Monthly Archives: June 2012

Tea With Chris: Disorienting Pleasures

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

Margaux: B.F. Skinner, the villainized behavioral scientist, is the ghost behind the most recent issue of the Atlantic. I pulled B.F. Skinner’s “Beyond Freedom and Dignity” years ago from a random bookshelf scan because I thought the title was funny. All I knew about B.F. Skinner was that, as an experiment, he put his young daughter in a box. The title seemed appropriate for such a man. Though when I read the book, it was surprisingly thoughtful and interesting, and B.F. Skinner kind of seemed more like a friend than a comical monster. Since then, I’ve always had warm feelings towards Principal Skinner, the good-intentioned principle on The Simpsons who continuously gets abused.

The Atlantic‘s headlining article “The Perfect Self” by David H. Freedman is about how B.F. Skinner’s behavioral science is in the lead for the  figuring-out-how-to-combat-obesity race. David H. Freedman reminds us that B.F. Skinner was strongly against punishment in the area of behaviorial modification and that, to date, the most sinister manifestation of his findings is Weight Watchers.

B.F. Skinner’s main theory: “All organisms tend to do what the world around them rewards them for doing. When an organism is in some way prompted to perform a certain behaviour, and that behavoir is ‘reinforced’ – with a pat on the back, nourishment, comfort, money – the organism is more likely to repeat the behaviour,” is echoed in other neighboring  articles.

It’s a challenge to make your own positive behavioral boxes or to spot the boxes that others have put you in. The Atlantic explores some of these puzzles with an Editor’s Note from James Bennet, a short story on the evils of good students desperate for the right awards by Molly Patterson, “Honors Track”, and a short text on “Dumb Kids’ Class” by Mark Bowden, who discusses the benefits of being underestimated. Mark Bowden himself bounced back between dumb and smart class as did I and probably lots of kids do around the age of eleven – as you try to work out which is your more advantageous option (or your teachers try to work out which is their more advantageous option).

I always love  dumb or stupidity as a subject. Like in some of John Currin’s work,

or in this this exceedingly pleasing 2003 documentary by Albert Nerenberg, Stupidity. You can see the full documentary here. If I remember correctly the best parts of it were short interviews with the very few acedemics in the world who study stupidity – attempting to talk about it still seems to be a curse or a taboo, something that can get you in all sorts of trouble. During the interviews, when the academics made any mistakes in speaking, they would look around slowly and cautiously as though someone was about to accuse them of being a moron. Such disorienting pleasures!

Speaking of disorienting pleasures, I just went to the contemporary museum in Bentonville, Arkansas that Alice Walton of the Walmart family founded, Crystal Bridges.

Carl: I am going to use Natalie Zina Walschots’ prose-poem-like “Postcards from the Polaris Prize” (parts One and Two) to help me decide how to fill the final space on my ballot, because they’re the best things the Polaris ever made happen except for the prize itself.

Maybe I will vote for Fucked Up’s David Comes to Life, because Natalie wrote: “David fires a rock at the forehead of Goliath. David is seventeen feet tall and made of marble. David is willing to send a soldier to his death after watching a woman bathe. David is an award-winning environmentalist and broadcaster. David is sometimes called Ziggy Stardust, sometimes the Goblin King. David is married to a Spice Girl. David has been frozen, buried, and locked in a plexiglass case suspended above the River Thames.” Or maybe Marie-Pierre Arthur’s record, because Nat says, ” In every movie that ever brushes against the narrative of a young woman coming-of-age, there is a scene is which she is sitting in the passenger seat of a car, the window rolled down, holding her hand out in the wind like it is a smooth bird.” Though I think that might be a very subtle insult.

This week I discovered Jenny Woolworth’s Women in Punk Blog, which only has a post every four or five months, but one of those posts is an 86-page including interviews with Alice Bag and Liliput, and other posts are entire mixtapes. So quit yer complaining. Also, this is a good list. And so is this. And the Supreme Court didn’t strike down health-care reform, so Happy Canada and/or America Day, or neither if you prefer.

Chris: I’m always reticient to link to my B2TW comrades here, because it can seem a little too incestuous, but Margaux’s Paris Review advice column response to the misguided query “What books impress a guy? What should I read to seem cool, sexy, and effortlessly smart?” was so impious and wise: “The only way to be cool, sexy and effortlessly smart without just being seemingly so is to build your own stupid house of books. Feel free to use all the wrong books in all the wrong ways, but the house really has to be real and you need to know why the house is there, in that specific location, in that specific configuration.”

“I am going to write a poem about using Meryl Streep’s laugh as a ringtone. / I’ve bookmarked an LA Times article from 1989 / in which her giggle eruptions are explored with great amazement. / I’ve tweeted extensively on the tone and timbre of/ each particular laugh.”

Up here Canada Day shares its 24 hours with Pride, a happy coincidence indeed. I’ll be at Shame, wearing a Will Munro pin, and this week Sarah Liss explained why.

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A Tribe Called Red, “Look At This”

Final deliberations over the Polaris Prize shortlist continue this week among hundreds of jurors across the land, including tonight in a “Salon” (read panel discussion) at the Drake in Toronto. One of the discoveries the jury pointed me to this year is A Tribe Called Red, who provide the first convincing instance I’ve heard of aboriginal/electronic-dance-music fusion since the pioneering of Tanya Tagaq and before her, Buffy Sainte Marie. It’s always a mystery to me that, for all Canadian musicians’ cosmopolitan explorations, these sounds remain so obscured in our pop traditions. It might be an understandable hesitation towards exploitation and appropriation (even when native people themselves are the agents, as pow wow sounds are often related to sacred traditions). The history of borrowing and recontextualizing cultures in North American pop music is violently troubling, of course. But it’s also the whole history of North American pop music. So Tribe Called Red and others in this vein right now may propose a dare worth doubling.

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Little Boxes #98: Fog on the Moors

(from Master of Kung Fu #120, script by Doug Moench and art by Gene Day, 1983)

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4Minute, “Volume Up” (2012)

by Chris Randle

Last month I moved for the first time in several years, to Toronto’s Koreatown. I did it because a room in a friend’s place opened up, but there were secondary considerations. The neighbourhood is unsurprisingly full of cheap, satisfying Korean food – three locals recently vowed to eat-critique their way through every restaurant on the strip, including its Subway and lone pizza place – and I’ve found myself sampling a lot of it over the past few weeks, because who wants to cook or do anything else that requires sentience when the temperature gets above 30 degrees?

So lately my dinner is often accompanied by Korean music, some of it in styles very different from the K-pop I’ve become so enamoured with. Traditional court music, folk tunes, the proto-K-pop of trot, they’re playing whether I want it or not. Certain restaurants make their own mixes while others seem to be using satellite radio, but in either case it curtails the xenophilic pop fan’s quasi-colonial ability to sequence whichever global jams they like best. That’s a piquant corrective.

When I heard this track over bulgogi, for a moment I forgot that I already knew it. You don’t come across much alto sax in K-pop – it could’ve been the intro to some old trot single, or indeed a Western one. But confounding expectations is what “Volume Up” does. Before now I mostly associated the five-member girl group 4Minute with standardized electrobosh like “Muzik,” and stampeding trance synths do make a return appearance here. Yet they crescendo just as the saxophone does, producing noises not unlike the whine of straining metal. By the almost-end, during the bridge, those horns are little more than a staccato pulse, yoked to the beat. A sonic symbol of “organic” “sophistication” has been made to sound thrillingly synthetic. I want Dan Bejar to hear it.

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Tea With Chris: Awesome-Terrible-Remarkable

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

Chris: Jonathan Bogart enlivens the perennial and somewhat contrived search for a “song of the summer” by listening to singles you probably won’t hear through a car stereo, including Lebanese pop, sweetly understated dancehall and Franco-Nigerian R&B.

Carl: I have spent most of my time on the web this week trying to figure out things about New Orleans, where I was visiting. Mainly I learned that in the future I should go to this amazing-sounding museum, but I missed it this time around. However, I did go to this incredible installation, an interactive set of musical shacks, which will some day be a permanent musical house. It’s closed now but when that happens you should go there. (Find out more in this fine NPR piece about it.) And when you do, the new website My Spilt Milk should be your guide, and you should read these two great books by Ned Sublette about the biblically awesome-terrible-remarkable racial and colonial history that makes it a singular cultural crossroads on the North American continent. Also, have a Sazerac.

Otherwise, I have watched Hollywood goofballs parodying The Bachelor and discovered the (I think now defunct) Tumblr Animals Tweeting as Owen Pallett, e.g., two birds of paradise saying, “Whoa I thought I was being progressive with my hair choices and then I saw that Xavier de Rosnay guy has been doing it ‘for years’.” (Xavier de Rosnay is one of the guys in Justice. I looked it up. You’re welcome.)


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(Belated) Tuesday Musics: Iva Bittova, “Proudem mleka” (“Milk Flow”)

The Czech-Moravian marvel Iva Bittova plays Thursday night at the Rivoli in Toronto, and on Saturday at the Jazz Festival in Ottawa. Seeing her has been scientifically proven to add extra days to your life.

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Little Boxes #97: Black Glove

(cover of Thickness #3 by Edie Fake, 2012)

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Friday Pictures – Aleksandra Waliszewska, Sean Lewis, Unidentified American artist & Wilhelm Sasnal


Aleksandra Waliszewska



Sean Lewis



Unidentified American artist



Wilhelm Sasnal

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Robert Wilson and Philip Glass, “Bed” from “Einstein on the Beach” in Toronto, June 9, 2012

by Carl Wilson

 Einstein on the Beach had been kind of a legend to me my whole post-adolescent life. I don’t know where I first stumbled on references to it, but it must have been in connection to the New York artists I was so taken with in my teens, people like David Byrne and Laurie Anderson, who either collaborated later with its principle creators or simply bore the marks of the downtown aesthetic of which it was, at least in scale, kind of an apotheosis when the opera premiered in 1976.

At some point I got the boxed vinyl set of recordings – not sure if I owned it or if it came from the library and I taped it. But I spent a lot of time listening to a choir singing “1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4-5-6 …” and wondering what kind of stage production could be represented by the few photographs I’d seen, in which people stood in matrices of illuminated boxes doing cryptic actions, or seemed to be caught mid-way while falling in perfect unison out of chairs.

It seemed, with all the kinds of abstract theatre and dance and music I embraced later, as if it was the influence on my tastes that I knew the least about. So it was self-consciously an Event when decades later, last weekend in fact, I finally had the chance to see a production of it in person, as part of Toronto’s Luminato festival.

The production as a whole, all five hours of it, does turn out to defy speculation and certainly description. There’s something naive and hokey about it, on one level, with its Atom Bomb-panic themes, its Kafkaesque trial scenes, its Happening-style everyday-life importations, its use of big broad gestures and the Einstein iconography and even a little message about peace and love at the end, carefully framed with ironic distance just in case. There’s also an incredible discipline and rigour to it, whether in the performer-punishing repetition of the singing and movement or in the great tableaux and stage-paintings and feats of theatrical craft it builds out of what are, by 2012 standards, crude techniques. It’s the kind of theatre that seems in its spectacular visuality to be trying to compete with cinema until you recall that it’s actually happening in front of you, being carried out by bodies and voices and objects in motion. You can’t think about it too much or it seems too exhausting, as if you are almost complicit in an abuse.

The producers try to ease some of that tension, and the anxiety that afflicts people when they’re told they’re going to be confined to a tight dark space for five hours, by saying that spectators are free to come and go, whenever they please, to stretch or go to the can or get drinks or just get out for a while. And even though this does involve a lot of being climbed over by your seat neighbours or people standing up in front of you or wandering around lost in the aisles, the spirit of non-coercion does seem significant, a delineating line between this “new” High Art and the old (though of course if you go back far enough in official opera history to when it was itself a popular art, people were even more shockingly informal, eating and talking and shouting at the stage). But the most pleasurable thing about the option to leave was, to me, that it made staying, never rising from the seat or even taking my eyes off the stage for more than a couple of seconds, also seem like a very voluntary choice.

Because staying, and watching, and listening, and watching, and listening, turns out to be the way this piece works. This meditation on time and transport and technology reveals itself, elegantly and lightly mysteriously, as its own technology of transport and time. By about halfway through, I no longer had any idea how long I had been in the auditorium or how much longer I would be, and I no longer cared. The production is so full of small things done very slowly and again and again, and like the machinery of the industrial-to-post-industrial age that is its subject to the degree that it has one, the effects of these small things repeated and repeated proves cumulatively to be kind of monumental. I am not a person who is very capable of just watching, not thinking, not distracting myself – few people are, perhaps fewer and fewer. But that was what watching Einstein finally found me liberated to do, by this sympathetic collaboration between it and me.

Different viewers will have varying highlights. By far the most unforgettable scene to me was “Bed,” the halfway point in the final act. In it, what looks like a pillar of light but is actually the illuminated side of a huge bed on a pitch-black stage rises by millimetres from a flat position until it is perpendicular, levering gradually gradually gradually upward. Then, when it is perpendicular it begins rising straight up until it disappears into the flies above. Meanwhile a soprano sings a wordless aria to the relentless trilling of an electric organ. That is all that happens for what the score tells me is about 12 minutes but easily seemed like an hour. I was transfixed the whole time. When it started going straight up I almost cheered, saying to myself, “Thank god! I was hoping it would do that!” And when the last few inches of light vanished above the proscenium I came very close to bursting into tears.

So on some level this show had rendered me kind of crazy, like someone who believes he’s having a love affair with an inanimate object, or at least infantile, like a child upset at the disappearance of the object (the phallus? the excrescence?) in a game of peekaboo. But what I was really having was just a very heightened experience of the passage of time and the arrangement of space. The kind certain hallucinogenic drugs produce. The kind that we have evolved pointedly not to have because it is a completely impractical relationship to have with the physical world. But the kind where everything feels lit up (this show is completely okay with being very literal).

Some part of me felt like I had spent 40 years watching various kinds of art, and that the human race had spent millennia learning how to make it, just so we could figure out our way to this point, where (to quote David Byrne out of context) we can “imagine that nothing at all could be so exciting, could be so much fun.”

I wondered too if my responses have something to do with being a child of the 1970s, like the show is. Watching the ridiculously entertaining long white line made me feel as if finally, after waiting all my life, I was achieving my 4-year-old dream of being inside one of those jazzy animations from Sesame Street, where a shape or a letter or a number just dances its heart out, or perhaps its infinitely repeatable and recontextualizable philosophical essence out, for your delight. “1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4-5-6. … ”

Six! Six! Six! Six! Let’s sing a song about six! How many is six?

Yes, and how sol-fa is a soprano? How tall is light? How few is a monolith? How bright is darkness? How long is five hours? How far is a century? And what needs to happen in the relationship between the observed and the observer to let us sound out those questions without asking the story to at least lie up an answer? Relatively little, relatively everything.

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Tea With Chris: Soul Power

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

Chris: One “nycullaSUCKS” put a complete James Brown concert from 1971 (and Paris) on Youtube, and even if the video quality is somewhere around Sega CD levels, there can’t be enough unexpurgated JB footage in this world. Would that it was a funky biorhythm. (via Stephen Swift a.k.a. Sega Juice)


This is my kintype.


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