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The Soundtrack of Our Lives

My Alarm Clock, Pile Drivers

The pile drivers this week had fallen mercifully silent. That is, until this morning at 7:41am. There has been so much construction noise in the neighbourhood at all hours that I can scarcely tell what time of day or night it is anymore. By all accounts, this is merely the iceberg’s tip: more than twice the amount of roadwork seen in 2016 will take place before 2021, reports La Presse. The auditory effect—and proprioceptive affect (earplugs don’t work because you can feel the destabilizing concussive force) is almost identical to MK-Ultra psychological warfare research the CIA conducted clandestinely at McGill University in the 1950s—inducing sleep and sensory deprivation through indiscriminate noise—to break psychiatric patients down to a blank emotional slate. It’s all been meticulously documented in Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine, which our Sud-Ouest borough uses like an operator’s manual. To put a twist on O. Henry’s famous adage about New York City: Montréal was a great town, until they started rebuilding it.


Emptyset – Borders – Thrill Jockey

Speaking of pile drivers, Paul Purgas and James “Ginz” Ginzburg—the duo known collectively as Emptyset—are due to release Borders, their fifth studio recording, via Thrill Jockey in early 2017. Some reviewer somewhere sometime once said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that Emptyset’s signature infrasonic industrial drub reflected the sonic landscape of Bristol’s mid-naughties construction boom. Well, it’s not just Bristol now; it’s the whole world. Having the privilege of previewing this album at high sound pressure level over the past two days has provided reprieve from the jackhammers and pile drivers and beeping vehicles. They counteract each other.


Jóhann Jóhannsson with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble – Cinquième salle – 10/20/2016

Black-and-white video projections of fur-bearing creatures rotate on a screen behind the darkly lit stage. With a sense of ceremony befitting a Viking funeral, Jóhann Jóhannsson periodically arises from his piano stool and meticulously rewinds reels of ¼ inch tape, upon which are recorded processed loops of female voices counting out encoded alphanumeric transmissions in French, Spanish, German. A chamber configuration of the American Contemporary Music Ensemble fills in the gaps between Jóhannsson’s protracted compositions by elongating single notes from their stringed instruments, concealing the transitions that otherwise sewed the evening’s musical offerings together. “Seamless” would be one word to accurately yet inadequately describe the performance. Another might be “perfect.”

Orphée, Jóhannsson’s first recording for revered Classical music label Deutsche Grammophon, is a strong contender for my album of the year. I almost choked coughing up $42 Canadian dollars for the LP at “Cheap Thrills”—a misnomer if ever there was one. Still, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.


The Public Psychedelic Reel


It’s often said and seldom heard: cultivate your mistakes; they become your style. Two separate but connected events this week prompted me to collect and repost—in effect, to retweet—my published writing. The first was this excellent essay by Elizabeth Newton. In it, she urges: “To retweet oneself is to say, ‘I gave it some thought, and I meant what I said.’ Retweeting expresses a conviction that is the essence of reference, whatever its form: In case you missed it, here it is again.”

The second came when Dan Lopatin tweeted his personal approval of my “Play Recent” blurb about his latest video for “Animals.” It is apparently the first piece of my writing that 0PN’s legion fans have liked. The duty of criticism is not to please artists or audiences, but of course it’s nice when it does. I’d almost quit writing after the responses to my 2015 Garden Of Delete Quietus review—trolling comments that have since been… deleted. (S/he who lols last lols longest.) Revisit that review, as well as all the work that I’ve contributed to the public record over the past five or six odd years. Thank you for the support.

(Hack: to access the stuff hidden behind paywalls, copy/paste the links at


Factmag’s Halloween Hip-Hop Mix

This is fun: Fact Magazine’s US editor John Twells has compiled a mix of Hip-Hop tracks that sample from Horror movie soundtracks—ideal seasonal listening. Personal fav: Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More,” which deftly deploys Bernard Hermann’s Psycho Suite as counterpoint to Busta’s expeditious lyrical delivery. I saw Mr. Rhymes perform this track live at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas in 1999. Impossibly, he rapped faster than the beat.

God damn, there ain’t no more. Is there?


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Forced to bed, free to dream

“Flight From The City” – Jóhann Jóhannsson – Orphée – Deutsche Grammophon

A perfect soundtrack to late August melancholy, when the air smells of tobacco and worn leather, and the leaves hint that they won’t be sticking around too much longer. Set against nearly any scene, the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson’s works never cease to make the picturesque cinematic. (The picturesque portrays the world as-is; the cinematic envisages its imminence.)


Arrival trailer – Dir. Denis Villeneuve

Finally, a movie for linguists who specialize in translation (my friend @christletine, for example, who turned me on to the next item). Still, wouldn’t it stand to reason that aliens technologically advanced enough to travel here in massive craft that hover with silent drama above open fields as if they’re stand-up staplers might have deciphered our stupid human languages, rather than attempting to communicate frustratingly via a series of giant coffee cup ring stains? If only Larry David were in the cast. Different film altogether.


The Voynich Manuscript

According to a Washington Post article, Athanasius Kircher, the 17th century Jesuit scholar of German origin retained this untranslatable document for a time. I’m familiar with Kircher by way of his innovations in musical mechanization. Around 1650, Kircher’s Musurgia universalis contained an “Acoustic Musical Theatre” featuring a hydraulic pipe organ. An inscribed rotating horizontal barrel—like a music box or player piano or MIDI might use—triggered the organ’s notes, in addition to animating a series of synchronized miniature tableaux—blacksmiths hammering away rhythmically at a forge, or skeletons dancing in elaborate loops. Kircher’s perpetual motion machine, which predates electronic automation by nearly three hundred years, encoded music into a rudimentary programming language.

But any language is best tested on the battlefield. Ideally, language during wartime should be fast, direct and understood without difficulty. It must at all cost withstand miscommunication and distortion. Those once magically minded enough to intimately understand the Voynich Manuscript’s secrets seem to have lost. The meek shall inherit the earth like David Letterman inherited Johnny Carson’s time slot.


“Winter Saltings” – Laura Cannell – Simultaneous Flight Movement – Brawl Records

While I believe and argue that making electronic music can involve every bit as much performance as playing acoustic instruments, I’m lately only enamored with music produced directly through the human body and its movement, by breath and by heartbeat, by an indexical relationship to lived, shared experience. Experimental fiddler and multi-instrumentalist Laura Cannell’s pieces capture all the immediacy of riding the rusty chain off a bicycle. Like Hugo Carlaw, Callum Keith Rennie’s character in David Cronenberg’s prophetic 1999 film “eXistenZ”, I’m choosing sides.


Gord Downie’s Hat

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There’s a bunch of hats that it’s not. It’s not a Fedora. Fedoras are narrower, with more elaborate crown indentations. It’s not a Pork Pie hat. Pork Pie hats aren’t so tall. It’s not a Homburg hat. They’re stouter. It’s obviously not a Cowboy hat. It’s almost a Pimp hat. It’s nearly a Boater hat, too, but it’s not made of straw. The closest I could come to identifying our Dark Canuck Gord Downie’s hat—the soft white plush felt hat boasting a wide-smiling brim, adorned with silver ribbon hatband and feather plumage—one of many hats he wore at The Tragically Hip’s ultimate hometown gig—the hat he was in when finally, inescapably, he dissolved in tears during the coda of “Grace, Too”, throwing his microphone to the stage floor, the CBC’s stoic cameras cutting to a young woman in the audience, long blond hair crushed under Hip baseball cap, hands clasped and holding her breath alongside 11.7 million of us—was, aptly, a Planter’s hat and Boss-of-the-Plains hybrid.

Canadian filmmaker Sarah Polley told The New York Times, “It’s been such a gift that they’ve let us say thank you with this tour. I bought a grilled cheese sandwich yesterday and the guy serving me started talking about them and the two of us just stood there and wept together without apology or embarrassment.”Aside from combing for Jaws references in their lyrics and other nearly autistic tasks, classifying Gord Downie’s hat was one project that briefly kept my eyeballs from producing plump teardrops last Saturday night.