Zoilus by Carl Wilson

Archive for October, 2008

Byrning Bright

October 30th, 2008

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Amazing time at the Songs of David Byrne & Brian Eno Toronto tour stop at Massey Hall last night. My review is up on The Globe & Mail website (bearing roughly the same headline as approximately one-third of all reviews of the tour thus far) (but at least it’s accurate) (I wonder if he thought of the “Byrne/burn” pun when he was writing the song?).

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Kafka in the Office:
‘A Cage in Search of a Bird’

October 29th, 2008

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It sounds like a piece of sketch comedy, like a fake ad for Tupac’s Greatest Voice Mail Messages or Jimi Tunes His E String!, but actually I don’t know that I’ve been more excited about any book in a long while than I am about Franz Kafka: The Office Writings: “Kafka’s most interesting professional writings, composed during his years as a high-ranking lawyer with the largest Workmen’s Accident Insurance Institute in the Czech Lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.” Yes, it’s his worksite inspection reports, memos on safety, policy recommendations and even his letters demanding a raise!

Besides the fact that there can never be enough Kafka, the fascination is because his work focuses so much on the existential-nightmare side of bureaucracy and business: Looking at these documents will be kind of like seeing a photo of the prostitute that posed for the Mona Lisa. As Stanley Corngold says in his introduction (downloadable at the Princeton site): “The specter of bureaucracy haunts Kafka day and night in every corner of his writing life.” It was both his subject and his nemesis, his “hook into the real,” and in many ways it gave his writing form, in a mutually parasitic relationship - his office work leeched on his time and energy as a writer, and yet his writing sucked blood and guts out of office life, aka the trial, aka the castle, etc.

Besides which it’s always fascinating to catch an iconic figure when they’re not being iconic. Kafka’s letters and diaries are too much part of his legend to fill that function, so in a way seeing him wearing the mask of officialdom is humanizing - not that there’s ever anything less than human about Kafka’s writing, but more in the “celebrities, they’re just like us” sense: “They pretend to care about bullshit at work - and they probably do care a little, actually.” Although we know that doubledness from Kafka’s own account, those accounts are always about how the mask felt, not how it looked. In this version, it is like we get to see Franz Kafka playing Don Draper (cf. Mad Men).

I can’t decide which I want to read first: “Petition of the Toy Producers’ Association in Katharinaberg, Erzgebirge (1912),” “Measures for Preventing Accidents from Wood-Planing Machines (1910)” or “A Public Psychiatric Hospital for German Bohemia (1916).”

November Gig Guide …

October 22nd, 2008

… is in action! Check the gig-guide page and as always please notify us of errors and omissions. So far a quiet month compared to the past few, but I’m sure that won’t last. Most notable so far perhaps are the Nov. 10 and 11 visit by Eugene Chadbourne to the Tranzac and Somewhere There, as well as The Bicycles’ new CD launch, with a million friends as always, on Nov. 8.

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Hymn to a Ballroom:
The Arkestra Meets Coleman Lemieux Dance

October 22nd, 2008

I hadn’t realized what a posh event last night’s launch of the X-Avant festival featuring the Sun Ra Arkestra and the Coleman Lemieux dance company was going to be. Among all the out-music heads I chatted with at the Palais Royale last night, it seemed like few had ever been there before; I hadn’t been to the Twenties-and-Thirties-era dance palace since its renovations six years ago, when it was a drafty, peeling-plaster shed that looked a bit like a bandshell and a bit like an aircraft hanger that had been shelled. It had a Mrs. Haversham kind of glamour.

My initial response to seeing the new Palais was to regret its fancying-up, since it does look a bit like an Event Venue now, if you know what I mean. But it was impossible not to savour the incongruity of being at an avant-garde-music event where there are ushers dressed in suits and ties; where there are black-suited bartenders doing Tom-Cruise-in-Barfly-type flip tricks with bottles of coconut rum; where there’s a roaring gas fire in a fireplace, and a table of expensive pastries for sale; where there are cocktail tables and sweeping multi-beam stage lights… It was a kind of social-science-fiction of its own, as if we were playing characters devised to set the greatest possible visual contrast to the Arkestra musicians in their shiny King-Tut-on-Saturn robes and the dancers in their headdresses, toga-dresses, modern-primative-dresses and undresses. It was especially effective at the end when dancers, band and audience were all together on the dance floor.

Musically, it was the best Arkestra concert of the three or four I’ve seen. In the past, I’ve found the group generally inconsistent, a bit of a museum piece that sometimes reaches the cosmic heights and sometimes seems a few thrusters short of liftoff; I’m not sure if there are some new members, or maybe a few of the veterans in wobbly health have retired, or maybe they were just inspired by the setting but they were super-tight and vigorous, whether they were playing Fletcher Henderson-style swing standards or swooshing and bleeping through the heliosphere. The dance component of the night was sensuous and playful, even if the choreography sometimes seemed a little loose, a bit hastily assembled - each segment had a strong central idea but not a lot of development - but never mind, as the general spirit seemed direct, simple and yet striking and faithful to the Arkestra’s antic heart.

Congratulations to Jonny Dovercourt at the Music Gallery and collaborators on “a night to remember,” as they say on the prom posters. (Hope they didn’t lose a bundle doing it.) It’s a very auspicious start to the X-Avant Festival, which continues tonight at the Drake with a tribute to Klaus Dinger, creator of the Krautrock motorik beat; tomorrow at the Gallery with a tripartite study in the art of digital dissolve, audio and visual, with Naw, Keith Fullerton Whitman and Klimek; on Friday with a show featuring a new, partially Sun Ra-inspired band from Jeremy Strachan of Feuermusik, as well as Italian bassist Stefano Scodanibbio and, in what I suspect will be an X-Avant highlight, Philadelphia’s Sonic Liberation Front. (See David Dacks’ Eye Weekly piece on the group from last week.)

There’s more through the weekend - check the Music Gallery web page for deets.

Destination: Braxtonology

October 20th, 2008

I keep neglecting to tell y’all that you should be tuning your dials right about now to Destination:Out, the jazzsite that keeps on giving, where they’ve been holding an Anthony Braxton “blogathon” throughout October. Tons of music, analysis, background stories and general science about the formidable composer and saxophonist - if you’ve ever felt daunted, as I have, by the vastness of the Braxton catalogue and its theoretical scaffolding, Jay and Drew make it easy going.

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It’s After the End of the World

October 20th, 2008

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In honour of the Sun Ra Arkestra’s appearance tomorrow night (with the Coleman Lemieux dance company) launching the Music Gallery’s X-Avant Festival, here’s a piece I wrote three years ago, last time the Marshall Allen-led big band came through town playing the compositions of their late friend & mentor.

It feels so different to re-read it at this moment, when the top of the news is Colin Powell knuckling Barack Obama’s prospects further into the spaceways, rather than a swirling sky-fist slamming down on the people of New Orleans. Tomorrow’s show at the Palais Royale should be a grand cosmic-slop celebration.

(FYI I’m going to be on a “Space is the Place” panel at 3 pm on Saturday (Oct 25) at the Music Gallery, talkin’ Sun Ra & Stockhausen with Aiyun Huang, Arnd Jurgensen and Alan Stanbridge.)

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Sun Ra’s stream of consciousness still flowing into the future

Carl Wilson
14 October 2005
The Globe and Mail

The reality of the “off-the-grid,” shunted-aside mass of the African-American underclass rarely breaks through to popular attention. It happened during the Los Angeles riots of 1992, and again after the New Orleans hurricane disaster this fall. Each time, the reaction is as if the media’s so-called observers had stumbled on a previously undiscovered planet of want in the western cosmos.

Turn that image on its head, to picture a new world of freedom and plenty for those same people, and you glimpse a strain of astro-Afro-utopianism that runs through 20th-century black movements, such as Garveyism, Rastafarianism, the militantly mystic Nation of Islam, and the music of Herman (Sonny) Blount: legal name at his death in 1993, Le Sony’r Ra; and more familiar on this astral plane as Sun Ra.

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Somethin’ On My Mind: RIP Frankie Venom

October 16th, 2008

I’ve been too swamped with other deadlines for le blogging this week although there’s been tons to post about. (If you haven’t caught the Take On Me, Literally video yet, give yourself a few minutes of happiness.)

But I wanted to drop in to share my sympathies to those who today are mourning Frank Kerr, aka Frankie Venom, of one of Canada’s original and most indefatigable punk bands, Teenage Head. My favourite tribute so far is on The Last Pogo website: Frankie Venom talked the talk and he walked the walk. He also climbed staging, hung from rafters, rolled on broken glass, danced on tables and once, at the Colonial Underground in ‘76, either fell through the shoddy wooden stage (according to some) or crawled underneath and punched his way through.

(Forget it, Jake. It’s Hammertown.)

That classic punk documentary is now finally out on DVD, by the way, and watching it would be one way to honour Frankie’s memory. There’ll also be a Last Pogo 30th-anniversary event at the scene of the original concert-crime, the Horseshoe Tavern, at the end of November.

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Nadir’s Big Chance (in Toronto)

October 14th, 2008

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I lost track of dates and overlooked telling you about tonight’s Peter Hammill show in Toronto, at 8 pm at the Phoenix. Hammill’s best known of course as the lead singer of British prog-proto-punk band Van Der Graaf Generator, in which capacity legend has it he was a prime influence on John Lydon’s vocal style - more in the PiL era than in the Pistols - throw in a tincture of Berlin-period Bowie and lyric opera, and you’ve got a fair notion. My personal favourite Hammill period was when (like fellow prog veteran Peter Gabriel) he threw his lot in with the punk/post-punk/new-wave crowd and turned out a series of chilling monologic solo records, such as Nadir’s Big Chance, A Black Box, The Future Now and Sitting Targets whose general mood is well summed up by the title, “The Institute of Mental Health, Burning.”

Revisiting some of Hammill’s stuff, I have a tad less appetite for all the drama than I did when I was 12, and his mellower, more measured and narrative writing of recent years, from what I’ve heard, gets a bit, well, English. But still, a heavyweight who continues to be as neglected as he was when Lydon was championing him, except by the more daring quarters of the prog constituency. I’m sure he’ll have more to offer than the election returns do.

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‘I ‘ope Zee Rising Black Smokes Scarrees Me Fall Away…’

October 10th, 2008

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The idea that No Children is actually a song sung between Jean Seberg and Jean-Paul Belmondo is a great interpretive twist. Completely plausible but completely counter to the “meth-lab trash” vision of the Alpha pair.

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ARTS GALA!
‘No One Dances Like Michael Ondaatje’

October 9th, 2008

I’m not sure the controversies during this election have been all that clarifying to Canadian artists about how we see our work, our role in society, the place of grant funding and our mode of relationship to the rest of the public. But Stephen Harper’s sure making an entertaining foe - matching his belief that artists spend most of their time wearing gowns and going to glitzy galas with his impulse that the great thing about a global financial meltdown is that it’s like a tag sale on stocks. It’s not that Harper’s an elitist or an anti-elitist - it’s more that society as a whole is kind of a mystery to him. (I feel kind of sad for him.)

It’s also produced quite a burst of agit-prop-making energy. As we go into the final weekend of the campaign, check out activist coalition Department of Culture’s fundraisers across the country, as well as some of the quite impressive submissions to their Gone in 30 Seconds video contest. Meanwhile, I’ve just gotten this video from young Toronto band Hooded Fang (a reference of course to classic piece of Canadian literature - tho they’re not the first musicians to drop that name). It gives Harper’s gaffe a treatment that kinda reminds me of Electric Six’s “Gay Bar” from a year, three ago. (Not that the arts are, like, gay or anything.) Ladies, gents and ordinary Canadians, let’s go to an “Arts Gala.”


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