Swings Like a Pendulum Do

Thursday 28 February 2008

Late Monday night the house swayed a little the way it does when a heavy truck rumbles past; only this time the peak vibration didn’t quickly pass. The house rocked up and down a little for five or ten seconds then stopped. I thought, “That was an earthquake, that was” (I’m getting down with the native speech patterns now) and went to bed….
Only to emerge from my house the next morning and witness TOTAL CARNAGE.
The Evening Standard, which is published three times in a day, pulled out all the hyperbolic stops. EARTHQUAKE HITS LONDON, it bawled, arrogantly trying to claim for the capital a geological event which actually happened in Lincolnshire! … It used the same agency photographs that were used around the world (none of them taken in London): a hole in a roof in Barnsley where a chimney pot had fallen through (I saw this on the front page of, I think, the Mail today); a woman in her dressing gown (“surveying the damage”, which mainly involved her standing on her own undamaged doorstep); some more chimney pots; and, er, that’s it.

But the best, most distinctly British reaction I’ve seen to the event has been this rather sheepish article, and the readers’ comments that follow it (“may I mention my bad cold in this context?”). I’ve been trying to discover what are the good bits of my British heritage to embrace. Part of this involves working out the fine distinction in nuance between Australian apathy and British cynicism, as seen on display in the linked article above:
When the bed shaking woke me up on Tuesday night I thought my boyfriend was in the throws [sic] of some kind of fit. Although having said that my concern did not extend to turning all the way over to check he wasn’t swallowing his tongue or anything so maybe on some level I just knew! I did however ask him if he was alright so I feel I can safely say I would have absolved myself of any guilt in the unlikely event of his death.

The former seems born of nihilism while the latter is of disillusionment. I am hoping my dual citizenship entitles me to both.

Please Mister Please

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Free Kitten, “Teenie Weenie Boppie” (1997).
(3’03″, 2.76 MB, mp3)

By “next week” I meant of course “next next week”

Wednesday 27 February 2008

I’ve finally moved properly into the new house, found my computer, found the computer’s power cable, gotten back online, gotten cut off, remembered to pay the broadband bill, and gotten back online again. Mind you, I also slipped out of town for a long weekend in Barcelona, so it’s not like I’ve been working. Barcelona’s a great city, but it has a dark side. Most particularly, every now and then I would come across a poster advertising an upcoming masterclass. By Craig David.
If life were an early ’70s sci-fi movie, you could destroy the evil supercomputer that had taken over the world by going up to it, showing this poster and saying “Craig David Masterclass”, then running for cover while it shouted “Er-ror! Er-ror! Does Not Com-Pute!” and self-destructed in an enormous, sparkly explosion. I figured this must be some mistake in translation, so I just googled for it:
The main purpose of the Masterclass in Space Movistar is getting artist and audience closer than ever, not only for fitness but also spiritually, as Craig David will answer questions from fans and explain what have been the sources of inspiration his best-known songs as “Walking Away” or his new single “Hot Stuff.”

I expect the source of inspiration for that first song was something to do with him walking away, yeah oh, to find a better day. Here’s hoping he does a masterclass in a country where the audience speaks English as its first language.

The mummified corpse of Jeremy Bentham reads inter-office emails.

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Ciao bella hguglaglhrgahuguggglblblb

Wharariki Beach, 18 November 2007

Thursday 14 February 2008

I’ve been packing all week, and because I screwed up my order matching reference code (not heard of it? neither has Google) the next post won’t come until some time later next week, I expect. Have fun without me.

Please Mister Please

Sunday 10 February 2008

John Zorn, “Etude #33” from The Book of Heads (1978). Marc Ribot, guitar.
(1’22″, 0.99 MB, mp3)

Countdown to Eurovision starts a little early this year

Sunday 10 February 2008

Will no-one save the hallowed Eurovision Song Contest from encroaching irony and smirking self-awareness? In a move that combines Lithuania’s 2006 tribute to the power of positive thinking with the perennial favourite “My Lovely Horse“, one of the songs on the shortlist for Ireland’s entry for this year’s contest is “Irlande, Douze Points” by Dustin the Turkey. I’m not sure if having a turkey represent Ireland counts as a Fine Cotton or not.
The Telegraph had the news item which turned up first on Google:
Dustin’s song sung in a North Dublin accent urges the contest judges to “give douze points to Ireland.”

Which sounds like a wasted effort, given that it’s all decided by telephone voting now. Rather wonderfully, a subeditor pads out the slim news article in time-honoured style:

Should Dustin be chosen as the Republic of Ireland’s entrant, it will be the first time that a turkey in the form of a glove puppet has represented a nation.

I wonder how long it took them to fact-check that sentence. Also included is a YouTube link to Dustin “doing Riverdance”.

Filler By Proxy LX: So it’s come to this again (brought to you by Roomba)

Saturday 9 February 2008

I’m moving house again, so when I get a rare chance to go online I’m less inclined to write a new post than just quietly surf around and think deep thoughts.

Visible cracks, real and illusory

Wednesday 6 February 2008

As has been proved many times before, it is foolish to pass judgement on a work of art before seeing it for yourself. I finally saw Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth at the Tate Modern.
There has been plenty of discussion about the artwork since it was first installed – what it means, how it was made, whether or not it’s any good – so much that it is impossible to not be aware of its existence, nor of what the work consists of. (It’s a crack running the length of the floor in the Tate’s Turbine Hall, growing wider and deeper as it descends from one end to the other.) You could picture the entire installation in your head, except for one little detail that I’ve never heard mentioned when people discuss their visits to see it. At close range, the crack is revealed to be an obvious fabrication, with no attempt to conceal the wire forms embedded in the concrete.

For the weekend crowds peering inside its depths, or hopping back and forth over it, Shibboleth may as well be invisible if its success depends on the interpretation given to it by the artist and the museum:

In particular, Salcedo is addressing a long legacy of racism and colonialism that underlies the modern world. ‘The history of racism’, Salcedo writes, ‘runs parallel to the history of modernity, and is its untold dark side’. … In breaking open the floor of the museum, Salcedo is exposing a fracture in modernity itself. Her work encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves with absolute candidness, and without self-deception.

Even ignoring the fact that the history of racism runs parallel to the history of everything, it’s hard not to read this as a fatuous piece of funding-speak. You don’t have to doubt Salcedo’s personal background and beliefs that support her art to see that her public interpretation of her own art reduces Shibboleth to a one-liner, simplistic and ineffectual. The installation is as much a tourist attraction as the building that houses it. Salcedo may be “keen to remind us” of “the existence of a huge socially excluded underclass”, but Shibboleth, in this context, utterly fails to fulfil her intention.
(Strangely, for all her talk of schisms and exclusions, the only interpretations I’ve seen of the formative mesh in the crack have been either abstractly structural or overly symbolic. I would have thought it made an obvious point that apparently natural divisions in race or religion turn out under closer scrutiny to be artificial, human constructs. Then the art could at least function in its own way as a neat little metaphor, if little more.)
In fact, Salcedo makes out her installation to be less of a work of art than it really is, although its true power may be of a type she did not intend, or even recognise.

The immediate image conveyed by Shibboleth when seen plain, beguilingly forging its path of destruction through the crowds inevitably wandering the Turbine Hall, is not one of division but of entropy. Starting almost undetectable at the high end of the hall, it is allowed to progress, or rather deteriorate, along the floor unchecked until it has opened up into a real tripping hazard for visitors. The image of a cultural institution whose foundations have been permitted to shift, and so decay, is potent; but in the Western World of the early 21st century it speaks to a different dilemma than the artist intended.
The Tate’s claim that the crack “encourages us to confront uncomfortable truths about our history and about ourselves” isn’t exactly true. In truth, its presence embodies our culture’s current readiness to doubt itself, and to question its own origins, validity, and integrity – with little or no outside encouragement. The entropy was built into the system. This self-examination and picking apart of the social assumptions that underpin our culture could lead to renewal, or to disintegration. For a jaded society of sophisticates, the threat of destruction and disaster is extremely seductive. (As one reviewer says, “Salcedo’s cut is always varied and pleasurably violent. I’m not sure the pleasure is intended.”)

Salcedo’s professed aim to expose the dark side of modernity began within modernism itself in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. In 1949, Charles Olson reflected on the inability of modernism to cope with the fragmentary nature of reality – it is no coincidence he had invented the word “post-modern” the year before – and wrote in his poem “The Kingfishers”:
When the attentions change / the jungle
leaps in
               even the stones are split
                                                       they rive

Overheard on the DLR (Heron Quays Station)

Wednesday 6 February 2008

“So she’s not coming in today either. She called in sick yesterday then went shopping and broke her leg falling out of a taxi.”

The mummified corpse of Jeremy Bentham reads inter-office emails.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

On closer inspection, the deer has dented the car after all.

Please Mister Please

Sunday 3 February 2008

Severed Heads, “Guests” (1984).
(5’29″, 4.71 MB, mp3)

Filler By Proxy LIX: Pli Selon Pli

Saturday 2 February 2008


Boulez, according to all known biographies, did not have a childhood. Not in the Michael Jackson sense of “He never got a chance to play with little boys because he was recording ‘Ben’”, but quite literally: Boulez actually materialized one day in Messiaen’s class at the Paris Conservatoire. Some say that he walked out of a forest in the Rhône one day wearing white dress shirt and black tie. (I believe Peyser’s book adds that he was trailed by a pack of wolves over whom he had a sort of psychic power.) …
Needless to say, he was already balding.
For peace of mind, I will assume that I’m not alone in being willing to overlook the most egregious failings in my heroes. Let’s see, there’s Ezra Pound’s anti-semitism, John Cage’s flirtation with Maoism, Cornelius Cardew’s wholehearted embrace of same, William Burroughs shooting his wife in the head (accidentally! so that’s not so bad, is it?). And then, of course, there’s Pierre Boulez’s combover, which I like to pretend simply isn’t there whenever I see a photograph of him. I wonder how easy it is to ignore if you meet him in person?
Tears of a Clownsilly has shaken up my consciousness by offering a history thus far of the great conductor and composer’s relationship with his fast-receding hair, how it has influenced his music, and the strain it has placed on his dealings with fellow musicians.