Gigs, dance, art

WFMU Marathon

It’s that time of the year again. Time to give back to the best radio station in the world and make sure it keeps broadcasting. They are listener-supported, and that means us.

Despite the though economic climate and last year marathon’s failure to reach the target, they managed to keep putting great music out there for us to hear, giving much-needed exposure to many of the musicians I’ve written about, and many more I wish I could hear live. And as if it wasn’t enough, they also are the main force behind the free music archive, and have launched two alternate streams, Ichiban for 50’s/60’s rock/soul and an alternate UbuWeb stream for further confusion/enlightenment. As if the programming wasn’t enough.

So if you’ve enjoyed any of this in the past, go over here and pledge! They’ll even send cool stuff your way. Those DJ premiums are very much worth checking out, most of these are comps lovingly put together by people with an extensive record collection and even more extensive knowledge. Rare gems galore.

Though for me the best thing I get from my yearly pledge is having the station around. I’ll soon be out of a job, but I saved all year for this and nothing will stop me from giving back a little for all they’ve brought me over the years. Priorities, people.

February 28, 2010 Posted by | Life, Music | Leave a comment

July 1st, 2009: Abbey Bookshop anniversary

@St Séverin

That dance show was an early one, so I could make it to the garden of St Severin church for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Abbey Bookshop, a Canadian bookshop of which I’ve been a customer for many years. It’s almost my sole puveyor of books, and even if they don’t carry what I’m looking for, I usually scout the details on some online dealer’s site before ordering through them. It might be more expensive, but Brian has given me great advice along the years, and that’s worth shelling out a little more once in a while. Plus there’s usually some coffee hidden in the middle of the towering piles of book, and how many shop do this in Paris?

Anyway the celebration was shared with a Mexican restaurant named Mexi & Co, also around since 1989, but I’ve never been there. So there was Mexican food and some cinnamon and rice drink I liked a lot, a piñata and some latin music, in addition to the medieval theme more specifically brought by the bookshop people, including a guy doing colorful medieval calligraphy. They even got the use of the church’s organ for a short performance, the sound was great even though I’m not into that kind of music. There were a lot of people doing some medieval dances, and they looked like they were having a lot of fun; they’re probably part of a club, because many dressed the part. The music for that was by an ensemble called l’Escarboucle, and I thought they were great, playing until night fell and put a reluctant stop to the dancing. I don’t know anything about this kind of music, but that’s something I might want to fix, hence this reminder.

July 6, 2009 Posted by | Life, Music | , | Leave a comment

WFMU 2009 Marathon


It’s that time of the year again, and the best radio station ever needs your support. The station is listener funded, which means that all the amazing stuff available on the air and on the net is made possible by people like you and me putting their money where their ears are once a year.

Then there’s also the exposure they give to people who don’t have agents, managers and record labels to bring them to you. I know second-hand that they actively seek out those and contact them to ask for records to play. I mean I actually know someone who got an email from Brian Turner asking for records out of the blue, and another who sent his records unprompted actually got not just airplay but also ended up on a few “best of the year” DJ lists. The station is the real deal, no question about that.

They could have gone the way of requiring a paying membership to access their shows, archives and podcasts, and the soon-to-be-launched Free Music Archive, but instead they put it all up for free, never aired current advertising — aircheck of those are a different story, and Kenny G is something else again — and generally made great things happen with only us to back them up. Us meaning me and you, if you ever had your mind blown away by their programming. If you haven’t yet, head over there and take a listen. It might take a while, but it definitely will happen.

So now is the time to give something back, and that means pledging money to make the station go on for another year. And as if what you already got wasn’t enough, they even throw in some great handpicked comps as additional incentives — those are technically know as DJ premiums — and other goodies. $75 for a CDR sounds steep, but wake up and figure out that what you already get for free is worth much more, and getting hold of what’s on these would cost much more. Anyway, it’s totally besides the point. I rest my case, do whatever you want, I’ll do the same, which probably going for the booster level. That’s how much the station means to me, for those who keep track of such things. You don’t have to be as insane desperate dedicated as I am, every single $15 donation helps the cause.

More cogent explanations over here, but why not skip that and just do the right thing already.

February 21, 2009 Posted by | Life, Music | | Leave a comment

February 9th, 2008: Steve Coleman and Five Elements / Opus Akoben

@salle Jacques Brel, Fontenay sous Bois

I count myself lucky on that one. I only heard about it on Thursday, while looking for information about another gig. I got a ticket right away and it turned out to be sold out, so that was probably a close call. I knew I made the right move when I learned more about the lineup. First, they would be on stage with the hip-hop band that includes the two guys from the Pro-Verb project. Second, and most important for me, Jen Shyu would be there. I just love her voice. My luck held further on the way when I caught a nice sunset and found a park dark enough for me to gaze at the stars for a while before the show; listening to Vietnamese songs in that setting so close to a big city was a great disconnect that helped me get into a receptive frame of mind.

The show proved to be amazingly great. I was not as moved as the first time I saw Five Elements, but it came close. Completely different again, with less brilliance and more energy. Opus Akoben were a perfect complement, with two talented MCs including Kokayi who spend some time clowning around to great effect. It was great in that this great music was delivered with a sense of ease and fun, stripped of any pretend, even though it sure could warrant some. Again, I was in awe at the way Coleman appeared as just one among peers, no overbearing leader. And when he went for a solo, it was short and without any display of virtuosity. But it came to me as near perfect, with each note meaningful. In a sense, that feeling was close to what I got from listening to Miles Davis, even though he’s more verbose. I really love that as much as raw speed can turn me off.

The balance in that lineup is amazing. Each one got his moments, except maybe the bass and guitar from Opus Akoben. Two drummers with different techniques, but never overpowering, and the balance among players came across in the music as well, not exactly Coleman’s stuff, not really hip-hop either, some exploration of things in between and around both.

And of course there was Jen Shyu‘s voice. That alone would have been enough for me. I know it just shows how little I know, but the lack of words just got me into hearing voice as another instrument, stripped of meaning into pure music. It’s only the second time I hear her, but she’s reminding me of how Cynthia Loemij helped me get into dance many years ago, as someone who opens gates for me, letting me get a glimpse of something I didn’t know existed. I mean I knew voice was music, but I never felt it this completely. Anyone who can shut down my mind ranks as very precious to me. Unfortunately, her solo record wasn’t available there, and she probably won’t be touring nearby on her own; I know it’s probably very different, but I sure could use more of that guidance.

After that overpowering show, I was exhilarated and reluctant to go back to the reality of getting back home in the Saturday evening feel of mass transit. So I just went back to stargazing in that park, bookending this escape with other voices gently holding those gates open. Now closed for a while, but there nonetheless.

February 10, 2008 Posted by | Life, Music | , , , | 1 Comment

Juliana Hatfield on my mind

It had been a while. I had been avoiding listening to her music for months, probably the longest spell since I first heard her more than fifteen years ago. I was afraid of having lost it. What “it” is is that faint but strong connection to her voice and music. I was scared of binding it to what I was going through at the time. Still am. But then I found out about that EP with Frank Smith and had to check it out. And when I got it I had to listen to it in the worst possible place; I guess it was all or nothing, or more accurately I had to know what was left.

Again, unsurprisingly, it turned out to be perfectly in tune to what I was at the time. It’s been that way for years now. At first I let the binding take place, thinking I was in deep trouble if even her voice couldn’t get me out of this mess I’m in. That’s what I wanted to know, setting up a clash between my bounds to two of the people dearest to me. Which one would give first. Of course it turned out different. The last song, On Your Mind, turned out to be the one I must have known was in store. I would have dismissed it a few months ago, but it was perfect now. Not what I wanted at all, better in a way. No clash but an acceptance.

A binding I wanted to avoid, but there was no such thing, as it was already too late. Her music has always been directly in touch with my inner self, so it stands as no surprise that this came about. Now I don’t really know what to make of it. At some point in the future I guess I will dare/need to pop in Become what you are. Maybe I’ll move to Boston at last. Maybe I’ll give up at last. Maybe it won’t change anything. I do believe I’d be dead by now without that particular record. I got no idols is my personal favorite, but feeling Massachussetts is the one song that has always been most special to me. I don’t know how to express that. I’m afraid of losing that bond, I’m afraid of sharing that somehow. But I come to thinking all I’m doing is postponing knowledge of what already is, whatever that is exactly.

On a more light-hearted note, I’m probably the only person to have come to Godspeed You! Black Emperor by way of Juliana Hatfield. The connection? None, but she had done some backing vocals on a Giant Sand record and while looking for that one I saw a Godspeed record, loved the name and bought it. This eventually led me to all this gig-going, along with what I alluded to in this post. It’s all making sense in a way only I can appreciate.

September 17, 2007 Posted by | Life, Music | Leave a comment

September 8th, 2007: Steve Coleman & Five Elements feat. Kroger Quartet

@cité de la musique

Wow. I’m awed. I thought Thursday’s gig was the best I had attended in a while, but tonight’s was the best in… maybe like ever. As in brought-me-close-to-tears good.

The string quartet only showed up after a while — I can’t say how long — and brought some nice depth, but it really could not get any better as far as I was concerned. I was completely drawn into the music from the start to the very end. Now I’m at a loss for words, right now, I’m just awestruck.

Anyway, here’s the lineup: Steve Coleman on alto saxophone, Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Thomas Morgan on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on drums, Pedro Martinez on percussions — no, not that Pedro, though that name sure sounded funny to my Boston-addicted ears — and Jen Shyu on vocals. She’s beyond amazing, she just blew my mind. I was asked whether her looks played a part in my being so enthralled. I can’t rule it out — how the hell can I know? — but I don’t think so. She sure is beautiful, but I think I would know if that was enough to drive me to such heights of emotion.


Now that I’ve slept on it, maybe I can try and get more articulate. I don’t really think so, though, as this music moved me on a different level, one not familiar with words. Something that struck me is that I could hear each of the individual musicians separately at the same time, and the whole as well, but separate from each one. I had this experience before, but almost only with dance, and never with music. I don’t know whether that was the best gig ever for me, but it sure was a unique experience. Should I hope it’s a breakthrough that means I’ll get this feeling again, or that this remains a high point? I just don’t know. I don’t think I’ll forget it. I do believe this will remain somewhere within me, in that inner place where I can go sometimes and just experience again the best instants dance brought me. I mean it’s up there with the first part of April Me, when I was luckily aligned with Cynthia Loemij’s arms and I felt a lasting splitting. I’m not making any sense, I know that acutely. But this territory is somewhere beyond my knowledge of words, up there with the prism I just can’t bring myself to name to anyone.

Well, that ranting goes to show how hopeless this task is. Words fail me. It just feels great.

I’m tagging this with Life because it was a life-changing event for me.

September 9, 2007 Posted by | Life, Music | , , , , | 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