Saturday, March 29, 2008

Muxtape For Early Spring

You can listen to the 12-song mix in its entirety here. How long, I wonder, before this service gets the clampdown? And is it really necessary, or just the latest shiny audio streaming option? It is remarkably easy, I'll give it that--from registration to uploading takes only a few (simple!) steps. It's like the Flip Video of audio streaming--less is more.

In any case, here are my accompanying liner notes:

1. Mozambique Nightjar Singing in Sandy Scrub on Banks of Zambezi, Zimbabwe- Chris Watson (from the album, Outside the Circle of Fire): A couple dozen beautifully recorded environmental recordings from Chris Watson, a former member of the post-punk band, Cabaret Voltaire.

2. Keyla- Tabu Ley Rochereau (from the album, The Voice of Lightness): One day soon, despite this winter's stubborn refusal to gracefully bow out and make way for an Obama-like spring, Abby and I will open multiple windows so as to get a nice breeze soughing through the house. We're so looking forward to that. We'll make sure to have this song on when we do.

3. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa- Vampire Weekend (from the album Vampire Weekend)- The whole album has a throwback feel, a nostalgic patina of early 80's post-punk and, as this song lovingly pays homage, Graceland/Rhythm of the Saints-era Paul Simon. There's even a shout-out to Peter Gabriel.

4. Expecting To Fly- Buffalo Springfield (from the album, Again): An early Neil Young production with a stunning bit of introductory orchestral/studio experimentation. Jack Nitzsche, who helped construct walls of sound as brilliant as anything Spector or Wilson were doing at the same time, produced. The whole album is worth your time.

5. Groovin' Time-The Chambers Brothers (from the album, Groovin' Time): Thank you monthly eMusic subscription.

6. Saturday Night Blowout- The John Buddy Williams Band (from the album Calypso Awakening from the Emory Cook Collection): And again we thank eMusic and its great collection of Smithsonian recordings. Though when is eMusic going to provide access to the often exhaustive liner-notes the physical copies of these albums almost always include? Not surprisingly, the Smithsonian site allows you to download a PDF copy of them. I just did. But it sure would be nice if eMusic just provided the link. Even better if eMusic embedded the liner notes in my download and iTunes provided a "liner-note" option that allowed me quick,easy access to them. In any case, recorded live in 1956, this tune is a smoking hybrid of jazz and calypso that knocked me out the first time I heard it. Like me, it's got warmer weather on its mind.

7. Hydragilm Exit-Osborne (from the Daylight 12"): This is near perfect House music. Deep and soulful with a sublime sense of the genres rhythmic dynamics. It's been enjoying some heavy treadmill rotation.

8. Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?- She & Him (from the album, Volume One): M. Ward's albums have always included a handful of rocking country/old-time Americana inspired gems. Working here with actress Zooey Deschanel, Ward's written a slice 70's sunshine pop, as effervescent and dagburn adorable as the woman herself.

9. For Emma- Bon Iver (from the album, For Emma, Forever Ago): Songs like this. What is it about them? The velvety horns? The gentle, building undertow of the guitar? The automatic wistfulness of the title?

10. Untitled Interlude-Chris Herbert (from the album, Mezzotint): I've been reading Michal Ondaatje's The Conversations: Walter Murch and the Art of Editing Film the last couple nights while listening to this album on my iPod. Herbert's haunting the same ground folks as Fennesz and Tim Hecker, an extension and expansion of Eno's On Land.

11. A Feeling of the All-Thing- Kelley Polar (from the album, I Need You To Hold On While the Sky if Falling): The first minute of this tracks nicely luxuriates in its vocoder before shimmering into a delicate, summery disco groove.

12. Kappsta 2- The Field (from the album, Pop Ambient 2008): Axel Willner has carved out a this wonderfully characteristic sound for himself, mixing straightforward 4/4 beats and smearing them with and highly textured micro-samples of pop songs. By slowly evolving these micro-samples over the course of the songs, by every so slightly lengthening one or slowly modulating a phase effect over another, Willner's songs come close to a gauzy kind of pop not unlike some of the best shoegazer of the early 90's--My Bloody Valentine, Ride, Slowdive especially, all come to mind.

Linger On Over Here...Got The Time?

This was one of a few dozen albums that helped to create and sustain my teenage personae. Laurie Anderson was and is one of my heroes, an elemental role model during some highly formative years and a powerfully inspirational one at that. She seemed to have a direct line tapping into something terrifically weird coupled with this uncanny ability to effortlessly craft something equally rich and strange out of it. The New York avant-garde had made it to the surburbs of Cleveland. I loved it.

I remember driving with my mom one winter evening in the mid-80's and playing O Superman for her, attempting but never entirely succeeding in conveying to her how much it stirred me. It's breathy, hypnotic repetitions- minimalism at its most poignant and haunting? The birds that come in a little after a minute only to disappear until the songs last? The first burst or cascading synthesized reeds at 2:41? The seductive sing-song of its vocoder vocals? The fat analogue bass at 6:03? (The whole album is filled with wonderfully gritty sine bass.) The seedy sax in the final 30 seconds? The apocalyptic lyrics? We parked in a parking lot and she listened until the end. I don't remember what she thought.

Listening to Big Science tonight, though, it's Let X=X that's rocking my world.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tom Skilling, Perfectly Avuncular

Tom Skilling, our local weatherman on WGN-TV (Channel 9 if you're in the hood), one of the Tribune Company's several local TV affiliates, is the perfect avuncular meteorologist. Heavyset, balding and relentlessly pleasant, he commands the green screen along with its impressive array of graphics depicting low pressure systems, wind chills and time-elapsed shots of incoming stratus clouds with consummate professionalism and down-to earth charm. There's something folksy and genuine about him. A little nerdy, too.

TV weathermen love to draw from the record book. We've had one of the snowiest, cloudiest and coldest winters on record according to Skilling, and if you're not a passionate urban snow enthusiast, that means it's been a little on the dreary side. Just this afternoon at lunch Skilling broke it to Abby and I that it looks like this March won't be offering us a single 60-degree day. No teaser day! He reminded us that last year around this time we were enjoying a couple near 80 degree days.

I looked over at Abby and groaned. I turned off the TV and we continued eating our hummus.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Cinema of Place

The Thai director, Apichatpong Weerasethaku, has made a handful of intensely enigmatic films over the last 8 years. And perhaps equally strange is how languorously beautiful and accessible each of them is. They have a dream logic that rides thrillingly close to the cusp of meaning. They've taken the cinema of place to a new level. His characters inhabit landscapes that are erotically teaming, ritualized, romanticized and about as close to cinematic transcendence as I've enjoyed in a long time. The landscape enjoys as much of the narrative thrust as anything said, or any gesture made.

All his films are split in two, with the first and second parts riffing off each other. The fourth and latest of Weerasethaku's films, Syndromes and a Century, viewed in my bathrobe early this morning while Cathy and Abby were at the grocery store, may be the best of the three, though each, I feel comfortable saying without overstating the case, are masterpieces. Seeing his last film, Tropical Malady, with Cathy during one of its showings at the 2005 Chicago Film Festival, was one of those melt into my seat moments. Syndromes and a Century feels like a culmination of what Weerasethaku's films have been so successfully prospecting. Something both captivated with a highly palpable and becalming sense of place and the stories, both urban and rural, real and folklore, quotidian and enraptured, that unfold there.

A.O. Scott wrote:

It is possible to feel, watching his earlier movies “Blissfully Yours” or “Tropical Malady,” that you just don’t get, on a conscious, cerebral level, what Mr. Weerasethakul is trying to do. Yet at the same time you find yourself moved, even enchanted, by the beautiful, oblique stories unfolding before your eyes.

And Micheal Sicinski really nailed it in the Fall 2007 issue of Cineaste when he wrote:

Apichatpong's films, frequently based on Thai folklore and an exploration of spatial relationships between urban areas and the hinterlands, are among the most formally radical narrative films of the last twenty years, partly because the director is able to display landscape and environment as haptic and experimental, serving to shape not only human consciousness but also the body itself--its social, political, and sexual potentials.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Embracing Your Emerging Eddie Munster

I sense increasingly that my hair is coming to resemble Eddie Munster and that I have to simply accept this, perhaps even embrace it.

At my current rate of hair loss and graying, I can reasonably expect to resemble a friar, ringed by an orbital tuft of hair, by age 55. The demographic flight of my hair from the interior of my head toward the exterior has been slow but impressive. Cathy likes to tell a story from several years back when were living on Paulina in Andersonville. She was driving up to our place when she spotted a man on the sidewalk. She wondered, "Who's the bald guy standing in front of the house?"

"Oh!" she realized. "It's my husband!"

Hair loss surprises us all. Sheesh. But there's no reason to not make it work for you. From now on, I swear, I'm embracing my emerging Eddie Munster.
Now that's creepy!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Please Tickle My Ivories

Our newest instrument arrived early Wednesday afternoon. Oh, my! (The picture does it so little justice!)

The piano movers had ramps for the front stoop stairs and everything. Nice guys, too. Cleared the door of the upstairs guest/recording room with a hair's girth to spare. No problems. It's home.

There's still some minor room re-arranging to do. (And I'm suddenly taking up a renewed interest in decorating the space on the walls of this room.) The piano is fresh form a warehouse in Crystal Lake and so slightly out-of-tune as new pianos will be. We're to wait a month, play it is much as we can, and let it acclimate to its new environment before bringing in the tuner.

I'm pretty tickled. There's perhaps nothing I find more relaxing, more meditative, more bullshit cleansing then playing a piano. While an undergraduate at Ohio State, I'd make a daily pit stop at Hughes Hall. On the 5th floor there were a couple dozen or more practice rooms, all harboring pianos. Some old weather-beaten grands, but the majority had sparkling new Yamaha uprights. I'd place my backpack and jacket on a nearby chair, open a window, and play away any blues I had.

This weekend, Abby's Great-Grandma showed me all her piano scores. Drawers full. If I ever wanted to borrow any of them, I should feel free. I told her I couldn't read notes and she offered me a worn brochure of piano cord secrets revealed.

I think of all the people I know, Abby's Great-Gradma may be the person who best understands the gravity and joy of having a piano on hand.

Pituitary Exuberance

Osborne's new Ruling 12", as joyous a slice of House as I've heard in a long, long time, ruled my treadmill yesterday. (See head-band wearing evidence soon.) It's pure cotton-candy house. Downtown, the second track, feels like a throwback to Midwest Raves '91-92. Dancing weekends at the Lift or Metropolis in the Flats of downtown Cleveland, or at after-hour parties above auto-body repair shops in Columbus. Something about the tracks thick, emotive chords and chunky rhythm are lovingly cut from Rave's template.

Have I mentioned this before? At roughly the 16 to 18 minute mark of what I feel safe calling a modestly rigorous 40-minute daily workout on the treadmill, there's a definite endorphin kick. I don't know much about even the most basic physiology, but I know it feels really good. Something of a biochemical nature has no doubt taken place, a pituitary exuberance. This is also when whatever happens to be playing on my iPod shuffle will strike me as being the most perfect thing I've ever heard.

Lately I've been making use of iTunes' Playlists feature to create on-the-fly "Work-out" mixes. I'll literally jump into some sweats, put my shoes on and throw together a mix. I pay particular attention to what track will fall at that golden 16 to 18 minute mark. This is also where any prior reservations I had to working out, any desires to cut the work-out a little short, give way to something bordering ecstatic. I must keep going. Maybe even a little faster.

I read recently that a man of 40 should be able to do 27 push-ups. That's consecutively and in "proper form." And given that I'm going to be 37 in May, I suddenly find myself determined to be able to do just this by my birthday. 27 push-ups. I can huff out about 10 now. I figure, with a little diligence, I'll be up it to 15 in a couple weeks, 20 in 2 to 3 weeks. 27 by my birthday. The whole thing reminds me of Jack LaLanne and Jack Palance.

I practice my push-ups at random. Sometimes Abby enthusiastically climbs up on my back , as though my push-ups were invitations to an amusement-park ride. And, of course, I'm always happy to oblige. With her on board, a 31 or 32 lbs. sack of potatoes, I can barely eek out more than a couple push-ups before collapsing.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ballads and Blues 1972

I'm having one of those moments where I really want to listen to a specific mood-enhancing album (you know, one reflecting the mellow, cloud-infused mid-March Sunday morning thing we've got going on, though it looks like the sun might break out yet), but I have no idea what it might be. Too many options.

So I settled on George Winston's Ballads and Blues 1972, some of his earliest recordings and released on the late John Fahey's Takoma label. Maybe not entirely as consonant with my mood as I'd like, but I'm malleable.

I still have a huge soft spot for Winston's 70's and early 80's recordings. His season themed albums (Autumn, Winter Into Spring, December and Summer...the last of which came out in the early 90's but is just as good, if not better then the other 3) are all, in my mind, masterpieces of warm, folksy piano. Besides Harold Budd, nobody has better rapport with the sustain pedal. But where Budd wrings out drifting ghost chords, Winston's are full of wide-eyed Rockwellian charm and lightly worn, rustic melancholy. Maybe too benevolent, too mawkish (or, as I fear, too frequently discarded with a knee jerk into the New Age dustbin) for some, but it's been doing me right for over 20 years.

Now where did I put down that Laura Ashley catalog?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Stuffed Hound of Hades--Now At Macy's!

Abby and I met Cathy for lunch at Macy's last week. They have a surprisingly upscale food court on the 7th floor. After lunch we road the escalators, as Abby likes to do, stopping to hug mannequins between floors.

Eventually we found ourselves at FAO Schwartz on the 5th floor where we ran across the above Cerberus. What 2-year old isn't coveting a stuffed hound of Hades? I liked the idea of buying it and putting it in Abby's room, if only to gage the startled reaction of her grandmothers. "Oh, you know, until we get her a real dog, we thought she'd like a hellhound," we'd tell them with a shrug.

Cathy thought this was a very bad idea.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I Am The Third Revelation (And I'll Drink Your Milkshake!)

I've seen all of Paul Thomas Anderson's films, including his latest, There Will Be Blood, which I just saw tonight at the River East downtown with Joe and Cathy. And why not? Anderson's films are always technically amazing. The sound and set designs, the cinematography, the acting and the editing are all guaranteed to be superior to just about anything else playing at a cineplex, and often inspiring. They're more than just competent, they're polished with a commercial sheen that borders on the pornographic.

But There Will Be Blood is different. Maybe it's the leap back to a early 20th century setting or the venerated history of the Hollywood Western lurking about. It stretches out in its oil rich wasteland and Jonny Greenwoods score drops dollops of devilish bombast across the horizon. Daniel Day-Lewis drools, snarls and bludgeons and almost all of the time it works beautifully. But Anderson always gets in over his head. His scripts are overcome with grandeur and operatic histrionics. Something grandly sweeping, like Charlton Heston parting the Red Sea, gets in there and gums up the works. The only time this really worked for me was with Punch Drunk Love, where he almost lost the thread before giving in to a swooning, open-hearted ending. It worked. But in There Will Be Blood a sudden leap in time seems to lose the beat, its rhythm is way off. A late scene between Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) and his son HW (Stockton Taylor) is drenched in in the same kind of dressing Anderson slathered so much of Magnolia with. I'm not feeling it.

And yet...the ending is somehow so ripe, so goofily over the top, that I'm proud to be joining others with a shout of "I drink your milkshake!"

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Audiovisual Librarianship: A Video Essay

Last summer I created a somewhat freewheeling curriculum for an independent study exploring audiovisual librarianship in public libraries. Like a lot of schools, Dominican's GSLIS program simply isn't able to fully cover the many diverse areas of librarianship worthy of study. (I wonder how distance learning, once it moves past its fumbling introductory stage-, might be able to alter this?) Sadly, for me at least, one of the areas chronically absent in course offerings is the giddy untapped potential that is audiovisual librarianship. Sure, there's a paragraph here and there, maybe even a chapter devoted in the introductory text for collection management, but for the most part the bibliocentric focus of LIS programs holds tight to the reigns. I like to think that's changing, with more schools beginning to offer courses, or seminars (or testing the waters with occasional special guest lectures) on gaming, virtual worlds and digital content creation and how they hold all sorts of promise for public libraries.

In any case, I did a cursory literature review, spending some really glorious sumer days in late May and early June, cicadas vibrating merrily away, reading and thinking about audiovisual librarianship in public libraries past, current and future.

Then I headed out to interview audiovisual librarians in person. I was incredibly lucky to find 6 amazing audiovisual librarians (in Northbrook, Skokie, Naperville, Chicago and Cleveland respectively), each dedicated and fully engaged in their profession, to meet with me and answer my questions. While on video. And I learned valuable lessons about room sound. I'll tell you about them later.

Here's what they had to say: