by carl wilson

May 29, 2008

Love Don't Change


Tonight marks the release of Eric Chenaux's latest album, Sloppy Ground, a lovely term for its main subject matter, which Eric describes as not the beginning or the ending but the middle of love - the main part, that is, but the most overlooked, the part for which we need much more music: the "ever after" that follows the closing clinch of the courtship dance. There's a nice interview with Eric in Eye today too. Meanwhile Eric's frequent collaborator Ryan Driver (of Deep Dark United, Silt, Reveries, etc) has his first solo album, enticingly titled Feeler of Pure Joy, coming out on home-base label Rat-drifting. (Both releases are celebrated tonight with a show at Wrongbar in Toronto.)

Additional Thursday reading: David Dacks has a perspicacious survey of the new generation of Toronto soul on AOL Canada of all places.

General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, May 29 at 2:01 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


May 28, 2008

I Miss the Tyrant

beatles-sullivansmall.jpg tvdinnersmall.gif

The most quotable quote from this year's EMP Pop Conference was probably Robert Christgau confessing, "I miss the monoculture" - that storied (and arguably mythic) time when "everyone" listened to the same songs, watched the same shows, and so on. A similar sentiment animated the TVO's Studio 2 The Agenda panel I did in April, asking what ever happened to the big hits that "everybody" danced to.

Leave it to this week's Cat and Girl to provide the counterargument.

It makes me imagine a fable ending with this dialogue:

"I miss the tyrant," the old hero sighed.
"But you killed the tyrant!" his young disciples cried.
"At least under the tyrant," he replied, "we all knew who needed killing."

Okay, a fable or maybe a prog-rock song.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, May 28 at 1:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (9)


May 27, 2008

Starlet Sing-Off, Round 2


Since people seem to love arguing about Scarlett Johansson's Tom Waits covers album, let's extend the theme: The most frequent comparison raised (whether for or against S.J.) is Zooey Deschanel's duo with M. Ward in She & Him. It's hardly a one-to-one parallel, because Deschanel's nowhere near the household name that Johansson is - she's about M. Ward-level famous in movie terms (which means much more famous ... but you see the point).

But the one I've got my ear on is Jena Malone, partly because her musical pursuits don't seem so side-projecty (though a little self-indulgent/twee). She's not only writing her own songs, she's dropped her backup group (flying without the safety net of a "real musician" male partner) in favour of inventing her own "one-woman band" rig, The Shoe (see below). And last weekend she did a "treasure map tour" of L.A. with it. You can hear some of The Shoe's recent output at her MySpace. I'd give them at least a "promising," and notably I find I don't think about her status as "actress-singer" at all while I'm listening - I just listen the way I might to songs by any other young new artist. ... Arguably, of course, that is to be deprived of a pleasure rather than to gain one.


General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, May 27 at 3:57 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


May 26, 2008

The Sadies' Most Wanted

Toronto's pride The Sadies exercise a light-hearted version of YouTubin' vigilante justice by posting this security-cam footage of some asshole breaking into their van and grabbing their GPS unit, and the group's discovery of the theft, all given a Dukes of Hazzard-esque rollicking soundtrack. If only cameras were on the spot more often when bands' instruments and gear get ripped off, but that's usually from the back alley behind some club. The video's very funny-sad - them Sadies never met a lemon they couldn't turn into a bourbon sour. If you do recognize the perp in these pics, let their management know.

General | Posted by zoilus on Monday, May 26 at 1:56 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


May 25, 2008

Concrete Tonight!

Just a reminder of the show at the Polish Combatants' Hall at 206 Beverley St. (a block south of College at Cecil St), 8 pm. Door price has been reduced to $15 (same as the advance price)! Think concretely - wear grey! (See details in sidebar.)

If you can't make it tonight, remember that it's also happening next Sunday at the Science Centre in the afternoon.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, May 25 at 2:11 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


May 23, 2008

Speaking Concretely


Here's the email interview Sarah Liss did with me about Concrete Toronto Music, the show Jonny Dovercourt of the Music Gallery curated with me, happening tomorrow (Sunday) at the Polish Combatants' Hall downtown and the following Sunday at the Ontario Science Centre (we've got a bus chartered to take people there).

Can you guys both give me a bit of a backgrounder on the genesis of this project and your involvement in it? How much were architectural and acoustic concerns on your mind(s) before taking this on? Was the book your key source of inspiration, or were either of you already thinking about a project that would encourage musicians to interact with some of the city's not-typically-musical spaces?

The idea was born at the Coach House launch party this winter where the Concrete Toronto book was being launched - at the same time as the bpNichol anthology, which got me thinking about the concrete buildings/concrete poetry parallel in '60s and early '70s culture. And then of course the "musique concrete" connection occurred to us too.

Jonny and I were both saying how much we liked the book and then one of us - I think me but I'm not sure - said we ought to do a site-specific show in honour of it.

I think we've both been interested in site-specific shows (such as the Extermination Music Night series or a couple of the shows Jonny's old band Republic of Safety played) for a long time, and in particular Toronto-celebrating and Toronto-exploring culture. So it wasn't a huge leap.

Concrete Toronto: just a clever play on musique concrete, or a name with deep connotative meaning - discuss.

Most of the music in the show won't, I don't think, have much relationship to musique concrete, though some of it will. The name of the show is just taken directly from the book, but I like the phrase too - that what we're paying tribute to here is the "concrete" Toronto - the tangible, physical Toronto - rather than an abstract idea of the city, like the one sometimes evoked (by me and Jonny among others) the past few years by the phrase "Torontopia."

[... continued...]

I'm not familiar with the Concrete Toronto book -- would you mind setting it up for me and talking about why it's so interesting?

The main thing I love about the book is that it takes a long look at exactly the structures that a lot of people in this city might consider the ugly ones - all the 1960s university buildings, Robarts, the Science Centre, New City Hall (ok, most people like that one), the Gardiner Expressway - and considers them as our architectural heritage, with their own kind of beauty and meaning. It makes the case that at least some of that heritage should be preserved just as much as our Victorian and Edwardian buildings are.

Preservationists discuss how the real danger period for losing heritage buildings is in the 30-to-40-year period after they were built, because that's when they seem just deeply unfashionable but not yet part of official History. So Concrete Toronto comes along just at that moment of danger as a low-key kind of intervention.

And because I was a child when these buildings were new, I have a strong emotional reaction there, too - I feel like, ugly or beautiful, that's the Toronto that partly made me. I was born here but didn't live here as a kid - I was in not-so-concrete-filled Brantford, Ont. But Toronto was still the big city over the horizon, and I found it all so exciting when we would visit - there'd be big bus trips to the Science Centre every few years and it was pretty much the most fantastic place a kid could visit, for example. Especially since I wasn't a nature-loving kid, these concrete Toronto buildings lie somewhere near the core of my urban-space-loving heart. I think that must be somewhat true for a good chunk of this generation, but it's not something that has a public acknowledgment, unlike other parts of our relationship to the built and natural environment around us.

How (and why) did you choose the roster of contributing artists for this project? What concerns did you have to keep in mind that don't necessarily come up when you're programming, say, an event at the Music Gallery? Were you more interested in finding musicians who'd already proven themselves in space-navigating ways, or did you have a sense that you wanted to challenge folks like Tony (whose singer/songwriter background seems much more traditionally pop-oriented than many of the other artists on the bill) in order to see what they'd come up with?

Jonny and I just kicked names around and then saw who was available. There were people we couldn't get - our first pick was the now-defunct Barcelona Pavilion, since they sang and thought a lot about architecture, but some of the ex-members were out of town. But we thought about people whose work evoked the themes. In CCMC's case, they were a band founded in the era these structures were built, and through Paul Dutton very strongly connected with the concrete-poetry/sound-poetry nexus that bp Nichol represented. In Tony's case, I thought that he sang a lot about the body and the environment but not about its harder surfaces, so it would be neat to put him together with Sandro, whose electronic side as Polmo Polpo connected with the musique-concrete aspect. And so on.

How did you settle on the Polish Hall and the Science Centre? What's so special about them?

They're buildings that are represented in the book. The Science Centre was our first thought. Jonny did some digging on other possibilities, and then it was a question of what was available. The Polish Combatants' Hall is a great combination of old-world and new-world, and the Eastern European connection calls up for me the Soviet-era expanses of concrete architecture that were built as workers' housing. It's a very poetic, out-of-time kind of space, both quaint and muscular, as people who attend that show will see.

Carl, can you talk a bit about the text you've composed for the show? Is it a straight collabo with Darren [O'Donnell, the other librettist], or are you guys working independently? What was your process -- i.e. were you working alongside Erik [Ross, the composer] or did he provide the framework before you started writing?

Darren and I worked independently and just gave Erik some text he could work with. Jonny mediated the contact with Erik - he left the parameters very wide open. I wrote a much bigger piece that included some pop-song-style lyrics -- about Toronto concrete buildings, kind of modeled on The Modern Lovers' bursts of enthusiasm (in songs like Government Center) -- as well as a more concrete-poetry minded section that worked with anagrams to generate language about music and buildings.

Erik edited the text as he saw fit. I was just pouring in the raw materials, you could say. I'm not sure what his process with Darren was like. It was fun to write song lyrics again - I haven't done that in a long time.

Why is this festival [SoundaXis] important? What do you think it brings to/what purpose does it serve for the local music community?

There are two sides to this: First, in its connection with Greek composer Iannis Xenakis (its initial focus) but with a site-specific, out-in-the-city feel, it helps to make the more formal side of contemporary composition feel relevant to this time and place, which is always a challenge. And then there's the way that it showcases the fact that sound is something that unfolds within space - that musical ideas are generated out of our lived environment, but also that through acoustics and other aspects, the way those ideas sound when they're realized is also determined by environment. It's a nice mix of the abstract and the (watch out) concrete, a reminder that music that seems really heady is in many ways just as physical, as corporeal, as dance music is.

Has working on the Concrete Toronto project inspired new ways of looking at music-slash-buildings? (god, I keep wanting to make a pun on that tired "writing about music is like dancing about architecture" line.) Is this something that you think will spark similar undertakings in the future?

For me it's just been a chance to bring out that connection, to experiment with what I already thought and felt - I feel like it'll be when we get to hear the music (which I haven't at all yet) that the changes in perspective might happen. I can't wait to get out on the floor and start dancing about architecture.

It's hardly a paradox anyway, is it - dancing is architectural, all shifting planes and angles. And architecture is deeply concerned about how arrangements in space affect the body. Aside from sex, what's a more natural thing to dance about?

Read More | Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 23 at 2:18 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


May 22, 2008

Rocks On!
(Concrete Toronto Music)

"We wanted to encourage the musicians to explore the true meaning of musique concrete, which is to make music using non-traditional musical sounds," says Bunce. "You don't have to have studied Pierre Schaeffer at university to do that. ... That's one of the reasons why we wanted to approach minimal techno and noise artists. There is a sense of 'ugly beauty' to those styles of music, which corresponds to the way a lot of people feel about brutalist architecture. ... In terms of a real concrete experiment, [noise artist] Knurl will be [using contact mics on] actual concrete and cement! I'm really curious to see how that will go over with the family crowd at the Science Centre."

That's a quote from Sarah Liss's piece today in Eye weekly about the Concrete Toronto Music shows this Sunday and next, co-curated by Zoilus and the Music Gallery. (And tomorrow, I'll post my answers to Sarah's questions, which came too late for her to use.)

Plus: For those who missed this year's FIMAV festival in Victoriaville, John Kelman at All About Jazz catches us up. (Below, the semi-reunited Art Bears.)


General | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, May 22 at 4:50 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


May 20, 2008

June Listings...

... are up on the gig guide, in rough form. As always, send along additions and corrections!

A few highlights include Leonard Cohen's three-night stand at the Sony Centre; Martha Wainwright at the Mod Club on June 6; the Art of Jazz fest in the Distillery District with Randy Weston, Sheila Jordan and Egberto Gismonti among others; SoundaXis's "Cage-Fest" historical-recreation performances of John Cage's "Bird Cage" and "HPSCHD" on June 11 with Eve Egoyan, Robert Wheeler of Pere Ubu, and many more; the Better Reasons youth-art program benefit series at the Tranzac June 12-14 with the likes of The Bicycles, The Phonemes, Nif-D and Forest City Lovers; The Bad Plus at Glenn Gould Studio on June 13; and Luminato shows by the likes of Laurie Anderson and Mikel Rouse.

In the second half of the month, ex-Sun City Girls(!) brother-duo Alan & Richard Bishop materialize on the local plane of existence on June 17; the same day, unfortunately, as Darren O'Donnell's "Parkdale Vs Queen West" concert with Kids on TV, Bob Wiseman and others facing the kids of the Parkdale Public School Band; there's Al Green kicking off the jazz festival on June 19, followed by other jazz-fest heavies such as Oliver Jones, Ahmad Jamal, Ken Vandermark, etc; BC's superb Frog Eyes playing the Horseshoe with the Evangelicals on June 23; another damnable double-booking with Gilberto Gil at Massey Hall the same night UK improv titan Evan Parker plays the Music Gallery (June 27); local free-jazz firebrands Feuermusik launching their fantastic second album the next night at the Music Gallery; and to round the month out, legendary reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry playing free at Harbourfront on June 30.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, May 20 at 9:08 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (0)


Scarlett Letter


For the first time in a while, I have a record review in The Globe and Mail today, of the new Scarlett-Johansson-sings-Tom-Waits joint, Anywhere I Lay My Head. It is not a positive review. I still like her in movies though.

General | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, May 20 at 4:31 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (34)


May 16, 2008

Yon Ferrets Return

Strange synchronicities: It seems that just as my book about Celine Dion and "good vs bad taste" came out, a bunch of contemporary dancers in London and Berlin were undertaking exactly the same project - in live dance and YouTube video form. From looking at their site, there are no hints that they know about the book, but I definitely must get in touch with them. I'm so taken with what they're doing, at least at first sight, that I don't feel the urge to respond more criticially-analytically, but perhaps later.

Other gleanings from all over:

  • It's a few weeks old but I've just discovered this podcast on the making of Veda Hille's This Riot Life, the amazingliest record of 2008. If you have not heard it, you have been wasting your year, friend.

  • In further Hille-related news, she did some music for a show currently playing at the Factory Theatre in Toronto, Theatre Replacement's Sexual Practices of the Japanese, which is enough recommendation for me (along with all the good reviews).

  • If you want to follow the R. Kelly trial, WBEZ in Chicago is doing a daily blog, but also opened with a smart set-up essay on the race-gender-celebrity-perversity-etc. codes that will make this particular merry-go-round spin. If you would rather not follow said trial, I cannot blame you.

  • The Guardian blog makes a zippy argument that all the ridiculousness of rock is being hoarded by metal and that the rest of music ought to go back and claim its rightful share of ridiculousness (which is what we love R. Kelly for, no?). But that piece also reminded me that I wanted to recommend to you the new issue of Mike McGonigal's great art-music-what-have-you zine Yeti, which includes a more indepth and emotionally stirring and funnier celebration of black metal by esquire Scott Seward (adapted from his 2007 EMP Pop Conference presentation). Yeti also always comes with an ear-scouring compilation CD.

  • There's another fun mix in the current issue of Esopus magazine, in which Neko Case & Carl Newman (of the New Pornographers), Marnie Stern, Busdriver and others were asked to find a "good news" clipping in the paper and write a song about it. (The Case/Newman entry provides this post's headline.) You can listen to the results online.

  • Finally, let's all go to this concert. (I hear rumours that the Ex might bring a similar bill to Toronto someday - but not in '08.)

General | Posted by zoilus on Friday, May 16 at 3:49 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (2)


May 14, 2008

May 25 & June 1: Zoilus presents
Concrete Toronto Music!


The month is flying by and I've neglected to tell you that a week from Sunday (May 25) as well as the Sunday after (June 1), Zoilus and the Music Gallery are presenting two versions of a special show called Concrete Toronto, first at the Polish Combatants' Hall and then at the Ontario Science Centre (with a bus going up from downtown).

This extravaganza is part of the Soundaxis festival and performers include CCMC (Michael Snow, Paul Dutton and John Oswald) (May 25 only), Sandro (Polmo Polpo) Perri with Tony (Great Lakes Swimmers) Dekker, Greg J Smith & Neil Wiernik (aka "naw"), Knurl, and composer Erik Ross presenting a new work (with some text by yours truly) with performers Carla Huhtanen (voice) and Wallace Halladay (sax). There will be visual projections and the like too.

As the writeup sez: "Concrete Toronto Music is a concert of original new music, created by Toronto composers and musicians, in response to Toronto's Concrete Architecture, as catalogued in the 2007 book Concrete Toronto (ERA Architects/Coach House Books). Many iconic buildings, such as City Hall and the Ontario Science Centre, used concrete as their primary material during the building frenzy that gave expression to the growth of Toronto in the decades of the 1950s to the 1970s. The Music Gallery has commissioned a significant handful of Toronto-based composers and musicians to create new works that pay tribute to Toronto's concrete legacy, experiment with concrete's mutability and explore these buildings' role in the city's psychogeography."

Complete details at the Music Gallery site.

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, May 14 at 5:54 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


Goodnight Mr. Rauschenberg


Painter, sculptor, assembler, composer, choreographer ... Robert Rauschenberg died last night at 82. Rauschenberg helped pry open a lot of the space "between art and life" that's been central to my own interests, influencing happenings, Fluxus, performance, participatory, conceptual (although he said he "never used ideas") and other art movements. A moment of noise (he wasn't much one for silences!) in his honour.

General | Posted by zoilus on Wednesday, May 14 at 1:09 AM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)


May 8, 2008

Jive Talkin': Doing it live

We could be talking about Jody's defence of Mariah Carey or whether blogs really break bands or how it is finally really, really, really time to declare an all-out Ticketmaster boycott, at least until the governments get off they's asses and go full-on combines-investigation on them. But we're not because I have been too busy.

For two things, I've been preparing a talk that I'm giving on Saturday for the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (Canada) conference - if you're in St. Catharines at Brock University around 2:15 pm, I'll be airing some not-fully-cooked proposals on the subject, "Can You Talk a Few Bars of That? Music Vs. Words in Pop Criticism."

Then there's Monday's edition of the Trampoline Hall Lecture Series in Toronto, when for the first time in (oh my god) six-and-a-half-years of working behind the scenes and at the door, I will be giving a lecture. The show is curated by the brilliant and hilarious Becky Johnson, and its theme is her family. I am going to be talking about her mom, with some digressions on radio love-doctor programs and compulsive hoarding syndrome. The other lectures will be about her dad and her brother. They all live in British Columbia. It's a family that could be your own, except that it's Becky's. The host, as ever, will be Misha Glouberman, whom I hope will be gentle with me. (Tickets are now on sale at Soundscapes.)

Via Toronto | Posted by zoilus on Thursday, May 08 at 3:23 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (8)


May 2, 2008

Heaven Knows I'm Miscellaneous Now

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

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

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

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

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

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


Zoilus by Carl Wilson