Saturday, September 29, 2007

I should take more vacations like this.

Ten days, post-season, in Montauk is both very restful and can be very productive. Having nothing vacation-y to do, just me, Linda and Nanook, with 8 1/2 gorgeous fall days out of ten, crisp and clear, I could spend plenty of time writing and reading outside, watching the odd movie or ballgame. If someone would kindly fund me for a while, I could churn out this bio in no time!

Montauk is an OK place, past the awful snottiness of the Hamptons, replacing the bluebloods and fashionistas with Long Islanders in jogging suits; I guess, push come to shove, I'll take the latter over the former. Having been essentially a fishing town, it never quite acquired the panache of its western neighbors, a good thing. otoh, this tends to make it, in season, something of a frat boy drinking town, hence our venturing there in late September. Don't understand why everyone doesn't do that. Oh, wait.

Nice beach (virtually no one on it), great lush vegetation, pretty good food places. We stayed in a cottage in an area about a mile west of town. There are no streetlights in the entire neighborhood and, as since virtually everyone had abandoned their homes for the summer, walking Nanook in the evening gets about as close as this city boy ever comes to experiencing total darkness, depending on the clouds and the phase of the moon. Very nice.

Took the ferry out to Block Island this past Monday, easily still my favorite place in the Northeast. Rented a bike and tootled around the island. It's always intensely nostalgic for me when I visit; I've been there so often since about 1962 (maybe 20 times?) that I still expect to see people I know walking down the street which, of course, no longer happens. Amazingly beautiful place.


Finished Chabon's "The Yiddish Policemen's Union" which I eagerly await being turned into a rollicking film, something it begs to be. (Just checking imdb, I see no such reference yet but did notice that Kavalier & Clay is scheduled for 2009...)

Read Simon Schama's "Landscape and Memory". I hadn't looked through the contents before beginning and assumed the entire book concerned woods, forests, etc. and their relationship to art in general and people's psyches. Only the first third or so is wood-oriented though and, I think, it's the part that succeeds brilliantly in achieving his goal, to show how notions of "woods" are deeply etched onto the subconscious of people (or at least Western people. One of my criticisms is that, with the odd exception, Schama concentrates entirely on Europe and America; I often found myself wondering if his generalizations would apply to Amazonian Indians, Bushmen, Inuit, Malaysians, etc.) I'm not crazy about the term "myth" as I think it carries too much unnecessary baggage, but he does a wonderful job of demonstrating how ideas about "forest" pervade Western thought, art and politics.

However, he then goes on to two subsequent sections on water (rivers, mostly) and Stone (mountains) and his argument weakens considerably, even though he continues to provide story after fascinating story. He simply overreaches. He grabs at too much: Certainly wood, water, and stone are going to be rather important components of pre-industrial man's life and associated lore is going to arise about them. But whereas he convinces the reader of the pervasiveness and huge influence with the wood, the other two are just strings of anecdotes, not able to bear all the weight he wants to assign them. Still, a very fine read.

Began Steven Pinker's "The Stuff of Thoughts" which, so far, is as thoughtful and intriguing as most of his other work.

One thing we forgot to bring was the portable CD player, so my only listening option was via the DVD/TV combo. I did give one listen to the first disc of the Atlas Eclipticalis set--still had misgivings, though I wouldn't base anything on that sonic set-up.

Releases awaiting me upon arrival home:

Marc Baron/Bertrand Denzler/Jean-Luc Guionnet/Stephane Rives - Propagations (Potlatch)

(Various) Airport Symphony (Room40)

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Leaving tomorrow for ten days in Montauk, Long Island, probably without computer access unless I happen on an internet cafe.

Montauk's a relatively nice place, right on the eastern tip of Long Island. After Labor Day it's even nicer, sans kidlets and drunken frat boys. Ideally, they'd dredge a five mile stretch between it and the Hamptons, making it much more difficult to reach but as is, it's still OK. There's a ferry to Block Island, still my favorite place on the East Coast, so I'll be heading over there at least once for some biking.

See everyone back here around the 29th, take care.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Somewhere around 1972, in Poughkeepsie, I discovered that the local library (Adriance Public Library) had LPs for loan. In the spring of that year, I'd discovered jazz via Ornette Coleman and, as my budget was reasonably limited around then, I tore through the jazz offerings there. I don't think they had many in stock, maybe 50 or so, but they included a number of relatively modern releases. I recall getting "The Amazing Bud Powell", "Out to Lunch" (I think "Iron Man" as well), "Mwandishi" and many others. I'd take them home for a week, go back and renew them, take 'em back home. Some good exposure to be had there.

They also had a classical section which included a decent amount of 20th century work. Between the cheap Nonesuch releases of the time and these offerings, much of my first experiences of contemporary "classical" music occurred in this period. I remember getting Varese, Stravinsky, Honegger (Pacific 231!), Prokofiev, Bartok.

I also recall borrowing a double LP recording of Cage's "Atlas Eclipticalis". My memory is of a dark blue sleeve, presumably a "night sky" kind of thing with little white dots. There might also have been a performance of "Cartridge Music" on the same album. (If anyone knows what release I'm talking about, please let me know). I didn't care for it at all. Somewhere shortly after this time, I heard Cage's "Three Dances" on the LP (Angel?) shared with Reich's "Four Organs" and loved those pieces but obviously they're much more approachable. But the "Atlas" was way too diffuse and arcane for me at 18. For a long while, I had this mental image of Cage as fluctuating between these two poles of rhythmic vitality and tedious obscurantism. Whether it was on that recording or not, I did hear "Cartridge Music" around then and liked it more but....

So I recently bought this new release of "Atlas" on Mode (the recording is from 1983) and still find it, or at least this performance, dry, academic and, in a word, boring. Whether that was also the case with my earlier encounter or I simply wasn't ready to hear the work, I don't know. Listening to the Mode release, I was trying to figure out why it wasn't working for me and I think it can be summed up as due to the phraseology of the musicians. Every tiny note or sequence just reeks of what we here around NY refer to as "uptown". The tweedy, blue-haired, old money avant garde, a "culture" that bores me to tears. Every sound bore that post-serial tincture, the total avoidance of anything to do with the world outside of academe. It strikes me as very un-Cagean. Truth be told, this tinge infects many Mode discs, though by no means all. It's frustrating, because I can easily imagine this being performed by creative improvisers and working exceedingly well.

I know Robert wrote about performances of the piece out Seattle or Vancouver way in recent months. Curious to know if he or anyone else could steer me toward renditions that contain more life than this dusty offering.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

First Record Club in quite some time last night, first I've attended since May having missed June's. Special guest Chris Cochrane, a guitarist who some may know from bands like No Safety, Curlew and various Zorn projects was in the house and proved a pleasure both personally and musically. For a first timer, he leaped off the deep end by playing Side Two of Lennon/Ono's "Two Virgins", the 12-minute track that consists of the brutally rhythmic switching on/off of a radio over muted everyday background conversation. In the best tradition of Fluxus, it goes on and on, carrying you past intense aggravation into odd appreciation, though the (I think) humanly manipulated rhythms I could have done without. Chris' second selection, in a lovely about-face, was one of Satie's "Cold Pieces" played with extreme languor by Yves-Jean Thibaudet, a beautiful performance. I found out later on that Nayland had done the cover for the Zorn release, "Weird Little Boy", one I never picked up, which Chris is on. I've also, unfortunately, never heard his own release on Avant, "Bath" (I think Nayland did the cover for that one as well).

David Mitchum, the evening's other guest, played a track by Battles, a band I'd been wanting to hear (the one with Braxton's son Tyondai). Not quite the cold math-rock I'd been expecting, more an overtly goofy version of King Crimson, complete with munchkin vocals; sorta interesting. When his second piece began, I'm sitting there thinking, "I know this one. I heard it a long, long time ago...Weekend!" When my brother Drew stayed with us for a year or so in 1982, he had this album (Alison Statton's post-Young Marble Giants band) and I really enjoyed it. The cut was "Drumbeat for Baby", a memorable enough title, and I was pleased that at least my musical memory seemed to be fairly intact 25 years later.

Nayland played a rather hilarious piece by LA glam-rockers/would-be aliens Zolar X and a really nice one by Stew, a name new to me, from "The Naked Dutch Painter". A fine Brigette Fontaine song from Julia off "Kekeland", her disc with Sonic Youth, an excellent piece via Dan from his favorite unknown Swedish band, Komeda. Nina brought a humorous deconstruction of a Bach composition from the Goldberg Variations by the German bassist Sebastian Gramms but her final selection was a knockout, a recording from somewhere in the South Pacific of an acapella chorus some 125 strong that did the strangest pitch shifts; everyone thought there was some post-production but not so. It actually made you feel queasy, like you were out on choppy seas. Very odd but also very moving in a way.

A fine evening. Oh, I went fairly straight ahead last night, bringing the David Garland track, "Noise in You" and that amazing Shiina Ringo piece I raved about a while back.

On the way over, stopped by DMG and picked up Pita's LP, "A Bas la Culture Marchande" on the No Fun label; didn't have a chance to listen yet.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I don't normally do concert plugs here but there's this band Floriculture, who are playing in Brooklyn at the Center for Improvisational Music, 295 Douglass St. between 3rd and 4th Ave. on September 21 (site here), that's well worth checking out. The odd thing, for me, is that the inhabit a general area that I'm not really drawn to these days...but they do it so well, I become fascinated despite myself. That area (at least the two or three times I've seen them live and as represented on disc) could be said to lie somewhere in the Braxton-Lacy-Tristano neck of the woods but with a unique feel that springs from pianist Carl Maguire's complex, often jerkily propulsive compositions.

So even if you're as jaded as I am, take a chance at having your premises shaken.

[Received Lucio Capece's "bb", a DVD of two live, solo performances (a question of re_entry)]

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Watched, and enjoyed, Lynch's "Inland Empire" today. Having recalled several analyses of it when it was first released last year, I adopted the well-advised strategy of viewing it as a dream-time sequence from the get-go. Good thing, I'm guessing, as although there are snatches of narrative cohesion here and there (and certainly abundant recurrence of subject matter, totems, themes) it's structured with dream-logic and as such far more beautifully achieved than anything else I've seen in a movie.

Almost all cinematic dream sequences leave me cold if not outright annoyed. I'll go out on a limb and guess that mine are pretty similar to most people's (aside, possibly, from more frequent appearances by Joan Chen). The Surrealist manqué nonsense that passes for dreams in your average flick have nothing to do with the ones I know, much less the overly cohesive, everything working the way it does in life examples. Here, the abrupt shifts feel right, the indistinctness and malleability of many of the environments is well thought out, the quasi-"logical" connections don't make sense but seem like they ought to.

Great soundtrack as well, including a lot of Penderecki which, given that about a quarter of the dialog is in Polish, makes its own sense.

(I was mildly pissed off when, watching the credits, I realized I entirely missed the (I think brief) appearance of Nastassia Kinksi!)


I've been alternating discs from the Shostakovich and Cage sets, a nice contrast. Atlas Eclipticalis seems like it might be an adoptive father of Sugifatti....

Friday, September 07, 2007

I know everyone's breathless awaiting more Braxtonia. I'm workin' on it! Just too much other stuff to do, listen to, watch. And, admittedly, my interest palls a bit in the early 80s period, but more on that later.


Miguel Prado - Mascara de Sangre (Ozonokids)
Tim Feeney/Vic Rawlings - In Six Parts (Sedimental)
Brendan Murray/Seth Nihil - Sillage (Sedimental)


John Cage - Atlas Eclipticalis with Winter Music (Mode)
Shostakovich - The String Quartets (Emerson) (Deutsche Grammophone)

Monday, September 03, 2007

I mentioned this album by David Garland a couple weeks back. Finally got around to giving it some more listening time and, while I still wouldn't recommend it overall, there are aspects that have ingratiated themselves into my brain. Given that he's doing "songs", the structures are eely and amorphous, not fixed enough on the one hand given their generally melodic nature, not free enough on the other. His lyrics are intensely personal and idiosyncratic which can work on occasion, on others seem coy or sentimental. But....when he nails it, he does so well. The title cut is a wonderful piece, concerned with the emotional importance of sound. Here's the lyrics:

Noise In You

I’ve heard that there’s a noise in you,
and I know that I’m noisy, too.

Composer John Cage, the sonic sage,
told of the time when silence rang.
Inside an anechoic chamber at Harvard,
as sound-proof a room as had ever been made,
a long, low drone, and another up high,
seemed to disprove the soundproof design.
But, he was told, the sound he heard was

Low note: blood flow; high note: nervous system.

I’ve heard there’s a noise in you,
and I know that I’m noisy, too.

Out in the woods, by the lake,
far from New York and the noise it makes,
things still aren’t quiet yet, sounds still abound.
They bang in my head and they ring in my ears.
A long, harsh note, and some shrill ones up high,
fill in the silence with noise from inside.
Blood and nerves — and something more.

Please don’t leave me, then I’d be alone.
Please don’t leave me, then I’d be alone.
Please don’t leave me, then I’d be alone.
Please don’t leave me, then I’d be alone.

I’ve heard that there’s a noise in you,
and I know that I’m noisy, too.
I’ve heard that there’s a noise in you,
and I know that I’m noisy, too.

(Incidentally, this is sung in a quasi-neo folk fashion, not "noisy" at all. Synchronistically, I was reading "Silence" this morning when the song came on)

In general, I'm frustrated because I get the sense he's capable of creating some very interesting music but for the time being and, I guess, the foreseeable future, it'll be oddball, once in a while brilliant, pop songs.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

New listening:

Graham Stephenson/Dave Barnes - s/t (no label)
Jin Sangtae/Park Seungjun - 5 Modules IV (Manual)
Ferran Fages - Cançons per a un Lent Retard (Etude)

All three sound quite well on first blush.

Read McEwan's "On Chesil Beach". Interesting, short novel. Sort of taking a serious story about a relationship as it may have been generally described in a contemporary work (1961) but adding levels of honesty that have only become "possible" in years since. Makes for an intriguing disjunctive feel throughout.

Rereading Cage's "Silence". Also Shusaku Endo's collection, "Stained Glass Elegies" where he, as seems to be his wont, writes stories delicately balancing attitude and beliefs of Japanese Christians against "non-believers". Also finishing up "The Island at the Center of the World", by Russell Shorto, a history of Manhattan that seeks to restore the profound Dutch influence on the area (and subsequent republic) at the expense of the dastardly English.