I’ve just spent a weekend of intense noodling, overdubbing and mixing. The Zoom has many plusses: an amazing array of distortion/lead guitar sounds and effects, chorus and reverb settings (including one that mimics the Budokan’ acoustics; that’s one for my new album). It renders Marshall distortion very accurately, the 9002, the 900 series etc; but also Fender Twin and vintage blues and crunch sounds (I borrowed an Epiphone Les Paul for the occasion). Because everything’s recorded and treatable digitally, it doesn’t matter how crappy the room (or bathroom) may sound acoustically, the Zoom can mimic different kinds of microphones and boost the signal accordingly (and then with the reverb/echo options, you can get a pretty professional sound, depending on the mic used). That said, it can’t automatically tighten up a sloppy, flu-ridden vocal or fix a rubbery rhythm track (see conclusion). The effect algorithms are plentiful and on the whole reasonably productive, except they can’t be applied across the board to a recorded track (I wanted to distort stuff after the fact) — or maybe I just hadn’t figgered out how. The drum machine has hundreds of patterns made redundant by the lack of drum sound variety — it’s all the same heavy, late 80s rock sound which is so wrong for reggae or jazz, for instance. I didn’t have time to start programming the drums, it looks a bit too consuming and the (track) buttons aren’t really conducive to bustin’ out a rhythm pattern — but there’s heapsa editing and fiddling functions which lets you stretch, crop and drop fills accordingly, with the option of using other drum samples. Also, having eight tracks is plenty of room to record, and then there’s virtual takes on top of each of these, and a handy bounce function for wittlin’ it all down. The mastering leaves a neatly professional sound which can be burnt and played straight away.
Having said that, I gotta underline exactly how absorbing home recording can get. (Mind you, this was the first time I’ve ever done any recording like this: thirty years old and I’d never had my hands on so much as a four-tracker. Very strange.) It’s more involving and concentrated than internet pornography or Photoshopping. I lost track of the rest of the world for two days, and in that time gained a raised respect for the recording process, the work and time involved, and for studio hounds like Prince and Brian who pull this off naturally. And to the singers who can sing a line cleanly and evenly. It’s much easier to write music this way, with multiple tracks to back and play against, than to figger stuff out in the head in advance (I don’t have that kind of head). Respect also to those artists in particular who personally record all the instrumentation of a song this way (Prince again, and Lenny Kravitz in a token way though I’d rather exclude him, Toms, Matthew Sweet (further to which, these artists all give bass the right weight in the mix. Coincidence?)). Working a song from the rhythm up is no mean feat. Which is probably the strongest lesson I’ve taken away from the Zoom: you can’t do anything without a perfect rhythm master. Recording a rhythm section of drums and bass concurrently works around it, but you’ve gotta be damn precise: it’s infuriating putting rhythm or percussion on a track after the guitar, for instance.
I’ve been a fan of production sounds for years, but I’m listening to music in a new way now: from the production up, as it were, and not from the feel of the sound down, which is regrettable really, but like guitar playing, once you’ve got an idea of how it’s done you can’t but listen to a solo from the technical POV. Nothing well-produced is so worthless as to leave nothing of sonic value; I found myself listening to November Rain thinking… nice structure and contour, amazing guitar tone (Slash, I love you). Also, I love getting into the politics of the mix, the balance and priority and control over sonic depth; how you mix determines the mode and order of representation. But after spending in excess of four hours on a 2-minute little snippet of noise (and bashing out three of these in a day), and wailing for hours with the heavy-overdrive in my cans, I wanna get into the big league of audio production even more. It’s one area where creativity and ability marry soul to sound.
Initially I thought this film was a parable of middle age… the desperate last fling, the overdriven connoisseurship, the post-divorce depressive ennui, the flabby flesh of a jilted lover rubbing up against your car window (a Saab, of course). And then I thought, Parable, nay, this film is totally, consummately Middle Age. I’ve never seen a film focus and concentrate on the tropes and mores of the middle period so exhaustively. Honestly. And hilariously. Perfectly pitched and paced, almost every scene had an infusion of natural humour though the film wasn’t played for broad comedy. Giamatti is excellent and convinced, perfectly cast. Haden Church does the Jock with enormous, precise glee. Virginia Madsen shines since… what, Electric Dreams, Dune?
Payne directs for softness both in terms of drama and film stock. Though never lumpen; every shot has a quiet cinematography to it; I noticed that some of his pans end on nicely arranged or balanced pictures, Giamatti in left of frame, bowling alley or sky on the right, etc. All the scenes were neat vignettes, gently toned and tanned, perfectly scripted and character-conducive. Everything played in an environment of familiarity without kitsch or sentiment, and drifted down along its easygoing plot like a smudged tissue out to sea.
But in all, I hadn’t laughed so much since Kentucky Fried Panda: "It's Finger Ling-Ling Good!"
Pure warmth and harmony. Sunsets over glittering water. The first marijuana glows around the fire. An amazingly complete little piece of music though there's almost no definitive chorus in 't; I almost think of Brian's lead as a single long guitar line flowing for the whole 2:48. It's profoundly sad of course: the clue to the broken heart art of Pet Sounds, possibly the clue to so much of the broken beauty of Brian. The secret of his art is this: a fundamentally damaged person can still conceive and execute amazingly crafted and inexplicable works of beauty. I can see Brian pacing and directing the backing harmonies in a jiffy: they just come naturally because the feeling runs strong in him; I'm sure he didn't even have to think twice about his arrangement. It's a profoundly felt loss, and like all broken hearted, he doesn’t mind how many other hearts he breaks by expressing it.
If you’re like me and your desk is not even two metres away from customer service people talking all the time (and getting up to discuss, clarify and air issues continually), then you appreciate having music and good headphones to block out the general verbal noise. Human noise is one of the most distracting forms there is. Especially since the editorial work I do favours reasonable quiet and calm precision — is it any wonder that I sometimes turn to heavy beats and guitars to drown out the yack and piffle. (And in a bracketed footnote, it’s also worth noting that being forced to listen and use music like this for seven hours makes me almost resentful of music. I cannot listen to much more at the end of the day when I’m at my prime, and that galls me. I’m obsessed with music at the best of times, but there’s limits to all tolerance.) Which leads me to Metallica, the ultimate gossip-drowners. After having a great laugh at the Monster movie (see below), I’ve come to think that St Anger ain’t half bad. It’s positives and negatives are clear-cut; it’s a here-it-is album with little gravy or trimmings. Monster riffing, power drumming, no solos. Really shitty lyrics though — I appreciate their spirit and angle but somehow the couch-clichés seem at odds with heavy, angry music. It’s a very angry little album (maybe not quite as aggressive as Vulgar Display of Power maybe, also heard again recently, which is just pale with rage) but then again Metal is all about anger or at least looking angry all the time. The lyric ‘I wanna hate it all away’ seems like a neat Metal manifesto. Anger: the patron saint of metal. Etc. But on the whole, compare say the lyrics and range of …And Justice for All and the closet-cleansing of St Anger becomes obvious, lumpen. Does Hetfield actually feel better now he’s got it all out? Somehow it’s an uncomfortable mesh, not really driven by real psychological affect or unabashed madness: I just don’t feel the import or emotional revelation (like on a Velvets record). But the music: dropped-D tunings, power riffs, clattering snare drums. Sometimes I thought I was listening to Helmet. At least Lars is on top of his game and every beat — at times it feels the band is centred by him alone — and his changes are integral to the impact of the album (Bad Brains: A band is only as good as their changes). Up a gear, heavy roll. Down a gear, different bass drum level, stop. Double-time. Back to the roll. He’s a great machine. Like …And Justice, this album might’ve benefited from a real (Robert Trujillo) bass presence — it’s a pity he came into the album several years after it was begun. Bob Rock should’ve stuck to the desk and left this a bass-less album, methinks (and I’ve got issues with him as producer too). Actually, I sometimes wonder whether bass is really necessary in so much metal… Bart assures me that some death-metal is heavily dependent of bass-groove, but obviously this has to be researched. If I was Bob I would’ve mixed me out just like they did Jason on Justice. And overdubbed more guitars — I mean, they’ve got six hundred guitars — I wanna hear them all! Still, St A sounds great cranked up after a beer or two. Great for hoovering, air guitar or headbanging. It still begs the question of where-to-from-here, and I think Prog might be the answer (again): longer, more complicated multi-sections, extended solos, fairy lyrics. A veritable suite of heaviness but spread over a bigger canvas. A structure for improv perhaps. Acid maybe? Anger is just so damn limited emotionally, and it’s high time the boys got their heads around a theme again (like, maybe the War on Terror and Iraq? The lies of the media, the idiots in control? The effect of torture on a people? The destruction of rights? Something with a pang of conscience for the boys in the tanks, shooting them up whilst banging their heads). See, I could be a Metallica lyricist. I’d like to see them get angry about those.
Like all Metallica albums, I feel fatigued by the end of it, and ready for something calmer like Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert. What a wonder of improvised contemplation and joyous groove that is. Such a pleasant vista of exploration and harmony.
I haven’t formulated a final or absolute impression of George Galloway yet, but I loved his opening remarks to the Senate Committee investigating the food for oil problems (which committee I’m starting to think of as an arm of the Republican’s Thou Shalt Not Think Or Speak movement). I watched the hearing live on Sky News, and though every media outlet banged on about its ‘blistering’ rhetoric and ‘braveheart’ pugnaciousness and socking the US senate with some good ol’ British soapboxing, I thought it more significant that such critical views of the Iraq invasion and the human cost at last found expression in the relatively mainstream media.
Senator, this is the mother of all smoke screens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq’s wealth.
I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is that Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns. I met him to try to bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war.
Have a look at the real Oil-for-Food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq’s wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Haliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq’s money, but the money of the American taxpayer.
I am here today but last week you already found me guilty. You traduced my name around the world without ever having asked me a single question... without any contact with me whatsoever, and you call that justice.
I’m trying to find a transcript of his opener, but haven’t had much luck yet. See also Wiki, Guardian, audio, extra, and Times (quotes).
Horror? Exploitation? B-Grade? Can B-grade actually be truly horrific, especially when dubbed? I don’t think so. Especially when B-Horror plays like a B-Porno (check your genre definitions at the door). This was an 80s romp that probably had no small part in spawning Blair Witch (crew go into the woods, film gore, die; tape is retrieved. Horror!). Here, the slick towers and achievement of New York are deliberately cast against the supposed savagery of the jungle cannibals. A crew of right idiots make an amateur doco/slashfest in the Amazon. They get nekkid, they torch villages and rape ‘n kill. They film their antics, they fuck. They’re surrounded, slashed and eaten. And a nearly legitimate Professor of Anthropology goes back to the scene, salvages the film which the exploitation hacks in NY wanna beam to the jaded masses. 80s cynicism with deplorably B-rate gags and a lilting, dissonantly pretty soundtrack theme. It’s amazing how they got the tribes to agree to filming this little jaunt in the jungle: they look like they don’t mind getting into the pig’s livers or whatever they are. The guileless savagery of the doco team was probably the scariest of all, like, you think you’re so civilised with your technology and GI brainsmarts and depraved recklessness…? As though Deodato was going for the heaviest metaphor he could think of to contrast the relative calm of the tribe with the idiocy of the West (every second observation was about ‘strange sexual customs’). Ultimately the title is misleading, I mean in terms of sheer numbers, 5 or 6 people for lunch and dinner is hardly a human holocaust: it’s more of a Cannibal Incident, really. And despite the great transfer and usually good image quality, this romp might’ve benefited more from a Vietnam or Going-Up-River angle: obvious metaphoric contrasts work better against a climate of human despair or inner corruption. That is, psychology — B-Grade and psychological depth obviously don’t mix. Stick to Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes.
Brief reviews only; I don’t have the oomph to do full essays for what I’ve already discussed elsewhere or by other means; or which might not warrant further exposition when succinctness will do. It might be an age slash intolerance thing, a loathing to repeat myself. It might be the allocation of time slash attention management regarding the major projects of one’s life vis. all the other little extras one engages in. Or the sheer number of things to dribble about.
Primus, Tales From the Punchbowl
I’ve been listening to a bit of prog of late, and somehow Primus slipped right into this mindset. Although the song scale is nowhere near symphonic proportions, and the emphasis is on groove and wackiness (the kind that likes weirdos, fishing, carnivals and carnies), I’m still a big fan of the Primal approach. Especially live. It’s something that could never come out of France, for instance. Col. Claypool is a twisted personality for sure, but his bass style is totally commensurate and never solely-soloing as Prog goes. It’s a tone I quite like, that big fretless bass, full and earthy and simple in a way that belies all the tap and slap, which ain’t Funk either but rolls frenetically. The secret of the band, in my humbles, is Larry LaLonde: a guitarist somewhere between a modern (alt.gen) Fripp tone and lead player and the ultimate team slash rhythm player. One of my favourite players. At times purely sonicaly minded, playing sheets of noise or trim backing. Dissonant and then hokey. Referential but always tasteful. A pure band guitarist, nothing that screams solos or pained guitar faces. He almost functions like the bass player in the band, which is why I like him so much. Anyway, the album. Definitely a progression in terms of studio and musical sound from Pork Soda; still a little patchy, but nicely varied in song contour. The longer pieces are best. Grooving unexpectedly, rhythmically intricate and tuned. Less about DMZ-related states of mind, yet so much more than a band you might only like at uni. Someone should have let these loonies do a set for MTV Unplugged while they were still together. Still, Oysterhead takes up where they left off. What’s Larry doing, I wonder?
Robert Wyatt, Rock Bottom A man is lost and wandering in a mist-laden haze somewhere in Cornwall. Wild hair and wild eyes, he keeps brushing imaginary flies from his face. Raving or turned inside out, he commits the stories of his life to a portable tape recorder. He’s got the normal voice of someone in a teahouse reading a newspaper to a friend, missives of an estranged correspondent burying his broken heart with crazed abandon. Burying everything he knows in the past. The eerie impression of someone addressing himself from the outside in, estranged and wilful, remote and fractured. Lamenting someone he was by addressing another. Improvising with mild histrionics. He likes the hillside mists because it’s like walking through acres of water, enveloping the depths and the aether. He has an affinity for the glistening rocks and the open spaces of his head, or is it the freaky midget inside trying to get out. His eyes connote running and diving at the same time.
Great horns too (Kick Horns?). The album leaves you wondering, How the hell did they write and structure this weirdly inward escapade, musically speaking?
Over on PopMatters, my imitation of Nigel Tuffnel and an imitation of Bill Hicks and maybe one day an imitation of his imitation of Elvis and Charley Hodge.
For those who might not be familiar with Bill, he did some pretty devastating comedy on the first Bush/Republican regime and Gulf War, as well as the war on drugs, the state of the music industry, television and evolution generally. Bill was a genius of anger who died prematurely of cancer; and if you've ever seen a video performance or heard his CDs, it's clear he was something rare amongst comedians: a total comedian one whose every gesture and expression drips with biting humour and passionate, committed drive. His routines on abortion and Rush Limbaugh, for instance, recorded with the insane persuasion of the righteous and dying, are over-the-top thrashings of received opinion and perception. His concern was always for the truth on the one hand and the media-driven status quo of our abused reality on the other. Hence, he was never too popular in mainstream America, though he was a quintessentially American freethinker.
History. Hollywood and Americans (but which Americans? The ones without history who buy others' images, the ones between Mexico and Canada). Adulthood (which doesn't exist). Resistance and WWII. Cinema. Spielberg, Schindler. Balzac (but briefly). Simone Weil. The Matrix (dubbed into Breton, please!). The English. Nude scenes in films. Grandparents. The past, self and memory. What could be finer than a JLG romp through the modern world? It starts with B&W stock and ends in saturated video and imposed montage. It has texts, quotations, historical anecdotes, bookcovers; and hence is in itself eminently quotable. There can be no resistance without memory or universalism. Isn't it strange how history has been replaced by technology? But why politics by gospel? The Church is in step with time. The truth may turn out to be sad. Every thought should recall the debris of a smile.
Vaguely didactic, this film left me slightly worried about JLG's intensity as an artist of ideas. There's signs of the onset of scattered carelessness, of not being bothered with the unity or expressive power of ideas. And unity is what JLG's extraordinarily broad canvas has always been about. It's still hallmark JLG — no other director can get away with such a bold and direct transcription of ideas onto film. I was channelsurfing of an evening and came across spare B&W dialogues about artists and projects and literature. I thought, This could only be by a New Wave director. There's the standard multiplicity, or what I like to call the trialogue of his style: dissociated, cut-up or multileveled/multilingual dialogue layered onto diverse semantic images, sometimes doubled images or of varied media, mixed with natural sound, musical refrains, interjections. Text, sound, image — usually concordant, sometimes broadly dissonant and multivalent, sometimes silent. But always thinking, writing, philosophising. A poetry of three media; a tricolour meditation. And, as always, things, ideas and events shift subtly in meaning in the JLG cinema, in the space of thought, the crossed trialogue, the unreality of the mind — a train deliberately honking past an ambling reader is somehow neither intrusive nor uncontrolled; there's a sense of pre-ironic structuralism maybe (from studies in ethnology), of images stripped of semantics and signs, to toss jargon in a way unfair to a film decidedly a-theoretical. But when a character turns and says, When did the gaze collapse? and the dialogue becomes one about TV's precedence over life (I feel our gaze has become a program under control. Subsidised. The image, Sir, alone capable of denying nothingness, is also the gaze of nothingness on us. (I hope not, says another)), then you're in very close and delicate (as narrative) thoughtspace. Something close to mere ideas, or ideas only, stripped of coherent context. There's also a background insinuation of deeper melancholy or near futility; of the difficulty of making a difference through signs and words, of fatigue or exhaustion with the world and ideas; as though JLG no longer wills the poetry from the image or desires its latent mystery. Whether or not this functions as a critical element of the film re: modern media, I dunno. The worry lies in resultant projects that are mere thoughtfiles set to image and music.
The film seems to be stitched together with quotes. Let feelings bring about events, not the contrary. Be sure to exhaust what can be communicated by stillness and silence. (Bresson) What bothers me is not success or failure. It's the reams and reams written about it... Why bother saying or writing that Titanic is a global success? Talk about its contents. Talk about things. But don't talk around things. Let's talk on the basis of things... They're confusing life with existence, treating life like a whore which they can use to improve their existence. The extraordinary to improve the ordinary. One can enjoy existence, but not life...
All in all, I can't say this is satisfying cinema like Two or Three Things I know About Her or Masculin, féminin, and there's almost zero performance quality in this — just bland faces reading (not acting) mildly philosophical lines (these characters are not even objects, let alone subjects). Neither has it the shouted intensity and layered brainwork of Hélas Pour Moi. Eloge is not a plotless anti-story but something nearly a-storical that retains elements of metanarrative (disquisitions on tragedy etc). A lack of emotional integration or joyous inwardness, offset by tired, late-night images reaching for poetry and finding very little (the most suggestive scenes were the empty train sheds). And not as much sharp humour as could be: the Americans get the occasional barb, but they’re mild, easy stings. Not a consistently questioning essay nor an intensely located setting for ideas and disquisition, nor an acting out thereof, this is largely a struggle to define the late arrival and realisation of History in terms that are opposed to cinema and culture (the yanks with their contracts and fat thoughtless dollars, the exploitation of historical verité, the End of Cinema etc). Sporadic without rambling, unreal whilst actuating thought (the intrepid manufacture of ideas), I yearned for the guerrilla-intensity of hardcore JLG. He's still one of the primary artistic models, and I love his headspace, but...