"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The Summit

It's all over the blogosphere and the press as well, not the one-on-one, closed door summit itself, because no one knows what Trump gave away there, but the press conference, which in itself is, given the reaction across the board (except for Hannity and perennial contrarian Rand Paul) apocalyptic.* Even Mitch McConnell is running away from it.

Rachel Maddow, who has covered the Russian angle more thoroughly than anyone else, sums it up. It's a full segment, but hunker down and listen: it's worth it.


* Tucker Carlson, who seems to live in a universe of his very own (and I'm sure he's very comfortable there) has his own unique take on election interference:

"I don't think Russia is our close friend or anything like that," said Tucker. "I think of course they try to interfere in our affairs. They have for a long time. Many countries do. Some more successfully than Russia, like Mexico, which is routinely interfering in our elections by packing our electorate."

I'm speechless.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: Dead Can Dance: Wake: The Best of Dead Can Dance

First published at Epinions.com.


I was first introduced to the music of Dead Can Dance a number of years ago, when cassette tapes were state of the art. (Yes, that many years ago.) With my interest in offbeat popular music and music from other cultures, they were a good fit, but it wasn't until I picked up their "best of" release, Wake, that I realized how much in tune (if you'll pardon the expression) we were.

Listening through this album again, the range of traditions embodied in the music is remarkable.

Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry met in Melbourne in 1980. Perry, according to Gerrard, was making music in the mold of the New York Dolls; she doesn't talk about what she was doing, but what happened when they got together was something very different than either had been doing before. The collection starts off with their first collaboration, "Frontier," which they used as their demo when they moved to London and managed, after four years of rejection, to link up with Ivo Watts-Russell of 4AD. The amazing thing about "Frontier" is that it is already full-blown DCD: Perry's instrumental collages flow over, under and around Gerrard's highly abstract vocalizations to produce something that it, indeed, unique -- in this case, a beat that is almost something you might find in pop music (and more about that later), and Perry's own supporting vocals that become an inextricable part of the instrumentals.

About that beat: Dimitri Ehrlich, in his essay put together from interviews with Gerrard, Perry, and Watts-Russell, notes that Gerrard grew up in East Prahran, Melbourne, with a mix of Greek, Italian, Turkish, Irish and Arab neighbors. The two also worked in a Lebanese restaurant while saving money for the move to London. It would be insane to say that these experiences had no influence on their music. (Keep in mind that both are Australian, and that Australia is historically as ethnically mixed as North America; the major groups of immigrants there today are Asian. When Australians go "overseas," they are much more likely to go to the Philippines, Indonesia, or Japan than Europe.) What is astonishing about the music is that, while one can point to a particular piece and say, "Indonesian influence," or "Arab influence," or "from medieval sources," when one backs away a step or two, those influences are submerged into a seamless whole that simply says "Dead Can Dance." I mean, how does one attribute influences to the high drama of "Summoning of the Muse," with its carillon and heavy synths supporting a multi-tracked Gerrard singing a chorale (and being Gerrard, of course, doing bizarre things with the harmonies that we almost notice).

It's clear, listening to this set (and one of the best parts of writing this review is that I'm sitting here listening while I'm writing, which I always do with music review), where the strengths are. Perry is a talented singer, but those songs on which he is featured are more "standard" fare, with a clear vocal line in song form. His strength is in the instrumentals that pull together all the diverse influences and introduce amazing subtleties -- toward the end of "In the Kingdom of the Blind the One-Eyed are Kings," for example, he introduces a very quiet pulse on the bass drum, barely audible, with the effect of throwing the entire soundscape into high relief.

Gerrard is The Voice. Ehrlich says in his essay that "Gerrard . . . made sounds with her voice and turned that experience into something much larger and more far-ranging than mere singing." I can't describe it any better myself. Take my favorite combination on this collection, "The Lotus Eaters" and "Rakim" on disc 2: In "Lotus Eaters," the vocals may or may not be in any known language. It doesn't matter -- I'm not even sure those are actual words (no lyrics are provided for that one). The song is an Iberian-Arabic influenced masterpiece instrumentally, and Gerrard's vocals, charged with raw heat, twine sinuously through, creating one of the most erotic pieces of music I've ever heard. "Rakim" is a very different animal, Perry fronting a lively, upbeat Afro-Caribbean-sounding piece while, starting about halfway through, Gerrard starts yodeling in the background. It sounds odd put like that, but that's what she's doing: yodeling. It's perfect, and it's fantastic.

This is not a chronological sequence, quite -- "The Lotus Eaters," from 2001, is near the beginning of the second CD, followed by "Rakim" from Toward the Within (1994); the set ends with "How Fortunate the Man with None" from Into the Labyrinth (1993). The design, by the way, is superb -- it's worth having this set for the booklet alone, which is just beautiful.

I think this really is "The Best of Dead Can Dance," and if you're going to have one album by this pair, this is the one to have, hands down.

(4AD, 2003)


What's New at Green Man Review

There's a wide range of things offered this week at Green Man Review:

Robert Hunter’s ‘Brown-Eyed Women’, Music that Defies Classification, Indians from Day One, Patricia A. McKillip’s World-building, Gummi Butterflies, and Other Matters

"Gummi butterflies?" You ask. Yes, there are such things. Click on over and read about them and more.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Sneaky

My "other" orchid, a Colmanara "Wildcat", has not been adapting well to the new environment. I had about given up on it when it surprised me: it has three blossoms on a stem about four inches long, all but hidden under the leaves.

Does this count as a silver lining?

(Mine, at least in this blooming, is not as dark as the illustration -- that needs lots of sun to bring out the colors, and it's sitting on a crowded table at an east window.)

Friday, July 13, 2018

Today in Witch Hunts, Russian Assets in Congress Edition

So the House decided to have a joint committee investigation of Peter Strzok and the FBI's (non-existent) attempts to sink the Trump candidacy and hand the election to Hillary Clinton. It blew up in their faces and made them look like fools (because Strzok was more than they bargained for). Charles P. Pierce has a good overview:

There’s no real point in recapping the highlights. The videos are going to be in regular rotation for quite a while now. It was, as it was called at various points in the hearing, a kangaroo court, a show trial, and a travesty of a sham of a mockery of a sham of two mockeries. But it was designed to be that. It was a performance piece. It was not a very well-cast one, and several of the lead actors fell into the orchestra pit, but it managed to run from curtain-up to curtain-down.
And there’s still the basic fact out there that the president* of the United States needed money to shore up his failing businesses, and he went to Russian oligarchs in league with a KGB goon at the head of an authoritarian nation to get it, and that we don’t know what he owes, and to whom, and what he’s willing to do to settle his debts.

This is the level of qualifications these yahoos are touting:

"I am a dentist. So I read body language very, very well." – Rep. Paul Gosar, Republican of Arizona.

Seriously.

You can find details at various sites around the Web (here, here, and here, just to point out a few).

So now the whole country knows just how stupid and and reality-impaired House Republicans are. Except for the ones who watch Fox News.

Via Bark Bark Woof Woof.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Snowflake du Jour: Tomi Lahren

She really is one of the stupidest people using up air time:

“Because it’s going to get worse,” Lahren warned. “The final stages of Trump derangement syndrome are not just heckling and harassment. There are going to be physical confrontations. And I truly don’t believe that’s what the Democratic Party wants for conservatives, for us to be attacked. But they need to make that very clear.”

“Because until then, there are many of their followers and supporters who do think it’s okay to do these things,” she insisted. “They think it’s their right and their duty. And that’s dangerous.”

It is their right.

Image du Jour: Trump at NATO (Update)

This picture says it all:

 

Via Joe.My.God.

Update: And hide your irony meter -- this is how he started off:

Donald Trump didn’t waste any time in his efforts to alienate U.S. allies at the NATO summit, accusing Germany of being “captive” to Russia.

“Germany as far as I am concerned is captive to Russia, because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia…Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will getting between 60 and 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline, and you tell me if that is appropriate, because I think it’s not, and I think it’s very bad thing for NATO, and I don’t think it should have happened, and I think we have to talk to Germany about it.”
Video at the link, if you can stand it.

The actual figure is about 9%, according to the German government.

Next he'll go to Helsinki, where Putin will pat him on the head and say "Good dog."


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Culture Break: Kimmo Pohjonen: Särmä

This tune is included on the CD Pohjonen did with Kronos Quartet, in a rather different version.


Sunday, July 08, 2018

Review: Linkin Park: Meteora

Another one that originally appeared on Epinions, where it no longer exists in any form.

First, a little history: I tend to poke around on YouTube for AMVs from anime that use good music -- it's the combination that makes a successful AMV, and I've found some really good ones. One was done by a very talented young lady using Linkin Park's "Breaking the Habit" as the soundtrack. (The anime clips were from X, which itself looks very interesting.) I was quite taken by the song, and eventually laid hands on the CD. It took some getting used to -- "Breaking the Habit" is not typical of Linkin Park's style. I'm not particularly fond of screaming vocals, nor am I all that patient with rap. Why on earth was I listening to Linkin Park and liking it?

First off, I have my own approach to music: if it's an idiom new to me, I let myself soak in it until I start to understand where the artist is coming from. Consequently, I've learned a lot about many different kinds of music, most of which I enjoy. So I soaked.

If Depeche Mode is the Mahler of popular music, Linkin Park is the Wagner -- they have that kind of excess, that over-the-top, almost expressionistic flair that's one of the things I love about Wagner. And they make really interesting sounds. The music is very rich, textured, layered stuff with a lot of depth, and what I can only call an "emotional dynamic range" that's surprising in popular music. I think it's the combination of Mike Shinoda's rap with Chester Bennington's passionate singing -- and I use the word advisedly: Bennington is capable of much more than screaming, but he's always intense. Shinoda's rap folds into Bennington's singing beautifully -- Shinoda packs a wide enough range of expression into his delivery that I'm not sure you can really call it "rap" any more. Backed by a wall of sound from Rob Bourdon (drums), Brad Delson (guitars), Phoenix (bass), and the sampling by Joseph Hahn and Shinoda, it's a potent sound. A song like "Easier to Run" shows the range this group can pack into less than three-and-a-half minutes, the pathos overlaid by the urgency they somehow build into a long melodic line.

Which brings me to what really got to me: the lyrics. Sadly, there is an element of truth to the canards about pop song lyrics: most of them are pretty shallow. When I listened to the words in "Breaking the Habit," and then "Easier to Run," "Nobody's Listening," and "Numb," I was hooked. First, I think the message here is going to reach any teenager, and maybe even some a little older: it's about anger, it's about being lost and confused, it's about the frustration inherent of becoming an adult, about being seen as a child when you're not any more, all told from a surprisingly mature point of view. A line like "All I want to do/is be more like me/and be less like you" (from "Numb") makes you stop and think: there's the child's struggle for independence, right there. And growing up gay when and where I did, "Somewhere I Belong" and "Easier to Run," to name only two, were like seeing into my own head as a teenager. There are levels of meaning there that reflect a very sophisticated level of songwriting, and an emotional load that, even if not intentional, will not let you walk away from this music.

It’s not a perfect collection. The first half is uneven, with more valleys than peaks, but "Easier to Run" leads into a set of very strong numbers covering more than half the album, conceived and performed at a very high level: the best ones are stellar. Being the glutton for punishment that I am, I can't get enough of this music.


It's Sunday Again

And that means reviews at Green Man Review:

Kage on Time Bandits, Olivier Greif’s Sonate de Requiem and Trio avec piano, The Haiku of Basho, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger gets panned, Charles de Lint in conversation, A History of Ice Cream and other matters…

And Who, you may ask, is Olivier Greif? Well, click on over to find the answer to that and other questions.