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January 3, 2010

When a man’s breast feels like a cage from which all the dark birds have flown – he is free, he is light. And he longs to have his vultures back again. He wants his customary struggles, his nameless, empty works, his anger, his afflictions and his sins.

Saul Bellow, Herzog


In Limbo

July 28, 2009

I find myself in a strange, liminal state at the moment. My thesis is finished, but not yet submitted (while I wait for my supervisor to return from holiday), and even after submission I will have to wait for several weeks before my viva.  I was hoping for a more definite end, to put the proverbial full-stop at the end of four years of work. Instead, its been a slow fadeout; each day for the last month or so I’ve sat down in the office to work, fiddling around with relatively insignificant details, each day doing slightly less, until eventually I realised there was nothing more left I could do.

I’d been relishing the idea of having plenty of free time once I’d finished, but now I’m not quite sure what to do with myself. Like Buridan’s Ass I seem to be frozen, unable to choose between too many appealing options. Coupled to that is a strange sense of guilt, free-floating and seemingly not attached to any particular action (or lack of action) on my part, although I suspect it may spring from niggling doubts about the quality of my work, which is manifesting itself largely as the feeling that I ought be doing something I can’t quite put my finger on.

John Zorn & Fred Frith: 50th Birthday Celebration Volume 5

June 24, 2009

Zorn and FrithGod Damn!  This album is the best demonstration of the power of free improvisation I’ve heard in a long time. I guess I’m a bit late to the party on this one since it was released 5 years ago, for John Zorn’s 50th birthday. Anyone who has heard Zorn play doesn’t need to be told that he has a rare dexterity, versatility and power as a saxophone player, and he gets to showcase his entire range of skills in this set; from jagged shards of overblown harmonics, fluttering, screeching, to lyrical keening on the fourth track ‘Four Corners’. Fred Frith guitar work is astonishing too; my previous experience of his playing comes mainly from Henry Cow and Art Bears albums rather than as an improvisor, but he produces some glorious textures and he and Zorn seem almost telepathically linked at times as they duck and  weave around each others playing. Listening to his playing it struck me that much of his style is exactly what I try to achieve in my improvising, and hearing it done so masterfully, with skill vastly beyond mine is simultaneously inspiring and a little disheartening. I’d imagine Dan Brown probably felt the same when he picked up Foucault’s Pendulum.

Staying on a Zorn-related note, I was also recently listening to his albums recorded with the`Moonchild Trio’ of Mike Patton, Joey Baron and  Trevor Dunn. They are some of the most ass-kicking, spazzed-out, powerful “Rock” music I’ve heard in ages. The fact that it is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between Zorn’s saxophone and Patton’s voice is surely a compliment to both of them.


May 21, 2009

A Zed and Two NoughtsPeter Greenaway’s 1985 film A Zed and Two Noughts is a film of symbols, ciphers and luminous surface beauty, with only a passing resemblance to anything that could be considered reality. It nails its colours to the mast from the first scene; a woman wails histrionically, her car butting up against a toppled lamp-post with a swan lying dead across its bonnet, its feathers filling the air. The wives of twin zoologists Oswald and Oliver Deuce are killed in the accident, who channel their grief into bizarre studies of evolution and decomposition, which they see as the twin poles of life.

The film is visually stunning; in his introduction to the film, Peter Greenaway states that one of his aims was to use 26 different kinds of lighting in an homage to Johannes Vermeer, and the cinematographer Sacha Vierny (who also photographed Last Year in Marienbad) does an incredible job of realising this. Vermeer’s paintings are a recurring element in the film, and a painterly sensibility also influences the framing of every scene in the film. In combination with the outlandish, affected performances and dialogue, this places the film firmly in a realm of symbolist unreality. Read more…


May 17, 2009

I recently read the wonderful short novel The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares. Jorge Luis Borges, one of my favourite writers, was a friend of Casares and described The Invention of Morel as a “perfect” novel. On a deserted polynesian island, the titular Morel has discovered an unusual form of immortality; he has perfected a method to record and playback the entire physical state of the island, including its inhabitants. The drawback of his system is that the process recording process destroys the original, leaving the  copy to be replayed ad infinitum. An unnamed criminal on the run makes his way to this island, hoping to evade the authorities, and slowly puzzles together the nature of what has taken place.

 Watching one of the recordings, of a woman named Faustine, he falls in love, unaware that the woman he is watching no longer exists in a state that can even acknowledge his existence, if ‘she’ still exists at all. Morel seems to believe that his recordings are conscious, since the process destroys the original he infers that something akin to a soul must be transferred in the process. The fugitive is initially skeptical, but undergoes the scientific equivalent of a deathbed conversion at the heartbreaking conclusion of the novel. Read more…

Roberto Bolaño: 2666

April 27, 2009
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Roberto Bola$ntilde;o, or perhaps Bill Murray, hard to say.

I recently finished reading 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. Before reading it, I was aware that a lot of the reviews of this book had described it as ‘the first great novel of the 21st century’. It was published posthumously, as the author died of hepatic liver failure in 2003, the eventual result of contracting Hepatitis C from sharing needles during a period of heroin addiction. A cynical observer might comment that this story fits nicely with the template for a certain type of ‘tragic genius’, and might have magnified the impact of the novel beyond its purely literary merits. Read more…


April 18, 2009

stalkerMatt, from Diva Abrasiva, told me that Stalker, by Andrei Tarkovsky, is one of his favourite films, so I added it to my LOVEFiLM queue and waited for it to arrive. I’ve only seen one other Tarkovsky film, Solaris, which I thought was pretty great (although the person I went to see it with fell asleep during it), and deserves its reputation as a Soviet answer to 2001: A Space Odyssey. Stalker I thought was even better, and in revealing its plot I don’t think I’m taking anything away from the enjoyment of viewing it, as the actual events of the film are secondary to the imagery and subtext. 

The titular Stalker is a guide, who leads people through an ambiguous deserted region know as `The Zone’. The film offers few clues to the nature of The Zone, but it is said to contain a room in which the inner desire of anyone who enters will be realised. Perhaps for this reason, it is patrolled by an armed guard, and slipping past these soldiers is the first trial for the Stalker and his two customers; a scientist (referred to as The Professor) and a writer. Read more…