sharing the same sorrow

calla played a semi-secret free show at the knitting factory this past monday. apparently it was part of a promotional push for the movie satellite, which was playing in the tribeca film festival. a swag table gave out promo versions of the soundtrack, which has a new song of calla's on it.

i've liked calla ever since i saw them at the late, great brownies in 2001. by coincidence, they were then on young god records, which i was already familar with because of michael gira, whose show i saw recently at tonic. since their first album, they've gotten progressively more "rock". in general this disappoints me, although i always end up liking what they do anyway because they're so good. for me this reached the nadir at the last time i saw them at bowery ballroom over a year ago. gone were the subtlety and electronic touches, and the singer's voice was drowned out by the distorted guitars as the band awkwardly "rocked out".

obviously, the making of their new album got a few things worked out. they played almost entirely new songs, and though they were more rock than ever before, it all made sense. their introverted moodiness has gotten a more extroverted sound, but it's no less dark or original. they had depth and dynamics, and layered weird samples in again. more importantly, it sounded like them, every note fitting comfortably instead of sounding like trying to fit in with the "noo rawk" explosion.

the best bands are the ones that walk their own path; calla is clearly still on theirs and hopefully will be long after any number of local trends have blown over.

the title of this post comes from the lyrics to satellite by elvis costello.


information overload

this past saturday was one of those nights with too many overlapping attractive choices. in hindsight, i'm sure i'm forgetting a few. as josh said, there was ikue mori and charles cohen at the tank. however, i'd already seen cohen at dogs blood rising last summer, in an amazing duet with michael of sporangia/leisure muffin. i'd also promised my friend seze i'd see her friend's band flaming fire at galapagos, and she also said something about a wild crazy party elsewhere in brooklyn afterwards. feeling adventurous, i decided to go for the road not yet travelled.

it turned out that flaming fire were just one of several bands in a well-named night called ruckus. my friend bianca and i arrived mega-early since i mistook the door time for the band's showtime. i'm kind of glad i did; it meant i got to take some pictures, including the one above of a painful post-relationship poem installation floating on the water near the club entrance.

we also got to experience the bludgeoning attack of a duo called squaw. one man twisted hideous electronic squelches from his synthesizer while another pounded doomy minimalist grunge on his bass guitar. sometimes the bassist also added drowned-sounding baritone vocals. reminding me of godflesh without the drum machine or merzbow with a bassline, i preferred their take on noise-rock to others i've heard lately.

flaming fire started off with a spaced-out twangy bass guitar accompanied by laptop and an electronic device called the dewanatron, manned by the two musician/technicians who operate under that name. they dressed in shirts and ties under black judges' robes and added backing vocals to their glorious analog mayhem. the rest of the band came through the crowd chanting and writhing until they reached the stage. once there, they attacked the semi-free-form songs and didn't let up much for their entire set. shouting, shaking, mock-religious fervor, costumes, makeup, techno-voodoo rhythms, and general craziness ensued.

somewhat inspired by the wild abandon onstage, we were determined to turn things up a notch and headed over to the rubulad party. we cabbed it in the rain over to a dodgy spot near the bqe, and entered a small nondescript warehouse. nondescript that is, until we got inside. if nothing else, the decorations were a feast of overkill for the eyes. the blacklight paintings in one stairway (above) were only one example of the visual smorgasbord. decorations of various types hung everywhere, couches were covered in all manner of patterns, and the place was like a maze leading in and outside. the music was pretty diverse too; one room was all dancehall, one was classic soul, one was kind of techno/house, and there was a live band in another. we tried to get into the techno groove, but we were craving something a bit harder-edged. there were a lot of people there, including kelvin, the man who took part in the "human canvas" installation at the last choking victim. it was definitely worth checking out, but bianca and seze thought we should cut our losses and go to contempt, the monthly goth/industrial club in manhattan at remote lounge. getting there was going to be half the battle though, as cabs quoted us ridiculous prices based on our being helplessly rained on in the middle of a bad neigborhood. all seemed lost until some wonderful friends of bianca's turned up in a car as if by magic and gave us a ride.

one of our main reasons for going was the last-minute addition of dj abstract, who promised to spin more of his trademark downtempo gems in the upstairs lounge. sadly, we were too wired to fully appreciate the goodness he spun for us, since we arrived late, half in the bag, and searching for some brand of fun we couldn't define. he has his own perspective on the night, and i have to agree with him all the way. once he passed the decks over to another dj (who it turns out i knew, since there is one degree of separation in that scene), he joined us downstairs looking for the perfect beat. a kind of release came with the song "what's on your mind (pure energy)" by information society, but it felt to me like too little, too late.

although i had fun overall, and i wouldn't have changed the night for anything, there seemed to be a lesson hidden in the way things went. it seems like we were chasing after some transcendentally amazing time like eyes trying to look directly at floaters; the goal could never come into focus or be grasped. still, i guess it's all about the journey, right?

the title of this post comes from a song by living colour.



slate has posted an article on e. e. cummings. his cleverness and willingness to break the rules set him apart from the other poets i was forced to read in school, and had a lasting effect on me. the most obvious sign of this is my general refusal to use upper case letters (it's also faster and i think it looks good, but cummings was the initial inspiration). but he also did things that got up the noses of stuffy people and caused others to question the standards and practices of his field of art. those are immensely important things that need to be done once in awhile, but besides that, his poems were good.

the title of this post is a small subgenre of music.


a breath of scandal

it seems there are a lot of people unhappy about the choice of the new pope. the uk's times online had an article on his chequered past as a member of the hitler youth. reading the facts and his responses, i can understand excusing his brief and unwanted membership.

unfortunately, the same courtesy hasn't been extended to other people with less direct connections to this horrific time in history. underground bands such as blood axis have been branded with the same stigma narrowly escaped by the new pope due to their usage of symbols such as the kruckenkreuz, also known as the crutch cross or jerusalem cross. if you search for info on this, most everything that comes up refers to it being fascist or nazi-related, when it was essentially a christian symbol. it was also used in seventeenth century alchemy and chemistry to mean crucible or acid, but its use by the church predates and outlasts that. as a recent example, above is a picture of pope john paul II receiving the jerusalem cross. further delving reveals that, "if anything, it is an anti-nazi symbol," as claimed by the christian falangist party, a pro-israeli political party who explain their reasoning in using it as their logo.

the supposed fascist/nazi connection comes largely from its use by engelbert dollfuss, chancellor of austria prior to world war II. dollfuss believed the kruckenkreuz, a christian symbol, would show austria to be better than the third reich because the latter had rejected christianity. the wiesenthal museum of tolerance website says that "austrian jews regarded dollfuss as their protector despite his anti-semitism, because of his strong opposition to nazism. in 1933 dolfuss was murdered in an attempted nazi putsch."

in one of the most popular american musicals, the sound of music, the character of captain von trapp wears the kruckenkreuz around his neck, and displays the austrian flag. when a swastika flag is hung on his door later, he tears it down - clearly a rejection of nazism. in all the mentions of this musical i've heard over the years, i've never known about this, or of any mention of it as sympathetic to fascism.

i just realized today is both hitler's birthday and the anniversary of the shootings at columbine high school. that coincidence was used to connect the dots when CDs of KMFDM and marilyn manson were found in the shooters' rooms, and the media tried to pull nefarious intent from their music and use of graphic symbols. its true that these and other bands say and do other things that allow people to point their fingers, but none of this is conclusive evidence for conviction in the ongoing public trials of opinion.

the bottom line is that people choose who they're going to go after and who gets the benefit of the doubt. the pope is in a much better position to directly influence opinions and major policies than a bunch of musicians. perhaps now that a german and former hitler youth resides in the papacy, christians and other protest groups will have to re-think their ignorant boycotts of artists exploring the ambiguity or original power of "tainted" symbols. yeah. and maybe blood axis will play a big show with death in june at the vatican.

the title of this post comes from a 1960 film set in austria.


i am the resurrection

executive slacks perked me up with an entry about the new venue the stone. artist-run and artist-benefitting, in a soon-to-be-hip location (avenue c is the new avenue b, right?), this seemed like the perfect balm to soothe our pain from the impending demise of other nyc clubs. then i read the fine print: "the stone is booked purely on a curatorial basis. we do not accept demos of any kind."

since the space is funded purely "through the online sale of special limited edition CDs released yearly on the tzadik label," (there is no merch table or bar, although the website does ask for donations), it's difficult to tell them how to run things. you can't fault them for not being altruistic or music-oriented enough. a place like this even existing is a miracle in this town, and i hope it stays open and doesn't get into the kind of trouble that almost ended the similarly-run tonic (which thankfully has been saved for the time being).

because they're running things in such an above-board way, it's hard to split hairs over the implied elitism. it is after all, their time and money they're putting into this labor of love. i just think musicians will find it a little frustrasting that a new venue has opened that they have little chance of playing unless the unknown curators happen to have heard of you already. in other words, already be in the same scene and you have a chance. a very catch-22 proposition, and hardly a fitting replacement for the potential losses of both luna lounge and CBGB. although those venues haven't been too friendly to non-rock-based music of late, they have a fairly open booking policy in theory (and sometimes in practice).

new york city is still in the throes of a musical explosion not seeen here since the late 70's, probably even bigger than then. more spaces where musicians can play is a good thing right now. let's hope the eyes and ears of the stone are being perked far and wide.

the title of this post comes from a song by the stone roses. the picture above is a gargoyle from avenue c taken by joe chiffriller.


written on skin

last tuesday saw another installment of choking victim, a monthly party at niagara thrown by liron. people prone to hunger late at night on the lower east side may recognize her as the super-nice girl behind the counter at the creperie. i always figured she had something more to her by the interesting choice of music always played on her shifts. fellow crepe enthusiast bianca, being the more gregarious one (those who know her are laughing at the understatement as they read this), immediately struck up a conversation and started going to liron's night. since this month had bianca directly involved and also featured dj abstract, who pretty much always spins things i like, i was honor-bound to go. and glad i did.

first stop was downstairs, to the cozy little tiki bar that looks a bit like it was left over from the place's days as king tut's wa wa hut. the DJ booth is a great little alcove that's not at all cramped, which made me want to spin there sometime. abstract was cooking up something a bit more pulse-quickening than the downtempo that usually sends me running for a pen and napkin to remember what new amazingness i have to buy. not all my cup of tea, but i definitely left with a better appreciation for a few more drum'n'bass tracks. he teased us with snippets of "james brown is dead," and the 2000 remix of "i sit on acid" had me laughing out loud, but then lords of acid usually has that effect on me.

upstairs musically was billed as "80's new wave/alternative." fortunately the DJs had more taste and variety than that sounds, certainly much better than the average "80's nights" popping up around town. things like echo and the bunnymen, morrissey/smiths, peter murphy, sometimes veering into a more deathrock or 90's industrial zone, mostly avoiding the more obvious choices but delivering a few familiar songs.

the artistic theme of the night (apparently it always has one) was bodies as "human canvas" for painting poetry on. bianca was the first to be painted on in the window of the bar, which drew several appreciative passerby. first her friend nelly wrote one poem on her chest, and then a man whose name i didn't catch continued on her arms and legs. after that, he was written on by liron herself (above), who supplied most of the poetry. bianca's calves were meanwhile covered in another original poem by a girl with a familiar face from nights spent at the raven. all the while, old horror movies and other bizarre clips played on the bar's tv monitor, while a crowd ranging from extremely-dressed goths and punks to normal-looking locals enjoyed themselves. you can also read ben's version of events.

the title of this post comes from a book on the art of japanese tattoo


the sounds of silence

a few saturdays ago i went to the onkyo marathon at the japan society. i'd been following the various adventures in modern music of the primary names in this tiny yet huge scene in the wire since their july 2003 issue. i thought i'd never get to see these musicians perform unless i went to japan, but fortunately american composer carl stone put together this program and flew over some of the biggest names in this area of music. to illustrate stone's implied concept of japan and new york coming together, he also invited two local artists who have made waves in similar areas.

i arrived as o.blaat was a few minutes into a gently shifting variety of treated nature sounds, minimal clicks, delay loops, and electronic drones that differed from her set at the video as an instrument show. since i was a bit late, i sat in the garden just outside the performance area that has a lighted pond and trees underneath a skylight, with a staircase and a view of other floors and outside buildings. the environment was a fitting combination of organically serene and architecturally repetetive surroundings for o.blaat's music.

i first heard an aoki takamasa piece from indigo rose on the excellent streaming internet radio station glowdot and was instantly captivated. i've yet to find a copy of this for a reasonable price and/or available within 1000 miles of me. even aoki later told me it was out of print and he had brought no copies for sale. his set mixed the clean, mellow, peaceful yet slightly melancholy sounds i had heard with some unexpected yet not incongruous beats, which had enough of a groove to get the head-nodding going but inventive enough to cause a few moments of minor whiplash. or as aoki himself politely warned prior to starting, "it's going to be a little bit funky." two laptops and no microphone.

the second new york-based artist after o.blaat was guitarist elliot sharp. my best friend, noise guitarist bryin dall has said words to the effect that sharp makes him feel about as tall as tom thumb. tonight i understood why. his one long improvisational piece was played on a custom-built acoustic/electric fed into a laptop, but one would be hard pressed to tell what sounds were created by which component of his arsenal. he was constantly working, running his spider-like fingers across the fretboard, pumping a connecting footpedal, and using the mouse to change settings. all this would be for nothing if the music wasn't incredible, but it was. nothing random or gratuitous about it, veering from melodic lines to dissonant chords and insane effects, but never sounding overdone. i don't even know where to begin with his huge discography, but i'll certainly see him live again the next chance i get.

otomo yoshihide surprised me on several levels. i'd read that he was involved in the quiet, minimalist off site scene and heard the sparsely avant-garde loose community CD i'd bought from praemedia. i was expecting some kind of scratchy, space-filled guitar/turntable duet requiring deep listening skills performed by a slightly-built man with a patient disposition. i wasn't prepared for the broad-shouldered, scowling, plaid-wearing brute who lumbered onto the stage with two turntables, a mixer, and several distortion boxes. he then proceeded to bludgeon us with huge slabs of noise that sounded as though they were made of granite. far from a constant punishment, he knew when to stop and vary his attack, throwing in humming ground loops, polytonal buzzing, and stabs of high-pitched sounds so sharp they threatened to take our heads off. he had augmented one tonearm with a spring instead of a needle, which he used to complete an electric circuit with his body, alternately gripping it forcefully or yanking it so far it looked as though the whole setup might snap and fly in his face. he also brought along other objects to move on the surface of the platters, but none of them were records. this may be the closest i come to experiencing a merzbow show. pure joy.

an unexpected bonus was the surprise world debut duet perfromance of sachiko m and nobukazu takemura. although it was very good, somehow it was exactly what i expected: subtle sine wave manipulation and minimal computer clicks. one interesting detail was nakamura's apparently sprained or broken finger (see above). however, part of the nature of experimental music is that it isn't always brilliant every second it's unfolding, but rewareding nonetheless. i was happy to have seen them at all, since they were scheduled only separately on the previous night (announced after i had already bought my ticket).

what was engaging the entire time was yoshimitsu ichiraku, who i'd never heard of. apparently a renowned percussionist, he started getting into MIDI and computers and created his doravideo project. each of the drums in a live kit is fitted with a trigger connected to his laptop, which affects video files that play back according to his performance. a dizzying array of clips flashed across the screen, sometimes too fast to assimilate, sometimes viciously slow and looped. singing japanese girls, war footage, reagan and bush speeches, even kiss were rocked back and forth by ichiraku's live beats as though a DJ were manipulating a record. in one amazing sequence (pictured above), jack nicholson takes about 3 minutes to chop through a door in the shining while shelly duvall's screams scraped between the speakers like a gear grinding an axle.

the final performances of the night were two improv pieces by yoshihide, sharp, and stone himself, joined by guitar/electronics wunderkind taku hannoda. this last player's mischeivous and disruptive presence was the best thing about the quartet's competent but halting improvisations. at the end, hannoda's toy whistle was so ridiculous that it had everyone onstage and half the audience trying unsuccessfully to keep from laughing. this was a nice relief from the sometimes stuffy and unnecessarily serious aura surrounding experimental music. truly a once-in-a-lifetime event i was glad to have been at.

the title of this post comes from a simon and garfunkel song.


from a whisper to a scream

i can't recall the moment i first heard xiu xiu or what exactly motivated me to do so. i know there was an article on them in the beautifully-designed copper press, but they didn't initially strike me as much different from the kind of indie, post-rock and math-rock bands they tend to cover. the band pictures looked like some ordinary indie kids goofing around. but somehow, something about them me made me decide to investigate further. maybe it was the description of their lyrics as being based on the real-life horror stories of leader jamie stewart and his friends and family. i'm no fan of reality shows or car crashes, but i can always appreciate naked honesty and deep expression of emotions. and xiu xiu gives you that to the nth degree. that, and music alternately influenced by barren folk music, gamelan percussion, and cheesy techno, as well as the smiths and joy division. a few mp3 clips later and i ordered their entire catalog and bought a ticket to their show last fall. that event was marred by sound problems that ground the proceedings to a halt twice, but my friends and i were determined to see them again. so a few fridays ago, i once again dragged josh and angel to the knitting factory.

xiu xiu are nothing if not self-sufficient. once a quartet, live they've been pared down to a duo, each of them handling multiple roles. only two people play acoustic and electric guitars, electric mandolin, synthesizer, harmonium, tuned finger bells, and a plethora of percussion, sometimes using a synth/sequencer/drum machine as a backdrop. they set up four chairs behind them, each with an amplifier on it taking care of their multiple monitoring issues.

with all this gear onstage you'd think it would be more of a technological than a visceral experience. not so. with each song, stewart focused past his change in setup and delivered passionate vocals, literally from whispers to screams. at times the arrangement was so cacophonous you'd think they had both new order and einsturzende neubauten backing them up. then just as easily, they'd do a ballad with only 2 quivering voices and a softly strummed guitar.

xiu xiu are one of those bands that no matter how many times you listen to their music, it sounds like the first time.

the title of this post comes from a song by elvis costello.