Archive for the 'Literature' category

Top 10/Bottom 3: November 2011

Pye Corner Audio Black Mill Tapes Vol 2
Top 10
  1. New Pye Corner Audio (single from Ghost Box coming, followed by Vol. 3 hopefully soon)
  2. Byetone, SyMeta (next best thing to having Pan Sonic back)
  3. Chardee McDennis (I can’t stop thinking about that game)
  4. Kindle Fire (am eager to check it out)
  5. Vernor Vinge, The Children of the Sky (follow-up to wonderful A Fire Upon the Deep)
  6. South Park (love the return of Lemmiwinks episode)
  7. King Midas Sound, Without You
  8. Occupy Wall Street going global
  9. Candy
  10. Tom Waits, Bad as Me
Bottom 3
  1. Herman Cain, Romney, Perry (they’re all the same–flaming idiots)
  2. Everything else Republican/Fox/Koch related
  3. My back (which is bugging the hell out of me)

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Top 10/Bottom 3: September 2011

Top 10

  1. Grendel Drone Commander
  2. Louie
  3. Leyland Kirby’s Eager to tear apart the Stars
  4. Into the Labyrinth
  5. The return of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  6. Presonus Firestudio Pro
  7. Carne asada
  8. The Clock of the Long Now
  9. Raxxess rack for my music equipment
  10. A long weekend of sitting on my ass watching TV

Bottom 3

  1. The horrible, horrible, HORRIBLE Doctor Who specials running on BBC America featuring US celebrities narrating and commenting on Doctor Who (a la I Love the 80s, etc…).  It’s blatantly obvious that these idiots couldn’t name a doctor other than Matt Smith.  I love Doctor Who, but those specials make me want to hate it.  Way to go, BBC America–you’re ruining the only hit you have.
  2. The new Amy-narrated opening to this season of Doctor Who that foregrounds the show as about THIS doctor and these companions in the exact way those horrible specials do.  I wonder if they’re showing that opening in the UK.  Please FSM, tell me no!
  3. Republicans (of course)

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Top 10/Bottom 1: August 2011

Top 10

  1.  The Great White Silence (unbelievable film of Scott’s Antarctic expedition, newly restored with a soundtrack by Simon Fisher Turner)
  2. OTO Biscuit (yummy!)
  3. David Bowie (for being awesome)
  4. Advisory Circle’s As the Crow Flies
  5. A Dance with Dragons (great continuation of epic fantasy series)
  6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
  7. Boomkat (still best place to get great music)
  8. The Guild (another season!)
  9. The Shadow Line
  10. Jon Stewart and Stewart Colbert (still best thing about the USA)

Bottom 1

Only one bottom this month–the debt limit debate, summarized perfectly in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Team America:

To use the poetry of this brief scene, the tea party (and the other Republicans) are assholes.  Obama is acting too much like a pussy.  He needs to be more of a dick so those assholes don’t turn the whole country into shit.  Oh, and if he needs lessons, then he should ask his Sec. of State and her husband, don’t you think?  How’s that for a 50 word summary of the whole crisis?

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Top 10/Bottom 3: May 2011

Jedward

A little late this month.  Oh well.  On we go…

Top 10

  1. Parks & Recreation–Amazingly, the coolest show on TV go 100 times cooler this month when Aubrey Plaza’s character April came out as a huge Neutral Milk Hotel (and Jeff Magnum) fan in the season finale.  Nice one, show!
  2. Pye Corner Audio, Black Mill Tapes Vo. 2
  3. Vermona DRM1 mkIII–my new best friend
  4. Barak Obama (see?  First three are pretty awesome to put Barak at #4 after taking out Bin Laden)
  5. Moon Wiring Club, Somewhere a Fox is Getting Married
  6. Mark McGuire, A Young Person’s Guide to Mark McGuire
  7. George R.R. Martin’s Songs of Ice and Fire series–am on book 3
  8. Doctor Who
  9. Meeblip
  10. Stewart Brand’s The Clock of the Long Now

Bottom 3

  1. Fox News
  2. Republicans
  3. Eurovision voters (seriously, Azerbaijan?)

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Top 10/Bottom 3: April 2011

Meeblip

Top 10

  1. Angels baseball is back!
  2. Burial’s Street Halo EP
  3. Rob Young’s Electric Eden
  4. Meeblip
  5. Firefox 4
  6. iPhone 4 (finally got my upgrade)
  7. Vashti Bunyan’s Just Another Diamond Day (how did I miss this one? Thanks, Rob Young!)
  8. Ancient Methods’ First Method
  9. Boomkat
  10. Mutek 2012 (because I might be able to go to that one!)

Bottom 3

  1. Republicans
  2. Republicans
  3. Republicans

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Children of the Stones

Oct 12 2010 Published by under Feature, Film/TV, Internet/Media, Literature, Music, Personal, Random

Children of the Stones

Derrida coined the term hauntology during a lecture at my alma mater, the University of California Riverside.  He used the term to suggest that the present only understands itself in and through the past (and that the future haunts the present in the same way).  It’s a term used here and there in philosophy and critical theory circles, but its main use is in the realm of music.  Initially, it was used in the 90s to describe trip hop and ambient music; then it was used to describe the Ghost Box label and the weird, unsettling British Information Films sound of The Advisory Circle and The Focus Group; more recently, it has been applied to any music that combines nostalgia and weirdness (like Boards of Canada, The Caretaker, Mordant Music, Moon Wiring Club, among others).  The concept has always had a decidedly English feel to it–to the point that The Wire magazine coined a different term, hypnagogic, to describe American music that shares some hauntological themes (like Emeralds, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Pocahaunted, and so on). A lot of people absolutely hate these two terms for the same reason they hate all labels applied to music–because they deprive unique artists of their very uniqueness.  And I think that is true.  But I have a soft spot for hauntology for a few reasons.  First, I really like English weirdness (or really British weirdness–I’m part Scottish and part Welsh, so the Celtic is important to me), especially when it is coated with pagan sensibilities (which comes easily in the UK since it’s hard to throw a dead cat without hitting a henge or standing stone).  Second, labels have a way of giving attention to music that might otherwise be under-appreciated, and anything that gets more people to listen to Belbury Poly or William Basinski is a good thing in my book.  Finally and most importantly, hauntology (and my listening to and reading of anything connected to the concept) helped me rediscover something from my childhood that had been buried in the nether reaches of my unconscious for 20 years: Children of the Stones.

I have a vague, almost unreal sense of watching Children of the Stones in the early 80s.  Apparently, it was on Nickelodeon in the United States, but I don’t remember watching it on that channel.  In fact, I only have fleeting, fragmented memories of my original viewing.  I remember being disappointed that I only caught one or two episodes (the empty, unfulfilled sense of “what will happen next?” pervading my mind).  I remember being scared and a little creeped out, but I don’t know why.  I also remember my parents not liking the series because it seemed vaguely satanic (in their minds; they were quite religious).  The most significant memory, however, is of the standing stones (the show was filmed at Avebury).  I probably had no idea what a standing stone was back then, and I probably didn’t really care much.  But they left an impression of ancient mysteries that percolated in the back of my mind for many, many years, only to resurface when I actually went to England and Ireland and I suddenly realized how amazing and fascinating these stones really are.

So these memories were buried in my mind like a time capsule waiting to be opened at the right moment.  That moment came when I stumbled across a reference to the series in a hauntology-based article somewhere, which led to a quick YouTube search (followed by a trip to Amazon to buy the DVD).  The moment I heard the strange music of the opening, the memories came flooding back–the weirdness, the paganness, the surreality:

I’ve heard this music sampled in several different works by Mordant Music, Moon Wiring Club, and others (hell, I’ve used it too).  Honestly, I’m amazed that Trunk Records hasn’t released the OST for this series (they did The Tomorrow People, so why not this?).  The reverb-rich moaning voices, matched with the images of standing stones, bring a chill to my ears and eyes–and drive my wife crazy (she can’t stand the series).  It’s truly spooky music that is designed to frighten children, and while I was probably too old to be truly frightened by these sounds when I first heard them (I must have been 13-14), the true otherness of the music must have struck a chord. Added to this odd music was the very odd behavior of the people in the fictional village of Milbury (where the story is set).  The villagers are always happy and over-polite in a way that immediately raises red flags in the minds of the protagonist and his son (visitors to the town–the father played by none other than Roj Blake himself, Gareth Thomas).  These people were odd precisely because they were too normal, an impression that anyone who grew up in a suburb (like I did) can instantly identify with.  Add to this the fact that all the happy children in the town are (somehow) super geniuses at math, even smarter than the protagonist’s astrophysicists son who is otherwise quite bright, and it doesn’t take long for our heroes to sense trouble.  As the plot unfurls, we learn the source of the town’s happy normality, and I don’t want to give it away to anyone who hasn’t gone to YouTube to watch it, but suffice to say that the stones are involved (along with druids [for some reason–druids came long after the stones were erected, but whatever], psychic energy, ley lines, and black holes). Watching today, I am impressed by the acting in the series (especially Thomas, though the kids could use a few more lessons) and the intelligence of the show (they don’t dumb down kids programs in the UK the way they do in the US).  Really, though, what stands out is the nice way that the show manages to link the everyday strangeness of the people with the very extraordinary world of ancient Britain and the Avebury standing stones.  As a student (and teacher) of mythology, I really appreciate the emphasis that is placed on linking the past with the present.  As a music fan, I enjoy how the series uses sound to convey so many deep, dark, unsettling feelings–and I like the fact that the majority of the music is created using only human voices (reminiscent of Ligeti).  But I love the series mostly because it gives me a window into my own past, a past of a teenager who lived in a strange world of happy people and wondered why they were happy, what made them happy, and why wasn’t I happy too? And I think that’s what hauntology is all about–not so much celebrating all things weird and (mostly) British but exploring epiphanies of weirdness from the past in order to better understand what makes the world so damn weird to begin with. And perhaps the very Britishness of Children of the Stones helps me better understand my own fascination (or is it obsession?) with the UK: why my favorite TV shows are from the BBC, why my favorite musical artists are British, why my plans for vacations always begin in London, and why–especially why–I spent 12 years getting a PhD in English with a focus on 20th century British and Irish authors. To think: despite all that British stuff, I still ended up in a small desert town on the Mexican border.  Now that’s weird.

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Elizabeth Gilbert and Genius

Jul 09 2010 Published by under Humor, Internet/Media, Literature, Random

Elizabeth Gilbert

This is the wonderful writer Elizabeth Gilbert talking about the nature and danger of creativity.  From Ted:

Elizabeth Gilbert on nurturing creativity

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Top 10/Bottom 3: July 2010

Jul 01 2010 Published by under Food, Humor, Literature, Music, Personal, Sports, Top 10/Bottom 3, Travel

New York Parking

Top 10–New York Trip Edition

  1. Coney Island
  2. Hot dogs at Nathan’s
  3. Other Music
  4. Strand bookstore
  5. Pizza in Penn Station
  6. Black & white cookies
  7. New York Public Library’s original Winnie-the-Pooh collection
  8. Breakfasts at Holiday Inn Express
  9. Not having to sit through US men’s world cup loss because I was at a wedding reception
  10. The Cloisters

Bottom 3

  1. Coney Island Museum (just plain sucked, even if admission was only 99 cents)
  2. Humidity
  3. Forbidden Planet New York (big letdown after the London store)

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Top 10/Bottom 3: June 2010

The Roadhouse--Longplayer

Top 10

  1. iPad (software still iffy but device is amazing.  Watching Netflix in my office between classes is awesome)
  2. M.I.A. (new album should be interesting)
  3. Sly and the Family Stone’s Fresh (have been listening to this a lot–forgot how awesome it is)
  4. Wind (hey, in the desert, when the wind goes away, the heat arrives–and stays)
  5. Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky (even better 2nd time around)
  6. Emeralds, Does It Look Like I’m Here?
  7. Mutek 2010 (damn–I’ve been wanting to go to this for 10 years, and I haven’t made it yet.  Perhaps next year…)
  8. BBC America (has replaced Comedy Central as my default channel)
  9. Steak (mmmmm)
  10. John Scalzi’s Whatever

Bottom 3

  1. Lost finale (massive cop-out to turn the flash-sideways into purgatory.  I never thought I’d say this, but Star Trek: The Next Generation kicked this show’s ass as far as complex, intelligent finales)
  2. Angels (Kowbell’s broken leg encapsulation of the season)
  3. Oil

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Top 10/Bottom 3: May 2010

Top 10

  1. iPad (waited for the 3g version–it didn’t disappoint)
  2. Flying Lotus, Cosmogramma
  3. Treme
  4. Rangers, Suburban Tours (so 80s, it’s only out on vinyl)
  5. Incredible String Band reissues
  6. Parks and Recreation (welcome back!)
  7. Fantastic Mr. Fox (Rushmore meets Harryhausen)
  8. Teaching Scalzi’s Old Man’s War
  9. Joker, “Tron”
  10. Lost (will finale be greatest thing ever or worst?  Seems destined to be one or other)

Bottom 3

  1. Arizona
  2. Angels
  3. Heat

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