Monthly Archives: March 2012

Friday Pictures – Yuula Benivolski & Anonymous


Yuula Benivolski / self portrait as Clara 2


Yuula Benivolski / shapeshifter


Yuula Benivolski / self portrait as Clara 2


Snowy Owl / Anonymous



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Tea With Chris: Thank You For Your Woo

Carl: Next week, Chris and I will again be at the EMP Pop Conference, this time in New York City. If you will also be in New York City, register free by Monday and you can get a badge and jump the lines and watch the geeks geeking.

What’s it like? Please allow Stephen Colbert to explain (or if you need it explained to you in Canadian, go about 45 seconds into here).

Also in attendance, scholar-at-large Jonathan Bogart, whose great blog I’ve just discovered, including two of the truest paragraphs I’ve read (at least about the Internet) this year.

Annals of book reviewing: There’s Godwin’s Law, according to which the first person in an argument to mention Hitler loses. Now meet Evans’s Law, according to which the person who gets everything wrong about Hitler really, really loses.

And finally, a verse in honour of the real Lorax:

Although no doubt they should first read the book
Sit your kids down and have them take a look
At this version free, on the free YouTube station
And don’t pay to see Disney’s abomination.

Chris: I’m glad that my big March trip this year will be to EMP rather than SXSW (here’s only one reason why), but Nitsuh Abebe compromised that a little with his account of “the perfect anti-SXSW band,” Future of the Left. As an inveterate woo-er, this shard of derision from frontman Andy Falkous was especially cutting: “Thank you for your ‘woo.’ I will take it with me until my bath tonight, and wonder what to do with it at that stage.”

This is how that baby got on that Aaliyah song.

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On Persian-Tuned Piano, and Not Knowing Anything

By Carl Wilson

I’m currently immersed in a project bigger than a breadbox (new version of the 20 Questions classic: “Is it bigger than a blogpost?”) for the first time in a while. While research is a pleasurable way to fill the gaps in one’s knowledge of a given field, what it immediately starts disclosing is how many other fields there are that to you are all gap: All ground, no figure. Existential vertigo is an easy reaction. The alternative is to enjoy your stupidity.

I’m indebted on that count to Jacob Wren, who posted the above in the sociable media earlier this week – a recording of early-20th-century Iranian musician Morteza Mahjoubi playing “Persian-tuned piano.” I thought that I had some inkling of the ways people had monkeywrenched pianos in the history of music – John Cage with his preparations, Conlon Nancarrow with his player-piano rolls, Terry Riley with just intonation, Thelonious Monk with his knuckles and Cecil Taylor with his elbows, etc. But I had never imagined the world of alternate tunings for a piano could be this vast.

Although I have a general interest in Iranian culture, I couldn’t say I know even a full-fledged smidgen about the operations of Persian music, even less than the almost-nothing I know about Arab music and the nearly-approaching-something I know about South Asian music. But I can understand that “well-tempered” pianos can’t play it, with its quartertones and mandatory wavers. So Mahjoubi and others began to find ways to retune and otherwise alter the instrument to approximate Persian modes (the radif system). It seems that many performers since have learned the method and still practice it today.

All this struck me as an intriguing early case of postmodernism, in which the traditional becomes a form of the avant-garde. So I went on a little Google hunt. I could find almost nothing written in English in about an hour’s search. This, compared to the overwhelming avalanche of information one finds on most subjects, was oddly soothing.

I invite you to try it yourself, but in case you haven’t the patience, the best two sources I found were here and in the explanation box accompanying this other YouTube video.

But perhaps you prefer to just glance at it and let it renew that Socratic sensation of wisdom-as-knowledge-of-ignorance? For now, me too – back to the task at hand.

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Tuesday Musics: “Dull Lights (White or Grey)” by Eric Chenaux

I’ve often written about Eric Chenaux, a guitarist, singer, improviser and composer whose presence graced Toronto – and I mean that almost in the theological sense – for many years until his recent move to Paris. There’s bittersweetness in the fact that just as he left us, he released perhaps his finest set of recordings, and certainly the one that most purely distills his music, as indicated by the plainspoken title, Guitar and Voice (Constellation Records). This video is one of a series created for Chenaux’s music by Eric Cazdyn, who otherwise spends his time writing his way through a “non-moralizing critique of capitalism.” I would say, from this music’s negotiations with time, texture, “attack” and “release,” that the efforts of both Eric C.’s answer to that description.

This post marks the first installment of a new Back to the World feature, in which I’ll post a piece of music every Tuesday, matching Chris’s Monday “Little Boxes” (comics panels) and Margaux’s “Friday Pictures.” As of this week, our linksapalooza “Tea With Chris” moves to Thursdays, and every Wednesday one of us will have a more written-through post on whatever subject we choose. The result? Back to new content every week day, to make up for our more stop-and-start, sporadic 2011. Hope you’ll drop in often.

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Little Boxes #83: Gazing

(Crystal Starwatcher, by Moebius, 1985)

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Tea With Chris: Koan Bush

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Carl: I’d like to share a couple of things I stumbled on while working on this profile of Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields for He told me about a synthesizer he’s using created by Don Buchla, called the Source of Uncertainty, which generates unpredictable sounds based on how you vary the voltage. Or something like that. I don’t pretend to understand it, but I do like to see and hear it in action:

Second, at one point in our conversation (mostly not used in the piece) he went off on a tangent about the Thai Elephant Orchestra (that page will lead you to music and more). His riff, meanwhile, went a little something like this:

“Music is still something that’s done only by people – except the Thai Elephant Orchestra. There’s something called the Rock Cats playing here in Los Angeles, but people have to train them to do that, so it’s not necessarily not about people. Whereas the Thai Elephant Orchestra is really not about people, on some level. They’re not trained; they’re given instruments that they could play or not, as they felt like it. The elephants enjoy playing the harmonica – they inhale and exhale and they have fun with that. They use the whole harmonica at the same time, of course. And then they had these gigantic xylophones that they used more by strumming than by getting individual notes out of them. In the future of human-designed elephant-played instruments, they might want to have much, much larger instruments, in order to encourage the elephants to differentiate between the notes. But then that would be human manipulation in a deliberate way.”

Like a John Cage piece, the Source of Uncertainty or the Thai Elephant Orchestra, another way to create music that liberates it from the confines of human will turns out to be to slow it down exponentially. This has been a popular thing to do the past couple of years, perhaps most famously to Justin Bieber, but I’d never heard it done with a song or artist I had a close personal attachment to. I want to listen to this 36-minute-long version of Kate Bush singing Wuthering Heights first thing in the morning every day, as a kind of Zen practice.

Chris: This video mashup, by the Jigglypuff-guised Stephen Swift, is maybe the most insightful piece of music criticism that anyone’s produced on Grimes so far. Maybe.

Lisa Hanawalt owns the big-horses-with-tiny-horses beat.

If you live in Toronto and like dancing to Larry Levan remixes, you should come to That Time of the Month tonight. If you don’t like Larry Levan remixes, all I can give you is some Paradise Garage bootlegs and my pity.

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Friday Pictures – Will Munro


Will Munro / No Tears for the Creatures of the Night / 2004


Will Munro and Collaborators / Junction Community Quilt / 2004


Will Munro / Silence=Death

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