Saturday, May 31, 2008

Ian's World of Old Music

On the Thursday after the Living Music festival I found myself once more back in the Concert Hall for some performances by the Ulster Orchestra. Our northern friends started off with a performance of Tchaikovsky's The Tempest. This was grand, but it did not scale the heights of some of his other well-known works. They followed this with Lizst's first and second piano concerto. The second of these was dubbed "The Triangle Concerto" by some disgruntled critic, angered by the excessive use of that instrument. And you can see his point, in that it does at times seem a bit 'Don't Fear The Reaper' (only with triangle), which would really grind your nads if you had some kind of fear of triangular instruments. I am, fortunately, free of such an affliction.

The star of the evening was the last piece, Stravinsky's 1919 iteration of the concert suite of The Firebird. You probably know this, as it is a stunning piece of music, building and turning initially and then exploding into insane rhythm. "Will I recognise the bit the ORCH5 sample is taken from?" said my beloved. "Yes," I replied, and she did.

I would love to see the ballet version of this. In my mind's eye as the music accelerates I can imagine frenzied figures dancing and leaping to Stravinsky's Scythian rhythms. It would be nice to see them in real life as well.

I've had enough

Is it time to start chopping hands off people who spend their time at concerts taking pictures on their cameras and mobile phones?

What would Panda do?

More Comics

I would also like to read more about comics. A lot of people I know read comics - why do so few of them write about them on their blogs? Get to it!

image source

Comics Roundup 31/5/2008

I want to write more about comics, so I will try to be more disciplined with reporting back on each week's crop of new floppies. Here's what I got this week.

berlin #14, by Jason Lutes

This is the issue before last of Lutes' long running tale of Berlin in the inter-war years. I have bought occasional issues of this mainly through interest in German history and politics, and in Berlin as a place. I've never really read enough of this to get the overall story or to see how the characters relate to each other and stuff, but the political context can be interesting. This one is fascinating for that kind of thing. It is early 1930, the Great Depression is beginning. The story begins with a pimp and petty thug being hassled for the rent by his landlady; it ends with his funeral. The dead man was member of the Nazi party, his murderers Communist comrades of his landlady, so the Berlin Nazis have turned him into a martyr. The issue ends with Goebbels talking prophetically of how soon endless marching columns would sing the song that the dead Horst Wessel had been composing.

As noted elsewhere by Katherine Farmar, the art has an endearingly European clear-line style, for all Lutes' North American origins. On a second reading, I was struck by his frequent willingness to not bother drawing backgrounds.

Final Crisis #1, by Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones

Grant Morrison writes a lot of interesting comics, and is someone who can engage well with the mythic qualities of the superhero genre. This, however, is a load of formulaic DC crossover crap, made worse by it being a kind of sequel to the dreadful nonsense that was Crisis on Infinite Earths. I did, however, like the scene where Lex Luthor was addressing a meeting of villains, one of whom was an un-named gorilla. Maybe some of my readers with more in-depth knowledge of the DC Universe can advise on just who this fellow is.

All Star Superman #11, by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely

The penultimate episode! The premise of this title is that in episode 1 Lex Luthor pulled a fast one and exposed Superman to so much funny radiation that he started dying. Oh noes! In this one, Superman is getting very poorly indeed, but he manages to save the world one more time, before apparently dying. Lex Luthor, meanwhile, has temporarily developed superpowers and busted out of jail, and looks like he is about to go on an unstoppable rampage.

Eh, I appreciate that this makes this sound like the kind of formulaic superhero crap dismissed in the previous entry, but in All Star Superman Morrison manages to use the genre's tropes for good rather than evil. The incredibly beautiful art (by Quitely, with assistance from Jamie Grant and computers) is a help.

Batman #677, by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, and Sandu Florea

The various Batman titles are running some kind of crossover thing called Batman R.I.P., which may be an indicator that Batman is shortly going to die for a bit. In this story, Batman is sulky about some lot called The Black Glove, who have been menacing him for the last while, but he is also getting some action with a hawt lady called Jezebel Jet. Ms Jet isn't just a looker, she has worked out that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same. She also asks Bruce whether all this masked superhero stuff might not be an indication that he is a bit mental.

|'ve been enjoying the Grant Morrison Batman stuff, it is endearingly strange and off-kilter with what you expect from a Bat-title, even if it is a bit discontinuous from issue to issue.

Dan Dare #6, by Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine

This is Garth Ennis having a crack at recreating Britain's favourite comics character of the 1950s and 1960s. It has an enjoyably up and at them quality, though the usual Ennis macho bullshit creeps into this. I know his Dare is an older man than he was in the original comics, but I reckon Ennis has made the character a lot more hard-edged than the original; I can't really see Frank Hampson's Dare being as gratuitously tough as the character here.

This ends with a huge-o space battle just beginning, Dare leading the heavily out-numbered British space navy into battle against the evil Mekon. I was amused that Ennis has Dare basically adopt the same tactics Nelson used at Trafalgar; to ram the point home, Dare's flagship is the Trafalgar, and his second in command is a Ms Christian. That should be enough to tell you how the next issue will end.

bat-panda image source

Cedric, the fiercest Tasmanian Devil of them all

Cedric is a Tasmanian Devil. He appears to be immune to the mysterious cancerous growths that have been decimating the ranks of his fellows, and has produced antibodies against the repulsive tumourous growths that have spread through other Tasmanian Devils. Cedric's brother Clinky has also been exposed to the cancers, and has not produced antibodies, but he also appears to be immune to this plague.

Scientists hope that Cedric and Clinky hold the key to a cure or vaccine that will save Tasmanian Devils from extinction.

More.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Rare But Fierce Rhinoceros Dislikes Cameras

There are believed to be only sixty to seventy remaining Javan Rhinoceroses. One of them made the news this week when she attacked and destroyed a motion-triggered camera.

More

The Greatest Comic of All Time

If you've still not read THE ULTIMATE FUTURE SHOCK then click on the link.

Nightclubbing

Back in February, I went to the Amsterdam Beat Club, just round the corner from Panda Mansions. This featured a local band called The Revellions who were endearingly yeow!, but I thought maybe that the event as a whole was a bit tired and unexciting. Or maybe it was me who was tired? What a novel turn up for the books that would be.

The other club event I was at was a B-Music night in Rí Rá, an event that featured people like Andy Votel, Dom Thomas, Chris Geddes, and Mark Winkelmann DJing. The event started in The Globe pub before expanding into the neighbouring nightclub, and if you got down into the pub early enough you got into the club for free. But for one feature, this would have been a distinctly false economy, as The Globe on a Saturday night is like a vision of hell, being noisy, devoid of free seats, unbearably hot, and full of trend people with nice haircuts. The one saving grace was getting to interesting local band Twinkranes play a concert there. This three-piece comprises a Jimmy Saville look-alike on drums and vocals, one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers on keyboards, and another guy on guitar. Their music is somewhat experimental, being influenced vaguely by Krautrock and the more musical end of Post-Punk but without the band obviously disappearing up their arses. This is the second time I have seen them, and I recommend them highly. I think they are playing Benicassim or Primaverasound or one of those fellows, so you might get your chance yet.

Another good thing that happened in the Globe was a (brief) conversation with Chris Geddes, meaning I now have talked to an actual member of Belle & Sebastian (having previously danced with Stuart Murdoch and Stevie Jackson, possibly without them noticing). Rock. I carefully avoided coming across like a fan boy or asking if their next album will be a return to form, or indeed mentioning B&S at all.

The various DJs played loads of ker-azzzy psych and suchlike sounds. At one point we heard what might even have been some Khmer Pop, which was very exciting. It was like listening to one CD of music from the land of Pol Pot has been enough to train us in recognising the sound of the Cambodian language.

And so on.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Crazy Sounds of Finders Keepers

v/a Welsh Rare Beat Vol.2
v/a B-Music Cross Continental Record Raid Road Trip

These are both compilations of weirdo music on the Finders Keepers records label. The first is a collection of olde psych-folk music, from the Dyfed Triangle in Wales, all with Welsh language lyrics. This Dyfed Triangle area is one where people smoke lots of dope and eat lots of wild mushrooms; it is also well known as a location for visits by UFOs and interplanetary craft. The other record is to be grab-bag of crazy tunes from around the world. I particularly like the tune where the foreign guy goes on about "Heepees!" The first record was compiled by Andy Votel, Dom Thomas, and Gruff Rhys; in compiling the second, those three seem to have been joined by every psych scenesters in these islands. All of this music is great.

Do you know who Henry Darger is?

Well, do you? If you were reading a book (about comics, say), and the author were to throw in a reference to someone (Dave Sim, say) being a bit like Henry Darger, would you know what they were getting at? That's if they said nothing to explain who Darger was, I mean.

By chance, I do actually know who Henry Darger is, but I had thought he was a very obscure figure, and not someone you could mention and expect people to understand what you were talking about. Maybe he is a household name in that America.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Go To The Cinema!

I will talk about these at greater length in the future, but for now I recommend that you go and see the following two films in the cinema, while you still can:

1. Caramel
This is the Lebanese hairdressers film. Even people who have never been to Beirut will enjoy it.

2. Honeydripper
The latest film about people from the Deep South, and how they love to have fun. And it is directed by John Sayles.

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v/a "Counter Culture '07"

This is Rough Trade Shops' compilation of the crazy sounds they inflicted on people last year. A great many of these songs have nautical themes, bizarrrrr. There is also a track on it by a band or person called Panda Bear, but sadly it is rubbish. Anyways, I bought this to get an idea of what the young people are into, but it turns out that the music they like is either not that good or else requires lots of repeat listens.

It is nevertheless the cast that I liked the Battles track, though not so much that I bothered going to their concert.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More ORCH5 action - slight return

What do you reckon the deal was with ORCH1 to ORCH4? I wonder were they like MACH Zero – failed experiments too hideously mutated to ever be allowed out to trouble the public.

More ORCH5 action

As you know, I am a great man for the ORCH5 sample. Recent inquiries on the Internet allowed me to download a recording of it, and also revealed that it was one David Vorhaus who created it, by sampling that bit of Stravinsky's Firebird for the Fairlight synthesiser. David Vorhaus is maybe not that famous, but he was a member of the 1960s experimental group The White Noise, together with Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. As far as they know, they only released one album, and its standout track is called 'Firebird'. I wonder was Vorhaus even then thinking "One day sampling technology will be invented, and I will then record a one second slice of Stravinsky's Firebird which will then find its way onto loads of records in the yet to emerge genre of Hip Hop!".

Given that the ORCH5 sample is only a second long, this is proportionally the longest review I have ever written.

And yeah, I know this very similar to an earlier post on the subject, but sometimes there is something to be said for repetition.

does Douglas Wolk Make Me Want To Read Comics? (part three))

So yeah, I have been reacting to the bit of Douglas Wolk's book where he talks about comics he has things to say. This is my final instalment.

Dave Sim

Dave Sim is famous as the guy who decided to chronicle the life of one character over 300 issues of a comic called Cerebus, that eponymous character being an anthropomorphic aardvark inhabiting a swords-and-sorcery fantasy world. Then he turned into a mentalist and started to fill the comic with his eccentric ideas about women (bad), homosexuals (bad) and Muslims (good; no sorry, bad). Like most people, I have read Cerebus up to when Sim turned into a mentalist, and then I stopped. Wolk makes a pretty convincing case that the later Cerebus stories are still worth engaging with; for all that Sim does a lot of spouting bile, his technical ability keeps ascending to new peaks. Maybe one day I will investigate whether this is actually the case.

Jim Starlin

Wolk actually just talks about Warlock, a title Starlin wrote for Marvel in the 1970s. Wolk makes it sound like some kind of crazy 1970s New Wave SF book in comic form, which would make me interested in checking it out, if it was in print, which it is not.

Tomb of Dracula

In a rare retreat from his auteurist principles, Wolk here discusses a title produced by a team rather than by a heroic individual. Tomb of Dracula was written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, appearing originally in the 1970s. Wolk makes it sound like the US equivalent of early Tharg's Future Shocks – nasty stories in which evil always triumphs and good decent people come to sticky ends. His descriptions (and the selections of reproduced art) suggest that Wolfman's nihilism is well-matched by Colan and Palmer's daringly semi-abstract art, whose twisted layouts and non-standard compositions express the non-euclidean logic of the stories. I have already had Tomb of Dracula recommended to me by Wood, and Wolk's further endorsement makes it inevitable that I will be reading reprints of this sooner rather than later.

Kevin Huizenga

I'd never heard of this guy, he sounds like a potentially interesting producer of comics about an everyman character called Glenn to whom various strange and mundane things happen, all rendered in a simple cartoony style. These stories might well repay investigation.

Charles Burns & Art Spiegelman

These guys are linked because Burns' work first appeared in RAW, an art comics anthology magazine that Spiegelman co-edited. I've never really liked Burns' work before, finding his art style somehow off-putting. After reading Wolk's book, though, I have started wondering whether I should read Black Hole. This book is about a sexually transmitted disease that that causes teenagers to mutate into repulsive mutants. It sounds like Cronenburgian body-horror, one of my favourite forms of fiction, even if Wolk explicitly says that it is done the way David Cronenburg would do it in one of his films.

Art Spiegelman is best-known for Maus, a book about his relationship with his father and his father's experiences as a Polish Jew in the Second World War. I read this myself relatively recently and was astonished by how good it is, as I had expected something very worthy and maudlin. Spiegelman has largely pissed about since writing it, an his more recent In The Shadow Of No Towers is a rambling mess. As Wolk suggests, Maus is maybe the kind of thing you only produce one of in your life.

Chris Ware

It's funny, skimming this again now I'm not really sure I have got much of an impression from this as to what Ware's work is actually like. From skimming books in shops (or seeing selections in anthologies) it seems like it is very abstract and design heavy, but I'm not sure how much of that you would want.

Alison Bechdel

Her book Fun Home is another me-and-my-funny-family memoir comics, though it may help in this case that Bechdel's family are a bit odder than most. Also, she seems ot have an attractive art style, and Wolk makes her book sound stylistically interesting in terms of its fractured time sequences and all that. For all my usual dismissal of memoir comics, I have become somewhat fascinated by this one and will look out for it in shops. So if it is rubbish, Wolk is for it.

And that's it for Douglas Wolk reactions, unless at some future stage I decide to set down my problems with his approach to aesthetics.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Karlheinz Stockhausen - an in-depth analysis of his life and work

One of my pals used me as a mule to transport some copied up discs by Karlheinz Stockhausen to another of my pals. I took advantage by copying them to iTunes, so now I know all about him. Stocker was a funny fellow… for all that it is high classical music that claims him the most, he looked like an indie kid and made music that sounds like it belongs more to Warp than to the Concert Hall.

Does Douglas Wolk Make Me Want To Read Comics? (part two))

As previously discussed, I am looking at whether the reviews and commentaries section of Douglas Wolk's book makes me want to read comics by the people he talks about.

Gilbert Hernandez

Reading what Wolk had to say about Gilbert Hernandez persuaded me to give Love & Rockets another go (that and local comic shop selling off collected volumes cheap). I have still not read Love & Rockets X, the book by Gilbert that Wolk goes on about the most, but I have derived great enjoyment from the earlier Palomar stories, of which more later.

Jaime Hernandez

Gilbert's brother… reading what Wolk had to say also made me try some more of his work, which in any case is hard to avoid if you are reading up on Gilbert through the old format of Love & Rockets compilations, as both brothers' work appears in most volumes. Wolk highlights a bit of L&R where Jaime's stories supposedly up a narrative gear and begin to get interesting. Sadly, it seems more like they transition from fantastical but dull tales of robots and rockets, to low thrill power tales of women having dull conversations with each other.

Craig Thompson & James Kochalka

Never heard of these two before, and not entirely clear why Wolk pairs them. Kochalka has brought out a book called The Cute Manifesto, about how cute things are great; this may well be the greatest book ever written. Thompson, meanwhile, has a book called Blankets, which sounds like it might be the absolute nadir of me-and-my-boring-life shite comics.

Hope Larson

Wolk makes her work sound like it is narratively slight but visually very arresting, combining a simple cartoony style with odd compositional features. I might look at some of her books in a shop to see what I think of them.

Carla McNeil

Her books are set in a SFey world that combines high technology with strange social stratifications and rigid rules and customs sometimes arcane even to their subjects. The art style is attractive, and as someone interested in the brainy end of SF I would like to investigate McNeil's work further.

Alan Moore

Alan Moore is the single biggest name in comics. Unlike the people mentioned thus far, he is just a writer, and not a writer-artist, so to realise his visions he is dependent on other people. I have read pretty much all the things by Moore that Wolk talks about, so nothing Wolk says is going to edge more towards reading more. I did think, though, that Wolk is overly indulgent of the Lost Girls comic that Moore wrote and Melinda Gebbie drew. I'm not really convinced that Lost Girls is anything other than a tawdry smutfest, and I do not think people should waste their time taking it seriously. It is a shame that Wolk did not talk more about either From Hell or Tom Strong, both vastly superior works.

Grant Morrison

Another guy who does not draw, and another comics big name whose work I have read much of. And again, I reckon Wolk barely mentions great work like Seaguy and wastes time on less impressive work, by which I mean Seven Soldiers of Victory. That said, I didn't like The Invisibles when it started either, and by talking up Seven Soldiers so much, Wolk makes me want to check it out again. Unfortunately I have given away all my issues.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mojo Gave Us CDs

Do you know that Mojo magazine? I mostly buy it for compilation CDs. One issue I bought recently had a big interview with Radiohead, with an accompanying CD called OK_Computer. The CD was not of the bands who had inspired or, worse, been inspired by Radiohead, but was of a load of early electropop acts and people from today who have taken up the torch. My particular favourite might be the Fyugi (sp?) & Miyagi (sp?) one, at least partly for the way it sounds like classic era Underworld.

Mojo Presents… Beloved is more recent Mojo comp, this time of indiepop. I'm starting to think that maybe the scovers were right, that indie pop might be rubbish after all. Still, the CD does feature the wonderful 'God Gave Us Life' by Half Man Half Biscuit, a song that maybe should also have '(He Also Gave Us Una Stubbs)' appended to the title.

The Mojo issue on indie pop that that the indie pop CD came with showed promise. Unfortunately, it took that tiresome top 50 format that has bedevilled so much of their writing lately, meaning you just get a load of disjointed whacks of music writing rather than any serious piece of analysis. Oh well, such is life.

A more recent issue of Mojo came with a free CD of music inspired by Paul Weller. I skipped that one.

Does Douglas Wolk Make Me Want To Read Comics? (part one)

I have finally finished reading Douglas Wolk's book Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work, And What They Mean. Rather than actually review the it, I will instead trawl through the "Reviews & Commentary" section of the book, looking at whether the people he writes about sound like they make the kind of work I would like to read. Many of these people produce what Wolk calls "art comics" - so expect little thrill power and a lot of self-indulgent memoir.

David B.

This French guy's big claim to fame is that Marjane Satrapi ripped off his drawing style for her big-selling books. Like her, he writes about himself and his family background, talking about his childhood, which was marked by his brother's battle against an extreme and intractable form of epilepsy that ultimately killed him; or, at least, this is what the book (in English, Epileptic) Wolk talks about the most is about. Epileptic sounds like it might have the nice naïve art-style of Satrapi's Persepolis while being more formally experimental, so I may hunt it down sometime.

Chester Brown

Brown seems to have made the transition from weirdo autobiographical comics, to weirdo comics with gross-out scatological themes (key character: The Man Who Couldn't Stop, being a man who defecates continuously), to writing weirdo comics about Canadian historical figures. His Riel tells the story of the 19th century figure Louis Riel, who led a revolt of Métis Indians against the Canadian authorities. I've seen excerpts from this before, and was struck by its clear line style but slightly claustrophobic and disturbed feel. Apparently Brown makes it ambiguous as to whether Riel was a mentally disturbed individual with borderline schizophrenia, or an actual prophet chosen by God for Great Things, something that relates back to Brown's earlier weirdo autobiographical comics. The combination of crazy history and weirdo mental states surely makes Riel an essential acquisition for all discerning readers.

Steve Ditko

Ditko is famous as the co-creator of Spiderman. Ditko defined Spiderman's look and plotted many of the early stories (with Stan Lee contributing the words). I've never really got Ditko up to now, finding his art a bit pedestrian compared to early Marvel's other art star, Jack Kirby. Wolk talks Ditko up well, and the three panels of Ditko Spiderman art reproduced (Spidey struggling unsuccessfully against a heavy weight while water gradually fills up the room around him) is very striking. Wolk is a persuasive advocate of the idea that Ditko's work would repay further attention, even (or especially) the crazy ultra-libertarian stuff he produced in later years (Watchmen's Rorshach is a homage to a character Ditko created partly as a vehicle for his views).

Will Eisner & Frank Miller

I'm not really sure why these are lumped together. I've read a lot of Frank Miller stuff, and I like it. Will Eisner I have never really got and always get the impression people only pretend to like him. Wolk seems oddly faint in his praise of Eisner, while with Miller he falls victim to the revisionism that has seen many turn against Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, still one of the two high water marks of superhero comics.

keep tuning in for more Wolk-reaction action!

Oi! Lighthouse! Sort it out!

Attention Lighthouse Cinema of Dublin! Show more trailers and less ads before your films!

Political Correctness - Gone Mad

Bilbo is a Newfoundland who until recently helped protect swimmers at Sennen beach in Cornwall. He is trained to rescue those who get into difficulties and also makes sure that people do not swim in the area outside the beach's flagged safe area. However, the RNLI now control Sennen beach, and they have declared that Bilbo is no longer welcome there. Only working dogs are allowed on the beach, and Bilbo is not officially classed as such.

Bilbo is currently protecting swimmers on another beach. When pressed for a comment on the bureaucratic tangle in which he finds himself, he replied "Always swim between the flags".

More:

Bilbo, Britain's favourite lifedog, pays the price of celebrity (picture source)

Lifeguard dog banned from beach

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

"The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari"

This is one of those German Expressionist films from the era of silent cinema. I saw it in Berlin over Easter, with local musicians Picture Palace Music providing the obligatory post-rock/electonica musical accompaniment. The film is a classic of cinema, so maybe you have seen it? Its great claim to fame is that it totally eschews realism in its set design, instead having the action taking place in a nightmare world of crooked buildings and oddly shaped items of furniture items. The story itself has a darkly dreamlike quality, not just for its use of somnambulism as major plot device. This is one of my favourite films ever, and I urge anyone who has not seen it to watch it forthwith. As you probably know, it was, visually, a major influence on later films like Carol Reed's The Third Man.

The music was pretty good, but it suffered a bit from the same problem that bedevils this kind of thing – basically, for much of the time, it was just too loud. In this context, loud equals distracting. The same thing happened when I saw the film in Dublin with local fellow 3epkano doing the music. In contrast, the sound levels were more tightly controlled when local electonic fellows DeCal provided the sounds many years ago. Maybe synthesised sounds are more amenable to volume controls.

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Twenty Five Years Later, Ian Discovers "Love and Rockets"

I have finally started seeing the point of Love and Rockets. Or rather, I have started seeing the point of Gilbert Hernandez's Palomar stories. Jaime's Maggie & Hopey stories seem a bit slight, and oddly reminiscent of the women talking scenes in Death Proof. I can nevertheless see why Jaime is so popular – nicely drawn stories about perky, attractive, bi-curious women are always going to play well to comics fans. Gilbert's art is a lot less pretty, but it does what he wants it too and there seems to a lot more going on in his stories. Among people I know, preferring Gilbert is something of a minority taste, so they will probably just think I am liking his stuff to be different.

More on Love and Rockets to follow - eventually!

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Monday, May 19, 2008

"My Brother Is An Only Child"




don't fancy yours much

And this is another, more recent film touching on Italian fascism. In this case, it is the quixotic fascist remnants in 1960s Italy. The main character in the film finds his way into the fascist movement, mainly as a way of reacting against his suffocating family; his brother, meanwhile, becomes a leftie firebrand, joining the Communists. Much hilarity ensues. This film is, naturally, very different from The Conformist, being much lighter and more formally realistic in tone. However, it all becomes a bit less comedic later on, when the leftist brother sliding from communism to the Red Brigades – will his good looks and appeal to the ladies get him out of this one?

Music does not play a particularly big role in this film, but there is one very striking set piece in which a well-known piece of music by Beethoven is performed by a socialist orchestra and choir, with the lyrics re-worked to be about the onward march of the proletariat. I reckon that alone would make it worth the price of admission, though the endless shots of the flatlands where most of the film is set are also quite striking. Could these have be the very marshes that Mussolini drained?

Dublin readers who missed this film when it was in the IFI may be interested to hear that it is now playing in the newly reopened Light House.

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Unfortunate Associations

The big problem with the band Ween is that their name sounds a bit like that of Weezer.

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"No Country For Old Men"

It was to feed anticipation for this that the IFI screened a load of old Coen brothers films. I take it you have seen this tale of a man who thought he could out-run an implacable killing machine. It was a pretty good film, but maybe not that good a Coen Brothers film. I find it hard not to think that the Coen Brothers well has run dry, with this film being adapted from a novel (as their next is scheduled to be) while their last was a straight remake and the one before scripted by someone else. As film nerds, the Coens have always borrowed and incorporated plot ideas and elements from other films, but they were at least putting them into their own stories or synthesising something new out of the constituent parts. It seems now, though, like they are unable to generate their own plots and have to rely on others to do this for them. Oh well, I'm not as cool as I used to be either.

On the film itself, I fundamentally liked it. Like all Coen films, it looked great, largely thanks to that guy who does their cinematography. The main thing I did not like about it was a plot element apparently taken straight from the novel – the off-screen killing of the Josh Brolin character. This seemed basically like poor cinema. Having said that, this might well have been the only thing I did not like about the film, so it still merits a high 2-1.

You would think people in films would learn that if you ever find a huge amount of money left somewhere, the thing to do is leave it there and peg off as quickly as possibly before phoning the cops. But no.

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"The Conformist"

This is an old Bernardo Bertolucci film, which was on limited re-release. It tells the story of this guy who gets a job in Mussolini's secret service in the 1930s, and is sent to Paris to befriend and assassinate an anti-fascist exiled professor. It's not really about the story, though, with the art direction, cinematography, and costume design being far more important than any kind of plot summary. I particularly liked the bit where the protagonist's then fiancée is wearing a stripey dress that merges into the horizontal shadow-lines coming from the blinds in her room. There is also the general sense that while Italian fascists might have been thuggish or useless, they did at least know how to dress, even if those who followed fascism were just doing so out of a desire to fit in.

So yeah, recommended.

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Saturday, May 17, 2008

Why Is "Death Proof" so bad?

As you know, in the USA Grindhouse was a long film of two segments, one directed by Quentin Tarantino (Death Proof) and the other by Robert Rodriquez (Planet Terror). In Ireland, these were split into two separate films, and I mentioned seeing Planet Terror in a previous zine. Since then I saw Death Proof on DVD in a friend's place. It is a very problematic film, being mainly composed of long scenes of excruciating boredom interspersed with a couple of scenes of action excitement. Its one great saving grace is a killer Tarantino soundtrack.

More recently, they showed the American Grindhouse in the Irish Film Institute. I was there. Planet Terror is still a most excellent film, not obviously cut for the omnibus screening. (Death Proof was a bit less excruciating than when watched on DVD. There was less of it, for one thing, as many of the dullo scenes of people talking nonsense were cut from it. I suppose also that I knew better what to expect.

Without going into the details of (Death Proof's plot, it does feature a lot of scenes in which women sit around having dull conversations. I have two contradictory theories about why these scenes are so awful. One is the idea that Tarantino, as a nerd, is entirely unable to write convincing dialogue for women, and instead has given us his version of how women talk and what they talk about. My other theory is that the reason why the dialogue is so awful is that it is too true to the way people actually talk. I don't mean that as a criticism of women, as this approach to dialogue only appears to show women in a bad light because of the film's shortage of male characters. I suppose what I mean is this – next time you are out for a night with some friends, imagine your conversations were being secretly filmed and then became the basis for a feature film. Can you honestly say that it would not be the most boring film ever made?

The double bill also featured all the trailers for fictional trash films that were included with the US release. Werewolf Women of the SS, Don't, and Thanksgiving were all entertaining enough, but each of them seemed very much to be a direct parody of an actual existing film. The star trailer film remains Machete, the story of a Mexican illegal immigrant bounty hunter who is double-crossed and left for dead and is now out for vengeance ("They just fucked with the wrong Mexican"). Mere words cannot do justice to this thing of wonder, and I urge you to look it up on YouTube and view it away to your heart's content. I have heard that is going to be made into an actual film, but I think there may be a slight [Citation Needed] aspect to such reports. Oh well.

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Olde Coen Brothers films


In the IFI I saw a load of Coen Brothers films again (and Raising Arizona for the first time). They were showing them to whet people's appetites for No Country For Old Men. I particularly enjoyed seeing Barton Fink again, as the last time I saw it my then girlfriend found it all too much and walked out of the cinema. The film is almost as oppressive the second time around, though at least you know what unpleasant thing is going to happen. Raising Arizona I found a bit strange. The print was not great for this, but I found it a bit hard to get over the kidnapping-baby premise and relax into this being a relatively funny film. The film is nevertheless an engaging look back to a time when Nicolas Cage was not That Cockfarmer Nicolas Cage, and it is the source of the line "As in, to swing".

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The Amstel Quartet

I have been a bit slack on the old Hugh Lane Gallery Sunday at noon gigs lately, but I did make one a while back that featured some Dutch saxophonists called The Amstel Quartet. This concert featured some annoying children whose parents had not taught them to shut the fuck up when going to classical music events, but it was nevertheless possible to enjoy the music. I can't really say too much about what they played, but I was amused by the reaction when they announced that they were going to play a Phillip Glass piece as a surprise encore. Basically you could hear this ripple of extreme approval going through the audience, bringing home the extent to which he has become a centrepiece figure of mainstream alternative music. I would love to know how this happened. I know Glass through his soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi, with that film being essentially an extended promo for his crazy sounds, but it is hardly the kind of thing that Self-Satisfied Of Dublin 4 is going to watch on a regular basis. Or is it?

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

World's Greatest Album Found

Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out that SCOOTER's Jumping All Over The World is the greatest album ever recorded. And it does have cover versions of tracks by Kim Wilde, the Sisters of Mercy, and OMD on it, as well as samples from Status Quo. I will of course go into more details in the pages of Frank's APA.

The record also comes with a bonus CD of the Greatest Hits of SCOOTER. Srsly goys, every home needs this record.

It is amazing to think how much everyone loves SCOOTER now, when you consider how much ridicule was heaped on my old flatmate when he bought a copy of ... And The Beat Goes On on spec.

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"Lust, Caution"

This film by that Ang Lee fellow bears comparisons with Paul Verhoeven's The Black Book, in that it features spies, occupiers, collaborators, weird sex, degradation of women, and so on. The film is set during the period when the Japanese were expanding their control of China, the story being about a woman using herself as bait to lure a leading collaborator to his death. There is a lot to like in this film, with the setting (occupied Shanghai and pre-war Hong Kong) in particular being very well evoked. The film looks great as well, reminding me somewhat of films by Wong Kar Wai and that guy who made Shanghai Triad in its stylishness and art direction.

The film nevertheless has features of which I am less fond. The sex scenes are pretty disturbing, and they do rather go on a bit and involve a lot of non-Euclidean geometry. I found the ending a bit unsatisfying as well. Stop reading now if you hate spoilers and are ever realistically likely to see this film. Basically, I did not feel that the heroine's decision to tip off the collaborator made narrative or psychological sense. You could imagine how someone in that kind of situation might be turned by the collaborator, through something akin to Stockholm syndrome. The film, however, failed to suggest that this was happening, and her tipping off the collaborator seemed to come from nowhere. For all that, the downbeat ending was quite striking, and I suppose the film must be saluted for its non-Hollywood approach to plot resolution.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Faster. Harder. SCOOTER

The BBC reports that Scooter have kicked Madonna off the top of the UK album charts. Scooter's new album is called Jumping All Over The World.

The album includes covers of 'Enola Gay' (originally by Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark), 'Neverending Story' (originally by Limahl), and a song called 'Marian' which might be a cover of the Sisters of Mercy classic but probably is not. It is not clear whether the title track contains elements from Status Quo's 'Rockin' All Over The World' (itself a cover of a John Fogarty tune, according to Wikipedia). Other tracks include 'The Hardcore Massive', 'The Question Is What Is The Question', and 'Cambodia!'.

Further Scooter action:

Move Your Ass Poll!! (in which the good folk of ILX discuss the best lines from this most excellent song by Scooter)

The ultimate Scooter quandry... (what it is)

image 1 from BBC article, image two Wikipedia

"Cloverfield"

As you probably know, the conceit of this film is that it is meant to be found footage, recorded on a camcorder by the characters in the film. It starts with them being at a going-away party for one of the characters, but then the city they are in (New York, naturally) is attacked by a giant monster. The rest of the film features a lot of people running around going "Oh Jesus, what was that?" as they try to escape Manhattan or rescue friends or whatever it is that people do in this kind of film. I found it very involving, with the human scale treatment of something as outlandish as a monster-smashes-city setup being quite affecting. The original Japanese Godzilla film does something similar with one scene in a hospital for people who have been injured by the eponymous monster*. Cloverfield, however, eschews the Generals-explaining-plot scenes you usually get in this kind of thing, and is more effective for it.

I did hear that some people found the characters in the film annoying, but I found them sufficiently engaging that I started inwardly grumbling about horror film tropes that require them to be killed off one by one. The film does not in fact really go for that… I'm not saying they are all still alive when the film ends, but it does not kill one off every ten minutes when they move to a new location, disaster-film style. As a form of plotting I reckon this works well, as does having the camera be pointing in the wrong direction at key points in the film (as in, I still don't really get what happened when they tried to cross the bridge, but I know it was scary).

Favourite scary moment in the film: the "why are all the rats running in that direction?" bit. Or the "I don't feel well" bit.

Some people liked Cloverfield. Other people did not.

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*I am not the first person in the world to mention this.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Grey Squirrels Unhappy At Rise In Grey Squirrel Meat Consumption

The Guardian reports that the meat of hunted Grey Squirrels is rising rapidly in popularity.Killing the rodent for food is seen as both ethical and good for the environment, as reducing Grey Squirrel numbers helps their embattled Red Squirrel cousins.

Grey Squirrels are reputedly less than pleased with these developments, and point out that they have tufty tails and are able to perform a variety of endearing behaviours. Red Squirrel sources are also ambivalent. "If humans develop a taste for squirrel-meat", commented a well-respected Red Squirrel, "then none of us will be safe".

Me am brane #72

Looks like I forgot that Jonathan Richman was on tonight.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Oi! Blogger! Sort it out!

I really wish blogger would sort it out so that you could easily display links recent comments on the front page of a blog. I am partly saying this because I am, suddenly, getting some great waht is it maed comment action on my other blog.

Nice Art

I've only just registered what a talented artist "Masonic Boom" is. I mean visual artist, I still have not heard any of this Renaissance woman's music.

Printed Circuit

I was going to write about Printed Circuit, the electronic music group comprising Claire Circuit, aka Claire Broadley, and some other guy. However, ClaireCircuit has become MY ENEMY since I recently tried to buy her second album on line. Like a bad person, she has pocketed my cash but not bothered to send me out the CD. If you live in Leeds and go to one of her concerts, I encourage you to stage a riot that ensures she never gets to play live again. Or pointedly ask her when she is going to send me my CD.

Also, would anyone like a PIRATED copy of her first album?

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The Fall "Hip Priest and Kamerads"

I bought this to get some tracks for the Fall-intro CD I am making for KevLol. Turns out that I should just have got Hex Induction Hour, as much of this is from there and the rest is slightly ropey live recordings. Nevertheless, the good stuff is great – if you like the combination of a persistent drumming led racket and stream of consciousness gibberish vocals.

This recording features the song 'The Classical', about which there is an interesting story. Reputedly, in the early 1980s, the Motown label was for some reason interested in signing The Fall. However, when they procured a copy of Hex Induction Hour, they heard the song 'The Classical', and were shocked to make out the clearly enunciated line "Where are the obligatory Niggers?". The record deal fell through, with The Fall being filed in Motown as being having no commercial potential.

Although widely repeated, this story appears to have no basis in reality.

At my recent 40th birthday party, some of the people got so into The Fall that they spent their taxi journey home doing Mark E. Smith impressions. Is it any wonder that so many taxi drivers turn into serial killers?

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Fiery Furnaces "Widow City"

I bought this on vinyl, but was later able to add it to iTunes because the FFs' record label allow free downloads to vinyl purchasers. The FFs are a band I have become quite fond of through seeing live, so I picked up this, their most recent album, partly because of the free download option.

Anyway, as you know, the FFs have at their core a brother and sister, Matthew & Eleanor Friedberger She sings while he sticks to instruments. The music mixes electronic with rock instrumentation, with the whole thing having a somewhat idiot-savant quality.

The Friedbergers have become the famous people I most want to come round for dinner. I bet they would be entertainingly weird and would do things like finish each other's sentences and say strange, non sequitur things to each other. The other famous person I would love to have come and visit is Prince Phillip – I wonder how they would get on with him.

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BBC News... or PRAVDA?

You decide.

Europeans get drunk 'to have sex'

Great tits cope well with warming

Bull-terrier swallows L-size leather raincoat

Dumbbells fall down on woman’s head from 15th floor

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nod

v/a "The Darjeeling Limited OST"

This is music from the film – tunes by The Kinks, Indian film music, and Peter Sarstedt's 'Where Do You Go To My Lovely'. God, Sarstedt is a whiny, over-possessive fucker. I bet he never actually met the woman he is singing about and is in fact just some creepy stalker. The rest of the music is genius, though, and even that song is redeemed by its association with that sequence in The Hotel Chevalier.

More WDYGTML hate

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Living Music Festival 2008: Concluding Comments

Living Music Festival 2008: Concluding Comments

One thing I read before the Festival was a review of that Remembering Ligeti thing I talked about a while ago. This was of course in the super soaraway Journal of Music in Ireland. The reviewer (one Barra Ó Séaghdha) did the usual thing of going on about how great Ligetti was and how much fun it was to hear his music in Dublin, but he then launched into a bit of a screed against the then forthcoming Living Music festival. Basically, he reckoned that it has gone soft, and that by basic itself around nicey composers like Pärt it was trying to court a boring mainstream classical audience. As members of Frank's APA may recall from a zine by my beloved, a mere four years ago the festival was focussed on electro-acoustic weirdo music, attracting virtually no audience from outside the world of serious musicologists. The writer reckoned that following festivals based around Steve Reich and John Adams with Arvo Pärt, the festival has lost whatever edge it has; he predicts that the next ones will star the likes of Phillip Glass or (shudder) Michael Nyman.

Before going to the festival, I was thinking that Ó Séaghdha was maybe overstating things a bit. However, I became more sympathetic to his position afterwards, or could at least see what he was getting at. The age profile of attendees seemed much higher at this year's festival. I suspect this is because Pärt's music, whatever its other features, is something you can listen to without having a degree in musicology or being a hipster elitist. Put more straightforwardly, it is the kind of thing your mother would not mind listening to. That is not to knock it, as it is at least theoretically possible that there could be music that is both objectively good and accessible to a mass audience. It does make me wonder, though, whether the purpose of contemporary music festivals should maybe be to introduce people to music they may initially be uncomfortable with. Or maybe there is now a need for a Continuity Living Music Festival that will leave the nicey modernist music to RTÉ and focus itself on weird and uncomfortable new sounds.

This should not be taken as a criticism of Pärt's music, however. Fundamentally it should be possible to make music that is both challenging and appealing to the ear, and I think that he manages it. Oddly for one so associated with choral pieces, I found this to be more the case with the pieces that eschewed the use of human voice, but to each their own.

It was also maybe interesting that they kicked jazz out of the festival, after just introducing it last year. This is a bit of a shame, as the Big Satan gig was on of the highlights of the 2006 Living Music Festival. But maybe in the end the appetite for new music is rather pigeonholed with the jazzers not really wanting to engage with the contemporary classical and vice versa. This is surely unfortunate, and implies that the supposedly forward-thinking aficionados of new music are not actually that open-minded.

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Living Music Festival 2008: Sunday (part two)

Sunday, National Concert Hall

RTÉ Concert Orchestra
Ian Humphries & Darragh Morgan (violins)
David Brophy (conducting)

David Brophy was very enjoyable to watch conducting, for all that there was the slight fear that at any moment his mother might arrive and bring him home for being out past his bedtime. Tonight we heard three Pärt pieces before the interval, these being Collage über B-A-C-H (1964), Passacaglia (2003 / 2007), and Tabula Rasa (1977). After interval drinks, we had local composer David Fennessy's This Is How It Feels (Another Bolero) and two more Pärt pieces: Wenn Bach Bienen gezuchtet hatte (1976 / 2001) and Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten (1977 / 1980).

One odd thing about this evening's entertainment was a sudden attack of TALKERS, not something you normally get at classical music events. There was one older lady near us, and she seemed not really to register that being at a concert is a bit different to listening to a record at home, so she was quite happy to chatter away over the music, particularly the tunes she was not so fond of. David Fennessy's piece in particular had her talking away; she was not the only person who found this work (a re-working of the Inspiral Carpets classic*) a bit much. I, however, am a forward thinking individual, and I found its abrasiveness highly enjoyable.

The Pärt stuff was deadly as well. Tabula Rasa might have been the most striking work. Apparently when it first appeared it was considered rather daring, in that it was like a retreat or a repudiation of high modernist experimentalism and a re-adoption of older forms. The whole thing is rather string based, but in the second movement it introduces a prepared piano, whose odd noises made it sound a bit different from the return to traditionalism one might have expected. All the other Pieces were string-heavy, and my conversion to all things string meant I enjoyed this evening's performance greatly.

Pärt came onstage at the end and we all gave him the clap. He seems like a nice old fellow, so it was pleasing to see him basking in the attention. And then he gave a little speech… in English! Wow, up to then the word had been that he didn't speak a word of our great language. Truly there is nothing that this man cannot do.

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*this is an untrue comment, being made here for the purposes of humour.

The Strange World In Which We Live


Link from Jim's Occasional Journal of Sorts

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Warning: Mullets

Posting on my other blog about the giant golden statue of Turkmenbashi reminded me of the one person I know who has actually seen it, former work colleague Gordon. You may recall that last year I mentioned how he was going to drive off to Ulan Bator in a shitey car, for charity. I never said anything about him coming back, so maybe you have been worrying that he is still somewhere in central asia? Fear not, he made it back alive.

Pictures shamelessly lifted from the website set-up to chronicle the adventures of Gordon and his partner in crime, on which you can still donate money to his featured charities.

Living Music Festival 2008: Sunday (part one)

National Gallery of Ireland

RTÉ Vanbrugh Quartet
Joanna MacGregor (piano)

This took place in the afternoon. Ms MacGregor only joined the Vanbrughers for one piece, a performance of a 1976 piece by the late Alfred Schnittke. The rest of the programme had everything that Pärt has ever written for the string quartet. This came to three pieces, Fratres (1977), Psalom (1986/1991), and Summa (1977/1991). They also performed Lamentations of the Myrrhbearer 2001 piece by some guy called Ivan Moody (not a local composer as originally inferred), and Schnittke's Piano Quintet of 1976.

I enjoyed this programme a lot more than I expected to, finding myself coming to the conclusion that maybe string quartet music is the highest form of classical. The Schnittke piece might well have been the best, having as it did a kind of doomy mournfulness that nevertheless retained a certain lightness of touch. The Moody piece, meanwhile, was so relaxing that a sharp prod from my neighbour was needed to rouse me from my slumbers. The Pärt pieces, all pretty short, were also greatly enjoyed, with Fratres and Summa providing an interesting contrast between Fast Arvo and Slow Arvo; the latter reminds me somewhat of the opening of the Rheingold, with the music flowing along in a similar kind of way. Apparently it illustrates this tintinnabulation thing that Pärt pioneered, but I wouldn't know about that.

So yes, top marks.

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Monday, May 05, 2008

Living Music Festival 2008: Saturday

Christchurch Cathedral

Polyphony
Stephen Layton (conducting)

This was all choral all the time, with these Polyphony people performing various short religious choral pieces by Pärt, and a couple of others by some Poulenc guy. Poulenc seems to have been some French shagger before he got religion and started writing loads of god-bothering work. Although there were no musical instruments being played, the singers were effectively being accompanied by the audience – not through their singing along or giving them the rhythmic clap, but through their inability to sit still despite the Cathedral's provision of the world's creakiest chairs.

What did I think of the music? Ah sure it was grand, it's always nice to hear the religious music in an actual church. I'm not sure if I was actually blown away by it, though, and I found myself wondering if choral music is not actually my favourite form of classical music after all. The piece were they just roll through all the ancestors of Jesus Christ was entertaining, though, and a great source of funny names to afflict on children.

We didn't get tickets to the evening performance in Christchurch of Pärt's musical scoring of St. John's Passion, but we heard from someone later that it was "fucking tedious", being just a load of people chit chatting away to each other only singing their lines rather than speaking them. This meant it never really gelled as actual music, though it might be something you could get more into if you were, you know, religious.

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Living Music Festival 2008: Friday

National Concert Hall

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra & RTÉ Philharmonic Choir
Joanna MacGregor (piano)
Tönu Kaljuste (conducting)

The first piece was a non-choral 2003 composition of Pärt's called Lamentate. It was nice enough, but I could not really get much purchase on it. To extend the tactile metaphor, its surface seemed too slippery for me to get to get to grips with, so I cannot really say whether I think it is any good or not, which I suppose must be a criticism of either me or the piece.

After the interval we had the 1990 Berliner Messe. This was a choral & orchestral work, and when you realise that messe is the foreign for mass you get the idea of what they were all singing about here. However, there was no priest on stage, so this was not a real mass. I found this piece pleasant to listen to, as part of my general approval of choral music.

Credo was the last piece, another choral and orchestral piece, originally composed in 1968. I think it might be about Pärt's growing religious sense, or maybe his reacting against that, or something. It seems quite anguished with all its discordant noises and people shouting and stuff – maybe it represents some kind of crisis of faith and so on. But I gather it was an important transitional work for Pärt, representing the beginnings of his moving towards the style of music for which he is best known. I am mad for the discord, so this was my favourite piece of the evening.

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2008 Living Music Festival: Introduction

This seems like ages ago... I seem to be generating material faster than I can post it here. Oh well. Anyway, Arvo Pärt is this Estonian composer guy. He is quite old now, and has been writing his music for a long time, producing work that fits into the 20th century musical mould of dissonance and atonality as well as making tunes your mother would like. His religious faith seems to have increasingly informed his work as his career progressed, with much of what he does being choral work of a devotional nature.

This year Pärt was the featured composer in the RTÉ Living Music Festival. Unlike last year's composer (John Adams), Pärt actually showed up, which was nice. My beloved and I went to a good few of the concerts, though we missed a few because lethargy made it impossible for us to go for tickets before they were sold out. Sigh. I was particularly upset to miss the Crash Ensemble performances, as their stuff has typically been a highlight of previous Living Music Festivals.

I will talk about each concert we attended in turn.

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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Albert Hoffman

You have probably heard already that Albert Hoffman died yesterday. He was the man who synthesised LSD while working for a pharmaceutical company in Switzerland. He famously discovered the psychoactive powers of the substance after realising that he had ingested some through the skin on his fingertips, and that this was leading to odd visual effects. He then did what any respectable scientist would do, and orally ingested what he reckoned would be modest dose, and then tried to cycle home. Unfortunately, he had taken the equivalent of several hundred times the normal dose for a recreational user of LSD.

Mr Hoffman was 102.

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Pinups & Pricks: The Verdict

After listening to each record once, Cave's covers album wins. This might be because Kicking Against The Pricks sounds very like an early Bad Seeds record, more so than Pinups sounds like a proper Ziggy Stardust era Bowie album. Or maybe it is just that I listened to the Nick Cave record second, making it fresher in my mind.

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