Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for September, 2006

Depleted and Delighted: CopyCamp Day 1

September 29th, 2006

Just got back (after post-drinx) from day 1 of CopyCamp, the two-day unconference on art and intellectual property taking place this weekend in Toronto. It was more difficult than I expected to provide live updates from the event, partially because there was so much going on to pay attention to at any given moment and partially because Margaux and I were busy fretting about the afternoon session we hosted, in which we interviewed participants for her Teenager Hamlet 2006 video project, asking them among other things whether Hamlet belongs to Shakespeare, or to Denmark, or to Margaux, or maybe to YouTube. However, I was able to attend an excellent session by Steve Kado of Blocks on the topic, “Are Professionals Necessary?” (Especially in the arts, but also in, say, architecture. Or medicine.) That is, does there have to be such a thing as people who make a living making culture, or is the culture we all make on our own time from sheer passion actually a preferrable alternative? I can’t really summarize the fascinating but meandering conversation that resulted, but please feel free to answer in the comments….

In addition I caught parts of a session by Geoff Tansey on the tangled web of international intellectual-property treaties and regulation and globalization, all of which was enough to suck the heart right out of you, and met the noble heroes from Appropriation Art, among others. I was also a bit startstruck to meet Johanna Householder, ex- of the Clichettes - one of the classic acts of Torontopia Mark 1 - but I think I concealed it well. The “speedgeek” exercise in which we heard short project summaries from 14 different people was the punk-rock of conferencing, mainlining info on Open Source, net labels, arts unions, beatmatching, aboriginal traditional-knowledge law, the prehistory of copyright and much more in under five minutes per topic. I’ll try to provide more detail in updates throughout the day tomorrow, when with luck among others Mark Hosler from Negativland will make an appearance.

I realized today that copyright/appropriation/etc. issues are pretty much my geekiest major subject of interest, aside from a couple of TV shows. I’m not particularly into comics, or games, or fantasy-anything, and my way of being interested in music, literature or movies is not particularly trivia oriented. (Okay, with maybe a bit of a poetry variance.) But I can talk about the minutiae of moral rights, fair use, creative commons, licensing models, the status of the artist, remix culture and the like pretty much forever. Hell, I even loved the ultra-geeky stickers. So even though today things did not get as heated, conflicts did not get aired, as much as I might have liked (for one thing unfortunately few private-business types signed up for the event, so the real bogeymen remained at a distance), I still felt as though i were visiting some strange alternate country, offshore from every nation, in which culture was suddenly not frozen not fluid, not bureaucratic but buccaneering. We all visit that reality on the web, of course, but to do it in body, with eyes on other human beings, was such a refreshment that it was as if I had grown gills and was doing aquatic cartwheels through the windows of a little coral castle on the floor of the ocean. Till tomorrow, please do read more on CopyCamp in this eye weekly feature I foolishly neglected to link yesterday, and follow developments on the CopyCamp wiki.


T-Dot Thrillz: The Centre for Culture & Leisure

September 29th, 2006

From Brian Joseph Davis and Emily Schultz:

The Centre for Culture and Leisure No. 1, 83 Elm Grove, Unit 102, Toronto: A project and exhibition space in Parkdale. In the exhibition space: Godard: Genre X 2, an interactive video installation by Philip Monk, until November 2. Offsite: Pocket Game, a public work by the Gaming and Tourism Commission. (Pick up a pocket-game map at the Centre to find your way to the last remaining moose statues to collect souvenirs installed by the Tourism and Gaming Commission.) Opening party (with free field trip!), Thursday, October 12, 7 p.m., Join us for the opening of the CCL1 and for the launch of Pocket Game. Doors are at 7 p.m. At 9 p.m. the Gaming and Tourism Commission’s Carolyn Tripp will be leading a field trip on-bike for any interested parties, to three locations while providing commentary and insight into the Commission’s very first project.

About the Centre for Culture and Leisure No. 1
Created by Brian Joseph Davis and Emily Schultz, The Centre for Culture and Leisure No. 1 is a rough-hewn project and exhibition space located ten steps south of Queen West on Elm Grove Avenue. It is not a collective or rental gallery but a place where artists and curators have been invited to explore and experiment for free with new art practices, media work and projects. Whether they create solo exhibitions, group shows or present their own works, is completely up to them. Our aim is to provide a fluid, public space for play.

We will only be open for one year. Upcoming artists include: Dave Dyment, Darren O’Donnell, Jon Sasaki, Chandra Bulucon and Katie Bethune-Leaman. There will also be numerous one-night events, readings and ________.

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Live Notes in the Rearview: Tagaq, Conrad, McPhee, Jandek, Guelph Jazz

September 28th, 2006

I’ve had various monkeys on my back this week so my ambitions to fire off a long sequence of live reviews for you have been thwarted, but here’s the capsule version, in reverse chronological order: Tanya Tagaq with Kinnie Starr; Tony Conrad; AIMT with Joe McPhee; Jandek; and the Guelph Jazz Fest. (Click on each name to read the reviews.) Over the next few days, I’ll be blogging live from the CopyCamp conference on artists and intellectual property, and next week reporting from Pop Montreal, so we’ll try to make up a bit for lost time. Tomorrow, because their website is a bit of a headache to navigate, I’ll also try to steal a few moments to tell you my picks-to-catch in Toronto’s first-ever Nuit Blanche overnight art orgy, which takes place Saturday night/Sunday morning. (Meanwhile there are good features on the subject in Eye and Now.) [...]



InterXAvantPoetryBusFace 2 (T-Dot Thrillz 4.5)

September 23rd, 2006


I’d expected to get back to you sooner but overnight my tech-helper Bill and I switched the site over to the newer-and-shinier version of MovableType, which should help deal with the deluge of commentspam as we get the hang of it. So time got burned up on maintenance. So this is a very last-minute continuation to tell you about tonight’s Tony Conrad and Poetry Bus events.

The Poetry Bus, to quote the organizers, “is the biggest literary event of 2006 and the most ambitious poetry tour ever attempted.” It’s sponsored by the excellent Seattle-based independent press Wave Books, and hitting 50 cities in 50 days. In a bus. Literally. It says POETRY BUS in big letters on the side. It pulls up at Toronto’s Stone’s Place in Parkdale at 7 pm tonight, bringing us Canadian and American poets Joshua Beckman, Matthew Zapruder, Typing Explosion, Kate Hall, Monica Fambrough, George Murray, Monica Youn, Kevin Connolly, Ken Babstock, Travis Nichol and Betsy Wheeler, thanks to the efforts of Eye weekly’s arts editor Damian Rogers. (Oh look, The Believer has more.)

It seems that Pier Giorgio di Cicco, Toronto’s current poet laureate, had predicted all this in 1978.

Meanwhile, in the X Avant series at the Music Gallery, the great Tony Conrad makes his long-awaited appearance tonight. I was very surprised that none of the press covered Conrad’s first visit, as far as I can tell, since 1996 (scroll down, the capsule on Conrad in that article is quite good). One of the early innovators in minimalism, associate of John Cale in the original Dream Syndicate, and later of Faust, experimental filmmaker of The Flicker fame, the guy who gave The Velvet Underground their name, Conrad lives just across the border in Buffalo, where he’s an academic now by trade. Brooklyn Vegan had a good roundup of links last year, Table of Elements has quotable quotes in this extensive press kit and to my shock there’s even a MySpace site - no, wait, two! But the best source is his own site, linked in the first paragraph, a wonderland of tangled threads in which to wander.

InterXAvantPoetryBusFace (T-Dot Thrillz 4)

September 22nd, 2006

I’d hoped to write more about the overlapping Music Gallery X-Avant mini-festival and AIMT Interface with Joe McPhee events going on this weekend, but have time only to re-alert Torontopers to their existence. Both Now and Eye had interviews with McPhee this week - you can find more of that sort of thing here, here, here and here (or download an audio version).

Edit: Oh, and then odd things happened on the website. More on all this tomorrow morning!

Bow Down Before the One You Serve

September 22nd, 2006

A gem today from Mimi Smartypants. Identify much?

Yesterday I was dancing around the house to “Bizarre Love Triangle” and [Mimi's toddler] Nora was all like “Mommy, stop” and I had a flash-forward to me and all my friends embarrassing the shit out of our kids at their weddings, when we hobble up and slip the DJ some cash to play all the alternative hits of our youth. Head like a hole! Black as your soul! Whoo, look at those old folks go!

State of the Blogs, Sept. 2006

September 22nd, 2006

My only response to Marathonpacks’ epochal analysis of the musicblog phenom as it stands is this: When I started, the desire was to join the best conversation I heard going. Now, I read my favourite blogs (like, say, Mike’s) as the isolated testimony of individuals. I likewise blame the MP3 blogs, but at the same time I consider joining them, because, you know, web 2.0 and all. But today my comments section went down due to hosting issues and I immediately felt like the whole enterprise had lost its meaning. So it’s still about conversation, but on a manageable scale. Yes, the “blog bands” are mostly negligible, but still, there’s Junior Boys, Sunset Rubdown - better this than nothing. My interests, admittedly snobbishly, are more in the realm of extended criticism rather than hegemonic fannishness - while I see the utility of that perspective, as Eric proposes, there still seems at least some space for music blogs to work as a new critical territory, not just a Star Trek convention. (And the diversity stats don’t spook me because pro crit is worse.) I don’t know what SFJ or Simon Reynolds’s traffic stats have been like, but I know mine have been dropping after a couple of years of exponential growth for Zoilus, even as I think the quality of the site’s improved. Isn’t that just what we have to accept as the ‘net gets more and more populist, as choices multiply? It’s no reason to be less excited about talking to one another, unless the accrual of cool points is what it was about all along. You know, adlajfwo.com, tuwertoi.be, wroeiutnv9s.org.

Stephen Colbert goes Avant-Jazz:
Hiphopketball: A Jazzebration!

September 21st, 2006

John Zorn, Stephen Colbert, Joe McPhee.

It’s true, we avant-jazz fans (like us poetry readers) are sadder bastards when it comes to begging for scraps of high-profile media attention than even we Canadians are about getting shoutouts in the U.S. (The Simpsons episode? The Conan O’Brien visit? Final Fantasy in the Times? Pathetic. Oh, wait, I did that last one.) There you go, my whole psycho-demo: Marginals desperate for approval.

Yeah, I’m still atwitter when I remember Bill Clinton calling Peter Brotzmann “one of the greatest [saxophone players] alive” in the Oxford American in 2001. (His enthusiasm for Igor Butman seems a tad more credible. I mean, the guy has praised Kenny G. repeatedly. But who knows? Ever since I read Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s jawdropping account of their friendship, I haven’t tried to second-guess Clinton.)

But tonight’s episode of the Colbert Report is one for the annals. I’ll post a link when I find video Here’s the video, but if you’re on a slow connection…. Colbert, in his asshat-broadcaster character, off the top of the show, was ripping through the MacArthur prize winners of the year as boring and esoteric (except David Macaulay, whom he said dangerously arouses children’s curiosity about the world: “My kid read it and now ‘the sky is blue because God wants it that way’ is somehow an unacceptable answer!”) when he singled out John Zorn, with a picture flashed up, and actually played an excerpt from one of the 50th-birthday celebration CDs (The Firebook from Vol. 9, to be exact), started snapping his fingers sarcastically and then took up a top hat and cane and started boogying around: “Yeah, I wonder how your little genius came up with that toe-tapper? Maybe he saw my documentary with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hiphopketball: A Jazzebration. Roll it Jimmy! [cue clip of atonal sax being blown to a bass on a basketball court]. Genius grant, please! … What a rip.”

My eyes bugged out. The sad thing is that as opposed to all the political stuff he does, where the character clearly lives in a topsy-turvy, right-is-wrong world, the audience response felt depressingly literal for this bit. Cultural populism is so much more robust. But Zorn got played (uh, in both senses), and we’ll take that as a victory. Heh. The real scandal is that Zorn is getting his MacArthur years after Ken Vandermark did - no harm/foul to Ken, but that’s kinda bassackwards.

All of which reminds me to urge Toronto readers to go hear American multi-instrumental free-jazz improvisor Joe McPhee, who’ll never get a genius grant but deserves one, tonight at the Music Gallery and throughout the weekend with local improvimentalists in the X-Avant and AIMT Interface series. More about which in the next coupla days. Meanwhile check the sidebar!

Live Notes in the Rearview:
1. The Mountain Goats

September 20th, 2006

John Darnielle with Elvises, photo by (Mountain Goats bassist) Peter Hughes, not taken at the current Toronto Andy Warhol exhibition but somewhere else last year.

A backlog of notes, now that the Polaris pandemonium has died down, on recent live experiences. I’ll begin with last night’s Mountain Goats show, and work back through Jandek and to the Guelph jazz fest. 3, 2, 1: Go!

John Darnielle’s body when he performs is a one-man symphony of tics, spasms, awkward dance moves and grotesque facial expressions. Even when he is just strumming the chords of a passage between verses in a very quiet song, he will bend one knee, squint, bare his teeth and half-spin around the stage as if he’s rocking out on the solo to Crosstown Traffic. On Tuesday night at Lee’s Palace in Toronto, he built up such emotional tension in many of the songs from the melancholy and hushed new album Get Lonely that the cartoony mannerisms made some spectators burst into giggles. It worked like a fart in church. And it was at those moments, most of all, that one saw the agonizingly gawky adolescent nerd in Darnielle poking through what in many other ways is a confident and commanding stage presence, through the authority that he takes on through the power of his writing, the status that he (like a lot of his geeky brethren) gains with his quick wit.

And it struck me then that this juxtaposition of the clever and often profound adult mind with the adenoidal voice and the barely-held-in-check guitar style and so on, just like the mix of charisma and physical awkwardness on stage, has a lot to do with how disarmed I often am by his music of any pretence to critical distance. Because I am just too much a part of his tribe. Some of his experiences, it’s become clear in recent years, were much more extreme than mine, but they usually raise parallels (for instance, his songs about childhood abuse raise milder but still painful memories of childhood bullying). But the general personality set that comes through - hyperverbal, hyperactive, isolated but still extroverted - is awfully familiar, so much that when people in the audience the other night giggled at him, I got protective and a bit disproportionately pissed off. All of which adds up to a classic, adolescent-style fan relationship to the Mountain Goats that I seldom have for other music now.

It’s a huge pleasure. But it’s also really useful in a broad way: I was reflecting after the show that normally I listen to music somewhat through a critical framework I’ve built up over the years: Not only a set of reference points and terminology, but an ideology that maintains, for instance, that songs are by their nature as art an artificial construct, and so fantasizing about their authenticity or sincerity or autobiographical content is generally a mistake and a distraction. But when I have that teenaged feeling about an artist and their music, those thoughts start popping up - this desire to feel one’s way into the singer’s own personal thoughts and motivations, because the identification is so huge - you feel (don’t you think?) that the artist is you, but a bigger and shinier you, who’s saying what you want to say but aren’t gifted enough to articulate. As a kid I kinda felt this way about every musician I loved, no matter how outlandish the connection: As my friend Eric said when I was chatting about this idea after the show the other night, “Yes, it turned out that I wasn’t really all that much like Jimmy Sommerville.” And my love life hasn’t turned out to be very comparable to the romance of Tom Waits and Rickie Lee Jones. As an adult, I suspect that the identifications get a little more precise. Who knows? But they certainly get more rare. The twist, of course, is that I’m having these reactions to a songwriter who’s just as aware as I am of the critical problems around authenticity and autobiography, has pretty much the same opinions, and has lately been more and more deliberately fucking with them. So it’s that much easier for me to get sucked in, no coincidence. But it’s a relief to realize I still have this capacity for projection and empathy through music, because it’s such a large part of its potency - and it brings me as a critic back in touch with music listeners who aren’t quite as caught up in textual and cultural analysis and are just there, swept up in the music, feeling the love.

And there was plenty of love at the Mountain Goats show here on Tuesday. I think John was feeling it too. This tour is no doubt difficult for him, because he has to generate a very different mood to bring these songs off than the “standard” Mountain Goats show that the fans expect. When someone shouted, “Play some old songs, John,” early in the show, he responded that he liked the new songs better, so that if he played the old ones, he’d be pandering: “I’d be whoring, and I’m not a whore. I know I look like one. I’m pretty. But I’m not actually a whore.” But after a couple more quiet Get Lonely numbers, which were very well received considering that many in the audience might not even have heard the record yet, he turned to the same guy in a forgiving mood and said, “I understand how it is. You go to see Nick Cave and he’s doing everything from The Boatman’s Call and you’re like, I hate that fuckin’ record. That’s not what I want - piano ballads? So I’ll do an older one. What do you want to hear?” The guy answered, “Water Song?” and Darnielle laughed: “Not that old! I’m surprised I even know what tape that was on - no way do I remember how to play it.” So he sang Going to Cleveland.

Michael Barclay in the comments section on Zoilus last week remarked that he didn’t get the musical appeal of the Mountain Goats, asking (I’m paraphrasing) whether anybody would give a shit about them if the words weren’t so good. The answer’s probably no - Mtn Goats fans are words people, surely - but that doesn’t mean that the music’s bad. Darnielle’s been straightforward about the fact that he started making music because (along with being a huge music fan) he was writing poetry, and music seemed the best vehicle for it, since hardly anyone reads poetry and he wanted to reach people. But to make that wish come true - as obviously he’s doing - the accompanying music has to do two things: It has to serve the words by giving them an appropriate emotional setting, and have enough lilt and force to make the song memorable. Mountain Goats songs may not seem musically impressive on the surface, but audiences seem to remember the words and music with more of Darnielle’s stuff than just about any artist I’ve seen live in recent years - half the crowd’s always mouthing the words or singing along. So for a lot of us the music does what it’s supposed to do, make the poems and stories more meaningful and memorable and affecting - it fulfills the age-old bardic function. And that seems plenty. (Which doesn’t mean that it will do that for Michael, which is just a matter of taste, although I won’t get into the whole “too white” thing now except that some day I’m going to have to write a post about Funkism and the abuse of the word “uptight”). But I also think that on the recent albums, and the new one in particular, there’s more and more concern for making the music exquisite in its own right. And that was borne out by this week’s concert too.

The new material really sounded astounding. Darnielle is able to apply the same theatrical savvy to the soft and serious as he does to the loud and outrageous. And he likewise does it with exaggeration - if you think those songs are quiet on the CD, you should hear them live. They were damn near inaudible sometimes. And the quieter he got the quieter the crowd got. Cliches about pins dropping came to mind. Peter Hughes’s supple, finely calibrated bass counted for more at those moments than ever before, too. I got shivers. I welled up. In introducing Cobra Tattoo, Darnielle spoke about some of the misapprehensions of the record: “A lot of people are calling it a ‘breakup’ album. Well, I guess you could say that, but what some of the people in these songs are breaking up with is Almighty God. Or their own DNA.”

All that intensity made the cathartic release of the louder or funnier songs all the more joyous - most of all his cover of Houseguest, a darkly comic stalker anthem, “a song I didn’t write but wish I did,” originally by Darnielle’s friend and collaborator Franklin Bruno (who plays piano on several recent Mtn Goats discs) with his band Nothing Painted Blue from the 1994 album Placeholders (still available via Absolutely Kosher, apparently). Darnielle did it like a theatrical monologue, acting out the whole plot of a film-noir parody, making every line feel like a punchline. It was delightful.

A couple of other theatrical highlights came with the introduction to Dance Music, in which he explained that the record player in the boy’s bedroom in the song was actually a model rocket attached to a small turntable that came with some mini-flexidiscs (”now the collectors in the room are going, ‘I’ve gotta find some of those’ “) with recordings of the moon landing. Which forever changes how I’ll hear that song, whether it’s true or not. And then there was the full-crowd singalong to No Children, a newly minted Mountain Goats ritual that I wasn’t even daring to hope would happen, much less come off so well. (Go, Toronto!) And there was likewise a really rousing shoutalong to the “Hail Satan!” climax of Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton in the second encore - but what I’ll remember better is how he played the first half of that song with a new restraint, singing it dim and low like a tragedy, as if to imply that these characters too could have been included on Get Lonely, so that when he let rip vocally in the latter half, when the boys in the song get unfairly punished and squashed by their parents and school, with possible dark consequences (I thought of that sad messed-up fuck who went in shooting to Dawson College in Montreal last week), it sounded like what it really is, one of the finest and most on-point goddamn protest songs anybody has written this decade. Darnielle made a dedication: “This is for the young men and women I used to work with” - before the Goats became a full-time thing, Darnielle was a psychiatric nurse and worked in a group home for troubled kids - “who are now scattered to the four winds, and none of whom I will ever see again.”

He also dedicated one song to Christine Fellows, his opening act, “whose boots I don’t consider myself worthy to polish.” And then he realized that what he was about to play was a pretty grim little number: “I’ve never done that before. Great way to create an awkward moment!” Fellows’ set was really good as well, but this has been more than long enough, so I’ll have to talk about her another time. Meanwhile, here is the Mountain Goats set list as best I can remember, probably with omissions and absolutely in the incorrect order. (Much later: Proper order here.) My only real disappointment was that he didn’t play Woke Up New - I would have shouted for it, but hell, it’s the single! I kept being sure it was coming. Damn you - and bless you - John Darnielle, for never being predictable.

Design Your Own Container Garden
Wild Sage
New Monster Avenue
You or Your Memory
Get Lonely
Going to Cleveland
Dance Music
Cobra Tattoo
Game Shows Touch Our Lives
Lion’s Teeth
Moon over Goldsboro
In the Hidden Places
This Year

No Children (mass singalong)
Houseguest (cover of Franklin Bruno/Nothing Painted Blue)
(pre-encore dialogue w/ Peter. Overheard: “Do you think it’s too obvious?”)
Best Ever Death-Metal Band in Denton (lyric change: Instead of “the top three contenders after weeks of debate, were Satan’s Fingers, and The Killers, and The Hospital Bombers,” JD sang, “the top three contenders, which were later ripped off…”)

1. The Mountain Goats">8 Comments

T-Dot Thrillz, Pt. 3:
Rockin’ Rockin’ Reference Library

September 20th, 2006

After my post earlier this week on varying the forms of concerts in the interests of audience diversity, I couldn’t have wished for a better (or more deliciously nerdy!) example than indie-rock invading the public libraries.

The Toronto library system has been expanding its local-independent-music holdings, and to celebrate that fact, it’s holding two concerts in November, particularly aiming to expose the tween-and-teen crowd to new culture, I think. The first, on Sat. Nov. 4 at 8 pm will be at the North York Central Library, and is populated by the denizens of Blocks Recording Club - including not only Mr. Polaris Prize, Final Fantasy, but The Creeping Nobodies, Hank, Ninja High School and Bob Wiseman. The second, on Nov. 18 at 8 pm, is at the mudderfuggin’ Toronto Reference Library, one of the greatest places in town, and will feature Elliott Brood, Great Lake Swimmers, LAL, The Old Soul and Shad. Both great bills. Tickets are free, but must be picked up in advance sometime in October at various library branches or at Soundscapes - watch this site for details.

Mind you, they still haven’t taken it as far as some…. See these helpful tips.

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