by carl wilson

Heaven Knows I'm Miscellaneous Now

partch4.jpg
Harry Partch plays his "cloud chamber bowls" (see final item in this post).

The sight of people lined up down the block to buy copies of Grand Theft Auto IV made me wonder when the last time was that you saw such a line outside a record store. (I think it might have been for an Eminem album?) Granted, leaking means release dates don't matter anymore for music, unlike games and movies, but surely, the size of this phenomenon has to make one stop and think - video games seem a lot closer to the centre of that mythic "common conversation" in culture than music does now. And with GTA IV, it even seems that it answers that call for pop entertainment with "significance." Yet I still wonder whether gaming serves the identity-forming function that music does - is there a partisanship, are there fashions, looks, attitudes that go along with alliance to a particular kind of games? (Or does that really come only after the monoculture-making impact - is GTA IV more a kind of Beatles '65 phase?) These are random pre-framings of the questions, and your random speculations are welcome.

Speaking of identity and music, John Darnielle is blogging for Powell's about the five metal albums he might have written about for the 33 1/3 series if he hadn't chosen Black Sabbath's Master of Reality for his oughta-be-classic little young-adult novella.

In Toronto this weekend there is no shortage of diversion to be savoured, courtesy of the Over the Top music and film festival as well as the Jane's Walk sessions of collective flaneurie in honour of the late great Ms. Jacobs, with the obvious locations supplemented by strolls through the unappreciated inner suburbs and a tour of Parkdale "shortcuts and hangouts" conducted by schoolkids (the usual madness from Darren O'Donnell's Mammalian Diving Reflex).

Not to be overlooked, though, is also tomorrow night's show at the Music Gallery by the Harry Partch Ensemble from Montclair State University, the designated repository for the original instruments invented and built by the hobo-genius engineer and theorist of microtonal music - meaning this might be the one chance you get to see & hear the chromelodeon, harmonic canon, diamond marimba and other patented Partchian devices live. (They've never come to Canada before - way to go, Mr. Dovercourt et al at the MG.) For those who've never heard Partch's music - it was probably the single greatest influence (well, along with Brecht-Weill music) on Tom Waits's peak transitional music of the '80s, eg. Swordfishtrombones and Rain Dogs. Imagine the more chiming, rhythmic, marimba-percussion tunes on those albums with Waits' voice subtracted and you have a rough idea of the timbral zone of Partch's work, though of course there's much more to it. I assume we'll see Iner Souster there!

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 02 at 1:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (18)

 

COMMENTS

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Posted by Kitsanapon Hempo on May 23, 2008 5:27 AM

 

 

Thank you for good information~~*

Please comeback to visit my blog too : http://about-onlineguitarlessons.blogspot.com/

I'm sorry , If you think this is spam. but may i thank you again.

Bye

Posted by Kitsanapon Hempo on May 23, 2008 5:27 AM

 

 

I really love your blog. Just thought I'd stop lurking and actually say something! :)

You and I cover a lot of the same topics and I really enjoy hearing your perspective on things. Kudos!

If you'd ever like to collaborate on some content, I'm all ears!

Bambi Blue
[bambi(at)transcanadaradio.com]

Posted by Bambi Blue on May 7, 2008 11:34 AM

 

 

PS I'm sure the title Swordfishtrombone was also an homage to Trout Mask Replica. (Besides just being a great title from a great song.)

Posted by zoilus on May 5, 2008 6:00 PM

 

 

I'm going by things Waits has said. Obviously the exotica thing is there - he's talked about Yma Sumac in interviews - but on Swordfishtrombones his collaborator on a bunch of the arrangements is a guy named Francis Thumm, a friend who played the chromelodeum in the Harry Partch Ensemble in California. So the influence there is fairly direct. (The very word "swordfishtrombone" seems to me to nod a little in Partch's direction, too - recalling names like "mazda marimba".)

But of course there are a million other influences there - Waits says that his wife Kathleen Brennan mostly introduced him to Captain Beefheart; they met and married just a couple of years before Swordfishtrombones. But he mentions Howlin' Wolf more often. And James Brown was his first musical hero as a child.

I like a couple of things he's said about this in interviews: "I think a lot of that comes from being in New York, everything is heightened, you're looking through that into this, beyond this into that. You get picked up by a Chinese cab driver in the Jewish district, go to a Spanish restaurant where you listen to a Japanese tango band and eat Brazilian food. It's all blended. ... There's a place where Nigeria will lapse into Louisiana, there's things about music that happen spontaneously and you move into places that would otherwise have no connection. If you play a certain rhythm and move it a little, it becomes something else, move it back and it becomes a Carpathian waltz, move it further and you have a Gamelan trajectory coming in. It creates its own geography." (NME, 1985)

And this is brilliant: "You heard the Skip James comin' from the garage where your dad's makin' a footstool. And at the same time some Missy Elliott came in from upstairs down into the kitchen and someone was makin' with the pots and pans. Sometimes things just do naturally come together. You just have to know how to draw a frame around it. ... The thing about influences, most of it goes in and it melts. I mean, can you really hear Jimmie Rodgers in Howlin' Wolf? When he does that yodel, that was his failed attempt at a Jimmie Rodgers yodel. Most of the people that are really influencing you, no one would necessarily see. They've really become just stains on your undershirt. I can't sing like Harry Belafonte, but I love him. If I told you all I'm doin' is trying to sound like Harry Belafonte, you wouldn't get it. And I want to play piano just like Liberace. And dance like, I don't know, Fred Astaire and James Brown. Most of us are contraptions that we made." (Los Angeles Times, 2004)

Posted by zoilus on May 5, 2008 3:31 PM

 

 

Michaelangelo,

Thanks for the "Burundi: Musiques Traditionnelles" tip.

Good call on the Beefheart too -- others have mentioned that connection and I always forget it.

I adored Rain Dogs & Swordfishtrombones as I got to know them shortly after they came out; when I later heard Martin Denny, I thought, Hey! Same mysterioso percussion (things sounding like bongos and marimbas, even if maybe they're something else), same Latin rhythms, with surf/spy guitar on the Waits that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Denny; bird calls on the Denny that wouldn't have sounded out of place on the Waits. Obvs, the exotica vibe doesn't apply to all the songs.

Posted by john on May 5, 2008 12:25 AM

 

 

John, where do you hear Martin Denny in Tom Waits? I thought Captain Beefheart was by far the most obvious influence. Speaking of influences, you don't know the meaning of the word appropriation until you've heard Tom Waits's "Trouble's Braids" (in Swordfishtrombones) back to back with the first track on "Burundi: Musiques Traditionnelles" on Ocora (fab record).

Posted by Michelangelo on May 4, 2008 7:33 PM

 

 

Actually I quite like "flaneurism" because it reminds me of the disease "aneurysm". I picture the flâneur going for a stroll (no, wait, a "psychogeographical dérive") in his neighbourhood and suddenly busting a bloodvessel (at the sight of gentrification, perhaps?)

Posted by Michelangelo on May 4, 2008 7:06 PM

 

 

The internet presupposes the subjunctive mood.

Posted by benstimpson on May 4, 2008 5:52 PM

 

 

Ben, most pedants are aware of the subjunctive mood.

Posted by Daniel on May 4, 2008 3:45 PM

 

 

Urg, you're right, I apologize - I spelled it wrong, inserting the "u."

(As for the accent - I tend not to bother with them because they have to be separately coded in a way that's totally non-intuitive. So the French are right to hate the Internet.)

I don't think the expressway was the solution to Toronto's traffic problem - investment in public transit is my preferred answer to that. If the Go system were better, if the subway were expanded, etc., that would be a healthier approach. The rapid streetcar line on Spadina has been a success, for example.

(And compared to a lot of cities, Toronto traffic really isn't that horrible.)

Posted by zoilus on May 3, 2008 1:33 PM

 

 

No wonder the French hate the internet.

Posted by benstimpson on May 3, 2008 11:19 AM

 

 

Google "flânerie" and you'll get more hits. Because it's a real word. Incidentally, "pedant" is a word in both English and French. With regards to Jacobs, the harder argument to make might be that Spadina Avenue has proven to be a worthy cause at all, particularly since the cancellation of the Expressway has destroyed this city's potential for decent infrastructure. How can a moribund Chinatown and the everlasting gleeful righteousness of the Annex mafia be worth celebrating in the face of the city's impending traffic apocalypse?

Posted by benstimpson on May 2, 2008 11:03 PM

 

 

@Ben: "Flaneurie" is definitely an off-coinage but it's pretty normal scholarly usage - google it and you get a couple thousand hits. ("Flaneurism" seems to be the next-most-popular form.) But you're right that I was using it imprecisely - the idea was to suggest an attitude to the Jane's Walks that I think is there even though they are guided tours - an informality. I could have called it "rambling" I suppose. I'm a pretentious fuck. But then, so are you for calling Jacobs a fraud: Yeah, she didn't invent all her ideas, and some of them are open to criticism, but that doesn't mean her contributions to the continued existence of, say, Greenwich Village and Spadina Avenue - not to mention her criticisms of urban planning ideology a la Robert Moses - aren't worthwhile. Jacobs might have had some lame ideas about organicness, which meant that after urban planning was dethroned it had to be rediscovered, in an improved form (very much a work in progress). But calling her a "fraud" also reeks of credentialism, academic snobbery and lefty puritanism, imho.

Not that your iconoclastic arrogance isn't always delightful, cuz it is. But it's the privilege of the disgruntled intellectual outsider. Given the way development in most cities is going, keeping Jacobs's legacy going is a not-so-radical but necessary project. As is pointing out the ways that it differs from Richard Florida's version (which is still better than the alternative, but open to a lot deeper objection).

But if you want to mount a full defense of the fraud-claim, go ahead. I'm happy to agree that her later works weren't very helpful, but that's no big deal, because nobody paid them much attention.

Posted by zoilus on May 2, 2008 8:30 PM

 

 

It's true that there were lines for Harry Potter, of course, but since that's the only book in that category, I don't know if it seems like anything but a fluke. Genre movies, of course, *are* identity-cluster generators, as is TV, though they both seem a bit un-private at this point - hard to feel like they're "yours" as much as was the case before they went more legit. But with video games, these line-forming moments happen more often, no?

Again, these are provisional questions - I'm sure if I read up on some of the fan-sociology that's been done with gaming, I'd get more of an answer.

Posted by zoilus on May 2, 2008 7:56 PM

 

 

In a perfect world, there would be lineups for the Partch show.

Posted by Half on May 2, 2008 6:40 PM

 

 

"flaneurie" isn't a word in English or French. If it was, it wouldn't apply to to a series of organized walking tours in the name of a charlatan.

Posted by benstimpson on May 2, 2008 5:17 PM

 

 

There were huge lines for the last Harry Potter book too, and lines for days for the Star Wars movies. Was it Windows 95 or Windows 97 that created lines lines lines of people waiting to buy it first chance? (Or was that just in Seattle?) I remember thinking that there hadn't been this much hype for anything since "Sgt. Pepper."

Love love love Harry Partch, but gotta disagree on his influence on T. Waits's most interesting & happening period: yes, Waits used some of the instruments and sounds, but the biggest influence on his overall sound at that time, even more than Brecht-period Weill, was the ca. 1960 exotica of Martin Denny. The Partch instruments fit right into the exotica milieu.

Posted by john on May 2, 2008 4:06 PM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson