Tag Archives: don’t be afraid of silence

‘I Hate Music’

by Carl Wilson

That was the status update today from my friend Mike out in Portland. Yet all Mike does on Facebook is post clips of great songs. Mike’s life has been devoted to music, at least chief among the many arts to which he’s passionately committed. I read his Chemical Imbalance zine when I was in university and was astonished to learn later we weren’t much different in age; today I read Yeti with the same gratitude for his curatorial, editorial and mixtapetorial skills, his preternatural nose for artistic quality and surprise, also manifest in the pre-war gospel and other reissues he compiles. (More recently we’ve hung out, and he is at least as great a guy as he is a cultural weathervane.)

Whatever prompted Mike today to say he hated music, it resonated with me. I was on the verge of that feeling for most of the past year or two. I was burnt out on sound. I was tired of talking about music, “following” it, “keeping up,” downloading, and most of all ranking and rating. (That last part may not change.) Late last year I hinted at it, but didn’t go all the way, when I said I was losing the patience to listen to albums. My friend Ann Powers responded that she was finding it takes a lot of patience to listen to a whole song! But was that the culture, or just us, longtime pro/semi-pro listeners, hitting our internal walls?

Or maybe this is just a cycle we go through in our love affairs with art forms, especially the forms closest to us. (Rather as we go through cycles of infatuation and disenchantment with the people most intimate to us.) Because now, for no particular reason, it seems to be lifting.

I was at a wedding reception at a rock club last weekend, and the bride happened to be someone who puts on (excellent) shows, so of course she had great bands playing her nuptials: Montreal’s Think About Life, and Toronto’s Bonjay. Both of them sounded better than ever before.

Partly it was the happy occasion. Partly, I think they both had grown since I’d seen them last. But also, those last times, I simply couldn’t bring myself to care. Now I was feeling every moment heightened by rhythm and harmony, transported to places music and I hadn’t visited together for a long while.

There was a soothing cascade of relief: So the temporary separation between me and music wasn’t middle-aged bitterness finally setting in? Thank heaven.

So now I’m curious, perhaps to stave off any relapses: Have you found your affections for your most beloved artforms waning and waxing over time? What do you peg it to, the tides, events in your life, more or less vibrant periods in the form itself? All manner of speculation welcome in the Comments bullpen.

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Filed under carl wilson, music

Towering Tongue

by Chris Randle

Last month in this space, Carl wondered what it means to be avant-garde, still. One idea of it hinges on identifiable harshness, dissonance, “difficulty,” even alienation: a dance to metal machine music. Must the new always shock? Maybe it can be gently instructional instead. Misha Glouberman (best known as the cleverly flustered host of local lecture series Trampoline Hall) has been testing just that with a loose, long-running series called Terrible Noises for Beautiful People. These events typically involve amateur non-musicians improvising vocal sounds together, in structures that range from John Zorn’s Cobra game to ones of Misha’s own design. This week’s noisemaking was a rehearsal of sorts for upcoming performances at a vertiginous art-edifice called the Sound Tower. (“If you’re afraid of heights, as I am, 80 feet is tall.”) Whether straight jazz or the uncategorizable, I’d listened to a lot of music employing improvisation without knowing much about the theory of it. I still don’t. My first time as a non-spectator was all practice, mortifying and then finally elating.

Misha is bearish yet friendly, in the manner of a slightly absentminded professor. His introduction sounded a bit like the opening of an old-school role-playing game: “Imagine you’ve come to a tower.” It worked a bit like one, too. Again and again he sketched out the course of an exercise before gradually removing its guide rails. Our initial task was to wander around the room improvising “angry” sounds and motions – fine by me for several reasons, like how I’d woken up that morning to find my bathroom door nailed shut. At first Misha rang a bell to pause and restart our gesticulations, but his influence slowly faded until we were improvising moments of stasis by mass consensus too. Once he raised the instrument, froze, and lowered it with a stage scowl.

A string of “fighting forms,” formal outlines for free-flowing arguments, grew increasingly complex as we barked at each other. (“Everybody’s a genius improviser when they’re fighting.”) We paired off at random, one person “conducting” their partner’s sounds with motions that no professional would ever use. The experimentation culminated in an unorthodox orchestra. Everyone arranged themselves into a descending spiral (or an ascending one, depending on your vantage point); Misha sent various noises rippling through it, but on the way they were modulated in pitch, loudness and length until they became unrecognizable. I heard an unusually intense variation on those fake “forest soundscapes” dominated by hisses and shushes. I listened with eyes shut while participants strained to make the fastest and briefest sounds possible, as if they were demented beboppers. I balanced on a chair and joined the concentric choir in mutilating vowels, droning “I-I-I-I” and “U-U-U-U” like a skipping John Ashbery audiobook.

Was this avant-garde? It certainly felt uncomfortable at first, which is one way of answering “yes.” Compulsively slapping yourself or babbling wordless nonsense is what movie lunatics do. As the evening wound on, though, the universal humiliation had an ice-smashing effect. It was a mixed crowd, which fit the neighbourhood, and the bulk of that crowd was affable middle-aged people in sandals who looked like they might have signed up on a whim. Describing the event to our overseer, one lady said “you’re in both places at once,” simultaneously spectator and performer. I think that’s more radical than any of us realized at the time. The mercurial cacophony reminds me of what one character says about glossolalia in The Invisibles: “Everyone hears what they need to hear. The unconscious speaking directly to the unconscious. What kind of world might we make where such a language would be the common tongue?” But we never climbed very far up that tower and away from more practical matters. When I left an hour early, Misha was fielding ideas for a quieter “VOWEL” sign.

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Filed under chris randle, events, music, other

The Elephant in the Living Room (2010) – by Michael Webber, starring Terry Brumfield and Tim Harrison

by Margaux Williamson

(The closest cinema to where I’m staying in San Francisco is called Roxie Theater. Roxie Theater was playing a movie I hadn’t heard of: “The Elephant in the Living Room.” I looked around but it seemed like all the other nearby cinemas were playing movies for kids. I thought: maybe June is when kids watch movies. So I went around the corner and bought a ticket. It was being presented by the United Film Festival as part of their “Animal Rights” program. The director of the festival and the director of “The Elephant in the Living Room” sat down in the narrow line of blue seats with the audience when the movie began.)

The narrative of “The Elephant in the Living Room” is sort of: “There is a lion in my backyard – and it is getting bigger!” It focuses on people who keep animals like pythons and tigers in their homes, and what happens when the pythons and tigers grow larger than the people. Sometimes the people dump the animals in the suburban wilds. Sometimes they keep them.

We mostly see Ohio. We mostly look at two characters: The Man with a lion, and The Officer from the state. The Man, a big soft spoken one who looks a bit like his lion, was given the baby lion when he had a broken back and depression. He says the love helped him to survive. But then the baby lion grew up and became a big lion in a small cage. And then they were stuck there, the lion in the cage and The Man who made the cage.

The Officer, with the mustache and the baseball cap, is sincerely hoping to untangle the love/cage problem for the lion and The Man – and for Ohio. He is brave and kind and he is good at his job. He really wants to do the right thing. He catches cougars found in peoples’ backyards. He tries to find better places for them. He buys the most poisonous snake at the Underground Snake Convention so that no one else buys it. But snakes make a lot of babies and he cannot buy all of them. The Officer is exhausted. Cases like these have just been increasing every year since the mid 90s and he doesn’t know why. (My theory – that monkey on “Friends” is to blame).

The Officer doesn’t see an end to the problem. The few exotic animal santuaries in America are mostly over capacity. He is starting to question his role and what side he is on. We see a pleasing shock in his eyes when a new idea occurs to him – maybe, he thinks, he should not try to capture the dangerous animals in the suburban wilds. Maybe he should let them run free.
I thought of the movie The Matrix Reloaded (Matrix #2) – the humans being kept in cages by computers and the growing number of humans who escape, then are hunted down by the computers. I had recently picked it out of a sale bin at Walgreens. The bin was under a helium balloon that said “Papa Navedaz!”

The Matrix2 doesn’t work so well. I think it is because everything started off with too much value. When everything has equal value, it’s hard to know what to focus on. Like, here are the proper names in the movie: The One, The Architect, The Key-maker, Zion, Trinity, Morpheus, Persephone, The Oracle. That is a lot of value! Midway through, I had a real longing for some garbage – or at least a mortal. I wanted The Farter, The Fuck up, The Mistake, The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly.

You have to be a real magician to take only value and double it. Sometimes it is easier to make a movie that begins with lowlier proper nouns and then move them towards value. “The Elephant in the Living Room” starts in the middle of nowhere and moves towards value. Apart from some seriously problematic music choices, the movie is funny and sweet and occasionally brushes against epic. It is really interesting to see men working together to solve the old love/cage problem as though it is a new problem. Since we are only starting from Ohio and not from the olden times, it looks kind of like a problem that men have only just discovered. It is as though, from this perspective, we are watching a mass male entry into the nurturing arts and its complications. They are beginning with snakes and tarantulas. It’s a hard-won pleasure to catch a glimpse of The Man’s heart of gold or see that The Officer may in fact be “The One”. And it is a surprise when we can see the vague but convincing outlines of a possible apocalyptic scenario (where these animals first take over the suburban wilds and then, all of America) – originating in Ohio! At least more surprising than seeing one originate in place called Zion.

For a good apocalyptic movie scenario, you really need at least a few elements without so much consistent value . The good ones are like a magnifying glass on the thriving life, boredom and absurdity of a regular day. To our delight or pain, we watch as things randomly, and with great speed, move in and out of meaning, value and existence. It is like a bird lands on your shoulder just as the convenience store goes up in flames – you don’t know what the fuck is going on, but you know something is happening. Our human brains lag behind the action, working hard to make meaning from the chaos. It is what we do best.

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Filed under margaux williamson, movies