prime audio soup

bb king blues club and grill wouldn't be the kind of place you'd expect to see an act like meat beat manifesto. for one thing, the menu contains quite a lot of meat (even the salad!), which makes me wonder what vegan jack dangers ate backstage. speaking of eating, being surrounded by low-lit tables with tourist-looking types ordering (probably overpriced) food while deluged by a distinctively un-bluesy noise onstage was another strange dichotomy.

the opening act was dalek, who went on sometime after the door time of midnight (!) and immediately assaulted the crowd with their own unlikely combination. what appeared to be a standard rapper/DJ duo turned out to wield powerbooks instead of turntables. pumping from the sound system were not the usual hip-hop breaks and funky loops, but gigantic ministry-like drum machines punching their way through a wall of my bloody valentine harmonic guitar noise with a layer of jesus and mary chain circa psychocandy sprinkled on top. as ben pointed out, the vocalist appeared to be a lost younger brother of fat joe and rapped in a style vaguely reminiscent of early ice cube (who, coincidentally, will also be playing bb king's in may). the tatooed "DJ" lip-synched key lyrics, poked repeatedly at his control surface, tweaked an outboard mixer and banged his head like a metal fan. the effect of the music was immediately impressive, but eventually wore a bit thin, as every song used the same basic arrangement. a little diversity and a bit more of a stage show or presence would help them immensely, since they already have a good foundation. at one point the beat dropped out and the noise built up to a prolonged multilayered roaring and screeching, but ben and bianca said what i was already thinking: "you can't hurt us. we've been to merzbow." still they were a decent opening act, more enjoyable than i thought they would be.

the main attraction itself is full of seeming contradictions. a skinny white british guy half-rapping/half-singing over techno-industrial dance music, sometimes with christian overtones, is pretty unexpected. throw in a barrage of bizarre and sometimes violent imagery on two screens and you have a recipe for potential brain overload. unless you're familiar with some of their previous shows, or perhaps those of emergency broadcast network (whose 1995 album telecommunication breakdown was produced by dangers).

usually the most prominent instrument in MBM's music is the drums; complex, driving, relentless except for the occasional roll. however, perhaps because of their recent surround-sound remix album RUOK in dub, the primary mover on this night was bass. huge, loping, subterranean basslines that could probably be heard and felt all the way in jamaica (well, maybe jamaica, queens). for most of the set, the bass turned the fast beats inside out and made them feel slow. the urge to space out was counteracted by the visuals, which included clips from the prisoner and scanners, to name a fraction of the fast-paced imagery that whizzed by. both video and audio from the clips were being manipulated back and forth (similar to a DJ scratching) with two laptops by keyboardist/VDJ ben stokes. they cleverly also had a motor-controlled camera onstage for moving shots of the band and video feedback off the screens. there was also a small camera trained on dangers which was mixed in when he sang. it was somewhat disorienting seeing him from the side singing to the sky while onscreen his enlarged, disembodied head looked directly at us, floating over a maelstrom of video effects. as interesting as the show was, including reworkings of "everything you are" and fragments of "psyche out", the evening wasn't complete until they played "helter skelter."

while ben and bianca said the set wasn't as great as the one last year at irving plaza, it was definitely worth going to.

the title of this post is a song on MBM's album actual sounds and voices, which incidentally was used in the soundtrack for the matrix.


the truth unveiled

there are probably a lot of people who wonder why anyone would go out of their way, much less pay more than the price of a first-run movie, to see an art exhibit. of course, whether or not all that is worth it depends on the artist. in the case of german expressionist egon schiele at the neue galerie, this was a must for me. his paintings, drawings, and poster design represent one of the more formidable and recognizable bodies of work in modern art. that may seem like hyperbole, but it's given a bit of perspective when you factor in that he didn't live past his twenties.

schiele is one of those artists who learned the rules and then promptly discarded three quarters of them in favor of a distinctive style. his art academy work, which i'd never seen before this show, clearly rose to proficiency in a german classical manner during his years there. however, in 1909 you see the beginnings of a fluidity of line that comes from casting off the rigid art school techniques of careful measuring and needing to define every last area of an object in order to show form. by the next year his style was clearly defined, and his drawings from then on had the confidence and ability to show more with less.

in fact, some of his sketches showed so much less as to be disturbing. some figures have unfinished limbs and even missing heads. in some cases these omissions don't seem to be unfinished so much as being considered unnecessary in terms of getting across the thrust of the drawing or maintaining a simplicity of composition. this is even more clear in the cases when the figure has been colored in, sometimes in patches, other times in lurid detail.

one of the most unsettling qualities of schiele's work, when he did choose to fill in details, was his choice of tones and brush strokes to define skin. sparsely defined figures got blood-red splotches around key muscles and bones, around the eyes, on the genitals. more detailed studies or fully-realized paintings frequently favored a sickly green pallor, with patches of raw umber and more bloody reds, as though everyone had been beaten or infected.

however, this doesn't necessarily make his subjects ugly, simply more human. it reminds us of the veins and blood and bones just beneath our surfaces. in some cases the modeling of the skin is coupled with a gracefully posed figure. and then there were the commissioned portraits, in which he simply used his skills to render people flatteringly. these drawings effortlessly show the kinds of details that make you feel you're really getting a sense of the person's true appearance and character. in addition, schiele's poster design was as graphically arresting as his art, and even his signature had a look all its own.

of course, the most dramatic schiele works are the paintings, with their distorted bodies, strangely colored skin, and bold black outlines painted with a sure but tense hand. by 1918, he was the master of his own largely bleak and distorted world. sadly, schiele was cut down in his prime by the spanish flu, as were his wife and unborn child.

neue galerie is a nice place, but unfortunately the exhibition's setup and presentation suffered from a lack of clear direction. i'm not sure if was due to the nature of the rooms' placement, but nothing on the second floor flowed chronologically or in any other obvious way, and the crowd was left to wander somewhat aimlessly. the wood-paneled first room everyone is drawn to contained schiele's most immediately impressive and mature work, as well as personal artifacts in glass cases (including the incredible sculpture of a fellow inmate when he was in prison - molded out of bread). a second room then led to another smaller room with works of other artists, with no delineation between them. an ill-placed sign in an outer hallway read "exhibit continues on third floor", where we were left to guess that we should move counterclockwise. unless of course you bought an audio tour that told you where to go. being the sum of two private collections, the show lacked several major works including his arguably more widely seen version of the lovers. one of the great joys of seeing paintings and drawings in person is comparing what you know (or think you know) about a piece with the piece itself.

the dark wood-paneled souvenir store was also confusing. though schiele was the main draw that afternoon (the line was around the block and took 15+ minutes to reach the entrance), books of his work were scattered in three different sections. telling of a larger issue was the fact that there were postcard books of schiele's more popular teacher gustav klimt and a few other german or austrian artists, but none of schiele himself. there's something about his art that wouldn't really translate neatly into a postcard, something which makes people uncomfortable.

maybe it's for the best that schiele hasn't been commodified quite as much as his teacher or other great artists. perhaps taking a lead from certain pharmacists at target, some mailmen would choose to take a "moral stance" and refuse to deliver a postcard with a naked, spreadeagled, seemingly deformed woman missing parts of her limbs. or a recipient might say to the sender, "you sent me a picture of a gaunt, half-naked man who looks exhausted and diseased. what are you trying to say?" another option is that schiele would become huge in the manner of edvard munch, whose exhibit is now up at the moma; known only for one iconic image, the rest of his life virtually ignored by most of the world.

david bowie was quietly influenced by egon schiele; the cover of "heroes" was based on a self-portrait, and at some point bowie was picked to play the artist in a biopic (i'm sure this has since fallen through). his poster design and hand-drawn type probably influenced poster art and graphic design for years afterwards. these are the little ways popular culture is exposed to schiele's work, if not his name. for now, that will have to do.

the title of this post comes from one of the artist's paintings.


i can't stand still

a free set by a new incarnation of dirty projectors gave me an excuse to check out soundfix records last saturday in williamsburg.

when i got there, to my surprise, the band was not playing in the record store, but behind it. soundfix occupies the corner of north 11th and bedford, a few blocks beyond the main drag of the neighborhood. the main entrance is in the record store, but past that is a small dark wood-paneled room with old-style chairs and a coffee table, which was filled with people on their laptops or waiting to use the restrooms. a push beyond, however, and you're in a coffee shop/lounge with plenty of seating options, from stools at the counter to tables with seats like church pews, to comfortable chairs and couches. an old bookshelf, or possibly something once used to display fine china, doubles as decoration/storage and a front for a raised DJ booth in the corner.

in the back, with only a few ambient mikes pointed in his general direction, dave longstreth led his trio through an acoustic set of his clasically off-kilter tunes. this man writes like a tin pan alley songsmith following his own muse instead of the marketplace. he starts off penning a melody that wouldn't be out of place in the likes of porgy and bess and then turns it into something somehow folky and avant-garde in its execution. he frequently shifts keys and tempos, plucking out jazzy chords no matter what kind of awkward fingering is necessary. he comes on like a 1940's crooner who isn't trying to seduce anybody and doesn't take himself the least bit seriously, then without warning starts belting out the melodies, unafraid or perhaps even determined to crack his voice with the sheer joy of music-making. he stretches out syllables into melismas more bizarre and complex than any r+b singer's, and the accompanying harmonies follow him down the winding path. it's as if dirty projectors can't stop churning out brilliant song ideas for a musical that will never be made, because their ideas come too fast and furious for anyone to stop and make a full-scale production out of them. then again, broadway's self-cannibalizing producers wouldn't know what to do with numbers entitled "finches song at oceanic parking lot" (longstreth seems to have a slight obsession with finches).

the sound was natural and resonant, and all three members could be heard without any microphone feedback. the atmosphere was relaxed, and the high tin ceiling not only enhanced the reflective sounds, it made me feel i was hanging out in just another brooklyn apartment listening to some talented guys sing and play.

i only made a quick run-through of the record store, but the prices seemed decent. that they had brian eno digipak reissues and a decent-sized jazz section as well as the expected indie rock and electronica was a good sign. i also noted the the manish boys/davy jones and the lower third 12" on display for trainspotters. throw in a good zine selection, two computer stations up front and a spacious area to browse and walk between the racks and you've got the most inviting music retail place i've seen in years.

the title of this post is the name of a don henley album, whose namesake is shared by the protagonist of the dirty projectors' the getty address.