September 29, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Watcha Clan brings the new and old together with diverse influences in order to create the musical sound of unity. The idea is to revive sounds that aren’t actually dead, just in a form of suspended animation.
The Marseilles, France-based band — consisting of singer Sista K, keyboardist Suprem Clem, bass player Matt La Bess and guitarist Nassim — is currently on their first multi-city tour of the United States.
“We found that world music is not something that you put in a museum saying, ‘This is traditional; this is the way that people used to do music,’ ” Clem said during an interview last week. “No, it’s a living music. So for us, it’s very important to show that we can mix this music with modern beats — with hip-hop, with reggae, with drum and bass — so people from all generations, from very young people to older, can dance, so you can have world music in a club and on the radio.”
Clem says the band’s major goal is to make world music something for real people and not just stodgy intellectuals attending museum recitals. It’s a movement that has been sweeping Europe, with bands and DJs providing sounds that audiences flock to.
“When you go to Algeria, for example, you see that young rappers and young MCs sample traditional music and make it live again,” Clem said. “It was incredible because there was a real mix of generations, but we rearrange it in a house beat, and they were all dancing without a problem.”
One of Watcha Clan’s biggest inspirations is its hometown of Marseilles — a port city with the second largest population in France — which has served as the biggest port of entry for the country’s millions of immigrants in the last few decades. Culturally, Marseilles has grown into a melting pot with fragrances that flavor the air for everyone living there.
“When you live in Marseilles, you know a lot of African people, a Spanish guy, [people] from Greece, [people] from Turkey,” Clem said, “So you’re inspired by the city because you hear a lot of music there, and you have a lot of inspiration from the city.”
“When you live in Marseilles, you have to be open-minded and to mix on that, because it’s in your city and your street.” « Read the rest of this entry »
September 25, 2009 § 1 Comment
Graphic novels have finally gotten a John Updike moment with “Asterios Polyp,” David Mazzucchelli’s monumental achievement — an epic of one man’s redemption after years as the supreme jerk of academia.
As told by his twin who died at birth, the life of Asterios Polyp is that of a person who listens to no one but himself, even as the world around him insists on proving to him that he isn’t an expert on everything.
Polyp is the worst sort of intellectual — a professor of architecture, although not one piece of his own work has ever seen the physical light of day. They are theoretically brilliant but logistically impossible to fabricate — and so he manages to hold his own ideas for ransom against the world, never to be put to any real test and allowing him to cling to his own ego as they exist in a theoretical netherworld.
And so it is with his own life as well. His marriage to sculptor Hana is burdened by her own success in popular culture, while Polyp can only stand by and sneer at in a defense mechanism against his own self-created cocoon from the world. It’s later in life when Polyp gets his comeuppance. Through a self-imposed exile from his own life — initiated by a house fire ignited thanks to a freak lightning strike — he begins to learn humility and respect in regard to others.
Entering a whole other life as a car mechanic, he becomes dependent on the kindness and nobility of people he would have previously snickered at, particularly Ursula, a hefty earth mother whose confident New Ageisms betray an unexpected wisdom that guides him through his recovery.
Ultimately, Polyp must face a random universe that seems almost designed to make humans believe it’s all one big joke. Perhaps that’s the real reason Polyp could only design but never build — universal order is only theoretical, merely in the human perception of reality. Why should his own creations transgress that arrangement?
Mazzuchelli is not a sentimentalist, though, and not a victim of any spiritual predisposition. His story suggests that getting through life requires some sort of suspension of disbelief from reality that often manifests itself as a faith in something — whatever seems of interest. It’s mandatory to provide a structured narrative to reality, even if that narrative is utterly false. Structure and interpretation are the very essences of humanity.
It’s for the reader to ultimately decide whether there is meaning in Polyp’s journey, but I suspect Mazzuchelli would say it is — and that meaning is all relative to the person seeking it.
September 25, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Steiner is known for her book series “”Look-Alikes,” which features intricate assemblages of everyday scenes built entirely of small objects standing in for their larger, real world counterparts.
She will show her work as part of “You Art What You Eat: Food As Art Material,” which opens on Friday, Oct. 3, at Kidspace in Mass MoCA.
For the Kidspace show, fans of Steiner’s books will have the opportunity to see her scenes jump out of the pages, with four dioramas on display, including two construction sites, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and the Sydney Opera House.
Steiner began her creative career creating “wearable art” — one hat she made looked like a fishing boat with a little fisherman in it, a veil created by the net he was throwing out. This translated into a career as a commercial illustrator of a different sort — Steiner created 3-dimensional structures that would then be photographed for final use. Her eventual use of stand-in objects did not happen overnight.
“You creep into this sort of thing,” she said during a recent interview.
She said she approached Games Magazine with the idea for a puzzle that was the culmination of what she had already been doing in her work.
“A magazine would call up and say, ‘We want a picture of a doctorwatering a plant and growing money,’ so I’d make a 3-dimensional model of the doctor and the plant and the money on the plant,” she said.
Steiner had been using the idea of having one thing look like another on a selected basis in her illustration work — the eventual piece for Games took it to the extreme, making it the point of the image.
Eventually, food became part of her palette.
“Food was a very useful, common, everyday object — it looked like a lot of things,” she said. “It was inevitable that I would use food in the whole array of objects that I would call upon.”
Steiner’s process was a mixture of eureka moments and experimentation.
“I remember one time when I was driving down the street and I saw cement mixers, and I just thought, ‘Wow, mustard bottles!’ It popped out of the blue,” she said. “But then I have to think very hard — ‘How can I use a cement mixer? OK, I’ll make a construction site.’ And then I would have to work very hard at finding other look-alikes that would work with the cement mixer model to make a whole construction site, and the thing would just grow and grow and grow. I’d look at photographs and do research and spend hours and hours at Wal-Mart or the supermarket looking at things and trying to build a starting concept.” « Read the rest of this entry »
September 24, 2009 § 2 Comments
Like a Biblical fury, Hurricane Katrina came down on New Orleans to wash away the sins — or at least that’s how some looked at it. More reasonable people understand that humankind is filled with moments of foibles as well as moments of good.
In Josh Neufeld’s work of graphic journalism, “A.D. New Orleans After The Deluge,” that storm and its effects are examined, warts and all. The book reveals to what degree government glides on the positivism of its citizens and to what level that protective relationship might well have cut the citizens off from the realities of the world without the authoritative bosom.
Neufeld built the five different stories contained in the book from interviews with the actual people involved. The experiences run the gamut, from Leo and Michelle, who watch the flood from the sidelines but lose almost everything, to Denise, who stays behind through family necessity and experiences the fury of the displaced firsthand, and on to Abbas and Darnell, who stupidly decide to wait out the storm and have an adventure and instead find themselves in real danger, thanks to the fury of nature.
Neufeld uses the different stories — which also involve a minister’s son who escapes and a doctor who sticks around for glib reasons and finds himself of use in the aftermath — to arrange the events of the storm in chronological order, mixing history with narrative. This puts a face on many of the events we’ve all heard so much about and adds some mystery through the personal experience.
What happened with Katrina stands as one of the greatest failings of the Bush administration, a huge blot even if one can muster any sort of support for its other blunders. Through Neufeld’s pen, though, it is not a black-and-white examination that throws everything at the administration and nothing anywhere else. Why would some people choose not to leave an area like New Orleans in the face of a hurricane? Did this disconnect from reality add to the confusion that piled on the problems later? And is it realistic to expect anything from a government that has already failed the people?
These are some of the big questions that Neufeld asks, as well as the smaller ones, most importantly what is the measure of loss — is it something that is only qualifiable to the specific loser?
It’s a powerful document of a dark moment in recent history and does well in adding some understanding to an event that will probably always be burdened by a mysterious nature.
September 24, 2009 § Leave a Comment
New York City artist Jody Culkin stresses function — and often the lack of it — by taking functional design and turning it into something entirely decorative.
For the new show at Greylock Arts at 93 Summer St., “Relics of Future Past,” opening Friday, Sept. 25, Culkin will contribute a body of work that includes hats and hoodies, a lamp, dresses and books from a variety of unusual materials including broken glass and copper mesh.
“I feel like different materials have some kind of different context and I think you want to be both true to the context and take it away from the context,” Culkin said.
Culkin’s books aren’t like the traditional objects we’ve grown used to — they’re whimsical slices of color that don’t offer a narrative in the usual sense. Some are constructed of vinyl and all of them come complete with holes that imply the content has been ripped out and replaced with little voids that tell a whole other story.
“It’s like taking out the pictures and taking out the narrative,” said Culkin, “but each one tells a little story in a way — not really a specific story. It’s more like some kind of experience of color and texture. But I really did want them to be funny.”
Culkin has also created what she calls “ruffle books” that are exactly what they claim — books of ruffles that can barely be contained by the chipboard covers that books are objects and appeal to people on that level as well. The stories that books have to tell are not just in their words or pictures, but in their binding, paper, typeface, scent and condition. Culkin’s creations take all this into account and introduce her own variations of the physical allures of books.
“I think of these books as being about color, but they’re just as much about texture, about the touch of all those different fabrics,” she said. “Some of them are things I bought and some of them are things I had lying around, like old towels. What are they and how do they feel? And how does the weight of the thing feel in your hand. A lot of it really is tactile.”
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September 23, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Hamburg native Ulf Lindemann is better known as [dunkelbunt] within the world of DJ performers that has sprung superstars like Moby. Lindemann has leant his ear and expertise to remixing eclectic world-music bands like Balkan Beat Box and 17 Hippies and injecting even more energy into forms like Klezmer. He’s no builder of bland techno sounds.
On his new album “Raindrops and Elephants,” Lindemann moves in and out of world music styles, juggling them into his beats and creating entirely new sounds through his method — all of them incredibly fun. Lindemann uses as source material his label mates from Piranha Records, utilizing samples and remixes, as well as original instrumentation, to create something vibrant.
Typical of his style, a song like “Mia Kwa Mia” mixes Hindi beats with Kenyan artist Cloud Tissa’s vocals, while throwing in some elegant jazz piano stylings. He takes these ideas further on “Balkan Quolou,” which sees him add Balkan sounds and soulful accordion to Cloud Tissa’s delivery, as well Sista K from Watcha Clan (the final track on the album, “Ch’ilet La Yani” is actually a remix of a Watcha Clan song) and MC Killo Killo. His quirky sensibility allows him to follow these up with “Tales of the Chocolate Butterfly,” a contemplative and exotic piano piece with little production added.
From there, it’s anyone’s guess what will come next. “Cinnamon Girl” offers up a techno equivalent of a Kid Creole song, with Lindemann himself taking vocals in duet with Barbara Tavernier. “Roll Away” starts off as a Gary Glitter drum riff and morphs into a herky-jerky Klezmer ska delivered by fellow DJ Selecta Bence. “Give You Action” mixes a horn riff that might come out of the mind of Michael Nyman with peppy reggae.
The album never lets up — its energy is such that you might want to put it on repeat to continue the excitement that not only your feet feel but also your ears. The album is both a sophisticated and simple dance music affair that speaks to the power of Lindemann’s ear and mind.
September 23, 2009 § Leave a Comment
There’s something absolutely silly about the idea of Salsa Celtica — the name says it all, the band mixes Celtic folk instrumentation with salsa orchestration — and, indeed, it wouldn’t be unsurprising if the music itself sounded as silly as the concept. Silly, no — fun, yes.
The band is actually from Scotland — they did time establishing themselves in the 1990s as a bar band in Glasgow and Edinburgh — but they found a following, especially among a growing new Latino population, and the acceptance of other countries followed. With members also hailing from Venezuela, Argentina and Ireland, the band pulls together its bagpipes and congas to create some wild sounds that get the feet moving without your consent.
On their most recent album, “El Camino,” the band bangs out songs like “Pal Rumbero” and “Cafe Collando,” where styles mix and trade places with vigor. At any given moment you might find a banjo shredding out a rhumba. Meanwhile, numbers like “Grey Gallito” wraps a traditional somber Irish ballad within an Afro Cuban backdrop that broadens the core of the song. The fusion is a seamless wonder and the band ambles at a pace that shows it doesn’t seem to care that they’ve stumbled onto a novelty — they’re too happy to be drowning in the sound they’ve crafted.
September 12, 2009 § Leave a Comment
It’s very often acknowledged that being a parent is a thankless task. I think this is the case not because your children will find something to blame on you whether you tried your best or not, but that they will invariably someday point a finger at your worst deficiencies as a person and this reality may be painfully undeniable for you — and yet you might be forced to deny for your own psychological survival. No one ever tells you about this aspect of parenting, but the information is there in the relationship with your own parents — and they with theirs — in what can often become an alarming roadmap of dysfunction left unacknowledged and including indicators as to the road ahead with your own kids.
Acclaimed chidren’s book illustrator David Small examines this and reveals his fractured childhood in graphic novel form with “Stitches.” While he unveils his own familial skeletons he also clues readers in to something I have suspected for years now – he is a masterful and fluid cartoonist with a strong grasp of body language to further his tale.
The book is centered around a singular incident in Small’s childhood — a supposedly routine operation that robs him of his voice — but from both ends of that nightmare unfolds the daily atrocities visited on the child. With two unstable women in his life — his mother and grandmother — and a father who wavers between being oblivious and hostile, Small’s childhood is one of casual alienation accentuated by daily battle. The strange atmosphere of the household and the psychological violence so heavy in the air operates as a mask for family secrets that create emotional spaces.
Told visually from the point of view of the child, Small recreates that swirl of mysterious impressions that dance around as a simulation of cionsciousness growing. Small presents that series of unexpectedly important moments in your own mythology that only make sense in hindsight as you are able to pull togeher the story of you. In this way Small’s intensely personal book is also vibrantly universal — most people go through this process in their adulthood and Small’s story benefits from this way of connecting with each other. Who hasn’t shared family horror stories? And who doesn’t have them? It’s a comfort that this success children’s book author and illustrator — he’s won that Caldecott Medal and the E.B. White Award — can not only rise above his upbringing, but relate his experience with such visual eloquence.
September 12, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Three new releases from Norton round out the Will Eisner library, completing the reprinted work of one of the most profound creators that comics have ever seen. Eisner moved past the world of mainstream crime comics by crafting tales of ordinary people in singular moments that define their being, while putting humanity in general under the microscope.
What seemed to fascinate Will Eisner the most in his decades of storytelling was the connections between people – where they lived, where they worked – and how these connections shaped their realities in way the individual players might never know. Eisner’s stories would often use a structural motif that would utilize, say, the space of a city neighborhood as a narrative game board. Eisner would just follow the players in the space and chronicle their tragedies and ironies.
In “A Family Matter” Eisner uses biology as the connector between disparate people during a brief family reunion at the patriarch’s birthday. Bickering around the shadows of ancient hurts dominate the evening, the result of separate and private memories in regard to their father. They are also burdened by their current failings. As they spend the birthday party debating on what to do with their ailing father and how to preserve their inheritance in the process, Eisner implies that the father may well have sealed his own fate by his failings within the parental role. His children, sadly might well be following in his sad footsteps.
“Minor Miracles” examines another system of connection – the spiritual and superstitious, the belief that there are powers at work beyond the human norm. Eisner concerns himself not so much with real miracles – if such things even exist – but perceived ones and how these shape a community and cause humans to build patterns in their heads and allow these perceptions to shape their moods and destinies. By weaving small stories into a wider tapestry – among them a retelling of Kaspar Hauser and the sad story of a loveless marriage between the physically damaged — Eisner examines how we qualify events against our own expectations..
If the workings of God are only given value according to what they do for us, the actions of the universe are no different. The human need to feel important in the expanse of eternity — to inflate our own little systems even as they collapse on each other in chaos — is central to so many of Eisner’s tales and is best realized in his sprawling satire “Life on Another Planet.”
This pseudo science fiction farce — it could be fairly described as the “It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” of space exploration politics — chronicles the double crosses and intrigue, the personal madness, the betrayals and bickering that happens when a signal is detected from a faraway planet — a broadcast of prime numbers that hints at intelligent life. Various strands intertwine into a jumble of knots held tight by political and personal gain, from a loony fringe to a billionaire and a conservative opportunist — when you think about it, what Eisner portrays isn’t much different in spirit than what has gone on in the healthcare reform debate currently.
Was Will Eisner a cynical man? It’s tough to say. The most important aspect of his Spirit strips is the idea that Denny Colt is a singular ray of goodness in a dark and corrupt world. Despite everything, he is a moral rock — and a physical one, as well — that constantly bulldozes evil with a clarity of purpose. Eisner’s later work, though, is more toublesome. As focused on ordinary people, Eisner does offer his sympathy and understanding as an author, but the situations still often get the best of even the most noble characters. Eisner is one of the comic book pioneers of really mapping out the gray portion of human action and tracing cause and effect in regard to it, but his voice in these tales never seems to give up on any ray of hope. It’s as if to say he acknowledged that even in the face of furious madness, you’ve got to keep a chin up for your own mental health and as a weapon against the darkness in order to survive the onslaught. I can’t argue with that.
September 10, 2009 § 1 Comment
With the mass media celebration going on in regard to the Beatles edition of Rock Band, my only reaction has been to notice that the music industry has finally found a new package in which to sell Beatles music. It’s not as if I’ve been inundated with the news — games only barely pierce the periphery of my perception and it really takes something of this blitz level to get me to notice.
While I guess it’s a leap ahead for some, to me it’s just one more stop in a long journey that has included reissues on LP, cassette, CD, DVD, and I don’t even know what else. Boxed sets, two disc collections of hits, special love song collections, masters, remasters, without the strings — there are a million different ways to hear music by this one band and after all these decades, I can’t bring myself to even slightly care anymore.
This isn’t a new development for me. I haven’t cared about the Beatles in a good 20 years. What happened? I moved on — and it’s been that two decades long path that has revealed to me why it’s so less travelled by most people. Oh, sure, there are others on this road — I am hardly alone — but you can’t always find the same travelers exiting on the same rest stops here. The idea is that music is an adventure and there’s not only no standing still, there’s also nothing about a place well trodden that necessarily means it’s worth a visit. You’re guided by your own eyes and ears here.
The reason the other road — the one with the Beatles — is so crammed with people is that most people don’t look at music as something to surprise them, they look at music as something to soothe them. Like a comfortable old couch or a McDonald’s in the middle of a strange city, music is something to soothe and connect, not to challenge. They can branch out a little bit, but there is always a familiarity when they move along to the next thing — and they will always rush back to the thing they know. « Read the rest of this entry »