Tuesday, January 31, 2006

My Ferrari does 185...

This weekend I attended the final night of the San Francisco Tape Music Festival. If it continues, I'll be going back -- it was overwhelming, unique, confrontational -- all the stuff good live music should be, without any of the distractions.

It took place at the ODC theater, down in the Mission. They sit you down, completely darken the room, then play tape music over a spectacularly designed set of 16 speakers. However, the sound in this place was incredible. From my notebook: "Electrical noises skittering across the ceiling. Clouds of static opening overhead. Voices whispering across the hall, feel intimate. Swooping synthetic noise. Groups of sounds stuffed into a corner to my right, grumbling."

The concert was a tribute to Luc Ferrari, who died last year. Before I go on about how great it was, this is probably not something that anyone who reads this blog will actually want to go out and buy. If you have the money, spend it on something that has less of a chance of inducing overpowering nausea and discomfort. If you like electro-acoustic music, or are serious about listening to and enjoying sound, then by all means.

The Program:

Etudes Aux Sons Tendus/Study on Stretched Sounds (1958)
Presque Rien Avec Filles/Almost Nothing with Girls (1989)
Tautologos 1 (1961)
Place des Abbesses (1977)
Les Anecdotiques/Exploitation of Concepts no.6 (2004)

There are a couple ways to look at this kind of music. On one hand, it was basically ~100 people, sitting in the dark, being assaulted by random noises we don't really enjoy or understand. If aliens were watching us, they'd assume we had all been prescribed radical behavior modification therapy, or that we were blind and someone was playing a horrible trick on us.

Of course, no one in the audience seemed at all ruffled. This was an achingly hip event in an already hip district of the hippest town in the country. They weren't going to stand up and shout "Fuck this! I'm going to Arby's." One woman was so into it that she actually whooped after a few of the pieces, as if she'd just caught Tom Jones' sweaty undershirt, instead of listening to what most people would describe as three minutes of R2D2 farting in his sleep.

Here's the play-by-play, as I experienced the evening's program:

Etudes Aux Sons Tendus: Unfortunately, the first piece of the night was the least likeable, and the most terrifying. You have to imagine this theater, with its exposed beams and industrial pipe, lit eerily from below by a laptop screen under a single spotlight. Given the sounds, and the ambiance, I kept expecting a man-bat to drop from the ceiling and drain the guy next to me, leaving only his scarf, Pumas, and bloodsoaked (but still ironic) t-shirt. In the liner notes, Jean-Christophe Thomas described Etudes with the phrase "uncompromised disparity," which is pretty much on the mark, whatever it means. I heard squeals, beeps, abrupt cuts and splices, accompanied by an assemblage of feedback, industrial noise, and carefully shaped squall -- it really was like being in a sonic haunted house. By the end I was mystified and regretting my decision not to stay home and watch Homicide with Camille (by the way, in case you're wondering why I mention her a lot -- our pre-nup contractually obligates me to work her into every post).

I had actually heard Presque Rien Avec Filles in college, but it'd be a serious stretch to say I remembered it even the least little bit. Ferrari composed this piece after he'd gotten a good hold on his technique and sensibility, melding undiluted "field" recordings with electronics, interviews, his own verbal cues, etc. Female voices meander in and out of a general "outdoor" texture, while the sounds gain density and dissipate gently. The highlight for me came when Ferrari dissects the voices and begins to intersperse electronic tones and clicks, echoing and conversing with the filles. I started smiling, cause I there's nothing quite like obliterating language to wake up your ear.

Tautologos 3 could also be accurately titled: 65 Electric Organs Fall Out of a Cargo Plane and Land on Detroit. Not much else to say, except that the structure exists, and the piece has an undeniable emotional effect. To all the folks out there who think these guys just make random, unlistenable stretches of electronic sound -- something actually does separate good composers from not-good ones. At some level, every good composer (and performer, for that matter) understands the connection between sound, emotion, and physiology. They know how to get to you. John Lennon claimed to Rolling Stone in 1971 that he was an artist, and if you gave him a tuba he'd "bring you something out of it." So, even though I didn't particularly like Tautologos 3, my heart was racing at the end, and I felt exhilarated and paranoid and exhausted all at the same time.

Place des Abbesses was the standout of the night. This piece was captivating, and reminded me why I'd been so taken with the few recordings by Ferrari I heard in college. Snatches of flute, clarinet, synth, plucked strings, woven into a modal feel that was very appropriate for these Terry Riley stomping grounds (Warning: before you click Riley's link, be advised that, despite the man's boundless creative talent, it's probably the worst website ever made). I know Ferrari was a fan of Riley's In C, so the circular, wandering tonality makes sense. The winds don't play melodies, they play little gestures and hints of jazz licks, like three seconds of Debussy or a snippet of "Body and Soul." Ferrari makes particular use of the similarities between pure, open clarinet tone and bottle hiss. Drums and rudimentary rhythmic patterns emerge and fade away. Seriously, it was mesmerizing -- and I know so because I had that awkward, intense desire not to interact with anyone as soon as the lights came up for intermission. I didn't want to hear them all dissecting it in the lobby, or talking about Sam Alito or the Super Bowl. That's how I know something's good, when it ends and my first thought is "Whoa," followed immediately by "Wait, do I have to talk to these fuckers now?"

Finally, Les Anecdotiques presented a perfect example of Ferrari's documentary-style composition. He describes the piece as taking place on three different planes: sequences of recorded material from his travels around the world, electronic sounds/detritus, interviews with young women which add "balance to the discourse." The piece visits and revisits locations, musical themes, narratives, situations. Even though my mind wandered over the course of the 55 minutes, it was wandering in the way your mind wanders when you're hiking a mountain or taking a bus tour of an unfamiliar city. You come in and out of engagement with what's around you, but you preserve a constant sense of immersion in another world. The piece begins with a heartstopping whoosh of sound, then a woman asking "Qu'est-ce que je sens?" ("What do I feel?"). It ends with the question only partially resolved. Sound rushes from the back of the hall to the front, seeming to sail through the front speakers and out of the room, to Greenland, or Gibraltar, or another dimension. Everyone breathed a sigh of wonder and relief.

If you want to get a better sense of Ferrari and where he's coming from, Paris Transatlantic published a fascinating interview in 1998. It does a much better job than I have.

The other thing to do is get La Creation Du Monde, by Bernard Parmegiani. I think, of the electro-acoustic music set, his work remains the most accessible. By the way, I searched for about five minutes for a good description/review of this masterpiece, with no luck, until I remembered that I wrote an entire term paper on it -- and the reason I wrote a term paper on it is that as far as I'm aware no substantive analysis of this piece exists in English. With any luck, in the future Creation will be regarded like the B-Minor Mass, or Beethoven 9, or Mahler 8, or OK Computer, or whatever your preferred musical representation of the human experience is. Ferrari probably will not make it into that company, since he's too much of a radical, and "disparity" isn't a good sonic accompaniment to touchy-feely events at the UN. But who knows.

Monday, January 30, 2006


Via The Rest is Noise, a new ad from Honda UK.

My favorite is the rolling pencil.

By the way, I think it's worth keeping in mind when you're watching something like this how successfully these ads build an association in your mind between the personality of the ad and that of the company.

Honda is not dedicated to creative, witty, innovative media explorations. It's just a car company with a great marketing department, and an even greater talent for contracting with terrific marketing agencies.

Despite that ad that's gotten me misty on a few occasions, Honda is not in the business of making childrens' dreams come true by building cars based on their crayon drawings. Honda is in the business of systematically dismantling the US and European auto markets by offering a cheaper, higher-quality alternative.

Honda will never get anywhere with the macho, patriotic angle. Unlike Ford, you would laugh out loud if a Honda add contained the slogan "Built Honda Tough." Or "The 2006 Civic - Like a Rock."

So they go with the playful, technologically savvy persona that gets under your skin and makes you feel like buying a Honda to go with your Wired subscription.

Anyway. Speaking of playfull & technologically savvy, I went to the last night of the San Francisco Tape Music Festival on Sunday. "Review" forthcoming.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


Canada is a savage wasteland full of gun nuts and werewolves.

By the way, before this election I'm ashamed to say that I had little or no idea how the Canadian Parliament worked. I assumed, more or less, that it would resemble this.

Which turns out to be true.

I don't have anything substantive to say, because that would require revealing my paucity of knowledge on Canadian politics. It's sad because I'm marrying a Canadian-American mulatto.

Monday, January 23, 2006

send canned food to Bill Ford

If his company keeps tanking it like this, he'll never be able to take home a salary to feed his family.

He hasn't gotten paid by Ford since 2001.

Ford said: “We will be making painful sacrifices to protect Ford’s heritage and secure our future.”

Wow. The man's already given up his salary. Isn't that enough? Next the shareholders are going to demand that he forfeit his millions of dollars in stock options and bonus compensation.

Incidentally, it's vaguely gratifying to know that the recent profit slippage at Ford and GM is due not only to cheaper, superior imported products but to decreased demand for SUVs.


Wednesday, January 18, 2006

apologies in advance...

...but that was the worst MLK Day ever, for me.

The celebration at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco was freezing and only intermittently inspiring. Celebrity guest speakers (like local TV personalities or the city mayor) do not make for revelation or introspection, especially when they're not prepared. We sang a completely overhauled version of "Gimme that Old Time Religion," honoring various local and national civil rights figures. That sucked. To give you a sense, it referred to Sojourner Truth as "an awesome lady" for the sake of rhyme, and implored us to honor "Medgar Evans" of Mississippi not once but twice.

A couple of speakers also continued perpetuating the myth of a "tired" Rosa Parks deciding she couldn't take it any more. I know it makes me sound like a history/CRM snob to be complaining about this, but it prevented me from applauding for Parks' achievements since they were so erroneously summarized. I'm glad that this complaint has become more mainstream since she died, what with folks re-evaluating her role in history. But for any of you who've taken the Parks myth at face value, check out the Times obituary, or one of the many CRM histories that effectively debunk it.

By the way, I understand the intent behind the myth. Mythical Rosa Parks has such quiet nobility, and behaves in such a quintessentially American fashion -- in the mold of the Founding Fathers, who were tired of being subjugated and "spontaneously" fought back. Everyone, including the CRM leaders and Parks herself, realized that carefully planning to overthrow the status quo, then going about it in a systematic and calculated way seems much less palatable under close scrutiny. I guess I was just hoping that 50 years later, after her death, we might start to get closer to the truth about her remarkable accomplishments and historical significance.

That's usually the way it works, right? Someone dies, they get impartially evaluated, and people immediately stop perpetuating myths about them?

Anyway, folks who have read this far can all probably guess the real source of my dissatisfaction on King day:


It depressing and frustrating that the platitudes don't work on me anymore. The exercise of gathering lots of people together to talk about beloved community doesn't feel like it holds much worth or power. I don't want to speculate on the number or proportion of attendees for whom MLK day celebrations mean a great deal. I'm sure it's a lot, and I'm sure it's still a lot less than we think. For me, the inspiration to others aside, it seemed like an empty waste of energy and resources at best, and a nearly-dangerous deception at worst. I am honestly glad that it couldn't possibly have felt like that to everyone.


Okay, now I've been thinking about it for a few minutes. I believe Monday's celebration felt empty to me because of the reasons for which we seemed to be gathered there:

1) To honor King and Parks for their contribution, by re-asserting how important it was, and for their ideals, by stressing how far we still have to go. Anyone who genuinely cares about -- and understands -- their contribution already knows how far we have to go to realize their ideals. So the "many rivers to cross" theme just became a platitude.

2) To celebrate blackness and the black community through music and culture. Terrific. Unfortunately, the freezing, cavernous, unintelligible Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was not the right place to do this.

3) To remind everyone that MLK Day is about practicing what you preach. It's not about saying, it's about doing. Unfortunately, the only thing I did was give $10 to the MLK Day celebration committee, so they could put the same celebration on next year (or, I hope, a better one). Campaigns for freedom, equality, and justice were mentioned as afterthoughts or asides, if they were mentioned at all. The relentless generality transformed the motto of "practicing what you preach" into "preaching about what you practice." Again, this may have sounded different to my ears, but the sad fact remains that the celebration didn't give the attendees much of an opportunity to learn anything. Unless you didn't know how awesome a lady Sojourner Truth was.

4) It's the third Monday of January -- better do something.

I don't remember what I did last MLK Day, but I remember it involved catching up with people in the movement, talking about organizing and change in non-superficial terms, and trying to confront some personal difficulties, hesitations, and insecurities that made me question my commitment. The previous MLK Day, I did a bunch of stuff but what I remember best is leading a panel on Civil Rights Music with Sumanth Gopinath, who is basically the man. Check out his essay: "Ringtones, or the Auditory Logic of Globalization." He is basically the man. And even though our presentation was a little sloppy, some folks were into it. Before that, all I remember is putting together screenings of "At the River I Stand." And of course the fight to get rid of MLK Day classes at Yale, which certainly gave a purpose to the MLK celebrations.

Here's hoping I brighten up before next year, or the celebration gets better, or both. People in SF have been complaining that this year's MLK Day should have included a march, as is traditionally done here -- but I thank sweet fancy Moses that didn't happen. There's nothing worse, and nothing that would, I expect, bother King more, than marching for basically no reason.

"What do we want?"
"To say we marched today!"
"When do we want it?"
"It's happening now!"

Alright, back to work.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


The 2005 Dressing of the Year.

(it's a popularity contest)

And, in honor of Newsradio's debut on DVD, here's a truly magnificent website that goes way, WAY deep into the world of screwball comedy, ensemble acting, and sitcom structure through the lens of Newsradio. It has the initial feel of something totally expendable, but there are actually a remarkable number of fascinating observations and explications.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

more on squab

I was pretty much completely off track about what a squab actually is.

From Bokhari Squab Farms:

A squab is a 25-30 days old pigeon (nestling).

So...I guess I wasn't totally wrong about it being flightless. Whoa, this blog has taken a weird PETA-ish turn in the last week or so. I'll try to get things together. In the meantime, look up "spatchcock," which is a new word I just learned about poultry preparation.

Incidentally, the Squab Producers of California (located at "www.squab.com," which was a nice shot-in-the-dark for me), have unintentionally produced a hilarious website.

From the homepage:

Welcome to the Internet. This site will provide valuable information for anyone interested in squabs and our cooperative. We are the largest Squab Cooperative of its kind in the world. It is our goal that we would have a global presence in our marketplace. With our recent arrival on the World Wide Web, we are confident in further providing the best services possible for our customers.

Be sure to check out the North American distributor map.

And if I forgot to say it before: Welcome to the Internet, everybody!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

muffled stoplights burn out right in front of me...

Saw the Invisible Cities with Goh Nakamura last weekend at the Hotel Utah, which I'd never been to before. They have a regular open mic there, and I've been invited to play/listen a couple times by a friend, but haven't worked up the courage -- or figured out the missing middle-eight chords for my poor, bridge-less songs.

Anyway, the Invisible Cities were without a drummer, but had nicely reworked their songs for the different arrangement. "Double Fisted" turned into a hard-rock shuffle, in the mode of the New Pornographers' "My Slow Descent into Alcoholism," and "Birthday" came across all ethereal and squall-y.

I like squall. It kind of sounds like the name of a flightless bird from Northern England that needs constant protection from poachers. But of course I'm thinking of squab, which I've never eaten but sounds disgusting. It might not be from England.

Look, don't eat squab. I don't think it can even fly. That's all I have to say on that.

Okay, so the band also played a few new tunes, and generally re-confirmed their status as the most adorable band in the world, even when the music is edgy or angry.

Goh Nakamura, who plays solo as well as with the band, opened with a friendly and limber opening set of solo acoustic guitar songs, about teenage longing, geekiness, unrequited love of the self-consciously literate variety. Stuff that resonated fairly well with me. It sounded great in the small space. He also had the courage to cover "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)," and pulled it off nicely despite having as little in common (at least on the surface) with Otis Redding as anyone could. I liked his use of the loop sampler pedal, and I liked his not-use of it even more. I can't stand it when guitarists are constantly fiddling with that thing. When Camille and I saw Garrin Benfield a few months ago, opening for Dan Bern, it was like "LOOP SAMPLER MADNESS WITH GARRIN BENFIELD -- NO SONGS SPARED!" It should come as a warning sign if, when you bend down to start pushing buttons, the audience groans and settles back in its seat.

But Goh Nakamura was pretty judicious, at least in this show, and he combined it with singing into the pickup behind his strings, which produced a quavery harmonic-ed background harmony. An all-around good opening, not even spoiled by Camille spilling her Wyder's, cutting herself on the glass, then getting mopey about the whole affair.

The highlight of the show, for me, was the cover of the Flamin' Groovies "You Tore Me Down," which sounded terrific, and a gentle version of the band's "Lost in Translation," from whence comes the title line of this post.

people go the movies i don't
get what they see
muffled stoplights burn out
right in front of me

you, another sidewalk
you, another phone
you, another thought won't leave me alone

Warning: Don't listen too much to the Flamin Groovies. They're really catchy, and mildly narcotic, but what you're forgetting is that at some point people whose opinion you care about will be over at your house, and they'll see the CD, and they'll be like "Who the hell are the 'Flaming Groovies?' Are you kidding me? Didn't you used to listen to Dead Prez? Fuck this, I'm outta here. Have a nice day, Wavy Gravy."

That will suck for you.

Friday, January 06, 2006

better than flingers

Yesterday, a group of former workers from the Windows on the World, the WTC restaurant destroyed on September 11, 2001, opened their own worker-owned restaurant near Ground Zero in Manhattan.

This is inspiring for like, 29 different reasons, not the least of which being executive chef Raymond Mohan's description of the kitchen:

"This is the new American food. It's cooked in a kitchen where
everyone is equal, no yelling, no screaming. And you actually
own the dishes you're washing."

All you New Yorkers should check it out. Everyone else, it's also worth checking out the Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York, which developed the restaurant model, and engages in all kinds of progressive campaigning on behalf of the overwhelmingly immigrant populations that work in NY restaurants.

I was gonna give y'all a bunch of resources to find other cooperatives, but finding the resources is easy. Finding actual worker-owned co-ops is harder.

Actually, this whole post was a ploy for me to insert a plug for Full Sail Ale, brewed beneath the majestic peaks of Mt. Hood, Oregon, and owned by workers. The Pale, Amber, and IPA are tasty as the dickens.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

pure bishop (link)

"Bishop! Bishop! Not true -- false!"

(reference help for non-Wyclef fans)

Anyway, this is completely expected, but I love the comment from Roy Blunt's spokeswoman:

"While we firmly believe the contributions were legal at
the time of receipt, the plea indicates that such contributions
may not have been given in the spirit in which they were received."

So -- that's a tidy phrase, but in what spirit were they received, exactly? Presumably she's just saying, he was legally trying to be corrupt, and we weren't. Whatever, it's just spin, and self-conscious spin at that, but it got me thinking about the spirit in which most contributions to Republican candidates are received.

"Your note here says you care about supporting our troops. Great. I hereby receive your donation, in the spirit of destroying social security."

You know? Or, "We receive these donations in the spirit of a tacit understanding that we will clear the way for casino development, not an explicit understanding. Okay?"

And speaking of spirit, I like how this statement pretends that campaign finance even exists on the same continent as the spirit of the law.

Also, though it's unclear from the article whether Gingrich is aware of his black pot status, he offers these words on the subject of the kettle:

"You can't have a corrupt lobbyist unless you have a corrupt member
(of Congress) or a corrupt staff," former GOP House Speaker Newt
Gingrich said in a lunchtime speech. "This was a team effort."


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

says the sturgeon general...

This broke my heart.

Now how am I gonna pay back my blood debts to the Romanian mafia?

Actually, this is one of those stories that, on the face of it, seems totally normal until you realize that the presence of human beings has caused the world to go totally batshit insane.

I'm not a militant vegetarian. Sometimes I remind Camille that various things on her plate have "a mommy who misses them," but that's just to irritate her. I do subscribe to an eating philosophy that I believe is both ethical and environmentally sustainable, but realistically our bodies are designed to eat meat and I usually don't feel compelled to get in peoples' business.

However, I think the casual consumer needs to be reminded of something:

Commercial caviar production normally involves
stunning the fish (usually with a club to the head)
and extracting the ovaries. (from Wikipedia)

That is flat-out disgusting. This industry, and now this looming environmental hazard, only exist because people like to scoop revolting, briny ovaries out of living fish, put them on toast points, and eat them.

Despite the cultural cache, objectively speaking I have trouble imagining anything less sophisticated.

Maybe you could throw rocks at a squirrel until you knocked it out of a tree, then eat whatever you find in its cheeks.

Anyway, this post is intended as a public service message to caviar eaters: