Sunday, January 24, 2010

FEATURE 44 - Brian Eno - Nerve Net

Here's a really terrific video collaboration with Eno for the track Ali Click from his 90's album Nerve Net. It's a visually sumptuous feast, composed of pattern, rhythm, that has a stimulating hypnotic power welding together with real skill, of both sight and sound.

DIARY 121 - Cultural Exchanges

Last weekend on January 17th, was Jnanasalin & I's 5th Anniversary since we began our a relationship. We celebrated by going to London for the day. First, we went to shop. Once they opened that is, what's with London shops only opening from midday on Sunday? So we cruised the shop windows disconsolately for a while. In Carnaby Street, we bought each other shirts in a mod clothing shop called Lambretta, me tartan, he pale blue. Whilst in the Ben Sherman Sale, I saw a red & white striped shirt, that I fell in love with instantly. Oh, the delight of impulse purchasing, that we regret at leisure. Basically, I mustn't put on weight or it will quickly become an extremely nice, but unworn adornment. I also bought JS a black perspex 'moustache' ring he wanted (what's that? You may well ask. Its pictured on the top right ) from Tatty Divine. Once we located where it was on Monmouth St, how easy is it to miss a bright vicious pink shop front, eh! JS purchased the new CD from Vampire Weekend for me, which is a great addictive treat.

Second, the food of life -to eat muffins and drink coffee. It was also surprising, to us none metropolitans at least, how few restaurants/cafes were open in SoHo on Sunday. Eventually we found a small independently run Japanese noodle place called Taro, which was actually rather fine. It being one of the few places open, it quickly got full to bursting. There seems to be an outbreak of gimmicky takeaways, called things like:- Noodle Oodle, Siam I am, Wok in a Box or Ping Pong, whose tag line is 'little steamed parcels of deliciousness' though this could just as easily evoke associations with gay steam rooms, rather than Dim Sum.

Third, the cultural consumption - the Pop Life exhibition at Tate Modern, on its last day. It took some later Warhol's as its starting point for exploring the 'Pop' sensibility in Art since then. It took in on route, Tracy Emin, Damian Hurst, Jeff Koons and Takashi Murakami. The ephemeral nature of popular culture, and transitory celebrity were two strong recurring themes. Much of it seemed to rehash or put a different twist into Warhol's ideas, or merely provoking offense because that's what modern artists have to do. So some of it, by Jeff Koons and Cosi fan tutti, explored the porn and celebrity sensibilities simultaneously. Though neither was that enlightening about it. The most honest, and blatant, was a video by an artist who's name I forget, who arranged for a famous gallery owner to have sex with her, and covertly filmed them in action for over an hour! A difficult metaphor to watch, but the idea of it expertly presents success or celebrity as a type of prostitution.

Some of them, I'm thinking Murakami here, seem to revel in, and celebrate popular culture, highlighting the tackiness of its delights. This seemed a cleaner, more genuine approach, than that of ironic exploitation with all its attendant accusations of charlatanism. From a Buddhist perspective, the ephemeral in popular culture, driven by novelty, fad and fashion, is primarily about impermanence and craving for momentary pleasures. That our enthusiasms and interests come and go, so fleetingly, can, with awareness, be instructive.

What we give artistic value to is constructed around a whole nexus of personal and cultural value judgements. Art, whether High or Low, Elitist or Commercial, Non-utilitarian or utilitarian, is affected by these aesthetic assumptions. Both are prone to novelty, the shock or addiction of the new, the fleeting innovations of the present moment, the ideas of profit and progress. The Pepsi can is a product of the commercial imagination, using aesthetics to attract you to buy it,to consume then dispose of it. Once its drunk it has no further value, it becomes trash. Yet Art, is equally a product to be bought and sold, it has no intrinsic worth, until, that is, someone takes it off the wall and buys it. Once Charles Saatchi buys an artist's work, its automatically accredited some artistic value, and a market for their work emerges that wasn't there before. To buyers in the world Art Market, it can be as much, if not more, about a good investment, than simply appreciating an artists work. Art, and artistic value, creates an illusion of permanence. In the end all these distinctions can seem a chimera, bogus ideas, that we either buy into and propagate or not. Whether we purchase a painting or a can of Pepsi, we are endorsing the value it has been given, we are buying into a way of viewing it, and placing a value on it.

Murakami, by making miniature versions of Pepsi cans, packets of Doritos, or cupcakes in gold, and encrusting them with diamonds, is simultaneously highlighting what we readily overlook, the aesthetics of disposable products and all pervasive recognition of brands, whilst also undercutting the art cultural biases and personal prejudices that support them. Something traditionally with little or no artistic value, by being made out of valuable materials by 'an artist' suddenly gains financial worth. This creates confusion within our prejudicial perceptions. How should we now view this? This is fascinating territory to ponder on. Value and worth, artistic or otherwise, as a co-conditioned phenomena.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

FEATURE 43 - Hurts

My second favorite tune of 2010 Hurts -Wonderful Life. Very much in the Pet Shop Boys mode of electronic twosomes, bland faced static men shot in stylish black and white, one singing, whilst the other twiddles and looks disinterested, sing profundities to encourage a woman not to kill herself over love ( we presume ). Though I sniff something that's a tad gay about them, the visuals are so perfected and knowing. They toured as support to Gary Numan recently, and the lead singer has captured Gary's knowing tongue emerging from the side of his mouth routine,with a flick of the head away from the mike, down to a T. For me it's the brokenness of the rhythm that makes this song special, plus the mental dancer adjusting her skirt hem is a hoot.

FEATURE 42 - The XX's

Their name kept coming up in all the 'Best of's' for 2009. So I searched them out on Spotify, and since then they've become a permanent fixture on my play list, my first musical addiction and resplendent joy of 2010. They wear their influences proudly on their sleeves, but make something uniquely all their own of them. Vocally reminiscent of early Tracy Thorn, their music evokes the spirit of that short lived band from the mid-eighties Young Marble Giants (look out their one and only album Colossal Youth). Unlike the YMG whose music had a fragility that was forever on the edge of shattering, the XX's seem more confidently grounded in their melancholy muse. Something fresh and innovative emerges from their use of instrumental sparseness, that is more than just imitative. Their sound has a simple unpretentious clarity to it that is gentle on the ears, without becoming depressive or sentimental. This doesn't mean its unadventurous either, they push the possibilities of their soundscape all the time. Here they're well served by the production, which features the best use of echo on a guitar in years.

Like the YMG, it may be they've emerged too perfectly formed, There could becomes no way of moving the sound forward without the band splitting due to 'musical differences'. One of the band has already parted company, so lets see. I can't see them ever becoming mega-big, their sound is too low key,and intimate. It lacks the huge ego, and showy brashness often required to be hugely popular. But they do already have a substantial cult following, and some effusive critical acclaim as a result. Enjoy them whilst their star is still small polished and shiny. The critical knives will no doubt be out soon enough.

Their videos are quite minimal and cool too.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

FEATURE 41 - The Last of Last Years Best

I can't help but post a few highlights of the last year. so here they are.

She's not particularly original either as a singer or as a song writer, but what she does is good for what it is. Yet to focus solely on this profoundly misses the point and appeal of La Gaga. If you watch her early videos you can see lower budgets highlight her musical weaknesses. She comes across as a rather low rent Madonna. From the 'mini opera' video for'Paparazzi' onwards, with larger amounts of revenue behind her, her visual imagination seems to have just gone berserk. This reached new heights with the video for 'Bad Romance' which is simply the most gloriously barking video yet made. There are also real moments of jaw dropping beauty in it, particularly when she's encircled with floating jewels, or the intersecting circles of metal. If she can top this in future remains to be seen. I personally have not tired of seeing this one yet. The 'Bath Haus of Gaga' like the high fashion houses she's aping and obviously loves, is all about style as content. Lady Gaga's visual richness bellows loudly who she is, much more than her musical production, tunes or song lyrics ever will. She dresses to kill.

In the same sort of territory as La Gaga, i.e. dress outrageously over the top, and have a huge gay following. This Channel 4 import from America became addictive viewing for Jnanasalin and myself. Sometimes these drag queens behave just simply appallingly towards each other, and at other times there is something very touching about how supportive they are towards their fellow contestants. For me Nina Flowers was always the winner, even though it was Bebe who actually won. So here is her original audition video for the show.

I bought this cheap (£3) in Fopp, and what a peach it is. Simply the best analysis of the masculine predicament I've read, by a man or a woman. Any stereotypically 'feminist' responses are largely absent here,or come under renewed scrutiny in the face of her experience being male. Norah Vincent possess a high degree of empathic observation and real sympathy for her fellow human kind. So she attempts to really see,hear and bear witness to how men cope with being the so called 'dominant gender'. Dressing as a man allows her to go places and experience things no woman would normally hear or know about in close detail. There were a number of real 'Yes!!!' moments when she really nails something very clearly.

Much hyped, but she did live up to it, Florence Welch's album 'Lungs' dominated my CD player for several weeks. Bold, brash and broad in its emotional range and the styles it takes on and conquers, it is such a confident debut it seems hard to envisage how she can better it. She is currently in great danger of overexposure, and in some of her recent appearances on TV her singing has sounded sloppy and careless, which she does not on this early BBC session.

By far the best new comedy on the BBC for quite a while. The little girl Ramona Marquez won the best comedy newcomer in the Comedy Awards for 2009, which was well earned. Her semi -improvised responses are often very witty, yet unknowing, and hence frequently spot on.

Yet another bonkers fashionista, who occasionally says something which cuts right to the nub and makes you think. Early on in 2009 he became a new found heroe of mine, if only because this man is in his seventies, and there's not a knitted cardigan in sight. This photo also proves he's not without a self-deprecating sense of humour either.

Has become a bit addictive for me this year, there's hardly a week goes by without a visit to a back episode of this long running archeological investigation programme. I just love Phil, Tony, Mick, Helen and the small but perfectly formed,but forever in the background Henry (the Hunk).

This week the film version of this book has just been released. The reviewers have remarked on how bleak it is, but that the film softens some of the books real grim power. From what I've read of his other writing, which isn't admittedly much, 'The Road' is different in style, with a much stronger narrative, evenness of authorial tone, and no gross out blood strewn grotesques. But my god it is unremittingly desolate none the less. Powerful stuff.

Late entries into my years favorites, The Knife - Olof Dreijer & Karin Dreijer Andresson, and Fever Ray - Karin Dreijer Andresson on her own. Both these electro outfits have a distinct air of bleak beauty, arty, but not without a slightly off kilter sense of humour. None of the people singing in these videos is either The Knife or Fever Ray, for instance. I find them both sometimes deeply impressive and moving.

Before Jnanasalin became Jnanasalin, before he left for the Ordination Course, we had a long weekend together in Brighton. These were five really delightful days, where we hung out together, shopped, went to cafes, relaxed, viewed the Brighton Pavilion which was amazing, ate out in superb vegetarian restaurants, saw the film 'The Watchman' which slightly freaked me out, and saw a National Theatre touring production of 'Gethsemane' by David Hare, which both
of us were deeply impressed with. We stayed in a great B&B, the weather for early April was bright and clear. Definitely a major highlight.


An excellent introduction to this deeply complex but impressive man's writing about the Dharma. He's not always easy to find acessible, but this compendium is.

KAORU NONOMURA - Eat, Sleep,Sit.
I always wondered what it would be like living in a Soto Zen Monastery, let alone the one that Dogen founded. But Nonomura does so for a year, and what an eye opener it is.

It was available in 2009 on YouTube almost two months before its actual release. The new album is due out on Monday 11th January. So strictly speaking its a favorite from 2010, but I'll put it in here because I so love this track.

DIARY 120 - Back to Basics ( Part Two )

Bodies eh! who'd chose to have one? Perhaps, if you could be a being composed of ether, or of the empty space between trees, we'd feel less tortured or dissatisfied by our experience. Though maybe its somewhat inevitable for any form of sentience. Human suffering is, it seems, so predominantly tied up with being embodied in this physical bodily form. Though its not just about our body falling ill of ailing, but also our minds falling ill or ailing, or our sense of self, our identity, falling ill and ailing, that will cause us to suffer. All of these different aspects struggle with each other, like cats inside this bag of perishable flesh. All of them so tightly bound up with each other that they appear inseparable from this complete physical entity we call our body. Everything about how we inhabit this body is incestuous.

So, what's brought this line of thought on? Well, after all the careful preparation and maintaining over the last ten months of those core back exercises, so I could do warehouse work, something on a psycho-physical level kicked back, and kicked my back hard this week. I began the week physically OK-ish, though in retrospect I've realised my body has been issuing severe weather warnings for a
bout a month, that things were not entirely hunky dory. It was after doing those core back exercises on Monday evening that something felt not quite right. The next morning it was about the same, only mildly uncomfortable, but I know this sort of thing can quickly come and go, so I went to work as usual.

It was a day when I was working in the Warehouse Kitchen, preparing food in the morning, washing and cleaning up in the afternoon. As the work progressed I found I needed to sit down with greater frequency than usual. By the end of day both my left hip and back felt raw, inflamed and I could feel the roughness of my bones as they moved. It was painful whether I was standing, sitting, or cycling. When I went to bed every move I made induced a sharp intake of breath. By Wednesday morning my entire back muscles had spasmed and clenched. I took a day off work,then two, then three, though things were slowly improving I went to see a doctor anyway, and he signed me off for a further 7 days.

On the mental and spiritual plain I'm OK, its just the body I'm carting around with me that's become troublesome. This disparity in experience between my body, my mind and my sense of myself is what has struck me the most. It really feels like there are two Me's, my awareness of my body, and my awareness of self-consciousness - of this body and of this other me watching and observing it. The back pain, has also highlighted the gap between this bodily discomfort and my lack of control over it. How little mastery I have, I feel like a king who has been usurped by his serfs. No longer am I the ruler of my own body, my body is now ruling me. Any willpower I exert is easily undermined by my bodies rebellion, as we live and grow old, simultaneously together and yet apart. We're uneasy bedfellows, like passionate lovers who've fallen out of love with each other, but continue living in the same house and sharing the same bed. There is no trial separation, no divorce is possible, other than by death, so they just have to learn to live with each other. Though its my body that has the upper hand, not I, whoever that I is.

I can feel at times a bit of a fraud, because I do feel fine in myself. I don't feel ill, yet physically I've been walking around like a decrepit old man. It's as though a salutary spell has been cast upon me as a punishment, in order that I experience what my body will be like as I move inexorable towards old age, sickness and death. That spell will not be broken merely by my determination or wishing for it to do so. I'm no longer the Manager of my body, but the deputy Supervisor, who can only monitor my activities, or contain them so they don't make matters worse. As long as I stay within limited parameters of movement i.e sit down a lot, move carefully when I walk, and don't make abrupt changes in posture, it can seem as if all is mended, healed and ultimately vanished. Stepping outside these restrictions is the only way to test how illusory, or not, that feeling is.

On one day, carrying a tray of crockery down stairs nearly kills my back, a few days later it is almost fine. Standing up whilst making dinner for the Community on Friday, needed to be peppered with rest spots, to sit down when preparing vegetables, and I still felt physically jiggered by the end of it. Walking out in the snow for the first time on the way to the Doctors Surgery, I slipped ever so slightly, and my whole back went into an alarmed, red alert spasm. I have so much more sympathy for the fears of the elderly,particularly in treacherous wintry conditions. Loss of independence is so intimately linked with the decay and resulting fragility of our bodies. When control over our own body grows more limited, the potential for suffering as a result of that, is ever present.

So, much as I'm eager for my back to return to business as usual, I know I'm going to have play it - gently does it. Resist mentally thinking I'm over it ( it ain't over till its over ) at least not before my body says so - 'yes you are now over it, you may now proceed, but remember whose really in charge!'