Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Ex in Crawdaddy

Some time ago I saw The Ex play live, supported by some local act called Barnyard Witch. BW seemed interesting, and I would not object to seeing them again. As for The Ex… they were great, but on this occasion I was in the grip of a terrible attack of torpid lethargy and thus not a in position to enjoy them as much as they deserved. Perhaps if I had been seated, and there were servants on hand to fetch me glasses of laudanum.

Anyway, as you know, the Ex are an innovative Dutch punk band who have been on the scene for quite some time now. They have in recent years become very interested in Ethiopian jazz music. Maybe this, or African music generally, started to infect their own sound, with the band's output becoming almost polyrhythmic, despite retaining the normal punk instrumentation. They always give a 100% live and seem to genuinely enjoy playing, which is nice. I did find myself wondering, though, if The Ex would be better if the singer did his stuff in his native Dutch rather than English. I do not know if it is second-language syndrome or the punk mindset, but the lyrics are generally amazingly fatuous and paying them any attention at all made the music seem less interesting.

The Ex are nevertheless a great band, although you probably know this already. I bought a copy of their most recent album, recorded with Ethiopian jazzer Gétatchèw Mèkurya. It is completely deadly stuff, although maybe it is too good. Like with The Ex-Orkest album (on which The Ex played with an orchestra) you find yourself feeling slightly short-changed by seeing just the band on their own. Which is a shame, really, as The Ex's own commitment to polyrhythmic punk makes them a unique live experience.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Nothing Is Private


from: The Lives of Others - (Das Leben der Anderen): Microphone? What microphone?

Living Music 2007 Event 4: Improvisations and Ligetti's "Etudes"

This was in the John Field Room of the National Concert Hall, and was essentially two concerts in one, separated by a long interval in which they fiddled with the piano.

Rolf Hind went first, playing the Ligetti pieces, explaining them as he went along to buy time to rest his fingers. I found them very enjoyable, so much so that I almost fell asleep during them (As you know, I love falling asleep to classical music). I think some of this music might have been Gamelan influenced.

In the interval we met well-known composer Raymond Deane, and he said something about how he finds live concerts quite stressful. I know what he means – I am always TERRIFIED that in the middle of a classical music concert I will find myself bursting for a piss or possessed by an irresistible urge to cough and cough and cough, or that I will go mad and start shouting "VADGEMONKEY!", or my phone will switch itself on and someone will ring me, etc.. This has never yet happened, but one day it might.

Interval coffee meant there would be no sleeping when Simon Nabotov did his stuff. He was an amiably chubby Russian fellow who did a bit of the old jazz improv, combining this with putting stuff inside the piano to add to its funny noise potential. Deadly.

This was also the last thing I went to in this year's festival.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Living Music 2007 Event 3: Big Satan

This was a late night concert in Vicar Street. Big Satan are a jazz three piece led by saxophonist Tim Berne. I often feel like there should be more jazz in my life, and the programme talked a good game about this lot, so I decided to give them a go, letting other people know that I was doing so. I seem to be a bit of a trendsetter, as a surprising number of people came along to this on my "recommendation", though it turned out that some of them had seen the Satan several years ago.

This stuff is bonkers free jazz, played by Tim Berne on sax, baldy French weirdo Marc Ducret on electric guitar and Tom Rainey on drums. Jazz is maybe the one musical genre where astonishing musical virtuosity is a strength rather than a weakness, so it was great to see three musicians as awesome as these fellows going for it big time.

But it was all a bit uncompromising, and the many trend and event people present seemed a bit non-plussed by it all, leading to a steady stream of leavers as the event wore on. There were also a lot of talkers present. Two chattering twunts were sitting near us, but fortunately they left before it was demonstrated to them that if they liked talking loudly so much then maybe they would be better off doing it in adjacent toilet cubicles with their heads rammed down the bowls. I had more ambivalent feelings towards a couple of very drunk people who kept chattering away through the music, as they were plainly very into the music even if they felt obliged to yammer away through it.

All forward thinking people found this music very enjoyable, and many copies of Big Satan records were purchased. However, the wife of one of my pals suggested that while this music was all very well in the live setting, she did not fancy hearing it at home (or ever again). "Pre-menstrual music" was the phrase used. She may have been correct, but this was easily the highlight of the festival for me, and a concert that I do not really expect to see bettered this year.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Meta: Comments

Is there a way of getting Blogger to show links to posts with recent comments? This is a feature I like in other blogging packages.

I am only asking this because I have recently received some actual comments.

Living Music 2007 Event 2: Crash Ensemble perform stuff by John Adams and others in Vicar Street

So eh, I failed to take any notes, but I can tell you from looking at the programme that Crash did two pieces by Adams and one each by Michael Gordon and Kevin Volans. I recall enjoying this a lot, particularly 'Shaker Loops' by Adams.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Living Music 2007 Event 1: "The Death of Klinghoffer"

The Living Music festival is sponsored or run by our national broadcaster and about how music is alive. This year it was focussed on the music of John Adams (not present himself), though as with previous years it also covered other stuff. The big change this year was that Jazz has crashed the party and is part of the festival on equal footing with weirdo modernist classical music, something about which the jazzers are very excited. As always there was loads of stuff on but my time is limited so I only went to so much.

The first thing I went to was a showing of a film version of John Adams' opera about the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship in the mid-1980s. The Palestinian hijackers murder one Mr Klinghoffer, a wheelchair bound passenger; hence the title. One of my Frank's APA pals was not too taken with the opera when he saw it performed live. I agree with his assessment in so far as I was not really that taken with the music. However, as a film this worked quite well, being a tense narrative of the events leading up to and following Klinghoffer's death.

The film begins with some Palestinians being brutally expelled from a village in what is becoming Israel in 1948, with the son of an expellee becoming one of the militants who carries out the hijacking. After that it follows the course of the hijacking, climaxing in the murder of Klinghoffer in a scene that is genuinely upsetting. The aftermath of his murder is a bit anticlimactic, and is the most "oh get on with it" of the film, with the narrative being a bit slow as it plods to the films end. In case you are wondering, some kind of deal was cut that allowed the hijacking to end, possibly with the hijackers going into one of Egypt's comfortable jails for a while.

One of the things I do not really like about films and suchlike that touch on events in the Middle East is that I can never just enjoy them as narrative. Rather, I have to subject them to a degree of meta-analysis on what kind of line they take on the Palestinian-Israeli issue as whole. This opera provoked some controversy in certain quarters, with various pro-Israel groups condemning it in no uncertain terms. I think they felt it was over sympathetic to terrorists or some such. The film certainly does portray the hijackers as people with the kind of motivations that people have, and I understand that some supporters of Israel are uncomfortable with Palestinian militants being portrayed as anything other than slavering nut jobs. The film did appear to be broadly sympathetic to the Palestinian condition, feeling that they have legitimate grievances (like being expelled from their homes in 1948 and suchlike). However, the film plainly considered the taking of hostages, and more specifically the murdering of a wheel-chair bound man, to be morally repugnant. You could not watch this film and in any sense think "Go hijackers!", or think that the film wanted you to say "Go hijackers!".

I was a bit bemused by the present day sections they sometimes cut to, showing the hijackers now as beardy Hamas types bashing women who do not wear the hijab. Partly it seemed a bit irrelevant to the main narrative, but also it seemed a bit hard to believe that the hijackers would ever be able to live in the Occupied Territories without being exterminated. And the film created a false contrast between the (enforced) hijaby world of the 2000s and the veil-less Palestinian women of 1948 and 1985. I believe that hijab wearing would have been the norm for Palestinian women in all three time-periods, and the idea that Hamas started to enforce veil wearing on a population to which it was largely new is misrepresentation of actual events.

[Aside – since writing the previous paragraph for my homies in Frank's APA, I read in Spy School about how during Intifada 1 Hamas did in fact wage campaign to encourage/enforce hijab wearing, so maybe women in the early 1980s were as veil-free as the film suggests, though I somewhat doubt it]

But of course, this is all largely irrelevant to the opera's musical content, which as previously mentioned I found to be dull and uninvolving, in contrast to the exciting story.

Film: For Your Consideration

This has long left the cinema, but one day you will be able to borrow it on DVD or download it from that Interweb. As you know, it is the latest of those Christopher Guest ensemble comedies. Much discourse surround this being the first of them not filmed in what they call mockumentary format. The film follows some movie people as they work on a truly awful sounding family drama called Home For Purim. The picture starts attracting some Oscar buzz and people start thinking that they are about to really hit the big time.

Now, you know the way with A Mighty Wind things moved a bit away from being solely comedic to being about characters and stuff like that? For Your Consideration goes further with this. While it definitely has plenty of chortlesome moments (e.g. whenever Jennifer Coolidge is on screen), a lot of it focuses on the somewhat miserable lives of people for whom the big-time remains perpetually round the corner. Catherine O'Hara's character in particular is all about the miserableness, portraying well the desperation of an aging actor realising that she is never going to do the Hollywood woman equivalent of playing the Dane. The later scenes, where she has had some kind of botox facelift and dresses like Paris Hilton's slappery sister, are particularly grim.

It is curious how "It's not that funny" is seen by many as the knock-down argument against more recent Guest films - not something you could ever use against Inland Empire

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Incoming

1. George Clinton is playing in the TriPod place on the 4th of July. I have long thought that Funkadelic's 'One Nation Under A Groove' should become the US national anthem, so I am hoping for bonkers Americana at this, so long as the Hootieship does not accidentally descend.

2. The Gate is showing a production of Stephen Sondheim's Sweeney Todd: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, the famous musical about a murderous barber and the nearby pie shop that assists in the disposal of his victims. I have long been fascinated by this gothic masterpiece of bloody and indiscriminate revenge, and longed for it to be performed in Dublin. And now it is here! The director is Selina Cartmell, who did Titus Andronicus in the Project recently, so I am expecting good things from this.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

World's Strangest Railway Found!


It is Volk's Brighton to Rottingdean Seashore Electric railway, looking oddly like something from a Kevin Mills illustration of the Gothic Empire.


Check out the Abandoned Lines and Railways website for more abandoned railway line action. If you have ever been to the Bowlie Weekender or the All Tomorrow's Parties festival (when it was in Camber Sands), you might be interested by the Camber Station, Rye and Camber tramway, a line which once took people from Rye to Camber Sands. Apparently the railway line is now a walk way, possibly the route I took when I walked from Camber Sands to Rye last year.

Alan Johnston

I am not aware of my having an extensive readership among sulky Palestinian factions, but just in case, here is a picture of Alan Johnston, this kidnapped BBC journalist and a link to stuff about his case:

Alan Johnston banner`

Film: The Last Kind of Scotland

This is about this guy who goes to recently independent Uganda to work as a doctor in a rural clinic. As soon as he arrives the country experiences a coup, and the new leader is a charismatic fellow with whose path the doctor unexpectedly crosses. The doctor finds himself becoming the President's personal physician and confidant. He gradually comes to register that the dictator is not merely charismatic – he is also a raving maniac. And so it goes.

I liked this film well enough. It evoked the African setting well, while Forest Whitaker turned in a superb performance as Idi Amin. Amin's cronies look just like photos I have seen of Amin's cronies. The guy who plays the doctor does a good job of playing a twunt in vastly over his depth. And lovely Gillian Anderson is great in a minor role. The film nevertheless has problematic elements. The romance element between the doctor and one of Amin's wives seems so patently incredible and tacked on for form's sake that you would have to wonder why they bothered. Some also felt that the doctor is so venal, stupid, and fatuously self-serving that it is very hard to get worked up when things turn bad for him. Still, I feel that the good aspects of the film outweighed the bad.

Interesting, maybe, to compare the film with the book. From memory, the doctor in the book is less venal but maybe more stupid, in that it takes him much longer to register what a maniac Amin is. They also left out all the stuff about the Israelis (the book mentions how they helped Amin in the early years, eventually turned against him, and then raided his airport to bust out their hostages). And in the book the doctor stays in Uganda right up to the end of Amin's regime. But you know, books and films are different, and the film was already long enough.

One final great thing about the film is that manages to look very 1970s. A lot of this is down to the slightly bleached look of the film stock. I am not sure whether it looks like the actual 1970s or just like representations of them. But it is still great.

Things I did in Cork: ate food

The other totally G*R*A*T*E thing my beloved and I did in Cork was eat dinner in the Café Paradiso, Ireland's greatest restaurant. I can't remember what I had, but it was very tasty. Given that we basically went to Cork to eat in the Café Paradiso, it would want to have been.

This finishes my series of entries on my no longer so recent visit to Cork.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Things I did in Cork: bought records

I also bought some records. It seemed like a good idea to get a CD of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' first album, so I could put it on my iPod and listen to it when I am meant to be working. Deadly. More of a surprise, though, was the album by Simian. You may remember me mentioning these chaps previously, as they appear on the Pop!Justice album with Justice, doing the awesome 'WE! ARE! YOUR FRIENDS!' song. This album by Simian has the original version, 'Never Be Alone', from which that was remixed. And it is lamer indie rubbish. I am as disappointed by Simian as my old mate Andrew Blackmore was when, on the strength of 'Loaded', he bought the second Primal Scream album. This is one record that will not be troubling my iPod and may well find itself being given away by Oxfam in the near future. Simian are not my friends.

Blogs are rubbish...

... or so claims Victor Keegan in The Guardian: To the average Joe, blogs aren't cutting it

He has a point. Unless you are a superstar blogger like Momus, you probably have no readers other than your friends, and even they probably don't like your blog that much. I am also struck by the point about blogs v. social networking sites. Yesterday I posted about the World Bank on my other blog, and expect a tiny number of people to read that; if I had posted the same thing on a message board it might have been read by, I don't know, a dozen people? This is life.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Things I did in Cork: Visiting Fota Wildlife Park

It's true. We had a confirmed sighting of a red squirrel (you can definitively differentiate them from the often surprisingly rusty grey squirrels by looking at the ears – if they sport tufts of hair, it's a red). Red squirrels are well known for their being on the way out, largely because the skanger grey squirrels out-compete them. So it was nice to see this little fellow foraging for nuts, but less nice to witness some Cork urchins shout "A squirrel! Get him!" before chasing him up a tree to shouts of "We'll get you next time!". I would love to say that the fuckers were then kicked to death by the park's free roaming wallabies, but that would not be accurate.

We also saw some Capybaras hiding on an island from unruly children.

More Fota action

Massimo Bellardinelli

Reports are coming in that comics artist Massimo Bellardinelli has died. He will be fondly remembered for his work in 2000 AD on "Meltdown Man" and "Flesh". I remember reading somewhere that he also drew "Judge Dredd" occasionally, and once drew Dredd without his helmet... though Tharg then put a "censored" mark over his face.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Things I did in Cork: Seeing A Film called "Black Book"

I had a gap in my espionage schedule in February, so my beloved and I paid a trip to Cork. We got to catch up with our old pals Myles and Sammywol and their delightful daughter. We also went to the cinema, and saw the film Black Book, by that Paul Verhoeven fellow, you know, the guy who made Robocop and Starship Troopers. Unlike those two, this film was made in his native Netherlands and is set in the later stages of the Second World War rather than the future. The story follows this Jewish woman as she tries to survive until the end of the war. It is all very exciting and stylish, and works well as a thriller. But there were things about it I was not so fond of, notably the film's whodunit element (over which one of the resistance group is secretly in league with TEH NAZIS). I do not like whodunits, as they make you approach a film as a puzzle rather than a story. In most whodunits, the culprit is always pretty obvious. In this film, the villain is obvious in retrospect, though the film misdirects you almost up until the end. Still, it is like a Hollywood film in that the identity of the informer makes narrative sense, rather than just being some buy who sat at the back all the time and never said anything.

I would not, however, want to let my gripes against the whodunit genre give anyone the impression that that I did not enjoy this film. It is a masterpiece of well-made character driven drama, and a worthy film to see on my first trip to the Kino, Cork's art house cinema. I recommend this to anyone who wants to get a sense of the nastiness and moral corruption from which a society under occupation suffers, and the self-righteous vindictiveness that erupts when it is released from its bondage.