Filler By Proxy LII: Your Pretty Face Is Going to Slough

Tuesday 19 June 2007

There’s something else I learned at Venn, but it has to wait till tomorrow night. In the meantime, please enjoy what promises to be a lengthy series of highly illuminating posts about life in a modern British provincial town; in fact, that most archetypal of nondescript British towns, Slough. The delights that await the business traveller can be followed at the blog Life in the Slough Lane.

Filler by Proxy LI: Embers

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Last week I went exploring around Waterloo for the first time and stumbled across John Calder’s bookshop in The Cut. I had no idea that this transplanted piece of literary history still existed at all, let alone as a vital and interesting store (unlike the pickled ruin of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris).
Since the 1950s Calder has been the publisher of Samuel Beckett, William Burroughs, Wyndham Lewis, Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, and so on and so forth. Sadly, he will no longer be publishing Beckett: the writer’s estate has decided that Faber and Faber, who have until now published only the plays, will now handle all of Beckett’s work.
Calder has written a valedictory tribute to Beckett, the writer and man:

He was 47, unknown except to a few close friends and singularly unsuccessful, when he had his first success with Godot in 1953 – another of the lucky flukes that characterised his life and career. He had survived the war and the clutches of the Gestapo hiding in the Vaucluse mountains, along with many other misadventures. He had also endured misunderstanding of his work that very few academics, mainly Joyceans – and even fewer reviewers – were able to overcome…. He was a simple, totally honest, highly perceptive and overly generous human being who saw and described the reality of human existence as the tragedy it is.

He also explains how the initial division of publishing labour between his company and Faber came about (hint: it involves a fear of the police).

The comments attached to the article are worth a look too, as they include a link to an interview with Marion Boyars, Calder’s sometime publishing partner, and this observation from reader fmk:

I guess we’ve got a few years ahead of us in which Faber’ll be telling us of all the errors in previous editions and how their new editions are totally definitive, tpyo-free* and as the author intended them to be.

* [sic]

Filler by Proxy XLIX: “Great Expectations presented as a log flume” – I’m not making this up.

Wednesday 18 April 2007

I’ve been to the opera, but I can’t post about it today: I’m off to Dickens World!
Never mind that the books tackle child exploitation, poverty, murder and domestic violence; the indoor attraction is based on designs by the creator of Santa World in Sweden so the emphasis is firmly on fun, fun, fun.
Dickens World feels like Disney gone to the dark side. In place of the Magic Kingdom there is Newgate Prison; instead of talking animals there will be shady characters loitering in dark corners. Although the attractions are all faithfully Dickensian, the larks are very much 21st century….
The whole project cost £62m and hopes to present Dickens to coaches of schoolchildren without having to call in the Muppets for backup.
It’s all within a day-trip from my house, apparently.

Filler By Proxy XLVIII: The Right Kind of Pain

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Mark Greif in the London Review of Books sums up the inadequacy of most popular music criticism when it comes to addressing the genre’s unique qualities, and its unique illusions:

This sort of writing fails the reality of pop: its special alchemy of lyrics that look like junk on the page, and music that seems underdeveloped when transcribed to a musical staff. Then there is the curse of arid musicology; and of Rolling Stone-ism, the gonzo rock journalist who thinks he is a rock star. Perhaps worst of all, there is the curse of the rhetoric of social action and ‘revolution’, a faith-based illusion that pop songs clearly manifest social history, or an exaggerated sense of what pop achieves in the world. In truth, most critics aren’t verbally equipped to describe any band’s vivid effects on its main audience: the listener at home, alone in his room.

You could argue against that last point, but the reality of recording as pop music’s medium (and rock’s, if you are particular about these distinctions) is inescapable in Grief’s review of Richard Witts’ book on The Velvet Underground. Combined, the two writers reveal the band as something quite different from the quasi-mythical beast it has become in popular imagination, and discover the band’s secret twin on the other side of the continent…

Also: The Velvet Underground, as Doug Yule saw it.

Filler by Proxy XLVII: Great Drinker, Great Thinker

Tuesday 20 February 2007

The late, great James Tenney’s For Ann (rising) wins the inaugural Black Torrent Guard Most Annoying Song Tournament (found via Soho the Dog). Luckily, he includes an mp3 of the piece as well, but get it quick because I think it’s one of those temporary links.
For some reason I didn’t mention Tenney’s passing last year: he was one of the sharpest musical thinkers and composers of the latter part of the 20th century. He’s often pigeonholed as a musical version of a conceptual artist, but his music beautifully embodies his understanding of the nature and perception of sound and, in turn, his theoretical writings illuminate the ways in which we do and don’t “get” contemporary music, in ways that conventional talk of harmony and structure fails.
In one of the nerdiest seductions ever, I once turned a girlfriend on to the avant-garde by taking her to a performance of Tenney’s Having Never Written a Note for Percussion. (That piece is usually more of a knockout than the Sonic Youth performance in the link, but I like the way they take an idea and run with it.)
Some short pieces by Tenney are online at the CalArts site (Firefox users: dodgy website alert!) including the classic tape piece Collage #1 (“Blue Suede”). People’s memories of Tenney piled up at PostClassic.

Filler by Proxy XLVI: London and Daisies

Saturday 10 February 2007

I like the idea of movies but usually don’t go to see any, which leaves me with a small, erratically selected pool of films to draw upon when I find myself in a conversation about cinema. Found more or less by chance, two bloggers have been writing more or less recently about two of my favourite films: Patrick Keiller’s London and Vera Chytilova’s Daisies.
Books and movies in which the city becomes a character have always touched a special something inside me, and London comes out on the top of this internal list. I’ve mentioned it in passing once or twice before: it’s the movie that convinced me that moving to London wouldn’t be a total loss, no matter what else happened.
The Measures Taken seizes upon some of Keiller’s ideas and cinematic techniques, as part of a description of his latest project:

It still feels like a peculiar gesture though, to follow these films with a project made up of around 60 films from the 1900s, which are then spun into a coherent narrative on the one hand, or on the other affixed to map of the world, with highlighted cities or streets taking you via a click to footage of that area in the first decade of the 20th century. We are in fairly Borges-like territory here, wheeling from Shanghai to New York to Liverpool, zeroing in on discrete streets with lunatic exactitude. It isn’t entirely clear what this project is…

I first saw Daisies while lying on my side, quite drunk, half on top of someone else, as it was projected onto a wall in a small bar down a backstreet somewhere in Melbourne, and have been infatuated with it ever since. “That film could only have been made in the 60s,” a friend once remarked after watching W.R.: Mysteries of the Organism. “People have never been so dirty in quite the same way.” Daisies has that same, ineffable quality, and the same cheerful anarchy to it, but is even less encumbered by theories – even countercultural ones.
It’s one of the few cultural artifacts I’ve seen built upon a presumption of abundance instead of scarcity, affirmatively blowing social and political dialectics away. The Pinocchio Theory gives us a more substantial appreciation of Daisies.

… manages to be both visceral and abstract, playful and savage, intellectual and infantile, all at once. Watching it last night, I was literally trembling with joy and exhilaration. I felt the same way when I first saw the film, nearly thirty years ago.

Found via sit down man, you’re a bloody tragedy, written by the same bloke who does The Measures Taken. It’s all like cellophane!

Filler by Proxy XLV: Grapple With It

Monday 29 January 2007

If there’s a reason my compulsive CD buying has stopped over the past 12 months, it’s because of sites like UbuWeb, the Other Minds Archive, WFMU and ANABlog making available all sorts of wild stuff I’d heard about, but never actually heard.
Lately ANABlog has been working through mini-retrospectives of music by underrated composers of the 20th Century (their latest project, Ben Johnston, is definitely worth a listen) but amongst all this they have uploaded George Harrison’s much maligned second solo album, Electronic Sound.
This is the album he made (or didn’t make, depending who you ask) entirely on his shiny new Moog synthesiser in a couple of days. I don’t know which is more surprising, that someone has bothered to upload an MP3 of this record, or that it was once issued as an 8-track cartridge.
If you’re at all curious, get it soon, because it won’t stay around for too long. (Short, shameful confession: I haven’t downloaded it because I bought a slightly battered 2nd-hand LP of it some 15 years ago.)
Also: Forget the Beatle! I just checked UbuWeb and they now have a collection of readings by Jas H. Duke. This is the guy who would have changed the history of poetry, if only (a) he wasn’t Australian, (b) the cultural custodians acknowledged his existence, and (c) he didn’t fall down the Melbourne General Post Office steps in 1992.

Filler by Proxy XLIV: Party Like It’s 2003!

Tuesday 9 January 2007

Just when my hard drive is about to die: The 365 Days Project is back for another year. I’ve already plugged this remarkable collection of audio anomalies, first uploaded one file a day throughout 2003. Four years later, WFMU has decided to repeat the exercise, compiling another 365 songs, radio broadcasts, advertisements, and home recordings that struggle to justify their existence in consensus reality.
In fact, this time around there’ll be more than 365 semi-classifiable sounds to enjoy: on some days they’re posting more than just one file. A lot more. So far they’ve given us obscure chocolate jingles, the Leif Garrett Fan Club record, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s The L.S. Bumble Bee, and the jaw-dropping concept that is Play It Safe, Vol.4. Get in early before it overwhelms you.

Filler by Proxy XLIII: How long until someone makes an opera out of this?

Thursday 14 December 2006

There’s a big crossover audience in the fanbases for opera and for giant, train-wreck hissy fits, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the ongoing scandal at La Scala after tenor Roberto Alagna walked out of a performance of Aida on Sunday, after just ten minutes on stage. As over-reactions to mild booing go, they don’t get much bigger or better than this.
Opera Chic has the most frequently updated chronicle, as the surprises keep coming thick and fast, as well as the juciest details. Scroll back to 10 December to savour the unfolding mayhem in its chronological glory. YOU WILL SEE:
Video of the walk-off and switcheroo is, of course, on YouTube. It’s worth watching just to see mezzo soprano Ildiko Komlosi pull a double-take worthy of Margaret Dumont as she’s suddenly confronted by a pharaoh in shirt and jeans.

Filler by Proxy XLII: I just spent fifty pounds to stand around in some godforsaken town freezing my arse off pointlessly arguing with someone.

Monday 27 November 2006

Via Straight From The Tated . If he’s anything like me, God has Prince Charles, Camilla Parker-Bowles, a Chinese man in an ambulance, and Elizabeth Montgomery on His fridge.

Filler by Proxy XLI: Don’t you just fucking hate them?

Tuesday 7 November 2006

It’s been a while since we all enjoyed a really hostile review, so please enjoy Heart On A Stick’s reaction to seeing a gig by indie wannabe-darlings Ra Ra Riot:
The world would be better off if they hailed from someplace like, oh, Chernobyl. There, people recognize tragedy when they see it. I imagine a bunch of concertgoing Chernoblians (sure, why not) in a post-show huddle, wondering just how quickly they could build another reactor and cause that to melt down.
I admire the heroicism of the Ukrainian people….
The guys on stage hopped about like indie clichés with tiny bladders filled with pissed-down Red Bull. There was the guy in the bad hat. The virgin in the ringer-T who desperately wanted to be Richard Reed Parry. The music-bleeding lead who’s probably never laughed in his life, not at the Three Stooges, not at the government, and definitely not at himself….
It’s empty music from empty people for empty people who can’t bear to think of filling their lives with anything more than emptiness. It’s for people who can’t tell the difference between sincerity and honesty…. It’s an insult to anyone who’s ever been passionate about anything, an insult to the concept of passion itself.
Stand back, he’s just warming up.

Filler by Proxy XL: An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin

Wednesday 4 October 2006

For those of you with a love of the funerary violin, that obscure genre of music rendered almost extinct after it was condemned by the Catholic church in the 1830s, you will be glad to learn that Rohan Kriwaczek’s brand new book An Incomplete History of the Art of the Funerary Violin is now available on sale from Amazon (UK site only). Fittingly, Kriwaczek’s book is published by Duckworth, purveyors of the poetic oeuvre of William McGonagall.
If you don’t care much about funerary violin music but have a grudge against Pius X for his 1903 motu proprio on sacred music, this book may also be up your alley.
The New York Times gives a little more information about the book and the mysterious Guild of Funerary Violinists (you may need Bugmenot to get past registration).
Strangely, The Rosenberg Archive has been silent about this guild.

Filler by Proxy XXXIX: Slow News Day Lets Nerds Settle Scores

Sunday 24 September 2006

More than a quarter of classical music fans have tried cannabis, says a study from the University of Leicester.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing in their report that definitively links a love of classical music to the likelihood of being an evil genius, despite extensive anecdotal evidence in movies.

By the way, the first picture and caption in the article is even funnier than the one shown above. Slightly related: Headless Zombie Bunny.

Filler by Proxy XXXVIII: Billy Joel – American Idiot

Sunday 23 July 2006

Emily at Progressive Boink analyses Billy Joel – The Essential Video Collection and reaches some conclusions about what makes a video [or Billy Joel] essential:
1) The song must feature an Important Life Lesson. This lesson can usually be summed up on a single sentence, and often ends in an exclamation point.
2) Billy and/or his band (also known as The Black Hole of Rockin’) must in some way remind the viewer of another band/another celebrity/some irrelevant piece of pop culture history. You’ll be surprised how often this happens.
3) There must be celebrity guest stars. Not every video features a guest star, but when they do, you can almost count of them being 80’s specific.
4) Perhaps most important in determining how essential a video is, is where it falls on the BJ Jew Fro Scale.
. . .Oh, and it always helps if a video has hilariously out-of-place black people.
Convincing scientific analysis of a dozen or so case studies follows. I think it was The Standing Room’s overzealous del.icio.us feed that brought this important information to my attention.

Filler by Proxy XXXVII: Filler by Proxy Week Continues! Oh yeah, and music stuff.

Wednesday 5 July 2006

The irrepressible Dr David Thorpe of Your Band Sucks volleys back a few Dorothy Dixers about modern popular music. Now you too can be as well informed about the latest trends in youth culture as someone who honestly gives a shit.
Dr Thorpe answers mail from readers who want to know whether Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails killed more teenagers, what is the current balance of T versus A in pop, as well as resolving the perennial questions about the Corrs and Tegan and Sara. In between, he also gives a few critical life lessons.
Will rap music ever receive the same level of critical acclaim as mainstream guitar-based radio friendly songs?
Hey buddy, next time you go back in time to 1989, bring me back a sports almanac like Biff in Back to the Future II so I can get rich.