Friday, August 29, 2008

v/a "Music from Ethiopia: the central highlands, the desert nomads & Eritrea"

Yeah I know, Eritrea is not part of Ethiopia anymore, but it was when they put this disc together. This record does not have any of that Swinging Addis jazz stuff on it, but is rather a collection of traditional music, split up into those three conceptual parts of the country. It is all a bit ethnographic. The track that makes the most impact on me is the record's opener, a piece of liturgical music from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (a monophysite Christian church that has developed separately from the rest of Christendom). It consists of people chanting while a priest bangs on some enormous drum, all sounding very strange and otherworldly. I could see how this king of music would make you feel like you were leaving behind earthly things and ascending to the divine, and my current mission is to get an entire album of this sort of thing. Maybe I should have though of this when I was actually in Ethiopia. Mmmm.
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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Magic of Joy Division

I went to see that film about Joy Division – the documentary, not the Anton Corbijn one. Having read Deborah Curtis' Touching From A Distance and been exposed to the mass media I am broadly familiar with the story of Joy Division. Essentially, four lads from Manchester form a punk band, and develop their own brooding and hypnotic sound that meshes well with the intensity of their lead singer; just when the band seem like they are on the brink of mega success, their singer kills himself, torn apart by the stresses of incipient stardom, his emerging epilepsy, and his own tangled domestic situation.

The film treads this well-worn path, but a couple of things make it worth seeing even if you know where the road ends. For one thing, sitting in a cinema while Joy Division tunes pump out of the speakers reminds you of just how great the band were. It is also fascinating to see the various Manchester locations associated with the band. For all the grimy grimness of so much of the footage, it really made me want to revisit the city, to an even greater extent than 24 Hour Party People did. And I particularly enjoyed all the to camera chit chat from the surviving members of the band, who have always come across as rather comical characters. Some of the other speakers were excellent too, with Paul Morley surprising me by saying something interesting (for which read something I agree with) – that 'Love Will Tear As Apart' should be thought of as a pop song, and that in other circumstances it could have made its way to number one.

It is also striking how much footage of the band playing there was. I always think of the past as being an era where people went to concerts and just enjoyed them, without feeling obliged to record a two-dimensional version of them for posterity. But with Joy Division it seems like a great many of their concerts were recorded, either on 8 mm film or primitive portable video cameras. This footage reveals a surprising Joy Division fact – that Ian Curtis' on-stage dancing looked pretty comical, kind of like what your dad would do if he found himself fronting a kewl band.

The film took the usual Joy Division route of idolising Ian Curtis. Do not get me wrong, I am not down on his singing or lyrics, and I see his contribution as vital to the success of the band. But his sad end means that the story of Joy Division too much becomes his story, obscuring the equally vital contribution of the others. There is a power to so many of the bands' tunes that exists almost independently of the vocals, perhaps best noticed on something like 'Dead Souls' with its long, doomy, and vocals-free intro. The others were not Ian Curtis' backing band, as their later success as New Order would demonstrate.

Towards the end, I was glad that I was watching this film and not Corbijn's Control. The slow countdown to Curtis' death and then its aftermath was quite hard to bear, and I reckoned it would be a bit much in a narrative film. So maybe this documentary should be advertised as "Less Depressing Than Control"

Fac Panda

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Marnie Stern "In Advance of the Broken Arm"

Another birthday present, this time from "Accent Monkey", and it is a record by someone I had never heard of! Imagine. A first listen revealed this to be an mix of girlie vocals and extremely fiddly sounding music. Research revealed that Marnie Stern is famous as a guitar goddess, which was a bit of a surprise as your correspondent had failed to register that the musical accompaniment was guitar and not some kind of crazy synthesiser thing. Mmmm. Whatever way you look at it, this music is pretty in-your-face, and not really the kind of thing you can have on in the background to while trying to concentrate on something else, and it's not the kind of record you want to listen to with other people, in case they say "So what is this shite?".

I had planned to renew my relationship with Ms Stern while my actual beloved was off in Ethiopia, but wooden block board games intervened.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Chic "The Best of The Chic Organization"

I often complain about how there are compilations giving you the best of Chic, but there are no compilations giving you the best of the Chic Organisation (i.e. the peaks of Chic's own music and also the production work they did for other people). But now there is, thanks largely to the miracle of CD-R technology and inernet pal Andrew Sherman. As well as the really big Chic tunes, you also get Sheila B. Devotion*'s 'Spacer', Diana Ross' 'I'm Coming Out', and Sister Sledge's 'We Are Family'. I do kind of miss Diana Ross's 'Upside Down', and feel that the version of 'Lost In Music' included is a slightly ropey dance remix, but getting these songs in digital form has done wonders for my ability to bop down the street grooving to the disco sounds coming from the iPod.

Chic pandas

*I understand that this track is actually credited to Sheila & B. Devotion, but I would rather be wrong than right.

Monday, August 25, 2008

The Puppy Whisperer - slight return

I have previously mentioned the Puppy Whisperer, a chap who sings puppies to sleep. The embedded YouTube video in my last post does not work, as they have turned off embedding on it, or something, but if you want to watch puppies being sung to sleep, click here: Lets see the Dog Whisperer do this!!

Caribou "Andorra"

See concert write-up. On record, Caribou sound more like a psych revival band than anything strikingly original. They are a lot less obviously drum-led for one thing. Still, if all of the music listened to by today's young people sounded like this then the country would not be in the mess it is.

Psychic Panda

Sunday, August 24, 2008

God Dog Saves Baby

Argentina is fascinated by the story of La China, a dog who found an abandoned baby and somehow carried him to where she was looking after her puppies. La China's owner subsequently heard the baby crying, and now he is being looked after by the authorities. The baby's mother has also come forward.

La China is reportedly concerned about the effect of her new found fame on her puppies.


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Comics round-up 24/8/2008

Air # 1, by G. Willow Wilson & M.K. Perker

This is Vertigo's latest exciting new comic, the cover of which features an air hostess falling through the sky. The story follows her as her hum drum every day air hostess life becomes stranger and stranger, with an intrusion of weirdo secret organisations and mysterious men of shifting identities making her life more dangerous and less routine. So maybe we are on broadly familiar Vertigo territory here, or maybe this will spiral off to become one of their more exciting titles. I liked this well enough to reckon I will buy the next issue or so, so maybe it is a keeper.

In broad terms, I like the art, with Mr Perker giving the characters a semi-surreal angularity. However, I thought he missed a trick by not conveying the sheer claustrophobia of life inside a long-haul passenger plane.

Uncanny X-Men # 501, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, & Greg Land

Every so often I buy an X-title, hoping (usually in vain) to get hooked in. Fundamentally, I reckon the X-titles are trading on former glories to an even greater extent than super comics generally, and it might well be better for everyone if they just stopped. Still, Grant Morrison's successful run writing one of the X-titles a couple of years ago suggests that their might just be life in the horse yet. This, I reckon, must be why Marvel keep the X-Men going and I keep (occasionally) buying.

Just in case you have been living under a stone for the last number of decades, the basic X-Men premise is that there are all these people knocking around who have various special powers as a result of genetic mutations. The unmutated hate and fear the mutants. Some of the mutants pander to the normals' fears by becoming badass supervillains, while the X-Men are a mutant team of superheroes who work to both protect mutantkind and prevent the evil mutants from fucking it up for everyone. The mutants spend a lot of their time being a metaphor for African Americans or the gays or whatever is the current minority de jour.

In this issue, following some kind of big Marvel Universe event of which I have no knowledge, the X-Men have left New York, their normal haunt, and relocated to San Francisco. Here some crazed rightwing nutjobs are charging around beating the shite out of any mutants they come across, but, in an astonishing twist, it turns out that the rightwingers' leader is secretly a mutant. Makes you think. And that guy is taking his orders from a former member of the X-Men, someone who has died and been resurrected any number of times in the history of the comic. Blimey.

For all that, this is still pretty engaging in an X-Men-by-numbers kind of way, so maybe I will buy the next episode to see if there are any kewl superhero fights in it.


Friday, August 22, 2008

Scooter "Jumping All Over The World"

I bought this record because

1. It is by SCOOTER.

2. I had read on the BBC News that it had become the UK's number one best selling album, knocking Madonna off the top stop.

3. It came with a limited edition bonus CD of the greatest hits of SCOOTER.

Yeah. If you are a person of discernment you will be familiar with SCOOTER, the teutonic techno sensations. The group comprises three fellows – Rick J. Jordan, H.P. Baxxter the MC (who also goes by the names Dave, MC Dave, Whistling Dave, and The Chicks Terminator), and the mysterious other guy. They keep the mystery of the other guy fresh by changing him every couple of albums, with the current model being one Michael Simon, third or fourth replacement of the early line-up's Ferris Bueller.

Anyway, Jumping All Over The World is SCOOTER's umpeenth album and represents something of a change of direction for the band. Fatherhood and general ageing have led to a new maturity, with H.P. Baxxter's raps now covering environmental degradation, the problems of the Middle East, and questions of where the human race is going. Or so you might think, but you would be wrong. In fact this record is just like all the others by the band, full of stonking dancefloor classics that make you want to riggetty riggetty rock all night long. It is hard to really say much about this record other than IT IS AWESOME – GO AND BUY IT.

Yeah. The other thing you can say about SCOOTER is they really love to reference other musicians' work in a totally random manner. My theory is that the SCOOTER lads are actually total musos with a vast musical knowledge, getting a kick out of throwing in pastiches and homages of things you would never expect to come across on something as cheesetastic as a SCOOTER album. On the main album itself you get covers, samples, or snippets to such artists as OMD, Kim Wilde, Limahl, The Sisters of Mercy, and Status Quo, while the greatest hits record throws in East German folk, Supertramp, Billy Idol, and The Shamen; this is of course not including the endless nods to the KLF.

Yeah. Two men in a boat, with three cigarettes and no matches. How do they smoke?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Moondog "The Viking of Sixth Avenue"

So yeah, Moondog. Before receiving this birthday present, all I knew about Moondog was that he was some New York homeless guy who dressed up as a Viking and released records. So I was rather expecting that this album would just be the recordings of some crazy guy banging tin cans together and shouting "Boxcar! Boxcar!" over and over. As people of taste and discernment you probably knew better, as I do now that I have listened to Moondog's record. It's all very musical and nothing like as crazy outsider nutter music as I had expected. Indeed, this does not really sound like outsider music at all, and it is not surprising to read in the sleevenotes that Moondog (not his real name) was a highly trained musician. In terms of what it all sounds like, it is all a bit polyrhythmic and layered, with many of the tracks suggesting at least some familiarity with Gamelan. I am not sure whether Moondog multitracks himself playing all the instruments (must read sleevenotes more carefully) or if he has collaborators; either way, it does all sound a bit like the kind of stuff Fursaxa and those other people who do the whole "sample yourself, then sample yourself playing over sample, repeat to infinity" thing, only without the slow build. So yeah, I recommend this highly. Favourite track is probably the one where he sings about rights other than human rights, but that might just be because it has vocals on it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Concert: Caribou

I went to this concert in Whelan's with Kevlol and one of his pals. The support band were some fellows called Born Ruffians, and they were, for me, worth the price of admission on their own. The Ruffs are three young lads from across the Atlantic and they played a kind of music that sounded very familiar while not sounding exactly like the stuff produced by anyone else. In broad terms, I suppose they count as a US indie rock, but the *shy* type rather than the fratboy. You could imagine their tunes showing up on the Juno soundtrack, if that is any help. I liked the way the singer's strangulated vocals played off the musoey and drum heavy instrumentation.

I also was amused when the drummer, finishing their set, said "Thanks very much… stick around for Caribou… which you will of course do, as they are the ones you are here to see". I am not sure of you know these Caribou chaps, I certainly did not before going to the gig. They seem to be in an interesting musical stage, where they have what in absolute terms has to be taken as a small number of fans, but those fans are very into their music. So it was that I saw them in a not-full Whelans where the crowd that was here went totally mental for the band, with even the totally 100% heterosexual likes of Kevlol throwing his kecks up on stage and begging Mr Caribou to father gay babies on him.

What would be amusing would be to now approach the rest of this write-up in the spirit of an anthropological enquiry, attempting, in a 50s academic gone hip style, to understand the cause of Caribou's popularity with their fans. But that would be a bit hard to sustain, so I will instead talk about the band and their actual performance. There were about four of them on stage, with one of them being very much Mr Caribou. I got the impression that maybe the Bou were originally a one-man-band, perhaps based around synthetics, but they have evolved into a band who live to rock. Their music was very drum led, emphasised by the main drum kit's situation at the front of the stage. The main drummer also seemed to lead a lot of the music, visibly cueing the other musicians in an exciting manner. Mr Caribou himself would often switched from his keyboards to a second drumkit, typically to let songs explode into a twin drum workout where normal music would have a guitar solo. In contrast, the guitarist and bassist lurked at the back of the stage, doing their job quietly and without fuss, knowing their place.

The drumminess of Caribou was for me the band's secret weapon, the thing that makes me inclined to recommend their live appearances to other people. I do not remember so much about the songs themselves (as distinct from their arrangements), but I recall that Mr Caribou's vocals were a bit buried in the mix, perhaps as a homage to My Bloody Valentine.

OK, that's enough Caribou. Check them out next time they come to your town.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

My Free Gift To You

Do you want a free CD-R of crazy psych and freakbeat tunes from around the world? Then drop me an e-mail and I will make you a copy. The disc in question is one I compiled for my birthday party, but I think no one heard it there because there was too much talk. I won't post a track listing here, as a lot of the tracks are pretty anonymous. I can tell you that the music is all from the 1960s (unless some from the 1970s sneaked in) and is from a number of countries, including France, East Germany, Thailand, Ethiopia, India, and Cambodia, as well as some better known tracks from the UK, USA, and the Netherlands. The relatively well known tracks are there mainly because this was a compilation to play at a party, not one to show off my collection of amazingly obscure records. However, I think they work well with their less well-known friends. But yeah, it you want a copy, let me know. I think the disc is pretty hot stuff, but then I would.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Éthiopiques en vivant

So yeah dude, we went to London to see this concert by some of the Ethiopian jazzers who appear on the Éthiopiques series of records. This was by way of whetting our appetites before booting off to Ethiopia. This concert was my first time visiting the Barbican, an endearing piece of 1980s modernism. The concert featured some American lot called The Either Orchestra (the Dengue Fever of Ethiopian music) backing a number of Ethiopians: Mulatu Astatqé, Alèmayèhyu Eshèté, Gétatchèw Mèkurya (the one some of you saw with The Ex in Amsterdam), and Mahmoud Ahmed. The Ethiopians only came on for a couple of tunes each, with the exception of Mulatu Astatqé. He hung around onstage for most of the concert, sometime picking at bongos but mostly just being there. Mulatu did play a bit of xylophone fellow at the start of his appearance, and played it well, but mostly he was just a presence, as befits his historic status as a bandleader and arranger rather than performer. He also came on first.

The other Ethiopians were much more charismatic performers. Alèmayèhyu Eshèté is a vocalist, often dubbed the Ethiopian James Brown, I think because he does a bit of grunty "huh!" stuff every now and then. He reminded me a bit of Ireland's showband singers, particularly Sonny Knowles, as he had that kind of effortless populism to him. He would do a bit of pointing at random people (probably Ethiopian ladies) in the audience and then saying something in Amharic before launching into the next song. I was almost expecting him to do the Sonny Knowles hand-waving thing. Alèmayèhyu also seems to look exactly the same as he did in photos from the 1970s, making me wonder if there is a photo of some decrepit old man mouldering away in his attic. This guy is a total star.

Gétatchèw Mèkurya has been dubbed the Negus of Ethiopian jazz. For a long time I had no idea what a Negus was, and wondered if it might some kind of portmanteau word combining negro and magus, suggesting that Gétatchèw was some kind of musician. But no, negus is actually just the Amharic for emperor. Gétatchèw really went for it tonight, entering from a side door in the auditorium and walking through the audience, blasting slabs of pure jazz from his saxophone. I don't know to what extent his leadership over the scene is universally acknowledged, but he is definitely cut from a different cloth than the supperclub jazz of the other players. For us he would have been the real star of this event.

Mahmoud Ahmed was the last of the Ethiopians to take the stage. He is another singer, and the one I am least familiar with on record. I cannot really say too much about him except that he is very good at singing and the crowd, particularly the smattering of Ethiopians present, seemed to really go mental for him. I think perhaps that he might be the real star of the scene, but hey, there's enough Ethio-jazz for everyone.

And at the end, all four of the Ethiopians were on stage together, while Mahmoud and Alèmayèhyu duetted, Gétatchèw parped away, and Mulatu took care of business. And hey, apparently these four have never shared a stage before – world première action!

There were a couple of downsides to all this, of course. I seem to be cursed by concerts that start badly, and on this occasion it seemed like the opener, 'Yèkèrmo Sèw' from Éthiopiques 4 (and the first Ethio-jazz track I ever heard) sounding a bit flat. But this sorted itself out. The other problem were the Either Orchestra… there was no problem with their playing, but they did kind of seem to have ideas above their station, like it was the Ethiopians who were guesting with them rather then their being the backing band for the Ethiopians. But hey, these things are not insurmountable problems.

Afterwards we were going to hang around and have some sherries with London pals Sylvia and Devastatin' Dave, but they had to leave early due to a bad shandy and thinking the music was all rubbish (or something). Dave's' write-up of the night in respected journal Frank's APA proved an interesting counterpoint to mine (as indeed did that of my beloved).

We watched a post performance performance by Dub Colossus, a dub/Ethio-jazz crossover outfit. They were enjoyable. They were followed by a DJ whose music was interesting, but he seemed to do too much of dicking around with tunes that would be dancefloor monsters if left alone. Eh, can't remember what any of them were. And then we went back to our hotel. The end.

And as it happens, the same Éthiopiques show (though apparently without Gétatchèw Mèkurya, SuXoR) is coming to the Dún Laoghaire Festival of World Culture next Friday… maybe see you there.

oh wait, the concert is sold out. Ah well, they'll be shite without Gétatchèw.

19/9/2008 edited to take account of the fact that the second part of an Ethiopian's name is not a surname but their dad's name

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Comics Round-up 17/8/2008

This time I have a lot of comics to cover. These include ones I bought before I went to Ethiopia, as well as ones that came out while I was away.

Criminal #4, by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

So yeah, you remember this noir-ish title, yes? This story focuses on a newspaper cartoonist and partially reformed counterfeiter who showed up previously in the most excellent Lawless storyline. I fear that in true noir style, the counterfeiter will regret the night he set eyes on the heat packing dame pictured on the cover.

Batman #679, by Grant Morrison, Tony Daniel, and Sandu Florea

I may have mentioned in an earlier comics round-up that this Grant Morrison title is just a bit disjointed. The story seems to involve some bad people who are trying to kill Batman, or make him go mental, or something. As part of all this, Batman seems to have dropped into some kind of weirdo fantasy world, or started imagining that he is someone else, or something, and on any given page it is not immediately obvious whether you are seeing something that is actually happening or just being imagined by someone (with the obvious proviso that as Batman is not a real person then none of this can be said to be actually happening). So yeah, the most terrible fun.

Daredevil Saga

This is one of those free promo comics they sometimes throw into my new comics bag. It presents a summary of the Ed Brubaker/Michael Lark run thus-far on Daredevil and is probably meant to make you think that the Brubaker/Lark Daredevil is so kewl that you will want to buy the next issue. It kind of had the opposite effect on me, largely because summaries of a good long run on a superhero title always sound pretty ridiculous. In this one, characters seem to keep dying and coming back to life, while Daredevil's secret identity as blind lawyer Matt Murdoch is revealed and then un-revealed. Mmmm. I did read one of the Brubaker/Lark issues of Daredevil a while ago, and it seemed pretty ponderous. I know that this title has always been one of the more "serious" of the super comics, but I nevertheless feel that it can be done with a bit more zip and zap.

Dan Dare #7, by Garth Ennis and Gary Erskine

Double sized final issue! Amusingly, I was pretty wrong about how it would end (i.e. Dare is not killed by a Treen sniper just as he leads his fleet to victory), but the final battle is still clearly modelled on Trafalgar.

It's all very exciting, and you can't fault the thrill power of the huge-o space battle, but fundamentally I don't think Ennis really has the measure of Dan Dare's character. He writes him as too hard and cold, and too like every other super-macho Ennis character. I know this is meant to be an older Dan Dare than the one who appeared in the 1950s Eagle, but it seems like too much of a leap. I reckon Grant Morrison and Rian Hughes were better at portraying an older, sadder Dan Dare in their 1990s reworking of the character (recently reprinted in the Rian Hughes compilation Yesterday's Tomorrows, of which more later).

100 Bullets #94, by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso

I often think it is a shame that ongoing comics no longer start with summaries of what has gone before, though in the case of this title such a thing would risk warping the time-space continuum. This issue is interesting, but I don't know what someone would make of it who had not read a lot of what has gone before. This contrasts with the last issue, which would work well on its own.

War Heroes #1, by Mark Millar, Tony Harris, Cliff Rathburn, & Jo Mettler

This is written by Mark Millar. I am suspicious of Millar, as I have read quite a bit of not-good stuff that was nevertheless highly praised in certain quarters (I am thinking of his run writing The Authority, or Red Son). That said, people do speak highly of his work on The Ultimates (a high-octane reworking of The Avengers (a team of superheroes)), and they do so in terms suggesting that they are not smoking crack. So I thought I would give this a go. It is set in the future, where to lure volunteers into the armed forces, the US government have started dishing out superpowers to its soldiers. In basic premise then we are back in territory similar to that ploughed by Pat Mills and Kevin O'Neill in their fondly remembered Marshal Law, though the writing and art is less grotesque. It still seems entertaining enough, and I reckon I will pick up an issue or two more before making a definitive decision on it.

The Exterminators #30, by Simon Oliver, Tony Moore, & John Lucas

So this is the one in which the heroes are pest exterminators, and the villains are a variety of disgusting insects and other vermin. And this is the last issue, in which the heroes battle to save the very world from some weird Egyptian insect god. Will they succeed? (answer: yes)

I get the idea that this title was only somewhat successful, but it has given me considerable enjoyment over the course of its run, not least because there are many cheap jolts to be gained from just how disgusting cockroaches and their friends are.

Glamourpuss #2, by Dave Sim

If you have even the most passing interest in comics then you have probably heard of Dave Sim, the crazy man who wrote and drew three hundred issues of a comic about a three foot tall talking aardvark. Everyone loved the early issues of Cerebus, when it was a rofflesome parody of barbarian fantasy tropes, and everyone loved it even more when the plot became super-complex and serious, and then everyone stopped reading it when Sim discovered post-modernism and started to use Cerebus as a vehicle for his reactionary and misogynist opinions.

Still, it is always worth keeping an eye on what Sim is up to. This title seems to be very much a game of two halves, albeit with both halves happening near simultanaeously. Part of it is Sim talking about the history and development of comics, with a lot of this issue discussing Alex Raymond, creator of the newspaper strip Rip Kirby, and his rival Milt Caniff (who gave us Steve Canyon and Terry and the Pirates). Not knowing that much about newspaper strips, or the techniques used by their producers, I found this stuff rather informative. The rest of the title seems to be weird pop culture parody, with Sim tracing in women's magazine ads and detourning them, often by having the attractive model who appears in them (the eponymous Glamourpuss) make strange and ironic comments (sometimes bitching about her evil twin sister Skanko). Sim does go off on one about anti-depressants in the middle, but it all seems a bit more gentle than his rep as Mad Misogynist Dave Sim would suggest, and I found all the Glamourpuss stuff amusing in its strangeness.

There is also an ad on the back cover for a future issue's variant cover, written in language specially aimed at Zombies (or the existence-challenged, as they prefer to be called).

I don't think Glamourpuss is essential, by any means, but I reckon it would be worth picking up occasional issues. There is nothing else like this being published.

for complicated reasons it will not be possible to include pictures of pandas with the next run of posts.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

In case you are wondering where I have been...

I was in Ethiopia. Now I am back. I am putting too many pictures of Ethiopia on my Flickr page, but they are still a bit disorganised so maybe you should not look at them. I will eventually post here about my trip, but don't hold your breath.

New Honour Heaped On Penguin

Lt. Col. Nils Olav is an officer in King of Norway's honour guard. He is also a penguin and a resident in Edinburgh Zoo. And now he is a knight, as the King of Norway has conferred him with a knighthood.

image source