Amoeblog

My year in music - confessions of a grumpy old man

Posted by Eric Brightwell, January 9, 2009 10:24am | Post a Comment

According to Billboard, the top artists for 2008 are Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Alicia Keys, Taylor Swift, Leona Lewis, Miley Cyrus, Jordan Sparks, Jonas Brothers, T.I., Coldplay, Flo-Rida, Carrie Underwood, T-Pain, Josh Groban, Colbie Caillat, Ne-Yo, Kanye West, Katy Perry and Mariah Carey.

At Amoeba, the top sellers were Radiohead, MGMT, Vampire Weekend, Portishead, Coldplay, M.I.A., Fleet Foxes, Beck, Flight of the Conchords, The Raconteurs, Sigur Ros, She & Him, Santogold, Crystal Castles, Black Keys, Lil Wayne, Cat Power, Kings of Leon, Amy Winehouse, Bon Iver.


Haveing not heard of most of the Billboard stuff, I can only assume that it's mostly autotuned, oversung, expendable American Idol/Disney Channel/Nickelodeon R&B/pop/Rap sung by sexualized children -- which gives me hives. I definitely would rather, if forced, take the Amoeba package, although I am surprised that I have never heard of four of the top sellers there either.

My friend Lars, who gave up on new music a long time ago, was surprised to read news about Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails and asked, "Is that what people are still listening to? Bands from when we were in high school?" It is kind of strange. I mean, the Beatles and the Doors weren't dominating the charts in the '80s. So it is kind of strange to see a figure like Mariah Carey on the charts, who I remember as a adult-contemporary VH1 staple whose vocal runs I used tape onto VHS to send myself into fits of laughter when needed. Kanye I've listened to and can, without exaggeration, say it was some of the most unpleasant music I've ever heard. When interviewed about Kanye West for the Defamer, I expressed my dislike and someone commented that, to be fair, asking a white thirty-something music store employee is like asking someone in the inner city about bluegrass. Yeah, because Kanye West is "urban" music. Seriously? If you go to Watts or Compton, the Norteño has a lot more in common with Bluegrass than Kanye. Hollywood nightclubs and the suburbs is where rap flourishes... welcome to the '90s, dude.

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Mimes in music and film

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 8, 2008 09:12pm | Post a Comment

Last year for Halloween I was Bip the Clown, a famous creation of the then recently passed master of mime, Marcel Marceau. I thought it would be good to go an entire day without talking, yet it seemed to arouse violent annoyance in as many people as liked it.


 
I think it made me realize that I like mime, especially when it's darker and scarier... as in the mimetic acting of German Expressionist silent film... as well as comedians like Buster Keaton, Harry Langdon, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin, who were all essentially mimes. And, come to think of it, so was Cesar the somnambulist in Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari... whom I was for Halloween a while ago, come to think of it.


Mime has its roots in ancient Greece but most conventions of modern mime were developed by the Bohemian mime, Jean-Gaspard Deburau, who adapted aspects of the commedia dell'arte for nineteenth century French actors. His most famous character was Pierrot, the moonstruck, dumb romantic in white face and poofy threads. He was portrayed in Marcel Carné's Les Enfants du Paradis.


In the 1920s, Étienne Decroux created a highly original take on mime, focusing on statuary poses, a technique known as corporeal mime.

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Happy All Hallows' Even

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 30, 2008 08:05pm | Post a Comment

You know those grinches that, on Valentines Day say, "I don't need a holiday to tell me when to express my feelings for my loved one" or, on Mothers Day say "I don't need a stupid holiday to tell me when to call my mom?" Well, that's one reason I like Halloween --because those bias keep their yaps shut for once. After all, it's unlikely that those negative nancies are going to say, "I don't need a stupid holiday to tell me when I can dress like Boba Fett and go door-to-door begging for candy from strangers." Like so many holidays, most of the customs are under threat of disappearance due to the media standardizing, simplifying and corporatizing its observance.



Halloween origins

On Halloween, the boundary between the alive and deceased is erased or at least thin. It was observed as Samhain by the Celts and other Euros until 837 AD, when one of the popes decided to move All Souls Day from May 13 (previously chosen to capitalize on another pagan holiday -- The Feast of the Lemures -- on which day Romans would exorcise their homes of evil spirits) to its current date. Over time it has evolved from a harvest festival, to an opportunity to divine the future (in the 18th century), to an opportunity for children to obtain candy, to its current status as an excuse for drunken adults to dress like media figures or slutty versions of mythological beings.


Jack-o-lanterns and other Halloween trappings

The tradition of carving a jack-o-lantern comes from the tale of Stingy Jack, or Jack the Smith as he was also known. Jack was an Irish drunkard whose reputation for debauchery, scumminess and villainy reached the ears of the disbelieving Devil himself. When the Devil decided to take Jack's soul, Jack tricked him into transforming himself into a coin to pay for one last ale. Instead, Jack placed the coin in his pocket, next to a rood, and made a deal that the Devil wouldn't come back for another ten years. When the Devil showed up ten years later, Jack asked to have an apple. The Devil, displaying shocking gullibility, consented and Jack climbed a tree with a crucifix carved on the trunk. This time Jack struck a deal to never be taken to Hell. Upon Jack's death, he was denied entry into both Heaven and Hell so the Devil gave him a burning ember inside a hollowed out turnip, cursing him to spend eternity wandering around with his strange lantern.

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Happy Missouri Day! - Yup, It's aready been a yurr since the last'n

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 15, 2008 12:42am | Post a Comment
MISSOURI DAY

The 3rd Wednesday of the October, this year the 15th.


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of Missouri


In my experience, when you'ins tell people you’re from Missouri, most people reply self-satisfiedly with "don't you mean Missouruh?" or, alternately, "where is Missouri? I don’t think I’ve ever been there."

Whether Missouri is Lower Midwestern or Upper Southern (or the Border South or, the Upland South, or less commonly today, the Yeoman South) is a somewhat common debate amongst Missourians... at least on the internet.

In my experience, Missouri's Midwestern neighbors, centered along the Great Lakes, (haters) tend to disparage Mighty Mo as a hick state whurr test scores are low, the accent is ugly and you'ins can buy fireworks, liquor and ammo... all in the same place.

Missouri's neighbors in the Deep South (also haters) usually don't consider it to be Southern because Missouri didn't side with the South in the Civil War (well, that's complicated-- thurr were 30,000 gray and 109,000 blue) and because South Coasters love to equate the entire South with just the Deep South aka the Lower South aka the Plantation South.

As far as Southern credentials go, Mark Twain, Langston Hughes, Thomas Hart Benton all seem fairly Southern, do they not? On the other hand, natives like T.S. Elliot, William Burroughs and Maya Angelou don’t so much, huh? Cultural cringe I reckon, plays a part in this confusion, as do geographical overlap and historical shifts.

Art! What Is It Good For? More on The Lives of Others Vis a Vis Clockwork Orange

Posted by Charles Reece, January 10, 2008 09:44pm | Post a Comment
Regarding what I wrote about the the transformative power of music in THE LIVES OF OTHERS being a lie, a pal of mine, K, suggested the possible counter-example of the Nazi being moved by piano music in Polanski's THE PIANIST.  I still haven't seen that film due to its starring Adrian Brody, but I suppose if a digitized giant ape can get me to put aside my aversion for 2 and half hours, the name 'Polanski' ought to, as well, even if it's later Polanski.   So maybe I'll get around to that film at some later date. 

A film that does approach what I was talking about from a truer perspective than Donnersmarck's is Kubrick's CLOCKWORK ORANGE.  The film was based on Burgess's novel, which was a rejection of the panglossian futurism of B. F. Skinner's behaviorism, most notably his sci-fi novel, WALDEN TWO, where the happiness of individuals is derived from the outside-in, every aspect of culture being a stimulus which, if functioning properly, keeps the whole community flowing along in prosperity, promoting the desired actions/"responses" -- the providence of which is defined by the organizers.  Things like art have value insofar as they help shape the "proper" behavior, value being defined top-down.  If that strikes you as totalitarian, that's because it is.  And Kubrick's film is an all-out satirical attack against the reifying tendency of the bureaucratically minded whereby value obtains as a place within the system, never for the thing itself.

Contrary to the story Donnersmarck tells of the incommensurability of violence and art, the love of both happily co-exist in CLOCKWORK ORANGE's protagonist Alex.  As it was with Lenin, he loves smashing heads, but unlike with Lenin, he does so to the accompaniment of Beethoven.  It's not until Alex undergoes reconditioning at the Ludovico lab that Beethoven becomes associated with nonviolence.  Getting a dose of some noxious serum while being forced to watch acts of violence and hearing Beethoven's Ninth Symphony results in just the sort of transformative effect Donnersmarck associates with art.  Donnersmarck might argue that his Stasi Captain gives up his ideology in favor of the intrinsic qualities of the piano piece he hears while spying through headphones, whereas the effects of the Ninth on Alex are due to its extrinsic associations with negative stimuli (via Pavlovian, not Skinnerian, conditioning, but the point remains the same).  This potential distinction, however, rests on the shaky notion that such music has ideological content internal to its nature as art-object, rather than associated with it as a social object.

I'm reminded here of a story Ligeti tells of composing his Musica Ricercata No. 2 where every stroke of the piano was intended as a stab into the heart of the communist regime in Hungary.  Stabbing is a good visceral description of the sound, but is there really anything intrinsic to the music about who's doing the stabbing and who's getting stabbed?  If it weren't for the aesthetically conservative Hungarian apparatchiks defining the piece as decadent, it could've (a la Reagan's attempted appropriation of Born in the USA)  inspired quashing anti-communist resistance.  Furthermore, the violence Ligeti associates with his piece suggests that art can most definitely be linked to ideology with violent intent -- albeit, in his case, a morally defensible position -- and even serve to justify it.  The social effects have more to do with the ideological lens through which the music is refracted than any inherent ideology of the music itself.

Thus, it's as a conditioned stimulus that music comes to support or oppose one ideology over another.  By having a committed Stasi captain give up his ideology after hearing a committed communist playwright play a piano piece that has no anti-communist ideological stance associated with it, Donnersmarck does little more than create a narratively convenient lie.  The danger of this lie is that it shares with the prominent management regimes the view that art is inherently ideological, another object whose value is determined by the function it assigns to humans operating within the social order.  As the bureaucrats in CLOCKWORK ORANGE suggest, who cares what happens to the Ninth so long as Alex is no longer committing acts of violence?  What's forgotten here is the aesthetic value of art where any human interacts with art on its own terms, rather than those mandated from the top down.  Thus, the problem with the LIVES OF OTHERS isn't that a communist or Nazi or any other totalitarian functionary might have exquisite taste in art (many do), but its unwitting perpetuation of the value of art as utility, even when its instrumentalist function is what most of us would call socially beneficial.  It's the horror of losing the aesthetic value of art -- which can only come about through a free interaction with art that hasn't been precategorized -- that is central to the terror Alex feels when he makes the leap out the window, no longer able to stand having his love of the Ninth so violated as a byproduct of ideological reconditioning.  The celebratory ending to Kubrick's film isn't the result of some thuggish desensitization to violence, but is one of an individualist aestheticism managing to slip through the cracks of an overdetermined utopia, even if it's under the sign of brutality.
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