Saturday, October 11, 2008

Toast To Us

If Hawnay Troof was a workout routine and not a hyperactive electronic dance act, Vice Cooler would be its spasmodic Richard Simmons. At the band’s September record release party at the Williamsburg performance space Death By Audio, Cooler set the beats on his Dell laptop to an ear-pummeling volume and gyrated his heart out. Wearing a black dress shirt and beige suit, he barked into the microphone, jumped, wriggled, and spun. He crashed into the audience and fell to the floor. Back on the twelve-inch-tall stage, he drew the audience into his reverie, beckoning with spirit fingers. “Don’t you touch me. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” he sang, leading some forty audience members in the chant from “Connection,” the dizzying hip-hop track from his new release, Islands of Ayle. “Why can’t you feel me? Na, na, na, na!” Continued at the Brooklyn Rail... Photo by Savage Pink.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Deeper into the dark

This morning, my boss and I were called into the conference room to sit in on a meeting between Mr. M., VP of G/MP, a modestly-sized and resilient publishing house of stationery and children's educational toys, and the president, Mr. G.

Sharply dressed, his collar unbuttoned, his arms taut, his eyes piercing, his expression serious, his deep wrinkles and leathery white skin augmenting the sagacity of his words on business, G.G. sat at the end of the dark wood table and calculated in his head - twist this, cut down on that, pour money into this, bring up those numbers. The VP, an immense fellow with a cool demeanor, sat to G.G.'s side, nodding, interjecting, consulting documents. My boss sat across from me. Brainstorming about ways to maximize profitability, the three of them engaged in a numbers conversation that seamlessly shifted from subject to subject and grew faster and faster, to the point that it became incomprehensible to me. Suddenly, a live recording of the Ethiopian singer Mahmoud Ahmed and his band popped into my head. I listened to the imaginary alto saxophone wend its way through a sultry and ominous melody.

These days feel like October 2006, when the Military Commissions Act appeared and shot through Congress in a flash: Being thrashed and upturned, experiencing fundamental change, falling ever deeper into the "death-spiral." Only then, I applied sharp focus to the ghastly tectonic shift meant to swallow up the invisible Others. Now, I am aloof, focused on countries continents away, other peoples and cultures, but the devastation is descending on me and my ilk.

The other day, on my usual calling spree, I asked Stewart, the owner of a book store in Illinois, if he'd like G/MP's catalogs. He gave a deep sigh. Sure, why not? "We're not doin' a whole lot right now," he said. "But who knows? Better times will come."

On Cokemachineglow, a track review of Alva Noto's "U_03"...

Suffocated by my Macbook’s worthless speakers, “U_03” sounds like a fax machine on the fritz. But in the hermetically sealed soundscape of my headphones, this track sounds like a fax machine—or even one of these fancy multi-use appliances—that has been dismantled and rebuilt into a cyborg that communicates in funky rhythms. Alva Noto mastermind Carsten Nicolai, an intense looking German who mines jpg data files, telephones and indeed fax machines for sonic material, starts the piece out with a rapid succession of high-pitched blips and abrupt kicks that pan right and left to make a tight beat. It gets heavy—really heavy—when deep and buzzing electronics suddenly burst forth. Verily, upon this aural plateau, the fax machine cyborg ghost rides tha whip.

Monday, October 6, 2008

The river, the desert, the wild...

On Saturday a jolly band of misfits joined adventurer Rob Buchanan on a row up the Hudson river to the mythic ruins of a castle along the Palisades, near a sandy bank a quarter-mile past the George Washington Bridge. The tip of the island sat before us. We assembled benches from logs, collected fagots to make fire, played the celebrity game (Wim Wenders and William Carlos Williams, if just a W!), and drank white wine and beers and cider into the night, while the remaining dots of cityscape radiance endured.

When all was quiet on the lawn of the ruins, overgrown with lush green grass, I slept beside Martine Holmquist, an old friend of mine. But the sudden rattling of rain drove me to consciousness. Dreamily content, massaged by the oppressive sound of the water, I immediately fell back asleep. After I emerged from the tent, I took strange-tasting instant coffee, in my glass jar-cup, and for a moment it felt as if I hadn't had coffee in days, weeks, months. Ha!

Back on the Whitehall gig, in the fog and sprinkle, the world was a damp and cold gray. It felt broken.

This week on the Glow, a review of Group Inerane's Guitars From Agadez:

The Tuareg people, camel-herding nomads of the unforgiving Sahara in West Africa, are known to perform a unique kind of blues known alternately as Tichumaren (which means “music of the unemployed” in their native tongue of Tamasheq) and simply “guitar music.” In the ’90s, it sprung up as a form of local communication—often the only means of distributing information, cassettes of Tuareg bands like Tinariwen spread from refugee camps in Lybia and Algeria into the villages deep in the Sahara and Sahel deserts, telling the news and calling for freedom from oppression. But over the past several years, the genre has rocketed to international fame and taken on new meaning. It has spoken to oppression worldwide: In 2003, the Navajo traditional/punk band Blackfire performed in solidarity with their subjugated kindred spirits at the “Festival in the Desert” in Mali. And Tichumaren has unified musicians hitherto unrelated: lately, Tinariwen has teamed up with the French band Lo’Jo and… Robert Plant! Guitars From Agadez, the latest installment of what Sublime Frequency calls the “Tuareg Guitar Revolution,” is a set of live recordings by Group Inerane, a ragtag band of men and women from Niger, headed by Bibi Ahmed, a master of languid guitar grooves. The record is a nice historical document, but it’s the band’s hypnotic desert blues that will make English-language listeners smitten. Continued here...

And a Q&A with Portugal. The Man's John Gourley:

When they’re not touring, half of the foursome Portugal. The Man resides in the northwest. The other half hails from the sylvan wilds of Alaska. Songwriter John Gourley, for his part, is a native of Wasilla, the epicenter of the state’s evangelical movement and the home town of vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Last month, Gourley posted a touching missive against the Alaskan governor on his band’s website. Over e-mail a day before the vice-presidential debate last Thursday, he didn’t have any juicy tidbits on Palin to share, but he shouted out to his musical allies, recommended some Alaskan bars, explained how his father might’ve met Jesus and discussed the band’s new album, Censored Colors. Read more...

Photo by Nadia Chaudhury.