Thursday, June 23, 2011

Mount Vernon Arts Lab "Séance at Hobs Lane"

Remember the way I have been shiteing on about the Ghost Box record label? Well, now I have taken the plunge and bought one of their records. This record is by some bloke from outside the main Ghost Box axis, and it may even have had a prior existence on some other label before they released it. But it shares a similar aesthetic so I can see why they were happy to take it on. That aesthetic is of course a weird king of UK-centric technological nostalgia, using computer programmes to create the sound of old analogue synthesisers. In its title and in some of the track names this album calls to mind Hammer films* and other macabre aspects of the past, with the record generally suggesting a spooky and uncanny atmosphere.

In purely musical and sonic terms the record is a bit of a mix. Some of the tracks are very electronic, sounding almost like little more than white noise. Other tracks, notably the string heavy 'The Black Drop', are almost completely acoustic. That track features Isobel Campbell on cello, while another tune throws a co-writing credit to Norman Blake, suggesting to me that this record's primary creator (one Drew Mulholland) is some kind of player on the Glasgow avant-garde scene.

I am not sure I would claim that this record is particularly essential, but it is interesting and makes for an enjoyable listen if you like the kind of musical and cultural references it touches on.

* Hobs Lane is the Tube station in Quatermass and the Pit.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Four Concerts. Four Days. Day Four.

I realise now that I forgot to post day four of my amazing Four Concerts in Four Days adventure. Here it is.

Hugh Lane Gallery: Celebrating Bartok
The Mercantile: Alan McGee v. The Jimmy Cake

Too make up the numbers, I had to go to two concerts on the Sunday. First up was a trip to the Hugh Lane for a midday concert billed as Celebrating Bartok. This gave us three pieces for piano and violin – Bela Bartok's Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 enveloped by two pieces composed by Irish jazzer Ronan Guilfoyle. It was all great*.

That evening I was off to concert featuring popular local band The Jimmy Cake followed by DJing from former Creation records supremo Alan McGee, the man who gave the world Oasis (thanks Alan). This was on in a venue I was not familiar with, so I made contact with the young gentleman friend of a a Jimmy Cake member, learning from him that they would be coming onstage at around 9.30 pm.

When we arrived down at the venue at something like 9.10 there was tumbleweed blowing through it, and only the presence of Alan McGee himself at a table convinced me that we were not in the wrong place. The Jimmy Cake's appeal is becoming more selective, I thought. However, it turned out that scheduling had gone awry and everything was going to be happening a bit later than expected.

So it was that almost at 9.30 pm the first act came on – an English singer songwriter whose name we did not initially catch… could it be that we were in the presence of Creation sensation Mischka? Actually, no, it was some geezer called Craig Walker, and was not playing cod reggae tunes. I am a bit suspicious of singer songwriters, but Mr Walker seemed a bit more appealing than most, for all that members of the second support act and their entourage kept talking loudly through his short set.

The second support were in fact some fellows called The Vagabonds. They seem to have been from somewhere in Ireland other than Dublin. In appearance they looked a bit like they were a late 80s Creation band who somehow found themselves propelled forward to 2011. In musical terms, they were punky and maybe a bit shambolic. I thought possibly they showed potential, but they should do something about the shouty tuneless vocals. I was also fascinated by how one song ended with a shouted refrain of "The Workers! United! Will Never Be Defeated!" It was the 1st of May, so maybe this was their tribute to the Working Man.

And then The Jimmy Cake. I have not seen these guys in an age, so I was struck by how much they have changed. For one thing, they seem to have shed some more members, and are now a miniscule seven piece. They also seem to have changed their musical orientation, possibly based on which people have dropped from the band. While they still retain clarinet and trumpet for some tracks, they seem a lot more keyboardy and percussive now, albeit in a way that combines with guitars and suchlike. Their broader sound seems a lot more motorik, calling to mind Steve Reich or Neu! (or the Knack's 'My Sharona') far more than would previously have been the case with the band.

So I liked the Cake's new direction and would encourage people to check them out. I reckon that their old fans would be sufficiently forward thinking not to be put off by the new sound, while people who have hitherto proved resistant to the band's charms might find the new full-on Jimmy Cake more to their taste.

After the bands some geezer did a bit of DJing, and then Alan McGee took over. His playing was a bit hit and miss – great to hear The Hives and some of the other tunes, but there really is no call to be playing music by Oasis in public. Furthermore, while I love the Beatles as much as the next man, McGee's playing them something like five or six times in the hour and a half we saw of him was a bit wearing.

That ends my four gigs in four days.

*Displaying the incisive commentary that has me on the guest list for every musical event that requires subtle and descriptive analysis.

image source

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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Poignant Panda

Suzanna Hall of San Diego Zoo writes:

"Before that trip to Wolong, I was assisting in a trial study of scent presentations in San Diego, utilizing Bai Yun and Shi Shi. We would present them with a small wooden board, painted with urine collected from bears in Wolong. Ultimately, the purpose of the study was to see what kind of information the bears could extract from the urine scent. Bai Yun could always be counted on to interact with the board for a moment or two, at least giving it a good sniff before moving on to finding her breakfast.

"One day, I presented Bai Yun with a board and was surprised by her response. She sniffed and licked the board, then picked it up and sniffed it again, intensely. She continued to hold the board for some time, sniffing and licking and even performing a flehmen to bring the scent into her vomeronasal organ. Then she started anointing herself with the board, rubbing it over her ears and neck vigorously. In all, she probably spent more than 10 minutes with that board. I couldn't see why her reaction to this scent might have been so strong, so I looked back at the urine vial I had poured the scent from: it was labeled "Dong Dong." Years after leaving Wolong, and long after she had been weaned, Bai Yun seemed to recognize the odor of her mother."


image of the late Dong Dong

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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Clever Parrots Cooperate

Scientists have discovered that parrots know how to cooperate to solve problems. Furthermore, the colourful and talkative birds seem to have distinct personalities when it comes to cooperation. In tests with three parrots called Shango, Zoe, and Leo, they discovered that some parrots are more cooperative than others. Shango seems to be a bit of a selfish bird, in that he just is not that interested in working with others, even if this would mean a greater gain for himself. Leo, meanwhile, seems to be a friendly fellow and is always on for a bit of cooperation, regardless of who it is with. Zoe seems not to like grouchy Shango, but she is always keen to cooperate with Leo – they were apparently reared together and know each other well.

The picture is of Leo and Zoe.


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Thursday, June 09, 2011

v/a "Bossa Nova and the Rise of Brazilian Music"

This is a recent compilation from Soul Jazz. As the title suggests, it is a collection of Bossa Nova music from Brazil in the early 1960s. It comes with a fascinating booklet contextualising the music and giving us some delightful photos of the players and of Brazil generally during this period. This was apparently a time of excitement and optimism in that country, with a sense being about that Brazil was making progress and going places. The jazz-influenced modernist sounds of Bossa Nova reflected this optimism and sense that a new Brazil was being created. Of course, it did not last – in 1964 the military overthrew the civilian government and instituted a rightwing dictatorship that lasted for the next 21 years. That saw the end of Bossa Nova as a force within Brazil, its naïve optimism abandoned by its performers as they moved to more politically forthright oppositional music or simply dropped out of cultural life in the face of the dictatorship's oppression.

Political context aside, this is great sunny music, capturing what must have been a great time in Brazil's history. Maybe there is something to be said for the idea of climatic determinism – music from Brazil always sounds bright and shiny, even when like the later Tropicalia it is attempting to communicate an oppositional political message.

Astute readers will have noticed the near complete lack of any discussion of the music on the record of the people who play on it. I will not rectify that to any great extent (what do you think I am, a music writer?), but I can tell you that it does feature superstars of Brazilian music that even I have heard of, including the likes of Sérgio Mendes & Gilberto Gil. There are also a whole host of people I had never previously heard of, who are all probably very well known to true aficionados of Brazilian music.

image source

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tom Tom Club [Untitled first album]

I had somehow never acquired this previously. It is the first album by this Talking Heads side project, in which Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz get to play with other musicians and make strangely funky music. I think this is one of those records that everyone else in the world has already so I will not say too much about it, but it is a fun listen – insistent rhythms coupled with almost naïve sounding group vocals. 'Wordy Rappinghood' and 'Genius of Love' are the two totally amazing standout tracks – to know them is to love them – and possibly the rest of the record is a bit redundant, but these two are definitely worth the price of admission alone.

If you have ever seen Stop Making Sense you will recall the bit in it where Talking Heads are replaced by the Tom Tom Club for one song ('Genius of Love'). You may also recall Chris Frantz's embarrassing white-man-gets-funky vocal additions, about as dreadful a vocal contribution as if the next album by [insert name of kewl rapper here*] were to have your dad on guest rapping**. Well thankfully on this one they managed to give him the dud microphone, so you only really get his drumming.

I get the impression that while people love this album they do not really have that much time for later Tom Tom Club records. I am not quite sure why this is the case – are the later records that bad, and if so why? Maybe Weymouth and Frantz just ran out of creative steam, or maybe they had better collaborators on the first album. Or maybe I am completely wrong, as I have never actually heard later Tom Tom Club records. What do you think?

In other news, I understand that the Tom Tom Club are playing Dublin quite soon… do you reckon this would be worth going to? this suggests yes

wordy pandahood

* I am so behind the curve these days that I genuinely do not know the currently hip rappers.

**Reader's Voice: "My father is actually Chuck D of Public Enemy, so I don't see what the problem is".

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Monday, June 06, 2011

Developing Dublin

One side effect of Ireland's current economic travails is that Dublin is now blighted by a great many empty properties – either derelict sites that someone was going to develop into something before the money ran out, or buildings that were built and now lie empty because there is no one who wants to use them.
Dublin Ski Resort
Many of these properties have fallen under the control of the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), a state-owned Bad Bank that has taken over dud loans from our cowboy banking sector. What to do with them has been a perplexing question. It is interesting to see, however, that NAMA is moving in a bold direction with some of these properties. One site on Aungier Street is to be developed into a ski resort, something the city has long been sorely lacking.

What particularly excites me, however, is the proposal to build a Zeppelin Port atop a now empty office building on Stephen's Green. It is some time now since air ships were able to dock in central Dublin, and the proposed development will greatly improve city centre transport options. One great advantage of zeppelins over fixed wing aircraft is that they can fly directly into city centres, avoiding all the faff involved in getting out to airports. The Dublin Zeppelin Port will be especially convenient for me, as it is only ten minutes walk away from my office. That said, the new zeppelin system does seem to be intended more as a replacement for Dublin Bus rather than for intercity and transnational travel, which would make it a bit less appealing to me.
Dublin Zeppelin Port

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