Anything not covered by music, reading, or links.
I would love to see Michael Heizer's City in my lifetime. From what little that's leaked out, it seems like no other work I know. While very few images are available, and he'd really rather not want you on his land (as these art-tourists found), there's a satellite image, there's a good profile from the New York Times, and some other images have shown up here. During the reign of Bush and Cheney, City's site came under threat from the proposed rail link to carry radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain, but the economic downturn may have saved it, with the Yucca Mountain project being scaled back.
I took the plunge on Saturday, watching four fifths of the Matthew Barney's Cremaster cycle, 4, 5, 1, and 2. And I've bought a pass to see the three-hour 3 tonight. So I must be really digging it, right?
I certainly appreciate the effort, parts of it are visually striking, and it's amusing to attempt to decode the thing. It is also, however, often impenetrable, tedious, and looking at the synopses on the site, I can think of ways he could have enacted the synopsis with much greater economy. The dominant image of the film cycle for me isn't actually in any of the films at all; rather, the prints of 4 and 2 that I saw begins with a title and logo for the production company Palm Pictures, the logo of which is a vertical rainbow line surmounted by a tilted white arc in the form of a partial ellipse, with a bulge at one end. The ellipse looks rather like a sperm, and as we all know, the palm method for the production of sperm is commonly known as wanking. (Such is the nature of the film cycle that I almost gave Barney the benefit of the doubt and interpreted this as a self-referential in-joke, but research reveals Palm to be an actual film production company.)
For whatever reason, the films are being shown in the order in which they were filmed, which has the benefit of showing an ever-increasing lavishness as the production budget expands. Barney and his connections sure were able to whip up a lot of funds. So what about the films themselves? Well, Barney has a lot of balls, that's for sure. They're everywhere--
- in title sequences (in 5, the drooping enballed flower),
- in wardrobe (Ursula Andress's Princess Leia-ish blown-glass headgear, also in 5),
- in hard plastic form (in 4, stuffed into the Candidate's pockets by the faeries; in 5, covering the central pool extension and held by the hands and feet of the Houdini character),
- in gooey pseudo-biological form (4, emerging from the motorcyclists' leather jumpsuits; in 5, in penis-less ball-only form at the Giant's crotch, but also his feet as he walks through the pool),
- in abstracted flattened biological form (in 4, the ramps leading down from the temporary building at the end of Queen's Pier; in 5, the now-flattened head of the fallen climber),
- in inanimate object form (in 4, hanging particularly uselessly off the pink temporary spare tire; in 1, the inverted ball/eyestalk sculpture on the tables of the Goodyear lounges, the two poorly edited-in blimps themselves, the chorus girls' balloons, and the stewardesses' earrings)
- in organic form (in 1, the grapes on the tables of each lounge),
- in digital form (in 1, the digital grape analogues)
- and probably some others I'm missing at the moment.
4: Barney as ram-man (wow) dandy tap-dances through a marble floor in a temporary building on Queen's Pier, attended by faeries with mixed sexual characteristics. At the same time, two motorcycle teams race around the Isle of Man (geddit?) in opposite directions. While they do, their balls leak out of their pockets and make their way gooily down or up (depending on the team). The downward team makes a pit stop (attended by the faeries, who consider replacing a tire with a uselessly enscrotumed one, then think the better of it); the upward team makes a cartoonish simulated crash into a wall. Simultaneously, the faeries have a picnic on a cliff, while Barney, having fallen through the floor to the bottom of the harbor, digs his way into a sculptural tunnel of nascent testicular forms covered in Vaseline. Barney cuts between all of these plot lines, and just when we expect a convergence of all these lines, the camera pans up from Barney below the earth to the roadway above, where we see...a ram. An actual ram, there in the middle of the road--a real WTF moment, that one. Then the screen goes white, and we're back on the pier where we see the inland side of the temporary building, with each motorcycle team perched on a scrotal ramp. Cut to a squirm-producing sequence representing the testes' descent, and finally a shot of one of the fairies with ribbons attached to an undescended scrotum at one end, and the motorcycle teams at the other, while triumphant bagpipe music underscores the incipient achievement. Afterwards, I hit the restroom just to make sure they were still there.
5: Higher production values; this one's in Prague. An orchestra mimes to a well-recorded score, as Ursula Andress lip-syncs passably. Meanwhile, Barney in makeup and a harlequin's costume crosses the stage and climbs up the vine surrounding the stage; there's something weirdly fake about it, and when he reaches the top of the arch, the pneumatic assist is revealed. Also, down below this is a ball-covered pool in which more of those nymphs swim, and elsewhere Barney rides a horse across a bridge and (as, apparently, Houdini) perches manacled upon the/another horse, and later on one of the bridge supports. He falls (weirdly fake, again), we see that Barney as the harlequin has fallen (and his head replaced by an empty scrotum), and down in the pool, he (as the cockless Giant) wades into the pool where the nymphs help yank those testes down, all of which seems to upset Ursula, who faints and drools. This one moves slooooooowly, although the score is at times nice. While arguably Barney's picking the locations for thematic reasons (Prague, apparently, being Houdini's birthplace--Houdini enshackled representing the undescended testes getting free and all), one begins to suspect that he's looking for ways to fund vacations.
1: A Busby Berkeley dance number on Boise's football field--quite well done, Barney--intercut with scenes from the imaginary lounges of two Goodyear blimps above. In the center of each lounge is a table supporting a biological ball sculpture, surrounded by grapes. Bored stewardesses smoke and look out the window, while another woman under each/both table(s) tears a hole in the tablecloth, pulls grapes down, somehow drops them out of a horn of plenty at the bottom of one of her shoes. The fallen grapes form digitally-enhanced patterns which then govern the pattern of the dancers below. And again. Over and over. We get it, Barney, we get it. Finally, the dancers form a testes/seminal vesicles or ovaries/fallopian tubes arrangement...and we're spent.
2: Lots of bee-related grossness (crawling out of fornicating genital sculptures), corsetry (that's wasp-waisted, Barney; although arguably we could say that this film is kind of bee-wasted), Norman Mailer as Houdini (since he wrote The Executioner's Song about Gilmore, and Gilmore's family claimed to be related to Houdini), and--shockingly--the first regular spoken words of dialogue in any of these films, at a seance between Gilmore's grandmother and his parents-to-be, which leads to that sculptural bee porn sequence. Plus a nifty sequence of ex-Slayer (haw haw haw!) drummer Dave Lombardo triggering a gated recording of bees--pretty slick, and I'll have to remember this. Apparently the bee-encrusted singer is communicating with Gilmore over the AM radio, as Gilmore (Barney) waits in a sculpturally joined pair of Ford Mustangs at a Sinclair gas station, playing with the interior of the cars and the bridge between them, some thread, and some Vaseline before getting out and committing his first murder (the attendant; this happened, but not this way). We're spared the second one and the arrests and all, and the execution sequence is played as a rodeo on the mirrorlike Salt Flats after rain, not as the firing squad it was in reality. In the film, Gilmore rides the bull to a peaceful, sleeplike stasis filmed reverently from above--offensively making the argument that Gary Gilmore died for your balls. (Maybe Gary died for somebody's balls, but not mine.) Next we're treated to some dramatic shots of Western landscapes taken from a helicopter; quite a vacation Barney's set up for himself. Meanwhile, Mailer as Houdini slips out of a plastic and honeycomb container in a damp warehouse of monster trucks. Then a tightly corseted Victorian woman (meant to be Gilmore's grandmother) talks him into seduction, and we're treated to some Canadian imagery. (Representing, I guess, the border towns of Detroit/Windsor, where Houdini died, and also Niagara Falls. I guess.)
So...what do we have? Well, it's a mess. A visually striking and inventive mess, but it's so slow-moving, repetitive, personally self-referential and deliberately impenetrable in organization that it's still a mess. 4 was amusing at times, boasting some (intentional?) self-parody, and went on about twice as long as it should have. 5 was very visually rich, much slower than 4 (while the camera's smoother, I found myself missing the charge given by the tap dancing and the motorcycles), and went on about two thirds longer than ideal. 1 was amusing with the musical aspect, but intensely boring with the repetition. 2 is certainly more lavish than the others, the film stock is better, and the production values are higher, but it doesn't add up to much in advancing the theme. I mean, we're talking genital differentiation in five parts. What the second has to do with Gary Gilmore, I'll never know, unless it's that tenuous self-claimed connection to Houdini as testicle trying to get free.
I also take exception to this hagiography of Gilmore. Gilmore was a guy who had a difficult, abusive childhood, acted out into petty crime, spent a lot of time in the joint, and couldn't make it on the outside, ultimately killing two people before being caught, people who were doing the ordinary tasks of making a living when they were killed--something Gilmore himself didn't have the discipline to do. While it's been fashionable (certainly since the '60s, but even back to the Old West in America and to Byron in Europe) to romanticize the outlaw, but it's too easy; in doing this, one counts on credibility being dispensed from the hipoisie as from a vending machine. Cast a criminal as a tragic figure, and line up for your accolades. Paradoxically, it's much harder, less immediately rewarding to show compassion for the victims--and because there's no instant payoff or cred incentive, it's more admirable of a challenge.
Should you see it? If you have a tolerance for gross-out visuals, a lot of patience, and a desire to see what the buzz is about, sure. I'm checking out 3 tonight; we'll see if the trend continues.
Oh, man. Way too much has been going on, and it's impossible to keep up with the culture that's been sustaining me. Because it's easy to listen and work, most of this shows up in Music Listening.
Who'd'a thunk? The photo record (at the now-sadly-defunct Pandomag.com) shows that Joel Phelps is now playing a Jazzmaster. And a fine one it is, to be sure. I'm interested in hearing how it affects the sound of the songs.
Tops on the addicted-to list is Naked City's Radio, more than just a great introduction to the band--there are some masterpieces here. More to come.
Two months go by, and what's going on? Well, a lot. But for today, I found this marquee of a local theater worth sharing, mainly for the first "film" listed:
Terrorist Pokemon 2000--sure they're cute one minute, but the next they're blowing up a crosstown bus. It's about as good as some of my past favorites, Scent of a Woman Assassin and Reality Bites the Piano.
What's in the bag today? Naked City, Painkiller, and Spy vs. Spy. Apparently I'm on a Zorn/noise kick. A friend of mine loaned me Spy vs. Spy some years ago, and I returned it to him before he left town. At the time, it seemed astonishingly brutal--a true assault of noise. (I loved it, of course.) On listening now, it's still noisy--gloriously so--but it's not nearly as shocking to me. (This is not to say that it's completely impenetrable, jumbled, or without structure--there's a definite musicality to it.) It's interesting, though, how acclimation reveals structure. Or, put another way, as Brian Eno has said, any two sounds occurring in a sequence, repeated often enough, will sound inevitably linked.
Bitch though the critics will, I dug Eyes Wide Shut. Not perfect, but real good, and it is a lot of work to meet it. It's not the commercial porn flick people thought they were going to get. Particularly striking in the Cruise/Kidman scenes were the way relationship tensions turn into absurd arguments, almost laughable, and then instantly become devastating. The air of sustained menace is impressive, too--great use of Ligeti, which also got positive reviews on the Zorn list, but I'm sure alienated the critics. Maybe the film's pro-monogamy stance put people off, too. Oh, how unfashionable...
I'm speechless about Kubrick.
I'm also working on restoring an old (~1960) Eico HF-81 stereo amplifier, as part of my continuing journey into tube audio. I picked this up at ebay, for whatever that's worth. It's apparently been in a basement for years, and it was cobweb city under there, but I've cleaned it out, and I'm in the process of mapping the resistances in the circuit. Unlike some other audio equipment I've had the displeasure of repairing, this was (as a kit) meant to be worked on by humans. By all accounts, this can be a sweet-sounding amp, but I'm not powering it up until I have everything mapped, and I've replaced the power cord, which is iffy at best.
I've been using the Web extensively for research into general tube information, components, prices, advice, etc. A good source of general HF-81 Information can be found at that link, and I've gotten some pointers and some very good email suggestions from Roger Stevens, who has a page of modifying the HF-81 that you shouldn't start without checking.
It's been a while since updates. I've been under a load of work, which shows no sign of changing anytime soon--although I have managed to finish off some of my commitments. Use, a project of mine supported by a grant from the "Pennsylvania Council on the Arts", has been online since August. Check it out.
Surrounded by Memory, my piece in this year's Aliquippa Embraces Art festival, has been reinstalled in the Three Rivers Arts Festival gallery, in downtown Pittsburgh at 707 Penn Avenue. It's in the room at the back of the gallery. Go on in, sit down, and check it out. It'll be there until October 12.
The opening was great, except for a partial failure of one of my tape machines. But the piece is fully functional from a listener's point of view. I was worried about the mix, because there was no facility for mixing anything other than volume, the tape machines we were using had no noise reduction, and the tapes were CrO2--I was sure the piece was going to come out sounding like an Edison cylinder, but that turned out not to be the case.
I'm also listening to crickets, cicadas, trains across the valley, one or two light planes, and distant thunder. The perfect summer soundtrack.
A few days ago I saw D.A. Pennebaker's film of Dylan, Don't Look Back. I liked its lack of context--you don't know who half the people are; there's no narration; you're just thrown into events. Some of the famed "Dylan's a jerk" scenes seemed tongue-in-cheek to me, although the session with the Time magazine reporter seemed like pointless pseudohip revolutionary posing. Maybe it's just the naïveté of the times--in those days maybe Time magazine and its readers in the straight world actually seemed like the enemy. On the other hand, Time's corporate parent Time Warner and other megamedia conglomerates (along with corporate lobbying interests) have enough control to make them worth watching closely. (I should throw in some links here.)
The style of the film--the there-you-are, noncontextualized freewheelingness--reminds me of that first NPR broadcast in 1970. I talk about this sort of thing at some length on my Reading page.
A fine quote from Albert Einstein, from the book "Before the Big Bang: The Origins of the Universe" by Ernest J. Sternglass:
Don't do what I have done. Always keep a cobbler's job where you can get up in the morning and face yourself that you are doing something useful. Nobody can be a genius and solve the problems of the universe every day. Don't make that kind of mistake. When I accepted the position at the University of Berlin, I had no duties really. Nothing to do except wake up and solve the problems of the universe every morning.
I'm not reading the book, but came across it quoted in the latest copy of my alumni magazine. Yup, I actually read it, on occasion.
A sticker I saw as I was going home this evening:
- Sell yourself until you can afford to buy yourself back.