Sunday, June 29, 2008

Spain 1, Germany 0


Friday, June 27, 2008

playing around with windows movie maker

Pictures from Prague.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

trip to Utah

Near the Great Salt Lake, winter.

I was in Salt Lake City this past weekend for my cousin's wedding. A brief subjective report on the bumper sticker and lawn sign situation in this surprisingly moderate city in the reddest state in the union:

Obama: Too many to count.

Hillary: Three.

Ron Paul: Two.

McCain: 0.

What does this mean? No idea.

Monday, June 16, 2008

what I've been listening to, part two

From the portico of the Cathedral of Leon -- now that's Gothic.

Once I was exposed to darkwave, I found a small label based in Brooklyn called Projekt Records, the child of the hardworking Sam Rosenthal. The label features many related sub-genres of gloomy and beautiful music: Gothic-Darkwave, Dark Cabaret, Ethereal-Heavenly, Neo-Folk, Ambient-Electronic... I don't know what any of this means, but they have some great bands. They even have Christmas music. Project also has a page with information on their artists, with links to their websites and myspace pages (I only recently learned that myspace is good for more than just getting busted by Dateline: it's a great place to listen to music).

Sam Rosenthal also has his own band, Black Tape for a Blue Girl (website, myspace page). They've been around for some time and gone through different lineups, but the song in this video gives a sense of what they're about: haunting vocals, real acoustic instruments and percussion, and Sam on keyboards.

I'll feature one other group on this post, Attrition. I will just quote at length from an article about recent Projekt releases:
My absolute favorite – and possibly one of the best dark ambient releases in recent years – comes from one of the leading names in that genre, the UK experimental outfit Attrition, alias Martin Bowes. I came upon this talented artist a few years ago – fairly late in the game, considering Attrition has been around since the early '80s – and I was instantly hooked by Bowes' solitary devotion to creating moods and atmospheres instead of catchy melodies. Back when the term “industrial music” was less mainstream and applied mainly to avant-garde acts like Throbbing Gristle, Coil and Einsturzende Neubaten, Attrition were building a revolutionary style of their own, and decades later Bowes hasn't strayed from that goal with the latest Attrition release All Mine Enemys Whispers – one of the band's finest achievements in a long and storied career.

Whispers weaves the horrific tale of Mary Ann Cotton, one of England's most notorious serial killers. Responsible for the deaths (by poisoning) of up to 21 people – most of whom were her own children – Cotton would be perfect subject matter for a horrifying Halloween concept album. But instead of taking the more overtly gruesome route, Bowes opts for a sublime ambiance of growing doom to pull you headlong into the very thoughts of this human monster... even daring to make you sympathize with her before dragging you bodily to the depths of the underworld, surrounded by the whispering chants of her many victims.

As it turns out, Cotton is more than a mere macabre curiosity as far as this artist is concerned: the project was born out of Bowes' own ancestral link to Cotton's killing spree. Not only is he a distant relative of the constable who arrested Cotton in 1872, but Bowes recently came into possession of Cotton's sewing box, which the convicted murderer gave to the officer's daughter (Bowes' great great great aunt) just before her imprisonment. A photo of the box is included in the CD liner notes, and the sound of the box being struck can be heard on the track “Gates of Eternity.”

Interwoven with Bowes' elaborate synth programming and sound effects – which range from deep drones and hums to open, airy washes and some jarringly distorted glitch-loops – are eerie contributions from variety of recognizable names in the Gothic and dark ambient/industrial genres: Emilie Autumn takes up her signature violin as well as providing one of the few conventional lyric passages (a creepy rendition of “Rock of Ages”) on “Gates of Eternity,” while Rasputina's Erica Mulkey joins on cello, Ned Kirby of Stromkern plays piano and Laurie Reade of Pigface and High Blue Star offers backing vocals. Even Bowes' children participate with a bone-chilling rendition of a Victorian children's rhyme (“Mary Ann Cotton... She's dead and she's rotten”) on opening track “What Shall I Sing?” The expanded canvas results in a more complex, focused sound than I expected, with motifs that speak to an abstract storytelling style – it all feels like the score to a sublime horror film that exists only in your mind.

Avoiding all of the pretensions that can often accompany a concept album, Whispers is one of the most unique musical realizations I've heard in a years. A completely immersive work of art, it deserves to be experienced in a darkened room, awash in your choice of incense. To top off the experience, there's even a set of collectible stickers styled after vintage poison vial labels, that you can use to keep your roommate from borrowing your favorite cologne.
Here's the cool and messed-up video for their song "This Girl Called Harmony":

Friday, June 13, 2008

tattoo me

From the Smithsonian Magazine: "This blue bowl (c. 1300 B.C.), housed in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden, Amsterdam, features a musician tattooed with an image of the household deity Bes on her thigh."

Okay, remember when I was going to get a tattoo? Well, I have yet to get the tattoo I wrote about before. That will be next -- now we've decided that my tattoo will be in Latin, and the tattoo of imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis will be in Arabic (her great-grandfather was an Arabic scholar).

In the meantime, something else happened. It was in April, and filius imperatricis pulcherrimae Africae occidentalis et privignus meus was up in Yonkers with the pope (and several thousand other people). IPAO called me when she got out of class at Fordham and informed me she was going to get a tattoo whether I wanted to come or not. She was right, we had been dragging our feet on this. I got on the subway, we went to the Village, and signed ourselves up for tattoos.

We had already been thinking about this. IPAO wanted to get the words "Africa, Mother of Life" on her back in Kpelle, a language spoken in Liberia that has its own script. I had planned on a verse from the Psalms that haunted me ever since I had first read it in Latin:
Ad vesperum demorabitur fletus et ad matutinum laetitia. [Psalm 29]

In the evening weeping shall have place, and in the morning gladness. [Douay-Rheims version]

Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. [RSV, Psalm 30]
(Two notes: 1) It's not actually from the Vulgate, but from the translation from the Greek Septuagint. Jerome's Vulgate psalms never caught on, since people were used to singing the other version. 2) The numbering of the Psalms is different in English and Latin -- that's why it's Psalm 30 in the RSV.)

I downloaded a font that was more or less based on the caroline script, printed up the quote from Psalm 29, and gave it to the people in the tattoo parlor. They turned it into a fake tattoo and then the artist just did the real one over it. Despite what people say, it was not that painful, though I did feel nervous trying to sit still, afraid that I might sneeze and end up with a black line all down my arm. It healed quickly and now I have finally got my tattoo -- my first tattoo. There is still the wedding tattoo for my other arm... and the Chi Rho for the shoulder... and the line from the beatitudes in Syriac I want for my lower leg... and... and...

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

a bit of Nanni Moretti

Now that the weather is good. From Caro Diario. Don't worry about the context, there is no real context.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

what I've been listening to, part one

Medieval Rock n' Roll. From a thirteenth-century manuscript of the
Cantigas of Alfonso X.

I was in an 80's band. My band in college went through a couple different incarnations and about three different names (Ditto Geese, Mercy Duck, Brekekekex Koax Koax), with about as many campus gigs as names. The core of the band was made up of the bass player, Dan, and myself on the guitar and occasionally "singing." We weren't great musicians (Dan was just starting out -- since then he's become an accomplished jazz bassist) but we had spirit and imagination. A reviewer from the college paper defined our style as "eclectic surf jazz." We were interested in a variety of things and wanted to experiment with different styles, so we had, inter alia, an "African Song," "Rock Song," "Calypso Song," and "Bulgarian Song" (those were the titles for awhile). We also had fun with different rhythms and time signatures, doing "Wild Thing" in 6/8 time and a long improvisational piece called "The Thing in 7/4" (shades of Jazz Odyssey!) I wasn't in a band after that, though I did play around with a four-track recorder and once actually "sang" in public in a bar in Spain.

I love music, and almost all kinds of music. That said, it's been some time since I've felt I have to be on the cutting edge of anything. I have spent little time trying to find out what those young people are listening to and never listen to music on the radio. Only recently have I started to listen to something relatively new. I learned about Rasputina through a friend, and then through compilation association, I got interested in a number of bands that may or may not be justly placed in the Goth subcategory of darkwave.

I've never really gotten that into Goth before. The Cure is great, but I was never a huge fan. I can only take that tinny 80's guitar sound and Robert Smith's whiny voice for so long. A lot of other Goth stuff is cold and mechanical, long dance tracks with too much synth and boring drum machine rhythms. The darkwave stuff I've been listening to is different. There are more acoustic instruments (violin, flute, piano), real live percussionists, and influences from different kinds of world music. The singing is usually very good, often by classically-trained women with haunting voices. Some of the musicians show familiarity with real medieval music, too (not fake Led Zepplin stuff that results in music like this).

The music suits my somewhat dark and contemplative nature. It can occasionally be a bit pretentious or jejune, but for the most part it is creative and intelligent. I hope to introduce a few bands over a couple of posts.

One of the first groups I got into was Miranda Sex Garden. Originally a trio of madrigal singers, the group has gone through a number of incarnations, and the core has always been the singer Katherine Blake. She has a beautiful, clear, and strong voice, and is trained in medieval music, and the band's songs, which can out and out rock or be reasonably experimental, use it to great effect. She also has another group, Mediaeval Baebes, which apart from the enjoyably campy presentation evident in their name, are pretty much a straightforward singing group that does medieval music.

And now some music from Miranda Sex Garden in their rocking, experimental phase...

...and in their earlier madrigalish phase:

More info:
Miranda Sex Garden: website, myspace.
Mediaeval Baebes: website, myspace.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

dunkin donuts + michell malkin = obscene absurdity

Mirhab, Iranian, fourteenth century.

Apparently anything that could be remotely construed as to have anything to do with Islamic culture supports terrorism. I'm too grumpy to even address this, so I'll just send you to the Notes on Religion blog by Rashed Chowdhury:
After pressure from the right-wing blogger Michelle Malkin, Dunkin' Donuts has cancelled an online ad featuring TV host Rachael Ray wearing a keffiyeh.

Malkin described the piece of Arab men's headdress as "a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists".

According to Dunkin' Donuts, "no symbolism was intended" by the silk keffiyeh. Malkin has praised the company for its decision, saying that the picture of the scarf could have led to "the mainstreaming of violence" (BBC).

So my question is: what was Timothy McVeigh wearing when he perpetrated his terrorist act? And if he was wearing a shirt and trousers, should everyone now stop wearing shirts and trousers? Come on now.

If you disagree with Dunkin' Donuts's decision, please contact them.