Thursday, December 25, 2014

Lower The Radar: Prajer's Christmas Message

“It isn't high on our radar, to be honest.”

This is our Prime Minister's Christmas message to Canada's First Nations. 
That we have a Prime Minister who favours the antagonist stance in politics is no revelation. A Prime Minister so forthright in his antagonism toward our First Nations, however, is something new.

In response to the ever-growing list of The Disappeared, there are people closer to the horror expressing a disinclination for a National Inquiry. They have their reasons, and those are worth deep consideration. Our Prime Minister is not one of those people, and he has been explicit in his reasoning. It is direct and binary, and lamentably self-invested.

Addressing the murder of Tina Fontaine, and the growing calls for an inquiry, our Prime Minister said, “I think we should not address this as a sociological phenomenon, we should view it as a crime.”

A Burkean conservative like our Prime Minister espouses that a healthy society begins with a healthy economy. Establish ready and accessible means of providing for kith and kin, and social stability ensues. With an established economy, what stability issues remain can be dealt with via strict enforcement of the law.

Our Prime Minister and his government have buttressed the nation's economy by various means, but have placed a premium on resource extraction and export. Getting buckets of money in exchange for this extraction and export is a “no brainer” for our Prime Minister. Applying a few gray cells to the matter, however, quickly reveals problematic elements to the proposal on offer, as the President of the United States ably demonstrated the other week.

Ask First Nations people why they won't accept the various “no brainer” offers from the oil industry — our Prime Minister's former, and likely future, employer — and you will quickly get some practical “no brainer” responses in kind. The current regime of extraction and export is already taking a mortal toll on their people. Buckets of money? Why not throw in a few blankets, while you're at it?

When it comes to negotiation, it has become exceedingly clear our Prime Minister has an appetite for “My way, or the highway” scenarios. So far as Canada's First Nations are concerned, both options represent “the highway” — The Highway of Tears.

Our Prime Minister is an occasional church-goer. It is fair to assume he will spend some portion of this day meditating on the birth of God's Son — a Palestinian Jew, born in humiliating circumstances inflicted by occupying forces actively antagonistic toward indigenous Jewish religious, cultural and social values.

National inquiry or no, perhaps a revelation will take place during this quiet moment — an unexpected Third Option?

It seems an unlikely scenario, but then our religion places a great deal of stock in the Miraculous. And even now, voices are raising the Prime Minister's name in prayer to the Holy.

Even now.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Digital Loops, Continued

RIP, Joe Cocker. Sure, you sang more than two songs, but two was enough to knock us out.

Performing with digital loops, take 1: Devy Does Digital

Townsend's nearly a decade younger than I, but old enough to feel some of the same ambivalence about interacting with the technology. His performance is a merger of candid self-disclosure and all-in commitment to the task at hand. Acknowledge the sense of absurdity, but don't let it distract from the intention. I find it all quite winning.

Performing with digital loops, take 2: Glenn Gould, and The Uninvited Guests

Is this something Gould would be proud of? Gould was reading McLuhan much deeper than most others at the time. So getting discovered by kids, who turn around and push him back to the forefront of people's awareness . . . a fresh young audience, performing with his performances . . . yeah, I think Gould would dig it.

Regardless, I'm certainly digging it. Go, Guests, go!

Performing with digital loops, take 3: Electronic Dance Music

Today's DJs don't jockey “discs” anymore — they jockey digital files, often well in advance of the performance proper. Consider this shot of EDM superstar Deadmau5.

You can see a laptop, tied-in to a board with some knobs which he uses to . . . well, the truth is I don't know what he uses any of that stuff for, and it doesn't matter. He's in charge of the scene, the sound, the whole shebang.

A few weeks' back Iggy Pop delivered a speech that went semi-viral, in which he revealed that income from album sales and rock concerts no longer cut it for him — DJing is now his bread-and-butter. He's clearly pissed about the former, possibly with justification, but seems somewhat nonplussed by the latter reality as well. Perhaps he regards the athletic physicality of his rock band concerts as the higher — more genuine — artistic expression.

But surely this aesthetic value can be called into question? A band like Kraftwerk, for instance — for all we know, the last thirty years of their concert time has been devoted to improving their Tetris scores. It's still one hell of a show.

I remain a sucker for the acoustic, but it's just one mode among many, in pursuit of The Thing Itself.

Alright, back to the beginning: here's a recent interview with Devin Townsend, “candid self-disclosure” used to good effect.

Monday, December 15, 2014

“I obviously knew what tape sounded like when you played it backwards”: Missing vs. Getting The Point With Jimmy Page

For starters: presenting the above quote as the lede = “Missing The Point.”

"Don't get it all backwards."
I've taken deep sonic enjoyment from Page's recent tweaked re-releases of the first five Led Zeppelin albums. So, apparently, have the MSM. Sometimes things align that way.

Page has agreed to a number of interviews, and his guarded chin-wag with Chuck Klosterman for GQ is getting a lot of link-love. I'm frankly baffled by the adulation. The central defining element in the profile is Klosterman's determined obtuseness — it's a more telling profile of Klosterman than it is of Page.

Hey, I'd love to hear Page wax on at length about The Freaky Shit. But he's not going to indulge that  — will, in fact, get very prickly very quickly when an interviewer attempts to broach the subject of the occult, or drugs, or bad behaviour on the road. And a reader of Page doesn't need to delve all that deeply to understand why he's sensitive about any potentially sensational matter — anything peripheral to the music, the sound, which he considers the defining element of his life, is a distraction.

Every few years, when Tony Bennett gets asked about somebody like Amy Winehouse, he'll refer to his own struggles with addiction, and say he received a moment of clarity when Lenny Bruce's former manager said, “He [Bruce] sinned against his own talent.”

I imagine Page experienced a similar moment, probably around '79-'80.

Keep the focus on talent, and Page happily opens up. Luke Turner shows us how it's done.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Catching Up With Sean Stewart: The Jane Austen of Magic Realism

When the daily clicks fail to engage, a little Google game of “Where are they now?” usually does the trick. Yesterday I wondered whatever had happened to novelist Sean Stewart.

Stewart was a Canadian resident — Edmonton, Alberta, in fact — for a stretch of years, and I considered him one of “our” finest writers. He'd been introduced to me in the pages of the now-defunct Saturday Night Magazine, sometime in the mid-90s. There's nothing on the interweb to help me, so I'm relying on memory here, but I seem to recall the profiler vaunting Stewart's unique genre as the equivalent of “Jane Austen writing magical realism.”

And if the lamentably forgotten profiler didn't say those words, I'll say 'em myself and take the credit — because it's true.

Sean Stewart's unique genre reads as the equivalent of Jane Austen writing magical realism” - Whisky Prajer

The last thing of his I'd picked up was Galveston (2000 - description, author's notes), which I've been toying with giving a re-read.

My initial encounter was nearly 15 years ago. I thought it a weird and wonderful book, not a little disturbing. A hurricane figures prominently in the action, as hurricanes do to the actual locale, with increasing frequency. Is there anything waiting to be (re)discovered in this book, post-Katrina?

And, geez: we're talking 15 years since I'd last read Stewart. What's he done since then? Where is he now?

Second question first: Stewart is Creative Director at Xbox Entertainment Studios, in Santa Monica, CA. I'm tempted to quip, “Nice work if you can get it,” but I don't begrudge him one bit. Stewart is one of those unique talents — an exuberant innovator who nevertheless reveres our human yearning for cogent linearity.

Checking his LinkedIn profile, I see he and his various teams have been responsible for some of the funkier narrative textures in the HALO games. Also, there's the Cathy's Book series — which predates the similarly-themed J.J. Abrams/Doug Dorst prestige-publishing extravaganza, S., by at least seven years. If there's someone who deserves Creative Director more than Stewart, please introduce us.

Alas, it seems Stewart's AI activities have slowed his words-on-page output — he doesn't even bother with his Twitter-feed anymore. Not that I've any cause for complaint: there are at least a half-dozen titles I need to catch up with, including an entry to the Star Wars franchise(!), Yoda: Dark Rendezvous.

I've never been a Yoda fan — his puppety introduction in The Empire Strikes Back triggered my first “Oh, brother!” response to Lucas's saga. But if anyone can turn that around for me, Stewart can, particularly with a working title like The Sith Who Came In From The Cold (Stewart's writer's notes on the project are an amusing read, here). Depending on how quickly I get my mitts on this book, it might take momentary precedence over Galveston.

Curious Newcomer, if Star Wars is at all your scene, I'll go ahead and recommend the Yoda book, sight unseen. Otherwise, start with either Galveston, Resurrection Man or Clouds End. Actually, Perfect Circle is looking mighty enticing as well.

Alright: you're on your own.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Post-Card From A Mosh Pit

Devin Townsend Project, Animals As Leaders, Monuments at The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto, November 30 2014

Hey, P___ — greetings from the mosh pit.

And, at 49-years-of-age, I've gotta say: it's looking like my final visit.
"This used to be fun!"
I know, I know: “Never say 'Never.'” But honestly, P___, the whole evening's been dishing out more punishment than a half-century-old bod has the wherewithal to absorb.

Nor is it the moshing that's at issue, not for me at any rate. Gave that a wide berth, thank you. Wouldn't want to scare the kids.

No, it's the standing that kills.

I'm told sitting is the new smoking, but I don't buy it for a minute. I've been standing for the last five hours, and couldn't feel worse if I'd hot-boxed a carton of Gauloises. While the kids lunge and pogo and stage-dive, yours truly is staying put, hands in pockets, slowly champing his feet like an old horse to keep the numbness from setting in, and to extend what mercy he can to his suffering pelvic-girdle.

“Pelvic girdle” — there's a topic you won't hear kids discussing, unless mistaken for fetish wear.

But enough about age — what about the acts?

Things have changed since we were kids, bouncing around to Black Flag, Killing Joke, etc. The musicianship, for one thing — today it's off-the-charts accomplished, with very little margin for error in the performance (when someone goofs, you see immediate, stricken recognition in the band's faces). Tonight it's Monuments, Animals As Leaders and Devin Townsend Project, all three of whom take King Crimson as their acknowledged starting point — then ricochet away from there in their own peculiar directions.

It's all Metal, of course — we get the expected contrapuntal poundings. But these guys have absolutely no fear about introducing earlier icons of genre to the proceedings. Surprisingly catholic, in a way. Take Monuments, for example: wasn't familiar with them, and thought at the outset, “Okay — Bad Brains meets King Crimson. It works, it works.”
But near the end of their set, the lead singer (Chris Barretto) picked up an alto sax and played, as an intro, John Coltrane's intro to A Love Supreme — note for note.

P___, my jaw hit the floor. I whooped and did my own little hobble-hop, glancing to see if any of the kids were getting this. If they did, they chose to acknowledge it with reverent silence, waiting instead for the double-bass to kick the mosh back into motion. Which it promptly did.

The all-important double-bass. So long as the drummer is working it, the kids are happy.

And, to my astonishment, the kids seemed very happy through the duration of Animals As Leaders.
Prior to the show, I thought the group a slightly odd fit to Townsend's Penny-Rock-Opera antics, though I could certainly see their appeal to Townsend. One of their shirts at the merch booth reads, “Odds are we are better musicians than you.” Indeed. Of the three Prog Crimsonites, this trio is pushing the “Progressive” edge of things the furthest.

I watched guitarists Tosin Obasi (founder) and Javier Reyes do the technical push-me-pull-you with each other, while drummer Matt Garstka . . . well, geez, what did he do? What didn't he do? I mean, he set the foundation and kept the kids jumping (no stranger to the double-bass, he). But he often had a push-me-pull-you routine entirely his own, with the sort of brocaded jazz flourishes that put me in mind of Max Roach.

I was mesmerized, if not smitten. Then, shortly past the midway point, Garstka and Reyes triggered some sort of feedback loop — a deep, pulsating BWOOOMMBP-BWOOOOOOMMBP — that I found extremely unpleasant. Did they mean to do this? Was it accidental? Were they kettling us toward the exits? I stared at them to try to discern; they struck me as somewhat baffled by the noise.

My latent agoraphobia, which I'd managed (with the help of a barley sandwich on an empty stomach) to keep down to a shadow-child nudging me in the ribs, now blossomed into a nine-foot behemoth intent on hugging my face.

I'd done the groundwork for this eventuality, positioning myself between two exits and making sure I kept my car keys on my person and not in my jacket at the coat-check. I now positioned myself outside the crowd, closer to the nearest exit.

Nobody else seemed to be panicking. The kettling noise eventually stopped, and music once again took over. I endured the rest of the set, standing next to a father with his seven-year-old son, who was dressed in Ziltoid regalia — clearly anxious, like I was, for Townsend to take the stage.

Which Townsend and Project finally did, some 40 minutes later.
They performed to spec, I thought — though Townsend attested vigorously and at length to just how out-of-sorts he was. “Twenty-five years of this! Forty-two years old! And I know nothing! Twenty-five years ago I knew everything! I'd figured out the patchwork quilt of the universe! Now every night is an existential surprise, and I'm wondering, 'Why am I acting like such a jackass?' Or: 'Maybe I should be acting like more of a jackass?' Not tonight. Tonight I'm just running off at the mouth. But that's what you paid to see — isn't it?” [Raucous cheer from crowd, etc.]

The crowd ate it up, and if Townsend, a Vancouver resident of long-standing, begrudged the Hogtown locale, he gave no evidence of it. In fact he appended the opening bars of RUSH's YYZ to the closing bars of Ziltoidian Empire, which finally roused me out of my beaten torpor.

And there's the sad truth of it: by the time they took stage I was too used-up to take much pleasure in the act I'd come to see.

Also, something else was niggling at me. I couldn't get over the corporate reliance on computer-loops to fill in the missing sonic gaps. All three acts used the tech, but AAL did it the least conspicuously, chiefly because their music is a constant recalibration of syncopation — against each other, and against the computer. The other two acts used the computer to bring in female background vocals and the like, which, every time I caught it, distracted me from the actual performances.

Now, I do understand that performing in coordination with digital-loops is terrifically challenging. At one point, with a band I won't name, there was a moment when I thought, “Something's out-of-sync here.” Then the drummer did this massive “THWOP!” and everything seemed to click back in gear. So props are due to any band who manages the feat, night after night.

And my sensitivity to it was likely highlighted by the sound-filters in my ears, but I really was astonished at the degree these performers were willing to let a previous recording inform the delivery of the here-and-now. It couldn't help but bring to mind all those Sunday mornings in church, when a girl would climb up behind the pulpit and start singing along to a tape.
"Who needs an orchestra?"
That “But is the music genuine” issue is my generational baggage, however, and seems not at all pertinent to the kids around me, who are all having a hoot and bouncing around like so many neutrinos in a lead cup. For them, I suspect, adherence to a recorded sound they've committed to memory might be the higher value.

Interesting times, no? Wup — looks like Townsend's done shaking hands with the fans. Here comes the encore.

Wish you were here — D___

P.S. 1:00 a.m., back home. Spent the ride wondering if the Garstka/Reyes feedback-loop wasn't intentional. Recalling Tom Araya's observation that, once you get the taste of metal, it's like a drug: you want it as heavy as you can get it. AAL were definitely the heaviest act tonight. I kinda regret not getting a shirt. In fact, I'm wondering when's the next time they'll be in town?

But then, I've given all that up — haven't I?