Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Alexanderplatz Experience

Or ways to make my fortune # 452. This one basically involves moving to Berlin and advertising an Alexanderplatz Experience, available to tourists for a mere €45.00. The ad will promise that those availing of the offer will enjoy the genuine evening experience of East Berlin's celebrated public space. Those who take part will find themselves escorted to Alexanderplatz on the S-Bahn (fares not included in the €45.00). On arrival, they will come out into the square, where each tourist will be handed three cans of beer and a hotdog. I will then leave them to enjoy their Alexanderplatz Experience.

first picture source. I'll take it down if you want, please don't hurt me.

A Trip to Bruxelles

I do not mean the town, but the pub in Dublin. I found myself there before Christmas, after a meal with my old classmates. We made our way to the Heavy Metal room, in which we were the only people not clad in leather miniskirts and chainmail bikinis (and that was just the guys!*). The DJ played loads of great Metal tunes, many of which had the punters punching the air and grunting along. Handily, one of my spymates knows all about metal and was able to explain who the tunes were by and what Metal subgenres had spawned them. My favourite was perhaps the one by MANOWAR, in which the band sing about how much they love Metal. I wish I knew the lyrics to that one, I can tell you. I was also interested by a tune that belonged to the genre of Power Metal – it seemed like a cross between SLAYER and Queen, in that it had the operatic vocals Queen would sometimes use, but with much heavier and faster guitar sounds.

So yeah, deadly stuff. It did get me thinking a bit, though, about the ROCK JIHAD club we are always thinking of going to. ROCK JIHAD is meant to be a club of big, dirty, rock sounds, but I suspect there is an air of irony to it, given its hipster clientele. Would people not be better off heading to Bruxelles for the Real Deal?

*thank you, I'm here all week.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


This weekend is the weekend of PUPPY BOWL IV

Meet the Puppy Players. Which one is your favourite?

Thanks to ILX for notifying me of this vital event.

The Truth About Pandas

Have you ever wondered why Pandas are coloured the way they are?

Mit Freikörperkultur Fliegen

A German travel agent has announced a new service - henceforth passengers on flights from Erfurt to the island of Usedom will be required to travel naked. Air crew will remain clothed "for security reasons".

More: Nudist flights ready for take-off


Why do American politicians feel so obliged to pose in public with their stupid families?

Picture from the BBC: Edwards abandons White House race

The Sugar Club: [em]

This represents another of my visits to Jazz Alley. Thanks to the Goethe Institut, I managed to go not merely go to see German jazzers [em] (great stupid spelling of your name, guys), but I got to see them for free and with a pre-gig discussion about the jazz scene in Berlin and the effect of urban environments on musical and artistic scenes. Result. And this was in the Sugar Club, where you can relax into plush seats and have servants bring you brandy alexanders, although you did have to pay for these.

The chit chat featured the musicians, a Berlin architect, some noted Irish jazz critic, and a couple of other people who had wandered in off the street. It mainly focussed on how Berlin is currently a city in a state of permanent flux, and this feeds into the music, which develops its own dynamic of permanent change. Etc. I was maybe a bit more amused by the attitudes of the musicians, which seemed to be straight out of classic urban anthropology book Outsiders by Becker, which features a chapter on The Jazz Musician, wherein various examples of this social type talk about the distinction between straight jazz (the sort of thing audiences like) and types of jazz you play to earn the respect of your fellow musicians. Wow, this really took me back to first year in college, deadly stuff. The other great thing about the discussion was being reminded of the disdain that all right-thinking jazz commentators have for Wynton Marsalis.

[em] themselves comprise three people, Michael Wollny on piano, Eva Kruse on bass, and Eric Schaefer on drums. They resist the description of themselves as a piano trio (I think the terms has connotations of the band being led by the pianist) and came across in the discussion as rather droll people, something very impressive with people talking in a second language. Their music was very enjoyable to this cloth-eared listener who knows next to nothing about the jazz. Their music retains a lightness of touch, but never seems to be straying into the realms of straight jazz. They are interesting to compare to Jan Garbarek's band. One thing that was said in the pre-show discussion was that the current cohort of European jazzers are band oriented rather than focussed on individual musical talent (hence the resistance to the piano-trio term), and this came across in [em]'s playing. Whereas Garbarek's lot seemed to play a succession of disembodied solos, [em] seemed to be playing together, and their music was the better for it.

Lacking the vocabulary to say any more about [em]'s music, I will now draw a discreet veil, apart from mentioning that I liked this concert so much that I bought their album II, presumably their second. It has a nice cover with drawings of the band in the style of that guy who did that Blur record cover. I also have it signed by the band, so when they reach Garbarek levels of fame and fortune I will be able to sell it on e-Bay for slightly more than I paid for it. I particularly like the track 'Walpurgisnacht', and hope it signals the creation of a new spooky jazz genre.

Picture from: The ACT Company

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Helix: Jan Garbarek

I saw this concert an eternity ago. Jan Garbarek is a famous Nordic jazz saxophonist, and was playing with some other well known musicians. This was not really my cup of tea, being a bit too based around show-offy solos (particularly by the drummer). And the music generally reminded me a bit of the theme to Moonlighting, not one of the better features of that programme. The performance was nevertheless very popular with most people in the audience… to each their own. It is possible I would have liked it more if it was in a smaller venue or if the drums were lower in the mix.

There was however one guy in the audience who was so unimpressed with proceedings that he shouted out "Boring!" That seemed a bit churlish – even though the concert was not my cup of tea, I would never stoop to spoiling the enjoyment of others, unless I was very drunk.

Sunday, January 27, 2008


You might have noticed this already... but if you have not, there is a good CD of electronic music with the current issue of Mojo. It covers the years from early synthpop (and proto-synthpop) up to the present day.

The magazine itself is interesting enough. An interview with Radiohead confirms reports that they do not exactly spend their time snorting cocaine of the chests of underage groupies. It also contains the important coded message that their Hail to the Thief album is shite. Won't be buying that one then!

Whelan's: Gallon Drunk

Huzzah, GALLON DRUNK are back. Or at least they were back a couple of months ago when I went to this concert. And they have Terry Edwards* back in the band, bringing us some saxophone goodness. They also boast a proper oldarse bass player who looks the part, as opposed to a session muso muppet from central casting they were stuck with last time I saw them. Excellent. Obviously it would have been nice if at some point in the gig Joe Byfield had suddenly leaped in from the side to add some maraca attack to their music, but you cannot have everything.

For the younger readers out there, Gallon Drunk were a band who enjoyed brief popularity in the early 1990s but then vanished into a void due to record company madness. I missed the bus back then, but picked up on their amazingness when they were on the road again in the later 1990s, in a period when they were basically attempting to reassert their relevance to a world that had moved on. Their music has a certain swamp rock quality to it, combined with a louche swagger. Their lyrical concerns follow the dark sides of nights out in olde London towne. They are basically one of the world's greatest live bands, even now, and your life is empty if you have never seen them.

On this occasion they gave it all, putting on a great show for the discerning audience present. Songs from the most recent album demonstrated the kind of full-on woaaahhh qualities you want from the Drunk, so I bought it. It is called The Rotten Mile. I like it. I also bought a remastered version of From The Heart Of Town, their classic second album, to see if it was better mastered than the earlier release I have. And it is! Excellent, now I will have to reacquire their back catalogue.

I also joined a Gallon Drunk mailing list after going to the concert, but the posters seem to be mainly people who think, incorrectly, that I need to enlarge my penis.

Image from some website called Delusions of Adequacy's review of the Gallon Drunk reissues.

*Almost wrote Terry Riley there… now that would have been awesome.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

When Cats Attack

In December last year, the BBC reported that Sarah Goddard of Derby had to put a new post box in her garden to stop Georgi, her cat, from attacking postmen delivering mail. The cat had previously left postmen bleeding after scratching their fingers when they were putting letters through the letterbox in the house's front door. While apologising for the injuries, Ms Goddard denied that Georgi is a vicious animal, explaining "I think she only wants the letters but obviously she must just accidentally catch [the postman's] fingers."

More: Postmen complain of cat attacks

And here are some further stories about two other cats and a pheasant:

Fluffy cat attacks postman

Postman attacked by pheasant

"Playful" cat terrorises postman

Robyn: Live

Robyn is a Swedish woman who sings to an electropop beat. I saw her play live in Dublin ages ago. I was unfamiliar with her music, but was relieving a friend of a spare ticket. In the end this gig was only OK. It's not that I am allergic to electropop, far from it, but I spent a lot of this gig thinking how much better it would be if one of the electropop acts I actually like were playing. Like Ladytron. Mmm. That said, Robyn may have been suffering from how far back we were (KevLol is weird and likes being at the back for concerts).

Still, there were some interesting features to all this. Robyn is only averagely attractive, yet she carries herself like she is some kind of sex goddess, and the crowd are happy to indulge herself in this. Indeed, the crowd plainly worship her and hang off her every word. This kind of fronting is definitely impressive.

Friday, January 25, 2008


I notice that a lot of pictures of Rick Santorum conceding defeat seem to have disappeared from the Internet. Santorum Youth is surely to blame. Something must be done about this.

Together at last

The Umbrella Academy is a comic, written by some guy from some emo goth band. I have been finding it pretty enjoyable. OK, so nothing in it has been as good as the first episode (where the Eiffel Tower came alive and rampaged around Paris destroying things), but the art has been pretty good. It's up to Issue 5 now, the cover for which is above (and taken from a Brazilian Umbrella Academy website).

Does the young lad with the monocle there look oddly familiar? Has he ever been seen in the same room as the young fellow to the right in the picture below? Coincidence? I think not.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Hewn From The Living Rock

Last weekend I got my friend William to drive me and my beloved (and William's dog and child) round to look at some megalithic sites in greater Dublin. We were using Julian Cope's The Megalithic European (and an ordnance survey map) to orient us, and we eventually were able to visit the Broadleas Stone Circle (also known as The Pipers' Stones) and the Racecourse Stone. We managed to see the Punchestown Stone, but we could not go up to it, because it was in field with some feral zombie horses.

We also ate our lunch.

I took some photos of all this, but I have not mastered this posting pictures on the Internet thing you hear about, so you will have to take my word for it.

Andy Irvine Salutes The Magic Of Woody Guthrie

This was not what this concert in Whelan's was actually called. Rather, it was an event where Andy Irvine paid tribute to Woody Guthrie and his music at a fund-raising event for the Simon Community and a support group for people with Huntington's Disease (and their families). This was quite some time ago, naturally. One useful thing about the concert is that I now know all about Huntington's Disease. It basically makes you go mad* and then lose control of your body, and it is hereditary and has no cure. Guthrie eventually died of the disease, after being progressively more invalided by it. His mother also suffered from the ailment, leading to some grimly gothic moments in his childhood.

Irvine probably did more talking than singing in this show, telling us all about the life of Woody Guthrie, which was handy for me as I knew next to nothing about him. Guthrie was one of those American folky types who stick up for The Working Man and the plain people of America against the interests of Big Capital and the like. He is meant to have been heavily influential on the Bob Dylan, before he went electric. Guthrie's songs seemed to exist in a world of people whose lives had been destroyed by the Depression, apart from some later ones where he sings about killing Nazis and the like (these were written during World War 2). He also had it in for dodgy crypto-Nazi Charles Lindbergh, star of that The Plot Against America novel by Phillip Roth.

All but one of the songs tonight were by Guthrie, and to be honest they did sound a bit like they were just different words to the same tune, but you could see how they would work as vehicles for the social commentary of the lyrics. The one song not by Guthrie was the encore, 'Never Tire of the Open Road', Irvine's own song about Woody. By now this has become one of my favourite songs ever, to the extent that maybe I would prefer it rather than 'Ouija Board, Ouija Board' to be played at my funeral. You have to love a song that name-checks the IWW, and where the audience are required to join in with the refrain "All you Fascists bound to lose / All you Fascists bound to lose/ You're bound to lose / You Fascists bound to lose".

One thing I am a bit curious about, though, is Woody Guthrie's politics. Irvine's description of his life made him out to be a Communist fellow traveller, for all that he never actually joined the party. However, Irvine's song about Guthrie implies strongly that he was a supporter of the International Workers of the World (better known to some as The Wobblies), an anarcho-syndicalist organisation. I am curious as to how this contradiction can be resolved, and may write a letter of enquiry on the matter to Mr Irvine.

*I have been unable to come up with a less offensive term that does not lack explanatory power or sound like a euphemism.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Let Us Go To The Banks Of The Ocean

I was in the Netherlands in September. Partly I was letting my hair down after handing in my thesis, but mainly I was celebrating 100 issues of Frank's APA (the amateur press association for people who like music, always looking for new members, and that means you, punk (unless you are a timewaster)). We did a lot of kewl things and had a party and stuff. But I'm not going to talk about any of that. Instead I will provide some details on a trip the more discerning of us made to the town of Lelystand. I was going to hold off on posting about this until I mastered this posting pictures on the Internet technology you hear about, but that will take some time to come together, so for now it is just text.

Lelystand is a strange new town built on polders beside the Zuider Zee. Why did we go to this godforsaken hellhole, you might ask. Well, Lelystand has this naval museum there in which they like to rebuild olde ships. They are currently building a replica of the Seven Provinces, flagship of some Admiral Ruyter guy. There was very little stuff about him or his ship in English there, and small wonder – he is the man who repeatedly stuffed the English out of it in the Anglo-Dutch wars. His most famous exploit was to sail up the Thames to steal the English flagship and smash up the rest of the English fleet. Seeing the innards of a ship in the process of construction was fascinating, and made for various surreal photographs.

The real star of Lelystand, however, is a completed replica they have of the Batavia. Just in case 17th century Dutch history is not your strong point, the Batavia was a retourship, built by the Dutch East India Company to carry cargo and people from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies. In the 17th century, the Batavia would have been a monster, and even now its replica looks impressively large.

The Batavia's history is rather eventful. On its maiden voyage, the captain began to feud with the ship's real commander, the upper merchant of the Company. Together with the under merchant, a former apothecary, the captain plotted to stage a mutiny and convert the ship to piracy (or to sail away somewhere and live off its rich cargo, or something). These plans were however foiled when the ship foundered on islands off the west coast of Australia, then a strange and unknown land. The captain and the upper merchant (and others) left in an open boat to make the several thousand mile voyage to the Dutch East Indies, leaving the other survivors under the care of the under merchant. This fellow turned out to be a maniac, instituting a baroque reign of terror that saw him and his cohorts slaughtering something like two thirds of their fellow survivors, turning the women among them into their sexual property. The story is well told in Mike Dash's book Batavia's Graveyard, or in the earlier novel The Company by Arabella Edge.

So anyway, yes, going onboard the reconstructed Batavia was a real treat for us. Visitors had pretty much the run of the ship and could go anywhere they liked on it, and there was a wonderful disdain for health and safety, which allowed people to climb up on all sorts of things from which they could easily fall to their deaths. Excellent. Particularly atmospheric was being able to go down to the depths of the ship, in which the ship's human cargo of company soldiers were kept under permanent lockdown, apart from one daily half hour toilet break. Most visitors did not bother with the lowest holds of the ship, and even in there on your own they felt grim and claustrophobic; god knows what they would have been like with a couple of dozen tough soldiers for company.

Outside the museum they have this lot of outlet stores for clothes and stuff like that. One amusing feature of this was its slightly theme park element, being done up to vaguely resemble a Company trading post (with walls and cannons around it and the various stores meant to look like little trading pavilions). The kitsch and unironic use of the country's colonial history was fascinating – I wish someone would try to detourn it by opening up a slave dealership there.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

DEAF 2: Miya Masaoka & Wu Fei

This was the second of two nights of concerts I saw in St. Audoen's, as part of the Dublin Electronic Arts Festival. Read about the first here

The second night was meant to feature three performers, but one of them was held up by visa prickology. The first actual performer was Miya Masaoka, who was playing the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument that looked a bit like a harp turned on its side and redesigned by a civil engineer who had been exposed to non-Euclidean geometry through one too many acid trip. Just seeing this thing was worth the price of admission. Masaoka was in some ways doing similar things to the previous night's performers (the whole sampling layers thing) and also seemed to be using the koto to trigger pre-programmed sounds. I found her set a bit disappointing, as I would much rather have heard her just play the instrument without resource to the electronic trickery; this reflects my own current musical interest in non-western stringed instruments rather than any intrinsic lack of brilliance in the music she was producing. I did find that her music was at its best when she was just kotoing away without letting the electronics get in the way, suggesting that I am some kind of luddite world music granddad.

However, the most impressive bit of her performance was the last piece, where she abandoned the koto and instead moved her hands through laser beams she was shining across the stage to trigger stored koto sounds. The effect was to make her look almost like she was playing air Theremin, with all the impressiveness that suggests, while the music produced was among the most straight down the line of her set.

Wu Fei, then, was from China, and she played another one of those horizontal stringed instruments, but one less mental looking than that of her predecessor; investigation suggests that this one is the guzheng. She had also perhaps sneaked into the festival on false pretences, as there was nothing really obviously electronic about her music, unless you adopt the very inclusive position that all amplified music counts as electronic. She herself said at the beginning that the only electronic thing about herself was the feedback from her instrument (of which there was a fair bit, though it sounded accidental rather than intentional).

So I wonder, where the DEAF organisers silently shaking their fists and angrily asking each other who had invited this purveyor of virtually unreconstructed traditional music? For that was largely what Wu Fei seemed to play – some of her pieces were original compositions and some appeared to be tunes she had picked up while travelling around the country in the manner of a trad archivist. She also broke with the other musicians by using her voice a lot, and by basically doing songs a lot of the time (though not exclusively, as some of her tunes could be quite abrasive, like one introduced as a tribute to the province of Hunan).

She was easily the best thing I saw over the two nights, or at least the one I enjoyed the most. As noted above, I'm on a bit of an orientalist kick at the moment, so her playing her instrument without any funny electronic stylings very much gave me what I wanted. Her voice was also very beautiful, well-suiting the songs she sang, some of which had poignant and wistful subjects (like remembering being a child, when in the winter time she would go into Summer Palace in Beijing and ride her bicycle across the frozen lake contained there.

So I bought her album A Distant Youth on the way out, and it is pretty much more of the above, although it does feature a few other musicians, including Fred Frith. It does not seem very electronic either.

image from Wu Fei Music

Saturday, January 19, 2008

World's Saddest Book Found

You know the way gamers have a reputation for being sad men who find it difficult to relate to women? This will no longer be the case now that THE BOOK OF EROTIC FANTASY has been released. This seems to be a supplement to popular game Dungeons & Dragons dealing with sex and suchlike. A cursory investigation suggests that it might appeal to people whose erotic fantasy is pictures of womens' breasts.


Friday, January 18, 2008

You Know, For Kids

I saw The Hudsucker Proxy again the other day, as part of a Coen Brothers retrospective, so it is with a certain poignancy that I read of the death of Richard Knerr. Together with Arthur "Spud" Melin, he headed the company that brought the world both the Hula-Hoop and the Frisbee.

The Guardian has an obituary of this great man (from which the photo of him has been taken). They also have a photo gallery of him and the things he and Mr Melin made, including the picture of Leapin' Louie & Lara Goldberg at the Florida State Canine Frisbee Disc Dog Championship in 2005.

Pet Dog in Beast of Dartmoor assertion

This is an old story, but a good one, and I must tip my hat on this to the good folks at ILX. Anyways, you are familiar, no doubt, with the alien big cat phenomenon in England - mysterious sightings of big cats in a country where such animals do not officially live in the wild.

One famous example of such an alien big cat is the Beast of Bodmin, a large cat-like monster sometimes seen on the Bodmin Moor. Nearby Dartmoor had its own big cat sighting last summer, when falconer Martin Whitley photographed a large, bestial creature in the vicinity of some school children at Hound Tor. "The creature I saw was black and grey and comparable in size to a miniature pony," he reports.

Lucinda Reid from Heathfield is however adamant that the photographed "beast" is non other than her pet dog Troy, a Newfoundland, a 12 stone "gentle giant".

The most famous Newfoundland in that part of the country is of course Bilbo, the life-dog on Sennen beach. When asked for a comment on his breedmate's beast-like activities, Bilbo replied "Always swim between the flags".

More: Beast of Dartmoor 'is my pet dog' (pictures from there too)

DEAF 1: Pamelia Kurstin, Takeshi Nishimata, & Daniel Jacobson

Back in October, I went to two concerts in St, Audoen's Church, organised as part of the DEAF festival. In this post, I will discuss the first of these. But first, I must explain to you what this DEAF thing is. DEAF stands for Dublin Electronic Arts Festival, and I think the festival is meant to be about crazy weirdo avant-garde musical events of a vaguely electronic nature. I have never made it to previous DEAF events. My making it to ones this year is perhaps testament to my changing tastes, but it is also a tribute to the DEAF organisers breaking the habits of a lifetime by issuing a semi-legible festival programm. Previously, the festival programme was this weird folded up object that was very nice to look at but almost impossible to actually read. This year's came in magazine format, and while it is still very much a case of When Designers Attack, it was just about possible to read it and work out what events were taking place where and when. It was the Friday concert that most piqued the fancy of my beloved and me, but we reckoned that if we were in for a penny then we should be in for a pound.

The Church was an atmospheric venue for these concerts, being both darkly lit and somewhat cold, suggestive of ancient events and arcane acts of worship. Both of the concerts featured visuals by Tim Redfern. He did not really try too hard on the second night, but on the first he did the great amusing thing of projecting onto the back wall of the church images of himself tracing the back wall. Nice.

So anyway, the first night featured performances by three musicians who all kind of did the same thing – sampling themselves playing notes and stuff, then playing back the samples and playing more stuff over the playback and sampling that, and so on. Daniel Jacobson was playing a guitar and using a laptop to recover various synthetic and sampled noises recorded there, including the sound of a dog barking. The end results were pleasant enough, but I thought maybe Jacobson could do with more performance charisma. Takeshi Nishimata followed, playing and sampling guitar lines and adding new layers onto them. His technique was admirable, but the music was a bit less appealing to me. The guitar as an instrument is a bit less than exciting, and on its own lacked a certain something. That could just have been my taste, obviously.

Pamelia Kurstin was the real star of the evening. She was playing the Theremin, an instrument one seldom sees let out to play, and one which is as fascinating to watch being played as it is to listen to the noises it produces. As you know, the Theremin is an early 20th century electronic instrument invented by a Russian guy whose name was anglicised as Theremin, hence the name of the instrument. It is perhaps unique in that it is played without being touched, with the musician instead moving their hands around it to change its surrounding electromagnetic field and so produce the instrument's music.

Kurstin had her Theremin linked up to some kind of synthesiser thing that would allow her to change what kind of sounds it produced, so sometimes it would be the classic 1950s space ship noises for which the instrument is famed, sometimes other sounds entirely. Framed by her hair and wearing a look of rapt concentration as she moved her hands in the most precise of patterns, Kurstin presented an entrancing figure.

Beyond that, Kurstin basically did what the others did, creating music defined by its development from simple to complex through the use of overlaid samples. What brought her to a higher level was her undeniable star quality and the unique sounds of her instrument. Her performance was mesmerising and fascinating. Particularly amusing, though, was her between-song-chit-chat persona, which was basically one of scary twee kookiness, entirely at odds with her serious musician performance while playing. From thesis and antithesis come synthesis.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Internet's Isolation From Me Ends

It is a tiresome story, but Eircom seem to have decided to allow me to connect to the Internet again.

In other news, the BBC reports that scientists have created a machine which can translate dog barks: Yap-lication unlocks canine moods. It is only slightly better than a human at deciphering dog barks, though it is not clear how this was judged.

The BBC article does not mention whether the machine can work in reverse.