Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pandora, Revisited.

Some of you who have been reading my blog for a while now may remember an essay that I posted a little over a year ago, titled "Pandora; The Slow Death of Amoskeag". (For those of you who are newer readers, or didn't happen to catch that one, click here to read it now.)

When I posted the entry, I regretted that I wasn't able to post the photographs that the piece makes frequent reference to as accompaniment to the prose. They were all captured before I had switched my photography primarily to digital, the hard-copies were buried somewhere at the back of an over-crowded storage-unit, and I was posting from Arizona at the time, making it impossible to recapture the image in a more accessible medium (not to mention I was under the assumption that the sign had long since been removed from its haphazard home against the building.)

Since I've returned to Manchester, however, I've been pleasantly surprised to find that the sign still sits discarded in the same spot. Sara Jane and I took a stroll through the millyard recently with our cameras, so I'm now able to add some supplementary images to the earlier essay that had lacked them prior.

Enjoy.






















Stay tuned, I plan to post some more of the set tomorrow. The rest of the building is interesting and relevant as well. In keeping with one of the predominant themes of the essay, this is definitely a sort of a study in the interdependence of certain concepts of "beauty" and "decay."

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Confessional of Control, In Fragments.

On NPR, in interview,
Julliane Moore discusses
A character crying at
Forgetting to wind a
Wristwatch in quarantine,
Chaotic dirty mess of
Blindness. The small
Things. The loss of
Personal control. These
Are the things that
Touch us, the inducers of
Emotional panic, as
The larger situation
Rakes on worse and
More severe, we neglect to
Notice, we don’t commence
To feel it until a personal,
Turning, ticking, symbol
Of tiny, systematic
Retained control is
Noticed to have stopped.
The little things. Our
Tenuous grasps on
Tiny fragments of
False control.

I listen to this, as
I drive back from the
Hospital roller-coaster
Bedside of
Watching my namesake
Fade away, to a job where
I haphazardly jot this, where
Every week in the panic of
The weak economy in the first
Industry to be hit they
Forget progressively more
That it’s easier for me to
Find a just as increasingly
Less lucrative job than
It is for them to
Replace me, the increasingly
Fewer competent members
Of their staff. Just before
The actresses interview, a
Report on plans to
Prop up, for the third or
Fourth (at least second
Major) time, an
Economic system that
Was known to
Experts in the field
Centuries ago to
Lack any potential for
Long-term sustainability.
Yet the proposal is to
Dump hundreds of
Billions of the same
False-credit-dollars
Back into it, to
Slightly prolong its
Inevitable and impending
Death and subsequent
Possible reincarnation,
Time-buying transfusions
Ironically administered
To a patient with a
D.N.R. In slow death-beds and
Faulty inflated commerce,
The word “better” should
Be wiped from our
Vocabularies. For it is
Relative to…
What?

The little things. Our
Futile grasps on time
Particles of personal
Control. On the drive back
From a distracting twenty-
Dollar call-in shift the
Cool breeze smacks my
Face from the window as
An enveloping and appropriately
Fall-feeling morose symphonic
Opeth song soothes my
Ears, scorching as a smooth
Flame from my speakers.
My own watch keeps ticking,
As I drive back to wind it,
A winding that I won’t forget
To do, and no foreseeable
Malfunction of machinery
Could cause to stop. The
Little things. Our fragments
Of control. A laptop open
With scribbled notebook
Pages, a loving embrace and
Urge back to my work from
One who understands and
Appreciates my goals. I
Know the time my watch
Keeps, my symbols of the
Fragments of control, to
Keep the bigger picture small,
While focusing an eye always on
The bigger picture, the tiny
Ticking emblems of the
Things that we can control.

Control, the things that touch
Us, make all else “relevant,”
Is “real.” Internalize the watch,
The winding, the ticking,
The goal-structure…
Our tiny particles of…
Control is hope.
Control the control symbol.

Control.


"Skyward Stability; Structure in Stark Shadows and Contrast." 2008

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Passing of a Namesake...

Rest in Peace, Pepere.



Bernard Gerard Brault
December 31, 1930 - October 3, 2008

You will be missed.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Mirrors and Voices, Part 4: Reconstructing the Fabricated

(...continued...)

Reconstructing the Fabricated

The concept of Samuel Beckett’s Nohow On begins at a juncture where the author already takes for granted that conventional literary forms have been torn down and rendered unnecessary. He is writing from a post-modern platform that is post-character, post-plot, and post-setting. Even when these elements can not be (or are not needed to be) completely removed, they are relied on as tools rather than as story-building focal-points themselves, as they would have necessarily been in literary moments prior to the one in which Beckett writes. He writes with the confidence that the efforts to tear down these problematic paradigms of the past has already been completed (by both critics and artists such as Borges), making it now his responsibility with this work to reconstruct just as admittedly fallible paradigms in the places where the old ones have been removed. The intention of the three “stories” in Nohow On, therefore, seem to be the construction of an elaborate simulacrum of both “literary form” and “reality” at the same time in the absence that the removal of prior forms of each have left. If it is understood from the point at which Beckett stands at the beginning of the work that “realities” are constructs of representations such as “literary form,” and these representative tools are also themselves constructs, and any prior assumptions of “truths” imbedded in either sides of these representative paradigms are therefore inconsequential, then Nohow On situates itself as a work that constructs new structures where the old ones have been stripped away, with the assumed understanding that the new forms are no more “real” than the ones that they replace.

The first “story” in the work, “Company,” presents an interesting corollary metaphor for the way that Beckett’s reconstruction in the entire work operates. Without giving the reader any more than elusive and extremely slight fragments of plot and setting, and only one extremely undeveloped shell of a character that we are told, in the last line of the work, has been the entire time “alone,” Beckett creates a story-telling format that operates with different necessary elements than these, while at the same time, by way of tools of language that rely on very different constructs, builds hypothetical “tangibles” by using the same sort of elusive and unsecured language. Within this tale, these tangibles are referred to as “company,” characters that are mere figures of language to keep the protagonist from being alone. These creations are built by way of language itself, which, by continually altering viewpoints, constructs a cacophony of voices, members of the “company,” that are no less yet definitely not more closely aligned to traditional “characters” than the one that we are told is alone.

Rather than utilize metafiction as merely an element of the storytelling convention, in “Company” metafiction is among the primary premises of the work, and in this way the piece is allegorical for Beckett’s reconstructionist ideology with Nohow On as a whole. The single “character” is, through language, “devising it all for company” (44). In order to not be alone, he creates, by way of narrative position and tense alterations, multiple voices that create one another. When he creates one, that one will spin off and change the position from which it speaks, thus constructing “yet another still devising it all for company” (44). The voices are the representation of characters; these representations create other representations. Thus, as the need for originals of characters to be represented becomes stripped away, we find that all are merely representations of representations, which, according to conventional story-telling guidelines, would render them to be nothing at all. Beckett, however, demonstrates actively how they are created, and therefore demonstrates that, because we are taking for granted now that conventional characterization is also merely representations of representations and therefore subjective or inconsequential, that the constructs themselves, built on nothing besides their nature as constructs, are the goal of the narration, and by their very constructed nature are viable entities, or at least as viable (or as nonviable) as any other representation. In this way, Beckett demonstrates how he will construct viability for all three of the stories in Nohow On, and demonstrates the point of the work to be the reconstruction of artificial representations that are as close to being as unhindered by “truthful” representations as the author can muster. Just as the “character” in “Company” lays on his minimalist bed and constructs a room full of voices, so Beckett stands on the blank slate of the post-modern critical understanding and constructs, with newly reutilized linguistic tools, his own form of representative story-telling.

Thus, as Borges demonstrates with his mirrors, and countless critics such as Baudrillard demonstrate with their theories of the postmodern, that all concepts of “reality” are representations that have little or no secure foundation, Beckett stands on this footing, in the chasm where the constructs have been torn down and takes the next step. He creates, just as the lone “character” in “Company” creates with language the voices of others to share the room with him, a new fallible reality to fill the gap that has been recently vacated, using as few as possible of the old tools, to rather start a new, and reconstruct false objects for the sake of the objects and their fallacy themselves.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Mirrors and Voice, Part 3: Reconciling the Absence

(...continued...)

Reconciling the Absence

The frequent question to be asked from this point, of course, is, if all representations are faulty because the represented itself and the act of representation are inherently faulty, where do we go from there? How can questions be answered if both the answer and the questions asked are inherently irrelevant? Many critics seem to have either wanted to stop here, as Derrida, or continue from a different juncture within the old structures entirely, like Jameson. If the same thought-process were to be maintained, however, the necessary next step from the point of tearing down prior “truths” would entail the reconstruction of new Art-based structures within the new-found understanding. Where critics seem to have been rare in asserting the necessity of this step and advocating for it, Artists themselves have taken up the pursuit, and constructed representational worlds based on assumptions that have become understood in the time since Borges’ work on the subject. The later work of Samuel Beckett provides a near-perfect example of the sort of reconstruction required to complete the postmodern project in relation to the problem of representation.

(...to be continued...)

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mirrors and Voices: Part 2, Reflecting the Fabricated

(...continued from yesterday...)

Reflecting the Fabricated

In Brian McHale’s essay “From Modernist to Postmodernist Fiction: Change of Dominant,” we are told that “the referent of ‘postmodernism,’ the thing to which the term claims to refer, does not exist. (4) Thus, the term is a construct, by the nature of its existence as a linguistic symbol with which to categorize or create, at the same time that the movement, style, or body of work (depending on which context the word is used in) that it is constructed in order to describe, its “referent,” as McHale calls it, is a construct as well. The term is a reflection of the ideas that it is created to describe, but neither the reflection or the source are any more “real” than the other. The categorical term can thus be seen as a mirror, where the representative reflection is limited and altered by the angle from which it is looked into and the confines of its frame. Therefore, since both the room that the mirror reflects and the mirror itself and the descriptive reflection are fabrications (as the mirror reflects things that are not themselves “real”) it is irrelevant to be concerned with the bias or credibility of the reflection, or its nature that lacks credibility as (or by the way of being) “merely” a reflection.

This image of representational reflection operates on several levels in dialogue about postmodernism. As McHale suggests, it applies to the movement’s nomenclature, with “postmodernism” the word serving as a mirror to reflect the room of “postmodernism” the thing. This image also applies to, more generally, the project of postmodernism in relation to conceptions of reality and representation. The mirror in this case is the text, art-form, or chosen form of representation in general, while the room is the world or setting being described, the “reality” being called into question. In this regard, McHale’s essay is in and of itself a postmodern text, merely using the linguistic representation of the movement itself as an example of the way that the postmodern conception of “reality” operates, most specifically its relative representational nature and eventual inevitable irrelevance.

Viewing postmodern representation as a mirror with reflection and subject, the subject itself being a reflection, provides an interesting correlation to Plato’s classic principle of Ideas versus Forms. The mirror provides the “Forms,” the representations, descriptions, and approximations, while the room that is reflected serves as the “Ideas” that, to Plato, are the “real” versions that the mirror reflects. Obviously, the wrench that postmodernism throws into Plato’s philosophy is that, when the ideas themselves are observed to be just as representational as the representations of them reflected in the mirror, the idea that the forms are subordinate to a more relevant set of ideas is torn down, leveling the playing-field and making the allegory of the cave appear more like a hall of mirrors with no definable source for the image, but rather a potentially endless series of reflections.

It is therefore no surprise that the mirror is a common symbol in postmodern works by authors such as Jorge Luis Borges. In Borges’ fiction, the mirror is most often placed in a room with fabricated “realistic” parameters. The room is constructed in such a way that it shares enough commonality with the “realities” understood by the readership that it serves as one layer of reflection, while the mirror is placed in order to reflect this reflection, to draw our attention to the limitless number of layers of possible potential-“realities” that can be caused by representing alternate representations, which, to the postmodernist, is the task that all artists are engaged in. The room is a representation, intentionally altered (or perhaps merely biased by the chosen angle of perception), of the “reality” that Borges understands, which is, in itself, a representation in several regards (perception, perspective, linguistic, etcetera), and the mirror provides a third layer of representation, which can be altered by the angle that it is perceived from, the angle that the light is received by it from, the limiting confines (bias) of the boundaries of its frame, etcetera. By way of the inclusion of this third layer of reflection, we are reminded of the representational biases and alterations of all other layers of reflection that led to this version of the image. The third visible layer of reflection directs the reader’s eye to the idea that the images’ sources are ambiguous, and possibly non-existent. Because it is understood that neither the reflection in the mirror or the image of the room that it reflects are “real,” neither the reflection nor the image are more or less relevant than the other, and biases, limitations, and angles of perception no longer have any effect on the readers’ perception of the “truthfulness” or “credibility.” By the same reasoning, therefore, as all layers of what we perceive as “reality” are subjective representations, Borges is using the mirror to demonstrate how the worlds that he creates in his stories are no less relevant or “real” than the ones that he or his reader lives in; Uqbar is no less relevant than Europe, Bioy is no less relevant than the reader, the author’s speculation about the room that the reader sits in no less relevant than the room that the reader himself perceives from his own sensory biases.

The mirror is thrust in the reader’s face on the very first page of Borges’ short-story collection, “Labyrinths.” The first tale in the book, “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” begins with a description of how a mirror (or, more specifically, a conversation about the conceptual value of the reflective properties of a mirror, in some ways much like this one) aids in the discovery of a fictitious world. The number of levels of “fictive” representation referenced by this symbol are nearly limitless, and staggering. Conceptually, this number is allowed to be so astoundingly infinite by the reflective nature of the mirror itself. The mirror’s ability to reflect (and an assumption that what it creates is “real,” as the heresiarch of Uqbar tells us that “mirrors and copulation are abominable, because they increase the number of men” [Borges 3]) is contemplated in an encyclopedia entry (a reflection/ representation) about a fictitious place (another reflection) created by fictitious characters as a sort of an experiment with the nature of representation (reflection), which is discovered by another set of fictional characters, who reside in the principle “reality” of the piece, which is a reflection of the “reality” that Borges assumes for his readers, which is a reflection of his own “reality,” which only he can represent with whatever sort of biases or angles that he chooses and is the product of the representation of his sensory, linguistic, and cultural perceptions, among other things (all of which are reflections or subjective representations). The mirror offers no way of identifying the source of the reflections, demonstrating the truth of the comment by the “fictitious” heresiarch of Uqbar that the men reflected in the mirror are just as “real” as the men that they reflect, thus suggesting that the heresiarch, although separated by at least four layers of reflection, is no less “real” or “credible” of a relater of information or “truth” than Borges himself is. By this mirror, therefore, Borges demonstrates the postmodern project (and the meaning of the term and artistic movement itself) that he seems to agree with McHale on, that “the referent… the thing to which the term claims to refer, does not exist.” Contrary to the beliefs of Plato, postmodernism asserts that there is no difference between Ideas and Forms, the reflection is not less “real” than the reflected.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

a bit of a break... Mirrors and Voices.

I have taken a bit of a break from my online postings lately, due to the time-constraints imposed by the grad-school application process. I apologize.

To my avid and disapointed readers (*cough*), I apologize.

To tide you over in the meantime, this evening I will begin to post segments of a piece of essay-work that I am currently working on retyping and reformatting for a professor.

This is the first installment in a series, and thus a cliff-hanger; so keep posted.


Mirrors and Voices;
Borges’ and Beckett’s Collective Postmodern Project of Tearing Down and Rebuilding Representations.



Refining the Scope of the Project


To encapsulate a major theme of the Postmodern project, it has been the job of both artists and critics to tear down all that had existed before, particularly as it relates to the idea of representation, and rebuild admittedly false but just-as-plausible representational constructs in the place where structures that were held as “truth” in the modernist and pre-modern eras had been removed. In this regard, critically, far more work has been done in the earlier phase of this project; that of the removing of past assumptions of representational “truth,” than in the latter stage, the process of rebuilding where the first stage leaves enormous opportunity for new Art-for-Art’s-sake initiatives. In terms of the works of Art that participate in the project, however, effort has definitely been made on all sides of the task. In this regard, Jorge Luis Borges and Samuel Beckett represent opposite ends of this spectrum that compliment each other nicely in view of the combined project of the movement. Borges can be seen to represent the beginning of the postmodern process in this regard, the early process of tearing down, by way of the works of art themselves, the constructs of the previously assumed “truths.” Correspondingly, Beckett represents the end goal of the project, the reconstruction, by way of Art itself, of new constructs based on the assumption that the old ones, by this point, are understood to be irrelevant (these new constructs would, therefore, also be irrelevant in any regard but to the advancement of the Art of representation itself). The two authors, therefore, if taken collectively, represent, in many ways, the fulfillment of the postmodern task. Deconstruction is inconsequential if some form of Reconstruction doesn’t follow, and true artistic construction cannot take place without the tabula rasa that early post-modern truth-destruction (both critical and artistic) provides. Borges and Beckett allow us to view how the two can most successfully function together to achieve a coherent artistic (and inherently Art-focused) statement.

...to be continued...

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Art for Sale; The Evolution of a "Gallery."

I have decided to begin offering an evolving online gallery where individuals interested in my visual-art work can peruse, and potentially even purchase, some of my recent pieces.

I've been working predominately with an assemblage medium lately. Most works are 3-dimensional (sometimes drastically-so), and thus, as all photos of the work are taken of the single front-dimension, there is some (sometimes much) detail lost in the photographs. If you'd like a closer or more detailed view, message me; all works are currently on display in the make-shift physical gallery-space that the Tipsy Cougar Pad has become in south-east-downtown Manchester, NH, unless out on loan to other local galleries, which I will note if applicable.

That's right; for the first time in a while, you (yes, YOU) can have one of my conceptual oddities hanging on YOUR very own wall! You know you want to.

This gallery will continue to evolve; I will add pieces as I finish them or decide to put them up for sale and consumption, I will take them down as sold or otherwise distributed. It appears on myspace within a designated album in my "pics" section, in an album of my Photobucket account, and the current entries will follow within this entry and in a similar one on my Myspace blog.

Many of the pieces have peculiar features that aren't evident to the photographic lense (such as being radiantly reactive under black-light, hidden layers of collage-elements that appear better when viewed by naked eye, elaborate concepts behind their composition, etc). If you have further questions about any of the pieces, even just to satiate curiosity, don't hesitate to send me a message.





"The Psychic Dancefloor." aprox. 26" X 31" X 6". assemblage & acrylic. $100



"...ain't shit but ho's and tricks." aprox. 25" X 22". assemblage & acrylic. $75



"Blues in Blip-Beep Minor, Dorian mode (The Intrinsic Seperation of 'Tools' and 'Trade')." aprox. 39" X 25" X 7". $100




"Inebriate." aprox. 10" X 8" X 1.5". collage & acrylic. $25



"Lifeblood, Kineses." aprox. 12" X 12" X 3". assemblage & acrylic. $25



To those who may wonder at this possibly seeming a bit more materialistic or opportunistic with my work than I usually seem wont to be... I'm attempting to save some extra money for grad-school-related expenses, and figured that I would give a shot at utilizing my "talents" (yes, scoffs at that word are welcome) in order to do so. So, if you're thinking that something on display might compliment your hap-hazard neo-bohemian decor-scheme, think of yourself as a sort of patron if you wish, aiding in the education of an eccentric literary scholar. I would greatly appreciate it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

“Fasciinatiion” with flavors of moments past, still lingering on our tongues.

iFlavors of the minute, at various moments in time, are not intended to last or taste good on your tongue after their moment is gone. Musical flavors of hipster moments, although “indie” and hypothetically less “intentional” from a marketing stance, usually prove no exception to this idea.

When a past temporary flavor happens to accidentally prove its staying-power, however, the critic and culture find themselves at a crux. The very short-lived couture that made the act or work of art so monumentally popular for a time itself provides the basis for discounting the credibility of the act’s bid for longer-term pertinence.

I can think of a fair number of examples of this phenomenon off the top of my head, within the loose walls of “indie” music of the past decade alone. These are records that self-righteous, fashion-jumping hipsters will grumble and cringe to hear someone playing, with complaints of the listener being slow on the uptake or strangling out the last hold they had on a passed and expired moment, but popping in in their own cars when they know that no on else can hear, or getting a pang of guilty joy inside when a dj at a trendy club spins a track as a “throwback.”

The Postal Service’s “Give Up.” Hot Hot Heat’s “Make Up The Breakdown.” Bright Eyes’ “Lifted, or…” Bloc Party’s “Silent Alarm.” The Faint’s “Danse Macabre.” Just a few examples.



With the recent release of “Fasciinatiion,” The Faint has made my mind presently turn to these paradoxes of past popularity, the “where do we go now?” aspect of being a flavor-of-the-minute of a moment past.

After “Wet From Birth,” the decidedly hit-or-miss follow-up to “Danse Macabre,” I wasn’t sure what to expect from the new record. Like so many of these releases that resonate nearly instantly as every-art-scene-kid’s-temporary-new-favorite-band, many of the aspects that made “Danse Macabre” so popular proved either absent or less accessible on “Wet From Birth,” and the fervour of and for the music consequently diminished. (“Elevator,” the follow-up to Hot Hot Heat’s “Make Up The Breakdown,” seems like an accurate parallel in this regard. Both “Elevator” and “Wet From Birth” are solid records in their own right, but both took a few listens to warm up to, and either altered or removed elements of the records that they followed that were important factors in what made those albums so irresistible.)

“Fasciinatiion” definitely does not come off as The Faint attempting to return to their “Danse Macabre”-era sound as a mere attempt at recapturing the pinnacle of their past moment of fleeting-chic. The band has, however, reinstated some of the elements of past records that were conspicuously missing on the last release. For only one instance, some of the poetic lyrical sensibilities from earlier records are added back to the mix, combined with, rather than completely replacing, the jarringly- honest, realism-to-the-point-of-superficiality material that dominated most of “Wet From Birth” (the “I was standing at the merch-booth putting on maaaake-up” moments in the song “Desperate Guys” are only one apt example of this; I was able to warm up to the record much more thoroughly when I began to wonder if the majority of the songs were written from the perspectives of deeply superficial fictional characters, and, whether this idea is right or wrong, I still have a much easier time listening to the album when I assume that they were).

Instead, “Fasciinatiion” is a well-written and exceedingly listenable record on its own; the current stage of evolution of a band with an actual career discography, not merely the hangings-on of a temporary flash in a proverbial pan that the listener was intended to have forgotten by now. The elements of the act’s prior works combine to form the canvas on which the new elements of the band’s progressing sound are placed on top of as collage-elements. The poetic stylizing and incessant, dirty sexual dance-energy of “Dance Macabre,” the electronics-first focus and club-kid social realisms of “Wet From Birth,” and even some of the vocal-melody stylings that the band hasn’t really revisited since “Blankwave Arcade” are all evident here. Rather than being a mere conglomerate of their past catalog, however, “Fasciinatiion” also adds increasing creativity in the skill of electronics production. Compared to the beats constructed for “Wet From Birth,” which seem at times fairly sterile, The Faint’s techno-prowess has expanded tremendously. Another welcome change comes with the sort of dance-beats chosen this time around. The band has this time nearly forgone the pulsing pogo-robot click-tracks that were the accepted rhythm of dance-punk when their first couple of records were released for something more often like hip-hop-inspired grooves that invite a more break-dance-friendly sort of energy, which seems more accurately in tune with the way that the indie-electro movement has progressed around them over the course of their career. There are moments on “Fasciinatiion” when the influence of electro acts that are closer to the current hipster flavor-of-the-minute seem probable. In certain tracks, I hear production reminiscent of the current Brooklyn scene (a couple of songs have a definite LCD Soundsystem vibe to my ear) and some of the dirty-synth clippiness that makes an occasional appearance reminds me of certain tracks by French acts like Justice.

This isn’t to say that “Fasciinatiion” sounds like The Faint is merely band-wagon jumping to get another shot at being part of the current “big thing.” It sounds, rather, like they are coming to terms with developing a recording catalog with a different paradigm of success, one less concerned with regaining their scenester-chic, and more interested in acquiring a longer-term respect and viability. To do so, they have combined on their most recent outing elements that they have learned to be successful for them in the past, along with present-tense influences of an evolving electronic music community.

If thinking about The Faint makes you reminisce pleasantly about their “Dance Macabre”-era height of popularity, and the urgent sexual-scenester-energy that accompanied it, a pleasurable flavor that you enjoyed in a moment past, “Fasciinatiion” offers the best opportunity since then to take another, and possibly a longer-lasting, taste.



In other news... The Stiletto Formal (whose last EP I reviewed in a past entry) have released two new tracks from their forthcoming LP on their Myspace page. Check them out, I like them... they're mighty eclectic, and make me look forward to hearing the new record quite a bit.

My Metro-Grime/ dirty/noisy electro-rock act Tipsy Cougar recently posted two new tracks to our Myspace site as well. One of them is a track called "USOCS," which I wrote about recently on this blog in another past entry. The other is a song that was previously posted as an acoustic track on my solo music profile. Check them out, let me know what you think, and feel free to download the tracks from the sites for free.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

“This very deep, dark fault;” The “Gap” Between Constructed Artistic Identities in Murakami’s “Dance Dance Dance.”

Demonstrations of theories about identity construction abound in contemporary (particularly “post-modern” and post-”post-modern”) Literature. I stumbled on one recently that spells things out in an interesting way, so I figured that I would share.

At a pivotal moment, in the midst of a tense piece of dialogue in Haruki Murakami’s 1988 novel “Dance Dance Dance,” Gotanda, an actor, explains to the unnamed narrator, “I get this gap between me Gotanda and me the actor and stand back and actually observe myself doing shit. I’m on one side of this very deep, dark fault, and then unconsciously, on the other side, I have this urge to destroy something.” This is a problematic phenomenon for the troubled character, who expresses that it “never happens when other people are around, though. Only when I’m alone.”

Through Gotanda’s dialogue admissions in these passages, Murakami establishes a paradigm, and at the same time a paradox, of the ways in which artists (and artistically-minded individuals) construct their identities. By doing so, he also sheds light on the construction of his own novel, as it becomes suddenly apparent that the narrator, who, on a surface level the work seems to be telling the story of, is NOT being portrayed as having a dynamically constructed and artistically-minded identity in the same way that Gotanda and most other characters in the novel do, thus shifting the narrator’s position within his own narrative from subject to something more akin to a Greek Chorus, a mere facilitator of the tale actually being told.

Gotanda’s “gap” is something expressed as a virtual constant for artistic individuals. The artist builds two distinctly separate identities, one for “self as artist,” and another for “self as private individual.” The “gap” is the void left by the discrepancies and differences between the two constructions, which, as one is distinctly intended for public consumption, while the other functions in terms of private self-perception, is why Gotanda points out that the gap is only present, is only something that he notices, “when I’m alone.”

The identity/ construction -free narrator (who is symbolically identified as such by the very act of remaining nonchalantly unnamed throughout the novel) is able to fulfill his “facilitator” role within the work of allowing stories about the gap to be told unencumbered by the necessary problems created by the nature of the constructs themselves (a description of identity, without the sort of foil provided by the narrator, would necessarily be presented within the context of either one construction or other, the intended “public” or “private” personae of the artist relating the self-involved anecdote). As Gotanda tells the narrator in this conversation about murder over beers, “whenever I’m with you, I feel so relaxed. I never feel the gap. You don’t know how precious that is.” Precious indeed, to an even greater extent to Murakami himself than to Gotanda, as the way in which the narrator’s character is constructed provides the precious necessary neutral backdrop on which to make the author’s larger points about personal and artistic identity. The ironies, complexities, and contradictions with which this is done are far too detailed to expound upon completely in a medium such as this. He is a character skillfully constructed for a difficult purpose; he is, in a broad sense, an “artist,” which allows him to empathize to certain degrees with Gotanda and others and come and go effortlessly or accidentally within their lives and social circles, yet, due to the nature of his “art” (which he views as existing in the realm of “commerce rather than “creation” and refers to frequently as “shoveling cultural snow”) he is devoid of the need to think of himself in such a way that requires a construction of an artistic identity. He lacks “the gap,” therefore, because he has built the constructions on neither side of it, and is therefore able to present Gotanda with a surface on which to lay his own bare, and demonstrate a theory on the way that the construction of identities operates for artists.

We are what we create ourselves to be. Just mind the gap.



(Image courtesy of Alloy Images; I am indebted to Sara Jane D'Agostino of that organization for exposing me to Murakami's writing.)

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Politics of an Underwritten Sense of Identity; Three Digits, Four Digits, Four... Dotted Line.

I’m not usually much for
Outwardly “political” poetry,
But…
Some things have been…
Festering… lately that I’ve
Been having an increasingly
Harder time trying to
Ignore.

My attention is short for
Chosen ideologies based on
Personally biased concerns,
Personally motivated, pay-check,
“Real world” based
Partisan decision-making…
Cries and whines of “isms” based
On “because of the ‘system’
My ends won’t meet so it’s
Obviously the ‘system’s’ responsibility
To make them, to even playing-
Fields, tear down the
Institutions that tear us
Down,” or, just as bad, the
My vote will ensure that
My dollar’s not going to
That,” with no concern for
Broader philosophy or any
Larger concerns than your
Personal take-home pay.

To quote a wise anachronism whose
Name on principle I
Refuse to capitalize,
“Render to Caesar
That which is Caesar’s”
“In {something vague and
Elusive} we trust” printed
In so many different
Words and symbols
On the fronts and backs of
Bills, and “trust” is
Something that you know I’m
Not one terribly quick to do.
These bills belong to a
System that we’ve
Chosen to participate in…
In theory.

Cue the back-beat backing-track
Break-down as I spin you a
Slide-show.
(Mock me in your mind as a
“Wonder Years” monotone for a
Lecture-like moment) Spin of
Reel-to-reel, “START.”

In order for a “Democracy” to
Function as such, based on the
“Will” of the “people” to
“Choose” their own “freedoms,”
The “people” must have the
“Freedom” to “choose” to
Opt out of said otherwise-
Sham of a “democracy.”

But most of us were
Born into this system,
Tagged with codes of
Threes and fours and
Fours to mark our
Places within, our debts to
Jurisdictions inside
Ever closing in, continually
Smaller sets of borders,
To contain us within the
Laws of our “personal” fiscal
Identity.


I must stress here, you
Don’t need to desire to
Exist outside of the system
For that freedom to be
Active and pertinent.
That “freedom,” however, must
Be constantly conscious
In the way that our
“Chosen” institutions “choose”
To conduct themselves,
And the way that we relate
Ourselves {as now in
Shackles} to them.

This is why I refuse
To wave flags intended
To represent false “freedoms.”

This option has failed,
As we find ourselves
Forced, within our sets of
“Obligations” as “responsible
Adults,” to sign our
Names on lines, scribble
Last four digits in boxes to
Underwrite every aspect of our
“Personal” conduct with the
“Insuring” capital of
Corporate conglomerates,
In case something were to
“Happen” to force you to
“Require” services within the
System built up as
Confining walls of bullion
Blocks around us that few
Humans alive could comfortably
Procure without the
Fiscal net you’ve bought and
Signed for, to reaffirm your
“Choice” to operate within
This “optional” system.

In twenty-six years “my”
“Name” has become
Attached to so many
Various forms of
Account numbers that
The fees would rise
Higher than the national
Deficit were I to
“Choose” to try to close them all.

And you wonder why I’ve used
So many alternate names for how I
“Choose” to represent "myself".

I’m not sure if I would
Personally exercise the option to
Opt-out if I had it,
But it’s integrally important to me
That we regain that
Most essential freedom
To actively choose not to sign
Our names and identities as numbers
On another dotted line.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"Unexpected Situations on a Crowded Street," a preface in poetic explanative expiriments.

"Beyond superstition, I was aware, in a manner more forceful than anything my academic research had brought home to me, of the extent to which my identity and the words I utter coincide, the extent to which I want to form my own sentences or to choose for myself those moments in which I will recite someone else's. To be asked, even by an isolated, needy individual to perform lines that were not my own, that violated my sense of my own desires, was intolerable." -Stephen Greenblatt, "The Improvisation of Power (Epilogue)"

Unexpected Situations on a Crowded Street, Revisited.

“Cars overturned,
Fists are flyin’,
Houses bein’ burned,
Children are dyin’.”

Full circle…
Riot.
Unexpected situations on a crowded…
Street.
What street?
This street,
That street,
The same

As the space in which we
Make these noises now
Sits a mere block-and-a-half from
That pad we inhabited
When I was a child…
In fact, I can almost see it from our
Grime-encrusted back-window as
I stand now sporting
Straight edge tattoo-work
Chain smoking Specials, sipping
Cloudy Green Fairy and red wine…
Life…
Blood.

To those who think they’ve
Kept tabs on my back-catalogue
So much of this must
Seem a bit strange
So bear with me a bit as I lay myself bare,
I tend to think in some sort of semi-logical trajectory
This makes some semblance of sense,
I swear.

I’ll slit my
{Insert something
Censored here}
For you,
I really will…

This game of performance is a Riot

Leaving faceless idols of divinity hanging
Upside-down from trees,
With banners of perversity
For its own sake,
And so many dead
People from a country that
We all doubted that the song ever
Really had anything to do with…

As the circular nature of this
Riot
Leaves me battling
Myself now,
Pitting what I
Should do against
What I seem to have to…

As after trying to quit
Cold-turkey so many
Times, I pull the
Tourniquet so
Tight again to
Inject “Music”
And “Performance,”
The stuff that seems to
Kill, into my veins with
Rhythmic pulsing pump and
Flow again, banging out
Noise with these people who
Shared the same first ironic
Moronic cult of a “band,”
Performance-art shams,
Devoid of Concept besides
In anachronistic retrospect,
A willing pint we call and
Raise.

As I battle the
Balance of
Sounds I can’t
Seem to cease making
With the words that
Prove my passion,
Squeezing my own
Voice within perversely
Problematic rehashes and
Re-fires of words from the
Past that I put in my
Mouth that weren’t really my
Own,
And try to make them fit
With what I really
Can’t stop needing
To say,
In speech and sounds,
In synthesis.

With this fire,
Raging blue with
Volatile and toxic
Plastic, we
Burn symbolic streets.

“Cars overturned,
Fists are flyin’,
Houses bein’ burned,
Children are dyin’.”

“Cops can’t do nothing’, even though they have those guns,
Youngsters on the sidewalk, glassy eyes turned to the sun.
You stand in amongst the throngs, try to stay alive,
Chantin’ pro-rebellion songs, smothered by the hive.
Ground comes up to meet your head, scattered mates call your name.
You’re gonna be left for dead, playin’ your private/public riot game.”

“Cars overturned,
Fists are flyin’,
Houses bein’ burned,
Children are dyin’.”

{The preceding is a piece of word-collage poetry that I posted on the Myspace blog for my electro-rock outfit Tipsy Cougar, who recently finally started posting some actual "music" to our site. It's intended to serve as a strange sort of preface to the next piece of noise that we intend to post, a drastically divergent reworking of the long-forgotten Moron Cult/ Pseudophonics song "USOCS". This seemed to be an ironically fitting choice for the outfit, as all three active members of the band were at one point or another at least tenuously part of the older act (in fact, depending on definitional technicalities, and at different junctures, Moron Cult was all three of our "first" band.) Thus, I must give credit where it's due and point out that some segments of the above that appear in quotations were originally written by C. Charles ("xian") Dyer of that outfit (while sitting next to me in driver's ed. class, in fact). Also, references and lyrical fragments are borrowed liberally throughout from many bands that I've contributed to in the past (we could make a game of it, if you like... cookies of some sort should go to those among you that can pick out and identify the most...)... This would probably be as good of a time as any to point out that if you haven't taken a listen to what I'm doing with Tipsy Cougar yet, you should. Conceptually, what I'm attempting there in auditory form is very similar to some terrain tread often within the pages of this blog.}

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Critical Snippets, Music, Movements... Goulash.

Movements" and "stances" are themselves fabricated constructions, tools within larger identity-construction mechanisms.

This isn't a new idea, but it's usually used to discredit the validity or power of a movement or critical stance. It seems to me, however, that this awareness can function as the SOURCE from where the movement or stance can derive it's power. It validates its own existence AS a mere fabrication by the very act of elevating itself as such.

Contributers are any artists and critic willing to participate conceptually in the act of such an elevation and reconstructive effort.

(This was my reply to someone who inspires me, when asked to expound on a partially toungue-in-cheek and cockily-provocative statement about arming potential contributors with stances for the next major critical movement. Reading it today, I figured it might be worth taking out of context a bit and passing on. Chew on it a bit, spit it back to me.)

In other news, I've been completely addicted to Playlist.com lately. This service is nothing terribly new, I know, but I figured I'd share some of the spoils of my recent musical meanderings. As I'm sure you've gathered by now, my mind tends to wander a bit, so very little on this playlist has anything in common with the rest besides that I enjoy it all. There are new songs, old songs, forgotten songs, obscure songs, favorite songs, songs I'm still not sure about and only kind of like, you name it. Enjoy.




My top "wtf"/"guilty-pleasure" picks on the playlist would presently be Hot Hot Heat covering Amy Winehouse (yes, you read that right) and "Parentheses" by The Blow.

To continue with the scatter-brained goulash of today's post, I like to occasionally send a shout out for cool things going on around town that deserve attention. Last week I headed down to the Underground M.A.P. Project, a gallery space on Lowell Street in Manchester, for the first time to check out an open-mic that they were hosting. The vibe of the event proved to be refreshingly more similar to a round-table workshopping session than a performance-setting. The gallery has a comfortable and creative set-up in a brick basement across the street from the Red Arrow, and the visual work on display included some peices that I was impressed by. The group gathered was talented and supportive. They seem to have a good thing going on down there, to the extent that I plan to head down again this evening.

This is Boston, Not L.A...Still.

As green versus yellow fire spit across the nation this month, renewing long-forgotten divergent styles of shit-talk, the pertinent dialogue for a moment turned to “cultural rivalries.”

Glancing through an assortment of articles and snippets on the subject in the Boston Globe one slow morning at work, I was reminded of how strange of a chasm still sometimes sits between pop-culture and the counter- or sub-, the mainstream media and the underground-/ arts-media… and how well the idea of this sort of “cultural rivalry” can sometimes demonstrate this. What seems pertinent and obvious within one lifeblood can often fall irrelevant on deaf and confused ears within the context of another.

The articles in the Globe (and, as I’ve noticed since, most other mainstream sources that covered the “broader” implications of the basketball playoffs) seemed to want to insist (with a suggestion that, to the readership, it would be a given, an obvious assumption, something only briefly worth mentioning as an afterthought for those of us living most extremely under a cultural rock) that the rivalry between Boston and Los Angeles, culturally, as cities, was forgotten since the days of Bird and Magic, and completely dominated by sports over all other elements, paling in comparison to the Boston versus New York rivalry, which is driven (obviously) by the same sort of sports-first cultural tunnel-vision. Duh.

There are those of us, however, within the varied readership of these mainstream publications who most definitely do not live under cultural rocks, yet were still a bit surprised by these supposedly “obvious” assumptions.

For those of us who grew up and live daily within various facets of an art-driven “counter-culture” ( I use that term hesitantly, but am unable to come up with a succinct replacement that better conveys the idea), the pertinent rivalry has always been Boston vs. L.A.

The “forgotten rivalry,” huh? I assure the staffers at the Globe, to musicians and artists in the Boston area, the bad blood with the city of angels has never completely left our minds, while the feud with New York has always seemed more like a fairly good-natured (albeit violent) sparring about sports among “friends.” Hell, with the distance separation being as small as it is, holding legitimate grudges between Boston and New York would be incredibly creatively and culturally limiting for artists and musicians. We trade shows and gallery-appearances on a weekly basis; our cultures and tastes are similar enough any sort of “real” rivalry would be self-defeating. Whether the team-flag-waving fanatic is willing to understand or not, for the sub-culture there is a daily, pragmatic need for us to leave the Red Sox vs. Yankees grudges in the pubs and on the fields.

If the mentions of rivalry in the media-coverage was limited to sports-fanaticisms, I would concede the cultural over-looks as aspects of a suburban-mainstream American culture outside of my realm of most-adequate experience. Unfortunately, license has been taken to translate “sports” and “culture” into interchangeable terms, and translate the entirety of one into the limited scope of the other. “Cultures” were contrasted, in ways that had nothing besides context to do with sports.

The arts scenes in both New England and Southern California have been acutely aware of a “cultural” chasm separating them for quite a long time. Having worked as a musician extensively in both parts of the country, I can assure you that this separation is far more fundamentally life-style-based than any assumptions that a mere sports rivalry can caricature during a play-off period pitting one commentator’s accent against the next, or compiled lists of celebrities residing in one locale over another (which reminds me that I should point out for those in my readership that are bound to quip that I’m not even “from” Boston [the city proper] or a citizen of the commonwealth of Massachusetts that EVERY of the articles to which I’m referring that boasts of Beantown’s celebrity roster lists Adam Sandler, who has largely touted his allegiance to the neighborhood that he’s from mere blocks away from where I grew up and currently reside [once again] in the Queen City of the Granite State… not to mention Aerosmith, who’s members hail from a rather rural area even further north in New Hampshire [and I would prefer not to even mention the rednecks from Godsmack, as I consider them a bit of a disgrace to the state]…)

Flipping stations on a car-ride during the playoffs, I caught an afternoon DJ on WBCN spinning The Freeze’s “This is Boston, Not LA” as a rallying-cry for Celtics fans prior to the evening’s game. Great song, great compilation… and I promise, it spoke to so much more than basketball, and still does, to New England punk fans. When I got home, I cued up The Showcase Showdown’s classic Boston anti-Cali-anthem “213.”

I promise, for artists and musicians, this rivalry has nothing to do with basketball. I am disappointed that “credible” and well-staffed publications such as the Boston Globe and the LA Times, who operate in cities whose “dominant” cultures are more dominated (possibly ironically) by the “sub”-cultures than most others in America, seem to be completely and naively oblivious to this.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Dirty, Shiny Shellac; Metro-Grime in Fragmented Pastiche.

I'm working on collecting my thoughts.

The image in my mind is a splattering of acrylic paint, a combination of of drab, dirty colors and the bright, slick, and jarring, across a tattered piece of newsprint, torn and scattered on the shiny floor of a creatively-lit club. I'm scooping up the pieces, spreading some shellac on the wall, and reassembling the fragments into something completely different.

I have so much that I want to say in giant brush-strokes of sticky, shiny goop. This entry will be a bit messy. I know that you like it that way.


The term Metro-Grime has become the new catch-all. It began as a tongue-in-cheek mock-gimmick label for a music-genre. Then we realized that it could be applied to so much more. It's a way of seeing things. Something slightly less than a "lifestyle," but pretty close. It has to do with the combination of the dirty and the fashionable, where the juxtaposition itself is essential to any conception of either. The beauty itself is derived from the decay and disorder, and the individuals who embody the movement are acutely aware of this and thrive off of it. This is how many of us have lived for years. Metro-Grime embodies an unabashed love and embrace of the pretty dirty things. Manchester, New Hampshire, for instance, IS a Metro-Grime city, and serves as home to healthy numbers of such individuals... but is merely a single example, the most pertinent to my present analysis, of a nearly endless list of just those grimy/ gorgeous neighborhoods, cities, and districts that I know well enough to pull merely off the top of my head.

Manchester is my city, and always will be, no matter how much I may enjoy a span of time elsewhere. I love the city, its quirks, its dirt, its problem... and these things are among what makes it a beautiful and creatively pertinent place. Thus, as a cultural critic-at-large based in this dirty/ pretty city whose life-blood could use to be documented, I'm prepared to call the flaws as I see them, as part of the creation of an ongoing aesthetically important documentation of a place that deserves one.

So bear with me as I drag you through the dirt and glitter. I'll start in with some specifics tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Asbjorn Updates... Ongoing and Evolving Projects..

Since my last post (part 1 of 2 in the "reluctant beat-freak" series) has yet to incite the sort of argument or "lively debate" that I was hoping and assuming that it would, I think I'm going to put off the second installment a bit further, hoping that some of you speak up in the meantime. For now, I'll give you guitar-music/ rock'n'roll aficionados all the benefit of the doubt that you're waiting to see how I defend my stance before throttling me for it.

Plus, I'm a bit overdue for posting my quasi-monthly updates about what's new from the various and scattered members of the Asbjorn Arts Collective. So this would probably be as good of a time to do that as any.

I wish that I have more to report this time around... but as I don't, this will be a relatively short entry. If you're an artist even loosely associated with Asbjorn (if you don't know what that means, email me and I'll let you know whether you are or not, and what it would entail) with new work that I left out of this update, or if you want to be sure that your project gets included the next time around, by all means, let me know.

Dandy Apparel is releasing a limited-edition first run of its 2008 t-shirt line this week, and they've already begun to take orders for the eight initial designs in the catalog (follow the link above).



I recently added a new track to my acoustic profile on myspace. It's called "Strange Sutures," and the recording that's up right now is a REALLY rough demo that I recorded the night (or morning, more literally) that I wrote it. I hope to have a better recording of the more refined version of the song that it's now evolved into up soon.



In other Asbjorn music... I've been working with a couple other Asbjorn wackos/ conceptualists on a new indie-dance-rock project called "The Immaculate Conceptions." We're in the song-writing stages as of now, getting a solid set together and preparing a demo EP called "Tipsy Cougar." Keep your eyes and ears open; I PROMISE that we'll be in-your-face about it, forcing you to notice, soon enough.

On that note... I was prompted recently to contemplate the perpetually problematic "separation" and subsequent confusion of "artist" and "character" from whose perspective he speaks when someone brought it to my attention that, if casually reading the lyrics to the new project, without the context of the music and the show, scribbled and tacked to the walls in the room where we write our songs, I sound like an arrogant creep. Really, I swear, songs like "The Thrill of the Chase" make sense within the context of the project. But with the written words alone, understanding the nature of the character that I'm presenting in the overall art-statement of The Immaculate Conceptions is impossible. So, if you happen to stop by the downtown pad where guitarist Mac Ming and I live and make our art, take the scribbles around the room with a grain of salt. You'll eventually understand why the cockiness of the words is relevant.



As for the progress of on-going projects, Miss Chloe Claustrophobia (the ever-evolving concept-art project referred to and explained in quite a few past entries, most recently here) has taken another unexpected turn, which is once again perversely appropriate to the concept that she is intended to address. The mannequin, in its physical form, is now across the country from me, may very well never be modified in the ways that I had intended, has no new image-renderings available to me, and is apparently (to my great aesthetic displeasure) dressed as a belly-dancer. This is all so very far from the future that I had envisioned for her (that's always the way, isn't it?), but that fact in itself is almost sickeningly and ironically appropriate to her intended concept. Expect to find "her" popping up as the female subject of several songs by The Immaculate Conceptions in the very near future. See the reference already? "The Thrill of the Chase"? Eh?

In a past entry, I mused about my inability to finish a certain painting after putting it down to work on another that was very different in style, mood, and inspiration. I recently realized that, although I finished the work a couple of months ago (and presented it to my mother for Christmas, at least a year after I had intended to do so initially) I had never posted an update on what became of that work. Basically, I ended up having to reinvent it, and the meaning and purpose of the painting became very different than I had initially set out to create with it.

This..


...became this.

"Ill Seen Ill Said In Time, Words, and Decay."

If you can tell me what the new title of the work is a reference to, I'll give you a cookie. If you can venture any sort of theories about the relevance of the reference, I'll give you a whole lot of cookies, or something far better.

In another prior entry, I had mentioned my search for a certain set of books. Thanks to Jenn, who read my post and tracked a first-edition set down to a book-dealer in Texas via the internet (which she is apparently far more savvy with than I am), I was finally able to procure copies of the out-of-print texts. Come to find out, however, the preface of the work, which is the element that my use of the text most directly pivots around, wasn't added until the second(?) edition of the work's publication. So, now I have a couple beautiful copies of limited first edition books, but I'm still searching for what I needed from the perspective of scholarship.





I think that's all for now...So much for this entry being short.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Confessions of a formerly reluctant, overly critical beat-freak, part 1.

I have to admit, what is now my rather long-term love-affair with electronic music has been heretofore rather tepid and reluctant. Up until recently, there was part of me that was still trying to resist admitting to it.

I assume that this was the part of me that started playing guitar at age eleven. The part of me that was foaming at the mouth with a childhood fervor to throw myself headlong into a life where chord-charts and equipment and pentatonics and techniques and woodshedding were important things for reasons that didn’t need to be explained, merely because their importance was just part of “who I was.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely not claiming that these formative tools and obsessions haven’t served me well. Being “a musician” is still an integral facet of my identity, as anyone who knows me, however casually, or regularly reads this blog, can attest. Without the musical hang-ups of my youth, my current way of identifying myself would not have been able to evolve as it was. However, I’m well aware that, to people who think “as musicians” in the sense that I did when I was younger, some passing mentions of my current musical preferences and critical opinions can verge on downright sacrilege. It might, therefore, be time to venture an explanation, with a mind to a broader sense of “cultural criticism” to tie it all together.

I have to admit it now. Even though I am primarily (loosely) “a guitarist,” the music that, to my critic’s ear, gets me the most excited for future artistic/ cultural progress with music as the medium rarely (if ever) features a guitar as the dominant instrument. Hell, I’ll go even further than that. Even from a non-critical, more personal and taste-based perspective, the music that tends to get me excited, the music that I enjoy that makes me feel comfortable, is nearly always, at this point, driven primarily by well-programmed, atmospheric/ textural electronic beats. I’m well aware that, to most of my brethren of the fret-board, this is something that no self-respecting guitar-player should ever say.

To be continued…

…but in the meantime, I’ll end this installment by continuing my series of “marginalia as visual art, art as criticism, marginalia as criticism, criticism as art itself…” I forgot to bring a notebook with me to work the other day, yet started brainstorming the ideas for this entry while on break… leaving me no place to write down my ideas besides on full-page advertisements in the current issue of “Poets & Writers” magazine that I happened to be reading… producing this mess.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Literary Tourism, Book-hunting, and the Blurring Borders of "Fiction."

After years without the access, while I'm in New England my trips to certain literary/ historical sites have become much like ritual pilgrimages to shrines.

As I am primarily a Hawthorne/ 19th century New England Lit. scholar, Salem and Concord Massachusetts are among my most frequent and revered Meccas. I was down in Concord last week, visited some familiar sites, and I took some pictures.


Hawthorne's famous "Old Manse," where the "Mosses" were from.


Nathaniel's grave on "Author's Ridge."



The commemorative stones for Nathaniel's wife Sophia and daughter Una, placed on this spot in a ceremony that took place since my last visit to Concord, next to the author's own stone within the Hawthorne family plot. These were actually among the things that I was most interested in seeing on this particular trip.


The stone at the center of the Alcott family plot at "Author's Ridge." I love the stonework on this one.

I'm considering buying a video-camera, filming these nerdy excursions, and becoming the next Fritz Wethersbee. Think I can pull it off? (For those outside New England unfamiliar with Fritz, check this out.)

A large part of these trips usually entails searching for long out-of-print books that I need to find for research purposes. On this particular trip, I once again didn't find the one that I was most specifically looking for. If anyone happens to know where I might be able to find a copy of Julian Hawthorne's biography of his father in two volumes, "Nathaniel Hawthorne and His Wife," please let me know. Yes, I'm well aware that there's a copy at the Fletcher Library at ASU West. And yes, it does even happen to have a book-plate inside the cover from a New Hampshire parochial school that later became the high-school that I graduated from. Unfortunately, that's not terribly helpful to me right now, which is a bit of a sore subject.

I DID find something else interesting while searching this time around, though... I stumbled on an early Italian copy of Hawthorne's "Transformations," which was later released in America, in a "slightly" different form as "The Marble Faun." What I wasn't aware of, however, as I had never actually seen a copy of the earlier European form of the work, was that he "slight" differences between "Transformations" and "The Marble Faun" somehow made the earlier version of the work about a quarter of the length of the final American version. I can't wait to dig into the older work in more detail and figure out where the differences lie. Differences in the prefaces of the two works in particular could potentially add pertinent depth to some of my present research, and thus I consider the dusty old book a rather essential and exciting find.

When I started flipping through the book, I found some other suprises that made me smile.





There is a pencilled inscription in the front cover of the book, with a girl's name, a rather antique date, and a town in Italy. My mind naturally imediately began running with stories of the situations that led to these flowers becoming pressed within the pages of this book, and the symbolic and poetic significance of the words that surround the dried Italian flowers and thoughts of the girl who had placed them there, with presumably little thought of how alligned she was with which characters of the tale that she happened to be reading.

Even if it's not completely true, even if the flowers were placed in the book a mere year ago by an elderly American woman before her collection was sold with her estate to the book-seller, I don't want to know. These thoughts of the little Italian girl drying flowers a hundred-something years ago in her early-pressing of my favorite book definitely made my day.

In other news of the blurring of the lines between "fiction" and "non-," I stumbled on an intriguing set of quotes in the "Author's Preface" to Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw."

"I wondered, I confess, why so fine a germ, gleaming there in the wayside dust of life, had never been deftly picked up. The thing had for me the immense merit of allowing the imagination absolute freedom of hand, of inviting it to act on a perfectly clear field, with no 'outside' control involved, no pattern of the usual or the true or the terrible 'pleasant' (save always, of course, the high pleasentry of one's very form) to consort with."


"The charm of all these things for the distracted modern mind is in the clear field of experience, as I call it, over which we are thus led to roam; an annexed but independent world in which nothing is right save as we rightly imagine it."

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

"Hun, this is just syntax and prowess;" A Literary Look at The Stiletto Formal's "This is My Boomstick."

After more of a delay than I had anticipated (it’s been a pretty strange week), I’ll try to attempt to pick up where I left off in my last entry.



The first time that I saw The Stiletto Formal, I was familiar with their name, the sort of audience they tended to attract, and several of the bands that they habitually played shows with, and based on these alone I was prepared to dislike them fervently. (See my description of the third sort of band discussed in my prior entry and you’ll know what I’m talking about. The whine-whine-scream, slanty-hair bit.) I went to the show at Modified Arts in Phoenix to see TheStart, an electro-rock act from L.A. that they happened to be playing with that I have been a fan of for quite a while. I thought the choice of billing was strange for one band or the other, which definitely peaked my curiosity a bit.

To be brief, what I saw from the Phoenix-based act proved to be far from what I had expected. The instrumentation was diverse, the performance energetic and dramatic in a way that had more in common with an opera than a hardcore show, and the songs were extremely well-written. This was a far cry from what we’re used to hearing 15-year olds who think themselves “fashionable” erroneously calling “screamo” post-Thursday and Blood Brothers. (When I hear the word “screamo” I still stubbornly think of band like Small Brown Bike, The Casket Lottery, Coalesce, etc… which are a far cry from Atreyu from the standpoint of sound…)

I’ll admit, the moment that completely sold me on the act came fairly late into the set… singer Kyle Howard announced that they were about to play a “new” song called “Tastes Like Black Licorice”… to which a white-belt-wearing high-schooler near the front yelled “Yaegermeister!” Mr. Howard looked down at him, with an expression somewhere between perplexion and contempt, and stammered in a ‘Like, duh’ tone into the microphone “Uh, no… absinthe.” I tucked my hands deeper into the pockets of my tweed coat, smirked, and nodded. There was definitely more to this band than a good portion of the trend-jumping facet of their crowd seemed able to process and appreciate. To me, that’s always a positive sign.

Shortly after this show, I picked up a copy of the band’s “This is My Boomstick” EP, which had been recently released around the time.

I would love to be able to take this EP and conduct a song-by-song in-depth analysis, viewing the musical context as creative utilization of objects in the act’s diverse poetic toolbox, but I fear that would prove far too long-winded for this medium; I can only cross my fingers that this band becomes as popular as they deserve to be so that I can someday pitch a longer form of this to some University Press or other as “pertinent” cultural analysis. Pipe-dreams from all angles, I know. But this is a possibility for music crit. that is able to be approached as lit. crit., which is far more rare than I wish that it was. This is what I live for. This record is Literature written without the confines of writing with mere words alone, and this hybridity, to my ear, suggests its staying-power, although as more of a museum-specimen of Art with a capital “A,” (destined most likely, as most of the sort, to be truly appreciated only long after its appearance) than as a commercially-viable object of current “music” alone as it is currently produced, bought, and sold.

In continuation of a past discussion of how a critic’s marginalia can be criticism, and thus Art, itself, I present here a sample-page of my scribbles on a print-out of the lyrics to the record.

Yes, once again, I am well aware that my hand-writing is atrocious.

So, visit the band’s website, pick up a copy of the EP (which, if you haven’t noticed yet, I highly recommend) and give it a few really close listens.

Pay attention to the way that the music is sculpted in such a way as to ebb and flow with the meaning and tone of the lyrics, how Kyle’s voice (which, I will be the first one to admit, takes most people a bit of time to warm up to) rises and falls in intensity and emotion with an operatic sense of melodrama and attention to detail that very few acts would even consider putting the effort into achieving (after getting to know the songs, you’ll find that every time he slips into the falsetto shrieks that will most probably seem jarring at first, it is completely appropriate and necessary to thoroughly express the purpose of the piece). Pay attention to how accurately the overall experience of the song “Tastes Like Black Licorice” captures the foggy lucidity of a good absinthe-buzz, and how the escalation and climax of the song’s plot, the turn from tender to sinister, affection to threat, situates the band as a torch-bearer of a poetic tradition that has been utilized in the past by artists with such names as Poe, Tolstoy, John Fowles, Nick Cave, and hundreds of others. Listen to “The Fall of Ambrose Bierce” with a mind to the work of Bierce himself, who, from what I can gather, the song is written from the perspective of, and replicates the ideas and verbal stylings of extremely well. (For those who aren't familiar with the idiosyncracies of Bierce's biography, and thus the civil war scenarios that lend the song its substance, check here.) Listen closely to “I Sing The Body Electric” and try to figure out what the Whitman connection is that the title implies. I have some pretty good guesses, but I’m not positive. If you have an interesting idea, I’d love to hear it, discuss, and try to piece it together further.

My guess has something to do with this-

“4

I have perceived that to be with those I like is enough,
To stop on company with the rest at evening is enough,
To be surrounded by beautiful, curious, breathing, laughing flesh is enough,
To pass among them or touch any on, or rest my arm ever so lightly
Round his or her neck for a moment, what is this then?
I do not ask any more delight, I swim in it as a sea.

-Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lamenting a Lack of the Eclectic; A Preface to a Record-Review.

I never would have thought, prior to leaving Arizona, that I would be spending a clear and cold New England winter evening sitting on a spot on the bank of Manchester’s Lake Massabesic familiar to me for mostly forgotten reasons from years past, lamenting the local lack of certain types of musical acts that I had taken a bit for granted for the time that I was in Phoenix.

To be rather blunt, some conversations with varied musician-acquaintances in New England since my return have not proven terribly optimistic. It seems that the musical situation in these parts has stagnated quite drastically; for all my digging around to see what’s new and what various players are up to, it seems that nearly every act falls into one of three categories, none of which I can seem to get particularly excited about.

There’s a peculiar sort of distinctly “American” (*cough* redneck) shout “metal” that doesn’t seem to exist to the same extent anywhere besides here. This sort of thing is mostly perpetrated, apparently, by musicians who were playing in bands heavily influenced by Korn and The Deftones back when that sort of thing was viable, and, in an act of collective panic when nu-metal proved outmoded, added a dose of influence from Slayer and Pantera for the sake of “credibility” so that they could claim (in a naive bout of angry irony) “Hey look, we play real metal now”… this is something that I could rant on for pages, but I‘ll spare you, with just the reminder that, if you look at its history and formative influences, Heavy Metal is a distinctly European phenomenon. I know, to legions of guys who are much larger than I am with Kerry King goatees and tribal tattoos these are fighting words. Oh well.

There seems to be a bizarre revival of mid-’90’s-Boston-style tough-guy hardcore and street-punk, played mostly by guys who were a bit too young to have been terribly involved in those scenes the first time around (I mean, I was pretty young when I was listening to the older guys lament about the good-old-days, and I could have baby-sat most of this new crop…), with some acts and performers who have apparently been hanging on through the last decade and are now seeing their popularity unexpectedly resurface (the number of recent “reunions” that I’ve heard about by bands that I saw at CafĂ© Savoi and The Elvis Room when I was fifteen boggles my mind).

…And then there’s the glut of bands playing a cookie-cutter form of “screamo” that passed its flavor-of-the-minute lifespan at least two years ago. You know the type… whine, scream, whine-whine, scream…octave-chords, octave-chords, breakdown, octave-chords, breakdown, breakdown… Slanty-hair, girl-pants, white-belts... you know the cliches, you get the drill.

(Of course, I’m leaving out the “I was on a music-based reality-TV show a year ago and now I play acoustic cover-songs to drunks and draw big crowds who think I’m a ‘celebrity’” phenomenon… This is by far the most disturbing to me of all, but it’s a different cultural animal entirely that needs a much wider scope to tackle adequately)

Add to this what seems to be a near-complete lack of consistent or reliable venues, lack-luster and clique-ish crowds, etc. (sound familiar, Phoenix? These seem to be national concerns right now) and I’ll admit that I’m in no particularly educated position from which to review the state of the “scene” around here, as I have yet to get wind of any shows or performances that sounded even remotely worth attending, or any new act worth giving a listen to and getting excited about. (If anyone in my readership feels able to help me out in this regard, I’m all ears… but I’d prefer to steer clear of anything that falls formulaically within the aforementioned categories, which, I know, makes your task considerably more difficult.)

In short, what the New England music scene north of Boston seems to be lacking right now is the emphasis on ecclecticism that I earnestly felt was in the air in the area when I left a few years ago. There was a time, in fact, shortly before I left Manchester, when I might have even complained that a potential problem with the state of New England music was that everyone was trying a bit too hard to be different, to the extent that most of what was going on was almost "artsy" to the extent of being unlistenably abstract. I am utterly confused as to how things have apparently headed in such a polar-opposite direction in such a relatively short period of time.


These thoughts lead my mind to early scribbles in a “blogs to write” list that I jotted down when I first started posting here.

When I initially thought to review it, “This is My Boomstick” by Phoenix’s “The Stiletto Formal” was a bit closer to being a “new” record than it is now. I kept putting it off, however, as new ideas found their way to my pen, and thus this page, faster.

At this point, it’s a bit late, but seems a pertinent undertaking, if based on my personal present local-music-woes, if for no other reason.


…to be continued.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

More Asbjorn music, and Portishead fan-geek-ery...

Alright, so...

In my last entry, I pretty much blatantly ASKED you to call me crazy. I requested that my readers psychoanalyze a recent dream that I had, and the only responses that I received were from a couple of people that know me personally extremely well. The rest of you are slacking. You almost passed up an opportunity to tell me I'm as off my rocker as you think that I am. But it's not too late. I'm still curious. Let me know what you think is dancing around in my subconscious.

In other news, as more notes of continuation of my last entry...

Shortly after I posted last with recent updates from music projects affiliated with the Asbjorn Poetry and Arts Collective, Nat Ward's Aperture project posted a set of new dark ambient electronic tracks to their page. Definitely solid mood-music and atmosphere and texture tracks well worth checking out.


In broader musical news, after a rather questionable decade, things are starting to look up. Retrospectively, of course... but after cultural situations spend a time falling backwards, sometimes it takes looking into the recent past (a point prior to things going awry) to move into what is to (positively) come.

Yes, I sound like a fan-geek. Yes, this is old news in the music blog-o-sphere.

But, as I see it, this is one of my only massive cultural weak-spots. The only issue on which I AM, admittedly, a bit of the fan-geek.

That's right, I'm talking about Portishead.

If you haven't heard, they're back.

Here are some videos of new songs from their recent All Tomorrow's Parties appearance.





Thursday, January 17, 2008

Strange Dreams and Music, Music Out of Strange Dreams...

I have finally gotten around to establishing an online presence for the acoustic/ eclectic-folk songs that I've been dabbling in for years and am just now starting to focus more of my musical attention on. So, check out my new music profile on Myspace, listen to the songs, add me, and leave some feedback.

What's up on the site right now are merely some extremely rough mixes for the sake of the songs alone, and most is not even, honestly, terribly "new" material. In fact, the only track that's actually "new" is the first one on the player, "The Substance of Logic." It is dedicated to someone who would have heard it prior to now, had she bothered to open the package that I sent her. The second song, "Symphonies and Dorian Dreams," was briefly debuted on the LeVautourEnsemble site a couple of years ago (when it actually was a "brand new track"), but I soon realized that it was not nearly "electro" enough for the record that I was putting together for that project. The other two songs currently on the player ("The Box" and "13.5%") were composed and recorded shortly after I moved to Arizona, about four years ago. Both require some lyrical tweaking and new recordings, but what I have will have to serve as sufficient examples for the time-being.



>


In other musical news from the Asbjorn Poetry and Arts Collective family...

I have added a spirally, surreal instrumental jam called "The Pits are Deep" to the Myspace player for the Phoenix lineup of The Green Sea.

I added two more tracks from the LeVautourEnsemble record "...whose wings are a dull reality..." to the player for that project for free download.

I tossed a couple more tracks from Ashes of Frost's 2001 "release" "Mysts of the Iced Morn" up on the retrospective profile for that outfit.

Wes Hopeless, my principle collaborator in the Phoenix lineup of The Green Sea, has added a new song to the profile for his electronic project, Entropy 33.

Jacob The Dandy has recently added a new track called "Expletive, Expletive" to his iSound player that's pretty neat.


In other news, I had a very strange dream last night that I can't seem to get out of my mind. I was on some sort of "family vacation" (although I don't recall any members of my family being present). My car was stolen, converted into a convertible, and used as some sort of a suicide-bomb on a cul-de-sac. Meanwhile, I was left to care for a baby that wasn't mine, who quickly and before my eyes began to age and grow. She rapidly became a toddler, a cute little girl placing her hand in mine for protection, ad then a competent, well-spoken, smart and well-mannered young woman, pulling herself closer into me as she aged, kissing me, as we walked together, still hand in hand, toward the burning wreckage of my now-topless little white car.

Go ahead, psychoanalyze me. I personally have no idea what this means.