I do not believe in superstitions; however, I enjoy speculation upon the fantastic, the “what if?” , the impossible. Goya’s work seems to combine these two interests, and is a powerful draw for me.

 The story behind the creation of The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters is complicated. Goya was born in Spain in 1746. He enjoyed success and worked as a court painter for the Spanish crown. In 1792, Goya contracted colera which left him deaf in one ear. Goya took five years to recouperate from the colera, and at the end of this period, he began work on a collection of eighty prints called Los Caprichos (the whims).  When he finished the collection, he chose to sell them in a liquor store instead of a gallery or bookstore. In total, he sold only 27 prints before he made a gift of the rest to King Carlos IV. The Sleep of Reason… was originally meant to be the front piece in the collection, but Goya changed his mind making it plate number 43. The pictures in the collection are in a style called aquatint which is a form of etching. The print is black and white and measures 21.5 cm by 15cm.

 In the painting, we see an artist, often thought to be Goya, with his head buried in his hands. Around him swirl nightmarish characters: Owls and bats, and behind them a lynx sitting motionless. The meaning however is not so clear. To begin with, the title in Spanish is “El sueno de la razon produce monstrous.”  El sueno can be translated either as ‘the sleep’ or ‘the dream.’ This may mean that the absence of reason creates monsters, or dreaming of reason creates monsters. Owls are traditionally taken to represent wisdom, but in Spanish folklore, owls also represent stupidity. Bats are usually creatures of darkness and evil; however, the lynx is thought to have the ability to see through darkness.  Goya’s motto for the plate is, “Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of her wonders.” Here, Goya seemed to suggest that both reason and superstition are capable of producing nightmares. Goya enjoyed ambiguity in his work, and his ultimate intention may be known only to him.

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New Layout

August 30, 2010 at 10:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Well it’s post 300, so it’s about time for a change. Although another one might be coming soon.

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Inception – A Review

August 30, 2010 at 12:44 pm (Uncategorized)

 A friend of mine wrote to me that after she saw Inception, it felt as if she were waking from a nap. The move has just that effect.

Inception was the sleeper (ouch) hit of the summer. With very little advertising (how could you should a 30-second trailer for this film that makes any sense?), just word of mouth buzz

The story is this. Leonardo Di Caprio is Dom Cobb, a dream thief. That is, he breaks into people’s heads when they are sleeping to steal information from them. This is called extraction. however, this time the job is a little different. Cobb is hired by businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) to put an idea into someone else’s head, inception.

Needless to say this is much more difficult.

Cobb assembles his team which includes among others, an architect (Ellen Page as Ariadne – also the name of the woman who helps Theseus in his battle with the minotaur in the labyrinth), and a point man (Joseph Gorden-Levitt as Arthur). What Cobb doesn’t tell his team  is that he had a bad experience with dreaming, and his late wife Mal is, well, haunting his dreams.

Cobb and his His wife Mal and he lived in a constructed dream world for years, but after they awoke, Mal became convinced that they were still dreaming.  As one way to awake from a dream is to die, Mal committed suicide in order to wake, and in his dreams Mal now pursues Cobb.

During the operation, the team goes deeper and deeper into dreams, until they reach limbo, a longterm dream state from which escape becomes near impossible. 

One of the essentials in any film is the audiences’ suspension of disbelief;  the point at which the audience accepts the film as reality rather than snorting, “Huh, that couldn’t happen.” At that point, the spell is broken. But until then, we sink deeper and deeper into the mythology of the film.   

Certainly Inception has that effect. The pacing of the film has a very dream like quality: Shifting exotic locations (North African, Asia, the Pacific), bends in reality (moving landscapes), borrowings from other films and memory (Arthur’s crawling along the ceiling reminded me of similar scenes in Aliens).

As we suspend our disbelief , director Christopher Nolan builds layer upon layer, unreality upon unreality, until we the audience begin to lose our touch with reality, because, after all, this is just a dream, right?

Dreams fascinate us. The Greeks had a God of Dreams, Morpheus (also the central character is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman book, then borrowed as the name of Laurence Fishburne’s character in the Matrix).  If, as Freud contended, a dream is an unfulfilled wish, then we have some very strange wishes.

The idea of breaking down the barriers between dreams and “reality” is not new; Films such Waking Life, and to a lesser extent Last Year at Marienbad  (which Inception was accused of copying) have explored these themes.

But the point about a dream is when to wake up.

Inception is in some ways reminiscent of the puzzle posed in The Usual Suspects, if  you can’t trust the narrator, how can I trust anything he tells me in his story? And this time, we are a part of the story. In Inception, Cobb carries a spinning top to test whether or not he is dreaming: If the top refuses to stop spinning, he is still dreaming. At the end of the film, we wish we too had a top.  (and yes, I’m a supporter of the un-happy ending theory)

A few days after I saw the movie Inception, I had a dream where I realised I was dreaming. I was a talking to a woman and told her we were dreaming. To prove it I levitated…then I forget what happened next.

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Welcome back Big Chief Tablets

August 23, 2010 at 8:23 pm (Uncategorized)

The return of an old blogger and a new blog: Big Chief Tablets

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David Harvey “Crisis of Capitalism” RAS Video

August 20, 2010 at 6:33 pm (Uncategorized)

Economics has been called the dismal science, but does it have to be dull?

Here’s a fun little piece by the clever people at RSA on economic crisis. It’s a lecture by David Harvey on the roots of the economic crisis.  My own perspective is more clearly expressed here, but the Harvey video is worth watching

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Rome

August 18, 2010 at 7:03 pm (Uncategorized)

Do you remember The Sopranos? Boy, that show had it all: Violence, nudity, coarse language and an absolutely compelling storyline. So it should not be a surprise that I fell in love with Rome, the BBC-HBO series from the mid-noughties.

It is a bit of a surprise (to me anyway) that it took me so long to discover it. I borrowed the first season on DVD from my parents about three years ago, but only watched it in July. It sat on the shelf, until finally we decided to watch it, and then instantly fell in love with it. My previous TV experience with Rome was the British TV series I Claudius (based on the Robert Graves’ novel), but this 

Whereas I Claudius began in the final years of Augustus’ reign, Rome begins fifty years earlier as Julius Caesar finally triumphs over Gaul (52 BC)  Caesar returns to Rome provoking a near civil war out of which he emerges as dictator (although it should be noted that dictator in Roman times didn’t quite have the same connotation as it does today). The first season concludes with Caesar’s assassination by the conspiracy led by Brutus and Cassius.

The second season is devoted to the struggle of Octavian, Caesar’s nephew whom he adopted as his son in his will, as he overcomes his rivals including Brutus and Mark Antony to become the Emperor Augustus.  

Interwoven throughout the two seasons is the story of two soldiers Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo who serve as men in the street whose destinies seem to coincide with the larger story at key point. For example, Vorenus is Caesar’s bodyguard, but at a crucial moment he is lured away by news of his wife’s infidelity and Caesar is assassinated.  

Like most historical fiction, Rome takes certain liberties for the sake of the story, but after all, it’s not a documentary.

Rome‘s projected length was five seasons, but unfortunately cost factors  (Rome was one of the most expensive series ever made and a quick viewing will makes that abundantly clear) truncated the show to two seasons (they historical pace really picks up in last episodes of the second season)

After I finished watching, I was of course interested in deepening my knowledge and have worked my way through a couple of books on Rome I’m reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall which covers the story after the events of the TV show, and another good book is  The Roman Empire by Paul Veyne which looks at the social aspects of Roman life.

Colin Wells, in his excellent little book , The Roman Empire notes that liberty meant pretty much anything the speaker wanted: You were always in favour of liberty, for the republic; your opponents were always factionalists, tyrants, enemies of liberty etc.  While Caesar may have been a tyrant aiming at making himself emperor, his assassins who spoke in the langauge of liberty certainly were not in favour of democracy other than the rarefied form where good families made all the real decisions.

Plus cà change.

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Denise Mina

August 16, 2010 at 9:55 pm (Uncategorized)

It’s been a great year for me for mysteries.

First I discovered the Mistress of the Art of Death series by Ariana Franklin, (murder mysteries set in the time of Henry II with a female detective – marvellous), and not a month ago, I came across Denise Mina.

 Hardly underground or even new, Denise Mina’s first novel Garnethill was published in 1998. Garnethill (the first in the trilogy) is the story of a woman who wakes up after a night to excess to discover her the mutilated corpse of her boyfriend tied to a chair in the living room of her flat.

While looking at her website, I discovered she’d written 13 issues the Hellblazer series (also worth reading). 

She’s supposed to be reading at the Toronto Festival of Authors this October, but I don’t see her name on the list of speakers yet.

Summer’s not over, and there’s still time to cram in a few books.

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A Mild Case of Luddism

August 15, 2010 at 11:42 pm (Uncategorized)

A week or so back, I saw a feature on Yahoo(?) about technology that “you own that are obsolete”  – I was relieved that much of the stuff I didn’t own anyway, but then again who has fax machines and beepers outside of the workplace.

Then my friend Joanne sent me this lovely piece from Wondermark about books (OK, she’s mentioned in the articles, but so what…). I do like toys, but I can’t see myself getting an e-book reader anytime soon.

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Who was Cain’s wife again?

August 14, 2010 at 9:50 pm (Uncategorized)

Even Disney agrees. I just watched the Jungle Book (again) with my son. It was the first movie my day took me to, and I still like it even with all the “ideological” objections. It always makes me smile when King Louie refers to Mowgli as “Cous.”

Here’s an interesting article on Neandertals by Michael Shermer the editor of Skeptic magazine published in  Scientific American.

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