Friday, December 16, 2011

Interspecies Love

Changmao and Chunzi live in Yunnan Wild Animal Park. They appear to love each other. However, they are not of the same species – Changmao is a ram and Chunzi a doe. Although they have a close bond, their relationship is not exclusive, and Changmao recently became a father with one of his own species. The park keepers decided to separate the two lovers so that Changmao could devote himself to his parental duties, but the plan went horribly wrong. Once parted from his true love, he became violent and abusive towards his offspring and its mother. Chunzi, meanwhile, was trying to lick at Changmao through a fence and had apparently squeezed out of her enclosure to be near him. So the park authorities have relented and are now letting the path of interspecies love flow freely.


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Thursday, December 15, 2011

When Pandas Paint

Pandas Mei Xiang and Tian Tian have acquired a new hobby – thanks to the enrichment programme in their Washington DC zoo, they have become artists. The zoo supplies them with non-toxic paints and lets them paint pictures on boards. The two Pandas currently favour an abstract expressionist mode of painting, though they they are apparently thinking of giving portraiture a go.

They also like the smell of the paint and have been seen rubbing it around their ears.


Which reproduced the information from Giant Pandas

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Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Organisation Man: Chapter 2

More NaNoWriMo action, in which Barry Ryan is given an assignment.

Ryan made his way down the corridor to the Chief's office and knocked on the door. A grunted "Dul isteach" called him in.

"Ah, Barra, maith thú," said the Chief, looking up from some papers on his desk. "Is mhaith liom tú atá anseo. Suigí síos, suigí síos".

Ryan sat in the chair indicated for him. Its low design was almost certainly arranged deliberately so that from behind his desk the Chief (a man not over blessed in height) could tower over any visitor.

"So, you were looking for me, Chief?" asked Ryan, using English in the hope that it would divert his boss into a language he could actually understand.

"Yes, Barry, yes I was," said the Chief in the tongue of Ireland's enemies. The twin portraits behind him of Padraig Pearse and Rory O'Connor looked down disapprovingly. "Strange things are afoot. Tell me, how are things with you at the moment? Are they going well?"

"Oh yes, well I can't complain, not that it stops me". Ryan wondered where this was going.

"Do you have much on at the moment?"

The Chief fixed Ryan with a steely gaze. This was always a worrying question. It signified either that the Chief had some kind of new task for him or that he suspected him of slacking off. Given that Ryan was slacking off, he had to be careful how to respond. But if he were to claim that he was incredibly busy with all kinds of non-existent activity there was the danger that the Chief might take an interest in it and ask him for a full report on where his investigations were going.

"Well," he replied, playing for time, "I'm collating information from a number of informants and sources".

"Anything out of the ordinary? Anything juicy?"

"Well, it's pretty routine stuff, to be honest. Low grade data, nothing anyone would get too excited about".

"I see, I see". The Chief paused, staring into space as though pondering some weighty question. He started to hum a song to himself. Ryan recognised it as having lyrics involving Black and Tans, the Flight of the Earls, the infamy of Diarmuid McMurrough and the heroic victory of Fontenoy. It was one of the Chief's party pieces and he always made sure to sing it at the Organisation's Christmas party, forcing everyone to join in on the chorus.

The Chief kept humming his song to himself, now seemingly oblivious to Ryan's presence. When he switched from that to a ballad listing all of Ireland's fallen heroes Ryan began to wonder if it would be acceptable for him to leave, or if perhaps he should call a doctor. Instead he made a slight cough to remind the Chief of his presence. This snapped the great man out of his reveries. He appeared somewhat confused.

"Cad atá isteach?" he muttered. He then noticed Ryan, looked at him quizzically, and then recollected himself. Nodding sagely, the Chief picked up a bundle of papers and handed them to Barry. "What do you make of this?" he inquired.

Ryan looked at the bundle. A4 size, bound with two staples in the spine, it seemed to be somewhere between 50 and a hundred pages in length. The cover had a photocopied image of some black circles and some text while the back had a crudely reproduced photocopy of a typewritten text. None of the writing meant anything to him.

"It doesn't look like much to me, Chief", Ryan answered.

"It's not meant to, Barry, it's not meant to. But I have reason to believe that what you are holding in your hand is a threat to the security of the State". The Chief imparted this information in the most solemn tone a short bearded man can muster.

"Really?" said Ryan, trying to sound like he was open to the suggestion that the photocopied papers represented some kind of existential crisis. "What makes you think that?"

"I have my reasons", answered the Chief. He was smug now, confident that his simple statement was enough to dispel any doubts on the part of his subordinate.

"And what is the nature of the threat they contain?" asked Ryan, wondering if it might not be too late to put in a transfer to a proper Department where the senior management were at least somewhat competent and blessed with some kind of understanding of where reality ended and fantasy began.

"Well Barry, that is what I want you to find out. Stop what you are doing immediately, and take this document on. Read it carefully. Carefully! I have my reasons for believing that it contains coded messages – signals between foreign powers and their agents in this country, as well as communications between subversive elements. Find out what's going on here, Barry!"

The Chief was emphatic. Barry was still somewhat confused.

"Would it be possible for you to, | don't know, fill me in on your reasons for thinking that this document contains such coded messages?"

"I'm afraid not, Barry". The Chief was smug again. "Need to know, a chara, need to know".

"I see".

"Well Barry", said the Chief, in a tone indicating that the conversation was over, "I can't keep you from your important work any longer. I know I can count on you on this one".

"Thanks Chief" said Barry, making his way to the door. "You can rely on me".

"But Barry!" said the Chief abruptly just as Ryan was leaving. "Keep this under your hat! Don't let anyone else know what you're working on. This stuff is dynamite. We can't let the Opposition find out that we're onto them. Trust no one. Tell nothing to anyone. Least of all to that gobshite Lyon. There's a question mark over him, if you see what I'm saying".

"I'm with you Chief", said Ryan, secretly pleased that there was some prospect of Lyon being exposed as a double agent and despatched to the Organisation's holding facility in Belmullet. "Be seeing you".

* * * * *

While Ryan had been having this conversation with the Chief, Lyon had gone back to his desk smiling happily to himself. He enjoyed his chats with his colleague Ryan, their friendly banter being a large part of what made working in the Organisation bearable. He could tell that Ryan was grateful for having been tipped off that the Chief was looking for him – forewarned is forearmed, after all. He was a good fellow, was Barry Ryan. With people like him on the case the country was in safe hands.

So Lyon mused as he went back to work on his investigations into Ethiopian intelligence infiltration of the Library Association of Ireland.

* * * * *
After surfing the Internet for the best part of an hour Ryan reckoned that maybe it was time to start looking at the document the Chief had given him. A quick skim suggested that it was some kind of amateur publication dealing with music – or so, on the surface, it appeared. The font and layout seemed to go through abrupt changes from one part of the document to another, corresponding to the purported authors of each piece. A list of contributors at the beginning confirmed that they were located in Ireland, Britain and the United States, with one in the Netherlands. But Ryan noticed one thing that made him wonder whether maybe, just maybe, the Chief might actually be onto something. The various musical performers mentioned in the publication were not what one would call household names. Ryan did not think of himself as a keen music aficionado, but he did listen to the radio and felt that he was reasonably au fait with the latest happening sounds. In the Chief's document, however, there seemed to be a succession of references to performers that he had never heard of, usually named as playing kinds of music that sounded distinctly fictional. This would be an ideal way of hiding coded messages. Might the Chief not actually be delusional?

He opened a page at random and started reading more closely.

"The first band I saw were Nuada, some English-Irish folkies (two women and a man) who perform in (faux?) period costumes and play various olde instruments. They were playing when we arrived in the Dock on the first night. I think I liked them because I had not realised that the festival was going to be featuring anything other than guys fiddling with laptops, so they signalled that the event was going to be a bit more musically varied. I saw them again on the Sunday, when they began their set in the church by parading in playing bodhran-like drums and pipes. On this occasion I was struck by what rofflers they were."

This was accompanied by an indistinct photocopied picture of three people dressed like extras from the Lord of the Rings.

Looking back, Ryan saw that this piece of writing occurred in a discussion of a music festival – not the kind of music festival like Oxegen or the Electric Picnic that you hear about on TV and in the papers, but some kind of festival for people who get their kicks listening to music you never hear on the radio. This kind of thing would an ideal front for foreign agents and the like to get together, thought Ryan. Something this boring would never run any risk of random members of the public wandering in, and the Guards would never think of sticking their thick heads anywhere near a festival of unlistenable hippy music. It really was perfect, thought Ryan – except that the Chief had seen through the plans of these enemies of the nation.

Did these musicians even exist? Ryan went back to the Internet and searched for this Nuada group. After wading through several pages dealing with terrifying Jim Fitzpatrick art, he found that, yes, there was actually a group called Nuada and that they did seem to be the people in the grainy photograph. Or, at least, there was a website run by people calling themselves Nuada on which they claimed to be a group of musicians. But, again, that could all be a front as well. That was the thing with subversives and foreign agents. When they created a false identity they would go to great lengths to make it look as real and as thorough as possible.

Ryan then searched for the festival this Nuada group were purportedly playing at. It seemed to exist, in that it too had a website and there were various other references to it on the Internet. Not too many, mind, but then it was purporting to be a small-scale event. Everything was consistent with it having been an actual event that had recently taken place. The enemy was clever. A fake band with a fake website playing at a fake festival, with everything set up to look like it was not fake at all but real, as real as the Organisation Ryan worked for.

But then Ryan stopped. The Organisation was not real, at least not in the sense that it had any presence on the web or that anyone outside of its corridors had ever heard of it. Maybe they were going about things the wrong way. If they wanted to be really secret, perhaps they should put up a billboard advertising the Organisation outside their headquarters and set up a flash website with a mission statement and a listing of personnel. That would throw the Opposition off the sent. Ryan would have to suggest this to the Chief.

The thought distracted Ryan. He started looking on the Internet for the websites of the Organisation's analogues in other countries. What could be discerned from them? Was there a pattern to how they used a public presence to mask their real purpose?

written 5th November 2011

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Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Organisation Man: Chapter 1

What is this? Why it is chapter 1 of the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2011. I am going to post a chapter of it a day for the next while, with chapters typically being somewhere between one and two thousand words in length. I am posting them so that the curious can see what a novel made up as the author goes along reads like. If that is not your thing then check out some of the other amazing posts Inuit Panda has to offer.

Please be warned that this is a largely uncorrected first draft. I have removed any obvious typographical errors that leaped out at me, but I have not proof-read it properly or corrected stylistic errors.

I'm as unimpressed by the title as you are.

Barry Ryan worked for an organisation that did not exist. As it did not exist, it did not have a name, and was known to those aware of its existence simply as the Organisation. The Organisation did of course exist for Ryan in the sense that he worked for it, that it provided him with a desk to sit at, that he had colleagues and a boss who instructed him on what to do. He even had some juniors he could get to perform mundane clerical tasks for him. But if Barry were to mention his employer to anyone, they would look at him blankly or think he was making some kind of joke. The Irish parliament did of course vote monies to the Organisation each year, but the amount was deliberately kept so low that no actual body could credibly exist on its official budget, and for all the monies voted for it the Organisation never delivered an annual report (at least, not a public one) and maintained no official premises or presence. The Organisation instead maintained a shadowy existence, nested within one of the less glamorous government departments, drawing parasitically on it for resources. Barry and his colleagues existed on paper as a division within that department, one whose purpose seemed at best unclear to the rest of its staff. This notional division operated out of an anonymous office building in central Dublin whose other occupants were from a different department entirely. They had no inkling of the deep work being carried out in the building they worked in.

Barry arrived into work on what seemed like it would be a morning like any other. His unctuous colleague Lyon was loafing around his desk.

"Well well well, Mr Ryan, you're a bit late, aren't you?" Lyon asked in an accusatory tone.

"I think not, I swiped in before the deadline", replied Ryan, taking off his coat and wishing Lyon would fuck off to any someone else.

"Well I'm not sure the boss would agree – he was down looking for you an hour ago".

Ryan noticed a sticky on the monitor of his computer, with a handwritten scrawl in the distinctive pidgin Irish favoured by the Chief:


"Thanks Lyon, I can read". Ryan sat down at his desk. "Any idea what this is about?"

"No no, but the boss seemed very agitated. I bet you're in big trouble, better get up there sharpish". Lyon sniggered.

"I suppose I should", Ryan said, trying to affect an air of nonchalance but actually worried. Having to deal with the Chief was always difficult and often involved such unpleasantness as being given work to do. "But don't you have things to be doing? Maybe you should fuck off to do them?"

Lyon adopted a facial expression suggested a highly exaggerated sense of hurt at Ryan's expletive and retreated away, though as he disappeared behind a partition Barry was blessed with a last glimpse of his grinning maw.

I'd better go and see the Chief, thought Barry.

written 4th November 2011

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Manic Street Preachers "Generation Terrorists"

Time has not been kind to this first album by the Manics – it is basically a collection of unappealing cock rock tunes that only managed to acquire a following among discerning music aficionados thanks to the band's striking visual look, ability to talk a good game, and the general cloaking of the turgid music in an envelope of radical slogans and faux intellectualism. There are some good tunes buried in here, but the slick big rock production does them no favours.

I rescued this from the collection of old vinyl in my parents' house and, frankly, I wish I hadn't bothered.

image source

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Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Damned "Damned Damned Damned"

The Damned famously released the first UK punk single, the wonderful 'New Rose', complete with its Shangri-Las inspired intro. This was their first album, and while I do not know if it was the first UK punk album I do know that it is a stormer, 12 high octane tracks that speed along relentlessly. I get the impression that the Damned have maybe become a bit of a musical footnote, but this amazing record should be played to anyone inclined to dismiss them.

In case you're wondering, this is another record from my parents' attic.

is she really going out with him?

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Friday, December 02, 2011

The Blue Aeroplanes "Friendloverplane"

I am still writing about records I have rescued from the pile of vinyl I have in my parents' house. This compilation of singles, b-sides, and so on comes from all the way back in 1988.

The Blue Aeroplanes were somewhat unusual for an indie band. One odd was just how many of them there were – their line-up seems so big that they were almost like an indie Earth, Wind and Fire, with built-in redundancy meaning that every possible instrument had several players in the band (for example, the sleevenotes list seven different guitarists). They also boasted a dancer at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular, with Wojtek Dmochowski serving up an engagingly amateurish brand of interpretative dance. The actual music is rather appealing too.

Most of the tracks seem to be written or co-written by lead vocalist Gerard Langley, whose singing style has a certain clipped beat poet delivery, with the musical accompaniment having the kind of broader sound you would get on a record featuring nineteen named contributors playing twenty different instruments (but not everyone and not every instrument is featured on every track). It makes for an intriguing stew and I am in some ways sorry that there are no longer bands like this. I suppose in some ways this Blue Aeroplanes album is a relic of a time before indie music went in one of either two wrong directions – the money chasing vacuousness of Britpop or the facile self-defeating loser music of people inspired
by the C-86 sadcore axis.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Orb "The Blue Room"

Another vinyl record retrieved from my parents, this is officially a single (and a 12" single at that), but it is basically the length of a short album and I have always approached it as such, for all that it is one track over the two sides of vinyl. This is also is famously the longest record ever to make the top twenty or something, as it is exactly what was then (in 1992) the maximum length permitted for a single. The whole piece is a dub influenced slice of ambient house (remember that?), with an insistent bassline, an unintrusive drumbeat that you could dance to if you were completely mashed on drøgs but would ignore otherwise, and a general aquatic feel. I gather that the Orb promoted this on Top of the Pops by playing a form of chess on a spherical board. Anyway, this is still a classic and I am very glad I own it.

(sadly not the TOTP version)

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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Play Me Old King Cole

Genesis Trespass
Genesis Nursery Cryme

I made a recent trip out to my parents' house to retrieve these two Prog Rock classics from the vinyl records I have out there.
I've been thinking a bit about Prog Rock recently. These are 1970s Genesis records from the period when the band was still being fronted by Peter Gabriel. Trespass is astonishingly early, the band's second or third album, so early that non-public schoolboys Phil Collins and Steve Hackett have not joined on drums and lead guitar respectively. Listening to it again I have the same feelings I had on first acquiring it in a death-of-vinyl sale in the later 1980s – it is pleasant enough to listen to, but nothing about it really grabs me. Maybe it is the sound of a band still struggling to find their sound, or that of a band that will only really shift into high-gear when the arrival of new musical members kicks things off (which is not to knock the people they replaced, with many being great admirers of Anthony Phillips' guitar playing, both in the music he made with Genesis and after he left).

Nursery Cryme, though, this is still an amazing record. In the past it was the two long tracks on side one ('The Musical Box' and 'The Return of the Giant Hogweed') that most excited my attention, and they are still stunning pieces. 'The Musical Box' is sung from the point of view of a rapidly ageing homunculus reincarnation of a boy killed in an unfortunate croquet accident, said männchen emerging from the titular musical box. Peter Gabriel's lyrics capture the unfortunate boy-man as he moves in the length of the song from being a child to having the desires of a man and a desperate attempt to procreate himself before his death. The epic music manages to do justice to the bizarre lyrical theme.

'The Return of the Giant Hogweed', meanwhile, is the apocalyptic tale of an England invaded by the terrifying and poisonous weed, only this giant hogweed is sentient and consumed by a malevolent desire to extirpate the human race. Again, the music (which is largely led by Tony Banks on mellotron and various funny keyboard instruments) is able to do justice to the lyrical theme, sounding sufficiently apocalyptic until the coda, where the giant hogweeds themselves sing about how happy they are to have wiped out humanity.

The second side previously made relatively little impact on me, but this time I found myself enjoying it a good bit more. 'Harold the Barrel' (a song about someone called Harold who is not actually a barrel, as Wikipedia helpfully informs us) bops along in an easygoing manner that you would not really expect from an album of prog rock mentalism like this, and 'The Fountain of Salmacis' is also rather entertaining. But for me this is still primarily about the first side. I suppose the one real problem with the album, though, is that you have to engage a bit too much with the lyrics to enjoy the music. That is not so true of the second side, so I could see why someone might prefer those pieces.

My rediscovery of Nursery Cryme has led me to acquire a copy of Foxtrot, about which I will write something in due course.

image source

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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Hunters Moon: Part 3

I'm still writing about this Hunters Moon festival in Carrick on Shannon. Previous episodes talk about folky music and weirdo vocal electronic music.

Another big element in the festival's line-up was what might broadly be called psych-rock. Or just rock. Dublin band Seadog did their twin-guitar thing, managing to sound like a post-rock Thin Lizzy with occasional nods towards the motorik sounds of Neu!. I liked them a lot, and would maybe have picked up their record if I had not been seized with the false idea that there as already an unlistened-to copy of it lying around in Panda Mansions.

GNOD were also entertaining with their tunes calling to mind the likes of Hawkwind and other purveyors of weirdo space rock. Their line-up was rather large, and it was noticeable that it included quite a few of the odd festival characters who had been wandering around at Hunters Moon beforehand. Their drummer swigged from a flagon of cider while playing, and looked momentarily non-plussed when it seemed to have been moved beyond his reach by one of the other members of the band… fortunately he was then able to access his backup drink source, a bottle of Jägermeister.

GNOD also saluted the passing of the great Jimmy Saville by incorporating the Jim'll Fix It theme into their set.
Wizards of Firetop Mountain
We also liked hairy Dublin rockers Wizards of Firetop Mountain and were fascinated by the pixie rock of Circulus. Circulus also became an object of fascination to the people I work with, after I had mentioned the name of the festival I was going to… on my return Circulus were the only band they asked me about, not because they had previously heard of them but because their Wikipedia page made them sound like escapees from a 1970s episode of the Old Grey Whistle Test. And I suppose in a way that is what they were like, with their funny instruments, talk of odd tunings, and Mr Circulus' between song chat suggesting that he was channelling Whispering Bob Harris. I think I would like to explore their music further.
We missed almost all of local psyche-folk-rock-improv-etc. band United Bible Studies, in fact just catching their last song, an extended cover of the Planxty tune* '"P" Stands For Paddy I Suppose', done here as a demented rock out tune about love gone wrong and the like. I thought it was amazing, the frenetic music suiting really well the lyrics of obsession and failure, with the look of the band (they were dressed in Halloweeny costume as a variety of ghosts, zombies, vampires and liches) adding to its doomy vibe. But my beloved, a trad purist, thought it was rubbish.

Like GNOD, United Bible Studies seemed to have most of the festival's funny characters in their line-up, including harpist Aine O'Dwyer, who had played a charmingly minimalist set in the church on the previous day. Her write-up in the programme seemed to have been written by a deranged stalker fan; the barring order is still in place. UBS featured so many other random festival weirdoes that I started imagining that maybe I would see myself playing with them up on stage. Dude**.
el Presidente
I will now mention one last act, who do not readily fit in any of the schematic divisions of the players at Hunters Moon. They were Lacey & Vogel. I know they sound like the eponymous members of some US cop show, but they are actually makers of extremely stripped down electronic music. Their set seemed to be long passages of silence interspersed with the sound of something being hit against something or an electronically generated tone. I feel that it was so completely lacking in either melody or rhythm that it cannot be considered as music. That is not really a criticism as such, however. Once you start thinking of their product as sound art it is possible to appreciate it in a different way, with the spaces between the sounds allowing for John Cage-like contemplation.

And that was that. Oh dear, I seem to have gone on for ages and ages talking about bands you have never heard of after all. Just in case you think I have ended up describing every act we saw at the festival, I will list the others that I saw and enjoyed: Toymonger, Boys of Summer, Neural Spank Pony, Akke Phallus Duo, Blood Stereo, Woven Skull, Bela Emerson, and Raising Holy Sparks. Guess the one I made up.

Overall it would have to be said that this is one of the best festivals I have ever been to – the range of (weirdo) music on offer was rather broad, the atmosphere was relaxed, the setting was congenial, and so forth. I don't know if they plan to have another one next year, but if they do I will definitely be there. Maybe you will too?
Our new President
I have actually been thinking about acts that would fit well at a Hunters Moon type festival. I reckon that people from the Finnish Fonal label would go down well. And as well as providing an intriguing range of freaky folky sounds, the Fonal bands also have the advantage of overlapping membership, so you could bring along six people and get four or five acts. I also reckoned that my equally beloved Jane Weaver and Cate Le Bon would fit in, with their odd take on contemporary folk music being likely to win over the most cynical heart. But what would I know?

* Not sure if this is a trad arrrrr or an original composition. It is on Cold Blow And The Rainy Night, the Planxty album with the non-classic line-up and was sung there by the grumpy new guy.

** I should point out that actually this was one of the least drøggy festivals I have ever been to. Only Indietracks could really match it for hardcore abstemiousness towards anything other than the booze. As with Indietracks, the attendees at Hunters Moon did actually manage to exhaust the bar's stock of craft beer, though that should not make anyone think that either festival was full of raucous drunks.

more blurry pictures

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Hunters Moon: Part 2

In which I continue talking about the recent Hunters Moon music and arts stuff festival in Carrick on Shannon.

I mentioned laptop music last time, one of my great bugbears for its visually boring nature and the complete opacity regarding how it is produced. I was expecting a lot of laptop music at this festival, and ended up getting virtually none, which was a pleasant surprise. Maybe because of its scarcity, the one piece of purely laptop action I caught seemed rather enjoyable. This was by one Mr Herv, one of those names I see on bills a lot but someone I think I might just have never seen before. He was playing what one might broadly describe as dance music on the Sunday night in the Dock. Some of the more usual laptop problems were avoided by having him playing in front of a film or TV documentary featuring loads of clips from old 1930s horror films (it was Halloween weekend, remember).
I am not sure to what extent Mr Herv had picked the visuals or whether he could even see them himself, but it did seem like he was timing his music to go with them. His set also featured the amusing sight of a load of people in unheimlich fancy dress costume dancing in a spookily undead fashion.

So Hunters Moon did not feature much in the way of laptop music. What it did feature a lot of was people doing funny voice stuff – either making strange noises with their voices or using electronic treatment and looped samples to build abstract tunes out of vocal sounds. One of the bigger name artists they had along doing this was Jennifer Walshe, recent Wire cover star. She joined Tony Conrad on the first night, accompanying his violin stuff with a vocal performance that seemed to have been inspired by Tourette's Syndrome (I mean the involuntary tics rather than the swearing). I was a bit ambivalent about this – it seemed like her contribution was running against Mr Conrad's attractively droney sound and making the piece more abrasive and less conducive to relaxing avant-garde snoozing.

We missed Jennifer Walshe performing on her own in the church on Sunday, but those present were very impressed. She was recreating the experience of living in New York and tuning randomly from one radio station to another. Cynical me cannot but wonder whether an actual recording of someone channel hopping could do this more effectively.

Other stars of funny voice music included various people from the Sheffield-based Singing Knives record label. There seemed to be a small group of these people who combined and divided into several bands on the bill. I particularly liked The Hunter Gracchus, who created a rather spooky and unnerving soundscape from their vocal samples combined with various other instruments. The weird film compilation of low budget schlock horror films accompanying them added a lot to their performance, with the giant blob of horror appearing in an operating theatre during a gynaecological operation being a particularly gruesome moment. As with Herv, I could not be sure whether or not The Hunter Gracchus were playing against the film or not, but their music went very well with it and it did seem like it was paced in time to it. In some ways they reminded me a bit of Double Leopards, another band of voice experimenters that I saw some years ago in Glasgow.
Blue Yodel
Partly because she used the same film, I liked the performance by Blue Yodel, a solo performance by one of The Hunter Gracchus. Ms Yodel did more or less the same kind of stuff, though it has to be said that I enjoyed her set more than my less easily pleased colleagues.
Dylan Nyoukis
The real daddy of the funny vocal music was one Dylan Nyoukis. He just stands on stage and makes funny noises, without any obvious sign of electronic treatment or sampling. He had already started when I came into the Dock he had already started, and for the first few minutes I did find myself wondering whether this really was the kind of nonsense that gives avant-garde music a bad name. But then I noticed that some of the small children present were laughing their heads off at him (in a good way), so I started appreciating what he was doing on a less poncily cerebral level. What he does is both very impressive and very entertaining, though one might argue that he sails a bit close to the ethnically-stereotyping wind.
Dylan Nyoukis stage invasion
When Mr Nyoukis finished his performance, some people suggested that he had not played for long enough, with the small children being particularly vehement on this point. So he invited anyone who wanted to have a go up on stage, and they (children and adults) all shouted away for a couple of minutes. It was a bizarre moment.

What I think was striking about all the voice stuff in general was how high quality it was. One could easily imagine some chancer being inspired by this kind of thing to get up onstage and start making ugly grunting noises in the hope of finding themselves added to the bill of some future music festival, but all the voice performers had an air of polished technique that buried any "Sure anyone could do that" scepticism. This was especially true of Jennifer Walshe, for all my ambivalence about how her work fitted with that of Tony Conrad.

* It was suggested later that these might actually have been his small children; if so then I suppose they must be used to their father and his funny ways.

more blurry pictures

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Hunters Moon: Part 1

I will now say a few words about the Hunters Moon festival. This was a new event being held in Carrick-On-Shannon, up in Co. Leitrim, on the Halloween bank holiday weekend. Its bill featured a range of local acts from the world of funny electronic music and vague improv, together with a few better-known international names from broadly that world, together with some psychey rockers. I bought a ticket to the event, and then was immediately gripped by buyer's remorse – would it be some kind of horrendous occurrence where the rest of the audience would be ghastly trend people who all knew each other and the music would be served up by a load of boring laptop charlies? The fact that Carrick seems to have become the stag and hen party capital of Ireland was also somewhat ominous, as it raised the spectre of being kept awake all night by the drunken antics of those unfortunate people.

But actually, no, it all worked. It actually more than worked, this event was a big bag of unproblematic fun. The festival organisers managed to put together a bill that would delight any lover of weirdo music, the attendees* were actually interested in music (as opposed to just being yappers and event people) who were happy to give even the craziest avant garde nonsense a listen, and at no point were any of us attacked by an over excited hen party. And best of all, we (my beloved and I) were sharing living accommodation with a former Frank's APA superstar and man about town**, a man with extensive connections in the world of Hunters Moon attendees and performers (who, in fairness, do largely know each other), providing a handy entrée for us into that world.

A few words on the setup. The evening events took place in the Dock*** Arts Centre, a venue I remember from attending a wedding there a couple of years ago. In the afternoon they had concerts, typically of a more acoustic nature, in St George's Church. Everything was conveniently located close to each other and within the town, so there was no great loss of time in moving from accommodation to venues or in nipping off for a bite to eat.

I am not going to a chronological trawl through all the people who played at Hunters Moon – that would leave you having to keep scrolling down to read about people you've never heard of and whose music you are never likely to hear. I cannot even just concentrate on the artists I liked, as I found pretty much everything of some interest. So maybe I will attempt some kind of random sampling process.
The first band I saw were Nuada, some English-Irish folkies (two women and a man) who perform in (faux?) period costumes and play various olde instruments. They were playing when we arrived in the Dock on the first night. I think I liked them because I had not realised that the festival was going to be featuring anything other than guys fiddling with laptops, so they signalled that the event was going to be a bit more musically varied. I saw them again on the Sunday, when they began their set in the church by parading in playing bodhran-like drums and pipes. On this second occasion I was struck by what rofflers they were.

Other top folky stuff at the festival included a performance in the church by Sharron Kraus. I was sorry to catch only the last few tunes by her, as she has an impressive voice and sings the kind of melancholic folky death tunes I wuv. In fact, I am kind of kicking myself for not picking up any of her recorded output, as it really does strike me as being the kind of thing that is right up my alley, with potential for her to join Cate Le Bon and Jane Weaver in the ranks of my girlfriends.

The one folkie I was not so gone on was ironically one of my beloved's favourites of the weekend, one Stephanie Hladowski. She has a great voice and sang an impressive array of doomy folk tunes, but I felt that her decision to sing unaccompanied by any instruments left the music she was making sound too sparse.

* People boasting the most astonishing collection of beards ever seen in one place.

** Aren't they all?

*** Carrick on Shannon is not a coastal town, but it lies on the mighty Shannon river, and so has something approximating to a dock. Hen and stag parties traditionally go for boating excursions while visiting the town, supplying the occasional sacrifice to the River Gods.

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Dublin Contemporary

So I went to Dublin Contemporary, this big exhibition of contemporary art that was on here in Dublin. Somewhat unusually for art things here in Dublin, you had to pay into it, so I took the afternoon off work to make sure I got my money's worth at it. The exhibition featured artists from both Ireland and the rest of the world.

I enjoyed my visit to Dublin Contemporary, but I ended up thinking that most of the art was not that great. This may be a side effect of having recently seen loads of great representational and non-conceptual art in Naples. But what I really loved about the exhibition was the building itself. It used to be the home of University College Dublin (with the chessboard floor patterns in the lobby familiar to anyone who has read At Swim Two Birds) but now seems to have been taken over by the National Concert Hall. There seems to have been no renovation since UCD left, so loads of rooms still have the names of the professors or descriptions of their original purpose over the doors and peeling paint inside. At least once I was looking at some bit of stupid modern art and then realised that actually it was just a bit of the wall.

The whole place went very well with the Chernobyll piece, as the Earlsfort Terrace itself feels like it was hurriedly abandoned 20 years ago.

Library Art
For me also it was fascinating to go the library there and look at somewhere I used to work now transformed by the addition of a monumental piece of modern art, a giant glass thing by Jota Castro. Thanks to its sheer size it was one of the more impressive pieces in the exhibition.
Library Issue Desk
The advance of video art was interesting, as production values here have advanced so that instead of getting a grainy digital video image of the artist rolling around in the nip we were instead treated to well shot properly lit pieces with actors and the like. I suppose if performance artists are like unfunny stand up comedians (or boring actor-playwrights) then video artists are mutating into makers of films that would never make it to the cinema.

For all that, it was mainly the video-film art that impressed me at Dublin Contemporary, perhaps because it is a bit more immersive. Film instantly suggests a meaning in a way that a "pile of crap in a room"* piece of conceptual art often does not, so it is easier to get to grips with, once you are willing to give it the time to watch it unfold.

One interesting film piece by (I think) Javier Téllez featured some Mexican psychiatric patients in the border town of Tijuana parading from their hospital to the beach, where their country is separated from the United States by a huge wall. They were carrying posters with various slogans affirming their dignity as human beings and the like. Some of them were wearing animal masks. At the border, they staged a kind of circus event, with one of the patients taking on the role of ringmaster and holding up a large hoop through which the people with animal heads would step. Some of the people involved seemed a bit confused. Then things took an odd sidestep, with the appearance of an American guy (he showed everyone his passport). He was not one of the psychiatric patients but a human cannonball – and he then used a cannon to fire himself across the border, apparently becoming the first person to cross the Mexican-American frontier in that fashion. I do not know what this could be said to have signified, but it did make for interestingly bizarre viewing.

A longer piece by, I think, Omar Fast dealt with those unmanned drones that fly around Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, killing people their American operators think look a bit funny. It featured what appeared to be voiceovers from interviews with drone operators, but also filmed aerial shots of scenes in America corresponding to the foreign sights being described by the drone pilot. So while he would be talking about how he could use the drone to surreptitiously follow someone down a street, the screen would show an aerial shot of some kid cycling through an American town.

So far so good – the piece was making us think about the way drones work and the use of American settings would remind American viewers that the drones' real-life targets are actual people, albeit foreign ones. But the film had another element. As well as what appeared to be the actual voiceovers from interviews with drone pilots, it had these filmed interviews with an actor pretending to be a drone pilot. In these, he would tell a story (sometimes about drones and sometimes not) with his voice acting as a narrator to a filmed version of these stories. This was all done with high production values and what looked like professional actors.

These filmed scenes were quite striking, particularly the one in which the story of an Iraqi family who get killed by a drone strike on some militants they are driving past, with that story transposed to the United States, making it an all-American family being taken out by a missile attack on some redneck extremists. But they did make me wonder if there was something a bit wrong with them, in that they were taking a serious real world issue (drone strikes) and turning into slick contemporary art. At the end of the day, would the real interviews with the drone pilots have been better used in a documentary about drones rather than in a contemporary art exhibit? And did the marrying of real interviews with fictional material muddy the waters and detract from any political point the work could have made, turning the real experiences of the drone pilots into trite entertainment? I do not know.

Some of the other films seemed like they would have been more at home in a cinema rather than an art gallery. Like what appeared to be a feature film from Ghana – the IFI would surely have been a better place for this. I'm not so sure about a piece by (I think) Hans Op De Beeck, which was a series of vignettes or filmed portraits of people on a cruise ship. It lacked the kind of narrative drive that would make it fit the cinema (and the crude CGI used for the ship's exterior would have been a bit laughable in that context), but the interior scenes were far better filmed and acted than would have been the case with the kind of classic low grade video art you used to get in art galleries. It was interesting to watch, but I don't think it really worked as either art or as film – it was not conceptual enough for art and lacked enough meat to work as a film.

The war on terror/occupation of Iraq/generally troubled times in which we live featured in a couple of other non-film pieces. I was struck by how a collection of unpleasant photographic images of charred corpses (or not corpses) by one or other of Dan Perjovschi or Thomas Hirschhorn (their stuff was in the same room but I do not recall who did what) was primarily repulsive and gross, devoid to me of any kind of point or meaning other than that horrible things happen in the world.

I was a bit more struck by some photos by Nina Berman, though probably not as much as I would be if I had been seeing them for the first time. They show this young American couple Ty and Renee. Ty served in Iraq, where he was caught in an explosion that blew off his arm and burnt him so severely that he is now almost completely lacking in facial features. There is something terribly sad and human about the photographs of their wedding and their life now. They remind me of the cost of war to its participants – some of them come home in body bags, others return changed by their experiences, either by what they have seen or done or, in Ty's case, with their bodies transformed in a way they will have to live with for the rest of their lives. I don't know what the future holds for Ty and Renee, but I fear that Ty's time in Iraq might well end up blighting the rest of their lives. Still, you can ask yourself whether it was exploitative or not for the artist to use their private misfortune as the basis for her work.

I mentioned the Chernobyll exhibit above, which was a reconstruction of the big wheel in the funfair of the abandoned town of Pripyat, together with the temporary evacuation notice issued to Pripyat's residents. I had somehow got the impression in advance that the big wheel recreation was life size, so I was a bit disappointed to discover that it was smaller than I was. Oh well.

There was other stuff that was at least somewhat interesting while I was looking at it even if I do not have much to say about it in retrospect. As I was saying above, wandering around looking at all did make for a pleasant afternoon, and the exhibition was just big enough to make you feel like you were doing well on the quantity size of things without crossing over into terrifying museum fatigue territory. But the real star for me was the building, with its chequered floors, peeling walls, name plates on doors, lecture theatres, and smell of oldness.
Library Issue Desk

*I am indebted to my colleague Mark Winkelmann for this useful phrase

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good News From Facebook

"You currently automatically import content from your website or blog into your Facebook notes. Starting November 22nd, this feature will no longer be available, although you'll still be able to write individual notes. The best way to share content from your website is to post links on your Wall."

This means that you will no longer see posts from my amazing blog in Facebook. If you are reading this on Facebook and will want to keep abreast of all the latest Panda news then there are a number of things you could do.

1. You could keep checking Inuit Panda every couple of days or so.

2. You could follow Inuit Panda in a reader thing like, say Google Reader. I gather that Google are stealing a leaf from Facebook and doing their best to make Google Reader unusable, but I understand that it retains some functionality.

3. You could stop reading Inuit Panda, though this would make the Pandas sad.

In other news, this Giant Panda's name is Po, and he is a year old. He is apparently very cautious, being suspicious of any new object not first touched by his mother.


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Saturday, November 12, 2011

FBI Declares War on fans of Insane Clown Posse

The Insane Clown Posse are a group of hip hop musicians known for dressing up as clowns. Their fans are apparently known as "Juggalos". These Juggalos adopt a subculture that sees them consuming non-alcoholic beverages, listening to the music of the Insane Clown Posse and similar acts, and also wearing face makeup similar to their idols. However, the FBI's National Gang Threat Assessment for 2011 reports that many Juggalos go further, with the Insane Clown Posse fans adopting behaviours that are gang-like in character. This follows media reports that some Juggalos have been involved in a number of crimes.

The Insane Clown Posse themselves are reported to find magnets confusing and are somewhat bemused by this characterisation of their fans.

The FBI's move represents part of an ongoing campaign against music-fan based extremism. Earlier this year a series of raids on fans of Scottish band Belle & Sebastian led to a number of arrest on people-trafficking and drug smuggling charges, while a crackdown on partisans of evil metal group DEICIDE uncovered several overdue library books.


a prescient early report into the terrifying potential for violence of the Insane Clown Posse and their fans

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Summer in London – part 3: This is Hell and We are in it

There is maybe not too much more to say about our trip to London. We visited the new Gosh comics on Berwick Street. With the Soul Jazz shop round the corner and Sister Ray probably still hanging in, the Berwick Street area may become once more a gravitational centre for any trip to the big smoke. And we went to Shakespeare's Globe (TM) to see Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus.

I love visiting the Globe (a reconstruction of the theatre in which Shakespeare's works were originally performed). It has some winning features. Firstly, the plays are staged in something vaguely approximating to how they would have been in Elizabethan England, which is fascinating to someone like me who is interested in theatre history. Secondly, you can get in for a fiver if you are willing to stand for the performances' duration – not a problem if you are as used to standing at gigs as I am.

Doctor Faustus was a particular draw for me, as it is one of the classics of Elizabethan drama and so of theatre generally. As you know, it concerns this fellow Faustus (a doctor) who hits on the bright idea of selling his soul to the Devil. The Devil grants him an extended life in which he will have the demonic prince Mephistopheles as his servant. The play follows first Mephistopheles luring Faustus into the pact and then distracting him with fun stuff (like kicking the Pope or letting him shag Helen of Troy) to prevent him from renouncing the pact and throwing himself on God's mercy. For comic relief, the idiot servants of Dr Faustus also dabble in the black arts, with hilarious consequences.

I suppose what makes the play work so well is its sense of gothic doom and of the dreadful awfulness of the damnation to which Faustus has signed himself. You can tell that the demons are all miserable – there are lovely scenes where Mephistopheles and even the Devil himself wince whenever God is mentioned or respond in pained tones whenever they are asked to describe Hell ("This is Hell and we are in it", or some such replies Mephistopheles – when you no longer behold the Countenance Divine then everywhere is damnation). For all that Faustus is meant to be one of the great brains of his age, he is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer if he is willing to align himself with this bunch of malevolent losers. We know this will end very badly for him.

One amusing thing about this production was that Mephistopheles was played by Arthur Darville – a man probably better known for his portrayal of Rory From Doctor Who. Rory From Doctor Who has a certain gormless quality (albeit a loveable gormlessness that goes with a character a bit more fully rounded than might be expected from Gormless Boyfriend Of Doctor's Assistant) but Darville showed here that he is not just a one trick pony by being able to convey the melancholic and malevolent qualities of a Prince of Hell. Paul Hilton as Faustus was also excellent, though I don't think he has ever been in Doctor Who.

And that was almost that, though we did also find time to meet people in a pub and visit Highgate cemetery.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

NaNoWriMo 2011

NaNoWriMo is this world wide writing exercise where people try to write novels of at least 50,000 words in the month of November. Pure quantity is the only ground of success – if you write 50,000 words, you win, even if your so-called novel is complete nonsense. Some have criticised NaNoWriMo as adding to the world's mountain of bad writing, but I think they are missing the point. Sure, the novels finished on 30th November are all going to be pretty poor, but for the writer they are useful exercises in actually getting the words out, in forcing him- or herself to sit down and write day in, day out. Even writing something that is very bad is a useful exercise for would-be writers, so long as after the fact they are able to recognise what was so bad about what they spewed out.

I think also that the process of just banging out the text must be of some assistance in generating ideas. While there is nothing to stop NaNoWriMo writers from plotting novels in advance, the process of trying to reach 50,000 words in a month encourages a kind of breakneck writing that leads the author easily into tangents, some of which may prove promising for future development into proper works of fiction.

Another reason for trying NaNoWriMo was outlined to me by one Mr Dale Cozort. He said that many people think they would like to try creative writing sometime, but that right now is not a good time for it. However, it turns out that now is never a good time. With NaNoWriMo, you just accept that while now is not a good time to start writing, you are just going to do it anyway and see what happens.

If you are doing NaNoWriMo, you need to write an average of 1667 words a day through the month of November. That is quite a lot, but if you get onto a roll you can expect to produce a lot more than that on some days, so it is perhaps less daunting than it initially sounds.

My own experience of NaNoWriMo is mixed. I have attempted it twice, in 2008 and 2010. In 2008 I succeeded in producing the required number of words, hitting a groove early on with a basic plot that kept suggesting new episodes. It did of course get increasingly incoherent and outlandish, with early hooks never being resolved and strange leaps of logic being required to bring things to a conclusion, but that is the kind of thing you tidy up in subsequent drafts. As the writer of that piece, what I found most interesting about the process was being able to write 50,000 words of a novel for which I only had the vague premise "detective story about missing wife" before sitting down to start writing it; an inquiry from my beloved as to whether it would feature pandas before I started writing pushed into a whole other direction.

In 2010, on the other hand, everything went wrong. I had the beginnings of a plot worked out beforehand, but the writing process proved much more difficult. I was slow off the mark for a variety of reasons and then I found that the words were not flowing for me. One problem was that I started losing confidence in the outline plot I had come up with in advance, and another was that the economic situation at the time was depressing me. And my perhaps unwise decision to attempt to pastiche 19th century novels made the words far less easy to spew out. Eventually I gave up when it was clearly no longer even remotely possible to write the required number of words by month end.

I am not sure what this indicates. Maybe I just got lucky first time round, but I think the lesson really is that to complete NaNoWriMo you need to get in there and start writing from the word go, and to write sufficiently quickly that you do not have time to start doubting the quality of what you are producing. In any case, what you are producing will probably just be rubbish anyway, so get on with it.

I posted my 2008 NaNoWriMo book on my blog for a limited period and then never got round to deleting it. You can see part one here. Or ask me for a PDF copy. I never posted my 2010 attempt anywhere, because I hate it.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Summer in London – part 2: a concert… by Oneida

We went to one concert while we where in London – the ever-popular Oneida, who were playing in the Lexington up in riot-torn Islington. And we met two of our pals there, scoffing some burritos beforehand in a charming local eatery. The support band at the concert were called Mugstar, and they are apparently from Birmingham. They played a kind of largely instrumental experimental rock music most notable to me for its ear-splitting volume (which may have resulted from their playing early, when the venue had not yet filled up that much). I thought they were interesting enough, but would maybe have liked them more if I had remembered to bring earplugs.

And so to the main event. For the benefit of readers who are unfamiliar with the O, I will briefly outline their modus operandi. They play largely instrumental music that maybe tends towards the stoner rock end of the musical spectrum but is perhaps a bit more interesting than that sounds*. They do use a fair amount of guitars, but the music is maybe a bit more led by drums and keyboards than would be usual. Before coming over to London, I was trying to describe the band to a PFW. I said something about how they tended to rock out. "Oh, like AC-DC?" he inquired. "Well, no, it's more like they rock out in a kind of nerdy indie way". Maybe that helps.

The other thing Oneida are famous for is appearing in an Onion article about some guy who ruins a concert for everybody else by enjoying himself**. The article satirises the unexcited nature of concert audiences for indie rock bands by referring to people standing around with their arms folded, having a great time. Well, there was a surprising amount of that carry on in the Lexington – maybe from London event people who wanted to check out the O or people who do not like surrendering to the rock. Whatever. Unfortunately I found myself stuck behind some really tall arms-folded guy, which was really harshing my buzz, so I had to push past him up to where people were getting down. Live the rock.

Oneida recently brought out Absolute II the third album in their linked triptych of releases collectively entitled Thank Your Parents. I think the current tour is partly to celebrate the triptych's completion, and they have done some shows where they played Thank Your Parents in its entirety (which takes a while – the middle album is a triple). They did not have time for that this time round, but they did open with the first of the three albums, Preteen Weaponry, played in its entirety. It is a brooding continuous work whose tracks flow into each other, and unlike a lot of other records it actually gains from the consecutive treatment. After that they played a succession of tunes, old and new. But, rather heroically, they did not play what I think of as the hit – 'Sheets of Easter' from Each One Teach One, the one with just two chords that runs over you like a train.

The line-up for this set saw Drummer Guy, Guitar Guy, and Keyboard Guy (whom I think of as the three core members of Oneida, whose names may be Kid Millions, Hanoi Jane, and Bobby Matador, though I am still a bit vague as to which is which) joined by a second guitarist and a second keyboardist (perhaps to fill in for Keyboard Guy if he were to get a bit too *relaxed*). I am a bit unsure as to whether the other two are permanent members or not. They did not seem as excitable as the main three, but the second guitarist in particular had an air of quiet confidence that made me think he might still be in the band after the tour ends. In terms of chops, it was the drummer that particularly impressed this time round. I don’t think I have paid him enough attention on previous outings, but here I was stunned by his amazing ability.

So, all in all a truly awesome gig. I was only disappointed that as this was the last date on their European tour they had no t-shirts left to sell me. Also saddening was that neither of our burrito buddies were able to stay to the concert's end. One had been blasted out of it by the volume and had another indiepop club night to go to nearby, while Oneida proved to not be the other's thing, leading to his slinking off home. But on the plus side, we bumped into an old Frank's APA pal, who had come down from Oxford for the gig. Woaaaaah!

*Reader's Voice: "But dude, what could be more interesting than stoner rock?"

** Reader's Voice: "Given that you mention that article every time Oneida come up, I kind of get the idea now".

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Friday, October 21, 2011

Special Needs Puppy Seeks Special Home

Bailey is a little puppy who seems to be a cross between a dachshund and a cocker spaniel. The staff of the SPCA's Aberdeenshire Animal Rescue and Rehoming Centre at Drumoak, near Banchory, are trying to find a home for Bailey, but it is proving difficult, because the loveable puppy has special needs. Little Bailey has an enlarged oesophagus, which makes it hard for him to swallow. He needs to stand upright to eat and drink from his special bowl, and then after eating he has to be held upright for 15 minutes or so to make sure the food all goes down the right way.

Apart from this condition, Bailey is capable of leading a fully normal puppy life. The SPCA are hoping that an appreciative owner can be found for him.


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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Summer in London – part 1: Museums

Join me, gentle reader, as I take you with me on my recent trip to London, capital city of the British Empire. Eschewing the variable charms of the Bloomsbury guesthouses, my beloved and I planted ourselves in Kensington, where Imperial College lets out student accommodation over the summer to holidaymakers like ourselves. The facilities here proved most agreeable, and I would recommend any readers from outside London looking for a more cost-effective accommodation in the big city during the summer months to seek out this place.

We were in London the week after the city was torn apart by rioting. I had been a bit worried that feral youth would once more rise up against The Man while we were in the city, but this was not to be. In any case, we would have been able to sleep soundly in our beds, as it seemed like half of South Yorkshire's police force were billeted in Imperial College.

We were not in London just to hang out with men in uniform. A variety of cultural activities were on our agenda. Using our membership, we visited the British Museum to look at the exhibition there on mediaeval reliquaries (objects used to store relics of saints, said relics being anything from bits of their clothes to chips of their skull). Compared to some of the other British Museum things I have been to, it was surprisingly quiet – maybe people are more interested in exotic foreign religion and stuff than in the Christian heritage of Europe's past.

The reliquaries exhibition more or less ended with the Reformation, when the emerging Protestants took against relics big time and shamed the Catholics away from the more lurid excesses of reliquary reverence*. You can see the point of the Protestants, but they did come across like a load of kill-joys – religion may have become a bit less crazy but it also seemed to have had a lot of the fun kicked out of it.

We also made two visits to the exhibition on science fiction in the British Library – more or less a journey through the form's history using book covers as a means to throw out discussion points. It also had some fascinating audiovisual input, of which my favourites would be the snippet from Orson Welles' radio drama of The War of the Worlds, a clip from the recent silent and faux expressionist film of 'The Call of Cthulhu', and a short clip from the 1950s TV version of 1984. That last one seemed to have been a hoedown of British talent of the time – Nigel Kneale wrote the script, Winston Smith was played by Peter Cushing, and Syme (the guy who shites on about newspeak to Smith) was played by Donald Pleasance. No wonder Prince Phillip liked it so much. It is a great pity that the holders of copyright on this work have deliberately kept it from public view.

*unless they are living in Naples.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Important Animal News

The Guardian Newspaper has found a picture of a mother Tortoise carrying a baby Tortoise on her head.

And here are two Lovebirds who wuv each other. Lovebirds are a class of parrots who form very strong pair bonds and are highly affectionate (though they can reputedly be aggressive to birds and other animals with whom they are not pair-bonded).

Monday, October 10, 2011

Short Notes On Records I Really Should Review Properly Some Time But Probably Won't

The Wicker Man OST

Faux folk music from the film adaptation of The Golden Bough. 'Gently Johnny', 'Maypole', 'The Landlord's Daughter' – the gang's all here, together with some pieces of incidental music and some quite unnerving sections of dialogue from the film.

Richard Thompson
1000 Years of Popular Music

This is the live double CD version of Richard Thompson's trek through a millennium of music. The two standout tracks for me are 'Bonnie St. Johnstone' (a grim song about child infanticide and damnation that does not appear on the studio version) and the celebrated cover of 'Ooops!... I Did It Again' which manages to sound like so cynical a love song that it amazing to think that he did not write it himself.

The opening track on this is 'Summer is icumen in', which also features on the Wicker Man soundtrack. Richard Thompson seems not to have concluded his version with an onstage human sacrifice.

Franco et le TPOK Jazz
Francophonic Vol.2

Franco: the late guitar-playing sensation from what was then Zaire. He comes from the jangly guitar school of Congolese guitar players and likes playing very long tunes. It is impossible not to feel like dancing with a big stupid smile on your face while listening to this music.

Psych Funk Sa-Re-Ga

What can I add to accounts of this already much reviewed album of funk music from Bollywood films? Maybe it would be best if I didn't bother.

Indietracks Compilation 2011

I don't expect it to be very good and indeed have not even listened to it yet. I bought it to give money to the Midlands Railway Centre, your honour.


Liking Mr Gelis' soundtrack to Missing I thought buying this would be a good idea. Big mistake. A cursory first listen suggests that it is cheesy rather than ominous.

Freedom Rhythm and Sound: Revolutionary Jazz & The Civil Rights Movement 1963-82

A great many people already have this Soul Jazz compilation of jazz music relating to the struggle for Black Freedom in the United States of America.

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Sunday, October 09, 2011

Puppy Saves Drowning Man

Wilson the puppy was walking on a beach in Wales when he noticed that a swimmer had got into difficulties. The clever puppy, who is himself somewhat afraid of the water, ran to the sea shore and started barking, alerting his owner to the swimmer’s plight. Somewhat fortuitously, Wilson’s owner is a volunteer with the local lifeboat station, so he was able to run over there, launch the boat and rescue the swimmer.

This is not the first time that the swimmer’s life was saved by a dog. Some years previously he got lost in the Black Mountains when a sudden mist descended. “A sheep dog came out of nowhere I followed him down the mountain,” he reports.


And More

Thursday, October 06, 2011


Do you know Shonen Knife? Do you like Shonen Knife? They are this Japanese all women three piece who play punky pop music and have been going forever. I think they sprung onto the Western world musical scene in the early 1990s, at a time when they had already been going for a while in their home country. Artists like Nirvana and Sonic Youth championed them and their nice dresses and good looks meant that they were always going to get some attention. They had songs with titles like 'Twist Barbie', 'Cycling Is Fun', 'My Favourite Town – Osaka*' and 'Bear Up Bison**', all sung in heavily accented English as a second language, which meant that to some they were easily fileable in the novelty to idiot-savant continuum. Some even saw them as a typically rubbish J-Pop act who had lucked out by attracting some undeserved international attention.

And then we stopped hearing about Shonen Knife. Maybe the novelty wore off, maybe they stopped touring outside Japan for the various reasons that lead to bands taking it a bit easy, or maybe the demise of grunge and the rise of Britpop (dread word) meant that there was less interest in a naïve pop-punk act that had been championed by Americans. But now – they're back! Shonen Knife (or The Knife as people sometimes call them, particularly if they want to mix them up with the popular Swedish electronic act) played an ATP a year or two back (or earlier this year, or something), and then a concert in Dublin (part of a long European tour) was announced. After some humming and hawing, I decided to go along to the concert, in Whelans, accompanying my old friend and quaffing partner Paul W---- who is a massive Shonen Knife fan***.

First we had a support act. They are from Tuam, and are called Slow Cow, or something like that. Paul W---- had said that they were some kind of indiepop act, and I think this might have coloured my perception. I started imagining them playing one of the stages at Indietracks. Musically they would fit right in, but they lacked a certain something in the visual department. Indiepop is one of those forms that likes to think itself as being above the fickle dictates of fashion and uniform appearance (witness the railing against the NME's support of bands who look flash in indiepop stalwart Pete Greens' classic tune 'The Best British Band Supported By Shockwaves'), but there is very much an indiepop look, and Slow Cow did not have it. Still, I reckon that if they were scrubbed up and fitted out with some new threads they could be the new Just Handshakes Please, We're British. That really does sound like damning with faint praise, so I should add that I thought Slow Cow were definitely good at what they do and displayed genuine talent at playing their instruments, particularly in the rhythm department area. However this is not really my kind of music.

And then Shonen Knife themselves. Time has dictated some line-up changes. Of the original members, only guitarist Naoko is still in the band. The other women on drums and bass are far younger and, it seems, far better musicians, though all the recent songs are written by Naoko. They start by standing together at the front of the stage, holding up sweatbands bearing cryptic Japanese characters. Then they launched into their music. The first track or two sounded distinctly ropey, making me think that this was going to be much more idiot-savant than actually good, but they picked up – maybe the Whelan's sound munter was on the case or maybe they just had some weak tunes to start off with.

And yes, this was a bag of fun – amiable poppy punky tunes like momma used to make. As well as the old classics they also had a song about everyone's favourite giant rodent, the capybara, perhaps inspired by the one in Osaka zoo who has taken to giving lifts around to squirrel monkeys. They also had some songs about the current world economic crisis and they encored with tracks songs from their Osaka Ramones album of Ramones covers. What was most striking about them, though, was their boundless enthusiasm. In Naoko's case, she has been doing this kind of thing for over twenty years, playing not particularly enormous venues. Yet she still seems to love playing and connecting with the audience, and the younger players also come across like they are having a blast (unlike the kind of session muso wankers you get padding out line-ups in Western bands). It was noticeable, indeed, that it took forever to buy anything at the merchandise stand, because the band were selling their stuff themselves and insisting on signing (and drawing pictures of cats and dogs) on everything people were buying. It is basically great to see a band playing who are so obviously in love with what they do.

If you were cynical you could wonder how calculated this all is, whether the Knife are creating a front of naivety as a ploy to sell records. I prefer to think that they actually do love capybaras and cute things generally. I know I do.

An inuit panda production

Capybara Monkeys

Capybara Shonen Knife

* Somewhat conveniently, Shonen Knife are from their favourite town.

** A song about visiting a zoo, seeing a bison who looked a bit sad and then trying to cheer him up.

***Paul W-----'s musical tastes are endlessly fascinating and entirely unpredictable.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Leonard Cohen "Greatest Hits"

What can I say about this that has not already been said? As you know, this is a compilation of relatively early tunes by Laughing Len, from the late 1960s and early to mid 1970s – basically from before he went electronic.

A couple of things strike me here. Firstly, from reading the sleevenotes about how the songs came to be written, one thing is clear – Leonard Cohen will get up on a slow dog. Secondly, for all that people go on about what a great songwriter Cohen is, what really impresses me about this record is the production and sound engineering – there is a real quality to the way the voice and acoustic guitar have been recorded that creates an enveloping musical atmosphere. It may not be for nothing that my favourite tune here is 'The Partisan', a cover of a French resistance tune from the Second World War (and already known to me in the storming version by Electrelane) – it is more evocative of real situations and terrible emotions than the various accounts of the notches on Mr Cohen's bedpost.

What does this all mean? Well, it makes it unlikely that I will ever throw away my money trying to see Mr Cohen live – the local enormodome is hardly going to reproduce the dainty sound of these recordings. I also doubt that I will ever want to explore any of his dreadful electronic records; hearing some of them once in a taxi made me wonder how Cohen managed to retain a recording career. In fact, I probably will not bother with any of his actual albums at all – this really is all the Leonard Cohen I will ever want.

image source

An inuit panda production

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Man With The Four Way Hips

The Tom Tom Club were playing in Dublin. You may remember these people as being the two members of Talking Heads who are neither David Byrne nor Jerry Harrison – Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. I was undecided about going to this. On the one hand, the music the Tom Tom Club made back in the day is amazing – or at least their first album is. OK, so you do get a bit of lamer white guy getting down with Chris Frantz's vocal contributions (particularly in the live Tom Tom Club track on Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense), but you can't knock the toe-tapping nature of the music. The fear with things like this, though, is that seeing them many years after their heyday will mean you get a band that are a sad shadow of their former selves – tired oldarses going through the motions to top up their pension funds.

That kind of fear kept me from buying a ticket for the concert in advance. However, I had heard good reports on the grapevine about recent Tom Tom Club performances, and check on YouTube suggested that they still have it. So on the day itself I decided that I would go, and was lucky enough to meet someone on the way who had an extra complimentary ticket. So I got in for free – wahey.

I felt obliged to repay my generous friend by buying pints in the bar. This meant that we missed the support band. At the time, this did not concern me, as the rubbish support act at Richard Thomson (see later) had put me off whatever rubbish local act Vicar Street would serve up. However, I later heard a lot of good things about the support act from people who did see them, so I will quickly mention them. They were called Tieranniesaur* and featured a lot of boys and girls hitting things as well as playing more conventional instruments. They seemed to be both avant-garde and fun at the same time – an ideal support act for the Tom Tom Club, in other words.

While waiting for the Tom Tom Club to come on, I couldn't help but notice that the venue was not exactly full. And from talking to other people it seemed like hardly anyone had paid in, which could have proved that we were in for a concert of bored yappers. Yet it was also clear that everyone there was rather excited about seeing the band. The auditorium was filled with a sense of expectation from the people present, who all were hoping that this would be an exciting night out rather than an embarrassing example of a band pissing on their legacy.

And actually, yes, this was amazing. The band are as funky as ever. The line up now is Tina Weymouth on bass and vocals, Chris Frantz on drums and occasional "James-Brown!" vocals, another woman called Victoria Framm on vocals and occasional guitar, some young lad on keyboards, guitar, and percussion, and another young lad (who turned out to be the child of Weymouth and Frantz) on turntables. They played a load of different tunes, not all from the first album which meant that many of them were new to me – but all of them were tracks that you could not keep your feet still to. The place was soon full of people dancing their little socks off and smiling like lunatics.

I am going to have to investigate later Tom Tom Club albums, as the first one does not have what proved to be a complete stomper live – 'The Man With The Four Way Hips'. This led to some discussion – what would it mean to have four way hips? They would go forward and sideways – so that's two, but what are the third and fourth? The vertical axis might somehow be a third, so would the fourth way be an ability to move your hips through hyperspace?

Back to the concert - one thing I was really struck by was how uncompromisingly old the band were. OK, a lot of people are old, but they are usually a bit more restrained than this or else they are frighteningly made up and plastic surgeried. But Tina Weymoth and Victoria Framm were completely unrestrained and yet seemed largely untouched by masklike makeup or the surgeon's knife. And old people do not usually wear tiny dresses and funk out like they did. If you have ever seen Stop Making Sense you will be aware that 1980s Tina Weymouth was one of the great heart-throbs of New Wave – well she still has it, but in a mad for it older lady kind of way**. Chris Frantz, meanwhile, has greyer hair but generally looks surprisingly like he did back then, though he was giving it a bit less of the "James Brown! James Brown!" – maybe with the wisdom of age comes a certain self-consciousness. Which was a bit of a shame, as we were all looking forward to agreeing that the late Mr Brown is still the Godfather of Funk (y'all), and that this information would need to be checked out.

After the show I hung around for a drink or two. And then, in a stunning stroke of good fortune I was leaving the venue just as Tina Weymouth was. So I got to tell her that the show was amazing – which means that now I am her best friend in the world.

An inuit panda production

Wordy Pandahood

* Their name comes from main member Annie Tierney, who was in almost famous Dublin band The Chicks, whose unreleased album was produced by the Royal Trux.

** I hope I am not coming across like the kind of gentleman who interviews Helen Mirren.