by carl wilson

September 29, 2006

Depleted and Delighted: CopyCamp Day 1

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

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

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

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 29 at 8:38 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


T-Dot Thrillz: The Centre for Culture & Leisure

From Brian Joseph Davis and Emily Schultz:

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

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

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

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 29 at 4:27 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


September 28, 2006

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

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

Tanya Tagaq and Kinnie Starr, Lula Lounge, Monday, Sept. 25: She's very personable on stage, but I couldn't really abide Vancouver's Kinnie Starr's hippie-hop -- it's better than her faux-blues-folk, but the beats are mostly weak and the slam-poetry diction very hard to bear, in an accent that would give reams of material to critics of modern minstrelsy. Not that she fronts on the content, which is pure hemp-seed-wise-grandmother-look-at-the-trees west coast whatevs. But none of that mattered when Tanya Tagaq Gillis took the stage and began singing in three separate voices (one guttural, one breathy, one high and piercing) simultaneously, demonstrating her throat-singing techniques a capella before being joined by the jungle-informed beats of laptop-and-mixer-wielding partner DJ Michael Red (whom she playfully called her substitute for the second vocalist that would normally be involved in the traditional, social form of Inuk throatsinging, which she described as "a game of fuck-up"). It was a bravura performance, with Tagaq in a slinky dress and dramatic fur stole, dancing and exploring the space of the stage even as she explored all the levels of her vocal possibilities, mainly the sensual ones. And even Starr's guest spots as a second vocalist didn't detract from the trance. (Though I could have stood with a little less reverb, which made Tagaq's tone sound more "trance" in the generic world-music sense than necessary.) After a standing ovation, Tagaq explained that she would have to cut the encore fairly short because she was dying for a cigarette - as a still-unreformed puffer myself, I was completely flabbergasted that she can do all that with her lungs as a smoker. Just imagine if she quit!

And on the subject of trances, I've seldom been drawn as deeply into one by live music as I was at Tony Conrad's performance at the Music Gallery on Saturday, Sept. 23. He and Toronto cellist Anne Bourne were separated from the audience by a long white sheet hung from the ceiling, and backlit so that you saw them in silhouette, Conrad whirling and jiving around with his violin with the spryness of a man half his age, Bourne mostly stationary -- which was apt, since she mostly played a grounding drone while Conrad moved through a panoply of rich harmonic variations. It's the kind of show that doesn't lend itself easily to description, mainly cultivating a kind of full-body buzz of altered awareness. By the end I felt spent, but cleansed - I left thinking that if there were a weekly service that consisted only of this rite, I'd join that congregation. File under "yoga for people too lazy to do it."

The previous night at Arraymusic was the "company night"-formatted middle evening of AIMT's Interface series with Joe McPhee. The "company" included Michael Snow on piano, accordionist Tiina Kiik, trombonist Scott Thompson, drummer Jesse Stewart, bass reeds and toys from Peter Lutek, and guitarist Ken Aldcroft, who called on members of the ensemble to form smaller units (duos, trios, quartets), with McPhee getting worked the hardest, playing at least half the numbers. Highlights included the McPhee-Stewart duet, which somehow became a fully realized gospel-inflected composition that I'd be happy to have on record. (Did anyone see their duo show in Waterloo? Feel free to pitch in with a description.) The brass duet between McPhee on pocket trumpet and Thompson on trombone was equally heavenly. But overall it was just great to watch McPhee interact with this familar set of local players, and vice-versa, to hear them all stepping up their games in excitement over what he brought to the improvisations. This is the genius of the Interface series, that it forces Toronto musicians to live up to a set of standards that the cooperatively-minded local scene might not demand - playing with someone like McPhee, who has no tentativeness to his contributions, who thinks compositionally in every improv about what the underlying thread of the piece in progress might be and how its form and content might be developed for both emotional and cerebral cohesion, is the kind of experience I wish these musicians - and of course Toronto audiences - could have more often. Come back soon, Joe.

Next in this backwards travelogue through concertland, the Jandek concert the previous weekend. The space, the Zero Gravity Circus's headquarters Centre of Gravity, was magic - clearly promoter Gary Topp has been keeping this one in his back pocket for a special occasion. There were trapeze ropes overhead, gant colourful balls propped up in the corner of the stage. And on the platform, the representative from Corwood Industries himself, with double decks of Korg synthesizers set to a Lionel Richie-reminiscent strings setting, and local musicians Nick Fraser, drums, Rob Clutton, bass, and Nilan Perrera, guitar. I'm not sure if this was the first Jandek jazz set in history, but jazz-improv it certainly was.

Reportedly, the man was a bit taken aback by the sounds of the Korg when he got it going - he had intended to have them sound more like a church organ, but the setting didn't work. So that explains a little of the "smooth" sound that put off some audience members (perhaps a quarter of them walked out in the second half of the 90-minute set), although the heat and stuffiness of the room was another cause. It certainly wasn't the squalling, discordant kind of music most people associate with the Jandek name, as he played basically the same little figures - mainly just ascending and descending bits of C-major scales - over and over, so it was left to the musicians to give it variety and shape (especially Clutton, whose constant flexibility and versatility was truly put to the test). He opened with a kind of overture and finished with another instrumental, which served as a sort of coda, both weirdly stately and formal. But the lyrics and their passionate delivery went a long way to make up for it: He delivered a long interconnected story that centred on split personality, internal disturbance (many references to "the sick bed") and the city (it was all written in Toronto over the previous few days). While it was in the mode of the recent remarkable live recording The Cell, it even went beyond that - it was by far the most meta-Jandek music I've ever heard from Corwood, dramatizing the struggle for control and artistic decision between one persona and another: "Was he really me?/ We didn't want the world to know we were two/ It was our secret." And later: "I decided to make him do what I wanted/ I grew tired of the years of regret... The moment had simply arrived/ Bursting through all the blockades/ The whoosh of a torrent... I took responsibility/ He was mine..." (transcription courtesy of Seth Tisue). That last part, whether or not related to the "sickbed," certainly seems like some kind of account of the decision to step partway out from behind the mask. I was hanging on every word.

No, it wasn't all good music - though some of it was, thanks to the band's sensitivity and talent - but it was unexpectedly powerful writing. And you know, what the hell? This is Jandek music. The idea of expecting it to be "good," on whatever arbitrarily predetermined set of terms, seems crazily forgetful of all that's gone before (not to mention an annoyingly inappropriate level of consumerism). Isn't hearing a slightly new-agey Jandek improv-jazz suite actually more odd and striking than it would be just to hear the splattered guitar stuff and moaning, available on several dozen records? There decidedly is a deliberate and artful approach going on. While there may be some blind spots, there's also an awareness and manipulative intelligence I think no one would have been able to diagnose before these live occasions began to take place. He didn't look very healthy - sunken eyes, stick-thin - but there was no shortage of energy and vitality, so it's hard to add much to the churn of rumour and speculation on that, though the lyrics felt more metaphoric than literal on that level. The sickbed was more of a kafkaesque coinage to me.

To my startlement, I was granted a backstage audience with the man from Corwood, for a brief period after the show, with a few other locals. There was an implicit contract not to divulge anything (and in that spirit I didn't ask anything very probing), but I will say that he was above all a surprisingly nice guy, very sociable, alert and engaging. Oh, and he had very positive things to say about Toronto, having walked around the city a lot over the preceding few days. Getting to shake his hand was kind of a mindblowing thing - the kind of moment one never expects to happen in one's life, and then does, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

And finally, so much after the fact that it's become difficult to recall, there was the Guelph Jazz Festival earlier in the month. I only attended one evening and the daytime performances on the Saturday, but heard plenty of amazing music. The Bill Dixon/Joelle Leandre show was one of the most mixed performances I've heard in ages: Dixon barely seemed present, playing a series of sustained tones, with I think some electronic processing; his performance was monochromatic and unremarkable. As a friend said afterwards, it wasn't utterly unlike the Sainkho Namytchylak performance that caused an ill-advised intervention by organizers at Guelph in 2004. Obviously, given the ensuing controversy, they weren't about to do that again, though it also seems to me that by dint of status, they'd never have done the same to Dixon, which only makes that earlier incident seem more reprehensible. In any case, it didn't much matter this evening, because French contrabass player Leandre took full advantage of the space and filled it in with a virtuosic bass improvisation that more than made up for Dixon -- so mobile, so various, so commanding. I've been a fan for a while, but I walked away from it convinced that she's in the very top tier of improvisers in the world.

Vancouver's Hard Rubber Orchestra was neither here nor there for me - a crowd-pleasing postmodern variation on big-band music with some okay compositions and a few fine soloists, but no longer the group it was in the early 1990s, when it featured the cream of the west-coast Canadian scene. No matter, though, because it was followed by Rob Mazurek's Sao Paulo Underground, which puts the Chicago cornet-and-electronics veteran together with some extraordinary young musicians from Brazil. Though I like his sound, I often find Mazurek's post-electric-Miles stylings repetitive and predictable in their gestural language, but the addition of the Brazilian drumming and digital drama elevated him to a new level, his usual ambient atmospherics gaining in tension by being pulled and pushed around by propulsive percussion and ferocity - I could have listened to them for twice as long. I picked up the group's recent disc, which is if anything better than the live show, one of my favourite instrumental albums of the year so far. (I like what Mazurek has to say about it in this interview).

The next day, I rose unaccustomedly early to catch the trio of Paul Plimley, Hamid Drake and bassist Tommy Babin. Wow, was I glad I did. I'm not normally a huge fan of Plimley's classically languid piano style, but this set was a textbook example of great improv, all three players listening and supporting and taking off on one another's ideas with gusto, pushing each other to height after height. That's expected from Drake - is there a more consistently compelling improvising drummer in the world today? - but I imagine even the musicians themselves were surprised at what they achieved in this trio. If Plimley's smart he'll get this group into the studio. Then, on the afternoon double-bill, came a chamber-style set by Miya Masaoka, Larry Ochs and Peggy Lee, which was pretty at the time but kind of hard to recall in detail now, twinned with a very rollicking, festive set by the FAB Trio (Joe Fonda, Billy Bang & Barry Altschul). Violinist Bang, who took centrestage much of the time, grandstanded the way a musician who's earned it can, playing to the crowd a little like a rock shredder. He's a longtime personal favourite of mine among the 1970s generation of post-free-jazz players, and this was my first time seeing him in person, so I was happy to indulge him. Then I headed back to the big city, sad to miss the music to come - notably the Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier set the next morning, which I'm told was exquisite, as well as the Leandre-Drake duo Sunday afternoon, which must have been a burner. But well satisfied. (For a review of the Saturday-night mainstage sets by Steve Coleman's Five Elements and Gyorgy Szabados & Vladimir Tarasov from Eastern Europe, check out my colleague JD Considine's blog here.) On paper the Guelph schedule this year didn't seem such a grabber, but in practice there was much more to appreciate than I'd expected.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, September 28 at 5:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


September 23, 2006

InterXAvantPoetryBusFace 2 (T-Dot Thrillz 4.5)


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

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

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

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

| Posted by zoilus on Saturday, September 23 at 4:05 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


September 22, 2006

InterXAvantPoetryBusFace (T-Dot Thrillz 4)

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

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

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 22 at 5:52 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Bow Down Before the One You Serve

A gem today from Mimi Smartypants. Identify much?

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

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 22 at 2:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


State of the Blogs, Sept. 2006

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

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 22 at 6:43 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)


September 21, 2006

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

John Zorn, Stephen Colbert, Joe McPhee.

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

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

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

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

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

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, September 21 at 3:47 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)


September 20, 2006

Live Notes in the Rearview:
1. The Mountain Goats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, September 20 at 10:43 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)


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

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

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

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

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, September 20 at 5:04 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)


September 19, 2006

And zhe vinner is...

Final Fantasy, for the Polaris Music Prize. Judicial confidentiality says I can't tell you much more about how things went. But I can say, I think, that they went very, very well. And from what everyone says about the live show (which I missed, sequestered in the jury room), all the nominees came off great as well. I am speaking honestly when I say: Nothing I experienced in this process smelt of any brand of bullshit, which is remarkable for any arts award, much less one in the music industry. And the workers' co-op wins? Bizarre and beautiful.

PS: Speaking of prizes, John Zorn and Regina Carter were the musical winners today of Macarthur "genius" grants. Which seems right on target.

PPS (Post-Polaris Script): Some good postmortem analysis from The Globe and Chart, and an interview with CBC Radio 3 in which Owen claims that the feeling of winning was so alien that he could only name it by making up a word. And then proceeds to, er, make up the word "Yamaha".... So he felt like a motorcycle, or maybe an amplifier, or a piano? Owen also manages to squeeze in shout-outs to about a dozen different Blocks bands there.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, September 19 at 3:26 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (26) | TrackBack (0)


September 18, 2006

I'd Tell You About the Jandek Show
But I'm Still Thinking About It, So, First:
All-Ages Issues

Blazin' post from Spitz about the indie scene and family-friendliness, in ref. to what everyone says was a fantastic Henri Faberge & the Adorables picnic in Toronto this weekend, which was not all ages despite being an all-day show and largely outdoors. To their credit, the organizers are apologetic - the venue wasn't flexible on this point. But the broader notion that having a family shouldn't mean exile from independent culture is vital. My experience is that nearly the only people in the big cities who don't end up dropping out of the scene after having kids are fairly well-established musicians or critics. (Sometimes people show up again as their kids get older, but most people just fall out of touch with what's happening.) Not in Guelph, as Helen notes. What's it like where you are? It's an easy problem to address if we want to. It's not that all shows should be kid-friendly, not at all. There should be adult content and adult pleasure; indie kids are already too gung-ho about infantilizing themselves. But the range of events could be much wider (scroll down - more about Darren's "Ballroom Dancing" all-night children's event later this week). Unless the point of the scene is less about collective creativity than it is about opportunities to get wasted.

Speaking of age diverse, the interview in the new edition of Yeti magazine between Destroyer (Dan Bejar) and an eight-year-old fan named Joshua is fantastic. Sample:

[Joshua has asked Dan to name his favourite movie].
Destroyer. I own a copy of Lord of the Rings. I don't own a lot of movies.
Joshua. You know what? It's good, but cruel.
Destroyer. It's good, but cruel, yeah! It is good and cruel, you're right.
Joshua. Especially the first one, with, what are they called? The orcs? The orcs cut off each other's heads.
Destroyer. Yeah, the orcs tear each other apart, that's part of their problem.
Joshua. Yeah.
Destroyer. They're pretty mean to other people as well.
Joshua. What are you working on for your band?
Destroyer. Nothing! We're going to play a couple of shows -
Joshua. That sounds like fun.
Destroyer. Yeah, it could be okay. (Joshua laughs.) We'll see. (Joshua fakes laughter.) Then we're going to take a big break, be kind of lazy.
Joshua. What would you rather do, play in a band, or take a break?
Destroyer. I love taking breaks. But not if you have to be perpetually on breaks.
Joshua. It can be both type of breaks, if you want to steal someone's brakes, or if you actually do want to take breaks.
Destroyer. Yeah, I'm not sure I understand the question. Back it up.
Joshua. I did back it up.
Destroyer. Okay, I'm going to say that I'd rather play in a band than be on breaks forever.
Joshua. No, not forever - like, five hours.
Destroyer. Like, five hours? Then break, no doubt about it!
Joshua. Like, a million hours.
Destroyer. A million hours? Band.
Joshua. Infinity. (He mutters under his breath: "say music, say music.")
Destroyer. I'm going to have to say, music.
Joshua. Yes!

There's, like, 11 pages of this.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, September 18 at 12:39 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)


September 16, 2006

'Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr. Anonymous'

Jandek in Glasgow, photo by Keiko Cummings.

Zoilus on Jandek, today in The Globe and Mail.

Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Anonymous

He released dozens of albums while keeping his identity a secret. Now Jandek is coming to Toronto, along with the man writing the singer's 'fictional biography,' CARL WILSON reports

The Globe and Mail, Sept. 16, 2006

When last heard from in these parts, the reclusive Texas musician known as Jandek was busy appearing not at all in the 2003 documentary Jandek on Corwood.

It recited the classic Jandek lore: Real name, Sterling R. Smith. Location, Houston. First record released in 1978 by his mail-order company, Corwood Industries; 47 more follow (six this year alone!), often sent by the crate to unwilling radio DJs.

His lyrics? Moaned fragments with all the jaunty joie de vivre of Samuel Beckett. Music? Guitar or piano, bluesy but about as melodic as the slow crank of a medieval torture rack; usually solo, but with just enough exceptions to confuse the rule. Album art? Blurry photos, often of a redheaded male at various ages. Publicity? One-and-a-half reluctant interviews, in which he divulged nothing. Most people can't abide two minutes of Jandek, let alone 48 albums.

All of which has made him a kind of anti-superstar for a fervent knot of fans (Kurt Cobain once among them) who love to speculate on his identity, mental state and artistic intentions or lack thereof. It was hardly necessary to add that Jandek never, ever played concerts.

But in October of 2004, those verities were shaken by the appearance of a tall, gaunt "Corwood representative" at a Scottish music festival. He has performed with increasing frequency ever since -- including his first time in Canada, in Toronto tomorrow night.

It's hard to convey how thoroughly this screws up the Jandek mythos. It's the meteor hitting the dinosaurs. It's the Jandek Reformation: A man who lived like classified intelligence now takes the spotlight in a natty black suit and wide-brimmed hat. A guy who seemed allergic to humanity now jets into foreign cities and gets onstage with pickup bands of total strangers.

The accompanists are usually prominent local improvising musicians (recruited by the promoters), with whom this supposed musical primitive meshes with apparent ease. For each gig Jandek writes a new batch of lyrics, which he reads from a music stand.

The Toronto band is percussionist Nick Fraser, acoustic bassist Rob Clutton and guitarist Nilan Perera. Their only rehearsal will be to meet Jandek in the afternoon for a quick sound check and chat.

Perera admits that the initial lure was that "you're going to play with this ultimate cult figure," but the more he listened to Jandek's albums, the more sympathetic he found them. "The back-and-forth between his poetry and his instrument, whatever it may be, is very defined." (In Toronto, Jandek will play a pair of Korg synthesizers instead of his usual guitar, as he did in a recent New York show.) "His way of playing is in the vein of free jazz, in that it's following and commenting from one line to another."

Fraser extends the parallel: "When you're used to experimenting, you wonder about this idea of 'outsider' art. Look at [free-jazz pioneer] Ornette Coleman! People thought he was nuts, and maybe they're right, but it doesn't matter."

"I suspect," says Perera, "that Jandek's found out what improvisers can do -- that there are these other people who are willing to play out of time and by feel. Like any good artist, if his work starts to get rote, he's going to find another way."

Danen Jobe agrees: "He's found a way to make it fresh, and that's great." Jobe has special insight into the mood at Corwood these days, as he has been in close written contact about a project that demonstrates the devotion Jandek can spark.

A young author and university teacher in rural Arkansas, Jobe has just published the first book in a planned fiction trilogy that uses Jandek's songs "to create what seemed to me could be the life of the person that released these albums and made this music." He is giving readings in conjunction with the Toronto show and at Jandek's next stop, Chicago.

Named after the first Jandek song Jobe ever heard, Niagra Blues (sic), the tale uses only scraps of the facts about Sterling Smith, whose name never appears. Instead, Jobe supplies Jandek with a childhood in the Ozarks and a long affinity with the Delta blues. Jandek has approved and serves as musical consultant by correspondence -- Jobe sends him notes and "sometimes I get something back," mostly corrections on lyrics or technical details.

In one memorable case, Jobe sent Jandek a list of possible blues influences, including Blind Lemon Jefferson. "He wrote back and said no, not him, but Blind Willie Johnson. I put it on and could see what he meant. Like a lot of those guys, Jandek moves from gospel to total psychotic stuff. Listen to Charley Patton, or Tommy Johnson talking about drinking Sterno. Except those guys were serious."

Not, Jobe adds, that Jandek is kidding -- you don't put out 48 albums on a lark -- but he has "a hell of a sense of humour, a sly sense of sarcasm, and as you get familiar with the music, you can tell."

Later volumes will imagine Jandek into Texas and the present day. "I'm interested in identity, the things that define you. . . . It starts with your childhood and extends through your interests, and down the line you find you've become the peculiar person you are, whether it's Harry Houdini [the subject of another project] or Jandek.

"I'm not doing his biography," he's careful to specify. "It's this character, Jandek, that he's created, and I'm just creating another place for that person to be."

Jobe thinks Smith is more conscious of constructing a character than observers presume. "He put out his first album and expected people to dig it, to take it seriously, but no one did. So when he released the second one, that's when he became Mr. Anonymous. And he definitely cultivated the mystique, though never at the expense of putting out the music he wanted."

Adds Perera, "The mythology is amazing: that Jandek is an employee of Corwood Industries, but at the same time is its product -- to give yourself that many separations and divisions. . . . And to maintain anonymity, that lack of visual identity in North American culture -- that never happens."

But with the success of the documentary, this strategy may have gotten Jandek as far as it can. "So the mystique is changing," says Jobe. "He doesn't talk onstage, but I think it's because so much emphasis would be put on whatever he said -- even if it was 'Hello, Cleveland!' -- that no one would pay attention to the music. Without a word, Jandek really does command the stage, by looks and gestures, the way Miles Davis used to do."

The crazy, tuneless Texas cracker being compared to the coolest icon of New York jazz? As Jandek once said, "A little intrigue goes a long way." The gap between outsider and insider may be just a matter of a decade or three.

Jandek plays tomorrow at 7 p.m. at The Centre of Gravity, 1300 Gerrard St. E., Toronto (888-222-6608). Danen Jobe reads at Circus Books and Music, 253 Gerrard St. E., Monday, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m., free.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, September 16 at 1:10 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Polarised! It's (Not?) All About the Music, Man


Two dialogues: First, re: my Mountain Goats article (intro'd in my last post), there's a just fan-fucking-tastic panel in the current issue of metal mag Decibel called Hipster Metal: True or False?, in which frontgoat John Darnielle along with critic Joe Gross, Decibel writer Kory Grow and metal label guys Keith Abrahamsson and Brian Slagel chew over what to make of indie types glomming onto the Southern Lord bands or Mastodon (who played in Toronto this week with plenty indie types in enthusiastic attendance). It shows once again how much more revealingly the "big issues" can be handled when you begin from a highly specific focus: Darnielle's demolition of the "hipster" label, among other moments, is required reading whether you give a fig about metal or not. (The discussion of the "literary" nature of Mastodon provides a counterpoint to Michael Barclay's anti-Goats comments today, but I hope to respond more to Michael at least by the time of Tuesday's Mtn Goats show in Toronto.) One concrete outcome: I plan to start wearing a lot more suits and ties to hip-hop and metal shows, and maybe everywhere.

And second, in anticipation of this Monday's Polaris Music Prize, yesterday's Eye had a fine discussion with the above hilarious cover image of Owen (Final Fantasy) Pallett and Rollie (Cadence Weapon) Pemberton rumbling in some sort of finalists' virtual-reality holding pen. As one of the 10 final-round judges, I'm chuffed for tense debates and nervous about compromise, especially with such a large panel. I'd be only too happy to see the Eye-cover showdown realized, but it's not gonna happen. I hearby pledge not to be swayed by Eye's survey of how the prizewinners will use their $20-thou, though it's amusing to note how much the suggestion of the scenesters-that-scenesters-love-to-hate, Metric, parallels what Saint Torontopia Jonny (Dovercourt) Bunce proposed in the Coach House uTOpia book last year: A "green" recording studio. (Though Jonny was promoting a "green" venue/studio/community centre instead, which may be a telling difference.)

The Polaris organization, btw, has mandated us to consider the albums solely on their merits qua albums, as recorded artifacts, not "overratedness" or "underratedness", the career positions or prospects of the artists, who "needs" the prize or doesn't, nor presumably any societal "extra-musical" concerns such as genre or race/class/gender etc. I assume this is a reaction to criticisms of erratic judging in the Mercury Prize in the UK, on which the Polaris is modelled. But it's a hallucination. These criteria will be in play but will be rationalized into other terms -- subsumed as ideology into a pose and lexicon of critical "objectivity," and arguably thereby made more ideological still. It's not realistic about the way people listen to and evaluate music, or even can: Listening is always an outcome of an entire history of listening, social values and commitments, perceived zeitgeist and other biases. And it's richer and more fun that way. I will play by the rules of the Polaris game, but I'm pretty sure the experience is just going to confirm that hypothesis (mind you, in ways that might not be as illuminating without the artificial boundaries!). Which is fine: They've just started this thing, and it's a great thing, but there's gonna be a learning curve.

Coincidentally I had a similar exchange this week with the editors of a Major American Music Magazine (M.A.M.M.). In the course of some unexpectedly fraught editing tussles, they told me that they explicitly strive for reviews not to refer to other press and other external reference points. In part that's just the normal stuff of mainstream media, which want to avoid an "insider" tone in relation to a mass audience, and I'm down with that. But M.A.M.M. consciously does this to contrast with "the blogs" - they don't want a conversation, a series of links, but for each review to be as self-contained as reasonably possible - in order to say yay or nay whether a record is "good." In other words their method is nearby ye olde New Criticism - to read the text as autotelic, and in its artistic manoeuvres, stripping out biographical, historical and intertextual levels. It was a startling stance from this particular M.A.M.M., which in its feature pages seems to fairly revel in the gossipy, performative, iconic elements of pop. But close reading (irony intended) of the reviews section - which is full of great writers - reveals that they do try to stick to that brief. Again the exercise is a healthy switch and stretch from other writing, where my interest is often to be as "contexty" as a piece will bear. I can even see its usefulness precisely in a M.A.M.M. where gossipy and performative and iconic aspects tend to predominate. But it's a fiction, and not one I anticipated running into in 2006, much less twice in a week. It says a lot about professional mindsets and the distances between critical discourses that I'll be absorbing for a spell.

To give just one counterexample, I was interviewed for an academic project today about "experimental music" in Toronto, and the conversation was about nothing but context - scenes, venues, series, audiences, interconnections, how music is framed by language and gesture. These are my preoccupations, but even I was taken aback a bit, asking at the end, "Should we talk about music 'in itself' at all?" and hearing, "Nah, I don't think that's necessary."

(For way more about context in art and criticism, check out this post and the ensuing comments on poet/professor Ron Silliman's indispensable blog.)

Which has everything to do with Jandek. More tomorrow.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, September 16 at 12:33 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (10)


September 15, 2006

Getting Lonely?

Richard Buckner, photographed live by the improbably named Randy Bacon.

Apologies for my blog truancy this week, especially to those who'd wanted to hear my report from the Guelph jazz fest. The logistics of the multi-track career thing can sometimes go haywire. But some of the results become visible today and in the next few: First of all, there is my Mountain Goats article today in The Globe and Mail. The piece clarifies some of the points I tried to make in an aborted Zoilus post last week on the new album, Get Lonely, albeit more (perhaps too) drily, for newsprint consumption. One idea that didn't make it into the piece: Beyond the subject-matter and artistic-evolution reasons for the subdued vocal tone on Get Lonely, I wonder if Darnielle might (even subconsciously) be backing away from his yelpy vocal style because it's no longer very unique - it's what all the kids are doing, at their burning arcades and their promenades of wolves and their handclapping yeah-saying parties? So rather than trying to yell overtop of those with fresher pinker young lungs, the comparative veteran chooses to undercut them with a whisper. Maybe it's rude to say so but I think Darnielle has a good showman's instinct along with his keen artistic sense, and getting away from yelping seems like a wise pack-breaking strategy at this point. (By the way, I've got an essay coming up later this fall in EnRoute about what to make of those yelpy little buggers.)

Also today I was supposed to have a review in the paper of the new Richard Buckner album, Meadow, in advance of his show tomorrow night at the Horseshoe in Toronto (with Eric Bachmann). For some reason it did not run. This is a shame, because I think it's the strongest outing from him - a songwriter I hold in very very high esteem, right up there with the likes of John Darnielle - in a very long time. So, if you're interested, you can preview it on the jump.

Also, tomorrow keep an eye on The Globe - or on this site - for my feature about the fabled oracle of Houston, none other than Jandek, whose first-ever Canadian concert takes place in Toronto on Sunday.

(Merge Records)
★ ★ ★ ☆

Some eight records along, Richard Buckner is no longer the nearly unbeatable pick he seemed to be in the late 1990s for most-powerful American singer-songwriter of his generation. After three classic, visceral albums, he grew into a more abstract style that gave up vivid subject matter for writerly adjectival compounds, and distinct melodies for explorations of the curlicue paces he could run his guitars and baritone pipes through. But on Meadow, producer JD Foster thrusts the words and the voice back up in front of rocket-propelled rock arrangments, and suddenly even Buckner's most impressionistic portraits of loss and leaving sound once again like stories you can't ignore, phrase after unparsable phrase pounding another spike into the casket of overlooked insights: What will you miss when things are fine? ... It's just too far the way we are.... - Carl Wilson

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 15 at 1:52 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


September 11, 2006

Speaking of...

Noel Ellis at the Jamaica-to-Toronto show in July.

... of both copyright and "outsiders," there's now a sequel to the notorious and wonderful (and much remixed/reenacted) "Numa Numa Dance" video by the original performer, Gary Brolsma. It's presented pretty blatantly as a commercial gesture, and the song is no patch on the original, though Brolsma still has his charms. Rather than wax elegaic or defensive on this, Zoilus eagerly awaits comment from Douglas Wolk, author of the definitive Numa Numa exegesis.

... of sequels, there's a new entry in the Toronto-reggae/soul-history reissue series from Light in the Attic, to follow the Wayne McGhie and Jamaica to Toronto discs. This one is slightly later than the others, recorded in 1979 here in town by Studio One star Noel Ellis. You can hear some of it on the label's page, including a full MP3 of Rocking Universally, which they claim is the source material for The Clash's Armageddon Armagideon Time - but wait, wasn't Willie Williams' Armageddon Armagideon Time the source? We're back to intellectual property again... (Speaking of which, there's a lot worth reading on music and copyright in the current issue of Wired, including interviews with Beck and with Nettwerk Music's Terry McBride.)

... of Torontopia, I highly recommend innerested internauts go read Adrian Blackwell's essay on "the gentrification of gentrification" from Fuse magazine (which by the looks of recent back issues, has plenty of other relevant material too). Blackwell's article makes me wonder if the dream of city-as-imaginative-playground in some ways serves an agenda quite contrary to the one many participants in the arts and music scenes would like to think - actually helping to occlude the realities of city-as-city. There are counterarguments (the way that Torontopian musicians have gotten involved in the Public Space Committee and City Idol, for instance) but it's a criticism to be taken seriously. (Thanks to TSCI for the pointer.)

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, September 11 at 5:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


They'll Put a Spell on You
(Or Is It the Other Way 'Round?)

Roky Erickson in the film You're Gonna Miss Me.

Later today I'll post some notes from the shows I saw this weekend at the Guelph Jazz Festival. But in the meanwhile...

In the past on Zoilus, there's been a fair bit of debate about the fraught category of "Outsider Music", and the issues it raises, of exploitation, creativity-vs-madness, transgression and social control.

Well, there's a wave of Great Outsider(ish) Legends of Art'n'Rock sweeping over central Canada this fall. Besides the Jandek show next weekend, about which much more in the coming week, Texas's Roky Erickson, of the 13th Floor Elevators and many great solo albums and subject of true tales and apocrypha and a documentary regarding his struggle with mental illness, has been confirmed to play Pop Montreal on Oct. 6 (where I'll be live-blogging, by the way, as well as appearing on an Oct. 5 panel at the parallel Future of Music Coalition Summit.) (Another, rather similar panel the next day features among others Frank Chromewaves and Matthew Fluxblog, who coincidentally discusses "outsider music" in his post from Friday). Gary Wilson, who was a no-show at the Electric Eclectics fest in Ontario this summer, is skedded to play Pop Montreal the same day. Meanwhile in Toronto we've got Arthur Brown, the "god of hellfire," of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown fame, performing at the Lula Lounge on Oct 15-16. The next day, underground-film titan and Aleister Crowley magick acolyte Kenneth Anger appears live to introduce a retrospective of his own films and a new documentary about him, Anger Me, at the Bloor Cinema. (Whatever you want to say about the "outsider art" category, it sure does attract filmmakers - there's the Jandek movie, the Daniel Johnston film, the Erickson one, the constantly postponed Shaggs feature film, the Benjamin Smoke movie, Irwin Chusid's videos, etc. etc. ... Also I recently saw Junebug, a film I liked a lot, which made very subtly critical use of an "outsider" art-scene subplot.)

Meanwhile, in Toronto, there are several recent and upcoming developments involving "outsider artists" in the visual field: First, there's the project of "street furniture" designed by psychiatric survivors, as well as the related juried Outsider Art exhibition opening Sept. 30 at the Gladstone, both sponsored by Parkdale Activity & Recreation Centre (PARC). Then there's the buzz around "Joseph Wagenbach," whose house full of "outsider art" (a la Henry Darger) at 105 Robinson Street has reportedly been attracting arts-scene personalities and an official archivist's attention - but might not be exactly what it seems... (shades of that other sort-of-"outsider" figure, DJ Cyber-Rap.)

And finally there's street artist Les King, a familiar figure on the West Queen West strip, who was the object of some controversy last year. A loose collective of individuals, myself included, has been assembled by local writer/musician Ryan Kamstra to come up with some strategies to assist Les with facing the coming winter, and also to generate some conversation around the stubborn puzzles of homelessness, charity and the links between the cultural and physical "outside."

Let the liberation/voyeurism/predation/introspection begin.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, September 11 at 2:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


September 7, 2006

CopyCamp! (or, T-Dot Thrillz 2)

Mark Hosler of Negativland, one of the participants at the upcoming CopyCamp in Toronto.

Copyright law. Pretty dry subject, eh?

On his latest album, Bob Dylan presents a song, Rollin' and Tumblin', which many critics have noted is very much akin to an old blues song called Rollin' and Tumblin', popularized most by Muddy Waters - but is credited as "by Bob Dylan." Dylan has always swallowed old blues and folk songs whole and coughed them up new, but how do you draw the line between love and theft?

Tanya Tagaq Gillis (appearing this weekend at the Guelph Jazz fest, by the way) takes the Inuit communal practice of throat-singing - traditionally a women's recreational pastime, as much a sport as an art, and never performed solo - and writes modern songs with it. Then she is sampled by Bjork, who makes her own songs out of Tagaq's. Not everyone in Tagaq's community is pleased: What happens when collective culture and individual creativity conflict?

As one-half of Crazy hitmakers Gnarls Barkley, DJ Danger Mouse - formerly mashup-world darling - issues his music on major labels and thus becomes part of their copyright regime, which goes around threatening to sue people who make mashups of Gnarls Barkley. Meanwhile, Banksy sneaks into record stores and plants parody versions of Paris Hilton albums - with a full album remix by Danger Mouse - into the shelves in place of the original.

Rupert Murdoch announces that MySpace is transforming itself into a record label - and that the millions of songs already on MySpace would be the building blocks. What kind of deals will these MySpace bands be getting compared to conventional music contracts - which are already famously horrible - and is there really any way anyone's making money out of this? (Or out of any kind of creative career in the age of instaneous digital reproduction aka piracy, for that matter?)

In the art world, a fight breaks out over whether artists should be paid a royalty when images of their work appear in gallery catalogues, or a secondary fee when the people who bought their paintings resell them at auction - even if it severely cripples the secondary art market.

And Pere Ubu lets fans record and make videos of their live shows for personal use - but when those fans post that video to YouTube, David Thomas demands the videos be taken down.

That's just a few random examples of the ways in which copyright and intellectual-property issues affect creators and fans across every art form. This fall, the federal government is undertaking a review of copyright law in Canada, and given the ideology of the Harper cabinet, it seems likely that as in so many other areas, the Conservatives will end up trying to drag this country into line with the American copyright system - a system shaped by lobbyists who, as Lawrence Lessig says, distort the entire domain of intellectual property in order to prevent Mickey Mouse from ever passing out of the Disney company's control. In fact, I'd say intellectual property issues are, in the digital age, the single sharpest lens through which to talk about the nature and future of art (and capitalism).

In that context (and many others I haven't even nudged), one of the most intriguing events of the year could well be CopyCamp, an "unconference" taking place at the end of this month in Toronto. The gathering, which will be hosted by Misha Glouberman (host of Trampoline Hall and close Zoilus associate) at the Ryerson student centre Sept. 28-30, brings together artists of both the traditional and the appropriative kinds, as well as activists, lawyers, open-source software heads and GNU/Linux fanatics, indie-rock cooperatives, industry suits and government bureaucrats - people whose interests, though inextricably entangled, often prevent them from gathering in the same room - unless it's a courtroom. The schedule of activities will be set and guided by the participants themselves on the spot, and structured in ways that allow everybody to contribute from their own expertise, rather than the usual conference thing of having overly long droning papers, panel discussions that go nowhere, and frustratingly short Q&As.; Even if you're not as compelled by intellectual property issues as I think you ought to be, the model (also known as "open space" conferencing) might be useful to experience for your own organizing purposes.

There's been some misunderstanding about the pricing of the event - it's officially a hefty $700 per person, which is very contrary to the tradition of "BarCamp" and other tech-head conferences that CopyCamp is drawing on, which attempt to be as cheap and accessible as possible. But the idea is that people who are attending as corporate or government functionaries pay that much so that the event can subsidize artists, activists and others (me included) to attend for free, and also fly in some guests so that the scope of the conversation can reach well beyond Toronto.

Higher-profile guests will include Mark Hosler of Negativland, the California experimental-music group that was famously driven to the brink of extinction by lawsuits after they used the letter U and the numeral 2 for the name of a single, and went on to become prominent thinkers on copyright and advocates of fair use. Hopefully we'll get to see some exchanges between Mark and John Oswald, the Canadian composer who preceded Negativland in the art-versus-copyright wars. There's also Mike Linksvayer of Creative Commons, Ottawa law-and-technology expert Michael Geist and Canadian artists such as Richard Fung and dub poet Lillian Allen, among many others.

If you want to come and can't afford the $700, there's still a (very) short time left to apply for a subsidized place in the proceedings. Failing that, some of the people who were upset about the fee structure have talked about holding a parallel, free "CopyCatCamp" during CopyCamp, in a public space - though that remains unconfirmed. And one way or another, I'll be doing some blogging live from CopyCamp, so you can follow some of the proceedings right here on Zoilus.

PS: To anyone visiting from the CopyCamp site - they've got an odd link up that doesn't allow you to see the comments on this post. Try this one instead.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, September 07 at 3:37 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (27)


September 6, 2006

T-dot Thrillz Epi. 1: Uncle Tungsten Strikes Back

Fairy-tale setting: In the shadow of Casa Loma.

There's a bunch of fine new projects happening in town this month, some musical and others less so, of which Zoilus will aid you to avail yourselves in this tackily named series, T-Dot Thrillz.

Today we begin with the first-ever edition of the Tungsten Arts & Letters Society Outdoor Word & Music Adventure, which takes place this evening at 6:30 pm at the foot of the Baldwin Steps, "just down the hill from historic Casa Loma." It's organized by Eye Weekly's City Editor, Edward Keenan, a friend of Zoilus who, among many other things, wrote the essay on Wavelength and Trampoline Hall and other local cultural developments in the Coach House uTOpia book. It features readings by Joel McConvey and Kathryn Borel on the theme of "fairy tales" (apropos for a reading in the shadow of a would-be castle), and a "house band" featuring T.O. music-scene figures Matt Collins (Ninja High School, Robocopp, etc.), Jonny Dovercourt (Republic of Safety, Wavelength), Jeff Wright (We Had Wild Adventures, Wavelength), Sasha Chapin (Wednesday Night Playaz) and Laura Barrett (Laura Barrett). Plus lemonade.

Ed explains: "The 'Adventure' part, for me, really involves finding out what happens if you strip the bar and the mics and the door people and walls and all the other trappings of the kinds of parties I attend regularly and just try to do something in a beautiful or interesting place."

On the issue of starting an outdoor series in autumn, with a Canadian winter (if that still exists) swiftly en route, he says: "I'm going to do at least four - every second week - and then see how the mood is. I may break for the winter, or I may go once a month in the winter and have hot chocolate instead of lemonade. I imagine that if we do it in the winter, the readings will be less long-winded, and perhaps there will be more snowball fighting. Ideally, of course, I would have thought of this idea in the spring. But I did not. And I have far too many ideas that have gone stale on me while I talked them to death and waited for the right time."

As a fellow sufferer of the chronic condition of the leaving of ideas out on the counter until they grow moldy and disgusting, I wholeheartedly endorse this sentiment. As Mr. Dovercourt's band has put it, "If you're gonna do it once, then do it now/ If you do it once, you'll do it again.../ Don't wait for vacation."

Likewise, don't wait for next time. If you're nearby, come join in. Feel lost? Here is a map.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, September 06 at 2:46 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


September 5, 2006

Bejariana Update: Hello, Hello Blue Roses

The Hello Blue Roses duo seen through mists of uncertainty.

Quinn at From Blown Speakers has a little reference to an upcoming show by Hello Blue Roses, which is a sideproject of Destroyer's Dan Bejar with Sydney Vermont (who's also Dan's romantic partner, and did the art for the cover of Your Blues as well as various Destroyer T-shirtage and so forth). I've been meaning to put up a link to their Myspace site for awhile, but wasn't sure how active the project is - but with the show happening next week in Vancouver, opening for Rodney Graham, I guess it's active. On the Myspace, as is customary, you can hear a song. It's a little bit Destroyer-meets-Kate-Bush, no?

To recap some of the Destroyer-related obscure and/or defunct things you may not have known about (besides Swan Lake, of course): There's the The Mark Szabo Songbook and Points Gray (the band formerly known as "A.I.D.S."), whose stuff is supposed to be reissued on CD-R any minute now. Of course, Dan has also been in The Battles and Vancouver Nights, and there are frequent rumours of Bonaparte, featuring Dan, Sydney and members of The Battles, but no signs yet of the promised recordings. Likewise with Brown Discharge, with Tim Midgett of Silkworm. Sydney's also in The Choir Practice, and is a visual/video artist and curator. Did I miss anything? (I assume you know about the Yeti comp.)

Also, if anyone was wondering, the play All Our Happy Days Are Stupid, by Sheila Heti with songs by Dan Bejar, which was supposed to be staged this year, has been cancelled and is unlikely ever to resurface, sadly. Most of the songs wound up on Your Blues in any case, but someday, if Dan & Sheila give their blessing, I'll share a couple of the demos.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, September 05 at 4:41 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Christgau on Torontopia

Neil Young, wandering Torontopian godfather.

The great thing about Aaron is that he's able to write like a rare representative of normal people in the world of weird music geekery while geeking out just as hard as anyone else. His essay in response to last week's debate on Torontopia is a perfect example - even though I disagree with much of it, the simple insight about the friction that's caused by change when it's never enough change really helps explain the high fevers this infection causes. And it's just plain good to be reminded that pro basketball explains things far better than bull about Pitchfork can.

It also prompts me to reprint, in part as an explanation of why I don't agree with his thrust, this passage from Robert Christgau's last big feature for the Village Voice (to touch on last week's other major unfinishable business). Yes, sometimes Xgau can be a muddled writer - see the ILM thread on parsing his sentences (which for me to point out is a little pot-meet-kettle) - but he's always shooting for something substantial, and when he hits it, he hits it. Here is him hitting it, on the issue of participatory musical culture as it happens and doesn't happen in, especially, indie rock. It has sentences on indie rock much more definitive than the one from Frank (happy anniversary) that Aaron uses as his headline. It's useful for addressing the most misunderstood aspects of The Torontopia Thing, as I'll footnote after you read it:

" 'Live Music Is Better' bumper stickers should be issued," joshed Neil Young in 1980's "Union Man," which he has performed in public precisely once. Two visionary musicologists honor this dictum: Charles Keil, adept of participatory discrepancy, and Christopher Small, who believes all music celebrates the intricacy of relationship. For surprise-craving jazz fans, spirit-feeling gospel fans, and house-rocking blues fans, the primacy of the unique, unduplicatable musical event is a truism. The gig is the sacred ritual of indie rock.

Note, however, that all these music lovers like it live for different reasons. Contingency fan Keil treasures the marginal miss, contingency fan Small the magic mesh. Jazz locates inspiration in the mortal musician, gospel in the celestial divine�while blues fans, not unlike indie fans, romanticize the grotty, beer-soaked venue itself. Where blues fans differ from indie fans�and always have, even down at the crossroads�is that they regard musicians as means to a party, and the party as the goal. Indie fans aren't so sure about parties�or anything else, except maybe their favorite band that month. At their best, they're musical adepts combining all of the above. At their worst, they're one-upping self-seekers who wouldn't know a good band if it played their student union for three bucks with proper ID. Either way they regard the venue as the crucible of their developing values and personalities.

This process now has its own theorist: indie kid turned bizzer turned anthropologist Wendy Fonarow, whose Empire of Dirt proved a stimulating 'tween-set read. Fonarow did her formal research in Britain in 1993 and 1994, and some things have changed�moshing has declined, and the guitar relinquished its absolute dominance. But the basic pattern, in which indie is more temporary identity marker than aesthetic commitment, is depressingly stable. The best of Fonarow's many concepts divides venues into three zones. Zone One is the pit, crammed with the youngest, maddest, and most physical fans. Zone Three is the back or the bar, where what the Brits call liggers yap through sets�bizzers, musicians, scenesters, casuals. Also, Fonarow claims, journalists�but not me, or any other rock critic I know. I've been a Zone Two guy since stand-up shows became the norm 30 years ago.

The reason, obviously, is aesthetic. Zone Two is the best place to hear music�and see it, and feel it. Its sensations fill you without overwhelming you. Keil is right about participatory discrepancy�part of live music's excitement is the way it transfigures tiny failures of synchronicity. But this counts for more in the musics Keil loves�jazz, blues, polka�than in rock per se. I go to shows to get a fuller sense of the artist and to augment my experience of the music with other people's cheers and pheromones. And I go to concentrate, focus, immerse. Invariably I find myself registering new details and making new connections. Usually I have a good time, and every once in a while I luck into an epiphany. I'm a record guy, always will be. But records can't match the exhilaration of the best gigs. You walk home prepared to live forever.

So Torontopia is about imagining (and willfully romanticizing) a whole city the way one does a beloved venue, not as the city qua city and not even as Home but as a second home, grotty and with shitty sound-mixing but nonetheless loaded with possibility. It's about the city as a crazed emporium of ephemera, like a Japanese toy-and-housewares store, where no artifact is in itself as important as their bric-a-brac assemblage and the overall sensorium of the arcades. It's (perhaps naively) hopeful about making a more permanent aesthetic commitment than the passing-phase model. It's also about abolishing Zone Three, where people snipe and shmooze and hold themselves at a superior remove from the action. (It even has its doubts about Zone Two, where conventionally good critics live.) It's not about being a record guy, even though a record guy is an okay thing to be: It's about applying both Charles Keil's "participatory discrepancy" and Christopher Small's "musicking" (the music experience as a multi-sensory, social-communal experience) to rock, in ways that the consumerist idea of pop/rock generally disdains. The comparison to blues fans worries me a little! But it's still a disdain that movement after movement in underground rock has had to challenge, in new terms each time - in this case in civic, public-space and questioning-of-professionalism terms. Not for "World Peace," though there's a grit of truth in Aaron's scepticism, but just to survive the continual emptying-out of meaning by the bewitched buckets of all the sorcerers' apprentices. To live forever, at least for now.

(PS: Please see Jody Rosen on Xgau on Slate.)

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, September 05 at 2:13 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


September 1, 2006

Deals Going Down


You can now go cast your votes for the aforeblogged ($5,000) Echo Songwriting Prize, with nominees Final Fantasy, Laura Barrett, Wolf Parade, the Stills and Propagandhi. And please do! However you vote, take advantage of the opp to give songs you don't know an audition.

Also, Eye magazine's Totally Wired column this week hits two topics I've been meaning to post about: One is Paper Thin Walls, which is kind of the new Pitchfork or the new Addicted to Noise (the first full-on web music magazine, if you're old(!) enough to remember the mid-90s). Stuart Berman, guest-columning for Dave Morris, doesn't mention it explicitly, but this seems to be a project partly born of the tumult at the Village Voice and other print-media music-crit outlets, with Chuck Eddy prominent among the contributors corralled by editor Christopher R Weingarten (former CMJ staffer), also including Frank Kogan, Richard Gehr, Sterling Clover and other names familiar from the Eddy-torial era at the Voice. Maybe Xgau will be next to join the roster.

Stuart also mentions the upcoming CopyCamp conference on intellectual property, copyright, appropriation and the arts, happening in Toronto Sept. 28-30, with guests including John Oswald and Mark Hosler of Negativland. There's quite a bit more to be said about this - for instance, the fact that the conference is being co-organized by Trampoline Hall's own Misha Glouberman, and that controversies and splinter conferences have erupted around it - and a full post will come this weekend, but meanwhile if you're interested in getting one of the subsidized artists-and-writers-etc. spots to attend, I hear you should apply very quickly indeed.

Finally, I wonder how Scarlett Johansson feels about being the preferred ingenue of two creepy old icons of the once-best of American culture, both Woody Allen and Bob Dylan? (Three if you count Bill Murray.) I hope it feels great. If told in advance I would have been sceptical. But she pulls it off more completely than could any other young H'wood actress of her era, who would almost certainly be trying too hard, unable to merge with the screen, with the light, coming off winsome, unable to be dull and just-short-of-blank the way klassik stars really were. ("I heard the deafening noise/ I felt transient joys/ I know they are not what they seem," Dylan sings, seeming as the film unspools to be writing specifically of Johansson's face).

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 01 at 1:30 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


Clogging the Tubes

Something I wrote in an email to Frank Chromewaves earlier this week bears (edited) repeating, before this week of renewed Torontopia debate is over (that's a link to Graham's latest contribution). It seems worth calling by its name one reason some of the haterism and related defensemanship has gotten so overheated:

Also, I blame Stillepost. As much as it is a really helpful organizing and publicity tool for the music scene [and sometimes very funny], it's unfortunate how much it gives people the wrong image: It's a web message board. Stupid jokes, in-jokes, insults and people going off half-cocked are what you'd find on any message board. Stillepost has just ended up being a weirdly prominent one. People's web-board chatter shouldn't be confused with who they are in real life or with what their music/art is about. But obviously it is. (What's more, half the Stilleposters are kids burning time who are in fact not especially involved in the music scene. Likewise much of the "Torontopian" scene does not expend much energy on Stillepost.)

That's not a diss to message-board members (I yam 1) so much as a caveat lector, for pity's sake. Over and out.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, September 01 at 1:19 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson