Filler by Proxy XXVII: Welcome to the 21st Century; I challenge you to a loins-off.

Saturday 10 December 2005

Still waiting on that personal jetpack for the commute to and from my perspex geodesic dome, but in the meantime we can give sullen, grudgeful thanks for the few, glistening gems of Future Shock that are tossed our way. First, coloured bubbles! I cannot understand why I am so excited about this. It’s like cold fusion turned out to be real, only more fun.
Second, Neil Diamond has a MySpace page. Anyone unwilling to at least cut this guy an inch of slack has a heart of stone. The fine blog Heart on a Stick has collected the best of the many, many accolades the man has received in his short stay on the website, and in doing so has taken the pulse of a modern, media-savvy society when common toilers such as you and I are suddenly confronted by the presence of a genuine, undeniable star. WARNING: it’s a bit bandwidth-intensive, but worth the effort.

The Enigma of the Voynich Manchester

Friday 9 December 2005

I’ve spent a lot of time staring at the curtains lately. More to the point, I’ve been trying to read the curtains. I’ve been meaning to ask the landlord where he got them from, in case I can trace them back to once having hung in John Dee’s library.

This is a transcription of my soft furnishings (from top left):
Gracia. Agapdo oum uiara qume oares elegni.
Hbidem in ilapide corosfo. A Sali Domitiano Aq. Tribo kir iuno sing.
aotro ulyemno mi adra etera praasrdyo foment praeaonia receaant ueterd aond funt anuud.
It feels a bit like reading J.K. Rowling, only with most of the boring bits taken out and better cod-Latin. If you want to design your own curtains, pillowslips or antimacassars, there are useful tools online if you don’t trust your own neologising skills. I’m not feverish enough to believe that the curtains are trying to tell me secrets but, at the very least, I think I’ve discovered the inspiration behind Blogger’s word verification system for comments.

And I don’t feel so good myself

Wednesday 7 December 2005

Tonight, walking home, down a dark street. An ambulance stopped by the kerb. The lone paramedic slowly pacing in front of the headlights, looking around bemusedly. Noticing a damp patch on the bitumen, he squats down, touches it, brings his fingers up to his nose and lips.

Postcard from London

Sunday 4 December 2005

“What’s London like?” the folks at home often ask me, and I tell them, “the streets are lined with thousands of cheap-arse fried chicken shops.” I’ve been meaning to take photos of them (that and off-licenses), but they’re so numerous the project has always seemed too daunting. It’s like embarking on an ocean cruise with a mission to photograph the horizon.
Luckily, someone has done the hard work for me: Bad Gas has a gallery of fried chicken shops, 122 of them so far. Some of them come from further afield than, say, Walthamstow, but they are all so much of a piece that clicking through a couple of dozen of them gives a much more vivid sense of walking London’s streets than watching The Bill could ever achieve.
The curators have helpfully added the rules for making a successful chicken shop sign, along with more detailed observations which experience qualifies me to vouch for.

If you call your shop Kennedy Fried Chicken, there’s a law stating that you must display a picture of the Statue of Liberty.

Enjoy your virtual holiday in the Empire’s capital, and keep an eye out for the line-dancing rooster.

“The truth is we are not that dumb, and we are not that smart. Well, actually some of us are pretty dumb.”

Thursday 1 December 2005

Much less pernicious than Sony secretly installing illegal software that damages your computer whenever you play a Neil Diamond album, but just as insidious, is the corporate-sponsored product placement. Earlier in the year, McDonald’s tried to lure rappers into dropping some madd phat props to Big Macs in their def rhymes, for $1 to $5 each time their dope jams got played on the radio. Unfortunately for Maccas, playas are all about the Benjamins and the jacuzzi full of Cristal in the back of the stretch limo, not about the Abrahams and a furtive Quarter Pounder at a bus stop after last drinks. In the end, the deal never quite worked out, despite some high-level negotiations with MC Sad Fat Bastard and the Insane Clown Posse.
Now, also in the USA, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), the pharmaceutical industry’s major lobbying group, has been caught out trying to secretly commission novels designed to scare Americans away from buying reasonably-priced drugs from Canada.
The original plot of The Spivak Conspiracy, the book’s working title for a time, revolved around an attack on the United States by villainous Croatian Muslims, whose weapon of choice is tainted drugs sold to Americans through Canadian pharmacies.

Then there were disagreements over money and the quality of the novel produced between PhRMA, the authors, and the PhRMA ‘consultant’ who brokered the deal. In the end, it all went horribly wrong:

Spivak and Chrystyn turned down the money, rewrote the book, and retitled it The Karasik Conspiracy. The thriller is due out next month… the book has an instructive new bad guy: A large pharmaceutical company, so far unnamed, has poisoned Canadian-sold drugs—and then tried to make it look like a bunch of terrorists were behind the plot.

PhRMA is now denying all knowledge of the plan (for the novel, not poisoning Canadian drugs) and has suspended the deputy vice-president involved. Also of interest in the article, is the finding published in the British Medical Journal “that lower prices do not lead to less research” in the pharmaceutical industry. Also also of interest is that serial liar Jayson Blair was also brought on board as an editor for the novel.

SA Icon update, 2005

Wednesday 30 November 2005

Back in February I reviewed several of South Australia’s official “heritage icons”, strongly suggesting without actually coming out and admitting that I was born and raised in Adelaide. At the very least, this confession would have shed additional light on a substantial number of these icons being things I’d never heard of.
I’d almost forgotten this article until yesterday when I received an email about it from a gentleman who particularly wanted to talk about stobie poles. He’s a big fan of the pole, calling it “SA’s greatest ever invention, ever”, thus beating out stalwarts such as the rotary clothesline and the stump-jump fucking plough. In fact, he likes them perhaps a little too much, referring to them as “J.C. Poles” – after their inventor, J(ames) C(yril) Stobie, but still. It’d be a tough ask nailing anything, let alone the messiah, to one of those beasts.
If you haven’t encountered a stobie pole, they look like this:

Two fine specimens of the pole, enhancing a street in the leafy suburb of Glenunga. I got this off the web – there are other fine photos around, but this one captures the essence of the pole itself, as encountered at street level, including the mysterious, ubiquitous green triangle. Note also the idiomatic brush fence in the background. Sorry about the kids ruining the shot.
My email correspondent lists his favourite pastime as “Stobie Pole Spotting” – which, if I still lived in Adelaide, I would heartily endorse, being a hobby requiring the Absolute Zero of effort and exertion in a city where the things are as ubiquitous as bags of rubbish in the streets of London. Sadly, his return address doesn’t work, so it looks like his kind offer to “share further Stobie Stories” won’t pan out.
To be fair, I once was sufficiently nerdy to mutter darkly about stobie poles popping up in the background of location shots in Shine, a movie purportedly set in Perth. This annoyed my date, mainly because I was distracting her from proper appreciation of Noah Taylor’s bum. All in all, not a successful date movie.
There seems to be a wideheld perception that stobie poles are a particularly lethal form of roadside furniture, possibly because of their brutalist construction and aspect. The Emergency Medial Journal has published D.G.E. Caldicott and N.Edwards’ article “Traumatic brain injury after a motor vehicle accident: Fact or ‘fantasy’?”, which assigns a prominent role and evocative photo to the stobie pole.
Figure 1: A stobie pole. Essentially two metal girders on either side of a concrete core, they were designed to support lines of electricity and communication to remote and rural southern Australia. Their longevity is inversely proportional to their contribution to road safety.
The authors omit two salient points from this passage: the driver in this case study was up to his eyeballs in GHB, and that ramming your car into a stobie pole surely can’t be any more dangerous than wrapping your vehicle around a tall wooden pole 8 inches in diameter and firmly set into a block of concrete. However, stobie poles do buckle in dramatic fashion after a car has smashed into them, and are often left in that state for years after as a dual testament to the pole’s durability and the driver’s fallibility.

See? Plenty of give in the buggers!
All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I was reminded to check up on which of South Australia’s many heritage icons got the nod of official recognition for this year. The results are disappointing. The citation for ‘The Secret Ballot’ begins “The secret ballot as such was not invented in South Australia”, which gives you the overall flavour of barrel-scrapings for the 2005 crop (how can a ballot be an icon?) The only thing they get right is (finally!) giving it up for Menz Fruchocs, a confectionery I am now going to be craving well into new year.
Far superior to the National Trust’s heritage icons site, albeit still in its infancy, is the Encyclopaedia of South Australian Culture. I had no idea until today that “early minute” was a term peculiar to Adelaide – it’s a phrase I still use from time to time, never suspecting until now that no-one has a clue of what I’m talking about. As I’m writing this I’m saying “early minute” out loud to my companion, a native of Melbourne, across the table, and she’s staring back across the table, sadly shaking her head with utter incomprehension.

For One Week Only: String Quartet No.2 – Canon in Beta

Wednesday 30 November 2005

Update: the piece is now permanently available for download at Cooky La Moo.
It’s short, it’s austere, it’s a strict canon, it’s about 6 Meg and available for download for one week only. The piece was made out of an unfulfilled wish to hear Phill Niblock’s music – despite having heard about it for over ten years I’d never actually managed to hear any of it – so I created an ersatz composition based on descriptions of the original. I knew it typically involved someone playing one note for a long time, over and over again, and then overdubbing all the renditions of said note, resulting in -?- : a mysterious product of all the previously imperceptible fluctuations of intonation from one idealised pitch.
The piece started as a sample of homogenous sound fed through a (virtual) tape delay system, using small variations in filtering to produce gradually shifting overtones on a steady harmonic base. It was long, capricious, and sometimes very loud. Then its nature shifted to a prolonged, almost inaudible performance piece, requiring great concentration and self-control to make a few gestures with little immediately-noticeable effect. Over several incarnations the piece became more and more restrained until it was reduced to this 5-minute composition, a fixed object for contemplation, stripped of added harmonic complexity and overwhelming volume.
This isn’t one note, but it is a single chord played by 240 string quartets with a remarkably uniform sense of intonation, each playing in a very rapidly articulated canon in unison, and each able to expertly imitate the slightest change of nuance in tone colour of its predecessor.
Totally download that thing now!
It’s ideally heard at a modest level, where you only notice the changes if you concentrate. Or if you prefer, set it on repeat, crank it up and switch the telly to a report on Third World child labour for the full faux-Niblock concert experience in your own home.
Made with Ross Bencina’s excellent program AudioMulch.

Filler by Proxy XXVI: Terry Riley Variations

Tuesday 29 November 2005

Opus 8 No.2 by Tom Phillips, 1968. First performed by Phillips and John Tilbury as music to accompany a student film, Wolverhampton 1969. Try performing it for yourself on your next bus journey.
I have been listening to a couple of Riley’s film soundtracks downloaded from UbuWeb, but they don’t seem to be available anymore. Pity: I’m getting to quite enjoy them now, having got past the hippie encrustations of titles like “Sunrise of the Planetary Dream Collector”. There’s an insistent drive and clarity of purpose throughout his music, when everything about his manner of presentation leads you to expect New Age gruel or Dead-like indulgent noodling.
Then I looked at his website. Jesus, what a hippie! My keyboard still stinks of patchouli, even after flushing the browser cache. Honestly, it sounds better than it looks.

Shit, shit, shit.

Monday 28 November 2005

Perhaps I’m going native: I feel like England after the war. Victorious, but exhausted. Just about beaten the flu, but now I need to sleep for a week and still can’t write anything without it descending into crabbed, stilted bile.
Somewhere in one of my crates which are, hopefully, on the sea by now and heading this way, is my rather grubby copy of Wyndham Lewis’ novel Self Condemned, an exemplary diagnosis of the condition of the exile. It is a book I have frequently turned to seeking understanding of three hellish years spent in Brisbane. The personality stripped of all memory and identity becomes reduced to a nervous system exposed to the elements, instinctively responding to each stimulus with anger and fear. It is a condition I have been battling against for the past week. Mostly with drugs. Lovely, lovely drugs.
Speaking of drugs, crabbiness and exile, it’s time to get back to the anglophone Muscovite newspaper The Exile*. I’d previously linked to their beautiful, Jove-like annihilation of the worst book ever written, which popped back into my head when I read something about it now being turned into a movie. This does not surprise me: it is the destiny of all faketion. The book itself is a codicil to the book deal, the film rights. Every one of these bookoid wastes of space has been bought and sold a dozen times over before they hit the shelves. The ones we notice are scattered eructations of a common canker that runs beneath the surface of our attention.
Speaking of The Exile, it’s always invigorating to meet such an accomplished bunch of haters. Anyone who can publish a Shit List that kicks off with The Holy Ghost and Bob Dylan isn’t afraid of setting themselves high standards. There’s much gratuitous shitkicking perculiar to middle-aged adolescents away from home, but it’s worth sifting while pretending to work or write your thesis.
Ever wanted to catch a train across Siberia? Don’t.
Up until that point, the car had a slowly intensified, relatively bearable acidic smell of unwashed bodies. I only noticed it when I’d been outside. Each wagon had a distinct smell and I learned to appreciate our own. I doubt it was better or worse than any of the others, but after so many hours it had grown familiar, almost homey. They say even tanners stop noticing the smell after a while. The important thing was to avoid close quarters with any of the serious offenders, none of whom, thankfully, were bunking with me. Other cars’ musk would burn my nostrils, make me breathe in short gasps for the length of the corridor.

And after you’ve been trapped in this tiny, uncomfortable, constantly rattling room for five days straight, you’re stuck in a godforsaken frozen shit-town, with another five-day journey before reaching anything like civilization again.

You can also find helpful advice from perpetual dissident Edward Limonov (possibly the only one to be expelled by the Soviet Union and charged with sedition by a post-communist Russian government**) on what to do if you’re arrested. I expect this is more useful and to the point than the usual stuff you’ll find in those ‘Know Your Rights’ pamphlets.
In order to not provoke unnecessary violence on you don’t tease them, don’t mock them: speak seriously, with determination, straight-forward. They will see what kind of man you are in a few first hours of interrogation: you should control yourself at least during three days. If by the chance you are not tortured in those three days, very unlikely that you will be physically abused later.

You might want to memorise this as a precaution, what with your local MP and copper getting very keen on detention without charge in this difficult international climate. It’s unlikely, sure, but mistakes happen. Just make sure you rat out one of your neighbours after the kerfuffle’s been sorted out. You know, the one with the noisy fucking monkey bike.

* Not to be confused with Ezra Pound’s short-lived literary mag of the same name; that was back in the 1920s. Probably not online.
** Charges including conspiracy to overthrow the state of Kazakhstan. Seriously.

Masons in Distress!

Wednesday 23 November 2005

Filler Frenzy!

Wednesday 23 November 2005

I’ve spent the last week in a virus-bedecked half-dream room, so nothing coherent or original is getting written these days. It’s also cold at last, frost and fog and subzero temperatures just like the travel brochures promised. I sat indoors cursing that I didn’t have the foresight to pack a coat in my luggage, instead of waiting for my crates of chattels to arrive by sea, until last night when I actually bothered to look in the back of my clothes cupboard and found that I had in fact packed one after all.
You can tell I’m sick because I didn’t bother trying to make that story more interesting (i.e. make up something completely different). On the positive side, it means I do have a coat. On the negative, I now have the flu, which renders me generally unpleasant and uncommunicative.
So tonight I’m going to do something that blogs were originally meant to do: link to other sites for content. Of course, these days this means linking to other people’s blogs.

Peak Melody
“Every society throughout history and throughout the world has made and enjoyed music! But we, now, here, in the west are unique… in our hunger for ever more, new music. Music surrounds us: in our houses, blasting out of radios, CD players, computers. It wakes us up, and it sends us to sleep. Outside we pump music into our ears through up-to-the-minute mobile phones and MP3-players… We hear it in our supermarkets, and we sing it in our churches and in our karaoke bars. Rock anthems in pubs, and recorder-concerts in schools. We chant it at our football matches, hum along to it in our cars, and dance to it in our nightclubs. There is no getting away from music. Our lives are musical lives, and our world is a musical world. Musical. Music.”
So wrote the philosopher Jacob Applebloom in his suicide note.

All genres of music (excluding the extreme avant-garde) are struggling to come to terms with the impending melody-crisis,” writes Larry in his comprehensive and brilliant analysis of the need for radical musical conservation in the early 21st century. Never mind that his blog is called Tampon Teabag. If you want the full blogrolling experience, this was found linked through On an Overgrown Path.

A Concise History of Western Music
Courtesy of The Fredösphere, with one small correction:

Messiaen: If you’re not sure, it probably sucks.

Also, Drew’s First Piece. Agreed. Hats off! Found via The Rest is Noise.

Smart Music
Something I’ve been meaning to link to for ages: An investigation into the cognitive effects of exposure to fine violin music.
An experimental outline was devised using the Spiers – Rotluff test to qualitatively evaluate the `before/after’ responses to musical stimuli. Subjects were exposed to a range of literature… and a variety of promotional material for local concert events. They were questioned about their general music knowledge… It was intended that subjects be divided into a control group of professional practitioners, and an experimental group of interested amateurs as described below.
However, certain difficulties in formulating the control group soon became apparent, and indeed aspects of the study’s design needed attention in order to accommodate the experimental group. Firstly, it was impossible to find a conductor who would consent to take part in the study, most maintaining they `wouldn’t be seen dead’ in the company of the other subjects. We therefore decided to replace the conductor with an old poodle named Von K . On the surface this may seem, to the uninformed reader, a curious step to take. However, we point out that the dog performed well in a simple verbal test in which he consistently identified the music of Bach, although he was less successful with other composers. (In this respect he was ranked equally with the music critic, who professed to being partial to fine music and “…may not know much about Hollywood musicals, but I know what I like.”)
Secondly, despite the best of our efforts it was impossible to find a professional composer to take part in this study. Most of the potential subjects we contacted who professed some understanding of music composition were either university lecturers or employed by a “secret government agency“. The criterion of professionalism could not be met, and it was decided after much deliberation (and certain cost considerations) to replace the composer with a standard laboratory rat.
Another set of difficulties was encountered with the experimental group. Not one opera subscriber would consent to participate unless we included Gilbert and Sullivan selections in the experiment. Likewise, the critic refused to join unless we could promise the music was of the highest calibre, played by a world-class orchestra. Perhaps only our European readers will understand the impossibility of reconciling these two demands. In contrast the arts bureaucrat seemed to have no personal views whatever, and in fact would only respond after being extensively lobbied by the laboratory staff.
Reprinted thanks to The Rosenberg Archive, a treasure trove of one of the most important musical families of the last century.

They’re big and salty and brown

Monday 21 November 2005

Despite living in London for, oh, months now, I am still prepared to be amazed on my trips to the local supermarket. My enthusiasm at finding Sudafed freely available has been slightly tempered by the checkout chicks’ ruthless vigilance in preventing you from buying more than 2 packets of paracetamol at the same time – regardless of how big the packets are. I haven’t found out yet whether paracetamol can supposedly get you wasted, be used to make bombs, or contain dangerous amounts of lead.
Sometimes, I am certain the British are doing this stuff on purpose. By ‘this stuff’ I mean selling products like:

Mr Brain’s pork faggots – two steaming balls for your enjoyment. I had to take them home with me. It was only after eating them (not bad, in a comfort-food kind of way) that I remembered: I’d heard of these things before. Nearly three years ago they had been a minor meme around the world when the company (I’d like to think personally announced by Young Mr Brain himself) crowned an unfortunate household from Wolverhampton Britain’s Faggot Family.

The Doody family

from Wolverhampton has been crowned The Faggot Family in a national competition, and to kick off their reign they will launch National Faggot Week.
The Doody family were chosen to front the campaign after impressing judges at the Savoy Hotel in London in November.
“The great British faggot is full of flavour and a great belly warmer at this time of year.”
Faggot facts:
Faggots were called “savoury ducks” in the Middle Ages
… and they still are in certain nightclubs around Soho. Mr Brain used to have a website but it seems to have disappeared – perhaps it was taken down by outraged but misguided Daily Mail readers. A slightly damaged archived version survives, featuring tasty news items such as “Faggot Family go Public.”
I wonder where they are now?

Older, not wiser

Sunday 20 November 2005

Another six months have passed, so it’s time to update the list of People Or Things I Have Been Mistaken For, Or Allegedly Physically Resemble, In Increasing Order Of Ridiculousness. Two new entries, which have been placed above and below Jim O’Rourke, although it’s a bit of a toss-up which way those three should go.

Filler by Proxy XXV: Who to turn to when you’ve run out of Mitfords

Thursday 17 November 2005

If anything’s better reading than the London Review of Books’ personals column, it’s the Telegraph’s obituaries. Lady Sibell Rowley has died, aged 98. Being England, the death notices tend to get clogged with a lot of ancestral ruins such as these, perhaps out of a sense of heritage more than of aristocratic fealty.
In this case, however, the passing of poor old Lady Rowley is treated as an occasion to trot out gossip about her family. She was a daughter of the 7th Earl Beauchamp, KG, “and thus a member of the family that inspired Evelyn Waugh to write his celebrated Roman Catholic novel Brideshead Revisited.”
It’s good enough that the Telegraph feels obliged to employ the epithet ‘Roman Catholic’ as an advisory to its less stout-hearted subscription base, but things get better still:

…the youngest daughter, Dorothy (Coote), endured an unfortunate late-life marriage to Robert Heber Percy, known as “Mad Boy”, the eccentric squire of Faringdon and former boyfriend of Lord Berners.

Actually, the whole article should be imagined as it would be read by Vivian Stanshall:
The daughters, aware of their father’s nocturnal prowlings, would sometimes advise their boyfriends to lock their bedroom doors. Lord Beauchamp once complained at breakfast: “He’s very nice that friend of yours, but he’s damned uncivil!” Unfortunately, the problems proved more serious, concerning incidents with footmen, and as a result of a campaign instigated by his brother-in-law, Bendor, Duke of Westminster, Lord Beauchamp was forced into exile in Europe. The Duke tried to explain the circumstances to his sister, Lady Beauchamp, who failed to grasp the essentials. “Bendor says that Beauchamp is a bugler,” she announced.

A post about posting about posts you just posted: a rueful autopsy

Thursday 17 November 2005

It’s kind of sad when you notice these kinds of things, but it had struck me that over the last week or so no comments had been added to the blog, while over the same time I had received several emails about it. Worrying about who’s reading or not reading your blog is a sure sign that you’re turning into a dickhead, but the thought popped into my mind: “You know what the next comment will be about? Something really minor that I put up in a few minutes as filler and then forgot about.”
And so today I get four comments posted about my posting about that Kia salesman’s defunct blog. Disturbingly, someone called Cyn complained that there’s not enough violence on this site. More disturbingly, this seems to be proposed as her(?) solution to people not coming to your birthday party. Even more disturbingly, she apparently uses the term “twilight twitterings” as some sort of Clockwork Orange-type dystopian slang for “bloodletting”.
Do I feel mad with power? No. At the moment, even after half a box of pseudoephedrine I can barely summon the will to get out of bed.
At the very least, I can sleep tonight content in the knowledge that there’s one more person besides myself who doesn’t have a copy of the Fluxus Codex.