Gigs, dance, art

August 29th, 2007: Sonic Youth / Peter Brötzmann & Mats Gustaffson

@la villette

Or the hell of expectations. At first I hadn’t planned to attend this gig, then relented for two reasons: someone I know was selling a ticket and Han Bennink was opening for them (with Peter Brötzmann). I still love Sonic Youth, but I don’t like crowds.

It didn’t start all that well for me, as Han Bennink could not make it and was replaced by Mats Gustafsson. I happen to like Gustafsson, but I was far more curious about Bennink, because I only heard a few things. I liked what Gustafsson did, even though I again failed to get Brötzmann; maybe I’m a lost cause. I think what I don’t like about him is that he’s either playing too fast or too slow for me. But that performance had its very good moments, they managed to really interact and play some interesting stuff. So I guess it turned out OK.

The first set of the main act was a long improvisation set where Sonic Youth were joined by Mats Gustafsson, Jean-Marc Montera and Michel Doneda; I had never heard of these two guys. I really liked it despite its shortcomings. There was first a gradual build up of a very nice wave of sound, then more rhythmic patterns eventually dissolving into other waves. It was a bit disappointing because I could not hear much of Gustafsson’s playing, and I thought SY were maybe a bit too cohesive compared with the others. But I should have know better: it must be real hard to play with their usual lineup and less known musicians at the same time, improvising to boot.

The second set was material from Daydream Nation and Rather Ripped. I like these records, but I never was very intrigued by hearing these played live. Too efficient maybe. The major exception is Hyperstation, but they didn’t segue into it after The Wonder, even though I really thought they were for a short while. Another expectation. I also hoped they would be at least as adventurous as usual, with their opening a Jazz festival. But it was the tamest show of theirs I’ve seen. I blame the material: maybe these songs are not open enough.

Their three guests were back for the encore, joining at the end of Expressway to yr skull, and they finally let loose and went into their more experimental mode with more feedback and assorted mistreatment of guitars. And Gustafsson was more assertive, even though Sonic Youth were doing their thing. So the gig ended on a high note for me, which was bittersweet.

August 30, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

August 24th, 2007: Tommy Smith


It’s been ten days since the last gig, so I just went to with closest opportunity. I didn’t expect much from the venue’s blurb — “poetry” wasn’t what I needed — but I was pleasantly surprised.

Tommy Smith had a bobish look to me, which was an appropriate disconnect. He’s not an overbearing leader, as often sat down to let the piano player have his part. I wish he had been more assertive, but what do I know? It’s just that I didn’t really like the other guy’s style. But it was a very good tribute to Coltrane. I didn’t know that would be the case, and that’s a part of the pleasant surprise thing. I’m only starting to learn, but I think this was a breakthrough of sorts for me: figuring out how to listen to someone else’s take on stuff like a love supreme. They played acknowledgement, and that’s as hard as it gets for me, especially since I saw Rosas’ take on it with Cynthia Loemij dancing on Coltrane’s part. I think that what works for me is to use the familiarity as a guidepost, but let go of any comparison.

For once I didn’t need half the show to get into it. They started with an outstanding version of Impressions. Full of energy and a somewhat edgy warmth. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It’s a feeling I haven’t had for many years: an old tune made brand new. Then they went on to an equally good version of Naima. The opening part of A Love Supreme then surprisingly didn’t send me packing. There’s more to it than my learning about Jazz. This music carries a heavy emotional load for me. The Rosas connection actually lessens it.

I really liked the way they didn’t seem impressed by the material and just did their thing with it. On the face of it, this is not the kind of gig I enjoy. But I did, a lot, and I’m grateful for it as it came at a time when I badly needed a break.

August 25, 2007 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

August 23rd, 2007: Roy Lichtenstein

@pinacotheque de Paris

Disappointing in scale, but not in content. I expected a big exhibition, it turned out to be pretty small, but stepped clear of the iconic stuff to focus more on later works and preparatory sketches. A good thing for me, as I really knew only the part everybody knows about. It cleared why I like his work so much: I still think part of the draw is the vernacular part, but the obvious laying bare of the method, which becomes something altogether different in the process, is a bigger part of it.

House I stopped me in my tracks for a while. A deceptively simple one, but the way the perceived and actual convexity/concavity were reversed were jaw-dropping. Woman: Sunlight, Moonlight was great as well. I don’t know if that was the unreality of the piece with its big dots, the reflection in different colors, or just the way the title just fit, but I spent a while around this one.

My favorite was Landscape with scholar’s rock. I don’t know how long I remained in that room, just taking it all in. It felt much closer to Chinese painting that the technique should warrant. Yet different. I felt it to be a reversal of the familiar postmodernist take: opposite technique, but something was still there, and not just to make fun of it. Confused? I plead guilty as charged. And I’m real glad to be confused for a change — that change is in the “happy” part, not the confusion.

August 23, 2007 Posted by | Art | , | Leave a comment

Back to Wittgenstein

The lack of gigs in the vicinity and the generally poor weather left me with way too much idle time, so I went back to old books I have read before. My first impulse was to read old Pynchon books, but a conversation with a coworker had been puzzling me. We had been talking about Wittgenstein and he said that he was turned off by the overwhelming sense of despair in his philosophy. That puzzled me because I never found much of anything emotional there. So I went back and read a small stack of his books, both those I have read many times and a few others.

Of course this is not exactly comedy material, but I didn’t find that despair either. Maybe my reading in English as opposed to the original German explains this, or maybe it’s my inability to relate to the person behind the ideas. Anyway, even though I didn’t find what I was looking for, it was a good refresher. It seems that every time I read one of these, I understand something more. That’s especially the case with the Tractatus, even though I must have read it more than twenty times.

That book was the first one I read by Wittgenstein, and my introduction to philosophy. If I remember correctly, I was intrigued by philosophy and selected that thin book at random, thinking it would be accessible to someone who lacked the educational background to make sense of the heavier stuff — I had very unpleasant memories of struggling with Kant in high school. I was both right and very wrong, of course. It is accessible in that the system is pretty autonomous, but there are many layers of meaning in there. I still love the density and clarity of this work, its structure and visual element too.

Another thing that has been puzzling me is the supposed opposition with the Philosophical Investigations. I just don’t get it. I feel both are consistent in method, and not really opposed as one deals with logical perfection and the other with useful languages. I always felt that the Tractatus showed that the cost of logical purity is uselessness. Well, that’s too strong, what I mean is that logic is great to clarify small details, but too unwieldy and demanding to be that useful for everyday communication — except with computers.

It seems that LW himself saw some problems with the Tractatus, so I must be wrong. I suspect that this comes from my utilitarian attitude to his writings. I don’t read these as some kind of gospel, I use them as tools. A small part of it is as a kind of meditative mantra, a way to shed the confusion in my thought in the glaring light of logical analysis. But my main use has been professional. I think the TLP, PI and Philosophical Remarks are the most useful books I ever read for writing computer programs. The first gave me tools to separate what I think I wrote from what I actually wrote — computers are unyielding about this. The second made me think of any program as a language game, a very handy analogy. The third contains a lot of stuff that explained many small technical details to me.

I think is that my readings have had more influence on the way I work than the other way around. I once referred to my line of work as “applied philosophy”. Maybe I should do that again, it managed to offend both philosophers and geeks. But still, maybe my putting Wittgenstein’s ideas to practical uses makes me blind to some of them. How am I supposed to know? I’m mostly self-taught in both subjects, and people who have seriously read him are not exactly a dime a dozen, especially in my line of work. It’s probably even worse here in France, where Wittgenstein is thoroughly despised — seriously, some people here even claim he was responsible for the Holocaust and hence should not be read.

But now I’m yearning for lighter stuff. I think I’ll read Russell’s history of western philosophy, his blatant cheap shots crack me up.

August 19, 2007 Posted by | Life | Leave a comment

August 14th, 2007: Mariposa feat. Yosvany Quiros

@7 lézards

At least that’s what it says here, but the venue itself was not that forthcoming, they were still announcing Martha Galarraga. I don’t know any of these people anyway, so it would not have made any difference. I had three reasons for going to this gig. First, it’s been a while and I’m really getting bored. Second, that Chucho Valdes performance made me want to check out Cuban music. The third is that I’m reading a great book about graffiti called Burning New York, and this morning I was looking at the pieces with Bode lizards. That was the clincher.

At first I was not really into that gig. I liked the piano, but not the percussions or bass, and the singer was too sugary for me. But it quickly grew on me, despite the crowded room and bright lights. I still would not listen to that on my own, but by the end of the first set I was pretty much into it. I still have a problem with that sweetness and positivity, but I managed to enjoy it. A good thing I went alone, though I was disappointed at first. I even knew a couple of the songs, which surprised me.

The second set was almost twice as long — close to 90 minutes — and they were joined by a gifted violin player. By then I had gotten used to this style of music and was enjoying it a lot. I just wish I could have stood in the back, but the place was just too crowded. Even though I enjoy it, this music makes me self-consciously uncomfortable, ready to bolt at the first opportunity. I’m glad I didn’t, because the singer was worth it. And they had a very nice surprise in store towards the end of the show: some reggaetón. That was really great, and the first time I got to hear some live. So maybe these lizards really were up to something…

August 15, 2007 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

Wishful thinking

Here it is, that dreadful time of the year when nothing happens. No gig in sight for close to three more weeks, even though I’ll probably go to some random jazz club out of sheer boredom. So I thought I would list a few of the gigs I wish I would get to attend in the coming months. In no particular order:

The Ex. That one should be easy. I love this band, and they usually bring along great musicians to open for them. Looks like they’ll be coming in December, and with the great Getatchew Mekuria. Now that’s definitely something to look forward to.

Boris. One of my favorite bands these days, definitely first in the metal category. I need to get organized: I’m not into that scene and I could easily miss them. I have very fond memories of the second time I saw them, foolishly standing in front. Being so close to Wata’s amp meant I lost part of what was going on, but allowed me to be engulfed by her sound. I would do that again if I could.

Afrirampo. Seeing a picture on WFMU’s blog made me think back to last year’s outdoors show. I wish Oni and Pika will come back around here, their playful energy is so delightfully addictive. In my confused mind they’re somehow related to the next band on my list, just because their gigs are so positive and can make even me have a positive outlook. I also hope I can find the record they cut in Africa, the little I heard was great.

Konono n°1. Congolese band. I just missed them last month, I only heard about it the day after. The only band on earth that can get me to dance. Not sure that’s a good thing, come to think of it. They’re absolutely amazing.

King Kong Ding Dong. Now that’s a long shot. It definitely won’t happen unless I cross the pond. They’re from Philadelphia and don’t seem to have ever toured very far. My best shot would be if they opened for another band, but would I even know about it? Heya is one of my favorite songs ever, one that made me order their EP the second time I heard it, that was before they had any kind of distro, and I still feel bad about how the price barely covered the shipping. I’ve been spreading the word since, to no avail.

Tim Berne. I’ve had more than one people — that means like two, but quality trumps quantity — tell me how great his band is. And his is one of the names I wrote down while listening to the station. A long shot nonetheless because he came to Paris earlier this year and I probably won’t hear about it, as the guy who first told me about him moved to Berlin like everyone else.

Circle. I missed them once, and have been kicking myself ever since. I never got another opportunity, and that sucks. I don’t know them that well, just from the radio. But I’ve found myself checking the playlist quite often to find out they were responsible. And kicking myself again.

Sunburned Hand of the Man. I never know how it will turn out with these people. That’s part of the game. But when they’re good, they’re really amazing. My favorite show of theirs was the first one I saw, but I’ve always found something to make it worth my while.

Jonathan Kane. I only heard about him recently, when he came to WFMU for a live session. Or at least that’s when I became aware of the name. His Rhys Chatham connection probably mean I have heard him before. I’m only getting started here, a gig would be a great way to learn more.

Oneida. It’s been a long time since they last came to Paris. Either that or I was out of the loop again. Anyway I really like the relentlesness of their drummer, and they really seem to be nice people, which doesn’t hurt.

Holly Golightly. I saw her once, and not in the best setting. I really love her voice, and that signature sound of hers. At first it seems it’s just a throwback act, but on closer inspection it’s not that at all. I think she reaches a kind of timelessness by being in several eras at the same time.

Laura Cantrell. Of course I first knew her as a WFMU DJ, but she turned out to be a talented musician as well. At least I love her work. I’ve been putting off ordering her first record, hoping to buy it at one of her gigs. That’s an unlikely one, as there’s not much of a market in France for country music. Yeah, I do like country. Some of it at least, and that’s because her show dispelled my previous misconceptions. There’s a ton of archived shows here, but I hope she’ll get a regular slot back soon; I rarely if ever listen to old shows, there’s so much good stuff on the air that I have a hard time catching up with recent faves I missed.

People like us. Another WFMU DJ, but her career as a recording artist is much longer. There’s a ton of her stuff for free download on her site, go check it out. I kinda hoped she would be playing at Sonic Protest last year, but it didn’t happen. I hope she comes to Paris some day, and I hope I’ll know about it in time to go see her.

Juliana Hatfield. Another long shot, to say the least. I didn’t go to London last year when she toured there. I should have. It’s a long story, I’ll just say I was struggling with a severe bout of semi-depression at the time, and couldn’t get myself moving until it was too late. Fitting in a way. She’s my favorite artist, and has been for a long time. Her music means a awful lot to me. I’m toying with the idea of going to Boston to see her. I would need to get some time off at the right time, which never happened so far, but that’s my idea of a dream vacation.

Of course, I’m eagerly awaiting the reopening of my usual haunt, so that I can go see bands I’ve never heard about, but that’s depressingly far in the future.

August 12, 2007 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Avatar ghost and layout gripes

It’s getting slow gig-wise, so I might as well break my own rules and post about something completely different.

I changed my avatar a couple of weeks ago, but my previous one sometimes comes up instead. It happens on the wordpress main page, in my comments, and I sometimes see both during the same session. I haven’t seen any pattern to it. I absolutely love this. A touch of unpredictability, and there’s another layer to it: even though the ghost here is my old sacred chao avatar, the haunting fits real well with Mircea Cantor’s Ann Lee, while the randomness is somehow discordian. I suspect this came up because my new avatar is too small, because that seemed to confuse the upload page; I tried to upload it again, to no avail, but now I’m happy with this state of affairs.

I can’t say that about the layout, though. I selected it reluctantly, because the ones I liked better included a picture I would really have to change. My problem is that I don’t have any suitable replacement. I know I want a graffiti, but I’m set on one I can’t find anywhere. It was in Versailles, France, right next to the Chantiers station, but was defaced about ten years ago. I think I’ll give up if and when I meet a few more people with contacts in the French graffiti scene and come up empty. Maybe I’ll end up with a LADY PINK piece instead, but I’d feel awkward stealing one right now.

August 9, 2007 Posted by | Blogging | Leave a comment