by carl wilson

June 30, 2005

Special K


Leading the Thursday Reading pack today, the CBC's arts site has a fine piece by Matthew McKinnon about one of the few African faces in the whole Live8 spectrum, Toronto's Somali-born K'naan, the subject of some riddik' below-radar beefing by K-Os.

Speaking of Live8, my colleague John Doyle has an impassioned Irish defence of the event and heaps scorn on the haters in today's Globe and Mail. Amen. (Sadly it's for subscribers only.)

Elsewhere, Eye has interviews with Afrika Bambaata and Ari-Up of the Slits, both playing town this weekend. My colleague Russell Smith redeems himself (sorry, by subscription only) for his jazz-know-nothing columns with some interesting stuff on electronic music and conceptual art, including a "cloud harp" that translates airborne formations into note clusters, and Alarm Will Sound's acoustic covers of Aphex Twin, in which Russell notes a double meaning of "analogue" - both as "not digital" and "analogous." But he doesn't propose much in the way of answers to his own question, "Why are so many people trying to make natural sources behave like machines and machines like humans?" except to posit a desire for "revenge on electronic music," which is mostly silly. I think it's less about revenge than about a continuing desire to explore our intimacy with the machinic.

The New York Times presents a bulletin on Marshall Allen's efforts to keep Sun Ra's legacy evergreen. And in NOW, Tim Perlich tips us off to an Electric Eels-influenced band from Portland called the Hunches, but otherwise this week's music coverage generally suxx, because Sarah Liss looks to be en vacances.

Woo! And this just in: Speaking of the Electric Eels - and therefore of the 1970s Cleveland underground - there's a treasure nugget of a piece in the anniversary issue of that town's Scene magazine that tells a story I've always wanted to hear told: The pre-Pere Ubu, pre-Rockets days of David Thomas as a writer and art director at that 'zine, under his Crocus Behemoth persona - "a bushy-haired hulk with the physique of a refrigerator and an uncanny thirst for vodka." Shapes of things to come: His first article began, "I want to tell you about my fake arms." It's like the opening lines of Navvy!

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 30 at 12:55 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


June 29, 2005

Available for Weddings, Birthday Parties, Trips to Mars

DJs! Art y'selves up with these limited edition Christian Marclay slipmats, available only from Toronto's Art Metropole! Because it's always fun to think about Christian Marclay!

Passing notes:

Zoilus sends heartfelt hurrays in the sunshiney direction of Magali Meagher (of The Phonemes) and Bob Wiseman (of Bob Wiseman), two true-true-true Toronto talents who were wed last Sunday. May you have a gay marriage.

Last chance to get in on the movement to get Anthony Braxton a really nice 60th birthday present. I believe June 30 is the final day for donations. You may remember Anthony Braxton from Zoilus entries and Overtones columns past, or his appearance on the Cosby Show.

I haven't bitched about Live8 in a while, because it's being done to such excess all over the place (mostly based on wildly overstated notions of Arcade Fire and K-Os's popularity). But I have to say: You wait until the last minute, when it's long-since sold out, to tell us Neil Young is on the bill? Oh, Canada, please shove a maple tree up it. Prediction: The mass of the talent gap between Neil and most of the other performers will produce a wrinkle in the space-time flux, through which Molson Park itself may be vacuumed into a hell dimension forever. (Yes, one even worse than Barrie.) Obviously Celine had advance warning, thus the satellite feed. Tip to organizers: Position Gordon Lightfoot at the balance point between Neil Young and all the other bands, and you may be able to avert disaster. Do not allow any Barenaked Ladies to touch Neil.

Speaking of hell dimensions - although it took a mostly misplaced Buffy comparison to do it, I'm very pleased to hear Chromewaves has seen the Veronica Mars light. But folks, if you go rushing in there in search of a BtVS revival meeting, you'll be disappointed. BtVS's strengths were in the writing, the jokes, imagery, ensemble playing and working at an overall allegorical conceptual level way out of TV's usual leagues. Veronica Mars is a much more kitchen-sink drama whose strengths are in suspense, tight plotting, wit (but not really jokes), steering clear of teen-soap cliches, an unusual frankness about the brutality of class dynamics in teenage life (and boy did BtVS suck on that front), a sophisticated father-daughter relationship, a bit of nice detective-genre gimcrackery, and most of all the performance of Kristen Bell, who carries the show by communicating an intelligence and integrity few youth actors ever manage. I bear no animosity for Sarah Michelle Gellar, at least not till overacted stridency took over in the final couple of seasons, but she never had a tenth what Bell's got. Plus: Way better music on Veronica Mars, though that's unfair competition - BtVS came up in the post-grunge hangover and sounds it, while VM is in the TV-becomes-eclectic soundtrack semi-renaissance. Still, Old 97s, the Streets, Dandy Warhols, Miriam Makeba, Ivy - they don't break too emo, unlike a lot of shows, though they did have a Postal Service Such Great Heights moment that made me think there ought to be FCC regulation of how many shows are permitted to use the same damn track by the same damn band. <-- Ahem. Tangent. In any case, Veronica Mars, for smart-teen-TV addicts like Zoilus, is your one-shop rerun stop this summer.

News | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 29 at 08:36 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Hearts Are Broken, Heads Are Turned

Owen Pallett at the Music Gallery in Toronto on June 25, in a photography by Sonia K., gently plucked from the Final Fantasy chat site.

There's been far less interwebbage than I expected about Saturday night's concert here by Final Fantasy (aka Owen Pallett) and the St. Kitts String Quartet at the Music Gallery, and so it falls to me to tell you that if you were not there, you were not anywhere. It's always been remarkable, in the past year, to witness this skinny flop-haired stiff-as-a-board shy person shuffle onto the stage, begin drawing his bow and fingers over the violin and dance his socked feet around his looper pedals and unleash all the angels and demons of the deep, his grade-school-christmas-concert voice unspooling a parallel tattered ribbon of furious demands, cryptic jokes and mournful questions. But to witness this uncanny transformation while four accomplished grownups of concert music behind him generate a whole other well of emotion with sheets of intricate and assured scores penned by the very same person... Well, and that's not even the point. The point is that Owen also sang a dozen-plus new songs intended for his second album, later this year, and that most of them are so beautiful and emotional - if much less pop-assimilable than Has a Good Home - that my jaw kept dropping so hard I'm sure it unhinged, and I kept swiveling to goggle my eyes at my friends in the pews of the lovely (and packed-out) church and make giddy-distressed gasps the way you do when you do not realize you have been holding your breath. How this is possible with songs that are literally based on the arts of divination in Dungeons & Dragons and have titles like Honour the Dead, or Else! and Many Lives --> 49 MP and Song, Song, Song, is the kind of mystery art always threatens to spring on you but too often reneges on, in which a human being just applies extreme imaginative pressure to the mundane and it turns diamond; not to mention how the songs can involve so much humour, discordance, and hoarse yelling and yet still be so full of hurt and death-haunted tenderness.

In short, despite its inbuilt rough patches, and despite my own full awareness that I've already skated outside the lines of hyperbole, this show has lodged itself stubbornly into that slate board on which the memory chalks its list of the best concerts we've ever seen. And of all the marvels that have come out of this central-Canada bloom in DIY creative song-and-sound-making activity in the past half-decade, I think Owen Pallett may be the most singular, the ace in the goddam hole. This album, if he can slow himself down and linger over the recording (as he didn't, really, quite, for the first), is going to be a special thing. (It's also going to be called He Poos Clouds, just in case you thought things were getting a little too highfalutin'.)

I was not keeping notes and so I cannot provide you with the play-by-play the event deserved (though I can mention that openers Torngat from Montreal, a trio of keys & drums & French horn, were also terrific even if their Stereolab-meets-free-improv groove occasionally cruises a little much into tuneful-minimalist-French-movie-soundtrack territory for my tastes), but it was recorded for future broadcast by the CBC's Brave New Waves, so I'll try to let you know when your chance to redeem your sorry lot comes up.

Meanwhile, two 7"s (The George Cedric Metcalf Foundation and Young Canadian Mothers) are coming out from It's A Disaster and Escape Goat records, and chances to catch Owen solo abound for the next few weeks, after which they will, he warns, become scarce for awhile. Many but not all these shows are with the charming Barmitzvah Brothers. I may see you at one or two.


Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 29 at 07:22 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


Chant'ses Are


More to come this afternoon but wanted to let you know that the final days of June have been honoured with an update in the Zoilus Toronto live guide (and July's guide is imminent), including jazz-festival picks.

Of special note is tonight's show at the New Works Studio featuring several local improvisors (Joe Sorbara, Eric Chenaux, Colin Fisher and Ken Aldcroft) with Tom Chant, a UK soprano saxophonist who is part of the Eddie Prevost Trio, the Cinematic Orchestra, the Marseille Figs and the London Improvisers Orchestra, among others, as well as collaborating with Ninja Tune types like Coldcut and DJ Vadim. My impression is that he began - like many sopranoists - as a Steve Lacy acolyte, but has moved away from such melodic (and harmolodic) walkabouts in favour of more abstract pools of sound - but as Bagatellen says, he's reputed to be the "real deal." Check out Joe Sorbara's web page for more. That's at 319 Spadina, 9 pm, $10.

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 29 at 03:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


June 28, 2005

Get Working on Your Halloween Theme Mix Tape

As the world of audioblogs becomes ever-more mindbogglingly expansive, the themed and niche-oriented variety becomes more and more welcome. Today I found one on a subject dear to my 9-year-old, monster-book-devouring heart: The Essential Ghoul's Record Shelf presents "the mostly undiscussed world of supernaturally themed novelty music."

The blogger blogs: "It is Dr. Mysterian's contention that one of the great but seldom-explored themes of popular music is the uncanny. Composers regularly write about unworldly and undead characters, including, but not limited to, ghosts, werewolves, vampires, and various space aliens." He intends to steer clear of goth and death metal takes as too obvious, and so far he's got Mae West singing about a celebrity psychic, Lavern Baker doing Voodoo Voodoo, The Shaggs with It's Halloween, Red Sovine's classic Phantom 309 (which many of us know in Tom Waits' great cover on Nighthawks at the Diner), the Coasters doing The Shadow Knows, etc. Aside from the Specials' Ghost Town, it's clearly got an oldies emphasis, but the accompanying notes and reflections are as much fun as a pair of trick handcuffs.

I'm just back from a couple of days out of town. Catching-up notes on their way.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 28 at 12:02 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


June 26, 2005

Don't Re-Shoot the Piano Player


This week's "Overtones" - a defence of "datedness," played off against a company that's found a way to recreate and re-record historic piano performances mechanically - has the cleverest headline the editors have given me all year, although actually I wasn't saying don't do it, just not to dismiss the original recordings. After all, in Zenph Studios' Disklavier renditions of Glenn Gould, does the piano hum? [...]

Don't re-shoot the piano player

The Globe and Mail
Saturday, June 25, 2005

Last week in New York, humankind began to close the gap between concert and séance. A tiny North Carolina software company demonstrated a process that lets you attend "live" performances by dead piano players.

"You will hear," said my invitation from Zenph Studios, "Glenn Gould (1932-1982) perform excerpts from Bach's Goldberg Variations just as he did in 1955; Art Tatum (1909-1956) playing Too Marvellous for Words from a live 1955 party recording; and French pianist Alfred Cortot (1877-1962) play a Chopin Prelude as he played it first in 1926. . . . Please let us know what day and time works for you."

Okay, I thought, what about Nov. 21, 1963, so I could prevent the Kennedy assassination while I was at it?

But Zenph hadn't invented a time machine. Nor would a zombie Gould be sitting at the piano. What the company's president John Q. Walker has developed is a computer program that analyzes old recordings and maps a performance's unique traits. The results are fed into a computerized player piano called a Disklavier, which then moves its keys and pedals with the force and duration used by the original musician.

Walker intends to use the Disklavier to make new recordings of music that can now only be heard from old 78s or wax cylinders. What's more, he told The New York Times, when you've analyzed enough of one musician you can generate "rules" about their style. And then your automated Gould could interpret whatever piece you wanted: "Here's Robot Glenn with Takin' Care of Business."

It's a great tool for scholarship. Art Tatum's super-speed jazz improvisations, for instance, all but defy transcription by ear.

But the worms this computerized can-opener unleashes are legion. Once this necrophiliac breakthrough is expanded to other instruments, will living musicians have to compete for concertgoers with ghostly greats? Robot Beatles reunion tours seem inevitable.

But what bothers me most is that the Zenph approach falls in with a common disdain in North American culture for the pastness of the past.

"The fundamental root of the problem is that I don't want to hear a recording," Walker told the Times. Zenph boasts that its method removes "not only noise, hiss and distortion, but even the recording equipment and the quality of the piano itself."

But the recording conditions, a particular piano, even the hiss, are part of the music's baggage, and any re-recorded re-enactment is less rich without them. Recordings are artifacts, and it's fine by me if they sound it.

The tinniness of a 1940s recording is enjoyably different than the dampness of a 1970s one, just as film stock looks different from one decade to another or the pigments of a Renaissance painting are different from a Cézanne, not just in style but because the materials changed.

When Zenph's process was reported in New Scientist magazine, excited readers wrote in saying that further elaborations of the idea could let you re-shoot The Maltese Falcon with virtual actors, according to an exact blueprint. Or repaint the Mona Lisa. But why would you?

Classic songs are often called "timeless" but that doesn't sound to me like praise, any more than "placeless" would. I like the way early Louis Armstrong records sound like 1926. It makes 1926 less abstract, to picture the crude machinery that surrounded him and his Hot Five in a jammed studio in Chicago, making milestones on limited means.

When people complain a record is dated, or often "laughably dated," they're missing half the fun. Old hits seal in wax endangered slang ("you make everything groovy") and social history ("Tin soldiers and Nixon's comin' ").

And each period has its sonic signatures, too. The big Linn drums and DX7 keyboards of 1980s ballads are as much a birthmark as the string sections of the early 1960s or the wah-wah guitar of the 1970s.

All music becomes dated eventually. In defiance of pop slogans about staying forever young, all that is new and hot becomes old and tepid.

The most innovative productions are often the first to go, because new technologies tend to dictate limited vocabularies. In recent years the presets on the Pro Tools software used to digitally edit music have left their chilly, wobbly fingerprints all over the charts (as heard on any Britney Spears single 2001 to present and any number of others).

But even simple acoustic songs will sound out-of-date in 20 years. Ultimately, as Paul Miller (aka DJ Spooky) said in a panel discussion in Toronto last week, "Software does lock you into an environment, but every artist is already locked into an environment -- their own creativity." Those limits, too, will eventually out.

Conversely, even the most outré sound can be revived. "Lounge" musicians like Martin Denny and Burt Bacharach made a comeback in the 1990s when a new generation recognized the willful audacity of their compositions, once the rock music that had made them sound like cornballs became dated in itself.

Sampling has made it easier to appreciate how these sounds form links of association, and chatter back and forth among themselves. Will today's postmodern pastiches, which tend to treat time as a more non-linear continuum, be less apt to go mouldy?

I bet the way the samples are treated and juxtaposed will betray their vintage. No doubt the Disklavier recordings will soon sound dated too.

People recoil at datedness because it calls attention to the material, to the music's construction -- technically and socially. It messes up the fantasy that music is somehow a direct, unmediated hotline to the soul. And it's an unwelcome reminder that like every trendy sound, every trendy musician dies eventually, and every listener too, with no computerized séance to bring us back.

But at a greater distance, datedness simply becomes history. No one is annoyed that Dickens novels, Bruegel paintings and Bach fugues reek of the periods when they were made. They hitchhike in from that distant country, the past, speaking its garbled dialect, yet still move us in their bizarre, out-of-date, oh-so-human ways.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, June 26 at 09:53 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


June 24, 2005

Gwo-Ka a Go Go

I've always been dismissive of the Toronto Downtown Jazz fastival as thin mainstream gruel, and usually it is, but either I'm getting softer or the festival's getting a little harder edged - this year's program is actually pretty impressive. And this afternoon's outdoor show by David Murray & the Gwo-Ka Masters stands out as one of the best free outdoor daytime concerts I've ever seen. No Hamid Drake on drums, unfortunately (I didn't recognize the replacement but he was no Hamid), but the Guadaloupe drummers and Murray himself went all-out, even on the unfortunate departure from the African rhythms into a feel-good island party tune about Bahia that broke the trance they'd been weaving in the withering heat for an hour. And listen here: Herve Sambe (at back in this pic) is your new guitar hero, alternately scratching like a turntablist, nimble fingering it like all the jazz guitar heroes and shredding like Sepultura.

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 24 at 10:03 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


Sincerely Yours, Flyswatter Freddie

Aaron. Continues. To Bait. Me.

Hfff. Okay. It goes on (and on). And so, a list:

Moves That Are Not Critically Dubious Accusations of Insincerity.

1. An artist claiming that he or she is trying to be honest, sincere or "true to myself." This can be cloying, but it is not illegitimate. In fact it is generally a positive thing. However, you do not encourage it by proclaiming in print that you can tell by the music someone is being dishonest or untrue to their self. That's just playing armchair head-shrinker. Bands are not your BFF. Reviews are not "Dude, me and my girl are concerned about you."

2. Accusing a work of art of being manipulative. Dare we suggest that you can be sincere and manipulative at once? "I wanna make people really feel what I'm feelin' - I wanna give them the drama." "Bring the strings in here, that's what will make them understand my sorrow!" These are sincere impulses. They make for bad, manipulative art. If we could replace the word "insincere" with the word "manipulative" in all the Coldplay reviews, we wouldn't be having this conversation. (Another good fill-in would be "humourless.")

3. The Humpty Dance.

Off-blog, Mr. Wherry used the Zoilus search box against me by pointing out that I have used words like honesty and sincerity in reference to music myself more than once in the past. As I told him, I should have 'fessed up to this earlier - I know I have, it's just that I've come to think better of it. Obviously we all, if we care personally about music, have these theories and feelings about the performers/writers based on their music, and as jus' folks and fans, there's nothing really wrong with that. But I've come to think it's not helpful as critical language, for all the reasons I've been yammering on about. It's too propaganda-like - you should like this because it's honest, you should hate that because it's phony. It sounds too much like some Fox News guy spitting about Democrats: "We are family and they are pod people. They're chai latte and we're red meat."

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 24 at 12:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)


Are You Feelin' Moody?


Today in The Globe and Mail, a beginner's guide to ESG - the early-80s forerunners of the dance-punk sound of today's Williamsburg, not to mention a black-woman force in a good swathe of early post-punk, house and rap. Lead singer Renee Scroggins was a delight to interview, loudmouthed and full of laughter. (Her contrarian views on sampling alone are worth a listen for us kneejerk it's-all-good types, coming from someone who's been [screwed] there - ESG's UFO is one of the most sampled tracks in hip-hop history.) The band's new incarnation makes its first-ever Toronto appearance tonight, a Prideful show tonight at Lee's Palace thanks to the remarkable Will Munro. They're not coming cheap, peeps - Will is taking a big gamble - so if you can make it, do. I hear tell they're better live than ever.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 24 at 04:43 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


June 23, 2005

Found My Baby There


Zoilus has been too swamped today to hunt up much Thursday Reading for you - I haven't cracked the weeklies except to know that if you check Now you'll find a Final Fantasy cover story as well as The Divine Miss Liss's mash note to Janet Weiss, with which she teased us earlier this week (in the Sleater-Kinney comment box below). There's also an extensive news feature questioning the wisdom of holding a huge dancehall concert on the weekend of Gay Pride. (I'm not sure. I'm also somebody who finds that hater stuff hard to take, but maybe it's the best time to hold a huge dancehall concert, so the artists and concertgoers are all out on the town and see the parade and possibly find their ideas challenged, rather than just phantasizing of phantom battymen?)

Eye's blog also notified me of the sad news of the death of eternal Toronto Yonge & Bloor busker and would-be mayor Ben Kerr.

But beyond that I can heartily recommend one big read, which is a terrific history of the traditional blues/jazz tune St. James Infirmiry, its roots in 18th-century English ballads and how it made its way into New Orleans mythography, by my old friend Rob Walker, whom you might know as the Times Magazine "Consumed" columnist. The St. James piece first appeared in his email newsletter two years ago and is now in his new book Letters from New Orleans, which author Jed Horne called "as wistful as absinthe, as funky as a muffuletta at a joint off Tchoupitoulas." Next stop, Da Capo's next year's-best-music-writing book. Gobble it up, yum.

More required reading: From Newsday last weekend, the dean of the flyboys, Greg Tate, on black shame, black rage, and the American tragedy of Michael Jackson: "It now seems Jackson's career was leading up to this trial, which was as much about his betrayal of white America's investment in his image as about his sleeping with young boys."

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 23 at 11:03 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


June 22, 2005

"In This Busy, Hectic World, Who Has Time For A Whole Album?"


Zoilus readers might recall Toronto's own Brian Joseph Davis, creator of the Theodor Adorno punk rock album, which went on from our pages to web-wide acclaim.

Now, Brian's back from his usual art and video efforts and messing plunderphonically in the boneyards of music. I was delighted to find in my mailbox this morning Brian's new CD Greatest Hit, which is, simply put, a set of six entire greatest-hits albums - by Whitney Houston, Kenny G., the Carpenters, the Police, the Rolling Stones and Metallica - each boiled down to one four-or-five-minute track, so you can take in the canons of one of these, uh, indispensible artists while wolfing down breakfast each morning and be done by the end of the week.

I can't outdo Brian's jacket copy: "Ever imagine all 22 songs of The Carpenters 1968-1983 playing simultaneously? Now you don’t have to just imagine. Whitney Houston’s The Ballads starts sharing sonic space with Sainkho Namtchylak. Every track on The Police: Greatest Hits combines for a rhythmic freakout not unlike recent Boredoms." (Also the Metallica cut isn't made from a greatest hits album but from Master of Puppets, which he says was just "their last okay album.") Brian adds that the tracks were simply multitracked, not particularly manipulated, and that he is mad pranking on it, at that: "Treating this recording as a score, Davis is attempting to copyright Greatest Hit as an original composition with the U.S. Copyright Office. $2500 fine, or copyright granted? Check back in 6-8 weeks."

The digipacks (see above) made out of recycled 70s album covers are a nice touch.

On Record | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 22 at 12:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


June 20, 2005

Are You a Corin Person or a Carrie Person?

The creators of the album of the summer, 2005: Corin Tucker, Janet Weiss and Carrie Brownstein.

I've got a review of this weekend's Sleater-Kinney show in today's Globe. It was my first time seeing them and I suspect it wasn't a standout show for them - which makes it all the more incredible. They played all but one of the songs on The Woods - which is the album that's really brought me on-board the S-K express for the first time, after years of liking them moderately - plus two from One Beat, one Dig Me Out, one Call the Doctor, one B-side and one cover. The sound at the Phoenix was great - crunchy without being stupid-loud.

For the first time I understand why this is one of those "which is your favourite Beatle" bands - I think that reaction is only provoked when there's a certain level of equality among the musicians in a group, along with enough of a character contrast to make the answer somehow revealing of the traits the chooser identifies with, to make it a bit of a personality test. ... I think I'm a Corin person who yearns to be a Carrie person. I could say more (like about the way that Modern Girl epitomizes the new album's subtlety with its chorus, "My whole life/ Was like a picture of a sunny day," which seems easily accessible on first hearing but gets repeated until you realize that it's a trick, a song about a simile about a picture of a symbol - not like an actual day but like a photo in a frame, a feeling familiar but unreachable) but I'll let you go read the review and then we'll chat.

Saturday's set list: The Fox/ Wilderness/ Turn It On/ Combat Rock/ Rollercoaster/ Modern Girl/ Sympathy/ What's Mine Is Yours/ Everything/ Light Rail Coyote/ Jumpers/ Let's Call It Love/ Night Light/ Entertain /Encore: Oh!/ I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight (Richard & Linda Thompson)/ I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone.

I also saw Emiliana Torrini on Friday night, who was utterly, utterly charming. But the sound at the El Mocambo made me have to strain to make out the words to the songs from the back of the room, which was a shame. (And the place was plastered with ads for 20hz.)

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Monday, June 20 at 03:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)


It's Got A Gouda Beat

Photo swiped from Nadia at Squiddity. Sorry it went all squiggly. I dunno why.

When a man plays cheese as a musical instrument, that event deserves to be recorded. Zoilus correspondent John Halfpenny reports on Friday night's concert in Toronto (as part of the current MOCCA drum show, "Demons Stole My Soul") by the beloved Dutch free-jazz percussionist Han Bennink, which centred on two drum kits called Cheese Kit Diptych, built with Bennink in mind by Dutch artist Walter Willems. One is actually made of waxed rounds of cheese, and the other is an artificial replica. Here's John:

"I like to see [Han Bennink] periodically. His playing with Ray Anderson, a few years ago, got me interested in playing percussion. Maybe he relies on too many crowd-pleasing gimmicks, but I always come away with something inspiring whenever I see him. From what I understand, the cheese kits were made for him by a local sculptor. I was doubly surprised. For one thing, they didn't look constructed. They just looked like big cheese wheels. The other surprise was that it wasn't Han's idea. There were two five piece kits, one filled, one hollow. Each drum was equipped with a condenser mic touching the shell at around the mid-point. He also had standard cymbal arrays on a rack.

"He started with the solid kit. To my ear, they were nicely tuned. The sound is difficult to describe. It brought to mind aspects of paper bag mixed with bare feet running on a wood floor. A very pleasing thwok. He kept the performance small, occasionally warbling the brand name of the cheese he was playing: Friiiii-co or sometimes just Cheeeeeeeeeezzzzzee. The kick kept up an insistent low thump while he went to town on the 'toms'. My buddy insisted he could smell warm cheese, but I never did.

"He started on the hollow kit with a rockshow storm that wouldn't be out of place in a stadium show before stopping abruptly and proclaiming, 'Wrong festival.' Certainly the hollow kit had a more natural driving sound, very drum-like, although with a similar warm overtone to the solids. The little gouda ball could almost have been a wood block. He didn't seem to play that kit very long before jumping over to a third kit where he basically went off on a typical Han rant. Board across two drums, playing his mouth, wooden shoes etc.

"Luckily he came back for an encore on the first kit. He ended the show by spiking his sharpened stick into the only red wheel, revealing the cheese inside. In all, he only played the cheese for maybe a half hour, but everyone seemed satisfied."

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Monday, June 20 at 02:21 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


June 19, 2005

The Unreal World (aka The New York Times Arts Section)

This quote makes me feel like I'm hallucinating, in a good way: Austin Mayor Will Wynn today in the Times, commenting on Austin's selection as the smallest city ever to shelter a season of MTV's The Real World:

"Austin, I'm told, is the largest city without a major-league sports franchise. People occasionally ask when Austin will get a team. I say: 'You know what? I hope Austin doesn't get a major sports franchise.' I want music to be our major franchise, where a family every few weeks or months spends a couple hundred bucks on live music. How perfectly does MTV play into that?"

The vision the mayor's proffering, mind, is kinda hideous in its own right - Austin as Texas-music theme park. That approach doesn't seem like it's been entirely healthy for, say, New Orleans (although in New Orleans it's historical rather than current music that is the tourist magnet, so perhaps it's not a fair comparison). But all subtleties aside, the idea of a top public official saying something not so gung-ho about sport and so giddy about an art form, promoting music as a viable alternative source of civic pride to football, feels like something out of a science-fiction novel. Anywhere but the Times they'd be profiling him as Mayor Faggyboots of Fruitville.

The same article has a Real World producer dropping hints that the show is considering Montreal as its next location - no doubt due to the Times and Spin articles about Montreal as hip-music mecca earlier this year. That news gives me an even queasier thrill - how fantastic and awful I will feel as I gobble those episodes up like Chinese poutine.

Less ambiguous pleasures in today's Sunday arts section are the cover story on MTV Desi and other planned Asian-hyphenate MTV networks, which goes on a welcome tangent about transculturalism (warning, MIA content!), and most of all the profile of my-oh-my Miranda July (pictured at post-top: performance-video artist, Kill Rock Stars scene associate and now director of an extremely promising feature film). Trivia: Her birth name turns out to be Miranda Grossinger, and while it's a bit troubling to find out a 31-year-old Jewish woman from a prosperous lefty-arts background actually deracinated her name as late as the early 1990s, you have to grant some leeway on that particular monicker. At least it wasn't Grosskisser.

And Ben Ratliff's playlist opens with a descrip of Greg Tate's Burnt Sugar that makes them sound like the house band for my old cross-genre collaboration show Tin Tin Tin: "Everyone now can tell you about electronically created mashups of two different genres. But it will still be a while until most people want to listen to live bands who are mashing it up in person." I always billed Tin Tin Tin as a live-mashup or "music-scene mashup" series. The rest of Ratliff's survey is worth reading too, with some reflections on the meeting of the visual and auditory arts that wouldn't have been out of place at yesterday's panel.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, June 19 at 09:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Who Stole the DJ?


This weekend's Overtones column in The Globe and Mail riffs off the new movie It's All Gone Pete Tong - a funhouse-mirror look back at the days when Ibiza was heaven and DJs were its deities, that mythical era, the 1990s. So what became of the non-fictional Frankie Wildes (and yeah, he's fictional, despite the producers' viral marketing campaign to plant rumours to the contrary) - and is this the beginning of, dear god, 1990s nostalgia? With contributions from Simon Reynolds - wish I could have used more of his comments. [...]

Gone the way of the DJ

The Globe & Mail
Saturday, June 18, 2005

The spike-haired DJ comes plummeting down from the rafters towards his mixing deck, wrapped in a loincloth, his eyes wide and goggling, the clubbing throng shrieking in adoration -- and his bony head circled with a crown of thorns.

That vision arrives early in It's All Gone Pete Tong by Canadian director Michael Dowse (Fubar), a mockumentary set in the fabled nightclub arcadia of Ibiza, Spain, and tracing the similarly plummeting career of a fictional British superstar DJ, Frankie Wilde.

Already tagged the Spinal Tap of rave music, it boogies giddily on the grave of the superstar-DJ era. It may seem like an obscure target. But for anyone ever seduced by that subculture, it's a stroke of sweet revenge.

Star status was repulsive to the electronic-music idealists who crowded marathon dance gatherings, legal and illegal, throughout the Western world. Personality cults were one thing ravers hated about rock: How stupefying to stand around watching some twit howl and waggle his whammy bar - to be a mere spectator! Why shouldn't the audience be performers, in a communal rhythm-trance ritual, usually in the sauna of group empathy inspired by taking ecstasy? The faceless DJ would be the anti-star, animator but not focal point.

Remember, this was during and after the Reagan-Thatcher-Mulroney era, when privatization was the panacea. Margaret Thatcher said there was no such thing as society; rave utopianism said nothing else mattered. What began as glow-stick escapism became consciously political after the British government made it illegal for groups of people to assemble in the presence of "repetitive" music, and New York city hall - apparently never having seen Footloose - revived hoary "cabaret licence" laws to crack down on dancing.

Meanwhile, DJs took advantage of long hours in the booth to explore new sonic technology. At breakneck speed they whipped up sounds (house, techno, acid, gabba, ambient, jungle, garage) and techniques that would become the DNA of pop songs on the charts today.

Gradually, though, humungous corporate clubs stamped out grassroots ones. Their cash - along with scene magazines that dopily hailed DJs as "gods" - bred the super-elite dance jocks lampooned in It's All Gone Pete Tong. (Tong is a DJ so well known in Britain that his name became rhyming slang for "wrong." He's also a consultant on the movie.)

Stars such as Tong, Paul Oakenfold, Sasha, Fatboy Slim, Junior Vasquez or even Canada's Richie Hawtin could be flown in and paid five-figure sums to spin for a couple of hours. They could do product endorsements (Dowse's Frankie Wilde wants to put out a brand of hummus) and usually dire studio recordings. Behavioural excesses often followed, which the film recreates in delirious druggy detail.

"I think it is a simple case of hubris and nemesis. [DJs] thought they were going to take over, rule the world," says Simon Reynolds, the British-born, New York-based author of the heady rave music history Generation Ecstasy.

"I always felt that the superstar DJ thing owed a lot to ecstasy -- people would be having these intense emotional experiences on the dance floor, this flood of emotion, and not knowing where to direct it, a lot of that love-energy would go to the DJs."

It's not only that such worship contradicted rave philosophy, which wished away the human appetite for idols. Few DJs had the charisma to live up to it. A crash after all those highs was inevitable, and it came when the nightclub economy imploded, especially in England, in 2002.

The A-list DJs now jet off to ginormous gigs in Argentina or Asia, but new contenders are few. Rock and hip-hop became more dance-friendly (as with the punk-disco trend) while synthesized music got more song-oriented or more experimental (as at Montreal's Mutek festival), or retreated to underground loft and basement parties.

"I think it's all to the good that the DJ bubble has burst," says Reynolds. "Back to self-organizing activity. . . . The DJs aren't stars, because the people on the floor know them, or are often aspiring DJs themselves."

And these days, who isn't? Hollywood actors dabble in it, there are DJ schools, and clubs hold audience-as-DJ events where attendees play their own CDs, tapes, iPods or MP3s. Maybe the superstar DJ was only an evolutionary detour en route to an even more egalitarian model of mixing, matching and mashing up music.

Then again, Spinal Tap, which came out in 1984, failed to rid us of bloated rock stars. And Pete Tong's piquancy has its limits. Its climax, in which Wilde reinvents himself as a deaf DJ, lags behind reality: The British have had "deaf raves" for a couple of years, giving the hard of hearing the chance to feel the bass pound. They even have deaf rappers, rhyming in sign language.

Rather than belated satire, the movie may signal alarmingly premature 1990s nostalgia - what with the current Backstreet Boys comeback and the threatened Spice Girls reunion. The mega-DJ will probably be to future conceptions of the 1990s what key parties are to the 1970s - a barely decodable freak custom from the murky past.

But instant nostalgia does suit the sample-and-recycle ethos of DJ culture. And it's better than no historical awareness at all, when politicians seem to count on social amnesia to grant them a free pass - on the reasons behind the Iraq war, say, or why Canada instituted universal health care in the first place. Right now, an extended mix of Tommy Douglas speeches would sure make me wanna shake it.

A similar spirit informs New York's Paul Miller, better known as DJ Spooky, who performs tonight at Toronto's Drake Hotel. Spooky's no superstar, not even a funky beat-master so much as a conceptual meta-DJ. He has described the DJ's art as "taking elements of our own alienated consciousness, and recombining them to create new languages from old, and in doing so to reflect the chaotic, turbulent reality we all call home."

Perhaps that's what Frankie Wilde means when (in a perfect piece of DJ-blather parody) he stammers about "forgin' it . . . wit' a lyrical smelter." But not likely.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, June 19 at 04:40 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


June 18, 2005


Spooky.jpg k-os.jpg

Just got back from a panel discussion on music and contemporary art down at the Drake related to the drum-art show at the MOCCA. (Which includes things like Han Bennink's drum kit made out of rounds of gouda cheese.) A little meandering - and too big and disparate a panel - but interesting, and maybe I'll share some notes on it later, but panelist Paul D Miller aka DJ Spooky dropped word that his performance from 8 till late tonight in the Drake's lounge and roof patio would include a guest appearance by K-Os, and I thought you might like to know. I believe tix are $10.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, June 18 at 03:29 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


June 16, 2005

Sit, Ubu, Sit


I'm gloomy to hear that UbuWeb, a truly stunning collection of texts, sounds, sights and sensations from avant-garde culture, especially poetry and sound poetry, is kaput. It's been active since 1996. An archive will be placed on line in the near future but no new content is to come. We'll have to look elsewhere for things like the score to F.T. Marinetti's DUNE from now on, not to mention that aberrant audio epic, the 365 Days Project, with its nuggets of sonic nonsense such as Mother Goose Songs for Jewish Children. This is me blowing Taps through a drainpipe in your memory, UbuWeb.

News | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 16 at 06:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


Not-So-Great White North

Everyone's abuzz about the Live8 Canada concert. Toronto, not Ottawa, and maybe in Downsview, and maybe, I'm hearing but don't quote me, free. Which would make sense, since it's about awareness and political pressure rather than fundraising. With Billy Talent, The Barenaked Ladies, Jann Arden and Our Lady Peace so far named as possible headliners, I may be raising my own awareness right up to the level of oblivious. If you thought the other countries' Live8 bills were too damn white, well, Official Canada can always do whiter!

Just as north, just as white, but much much greater: Check out the porny new Paris-Hilton-night-vision Gentleman Reg video, directed by Kevin Drew of Broken Social Scene. (You may not want to watch it at work.)

A couple of quick Thursday Reading picks from the weeklies: Tabassum Siddiqui's piece in eye (look down after the NXNE recap) is a nice slice-of-life look at the forces that shuttered the humble 360 in downtown Toronto. Stuart Berman talks to Sleater-Kinney, whom I'll be seeing and reviewing this weekend. Denise Benson discovers Dragonette, who share a marquee next week with NOW cover girls Hunter Valentine. Haven't heard either, but I'm curious. Emiliana Torrini, the Icelandic-Italian siren I plan to go see tomorrow night, is listening to the Slits (Ari Up coming to Toronto in July!), Pete Miser and Lifesavas. And Jason Richards really likes the new Mathematics and Lyrics Born albums.

My apologies for the slap-and-dash nature of this post.

News | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 16 at 02:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


June 14, 2005

So Sinsurr

The ecstasy of knowing Gwyneth Paltrow: If they could just bottle her essence, Prozac would go out of business. Or so Hua Hsu seems to think.

Here we go again. Aaron points to Hua Hsu's piece in Slate today as another case of a critic calling Coldplay insincere: "There is something suspicious about overdramatizing the terms of those emotions... But it's almost stranger for him to offer a collection of songs infected with the same low spirits as 2000. The State of Coldplay has never been stronger and Martin, with his celebrity wife and new child, has cobbled together a pretty good life. If it's not the sadness of worldly affairs that gnaw at the aching heart of Coldplay's songs—and the lyrics suggest not—it can't possibly be his own life, either. Maybe it's those bastard shareholders. Worse yet: Maybe it's nothing at all."

Arrrrgh! Aaron's saying that if all these smart critics use "sincerity," that proves there's something to it. I'm saying that the conceit of sincerity leads smart critics to say stupid things, and this is the worst case yet. How the hell does Hua Hsu know whether Chris Martin has anything to be unhappy about? Maybe Gwyneth cheats on him. Maybe he was an abused child. Maybe he's clinically depressed. (You could have written almost this same passage about Kurt Cobain at one time.) Maybe Martin's just a compassionate, sensitive person, interested in sadness more than happiness, the way many artists are. As Townes Van Zandt said, "There are only two kinds of music - the blues and zipadeedoodah." I like some zipadeedoodah, too, but I wouldn't fault Chris Martin for, like Townes, preferring the blues. (I do blame him for being not especially good at it.) The totally unwarranted presumption to know and be able to sit in judgment on the heart and soul of the human being behind the art is exactly what using sincerity as a criterion leads to, and exactly why it's not worth wiping your critical ass with.

Hua is so much stronger when he says "X&Y; is a record that defers, tragically, to the singer. Many of the songs open with a spotlighted Martin unfurling his lyrical sadness before the band even has a chance to get into a rhythm, play a note or unpack their equipment." What makes a song "overwrought," as he later calls the title track, is not that it's out of proportion to the known facts about the singer's life. It's that it's out of balance for its own internal coherence.

It all has to do with how this out-of-control celebrity culture gums up our ears. It's not that the extra-musical trappings of artists' public presence - clothes, politics, manner, use of teleprinter code - are not fair game for semiotic interpretation, but making up imaginary private lives for them should be left for slash fiction.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 14 at 01:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


June 13, 2005


Funny this never came up at EMP: Mos Def in blackface.

Helen Spitzer says: "I must meekly admit that i've had some wistful longings for the days when the Zoilus was not quite so quick or first on his block or au courant and a little less hyperlinky (and really, read more like a nice-smelling book)." I am mulling these comments over, as I would hate to be in any way unlike a musty old tome. Further thoughts from faithful readuhs? Meanwhile, sorry, more quick hyperlinkies:

A. Mos Def is playing Harbourfront in Toronto on June 23, just adding to the hot thick pressure of back-to-back can't-miss shows that pack out the rest of the month, starting with tomorrow night's Richard Youngs gig at New Works Studio. Check the show guide for details, or start your slow slide and be snails!

B. My paper from the Experience Music Project "Pop Conference" awhile back is finally here. In brief it's about "bandonyms" - solo artists who go under band pseudonyms, such as Smog, Destroyer, the Mountain Goats, Sebadoh, Bright Eyes or Palace Bros. - and how this has to do with postmodern poetry and masculine self-loathing in the fin de siecle. (Don't say I didn't warn you!) It's a rough draft, but your comments are welcome. And be sure to check out the other hot texts there!

C. Meanwhile, speaking of Destroyer - no Toronto date for the long-awaited Destroyer meets New Pornographers tour this fall, which begins in Vancouver on Sept. 23 and crawls northeastward but never reaches NYC or us. This must be corrected. The tour follows upon the August release of the Pornos' Twin Cinema which reportedly offers a more generous heaping of Bejarisms than the last NPs disc. We beseech and demand that our needs be serviced! It would also be an opportunity finally to air that Neko Case cover of No Cease Fires!, about which she hinted and teased so cruelly all those years ago.

D. Somebody I met at EMP, Franklin Bruno, offers keen listening - various soul sources, thematic cousins and curious covers related to Elvis Costello's Armed Forces, the subject of the new book FB's written, in the fine 33 1/3 series from Continuum books. (At the superstimulating Moistworks group-audio-blog.)

E. If you'd rather be yelling and hitting your space bar, go play the Yo La Tengo video game. The most pleasurable thing about it is hearing the YLT classics from their recent Prisoners of Love collection translated to bleepy Nintendo-esque soundtracks. But the plopping drops of blood creep me out.

News | Posted by zoilus on Monday, June 13 at 04:44 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


A Blow To The Three Gut


Word comes this morning that Three Gut Records, one of the primary sources of the Toronto indie rock explosion, will cease operations after the Oct. 11 release of the new Constantines record, Tournament of Hearts. Three Gut has been the home of such bands as the Cons, Royal City (the likely-defunct band that has included Aaron Riches, Jim Guthrie, Leslie Feist, Nathan Lawr and more), Jim Guthrie, Gentleman Reg, Sea Snakes, Cuff the Duke and lately Oneida. It has its origins in the unexpected genius spirit of Guelph, Ontario, and it was founded by Guthrie and the sparkly-fantastical Tyler Clark Burke, soon joined by the intrepid Lisa Moran, around and about the year 2000. The two women, who quickly assumed supervisory roles, harvested gorgeously produced and packaged sheafs of surprising and infectious music which sprouted between the orderly rows of expectation, not to mention bushels of art-rock parties and other compost mulch of community motivation. They served as inspiration and model for Arts & Crafts, Paper Bag and Blocks and all the other family-project-meets-feisty-entrepreneur labels that have bloomed here in recent years. Tyler left about a year-and-a-half ago to concentrate on her own artwork (which continues to grace 3G releases) and Lisa has carried on but understandably wants to explore other options. There will be commemorative parties and champagne toasts and tears. I just want to express my gratitude and admiration for what Three Gut's accomplished. This town (and country) would not be the same without them.

News | Posted by zoilus on Monday, June 13 at 01:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


June 11, 2005

The Disappearance of the Outside?

irwin.jpg jackson.jpg
Becoming-insider, becoming-outsider: Chusid and the deposed King of Pop.

This week's column is one I've been wanting to write for a long time, on Irwin Chusid's project around the concept of "outsider music." Thanks to Helen Spitzer [typo corrected - sorry Helen!], Chusid was in Ontario this week and I finally got to hear him speak in person, at a gig at the fantastic Ford Plant in Brantford (run by "leader of a small town" Tim Ford), opening for the Republic of Safety. I don't mean to dismiss Chusid - I think he's done a valuable thing by spreading the word on a lot of fascinating amateur artists, and he's a charming fellow, and he put out Esquivel and Raymond Scott records - but I do think his approach is problematic. Consider this piece a bit of a sequel to the sincerity-wars posts of the past couple of days.

Freak show? Sure, like the rest of pop music

The Globe & Mail
Saturday, June 11, 2005

Perhaps it was the elderly Tiny Tim gripping his ukelele for dear life with a rictus grin in the video of a punk band doing a rowdy travesty of his 1960s hit Tiptoe Through the Tulips.

Maybe it was the late Shooby Taylor in 1983, in his sole attempt at bringing his singular hyper-scat-singing-in-tongues act to Amateur Night at the Apollo in Harlem, being booed and then chased off stage by the nasty house clown called the Sandman. (You could have seen it coming when the emcee asked about his nickname, "the Human Horn," and Shooby answered with an unwitting double entendre: "That's what I do - I blow me.")

But somewhere in Irwin Chusid's lecture with video clips, "outsider music" started to seem much less black-and-white than he painted it. [...]

A longtime broadcaster on free-form New Jersey radio station WFMU, Chusid has become the chief popularizer of outsider music, a category he defines in his 2000 book Songs in the Key of Z as music "so wrong it's right."

The book and its two companion CDs include the likes of Taylor, who taped himself bleating "swoop weeeep shap bloo" ecstatically over cuts by John Coltrane, Johnny Cash or even Mozart. There's the Cherry Sisters, the lousiest act in 19th-century vaudeville, and their 1960s counterparts, shambling family band the Shaggs (whose story has been optioned for a Hollywood movie). Maverick composers Harry Partch and Robert Graettinger join sixties casualties Joe Meek, Skip Spence and Syd Barrett (the founder of Pink Floyd).

There are recluses, such as prolific mumble-and-groan rocker Jandek, and dysfunctionals such as the hulking black schizophrenic Wesley Wills (I Whupped Batman's Ass) and the violent Texan manic-depressive and gifted pop writer Daniel Johnston (who prefers singing about Casper the Friendly Ghost).

Chusid has come under a lot of fire for lumping all these characters together: Is it just a freak show? Not long ago Robert Christgau of the Village Voice called him "a tedious ideologue with a hustle." I have my qualms too. So when Chusid went on a mini-tour of southwestern Ontario this week, I headed to the plucky Ford Plant indie-rock club in Brantford, where he was speaking, to find out for myself.

What I found was a greying, soft-spoken fellow laced with contradictions. Chusid admitted he got into the area for laughs in the 1980s, poking fun at weird records on his Atrocious Music show. But in 1991, he met one of his targets, outer-space-obsessed Lucia Pamela, who sang "like an inebriated Ethel Merman." Eccentric as she was, Pamela was sweet and sincere. Chusid reconsidered his attitude, softened his show's name to Incorrect Music and started to emphasize the music's earnest emotions instead of its weirdness.

He parallels outsider musicians with outsider artists such as Henry Darger, the Chicago janitor whose epic word-and-picture saga about an army of naked prepubescent girls (often with penises) in the "Realms of the Unreal" was discovered after his death.

In the art world, the differences between naive folk artists, mentally ill outsiders and the sophisticated avant-garde are a matter of intensive debate. But like his subjects, Chusid has no feel for professional rules -- he's a raconteur at heart. As attacks on the "outsider" label pile up, he seems more inclined to abandon it than to reconcile its flaws.

Like a bad anthropologist, Chusid blithely assumes his attentions are always in his subjects' best interest. But some musicians are upset to find themselves on Chusid's compilations. Unemployed New York music teacher B. J. Snowden, who sings a clumsily catchy tune about her love for Canada's provinces on Songs in the Key of Z Vol. 1, was appalled that everyone else on the disc was so terrible.

Chusid laughs: "Even among outsider musicians there's disagreement on the value of each other's work." But hold on -- there is no "among" here. These musicians all think they're normal, and they don't see what these other weirdos have to do with them. Would you want to be told you're endearingly awful?

He's right that listeners don't come to outsider music merely to mock. It can be moving in its starkness or delightful in its unpredictability. Laughter may be a defensive recognition of how it evokes your own private madness.

But Chusid's roots in record-geek collector culture show up in his celebration of obscurity as tantamount to a moral value. His idealization of outsiders as vessels of purity in a world of phonies is demeaning to everyone: It inadvertently implies that eccentrics are enslaved by drive, never making choices, while skilled musicians are caricatured conformists.

He's hardly alone. Lots of people now assume art is either hustle or pathology. Yet I kept thinking how little divides Chusid's pantheon of loonies from the celebrities he sneers at. After all, in pop culture, there are no standardized credentials the way there are in high art (and increasingly not there either). What's inside or out changes weekly.

As the Michael Jackson trial wraps up, the deposed King of Pop seems about as heavy a bundle of damaged goods as Wesley Willis or Henry Darger - his traumatized, twisted fantasy realm just happened to inspire million-selling albums.

Think of his hit songs: Ben was about his pet rat; Thriller about horror movies; Billie Jean a paranoid ramble about a paternity suit. He might as well have sung about Batman.

Growing up, my generation thought of the obese, reclusive Graceland Elvis as if he were an outsider artist -- which is pretty much how he got started.

And today indie-rock stars such as Cat Power, notorious for her on-stage panic attacks, or Will Oldham, fixated on bodily fluids and death, seem as lumpily idiosyncratic as any itinerant ranter. (Though they may be more fortunate in birth or fashionability.)

Every artist is ultimately self-taught; every person is a self-taught human. "Outsider music" is mainly a reminder that there is no getting out of it: We all blow "me."

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, June 11 at 03:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (13)


Let's Clean Our Brushes

And now for something completely different: Here's one of the most mind-boggling-in-a-good-way ILM posts I've seen in awhile - the ridiculously complete annotated bibliography on Captain Beefheart.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, June 11 at 12:29 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


June 10, 2005

Last Nail in the Coffin of the Honesty Police

You think these girls are going to listen to your claim that Chris Martin's a cynical phony?

I can't believe I am still talking about Coldplay. But it's become a case study. I want to get this down. So I zapped last night's entry. (I realize that breaks some kind of blogging commandment but the hell with that - it was a waste of space.) Here's a better try:

The flaw of "sincere" or "honest" as a critical term is that any claim by the critic to be able to read the artist's mind should be laughed at. When we think we're hearing honesty, what we're usually hearing is precision and detail, or sometimes just raw simplicity, but none of those actually require veracity; what we identify with insincerity is bombast or pontification or sentimentality, none of which actually require heartlessness. If you want to praise a song as honest or sincere, you'll get by fine, but nobody's going to listen to a critic who accuses their favourite singer of being dishonest. You know how honest she is. Fuck that guy. What does he know? And you'll be right - I couldn't possibly know. (Neither can you, but that's academic.) (And nobody will ever know: Even if the singer later says she was insincere, she might just be covering up for her past gormlessness.)

So there is no ground to be gained on the ramparts of the sincerity wars. We'll all choose our own cherry-tree-axing idols of honesty, and for our own reasons. Honesty's overrated anyway - klansmen are being honest about their hatred for other races. Better they should pretend. In any case, I see no good option but to take it as a rule that every artist is being honest and sincere - so the stakes are real, everybody stands behind what they make and is willing to answer for it. It seems like the basic building block of civilization. That's me holding up my little lantern.

Aaron asked, "Wouldn't it be fair to say that if you found us to be cliche, crap and completely devoid of substance... you would think us... erm... insincere?" Nope. I could think you (if you were, say, Chris Martin) a boring, humourless, sluggish pratt, maybe; maybe a twit whose ego's been hyperinflated by boning a movie star; maybe a hack songwriter who can't tell redwoods of creative genius from witless twigs; but I wouldn't assume you don't even mean it. That's just rude.

Dave offers the crucial test: What could the Coldplay critic say that somebody who, say, likes but doesn't love Coldplay might actually hear? Not that they're fakers, for sure. Not even that the songs are cliched. But perhaps you'd catch their ears that Coldplay is wallowing in a pool nobody wants to be caught swimming in. "[Pareles] might have started by saying what's wrong with wanting songs that are soothing but don't go anywhere. He might have pointed out the fact that they aren't fundamentally different in function from the Yanni or Vangelis records their parents might have listened to." There's also the virtue of showing your work: "detailed, side-by-side comparisons of the Radiohead and U2 songs that Coldplay have ripped off. Had he written a diss so funny or so clever that nobody would want to be on the side of his opponents, he might have won over some converts."

Okay, enough of that now.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 10 at 05:38 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (27)


June 09, 2005

Sunburned Saturday Night


Bulletin: A "secret" appearance by a Massachusetts collective will take place late night in Toronto on Saturday, after their show elsewhere in town. The evening begins at 10:30 pm with a set by Toronto improv titans CCMC (Paul Dutton, John Oswald and Michael Snow), continues with a set by the awesome Awesome at midnight, and then the anonymous freak-folk-psych-noise collective hits the stage sometime around 1:30 a.m. (Sample the sound at the bottom of this Krudmart page or in Chuck Eddy's picks.) The tariff to enter this alternate dimension is $8, less than half the cost for their legally sanctioned appearance elsewhere, although the heaviosity of that other bill should be humbly acknowledged. Location: The Boat, 158 Augusta, Kensington Market.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 09 at 07:21 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Russell Hates Jazz (Whatever That Is)


My colleague Russell Smith in today's Globe & Mail:

"I hate jazz's saccharine breeziness, its conservative affection for jaunty ditties -- the same jaunty ditties, endlessly strung out and embroidered and doo-de-doo-doo-doo improvised ... my God, people say techno all sounds the same! Jazz means the Howard Johnson's piano bar, the lobby of Loblaws at Christmastime, it means electro-acoustic guitars and warbling organs and mellow marimbas and vibraphones, it means the smirky, bantering announcers of the seebeegoddamsee."

Russell goes on to say the only jazz he likes is Keith Jarrett, and concludes, with a dismissive aside about free jazz that proves Russell doesn't know anything about free jazz, that everything good about Keith Jarrett is due to his background in classical music.

None of this would be worth mentioning - Russell's not a music columnist but a quasi-celeb-writer columnist and is free to air his peeves - except as a demonstration of how deeply misconceptions about the very nature of jazz are becoming entrenched in the era of Krall and Norah Jones, even among people like Russell, who is fairly well informed about, say, contemporary composition and techno and even noise music. He sees no relationship between jazz - the most formally challenging and fast-advancing and ultimately modernist music of the 20th century - and any of the formal experiments he likes elsewhere in music. He happens to know about Keith Jarrett (due to various odd pop cultural accidents) but not about pianists such as Cecil Taylor or Alex von Schlippenbach or Matthew Shipp or Vijay Iyer, let alone Ornette Coleman or Peter Brotzmann or Anthony Braxton or John Zorn or Wadada Leo Smith (pictured). Russell refers to "jazz people" and their "faux-blackness," amazingly not even considering that jazz people may actually be black, but in Canada, frankly, where would be the current evidence to the contrary? You know the stuff he's talking about, I know the stuff he's talking about, and I hate it too. I just don't consider it the definition of jazz.

The jazz industry in its increasing museum mindedness, has abetted such misperceptions, and of course they've been endlessly bemoaned, debated and berated among jazz people, especially when the Ken Burns PBS Jazz series was on. But at this point I'm beginning to wonder whether our side has a prayer. Maybe we should just abandon the word jazz the way the indie kids abandoned 20hz when it was bought up by a nightclub profiteer - leave the leaky vessel of jazz for the cocktail singers to sail upon, and hoist up some new jolly roger so that regular intelligent people might actually cock an ear to the damn music rather than rule it out by reflex.

Of course I wish the Globe hadn't given Russell's ignorance on the subject such a prominent run today, but the symptom isn't the disease.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 09 at 04:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)


June 08, 2005

Better L8 Than Never

I have to confess it's terrif, it's a thrill, it's Napoleon brandy, it's Mahatma Gandhi, to have this instant Salon-a-ma-jig online. Time was when Salon was the belle of the ball of all the Internets to me and I always wanted to see myself waltzing there. All in all it's not such a bad turn, neither, and it's divine to be in the company of blogstars Stereogum and Largehearted Boy. Thank you, Mr. Bartlett.

miranda.jpg Otherwise today Zoilus feels just like this motherless frock. However, dreaming about the related movie is an analgesic for the soul. Even the trailer damn near makes me cry. Cannot wait.

Also: On Bagatellen, a comprehensive, nay, exhaustive, feature on cassette improvisation that seems a timely companion to mix-tape fever.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 08 at 05:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


June 07, 2005

No Joy In Mudville

Cinecycle photo pilfered from We Must Abuse the Broadband.

Sad news around home: Two Toronto venues went down the spout this week: The legion-hall-turned-home-of-all-ages-punk shows the 360 - which is very bad timing, as it's supposed to be a NXNE venue this weekend. Call ahead to check on any shows. (Strangely enough, I was just there for the first time in years, for the Republic of Safety set at a brain-injury benefit show on Friday.) But also, much more traumatically for me, the capital of Torontopia, Cinecycle, is shutting its doors, at least to music. C-cycle has hosted so many great shows, including the Blocks all-day marathons, as well as a Trampoline Hall or two. I don't know if it will go on housing the great Pleasure Dome film collective or not. Perhaps this will be temporary - word on Stillepost is that owner Martin apparently lost his patience after a punk show got out of hand last week. Maybe he'll rethink if we all buy him whiskey and flowers?

(Also, we hear that the Sea Snakes are breaking up. Not my favourite Toronto band, but one with many admirers hereabouts. A quiet round of Taps for you, boys.) (Later: Might be true, might be just a rumour. This is a weblog. We don't do no stinkin' factchecks.)

On a more upbeat note: Using a subtler knife, SFJ satisfyingly eviscerates the new Coldplay. So it can be done. It just can't be done tantrum-style.

Oh, and as long as you're reading things, Mrs. Zoilus has something great up on her site. If it doesn't cheer you up, you should get your cheer ducts checked.

News | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 07 at 06:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


Oh, Gr8


Zoilus was supposed to be part of this Salon feature of bloggas and snoggas critiquing the "hideously white" Live8 lineups today, but something went wrong in the editing process, so apparently my contribution will appear on Salon tomorrow. I like everybody's contributions, though the spectacle of all us armchair critics piling on the event bothers me a bit - the thing is that the agenda of Live8 is such an advance on the original Live Aid charidee model (i.e., the "drop bags of cash and food into a situation of social chaos and exacerbate the problem" model, aka the "pictures of starving children sell records" model), that I was hesitant to getting into the game of attacking a lineup clearly put together to maximize ticket sales. (But I did get sucked in, because Salon asked. After all, you'd think a couple of the UK super-strength headliners could have been sent off to the shows in other countries, making room for a little more diversity there.)

Again, I discussed the geopolitics of pop charity in a column earlier this year.

By far the chewiest response to the Live8 kerfuffle I've run across is this Mark Steyn column. For something that accuses everybody of "paternalism" it's awfully paternalistic ("here's what Africans should learn how to do"), and the suggestion that Sir Bob is punishing poor widdle western weaders "who are entirely blameless for Africa's current woes and severely constrained in their ability to do anything to alleviate them" is ridiculous - G8 leaders may not currently be responsible for egregious activities in Africa, but certainly as recently as the Cold War era, their predecessors were, and to the extent that foreign debt and restructuring are major economic issues in Africa, the powers that pull the strings at the World Bank etc. certainly have influence to wield, as well as - and this should be up Steyn's alley, shouldn't it? - in terms of what kind of trade policies to implement. (Western agricultural subsidies, for instance, are an everyday kick in the teeth to developing nations.) But still, Steyn's points about the need for civil infrastructure (instead of or along with aid) are good, and his screed about how westerners regard African music is thought-provoking - though rather than regarding it as a black-person-as-entertainer stereotype, you just might consider it giving people a chance to represent themselves publically, to be fighting for their own interests, rather than solely being spoken for and treated as objects of pity by a bunch of strangers.

Still, if there's going to be a pundits' dialogue on this subject, Steyn's at least snouting about in a field of questions more substantial than who's on the marquee. ... Too bad he then feels compelled to snort the dirt up his nose and spray it all over anyone who makes a serious effort to contribute.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, June 07 at 04:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


June 05, 2005

Ice Cold Play

Meanwhile, older-school T-dot blogboy Aaron seems upset about Jon Pareles' divebombing on Coldplay in the Times today. Full disclosure: I hate the Coldplay that I've heard so much that I haven't been able to bring myself to listen to more than a few songs. Thus I have no opinion: It always felt like a choice between subjecting myself to more, or shutting up, and I chose the latter. You can imagine the jubilation I felt when I saw that Pareles had done my dirty work for me, but I'd be more than willing to listen to an actual rebuttal, Mr. Wherry - not least because Pareles' arguments all fell into that bad rockist pocket: "insincere," "hokum," "no interest in being oblique or barbed," etc. He was on firmer ground about the cliches and obviousness of the lyrics, but that again flashes up the demerit points on the bad old rock-crit scoreboard, able to address words so much better than music. (It's not that he doesn't try: There are details about "guitar notes hinting at the cosmic fanfare of Also Sprach Zarathustra" or "organ chords [that] resonate in the spaces around Mr. Martin's voice, insisting on churchly reverence" - the problem is, without the annoyed tone, would these necessarily be Bad Things? Not to some ears.) I don't blame Pareles, so much - it's rather that the potency of the poptimist critique of rock criticism has made it supremely difficult ever to make an argument for why you don't like something. We're caught in a trap, can't get out, because we love pop too much, baby. It's enough to drive a guy back Frankfurt Schoolwards. How do I hate Coldplay? Let me not count the ways, at least not out loud, at the moment.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, June 05 at 10:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)


Here Comes the Neighbourhood

New kidz on the block: Del points me to Nowarian by Susanna Ferreira, a brand spankin' new Toronto-based blogger on hip-hop and poly-tics, who comes out of the gate giving ripe gasface to some of the lamer habits of the region that doesn't always live up to its Torontopian billing, like when it does what she calls "the Cross Your Arms and Fake Like Rigor Mortis" at shows. Sharp distinctions are drawn: "The hip hop crowd appreciates dance, and at any given show you'll find an enthusiastic crowd (mostly still wearing the screwface) gathered around the one or two b-boy/b-girl circles that invariably form. So why is it that we love to watch good dance, we know good dance, but we're so hesitant to un-cross our arms and dance ourselves?" She brings up the comparison of vanishing dialects and languages in the world, warning that if we don't start letting our backbones slide we may lose the vocabulary for it: "Body language speaks volumes for a person's comfort level and how they regard themselves, and Toronto has got some major demons to deal with." One of the best things about the post-Y2K indie-rock scene in this town, by the way, is that it's confronted that Toronto-don't-dance bogeyman as mercilessly as it can figure how. (Also, thanks for the link!)

Another reason to watch my back: Not quite as new-minted (it's been popping since April) but just as fresh is the Pop Sheep MP3 blog, which besides its eerily Zoilus-friendly tastes, provides two scoops of verbal commentary along with each track, a comforting fact for us alphabetically addicted bloggosauruses. Its massive consists of two Toronto-based contributors and one Vancouver-based one, but the content has a strong west-coast vibe, so I suspect the Torontonians are ex-Lotuslanders too. In the past week Sheep Ian has been bringing a boatload of goodies, most notably a bunch of rare, rare Destroyer traxxx - not just from We Shall Build Them a Golden Bridge, the standard-issue Bejar-fan gottit-boast object (pick hit: I, As McCarthy), but from a compilation and best of all from early cassette Ideas for Songs, now eight years young, including the prescient The Terror Serves a Purpose (how great an opening is, "That's one precipice we refuse to fall from"?). Listening to these tracks should actually help folks who checked in more recently grasp the Destroyer program better: Not much tinge of "glam" here, just a lot of Pavement/Silver Jews, some Barrett, some Dylan, a blood infection of Spanish folk music, and several wriggly ear worms courtesy of Boney M. and, um, The Fantastiks? (glamorous, sure, but not "glam").

I like Ian's remark that each Destroyer album is "a tribute to a different genre of bad music" - I'm not sure Dan would be comfortable with that notion, but it's closer than a lot of interpretations of the stylistic shifts. I think what Destroyer gains from its relation to "bad music" (aside from a genuine amateurism and thus natural relationship to non-musicianship), and from throwing a quick-change before any particular style gets too polished, is that it keeps the songs in a zone of incomplete expression, the kind of sloppy not-quite-emotionally-there-ness that lets poetry bless the human mess - "from wife to midwife/ from house to halfway house."

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, June 05 at 10:32 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


June 04, 2005

Cassette Mythos: Elegy


The thing I like most about today's column is that the imaginary mix - made only in my head as I wrote - seems totally plausible to me (though I'm not sure about the running times). I'll have to whip up a copy soon and see if it really pans out.

Visit the cassette graveyard.


Ode to the yearning, churning mix tape

The Globe & Mail
Saturday, June 4, 2005

The bell tolls for the tape. Patented in 1964, selling by the billions by the 1980s, cassettes are now down to less than 0.2 per cent of music sales. While few would sentimentalize the ugly, damnably damageable commercial tape, the homemade cassette mix is another story. Today, a mix tape in memory of mix tapes. [...]

(Side A)

1. Big Yellow Taxi (Bob Dylan, covering Joni Mitchell, 1973): "You don't know what you got till it's gone." In a fast-forward age, the lost paradise is represented by obsolete media: From typewriter to Atari game, low-tech fetish objects murmur of a clunky tactile past seemingly more solid, warmer than the intangible, digital present.

2. Hey Joni (Sonic Youth, 1988): The tape's latest doting tribute is a white slab of a book edited by indie godfather Thurston Moore of New York's Sonic Youth. Mix Tape: The Art of Cassette Culture is a scrapbook where some 50 contributors (from fellow musicians such as Mike Watt to author Mary Gaitskill to designer Kate Spade) paste in track lists, artwork and anecdotes around the totemic mixes of their lives. Like a lot of mix tapes, it's self-congratulatory, but flush with charm.

3. My Little Corner of the World (Yo La Tengo, 1997): In his book Sonata for Jukebox, essayist Geoffrey O'Brien calls the mix tape "the most widely practised American art form," a folkway that serves "as self-portrait, gesture of friendship, prescription for an ideal party, or simply as an environment consisting solely of what is most ardently loved."

4. I'm Confessin' (That I Love You) (Willie Nelson version, 1981): And I'm no exception. For years I made mix tapes to sway romances, friendships and all points between. I learned to finesse transitions: same key, new speed; same tempo, new key; startling counterpoint; found-sound bridge; chill-down; epic climax; quick comic coda.

5. I Cover the Waterfront (Billie Holiday, 1941): I would build narrative arcs, Socratic dialogues between, say, Billie Holiday and the Pixies, triggering a track with one hand while the other eased up the pause button. I'd guesstimate the seconds till the fatal transparent leader tape would end the side and fill them from a compilation I'd bought of songs under a minute each.

6. I Can't Forget (Pixies, covering Leonard Cohen, 1991): I struggled with the etiquette of recycling previously used songs for new recipients, after the title of an early relationship tape, "Once in a Lifetime," proved naive. (Fortunately.) Were the sentiments in fact the same, or was it that new feelings, fresh varieties of love, changed the meanings of the songs?

7. We Have the Technology (Pere Ubu, 1988): In any case, it seemed enchanted to manipulate magnetic tape, the very stuff of real studios, as if you were the next step after producer and engineer and mastering. Somehow, your little black plastic envoy conveyed that churning thing you meant. Track titles became inside jokes with friends. The girl on the answering machine said, softly: "I played that Richard Buckner song all night."

8. Mud (Richard Buckner, 1995): The worst follows after; the songs have said more than you realized. "Be careful where you lie down, boy/ In this bed of roses."

9. Epistrophy (Thelonious Monk, 1948): CDs and iPods can't match the Proustian pungency of the cassette - Dolby hiss, Crayola scent, brittle weight in hand, paper, marker, glue. But I wouldn't trust one to the gnashing gears of my ancient tape deck now. Would you?

10. Computer Love (Kraftwerk, 1981): File sharing, burned CDs and iPods supply the portability of tape without its frailty, so they democratize sonic mixology, beyond the fanatics' club, to casual listeners.

(Side B)

11. Mix Tape (soundtrack, Avenue Q, 2003): Tilting toward extinction since the mid-1990s, mix tapes increasingly turn up as subcultural markers in novels and movies such as Morvern Callar and High Fidelity, even an episode of Friends. Then there's this hit off-Broadway musical where slacker-puppet Kate Monster tries to decode a mix from boy-puppet Princeton: "Sometimes when someone has a crush on you/ They'll make you a mix tape to give you a clue." But why oh why has Princeton segued from My Cherie Amour to Fat-Bottomed Girls?

12. Professor Booty (Beastie Boys, 1992): Meanwhile, the commercial "mix tape" (now usually on CD), the professional hip-hop DJ mix, has become an ever-more-established promo device. "Life ain't nothin' but a good groove/ A good mix tape to put you in the right mood."

13. That's Entertainment (the Jam, 1981): Boutique shops such as Starbucks and Pottery Barn produce CDs that are "like a mix tape made for you" by celebrities such as Sheryl Crow or Moby. Bacardi liquor and Request Jeans put out their own hip-hop-style mixes. "It's an unbelievable branding tool and revenue generator," Errin Cecil-Smith, director of marketing for And 1 footwear, tells Brandweek magazine.

14. One Step Inside Doesn't Mean You Understand (the Notwist, 2002): All of which only makes music fanatics snootier. They find mix CDs inherently inferior because the process is too quick, too easy, fostering thoughtless tune-dumping. To be fair, some rite of passage, of hard-won knowledge passing from hand to hand, genuinely is lost.

15. Love Story (Randy Newman, 1968): For instance, in April The New York Times reported that the leading party favour handed out to guests at weddings in 2005 is the mix CD, generally a lame one because it is aimed at a big crowd, on a clichéd subject, not at particular ears. Said one repeat marriage-mix recipient, "It's like, who cares that In Your Eyes is their song?"

16. Cloudbusting (Kate Bush, 1985): But must knowledge be so hard to come by? MP3 trading can be a more open, fluid pastime, scouring the byways for blissful windfalls (legal or not).

17. I Am a DJ (David Bowie, 1979): "MP3 blogs" where Internet music fans post tunes and commentary daily are like a slow-motion mix, a mash note to readers (legal or not).

18. Most People Are DJs (the Hold Steady, 2004): Sites such as Art of the Mix and Tiny Mix Tapes have members share and compete with each other's mixes, on standard themes - romance, breakup, friendship, intro-to-genre-X, road-trip or party mixes - and more outlandish categories, such as songs whose "titles would make awesome T-shirt slogans," like this one.

19. Mixtape=Love (Viva Voce, 2004): The mix CD may permit laziness, but it doesn't require it. I spent as many hours on a mix CD for my wife while she was away this winter as I ever have on a tape, sifting hundreds of tracks for strands on separation and return, on time's conveyances. Her response was as tender as to any cassette. (But handwrite the track listing: Modernity has its limits.)

20. C30, C60, C90, Go! (Bow Wow Wow, 1980): Whatever the medium, the message is that people want to personalize music, as not just a consumer experience (à la iPod) but a channel from their ears to other minds. If, as this song would have it, that makes the mix "a bazooka" against the music business, so be it. As Thurston Moore puts it in his Mix Tape book: "Trying to control sharing through music is like trying to control an affair of the heart - nothing will stop it."

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, June 04 at 01:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


June 03, 2005

Jack Be Quick


Zoilus normally is not a celeb-gossip site, but I couldn't resist showing you the bum of the apparent new Mrs. Jack White. This is honestly one of the least dirty pictures of her I could find. Personally I feel more comfortable now that milkfed Renee Z., with her cowboy beau, has hied her back to the land of the wholesome from whence she came and Jack W. has returned to the realm of the Sleez.

Now that I have your attention, the Zoilus June gig guide has been updated to new heights of absurd thoroughosity. Don't forget Bobby Few tonight at the Rex, 6:30 pm - who'll join me?

Also note North by Northeast festival picks from me and Robert Everett-Green in today's Globe.

And Funtimeok has more Xiu Xiu, or more accurately Jamie Stewart with a very rare, nearly "straight" (except for the clown horn) cover of the Pixies' Gigantic from way before Xiu Xiu's time (circa 1995). Xiu Xiu plays Toronto, June 25 at the Poor Alex; I'm quite proud of my piece on Xiu Xiu from last year; also see this live Zoilus review.

News | Posted by zoilus on Friday, June 03 at 12:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


June 02, 2005



It's officially a trend. All the noise bands at Victoriaville were doing it, and now I find (via Funtimeok) the guy from Les Savy Fav doing the same thing in this arty, Lucien Freud-esque image: Singing with a microphone held in your mouth. When did this start and where will it lead, don't you get electric shocks, and what if you suddenly find yourself dying to use a fricative consonant?

(Funtimeok also has a couple of MP3s of pre-Xiu Xiu versions of Xiu Xiu songs being played by Ten in the Swear Jar, which are worth auditioning. A XitSJ compilation is apparently in the works somewhere sometime.)

News | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 02 at 10:32 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


Junebuggy Thursday Reading

Not much in the local weeklies today: NOW has its ginormous NXNE preview and a nice piece on local Jedi-in-training Shawn Hewitt, and they both dig on some Digable Planets. Dave Morris on the DigP's: "If bellbottoms came back, then why not equally bedroom-friendly hippie-hop? Fashions come and go but anything that once got people laid will live forever." This feels like an accurate new cultural maxim.

Catch of the day has gotta be Douglas Wolk's piece on the Fall in the new music issue of The Believer. (Wait, how did I miss that call for submissions? Sometimes I hate being Canadian.) The most amazing fucking thing about it has to be that there is a sidebar about "Peel's other favorite," Ivor Cutler. Somehow the concepts "sidebar" and "Ivor Cutler" seem very funny to me in juxtaposition. Also in the Believer, in what seems like a quantum advance on last year's music issue, John McMillan on smoking banana peels, something by Fat Bobby of Oneida, Carrie Brownstein interviewing Karen O and interviews with Beck, Aimee Mann, Smoosh, and others, plus shimmering moves by Hua Hsu on songs from and about the end of history (by Billy Joel, the Scorpions and Jesus Jones). And the aforementioned CD.

Where has this been all our lives: Avant Music News? I just stumbled across it an hour ago, and the first thing I find out is that grand old man of free-guitar Derek Bailey, diva of delirium Amy Denio and Dennis Palmer of the Shaking Ray Levis have put out a gospel record: "It freely juxtaposes the atonal style of Derek’s playing with Amy and Dennis’ diverging interpretations of Southern Gospel, and takes on a striking depth as a result of this convergence. The pairing of Southern Gospel and 'Old-Timey Avant Garde' partners traditional Gospel lyrics and vocal melodies with nontraditional and expressive guitar sounds and cross-rhythmic homemade heavy metal and funk samples. The effect is at once jubilant and haunting, a reminder of our own mortality and materiality and the inexhaustible presence of the spirit." (Via Chemistry Class.)

Catching up on late-May reading, here is the LA Times on the crisis of criticism. Note Dave Hickey's claim: "I do think that we're over. Being an art critic was one of those jobs like nighttime disk jockey or sewing machine repairman: It was a one- or two-generation job." Opinions?

Also check this John Zorn interview, a rare commodity, from last week.

Not music, but Steven Shaviro is posting bits of his book in progress on aesthetics on his blog (warning, Zizek content!). I'm intrigued by the model, sharing drafts in that kind of forum for comment and revision. Shaviro also seems to be heading towards some interesting ju-jitsu on the No Logo playbook. And speaking of Steves, the surprisingly much-buzzed-about Steven Berlin Johnson - the guy who says "everything bad is good for you" - gets into some interesting thumb-wars with his critics on his own blog. It's him versus the Freakonomics guys in the non-fiction sweepstakes (Malcolm Gladwell memorial division) this year.

Ann Hulbert has a fine piece in Slate on the massively different conditions facing the young Mozart and today's 12-year-old Juilliard composer "Bluejay," which admittedly just takes off and runs with Alex Ross's ideas from this blog entry last year, but runs in Hulbert's own chosen directions. (She quotes Alex; there's no subterfuge involved.)

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 02 at 10:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Knee-Deep In June (Toronto Live Guide)

Photo by Kid with Camera.

SS Cardiacs, whose great new album Fear the Love I haven't had a chance to mention, join the Gris Gris on June 9 at the Comfort Zone, one of the first shows I'm really looking forward to from Zoilus's June Toronto gig guide - which you can find on the jump. [...]

Corrections & additions welcome. Zoilus-approved shows are marked with a *star. Special picks are **double-starred. If it's not starred, it may mean I don't find it especially thrilling, or just that I don't know or am not sure enough to recommend it. Listings will be updated weekly. All info subject to change - this is a casual effort, please do call the venues. Sources include the Toronto board, Eye, Now, Greg Clow,,, Soundlist, The Whole Note, Toronto Life and ye olde email.

** Leftover Daylight presents TOM CHANT (reeds), ERIC CHENAUX/COLIN FISHER (guitar duo), ALDCROFT/CHANT/SORBARA (guitar/reeds/drums trio) => New Works Studio, 319 Spadina, 9 pm, $10
** Stones Throw w/ J ROCC, PEANUT BUTTER WOLF, MADLIB => Opera House, $22.50
* High Lonesome Wednesdays w/ CRAZY STRINGS => Silver Dollar, 10 pm, free (every Wed.)

* AMP FIDDLER, BUGGE WESSELTOFT => Phoenix, 8 pm, $30
* ASKEW & AVIS => NFB Mediatheque, 150 John St., 8 pm, $20
* HOWARD JOHNSON tuba workshop => Nathan Phillips Square, 2:30 pm
ELIANA CUEVAS TRIO => Bow & Arrow Pub, 1954 Yonge, 8 pm
RUSSELL MALONE/BENNY GREEN => Senator (June 27-30)
ROB McCONNELL TENTET => Rex (June 29-30)
EVERYTHING IRIE JAZZ ENSEMBLE => Nathan Phillips Sq., 4:30 pm
REX JAZZ JAM => Rex Hote, 12:30-4 am, $10

H2-OS w/SINCERE TRADE, BELLADONNAKILLZ, DJs HAZMAT & CYPHX => Waterfall Lounge, 326 Adelaide St. W., 10 pm, $2 ("free vegetarian Indian food until midnight")
DAVID VIRELLES QUARTET "Blue Trane Sessions" w/ guest SPARLHA SWA (nyc) => Trane Studio, 964 Bathurst (n of bloor), two sets, 9 pm, $5
Summer Serenades w/ ANDREA ENGLAND => Dundas Square, 12:30 pm, free
Sketch Arts Studio for Street Youth w/ LISA PATTERSON, YOUTH SONGWRITERS, YOUTH PLAYBACK THEATRE => Hugh's Room, $10-$12
TSO Star Wars Concert => Roy Thomson Hall, $25-$90 (also June 28)

** AFRIKA BAMBAATAA, JELO, DJ FASE, THE DUKES, more => Roxy Blu, 12 Brant St., $20 adv.
** House Party w/ NINJA HIGH SCHOOL, TRADITION, LAVA WITCH, VERY VENUTO, DJ Selective Sergery => the Riot House, 285.5 College St., 9 pm, pwyc
** G2: Canada Day Celebration w/ DAVE CLARKE, MAURO PICOTTO , MISSTRESS BARBARA, MARCO BAILEY, GREG GOW, IAN GUTHRIE, JURASSIC 5, CUT CHEMIST, A-TRAK, GROUCH, many more => Guvernment/Kool Haus, 10 pm doors, $35 adv.

** KENNY GARRETT QUARTET, JOSHUA REDMAN'S ELASTIC BAND => Nathan Phillips Square, mainstage, 8 pm, $35
* TIM POSGATE HORN BAND w/ HOWARD JOHNSON => Nathan Phillips Sq., noon, free
* THE HERBALIZER, BONOBO => Opera House, $25
* RAY BENSON & JEFF HEALEY => Healey's, $15
* BUGGE WESSELTOFT => Revival, 783 College, $20
RUSSELL MALONE/BENNY GREEN => Senator (June 27-30)
DON THOMPSON/REG SCHWAGER => Mezzetta, 681 St. Clair W., 9 pm
ROB McCONNELL TENTET => Rex (June 29-30)
DOUG RICHARDSON TRIO => Trane Studio (every Thursday), two sets, 9 pm, $7
REX JAZZ JAM w/ ROB MOSHER TRIO => Rex, 12:30-4 am, $10

* SON OF DAVE ("The One-Man-Blues-Beat-Box Machine," ex-Crash Test Dummies), Z-RAYS, LOLLIPOP PEOPLE => Drake Hotel, 11 pm, $10
HUNTER VALENTINE, JEEN O'BRIEN, DELTA => Rivoli, doors 9:30, $6
THE ILLUMINATI => Horseshoe, 11 pm, free
ADAM SOLOMON & TIKISA (afropop) => Lula Lounge, doors 7 pm, show 8:30 pm, $35 (or $50/couple)
RACHAEL SAGE => Cameron, 11 pm
WIDOW, GOAT HORN, BURN TO BLACK => El Mocambo, doors 9 pm, $8
JAMES T. COTTON (a.k.a Tadd Mullinix a.k.a. Dabrye, Detroit), CARLOS SOUFFRONT of ECTOMORPH (Detroit), ADAM MARSHALL, TASK, OCHITWA => Footwork, 425 Adelaide St West, $10
"I am Canadian" w/ DJs NANA, MAYSR, CELL DIVISION CREW, SICK SOUND SYNDROME => Stone Lounge (below Revival), 783 College St., $5 b4 midnight, $10 after, doors 10 pm
milk. & Quadrasonic present Long Weekend Jam Session w/ DJs FELIX, GANI, KID KONGA, ALVARO C., plus live performance by BARRIO LAB => Revival, 783 College St., $8 adv., "more" at door, doors 10 pm
Bruckbeat Sessions w/ ROBERT STRAUSS & ROLAND DESCHAMPS, DJs DIALECT, MURR = Embassy Bar, 223 Augusta Ave., free
YELLOW WOOD => Poor Alex, $5
ON SWITCH => Club 279
GOOD RIDDANCE => Funhaus, $13.50

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, June 02 at 02:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


June 01, 2005

Must-to-Read: Brahms, Cowbell, Scissors

DJ Wol-P and the intact if not-so-fab four (1969).

Alex Ross, on "the record effect" in this week's New Yorker, starts slow but builds to stupendousness round'bout the phrase, "like Heisenberg's mythical observer," & gets into the gritty of how recording altered classical performance as we know it today. Mark Katz and Robert Philip serve up grist, but it's what Alex does with it too: "Classical music, with its softer-edged sounds, entered the recording era at a disadvantage. The age of the cowbell had begun," and later, "Most of all, classical music in America suffered from being a reproduction itself, an immaculate copy of European tradition. We’ve been listening to the same record for a century and a half." His steely take-down is aerating that classical/notational carcass mightily.

Also, first turntablists? Stefan Wolpe, 1920, and Kurt Weill, 1927. Sorry, JC (1939). (But don't sweat it.)

Quibble: Very near the end Alex claims that "the Beatles broke up three years after they disappeared into the studio," a retirement from live performance he implies was in 1964 or 1965, but actually happened in 1966. Even then, Abbey Road came out in 1969 and Let It Be in 1970, with the group's dissolution coming at the end of that year. [Edited to correct: My bad. The piece said that the B's breakup happened 3-years-plus-a-few-months not after Gould's retirement from performance but after his 1966 essay on the subject. I misread it the other way around. So maybe there's a few months' discrepancy, but, uh, never mind.]

Anyway, Alex's point on the part live experience plays in the rude health of a band remains piquante, but I very much doubt that more touring would have kept the Beatles intact. That kind of success just makes rapid moo shu gai pan of people - Dylan broke up and there was only one of him!

Larger quibble: "Records cannot be entirely to blame, [Philip] admits: otherwise, similar patterns would surface in popular music, which, whatever its problems, has never lacked for spontaneity." A similar "feedback loop" of trying to sound like the music on other hit records operates in popular music. It's just that pop has an in-built bias in favour of novelty, having to do with a capitalist model, cycles of overthrowing elders etc., all of which are absent in the culture of notational music. In the absence of that bias, recording standards very likely would freeze pop in time, too; with that bias, recording standards become another vector along which to change.

The Writ | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 01 at 05:50 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


Sir Dark Invader Vs. The Fanglord


This is supposedly out today. CD Baby has samples and, despite all the entertaining codswallop below, they sound sharp, clear-headed and vigorous. For a couple 'a mopers.


From an interview with Sally Timms (via the "Doubters" mail list):

And as he's not here, can you shed any light on what Jon's been up to with Richard Buckner?

ST: "You don't want to know. He and Richard came round to my house weirdly enough. They set up their home studio system in my back room and I left them to it. I came back and found two very drunken men, all red and sweaty, and I have no idea what they were doing. They said they were making a record.

"They've made an EP, I think, for this bloke Howard who¹s going to put it out. He works with Bertina at Thrill Jockey. They instantly bonded when they met, and they've been off like a pair of chubby school kids doing things ever since. I think we're going to go on tour together. God help everyone.

"I'd go round to Jon's and Richard would be swanning around with a hangover at about two in the afternoon. It was like having Lord Byron living in your attic. Cos he's very romantic. He just wanders from here to there, not really living anywhere, just making music and breaking girls' hearts."

On Record | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 01 at 04:53 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


The Chosen (Bobby) Few


The June gig guide will be up shortly, but here's one preview note: As my colleague Mark Miller pointed out to me, the Rex has jazz pianist Bobby Few here in Toronto on Friday (June 3), playing at 6:30 pm. As Mark said, they don't seem to know what they've got: Few is one of the expat American jazz musicians who left the States for France in the late 60s, so he's generally more obscure in North America than he ought to be. But he's worked with (especially) Steve Lacy, Booker Ervin, Albert Ayler (with whom he grew up in Cleveland), Archie Shepp, Frank Wright and others. He'll be here with a frequent partner, ex-Parisian, now New York-based sax player Avram Fefer (an Ornette and world-music disciple who's worked for David Murray and Butch Morris), for what will no doubt be an underattended gig. Grab an early dinner and rush on down.

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, June 01 at 12:11 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson