Saturday, 29 November 2008

Stop sending stuff to Mars

I watched another episode of "Real Time w/ Bill Maher" yesterday, it's a topical discussion show that includes journalists, politicians and politically aware people from showbiz.

Ashton Kutcher was on in the last episode I watched, and I wasn't expecting much from him but he actually said something that resonated with me more vividly than anything else that was said. He was complaining about the amount of money that is being invested in sending stuff to Mars. Those around him recognised what he was saying to be true, but I think this should be a much bigger deal in public consciousness than it's given credit for.

A while ago, the comedian Steven Wright made the point that money invested in the military could have been put into the arts, or museums. This is true, of course. But lets say actually we do need the money invested in the military for national security. I don't believe that, but lets say that that's the case. Do we really need to send stuff to Mars? You can blast a little rocket into outer space, it goes up there and touches a rock. A bunch of people at NASA give each other a high 5, but besides that who gives a shit? I have a second cousin who set up a charity to fund a guy who is apparently making brilliant breakthroughs in treating cancer. He needs a charity?! Similarly, Malaria is the number one killer of refugees in Africa, all they need is mosquito nets, which cost about £6.50 each. How many lives could be traded in for a piece of rock from Mars? What does that rock tell us that we need to know?

Perhaps activists haven't made such a big deal out of this because NASA isn't perceived as an enemy or an oppressive force. They don't seem like one - but as far as I can tell, their draining money from the economy for something that's completely useless.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Everything that's on my mind about Guns 'N' Roses at the moment

A friend of mine did a series of pictures recently entitled "Striptease Camera"

These are the images:

A caption at the bottom reads:

A camera takes photos of its own innards
until a vital piece is removed and it no longer works.

(he's a fab artist by the way, his blog is I suppose this in part reminds me of Guns 'N' Roses because I saw both things recently so I'm seeing links. But the connection in my mind lies with the fact that after 17 years, GNR have released another album of new material - but only one member of the band is still there.

The lineup used to be Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy, Dizzy and Matt. So in part, I'm wondering how in the world one person managed to kick all 5 other guys out of the band! How much of the camera to you have to gut before it's no longer a camera, and how many members of a collective do you have to dispense with before it's not that collective any more? I guess I wouldn't spend too long pondering this, but it's very strange to me quite how Axl did that. Why didn't the other 5 guys just kick him out instead? Schmuks.

Speaking of Axl, compare this early 90s pic with a more recent one:

my first guess is there there is some kind of Michael Jackson thing going on here. But when asked if he's had a botox injection or work done on his face, he says no. So my second guess is that either he just aged in a really weird way, or his face just naturally produces botox.

Kinda sad, either way. He was a good looking chap. Here's some good news - I've been listening to the new album, "Chinese Democracy" over and over. It's very strange to me, I feel like I'm 15 again because I haven't listened to rock albums since my teens. On the first couple of listens, I thought it sounded a little stiff and hackneyed, and I probably still do but some of those hooks are great. I'm also obsessed with the fact it took 17 years and cost $13 million to make. God, the fun I could have had putting that much time and resources into about 70 mins of music. The microtones, the contemporary classical influence, the indonesian influences. Collaborations with world-class musicians. Shifting time signatures and clarinets, turntables, african drums, chinese harps, tuvan throat chanting, ukeleles. Combining the primitive with the contemporary. Ahhhh....

Instead we get a Rock album. But, a fairly good one. In fact, two of the songs are as perfect a rock anthem as you could hope for ("Street of Dreams" and "Catcher in the Rye") - the weird thing is, either of them could have been on Use Your Illusion (their previous album). What's scary about that is that 17 years before Use Your Illusion pre-dates Punk music, A Night At the Opera (by Queen) and we're into Led Zeppelin territory. So the fact that those songs don't sound completely incongruous seems like a sign that the rate at which rock music is changing has significantly slowed down.

OK. I think I've got everything on my mind about Chinese Democracy off my chest!

Sunday, 23 November 2008

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Saturday, 22 November 2008

Handsome men, and the purpose of writing

I read a couple of quotes in the last few months that must have made an impression on me since their still on my mind. So I figure I'd share them. The first is from Bill Watterson, and it's in a Calvin and Hobbes strip:

"The purpose of writing is to inflate weak ideas, obscure poor reasoning and inhibit clarity."

It was enormously cathartic reading that!

The second quote is from Roald Dahl:

"Personally, I mistrust all handsome men. The superficial pleasures of this life come too easily to them, and they seem to walk the world as though they themselves were personally responsible for their own good looks. I don't mind a woman being pretty, that's different. But in a man, I'm sorry, but somehow or other I find it downright offensive."

Personally, pretty women bug me just as much. But otherwise I'm with the guy - and handsome men are a good target for attack!

Aging & letting go

Well, I've been 29 for about a week now. Been pretty good so far!

When I tell people that I'm 29, I'm inclined to think that their thinking "ooh - getting old!", particularly if their younger than me. My honest feeling is that I'm actually way too young to be pondering how old I'm getting. People start marvelling at their age when they hit double digits,

"10?! wow - I'm so old"

so 29 is still too young. But I do have one bad habit that I'm trying to let go of now - whenever I hear that someone made any kind of achievement, I check how old they are. It's like a reflex! And it's getting harder and harder because they are invariably younger than me now. I think I'm still in the mind-set that I should only look to those older than me for any kind of insight. Plus, of course there's this nagging feeling that time is marching on and I should have done something culturally significant by now...

Some years back, all the pop stars were older figures - they had this kind-of worldliness to them. At this point in my life, the world of pop just looks like a dialogue between kids being mediated by adults.

Henrix, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin and Robert Johnson all died at 27. So when I listen to those guys, I'm listening to people that are at least 2 years younger than me.

So I thought, well that's just the pop world. How about fine art? Well, Duchamp made 'The Fountain' (sometimes considered the most influential piece of art in the 20th Century) when he was 30 - so I have one year left to make the most influential piece of art in the 21st Century. And Cinema? Orson Welles made Citizen Kane when he was 26.

Anyway. This is just the art world. Surely scientists hit their peak later in life? No dice - Einstein developed his theory of relativity when he was 26. So that's 3 years younger than me. God damnit.

One source of comfort is that most of my favourite artists hit their creative stride later in life - Woody Allen, von Trier, George Carlin, Harry Partch, Spalding Gray (to name a few). So I can take pleasure in that, but better still would be for me to try and let go and recognise excellence in those younger than me. And also not feel threatened by other peoples talent. This is a transition I'm going to try and make, but I'm not going to do it gracefully.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Palin Song

I only just discovered this youtube video yesterday but was astounded by it. I don't interpret it as a satire on Palin - it's a musical exercise that could have been done on anyone, but Pailn was a good subject for it.

The pianist mimics her voice with their right hand and applies chords with the left hand - thus bringing out the inherent musicality to the spoken voice. This isn't actually a new idea, I remember one of my music lecturers doing this to a Woody Allen monologue about 10 years ago. Plus in the 1950s, Harry Partch mimicked the intonation of the spoken word with musical intruments.

What Partch did that this clip doesn't is use microtonal intonation, which is closer to the sound of spoken word. Basically, microtones are the little notes that you get inbetween the 12-tones on a common western scale. The 12-tone system, as I understand was developed by Pythagoras in ancient Greece and continues to dominate today - sadly. You could have 100 notes in an octave if you wanted, just with much smaller intervals than the semitone.

So what the pianist does here is approximate Palin's vocal pitch to the nearest note in the 12 tone scale. It's a brilliant rhythm and melody.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Frame freeze

I had a conversation with my friend Charalambos yesterday that I can't get out of my head. I shall try and transcribe it,

Chara: "I liked your essay and its use of frame freezes"
Me: "you mean freeze frames?"
Chara: "frame freeze?
Me: "no no, freeze frame"
Chara: "you don't say frame freeze?"
Me: "I say freeze frame"
Chara: "..."
Me: "... but you can say frame freeze if you like. Anyone would know what you mean"
Chara: "ah, freeze frame"
Me: "yes..."
Chara: "... I like your moustache"
Me: "thanks!"
Chara: "this was a weird conversation"
Me: [laughs] "yeah!"

Monday, 17 November 2008

Rising to it

I think that Obama went through this excellent process during his campaign that artists can go through when their at a creative peak. You can see it in the work of Prince during his "Sign 'O the Times" era, where he had received a lot of positive critical and commercial attention. It was apparent that he considered himself as a genius at that time and it just made him stronger. Of course, you can't keep that momentum going forever and things went back and forth for Prince over the years following. The same thing is bound to happen with Obama - I imagine this will happen particularly when all discover that it's beyond his power to lead the western world into a utopia (which he never claimed he could but people still seem to think it, or act like he will).

A couple of other things that interest me about Obama: his talent is very unthreatening! I wonder what that quality is, when you can show off your talent without belittling others. Not sure how he does that.
Also, just as he has a talent for communicating with Republicans and people leaning to the right politically, his aesthetic sense seems to cover a broad ground as well. On his Facebook profile, he lists Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Johann Sebastian Bach, and The Fugees as his favourite musicians. This might be a sincere list, but there seems to be something for everyone in there - Jazz, Folk, Motown, Baroque and R&B. All of these artists are broadly liked, and none are particularly contentious aesthetic choices. He also manages to avoid skewing to any particular demographic and demonstrate how open-minded he is.

Everyone can like the guy! He's even handsome in a non-threatening way.

His favourite quote is curous, though I'm not quite clear on what it means. It's from Martin Luther King, "The Arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

I think I get it, but not entirely sure....

Jonas Mekas on Paris Hilton

This is one of my favourite youtube videos. It features Jonas Mekas, who I consider one of the last important living figures from the post-ww2 american avant-garde film tradition. He came to America in the 1940s from Lithuania as a refugee and began working is a film critic.

He's working on a 365 film project, which as I understand it, involves him making a little video every day for one year. Not sure if the project is finished yet. At any rate, this is one of them. He goes for a 'video diary' style, and this time he just holds the camera and reflects on the importance of changing one's mind.

I love how committed he is to what he is saying, and I think he's right as well. For a bit of back story to the man, he was initially opposed to the avant-garde when first taking up film criticism. He's also alleged to have said in the past that the avant-garde was part of a 'conspiracy of homosexuality'. Sad though this claim is, I think Mekas is no stranger to learning to change one's mind, and he also comes across as a very humane guy.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Enchanted Afternoon

Now Hear This

Chuck Jones is definitely one of my favourties. More than anyone else, I think I admire him for finding a way to make a balance between working within the studio system and producing work of real artistic integrity. For those who don't know, he was one of the key animation Directors at the Warner Brothers animation studio - the great 'evil empire', particularly in the 1950s who could challenge Disney's reign.

There are a few films by Jones that are recognised as classics - and rightly so. Duck Amuck is one, What's Opera Doc? is another and One Froggy Evening is another one. I adore all of these films but there is one called Now Hear This which I think is as good as any of those others, and for some reason it gets ignored.

Jones talked about it as though it was put there primarily to antagonise the studio heads of the time (early 60s - the tail end of WB's animation heyday) by being esoteric, but it's so much more than that. The sound designer at WB was a guy called Treg Brown. If you watch WB/ Looney Tunes while paying particular attention to the sound, you''ll see that although the image and sound effects should be incongruous, they actually fit perfectly. That's sort-of what this film is about. But in this film, it's not just incongruity - I think that the sound expresses metaphors for the images in a sense.

A quick word on metaphors though - every metaphor contains a source and a target domain. If one says, "your room is a pig sty" then your room is the domain and the pigsty is the target. So you have to look for common properties between the room and the pig sty. Does the room have hay in it? No. Does the room have low ceilings? No. Is the room messy, like a pig sty? Yes.

So you'll see in this film such things as a bird singing a song, and the man hears a melody from a music box - this seems like a metaphor to me. What are the common properties between a bird song and a music box? They are both sweet and melodic, perhaps. They have an innocent, twee quality. Another example - bubbles fly into the man's face, accompanied by the sound of laughter. What is the common property here? Perhaps both are a cacophony of short, succint utterances. Hmm - not sure if there's a better way of saying that. At the same time, the laughter also expresses offscreen voices, which laugh at the trick played on the man.

Anyway, I've talked enough. Hope you like the film!

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Sketches from a conversation on aesthetics

I had an invigorating discussion/ argument with someone a few months ago and I was scribbling down ideas as they came. Here are some edited remenants of said discussion...

what does the aesthetic suppress

abstraction is a transcendental move

Matisse/ Duchamp paradigm continued with Brakhage and Warhol
(retinal and conceptual)

the conceptual is the blind spot of the retinal and vice versa

why can't theory have an aesthetic?
(is it a misunderstanding of the use of ambiguity?)


i'm a modernist, not a post-modernist
i believe in purity of form (concerned with notes in music, not lyrics. don't like comedians doing songs, etc)
i fetishise america
i'm not one for subject matter, only form

Young Abraham

I saw this picture of a younger, beardless Abraham Lincoln recently. Can't tell you why, but it stuck in my mind


Friday, 7 November 2008

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Thursday, 6 November 2008

Stand-Up Material/ Musings

On the train a couple of days ago, I overheard two people in their mid-30s discussing the difference and relative merits between Crispy Creme and Dunkin’ Doughnuts. No conclusions were reached.

I also saw a 9-year old girl with a dog. She was eating a bag of hula hoops, and then her dog wanted to lick her salty hand.

I went to the beach recently and spent time on the ‘amusements’. For the first time, I really understood why they were called amusements. That’s exactly what they are, their basically one step up from being ‘distractions’.

In the past, fashion was something that was exclusive to the privelaged minority – noblemen and people like that. those who wear Nike trainers today, would have been wearing potato sacks 500 years ago. Pesants – we used to call them. Come on people, don’t be fooled by the PC brigade. Call them what they are! Peasants.

I like this new wave of derogatory guidebooks – “healthy eating for idiots” and what have you. Then there’s, “windows vista for shit heads”. “getting published for arseholes”, “oil painting for cunts”

the french are the only people who eat snails. There’s a reason why that never caught on in other countries. And it’s the same reason that haggis never went any further than scotland. It’s gross.
Who even thought of eating a snail in the first place? What sick mind? I’ll say this – the first guy who a snail, probably ate a slug as well.

Che Guevara was a pretty handsome guy. Do you reckon that picture would have been so iconic if he had buck teeth and a big nose?

Use the word obfuscate when you want to obfuscate someone

no matter how many times I hear it, I remain unconvinced my the name Roald Dahl. “Roald” isn’t a real name, and “Dahl” is a lentil-based curry

I was at Coop recently and I picked up some homous. The tub said that it was “the cooperative homous”. Somehow that put me in a good mood

Cyan – a real colour or just invented for compuers?

no-one talks about judo any more

same with wellington boots

they make double gloucester cheese, but single might be ok

shiitake mushrooms (always looks like shit cake)

after spending half an hour watching game shows, I feel a little bit stupider. After half an hour of masturbation, I feel about the same. I think there is a lesson in that

All men are potential rapists. I guess that’s true, but all men are also potential magicians.

illegalise pop songs where the singer asks if the mics are loud enough during the intro

rape fields are deceptively safe

no more posters with Einstein sticking his tongue out. It’s not that funny

You know what I don’t care about? Caramel. It truly doesn’t matter to me. If they eliminated caramel from the world, I don’t think I would mind. Chocolate, I would miss. Even toffee, perhaps the occasional moment. But caramel… pfft… I can live without

Same with treacle