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19.7.05

Odd Nerdrum, my new artistic hero

Through Kitsch the talented one can save himself. It is a new discipline in which skill finds a superstructure. A superstructure serving the genius of ability.
Do not allow Art to retain its moral authority over ability.
Because Modernism has conquered art, Kitsch is the saviour of talent and devotion.
Rembrandt stuck in a timewarp... Have we progressed beyond the Flemish masters? Did the Renaissance really happen? I love Odd. He knows what's important.

posted by rino breebaart  # 4:13 pm (1) comments

18.7.05

Neil Young, On the Beach

Self-administered therapy and consolation for damaged hearts. That subtle turning point of angered grief when self-destruction becomes obvious and resigned, that first point after which hurt becomes a stab of memory consigned to the past. I read that at this point Neil had given up the rambling anger of tequila (and Time Fades Away) for the mellow medication of honey slides. It doesn’t seem like an overt dope album, but there’s a definite mélange of hazy sadness and self-alienation and easy lyric associations. With the peculiar loneliness of songs addressed to one’s own alienation (and reading the signs of alienation all around), and taking swipes at whomever comes to mind without quite going the whole Dylan put-down. ‘I’m deep inside myself but I’ll come out somehow.’

This is also one of those albums which is so clearly an ‘album’ in the pure sense: coherent in mood and expression and driven by a diverse, unified musical poetry. There’s more emotion around the lyrics than in. I love that this (and also the two albums below) clock in at around 45 minutes — not a single song is wasted or overdrawn, and yet each song feels plenty long. Add to the braveness of a naked heart pushing its angered grief upwards and out, cuttings its grain on wax, and coming to an apotheosis at its end. This is greatness.

Also, besides the steel guitar and pared-down, rumbling instrumentation, I think the use of electric piano makes Beach a lot more attractive than the relatively MOR/session band Harvest. It’s just the right colour to Neil Young’s guitars. I’m always surprised to hear Neil use piano, there’s something unexpectedly appropriate about it for his voice and songs. The one track from Time Fades Away that I’ve heard is a hauntingly simple piano track whose mood slots right in with Beach. I want more.

posted by rino breebaart  # 12:10 pm (0) comments
Eno, Taking Tiger Mountain (by Strategy)

Nutty, superior studio craft. Just the right balance of studio technique and (session) musical talent. It sounds like an album of happy and conspiring coincidences. At first the silly lyric associations and the Ringo-esque vocals distract from the amazing songcraft at work below them — I don’t mean lyrical songcraft — I mean purely musical craft, something you only appreciate when you hear cover versions hereof (Back in Judy’s Jungle for eg). Eno makes much of the irrelevance of lyrics, all lyrics, and yet he does take care with their fitting in and resonating. Ultimately, with songs like By This River (on B4&AftrSc) you know he’s taking their quality very seriously, so I’ve always taken his disparagements with a grain of liver salt. The music of the songs comes first, and the lyrics only further contextualise the cream, they’re never central. The emotion is always in the music, so it’s pointless to read for deeper meanings beyond the loosest associations.

It feels almost like pure experimentation, a grand exercise in collaborative creation based on simple but potent seeds. That is, the expensive folly of using the studio not only as an instrument but as a tool of composition. An amazing production, all up: a producer’s dream of making superior pop music. Sometimes sinister and bent, it’s still a fresh collage that could only have been made in the early 70s. And in its guerrilla freedom and flaunting of potential, it’s somewhat akin to the Godard of the 60s.

Left them in Japan! That's what we're paid for here! We are the 801!

posted by rino breebaart  # 12:08 pm (0) comments
Eno, Another Day on Earth

What better way to contrast the last full lyrics album with the latest, after 30 years. I can’t think of a greater contrast in any musical artist’s career. This is spare, austere, informed by lightness and ambience. There’s no standard rock set-up, no hip/catchy choruses or deliberately nutty fun and expansion. The one continuity with Tiger is the difficult attitude to lyrics and lead vocals. I think a computer was used to generate some (insert EnoComment on how songlyrics are the only part of music that haven’t been improved or abetted by technology), and yet on others like Bone Bomb Eno takes great care to get an idea across. Like de Sade in a spin, he draws in his accountant and cleaning lady for vocal duties. And there’s a loose theme of global modernity, crossing from France to China and the twists and turns of identity/observation in between. With lots of space and time by suggestion. Of course. The modern world considered purely from an atmospheric point of view.

Melancholy and fragility layered over textured washes and simple beats. Vocoder treatments and astute, Edge-like crafted guitar backing (Leo Abraham). Eno enjoys singing these days, it seems, and he’s not afraid to stack a few harmonies in the background. It’s a slow burner, and the songs require many listens to find a familiar home, but there’s a lot of warmth once you dip into its gentleness. It seems to operate on a pleasingly subliminal level. There’s also a feeling that the music is still looking for its location and full context to come around. Not to mean that it sounds futuristic, just unique in a stripped and simple way, music from somewhere else. It sounds great cranked up on headphones. Like Beach, the last three songs are best.

But from another point of view this is all incredibly mild: decidedly cool and distanced with only just enough musical activity to reward the most devoted attention spans. It’s neither fun nor funny; just spare beats with uninspired vocals orbiting within sight of the recent Drawn from Life. It is that, and yet so much more. For instance, Eno has done something amazing: written a sympathetic song about suicide bombers (Bone Bomb). Inspired by the bomber’s bone-fragments lodging as shrapnel in the victims around him, Eno captures the desolation and bodily demarcation where politics and occupation stop. The details are of what sounds like Palestine (‘Buildings pushed over… young girls dreaming of beautiful deaths… everything stolen except my bones’); It sounds terribly clichéd to write about that last timeless moment, just like it’s clichéd to say the song is also very affecting. But it works. It approaches the issue from empathy rather than disparagement, it avoids descending to the universally denigrating T word. The timing/release is of course powerful; and I think it’s high time the subject got its full artistic due, it’s opening up away from the rhetorical ideology of Lifestyle (as in They hate our way of life, our Freedom etc).

posted by rino breebaart  # 12:04 pm (0) comments

14.7.05

Conscience and relative value

I’m a great believer in the world community, and disparage any forces that undermine our global humanity in any way – be they corporate interests, unilateral invasions or terrorist acts. But I’ve got a bone to pick about the two minute’s silence the EU is observing today for the victims of the London bombings. I say: all respect to the victims and their families who have to deal with loss. The curse of terrorism is that it strikes ordinary people, not the privileged political elite that share the blame of causality. But spare a thought for the 50-odd people that die in Iraq every day; spare a thought for the people struggling to keep their lives together in a climate of violence, disorder and chaos. The daily victims in Iraq barely raise a blip on our conscience, nestled between headlines of distant indifference. The clear-cut implication of the media focus and bias is that Britons are worth more in terms of human cost than your average Iraqi. We participate in this privileging of Westerners and have become desensitised, dehumanised to have let this happen. But there is NO relative scale of human worth, we are all equal. It is NOT the case that 1 yankee = 2 britons = 4 spanecians = 20 africans = 50 iraqi. I will participate in two minutes’ silence when there’s a whole two days’ silence for the unaccounted and unnecessary dead of Iraq. Keep your conscious real and be mindful of the global, I say.

posted by rino breebaart  # 10:05 am (0) comments

13.7.05

Colm Tóibín, The Master

Bland episodic mechanics and coherence. Mere biographic extension; a lesser novel. Disappointing in terms of biographical power, mildly speculative/insinuating but shallow, unwhole; and in terms of novelistic aesthetics and order, merely a good read. There is some sympathetic material for writers chasing the buzz of literary conception. It’s good that it didn’t win the Booker, it is just. It’s reduced me to spluttering half-sentences. I guess with all my banging on about fictive extensions of biography I’d be expected to like this particular execution, but The Master doesn’t deepen the knowledge of James nor thicken the mystery of creation, especially not in terms of writing or characterisation. James comes across like a central blank: effete, austere, a mix of passive, dry will-lessness and ambiguous uncertainty. It strikes one as artless: James Lite for ladies of a certain age who’ll get a kick out of its restrained manners and oblique silences, readers for whom identity-ambiguity and artistic genius is a one-way street. It’s mostly a game of spot-the-novel-in-gestation with a dash of family drama and the peculiar Jamesian observation slash indifference to action. Important points aren’t given the weight and connectedness or completion they deserve in novels. The suspicion that much of James’ thought and speech was lifted/peppered somehow weakens the already watery, unremarkable prose. There’s no pointed power. Time, in other words, to get back to James Central.

But I’ll quote:
Observing the concealed self… skilled in the art of self-effacement. (p 226)

Both ladies, in the early months of 1892, sent one another short, brittle, witty messages. (p 246)

He had become like the eternal city itself: he was dented by history, he had responsibilities and layers of memory, he was watched and examined and in much demand (a sample of artlessness, p 274)

In the shadowy light of the apartment, he veered between displaying a vulnerability, an extraordinary, half-blank handsomeness and a strangely thoughtful introspection. (Colm’s favourite technique of compound word-lists, p 282)

Anderson was perhaps too young to know how memory and regret can mingle, how much sorrow can be held within, and how nothing seems to have any shape or meaning until it is well past and lost and, even then, how much, under the weight of pure determination, can be forgotten and left aside only to return in the night as piercing pain. (As Jamesian as it gets, staggering his commas to extend sentences, especially as the book wears on, though that entire section about Anderson is tediously drawn out, one might even say pointedly futile and crying out for editorial intervention of the sharpest kind, p287).
On another tack, I did get a reactive melancholic spark thinking how the idea and value of correspondence has changed so much since James’ time.

posted by rino breebaart  # 1:00 pm (0) comments

11.7.05

Never lost in a sub-genre be

I was inspired by a discussion to find out exactly how many genres, sub-genres and lesser orders of Metal music there actually are. Now, I’m no musical taxonomist, and I’ve left out a lot of cross-genre classifications, but this is totally out of control:
Heavy Metal, Black Metal, Death Metal, Thrash Metal, Progressive Metal, Viking Metal, Speed Metal, Power Metal, Hair Metal, Glam Metal, Nu Metal, Doom Metal, Electronic Metal, Folk Metal, Gothic Metal, Traditional Metal, Orchestral/Symphonic Metal, War Metal, Electro Metal, Industrial Metal, Death 'n Roll, Dark Metal, Ethno Metal, Grindcore, Horror Metal, Mathmetal [intriguing!], Ambient Metal, Atmospheric Metal, Chaoscore, Cyber Metal, Dramatic Metal, Epic Metal, Experimental Metal, Fun Metal, Groove Metal, Indie Metal, Medieval Metal, Pop Metal, Skaldic Metal, Sludge Metal, Stoner Metal, US-Metal, Wave Metal and Western Metal.
Just for starters.

posted by rino breebaart  # 11:50 am (1) comments

7.7.05

Cyprus

Lefkosia, Pedoulas, Lapitos, Kyrenia, Pafos, Polis, Pomos.

Braving the 30 degree plus heat. The excesses of modern tourism contrasted with Byzantine monasteries, Roman mosaics and cool mountains. Witnessing first hand the ‘last partitioned capital’ and the deep-seated distrust of Turks for ever more, as well as the warmest hospitality from one Turkish-Cypriot family. Observation on the Turkish-supported occupation, with parallels in Palestine: you depoliticise an issue by privatising it. It’s much harder to remove arrogant foreign settlers with their fat British pounds and proprietary rights, who buy into the land thinking it’s legitimate development because the pre-invasion ownership issue was completely glossed over. Expect an old, angry family from the South at your door, deeds in hand. The issue is inadvertently forced onto the EU now with Turkey’s negotiation for accession, but there are also massive economic barriers between the two sides (the Turkish-Cypriot currency is inflated to the millions, vis. the stable, unfloated southern Pound), in addition to the general animosity. But then a lot of Turkish Cypriots were also displaced from the south. A unified Cyprus still seems a long way off.

Belgium’s bread-vending machines are paralleled with water vending machines in Cyprus. Mountain water! Histrionic Greek television. The blue band of the Mediterranean never too distant. Hungry cats milling around restaurants. Keo beers. Always trust the choice or presence of locals. Orthodox iconography. The layering of historical invaders. The fine line between graciousness and excessive hospitality. The fact of girls in bikinis and dark-skinned guys with sunglasses sitting nearby. The extreme demographic contrast of the hotel strip and the old town. The mild ignominy of selling useless, indifferent trinkets to bloated tourists (a vision of obese pink crabs scuttling to the water)(and no, I don't think I saw Aphrodite, but I did witness several Venus of Willendorf rising from the water). Motorbike sunburn. Haloumi and watermelon. Turkish cigars. And the potential for a simple life, lived well.

Aparichoritos means heartbreak.

Philip Roth, The Ghost Writer

I loved it so much I read it twice through, enamoured as I am of the mechanics of literature. First for the story, then for the wheels and aerodynamics. Of note is the way every narrative tangent-line is about writing/writers in some way: the fawning young over-imaginer, the starlet identity-thief, the validation of the spiritual father at the expense of the biological, the particularities of Jewish lit personalities in America (I was tempted to collate pieces of Bellow from the mosaic). And most importantly, the corrective realities behind the literary daydream (‘the religion of art’), especially for those who have to live with the artists. Which drama is pointedly crisp, contained and efficient.

I think I like Roth’s shorter novels best. This one has one of his least ambivalent endings.

I love the canny juxtaposition of Zuckerman’s love of light, airy ballet dancers with his earthy desire to pin them (and others) to the floor.

I love the confident association with literary predecessors and giants, with literary savvy (Zuckerman quotes boldly). The mix of youthful/brash imagination and solidifying confidence is just right. I keep thinking that Roth is precise in his wideness, which may sound a little non-sequiturial but I mean he can capture a wide gamut of narrative (character, anecdote/tangent, drama, pointed contrast and choice detail), at times with extreme, nearly conspiratorial brevity, especially as they relate to the becoming-writer or humour. Though there is an occasional tendency to lead/preach, everything rolls and slots in neatly, everything is sufficient. Which is the high water-mark of literature.

Quotable:
My guess was that it would take even the fiercest Hun the better part of a winter to cross the glacial waterfalls and wind-blasted woods of those mountain wilds before he was able to reach the open edge of Lonoff’s hayfields, rush the rear storm door of the house, crash through into the study, and, with spiked bludgeon wheeling high in the air above the little Olivetti, cry out in a roaring voice to the writer tapping out his twenty-seventh draft, “You much change your life!” And even he might lose heart and turn back to the bosom of his barbarian family should he approach those black Massachusetts hills on a night like this, with the coktail hour at hand and yet another snowstorm arriving from Ultima Thule. [I wonder how Rilke would apreciate such reduction to barbarism, p27]

[On Betsy] ...those elegant, charming tableaux she could achieve, even when engaged in something so aesthetically unpromising as, half asleep in the midle of the night, taking a lonely pee in my bathroom. [love that ‘unpromising’, p35]

Hope tried her luck with a self-effacing smile, but the wattage was awfully dim. [p41]

The charm [of Felix Abravanel] was like a moat so oceanic that you could not even see the great turreted and buttressed thing it had been dug to protect. You couldn’t even find the drawbridge... It was a head that the Japanese technicians, with their ingenuity for miniaturizing, might have designed, and then given over to the Jews to adorn with the rug-dealer’s thinning dark hair, the guarded appraising black eyes, and a tropical bird’s curving bill. A fully Semeticised little transistor on top, terrific clothes down below – and still the overall impression was of somebody’s stand-in. [p58-59, possible deliberate close skirting to racial stereotypes {he is projecting the 50s and mild naivety} to echo the young writer flirting with cliche]

"We work in the dark – we do what we can – we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art." [James, p116]

...Insipid best-sellers from which real people learned about fake people who could not exist and would not matter if they did. [out of context but nice, Zappa would agree, p148]
Also, on PopMatters, my revamped article on the Stateless Passport.
Such a passport could represent a great advance in galvanising and normalising human rights, and counterbalance many of the inequalities experienced around the world (such as the idea of class-based inequality or second class citizenship, or the unethical exploitation of global labour forces that corporations and conspiratorial governments already enjoy). It would give freedom of movement to the people and eliminate the low status of refugees by recognising citizens of the world, which we all are. To be stateless in this sense may seem like an existential crisis or a global analogue for homelessness, but from another point of view it would translate into true neutrality and feeling at home everywhere.

posted by rino breebaart  # 8:08 am (0) comments

6.7.05

Bobby McFerrin, live/solo at the National Concert Hall, Dublin

The voice is the ultimate instrument.

posted by rino breebaart  # 8:04 am (0) comments
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