by carl wilson

One Hand On This Wily Comet

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Just wanted to let you know this record actually exists.

I have a review of Saturday night's Shins concert in Toronto in today's (well, yesterday's technically now) Globe and Mail. If it seems a touch over-enthusiastic, fair enough. I despise the shed of a venue, Kool Haus, so I spent the day of the show dreading the event. And for the first half of the evening, watching openers Viva Voce (whom I probably would have enjoyed in a smaller space), I still felt grouchy. But then the Shins managed to transform the vibe and make me - and everybody else in the room - glad to be there, which won a lot of points. (This feeling vanished immediately when the show was over and the whole audience was caught in a bottleneck for 15 minutes trying to get out the one open door; finally the management wised up and opened the back doors. Argh.)

Also in today's Globe, my colleague Guy Dixon has a piece about the new lineup at CBC Radio 2 (which also has a new website). We here at Zoilus (not just me but many of you) have been very vocal in our displeasure over the cancellation of Brave New Waves, but I tuned in to its 10 pm-to-1 am replacement The Signal tonight, and I have to admit I'm impressed. So far I've heard the world premiere of Faster Still by the stellar Toronto-based composer Brian Current, a Joanna Newsom track, an Aphex Twin performance with the London Sinfonietta and a selection from Jerry Granelli's Sandhills Reunion. And while I'll miss Patti Schmidt's wry conspiratorial voice, The Signal is hosted by one of my other favourite Canadian arts broadcasters, Laurie Brown. I don't think this show can accomplish what Brave New Waves did for two decades (unlike the Shins, it really could change your life), and I wish it started a bit later, although thanks to interweb magik I can just listen to a stream from the Prairies or BC and hear it when I want. But aside from the decisions around BNW and The Arts Tonight, I'm giving the new Radio 2 a tentative hurrah as the first CBC revamp of my adult life that just may make sense, with its dismantling of genre barriers and respect for its listeners' open ears and minds.

Finally I just want to express gratitude and warmth to everybody who braved post-green-beer hangovers and came out to Sunday night's Queen West West Equitable Development Beach Partee. Especially the bands, who came on-board with enthusiasm and generosity on a few days' notice and all put on amazing sets. The Thomson/Oswald/Chenaux/Oelrichs quartet bore down and set a tone with a restlessly meditative improv, then Ghostlight gave fine dub-psych freakout; Tomboyfriend brought a shout-along rush with the thematically appropriate anthem The End of Poverty; the Phonemes played a special "mutant Phonemes" set - because drummer Matias couldn't come, they recruited a bunch of guests at the show, with members of Ghostlight playing synths and theremin and Eric Chenaux twisting inventive guitar lines around Magali's delicate plucking and Dave (Mez) Meslin sitting in on the drum kit; and Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm! capped it off with an intimate "chamber" version of their usual mayhem, dressed "yuppie" in shirts and ties and suspenders, smashing a computer keyboard and a portable radio over each other's heads, but making it all a little poignant. Seriously, have you not seen this band yet? Do it. Props to Ryan Kamstra for making it happen. And thanks to BlogTO, For the Records and The Abstract Index for their neighbourly promotional assists.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 20 at 12:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)

 

COMMENTS

I really want to get that Bluegrass Shins album if for no other reason than to put it next to my copy of Luther Wright and the Wrongs "Rebuild the Wall".

Posted by Jay on March 21, 2007 8:42 AM

 

 

That point about non-idiomaticism as an idiom is very well taken, and an aspect of the genre that is always a bit frustrating to me, actually.

The analogy I was drawing was a bit too romantic, and perhaps more about the idea of improvisation than about the actual practice. Which may be, in retrospect, why I felt hesitant to say it beforehand - and why I did want to say it afterwards, partly in rebuke to the goofballs. (As I will now call them so as to spare the fowl the unflattering comparison. I'm sure real turkeys would have nested quietly and listened to the music.)

Posted by zoilus on March 20, 2007 8:41 PM

 

 

Oh Carl, I've made it sound like you delivered a lengthy treatise comparing homelessness and improvisation, haven't I? Sorry. No, I realize that it was simply a passing comment but, insofar as it seemed to provide context for our inclusion in the event, it did indeed provoke thought -- my previous message most concretely.

Now, with regard to your comment about improvising within/out a genre, I don't agree with you. It's tempting to agree with Derek Bailey's assertion in _Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music_ that collective improvisation is "non-idiomatic"; if this is true, then it almost automatically grants the music a politically oppositional trenchancy. I won't delve into the arguments in Bailey's book (which largely flow against his "non-idiomatic" point) but, in my experience, the majority of free improvisation (my own playing included) fits very comfortably within the genre or idiom of 'non-idiomatic improvisation' according to conventions that have been forged over the genre's approximately forty-year history. These conventions assure that both the playing itself and audience expectations are never as much "from scratch" as it may seem.

There are often brilliant moments when invention trumps convention (and displaces the certainty of genre status) but it seems that these moments exist in all genres. Really good collective playing tends to have a proportionately higher quotient of such moments than, say, really good reggae, but not so much so that I would say categorically that one is a genre or an idiom while the other is not.

It is on this basis that a link between our music on Sunday and the improvisatory conduct of any one social group (and not that of others) still seems to be somewhat arbitrary. Naturally, there are several other very good reasons to have played on Sunday, and I'm still glad for the opportunity to have done so.

Finally, for those readers who were not at the event, particularly public health auditors, there were no turkeys or any other kind of fowl present at the Gladstone. Also, as far as I know and as of yet, no birds have been elected to public office.

Posted by Scott Thomson on March 20, 2007 4:08 PM

 

 

Regarding the "turkeys" - I'm sorry about that, Scott. It really was concentrated in a pretty small knot of people, but they were right next to you and it was breathtaking how obliviously rude they were. For the record, they included our area's member of provincial parliament.

As for my comparison of improvisation and homelessness: I wouldn't remotely want to push the idea too hard, but I don't agree with your specific point. Sure, improvisational behaviour is present in every human activity - as it is in nearly every form of music - but I think in a lot of arenas, like corporate and military life, what happens is a lot more like playing within a genre, that there is a given repertoire and the improvisation is only within the boundaries of the institutionally endorsed set of options. Whereas on the street, there is a more fundamental step outside of social boundaries and idioms and finding one's way from scratch, from moment to moment, in a more intense mode. And there the comparison stops.

My suggestion wasn't meant to be taken as more than a metaphor, just to provoke a little thought. It's not an elaborate or overarching or academic theory. Also, I meant to say it before you played but was a little scatterbrained (I was asked to emcee at the last minute, and hadn't planned on it at all) - too bad, perhaps it would have given the MPP and other turkeys a bit of pause.

Posted by zoilus on March 20, 2007 12:46 PM

 

 

Carl:

I'm very glad to have been involved in the Queen Street West event and to have had another chance to play with some of the finest musicians anywhere. Thank you for helping to organize the event.

I remain ambivalent about the overarching connection you sought to forge between homelessness and improvisation which, although accurate on a certain register, I also find somewhat arbitrary. Are we not just as likely find improvisatory behaviour afoot in corporate boardrooms, in government offices, or in military operations, despite the veneer of pre-planning that material advantage affords such actors?

Perhaps a more telling connection with homelessness has to do not with improvisation in a general sense but with a vulnerability to which our particular approach to music-making is subject in the face of a public all too willing to ignore it. I'm thinking, specifically, of the turkeys who talked so loudly during our set that I couldn't adequately hear myself or the rest of the group (John Oswald in particular) if we played mezzo-piano or quieter. Suffice it to say, such a circumstance has a radical influence on what is played and forces me toward certain musical compromises that would not be necessary under more savoury acoustic conditions.

Of course, I realize that we opted to play unamplified and could perhaps be accused of bringing on this vulnerability ourselves (in this sense a connection with homelessness on any register gets increasingly tenuous). That's maybe a debate for another day. Regardless, I was struck by the fact that -- and I'm certainly not faulting you for any of this, Carl -- as soon as we finished and you began speaking to the audience about theoretical connections between homelessness and improvisation (off-microphone, if I recall) the turkeys promptly shut up and listened.

The analogical or allegorical connection of music and politics should be done with utmost care and, as I write, my own amibivalences about these issues continue to swell. However, I couldn't help but notice how the power dynamics at play were aligned rather uncannily in that particular instance.

Posted by Scott Thomson on March 20, 2007 10:49 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson