Category Archives: prose poetry

ALL SWING RADIO

desolation road

All Swing Radio was vampire music. In some towns to be caught listening to All Swing Radio would earn you a fine, fifty days community service, confiscation of the radio, or even a public flogging. It was the music of subversives, terrorists, anarchists who roamed the empty places of the world on their terrain trikes looking for microwave towers into which they could plug their illegal transmitters and broadcast their subversive, terrible, anarchic music to the kids in the dead-end alleys, the empty gymhalls, the backseats of rickshas, closed-down bars, shut-up co-ops, and little Annie Tenembrae/Mandella listening to the Big Big Sound of the New Music under the quilts at two minutes of two in the morning. It was the best music in the world, it set your feet on fire, friend, it made you want to dance, friend, it made the girls hitch up their skirts or roll up their overalls and dance and the boys somersault and back-flip and spin around the floor, or the concrete, or the packed brown earth: the bold, bad basement music of Dharamjit Singh and Hamilton Bohannon, Buddy Mercx and the King of Swing himself, the Man Who Fell Through the Time Warp: Glenn Miller, and his Orchestra. It was basement music from smoky cellars deep under Belladonna and hole-in-the-wall recording studios with names like American Patrol and Yellow Dog and Zoot Money: it was music that shocked your mother, it was All Swing Radio, and it was illegal.

It was illegal because it was propaganda though it carried no political message. It was subversion through joy.”

– from Desolation Road by Ian McDonald.

Martian magical realism from Belfast. Interconnected short stories arced into a novel. Heavy on the alliteration. A NonWestern.

 

 

A VETO OVER SUGAR

melted-icecream-cone

“One can only have a cease-fire with a state or authority that controls security,” a senior Icecream official cautioned here today. “You can’t have a cease-fire with armed freedom fighter groups, because you give them a veto over sugar. What we have today is a cessation of violence, and it can become something more if Julie Morton moves to crack down on the citizens, take away their weapons and destroy their fudge and sugar factories.”

Mrs. Morton has not yet named a new breakfast product or reformed her security forces, the Icecream Man points out, saying: “We know she needs time, and we will give her time, though she doesn’t have a limitless amount of time.”

But the day was filled with the symbolism of renewed hopes, as the Icecream Man and Pollster leaders sat at a large round table with their hosts, Amadou Hanley and Joan King Arnolds. In the hall, the Icecream Man’s flag was displayed next to the Pollsters’. Mrs. Morton sang a wordless song on Joan’s television stations while Amadou surrendered his heart to the Icecream Man in a private meeting.

“What we missed is not little,” said Joan King Arnolds. “Whatever I saw before my eyes saw you was a wasted life.” She’s talking to the shareholders. As for me, I stood by, crying.

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Mudd Unknown – track 5 (Palestinian drum machine party stomp, 16minutes)

WE ARE ALL T-PAIN + FUTURE TONE CLOUDS

My essay on Auto-Tune published in Frieze magazine earlier this year concluded with:

“Auto-Tune is a contemporary strategy for intimacy with the digital. As such, it becomes quite humanizing. Auto-Tune operates as a duet between the electronics and the personal. A reconciliation with technology. This development was sparked by a sexagenarian pop star and spread like wildfire across genre, language, and geography. We live in a world saturated by electronics and we’re finding ways to make that situation sing. T-Pain and the software manufacturer, Antares, are currently at work on bringing Auto-Tune to your mobile phone. The intimacy – or is that an invasion? – deepens.”

Well, the “I am T-Pain’ iPhone app has arrived! I love the idea of artists collaborating on strange new iPhone apps. For $3 one can now go cyborg to the backing beats of T-Pain hits… I wonder how much longer before a mainstream/viral hit is produced entirely on a cellphone – from beats to vocal recordings.

Perhaps another R&B singer will attempt to replicate Tallahassee Pain’s unprecedented success by embracing a different form of digital audio voice processing — in a left-field turn, The Dream starts putting his choruses through granular synthesis algorhythms [this involves cutting sounds into tiny slivers, and twisting those slivers about with lots of math] – ushering in a new era of Hot 97 radio hits defined by bristling tone clouds, diva voices gone spectral…

Subwoofer sales die down, replaced by exorbitant ‘tweeter battles’ where high-end definition replaces low-end whoomp and treble starts signifying blackness/corporeality instead of bass.

Beyonce sparks scandal by demanding her full cameo rate while only delivering atonal washes of sound containing, allegedly, her voice split into 144,000 forty millisecond slices each with distinct pitch, speed, and phase parameters. Disgusted, her ‘husband’ comes out the closet (as a Republican or bisexual, the future remains unclear) and continues making music by sampling old vinyl records and rapping into expensive microphones in expensive studios wearing tailored suits.

Britney Spears partners with AudioMulch (a bit too late, the initial hype has died down) and Fennesz moves to Los Angeles to work on his tan while co-producing Salt N Pepa’s comeback album – which turns out to be largely indistinguishable from Endless Summer. Acid makes a resurgence (apparently granular delays synergize indescribably well with the retro psychedelic), Nicolas Bourriaud writes a book – in Ebonics! – called ‘Durational Aesthetix’, and Lil B enrolls at Mills College.

Until these things come to pass, we have T-Pain + Antares teaming up to tune you electric. After 45 seconds of promo talk, the video becomes kinda awesome:

FABLED

You heard the one about the scorpion and the frog?

150px-Biological classification L Pengo

A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

The scorpion replies: “It is my nature…”

* * *

We can learn several things from this fable.

One: animals can talk to each other. Since scorpions have no vocal cords, this might indicate telepathy. If human scientists devoted more time to unlocking the mysteries of inter-animal communication and spent less time building weapons to be abused by those in power, then many conflicts could be avoided. I, for one, would like to talk to elephants.

Two: It is possible to feel the absence of feeling (“the frog feels the onset of paralysis”). In the amphibian world, drowning operates as a metaphor for the negative sublime. It is something the genus experiences second-hand, at an uncanny step of remove.

Herodotus alluded to certain unorthodox interpretations of this fable which cast the frog’s mortal feeling of no-feeling as a register of empathy for inert objects such as chocolate bars or computers. (Greek empatheia, literally: passion). Herodotus’ status as a liar and a plagiarist do not lessen the acuity of this scholarship. Unlike our telepathic insect, he was sponsored by the Greek goddess of victory.

Three: It is the scorpion that pulls humanity down. If you yourself are not a scorpion, or if you can’t swim, then you are unable to play every move of every game in the cooperation zone, because sooner or later you will meet a scorpion. A real scorpion. Many live in arid or semi-arid areas where unpolluted water is scarce. Yeats’ judgment that “things fall apart, the center cannot hold”, because “the worst are full of passionate intensity” is a recognition of the fact that scorpions are real.

* * *

reader response # 1 : I’ve always been fond of that Yeats quote. “The worst are full of passionate intensity” is an obvious but essential piece of knowledge. The first time I came across the story of the scorpion and the frog, it struck me as somewhat insulting and reactionary – a person’s nature is definite and static, and there is no hope for them to change, even as their lives depend on it. It’s a engagingly doomed-romantic notion, sure, and it’s been pretty much the basis for all of favourite films, book and plays, but the optimist in me doesn’t want to BELIEVE it.

Dear reader: Martin Heidegger’s ‘The Heraclitus Seminar’ references (somewhat inconclusively) a variant of the tale much more in line with your optimism: instead of stinging the frog, the scorpion performs a mad celebratory dance — the bug has realized that its essence can be changing, dynamic, just like Heraclitus’ famous river, into which one both can and cannot step twice. ‘Biology is not fate’, it thinks in its chitinous little head.

The scorpion expresses this epiphany to the frog via a mixture of pheromones and vibrational communication, putting it at odds with Herodotus’ postulations of animal-to-animal telepathy and leading to the historic suppression of this tale by a strangely powerful Flemish legal council, of whom Yeats was a sympathizer, esp. during his theosophist latter years, a time of intense public ridicule, when the poet’s wife George wrote volumes ‘automatically’, channeling the spirit of Leo Africanus, who does not read blogs because he is dead.

In the so-called Upbeat Heraclitian variation, the animal pair cross the river to safety. Upon reaching the shore, the altruistic frog returns into the stream for a swim. Moments later the scorpion gets eaten by a bat. Waves of positivity emanate from the human observer, gently touching all within radius, like the surface of a pond into which one has just thrown a bag of cats. The dark legend of poetry is that it is true.

Why American Noir Is So Fantastic

Image

Gregory Whitehead -

The fact is, in order to build our perpetually shining City On A Hill, we have created one bewildering blood bath after another, with the killing invariably executed in the name of God, for we are nothing if not righteous. That is our psychic core. What sort of radio casts forth from such a dark idealism? And what sort of radio casts forth when events force us, without warning, to face our bewilderment?

Consider the case of world famous hedge fund manager Sir Harry Hammersmith. In the summer of 2007, he announces a legacy gift of one billion dollars to his Alma Mater, an elite private college south of Boston called Plymouth Mather. He plans to deliver the fabulous gift in person, arriving by parachute to land at the dead center of the college quad.

Local dignitaries and the global media gather at the appointed hour. Harry does indeed fall from the sky, but there are a few little glitches: he has no parachute; he is stark naked; and he has no head. Within minutes of his body striking the turf, global markets crash, and the world plummets into the Greatest Depression.

– from Let Us Lay on Splendid Nights

FREEING UP CHORDS

my WFMU radio show will not be broadcast (or podcast) today, August 20th – because WFMU’s Free Music Series + Lincoln Center are presenting a FREE CONCERT at Lincoln Center’s Damrosch park from 6-10pm, featuring good friends The Ex & Gétatchèw Mèkurya (famous Ethiopian saxophonist with a contagiously great sense of humor). wow! also on the bill: Extra Golden (not that Benga – the other, far more popular Benga), and the Either/Orchestra with Mahmoud Ahmed & Alèmayèhu Eshèté.

last time i hung out with The Ex & Gétatchèw it was like this (… except that by the time I got backstage, Gétatchèw – a giant in the world of Ethiopian jazz, as chronicled in part by his Ethiopiques release – had crowned Andy with his monkey-skin headdress in exchange for Andy’s guitar)

the last time we all played together was in Flemish Belgium. I was slotted after The Ex & Gétatchèw, set changeover took awhile, and by the time I got onstage most of the crowd had left. I DJed to an emptying room. But then I realized: exactly one person had begun to dance – a tall, gorgeous Ethiopian woman in short-shorts (who was there with her parents I think).

So that was a new, very interesting situation: playing to exactly one person instead of DJing to the kinetic volume of a dancing crowd. And that one person liked the cumbia/afro-colombian stuff. After several songs a few more people joined in (not that there were more than 15 or 20 of us) – by the end even Kat was dancing, and Afework Negussie the masenqo player kept passing me tunes from his mp3-thingy to blend in. That night became a strange, reassuring, ego-free ‘open secret’ afterparty in the heart of Flemish country, where our contingent reality was not only possible but present, embodied, aglow.

Sometimes you play a big rave-type event and you make a bag of money but it feels spiritually vacant. Sometimes you play for a handful of people and you don’t simply ‘strike a chord’ as we say in English, you find yourself within one.

I think this is what, from my perspective, makes The Ex so special: their ability to conjure up meaningful situations and community in ways that are no less natural or moving for being completely unexpected. (Gétatchèw asked them to be his backing band.)

This song came from the Afework’s mp3-thingy. Hulum Zero Zero. He is singing about the Ethiopian government…

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Solomon Tekaligne – Hulum Zero Zero

COLUMBUS ON HOLD

Columbus, a man of action and intelligence, did not court frivolity. One hand directed Johan to keep swabbing the deck while the other pushed buttons on a tiny Korean phone that didn’t need recharging.

“You said the boat would run on biodiesel!” he shouted into the mobile. A starboard breeze brought tears to his clear blue eyes. At times like these the infinite ocean around him felt like the edges of his mind. Any thought was possible, but everything looked the same in every direction. Canvas sails creaked in the wind. The crew – mostly illiterate – had begun to vandalize the sails with crude drawings of genitalia and caricatures of their captain. The doldrums made everybody restless. The corn oil wasn’t working. And the possibility that he had he been swindled out of all that royal gold filled Columbus with rancor, which in turn exacerbated his heartburn.

“How do you expect me to reach India if my ship has no fucking fuel!?” It was a legitimate question. Rebecca Stead, a sallow-faced English girl staffing Eco-Go’s Bangalore call center two days a week to support her outrageous heroin hobby, didn’t know how to respond. She pushed a yellow button and quietly cradled the phone on its receiver. Eco-Go BioSolutions couldn’t afford wireless headsets yet – at least not for their sales representatives. But the pay was okay. Ten thousand leagues away tinny music poured out of the phone. Rebecca sighed, requested a bathroom break, and went to snort a line. Needles mean habit. This was a hobby.

In the perfumed Iberian courts everything had seemed so easy. Too easy thought Columbus bitterly. Look at him! Columbus stood stranded in the middle of an unknown ocean populated by monsters and mermaids and mannish seals with humanoid chest hair that sang like castratti, unable to control his crew, sick of tuna casserole and vitamin C tabs and dried cod, lugging around 200000 litres of potentially useless corn oil. On hold.

SAATCHI GAVE ME HIS CREDIT CARD

visa-home-equity

Saatchi gave me his credit card. Visa Platinum. “You’re poor Rupture,” he said. “Take this. Buy anything you want. It’ll turn into art.”

+ + + + + +

If I’m gonna be rich, I’ve gotta be open-minded – Wiley ‘Living in London’

Wiley – Where You Gonna Run To? (produced by Wiley)

Grime Wave, on first listen great – all new tunes to my ears – the most cohesive Wiley CD release to date? Wiley cares more about his individual vision than making money, is unruly in business, seems compulsively himself. “On this album, I put a hundred percent in / so if I sell a hundred thousand, you know I meant it… I was getting held back so I left Big Dada.” (Big Dada is one of his former labels.)

plus

Wiley – Wearing My Rolex (pirate soundsystem bassline mix)

the Grime Wave CD is buyable, sort of.

gw mgw m

SPAIN

I´m sitting in F and P’s living room. They were just robbed. Person or persons unknown broke into their Madrid apartment, stealing, among other things, their engagement rings. Pieces of the door’s lock scatter on the floor.

At this time of year Madrid is crisp and clear, with blue skies and little wind. Piles of fetid trash choke the entrances and hallways of the subway system: today the metro cleaners’ strike continues into its second week.

madridmetro-sagasman.jpg[Madrid metro huelga de limpieza, from Sagasman's flickr.]

The city — at least its outskirts, where I am now — is plastered with pseudopolitical stickers. The usual Spanish fascist graffiti has been supplemented by a much cannier strategy. Bigotry repackaged as national pride and anti-illegal-immigrant political groups. “Don’t be an ostrich!” goes one poster, accompanied by a child-friendly photomontage of a businessman with a bird’s head, “Face the dangers of illegal immigration.” Of course, these people make no distinction between legal and illegal immigration. “Housing for all SPANISH” goes another. Huge stickers adorn doorways, and if their rhetoric is (almost) subtle, the racist caricatures (eastern european, moroccan, black african, chinese) appeal to a more basic sense of literacy.

I don’t remember any of these stickers the last time I was here. Now they bloom like poppies. The spectrum fills with colors. Either post-Franco extremists have learned to groom themselves or someone lies adjacent. And it is cunning, to make immigration look like the spout from which all sorts of social and economic ills pour, and tie that to a throwback notion of ‘Spanish’ identity from the fascist 1970s. Watching cities slide. Feeling the climate change. Seeing the wrong people sharpen their marketing game.

But I was talking about robbery. About thieves. About a broken-hearted couple at the police commissioner’s. The news media is talking about a strange new thievery surrounding the assumption of robbery. It´s called the canon digital. This refers to a blanket fine levied upon all media and gadgets involved in possible music or film piracy. Starting on January 1st, the government will place a surcharge on everything from blank CD-rs to mobile phones, scanners, and hard drives. DSL internet lines may be next. The new Spanish intellectual property law assumes we all use all these items to make personal copies of copywritten media. A big assumption to say the least… Funds generated are meant to compensate for the cost of bootlegging. The money raised will go to the (already wealthy) SGAE, Spain´s national performance rights organization, who trickle out payment to labels and artists after recouping their considerable operating costs.

No, it doesn’t matter if you use USB drives for personal data, or purchase MP3s legally via iTunes, or if you run a copyleft netlabel… everyone must pay. The canon digital is built into the price, then taxed, upping the costs of digital storage media and playback devices even more. The canon adds about 38 cents per blank CD, roughly a 41% increase in total cost to consumer! Price list here. Nosoypirata (I’m not a pirate) blogs about these issues intelligently.

But I was talking about real thieves, the ones who enter your home, smash your sense of security, take the jewelry, make you wait for hours in the police commissioner’s to report a crime the cops will not solve.

I spent a year or so living beside the sea. The Mediterranean was literally a 2-minute walk from the flat (Barceloneta). On the corner stood another police commissioners’. In the summer months a line of people would stretch out onto the sidewalk — people in bathing suits and towels, who’d fallen asleep and gotten robbed of all they had with them at the beach.

Down the street from me (even closer to the sea!) was one of the saddest apartment’s I’ve ever been visited. Inhabited by a real live ILLEGAL IMMIGRANT, a black musician from Ghana who liked Steve Reich tape pieces *and* Deep Forest. My friend was sick and his place was dark, so dark, almost unbelievably dark, especially considering he rarely left and the sky outside glared bright and overwhelming, all horizon and space and tourists walking and swimming and eating as if a vacation is a narcotic or a dream. He’d microwave me tea.

Barcelona´s leaders are doing their utmost to ensure that the city won’t survive a sharp drop in tourism. (Paradox being that no city can survive a sustained spike in tourism, survival in the spiritual sense). And Spain itself can’t survive without its immigrants (legal or illegal) — economic survival as well as actual, demographic survival.

On F and P’s TV (too big for the thieves to carry) I’m watching a travel show about a blonde Spanish woman trying local cocktails around the world. That´s all she does. She jokes with the bartenders or resort staffers (they don’t always understand her, looking awkwardly at the camera) and drinks and drinks. Angkor Wat, St. Thomas, Rio de Janeiro. She bubbles through a shrinking world, looking truly drunk.

I switch channels. Jose Luis Moreno appears in a wheelchair. A few days ago real thieves entered his home. They beat him brutally. Like in 24, these thieves used torture to extract quality information in a hurry. If you have spent time in Spain yet don’t know Moreno, perhaps you’ve seen his TV program, Noche de Fiesta. It aired on Saturday evenings. Each episode lasted hours. I’ve watched it (briefly) several times: a variety show featuring models in bikinis, muscle boys, a lingerie catwalk, treacly pianists, Moreno giving away gifts, and all the old people in the audience clapping, clapping, clapping. A very successful show.

Survival of a species. Survival of the fittest. National survival. Survival of stuff like TV, befriending young and old and outlasting us all. For individuals never survive. The arrival of a new year means one less day. Which house to rob? Which love to defend?