“Ely’s Heartbeat” – MONO – Requiem For Hell – Temporary Residence Ltd.
Ever wonder how many beats your heart has? How many your body will churn out before you die? “Ely’s Heartbeat” from Japanese Post-Rock ensemble MONO, recorded by renowned curmudgeon Steve Albini, won’t waste the ones you’ll expend while listening to it.
“Deconstruction” – Daniel Lanois featuring Rocco DeLuca – Goodbye to Language – ANTI-
Daniel Lanois is responsible for some of the most graceful and sublime recordings of the era when artists really paid attention to making great recordings. His mammoth studio production for U2 resulted in a number of stadium hits, and his lesser-known work with Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan jumpstarted their idling careers. His solo material, though, is transcendent.
Lanois refers to the Pedal Steel guitar as his “Church-in-a-box”. I never gave sustained consideration to that phrase before, beyond a quixotic way to describe the Pedal Steel guitar. But listening to Lanois play his instrument of choice, using the studio not as an extension or prosthetic of his body but of his spirit, I get it. Praying to that box gets us out of here for a while.
Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music – F. Schuyler Mathews – G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Wandering through Encore Used Bookstore in N.D.G this week, I stumbled upon a manual called Field Book of Wild Birds and Their Music, written in 1904 by F. Schuyler Mathews. Among descriptions of the tone and timbre of birds common to the eastern United States, the volume contains transcribed notations of birdsongs, and approximates onomatopoeias for each of their distinctive calls. For instance, Mathews notes that the Crow “has no music in his caw, nor any in the rest of his calls”: Hence, simply “Caw! Caw! Caw!” A modicum more elaborate, the Chimney Swift goes “chip chip chip chip, chip chip chip chip, per-ché per-ché per-ché per-ché, per-ché per-ché per-ché, chippy chippy chippy chippy, chippy chippy chippy chippy, chip chip chip chip, chip chip chip!” But the Black-billed Cuckoo, the artist FKA Coccyzus erythrophthalmus—“an acknowledged musician … not only capable of giving us an interval of a third or fourth … but one who appreciates the value of measured silence such as that which characterized the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony”—adeptly intones, “Cuck-oo! Cherry-tree, catch a bird and give it me: Let the tree be high or low, Let it rain, hail or snow. Cuck-oo!” I’d never heard that middle bit before.
The first thing you’ll notice about this unique new digital controller designed and kickstarted by a group of Memorial University students in St. John’s, Newfoundland is its lack of knobs. Leaving the field wide open for anyone playing it.
The Telluride Film Festival
This weekend, I’m wishing I were with my friends in Telluride, and flooded with memories of festivals gone by. Most of those memories I can’t talk about because they are rife with the sort of lore that stays in Telluride: private parties, reckless rituals, drinking, drugs, sex and UFOs. But I do recall 2008 with particular fondness. That was the year Slavoj Žižek served as the festival’s guest director, and went on to offend almost everyone in town. First, in a conversation published in the Telluride Watch, he insulted students, calling them boring and predictable. Then, during a Q&A following Nightmare Alley—one of his Film Noir curatorial selections—he upset Japanese audience members by implying that they laugh at everything. Then he tried to brush off the comment by explaining that he came from a place with a long history of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Everyone’s ears went red.
Later that weekend, I had the odd privilege of interviewing Žižek, and moderating a symposium between him and fifty of those boring college students from around the country. Berkeley film professor Linda Williams was leaving town early and asked me to cover for her, which was an enormous honor. The symposium was raucous. Žižek had seemingly limitless energy. His hands gestured wildly and constantly. He vibrated as he volleyed quips back and forth with an equally hostile and awestruck audience. He was delightful—with the windows open. After our session, I walked him down the stairs of the elementary school that doubled during the festival as student headquarters. I asked permission to take his picture with my Polaroid Land Camera. He stopped moving long enough to snap a shot after flatly responding, “If it helps you.”