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Archive for August, 2009

EP Update

I’m sorry for the lateness of this blog. I usually post blogs on Sunday, but this weekend I was away in Sydney recording. In an earlier post I described a musical project I am involved with called ‘the but-yeahs’ involving Bruce, drummer for the Beautiful Girls. It is a two piece garage-rock band with electronics. I have just been in Sydney for the last four days doing overdubs and re-mixing an EP that was started in Melbourne a few months ago. Please see my earlier blog if you want to read more about this. The main update is that we are changing our name. We felt the but-yeahs is too derivative of punk which is only partly what we are on about. It also makes a few people think of ass, which is not what the band is about either! The but-yeahs was meant to reflect speech, the way people finish their sentences, or correct themselves with ‘but yeah…’ – the post-modern malaise. A new name being considered is ‘The Cheap Scientists’. It reflects our serious approach to music but also our DIY attitude! Let me know what you think of the name. Music will be up on a myspace site soon.

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Part 1:

A group of leaves fall from a tree, and as they spiral to Earth an awaiting man wonders. As he watches the shower circle toward him he is reminded of times before. Times of traveling a damaged road where guns exploded and planes soared, where friends were lost and warmth was a distant memory. Scarred and exhausted, knee deep in foreign mud he found comfort in the pattern of leaves before him; an elegant carpet laid across the alien terrain he was destined to discover. The carpet sparkled red, orange and yellow, the colours of spring; even this man from the other side of the world knew, because such things had invaded his own land. A gust of wind had sent trees shaking and for a moment he was lost in a sparkle of colour and the sound of peaceful urgency – this man in a foreign land. And now he could see it, see it all from the curb of a tarmac road where trams thundered behind him, and in a warm coat that gave succour from the chilled air. And now a shower of peace, in this, the land that had returned him.

Part 2:

I am old and my veins have possessed me. They trace my skin like tracks of serpents swimming the currents of my body. Racing from my heart, criss-crossing my vanity, cruelly awaiting my reaction to my reflection. My skin is blotched, a thousand shades of gray and brown like an old weathered home. I am a home to memories. Memories of a glorious past when I shone with the effervescence of the sun and was visited by the gaze of those who mattered. I sang, I chorused, I revealed my self for all to see, and I was admired. But now I have dropped from the heights, there are none left to see me. Just myself, staring at my skin and the beasts which haunt me. They protrude from my innards making their faces and tracks in the shape of my skin, a vulgar reversal of the faces that used to stare in, at my skin that shone like the sun.

Part 3:

Let us begin our journey at the tiniest tributary at the peak of the mountain. This tributary is formed from the tears of a snow leopard who lost its young to hunters. Her tears are the first branch making their way into established streams that flow, flow, flow to the artery, whose end is planted in the sea. Now we take this main river, like a trunk, and lift it with our hands, so our system of rivers, streams and tributaries stands like a tree. A tree alive and moving, awash with the flow of water, magically replenished at the tip of its stems, filling its trunk and feeding the sea. Confused fish poke their heads from the water and seeing the alien vista quickly withdraw, like blooming flowers that grow and recede in ever-changing positions. Our snow leopard, distracted from her grief by this marvelous site, stands at the base of the tree and waits patiently for the ocean tide, into which she jumps and is pushed, pushed upward to a stream that flows halfway up the tree. She drinks and swims and views her enemies from this height. Now take the water tree and place it back on the ground and leave the snow leopard to hunt the hunter, and relieve her grief forever.

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Thomas - the really useful engine

Thomas - the really useful engine

I have a two year old son obsessed with the children’s program, Thomas the Tank Engine. This means by default, I am also a Thomas the Tank Engine Fanatic – because it is constantly on! To my surprise watching Thomas the Tank Engine has been an engaging experience – I am shocked and a little disturbed by the profound cultural layers this show possesses. (I know, I know, I have to get out more). I must admit I do like the little models, and the island where the engines live seems so peaceful and scenic I’d actually love to go for a visit (bloody hell, I do have to get out more!).

There are four types of characters in the show: humans, trains, carriages and trucks. I want to describe each one before I get into the meat of the subtexts that I perceive.

The Fat Controller

The Fat Controller

Humans. The main human is a character called the Fat Controller. He is in fact, fat –  the only person represented as so in the show – and is in complete control of the island. Whenever anything goes wrong the engines shudder in fear at the potential reprimand of the paternalistic fat controller, who manages the engines with a firm but friendly hand. The other humans are drivers, signalmen and quarrymen (yes, all men). They are all dressed according to their rank. The drivers have ties on, the signalmen have overalls, the quarrymen have work clothes (except the foreman who has a suit on). The fat controller wears a top hat and tails!

Diesel - the devious engine

Diesel - the devious engine

Trains. There are two types of trains. The good trains are the steam engines. Their only purpose in life is to be called a ‘Really Useful Engine’ by the fat controller. They are incredibly grumpy much of the time (except Thomas who is usually happy). They are always telling each other off, tricking each other and can be vain. The other thing they share in common is a loathing of the diesel engines who are threatening to take over the role of the steam engines. The diesels are represented by a black engine (yes, black!) called diesel who is a conniving, back-stabbing villain. The rest of the diesels are women. The women diesels are nicer than the black Diesel, and look constantly toward the steam engines for guidance.

Carriages. The only thing to be said about the carriages is that they are all placid, subservient and female. All the steam engines are, you guessed it, male. The females are pulled around by the males and told what to do. They hate to be apart. If a steam engine has to be apart from his female carriages he gets very upset indeed.

A proletariat truck

A proletariat truck

Trucks. The engines are constantly shunting trucks, getting them in order for the quarry or the harbour. They are a faceless mass who are intent on causing trouble for the engines and therefore for the island society in general. Every wise engine knows they have to treat the trucks harshly to keep them in line.

You may well have picked up on a number of sub-texts in the program from what you have read. Basically this program is the most class-ridden, old fashioned, conservative program ever made for children – I’m sure of it. And although written originally in the 1940’s it first aired on television in the 1980s. This is well after the cultural revolution of the 60s.

Now for my sub-text rave! Essentially the steam engines represent the middle class who are subservient to the upper class as represented by the fat controller (who is corpulent, representing wealth and luxury). Their only purpose is to serve him and be loved by him. If not, they are potential scrap. The trucks represent the Proletariat or the working class who have to be kept under control in case of some kind of Marxist insurrection, in which the ‘natural’ order of the island would be disturbed. The trucks are constantly trying to create disorder but are bullied violently into submission by the engines, all with the blessing of the fat controller. Women are either docile subservient creatures who follow their men dutifully around or are represented as diesels, who threaten to overthrow the steam engines, possibly a nod to the feminist movements challenge to the patriarchal order. And as for blacks, they are represented solely in the evil Diesel who intends to overthrow the Steam Engines, perhaps a nod to West Indian immigration into the UK mid 20th century. Finally, the program is obviously some kind of nostalgic reflection on a ‘lost’ Britain where everyone, in a class based society, knew their place. In this show all is well and peaceful when everything is in its correct place (unless of course you don’t fit in, in which case, like the trucks, you are brutalised).

I tried explaining all this to my son but he would not have a bar of it. He simply said ‘Move Daddy’ because I was blocking his way. When I tried to put ‘Communism for kids’ on he simply screamed at me till I put Thomas back on, then he demanded I leave the room –  what on earth am I going to do? OK, OK if these subtext are in any way correct I greatly doubt that Rev Awdry, who originally wrote the stories for his children, had all this in mind. But it sure as hell stands out to me!

Note: I have two confessions to make: 1/. I don’t really own a DVD called Communism for Kids and do not want to own a DVD called Communism for Kids! 2/. I have based this blog on the classic series. No doubt the newest series is more politically correct – but then again maybe not. Anyone know?

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I  met some artists recently – quite by chance – and engaged with them in a discussion about a movie by Arthur Lipsett called 21-87. The film itself is not

Arthur Lipsett - just playing around?

Arthur Lipsett – just playing around?

important here (watch it though, it is amazing and an important artifact in experimental film history), but is the catalyst for this blog entry. When asked what the theme of the movie was I commented that I felt in some ways it was an ‘exploration of the superficiality of beauty’. The reply from one of the aforementioned artists was, ‘ Don’t be so thematic’. Now if he had of said dramatic, I would have conceded – I love being dramatic. But thematic? What does that even mean? I presumed it meant I was committing the crime of the post-modern age – looking for a theme, and in an experimental (seemingly random) film no less. Another artist chimed in and echoed the slightly exultant tones of his colleague saying: ‘If I think someone is trying to tell me something in art I have no interest. I want to be given something random that plays with my brain. I want to discover my own reaction.’ (This is a paraphrase, but I think his general theme [ha] is embedded in the quote). OK, I’m being facetious. What he had to say did make sense and I am sure many would agree with him, but I found myself being slightly disturbed by the comment.

a louise bourgeois spider

a louise bourgeois spider

In my opinion Duchamp started the modern thrust of art to deconstruct any importance in art. His famous urinal screams, ‘anything is art’! This attitude was perfected by Andy Warhol who’s prints have all the soul of a can of tomato soup – literally. Generally speaking, in the 20th Century, art sought to attack the lofty pretensions of culture, by removing any significance from art itself. Art became something that anyone could consume, it became public, it refused to align with the elite, it became anything. This is great, important even! Unfortunately art now seems to be in a kind of malaise. It is difficult to find artists who somehow tap into the idea of universals or attempt to find some common ground between humanity in their art. Notable exceptions I can think of are Louise Bourgeois and her extraordinary spiders (an archetypal representation of the mother) and Edvard Munch’s Scream, a universal image of horror in the relationship of modern man and the world (this painting dates at 1893, outside of the the 20th century, but its image seems to be relevant to this post!)

The Scream

The Scream

I am of the opinion that art has an important role to play in life, in two main ways. Firstly, art should be accessible to all. Everyone should practice art in some way. It is good for one’s relationship with the world, and self, to express art. Please see my earlier blog for more on this point. Secondly, artists themselves (as opposed to those who just practice art), can use art to heal, even teach the world (through self-reflection, not didactics!); after all, this is a world in great need of recovery. Now I did not dare mention this to the aforementioned artists. I would have been lashed to their cultural whipping post and had all the flesh from my body removed with their indignant scowls (see, dramatic)! To them art has no meaning. It is a plaything. It is a game for the elite. They own art, they understand art. Others don’t. They share a common language that emphasises meaninglessness. They have no interest in art having a purpose. This attitude was important in the 20th century, so that art could be owned by All rather than just a few. But now those on the front line who achieved this have become the new elite and block potential growth. (This is the way things always happen, and is theorised by Prout in his theories of revolution).

Artists develop their work through exploration. They rarely have a theme in mind. However artist’s, at times, will source universal themes (constructed or not, there are themes!) confronting humanity and help make sense of this in their art. They may even help illuminate alternative ways, on a personal or societal level. I think it is important to be open to this opportunity and not dismiss all art as meaningless, or as just some sort of play – this thinking has had the desired effect in that no one owns art per se, however this attitude has come to own art, so that it has become self-defeating. It is not allowed to transfigure itself and speak to the world. The elite assure this. Lipsett in my opinion has made an important comment about the human condition. By reassembling discarded film fragments from studios he has created a piece that challenges us to reconsider our own implicit priorities, and  asks the question ‘what does it mean to be human?’. I am not saying this was his intention. But I am saying this is the outcome of all great art.

I will finish this blog with an incredible quote by a man considered to be the greatest artist of the 20th century:

“From the moment that art ceases to be food that feeds the best minds, the artist can use his talents to perform all the tricks of the intellectual charlatan. Most people can today no longer expect to receive consolation and exaltation from art. The ‘refined,’ the rich, the professional ‘do-nothings’, the distillers of quintessence desire only the peculiar, the sensational, the eccentric, the scandalous in today’s art. I myself have fed these fellows what they wanted and satisfied these critics with all the ridiculous ideas that have passed through my mind. The less they understood them, the more they admired me.”
Through amusing myself with all these absurd farces, I became celebrated, and very rapidly…Celebrity means sales and consequent affluence. Today, as you know, I am celebrated, I am rich. But when I am alone, I do not have the effrontery to consider myself an artist at all, not in the grand old meaning of the word. I am only a public clown… I have understood my time and have exploited the imbecility, the vanity, the greed of my contemporaries. It is a bitter confession, this confession of mine, more painful than it may seem. But at least and at last it does have the merit of being honest.”
(Pablo Picasso, 1952)

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I’ve spent a lot of my time thinking about the meaning of life (too much time in fact). I have spent many hours lying on the couch with the familiar philosophical crease between my eyes pondering the nature of rationality; I have often fazed out on trains while watching crowds of odd faces (including my reflection in the window) wondering how on Earth we all exist on Earth and what keeps us all ticking and so forth. ‘What a waste of time’, I hear you say. Well yes, that is kind of true, but when your head chooses to go to these mental terrains you haven’t got much choice but to follow.

Anyway, one strange day I had what I initially thought was an awful thought. What if we humans aren’t actually that important after all? Most of my philosophical musings to this point presumed in some way that humanity was important; that we were somehow the synthesis of millions of years of evolution that had lead to us, we beings that exhibit consciousness, perhaps even intimating a deeper consciousness beyond our level of understanding. A consciousness that we humans are beginning to unravel through our very existence. But then I thought, what if we are just part of a process, part of an unfolding. The implications being that it is not us that is important, but our role as a link in a chain of lifeforms that stretches backwards and hopefully forwards in time.

Then I started thinking about sex. Actually I think about sex a lot – objectively of course! Never in any dirty pornographic way, for real! Sex. Everyone wants it. Or, we spend our lives trying to learn how to avoid wanting it. The former is emphasised every Saturday night. Just head into the city and watch the waves of people spilling into the city, pheromones blaring, searching for sex. As for the latter, consider the various religious orders who see transcendence of sexual desire as an important step to enlightenment; these persons still make sex central to their lives, just the avoidance of it! My point being that sex is everywhere.

And it’s everywhere because it feels so bloody good. Actually that is not true; often its disastrous, dull and at times dangerous, but generally it feels good. Particularly the orgasm bit that seems to drive us thoughtlessly into the act, tongues hanging out and heads howling at the moon. This is what I call the ‘biological imperative’ – evolutions master stroke! It ensures the perpetuation of life into the future. Does evolution have some kind of teleological drive? Or is it just a mad process heading to goodness knows where? Who knows. But one things for sure, it wants to keep on going. So evolution creates sex, which feels unbelievably good, which means all living things just keep on wanting to do it.

At this point I was both horrified and elated. Finally, after all these years of thinking, an actual truth: We are all driven by the biological imperative. Yeah! To reproduce life. To ensure the continuation of our species and all species that follow after it. (I was horrified because I was hoping for something better, see last paragraph). I am not proposing a moral biological imperative i.e. you must have children to engage with universal truth. No! Evolution is impersonal. The drive is purely physiological. It is our choice to respond to our drive in whatever way we choose. Thus sex encompasses experiences ranging from the hideous crime of rape to the enlightening possibilities of tantric sex (and all the normal sex stuff in between which is where I, like most of us, are hanging around).

It’s not a glorious truth, and it is pretty self-explantory, but at least it’s solid. Still, I’d like to find a transcendent truth of hidden meanings in the every day world. One that connects us with infinite processes in a non-corporeal state of ecstatic understading. Any ideas? Oh stuff it, I’ll stick with sex ;-).

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