12.26.2004

1/9 train wall - lens crafters ad - model with one front incisor blacked-in with ball point pen. the simplicity of the gesture, crosshatching, traces of the human hand on the surface of the photographic reproduction, so effective at destroying the commercial usurpation of this small public rectangle of space. completely takes it back.

on the train to NJ – sun waning in smeared gray sky – Arthur Dove-style but with more menace. beautiful industrial blight with tall march weeds. the stranger's conversation in the next seat. giant letter "A" filling with neon light atop the huge evil-looking anheuser busch brewery. the graffiti out here, on a tanker train among the trees and rusting warehouses stands out strongly. on an iPod ad in the NYC subway graffiti is almost invisible.

the sky changes again. salmon plum clouds against blue.

---
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town. Gary Cooper. naive, tuba-playing poet inherits millions, feeds doughnuts to a horse, is exploited by and falls in love w/ gossip columnist and has his social conscience awakened by a destitute, homicidally enraged farmer.

hilarious court scene to prove his insanity for giving away his money - diagnosed manic depressive. "He feels total elation when he plays his tuba and writes his poetry."

"Pixilated" meaning crazy – as in visited by pixies – "He sure is pixilated!"

"everyone in Mandrake Falls is pixilated"

12.21.2004

Jordan weights in on clarity, a topic that can make poets nervous. One default assumption among some of our more opaque writers seems to be that all clarity is bad clarity -- unconscious patterns of communication which reinforce power structures through faulty associations. This take on clarity is more about the institutional maintenance of categories of thought, mass psychology and suggestibility. It’s not about clarity per se.

What is bad opacity? Rumsfeld’s poetry embodies opacity as calculated obfuscation. The language he used in the press conference where he told soldiers they should get used to dying because it’s not convenient for him to deal with getting armor for vehicles is in exactly the same register as his poetry and press conferences. When he was caught off guard and out of context, though, the obfuscational power of the language, the suggestive vagueness, broke down. It’s all about the framing.

Is vagueness, a factor so prevalent and yet presently so un-discussed from within avant-garde poetry, parallel in some way to the Rumsfeld thing? Create vague word sequences and frame them in such a way that people accept the whole shbang as social power? Is this acceptable as a mirror-critique, or could this be thought of as a mere symptom?

Is there an element of the anti-social which operates separately from clarity as such? Ashbury or Tina Darragh can be very unclear but neither ever sounds anti-social. Can the genX punk concept of antisocial as a good thing -- a big NO -- be said to apply to obscure poetry? Maybe not, since Punk was simple and antisocial and that’s why it worked. It was extremely clear.

Cecil Taylor is difficult, baroque and anti-social, and covers a wide spectrum from unclear to lucid. Maybe difficulty, or challenge, should also be separated from questions of clarity. Ninja Gaiden is considered very challenging, but it’s also very popular. Some of the more challenging poets I like, Carla Harryman, Alan Davies, etc. rarely strike me as unclear.

I do like some unclear poetry (David Melnick anyone?). I am also very uncomfortable with the idea that challenging writing has to be a collectors’ cult you have be initiated into and have to pay a tithe for – poetry as antisocial in a bad way.

If I look at clear poetry that I dislike, it’s never because of the clarity. It’s because of the cluelessness, awkwardness, and bland pandering.
This week’s essay in The New York Times Book Review features Jim Behrle, who is quoted at length on the question of techniques needed to achieve groupie-worthiness. Hot author photos, ACDC T-shirts, and an aura of availability are some of the trade secrets he imparts based on his years of observation organizing readings in Boston. If there is ever a Sex and the City reunion show Jim is going to be the go-to guy for writerly crushes.
The majority of a piano's range uses notes which are produced by a single hammer hitting not one but three strings simultaneously. We hear it as a single tone.

You would assume that the best quality of sound would be achieved by tuning all three strings to the same exact same frequency -- in unison, but this isn't the case. The three strings are detuned slightly -- this produces a better tone with a longer sustain. The strings are intentionally put out of tune make them sound better.

Poetry with overly meticulous lines falls into a similar pattern -- they need to be more out of whack!

12.17.2004

The Pixies, Hammerstein Ballroom

When the Pixies where happening in the late 80s I enjoyed what I heard but didn't get deeply into them. I was foolishly purist--the MTV presence and pop riffs kept me at arms length. The last few years I've been listening to the CDs and asking myself, "What the hell was wrong with me that I didn't like this more at the time?"

We got to the Hammerstein early knowing the show would fill up fast. It did. The crowd was much younger than I would have expected -- mostly mid-twenties, through there were a few people my age. Very excited people. Heavy competition for floor real estate. We stood down front, Kim Deal side.

Opening were Le Tigre -- a band I had read about but never seen: three young women doing peppy retro-disco/punk with feminist/queer framing. The music was almost all laptop tracks. One guitar got traded around occasionally, and the odd keyboard doodle was thrown in here and there, but this was all about singing over the hard drive. They did cute orchestrated disco party moves and wore sparkly outfits -- queer political performance art rock with karaoke party as model?

I have to admit I was struggling to access the music, which seemed shockingly sleepy. Maybe this works better on CD? It was hard to discern much content apart from the framing. "All feminists report to the front desk" is as far as they could take the material? The tone was trying to be fun and serious at the same time(Margaret Cho influence?), but it too often veered into a preachy/awkward/immature zone.

The drum machine and synthbass sounded brittle and one-dimensional, like a storefront fa├žade for a western done in high-contrast black and white halftone. The song writing was all bare minimum retro-formalism, though two or three of the tunes toward the end of the set had better dynamics and actually developed some forward momentum and contrast. Maybe I don’t really get this music, but it's still good to see younger musicians trying to keep some kind of politics upfront without loosing a fun vibe entirely. It could also be there is a generation gap between me and Le Tigre?

I did notice, in the overall performance, something that resonated though -- the unhealed, rejected teenager in me that still needs to bond with others who also don’t fit in to their larger social world for some reason, though my identification to this as a straight male happens on a different scale.

The Pixies came on after the traditional unnecessary rock-concert-torture-waiting-period, which is designed, I suppose, to frame the music with a giant block of tedium and thereby have the featured act come as a kind of relief. From the first few seconds of the opener -- Wave of Mutilation, it was obvious the show was going to be incontrovertibly awesome.

The formula for the songs worked over and over with variations: great verse vocal melodies with odd and inventive lyrics, solid but aggressive pop groove with simple propulsive drumming, bringing the energy up three or four notches on the chorus with the beautifully vivid Frank Black scream (I kept thinking: Glenn Danzig!) and Kim Deal harmonizing. Piercing single-line guitar riffs repeating the vocal melody. Every element of the song added a strong element.

The mix, which started a little muddy, got progressively worse, eventually degenerating into a pulpy, over-processed blob that actually obfuscated the last few songs, including Debaser.

They broke the set in half with a twenty minute guitar feedback solo with some antics involving a drumstick and a bottle of beer while the rest of the band stepped to the side. It was almost like a magic routine -- the drummer's influence at work perhaps, since he has been a professional magician.

There is often a trace of something embarrassing about watching a rock stars, but this was entirely lacking with The Pixies. No chat or commentary between songs. Hardly any stage movement from anyone. The Doolittle-heavy set didn't slow up for a second. They mostly went straight from one song to the next. It actually got faster and more aggressive as the evening went on: One great song after another for an hour and a half.

The band was visibly happy at how much people loved the music, how happy they were to be there. The Pixies play a music that is a fusion of exuberance and unhappiness, maybe trying to purge the unhappiness, but also using it as depth, holding the unhappiness up the light of exuberance to see what it is.

12.02.2004

I’m loving Shanna’s Gamers, which is finally out from Soft Skull. The Boston Globe mentions my article in it about vector graphics games and physics. I’ve only had time to read a few of the pieces, but here are some highlights so far:

The book kicks off with this Charles Bernstein quote: “If a typewriter could talk, it probably would have very little to say; our automatic washers are probably not hiding secret dream machines deep inside their drums. But these microchips really blow you away!”

Daniel Nester: a fascinating and slightly frightening portrait of ex-competitive gamer and tarantula rustler Todd Rogers.

Mark Lamoureux: Barthes collides with the Atari 2600. Writing on the primitive bit map graphics of the system, Lamoureux says,"The images are incomplete, standing upright only upon the crutches of context and metonymy. It is through those holes in the extremities of representation that the creatures of myth are allowed to enter."

Katie Degentesh unpacks the internalizations of late capitalism via the Atari800.

Shannon Holman: Finally, a lesbian perspective on Moon Patrol.

Ernest Hilbert: a fellow Jersey-boy gamer on golden age coin ops.

Mark Nesbitt reports from beta-tester hell.

Bill Spratch: The best walkthrough for playing George W. you going to find anywhere.

Nik Kelman walks a few MMOE miles in the shoes of a female, and learns to his irritation that “men call you ‘bossy’ when you make any kind of suggestion as to what might be the best course of action.”

At the release party this Sat at the BPC, I’m going to play some improvised music with my laptop and midi controller using sampled sound effects from the game Gravitar as the only sound sources.