28 September 2008

The Tiger Lillies at Korjaamo

I have an ambivalent relation to cabaret music. When I start thinking that some piece of music is theatrical, that is usually, for me, saying that I don't like it. Maybe I never got that thing about Weimar Germany & Marlene Dietrich & Brecht. But, as with everything else, there are exceptions. The Tiger Lillies are about as theatrical you can get, from one perspective. Their songs are about freak shows, prostitutes and sailors. What sets The Tiger Lillies apart from other bands who have taken a liking to "the grotesque" or "the sentimental", is that their music has a warmth to it. I thought about these things yesterday as I was seeing them perform in Helsinki. The show material was a mix of merry, humorous songs about various anal and non-anal themes, along with lullaby-like tunes in the falsetto or Tom Waits growl of Martyn Jacques. The crowd was larger than I expected. There were culture jocks along with goth kids. We were seated by a gang of gentlemen in suits. After the course of two beers, the roaring lads attempted to become anothing instrument, next to the accordion, the piano, the double bass, percussion - and the lovely theremin (I haven't seen one before, so that was fun). That was annoying as hell, I can tell you. Later on, my sister and I engaged in an analysis of what, exactly, in the music of Tiger Lillies attracted these guys. At its best, The Tiger Lillies deconstruct masculinity and violence. The response of the macho crowd was the total opposite of this.
Read about the band here. The only album I've really listened to is The Sea. It's great.

23 September 2008


Gösta looks at them leaves and thinks everything will be all right. He wants to lie down in the heap and look at the sky. Gösta will transform into leaves and concrete. Gösta walks into the office with a blank mind. Gösta's mind is a heap.

Gösta and you meet up after another day of shit shovelling. You go for a real long walk. You end up in the same place every time. The drunks growl. You are welcome. You sit down on a couch in a very dark room. You talk and stare into the wall. It's not your block. Slouching in the sofa, you drift off to different parts of the world. You view magical sights and hear magical sounds. Your circles grow smaller and smaller, rings on your fingers, pledges. The common & the exasperation, how they coalesce. Gösta is a mouse. Gösta is an elephant. Gösta is quiet. You are quiet.Gösta admires a red sky. You see a squirell. The squirell scurries away. Gösta has bad eyes.

It's a warm day. You stand at the foot of Kakola hill. You look out on the city. It is yours. You live there. You live there more and more each year. You think about how the city gets different. It moulds you. You talk about moving on. Gösta doesn't. Gösta sniffs the air like a dog. Gösta is not concerned about the future. Will you be a writer, or a scientist? Gösta does not know what he will turn into. "But you'll have to plan for a career". Gösta does not think career. Gösta is told a lot of things. It does not always matter. Gösta does not always listen.

Gösta is hungry. Gösta wants pizza. You do, too. There's a reason why you are friends. You eat pizza and drink beer. Gösta comes to think about something, that time you told Gösta you wanted to "vetää naamat", but you never did. You were nervous and you talked about everything that came to your mind. Gösta and you were walking around in a city of finance and pubs. It was raining. You were unhappy. You were unhappy for different reasons. You sat down in a place that served you food and beer. Gösta started to cry as a song by Tracy Chapman was playing. Gösta talked to you about an essay you were writing. You talked to Gösta about an essay you were writing.

You steal a garbagetruck. You drive home. Gösta is becoming-garbagetruck. Gösta is becoming. Gösta is glad to be with you.

21 September 2008

Animals and meat

I eat meat sometimes. I don't know why. Laziness, perhaps. Or I might just as well take away that 'perhaps'. There is no redeeming explanation or excuse. I watch pictures like these and feel sick. What is it that I have been eating? Corpses of animals that have been confined to a 'life' of misery. Of course, I know what it is I eat. Yet, I continue to deceive myself about it, suppressing those reactions of disgust by telling myself that it is simply 'food'.

20 September 2008


Sometimes during the winter 2000, I read about Low on All music guide. Strangely, one of the songs I got hold of on Napster (the good old days!), was a cover of Transmission. You might think the two bands do not have much in common, the first standing for everything that is quiet and serene, at least that was how the band was depicted before their last three album, and the other being raw and punk. But if you listen to the music of Low and Joy division, you will notice how their music sometimes converge in a raw, cavernous desperation that is expressed both in music and in the lyrics. Low has also done a lot of other covers. Listen to "I started a joke", "Surfer girl" and - Low goes AOR heroes - "Open arms"! All of these are to be found on the 3 record box A lifetime of temporary relief.

The first albums by Low were quite monotonous, the songs were often stripped down to drums, voice and droning guitar patterns. I also listened to another songs by Low at that period. It is actually a Christmas song. Low once made a Christmas ep but I haven't heard it in its enteriety to this day. Too scared of the concept, I guess. The song I listened to was "Long way around the sea". I liked it, my sister didn't. That song is not the only one in which Low approaches religious themes. They do it often, and it is dealt with in a way that has, I guess, only become more multifaceted by the years (not to say that their lyrics were, in any sense, straightforward "christian rock" in the early days - not at all).

Gradually, Low has created a much more melodic, and even rockier, sound. I am ambivalent to that development. That said, I do like all their albums, without exception. But my favorite records by Low mostly feature quiet material; Trust, Things we lost in the fire and I could live in hope. The 10 year old anniversary of the latter album was celebrated with a tribute album (imagine!) which has on it songs by several albums that I like (Mark Kozelek, altcountry band Pale horse & rider and Spanish slowcorers Migala). The tribute album is not only for those listeners who already know the entire Low ouevre. It has merits of its own. Great ones. Talking about bands affiliated with Low, I also want to praise the collaboration between Low and Dirty three on "In the fishtank".

For the moment, "Alone", from Long division. What a great song! "if I could get you alone/
would you take me back home?/ you remind me that I'm weak/you remind me I can fly/
you remind me I can't read/you remind me so I try."

I hope Low will visit Finland again. The only time they've been here, I had broken my foot and could not attend. I am very disappointed of having missed that opportunity.

16 September 2008

worst song Ever made (or "how silver-haired emptyflow learns stuff about pop culture")

I'm trawling the dagens skiva forum every once in a while. It's fun. There's always vendettas and trolls and what not, and in between, some music discussions. At the moment, there's this "worst song ever made" thread counting down. Ulf Lundell, Van Halen, Meat loaf, Per Gessle, Michael Bolton. Fucking Trance dance! (Do you remember them?) The dark side of our unconscious - I'm starting to think processes here, actually - discloses its seedy secrets.

What can beat that kind of music in terms of repulsiveness? Yes. One of the posters actually has an answer to that fundamental-ontological question. The answer is "I kissed a girl" by Katy Perry, a pretty contemporary track, I reckon. I wasn't familiar with it from before, so I googled the song, and the concept of the male gaze has never taken on such a concrete meaning as I watched the video (oh, well, half of it). The lyrical badness - or what is your verdict on, I quote, "I kissed a girl just to try it/I hope my boyfriend don't mind it [...] No, I don't even know your name/It doesn't matter/You're my experimental game/Just human nature/It's not what, good girls do/Not how they should/behave/My head gets so confused/Hard to obey? (Is this song popular? I hope not. I don't know about these things.) I can see it in my head. Professional "song writer" (Max Martin style), 35++, interests: "art & design & cooking (= fast cars and girls)", sitting in his glass & steel, designer, § 1,0000000000000000000 office, distractedly looking out the window, thinking, "hmm....I have a contract with these guys....I have to come up with something pretty soon.... Hey! I'm gonna write a song about a girl who.....kisses a GIRL! Nnn---iiice. Jimbo will dig this, he will." He has forgotten his cocaine & his voodoo dollz & a yellow mouse called Gerald at home that day, so the result is not quite as ingenious as what the potentiality of his artistic abilities might someday trigger him to create. Maybe, someday, aided by the grace of our Lord, he will write a new "Baby this is teh key to my heart". Good luck.

What is it with kids today?? When I was young, our radios and cassette players were blasting.....Trance dance...."You're gonna get it". And Van Halen (David Lee Roth's bikini girls). And later on, Haddaway and Meat Loaf. But I actually prefer bombastic "I'd to anything for love" or the straightforward moronic "NoNoNoNo, There's no limit!" a million times to "I kiss a girl, is that Ok for my boyfriend??? I am such a baaad girl." On wikipedia, I learn that this songs, along with another, called - bear with me - "U'r so gay" - has roused some attention for being homophobic.

I know it's cheap to snigger derisively at things in this way - haven't I got anything more substantial to say? (= no) - but this shit makes me mad.

Trying to make sense of economics news

Today, the top news story is plummeting stocks due to the bankruptcy of an American investment bank, a bank purchase and an insurance company facing a liquidity crisis.
(I don't know what to think of the following "reassuring" assertion: "In a briefing in Washington, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson Jr., said the financial markets were going through a tough time “as we work off some of the past excesses,” but that Americans could “remain confident in the soundness and the resilience of our financial system.”" - Resilience of our financial system?)

The autodidact, or rather, dilettante, in me is trying to understand bits and pieces by reading about the bank system in the US here and here.

14 September 2008

The borders of jazz, part ?? - Dictaphone

I am quite addicted to music that somehow resembles jazz, but is not quite the traditional thing. One band to have accompanied my listening aberrations for some time now is Dictaphone, comprised of a multi-instrumentalist from Brussels & a Dutch clarinent & saxophone player. Together they have created two brilliant albums, M. = addiction and Vertigo II and one ep, Nacht. Despite being a blend of jazz, glitchy electronica, klezmer-ish sadness and spooky field recordings, there is something in the atmosphere that I recorgnize from album to album. Something accessible, yet elusive, something familiar, yet different from everything else. While evoking cinematic images in the same way as Angelo Badalamenti and Murcof, their music has a warmth to it that separates it from these artists. It is nowhere near post-rock, nor does it have that much in common with the wide stream of idm&glitch acts - their accessibility exceeds and contradicts the loung-ey sound that many bands appeal to and re-invents (nor does it share in the minimalist reverence that is popular in some musical circles). But nor does it have the rustic feel of Need more sources. --- Tired as it may sound, the music of Dictaphone defies definitions. Go listen for yourself. Last.fm.
If you enjoy Dictaphone, you might also like Triosk, whose jazzy sound is quite similar to Dictaphone. And if Triosk is you're thing, then there's Bohren & der club of gore.

Ordinary people (1980)

Robert Redford directing a movie --- in 1980? Well, I didn't think much of this prospect for a movie. I was wrong. Ordinary people (1980) is a good movie. It is not without flaws, but its depiction of grief was, I thought, very believable and moving. It's a quiet little movie, but when I read a summary of the story I expected something else (and films about brothers who deal with the death of a family member, usually a brother, are queerly abundant). There were tons of small things I liked about this film. The way a particular tone of voice may invite trust, and different meanings of physical closure. One thing that surprised me about Ordinary people was that it had very little to do with certain pictures of "man&women&emotions". Even though it is, most would say, a simple film, the characters in it are, mostly, complex (the subdued demons of the "mother" was at times brilliantly expressed, but in other scenes her repression(s) were given an interpretation that was a little over the top).

Perhaps I've had the stupid idea that the year 1980 marks a more or less absolute limit in American movie history. From brutal and honest films (Cassavetes et al) to films about people that wear too much make-up. That is not true either. Especially since seedy noir-ish thrillers from 198- to 1992 tend to be good.

11 September 2008

miserable country songs

In dark times such as these country miserabilism provides me with a great source of consolation. Country is the perfect form for songs about drinking yourself to death, sneering at the devilish nature of womenfolk and reminiscing about all the bad times in your life. I think about the brand of country that is utterly misogynistic, utterly self-indulgent - and amusing, sometimes even strangely moving. Here's a list of fine country misery, to devour with a good chug of bad whiskey:

1. Charlie Rich - Feel like going home
2. Conway Twitty - The image of me
3. Patsy Cline - I fall to pieces
4. George Jones - If Drinkin' don't kill me, her memory will
5. Don Gibson - Give myself a party
6. Johnny Paycheck - Take this job and shove it
7. Bobby Bare - She's my ever lovin' machine
8. Johnny Cash - Kneeling Drunkard's plea
9. The Louvin brothers - The drunkard's doom
10. Faron Young - Hello walls
11. Lyle Lovett - Pontiac
12. Waylon Jennings - Mona
13. Randy Travis - It's out of my hands
14. Hank Williams - Weary blues from waitin'
15. Bill Anderson - Still

Lord I feel like going home
I tried and I failed and I'm tired and weary
Everything I ever done was wrong
And I feel like going home

Lord I tried to see it through
But it was too much for me
And now I'm coming home to you
And I feel like going home

Cloudy skies are rolling in
And not a friend around to help me
From all the places I have been
And I feel like going home

Lord I feel like going home
I tried and I failed and I'm tired and weary
Everything I ever done was wrong
And I feel like going home

10 September 2008

Language & meaning & evolution

I'm puzzling a bit over the Richard Byrne et al. study on orangutans which I read about in Dagens nyheter. The study is presented in the popular press as providing some clues about the evolution of (human) language. The finding of Byrne et al is that orangutans communicate their intentions in much the same way as that of humans participating in wordless charades. The idea is, I suppose, that charades illustrate a more "primordial" or "stripped-down" version of more "full-fledged" communication, and that charades therefore bring forth the most essential aspects of language and its relation to intentions and mutual understanding. Byrne et al conducted experiments in which orangutans were presented with two food options so that the apes would communicate which of these were the most desirable. They did this by means of gestures, and when the experiment conductors intentionally "misunderstood", the apes signalled that their message had not been received. When the apes got the food they wanted, they stopped gesturing.

"Although the communication sequences of the orangutans are perhaps not as sophisticated, they nonetheless accomplish the same objectives. By maximizing efficiency at searching for an understood signal and homing in on those that achieve partial success, orangutans are able to overcome misunderstandings. In the absence of a shared lexicon, one way of arriving at a shared meaning is to adopt a charades-like strategy, transmitting not only the content of the intended message but also a signal indicating how well you have been understood.

If the recipient can use this information, then the signaler and recipient will be able to arrive at a common understanding much faster. This strategy offers one possible pathway toward constructing a shared lexicon from learned or ritualized signals. Investigations into the structures of intentional communication by apes may therefore provide insight into the prelinguistic devices that helped construct the very earliest forms of hominid language."


"And the charades-like strategy illustrates how an individual in a prelinguistic society might still have been able to communicate their desires effectively." (source)

This assertion seems to rely on the conviction that meaning is founded on signs, gestures & symbols that have gained such a role that "successful understanding" is enabled. The gist of this story is a picture of language as successful communication of intentions. The orangutan in the Byrne experiments could be said to have something that is very similar to language because it makes itself understood by means of gestures. And the criteria of "having been understood" is something to the effect of "message received". However tempting this picture of language may be, it is, I would say, based on a mistaken or too simplistic idea. Instead of conceiving language as a practical means of getting across some piece of information, I would rather suggest that language is about having something to say in the context of a discussion (For that point, see Rush Rhees, Wittgenstein & the beginning of discourse). The more traditional view of language and meaning is that linguistic signs refer to something. In the example of the Byrne experiment, it's tempting to start to think of language as consisting of signs that somehow succeed to "point" at the intention of the gesturer. Linguistic understanding, in this sense, boils down to the fact that some signs succeed in this specific task - to convey intentions. One is quite inclined to think of this as the hard core of linguistic communication; the rest is ornaments, fluff, that builds upon this "message taken" idea.

The problem is of course that this idea emphasizes a very limited range of pictures of what we do when we talk and what understanding and misunderstanding is like. This point can be shown by reflecting on what role it has in the context of a specific discussion to say: "get to the point already!!" Sometimes this is an expression of my eagerness to hear your opinions on a specific subject matter, I am annoyed by your endless monologues on uninteresting things. But you might also find me to take the wrong attitude to the conversation. You are not trying to convey information, you are perhaps telling a story in which some specific fact is not important, but what you want to say concerns something else. Perhaps you tell me in what way you were hurt by the rude behaviour of another. I keep asking you to come to the "point", but in doing that, I am not really listening to what it is you say.

Even the idea of some hard core of language consisting in linguistic signs pointing at intentions of the speaker rests on a strange idea of inner intentions that are expressed in some outer machinery, language (or some pre-linguistic method of communication, as the quote above suggests). Of course, in some cases, it is quite fine to say that I am simply trying to get some message across. "My bus leaves half past, so I don't have much time." But even in these cases, the forms of misunderstanding is far richer than the message being "unsuccessfully delivered." "Oh, I know you're in a hurry, but let me finish my story...." "Understanding what is said" cannot be reduced to one form of communication.

I am not necessarily saying that apes "don't have language". I am venting some questions about what it means to say that somebody "has language". See here, for example, for an interesting account of language as relational, rather than referential.

9 September 2008

Deleuze & Guattari

Well, you know, I haven't yet got around to reading D & G. But this blog is a lot of fun.

queer theory & monsterconcepts

Occupying myself with queer theory rouses quite a few irritating tics in me. I nurse a constant, incessant, deeply felt desire to interrupt the elegant or sometimes not-so-elegant flow of the texts on desire & becoming & power by slyly asking, in the spirit of my newly found mate Alfred Ayer: "but what does that mean, anyway?"


"I am asking how it is that a notion like desire, which has been almost exclusively understood in male (and commonly heterocentric) terms, can be transformed so that it is capable of accomodating the very category on whose exclusion it has previously been based." (E. Grosz)

But what is the task at hand here? Before this, Grosz has said nothing about why she focuses her investigation on desire. At this point, I have no idea why it is important for her to work with the concept of "desire". This makes the text hard to follow. (I do have some minimalist grasp of why "desire" was introducted into feminist theory, how the concept became a part of the "sex wars", a revitalization of psychoanalysis, etc., but that historical background does not help much as such) What she does, later on in the text, is to contrast an idea of desire as "lack" (an idea she associates with Freud) with an idea of desire as a productive force, directed at nothing in particular beyond its "own self-expansion" (she has inherited this idea from Spinoza & Deleuze & Guattari). The point of all this is, I take it, to reject the idea of lesbian women as "inverted men", and to make possible a concept of sexuality based on pleasure and "surfaces". This makes me no less exasperated. I am aware of the fact that sexuality has been described along the lines of "insatiable consumption" as well as "outward directed energy", but it is almost as if Grosz thinks that some people's lives will be changed simply because they are given a conceptual alternative. In my opinion, this approach makes us less interested in the specific holding the idea of sexuality as consumption actually has on our thinking (its variatious forms, the alluring form it sometimes takes.).

But abandon hope all ye who enter here. "There is no pure sexuality, no inherently transgressive sexual practices, no sexuality beyond or outside the limits of patriarchal models." And there's one question grinding in my head: at what level is she speaking? Of what consequence is it that we are all trapped within "the patriarchal model"? This question gets all the more acute as she in fact emphasizes that she does not want to describe sexuality as "systems of belief or representations". So, then, what? She wants to talk about energies, moments, excitations. But, interestingly, our relation to other people has a quite marginal residue in her picture of "desire" - in her phrasing, we are bodies who are in contact with other bodies. It is obvious throughout her text to what extent she is haunted by the picture of desire as the consumption of an object. She does everything to escape that (which is understandable), but she ends up, well, with what - ?


As a matter of fact, most of the time, I am left with the feeling that I have absolutely zero grasp of the way the concept of, for instance, "desire" is employed. It is not that I am quarelling with a philosophical method in which concepts are given a specific meaning in order to illuminate a specific contrast. If you want to employ the concept of "desire" in a way that does not latch on to some of our "ordinary uses" of that word (whatever is meant by that, anyway), then, fine. But at least I want to be given some substance as to the direction in which the text is moving. I want to be brought along to some place (and not just a clinical, non-place saturated with geographical metaphors).

It's no easy job to pin down what separates an illuminating piece of writing from mere conceptual play. So, all right, if you want to connect the concepts of power and desire and becoming, then you have to tell me something about what exactly it is I will gain a better sight of if I make this connection. I am aware of the fact that this might take time, and that I will often be provided with an answer when I have read the text in its enteriety. But you cannot simply say: these connections help us in the making of queer politics. The concepts do not, as it were, do the job all by themselves. Concepts will not change the world (but perspectives might do it). "Re-thinking the concept of...." - I don't really see the subversive power in that. You have to show me what you want to say, the concept you deploy for whatever purpose you have with your text have to, at some level, latch on to some understanding of mine. The concept you use should help me see what you see. (I almost want to say, "concepts are tools", but that is problematic as well.)

So, I have a severe problem with philosophy ("theory") that is centered on concepts in such a way that substance is lost. In Swedish we say: "gör det bättre själv då för helvete" (this is a polite & modest way of encouraging the critical person to develop some positive and edifying views of her own). In the course I am attending, we were asked to provide our understanding of three concepts. It proved to be a difficult thing to do. And while doing it, I realized how brutish the philosophy I am doing really is. So here's the brute talking, an illustration of why we will not reach very far if we are simply asked to give an account of a concept (and not a problem, a reply to a question, etc.):

Power: “Power” is not a force of nature. The various aspects of power that somehow has a relation to the world of human beings and society are different from falling stones, a violent gush of wind or the movements of the planets. Nor is power an object, at least not in the same sense in which balls and chairs are objects. In talking about the power exercised by a human being or the dimension of power in a situation we are employing a description of what is going on, about our perception of what is going on. For example: “His ability to manipulate enables him to gain power over the situation.” “I felt absolutely powerless in that situation; I don’t know how I ended up in their company. The atmosphere was suffocating.” “I have to put something in either one of the boxes – but I don’t feel like committing myself to either one.” The concept of power is often employed in order to say something about what is “within our power”, what we cannot change, things we want to change. By describing something as “power” (a power relation), we attend to phenomena that we find unfair or wrong. Power is never simply there. This is shown by our reactions. Our reactions to power are dissimilar from the reaction I have when I bump into a closed door, even though power may be experienced just as infuriating, just as impersonal, and as impenetrable, as the closed door. Instead of restricting ourselves to the solitary concept of power, we should sniff around a bit and reflect on what we want to say when we talk about something as an instance of power. I think one of the lessons we may learn from Foucault & his critique of our tendency to think along the lines of “repressive power” is that he challenges us to look at power in the specific situation, when power is, so to speak, a part of the messiness of life (and that’s how I would phrase the idea of “productive power”).

Desire: People do not want things in a general sense. It does not seem to make sense to say (or let’s say I have a hard time thinking of a context where we would say): “I desire.” Think of the following assertions: I lust for the delicious cake in the shop window. I intend to have a look at that Hegel book and I’m feeling quite up to it tonight (I do want to read it, whatever you might think). I desire you. Chloe liked Olive. When you ask me if I want to come along to the movies, I am happy to join you. It is important that these expressions are not quite interchangeable. There is no “force” of human energy that could be characterized as “desire” (no primordial inclination, as it were). At least, I’m not too sure how that force would be characterized (I am still struggling with the desire machine). For that reason, a general concept of “desire” puzzles me.

Heteronormativity: For “the straight mind”, only some things are possible. The “straight mind” tends to have a gender hang-up along the lines of “this is the ladies’ room, isn’t it?” or “that is not very lady-like of you” or “haven’t you ever desired to have children? Really? No, I don’t believe you.” Or: “Our business idea is aimed at a specific consumer group, middle-class families who are in the middle of careers & child rearing”. “The straight mind” is very interested in some things, among them money, and (gendered) sex (and, as Valerie Solanas points out, death). The straight mind operates on many different levels. That’s not as strange as it may sound: it does, because this way of perceiving human beings, society and life is deeply ingrained. The straight mind prides itself on having got things straight, on being “reasonable” and “decent”. The straight mind offers you an answer to all your questions & it is very convincing in its taking on many shapes & forms. The straight mind is about gender and sex. The straight mind turns everything into gender and sex. Gender and sex are its organizing principles. Organizing prinicples are to be done away with.

--- The thing that amazes me the most in some of the texts on queer theory (some of which are actually good and well worth reading, I am only criticising some stuff) is the tendency to get rid of the concrete human beings. "Desire" (desire-machine), "bodies" and "subversiveness". "Desire is a productive force that works as a movement." The problem is not the concept of desire. There is a lot to be said about what it is to desire another human being. It's not that. But in some of the texts I am presently reading, it is as if some fuzzy desiring force is desiring --- (it should not be an object). A voluptious force, streaming through the de- or re- territorialized spheres of reality. What am I? A weepy humanist? Hm.

7 September 2008


This interview with Dmitry Medvedev is truly scary (plus some of the comments are priceless):

4 September 2008

Anouar Brahem trio - Astrakan Café

Anouar Brahem trio's Astrakan Café was released in 2000. I came upon it by chance, listening to this & that on last.fm. The intensity & sparseness of the music enchanted me immediately, and I got inspired to find out more about the artist. Anouar Brahem, from Tunisia, plays oud, a kind of lute. An equally important instrument, giving depth to the melodies, is the clarinet. Some songs feature percussion. Reviewers have dwelled on the sources of inspiration for Astrakan café (jazz, classical music, and what not), but I know too little to comment on that. All I know is that these swirling, yet very exact, melodies tosses me around, holding me in a firm grip. Most of the songs are quiet, languidly paced, revolving around themes that float around only to reappear in a recognizable form. Some tunes are rhytmic, with a steady-ish backbone of percussion, while others are held together by a set of sparse oud or clarinet patterns. Despite working with different atmospheres, the songs seem to evaporate into a whole. Don't be scared. This is not a difficult record (even though difficult is a bad word that says nothing at all - is difficult music something you have to study at a conservatory in order to understand, or is it simply music that requires your full attention?). How should I say? Without being sentimental, or self-obsessed, this is music exploding with emotion. In a quiet, restrained way. Without excess. And still - very straightforward, somehow.

And while I'm at it - I also want to recommend another record by Anouar Brahem - Le Pas du chat noir.

2 September 2008

Last year at Marienbad (1961)

*spoiler alert, if this is even a meaningful perspective here*

Quite a few years ago, I read one of Robbe-Grillet's novels, I think it was called Stone eyes (La Jalousie??) or something. Even though now and then I began to suspect that he applies a far too strict idea of "style" (one that will always, so to speak, break down more or less), I think I can say that I enjoyed the reading experience. In that book, Robbe-Grillet has this idea of objectivity, writing, as it were, "from a non-human perspective", trying to describe actions as if they were events in nature - ideally, the reader is to perceive (or try to perceive) cheating & paranoia on the same level as a stone rolling down a cliff. Of course, the book was packed with ambiguities. Maybe that was the point. The disengaged observer ended up coming out like a peeping tom. I don't know. From what I remember of the book, all scenes were broken down into minuscule events, like the play of sunshine on jalousies, or a spider climbing on a wall. I also remember there were a lot of repetition, which had a quite hypnotic effect on me. (I read the book in Swedish, because, as you may or may not know, I am GW Bush when it comes to learning languages.)

Robbe-Grillet wrote the screenplay for Last Year at Marienbad, released in 1961, one of Alain Resnais' more well-known films (along with, for example, Night and Fog). A voiceover introduces us to a hotel. He talks about corridors, statues, carpets. He starts talking about a married woman who he meets at the hotel. He recapitulates his memories of their earlier encounters, a year ago, how he stood waiting for her, what they said to each other, in what parts of the hotel they were walking around. Soon, the woman is also brought into the story, and her point of view is different from that of the man. She recalls no encounter, she questions each and every "memory" that the man presents as his own. These "conversations" are accompanied by scenes from the hotel. Sometimes, the woman and the man are present in them. Whose memories is it that we see? The man's? Some of the things that goes on in the scenes are left unexplained. A sudden scream, a sense of dread, a threat of some kind. We see some men occupied by an enigmatic game. We see a play. We see the garden, the statues in the garden, the woman's room. All this is re-shown, over and over again, with small variations. But still, somehow, the story moves on. Not in the sense that we necessarily get a clearer sense of what is going on, but at least the descriptions are providing us with more and more bits and pieces of information. In that way, Last Year at Marienbad has the touch of a detective story, a mystery. But what, exactly is the mystery here? The man insists on his story about his encounters with the married woman, while she denies it. Do we know the reasons for these discrepancies? No, not as far as I can see, but as the story moves on, I start to wonder what is persuasion, the man's attempt to lure the lady away from her man, and what is simply "accounts of what happened". (And some hints that the man clearly does not *want* to rember or give a clear account of, hints of violence, perhaps? Or was it all about wishful thinking?) What complicates the matter further, is that scenes from the past and the present seem to intermingle, and it is impossible, I think, to know which is which.

All this makes the film even more enigmatic. We know nothing about the persons, neither do we know anything about the tension between them. I came to think of the French movie La Moustache (2005), highly recommended kafkaesque nightmare! And it is hard not to mention David Lynch in this connection; Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire have both stolen quite a few tricks from Resnais' mystery story.

1 September 2008

Zizek on work

In connection with the scene from Psycho in which Norman Bates is seen conscientiously cleaning up the bathroom after the horrible murder that has taken place there, Zizek says something to the effect of: "the primordial form of work ethic is like wiping out a stain". His point seems to be that "work" is a cleaning up of the messy, gorey level of desires, that we work & toil in order to create a bearable, neat reality. Work, in this sense, is a compulsive conviction that "chaos has to be kept at bay". Animal laborens is kept from being swallowed up by her own desires (or would he rather talk about work as production of things, homo faber? - Maybe the point could be given different directions) and, hereby, she upholds a world of perfection and order. A world in which she inhabits a secure place, even though that world contains quite a few glimpses of what it truly is (the compulsiveness of work being one of them, I suppose he would say). This is an interesting idea that actually has more in it than one may think at first glance.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

The assassination of Jesse James is a movie I think highly of, but of which I regard stylistic aspects far more interesting than "story" or "content". That's not even a problem, I think. Great movie, great music, great cinematography! Elegiac, in a good way. I thought it would have been situated in the Western genre to a much greater extent than it was, but then again, perhaps my ideas about "westerns" boil down to preconceptions, rather than a variety of experiences? A reviewer in The New York Times complains that the film is weighed down by the art-centred pictures, and that the director hereby looses focus of his subject matter. I would beg to disagree. The film is about Jesse James, middle aged, his "best"&worst years behind him. He has become an icon, a star, a story. Bob Ford is a kind of stalker with a youthful loving adoration for a legend. What could have been pompous, is here, I think, simply a good treatment of this story. The emptiness of fame, "the art of killing". Realism sips through, at times, and these moments resonate all the more forcefully against this background of an idea-world. Rather than taking the idea of the Great American Gangster seriously by making it into something larger-than-life (which, as the reviewer points out, has been done a thousand times before), the focus of interest in Dominik's film seems to be a world shared by people lost in the images they have created of themselves. The cinematography reflect the self-indulgence of the characters.