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Bob Moog, inventor of the Moog synthesizer and revolutionizer of music, just died. May he rest in peace. Below are excerpts from two posts that appeared on this page last year about the film Moog. They were mostly critical, but the gripes were about the film and not the man, as I have nothing but admiration for him and his work.
The highest spots in Moog involve not the keyboard instrument but the Theremin, which Moog got his start building. Solos by Pamelia Kurstin and Moog himself are beautiful and otherworldly--music from thin air, only two controls (pitch and volume), no moving parts, it's the soul of economy and still inherently futuristic. How did we ever lose track of the concept?And later:
It's interesting to watch Moogs being assembled and to hear the inventor talk about them--he's quite the spiritualist, and says he intuitively knows what sounds the circuits will make. He emphasizes the importance of playing live before an audience, and seems to distrust "music made alone to be listened to by people alone." [...]
"Cock of the Walk (Siege Mix)" [6 MB .mp3].
"Blistering Lead" [mp3 removed].
"Be Three" [mp3 removed]. "Be Three" has been modified since I first posted it. Here's what I said about it originally:
This last one is arty in that it "goes nowhere," that is, it's a series of interacting "instrument blocks"--organ, fretless bass, rhythm box--that create a kind of false music I find strangely listenable. Some might say that about all my music, i.e., that it's static, machinoid, whatever, but I wouldn't agree with that--I generally don't find any interest if there isn't a hook in there somewhere. One thing I don't do is artificial dynamics like altering the tempo track or quantizing notes. The energy (to the extent it gets across) comes from the arrangement of notes and changes in volume and texture, not trying to imitate human playing. Machines are human-made and controlled, I've never bought the criticism that electronic music is "soulless," but do think that some aspects of digital production are more contrived and phony than others.The piece is still working with all those rudimentary elements but I added a few notes and started rearranging it into a song; intellectual interest only carries me so far. I may or may not keep fooling with it.
I have submitted this drawing to James Wagner for his online gallery of hand-drawn images of PS1's "Greater New York 2005." He initiated the gallery after finding out that the oh-so public-minded PS1 has a photo ban on all artworks. The image above is a detail of Gedi Sibony's Disguised as Material Properties. The materials are a cardboard box, twigs (held together with wood putty), plastic sheeting, and a wood panel with circular holes cut in it. The box is affixed to the wall and the "legs" appear to be half-supporting it, half dangling from it. Very crude, but nice. After War of the Worlds came out, it's hard not to think of a DIY version of the Cruise-menacing alien "tripods."
As for the show as a whole, one can see why it inspired a critical yawn. An awful lot of student-level painting: if this is what the Bush millionaires are clawing each others' eyes out over, we can only snicker at them. And we could all use a hit of whatever the curators were smoking ("Looked at a certain way, this is kind of good--pass me that pipe again.") Exceptions are Anna Conway's Magrittean painting of figures lying with their heads in tree-reflecting pools, next to another one of huge clown faces in storm-tossed seas, which are well-rendered and genuinely odd images. Dana Schutz is a good neo-neo-Expressionist, but her giant, multi-character Emil-Nolde-by-way-of-the-Dutch-Masters "anatomy lesson" canvas strains to be over the top.
As usual for this media-babysat generation, the videos fared better than the objects. Thumbs up for: Sue de Beer's new nonviolent work, which is becoming quite sumptuous in its use of colored gel lighting and classical photo-composition, albeit deliberately problematized by the splitscreen and without stinting on the essential agony of the pimply teen years; Meredith Danluck's slightly ghoulishly bleached out boy in tuxedo tails tapdancing to a trancy electro score; and Mika Rottenberg's sweat-wiping truckdriver with bicycle-driven conveyor belt feeding her new! more absorbent! tissues (also genuinely odd).
Middle east expert Professor Juan Cole helps penetrate the fog of Administration and media disinformation about what's going on in Iraq. The US has no chance against this insurgency without massive troop increases and a nationwide will to "win"--which means what exactly? Making the country safe for a government friendly to US interests? Who cares about that except the neocon crazies and Americans deluded by simplistic Clint Black songs? By invading without a plan to manage the aftermath, Bush really put his foot in the bucket, to use a Texas expression. Americans are paying for this stupidity with precious lives and untold sums of tax dollars.
Iraqi government spokesman Laith Kubba said of Wednesday's horrific bombings in central Baghdad, which left over 40 dead and twice as many injured, "Those who commit these crimes are the same ones who specialized in mass murder during the era of the tyrant Saddam." He added, "They have a plan that is composed of two stages. The first is to spread terror and grief serially, in order to break the will of the Iraqi people. The second is to attempt to overthrow the government through spreading chaos in the land."
Kubba is in part correct and in part in error, and he left out something big. Some of those behind the campaign of car bombings and other acts of terror are the old Baathist power elite (especially military intelligence, elements of the officer corps, and the secret police or mukhabarat). But some of them are Sunni jihadis who would not have been allowed to operate in Baghdad by Saddam. And others were relatively apolitical in the Saddam era but have been galvanized by a conviction that their country is suffering foreign occupation (Anglo-American at least, and perhaps Iranian as well). So it isn't correct to say that the perpetrators are exactly the same group as put all those Shiites and Kurds in mass graves, though there is certainly an overlap. Note how different Kubba's discourse is from that of the Bush administration, which almost never talks about anything but "al-Qaeda" in Iraq. Here we have a high-level Iraqi spokesman, and all he sees in the insurgency are Baathists.
The important thing he left out is that the plan actually has three parts. First the guerrillas force the Americans and British out. Then they destabilize Iraq. Then they make a coup and kill the elected government, along with Sistani and anyone else who gets in their way. Since the guerrillas have so many former military officers and veterans in their ranks, and since they know where thousands of tons of hidden munitions are buried, they believe they still have an edge over the ragtag Shiite militias such as Badr Corps and Mahdi Army.
From Atomic Cinema, which has some of my favorite writing on movies:
Is 40 GUNS the weirdest Hollywood western? The question boils down to whether this is crazier than JOHNNY GUITAR. I think it is... JOHNNY GUITAR is crazy because Nicholas Ray wanted it to be crazy. Sam Fuller’s special gift was that he didn’t seem to know he was crazy. 40 GUNS is just Fuller’s honest idea of the best way to do a western. And that’s pretty damn weird!
The craziness of 40 GUNS:
- The Song: 1950s westerns always had a ridiculous theme song. “Chuck-a-luck” from RANCHO NOTORIOUS is pretty comical but it’s no match for “Lady with a Whip,” the love theme from 40 GUNS.
- Skewed sexuality: In Fuller movies interaction between the sexes tends to be confusing and smutty. (e.g. UNDERWORLD USA and PICK-UP ON SOUTH STREET) In Fuller movies the sexes interact on a pheromone level, forming life-long sexual bonds on sight. (or on smell, I guess) FORTY GUNS is a censor-baiting cavalcade of raunchy single-entendre “humor” that flirts with art because the most leering lines are delivered dead-pan, as if the characters have no idea what they’re saying. “She’s quite a girl. I’d like to stay around long enough to clean her rifle.” You’re probably thinking, “girls don’t have rifles!” Well, they do in this movie, as well as whips. It’s so far gone that Fuller manages to make the vagina a phallic symbol. The cute girl in FORTY GUNS is a gunsmith. Her rifle is a running symbol focusing on the ridged interior of the barrel cleaned with repeated thrusts of a brush. (The rifled barrel POV shot that opens every James Bond movie seems to have been originated in FORTY GUNS.) Every time our leading man goes to the gun shop it’s an outlandish pantomime of gun barrel stroking and jerking.
- Male Bonding: This is a manly movie for manly men, particularly manly men who want to scrub each other’s backs. No movie cowboys ever took as many baths as these guys! After every fight, shooting or romantic encounter it’s back to an open-air frontier bath house for sing alongs and towel snappin’
- Barbara Stanwyck: Stanwyck is one of my favorite actresses but even in the 1930s she was never very attractive. In 40 GUNS she's easily the ugliest romantic leading lady in any Hollywood sound movie. I’m not talking about “plain” here. I’m talking about something so startling it would be weird not to mention it. She looks exactly like Medusa in CLASH OF THE TITANS. But whether intended or not, it works. When men in 40 GUNS are drawn to her it’s so implausible is unsettling, like she’s a sorceress. [...]
- The 40 guns: Wherever Stanwyck goes she is followed by forty gunmen on horseback. It feels very Hong Kong film. (Very much like Lucy Lui and the Crazy 88s in KILL BILL.) If Stanwyck wants a pack of gum in town this whole battalion rides into town behind her, then follows her back home. The 40 guns eat dinner at a very, very long table with her at the head. When our hero shows up at dinner-time to further his romance with her she tells the 40 guns she’d like a little privacy so they all get up and march into a little side-room that can barely hold them, like they were toy soldiers being put in their case.
- Generic Cast: Can you tell Barry Sullivan and Gene Barry apart? Yeah, me neither. I've seen this movie many times and I still can't tell which brother is dating who or who's been shot.
- Miscellaneous oddness: At one point a man is shot in the leg. The doctor runs over to examine the leg. “How is he, doc?” Doctor says, “He’ll live, but he’s blind.”
Congrats to Michael Bell-Smith for the NY Times mention of his cubist remix of R. Kelly's "Trapped in the Closet" videos (that's how I'd describe it, anyway). By syncing and playing all five vids simultaneously, Bell-Smith spares us the agony of having to watch them end to end. I'm still marveling at a link Bell-Smith posted earlier to this "scary splash page for a paint-thinner company."
Sarah Hromack has a good summation of the havoc copyright extremists are wreaking on human expression, starting with a rundown of their recent successful campaign (so far) against Google Print:
Taking their cues from the music industry’s reaction to p2p file sharing, publishers fear that making texts available online will lead to unauthorized reproduction and distribution. I know that I, personally, am burning to print all 1,424 pages of War and Peace on my home printer, before collating, binding, and covering the whole mess in split cowhide. I’m seeing a multiple-volume desktop set here. Gold embossing, the works. Ebay, Haight Street—there is no limit to the pure profit potential of this scheme.Ed Rackley offers an especially clear analysis of what's happening in Darfur and its rich neighbor to the north, Khartoum, after he has spent the better part of this year in the Sudan working as a consultant in the international relief effort.
Musical prodigy Adrien75 has posted some new mp3s. One I especially like is the Neu!-ish "4th Song." [link to mp3 page updated: "4th Song" no longer available]
Art in America-recommended blogger James Wagner recently discovered that the Museum of Modern Art subsidiary PS1, a so-called alternate space in Queens, doesn't allow photo-taking of the "Greater New York 2005" exhibit! Man, considering the critical hatred-shading-to-indifference that show received, you'd think they'd want all the publicity they could get. A "no photo" policy benefits MOMA because its art is high-dollar intellectual property that pays dividends in the gift shop--can't have folks thinking this work belongs to everyone with the unfortunate consequence that Jay Bob sells Starry Night T-shirts in Springfield MO based on his digital camera pictures of same.
But an "alternate space" has a different mission, which is to introduce new, difficult, and/or undiscovered talent to the world. Or in this case, new, difficult, and/or undiscovered talent repped by major Chelsea galleries. One way you do this is by encouraging photographers and citizen-journalists to spread the word far and wide with as many visual aids as they can possibly publish.
Anyway, Wagner has a great idea, which is to post artists' sketches on his blog of works in the show. So far he's only gotten one, and it's not loading in my browser at the moment, but I think I'll mosey over to PS1 and do a drawing, as an act of protest of the image blackout and because the editorial thought-process of deciding what to draw appeals. My prediction is most artists won't want to do this, because so many are, let's be frank, geniuses, who have been told they must patiently wait their turn for institutional recognition: "playas" don't sketch other playas' work. * Fine, be a good vassal, I'm gonna go have me some fun.
*Also 'cause it's hard to use that internet thingie.