by carl wilson

July 31, 2007

20th-Century Cinema, RIP


It's an obvious point, but: Bergman and Antonioni in two days? Wow. Also, I had no idea Antonioni was five years older than Ingmar. I would have guessed the opposite, not only because the Italian seemed more active in later years but because Bergman made some of his great masterpieces in the '50s while M.A. didn't become prolific until the early 1960s.

I've had phases of infatuation with each of these filmmakers, especially with Antonioni's early-sixties trilogy of emotional estrangement, L'Avventura, La Notte and L'Eclisse, but I do feel generationally removed from them in a way that leaves me more in mourning for an era - the greyscale landscape of European intellectuals reflecting on and reinventing existence, especially urban existence, after the War - than for the individual artists. (Whose lives were long and relatively blessed.) It does make me think of the later-1960s directors, whose work seems to me now less distant, more anticipatory of the era to follow, and how sad it will be when they begin to fall. Godard is 77... Are film directors an especially long-lived group? It seems like it, compared to, say, writers and visual artists. I suppose it requires more physical stamina just to be a film director in the first place: Miranda July was talking about this in an interview I recently heard, saying that the one thing she hadn't anticipated about making a feature film compared to every other form she'd tried was that it seemed like an Olympic endurance event - she lost something like 20 pounds, which to look at her seems practically a medical emergency. The scribblers and the daubers, though they may have at least as many vices, don't get the same regular workout. (Sculptors are always an exception.)

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 31 at 1:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


July 30, 2007

Guest Post: Mind-Expansion in Meaford

Thereminist Dorit Chrysler appears this weekend at the Electric Eclectics festival.

In this post, Zoilus site helper and local bonne vivante Erella Ganon offers a suggestion for musical action this weekend. If you have access to the Globe and Mail archive site, you can see my article about last year's inaugural Electric Eclectics festival here. - Carl W.

Irritainment, oh yes. My 13-year-old roommate keeps on threatening to make a video of paint drying. She's serious about it, just as I am when I tell her it has already been done.

Let's Paint TV is a Public Access TV show hosted by artist John Kilduff. Many of the shows involve him running on a treadmill, painting a portrait while accomplishing some otherwise mundane activity. Catch him frying pickles while multitasking as he interviews a poet, discussing Ivor Cutler. It would have been fun to see Kilduff on America's Got Talent in June - imagine the comments about him from David Hasselhoff.

That this version of Art (note the capital letter) exists in the YouTube universe with a huge following is not remarkable, but that he's coming to small-town Ontario to perform at the Electric Eclectics sound art and media festival is something to notice. Meaford, a sweet town in the picturesque Owen Sound area will be blown asunder for the long weekend, Aug. 3-5. There are sound poetry displays, music and other unusual happenings throughout the region. Most of it culminates at the Funny Farm, a private expanse on a hill that will be transformed for this three-day event. The original Funny Farm was in nearby Markdale, Ontario. A former inn was made into part-gallery, part-installation, part-funhouse over years of meticulous kitch collecting by artist Laura Kikauka. She's very much involved with this festival - her husband is the creative director, composer Gordon Monahan.

The curatorial decisions for this festival have been made with an equal amount of imagination, sensitivity and enviable networking acumen. Most of these performers appear in public occasionally at best, such as theremin master Dorit Chrysler; filmmaker, composer and musician Tony Conrad; London, Ont., noise pioneers the Nihilist Spasm Band; Canadian cult songbird Mary Margaret O'Hara and many lesser-known artists.

Any part of the series is worth the price of admission, but the choice of staying over makes it more appealing since it is out of town. Camping is certainly not something that I think about often, but to be in the midst of like-minded folks who appreciate similar visual and aural art is a lure too hard to resist. No worry about drinking and driving - just stay in a tent; it doesn't cost much more. And it's certainly more entertaining than watching paint dry.

See the full lineup here. - Erella Ganon

AUGUST 3-5, 2007

FRIDAY, AUGUST 3rd from 7pm:

7:00 BLUBE (Montreal)
7:45 FOSSILS (Hamilton)
supported by MICHAEL EVANS (NY) & GROUP (Los Angeles)
10:00 TONY CONRAD (Buffalo)
10:45 dd/mm/yyyy (Toronto)
11:30 BARRY SCHWARTZ (San Francisco)
1:00 WHIPPOORWILL (Toronto)

DJ FAILURE (Brooklyn)

(DJ @ 4pm, performers @ 5pm):

5:00 BITCHIN' (Toronto)
5:45 NILAN PERERA (Toronto)
6:30 ROZASIA (Toronto)
11:00 LARY 7 (NY)
11:45 EDWIN VAN DER HEIDE (Rotterdam)
12:30 BRAINFUDGE (Toronto)
Filmic Interludes provided by The Fabulous Festival of Fringe Film (Durham)

SUNDAY, AUGUST 5th from 4pm:

4:00 AS IS (Owen Sound)
4:45 CLOCKDIN (Grey County)
5:30 WOMEN IN TRAGEDY (Newmarket)
6:15 MR + MRS HYPNOTIST (Toronto)
supported by MICHAEL EVANS (NY) & GROUP (Los Angeles)
7:45 DISGUISES (Toronto)
8:30 ANNE BOURNE (Toronto)
9:15 I/O MEDIA (Toronto)

Read More | Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Monday, July 30 at 6:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


July 27, 2007

Amigos Makin' Art;
Plus, Happy 80th, John Ashbery

P(re)-S. Thanks for all the limerickal steez. Keep 'em comin'. And now...

Zoilus has frequently spoken of dear pal Misha Glouberman and the curious classes he teaches at the Misha Glouberman School of Learning, in various forms of improvisation, especially vocal, for non-musicians. Better than any account I can offer is this new short documentary about his latest class, based on John Zorn's Cobra. The film is by Rose Bianchini:

Another friend, Cathy Gordon, has long been planning a project I find compelling/horrifying/beautiful: Five years after she separated from her husband of eight years, Steve, Cathy was finding herself continually avoiding finalizing the divorce. So she created a structure she felt would enable her to do it: On August 13, from 11:30 am to 7:30 pm, she is crawling across Toronto on her hands and knees, in her wedding dress, visiting a series of significant locations from her marriage, and at the final station, signing the divorce papers. She is documenting the whole process (including her current crawling training) on a new website that is more than worth a visit.


Finally, tomorrow, Sat. July 28, marks the 80th birthday of probably my favourite living writer, American poet John Ashbery. Mainly via Facebook, I've been organizing a "notional celebration," just to encourage people to think of Ashbery with gratitude tomorrow, but that has developed as well into an actual, modest-scale celebration: At 3:30 pm, a few people are going to gather at Clinton's bar in Toronto, pretend it's the Cedar Tavern, quaff a few cocktails and read a little Ashbery. If you're so inclined, join us. Or just raise a glass in that spirit tomorrow, wherever you are.

The segments of the trip swing open like an orange.
There is light in there and mystery and food.
Come see it.
Come not for me but it.
But if I am still there, grant that we may see each other.

- from "Just Walking Around," A Wave, 1984

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 27 at 1:41 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


July 26, 2007

Sure Hope the Hanging Judge is Drunk!

We hear, Idolatrices, and we aim to please:

Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts

Where strippers and mobsters get cozy,
Big Jim loves both Lily and Rosie,
Which leads to some killin',
A theft and ... er, Dylan,
Is the Jack of Hearts Keyser Soze?

(For those just joining us, start here.)

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, July 26 at 3:16 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


July 25, 2007

Rice Scented in Our Absence:
Paul Haines, In Memorium




- Paul Haines, What is free to a good home?

In keeping with this week's unplanned poetry-and-music theme: My colleague Robert Everett Green has an excellent piece in today's Globe and Mail, talking with Emily Haines (best known as the singer for Metric) about her new EP, What Is Free to a Good Home?, being launched tonight at Harbourfront, which is named after the above poem by her father, the teacher, poet, artist and music writer Paul Haines. Tonight also marks the release of Secret Carnival Workers, a collection that for the first time brings together Paul Haines's poems, jazz-album liner notes, short fiction and other music writing, all united by his unique bodhisava-dada sensibility; the book was edited by Toronto composer and jazz critic Stuart Broomer, but it exists mainly thanks to Emily's efforts, as Stuart told me - she is self-publishing it through a company called H.Pal, although Coach House is printing and distributing it. (Emily also spoke about her father this week to Dose and The National Post and wrote an essay about him for The Toronto Star.)

In honour of the occasion I'd like to reprint the memorial piece I wrote for Paul Haines in The Globe, awhile after his death four years ago, but never posted on this site.

His words fit into music 'like fish in water'

Carl Wilson
The Globe & Mail
8 May 2003

Let's sit right down and say how slowly the passing can appear to take/ When nothing in the form of everything is at stake.

Those lines by Ontario poet, teacher and video artist Paul Haines could have been his own funeral march, if somebody sang them loud-and-soft enough, the way they are on New York avant-jazz band Curlew's 1993 album A Beautiful Western Saddle.

So could such works as Anti-Pondering or On the Way to Elsewhere and Here or What This Was Going to Suppose to Mean, many of them sung on the 1994 Haines anthology Darn It! Or the Michigan-born writer's Canadian Poem, which declared, "The summer has/ aged and I'm/ getting dark/ earlier and/ earlier."

This was an artist fluent in things that slip in and out of existence: a note, a laugh, a light, a life.

[... continues ...]

He was a high-school French teacher, husband and father in tiny Fenelon Falls, Ont., where he settled for the last quarter-century before his death on Jan. 21 at age 70. But Haines was also the inventor and inhabitor of a way of language just one step from jazz music, pivoted on its heel, at a tilt facing north.

One friend, Toronto critic and musician Stuart Broomer, puts it plain: "He was in some ways the most important imaginative writer involved in jazz in the last 40 years."

The musicians who in turn answered Haines's call have a few last responses to come, with tributes planned next Wednesday in Toronto and this fall in New York and at the Guelph Jazz Festival, in Guelph, Ont.

Consider Haines as a jazz songwriter, as Broomer does, and you'd go back to Hoagy Carmichael or Cole Porter to find lyrics that slip through to such wry, poignant effect. Yet his style was nothing like theirs, just as the new jazz wasn't Duke Ellington. Rather than suave couplets about cocktails and courtship, a typical Haines poem offered stripped-down postwar French surrealism, a haiku doing a can-can.

He gloried in puns, malapropisms, cracked syntax and ribald mental pictures that might raise a blush. He walked on mechanical knees -- a souvenir of his high-school track career near Saginaw, Mich., in the 1940s -- and the idea somehow suits his writing: Metal meeting meat in motion.

"The fact that his words were so baffling," British singer Robert Wyatt told BBC Radio 3 after Haines's death, "that's perfect for music, because you can say you liked the solo or not, but not what it meant. So his words sort of floated in music like fish in water."

Where other "jazz poets" through the years have taken the liberty of the music as licence for manic jags into the badlands of self-expression, Haines took his cue from its multidimensional form, at the speed of surprise. As Toronto composer John Oswald says, "Paul never wrote about music; he wrote music."

"His poetry is very polysemous -- it points in many directions at once," says a younger friend, Guelph, Ont., drummer and composer Jesse Stewart, with whom Haines wrote a multimedia opera in 1999. "And music might be said to do that as well."

The trombonist Roswell Rudd, who is helping organize the New York tribute, calls Haines, "one of the great listeners of the world," with a range from swing to punk. Rudd was a friend and musical partner of Haines beginning in the late-fifties jazz hothouse of New York's Radio Row (now Ground Zero), alongside free-jazz pioneer Albert Ayler, Canadian artist Michael Snow (with whom Haines made the landmark film New York Eye and Ear Control) and other giants-to-be such as Steve Lacy and Paul and Carla Bley.

Out of these friendships eventually came Haines's famed libretto for Carla Bley's dazzling avant-jazz opera, Escalator Over the Hill, which has been called the Sgt. Pepper's of early 1970s jazz, featuring everyone from Charlie Haden and Don Cherry to Jack Bruce and Linda Ronstadt. Haines sent Bley his poems from a Navajo reserve in New Mexico, where he and his wife Jo lived at the time.

The title came, he later said, from his irritation with the verb "to escalate" during the Vietnam War era (reflecting his eternally subtle social conscience, and adding shades to "over the hill," too). The paper back in Saginaw celebrated with a headline reading, "Local athlete writes opera," which so amused him he carried it around for years.

Escalator was revived for a live European tour in the late 1990s, but meanwhile Haines did a second Bley disc, Tropic Appetites, written while he spent five years in New Delhi. "He was this great traveller," says Broomer. "The kind of person who would go to Moscow for the weekend. He actually did that once."

Later, Bley would also participate in Darn It!, a double CD assembled over seven years by Haines and producer Kip Hanrahan, on which his poems were performed by dozens of musicians in and out of the jazz realm, from ex-Box Tops and Big Star singer Alex Chilton and Toronto's Mary Margaret O'Hara to jazz-improv composer Henry Threadgill, English saxophonist Evan Parker and cult guitarist Derek Bailey.

These albums are virtually the only way to find Haines's writing. His one book -- 1981's Third World Two -- went out of print once its texts had been cannibalized for songs and for the admired but little-seen video works he made in his final decades. He seemed to find print too static, though he could destabilize it, too, when he chose, as in his album notes and other critical essays.

He wrote a glorious dada-polemic booklet for the original pressing of Ayler's 1964 Spiritual Unity, a key album in free-jazz history (a rare copy recently sold on eBay for $1,725 U.S.), and notes for many other milestone records. On several, he even served as the recording engineer.

"He had an ear for sound, really quite beyond mine," says Rudd. "And this included language. There were times when it was difficult for me to understand him, as if he was speaking in tongues."

But friends also mention Haines's prodigious warmth, generosity and humour, and his avalanches of eclectic "gaslight" mixed tapes (or "K7s," a bilingual pun). Jesse Stewart mourns the end of the many letters, signed with aliases such as "Rudy L. Glorytractor."

I experienced that side of Haines personally in 1995 when a fax about an interview that, sadly, never transpired, included this text as a return address: "Matrigupta of Ujjain, India, wrote a poem that so pleased Rajah Vicrama Ditya HE WAS GIVEN THE ENTIRE STATE OF KASHMIR. The poet ruled Kashmir for five years (118-123) and then abdicated to become a recluse."

Haines may have won his own kingdom, but his end ("at his desk with his cassette deck on pause," says Oswald) was similarly obscure. His death met with silence in the Canadian press; compare that to the frenzy when his daughter Avery Haines was fired in 2000 for making an indiscreet joke as a TV news anchor. (Her career recovered. Another daughter, Emily, is a fine rising rock singer, whose father's sensibility often winks out from her lyrics.)

It may be that, as Toronto event organizer Glen Hall says, Haines was "a pretty intransigent non-self-promoter." And that, as Oswald says, "Like quite a few extraordinary, little-recognized Canadians who come quickly to mind, he is unclassifiable."

But Haines was also an ideal transplant, with his very Canadian-seeming, off-kilter humour, and deserved better treatment here. It was left to the BBC to do a half-hour tribute in March, including a passage from High Tide, commissioned there in 1999 for an Evan Parker session -- another elegy manque and one of Haines's sweetest:

Everyone's feet wetter -- musicians, listeners -- and tied now together.
Night parachutes concealed, their cargo installed.
The tide, no longer high, is in, and still.

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 25 at 2:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 24, 2007

Famous Poems Rewritten 2
(Modern Lovers Boogaloo)


In response to yesterday's song-as-limerick idea, my friend Matt Benz of Columbus, OH (formerly of great truckstop-rock band The Sovines, and one of the funniest people I know), responded: "The closest I've come is William Carlos Williams's 'The Red Wheelbarrow' as done by Jonathan Richman. It was called 'Hey! Little Red Wheelbarrow!' " Of course, I immediately demanded the lyrics, and with Matt's kind permission I'm sharing them with you. Further entries in either the famous-song-as-limerick or famous-poem-as-song-in-the-style-of-x genres are still delightedly encouraged.

Mr. Benz says: "You'll have to imagine the voice, snap the fingers to a simple 4/4 time, sing a very simple melody and it's something like this. In the key of G."

Hey! Little Red Wheelbarrow!

Hey! Red wheelbarrow,
Red wheelbarrow,
Doncha know, doncha know,
So much depends on you.
Oh red wheelbarrow, hey!
So much depends on you.

Hey! Red wheelbarrow,
Red wheelbarrow,
Glazed with rain, glazed with rain water,
Oh, red wheelbarrow, hey!
Beside the white chickens.

And so much depends on you,
Yes, so much depends on you,
Oh, so much depends on you...
Maybe too much! (Alright now, dance, modern lovers, dance!)

(Instrumental break)

Hey! Red wheelbarrow,
Red wheelbarrow,
I remember the first time that I saw you there,
Glazed with rain water,
The chickens all around,
Making their clucking sound,
And I thought to myself
And I spoke it out loud:

I said, hey! Red wheelbarrow!
I said, hey! Red wheelbarrow!
So much depends on you,
Oh, little red wheelbarrow,
So much - too much - depends on you.
Red wheelbarrow, hey!

Hey! Red wheelbarrow,
Red wheelbarrow,
Doncha know, doncha know,
So much depends on you,
Oh, red wheelbarrow, hey!
So much depends on you,
So much depends on the
redwheelbarrowbesidethewhitechickens ...
So much depends ...!

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 24 at 1:42 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


July 23, 2007

Famous Songs Rewritten as Limericks

Tickled by the link Bookninja (and Boing Boing) posted this morning to "Famous Poems Rewritten as Limericks," I realized you could do the same with songs, so I whipped up the two examples below. They both kinda make the same joke, but I didn't try very hard to cure their lameness because I figured their very imperfection might prompt a competitive spirit.

Stairway to Heaven
There's some lady who's going to the stars,
Via stairs, road, or wind, not by car.
I would say if I could
If she's evil or good,
But it's all drowned out in loud guitars.

Teenage Riot
Discord and confusion are looming
While a youth revolution is brewing:
Though its programme's unclear,
There'll be leather and beer,
And a lot of creative detuning.

Later: All right, another:

Norwegian Wood
Once J.L. met a girl with good floors,
Upon which they proceeded to score.
She had work (so she's legal,
Which was rare for a Beatle),
But he still treated her like a whore.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, July 23 at 3:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (74)


July 21, 2007

We Hearby Submit that Pop Montreal
Change Its Name to 'The Paradise on Earth Festival'


B-a-n-a-n-a-s. I'm watching Raul Julia play New York New York on clarinet to his goats as Calibanos in Paul Mazursky's The Tempest (I forgot that it was Molly Ringwald's first film; she's good in it! It's not as bad as its reputation, not near). I decide to look in on the internasty, and what do I hear from the folks at Pop Montreal but this: Pere Ubu, Patti Smith, Mort Sahl, DJ/Rupture, Final Fantasy, Gary Lucas, Tagaq, The Federation, Half-Japanese, Qui with David Yow, and PAG in one festival? I've got one heavy-duty case of dropjaw.

"Confirmed Artists, more to be announced:
Patti Smith, Cody Chesnutt, Pere Ubu
Half Japanese, Mort Sahl (who apparently is originally from Montreal - did you know this? I did not know this!)
Ron Sexsmith, Michel Pagliaro, Black Mountain, Oakley Hall
Sunset Rubdown, The National, A-Trak, Kid Sister
Caribou, Born Ruffians, Final Fantasy, Chromeo
Tiga, Bobby Conn, Yelle, Eric's Trip, DJ/Rupture
Tony Rebel, Jr Kelly, Starvin Hungry, Bionic
Trigger Effect, Lotusland, Magnolia Electric Co., Chad VanGaalen
Grizzly Bear, The Watson Twins, MSTRKRFT, DJ Mehdi
Jay Reatard, Qui, Megasoid, Glitch Mob
The Cool Kids, Gary Lucas, Earlimart, Ndidi Onukwulu
Miracle Fortress, Taqaq, Fujiya and Miyagi,
Daedalus, Filastine, United Steel Workers of Montreal,
Barmitzvah Brothers, Fucked Up, Maga Bo, Georgie James,
Tiombe Lockhart, Ted Leo & The Pharmacists, Basia Bulat,
We're Marching On and much more."

The dates are Oct. 3-7. And it sounds like the Future of Music Coalition and McGill are going to put on a "Pop & Policy" conference at the same time. Please don't come. That town ain't big enough for the million of us.

General | Posted by zoilus on Saturday, July 21 at 10:31 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (16)


July 18, 2007

Guest Post: Compassionate Consumption


A message to the community from Matias Rozenberg of the Phonemes (Blocks Recording Club), Matias, and Consumption Records. Please help him out if you can! His email is matias890 at hotmail dot com - C.W.

Consumption is a label that releases music on donated cassettes utilising hand-decorated, recycled packaging. The music is sold not for money, but in exchange for art challenges. No money changes hands. Consumption Records concentrates on music originally recorded for the creators and their friends, with no intention of ever finding an audience.

The art challenge for a particular cassette is dependent on the cassette in question. ( For example, the CoraMichael tape will cost you 2 pubic hairs and some toenail clippings; Great Grandma Cassie's tape cost a drawing of an eccentric relative; The Perfects tape cost a made-up-on-the-spot song which the band then re-recorded and released on their next album.) Consumption Records releases are only available in person, through unusual situations and over the mail.

Consumption Records is secretly celebrating its five-year anniversary.

I am moving from my very big house to a very tiny house. There is a shelf of Consumption materials and releases that cannot fit into my new home. also, there are several boxes of tapes that need storage. The stuff must be gone from my old place by August 1.

When I started Consumption Records, I vowed to myself I would keep it going for the rest of my life, or at the very least, for a significant amount of time, like no less than 30 years. This situation puts that vow in jeopardy.

So I am hoping that there must be one, if not several, responsible people reading this who has some space and would be happy to store a few things for the label.

If you are that person (or those people) please contact Matias Rozenberg via matias890 at hotmail dot com. Thank you!

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 18 at 4:50 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Aural Arrival


There's a new kid on the web-radio/web-lit crossover block, thanks to former House of Anansi impresario-editor Martha Sharpe (much missed in Toronto, currently domiciled in NYC) and Toronto publishing type David Ross: It's Radio Press, the new home of pod-pliable literary commentary and fun'n'games. So far, poet Adam Sol presents Moby Dick in 5 minutes; Mavis Gallant and Toronto writer Erik Rutherford go on a gossipy walk through Paris; there's a new story by Mark Anthony Jarman; Rick Moody talks about character creation and the canard of "likeability"; and contributors to Brick Magazine read their work. That's about it for now but it'll get more capacious - I hope to contribute at some point down the line, and there are big ideas about Radio Press fulfilling the second word in its mandate and eventually publishing print, too. Felicitations to the editors on the parturition of the long-gestated, bouncing baby site.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 18 at 3:21 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


July 17, 2007

Block Ice & Bloodlines


This Friday, New York's Erik Friedlander, perhaps the most prominent cellist in the improv-and-new-music world today, is playing a show on Toronto Island, and by some coincidence, today in The New York Times, there's a story about Friedlander - in particular his new album, Block Ice & Propane, which draws on memories of family camping trips with his mother, sister, and father Lee Friedlander, the famous photographer. I'd forgotten that Erik F. was the lensman's son, so I was curious to read this piece. It's disillusioning as you get older to find out that half the people exhibiting in galleries have trust funds and another third have artist parents (and a few have both), the ways that class, cultural capital and nepotism determine the shape and population of arts communities - not that the kids of artists should be excluded, of course, but it's another sense in which the tribe is kind of endogamously self-reproducing rather than having full intercourse with the rest of society and evolving out of that. However, I didn't feel that way about the Friedlander connection, I think in part because it's obvious how hard Erik works, with his quite prolific output of solo albums along with guest appearances in performances and recordings by everyone from the Mountain Goats to John Zorn and Ned Rothenberg to Courtney Love; but also because there's always been something a bit mysterious in his aesthetic to me, which somehow framing him as the child of a modernist-artist family helps to bring into clearer focus.

One point that the Times's Ben Sisario passes over that seems worthy of mention is that Lee Friedlander has quite a direct link to the music world, as he was the photographer for jazz and soul albums on Atlantic in the 1950s and 1960s, shooting the classic portraits on the covers of such albums as Miles' In a Silent Way, Coltrane's Giant Steps, discs by Aretha Franklin, Roland Kirk, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, Mingus, Ornette and many more. Friedlander remarks in the story about the liberating effect of having grown up seeing that art is a matter of "just doing" the impossible. I'm sure that he also grew up hearing that lesson illustrated sonically by the subjects of his father's photographs, some who bent the rules and some who recognized no rule but their own, and his own work, which is so much about tension and timbre and the marginal limit points of music, is illuminated when I look at it as conditioned by and responsive to the swaggering, expansive music that surrounded him in childhood.

Whoever his daddy is, Friedlander is quite an intense performer and well worth catching live. See the gig guide for details. Also, on the "jump" to this post is a column I wrote about him three years ago when he was touring behind my favourite disc of his (I haven't heard the new one yet), Maldoror. [...]

Making ugly sounds on a beautiful instrument

April 15, 2004
The Globe and Mail

When I reach Erik Friedlander, he's rollerblading through the streets of New York, and asks me to wait as he passes through a tunnel.

It's the first time I've interviewed an internationally acclaimed musician in mid-skate. But for a jazz player on the outer rim of expression, and an unlikely instrument, "cellist on rollerblades" is as good an image as any.

I ask if he's heading to a studio job, maybe an avant-jazz session like those he's done with the likes of trumpeter Dave Douglas or saxophonist John Zorn, or a pop gig like those with Alanis Morissette and Courtney Love, or one of his own scores for film.

"Actually, no," he says, "Couples therapy." The 44-year-old laughingly adds, "Don't worry, it has nothing to do with Maldoror."

Maldoror is his first solo disc, after a half-dozen as leader of cross-cultural jazz ensembles Chimera and Topaz. It's based on the book Les Chants de Maldoror by the Comte de Lautreamont, the pseudonym of Uruguayan immigrant Isidore Ducasse. He wrote it in Paris in 1868, at half Friedlander's age, and died two years later, unmourned till the surrealists rediscovered him a half-century on.

Friedlander came to it when the composer Michael Montes - after years of pushing for a solo disc - cornered him in a Berlin studio and surprised him with printed pages of Maldoror excerpts. Friedlander read them one by one and, with tape rolling, improvised musical responses, all in about an hour.

In the book, Lautreamont rhapsodizes over evil of every persuasion, from murder, pedophilia and the rape of Christ to erotic union with a shark. Its preface, which inspired Friedlander's first track, warns the reader may find "the deadly issues of this book will lap up his soul as water does sugar." No wonder he fears I'll jump to conclusions about his private life.

Yet relationship counselling is another accidentally apt metaphor. Here more than ever, Friedlander is mediating between cultural odd couples: 19th and 21st centuries, classical and jazz, beauty and brutality, spontaneity and structure. As Lautreamont's notorious line goes, it's "the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella."

The idea of jazz cello sometimes feels that incongruous to the son of 1950s jazz photographer Lee Friedlander (who shot covers for Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus), despite praise like being a voted a "rising star" in last year's Downbeat poll.

Jazz cello can be traced from Oscar Pettiford in Duke Ellington's band through Abdul Wadud in the 1970s loft scene. Today it can even be found in the hands of Peggy Lee in Vancouver, or Kye Marshall and Matt Brubeck (son of Dave) in Toronto. Yet it remains a bit like a leggy, brandy-toned Bacall striding unexpectedly into a bar full of stubbled, scotch-soaked Bogarts.

"I think it's the timbre, the texture," says Friedlander. "I used to play Broadway shows, and the most basic player with a sax or clarinet could play five notes and sound more 'jazzy' than I would after slaving over a tune for five hours. The sustain of the cello - there's nothing cool about it, I mean in the Miles Davis sense. It's too intense."

Its strengths are nearly as tricky. "It has a warmth and resonance that's fantastic. Everyone responds: 'Oh, I love the cello.' But I need not to be so restricted by that preconceived notion of what the cello sounds like. It can be raucous, ugly, aggressive - and it needs to be.

"Although I've sometimes gone too far trying to be that way."

Wittingly or not, Montes may have struck close to that dilemma in choosing Maldoror - a beginning of the modernist inversion of morality and rejection of beauty that would define 20th-century art.

"Lautreamont was clearly trying to shock people," says Friedlander. "Which I found funny at times, living now. But I had to be aggressive and find something I could respond to, without bowing down to it too much. It's hard not to be impressed by the economy of it, what he crammed into a small space."

In turn, Friedlander coaxed from his strings his own pizzicato and bowed compressions of the poet's pranks and agonies, from the skittering madwoman to the swirling starlings, the pretty boy's heart torn from his chest and the "stern" elegance of mathematics. Yet like many artists who no longer identify with the old protest against pleasure, his vocabulary harbours harmony as much as dissonance, turning Ducasse's anarchy to elegy, maybe for modernism itself.

The exercise also broke down the compositionally-oriented Friedlander's resistance to free improvisation. "Complete freedom is nowhere," he says. "As an audience member I get frustrated and angry when players just lob one idea after another that has no connection, no tension that can then be released."

Yet with Maldoror the only structure is conceptual. "Once I start, I try to deal with what I have just played, not just cast it aside. I tell a story." How will he approach it in concert? "That's the crux of the problem. To recreate the same music or process would be a little deadening mentally. So I'm touring the spirit of the record, creating something in the moment."

For this first solo tour, including stops at Montreal's La Sala Rossa tomorrow and the Rivoli in Toronto on Sunday, he's rehearsed basic frameworks for Maldoror and other pieces by Zorn, banned Iranian pop star Googoosh, and even his teenage rock hero Carlos Santana.

But he got a surprise in a trial solo run at South by Southwest in Texas last month, for an audience waiting to hear rock band Mr. Bungle (whose singer, Mike Patton, has his own side group named Maldoror): "Without exception these kids were more interested in the improvising. I couldn't play 'out' enough for them. When I did something prepared, you could feel the energy drop immediately. . . .

"Maybe people are ready for something different."

Read More | General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 17 at 1:41 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (3)


July 16, 2007

She's Gone Like the Spot

Cate Blanchett as Bob Dylan, shooting I'm Not There.

This has been all over the interblogs already, but maybe it's been a lovely summer weekend where you were, as it was where I was, and you were ignoring the interblogs completely. In which case, you will want to see this leaked clip from the upcoming I'm Not There, Todd Haynes's movie about - or around and about - Bob Dylan, which is being released in September. For some context to the clip, which is mostly being shat upon by the self-styled know-it-alls of interbloggery (by which I mean not S'gum itself but S'gum's commentators), it's helpful to remember that the film is an episodic series of vignettes, featuring six different actors playing Dylan in different phases of his life, including, "Woody (Marcus Carl Franklin) - an 11-year-old black boy, always on the run; Robbie - a womanising performer, always on the road; Jude (Cate Blanchett) - the young androgynous rock star; John/Jack (Christian Bale) - a folk idol who reinvents himself as an evangelist; Billy (Richard Gere) - the famous outlaw, miraculously alive but growing old." (I wonder if they originally tried to get John Travolta for the Gere role, as the Times insinuated yesterday is standard practice?)

The device is a somewhat obvious one given Dylan's famously mercurial and elusive persona, but it's still ballsy to do it. I've never revisited Haynes' glam-rock period pic Velvet Goldmine but I felt at the time that it failed because it got overly absorbed with some fairly obvious sexuality issues around the Iggy Pop/David Bowie/Lou Reed figures; but that aside, Haynes is the person who made Safe (one of the best American movies of the '90s) and Far From Heaven and Poison and Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, and in the battle of the Todds and their multiple-actors-play-one-character movies - and I actually did like Palindromes at least somewhat - I know where I side. (I have a much trickier time in the battle of the Andersons: Wes or P.T.?)

I'm pleased for instance by these comments from Blanchett about the film: "Even though the film's aim is not to be a biopic, people automatically will want to receive it like that. Even though I had no interest in imitating Dylan, Todd was really specific that I wore the exact suit that he wore in Manchester in 1965, and the hair. He wants those iconic references, but he doesn't want an imitation, so it was a really difficult tightrope to walk. Which I hope I walked without falling off too often."

Also note that the film is titled after the Basement Tapes-era I'm Not There (1956), which is one of Dylan's best terrible songs, poker-faced yet compelling music with nearly gibberish lyrics, eg, "Well it's all about diffusion that I cry for her veil/ I don't need anybody now beside me to tell/ And it's all affirmation I receive, but it's not/ She's a lone-hearted beauty, but she's gone like the spot": Lyrics with a really absent centre, a collapsible subject, but a charismatic melody - which suggests how I imagine Haynes wants the film to be. And that seems like a good antidote to the almost-too-available-Bob of the past couple of years, the cooperative Dylan of the Scorsese documentary, the author of the memoirs, the far-less-prickly interview subject, even the radio-show host.

On the other hand, I suspect that it's somewhat impossible to make a wholly satisfying movie about Bob Dylan (just as it's always impossible to be wholly satisfied by Bob Dylan and his music, which is how he manages to keep you craving it [little-known fact: the Stones' Satisfaction was actually about Dylan] [alright, no, it wasn't]), but I have a fair amount of faith that we will be arousingly, absorbingly, worthily dissatisfied by this one. And on a third hand, David Cross as Allen Ginsberg is the best idea anybody's had for what to do with David Cross. (Even better than this idea.) His usual barely repressed smirk of delight at how clever he is suddenly transforms into Ginsberg's uneasy barely repressed smirk of delight at how closely he's communing with William Blake's angels and their little bareassed nirvana. He really has the affect. I love how in this scene Dylan is running his customary con games and then gets so easily conned himself. Aside from that the scene seems slight, but hell, it's just a scene.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, July 16 at 3:25 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (7)


July 13, 2007

August Gig Guide...


... is now up in quite sketchy & preliminary form. Send along those event announcements. Even the rest of July is looking thinner than usual - although check out the roster for the Global Hip Hop: The 4 Elements festival at Harbourfront starting July 27 with a 25th anniversary tribute to Wild Style that includes Grand Wizard Theodore, The Chief Rocker Busy Bee and The Fantastic Five! And the next night has the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble from Chicago, made up of Sun Ra alum and Artistic Heritage Ensemble leader Kelan Phil Cohran's kids. Thrillz! August so far has nothing to compete, but I'm sure news will roll in.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Friday, July 13 at 3:27 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


July 10, 2007

'You can't face a noun so you're straight adverbing it'


Must-read music reporting, one of the few in that category recently: Vanity Fair gets a sitdown with Sly Stone 2007. It's not the coup that it makes itself out to be, quite, as Sly has been playing occasional gigs lately (and according to the piece, has a "library" of new songs he wants to record), and there's been a slew of reissues, so the interview is obviously part of a publicity plan, but for now it is a rare fish, and pretty well-landed.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 10 at 4:22 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Polaris Short List!

This morning came the announcement of the shortlist for this year's Polaris Prize, as voted by 170 music writers, broadcasters and bloggers across the Grated White Nerf, including your humble proprieter. The winner of the $20,000 award for the best Canadian album of the year will be selected at the gala on Sept. 24. (Last year's winner, of course, was Final Fantasy's He Poos Clouds). This year's list is far shorter on diversity and surprise than last year's, which included two hip-hop albums and one in French, but it's a decent batch - nice to see Miracle Fortress sneak its way on - though for me, in this selection, the standout is glaringly clear. (Go ahead, guess.)

Arcade Fire - Neon Bible (Que.)
The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horse (Que.)
The Dears - Gang of Losers (Que.)
Julie Doiron - Woke Myself Up (N.B.)
Feist - The Reminder (Ont. [expat])
Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye (Ont.)
Miracle Fortress - Five Roses (Que.)
Joel Plaskett Emergency - Ashtray Rock (N.S.)
Chad VanGaalen - Skelliconnection (Alta.)
Patrick Watson - Close To Paradise (Que.)

Of the non-nominees, I'm particularly sad Frog Eyes didn't make the cut, but half the jurists have probably never even seen that record, as it's not distributed by as large an organization as all of these are. Which goes double for the Feuermusik disc, which some of us delusionally hoped might make a last-minute charge up the left flank to get into the endzone. Nevertheless, congratulations to all the worthy nominees. And I won't even whine about the Toronto shutout (not counting non-resident Feist) - 2006 wasn't an especially blazing year for local releases, and B.C. fared even worse.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, July 10 at 12:03 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (21)


July 9, 2007

Fickle Flickers of Facts and Figures


Saw the ever-delightful Khaela Maricich aka Portland "band" (bandonym *) The Blow (aka "Toronto's wife" after she "married" Toronto in a performance a few years back) last night at the Horseshoe, with Republic of Safety opening. Not as high-concept a narrative to the performance as other times, but a nice taxonomization of the varieties of the love song (from the "I keep moving towards you and you keep moving away" song to the love-achieved song - which Maricich basically maintained goes "la la la la la," no further words - to of course the lost love song or the "I'm so over you" - except you're not because you're still singing about it - song, and so forth), and the question of whether the songwriter pursues bad relationships in order to have something to write songs about, or vice versa... with the dances and the demonstrations, the anecdotes and the emotions. I especially like it when Khaela's goofy-wonder-and-sauciness songs, with their sixties pop melody lines, get combined with actually funky, Beyoncesque R&B; beats. Doesn't happen quite enough. Lots else happens though. There's a nice, like-eavesdropping chat between Khaela and her friend, the filmmaker/performer/writer Miranda July, in the latest issue of The Believer. For those puzzled by the line about the "deli aisle" in Parentheses, all is explained.

Among other things that happened this weekend, the odd pair-up of Gogol Bordello's Eugene Hutz with Madonna at Live Earth should not go unmentioned. It seems that he and the band are appearing in Madge's first project as a movie director. I'm trying to keep a completely open mind about this but Madonna + movies does not always go so well, so blocking the route to my open mind you might discover some wincing eyes.

Meanwhile in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, Yamataka Eye of the Boredoms did something typically bravura and beautiful - a snaking 77-drummer "boa" for 7/7/07. (The drummers including Brian Chippendale of Lightning Bolt and Kid Millions from Oneida.) As Kelefa Sanneh notes in that NYT story, Eye has managed here to do the apparently impossible - to redeem the drum circle. Sneaky.

* PS: I just did a quick search and discovered that you can now find a dozen or so hits on Google of people using the term "bandonym" who are not me, as if it were a word. I can't help but be very tickled by that.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, July 09 at 4:32 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


July 5, 2007

Geeks in Love


I linked to the Cat & Girl art-geek versus science-geek strip a couple of months back - it's good subcultural fun, but there's a lot of truth to it. I've long imagined a TV or radio show made up of those conversations that smart but scientifically subliterate arts types get into, arguing about some matter of scientific fact, often after a couple of beers, where nobody really knows the most basic terms of what they're talking about. Artists Talk About Science would be the lowest-rated program ever, but it would get big laughs at MIT. (The only function of this joke is to refer to it when these conversations happen: "Welcome to the latest episode of Artists Talk About Science.")

While I'm as guilty of scientific obtuseness as the next art geek, I'm excited whenever someone tries to bridge the two geekitudes. It's why Boing Boing is such a success, for example. It's part of why I love Matmos. Or Brian Eno. Or Blackalicious rapping about the periodic table in Chemical Calisthenics. And it's the driving impulse behind two performance events this week in Toronto: This year's Scream festival of poetry and literary performance has a scientific theme (I should have posted this in advance of last night's panel discussion on the subject, but ah well), and Small Wooden Shoe is presenting the latest installment of its "Dedicated to the Revolutions" series of theatrical explorations of scientific revolutions as part of this week's Fringe festival: I Keep Dropping Shit, a show about the Newtonian revolution. (The title's a gravity joke, obvs.) To show they're not just taking science as a cheap supplier of metaphor (though science is great for that), SWS is presenting the show at the MaRS Institute of research and innovation on the University of Toronto campus, which has showed its soft spot for art geeks in the past by serving as a venue for Nuit Blanche, not to mention somebody up there's obvious concern about architecture. The MaRS folk have an enjoyable interview with Dropping Shit director Jacob Zimmer up on their blog today. Let's increase the geek love.

I should also mention that I'm in a panel discussion at the Scream on Sunday afternoon which has nothing to do with science except in its title: "Under the Microscope: The State of Poetry Criticism." The writeup follows, but it's at 3 pm at Tinto coffeeshop at 89 Roncesvalles, and it's free. I am on the panel as the designated outsider - the organizers made the argument that they think music criticism gets right what poetry criticism gets wrong, and while I'm not sure I agree (I guess I have three days to decide!), it's fruitful ground for discussion. Come on out and get into it. I'm going to try to make sure there's plenty of time for audience contribution, in a scientific spirit of free and open inquiry.

Even with a microscope, it's (almost) too small to see: where's the discussion of poetry among non-poets? The media carries criticism of all kinds of arts, from architecture to audio installations, but no one seems to talk about poetry. We'll examine why. Panelists include David Orr, poetry critic for the The New York Times Book Review; Carl Wilson, music critic and proprietor of the website; Damian Rogers, arts editor at eye weekly; and Elizabeth Bachinsky, a poet whose latest collection was nominated for a 2006 Governor General's Award. The lab director for this discussion will be Toronto writer Marianne Apostolides.

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, July 05 at 1:24 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (11)


July 4, 2007

Guest Post: Afrofest & Toumani Diabaté


Zoilus aide-de-camp Erella Ganon writes:

Afrofest is one of the best ways Torontonians have to investigate a wide range of music from that continent. Most performances are available without an admission charge, and my advice is to wander to Queen's Park this weekend and just catch whoever is on the stage. Normally my faith in programmers is not as solid, but the line up with this incarnation of Afrofest is without low point from what I gather. Expect a huge selection of food and items recently brought over from yonder for sale. The weather is predicted to be cooperative. Don't try, however, to glean information from their website; it is one of the least useful I have seen. One might expect, a few days before the festival, that the site would give an approximation (or at least an idea) of which day a particular artist is playing. Two things I do know for sure: The popular Mahotella Queens won't be appearing at all; they've been replaced by Cape Verdian newcomer, Lura. Which day or time, is anyone's guess. And Malian kora player and griot Toumani Diabaté will play Harbourfront Centre's main concert stage Thursday night on the bill with Abdoulaye Diabaté (who also will be at Queen's Park at some point, this weekend).

The kora is a 21-stringed instrument with a gourd as a resonator. Sounding like a cross between a harp and flamenco guitar, the strings are plucked with both hands. Kora players have traditionally come from families of griots - historians, genealogists, musicians and storytellers who pass their skills on to their descendants. Toumani can trace his griot ancestry back at least 53 generations and Abdoulaye Diabaté can trace back 70 generations. Can you imagine? In my family we cannot even trace the countries of birth more than 3 generations. If you were from Mali or Guinea and felt a calling to be a musician, it likely would be discouraged unless it was in your lineage. Last time I saw Toumani Diabaté was years ago at the Phoenix club. He was touring with blues guitarist Taj Mahal. The interplay between these two very subtle musicians was a delight. This week he is appearing with his new group, the Symmetric Orchestra, incorporating his traditional song styles along with new ideas and arrangements. - Erella Ganon

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, July 04 at 5:15 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (6)


Zoilus by Carl Wilson