by carl wilson

March 29, 2007

Navigational Notes

Everybody: It hasn't escaped my notice that in recent weeks (or longer), the tendency has been for Zoilus posts to consist of meaty facts about Toronto events and little about the larger music world. There's a reason for that: First, there's a lot going on here; and, second, my attention is mostly on other projects and I'm not writing the discursive excursions and reactions to general musical issues that give the site its meat. The latter situation will change when the book is done, but that's a couple of months away. But in general, I feel this site fills two functions, one for folks who live here and one for those who don't. Upcoming is a redesign that will make it work better for you, wherever you are. Meanwhile, a little patience while we conceive that hybrid structure. And thanks for sticking around either way.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, March 29 at 2:01 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


March 28, 2007

T-Dot Thrillz: Cobra Cabana

Zoilus comrade-and-associate Misha Glouberman (best known as host of Trampoline Hall) is getting ready to do another of his sets of "classes," which are always fantastic intellectual exercise and delightful social blowouts all at the same time. In the past, I've studied group vocal-noise improv, "How to Get Really Good at Playing Charades," and the nature of happiness in Misha's series, which he teaches without ever seeming to be teaching.

The very best class I've ever done with Misha, though, was his one-night "Open Cobra" project, where somehow a huge room of mostly non-musicians learned to play John Zorn's 1980s "game piece" Cobra to a pretty decent level of competence, in a few hours. The whole thing unfolded like a little miracle. (Read an account of the night by Eye's Dave Morris.) The YouTube clip above shows Zorn and other NYC downtown '80s luminaries playing Cobra, from Derek Bailey's BBC series on improvisation.

Now, Misha is planning to do a longer (maybe six-part) version of that process. And though I can't take part (goddamn book deadlines), if you're in Toronto, I highly recommend you do. It's for performers and non-performers alike.

As Misha says, "I'm really interested in noise improv as a participatory activity that people can do for fun. You don't have to have done anything like this before, you just have to want to. The class will be entirely vocal - no instruments, just voice-noises. We'll spend some of the time working on general vocal-noise-improv, some working specifically on Cobra. I'm still finalizing the details of time (hope to start in the next few weeks), schedule (probably 6 or so consecutive Wednesdays or Tuesdays or something like that), price (some variation of PWYC), and place. If you might be interested in knowing more about the series, drop me a line. How/whether/when I can do this will depend on what I hear back from people, so if you might be interested, don't just wait to hear more news, email me and let me know."

So don't hesitate.

For another taste of Cobra's sting, you can check out Misha's "Open Cobra" collaborator Joe Sorbara's new monthly Cobra event with musician-participants from AIM Toronto, as part of the Now Lounge Sunday improv series, this Sunday, April 1 at 2 pm, pwyc.

Toronto turns out to be Grand Cobra Central. The Cobra Cabana. Who'd'a thunk?

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 28 at 12:18 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


March 27, 2007

Final Frithisy

Fred Frith, photo by Cathy Caraveo.

I'm grinding my teeth in envy, because this gig takes place the final day of the Pop Conference, while I'll still be in Seattle: "Fred Frith, US/UK composer, improviser and guitar innovator performs at the Music Gallery with Toronto's Anne Bourne, cello + voice; John Oswald, sax; Owen Pallett, violin. Sunday April 22, 8 pm, $15."

I've made inquiries to find out if the show is partly composed music or all improvised - if so, I suspect it would be Owen (Final Fantasy, of course) Pallett's improv debut - but his presence makes me suspect there's composition involved.

If you're unfamiliar with Frith's career, going back to the heady Rock-in-Opposition days of Henry Cow in the 1970s, but going much beyond that as well, there's plenty of remedial reading out there, beginning with Frith's own site, and including a great range of interviews like these, videos (many) and even quotable quotes. If you can find it, I particularly recommend the documentary Step Across the Border, which features Frith in collaboration with Iva Bittova, Chris Cutler, Arto Lindsay, Tom Cora, John Zorn, Rene Lussier and many others (a sample - by the way, it turns out there's a ton of Bittova on YouTube...) - it's certainly one of the better filmic documents of improvised music I've ever seen.

While we're talkin' Music Gallery, note that the exciting and excitable mad minimalist Arnold Dreyblatt will be the MG's composer in residence in May, and that the VTO festival (Toronto's picnic of leftovers from the Victoriaville banquet) is also promised to return that month.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 27 at 2:37 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


March 26, 2007

This is the Sea

Daniel Nebiat's krar in a photo from Feb. by T.O. Music Pix.

Eritrean-Canadian musician Daniel Nebiat and band blew the room away last night at Wavelength - his gorgeous, intricate vocals and electric krar wizardry combining with the bass and keyboard (mostly as a horn section) and drum machine to create a hurricane of beautiful, danceable sound. Beyond its musical value, the show also represented a risk the series was taking - following up on the panel discussion during February's anniversary festival - by bringing the young, largely white crowd at Wavelength together with an African musician who in the past has played mostly to his own community. There may have been a little wariness on both sides, but within one song it was clear that the sizable audience was enraptured with the music, and the musicians made a point of saying they were having a good time (and they looked it). It's a small step, but Wavelength has, throughout its existence, been the event that tries to take a laterally creative approach to what the music scene in Toronto can be about. For a while, it began to seem that it had been so successful in helping set those new terms, that there was little more for Wavelength to do. Last night proved that the space left to explore is practically limitless. (The audience seemed to enjoy the other band, Bruce Peninsula, enormously as well, but I wasn't taken with their material, despite the talented people among the lineup and the potential appeal of the Will Oldhamish style meeting freak-drums and chorus line. Maybe another time.)

Later:: More on Nebiat from David Dacks.

Today, the Hamilton-based Sonic Unyon label announced that it's signed the Hammer's one true legendary band, Simply Saucer, to make their first full-fledged recording since 1978. The new disc will be called Half Human, Half Live (because it will be half live, half studio); it draws on the dozens of classic-era Saucer tunes that were never recorded in the band's original half-life, as well as perhaps some newer songs by Saucer frontman Edgar Breau. The album's being recorded at Catherine North studios for a release later this year. Meanwhile, Saucer plays its first Toronto gig in nearly three decades on April 13 and 14 at Ciao Edie's. (And in second-cousin-once-removed news, the Pointed Sticks from Vancouver play their first Toronto gig since 1979 on Friday at the Horseshoe.)

Elsewhere: Mike Scott of the Waterboys recounts his adventures in self-wikiing with good humour and curiosity. And just by coincidence, the first Waterboys studio album in four years comes out next month. My affection for 80s-period Waterboys is something I do feel just a tad embarrassed about - all that sincerity. But there it is. I'd actually totally neglected the fact that there was a 2003 or a 2000 album; I thought Scott had just been releasing solo albums since '93, when he released a Waterboys disc with none of the rest of the band on it, and it was awful; although the one just before that, with the band, sucked nearly as hard.

Meanwhile, the album? Still dying.

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, March 26 at 2:35 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


March 23, 2007

Keep Blissed-Out the Sabbath Day


And Jonny Dovercourt talks to Eritrean-Canadian musician Daniel Nebiat ("Danny the Prophet") who plays the krar, a hand-held amplified harp. Nebiat appears on Sunday at Wavelength with po-fo (ie po-mo folk) group Bruce Peninsula .

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, March 23 at 2:39 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


March 22, 2007

Just-So Stories

So we won't be talking classical crossover yet because I missed the Hour broadcast; but I taped a later re-run, so we'll come back to it.

So meanwhile, I was very taken with this ode to the earplug. Surprised he didn't explore the custom-made variety, something I often think about but really ought to buy.

So speaking of earplugs, the Illuminati broke up. Eye this week also speaks to two women of great stature and longevity in the New York art and poetry scenes, Carolee Schneemann and Alice Notley (who also talks about her ex-husband, the late great Ted Berrigan).

And so the new list of books in the 33 1/3 series has been announced. Happy to see a lot more hip-hop in this round, but most happy for two things: the book about Israel Kamakawiwo'ole, which if it's done well will, I hope, become a cult book, and should at least be very well read in Hawaii, where the guy was a national (to use the term in its non-statist sense) hero; and, of course, the book by John Darnielle on Black Sabbath's Masters of Reality, which I greet with both glee and the glum certainty that no matter how good, if it's good at all, my book is, John's book will be better. (Though it's nice to see from the comments on the 33 1/3 site that there's still some juice in the outrage over mine.) Hardest row to hoe: Good luck to the guy with the Van Dyke Parks book - a worthy subject, but not so easy to market. Wonder if Continuum thinks the Joanna N. fans will read it? (As long as you're doing the Ys crew, maybe you could do a Steve Albini book - Songs About Fucking, anyone? - and Jim O'Rourke's Eureka is a great record, too.)

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, March 22 at 10:48 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (12)


March 21, 2007

TV: Chamber Indie, the Long Tail
and l'Esprit de l'Escalier


I'm interviewed in a piece airing tonight, about classical-and-pop-music crossovers from Andrea Bocelli to Final Fantasy, on CBC-TV's The Hour; the segment's apparently on at about 11 pm. My part was taped a couple of weeks ago, in the corner of the Globe's cafeteria right after a production deadline, so I didn't have a chance to think it through much in advance - in retrospect I would have made a somewhat different set of points. After tonight's airing, let's meet back here and discuss what they would be.

Preliminary concert listings for April are up now, by the way.

And congratulations to Murray Favro of the Nihilist Spasm Band for winning a $25,000 Governor-General's Award in Visual and Media Arts.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 21 at 3:43 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


March 20, 2007

Journeys into the Future-Present

Via Ron Silliman: A years-in-the-making site devoted to founding Torontopian bpNichol's Computer Poems, First Screening. If there were an oath of citizenship in this city, it would have to be a bp text, no?

And we haven't talked BSG for a while have we? (Peli, look away!) I quite enjoyed Part 1 of the finale, though it was hobbled by the weakness of the foregoing half of this season. For those of you who haven't seen it, or just don't give a shit, I'll put my ramblings on the jump.

The vital fact about Baltar's trial, it seems to me, quite apart from the Adama-oedipal opera and the wrenching, unforgivable Lee-Laura scene this weekend, is that Baltar is not guilty, in any literal or legal sense, of the crimes for which he's charged. On New Caprica, he literally had a gun to his head, as we're reminded; he was a figurehead who did what he had to do against overwhelming force, guilty only of indulging in drugs and orgies in his prison-office. (According to this week's podcast, the original idea for the trial was to implicate him more directly in a slaughter on New Caprica, but even then with a morally complex, arguably exculpatory back-story.) His real crime in that situation was to win the election by advocating colonization of the planet when he knew it was the wrong thing to do (and, depending on your opinion on the ontological status of the Six in his head, that it might have been what the cylons wanted). But no one else knows this. And in the attack on the Colonies, which is not the subject of the trial but is certainly why Roslin wants him executed, he was again a dupe, and not the willing collaborator she imagines; he violated security regulations, but thought what he was doing was a mere benign bending of the rules. In both cases he was the brilliant intellectual as practical fool, and therein his tragedy lies.

His real, airlock-worthy crimes were his lies about cylon detection (which led directly to Boomer's assassination attempt on Adama) and his horrifying act of pique in giving the nuclear warhead to the "subversives" (led by Gina Six), which was then used to destroy Cloud Nine. But (a bit improbably in both cases) no one has accused him of those acts - and even then he did not commit them understanding their consequences. Which expresses some sense about present-day politics, that the true crimes of our leaders, contrary to the 9/11 conspiracy nuts' view, are structurally driven - the game of politics itself, and the fallible, blinkered egos involved, are the fuses that are lit by events. The agents are contemptible, but never for the simple reasons we'd prefer, and the public is betrayed by its own willingness to share the sincerely held delusions and phantasies of the powerful, because we're embedded in the same structures. And those structures - like the legal system that Lee is so pitiably and adriftly allowing to dictate his actions, against his own conscience, against the loyalties he should cleave to - are not insane. They are immensely fallible expressions of ideals that clash by night, sets of contradictions that cannot be worked out by utopian theories but must inevitably reveal their flaws in action, to be revised until the next irreconcilable contradiction impeaches the revision. But they're what we've got, though we can feel in our bones they're not right and so we cyclically "throw the bastards out" in favour of new bastards.

Which doesn't make Che Jesus Manson Baltar much less of an asshole. But it makes him a martyr too, a creature of the ungainsayable Situation of the BSG universe, devoured by it as much as Starbuck was. Death would become him. And as Lee is now - is there any route left open to him after this, after he has burned his military (dad) and civilian (surrogate-mom) bridges alike? And aside from the again-dying Laura and the wreck of a man that is Tigh, what does Admiral Adama have left of his post-apocalyptic family? It's pretty obvious that next week is going to be a mind-frakking, order-rearranging set of revelations, but man, they're going to need that hiatus till 2008 to conceive a way to move forward, into the star-clusterfuck that stands between a humanity stripped of its not-quite-heroes and a place called Earth.

Read More | | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 20 at 12:50 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


One Hand On This Wily Comet

Just wanted to let you know this record actually exists.

I have a review of Saturday night's Shins concert in Toronto in today's (well, yesterday's technically now) Globe and Mail. If it seems a touch over-enthusiastic, fair enough. I despise the shed of a venue, Kool Haus, so I spent the day of the show dreading the event. And for the first half of the evening, watching openers Viva Voce (whom I probably would have enjoyed in a smaller space), I still felt grouchy. But then the Shins managed to transform the vibe and make me - and everybody else in the room - glad to be there, which won a lot of points. (This feeling vanished immediately when the show was over and the whole audience was caught in a bottleneck for 15 minutes trying to get out the one open door; finally the management wised up and opened the back doors. Argh.)

Also in today's Globe, my colleague Guy Dixon has a piece about the new lineup at CBC Radio 2 (which also has a new website). We here at Zoilus (not just me but many of you) have been very vocal in our displeasure over the cancellation of Brave New Waves, but I tuned in to its 10 pm-to-1 am replacement The Signal tonight, and I have to admit I'm impressed. So far I've heard the world premiere of Faster Still by the stellar Toronto-based composer Brian Current, a Joanna Newsom track, an Aphex Twin performance with the London Sinfonietta and a selection from Jerry Granelli's Sandhills Reunion. And while I'll miss Patti Schmidt's wry conspiratorial voice, The Signal is hosted by one of my other favourite Canadian arts broadcasters, Laurie Brown. I don't think this show can accomplish what Brave New Waves did for two decades (unlike the Shins, it really could change your life), and I wish it started a bit later, although thanks to interweb magik I can just listen to a stream from the Prairies or BC and hear it when I want. But aside from the decisions around BNW and The Arts Tonight, I'm giving the new Radio 2 a tentative hurrah as the first CBC revamp of my adult life that just may make sense, with its dismantling of genre barriers and respect for its listeners' open ears and minds.

Finally I just want to express gratitude and warmth to everybody who braved post-green-beer hangovers and came out to Sunday night's Queen West West Equitable Development Beach Partee. Especially the bands, who came on-board with enthusiasm and generosity on a few days' notice and all put on amazing sets. The Thomson/Oswald/Chenaux/Oelrichs quartet bore down and set a tone with a restlessly meditative improv, then Ghostlight gave fine dub-psych freakout; Tomboyfriend brought a shout-along rush with the thematically appropriate anthem The End of Poverty; the Phonemes played a special "mutant Phonemes" set - because drummer Matias couldn't come, they recruited a bunch of guests at the show, with members of Ghostlight playing synths and theremin and Eric Chenaux twisting inventive guitar lines around Magali's delicate plucking and Dave (Mez) Meslin sitting in on the drum kit; and Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm! capped it off with an intimate "chamber" version of their usual mayhem, dressed "yuppie" in shirts and ties and suspenders, smashing a computer keyboard and a portable radio over each other's heads, but making it all a little poignant. Seriously, have you not seen this band yet? Do it. Props to Ryan Kamstra for making it happen. And thanks to BlogTO, For the Records and The Abstract Index for their neighbourly promotional assists.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 20 at 12:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


March 15, 2007

Moist Feelings: This Weekend in T-Dot Thrillz
(Smith, O'Hara, Queen W. Benefit Partee!)

Garbage! Violence! Enthusiasm! play the Queen West West Equitable-Development
Beach Partee on Sunday night in Toronto.

Here is how you will spend the next few days. Shh, baby, don't fight it.

Friday night, the Test Reading Series presents Stuart Ross and Rod Smith at 7:30 pm at Mercer Union. Ross is, of course, everybody's droll fave T-Dot absurdist/surrealist poet, who hocked poems on the street in the '80s, started the Small Press Book Fair and transformed Jean Chretien into a lyrical genius. Rod Smith is the author of seven-plus books of poetry, the editor of Aerial magazine, the publisher of Edge Books and the manager of Bridge Street Books in Washington, DC, often just as funny as Ross (and in that mode a fellow traveler of the Flarfistes) but likewise capable of delicate and tender music. In fact, now and then he strikes me as the contemporary poet maybe closest in sensibility to Destroyer's Dan Bejar, with his extreme, self-sabotaging and yet beautiful tonal shifts. You can read a bunch of his poems at EPC and listen to him read a great many more at PennSound, or you can just show up tomorrow night.

On Saturday, the day of ersatz Irishness on which all somewhat-Eire-descendent North Americans such as myself affect to enact our non-existent ethnicity, a clan with an authentic O' to their name present their on-again-off-again-annual "Martian Awareness Ball" - a green and auspicious occasion for an all-too-rare performance by Mary Margaret O'Hara, the most elusive of Toronto's greatest musicians. She'll be joined by brother Marcus and a passle o' family and friends, some famous and some who oughta be, that evening at the Horseshoe. Arrive early, and bring your own potato face.

Last but most, I helped organize an event happening Sunday at the Gladstone called
The Queen West West Equitable-Development Beach Partee, to raise arts-community awareness of equitable development, homelessness, and the growing disparity between the rich and poor in the neighbourhood and in the city. Musical entertainment will feature Blocks Recording Club artists The Phonemes, Bad Bands veterans Garbage!Violence!Enthusiasm!, Ghostlight and an improv group featuring John Oswald, Scott Thomson, Eric Chenaux and Jake Oelrichs, plus a cameo appearance by Tomboyfriend (whose lead singer was lead organizer on the event), tracks from DJ Misty Rock'n'Roll, and quite possibly between-set dance lessons. Proceeds go to homelessness-aid organizations PARC (Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre), and Na-Me-Res. We will party in the name of respect and equality between street artists, the professional art world and nightspot parvenues, and a better balance between the wants of faux-boho condos and the needs of their neighbours, whether homeless or housed. We'll raise some cash and dance on the brink of no return. Please come join us at 9 pm (admission $7). And if you'd like to, buy an original drawing...

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, March 15 at 6:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)




On the participatory-aesthetics front: Eye today has a well-rounded piece discussing some of the criticisms that have been made of Newmindspace, the cute-couple-holds-street-parties branch of the Toronto public-space and interactive-art movements. Personally, I think the "hipster colonialism" critique absurdly and paranoically overinflates the importance of groups such as Nms, throwing totally out of joint one's perspective on more important factors in gentrification and population segregation such as, say, real-estate speculation, policing, banking and schools. But while I think Nms are mostly harmless, I also think they've got pretty weak footing as art: Their work is two-dimensional - measured up and down, it's fun; measured side to side, it's sociable; measured back to front, it's got less meat on its bones than Kate Moss - and, at times, it's a tad obnoxious in its sense of social-spatial entitlement and seeming so goshdarned pleased with itself. But then again, that's what 20-year-olds are often like, so why begrudge them? Maybe they'll get more complex with time, and if not, holding hug-ins for the World Wildlife Fund is a benign enough pastime until they end up as public-relations executives somewhere.

| Posted by zoilus on Thursday, March 15 at 4:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


March 14, 2007

Guest Post: A Wake for Global Village

A guest entry from Zoilus correspondent Erella Ganon about tonight's event at the Lula Lounge in Toronto. - CW

After more than 10 years, CBC radio's Global Village is leaving the air. Jowi Taylor, the peripatetic host will be found along with correspondents and music on other CBC shows and on the CBC websites. The official word is that "world music" doesn't need to be ghettoized in a one-hour format and for that reason, this change is a good thing.

Personally, I question the wisdom of eliminating this popular show. Just the same, I want to make sure people know about this night of music. It is a fantastic opportunity to hear some of these performers live and for free. Because of the venue and circumstance, I expect it to be a jovial celebration. Kiran Ahluwalia sings ghazals and Punjabi folk songs and was one artist that really benefited from the focus Global Village showed her. It could be a chicken/egg scenario, but regardless, it is an intimate setting to hear her. Malagasy Donne Roberts is member of African Guitar Summit and was once the first black person in history to host a one-hour show on MTV Russia. He toured with Ace of Bass and now is a Torontonian. His music has a meandering melody line that permeates every tune in a style I understand indicate his Madagascar origins.

The other acts playing tonight are also great in their own way; each one is particularly unusual to see live. Retro-soul ensemble Mr Something Something will ensure the party groove is maintained all night. With horns blaring and harmonies that recall some 70's African radio hits, They combine elements for a high-energy stage show. Amanda Martinez is a gorgeous Latina singer with an extremely passionate presence.

I've witnessed all of these performers recently. If pressed to think of a collection of artists, originally from elsewhere, who might be able to scare winter away, this would be close to my preferred list. What have you got to lose ... other than a great radio show? - Erella Ganon

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 14 at 3:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


MySpace Artists, Unite
(You Have Nothing to Lose But Your 'Friends')


This first broke on Stillepost last week, while I was a bit out of the loop, but a press release today indicates that Toronto band Kids on TV intends to keep pushing the issue: At the beginning of the month, the group had its MySpace account deleted "with no warning or specific explanation." They were sent a notice after the fact which cited several of the rules that could have been involved, including a ban on nudity and "sexually suggestive photos." Kids on TV say, "We suspect that, although we kept our site visually 'PG-13' and played by the rules, the discussion of sexuality in our lyrics and the open embrace of radical culture was too much for MySpace. We definitely ran into their limits, whatever they were. They never responded to our questions either, which is the experience everyone has apparently."

The group was free to set up a new account, but the work that went into the first one - including having accumulated 14,000 "friends" - was lost. So the Kids went on to set up a MySpace page addressing the question of MySpace censorship, and have been collecting stories from other artists - most of them, they discovered, other gay and sex-positive artists. In addition, Owen Pallett aka Final Fantasy, as well as local band Sailboats Are White and a Stilleposter who posted a fan Tiny Tim profile (a common MySpace practice), have discovered that MySpace deletes sites - again, without notice - when they perceive intellectual-property issues. All of these actions are taken by anonymous MySpace staff without any process in place for appeal or discussion.

I'd be quick to agree that when you take advantage of the free service that a network such as MySpace provides, you're dealing with a private company - specifically, Rupert Murdoch's company - that has every right to set terms and limits to what they're willing to provide and the legal risks they're willing to undertake. However, MySpace in turn only has value to Murdoch and his shareholders because of the content and labour provided, likewise free of charge, by its membership, and especially in MySpace's case, by musicians. The arbitrary draconian approach they've taken in these cases violates the reasonable expectations and good-faith implicit contract between these contributors and the owners of the network. Not to mention many of the conventions and underlying ethos of Internet culture. If it's being applied disproportionately to queer artists, that's a big problem, even if (as I'm sure is the case) it's not an intentional policy but a consequence of acting reflexively on whatever complaints they receive. And on copyright issues they're sure to give corporate rather than artistic interests the benefit of the doubt, no matter if the law would probably be on the artist's side (as in Final Fantasy's case).

The good news is that MySpace has proved pliable to pressure in the past - as when Billy Bragg pushed them to change an ambiguous clause in their user agreement that seemed to give MySpace property rights over posted songs. Kids on TV makes the fine point that they should get rid of the highly subjective language of the ban on "sexually suggestive" pictures. But the standards are always going to be subject to interpretation. So here's what users should organize to demand: If there's a problem, suspend accounts rather than deleting them; send a notice explaining the specific violation, with a reasonable window (say, 10 days) for users to appeal to an ombudsman-style arbiter who would be empowered to reverse the initial decision or negotiate changes so the page could be restored to active status.

It all sounds very geeky, I know. Many will say, why not just bail from MySpace and move on? Well, as Kids on TV say, access to this network has been a huge boon to independent musicians in recent years. It's a corporate site, sure, but in most senses, unlike major and even indie record labels, it's a space defined by musicians and audiences without go-betweens. It has a very active, music-loving audience. Building up new alternatives would burn up time that could be spent making music, and there's little doubt that these issues would cycle around again. So, better to take a stand.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 14 at 12:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (4)


March 13, 2007

Zoobombs, the Gift that Keeps On Giving


If by chance you're like me, didn't get your snout into the smorgasbord of live music last weekend and thus missed the annual stand by the Zoobombs at the Silver Dollar, consider yourself leading a charmed life, because Dan Burke's bringing the Zoobs back for two more shows this week, on Thursday and Friday nights. Deets in the gig guide. All reports were that last week's shows were stupendous as usual.

In other live news, AD/D hosts a couple of 2006's most acclaimed electronic-music makers from Berlin: On Friday, it's Booka Shade at the Mod Club, and next Thursday, it's Ellen Allien at the Social, promoting her new Berlin tour guide/mixtape DVD package. Further info, again, in the gig guide, which should expand to include April listings within the next couple of days.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 13 at 4:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


March 12, 2007

Oh, Avril, How Could You?


Like everybody else with a pulse and the capacity to smile, I'm down with Avril Lavigne's new single, Girlfriend, which stands sturdily, albeit not stunningly, in the lineage of Mickey-esque cheerleader-shout songs.

But am I the only one who was taken aback by the video, in which it turns out that the reason Avril doesn't like the guy's girlfriend is that she's kind of nerdy? Maybe I've been mistaken all this time, but I thought Avril's schtick was to be on the side of the outcasts, but in this vid she postures as an obnoxious popular girl who's essentially bullying her way to the heart of her guy. It alters the song for me, since I'd reflexively assumed that the p.o.v. of the song was from lower on the social ladder, directed at a prissier, snobbier girl.

Or am I being obtuse? Perhaps the whole joke is that she's playing against type, and we're meant to be rooting against her character. But wouldn't the video then pay that idea off by giving the nerdy girl some little note of revenge in the end?

Is this the teenpop version of selling out - going corporate isn't an issue, but maybe turning against the underdogs and siding with the Heathers is? Or have I just been misreading Avril's stance all along - were her skater boys and skater girls always alpha dogs? Paging Frank Kogan.

(Later: One thing I didn't realize watching the video (thanks to low YouTube resolution) is that the girlfriend of the title is actually played by Avril herself, as a couple of commenters pointed out. Which mitigates my dismay, though not entirely.)

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, March 12 at 4:00 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (24)


Zoilusian Music Weak


What's that? You say there was some sort of big rock festival in Toronto over the weekend? For various lame reasons of no interest to you, I passed on CMW this year - as I often have, but this year it does feel like I missed some good stuff. Consult Frank, Michael (twice), Eye (four times over, thanks to their new Eye Daily feature), Sucking a Lemon (whose Pipettes photo I stole, above), and exhaustively in Chart, of course.

So what can I tell you? Only that the most overrated band of the festival was certainly Under Byen. Though I did not see them, I have seen them before. And they are lovely, just fine, but contrary to the tone of much of the coverage, they are not the kind of band that is going to rearrange your worldview or cure your fungal infection or do anything but sound like kind of a well-mannered generic Nordic ensemble. They're as if a bunch of first-year Berklee jazz students formed a Bjork tribute group. I do like it when they play the saw, but I love it when anybody plays the saw.

I have offered penance to the rock gods. Also: COMING UP: This week, watch this space as I do not go to South by Southwest!

| Posted by zoilus on Monday, March 12 at 1:00 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


March 11, 2007

It's a Game, It's a Sport, It's an Art: COBRA!

I meant to post this earlier, but better late than never: This afternoon at 2 pm, in the Association of Improvising Musicians of Toronto's ongoing Sunday series, percussionist Joe Sorbara is holding a free, participatory workshop where he'll be teaching people to play John Zorn's Cobra, the most famous of Zorn's "game pieces," compositions he wrote as sets of rules for improvisation. It involves cue cards, hand signals and a lot of hats.

Traditionally the rules of Zorn's games have been preserved as arcane knowledge, unpublished and unexplained to audiences. Here's your chance to slip through the hidden doorway: Sorbara has assembled a group of musicians to play the game but in the process will also be teaching the game to the whole audience, who may then volunteer to play Cobra themselves at future events in the coming months. Bring a compact acoustic instrument and a hat (or headband).

| Posted by zoilus on Sunday, March 11 at 11:01 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


March 7, 2007

Warum Lauft Herr H. Amok?

Peli posts a chunk of correspondence betwixt the likes of him and the likes of me on the case of Werner Herzog as premature YouTube-teur. (All credit due Margaux Williamson.) I am wordy there, so I will be terse here.

Advance riposte from Hotsy & Totsy.

Meanwhile back at the simulacrum, Baudrillard is dead.

| Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 07 at 8:51 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


Tranzaction Figures

The Bicycles in their "Last Schmaltz" cd-release party at the Tranzac in Toronto last summer.
Their four-week Wombat Wednesdays series at the 'zac begins tonight.
Photo by Beth Hamill, Rockpaperpixels.

This entry was co-written by me and Zoilus contributor Chris Randle. - C.W.

On one wall of the Tranzac is a bulletin board for events and meetings around its Annex neighbourhood. This isn't exactly unique for Toronto venues, but what's across from it is: The opposite wall is covered with dead men in uniform, a roll call of Australian Victoria Cross recipients. This is the Toronto Australia New Zealand Club's curious nature, as a space deeply devoted to nurturing and housing communities whose history stretches back to before almost all of that community was born, back to a Toronto where even seminal venues like the El Mocambo and George's Spaghetti House were dream buildings.

The past doesn't just leave wistful memories, though. It also creates debts, and the Tranzac has a lot of them. As Kate McGee, a board member as of this fall, puts it: "Obviously, as a member-run community space, there is often a degree of worry about funds and maintenance and sustainability." The fundamental changes that the community has undergone since the group's inception only complicate things further. [... continues on the jump ...]

The Australians and New Zealanders have mostly drifted away now. The Tranzac moved to its current digs at Brunswick and Bloor in 1971, and a few years later it had become an essential hub for traditional music from the British Isles (almost as though Oceania were being colonized again!). And the Tranzac remains an adoptive home for that tight-knit, familial community: Both Chris and Carl, in attending the occasional folk event there, have heard the clatter of Morris dancers' wooden swords (memorably at dawn one May Day), the raucous sea shanties sung from memory by an entire room. Kate McGee grew up in a folk-music family and still participates in that music, while (like Richard Parry of the Arcade Fire, whose dad David was a member of Toronto's famous Friends of Fiddlers' Green) also becoming a part of the indie-rock scene: "I've been going to the Tranzac since I was a little girl," she says. "I remember getting to see all sorts of old friends and family friends and family members everywhere I looked, and being able to roam free all over the club to sample whatever music suited my fancy. I remember other kids falling asleep in guitar cases and on piles of coats under tables, while their parents played music late into the night. My friends' kids still do this."

In the interim, though, the Tranzac has opened its doors to music much beyond the boundaries of - although not entirely forgetful of - folk music. In the past several years, the front room of the Tranzac has become the day-to-day drop-in centre of free-improvised music in Toronto, especially the Rat-Drifting constellation as well as other portions of AIMToronto; yes, the Arraymusic space and Now Lounge are the homes of weekly series that grant this music its most intense testing ground, of players among players, but the weeknight front-room berth the Tranzac affords to improv groups may well be Toronto's most relaxed, affordable experimental-music venue, where you can hear the likes of Drumheller, Deep Dark United, the Reveries, the Silt, the Saint Dirt Elementary School and the Woodchoppers' Association; it was a frequent stop for Rock Plaza Central before they broke through to Pitchfork-level recognition. It's been the site of the annual 416 improv festival, and last summer the three-day Bummer in the Summer psych-noise-improv-boree. More and more, when new-music pioneers such as Rhys Chatham have visited Toronto recently, you'll often find them at the Tranzac, which is like a shambling rec-room little sibling to the more formal Music Gallery.

Given all this confluence, it's no surprise that some of the city's most broad-minded and activist musicians and organizers have begun to take up the Tranzac's cause. According to McGee, it was Jonny Dovercourt, of Wavelength and the Music Gallery, who first recognized the venue as a fellow traveler of the "Torontopian" project, which after all perceives the entire city as a member-driven community - imperfect, lovable and human. Thanks to treasurer Chris Hendricks, the vital musicians' co-op, Blocks Recording Club, is now a tenant of the Tranzac. Not long ago, Chris Randle dropped in to hang out with friends who were working there, and it was such a casually marvellous thing: teenagers, basically helping to run a record label, one of whom has also played shows there - another link in the Tranzac's multigenerational, extended-family story. Blocks luminaries Final Fantasy and the Phonemes, among others, recently played evening and afternoon benefit shows (the latter all-ages, natch) to help the Tranzac deal with its financial issues.

This is the dream for the club - that it become a fully sustainable centre for music and the arts, a nexus, an infrastructure. A space where performers can bring their kids (instead of quitting music for parenthood, or at least quitting the communitarian approach, as too often happens), and where those kids in turn discover what they want to create. When the Tranzac board first started reaching out to the Torontopia-identified rock scene with these ideas, there was some suspicion - was this just a mismanaged folk club scrambling around for ways to survive? But in the past couple of years they've proven some depth of commitment. As McGee says, "I've heard so many people dream out loud about a place like this, an artist-run community space, a social club with lots of room for debate and creativity, and it makes me kind of want to shake them, because it already exists."

We don't mean to minimize the logistical challenges. Despite the numerous artistic organizations that call the place home, its membership is not as high as it once was. What if no one who visits the Toronto Zine Library there realizes that they can get involved with the entire building? We started writing this piece in resignation, thinking it might well be doomed. But the new President, John Sladek, has some experience in turning around arts organizations (specifically the Mariposa festival), and the board as a whole seems to understand the challenge posed to them. We were delighted to learn that Blocks co-founder Steve Kado is now the Tranzac's Building Manager. It needs that spirit of collaboration.

This ethos is personified in one of the bands that played the fundraiser. 123Ten are the children of Tranzac-denizen folkies (one of them is Kate McGee's younger sister) but their debut was opening for Ninja High School at Sneaky Dee's, and the oughta-be-a-hit single Squirrel Babies that announced their existence was released on 2006's infamous Bad Bands Revolution compilation. The trio sings about fighting whales and a crippled "wheely dog" who still finds love with irresistable vocal harmonies that attest to the rich musical heritage they grew up with. Moreover, as Kate McGee says, "It's not unusual to see one of 123Ten doing production up in the Blocks office for a couple of hours, or stuffing envelopes with the new Tranzaction newsletter, or singing along in the crowd at the Flying Cloud Folk Club." The Tranzac has the potential to become an incubator for culture like this, localized without insularity. There are so many gaps this space can bridge if the struts holds together.

Tonight (Wednesday) the popular Toronto bubble-core group The Bicycles (who held their own epic record-release party there last summer) begins an effort to help that happen, by curating the first in their "Wombat Wednesdays" series of evenings of poppier, more song-based evenings at the club - which, in their turn, are meant to help the Tranzac also persist as a venue for the sonic R&D; the weeknight improv evenings allow. It's all a part of a musically cognizant culture that understands how disparate pieces fit together, a realm in which pop and humour and experimentation and exploration can meet and resolve to survive. But without an audience, that leap of faith will not find a treetop to cling to. Don't let the venue fall into misuse or disrepair. Help support the modest ramshackle building with its wonderfully flexible and mutually beneficial vision: All they want is to be one of our landmarks.

Read More | In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, March 07 at 2:48 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (5)


March 6, 2007

Lighting Up the Tube

Stuff is dizzy bizzy, and it's hard to think of anything but Starbuck. But in her spirit, some kickass-lady clippage: Check this one a friend just forwarded me, of Patti Smith on Kids Are People Too, a program whose title I found kind of embarrassingly inspirational at 9. Her vanguard-poptimist move of singing You Light Up My Life doesn't quite convince, but the Q&A; beforehand with the host and the kids in the studio audience is actually very sweet.

While I'm at it, in the boho-gal-heroes category, here's Rickie Lee Jones, first a rare clip of a TV appearance in the mid-'80s doing a solo piano version of the title track from The Magazine (the studio version is a full-band, multi-vocal-tracked thing, so this is cool if you're a fan) and then in an appearance on the same show recently, promoting her new collaborative project, The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard (based on another writer's street-poem transliterations of Jesus's words... which could easily be titled The Neon Bible, come to think of it, heh). Picture's a little fuzzy, but RLJ is looking good for her age and history, with her double-tambourine hip action and matronly Cyndi Lauper skirt; the album has a nice loose feel, sometimes too much so, and this tune, Falling Up, is one of the more musically satisfying moments thereupon.

| Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, March 06 at 6:30 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


March 4, 2007

Clarification: Chix Trix Need Fix


I hadn't seen my colleague Robert Everett-Green's comment in response to my post about his Dixie Chicks/Grammys article until today. I want to clarify publicly that I in no way intended to insinuate that he was "a tool of the Patriot Act" or that his article served such ends. I thought his article presented a set of left-intellectual expectations about how politically engaged artists ought to present themselves, which I felt were unfair in their own right. That's what I meant by saying that the band was still being punished for breaking expectations. But I did not mean that one set of expectations was morally or forcibly equivalent to the other, and if my rhetoric was heavy-handed enough to make it seem so, I blush at my clumsiness and offer heartfelt apologies. I also felt his article was overly dismissive of the attacks that were made on the band in the past few years; the Patriot Act was raised only as context for that point, specifically because I assumed, and felt sure readers would see, that Robert abhors the Patriot Act and all it represents. I'm sorry if that was at all unclear.

[Edit: Further rehashing removed due to tediousness.]

I'm a great admirer of Robert's writing, of its seriousness and elegance, and feel proud to work at the same publication. My disagreement with the tone of one piece (at least a bit influenced by something not his own, its headline, "Celebrating the Pablum Protest") doesn't alter that admiration an iota. After all, good criticism should provoke lively and substantial debate, and my post was meant solely in that spirit.

| Posted by zoilus on Sunday, March 04 at 5:22 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


Many Happy Returns: Belated Centenary Wishes
to W.H. Auden (Plus, a Plug)

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Slate's Book Club discussion on W.H. Auden, whose work (like much else) I generally overlooked in my haphazard, mostly autodidactic education in poetry. I only realized the omission when I gathered his effect on, particularly, the New York School poets. I'll have to pick up the recent Selected Poems. This fairly simple passage quoted in the Slate exchange (from "Many Happy Returns" I believe) strikes me as dovetailing with my current dipping into Richard Sennett and others in search of detours around some philosophical loggerheads (e.g., between sociological relativism and the Sublime) in aesthetics/criticism:

So I wish you first a
Sense of theatre; only
Those who love illusion
And know it will go far:
Otherwise we spend our
Lives in a confusion
Of what we say and do with
Who we really are.

Speaking of the sublime, this afternoon (Sunday) at 1 pm at the Tranzac in Toronto, I've caught wind of a rare reunion set by Eric Chenaux and Michelle McAdorey (who put out two transcendent duo albums a few years ago, but no longer collaborate regularly), along with the ridiculously enjoyable trio The Silt; it's a benefit for some sort of new yoga journal, with a suggested donation of $20, but I believe that's flexible (er, no pun intended), and it would be money well spent.

| Posted by zoilus on Sunday, March 04 at 3:05 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


March 2, 2007

Themes & Improvisations on the Blues:
Leroy Jenkins, 1932-2007


Saddened to hear that Leroy Jenkins is gone. I never got to see him in person, but very much appreciated his contributions to groups such as the Revolutionary Ensemble and Anthony Braxton's or Carla Bley's projects, as well as his solo work's influence on younger generations of bow-wielding improvisors. Troubled too to feel that the deaths among the 1960s-70s generation of free-jazz pioneers seem to keep coming closer together. If you want to make your own web pilgrimage, Destination:Out is as usual the first stop, for sounds to hear and reflections on Jenkins's place in the music; from there, proceed to Darcy James Argue's site for more links to remembrances and tributes.

Update: And here is a touching reminiscence of Jenkins from Zoilus's own stalwart contributor Erella Ganon:

Hearing of Leroy Jenkins's death launched me into a potent reverie. I met him in the early '80s when I was working for a new-music magazine in Manhattan. In the building to talk about recording with some folks at one of the indie record labels in the same building, I would run into this man often. He invited me to hear him play at a Brooklyn church. Could it have been the Bronx? It was before gentrification had grabbed these New York boroughs, I was new there and and I was curious to hear what he was doing in these faraway dangerous places. Turns out his instructions for finding the place were vague by any standards.

I remember telling my friend, David, that these directions were a lot like how I imagined Leroy cooked and played music, with much room for interpretation. It seemed that we hadn't passed any other white people in a while as we explored the possible path we were instructed to take to the venue. We just hoped to make it to the church on time. Realizing we would arrive after the performance had begun, I started to feel stressed. Any trepidation was replaced by a kind of overwhelming warmth when we walked in. He had just taken the "stage", and Leroy's solo violin, playing a sublime version of Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen, drew us in to the hall with such intimacy that the thought, all these years later, conjures it up again for me. Spellbound, we staggered into the church. Leroy noticed us and smiled at me. What a lovely man. It is appropriate that he was playing in a place of worship, with the succession of notes he managed to pull from his violin that night.

He played in Toronto many times with many configurations of musicians over the years. He played at the BamBoo with Oliver Lake and with his funk-fusion ensemble Sting, and various other venues too. Bass player Brandon Ross now plays in Cassandra Wilson's band and Bern Nix (also an Ornette Coleman collaborator) is still playing in various NYC ensembles, as far as I know.

I was glad that my first experience hearing him play was solo, in a little Baptist church. He had great stories to share and many ideas to express. Unfortunately, I don't think it was ever properly recorded. There is something simple and sublime about the kind of human sounds his violin made, whatever the music or collaborators. I feel very lucky to have spent so much time witnessing this and badly that more people were not able to experience Jenkins live.

| Posted by zoilus on Friday, March 02 at 6:00 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


March 1, 2007

Celine Dion, Barney the Dinosaur and
the Weaponization of Culture (A Polemic)

In this corner, alleged "dirty bomber"/torture victim Jose Padilla; in that corner, Barney.

The other day, reacting to my musings on the Celine Dion/Ennio Morricone moment on the Oscars, Zoilus reader Phil S. commented, "I can't think of any reason to purchase her recorded work, unless I get a job working in Gitmo for the U.S. State Department, in which case I'd definitely be forcing enemies of the state to sit through one of her Las Vegas shows on DVD. I'd probably have a hold of Osama by now."

It's an old joke, and I don't mean to single Phil out. If I dug back through my archive of Celine-hate in the press, I could quote a half-dozen similar formulations; you could Google up a dozen more. Trouble is, the commonplace reference to some disliked music as "torture" is not, in our time, some fanciful exaggeration, a pointed grotesquery like Lester Bangs's fantasy of bottle-slashing James Taylor in the 1970s. It's a literal, ongoing practice of statecraft. Yet it's still generally played for laughs in the media - when it was revealed a couple of years ago that the U.S. military had been blasting loops of Christina Aguilera and Eminem at prisoners, there were a hundred bottom-of-the-editorial-page bits of drollery in the newspapers guffawing, "Now they know how the rest of us feel!"

The fact is that firing ear-splitting recorded sound on repeat at prisoners isn't an aesthetic exercise. It's more like using blinding light and other methods of sleep deprivation and sensory overload - part of the "no-touch torture" repertoire that soft-authoritarian regimes like Bush's use to try to circumvent the Geneva Conventions (which, incidentally, forbid it). They're the flip side of sensory deprivation, and equally liable over time to cause the onset of schizophrenia-like symptoms and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Coincidentally, today in Now weekly in Toronto, Naomi Klein has a piece on Jose Padilla, the former Gitmo detainee who (as a U.S. citizen) has won the rare right to due process, though he's in no shape to stand trial. (Customs officers take note: This Jose Padilla should not be confused with the Spanish chill-out producer, though what you wanna bet?) Naomi's description of the section of Gitmo reserved for prisoners who've been driven over the edge deserves particular note. Former Army Muslim Chaplain James Yee says, "They would respond to me in a childlike voice, talking complete nonsense. Many of them would loudly sing childish songs, repeating the song over and over." Which calls to mind other reports that the music used to sandblast prisoners' consciousnesses at the prison in recent years has included Sesame Street music and the Barney the Dinosaur song. Is that what these delusional shells of human beings are helplessly babbling back to their captors?

Now, I get the impulse to blurt out, "Anybody with a toddler knows what effective torture the Barney song can be!" If I've never called a piece of music "torture" in print in the past decade, I'd be very surprised (though pleasantly). But when you stop and think, Sesame Street songs as psychic bludgeons isn't just ugly; it's a gross perversion of what that music was made for. It's the weaponization of culture.

Clearly, it is only one point on a spectrum that includes worse abuses. I don't mean to magnify it out of proportion. But I think people whose lives revolve around culture, and music in particular, should consider taking the lead in objecting to this one.

For purposes of torture, it doesn't matter what music you choose, though it's likely most efficient to use the most harsh or the most repetitive. In some cases the selections seem to be jingoistic, such as Metallica or Toby Keith brandished as brightly coloured flags with serrated edges. Other times, as with Eminem, they're probably attempting to offend cultural sensibilities. And with the Barney song, David Gray and Yoko Ono (both genuine cases), they probably are operating at the same glib middlebrow-snob level as a columnist or blogger.

Unlike some European legal systems, the anglo-saxon tradition doesn't include droit moral, the "moral rights" of a creator over her work, which (among other things) includes control over any use of the work that offends the artist's sensibilities. And I'm generally glad that it doesn't. Once a work of art is released into the public sphere, I believe, it becomes part of the collective unconscious, of popular/folk culture; compensation and copyright issues are trickier, but on principle images and ideas should be available for resuse, recontextualization, satire and even misappropriation. I don't think that the Catholic Church should control what artists do with icons of the Virgin Mary, or Muslims the image of Muhammad; and so I don't think Bruce Springsteen should have been able to stop Ronald Reagan from inverting the meaning of Born in the USA for propaganda purposes, though I wish people hadn't been careless enough to fall for it.

But musicians and music lovers' deeper moral rights are violated when the story goes beyond a figurative abuse of cultural discourse to the literal abuse of human subjects. And finally, some people are saying so. In February, the U.S.-based Society for Ethnomusicology took an official, unanimous position against the use of music as torture, demanding the U.S. government end the practice. (Predictably drawing yet more asinine humour.) In 2005, Irish music therapist Jane Edwards wrote a letter to Condoleeza Rice in protest and a column urging her peers to speak out (notice the Celine Dion crack she quotes). Perhaps the music industry could follow their lead, turning their attention from the "monetization" of music to the weaponization of it for a few heartbeats.

For further reading on torture and music: The ethnomusicologists link to this academic essay from the Transcultural Music Review. But for a more affecting, journalistic take, I highly recommend Moustafa Bayoumi's Disco Inferno, a Nation feature that was more than deservedly reprinted in the latest edition of Da Capo's annual Best Music Writing collection.

After that, whatever you decide about the issue, let's agree to this much: A moratorium on the crappy jokes, for the duration.

PS: On the subject of culture and torture, Jane Mayer's recent New Yorker piece on 24 is worth your time. Canadians beware: Kiefer Sutherland does not come off well.

In Depth | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, March 01 at 10:58 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (14)


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