Monday, April 30, 2012

No.Alt Recommends, April

Norwegian cinema means snowy fields, authentic characters, and a decidedly un-Hollywood experience, though this one may be a little more Hollywood inspired than I expected. Trollhunter (2010) is like Blair Witch Project meets Buffy The Vampire Slayer meets Cloverfield, but somehow still original. And while the handheld shaky camera might make you a little dizzy and the late-night troll-hunting can get a tad repetitive, the film's impressive CGI, gorgeous landscapes, high-tension scenes, interesting mythology, and completely realistic 'documentary' feel will absolutely reel you in. And hey, at least it's not about vampires!

Sharon Van Etten - Tramp
Though it's actually her third studio album, it's the first one to enchant my eardrums. Her velvety voice is packed with emotional prowess, but also delicately executed. Though the record certainly lands in female-singer-songwriter category, Tramp doesn't fall prey to some of those stereotypes. Quite simply, it's poetry.

Picture're at home watching a kickass movie (like Trollhunter) and you're itching for a little snack, but it's raining or really late or you're just too engrossed (lazy?) to move, let alone bake. What's a girl or boy to do? Go online, pick out which cookies you want, order them and have them delivered up until some ungodly hour of the night. It's cheap, it's easy, sometimes it's quick (depends on the studying season!), and it's not only for students! You can even order milk.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Magic in the Silo

In February of 2007, a good friend from college, Blake, returned to New York to work on an independent film. I hadn't seen him since we graduated in May of the previous year, and I was so excited to help him with his latest project, even if it was just for a couple of days. I always considered Blake to be that friend who would someday be famous, whether it be for his poetry, playwriting, filmmaking, acting, or any one of his immense talents. 

I remember ringing the bell of an apartment near mine, only this one proved to be quadruple the size. In fact, it took up the entire floor above a bar on the corner of LaGuardia. When I walked in with my friend Beth, I saw not only Blake but his partner-in-crime: a gorgeous, skinny girl in skinny jeans, with pixie-cut hair. Her name was Evann. The two had been friends since attending high school together in LA, and like Blake, Evann was also involved in the film industry. Evann assigned me the role of "production assistant," and I was truly pumped.

Ben S., Ben R., and Blake
That day, our two friends --- both named Ben --- showed up to act. Evann adorned the Bens with fake blood for their small roles in that day's shoot, and we all took the subway to midtown. Blake's script involved a 9/11-ish terrorist attack on New York (the film was a stark, fictional documentary), and in addition to Ben and Ben talking to the camera, the lot of us ended up running madly through the streets and pointing at the sky.

I remember perfecting my fake fall on the sidewalk and doing it over and over again until it actually hurt like hell. I also remember accidentally tripping Evann --- who was running alongside me --- and causing the LCD screen of her camera to break once she hit the pavement. I felt absolutely terrible, but she was really nice about it, and decided that the footage on that camera would look really cool. On the subway heading back downtown, Evann and I had a nice chat, and it was great for me to encounter a girl my age who seemed to be so in control of her life, her vision, her passions, her future, and her current decisions. She seemed older than me, yet completely on my level.

The next day, my sore self met Blake, Evann, and Bronwen (the sole actress for that day's shoot and another SLC alum) at 7:15. The morning was cold and rainy, and there was still some snow on the ground from a few days prior. The four of us carried loads of stuff along the street until we finally hailed a cab. We piled in and sailed off to Gowanus, Brooklyn, where we drove up to an old silo literally on the Canal.

We walked up to a large black gate and, as soon as were let into the old oil building, it was like leaving New York City behind (a common, mutual feeling). That year, a writer for The New York Times wrote this about the incredible location: 
Perhaps the biggest wow factor lately comes from seeing a show at a former oil silo... Occupied for the last two years by ISSUE Project Room, an experimental arts organization, the silo is hidden behind an imposing metal gate with a small sign just off the Carroll Street bridge. Between the lapping (if occasionally stinky) water, the courtyard filled with poplar trees and the warm glow emanating from the two-story performance space — the top floor is reached by an exterior metal ladder — it’s as far from mainstream clubland as you can get. 
ISSUE Project Room is the brainchild of Suzanne Fiol; founded in February of 2003, her project offered an art and performance space first on East 6th Street, and then in the abandoned silo. According to ArtForum, “Fiol wanted to make a space for music, performance, and readings in a spirit of love and commitment and created one of the warmest and best-sounding venues in New York.” For almost ten years, ISSUE has been an "important showcase for experimental culture" and has provided "artists and musicians with a dynamic environment in which to create innovative and challenging work."

It was Suzanne herself, all long hair and large eyes, who greeted us that hazy day. Blake had reserved the round performance space for its ambiance and acoustics, and Suzanne led us up there. Blake had also hired a lighting professional, and I helped him carry all of his things up the aforementioned "metal ladder." Soon, Evann sent me out to get some food. I remember that I slipped on the ice and fell (for real this time) while holding bags of snacks. Back inside, I set up a poor-man's craft service table for the "cast and crew," but luckily Suzanne was already making soup for us downstairs. She generously made us feel like her kitchen was ours too, and her soup was the perfect remedy for the chilly day.

While Evann was doing Bronwen's makeup and Blake was getting her into character, I sat at the table and talked with Suzanne. She was warm and passionate, and she told me that ISSUE Project Room was going to be relocating soon and that the silo might be torn down to make condos, which made me very sad. She also mentioned that each month's performances at ISSUE were themed, and that the upcoming month's theme was "synesthesia."

I was flabbergasted; I had just conceived my first column (called "Crash Course") for the next print issue of Beyond Race Magazine, and I was going to dive into writing about synesthesia! Since I had already decided that I would debut "Crash Course" with synesthesia (for which I was going to interview two synesthetes), I told Suzanne that I would be back for the performance, and even considered asking if I could intern for her. Suzanne, who was in her forties, inadvertently taught me that one really could live a life of art and music and wonder; one really could become successful in a creative realm, and defy societal expectation. At newly 23, that's all I could envision for my own future.

After filming wrapped that day, I felt truly inspired by my adventurous two-day experiences "on set" in my beloved city, with amazingly talented people. When I returned to the silo, alone, less than a month later, I sat in on a synesthesia performance in the round room, and then used it in one section of my article:
On some level, everyone can occasionally tap into a synesthetic experience, either through dreams, memory, or common sensory associations (such as lower musical notes evoking dark shades and higher notes evoking lighter ones), and non-synesthetes can certainly enjoy synesthetic art, from Fantasia to Stan Brakhage to the vibrant paintings of Michael Fratangelo. Brooklyn’s ISSUE Project Room dedicated all March exhibits to synesthesia. The opening of “Sensorium” featured color-intense paintings, moving images, multimedia art pieces and a performance by Laure Drogoul, where blindfolded audience members described the emotions and memories different scents conjured up. To identify the same weed (concealed in envelopes), responses ranged from bubblegum, to lemongrass, to cider, and England.
 In October of 2009, Suzanne Fiol died after a long battle with cancer.

In April of 2012 (just a few days ago), Evann Marie died as well.

For just one day in time, I existed in the same space with both of these magical women...a magical space that I never knew existed before one of them took me, and one of them welcomed me.


Monday, April 23, 2012

In Defense of Girls

Last night I hosted a little impromptu Game of Thrones viewing party, after which we let HBO do its thing while we thoroughly (perhaps too thoroughly) discussed the episode. Along came the second episode of the show Girls, which prompted a totally different discussion, and then a full-on debate. It seems that the negative press the show's already garnered has really influenced public opinion...even if the affected people haven't actually seen the show. That, or they already have their minds made up for them.

As for me, I only saw half of the first episode and sort of "viewed" the second episode amid our rather intense debate, but I can honestly say that I like it so far, which is better, I think, then only seeing that much of the show and automatically deciding I don't like it. It bothers me that one of the only shows written by a young woman (who happens to remind me of Miranda July) is getting so much flack after only two episodes!

It would seem that people are annoyed at the show for a few reasons: 1) the lead cast is white, 2) the show is primarily about "white girl problems" or "first world problems", 3) the cast consists mostly of "famous" people's children,  4) the show is frivolous and just another version of Sex and the City, 5) Lena Dunham writes about her own life and casts her own friends, and who the hell cares?, 6) this show does not accurately represent Brooklyn. 

I will now address these, point by point, from my own perspective:

1) Yes, the lead cast is white. Let's try to think of other popular TV shows, past and present, that have a mostly-white cast....hmmm....this is hard....Friends, Seinfeld, Frasier, Sex and the City (more on that in a bit), Cheers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 90210, Gossip Girl, Full House, Everybody Loves Raymond, shall I continue? Now, my point here isn't that it's okay to have a show that only focuses on or features white people, just that Girls isn't any different from a thousand other shows that include mostly white characters. 

Out of the dozens of characters on Game of Thrones, for instance, how many are not white? And is that okay because it was a book first and in the book they're not white? How about that other new HBO show Veep, which comes on after that okay because it's about the government? Or how about Boardwalk that okay because it's historical? But wait, those shows do have a couple of non-white it's acceptable then if at least one of the main characters is not white? That way the diversity quota is filled?

My point here is this: don't blame one show for doing something that so many other shows are just as guilty of.

2) Speaking more on race, there's that saying "white people problems"...that's what Girls deals with, right? So, because these characters aren't struggling with life or death situations, that means their problems aren't real and no one should care about them? This is flawed thinking for a few reasons. To say the show focuses on "white problems" means that we're automatically separating non-white people from white people and assuming that non-white people have more serious problems because of the "disadvantages" of their race. In a truly diverse and racially tolerant society, we wouldn't be categorizing people based on their race in the first place, or making broad assumptions about what their race means they have to deal with in life.

Let's look at The Cosby Show as an example of this flawed logic. It's a show about a black family living in Brooklyn...but unlike many black families living in Brooklyn in the 1980s, this one was unaffected by those things one might associate with the words "black" / "Brooklyn / "1980s." There was no crack, no poverty, no teen pregnancy (at least not among family members), no domestic violence, no dropping out of school, etc. The family in question was wealthy, well-educated, career-driven, sober, and living happily and comfortably. Very rarely did the show focus on "race issues," though some plot lines were certainly African-American themed. 

Now, my point is this: was the Cosby family really that different from the Tanners, or the Seavers, or the Arnolds, or any of those white 1980s-sitcom families? Did we not care about the Cosby family because they weren't starving on the street or smoking crack in the bathroom? Were we upset because they did not represent "black problems?"

Everyone has problems...some of those involve being able to afford to feed your kids lunch, and some of those involve feeding yourself lunch after your wealthy parents cut you off financially, but race should not determine whether or not the general public, or society at large, "cares." Nor should anyone automatically assume that being of a particular race (or gender, for that matter) guarantees a specific set of problems.

3) On to the nepotism complaint...the girls on Girls have famous parents. So does half of Hollywood! Even in that Games of Thrones episode my friends and I had watched, Charlie Chaplin's granddaughter plays a role.

Lena Dunham's mother is an artist/ photographer, not a Hollywood star. Is it really that strange that the daughter of artists would herself become a writer/artist/actress? And let's look at the other famous fathers in question....a playwright, a drummer, and a television journalist. How terrible! At least these ladies are actually doing something that requires talent with their connections, unlike a hoard of Hollywood socialites.

4) Sex and the City, in all of its shoe-shopping glory, was sometimes a frivolous show, and yes, Girls may very well be an up-to-date, twenty-something, hipster version, but the fact is that Girls knows it. The first episode even references Sex and the City. And yes, there are four white women in Girls much like our old friends. But, I don't understand how this is a problem, since it's a) a different show with totally different female characters, b) Girls is self-aware enough to essentially admit its own inevitable comparison, and c) Sex and the City had its empowering, not-so-frivolous, moments too (remember when Samantha shaves her head before her hair can fall out from chemo?).

Furthermore, if Girls is frivolous, then what about all of those reality television shows that feature already-rich people fighting, drinking, getting laid, or making even more money than they already have?

5) So yes, Lena Dunham writes about her own life and casts her own friends...because she writes creative nonfiction (and wouldn't you cast your friends too?). Her film, Tiny Furniture, was based on her own life too. Whether you like her or not, the fact remains that "writing what you know" is not a new concept. And between reality TV that's scripted and vampires/zombies running rampant, is it really so bad to have a carefully plotted television show that is actually based on real-life events?

My So-Called Life was another show that attempted to embody the real-life goings on of "regular" people. In some ways, Angela Chase was a voice for her generation, even if her character was not conscious of that fact the way Lena Dunham's character, Hannah, is. (A woman writing a show that attempts to portray her generation about a character who is writing a memoir that attempts to portray her generation is enjoyably self-reflexive, if you ask me.) Like Girls, the widely acclaimed My So-Called Life dealt not with extreme issues (aside from Rayanne's alcoholism), but with the trials of finding yourself, proving yourself, growing up, being in love, making mistakes, etc.

Now, there are a lot of real-world problems that a TV show could AIDS, rape, war, gangs, genocide, racism, sexism, terrorism....but that is not what Girls is about. I'd like to take this moment to point out that The Office isn't about any of those things either. It's about people...who an office.

In the first episode of Girls, 24-year-old Hannah gets fired from her year-long, unpaid internship after she tries to turn it into a paying job. At two years out of college, she's worked hard only to be fired for trying to get paid...a very real problem that young people now face. No, she doesn't seem to be in debt from her education. No, she doesn't come from an orphanage in Cambodia. But she still has problems, and she's still struggling, and it's something that a lot of people can relate to because it's something that has entered Lena's real life.

6) Onto the last point...that this show does not accurately represent Brooklyn. Well, see, the thing about NYC is that it's very big, and it has a whole lotta neighborhoods packed inside of it. So no, this isn't Bed-Stuy, nor is it the Hasidic encampment. But let's take a look at Williamsburg of today: a large population of transplanted college graduates (whose parents still help support them financially) striving to "make it" in their chosen field, be it art or fashion or writing or film or music or whatever. In the show, the lead characters are NYC-transplant early-twenty-somethings interested in artistic things. So, how does that not represent NYC of today?

IN CONCLUSION, I think this show hits a nerve with people because it's probably hate it because, in some way, it accurately represents some aspect of your reality (possibly people you dislike), which is part of its whole point. I love that there's a smart, relatable show right now that a) doesn't take itself too seriously, b) features a pudgy, plain-looking girl as the main character [and writer, director, etc], and c) attempts to hold a self-aware mirror to some of the silly things this generation says and does, as well as some of its "grim" realities. It's also supposed to be fun...I mean, really, I can only watch so much decapitation. Go go Girls.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

From the Vaults: A Conversation with Moby.

One of my favorite conversations with anyone ever took place in Moby's Manhattan pad, filled with musical instruments. On that rainy day, I was fortunate to have the chance to converse with Moby one-on-one and then, a week later, to attend the planetarium listening party for his truly beautiful album, Wait For Me. Here is the lengthier, online version of the article I wrote about Moby for Beyond Race Magazine in 2009. I also helped design the concept of the Moby image, drawn below by two separate artists.
The cover of Moby’s new album, Wait For Me—an expansive and delicate exploration of loneliness—features a lonely alien that he drew and can replicate in less than 5 seconds. Beyond Race spoke with Moby in his pad about this new record, his buddy David Lynch, and his affinity for junkies and New York City.

Although your new album is more personal and you didn’t use digital effects when mixing, it would seem that you have an interest in technology and multimedia projects. Can you talk about this? Your connection to technology in music seems to have really impacted your work.

Not to be too general, but the history of music goes in lockstep with the evolution of technology. Something as simple as a guitar, or a piano, or Les Paul inventing multi-track technology. I mean Les Paul invented everything, like the first electric guitar pick-up. And for me, because I’m a solo artist, if it were the mid-70s the records I would be making would sound completely different from what I make now because technology is what, for better or worse, enables me to make my records. I have a small studio here and to make the records that I make thirty years ago, forty yeas ago, I would have needed a huge studio with tons of people around and now, one of the nicest things about technology is its lowered the cost of making records. It costs me next to nothing to make a record, and it’s also taken off some of the pressure because I do everything at home and if you’re working in a big studio the clock is always ticking, so there’s constant pressure to create, and if you’re not creating you’re wasting money. Whereas at home, if I spend a week working in the studio and nothing good comes from it, I’ve lost some time but I haven’t lost tens of thousands of dollars. Autonomy comes from technology…I now can do everything myself. I go into my studio and I mean, it gets a little lonely at times because it’s sort of monastic and there’s an ascetic quality to it.

And you’re a solo artist.

Yeah, I do occasionally envy people in bands who make music in a more social way because that’s fun. It’s kind of more fun making a record with a band but I can better make the kind of records I want to make by myself.  

Can you tell me about the storyline of the video for “Shot in the Back of the Head,” and your collaboration with David Lynch on this? It’s really beautiful and minimalist and I was wondering about the process of working on this project and the symbolism of both the song and the video.

The way the title came about was I was talking to some friends and we were talking about the way in which we wanted to die, and most people say they want to die in their sleep or they want to die surrounded by loved ones, but my friend Alex, her answer is she wants to be walking down 34th street and have a complete stranger come up and shoot her in the back of the head. That’s how she wants to die, with no advance warning and no awareness of what’s happening. And I thought that was a very interesting way to want to die and when you make an instrumental song you can name it anything. If I write a song with lyrics, usually the title comes from the lyrics, but if there are no lyrics you just have to think of these arbitrary sort of random titles.

Every now and then, since David Lynch and I are friends, I’ll just send him a piece of music. I’ll be working on something and I’ll think, 'Oh David might like this.' So I sent him “Shot in the Back of the Head” and he liked it and he said, 'Oh if you have any footage lying around I’d love to use it in a video.' I know he’s constantly shooting, no pun intended, shooting things and he does a lot of animation and he wanted to learn how to use Flash and so he used making the video as his way of learning how to use Flash.

Did he draw those images in the video?

He did everything. When I’m working with artists I really revere and respect, I like them do whatever I want. For me to in any way try to give direction to David Lynch would be the most absurd, presumptuous thing I’ve ever done.

How is Moby of today different from Moby of the past, when you first began playing music, and DJing in clubs, or when you first achieved mainstream success? And do you feel that you have evolved as an artist?

The first record I put out was actually in 1983, I was in a hardcore punk band called The Vatican Commandoes and we put out a 7inch called Hit Squad For God, which sold 250 copies, and at that time all of my favorite musicians were underground musicians and there were no musicians I respected who actually sold a lot of records, so when I was growing up I always thought I would be a weird underground musician who never sold records. And when I signed to my first label, I thought maybe I would sell 2000 records. I never expected mainstream when it happened it just kind of confused me. For awhile, to my shame, I actually found myself having success and wanting more. But then the more I had the less I liked it.

In some ways it’s sort of emancipating because now I can make a record like this and I hope that people like it but I’m not concerned about anything resembling mainstream success. And it’s nice to not care about that aspect of it. But as far as my evolution as a musician or an artist, I don’t know. I can’t say that there’s been a progression; technically I know how to engineer records better and play instruments better, but some of the music I made when I was trying to get signed in the late '80s—I made some really strange, interesting music—that from my perspective is just as interesting as some of the music I’m making now. Some artists progress in a sort of linear way; I don’t think I have.

Do you think that your new album is a more intellectual approach to music? I know you wrote and recorded Wait For Me in your home studio, which is a converted bedroom, and you drew the album art yourself and had friends as guest vocalists.

It’s a little more experimental, it’s a lot more personal. It’s a lot less bombastic. One of my goals in life has been to make almost anti-intellectual music, because when I was nine years old I started learning music theory and playing classical music and from the time I was about ten until 13 or 14 I had a music teacher who loved complicated jazz and the only music he liked was intellectual, complicated music. And then I discovered punk rock, and I was like, 'All I want to hear is The Clash and three chords.' I like smart music when it still has a populist, emotional quality to it. Sonic Youth are a great example. Sometimes simplicity is really an underrated virtue in all of the arts. Sometimes the process can overwhelm the emotion.

Is there any part of the recording process that you absolutely hate?

I don’t like writing lyrics, I don’t know why. My mom was a literature major, I’m related to Herman Melville, I love writing essays, I love writing prose, but for some reason I just don’t like writing lyrics; that’s the drudgery of it. I try hard to write personal and expressive lyrics but in a perfect world I’d have a friend who wrote all of the lyrics. Mixing is also another part that makes me really anxious.

You’ve written that Last Night was an eclectic dance record, a party record for 1 a.m on a Saturday night, while Wait For Me is much quieter and more like a '9 a.m Sunday morning raining outside' record. Did you always want to make a record like this? Did you always want to slow things down and create something more introverted?

Musically I love Pantera, I love Black Flag, I like really aggressive music, but the music that other people have made that’s closest to my heart tends to be more mournful and quieter. As much as I love Pantera, I’ll always love Nick Drake more. As much as I love Public Enemy, I’ll always love Joy Division more. I love big bombastic expression, but quieter, introverted expression has always appealed to me more.

You've also said that Wait For Me is meant to be listened to from start to finish. Are you trying to indicate that there is no one “single,” or that it is more cohesive than your other albums, and therefore must be enjoyed in a different way? Your other albums did have singles and songs that leant themselves to clubs, parties, and sometimes radio play…but this one seems different.

I understand it’s 2009 and the vast majority of people who listen to music from this record will listen to it on their iPod on shuffle. It’s just a given and I accept that but I really do hope that if someone is willing to buy the record they, at least once, listen to it from start to finish. There’s something nice about a cohesive album. You put it on and you let it do all the work. And you hand yourself over to the musician’s vision of what the album should be, and I’m certainly not going to be presumptuous enough to say that this is a classic record, but I just hope that somehow someone will listen to it from start to finish and get something out of it.

The first focus track, “Shot in the Back of the Head,” was us saying, 'We like this song, let’s put it out and see what happens.' But that was an interesting choice because it’s an instrumental so it can never be played on the radio, and the video is dark and strange so it can never be played on MTV. The old punk rocker in the back of my head loves the fact that the first focus track, or single, is probably the least commercial thing I’ve ever released.  

When you wrote about the meaning behind the song “Jltf1/Jltf” you mentioned that everyone you knew was smoking crack, smoking meth, and shooting speedballs and dying of overdoses and that this became normal. And then you went on to say that these people shouldn’t be demonized and that the reason people do drugs more often than not is they want to be happy, and you have spoken about how it shouldn’t be the job of the government to impose laws upon the bodies of adults. Can you say more about these opinions?

The song title is a dirty acronym; it stands for Junkies Love to Fuck. Living here for so long, I’ve had so many friends who are drug addicts, and a friend of mine, the woman who shot the press pictures, Jessica Dimmick, she made this amazing book called The Ninth Floor, she spent a year living with junkies in a shooting gallery, and what’s interesting is that my friends who are junkies are trying to feel good. They’re destroying themselves, but they’re just trying to feel good so they get in almost this feral state. Basically, it gets reduced to shooting up, sleeping, eating and having sex. And then eating falls by the wayside, so they shoot up and have sex. And so the song is inspired by a lot of junkie friends.

I don’t think that the government ever has a place to tell an individual what they can or cannot do to their own bodies. If someone wants to get crazy tattoos on their face, if someone wants to kill himself, if someone wants to take drugs, it’s not the government’s place to prevent them from doing it; it’s the government’s place to provide them with information. And as far as drugs though, I’m all in favor of decriminalization because most of the people I know who’ve really been damaged by drugs, it’s because they didn’t know what they were taking. They didn’t know what they were getting into. Certainly, people shouldn’t deal with the awfulness of addiction. The Dutch government has this amazing public health service where they set up a booth in nightclubs and if you bring them your drugs they test them for purity. That way there are less drug deaths. I don’t advocate drug use, but it’s a fact of life that people like to take drugs.

Do you ever make music consciously thinking that people listening would be on drugs?

I’m aware…Everybody does drugs. Honestly I don’t know a single person who has not at some point in their life done class-A narcotics. I have, everybody I know has. Luckily, I emerged relatively unscathed. Luckily most of my friends emerged unscathed. I really worry about people harming themselves. The war on drugs is not working, it’s costing tons of money and it’s sending poor innocent kids to jail for having the smallest amount of drugs on them.

Having lived and made music in NYC for 30 years, and having been fully ingrained in the culture, what do you think about New York of today, in terms of gentrification or its music and arts scenes, versus New York of years past? Are you still as fascinated with and absorbed by the city now as you were then? And would you ever want to record elsewhere?

Selfishly, I did prefer NY when it was cheaper and scarier. I preferred the East Village when you sort of took your life in your hands walking down certain streets. Cheap rents enable people to take more chances. I do miss cheap, dirty, scary old NY; having said that, I’m one of the few people who thinks that this is an amazing time. The last few years, barring gentrification and barring how expensive everything is, there are more galleries, and more bands, more clubs, more musicians, more photographers, more writers…just the number of bands that have come out, the number of records that have come out. Like the '90s, not much happened here. From 1990 until 1999, I can’t really think of too many relatively well-known bands that came out of NY. There was stuff going on but NY had been ravaged by AIDS and the crack epidemic, and so, in the '90s, NY was kind of licking its wounds. I think NY is in a really good place…the bigness of it means that the moment one place becomes too gentrified, people leave. There’s always a next place to go and that’s what keeps it interesting.

Let's talk about your sentiment, shared by Lynch, about art versus commerce and how the market should accommodate art and not the other way around. Do you believe that people like yourself in the music world have any power to change the industry? Or do you feel that you are doing so simply by making a record based upon your own artistic intentions?

I think luckily it’s already sort of changed because records just don’t sell that well anymore, so ten years ago, a major label could go to an artist and encourage the artist to make a lot of compromises in the interest of selling five million records. And now the same major label will go to the artist and ask them to compromise without any incentive. It seems that musicians are able to have a lot more integrity now, and also musicians can reach their audience more directly; decades ago, there were a handful of radio stations, a handful of magazines, and a handful of record companies, and if you didn’t go through them no one heard your music. And now, I don’t know, there’s so many different ways in which people can release records and communicate with fans, in which people can disseminate music and information, so I do think that the demise of the major label is one of the greatest things to happen to music in a long time. 

Since you've been personally inspired by David Lynch and his theories about creativity, how do you feel about his ideas of Transcendental Meditation? Lynch has said that transcending is “an experience that you can have just before you go to sleep….when you go from one state of consciousness to another,” but that we can get there in the waking hours through meditation. Do you think music, yours or anyone else’s, has the power to transcend? And do you ever meditate or feel as though you have reached this “fourth state of consciousness” where you find an unbounded ocean of bliss within your Self?

I don’t know if I ever reached the fourth state of consciousness. Maybe I have maybe I haven’t. I mean certainly there was no one there standing there…if you’re learning how to play an instrument, you can play for someone and they’ll tell you that you’ve gotten to a certain point, but as far as consciousness goes, all you can do is talk about your experience. It’s all subjective. One of the things I love about music and art in general but especially music is it can take you anywhere, and you don’t have to do anything. It’s one of the only art forms that exists even when you close your eyes. Most other don’t like looking at a painting, you close your eyes the painting goes away. But with music, even with your eyes closed, it literally penetrates every cell in your body. Music is air molecules being slightly adjusted. Part of its power, I think, is that it’s technically intangible. It’s also the only art form you can’t touch; it never exists. The moment it’s created it doesn’t exist anymore. And people sometimes confuse the delivery vehicle for music with the music itself; like someone will think you can touch music because here’s a CD. A CD is just a piece of plastic with binary code on it; it’s not actual music. Music is also the only art form that can’t exist in a vacuum, music needs air.

(first illustration by Maurizio Masi; second illustration by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Five people, One guitar.

By now you know that I love really good or unique covers, and you also know that I (like everyone else) love the dangerously addictive, popular-as-hell Gotye song, "Somebody That I Used to Know". So when I noticed that there was an-almost-as-popular cover navigating Youtube, I got excited...

The cover is very faithful to the original, and a situation like this typically begs the question of "What's the point?" I mean really, who cares if someone else can sing like Gotye if they're going to just mimic the song he wrote and not add their own flair? But this particular case is interesting because the appeal of both versions of the song lies partially in the visual component. While the original music video is artful and symbolic, the video above shows five musicians playing a single guitar, three of them providing lead vocals, and all singing back-up. While Gotye's voice is as smooth as the paint that slowly covers his naked body, the voice of the center singer in this video has some rougher edges, adding to the depth of the emotion that the song attempts to convey. The new version is artful, masterful, and symbolic in its own way, and makes  me wonder what else Walk Off the Earth is capable of.


Sunday, April 1, 2012

Bonjour Avril.

Well, looks like I am giving up blogging for good.....

Just been slacking off lately, and also terrifically busy. Please stay tuned for more alternative goodness.

a cloud in a room, by Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde