"Look, I love the avant-garde more than anyone, but in these lousy times, we need to blast people off their asses."
--Tom Smith (To Live and Shave in LA) to Peter Rehberg (Pita) at the No Fun Fest (with Tony Conrad skulking about close behind)
03.31.04 @ 12:21 PM EST [link]
eternal sunshine of the neuroscientific mind.
Finally saw Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a movie I'd wanted to see since it came out. It was a touch gimmicky, cringeworthy in places, and a bit too frustratingly transparent when it should have been cunningly oblique (you could almost feel the movie tapping you and whispering "haha do you see DO YOU SEE!!") and vice versa. But on average, I liked it alright, and the whole time I was watching it, I thought "man, I should write something explaining the use of neuroscience in this movie." Then I saw that Steven Johnson already did just that in a nice piece for Slate. Most of what Johnson says is familiar if you've read (or reviewed -- ha) his book Mind Wide Open, like his explanations of how negative emotional memories stick to the brainpan harder than positive ones. But there are some aspects that Johnson doesn't tackle in his analysis. He's right that Eternal Sunshine employs more modern, accurate notions of memory processing in the brain than a movie like Memento does. "The fading of memory in Memento is about the loss of pure information, like an erased hard drive," he writes, while Eternal Sunshine uses a more emotional, nuanced approach to memory that's more consistent with how we now understand the brain. Unlike the sterile, digital erasure of memory in a lot of sci-fi flicks -- aliens zapping our brains and that sort of thing -- real human data storage is more messy, wet, incomplete. We see the latter concept of memory splattered all over the movie, in transitions that slowly fade, flicker, and dissolve instead of sharply cutting off, in scenes that loop and echo each other instead of plowing straight ahead. Joel's relationship with Clementine, like most doomed relationships, doesn't just end -- it painfully disintegrates.
But Johnson only compares Eternal Sunshine to other recent movies, and so it makes you wonder how movies tried to make sense of memory before the not-very-distant past. Is the more unyielding Memento-like approach to brains in the pop-culture context related to our exposure to computers, and to being trained to view the world in a more zeroes-and-ones sort of way? What about movies that toyed with the concept of memory before computers, before the digital age? I'm thinking, for a start, of the visual manifestations of madness in German expressionist films in the 1920s (endless circularity and schizoid angles representing mental illness with startling insight, considering that the symptoms of schizophrenia weren't even recognized as all being part of the same disease until slightly before 1920), of Hitchcock's carefully constructed flashbacks and painstakingly-thought-out investigations of the subconscious mind, and of every garden-variety horror flick that somehow played with the ideas of bad dreams, of buried memories partially resurfacing in nightmares. While Eternal Sunshine might seem to offer something new, at its heart its seemingly forward-thinking understanding of the 'emotional brain' isn't really that modern; it's a function of the same old-fashioned cinematic devices that have been used since the dawn of celluloid to explore the human psyche.
Film is the best medium I can think of for exploring the intricacies of memory processing. So many qualities of film -- its fundamentally analog nature, non-linearness, its complex rush of audiovisual stimuli -- are so naturally given to engaging with human memories and issues of synaptic plasticity. The actual physical qualities of film stock itself lend themselves so well to memories, too -- particularly the grain of film, as the stunning effect of seeing the slow decay of Eternal Sunshine's final few frames demonstrates.
Obligatory music-related comment: I don't think I like Beck much.
03.29.04 @ 09:41 PM EST [link]
birth pains of the machine age.
Woke up early this morning and started reading up on Le Corbusier (I own one of the only existing "Le Corbusier concrete lollipops," which is shattered in pieces on my bedside table) in an effort to better understand a chapter of a book I'm reading, which argues for the irrationality of modernism. "...Le Corbusier argued for a highly rationalized method of artistic or architectural production that would contain the irrational (ugly, dangerous, debased, kitsch, ornamental) flux of an explosively burgeoning mass culture," says the book, but I can't help thinking why "containing the irrational" isn't kind of a noble goal. Something about the book makes the scientific side of me bristle -- its championing of irrationality and illogic and messy mental breakdowns over clean, mathematical lines and austerity and order somehow seems too cut and dry.
Le Corbusier adored the neatly-drawn grids of Manhattan, and their promise of what the future could offer. His bird's-eye-view drawing of his idealized city that accompanied his 1925 essay "The Street" looks totally nuts in all its meticulous detail and fanatical attention to grids. He had a problem with skyscrapers, sure -- his problem was they were never tall and futuristic enough.
To me, there's something completely irrational about a fervent, single-minded attention to order and rigid geometry, which is part of what makes it so interesting. Schizophrenia and manic depression might be celebrated by champions of the "irrational," but if so, why doesn't obsessive-compulsive disorder get the same treatment? It's certainly just as compelling of a neurosis to study, and it's just as given to producing fucked-up artistic results. I took a filmmaking class once at the Carpenter Center, the only American building designed completely by Le Corbusier. The class kind of sucked, but I loved hanging out in the building and running down the giant ramp that cuts through it. It's one of my favorite places in Cambridge, all majestic analytical slabs of concrete and glass. It's stiff and severe, to be sure, but it's also curvy and graceful, and full of light and air.
I'll relate this argument back to my fascination with precision-German-engineered music, especially with regards to the implied lunacy in Kraftwerk's highly ordered structures, but that's the subject for a different post. For now, back to reading!
03.27.04 @ 12:31 PM EST [link]
Went out for dinner with my little bro tonight (where he explained, among other things, the "most hardcore way to play beer pong.") Now he's lying on my couch listening to Phill Niblock!
"Dude, I can totally fall asleep this shit. This sucks. How come it's not changing?"
"No, it's changing! It's just changing VERY SLOWLY!"
"I don't believe this."
"Plate tectonics-style slowly! Molasses-on-a-cold-day slowly!"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever."
03.26.04 @ 12:59 AM EST [link]
duty now for the future
Best Craigslist job posting ever:
Devo look alike/synth guru
Needed: 80's Devo-esque synth geeks with moog/theremin/casio to perform at a high tech high style event. 2/3 hours, you make ethereal, futuristic background music. silver jumpsuit a plus. respond asap.
03.25.04 @ 02:05 PM EST [link]
two more pieces.
Two pieces by me in the Village Voice this week:
The Sound of the City: Cologne Microhousers Triumph Over London Mishmashers
My er, totally ecstatic review of one of the best nights out I've ever had privilege to experience. Sorry Simon but Kompakt kicked Rephlex's ass eight ways to Sunday! Don't deny it; just give in!
Mass Mentality: Cinematic Resonance Imaging
A little science tidbit for the film section. It's short, but I'm psyched that I managed to get some science action into the film section. Neuroscience (and Proven by Science reader Willem) -- we loves ya!
03.23.04 @ 01:34 PM EST [link]
And give it up for Sasha, who got the words "booty call" into The New Yorker this week.
03.23.04 @ 11:04 AM EST [link]
Funny discussion of 'slow jamz' and 'anti-slow-jamz' over at Blissblog, but can I just say that I'm incredibly irritated that it's all dudes chiming in about how to get girls "in the mood"? Um, totally lame! Where are the girls who play music while making out with guys (OR with other girls), AND who maintain control over the stereo while doing so? And what kind of lame-ass makes out to Portishead in 2004, for fuck's sake?
And 'Metal Machine Music' an 'anti-slow-jam'? Come on! Live a little!
03.23.04 @ 11:03 AM EST [link]
no fun day 3.
Lots of good noise was on tap tonight but I'm exhausted and I still have an article to finish so I'll just tell you about...Wolf Eyes! Sounded like a goddamn helicopter landing when they started their shtick on stage. Totally HEAVY.
"They're so fucking metal!!" I exclaimed to the person standing next to me, who was Lee Ranaldo, as it ends up. "Yes! They're totally metal!" he excitedly agreed. Meanwhile, Burma's own Roger Miller, standing nearby sans ear protection and wearing a "Live Poultry Fresh Killed" shirt (Cambridge Mass reprazent!), was grinning, totally digging it. The entire front row was headbanging. Headbanging!
Also...The Japanese Karaoke Afterlife Experiment! They make Lightning Bolt look like The Clientele.
03.22.04 @ 02:49 AM EST [link]
no fun 2.
No Fun Day 2: much, much better than Day 1. Some notes:
-Kim Gordon/Ikue Mori/Jim O'Rourke much better than I expected. Nice to see some women up on stage even if they are the usual suspects. Kim's guitar work was a lot better than I remembered it being, O'Rourke grounding the flights of fancy with some solid bass, Ikue Mori with some welcome (digitally-rendered) organic sounds of waterfalls and ocean waves.
-Wolf Eyes' Aaron Dilloway rocked the basement hard. I am not kidding. Wild array of old broken eight-tracks, oscillators, reel-to-reels, and other ancient electronics used to amazing effect -- best noise of the night bar none. Ribbons of weird melodies running through reminiscent of Animal Collective's better wanderings. But with some heavy, charred, crashing noise, occasionally cut up into beats, with the audience going all trancelike, then spurting into crazy fits breaking into a full-on moshpit, which I got caught up in (yes!!) in the 100-degree heat of the basement of Northsix. Tomorrow's Wolf Eyes finale should be intense.
-To Live and Shave in L.A. is one of the most simultaneously awesome and awful bands I've ever seen. Noize-rock that does what we all all secretly want to do: dance to jungle, play our guitars really loud, and scream. At the same time. Felt nice to hear breakbeats bouncing off the floors after so many hours of unremitting noise terror. It's all the same thing, really.
03.21.04 @ 02:58 AM EST [link]
A few initial observations from No Fun Fest, Day 1:
Pills taken: 'Non-Drowsy Sudafed', 2
The title of the fest seems quite fitting so far.
Noise is a lot like dance music in that it's the most cathartic, immersive, body-centric form of music when it works. When it doesn't work, it collapses in on itself, or worse yet, becomes boring.
The crowd tonight was only about 20% female (including me, Kim Gordon, and Ikue Mori.)
Mego artist Pita might be better off just playing his CDs really loud and leaving the stage.
People who travel to New York from Tokyo just to meet Jim O'Rourke -- I can't say I understand.
03.20.04 @ 03:31 AM EST [link]
I get to think about lots of cool stuff this week, thanks to some zany pitches I've made. Among the many challenges:
-How can I explain why a technical research paper with the title "Intersubject Synchronization of Cortical Activity During Natural Vision" is both cool and relevant to a Voice film section audience?
-How do I come up with a good long-form critique of the book "Irrational Modernism: A Neurasthenic History of New York Dada" (which, like Irene Gammel's Elsa biography two years ago, places the Baroness Elsa as a central figure on par with -- or beyond the importance of -- the usual suspects of Marcel Duchamp/Man Ray/Francis Picabia), using Elsa's mental breakdowns as a framework for understanding Dada? How can I apply a neuroscience background to critiquing a 'neurasthenic' approach to history, in a way that's original and useful?
Also wow, it's snowing again.
03.19.04 @ 08:00 AM EST [link]
Can't say I'm too taken with that new Fennesz album, which I got in the mail a few days ago. It's certainly nice, and some parts are gorgeous. But as an album I feel underwhelmed by it. Could be that I've been sick as a dog, and listening to an hour of ambient watercolors while lying on a couch with a pounding headache and raw throat, trying to stomach a few spoonfuls of oatmeal and some herbal tea, is just too much. Sonic herbal tea. Sonic oatmeal. What color is the new Fennesz album? It's very blue. Blue and indigo and purple. The title's 'Venice' and it's got a pic of a boat in a dazzlingly blue canal on the cover. If you've ever been to Venice you know that the canals there are anything but blue. 'Endless Summer' always seemed to me more like endless autumn, all oranges and golds and red hues, the crackling sound of leaves. I used to listen to that album every day when I woke up. I hate the color blue -- my fave color is orange. What flavor is the new Fennesz album? Twinings' 'Blackcurrant Ginseng Vanilla'. It doesn't really taste or smell or look much like vanilla, or like ginseng -- the blackcurrant overloads, coloring the water dark as ink. Here's the massive ingredients list: "hibiscus, orange peel, blackberry leaves, lemon peel, rosehips, apple pieces, liquorice root, orange leaves, ginseng, blackcurrant flavor, vanilla flavor, blackcurrant pieces." You'd never know that, though -- you'd just think you were drinking blackcurrant tea.
The great exception to this is 'Circassian', which is beautiful.
03.18.04 @ 02:29 PM EST [link]
death-disco sans disco.
In this week's Voice, I take on that new and inexplicably controversial Liars album (it's really not that horrible!)
Callow Submarine: Liars' They Were Wrong, So We Drowned
I'm saving my Kompakt/Rephlex thoughts for next week's issue, but rest assured, it was one of the most UTTERLY MINDBLOWINGLY AWESOME nights i've had out in a while.
03.16.04 @ 01:10 PM EST [link]
Quite literally tingling with anticipation about tonight's Kompakt/Rephlex extravaganza -- can't wait can't wait! I wish I could be more articulate right now, but I'm too excited! I saw Luomo on Thursday night, which was a nice warmup, but tonight's the big leagues, the last game of the World Series...so put on your shoes and I'll see you on the floor. To make up for several nights of successive ruin, my days have been all about the green tea, vitamins, and lots of time spent running (when not writing.) Gotta build that endurance when all that dancing is in the horizon. My stamina's unmatched. Fighting technique's unstoppable. I'll be writing a review of tonight's shenanigans, and about Volume in general, for the Voice. If you see me tonight, say hi!
03.13.04 @ 01:36 PM EST [link]
The avalanche of awesome Arthur Russell pieces over the past two weeks: articles by Sasha, Douglas, and Andy. (Jess, I'm still waiting for yours! And Marcello had a piece as well -- does anyone have a link?)
03.11.04 @ 06:12 PM EST [link]
Short book review in this week's Village Voice --
This is Your Brain from the Inside Out: Steven Johnson's Mind Wide Open
03.09.04 @ 02:04 PM EST [link]
There are few things as simultaneously soothing and bracing as listening to Branca's "Lesson #1" (lovely new Acute reissue, I might add) while lying down on a warm bed, feeling the crisp, cool not-quite-winter-not-yet-spring breeze drift in through the window.
03.09.04 @ 01:09 AM EST [link]
So I saw Animal Collective again on Friday, hoping that it would be a repeat of the transcendent Knitting Factory show a few weeks back. It seemed like a perfect night to see them; it was thin-jacket weather, and the sky was thick with mist. The show was in a really remote, semi-deserted area of Brooklyn. When my friend and I finally got to the venue, getting somewhat lost in the process, the band was still setting up and the venue was about 3/4 packed. Though the space was very cool, the stage was a little wider and more 'rock-show'-y than I'd imagined. When I last saw them, I watched from a distance on the upper level, so it was easier to absorb the full gestalt of the sound. I stood in the front row, watching them set up precarious stacks of electronics, amps, Minidisc players, everything arranged just so, and seeing all that nervous preparation destroyed the mystique a little. It all felt in pieces rather than a whole -- the clotted tangles of wires, messy rows of effects pedals, the piercing buzz of an amp. Panda Bear spilled half a bottle of Red Stripe on the stage, very narrowly missing the mixing board, and freaked out when a Minidisc, central to the next song, fell on the ground. My eyes were burning a bit from the many sticks of incense burning from one side of the stage (hippies!), and it was hard to tune out the loud background hum of people buying beer and talking during the set. The band played a lot of the same stuff they played at the Knit, but here it felt different; the sound felt uncomfortable and cramped instead of effortless and spacious, confused instead of confident. But that's the thing about the music they make -- their loose improvisational feel is actually highly controlled to the point of pinpoint precision, and if even one ingredient of their volatile sonic mixture goes missing, the whole set comes crashing down. So it was a mixed bag, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and many of the arty Brooklynites in attendance -- several still, by the looks of it, badly electroclashed inna 2002 stylee -- seemed enraptured by the free-form weirdness of the show.
03.08.04 @ 10:18 PM EST [link]
The raftload of fantastic new records that made this week bearable:
Animal Collective - Sung Tongs
The Streets - A Grand Don't Come For Free
Mission of Burma - ONoffON
Superpitcher - Here Comes Love (about 70% is great; the other 30% is easy to ignore, especially if you have an iPod)
03.05.04 @ 01:07 PM EST [link]
The last installment in my Proven by Science textbook series
03.05.04 @ 11:42 AM EST [link]
This Friday, I'm planning on being at The Hook in Red Hook to check out Animal Collective again, along with Blood on the Wall and Cause Co-Motion. If you want to come along, let me know! I'm trying to put together a posse.
03.04.04 @ 02:14 AM EST [link]
Manhattanites throw out the best trash ever. Tonight I dumpster-dived for Hermann Hesse's "Narcissus and Goldmund" and a book of Alice Munro short stories. In the recent past, scores have included a complete like-new futon frame and a massive wrought-iron bird cage. With some tinkering, the latter entered into a new life as a gorgeous chandelier.
03.04.04 @ 02:00 AM EST [link]
a grand don't come for free.
The new Streets album is awesome. And the first single from it is going to be in a videogame! I'm excited!
03.03.04 @ 02:31 AM EST [link]
Finally realized where I'd heard Liars' 'They Don't Want Your Corn They Want Your Kids' (awful name, I know) before -- The Pop Group's 'Amnesty Report II'. I swear.
Three reviews down. One to go.
03.01.04 @ 03:24 AM EST [link]