SPYING ON WHALES: THE PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE OF EARTH'S MOST AWESOME CREATURES (PENGUIN, 2018) by noted paleontologist NICK PYENSON, curator of fossil marine mammals at the SMITHSONIAN's MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY in WASHINGTON D.C., is a compelling journey through the process of SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY and the individuals that participate in the learning and uncovering of the hidden ECOLOGICAL, EVOLUTIONARY and CULTURAL secrets of these celebrated majestic animals.
throughout the book there is much effort made to stress the importance of PHYSICAL EVIDENCE and the COLLECTION OF DATA in the generating of suppositions regarding the history of WHALES and their role in various ecosystems within the water column. as new specimens are collected and technological modeling methods perfected, more nuanced HYPOTHESES are rendered and informatively debated among experts. what is presented in SPYING ON WHALES in essence is an intelligent and complex lineage of animals who have evolved physically and tactically to exploit their unique placement in the food chain.
one aspect of such is the GIGANTISM of some species, namely the BLUE and FIN WHALES, whose size is a hypothesized reaction to being able to efficiently travel long distances at depth and take advantage of seasonal feeding grounds hemispheres away. their size also renders a sense of PROTECTION as they are essentially apex predators in that would-be predators seek easier prey that require less energy to submit to their will.
another aspect presented is the CULTURAL and interpersonal relationships among WHALES that utilize language and, in the case of ORCAS, coordinated pack maneuvering. unfortunately since we do not speak their LANGUAGE or have any insight into their coded communications, the idea of the true depths of their CULTURAL INTERACTIONS with one another is a tantalizing off-limits as of now.
the aspect i found most interesting included the ECOLOGICAL significance of BLUE WHALES in that they spread nutrients throughout the water column and serve as an integral part of multiple ECOSYSTEMS. through their feces they spread nutrients near the surface that were originally taken at depth. likewise when they perish and fall to the ocean floor as a WHALE FALL (great band name!), their carcasses serve as fuel for a whole series of creatures at various points in its DECOMPOSITION. in essence the connect the oceans and spread vital nutrients to various shareholders.
which makes CLIMATE CHANGE, WHALING and ECOLOGICAL DEGRADATION by the hands of humans such a sad point of reality in the book. as conditions change and deteriorate rapidly, many of these less flexible WHALE iterations are seemingly doomed to perish and become extinct as they are perfectly evolved for a past set of ENVIRONMENTAL PRESSURES. it seems doubtful that benevolent efforts by mankind will undo the damage our industry and petroleum-based economy has done unto the globe and its myriad of interconnecting ecosystems.
sadly this book feels like a EULOGY. at the same time the more flexible and coordinated of the WHALE species will find a way to survive. what is hopeful is that there are a series of committed scientists, like PYENSON, that are seeking to investigate and learn as much as possible about WHALES, their relatives and their vital role in the ocean (both past and present) for the sake of posterity.
join us TONIGHT at 8PM EST for an all new episode of DEER GOD RADIO on MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC with a playlist celebrating the legendary career of DAVID BYRNE and the TALKING HEADS!
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BILLIE EILISH is arguably the most transformative pop icon since LADY GAGA. maybe even more so. i remember being in a rural village in ALBANIA when local kids were outside dancing to a small radio asking me and my fellow PEACE CORPS volunteers if we knew about LADY GAGA. just the idea that a FREDDIE MERCURY-obsessed singer who was unapologetic in her presentation, politics and demeanor could still translate to the youth of such a socially conservative country made me optimistic about AMERICAN culture at the time.
this was pre-TRUMP of course.
i think in BILIE EILISH you have someone just as adventurous and experimental as LADY GAGA in a pop setting, while also being remaining APPROACHABLE and KNOWABLE. for all of her alien-like costumes and ELTON JOHN-esque histrionics, at the end of the day LADY GAGA still plays by the same GENDER NORAMATIVE rules as BRITNEY SPEARS, ARIANA GRANDE and RIHANNA. EILISH is just as compelling and artistically deliberate and compelling, while playing by her own rules and seemingly making no concessions to staid and outmoded media representations of FEMININITY. i am not even trying to put LADY GAGA down or put her against another woman, instead im just pointing out how EILISH has carved a new lane that arguably only PATTI SMITH, CHRISSIE HYNDE or PJ HARVEY have ventured before.
sonically and visually, WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? (INTERSCOPE, 2019) is its own zip code in the pop scene of recent years. produced and written in collaboration with her brother FINNEAS, it is an aurally MINIMALIST affair that puts all the focus on EILISH's intimate, low-key sing-speaking voice and her lyrics. normally the least compelling aspects of modern pop music are the words and ideas being introduced, but here in EILISH's world we are entrapped in a WARPED, PARANOID reality which is probably not that far off from what it is like to be a female teenager in today's social media-obsessed digital age. her ARTISTICALLY DAMAGED music videos for the likes of "BAD MAN," "ALL THE GOOD GIRLS GO TO HELL," "WHEN THE PARTY'S OVER," "BURY A FRIEND" and "XANNY" in essence are dramatic avatars for complex emotions that seemingly defy and complicate what is expected in the representation of young women. in EILISH i dont see someone projecting a fantasy, no matter how overly goofy, gothic or OPAQUE her videos may seem.
i am instead witnessing someone being herself and presenting all her COMPLICATIONS for the world to see. WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? is definitely worth checking out as well as her recent creative output. EILISH is something SPECIAL and much needed in the modern pop world.
i always loved how the music of DARON MALAKIAN (SYSTEM OF A DOWN, SCARS ON BROADWAY) seamlessly incorporated a genre-spanning, spastic, rapid-fire aesthetic a la MR. BUNGLE with a deep rhythmic sense rooted in the ARMENIAN musical traditions of his youth. MALAKIAN in essence made the most conservative of ROCK AND ROLL genres, that being METAL, somehow feel fresh and INNOVATIVE. he is also adroit at presenting the PERSONAL as POLITICAL, unafraid at using his pulpit to make his opinion heard. especially when it comes to issues regarding ARMENIA and its global diaspora.
in my mind MALAKIAN is one of the most INVENTIVE guitarists/songwriters of the last few decades. he is also highly UNDERRATED and is most definitely worth checking out by METALHEADS and EXPERIMENTAL music lovers alike.
i also wish SYSTEM OF A DOWN would just reunite and dominate the world again. seriously.
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the iconic SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK band PEARL JAM!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
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my introduction to BECK was his iconic grocery store-themed "WHERE IT'S AT?" video that i saw at a NEW JERSEY relative's house in the summer of 1996 on MTV. my family was on vacation at the time and packing up supplies for my second year living in NIGERIA. so it was a weird time. that was also the summer i discovered RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE, GARBAGE and METALLICA as a teenager.
what makes ODELAY (DGC, 1996) so great is partly due to its INNOVATIVE production, overseen by THE DUST BROTHERS. it utilized found sound, classic HIP HOP breaks, MUZAK and basically anything and everything evocative and earworm-y into a POST MODERN blend. it was pure DADA in that it seemingly referenced everything yet paradoxically transcended such contextual limitations. at the time i was unfamiliar with the great HIP HOP tradition of sampling which effectively re-contextualized one's record collection into a new hybrid sound that at its most ADVENTEROUS defied genre and showcased a compositional prowess for creating new musical structures with no maps. ODELAY was not THE DUST BROTHERS first crack at this technique, as famously they had overseen the BEASTIE BOYS' INVENTIVE and ahead-of-its-time PAUL'S BOUTIQUE (CAPITOL, 1989) half a decade beforehand, tirelessly contributing to the dizzying heights of that record which remains a high watermark for entire form to date; FYI i'd similarly throw PRINCE PAUL's production on DE LA SOUL's THREE FEET HIGH AND RISING (TOMMY BOY, 1989) in the mix as well.
BECK, whose family has its roots in the TRANSGRESSIVE FLUXUS movement of the previous generation, was a perfect avatar for this aesthetic as he had no qualms about mixing high and low culture, commercial and underground music as well as any and every variety of genre into an impossibly cohesive album. key tracks include "DEVIL'S HAIRCUT," "HOTWAX," "THE NEW POLLUTION," "READYMADE," "WHERE IT'S AT?" and "DERELICT" which are all completely nonsensical in the fine lyrical tradition of CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, TINY TIM and FRANK ZAPPA yet have an EMOTIVE OPAQUENESS to them that belies a tender sense of ISOLATION and SOCIAL RETICENCE that many friends that were acolytes picked up on.
at the time ODELAY felt very of-the-moment as suburban kids like myself didnt feel as defined by genre as they had maybe ten years before during the DIY HARDCORE / INDIE ROCK era of the 1980s. kids i knew growing up listened to HIP HOP, METAL, PUNK, NEW WAVE and the omnipresent SEATTLE ALTERNATIVE ROCK scene with equal gusto. for a moment in the 1990s experimental ELECTRONIC MUSIC (DAFT PUNK, THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS) was in the mix as well.
in some respect ODELAY lay the foundation for everything BECK did afterwards. the rest of his catalogue is a seeming series of genre exercises that showcased his AUTHENTIC appreciation and internalization of the myriad of tropes associated with FUNK (MIDNIGHT VULTURES), TROPICALIA (MUTATIONS) and LAUREL CANYON FOLK / COUNTRY (SEA CHANGE, MORNING PHASE), SYNTH POP (HYPERSPACE), LO-FI INDIE ROCK (MODERN GUILT) among numerous returns to his trademark pastiche style (THE INFORMATION, GUERO, COLORS).
in my estimation ODELAY is a seminal 1990s album on par in terms of immediate impact and enduring cultural cache with the likes of NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991), WU-TANG CLAN's ENTER THE WU-TANG (36 CHAMBERS) (LOUD, 1993), RADIOHEAD's OK COMPUTER (CAPITOL, 1997), GREEN DAY's DOOKIE (REPRISE, 1994) and A TRIBE CALLED QUEST's THE LOW END THEORY (JIVE, 1991) among others. it is required listening and worthy of countless repeat listens. like those other albums, its almost fun to consider similarly sounding records that came thereafter. such is its greatness.
GEORGE CLINTON is the man. just want to get that out of the way right at the beginning.
the DON LETTS-directed BRITISH television documentary GEORGE CLINTON: TALES OF DR FUNKENSTEIN (BBC, 2006) recounts his enduring cultural legacy for permanently expanding the sonic and thematic parameters of the R&B/SOUL idiom with his revolutionary, conscious-expanding, psychedelic FUNK bands PARLIAMENT and FUNKADELIC. CLINTON himself is interviewed throughout the film as well as current and former band members, writers and notable acolytes including MACY GRAY, ANDRE 3000 (OUTKAST) and SHOCK G (DIGITAL UNDERGROUND).
one of the big takeaways from the film is how much of a pied piper CLINTON really was and still is, by not only attracting all the eccentric musicians (famously BOOTSIE COLLINS, BERNIE WORRELL, WALTER "JUNIE" MORRISON and EDDIE HAZEL) and experimental artists (PEDRO BELL), but also letting them flourish. PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC was his band, but functioned more as a collaborative party. case in point, he would record with players that were unfamiliar with each other and even have people play instruments they were inexperienced with or make non-vocally trained individuals sing. it all feels very CAPTAIN BEEFHEART-esque in its pursuit of putting to wax something new. this was all, of course, the antithesis of MOTOWN RECORDS and traditional R&B/SOUL music of the period which attempted to project an image of BLACK AMERICA that was contained and dignified. PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC was pure id. unrestrained, unadulterated creativity and artistry. being in the moment and letting your freak flag fly.
it makes total sense to me that the later HIP HOP generation caught up with CLINTON and incorporate his music and, for the most part, the social/political mindset he established with PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC. i speak of essential groups from the NYC HIP HOP, NATIVE TONGUES and WEST COAST HIP HOP movements like PUBLIC ENEMY, DR. DRE, ERIC B. & RAKIM, DE LA SOUL, DIGITAL UNDERGROUND and so on. since the filming of this film i feel his role has yet to wane in modern AMERICAN culture. we are still very much attuned with the mothership connection.
BOOK REVIEW | "IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL'S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM" BY YEONMI PARK WITH MARYANNE VOLLERS
NORTH KOREA is by definition UNKNOWABLE. it is a cultural and historical black hole whereby its inhabitants live in isolation from the outside world in a warped cocoon of state-controlled DISINFORMATION, PERSECUTION and outright POLITICAL REPRESSION on a level unseen elsewhere. its true victims are its people, who for the most part are ANONYMOUS and their stories UNKNOWN.
such is what makes the recent publication of the IN ORDER TO LIVE: A NORTH KOREAN GIRL'S JOURNEY TO FREEDOM (PENGUIN, 2015) memoir by defector YEONMI PARK such a gift. her stark, harrowing account of a life of subsistence and constant struggle to survive in the HERMIT KINGDOM as well as her escape to CHINA, repatriation to SOUTH KOREA and struggle to catch up with her peers thereafter is a narrative of singular WILL, COURAGE and sheer PERSISTENCE. to say it is impressive is a massive understatement, this memoir showcases a girl in her early 20s who has experienced unimaginable SORROW and HARDSHIP.
any part of her journey i could extrapolate on, but for me the most central part of her narrative is her frank account of being TRAFFICKED (along with her mother) in CHINA after escaping from NORTH KOREA. this human slave trade by sex traffickers preys upon a political grey area whereby the CHINESE government refuses to recognize political refugees and actively sends back NORTH KOREAN defectors. traffickers know this and use such to establish a BLACK MARKET that buys and sells NORTH KOREAN women to poor CHINESE farmers. it is cruel system that preys on the most VULNERABLE and DISPOSSESSED elements in their society. just the idea that PARK gives voice to her own experience of being TRAFFICKED is an act of such BRAVERY and STRENGTH that is hard for me to comprehend, if not vocalize given how much of a TABOO such is in socially CONSERVATIVE KOREAN society.
what is also interesting is her experience in CHINA during the 2008 BEIJING SUMMER OLYMPICS when the government raided all levels of trafficking infrastructure and repatriated countless TRAFFICKED NORTH KOREAN women back home (to an unknown fate yet one can only imagine). all to save public face. one can only estimate what their policy is now during the current 2022 BEIJING WINTER OLYMPICS. nothing was learned on assumes, which is PREVENTABLE and undeniably TRAGIC.
her journey out of CHINA included a nighttime escape across a section of the GOBI DESERT during winter into neighboring MONGOLIA. this route was initiated by PROTESTENT MISSIONARIES who judged PARK and her mother for their "sinful" activities while attempting to survive on the run from crime world traffickers. this inclusion is absolutely maddening, as it showcases the hollow compassion of these international missionary groups (some of whom i personally dealt with in ALBANIA during my PEACE CORPS years) who leverage help with an unfounded sense of MORAL SUPERIORITY. maddening, just absolutely maddening. PARK and her mother should be commended for surviving in such a system. period. no qualifications. leave JESUS out of this.
basically ever step of her incredible journey, including learning to live and thrive in hyper-competitive SOUTH KOREAN society, is worthy of further examination and respect. the unimaginable COURAGE to give voice to being a victim of the international HUMAN TRAFFICKING is remarkable and should be celebrated. this is a singular book that i highly recommend to anyone interested in inspiring books that celebrate the HUMAN SPIRIT in the face of absolute MORAL DEPRAVITY and immense PERSONAL HARDSHIP. IN ORDER TO LIVE is the most AFFECTING book i have read since reviewing for this blog. could not recommend it anymore forcefully. required reading.
i read at wrote this review not knowing how YEONMI PARK has been effectively championed and co-opted by AMERICAN far-right media elements including CANDACE OWENS, BEN SHAPIRO, JORDAN PETERSON, JOE ROGAN and the like. to say that such is unfortunate is putting it mildly. it is beyond disapointing.
her current decisions dont alter the validity of her experiences outlined in the book or the incredible sacrifices her family made in seeking freedom in SOUTH KOREA. what it does showcase is at best her naivete towards conservative politics in AMERICA and at worst her true character as someone who sympathizes with those that align themselves with wannabe autocrats and regressive inhumane policies. how ironic.
i just wish to make sure my audience understands that i was not aware of such during the creation of this article.
much like the ICONS and THE COLLECTION series covered before, RIFF LORDS is another string of YOUTUBE videos promoted by GIBSON GUITARS under the GIBSON TV moniker that seeks to reestablish the brands bonafides with the guitar-playing public via celebrity musician endorsements after the disastrous "play authentic" campaign of 2019.
the hook regarding RIFF LORDS is that these famous guitarists are allotted an extended-period to not only go over their most notable riffs, but the PHILOSOPHY, THEORY and TECHNIQUE behind their composition. noteworthy participants include that of BUZZ OSBOURNE (MELVINS), NICK HEXUM (311), JADE PUGET (AFI), LER LALONDE (PRIMUS) and CLAUDIO SANCHEZ (COHEED & CAMBRIA). this sort of territory has been mined for years by the likes publications like GUITAR WORLD and PREMIER GUITAR (not to mention online vendors like REVERB and SWEETWATER) for years, but the extended time and lack of an annoying an unnecessary interloctur makes this series of videos more immediate and engaging.
i play guitar so this hits me right in the sweet spot of seeing some of my favorite artists talk at length about their playing. now if they could only get DAVE NAVARRO or JOHNNY MARR... here's hoping.
often getting pegged as a opportunistic NIRVANA wannabes by music critics, which to some extent is accurate, what always struck me in retrospect about this BRITISH post-GRUNGE ALTERNATIVE ROCK band is how disconnected they were from what was actually current on there side of the pond at the time, namely BRITPOP.
all the manufactured ALTERNATIVE ROCK trappings are there: off-set guitars (check), opaque lyrics (check) soft verse/loud chorus a la THE PIXIES (check), vague anthems celebrating discontent (check). whereas KURT COBAIN had a troubled solitary upbringing that scarred him psychologically as an adult and unquestionably influenced his sense of identity and his art, with BUSH frontman GAVIN ROSSDALE you get the opposite. you are presented a polished, well-adjusted BRIT with model looks. it was an interesting inversion of a ROCK N ROLL archetype.
not that i knew or would have cared about any of this the first time i heard BUSH. i can remember during my elementary years in SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA hearing several tracks off of their debut, SIXTEEN STONE (TRAUMA, 1994), like "MACHINEHEAD," "COMEDOWN," "LITTLE THINGS" and especially "EVERYTHING ZEN" and never picking up on the fact that they were ENGLISH. in fact, i thought GREEN DAY were BRITISH given the unique cadence and affectation of BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONG's voice at the time. i should also mention i had the benefit of growing up sans MTV since my family didnt have cable during that period and none of my classmates did either (the internet was still almost a decade away from popular widespread usage).
with all that being said, i think that the one thing ROSSDALE is never given credit for, especially with SIXTEEN STONE, was his ability to write some memorable songs. were they derivative and openly mimicking NIRVANA? absolutely. but they werent the first or the last to do such and arguably they were probably better at it than most (do i need to even mention CANDLEBOX or COLLECTIVE SOUL?). i just wish that ROSSDALE had the sense not to be so obvious about his hero worship, like getting STEVE ALBINI to record the follow-up a la IN UTERO (DGC, 1993). why force the comparison between you and a celebrated icon whose cultural gravity will swallow and ultimately dwarf your creative efforts.
i never understood that.
once in a while you come across a band or an artist that just exudes OPTIMISM and a POSITIVE OUTLOOK on life, and not in a pretend, contrived way that is ultimately alienating to the listener. such is the case with NEW ZEALND INDIE POP band THE BETHS who come off with a cheery disposition that seems rooted in experience, not some fantasy of an idealized fantasy existence (as is the case with say, THE BEACH BOYS), or a sense of wink-wink irony (as is the case with BEST COAST).
musically their sound is infectious with catchy melodic hooks that are made effective by knowingly short, snappy song structures. it doesnt hurt that singer ELIZABETH STOKES also has one of the most enchantiny voices ive come across in a while.
THE BETHS are just a solid INDIE ROCK band that are well worth checking out.
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the notoriously independent PUNK ROCK label DISCHORD RECORDS!
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my introduction to GARBAGE was the music video for the song "STUPID GIRL" off their self-titled debut GARBAGE (ALMO, 1995) record which i saw on MTV at a relative's house in NEW JERSEY in the summer of 1996. it was my first trip stateside since my family's move to NIGERIA and it was during that impressionable period that i similarly discovered METALLICA and RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE among several other bands.
obviously the first thing i noticed was how ridiculously COOL and POWERFUL a front-woman SHIRLEY MANSON was (and still is). usually women in bands have to put up with a bullshit double-standard and have to come off submissive, coquettish and demure to be accepted, but here was a dynamic SCOTTISH woman that took no prisoners. just an absolute force of nature. tracks like "VOW," "I'M ONLY HAPPY WHEN IT RAINS," "QUEER", "SUPERVIXEN" and the aforementioned "STUPID GIRL" convey a forceful INNER STRENGTH while paradoxically projecting an affecting sense of VULNERABILITY. MANSON is so compelling a singer that it is easy to take her for granted, which is why i think she should be regarded as one of the great ALTERNATIVE ROCK singers of the period without question. right up there with LAYNE STALEY, CHRIS CORNELL, SCOTT WEILAND, KURT COBAIN, SHANNON HOON and PERRY FARRELL. i know i just listed a bunch of dudes, but that is kind of the sad fact about MANSON in that she was one of a rare breed of ALTERNATIVE ROCK front-women that played by their own rules (the nearest analogue i can think of within the genre is COURTNEY LOVE or DONITA SPARKS).
just as crucial an ingredient is the production. GARBAGE stands as a seminal record during the period for its revolutionary hybrid sound that seemed to marry ALTERNATIVE ROCK with droning SHOEGAZE-inspired textures and POST-PUNK and SYNTH POP-inspired electronic flourishes. there were bands that played with this hybrid sound before and after, but GARBAGE perfected it and popularized it. its interesting to consider that the band has not one but three record producers as members in that of BUTCH VIG, STEVE MARKER and DUKE ERIKSON (all having been involved to differing degrees with SMART STUDIOS). VIG of course being widely celebrated for his singular production work with NIRVANA's NEVERMIND (DGC, 1991) and the SMASHING PUMPKINS' GISH (CAROLINE, 1991) and SIAMESE DREAM (VIRGIN, 1993) records among others. it is a testament to his production abilities as well as capacity for collaboration that GARBAGE sounds nothing like either band. GARBAGE is its own sonic animal.
my favorite track on the record is "MILK" which i have long found deeply affecting. during this period i felt culturally ISOLATED being abroad in a new environment away from my childhood friends in CALIFORNIA. being in middle school is difficult enough, but the stark, unadulterated realities of NIGERIA was an absolute turning point in my life and there was a period of transition. when i listen to "MILK" it takes me right back to that headspace of being somewhere other than where you wished to be. that sense of LONGING and DISTANCE is palpable in the song. of course, i eventually accepted my new reality and never looked back but that song evokes that sense of deep MELANCHOLY brought on by social DISCONNECTION and ISOLATION in a manner only matched by THE SMITHS and JOY DIVISION in my estimation.
i love the debut GARBAGE record. i highly recommend it to anyone interested in true risk-taking within an established genre. in my opinion, GARBAGE transformed ALTERNATIVE ROCK and progressed it forward by seamlessly integrating modern recording technology and making such acceptable by both fellow musicians and the general public alike. it is a truly great record that is most definitely worth checking out.
the recording and exhibition of CLASSICAL MUSIC has long been a bit of a creative conundrum in that conductors and musicians are held to perform (with regards to) unrecorded compositions as written, but with little to no information or knowledge regarding the nuances of such. it is a similar situation to that of performing SHAKESPEARE, in which traditions have arisen over the years to effectuate ORTHODOXIES that have largely boxed in creativity and stilted audience expectations of the true potentialities of a text. same with CLASSICAL MUSIC, whose very nature is fairly CONSERVATIVE and SELF-LIMITING in that it asks of its participants to recreate a specific experience, as written and understood by experts who have no first-hand knowledge of what such actually sounded like in its original context. in effect, what is perpetuated through generations is INAUTHENTIC to the spirit of the composer (or at least that is a central argument of this film).
enter the idiosyncratic CANADIAN pianist GLENN GOULD, as presented in the documentary GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD (WHITE PINE, 2009). GOULD is arguably one of the most import musicians of the 20th century, who was so supremely skilled that he could masterfully play various compositions in a myriad of ways with subtle variances in ARTICULATION, FEEL and TEMPO that showcased the power of a composition through alternate (yet equally valid) repetitions. it is because of these variations that he is considered a CHARLATAN by some and an INNOVATOR (whose playfulness was arguably in league with the spirt of the original composers themselves) by others more than 40 years after his death. what cant be argued is that to a certain extent we are very much living in a GOULD-inspired POST MODERN reality right now, where searching for the mirage-like AUTHORIAL INTENTION is largely discarded in favor of personal interpretation and appropriation. case in point is modern-day HIP HOP whereby the original context of found sound is discarded for a newly contextualized and rebuilt sound architecture that innovates new feelings and new meanings. the layers make up the meanings as if in a modern PALIMPSEST.
also, as a musician, what is the point of recording another version of composition whose very intent is to sound like every other iteration recorded before. that intent in and of itself seems like anathema to the spirit of great art in my opinion, which is rooted in APPROPRIATION and INNOVATION.
the other interesting dynamic in this documentary is the solitary figure of GOULD himself and how his sublime VIRTUOSITY was the result of concentrated skilled honed largely in ISOLATION. the fact that he complicated and arguably reinvigorated works by composers ranging from BRAHMS to BEETHOVEN while being secluded in his beloved TORONTO. with musicians in general it is always interesting when introverts become cultural icons and thus public figures. GOULD is contrasted with that of his peer, composer LEONARD BERNSTEIN, who adored public admiration and fed off it in his compositions which fed of grand themes rooted in community. GOULD was reinvigorated when he could shut the world out and concentrate and maintain an uninterrupted communication with his own thoughts and those of the composers he adored.
GENIUS WITHIN: THE INNER LIFE OF GLENN GOULD is a fascinating documentary about the nature of genius. definitely worth watching if you have any interest in CLASSICAL MUSIC or the inscrutable root of ART and CREATIVITY.
i read film historian VITO RUSSO's THE CELLULOID CLOSET: HOMOSEXUALITY IN THE MOVIES (HARPER & ROW, 1981) while still in undergrad in the early 2000s. its themes regarding IDENTITY and REPRESENTATION in the media very much resonated with me at the time.
i should backtrack and say that a running thread throughout much of my academic career as an ENGLISH major devouring literature and film was the relationship between the author/auteur and the audience. the read/viewer completes a loop set out by a creator whereby SIGNALS are interpreted and assigned VALUE. part of the interesting thing about interpreting art in a college setting is how diverse audiences divine diverse meanings. i knew this phenomena implicitly from my time growing up abroad, but my college and graduate experience, as well as my years as a teacher abroad only further cemented such. with THE CELLULOID CLOSET i was presented with meanings regarding MEDIA REPRESENTATION in film culture culled from a segment of society i was not familiar with at the time: the GAY community.
it still blows my mind how much subtext i missed from the likes of HOWARD HAWKS, DEREK JARMAN, NICHOLAS RAY, GREGG ARAKI, JAMES WHALE, BILLY WILDER, JOHN HUSTON and STANLEY KUBRICK among many others. there was definitely a CODED LANGUAGE regarding MANNERISM, DIALECT and general AFFECTATION that went way past me at the time. what was also lost on me was the unfortunate longstanding history of depicting HOMOSEXUAL men as effeminate self-hating sissies who were undeserving of affection, loyalty or respect. this was in part a cruel legacy of the PRODUCTION CODE of the 1930s that was initiated to "ensure" a level of MORALITY in entertainment, but like any standard bearer of NORMATIVE CULTURE, only served the hegemonic interests of an AMERICAN body politic that despised all that threatened the status quo. thus HOMOSEXUALS were brutally depicted along with ethnic minorities, women and all elements of "foreign" cultures.
the fact that some were able to utilize CODED LANGAGE and IMAGES to bypass the censors and address the experiences of a minority audience in a mainstream film is super fascinating to me. VITO's book is basically a catalogue of examples that showcase the evolution of HOMOSEXUAL depictions in film over time.
in a post-MARRIAGE EQUALITY AMERICA, this conversation may appear quaint, but this is the type of book that really makes you consider how far we have come as a culture in the past century and why it is so utterly disappointing and beyond depraved that there are current elements in our society that want to take us back to this closeted time. THE CELLULOID CLOSET and the documentary that shares its name should be required reading/viewing because it provides evidence about how ostracizing and traumatizing any segment of society effectively degrades us all. as a society we should be more aware of how the AMERICAN experience is lived by all elements of society, not just the CAUCASIAN perspective. this book helps introduce such a unique perspective in a novel way.
i could not recommend it with more enthusiasm. it is desperately needed in our current cultural and political moment.
part of what i love about YOUTUBE are all the live performance series produced by MANUFACTURERS, RECORD LABELS and RADIO STATIONS giving a spotlight to emerging talent. PHILADELPHIA's NPR affiliate WXPN 88.5 FM has been recording their WORLD CAFE series of live performances since 1995. during the pandemic they produced their spinoff WORLD CAFE: AT HOME SESSIONS at their live venue in PHILADELPHIA and remotely at BARS, STUDIOS and even CHURCHES with minimal on-hand personnel to help responsibly minimize the spread of COVID.
im always interested in hearing promising unknown artists and that is what i found in past participants CHRISTONE "KINGFISH" INGRAM, AMYTHYST KIAH, THE LINDA LINDAS, THE WAR ON DRUGS, ADIA VICTORIA and BIG FREEDIA.
WORLD CAFE: AT HOME SESSIONS is most definitely worth checking out.
what makes listening to FRANK ZAPPA engaging and pleasurable is the experience of just being swept away with the ECCENTRIC ORCHESTRATIONS, COMPLEX COMPOSITIONS and ODD SONIC JUXTAPOSITIONS that he came up with at varying points in his career. ZAPPA was a singular creative force and an absolute original, complete with OPAQUE, seemingly DADA-esque nonsensical lyrics that appeared designed to confound and challenge.
such is the case with the mostly instrumental HOT RATS (REPRISE, 1969) and its two most famous tracks, "PEACHES EN REGALIA" and "WILLIE THE PIMP," the latter being the only song with lyrics and an appearance by noted ZAPPA conspirator, CAPTAIN BEEFHEART. in the MULTI-LAYERED mix are references to LATIN rhythms and percussion, JAZZ-influenced guitar voicings and looping chord patterns as well as the requisite BLUES-based ROCK N ROLL song structures.
its difficult to come up with an apt analogue to compare this record to because there are none in ROCK N ROLL. you have to look outside to the world of JAZZ or modern CLASSICAL MUSIC with the likes of ORNETTE COLEMAN or IGOR STRAVINSKY, artists that defied convention and audience expectation. HOT RATS still very much sounds EXPERIMENTAL decades after its release in part dude to its multi-part composition and highly IDIOSYNCRATIC sense of ORCHESTRAL DYNAMICS.
like i said, HOT RATS is very much about going on an AURAL JOURNEY that feels almost CINEMATIC. it confounds audiences to this day and is most definitely worth revisiting or checking out for the first time. highly recommended.
in the early 2000s around the end of my time in undergrad i discovered APHEX TWIN and AMBIENT music in general. and it was a consciousness expanding experience for me in that it transformed what my core expectations were as a listener regarding the EMOTIVE and PSYCHIC possibilities of music. it was no longer about hooks and melodies per se, but now more about COLOR, TEXTURE, SCOPE and DEPTH OF FIELD. my expectations in essence became much more CINEMATIC in nature.
that was the scenario i was in when i discovered the CHICAGO-by-way-of-NEW ORLEANS electronic duo TELEFON TEL AVIV made up of CHARLES COOPER and JOSHUA EUSTIS and specifically their two albums FAHRENHEIT FAIR ENOUGH (HEFTY!, 2001) and MAP OF WHAT IS EFFORTLESS (HEFTY!, 2004). the best way i can describe their sound is that it was expansive yet contained and had a sense of dynamism in how incorporated ORGANIC and SYNTHETIC sounds. it had the lift and cinematic quality of AMBIENT music while being more direct, compact and impactful. i still look at TELEFON TEL AVIV as a gateway drug to later groups i discovered like BONOBO and BOARDS OF CANADA among many others.
sadly COOPER past away in 2009 and EUSTIS has been busy since as an in-demand collaborator, remixer, producer and touring musician and has worked with the likes of NINE INCH NAILS, A PERFECT CIRCLE, BLACK LIGHT BURNS, THE BLACK QUEEN and PUSCIFER. he has released work as SECOND WOMAN and SONS OF MAGDALENE over the years as well.
if you are unfamiliar with the work of TELEFON TEL AVIV or EUSTIS then i highly suggest you check them both out. most definitely worth it.
having lived abroad in NIGERIA as a kid has undoubtedly opened me up to the global influence of AFRICAN MUSIC. and specifically WEST AFRICA. just that innate feel for RHYTHMIC COMPLEXITY and layered POLYRHYTHMS, as well as lyrical themes revolving around issues of IDENTITY amidst surviving in a world that unfortunately refuses to abdicate from defining you through a COLONIALIST perspective.
the parallels are there in the musical traditions of the UNITED STATES (JAZZ, BLUES, ROCK AND ROLL, HIP-HOP) as well as all over LATIN AMERICA (SAMBA, CUMBIA, RUMBA, SON). its been one of the real gifts of my life to have experienced such music when i did since it has only enriched my appreciation for other countries i've visited since including BRASIL, COLOMBIA, CUBA and VENEZUELA.
but i havent made it to JAMAICA (yet!). for me it is so interesting that such an island nation could have such a profound effect on global musical culture with its ever-evolving genres (DANCEHALL, SKA and REGGAE). the HISTORICAL, POLITICAL and RELIGIOUS underpinnings of REGGAE and resonate strong with the subjugated and DISENFRANCHISED the world over. in many ways, its righteously REBELLIOUS message against OPPRESSION found fertile soil within the youth of BRITAIN and laid the foundation for the likes of PUNK ROCK. there is an absolute cultural through-line between REGGAE and most WESTERN EXPERIMENTAL and POLITICALLY vocal and strident music that followed.
doing an episode on ROOTS REGGAE artists was one of the highlights of the show insofar. i look forward to doing many others on similar AFRICAN-influenced genres from throughout the DIASPORA. definitely check it out if you are so inclined.
i have clear memories of long nighttime car rides with my father alongside the BURGAN oil field in KUWAIT on our way to and from some company gathering in the desert listening to MIND BOMB (EPIC, 1989) by THE THE on the stereo. some records are just perfectly paired with a specific location and the GEOPOLITICAL, RELIGIOUS concerns of MATT JOHNSON and the plodding, expansive guitar evocations of JOHNNY MARR could not have been better coupled with the countless nocturnal gas flares that populate the globe's single largest sandstone oil field.
mind you this record was released more than a year before the invasion and subsequent liberation of KUWAIT, but its appeal as an almost prophetic vision of a new emerging century dominated by ANCIENT HATREDS and RELIGIOUS PERSECUTIONS still feels prescient and absolutely relevant. the story i read somewhere, and i am paraphrasing here, is that JOHNSON tasked MARR (who at the time had recently departed from THE SMITHS) with make soundscapes of the sky expanding and the earth eating and collapsing in on itself to which the guitarist plainly retorted something to the effect of "mate, i just have this piece of wood here with some strings and electronics." but that is essentially what the dude did. tracks like "ARMAGEDDON DAYS" and "GOOD BYE BEAUTIFUL" are some of the most spacious and expressive compositions of his career to date (which is saying something because he has had a brilliant and legendary career).
MIND BOMB really is quite the COLLABORATION, partly because it solidifies MARR's preternatural ability and reputation for seamlessly creating and working within the particular specifications of a demanding writing partner known for being quite INSULAR and keenly DELIBERATE with their lyrical intentions and ambitions. JOHNSON is a THOUGHTFUL, ENGAGED citizen that has the capacity to collapse global political concerns with themes of the MUNDANE and the PERSONAL. all too often the experience of listening to THE THE songs is one of discerning obtuse lyrics rather than enjoying a melody, but MIND BOMB (as well as its subsequent MARR-collaborated follow-up DUSK) is on another level entirely where the aural compositions matched and maybe even superseded the already high ambitions of the lyrical content.
if you are a fan of INDIE ROCK or THE SMITHS or just transgressive ROCK N ROLL in the high lyrical tradition of LOU REED, NEIL YOUNG, BOB DYLAN and the like, definitely check out MIND BOMB. it is well worth the effort.