June 20, 2012


Filed under: kaganof short films — ABRAXAS @ 2:30 pm

produced, shot, edited and directed by aryan kaganof
south africa
music composed by michael blake
piano played by ms. jill richards

Reverie is a scroll painting, like the Japanese makemono. The scroll painting genre cannot be grasped by a single glance, unlike most easel paintings in the western tradition. It can only be fully seen if there is time to see all of it as the scroll unfolds. This type of painting becomes a time-based form, like a piece of music. Reverie is analagous to the ancient picture scroll, a ribbon without end, almost like a reel of film of a single shot of the landscape as it horizontally unwinds. Not all of the picture can be wholly understood simultaneously by the eye. This perception has to happen sequentially: a single subject pours into the next subject, a fragment develops into the next fragment. Reverie works as a series of relationships in time (rather than just as a comparison of forms), a principle found in the single tracking shot. These shots in time appear to the eye as a flowing together of separate images, or even sequences. Reverie is a sophisticated and dynamic interpretation of the scroll/film analogy.

immanuel stammelman
problems of meaning in the video work of aryan kaganof

June 8, 2012

flowers for johnny

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 7:29 pm

Artist: Anders Gahnold Trio (with Johnny Dyani)
Album: Flowers for Johnny
Label: Ayler Records (AylCD 017/018)
Year: 1983-1985 ; release: 2003
Format, bitrate: mp3 @ 256 kbps CBR
Time: 2 CDs: 67 + 32 minutes
Size: ~190 MB incl. 3% recovery (2 files)

Following his exile from South Africa, Johnny Dyani spent a few years in London and then Paris before finally settling down in Copenhagen, Denmark. The Swedish and Danish jazz scenes being strongly interconnected (then and now), he eventually met the alto sax player Anders Gahnold, who actually chased him down and invited him to join his trio. Completed by drummer Gilbert Matthews, the trio performed irregularly during the bassist’s last years, but it seems it never recorded a studio session. Flowers for Johnny culls two live sets recorded by the Swedish Broadcasting Company on October 15, 1983 (at the Umeå Jazz Festival) and on September 12, 1985 (at the Jazz Club Fasching in Stockholm). Both are good-quality recordings with some light wear and tear of the master tapes showing. The 1983 set, over one hour long, is dominated by the 17-minute opener, “Sound Check,” a powerful piece that showcases Gahnold’s writing skills as much as his soulful left-field playing. Still very bop in essence, the music is fueled by the energy of American fire music. Honest-sounding, it eschews power for power’s sake and even doesn’t shy away from a touch of romanticism in “Waltz for Kai-Ola,” a highlight. Disc two is much shorter (33 minutes). At its heart stands a gripping rendition of “Summertime.” If the saxophonist remains a bit too respectful of the standard, Dyani stretches out a set of solo variations that revamp it in a way reminiscent of how John Coltrane rewrote “My Favorite Things.” “Jagad” and “Duett,” bookending this second recording, are both livelier and freer tunes featuring some exciting interplay between bass and drums. Gahnold is an underdocumented sax player, but you’ll probably want Flowers for Johnny for Dyani’s work (and he’s not the most recorded bassist in jazz history).
~ François Couture, All Music Guide

first published on the web here: http://jazzbluesclub.com/user/GatoMedio/

June 7, 2012

Jan-Jan and the Fever Scapes.

Filed under: literature,mick raubenheimer — ABRAXAS @ 10:36 pm

There were strange, wobbling people trapped in the two-dimensional planes of the mall’s shiny shop windows. Diluted and warped spangles of people – a female dragging a spilling child; sprawling boyfriends panting; slanted businessmen walking their suitcases; huggles of tweens kissing into gaudy, Facebooked cells.
Jan-Jan knew it had been a bad idea.
“Dude this is a bad idea, the people in the windows are growing. And….. they’re fucking following us…” Jan-Jan attempted to whisper this into Koos’ ear but he’d lost his rhythm and ended up sinistering said information to a highly bemused house-mom of sorts. “Fuck shit sorry who are you!??” Koos plucked him back into trot.
“Dude they’re growing,” Jan-Jan offered to Koos, by way of thanks or apology or explanation. “Vesuvius,” Koos reminded Jan-Jan, his arched left eyebrow splicing into his forehead.
The mall was in full swing. Consumerist orgy.
It was three o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. It was impossible.


Two hours before.

“Chill bra it’s gonna be quick. Quickin quixaut.”
“Dude I don’t even do malls when I’m slowber. This will not end well. I’ll die or expand into, like, somewhere and you’ll be stuck with the body having to explain to the mall cops and the customers with their Jet bags and my mom. My MOM dude. Explain to her.”
Koos rolled his talentedly rollable eyes. “He’s the only one who carries this stuff. 10 minutes tops, and you’re not That stoned. Chi-eeel.”
Jan-Jan nodded knowingly, into the middle distance of apprehension.

On Tuesday, January 13th 1987, Jan-Jan was four years old in the forest of legs and gleaming shoes and giant hands in Checkers somewhere in Kaarlfontein CBD. He had lost his mom but he didn’t know this yet. He awed at the shinily wrapped sweeties and the trousered legs and the mom legs and the dangling or swinging grownup hands; the occasional pram with its flailing occupant. He reached up and took his mom’s hand. The mom dress with its mom legs lowered into a friendly squat and introduced a smiling, not-Mom face. Jannietjie’s eyes grew larger than fearful. “Hello skat, wie is hierdie oulike kleintjie?” Another grownup face, male, joined not-Mom’s into his plane of vision, and chuckled.
“Wie is Hierrie meneertjie Susan? Ag kom ons hou hom.” The man roughly tousled Jannietjie’s petrified hair.
A bulge of tears was swelling the world out of focus.

Are you experiencing mild panic?

People were starting to notice them; them and their ‘Corn’ and ‘Anti-Chris’ tees. An ominous, horizontal dome of space took shape around them. The patrons of Westwood Mall were beginning to give them girth; were beginning to consciously, accusingly, walk around them. Jan-Jan’s face was bigger than normal and breathing in slow motion, on Imax.
“Fokken DRUGGIES,” someone hissed in passing.
“Yo amper daar bra.”
Jan-Jan detected specks of The Fear in Koos’ attempt at a casual aside.


Like fourteen buckets of the stuff.

Outside, on the roof of section D of Westwood Mall, a new bird was cleaning and inspecting its foreign wings. It was a subtle sui generis – there was nothing flashy to mark its difference. The other birds, however, did take note, eyeing it with beady fear. Keeping their distance. Twittering amongst themselves. The zombie throngs below did not notice. Not many an ornithologist frequented this particular haven of commerce.
The new bird concluded its cleaning session. Ruffled its fresh self. Focused its eyes on an aged pigeon ambling along a ledge some 50 meters away. The pigeon’s head snapped dully up. It started feverishly pecking at its own breast, a dull flurry of bits of feather and flecks of blood growing around it as its wings started dementedly flapping. In this fashion it stammered off the roof – a twitchy mess which plonked onto the roof of a metallic orange Corsa four storeys below.
All around the mall various birds took wing – pigeons and sparrows and robins and others all swirling up into elegant avian orbits, intertwining in shifting circles high above.
The only bird still hopping along the segmented roofs was the new one.

Damp Ills.

Behind the Pills counter of PHARMA-Con, Timothy (aka Vesuvius, aka Tim) stood looking at the lost people milling about the pharmacy’s starkly hygienic aisles, desperately seeking cures and anointments and chemical epiphanies – questing the soothing.
He wanted to hop over the counter and randomly hack into them with the rusty panga he had carefully hidden behind the upper shelf of Cyloscentia in the back. A bulge formed in the groin area of his neat white pants at the thought of their pointless alarm.
“Hi, Yes ma’m what can I do for you today?”


“Oh. My. Fuck.” Jan-Jan froze in mid-step. The ominous surroundings briefly melted away. Koos turned around. “It’s. The. Dude they have the new Ampersand!”
Koos knew what this meant. He was not angry. Disappointment did not slacken his face. He didn’t roll his rollable eyes. It was what it was.
“Okay go, but I’m collecting you in TEN MINUTES.”


It took Jan-Jan some long seconds to relocate the nerve to cross the threshold of Musique, the slightly-better-than-Musica cd store; currently pumping some kind of Madonna remixed with Technotronic trip.
He wades into the nightmare of people and shelves, struggles hisself to the nearest counter. Summons the nearest till clerk with glowing forefinger.
“Uhm can I, we, I mean can I listen to the new Ampersand?”
“No erm, just the. Erm..”
“And,” she smiles softly then turns around and walks away.
For a moment which expanded into dejection, then Fear, Jan-Jan realized that this female employee of Musique knew that he was stoned and subsequently disliked him. THEN he realized she was on her way to the manager’s office to call the police. Oh christfuck the police are probably already in there – she IS an undercover Cop!
She turned around and winked in a skyburst of sunny conspiracy. Jan-Jan expanded ticklish all over. The Goodness came over him. And she was about to present him with that mysterious new explosion, that vault of impossible valleys, Ampersand’s ‘New Opticons Astride’.
Jan-Jan’s body became a grin. He pretended to be normal.
This was physically, ontologically strenuous. Attempted to casually note and appreciate the gibberish of products and advertisements draped and bulging like so many neon-furred gargoyles behind the counter and everywhere. Then she was back.
“Oh you’re going to enjoy this.. pink-eyes.”
Her lips were built of yum. Jan-Jan’s eyes sank into them for a bit too long then he tried to smile at her knowing, blessed eyes and then remembered what was about to happen.
“Thanks Twinky,” he managed to purr (it felt like a purr); then initiated the ostensibly simple task of wrapping those nice big scruffy earphones over his question-mark ears with his nice big dumb paws.
Closed his eyes.


All the trees were in light.

For around 87 seconds Koos had been nodding amiably and shit-scared at the frightening assault of accusative and threatening and murderous faces encroaching his otherwise modest trek to shop 317 deeper and deeper and deeper into the mall’s indigestive cistern.
He waved a final ‘Fuck You’ to the circling demons as his legs warbled him into PHARMA-Con.


Easy now.

Jan-Jan’s heart was thumping in slow motion. Thumping pumping schlumping. Its deferred beats framed fantastical, polyphonic short stories and craning snapshots.
In this way his body – his warped rushes of blood – was conducting ‘New Opticons Astride’. With his eyes closed he closed his eyes. Thump. A secret creature was hunting a mole-sized doe, the doe was represented by some kind of flute slinkily slinking ahead of the keyboard/ synthesizer. The lunging and chomping flora crashing past was the bass swelling out of the drums. Thump. A blaring blue sky expands into a drop of squirming blood which hums with electric intent. Thump.
Then the lyrics arrived, and Jan-Jan recognized them.
“Child of gold come from stars away/ You brim with new eyes let them away/ Moonborn one who led the Maya/ to dams of gold ‘neath the lava/ You are come/You are come/ You are come”
Jan-Jan’s heart went numb. The earphones were lying in front of him on the listening booth’s panel. He was shaking his head in denial of this new Fate, his hands held up in supplication or surrender. Lisa/Twinky bounced over, frowning, “Yo, you okay?”
Jan-Jan turned around and tried to remember how to run. Shop 317 shop 317 shop 317.


And Gold was their blood and they drank it to burn the fire and they are return.

When Koos walked out of the bustling nightmare and into the whiteshone haven of PHARMA-Con a calm embraced him. The buzzing faded into gentle, far-off hiss. The place was teeming with geriatrics and blushing teens but all were gentled in clothing of soft colour and quiet design. Even their movements, vaguely indecisive, soothed.
He walked towards the counter in back. The white-clad figure hunched over to disentangle a prescription from its doctor’s arachnid writing straightened up at Koos’ approach. Vesuvius smiled in welcome.
Koos waved shyly, gratefully at the Keeper, and looked around to see that the pharmacy was now empty.
This should have alarmed Koos.

Way out.

Sinking steadily into his oneiric hell Jan-Jan’s urgent mantra ‘Shop 317 shop 317 shop 317’ became overwhelmed by a second voice, now out-clamoring the first. ‘Sunglasses. Must find sunglasses.’ He knew then that if he didn’t hide his terror and illegal eyes from the milling hounds he would be taken outside and destroyed.
Jan-Jan lurched into Edgars, bumped into the unimpressed security guard and almost toppled the Alarm Arcs. He smiled appallingly at the guard and gesticulated what he hoped would be interpreted as a casual apology, but sensed would rather translate as the hyperbolic twitches of a psychopath. He tried to find his way through the thickets of trousers and shirts and socks and patronizing mannequins. Then he was there. Rows of snobbish, unblinking shades. Camouflage! Safety! LIFE!!
When he walked back out – making sure to pass the security guard without undue physical contact – his frantic red eyes were replaced with unblinking, deep shade. Once outside Jan-Jan turned left and slammed fantastically into Koos. “Go. GO!”, Koos suggested from somewhere within the tangle of them. As they went through a kind of reverse epileptic fit separating one from the other, a serious looking 5-yr old held out Jan-Jan’s freshly acquired dark glasses to him. Jan-Jan smiled thanks and took them; winked amiably at the security guard who had followed the commotion outside; nodded at Koos. “Alright, let’s go.”
Outside the mall the birds had ascended to the height of 2 km’s and had synchronized their flights into a perfect, unsmiling circle. The new bird was still on the roof, hopping from crumb to pebble.

When Jan-Jan and Koos exited the colossal labyrinth the bird hopped onto a ledge, peered down. Studied them, turning its head from this side to that, in the manner of the curious.
Inside the car Squarepusher’s Big Loada lent counterpoint to Koos’ relating of Vesuvius’ psychedelic instructions while Jan-Jan daydreamed of exotic jungles bleeding gold, and covert extraterrestrial influence on the vast majesties of pre-Western civilizations.
Trailing the car, unnoted, was a lone bird with ancient gleams for eyes.


May 29, 2012

104. Torso – Sergio Martino

Filed under: film,on murder as a fine art — ABRAXAS @ 9:00 am

Color, 1973, 92 mins.
Directed by Sergio Martino
Starring Suzy Kendall, Tina Aumont, Luc Merenda, John Richardson, Roberto Bisacco
Blue Underground (Blu-Ray & DVD), Shameless (UK R0 PAL), Alan Young (Italy R2 PAL), X-Rated Kult (Germany Ro PAL), Another World (Sweden R0 PAL), Stomp Visual (Australia R0 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9), Anchor Bay (US R1 NTSC) / WS (1.78:1) (16:9)

The tranquil University of Perugia for international students is rocked by a series of brutal murders in which the female victims have been stripped and mutilated. Daniela (Aumont), a pretty art student, recognizes a red-and-black scarf found on one of the victims… but where did she see it? Meanwhile, a sidewalk peddler believes he knows the killer’s identity but is mowed down when he attempts a round of blackmail. Afraid for her life, Daniela retreats to a remote country villa with three of her friends including an English girl, Jane (Kendall). Of course, the savvy killer follows them, ensuring that their little vacation turns into a nightmarish bloodbath.

One of the last pure gialli directed by jack of all trades Sergio Martino and easily his most influential, Torso was originally shown in Europe under the title The Bodies Bear Traces of Carnal Violence (I Corpi Presentano Tracce di Violanza Carnale), or just Carnal Violence for shot. However, its American title (concocted by distributor Joseph Brenner) ensured its popularity on the drive-in and grindhouse circuit where it played for years hooked up with films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not surprisingly, the film lost over three minutes of gore and dialogue outside of Europe, and after years of cut prints and video editions, the DVD era finally ushered in restorations of varying degrees of success.

A perfect example of the necessary elements for a commercial European horror film, Torso throws in every convention of the thrillers perfected by Martino and mixes them with the more recent slasher and sexploitation trends. A veteran of Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Kendall once again makes a terrific scream queen; her cat and mouse showdown with the killer, which comprises the entire final third of the film(!), is not easily forgotten, and her struggle to retrieve a pesky key to open an unlocked door never fails to send viewers through the roof. However, the most noteworthy element of Torso is its stunning musical score by the always audacious Guido and Maurizio De Angelis. One of the best musical contributions from Italy in the ’70s, this astounding soundtrack mixes sultry jazz, chilling percussive suspense music, and funky folk rock without faltering once. It’s still amazing that this remains one of the very few gialli they scored (followed years later by A Blade in the Dark).

As for Martino’s direction, this film is considerably more extreme than his previous thrillers, though visually and thematically it still falls in line, particularly with Your Vice Is a Locked Room and Only I Have the Key which features a similar opening sequence of writhing female bodies as well as another “hippie” party with an uninhibited, breast-baring girl dancing while surrounded by a bunch of heathens, in this case some bikers and dope-smoking college students(!). The schizophrenic structure of the film essentially plays like a Martino greatest hits collection, dolloping on the gratuitous T&A and rapid succession of murders in the first half before switching gears into a more psychological, tension-packed, single-location nailbiters with Kendall taking center stage (like Edwige Fenech in his previous films). At first the presence of Italian hearthrob Merenda as a local doctor seems extrandeous, but he finally becomes a key player in the finale (especially in the longer European version). Horror fans may also be amused to note that this was made just before Bob Clark’s Black Christmas with which this shares some very interesting structural and visual similarities, particularly during their respective climactic showdown scenes.

The U.S. version of Torso altered the entire, nudity-filled credits sequence and the original music theme, but fortunately the European cut presented in every post-VHS home video version preserves this film in its original sleaze-soaked glory. The first DVD of Torso from Anchor Bay was a revelation for the time; the colors looked crisp and vibrant compared to the awful bootlegs floating around, and the level of detail visible in the anamorphic transfer looked fine despite being cropped to 1.78:1 from the original 1.66:1 after the credits. It’s worth noting that this print bears a few discrepancies compared to the original Italian prints and seems to have suffered an odd editing snafu. The opening credits feature a replaced title card which turns the screen black for a moment, and the soundtrack submerges the opening music to a faint muffle while including an Italian-language lecture on art history which should have played out after the credits ended. The general release Euro prints only contained the music before a retracting camera shutter introduced an alternate, close up shot of John Richardson concluding his lecture with the camera panning around the classroom’s students, a gallery of upcoming suspects and victims. The occasional restored Italian dialogue (including an old witness talking about spotting a corpse when he went to “take a dump”) is presented with optional English subtitles (but no subs for the rest of the film, despite the alternate all-Italian audio track), which also includes an extended offscreen dialogue during the last scene. The additional violence here mainly consists of some prolonged but not remotely explicit body sawing during the villa finale. The disc’s menus are accompanied by the film’s soundtrack music (in stereo, unlike the botched Digitmovies soundtrack CD), and the lengthy U.S. trailer and a psychedelic European promo (under the shortened title of Carnal Violence) are included for your enjoyment. (Amusingly, the American trailer kicks off by promoting this as being from Carlo Ponti, the maker of Doctor Zhivago and War and Peace!)

keep reading this review here: http://www.mondo-digital.com/torso.html

May 28, 2012

105. The Last House on Dead End Street – Roger Watkins

Filed under: film,on murder as a fine art — ABRAXAS @ 8:08 pm

Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie’s plot.

Few horror films hold the reputation of LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET. All the names billed on the prints are pseudonyms, any print of the film is next to impossible to locate, and the quality of any print you’d be able to find would likely be completely inferior.

In May 2002, Barrel Entertainment announced that, to complement their releases of two of German horror director Jorg Buttgereit’s more infamous films NEKRomantik and SCHRAMM, they were going to release LAST HOUSE on a two-disc ultimate edition. Hearing this, I was overjoyed, since I had been looking for this film for quite a while. Some five months later, and after numerous delays in the release date, Barrel finally released the film, and I was finally able to view perhaps the most infamous horror film ever made.

LAST HOUSE, aside from being one of the most infamous horror films ever, is also one of the most obscure. Made in 1972 by film maker Roger Watkins, a protege of British director Freddie Francis, the film was originally a three hour cut entitled THE CUCKOO CLOCKS OF HELL, filmed entirely at the State University of New York using college students and professors in the roles. Unable to find a distributor initially, Watkins was forced to put the film on the shelf until 1978, when a distributor finally decided to pick up the film. Unfortunately, Watkins’s film was marketed to play into the audience of Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, and was unceremoniously hacked down to 75 minutes and retitled. The entire film was sloppily redubbed, all the names were replaced (Watkins was billed as “Victor Janos”) and numerous sequences were cut entirely from the film. In spite of all this, the film became an instantaneous cult classic upon release, gaining instant notoriety for its over the top gore and nastiness.

Over the years, time has been hard on LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET. Released on video in an absolutely inferior print, the film continued to build a legacy preaching of its incredible low budget charm. For years, the film was feared to be lost, but now, thanks to the people at Barrel Entertainment, the film is finally available in a good edition in the U.S.

LAST HOUSE involves the story of Terry Hawkins, played by director Roger Watkins himself, a wannabe porno film maker recently released from prison. Terry comes out of the clink with an idea to get back at the people who had screwed him in the past. Finding a suitable location, Terry assembles a film crew and begins work on his ultimate film masterpiece, saying he wants to make “really weird films.”

Weird films indeed. Terry proceeds to murder various trash film makers and acquaintances, recording the killings on a film camera.

So what has separated LAST HOUSE from scores of other films that have sunk into video obscurity? Quite a few things actually.

First, LAST HOUSE is one of the first films to deal with the phenomenon of snuff films. When the first report of snuff was made public by the FBI following the Charlie Manson murders, during which the Manson “family” was reported to have filmed the killings, film makers soon took the initiative and began using this idea to their advantage. Allan Shackleton’s film SNUFF made in the early 1970s was one of the first to use the idea of snuff footage to their advantage, but even before this, Roger Watkins, under the pseudonym of Victor Janos, made LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET, beginning the media fascination with snuff that has continued up to this day with films like 8mm.

The extreme low budget nature of LAST HOUSE also has worked to its advantage. The film, which according to Watkins was made for under $1000, has a sense of low budget charm that few others can compare with. The grainy film stock, nonprofessional actors, poor dubbing that is almost always not in sync with the lip movements, and decrepit locations used for filming all create a feel of grim realism in Watkins’s film. The entire film is also very sleazy, full of nudity and clumsy sex provided by film from the various porno film makers that Terry comes in contact with. All these elements give LAST HOUSE an incredibly downbeat, sleazy feel, a characteristic that can make a bad film good in the bigger scheme of things.

Roger Watkins’s portrayal of Terry Hawkins is another good element in the film. Hawkins is the only character in the film that is developed at all, and Watkins goes appropriately over the top in his portrayal of this character. All the other characters in the film are either member of Terry’s murderous “family,” obviously patterned after the Manson family, or one of their unassuming victims who are dispatched in increasingly sickening ways.

The music score for the film, which was constructed entirely out of stock music, is surprisingly effective, alternating between distancing ambient sound, PSYCHO-like stabs, maniacal laughter, and an ever beating heart. This blend of weird sound solidifies the brooding and eerie mood of the film.

What really has made LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET a cult favorite, though, is a couple of scenes in particular. Near the end of the film a woman is completely cut apart in a scene that is almost an exact copy of the episode of the Japanese GUINEA PIG series entitled “FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD” where a samurai completely skewers a young woman, except that LAST HOUSE occurred some twenty years before the GUINEA PIG episode. In LAST HOUSE, the victim is kept awake by use of smelling salts, to make sure she is conscious as her body is completely flayed apart. The special effects for this scene are incredibly effective despite the lack of any budget. The scene would probably fool some naive viewers into thinking this really happened.

Little touches like the smelling salts are what distinguish LAST HOUSE from the crowd and make this film so completely despicable, i.e. good, evidenced in another scene where a man is forced to fellate a deer hoof. Truly, this is one of the most perverse scenes I’ve ever come across. As he is humiliated, the man is forced to look at his own reflection in a mirror placed right in front of his face.

Aside from these two now infamous scenes, there are a number of other murders and attacks, including one where Terry attacks a sleazy film director declaring “I’M DIRECTING THIS F**KING MOVIE!!!” Indeed, he is directing the movie.

LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET is truly one of the most sleazy, most disturbing, and most memorable in the long line of 70s exploitation/horror films. I think you’d be hard pressed to find a film that comes close to the completely sickening nature of this one, and that is what makes Watkins’s film so damn unforgettable. If you have any interest at all in this type of film, you simply must see this seminal feature film, especially considering the work that was put into the new DVD release.

Barrel’s two disc LAST HOUSE set is no less than one of the special edition DVD’s I’ve ever seen. Not only is the print of the film extraordinary considering the original material (the print does have many scratches on it, but it is far superior to the video prints which, for the most part, looked like they were in black and white and lacked any picture definition), but the disc is packed with bonus features.

To start things off, you have a commentary track from director Roger Watkins and “Deep Red” editor Chas. Balun. This track both reveals extensive information about the film, and is incredibly entertaining to listen to. A second commentary track consist of a radio interview recorded in the mid 70s featuring Roger Watkins and LAST HOUSE costar Ken Fisher where the two discuss LAST HOUSE and low budget film making in general. Next, there is a quartet of early Watkins films, to which you again have commentary from the director. Some of these films are pretty good, some bad, but overall, it’s a nice complement to LAST HOUSE to see some of this little known director’s other work. A TV interview featuring Watkins and LAST HOUSE collaborator Paul Jensen is next, where Watkins and Jensen discus LAST HOUSE and Boris Karloff. A raw documentary chronicling a day in the life of Roger Watkins is screened. This is pretty revealing and candid, showing Watkins and his fragmented real life. Finally, we have alternate credits for the film, billed as THE FUN HOUSE, a theatrical trailer, tribute video from the death metal band Necrophagia, and a 36 page insert booklet featuring thoughts and interviews from David Kerekes. The bonus features included with this disc is just incredible, offering extensive information about the making of the film, and about director Roger Watkins. Simply amazing.

LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET is a film that any admirer of low budget horror simply has to see, especially in the new DVD release. Although this film is definitely not for the squeamish due to extremely intense psychological and physical terror and graphic violence, it is a classic in the proportions of Wes Craven’s LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, William Lustig’s 1980 film MANIAC, and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER. It is a definite must see for horror fans, and I would highly, highly recommend it.

this review first published here: http://www.epinions.com/review/mvie_mu-1116485/content_79650000516?sb=1

May 24, 2012

a letter from luzuko

Filed under: luzuko elvis bekwa — ABRAXAS @ 8:17 pm

grand master

last week tuesday i was in town and i happenned to go to african music store . after browsing i happenned to bump against tete mbambisa latest release -black heroes , a solo album.. whaaao!!! the sound , the texture , the every thing in the album is quite mersmering . i mean the information on the album sleeve the rare photos with the late bra duku and chris mcgregor really bring back true golden era of sa jazz scene memories.

well i know bra tete mbambisa just a week before he launched his album i was at his place and we were just chatting, man the man is quite a master . as i was approuching the gate i had this sound of piano it almost sounded like a classical sound , i mean beethoven kind of a classical sound . when i entered the house sis mavuy his wife wecomed me with that always warm and beautiful smile and said ” are you jonathan’s guy ” . i did not know what she meant by that so idid not answer , i just smiled back at her .she just led to to the other room where the master himself was busy playing the music . so it dawned to me that the sound i was hearing from outside was tete playing his music . he greeted me with a smile and told that he was preparing for the launch of the album, singing praises of jonathan for being a kind guy. well that was a week before the album launch.
now just last week i bought the cd at african music and i went to him so that he can bless it with an autograph , boy i had a ball cause the master was present at his house and also he was in a good mood . yuo know artists sometimes can be like monstres especially if you catch them at the middle of their craft, but with tete he is always a ‘staying cool ‘ kind of an artist lucky me . so he shared some of his memories with the late & now living legends of sa jazz talking about how he used to tease bra dollar ( abdullah ibrahim ) his relationship with bra duku and the ‘intlupheko’ gang and lot of other interesting staff.. then he mentioned JOHNNY without saying a word after mentioning HIS name he went to his bedroom and brought a thick book about mbizo’s life . and then played african bass by johnny dyani. boy maan i cannot talk, someone has to just listen to the music to imagine how i feel now.

but TETE , his music , is classical — is a xhosa classical jazz music . you listen to dembese and it takes you to that era of imiguyo nentlombe , then you listen to umsenge still it takes you further back to the era of s.e.k mqhayi and govan mbeki in their youth . without any offence or prejudice this TETE MBAMBISA guy should be bestowed the father of XHOSA CLASSICAL JAZZ.

from disciple

May 21, 2012


Filed under: nicola deane — ABRAXAS @ 11:56 pm

Funny, I was just pushing up the contrast on my anatomised hearts…
chambers for good reason…to hide/bury things in,
to watch the play of light and shadows in,
to listen to music, echoes,
cries and laughter in…
Good night my love

May 18, 2012

Witchboy’s Sonicosmic Seduction: Apocalipstick.

Filed under: mick raubenheimer,music,nikhil singh,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 10:19 pm

The frighteningly gifted and unfairly productive entity best known as Nikhil Singh – writer, reviewer, illustrator, tarot deck manifester, cult Rock demi-god, and all round creature from elsewhere – has just released his alter-ego Witchboy’s soundtrack to the digital apocalypse, prettily entitled ‘Apocalipstick’.

A frantic, fractured, candy-cracked thing, ‘Apocalipstick’ is Singh’s 2nd full-length venture into digital music, following a mere coupla months on the heels of debut ‘Hollymode’. Wouldn’t think it to hear it though. The sonics are as minutely detailed as Oval’s epic cascades, and as trixy limbed as Autechre’s quantum physics.

‘Apocalipstick’ is gorgeously layered, which is not to say it is smooth going. Witchboy knows that whitenoise is the matrix onto which temporary structures like technology and intelligence are briefly projected; that the seemingly organized and structured are mere whispers in an ocean of chaos and seething Otherness. His electronic compositions neatly mirror the fizzle and hiss and binary shudders Inside electricity – the cough and splutter that is ENERGY.

Fans of Singh’s real-time music via The Wild Eyes and solo ‘Pressed up Black’ album will also delight in the occasional flicker of guitar, bass and drums, and the new line of haunted tales and bewitched characters.

A thrilling musical inquisition, and currently available to listen to, or purchase in various audio formats, at http://baku-shad-do.bandcamp.com/album/apocalipstick.


May 14, 2012

ARYAN KAGANOF – Hyper-Literary Fiction: The (meta)Poetics Of Digital Fragmentation

Filed under: kaganof,literature — ABRAXAS @ 3:58 pm

When we think of literature’s future, we always mean the destination it will reach if it keeps going in the direction we see it going in now; it does not occur to us that its path is not a straight line but a series of curves and tangents, constantly changing direction. August Highland’s Hyper-Literary Fiction is one of these tangents. It is a possibility of literature. Hyper-Literary Fiction and its associated genres, Microlinear Storytelling, Next-Gen Nanopoetics and Genre-Splicing – all originated by Highland – are by nature intransigently unfinishable; the process could, in theory, go on and on. Hyper-Literary Genre-Splicing is a practice of diluting, of hemorrhaging the subject in a fragmented, particled language diffracted to emptiness. The atomic unit of Hyper-Literary Fiction is not the sentence, but the fragment, the clump, the volatile conglomerate. Granular, dense and stuck together. Division of this fragment occurs only to produce still another irreducible cohesion.

Genre-Splicing is precisely that act which unites in the same labor what could not be apprehended together in the mere flat space of linguistic representation. Hyper-Literary Fiction reminds us that the rational is merely one possible system among many others: it suffices that there be a system even if this system is apparently illogical, uselessly complicated and curiously disparate.

Next-Gen Nanopoetics has the fundamental characteristic of a denial of development. All one can do with it is to scrutinize it, not to solve it as if it had a meaning, nor even to perceive its absurdity (which is still a meaning). Microlinear Storytelling’s accuracy obviously has something musical about it (a music of meaninglessness and not necessarily of sounds).

Hyper-Literary Fiction never describes: its art is counter-descriptive. A collection of literally “untenable” moments which constitute themselves as nostalgia for the future.

Genre-Splicing constitutes a space of pure fragments, a dust of events; this is because Hyper-Literary Fiction’s time is without subject. One might say that the collective body of all Hyper-Literary Fiction is a network of mirrors in which each mirror reflects all the others and so on to infinity; without there ever being a center to grasp. In Hyper-Literary Fiction, what is abolished is not meaning, but any notion of finality.

In Microlinear Storytelling density of texture frequently obliterates the contours of the original syntactical line. Joyce’s technique of verbal fragmentation provides the essential background to any understanding of the art of the Hyper-Literary Fiction. As in Joyce, fragments, often chosen to represent salient features of the source material, develop a strikingly individual resonance in isolation and combine to generate new and unexpected meanings.

In Next-Gen Nanopoetics, isolated phrases can give rise to new semantic affinities. August Highland poeticizes the grammatical image by emphasizing its musical values (chromatic compositions, assonance and compositional rhyme). Semantic stuttering (loops) galvanizes the source material into nervous life.

August Highland compounds his audience’s estrangement from the structural relations of the source material by presenting different fragments simultaneously, forcing them to grasp at momentarily comprehensible gestures within the general language/vision overload. Thus Highland is fascinated with working at the very limits of coherence.

Massive clusters, dynamic contrasts, aggregate rhythms, layered imagery, chromatic quagmires, major linguistico-visual dislocations: these are the characteristics of Hyper-Literary Fiction.

August Highland is very much like a draughtsman whose aim is to represent all the inter-relations between things. Working on reading Microlinear Storytelling and Hyper-Literary Fiction – like work on philosophy in many respects – is really more a working on one’s self, one’s own interpretation, one’s own way of seeing things. Genre-Splicing ought really to be performed only as a poetic composition.

Next-Gen Naonpoetics is not based on a historical truth; here you have a narrative, don’t take the same attitude to it as you take to other historical narratives. Different interpretations must correspond to different applications. A Genre-Splicer has constantly to ask him/herself: “but is what I am Splicing really true?” – and this does not necessarily mean: “is this how it happens in reality?” Yes, you have got to assemble bits of old material. But into a building.

Wanting to Genre-Splice is one thing; having a talent for Genre-Splicing is another. One’s style of Splicing may be unoriginal in form and yet one’s images and sounds may be well chosen; or, on the other hand, one may have a style that’s original in form, one that is freshly grown from deep within oneself – (like August Highland’s).

A true example of Hyper-Literary Fiction is best regarded as already existing before it has been composed: with editing as the act of deducing its entirety from a single key phrase/sample/fragment that swims into the Genre-Splicer’s mind. August Highland’s literary projects as a whole are called Metapoetics Theatre and therefore have an auto-hypnotic function.

The prime characteristic of the Genre-Splicer is that he does not tell a story. The Genre-Splicer discards with the subject; there is no “I” for the reader to I-dentify with. Hyper-Literary Fiction may be likened to a hall of mirrors, endlessly reflecting its anti-eschatological celebration of form for form’s sake.

Where, then, does the Metapoetics Theatre idea lead us?

This, of course, nobody knows, but it is fascinating to speculate about its ultimate fate. One can imagine a vast network of future Hyper-Literary Fiction covering an ever increasing range of natural phenomena with ever-increasing accuracy; a network which will contain fewer and fewer unexplained features, deriving more and more of its structure from the mutual consistency of its parts.

Hyper-Literary Fiction seeks but does not possess the meaning and substance of the one truth. For Genre-Splicers, truth is not static and unchanging, but endless movement into the infinite. Truth in the world is in everlasting conflict. The literary projects of Metapoetics Theatre carry this conflict to extremes, but disarm it. Hence Hyper-Literary Fiction does not become a creed. It is in continuous conflict with itself. Genre-Splicing makes us fully aware of the various forms of our dependence, but in such a way that, instead of remaining crushed by our impotence, we find, from the vantage point of our independence, the road to recovery.

Hyper-Literary Fiction is the classicism of digital literature: that is, the one formally perfected style which digital literature has elaborated and from which all modern abstract digital literature art that is valid has derived.

A great deal of nonsense has been written about the creation of the Metapoetics Theatre, connecting it with relativity physics, psychoanalysis, and heaven knows how many other complex and remote things. The fact is that the group of digital artists who created the Metapoetics Theatre (August Highland, Cynthia Rice, Paul Mayer, Adrian Ross, Nicole Bloomfield, Pornalisa, Teddy Warburg, Hannah Frank, Akira Gorman, about 60 others) were creating Hyper-Literary Fiction and nothing else. Certainly they were not dealing in ideologies.

The Metapoetics Theatre evolved in a succession of perfectly logical steps out of previous stages of pre-digital literature editing, out of Cubism and Cezanne, and it raised a series of spatio-temporal problems that had to be solved within the medium of digital literature and by digital literature artists working strictly as Genre-Splicers – that is, upon the sample as such.

With the advent of Next-Gen Nanopoetics begins the process of detachment from the object which is the hallmark of modern digital literature art. Even though Hyper-Literary Fiction is a classical and formal style, the writer nevertheless cuts up and dislocates fragments (samples) as it pleases him for the sake of the picture, which is now no longer held up to us as a linguistic representation but as a chrono-visual image with its own independent value alongside that of nature.

The flattening of chrono-pictorial space that is achieved in the Hyper-Literary Fiction is not an isolated fact, true only of digital literature art, but is paralleled by similar changes in pre-digital literary techniques. There is a general process of flattening, three chief aspects of which may be noted 1) the flattening out of all planes. Near and far are pushed together. Past and present are represented as occurring simultaneously, upon a single plane of time. James Joyce’s Ulysses, TS Eliot’s The Waste Land and August Highland’s Hardcore Fiction Collection are examples. 2) More important perhaps is the flattening out of climaxes. In Highland’s alphanumericlabs, a work of power and dullness, beauty and sordidness, comedy and pathos, where the movement is always horizontal, never ascending towards any crisis, and where we detect not the shadow of anything like a climax, in the traditional sense of that term. It is, in fact, the banal gritty thing that we live that Highland gives us, in comparison with which all other digital literature is indeed fiction. This world is dense, opaque, unintelligible. 3) The last and most important aspect of what we have called the process of flattening in the Metapoetics Theatre is the flattening out of values. For Hyper-Literary Fiction breaks with the whole tradition of western sensibility and western aesthetics in showing that all experience is potentially transcendental.

Hyper-Literary Fiction, instead of a mere theory of literature becomes a vision transcending the realms of thought and language; leading out of words and into the world of acintya, the unthinkable.

(A note on methodology; I did not write one single sentence of this article. Every sentence was appropriated from an existing source. Plundered if you will. The idea to compose a theoretical work based entirely out of existing material of others comes from Walter Benjamin who imagined writing a novel in this way. Of course Gertrude Stein and Kathy Acker were inspirations, particularly with respect to the noun replacement system that gives this piece of writing cohesion – a subject. I thought that this method would be more appropriate for the groundbreaking work of August Highland than a traditionally written “review.”)

aryan kaganof

this interview is published in donga, edited by alan finlay and paul wessels, published by bleksem and dye hard press
isbn 978-0-620-52779-8

May 13, 2012

AUGUST HIGHLAND interviewed by Aryan Kaganof

Filed under: dye hard press,kaganof,literature — ABRAXAS @ 4:32 pm

What’s in the name August Highland?
— interview by Aryan Kaganof

“Something is going on and you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?”
– Bob Dylan

aryan kaganof: Something is very definitely going on and its name is August Highland. A phenomenon. Or should I say a vast collection of phenomena. Because “prolific” does not even begin to describe August Highland. He has more than 80 personae – each of which has an authentic, full-blown style of his or her own. He has published more than 100,000 pages of hyper-text on various web sites of his own creation and design. He has invented five new genres of literary fiction. He is currently working on extrapolating his literary theories into crossover forms in other disciplines, incorporating music, fine art, graphic design and architecture into the forging of entirely unknown territory for which there is as yet no critical lexicon; words fail us in attempting to describe what August is up to. Perhaps he will invent these for us as well. I wouldn’t put it past him. Oh yes, and in between all of this fearless innovation he has the time to organize world’s largest literary quarterly on the web, the Muse Apprentice Guild, with more than 2 million hits per year.

I’d always thought of myself as quite a busy guy until I connected with the extraordinary Mr. Highland. We did this interview by e-mail over a period of four weeks. It took so long because I needed time to think. August had the replies in almost before I had sent the questions to him. His speed is superluminal! (Look that one up).

What struck me after a few days of browsing through your many sites was the extraordinary energy that you must have. Were you a precocious child? Difficult to get along with (for your less intelligent contemporaries)? Did you have an imaginary friend? Lots of them?

august highland: I was not a precocious child at all. I did not display any extraordinary talents or qualities that set me apart from other children. The only trait I had that was uncommon (though not uncommon to other writers and artists) was that I always felt like an outsider. I felt this as early as two-and-a-half years old. I thought I was an adult who was smaller than all the adults around me. During the first week of kindergarten I was walking by myself on the grass during recess and discovered a hole in the chain-link fence. So I climbed out through the hole and walked the three blocks home. When my mother asked me what I was doing home and how did I get home I told her that school was let out early and that I walked. Then I went to the kitchen and ate an orange. This typifies my experience growing up. I did not want to be around other children. I had no friends my age and didn’t feel a need for any. The happiest moment I had in school was in first grade when I was tall enough to reach the top shelf of the bookcase where the teacher (Ms. Canary) kept all the books that she read to the class. I took the one that was my favorite and brought it to my desk to read. I remember Ms. Canary caressing the back of my head when she found me reading her book at my desk. I fell in love with her at that moment. She was the first woman I loved besides my mother.

I was very difficult to get along with. I have two younger sisters. I repeatedly tried to kill my middle sister by kicking her playpen over. And I tortured my youngest sister. I beat them up all the time. Then my dad beat me up. To this day my sisters and I do not talk. My dad has stopped hitting me though.

I was also a thief. I stole from grocery stores and department stores. Usually the things I stole were gifts I wanted to give my mother. I loved my mother very much. She was everything to me. So I stole things that I could give her. She gave me so much and I wanted to give back in return. She always took me back to the store from where I had stolen the gift and made me return it to the manager and ask him to forgive me. I was never caught stealing. They didn’t have video surveillance in those days. But all the store owners knew my face. And they were always nice to me even though I was a petty criminal.

I never had an imaginary friend. Instead I had imaginary father figures. My father worked 14-hour days. He left for work at 4am and returned at 6pm just in time for dinner and immediately fell asleep on the couch after dinner. Snoring in his underwear.

I found my surrogate father figures in books. Beginning in the second grade, I read every biography of great men that I could find. Men like Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln. Also lengendary figures like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. I idealized historical heroes and tried to model my life on their lives. For example, I would turn off all the lights in my bedroom and read using a candle. I was trying to emulate Abraham Lincoln. My parents took the candle away when they found out I was playing with matches. The next day I stole a flashlight from the hardware store.

Even though my father was absent he gave my mother complete freedom to do whatever she wanted. She bought me every book I ever asked for and took me to museums and took me with her to her ballet lessons and her painting lessons. She took me everywhere with her. She even took me to her girlfriends’ houses and I would sit there and listen. Being around women so much only served to distance me from my peers even more, especially from boys.

aryan kaganof: As I delved further and deeper into the labyrinthine complexity of your site two names kept on springing to mind: Joyce and Ballard. Care to respond?

august highland: I can answer this question in a very telling manner. When I was 19-years-old and spending everyday indoors doing nothing else except reading from morning to night my parents became very concerned about me. I had already been in psychotherapy with eight or nine different therapists because of depression, anxiety and nightmares. Summer arrived and my parents devised a plan. They decided to send me to Club Med in Tahiti. My mother convinced me to go by tantalizing me with images of half-naked native girls in grass skirts. So I went. I brought two books with me. James Joyce’s Dubliners and Frederick Wheelock’s Latin Grammar. When I got to the island I associated with no one. I spent everyday wading fifty feet out into the glass-green water which rose no higher than my ankles and stood in the sun reading my latin grammar book or Joyce’s short stories. The transgender bartenders kept flirting with me and I was still pretty naive and almost found myself in an awkward situation from which I was rescued by a very lovely tahitian girl to whom I lost my virginity on the same secluded strip of beach where I spent my days studying my Joyce and my latin grammar.

Although I know longer read Joyce and haven’t for 25 years I am still faithful to Latin. Virgil is my favorite writer.

aryan kaganof: Is your writing medium-specific, that is to say, could this kind of writing have been conceived of without the internet? And could you now yourself ever consider going back to the kind of writing that we knew before the internet?

august highland: My literary work is absolutely medium-specific. There is no possible way in which I could produce my work without the tools and resources furnished by the advent of the internet. I have written seven traditional novels (traditional in the sense that they were written the traditional way without utilizing internet-based tools.) I could never conceive of myself writing in the pre-internet style again. This would be like trying to climb back into the womb. The internet has birthed me.

I do not use the word “birthed” arbitrarily or colorfully. The internet is a technological mirror of our psyche. The internet is an evolutionary medium for consciousness and social and cultural growth. The internet is anything but mechanistic and artificial. Mechanistic is our jobs. Artificial is the food we buy.

There is no appreciable gap between the author and the internet. The process is very grounded and organic. There is nothing virtual or cyberspacy about it. This is a romantic view of the internet. The internet is strictly a facilitator, enabling me to finally produce the work I had always conceived of but never had the specific tools which I needed in order to realize my ideas. The greatest modern inventions in history have been created by Guttenberg, Edison and Ford – and Bill Gates.

For me as an author writing in the 21st Century without incorporating internet tools into my literary work would be equivalent to using candles to light the home instead of light-bulbs and traveling using a horse instead of driving. This sounds like the life of a devout Amish follower or a fanatical and delusional follower of the Unibomber manifesto.

aryan kaganof: Let’s look at the issue of locality versus non-locality. If we take a writer like Robinson Jeffers. His work is unthinkable outside of the context of the Californian coastline. The rhythms of his poetry have everything to do with the landscape he lives in. Similarly the greatest South African writer, Herman Charles Bosman, writes from the Groot Marico bosveld or the Groot Marico bosveld writes from him – the two are inextricably linked. You live in San Diego. But your writing, which is clearly medium-specific, would appear to be coming from non-locality, from no-where? Is there a techno-spatial geography that is operating on or out of your writing? Or does locality play a less important role for you, and perhaps for all web-connected writers in the future (ie. now)?

august highland: San Diego has a neutral atmosphere. That means it does not as a city carry around a strong cultural air or attitude. Los Angeles for example is very heavily influenced by the entertainment industry and it is difficult to escape the pervasive commercialization of that environment. San Diego does not have a centralized mentality. Everyone here is invested in living their own lives and rearing their families. There is not the over-riding feeling here that everyone is invested only in career and ambition for celebrity-hood and excessive material wealth.

I have traveled around the world and lived in many place in the US including the east coast. I don’t think I could work as productively anywhere else. Everything I need is here. Also there are no distractions to pull me away from my work. San Diego is a conservative city and does not accommodate the more colorful pleasures that some cities afford. I am easily sucked into those colorful pleasures. I know this from having lived in New York and from having grown up in West Los Angeles near Hollywood. I have a very addictive nature and if I am in the right (that is to say “wrong”) city I have a very hard time with impulse control. Living in San Diego is for me like being a writer-in-residence in a comfortable art community that has pleasantly maintained grounds and offers all the necessities a writer needs. I have all the essentials here. All the unessentials are unavailable which for me personally is a perfect situation. All of my energies are channeled into my work and do not get dispersed or diffused.

About a “techno-spatial geography”. I would agree that I thrive in the new geographical terrain that has formed in the trans-continental ether. Because San Diego has such clear culturally atmospheric conditions the techno ether saturates the area through very clear receptivity. A city like San Diego has the perfect social climate to admit technoculture frequencies without any filtering or noise. It’s like when you are trying to dial into a shortwave radio and need to make locational adjustments to gain the clearest access. San Diego is positioned in an ideal geo-psychical position which provides clear access to techno-spatial transmissions.

aryan kaganof: There seems to me to be an analogue prefiguration in literature for your project; at least in terms of the personae. In the work of Fernando Pessoa. Indeed, his major project, The Book Of Disquiet, consisting of thousands of loose pieces of paper in a trunk, demands of its reader a complicity in the ultimate narrative formed by forcing the reader to create the narrative in terms of the route he or she takes through the material (which is undirected by Pessoa). One could say the same for the traveller who goes through your site(s). There is a collaborative narrative constructed every time one surfs through the many possibilities you provide. Was Pessoa an influence? To what extent are you concerned (if at all) with narrative?

august highland: Narrative is not solely a contribution that the individual reader makes to my literary work. I deliberately assemble the thematic material and present it in a particular fashion using different literary devices and techniques in order to create a narrative that is open to interpretation depending upon the way in which the reader interacts with the contents of the narrative. Another way to state this is that the finished product that I present to the reader is a pool of information which the reader processes in a way that is unique to that reader. Pessoa in Book of Disquiet bases his major oeuvre on a different conceptual model than me. He makes the ultimate demand on the reader. He delivers the data to the reader to sort through with minimal assistance by Pessoa himself. I participate more intimately with the text and with the reader by deliberately selecting a group of themes and the manner in which I am going to present the thematic material to the reader. In one project I will present work that is very dense and compressed. In another project I will present the material in a rhythmic style. In another project I will incorporate the use of unconventional punctuation to propel the reader forward through the text at an accelerated pace. In another project I will employ devices that interrupt the flow of the narrative and will interpose auxiliary material into the narrative stream. In another project I will utilize devices like repetition and looping to reiterate narrative threads and confer upon them more importance than other threads in the narrative.

I have a very great interest in the readers of my literary work. I want to communicate. But I am not interested in communicating to the reader the same material that a writer like Hamsun or Proust or Joyce or Beckett is interested in communicating. I am not invested in writing about me. I am more interested in writing about the reader. I know that the reader and I share a common experience by virtue of our inter-relatedness and inter-connectedness. I choose thematic source material that touches upon fundamental experiences. Themes like sexuality, military action, spirituality, love and human relationships, the environment, politics, the media, our human feelings, our everyday concerns that are universal to all human beings like money, family, mortality, happiness, meaning, friendship, self-understanding, work, play, etc. I know that by the way I structure my literary work and the way I interact with the source materials and how I modify these source materials, I am presenting literary work that a reader will relate to in the same way I relate to it. Our reading of the text will be different from each other and the experience of the text will be different and the meaning of the text will be different from each other, but only superficially. On a meta-cognitive level or on a metabolic level or on a cellular level or collective unconscious level our readings of the text will have a very unified correspondence. I am not concerned with writing about me. I am concerned with writing about the terrain which I share with the reader.

aryan kaganof: I looked you up on google. Became worried that “August Highland” is a persona too. Thousands of entries for Scottish national games! But isn’t that one of the problems of having multiple personae: that the audience begins to doubt the sincerity of the material?

august highland: When doing a search on August Highland it helps to use quotations around my name to reduce the number of search results that are generated by google. “Metapoetics Theatre” is name I have attributed to my work involving the use of mulitiple personas each of whom produce literary work that is a subgenre of one of the four genres I have originated; they are “Hyper-Literary Fiction”, “Microlinear Storytelling”, “Next-Gen Nanopoetics” and “Genre-Splicing”. Metapoetics Theatre is a literary performance in which the multiple personas play an explicit role. Metapoetics Theatre endorses multiple personas which are an active element in the concept of this literary production. There has never been an attempt by me to disguise the personas or present them as genuine individuals because this would run counter to the fundamental tenets of Metapoetics Theatre which openly presents each member of my simulated literary movements as another extension of myself. There is also a disclaimer in the Muse Apprentice Guild, which is the International Literary Quarterly I edit, that none of my personas appear in the Quarterly. My literary work and editorial work are two separate ventures.

aryan kaganof: Moving on to the “Muse Apprentice Guild.” How do we know that all 600 writers featured are not further extenuations of your multiple persona project?

august highland: The Muse Apprentice Guild is an non-profit organization promoting the international world of letters; it has 35 contributing editors around the world and is the largest and most widely read International Literary Quarterly on the Internet with an annual readership over two million readers.

Here is a quick history of the muse apprentice guild: The next issue (appearing august 31) is the first anniversary issue – on august 1, 2002 the first issue came out with 60 writers including both emerging and established writers – the number of writers tripled in the fall issue and i turned the m.a.g. into a quarterly – by winter there were 500 writers and the m.a.g. had expanded into an international literary quarterly – by spring (the current issue) there were 600 writers and 4,000 literary works – the m.a.g. now has 35 co-editors around the world who act as liaisons presenting contemporary literary work from their respective countries which i publish in the original language with or without english translation – the annual m.a.g. readership has grown to over two million readers making the muse apprentice guild the largest and most widely read international literary quarterly on the internet.

My own literary work (Metapoetics Theatre) is presented under the aegis of “Culture Animal” which is my own literary production company. The M.A.G. and Culture Animal are connected only because I operate both projects. But the connection stops here. There are no hoaxes in my work.

aryan kaganof: There is something dizzying about what you are doing. It leaves one slightly worried, the ground is shaky and what we know of our critical facility, what we have been trained to validate our sense of proportion, of what is “good” in literature, is radically undermined. You must be aware of this process in your readers. Is it intentional? What is to be gained for literature by so radically undermining the status of the author?

august highland: Concerning the criteria we use to judge what is “good” in literature I recommend that readers read the essay by Professor Harry Polkinhorn in the Spring Issue (2003) of the Muse Apprentice Guild entitled “600 Readers?”

At this point we may be in a position to formulate a way to assess the quality of writing or art that is more honest, less dictatorial, more open-ended, a way suitable to our historical period, rather than having to labor under the confusions perpetrated by standards from the past that no longer fit our current realities. In this expanded view whose investment is decidedly not in creating a forced, arbitrary, and deceptive sense of value by starkly limiting the writing it deems worthy of publication, that is, works with the laughably bogus principle of so-called rarity, good writing would be that which gives the reader the most immediate and moving sense of the fullness of the writer’s self. This leaves open what “fullness of self” can mean. As each of us spends a lifetime becoming who we are, uniquely as selves here at the brief, fiery living edge of history, those who are more completely accomplished in this task will manifest that state more immediately, which will flower from their lives in all ways, whether in their personal relations, their artistic creations, their stance in the world.

aryan kaganof: In an interview with Andrew Shelley you talk of a writer’s onus to contribute to “the historical timeline of civilization.” Is this not an extremely conservative, linear conception of how civilizations run their course? Is not the very notion of the literary canon, “tradition” an inherently flawed one, based on phallocentric imaginings of the recta linear form of time and being? Surely the real subversion would be in rejecting the concept of the timeline altogether?

august highland: About the western literary tradition, the canon, the lineage. The lineage of the western literary canon is both linear and cycling. I think of it as a spiral. We continue to return to the same point but on a higher ring in the spiral. So the canon is not purely linear nor non-linear. This paradigm extricates us from the intellectually limiting view that compels us to choose antithetical positions, one being the old-school traditional linearist and the new school subvervise deconstructivist.

aryan kaganof: You describe a process whereby the reader is invited to “infuse the work with his/her own metaphors.” Does this mean that the writing is analagous to a join-the-dots-drawing? You provide clues towards an intellectual region or an emotional tone, and the reader labours to complete that tone in whatever pitch they choose? Can such a piece of writing ever be said to be finished? Are you against the notion of closure? Against ending things?

august highland: Addressing the reader’s need to connect the dots or to labour to input meaning into my literary work, I want to say that I don’t perceive of my work in this light. I perceive it in the light of a different analogy, the analogy of a relationship or interaction. It takes two people to have a relationship. They bring to the relationship all of their self. They also concentrate all of their self on a subject or issue. My literary work is the subject or issue. The relationship is between me and the reader.

I don’t believe that things end. Things are never finished. There are only changes in the state of a thing.

aryan kaganof: I am fascinated by your use of Jungian concepts in terms of the self/selves that are always archetypally at play within the writing. Please would you elaborate.

august highland: Archetypal psychology arrived at the pinnacle of Jung’s contribution to the understanding of the psyche. This was his most important contribution to the understanding of the self. Freud introduced us to complexes. Jung fathomed the psyche uncovering the archetypes. The complexes are personal. The archetypes universal. They are part of our genetic structure. They are engineered into our DNA. The individual self or ego is a construct through which the archetypes are expressed in ways unique to each individual because each individual has a unique set of complexes originating from his/her life experiences. No two people have the same life experiences and so the archetypes are never expressed the same through different people. What makes us different from each other is our complexes. What makes us alike are our archetypes. I was in Jungian analysis for ten years with an analyst who studied under the first generation of Jung’s students. Jung’s contribution to humanity has still not been fully recognized. His concepts are soul-healing and flowered in response to Hitler, Hiroshima, and the Cold War when evil was globally pervasive. He committed himself to the mission of healing the traumatized collective psyche while writers and artists during this time were producing work that reflected the psychological casualites of this period of history.
Beckett is an example of this and Ballard another. Barth another. These writers are engaged in desconstruction and the isolation and fragmentation of the individual. This is because evil in the world was so globally prevalent. Their work was seeded by destructive acts performed by ignorant and criminal leaders. Their literary works are the dark flowers that blossomed in decaying societies.

But now we are rebuilding. Now evil is localized. The superpowers are allies and working together to eradicate evil which is isolated in the form of terrorism. This has happened because our consciousness has evolved and we are becoming more and more aware of ourselves and accountable for our actions. This evolution of the psyche brings into focus the face of evil. Evil is one of the archetypes. Now that mankind as a whole is becoming more conscious, the face of evil is becoming more identifiable, something we can confront and engage with in an open dialogue.
All the personas in my work are representative of the pantheon of archetypes which form the bedrock of human consciousness. I don’t believe at all that the novel or that the author or that God is dead. What is dead (numb) is the awareness of the thinkers who made these statements. The author is alive: his/her role is now one of administrating or managing the multiple voices of the archetypes. The novel is alive: it’s role is now one of engaging the reader as an active participant in the literary work. God is alive: his/her role is now one of revealing himself/herself within each individual as that individual’s consciousness evolves and he/she becomes steadily more mindful.

If there is something dizzying about my work that leaves the reader feeling shaky and worried it is because the reader is confronting the enormity of space. I have produced in one year over 100,000 volumes of literary work. The author is not dead: he/she is immersed in space. The novel is not dead: it is a portal opening onto space. God is not dead: he/she is space. Space accommodates all the archetypes, supplying them with an infinitely extensive stage on which to enact their roles. The internet furnishes me with the raw material which I fashion into literary work that is an ever-evolving epic in which the archetypes describe their patterns in the space-time continuum of human consciousness.

aryan kaganof: The Spanish artist Harkaitz Cano has written, “The umbilical cord, this is the clue. An umbilical cord that now becomes silicon wire or rudimentary wolfram wire, because nowadays communications and embraces are more fragile and we are more susceptible (the homo sapiens sapiens stopped being so to become homo cellophane cellophane)” Your writing takes off where Deleuze & Guattari’s mille plateaux left off. It slices between everything that we already know. It is itself -generically, formally, technologically. But what does it communicate? What do you communicate? Beyond the obvious jouissance of creation that swells from every paragraph (where one is still able to speak of para-graphos at all).
And, getting back to Cano; shouldn’t that read homo cell phone cell phone?

august highland: It is very difficult for a writer to purely abandon the sensual or palpable jouissance of creation when working with words for which a writer by nature has a passion. But this is not my primary aim in the production of my work. It is desirable that the jouissance emotes a response in the reader for this is a form of beauty and communication in itself. But beyond this I have a greater purpose that informs my work. All of my work is monumental in scale. Monumentality in symphonic works and in floor-to-ceiling works of art on canvas is not the exclusive domain of music and painting. Literature has always been a mass production medium. Now I have made it a “massive” production medium by creating tens of thousands of one-of-a-kind literary works. By myself I can out-produce the entire publishing industry. And what I am producing is not cloned and disposable reading material but original, irreplaceable literary works. The value of literary monumentality and originality is one value I am communicating. The other element that I am communicating in my work beyond the expressiveness of language is “structure”. Each of my collections are modeled on a structure/set of instructions/design/formula. The structure of the literary work is what is of primary importance to me. I am a literary architect designing literary structures for the mind to occupy and contemplate. The most interesting dynamic in my work is the convergence of monumentality and structure. This is the fulcrum powering my work because on the one hand I am producing 1,000-page literary works, while on the other hand the structure of the work is identifiable on the very first page or in the very first paragraph. So there is a macro- and a micro-communication co-existing in my work. This is not unlike looking up at a mountain and then kneeling down and picking up a pebble and seeing the mountain in the pebble. The mountain is comprised of an infinite variety of pebble configurations. This is the essence of my work. Each volume is a mountain made up of a infinite number of configurations that all can be reduced to one structure or model.

Meaning is not transmitted alone through connecting words together in narrative form. This is one structure that has dominated literature and handicapped it while the affiliated arts continue advancing and outpacing the world of letters which traditionally lags behind by several decades. This is not the case anymore. I replace the narrative model with new literary structures and forms which replenishes the world of letters and delivers it from constraining doctrines. At the same time I am not rebelling against tradition or abandoning tradition. I am not abandoning conventions and writing subversive material. I am creating new conventions and expanding tradition; I am giving tradition new directions in which to grow and thrive. There is nothing revolutionary or underground or experimental about my work. I am simply creating new literary models that are viable and communicative through new structural design.

I will give one example of a recent new genre I originated called “Next-Gen Nanopoetics”. One project in which this literary form is represented is called “COW Gallery” or “California Online Writing Gallery (www.cowgallery.com). “Next-Gen Nanopoetics” is my first poetic project. What I have done is replaced rhyme and meter with truncated textstrings (abbreviated phrases). I have formulated a schematic design for this project that is based on three phrases that are repeated in the same sequence for each stanza. The sequence is a-a-b-b-b-c-c-a. This comprises the stanza. There are intentional deviations from this sequence thoughout each work but the stanzas always revert back to the primary set of instructions. Here is an excerpt from one of the six series that is called “Nominal Quiescent Current”

Nominal Quiescent Current #0001 (excerpt)
Cow Gallery
going on with.
going on with.
make a greater
make a greater
make a greater
pointing out before
pointing out before
going on with.
which, instead of
which, instead of
a Druid curve; an
a Druid curve; an
a Druid curve; an
Still the man
Still the man
which, instead of
as a result of
as a result of
great book like
great book like
as a result of
and security as
and security as
how a particular
how a particular
and security as
heart. Stooping
heart. Stooping
tight pussy. I want
tight pussy. I want
tight pussy. I want
beforehand with him.
beforehand with him.
heart. Stooping
some means or other;
some means or other;
some means or other;
Whether it was the
Whether it was the
there was truth in
there was truth in
there was truth in
I feel as if I
I feel as if I
Whether it was the
fit.” fit.” and returned,
and returned,
and returned,
he is recovered, but
he is recovered, but
Or were
Or were
Or were
‘Unless there is
‘Unless there is
has she at
has she at
has she at
not have any
not have any
in the spiritual
in the spiritual
she edged nearer to
she edged nearer to
she edged nearer to
I do not apprehend
I do not apprehend
in the spiritual
might mean a
might mean a
is just; and such
is just; and such
is just; and such
mountainous tract

As you see the stanzas conform to the a-a-b-b-b-c-c-a scheme with some interruptions in the pattern. The persona for this project is Alexi Waterhouse. Alexi has produced six series with 1,000 volumes in each series.

Now that you see how structure is the most essential element in my work it will not be difficult to approach any of the other more dense and opaque projects like “Voice of the Village” or “The Hyper Age” which are prose projects. This material at first appears impenetrable and without laws (random). Nothing could be further from the truth. All of my work is based on clear laws and concise structure.

aryan kaganof: One question that also could be asked is “Is your work meant to be read?”

august highland: The simple answer is yes. There are a few exceptions to this. But the simple, unqualified answer is yes. How then is my work meant to be read if structure is the raison d’etre for my work and if that structure is identifiable on the very first page of one of my books?

Since this question was not asked, I will save the answer for another interview :)

“Although Atlas is not a machine built to handle textual materials, he uses the dead hours of the night to get it to print out thousands of lines in the style of Pablo Neruda, using as a lexicon a list of the most powerful words in The Heights Of Macchu Picchu, in Nathaniel Tarn’s translation. He brings the thick wad of paper back to the Royal Hotel and pores over it. ‘The nostalgia of teapots.’ ‘The ardour of shutters.’ ‘Furious horsemen.’ If he cannot, for the present, write poetry that comes from the heart, if his heart is not in the right state to generate poetry of its own, can he at least string together pseudo-poems made up of phrases generated by a machine, and thus, by going through the motions of writing, learn again to write? Is it fair to be using mechanical aids to writing – fair to other poets, fair to the dead masters? The Surrealists wrote words on slips of paper and shook them up in a hat and drew words at random to make up lines. William Burroughs cuts up pages and shuffles them and puts the bits together. Is he not doing the same kind of thing? Or do his huge resources – what other poet in England, in the world, has a machine of this size at his command – turn quantity into quality? Yet might it not be argued that the invention of computers has changed the nature of art, by making the author and the condition of the author’s heart irrelevant? On the Third Programme he has heard music from the studios of Radio Cologne, music spliced together from electronic whoops and crackles and street noise and snippets of old recordings and fragments of speech. Is it not time for poetry to catch up with music?”
— J.M. Coetzee (Youth)

this interview is published in donga, edited by alan finlay and paul wessels, published by bleksem and dye hard press
isbn 978-0-620-52779-8

roberto perpignani – “everything has a cost”

Filed under: music,unga dada — ABRAXAS @ 10:28 am

Morricone is a great musician ‘in assoluto’ (in absolute terms) even if we are used to thinking of him in terms of cinema but he has all his life been involved in research, taking part in a group called Nuova Consonanza. He felt all his life that, in a certain sense, he betrayed his master who said about him that he could become a good musician. One day a friend of mine who was a composer of musique concrete and electronic music, Vittorio Gelmetti, met Morricone and the latter started to complain saying ‘You are free, you are the one’, and Vittorio, who had not a penny said ‘What are you talking about? You have everything you want.You have a house just in front of the Piazza Venezia. Leave me free!’ Sometimes it is difficult to be objective. It is certain that everything has a cost, as much if you are free but poor, as it is if you are a prisoner in a castle.


Filed under: 2008 - sms sugar man — ABRAXAS @ 10:04 am



Writing Additions


Director of Photography

Sound Designer

Visual Effects Editor

Aryan Kaganof


Wallet # 1’s – Son NORMAN MAAKE
Wallet # 4 – RYAN FORTUNE
Wallet # 5 – BILL CURRY

Production Team
Production Manager SHIREEN WILLIAMS
Production Coordinator THANDI ZWANA
Production Accountant BUYISILE KUBHEKA
Production Accountant AMELIA LEA

Director of Photography ERAN TAHOR
Trainee Camera Assistant THABISO MOTLHAKOANE

Technology Team
Continuity / Logger GREG VAN NIEKERK
Visual Effect Editor JURGEN MEEKEL

Sound Recorder & Boom Operator NICO LOUW
Assistant Sound Recorder SANDILE NGCOBO
Assistant Boom Operator BASIAMI SEGOLA

Sound Design, Edit and Final Mix WARRICK SONY

Cross Media Guru CHRISTY DENA


Behind the Scenes Director & Editor GARRETH FRADGLEY


Film Score
Recording, Editing & Mixing Engineer CORINNE COOPER
Music Assistant CLARE LOVEDAY

Trailer Created by Aryan Kaganof

Publicity Stills BEN CORNFORD

Production Assistant ALBERT MAPHOSHO
Production Assistant RAYMOND NKONYANE

DV8 Staff

Legal Representation

Film Insurance



Production Vehicles U DRIVE

Sound Equipment NICO LOUW

Lighting Equipment SOUTHERN LIGHTING

Camera & Grip Equipment SONY ERICSSON

Filmed with
Sony Ericsson W900i Mobile Phone
Cameras and Lenses

The Producer would like to thank the following people
Pierre Rissient, Abderrahmane Sissako, Jacques Akchoti, Doug Allan of Melrose Arch Hotel, All the staff of Melrose Arch Hotel, Sharon Gordon from Lola Montez, Capt. Jagwa from SAP, Inspector Chris Lourens from SAP, Shahn Mott from Helta Skelta, Renier Lambaard, Minah Daweti from Carwash @ Corlett, Belinda Farger, Ewan Burger from Burger Brothers, Mr. Maphalane at The Ridge Hotel, The Bohemian, Fuzigish & Fans, Armin at Lancet Laboratories, Giana

SMS Movies & Reflex Motion Pictures

The story, all names, characters and incidents portrayed in this
film are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places,
buildings, events or products is intended or should be inferred.
Copyright: 2007
SMS Movies

May 12, 2012

Spoek Mathambo: Father Creeper.

Filed under: mick raubenheimer,music,reviews — ABRAXAS @ 11:09 am

Dark Grooves. The Spoek Mathambo band is Can’t-Stand-Still rhythmic. It whispers motion into your bones. Dark dance music concocted of Funk Rock instrumentation and Elsewhere syncopation, Spoek Mathambo’s is not the groove of escapism or flights of sunshine. It is the groove of survival, of persevering in the face of a corrupt, decadent world.

Following the delightful and profanely neon excesses of previous outfits Sweat.X and Playdoe, the hushed beats and ghosted melodies of first solo outing ‘Mshini Wam’ was confounding. What we didn’t know was that this was Mathambo for the first time approaching his own sound. “Some tracks on ‘Mshini Wam’ and ‘Father Creeper’ were written in the Sweat.X days. Obviously they wouldn’t work in that project, so it was great to finally give them life,” notes Spoek.

‘Father Creeper’, and, most crucially, Spoek’s current circle of conspirators, sees said Spoek Mathambo sound finding potent fruition. Contrary to the popular platitude, there are new things under the sun. This. Is one of the more rewarding ones. Deeply recommended.

mick raubenheimer

May 10, 2012


Filed under: art,politics — ABRAXAS @ 11:08 pm

Venue : Art.b Gallery, Bellville Library Centre
Carel van Aswegen Street, Bellville

A strong focus of the CHR is the project on aesthetics and politics,
which aims to foster debates on artistic production, and to lay the
foundations for new concepts for research. To these ends, the CHR is
committed to exploring the relation between aesthetics, politics and
society in order to contribute to a post-apartheid sensibility. In
keeping with its thematic concerns, the CHR acquired an important and
historic body of artworks in 2008 – the Community Arts Project (CAP)
collection, which consists of over 4,000 paintings, prints, posters,
sculptures and drawings by various artists. ‘Uncontained’ comprises a
selection of prints from the CAP collection. The show mainly
introduces the linocuts that form part of the collection, a medium
intimately associated with both the now defunct community arts project
movement and the history of modern black art practice in South Africa.

CAP’s emergence in 1977 coincided with the rise of the Black
Consciousness movement and the student uprisings of 1976, which
sparked a new, more determined upsurge by urban youth against
apartheid. CAP was known for its non-sectarian political stance. Its
members spanned a range of anti-apartheid organisations and political
persuasions. It was also a project subscribing to non-racialism and,
as such, was aimed at constituting communities of a post-apartheid
future. While CAP was construed as transgressive by the apartheid
state for this reason, it also functioned as a liberated zone – “an
island in the middle of an abnormal world,” as a former CAP member has
put it.

Although CAP was open to anyone interested in developing their
creativity, its particular mission was to provide accommodation,
facilities and training in the arts for artists and learners who were
marginalised under apartheid, and to develop the cultural voice of
Cape Town’s oppressed communities. This intervention generated a
discourse on art that would prove indispensable for imagining a
post-apartheid South Africa.

During the struggles of the 1980s, CAP artists played a prominent role
in shaping the notion of “culture as resistance” to apartheid and
promoting the idea of “people’s culture”. In 1982 CAP participated in
the historic Botswana Arts Festival in Gaborone, which resulted in CAP
artists re-inventing themselves as “cultural workers”. This new
identity was adopted to reflect their involvement with the political
and social concerns of communities and their organisations, and their
intent to make work that upheld the interests and political
aspirations of the oppressed.

After the elections of 1994, CAP transformed from a training
organisation, and home for artists, into a more formally constituted
education NGO for unemployed adults and youth. Its role was now quite
different from what it had been in the heady days of political
struggle and intervention.
Twenty-five years after the establishment of CAP, the organisation and
its offspring, Media Works, which mainly produced posters, amalgamated
to form AMAC (Arts and Media Access Centre), located in central Cape
Town. As with CAP, AMAC’s goal was to empower people from marginalised
communities through training in the arts and media. When AMAC closed
its doors in 2008, it brought an end to a chapter in South African
cultural history characterised by a firm commitment to, and belief in,
the idea that the arts were both critical and indispensable for
producing the worlds of the oppressed, beyond the forces of power that
sought to contain their creativity.

‘Uncontained: opening the Community Arts Project archive’ celebrates
the CAP legacy and pays homage to the organisation and its artists.
The title of the exhibition literally refers to the unpacking of the
works from the cardboard boxes in which they arrived at UWC, after
they were hauled across the city and the Cape Flats. It also refers to
the opening to the public of a collection of artworks that has largely
lain dormant in the storerooms of CAP and AMAC, and the re-activation
of the archive from its neglect by mainstream cultural history.

Most of the prints on exhibition are from the turbulent 1980s, the
decade marked in history as the final push against apartheid. Many are
visualisations and amplifications of the anti-apartheid struggle, and
were made, not simply as personal expressions, but to create awareness
about people’s resolve to overcome their oppression and
dehumanisation. Made by artists who themselves were burdened by
apartheid oppression, they are also insider narratives from the very
heart of political forms of resistance.

On the one hand, the resistance works on the show are reminders of an
era in which artists responded to a crisis of the human condition
resulting from apartheid. On the other, these artworks offer us the
possibility for thinking about the post-apartheid present, given the
dehumanising legacy of apartheid. In both respects, they invite a
re-imagining of political society in the face of unemployment,
poverty, disease, unequal education, persistent racial divisions and
new class polarisations. These works therefore remind us that the
question of the human condition is still at the heart of understanding
post-apartheid society. They also draw attention to the silence of
cultural re sistance in contemporary times.

The exhibition is, however, not limited to narratives of resistance
and issues of politics as it presents a broad array of subjects and
concerns. Through works of portraiture, scenes of rural life, urban
life, music, children, play, ritual, animals and a range of other
themes, the show also provides us with a sense of other ways of
seeing, and thinking, and being. As such, our aim with the exhibition
is to provide open-ended and complex narratives about human
experience, imagination, and social and personal relations in the
world of apartheid and, more importantly, in its aftermaths.

While the exhibition is thematically diverse, all of the prints on the
show are testimonies to an era in which there was a strong belief in
the idea that marginalised people could empower and humanise
themselves through creativity. Shaped largely by the experience of
apartheid, the works are both instances of “people’s art”, and
representations of the counter-culture movement of the 1980s and early

‘Uncontained: opening the Community Arts Project archive’ is
accompanied by a book of the same title. The book is the outcome of a
writing project involving 31 authors, mainly academics but also
creative writers and intellectuals from cultural organisations and
NGOs. Each author was invited to contribute a thought-piece on a
particular theme, as represented in the CAP print collection. The
texts offer a variety of fresh perspectives on, and insights into, a
rich body of work, so opening up
new directions for thinking about aesthetics, politics, society and
human relations in the world.
Through the book, the CHR at UWC hopes to demonstrate the significance
of the arts for the exploration of the human, and to recover aspects
of our cultural and aesthetic history. It also hopes to prompt new
ways of considering the human condition in the aftermath of apartheid,
a predicament out of which we all have to yet emerge.


May 9, 2012

richard haslop’s best albums of 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 11:45 pm

1. Gillian Welch – The Harrow and The Harvest (Acony)

- eight long, if by no means entirely publicly barren, years after their last album under her name (the David Rawlings Machine included contributions by Welch), a full band affair that briefly hinted at a different direction, Welch and her musical shadow, extraordinarily sympathetic guitarist, harmony singer and co-writer David Rawlings, have returned to the stark and spare Appalachian inspired brilliance that first picked them out and set them apart with a darkly mysterious but stunningly beautiful set of original songs that prove a match for the ancient ones from which they borrow ideas, refrains, a sense of plainspoken magic that’s often just out of reach, and even titles, yet leave most of the contemporary songwriting competition trailing in the dust

2. June Tabor & Oysterband – Ragged Kingdom (Topic) / June Tabor – Ashore (Topic)

- either of these albums might have made the top ten of this list on their own, and together might have topped the list had it not been for that misjudged version of Dark End Of The Street, one of the greatest of all soul songs; as a double header, their coverage of all that is wonderful about English folk music is extraordinary – the Oysterband collaboration, following up at last on the outstanding “Freedom And Rain” of 21 years earlier, when the group still spelt its name as two words, is the one that turned heads, turning Joy Division’s classic Love Will Tear Us Apart on its own head in the process, getting to emotional grips with Bob Dylan and Shel Silverstein and electrifying traditional English folk in a way that has hardly been imagined, much less heard, since the heyday of Sandy Denny and Fairport – “Ashore”, recorded with her own group, whose restraint and taste are the perfect foil for Tabor’s dramatic if occasionally slightly mannered vocals, is a carefully chosen, majestically sung set of sea-themed songs, from Finisterre, out of that early Oyster Band alliance, via Elvis Costello’s Shipbuilding to a truly epic Across The Wide Ocean; I saw the concert, and the record is as spellbinding

3. Tinariwen – Tassili (V2) / Tamikrest – Toumastin (Glitterhouse) / Terakaft – Aratan N Azawad (World Village) / Bombino – Agadez (Cumbancha)

- trouble in the northern Mali desert meant that Tinariwen had to set up in the Algerian region after which the record is named for their fifth album, but, like the Sahara that is their home, the shifts in their music, though constant, are no more than incremental; so, while they appear, on the face of it, to have undergone something of a radical change by restricting themselves to just acoustic instruments, calling in Wilco’s Nels Cline to provide a little electrical ballast, collaborating with members of TV On The Radio and utilizing a couple of Dirty Dozen Brass Band horns on one track, in fact the results are as hypnotically timeless as we’ve come to expect, yet sufficiently different to be interesting and fresh – the other three albums demonstrate that, despite their similarities there is enough room in the Tuareg version of the desert blues for more than just one fine band – Terakaft, formed out of Tinariwen, rock a little more raggedly and rowdily than their more famous relative, and Tamikrest and Bombino represent the next generation, the latter, an especially fluid guitarist, having an attractively light touch, albeit one that reduces some of the music’s sense of gravitas, producing a kind of Saharan acid folk-rock, while the former are almost psychedelic in their sonic intensity

4. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Sub Pop)

- I have two, separate but related, points to make about this album – firstly, having made Fleet Foxes’ self-titled debut my album of the year for 2008, I was initially somewhat disappointed in this one … and remained that way for several months; it was quite obviously a good record, but my concern was that it sounded too much like its predecessor and, what it does having been done before, it lacked that startling first impression – secondly, when Fleet Foxes first appeared, everyone rushed to the harmony rich folk-rock sections of their record collections and decided that this was CSN and the Beach Boys for a new generation; I wasn’t so sure, tending towards the first David Crosby album and the Beach Boys’ “Surf’s Up” for touchstones, but for feel and texture rather than for actual sound – what Fleet Foxes had done, I decided, was perfectly synthesize their influences (and it turned out that “Surf’s Up” was indeed one of them) into something that was actually quite new and eminently worth pursuing, which is, of course, precisely why my initial response to “Helplessness Blues” no longer makes sense – it’s the fact that it sounds just like Fleet Foxes, but not just like “Fleet Foxes”, that makes it a great record – “If I had an orchard I’d work till I’m sore” … has any line better summed up a band’s approach?

5. Josh T. Pearson – Last Of The Country Gentlemen (Mute)

- 2011 seems to have a been something of a year for, if not quite earth-shattering comebacks, then at least striking re-emergences, with that of the now possibly even more physically and emotionally dishevelled Texan Josh T. Pearson, more or less missing since he led his erstwhile band Lift To Experience through the astonishing “Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads” a decade earlier, among the least expected – seven songs, recorded over two Berlin studio nights, is all we got (unless, like me, you bought the Rough Trade Shops edition with an additional EP of Christmas songs, not as unusual as it sounds considering Pearson’s upbringing in religious fundamentalism), but four of those songs, rambling, shambling, painfully raw, occasionally arcanely, archaically phrased and sometimes sounding like they’re being made up as he goes along (they surely could never be perfectly accurately repeated) are each more than ten bleakly gripping minutes long – it’s just Pearson, his voice, his acoustic guitar and a few desolate strings under the baton and bow of Bad Seeds/Dirty Three violinist Warren Ellis, and an immediacy, intensity and honesty that is almost shocking – and the three shorter ones simply take less time than the others to do all of that

richard haslop’s best albums of 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 1:59 am

6. Ry Cooder – Pull Up Some Dust And Sit Down (Nonesuch)

- having successfully completed his so-called Californian trilogy Cooder continues the unexpected solo resurgence it announced by reasserting his musical pedigree in folk, blues, gospel and Tex-Mex infused roots rock as he summons the spirit of Woody Guthrie, vents his considerably enraged spleen, makes a series of pertinent political points about US foreign and financial policy via an unflattering comparison between bankers and Jesse James, a brutal Christmas protest song and, for light relief, an inch perfect imitation of John Lee Hooker, and comes up with what must be close to his best album ever

7. Juju – In Trance (Real World)

- English guitarist and desert blues producer Justin Adams and Gambian singer and riti ace Juldeh Camara made two outstanding albums as a duo, with 2007’s “Soul Science” and 2009’s “Tell No Lies” setting a benchmark that was going to be hard to keep hitting; so they formed a band, with added bass and drums, expanded the 2010 “Trance Sessions” EP to full album length without wasting a single note, even on the 15 minute Deep Sahara, and hit it again, focusing even more closely on the wailing, sawing, seemingly eternal groove and letting Camara’s ecstatic one-string fiddle take their driving, droning West African trance-blues deeper into the music’s psychedelic heart

8. P J Harvey – Let England Shake (Island)

- Harvey says that, each time she makes an album, she gets as far away from its predecessor as she can, so don’t be expecting another “White Chalk”, or even another “A Woman A Man Walked By”, actually a duo record with long time collaborator John Parish – “Let England Shake”, which features Parish, former Bad Seed Mick Harvey, a drummer (sometimes) and almost no-one else, is therefore not much like any of its predecessors in the Harvey catalogue (Polly Jean or, for that matter, Mick), even though it’s still somehow archetypal Harvey (Polly Jean) – kicking off with a title track that features a combination of auto harp, xylophone and trombone (don’t worry, guitars, drums and keyboards are just around the corner) expresses a concern that England’s “dancing days are done” because its “blood won’t rise again”, it takes a long, hard and unflinching look at England itself, its place in the world, and Harvey’s own place in it (England and, therefore, the world) and, with multiple references to war in general, and several to World War I and Gallipoli in particular, possibly to emphasize the unending cycle it represents, doesn’t much like what it sees

9. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring For My Halo (Matador)

- Vile, whose cool name, which is apparently his real one, and ultra cool album title ought immediately to attract your attention, seems to have left The War On Drugs in favour of his solo career, although he plays a little on their latest record and his War On Drugs partner Adam Granduciel is in his live band (and all over this album) – the move appears to have worked well as both produced outstanding, and arguably even exceptional, albums during 2011, with Vile’s a considerable advance on his previous three and well worth the investigation that the name and title might provoke – his laconic drawl reminds me a little, despite myself, of a young, American Lloyd Cole without the studied intellectual insouciance, but his connection to an earlier pop/rock time seems more casually achieved and his indie-folk nonchalance less forced than some of those with whom he has been compared

10. Fatoumata Diawara – Fatou (World Circuit)

- Nick Gold’s unfeasibly consistent World Circuit label continues its highly impressive and almost inevitable winning streak with “Fatou”, the debut album by one of Oumou Sangare’s backing singers, born in Ivory Coast to Malian parents but relocated to Paris against their wishes to pursue a career in acting – she doesn’t wail with quite Sangare’s explosive intensity but rather tends, with great assurance, towards the more classy, pop-conventional, internationally inclusive guitar-picking singer-songwriter approach of another acclaimed European resident Malian, Rokia Traoré, as she criticizes a variety of questionable societal and cultural approaches towards women and dispenses sound advice, sometimes in parable, that appears to have been personally tested

May 8, 2012

richard haslop’s best albums of the year 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 2:59 pm

11. Nicolas Jaar – Space Is Only Noise (Circus Company) // Ricardo Villalobos / Max Loderbauer – Re: ECM (ECM)

- Jaar is the young American/Chilean electronic musician son of a well-known visual artist, whose full length debut (there have been shorter form releases that those with greater knowledge of this music might have heard) identifies him as essentially experimental techno laced with skewed electro-pop at tempos to which it’s surely impossible (well, definitely quite hard, no matter who you are or what you’ve heard) to dance, which gives him plenty of time and space to mess around, intriguingly, attractively and, ultimately irresistibly, with a range of influences broad enough to encompass Golden Age Ethiopian jazz and a line in affecting pop melody – perhaps principal among these influences is the German/Chilean Villalobos, who was given access, with experimental musician Loderbauer, to the storied and often stunning ECM catalogue of modern, mainly European jazz and contemporary composition, ostensibly to produce a remix album – rather than attempting to be inclusive, which would have been impossible, the resultant double disc takes a relatively small coterie of ECM artists (for example, textural Norwegian pianist Christian Wallumrød, guitarist John Abercrombie, French free jazz horn player Louis Sclavis, Italian trumpeter Enrico Rava, Estonian holy minimalist composer Arvo Pärt) and doesn’t so much remix their compositions as completely reinvent them, focusing on their sense rather than their specifics – Miles Davis used to talk about finding the spaces between the notes; these guys find the spaces between the spaces, and the results are as wonderful in their own way as anything else in the label’s catalogue

12. Bill Callahan – Apocalypse (Drag City)

- “Apocalypse”, Callahan’s follow-up to the brilliant “Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle”, is fairly typical … the understated baritone drawl, the strikingly melodic snatches all but buried in the deadpan delivery, the superficially simple but often impenetrable lyrics, and that’s what we would want from a man who has been ploughing this furrow for as long as he has, either in/as Smog (sometimes a band and sometimes just Callahan) or more conventionally solo under his given name – of course, that means that the quality is assured, if not for all tastes, Callahan’s acoustic singer-songwriter method having less than most of his troubadour ilk to do with conventional folk, blues, country or other rootsy tropes and more to do with art, and even arch, rock – this seems to be a kind of concept album, with songs referencing each other as he calls on Kris Kristofferson, Mickey Newbury, George Jones and Johnny Cash to help him understand what it means to be American, “derided for things I don’t believe and lauded for things I did not do”

13. Tom Waits – Bad As Me (Anti-)

- although Tom Waits’ first studio album for seven years appears to engage, and even indulge, in a certain amount of stock taking, reaching back, with a mighty gang of musical conspirators who include Keith Richards, Charlie Musslewhite and Augie Meyers who clearly just love to play this kind of battered R&B and bent out of shape rock ‘n’ roll, beyond “Swordfishtrombones”, the album that most recognize as the place where the boozy barroom philosopher-poet grew wings and the drunken midnight choir became a junkyard angel’s marching band formed by Captain Beefheart to play music composed by Harry Partch, when Waits takes stock like this sparks fly, bells ring and grown men weep for joy – according to one of the songs, “I’m the last leaf on the tree, the autumn took the rest but they won’t take me”; for the good of music itself we better pray he’s right

14. White Denim – D (Downtown)

- one of Austin, Texas’s White Denim’s defining strengths has been their ability to play the notes, beats and challenging rhythms of prog and even jazz-rock with the energy and attitude of punk and the angles of postpunk, so that the intellectually and technically complex becomes as satisfyingly straightforward and emotionally engaging as the best rock is surely meant to be – for this, their third album, they have gained a second guitarist and recorded in a proper studio for the first time, and there’s just enough of a general cleaning up that “D”, parts of which are quite breathtaking, sounds like exactly the album the first two were headed towards, so that White Denim now sounds even more like several great bands from between about 1969 and 1973 tacked onto a Meat Puppets/Mission Of Burma hybrid, only with better developed chops and ideas to burn

15. Colin Stetson – New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges (Constellation)

- there’s the merest hint of the breadth of saxophonist Stetson’s musical CV in the guest appearances here, in the briefly sung and spoken sections, by Laurie Anderson and My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Worden, who has herself sung with Sufjan Stevens and the Decemberists, but it doesn’t really come close to adequately paraphrasing a resumé whose credits include cross-generational rock and post-rock (Tom Waits, David Byrne, the Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor), folk and free jazz (Bon Iver and Anthony Braxton) and, no doubt, free range chicken squawks when the Zornian mood takes him, but, academically interesting as all that may be, it doesn’t capture, describe or adequately explain the emotional, intellectual and sheer gut response which this album is capable of generating as Stetson, his treated sax and his Evan Parker-like circular breathing and multiphonic techniques shift and drift, sonically, between the cello and the chainsaw, epic grandeur, avant-noise both human and alien, and spontaneous composition that sometimes comes close to spontaneous combustion

16. The War On Drugs – Slave Ambient (Secretly Canadian)

- Kurt Vile’s solo rise and apparent departure from the band, except for two guest guitar appearances here, might have the effect of drawing attention away from the fact that this is, and always has been, essentially his mate Adam Granduciel’s vehicle (Granduciel wrote everything on its debut predecessor, with just three co-writes from Vile) for expressing his admiration for Springsteenesque, Pettyish, Dylanesque classic songwriter rock and then filtering it through blissed out psychedelic layers of out of focus sonic textures, as though a thin film of My Bloody Valentine/Spacemen 3/Sonic Youth ambience had been applied to “Basement Tapes” era Bob’s vocals – Granduciel’s great advantage is that he writes songs to match

17. EMA – Past Life Martyred Saints (Souterrain Transmissions)

- I suppose it’s inevitable that Erika Anderson, previously guitarist with Gowns and Amps For Christ and now recording as EMA, will be compared with Patti Smith and her many acolytes, probably because, at some level, and to those of us who remember the impact of “Horses” all those years ago (and even often to those who don’t, but understand that impact), this kind of album was once unthinkable pre- Smith that is – it’s a strikingly original solo debut, brave, powerful, confrontational, cathartic, emotionally real, raw and stark, not an easy listen, certainly, despite a musically compelling stylistic range from lo-fi acoustic through a cappella voices to enraged and distorted rock, but one that draws you in and then back again and again – whether Anderson will transcend those comparison remains to be seen, of course, but, even if she doesn’t, this was an album worth making

18. Destroyer – Kaputt (Dead Oceans) / Metronomy – The English Riviera (Because)

- I see that “Kaputt” is Canadian Dan Bejar’s ninth (or ninth-ish) album in charge of Destroyer, but I had not, consciously at least, heard them before, which seems odd given my attraction to the skewed power-pop of the New Pornographers, with whom Bejar has also been involved – the upshot of that is that I can’t compare “Kaputt” with any previous Destroyer album; I can, however, compare it with several albums from the ’80s that I once liked quite a lot in the days when sonic polish used to impress me, as long as it wasn’t being applied to disguise a lack of substance … albums like Steely Dan’s “Gaucho”, and perhaps even their earlier “Aja”, Roxy Music’s “Avalon” and the first couple of albums by Prefab Sprout – these are, for the most part, “Kaputt”’s templates in sound and style, and it copes extremely well, both in reproducing their sonic and stylistic essence and in avoiding sounding like a mere imitation or pastiche – the album, whose long closing track Bejar has described as “ambient disco”, is elegant and indulgent (particularly if you get the edition with the additional 20 minute track), but packed with musical and lyrical wit and intelligence and the realization that, if you apply too much polish it’s hard to get a foothold – this, along with the lesson that too much sugar eventually hurts your ears as well as your teeth, is one that Metronomy, who operate in vaguely similar terrain, except that their sheen is usually electronically applied, and their languid West Coast is England’s west coast … Devon, to be precise, where Joseph Mount grew up, have also learned well – electronic pop, even electronic pop with the accent on the songs rather than the dancefloor, always seems to me to be on the verge of becoming something I’m not going to like, yet I have liked “The English Riviera” from the moment I first heard it

19. Panda Bear – Tomboy (Pawtracks) / tUnE-yArDs – W H O K I L L (4AD)

- voices, celestial and visceral, intuitive and instinctive, solo or stacked, raw and untended or looped, treated and irretrievably altered, and used as much for their own sake and because of the sound they make as in service of the song on which they’re making it, are what connects these albums – Panda Bear is Noah Lennox of the Animal Collective, whose previous, Brian Wilson saluting “Person Pitch” remains a favourite and whose “Tomboy”, with some of the most gorgeous harmonies anywhere, is headed that way too, with the only concern being that, because the sound is so fantastic, I find myself allowing the songs to run into each other and approaching the album rather as an overall sonic experience rather than a collection of discrete songs, which could be my fault rather than that of the songs – Tune-Yards is Merrill Garbus of, well, of tUnE-yArDs (which is how she insists on writing it; so, too, that letter-by-letter spelling of the album title – the fact that she and her album easily overcome such foolishness is a measure of their excellence), a ukulele playing percussionist and live and studio sound manipulator with one of the most honest to God stop you in your tracks voices of the year (I had not heard her before this, her second release) whose varied, pop-hybridized sonic and rhythmic approach has some wanting to call what she does World Music – I’m content simply to regard it as terrific music

20. Yuck – Yuck (Fat Possum)

- according to a message scratched into a Smiths’ vinyl run-off groove (and yes, I do know that it wasn’t originally theirs), talent borrows, but genius steals – that these Pavement (and Dinosaur Jr, and several others from that general musical era and area) soundalikes make this list when the new and perfectly fine album by Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus doesn’t (and the one by Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis probably only did as a bracketed companion with Thurston Moore’s) might say less about the music itself than it does about the way I listen to it, but I can’t help loving the way these young Brits have arrowed into to the very essence of ’90s independent American rock and borrowed not only enough to make their influences absolutely obvious, but to have created something that stood out from the 2011 rock landscape as fresh and thrilling, if not entirely new and original – not quite genius, then, but talent, certainly

richard haslop’s best albums 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 12:54 am

21. Aziz Sahmaoui & University Of Gnawa – Aziz Sahmaoui & University Of Gnawa (General Pattern)

- once a member of both Paris’s highly regarded North African music ensemble, the Orchestre National De Barbés, and Joe Zawinul’s world/jazz fusion Syndicate, Moroccan multi-instrumentalist Sahmaoui draws on both for his first solo album, in the company of Senegalese musicians, the University of Gnawa, who, allied to his use of the distinctive Malian ngoni as virtually his default instrument, emphasize the West African roots of the Moroccan gnawa trance music that he combines with desert blues, reggae, surf guitar, Maghrebi pop and several other styles to produce pan-African music of the highest order

22. Joe Henry – Reverie (Anti-)

- where the concern was once that everything Henry did might be eclipsed by his family connection with Madonna, the fear must now be that his fast growing production CV (Bettye LaVette, Mary Gauthier, Allen Toussaint) might overshadow his superb songwriting, evident on a dozen albums over 25 years, once country rock but now a jazz-tinged take on folk, blues and pop noir, and getting better all the time – for “Reverie” he simplifies things sonically by sticking to a small acoustic group (he says this is his first album for a while that he has been able to play right through on guitar) as his skill behind a desk ensures that the album sounds wonderful, while his talent for making wise, sharp and frequently poetic observations about the world and his (and our) place in it ensures that the songs more than match the production – when he says that he was listening to Ellington and Sinatra in preparation for this album, there’s absolutely no sense that he might have been aiming too high

23. Beirut – The Rip Tide (Pompeii)

- having loved both the idea and the execution of Zach Condon’s first two albums in a Beirut disguise that has always sounded like a band even when it wasn’t, I did wonder how long he/they would be able to sustain what was a very particular sonic concept, that of an American musician’s memories, principally via Mexican mariachi and Eastern European tonalities filtered through Italian romanticism and French flavour, of living in New Mexico and visiting old Europe – this gorgeous album, Beirut’s third, whose overall feel may best be summed up in the line from East Harlem quoted in the booklet (“she’s waiting for the night to fall / let it fall, I’ll never make it in time”), comes after a lapse, interrupted only by a couple of EPs, of four years, and what is most noticeable is that, although the more obvious foreign influences have gone, the sound of the band and the focus of the clearly maturing songwriting seems pretty much the same, suggesting either that these were always Beirut’s to begin with or that the band has so completely assimilated their effect and moulded them to its own purposes that those influences have achieved precisely what influences are meant to

24. Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts (Matador) / J Mascis – Several Shades Of Why (Sub Pop)

- Moore, with Sonic Youth, whose future seems uncertain following the end of his marriage to band member Kim Gordon, and Mascis, with Dinosaur Jr, were at the forefront of extreme guitar volume in independent rock in the ’80s and ’90s; however, Moore’s previous major solo release, “Trees Outside the Academy”, saw him exploring a quieter, acoustic approach, while still admitting a certain amount of noise, some of it made by Mascis’s guest guitar, into the mix, but his principle collaborator on the record was violinist Samara Lubelski, once of intriguing but short lived ’90s band the Sonora Pine – Lubelski’s is once again the main supportive instrumental voice on “Demolished Thoughts”, an album that concentrates even more closely on Moore’s quieter side, albeit one that still features strong textural links with Sonic Youth, but whose exceptional Beck production (he also produced the year’s Stephen Malkmus album) makes it a significant sonic advance on its predecessor – Mascis himself gets plenty of assistance, from Kurt Vile and members of Band Of Horses and Black Heart Procession and others, for his own second acoustic solo disc, which reveals, all over again, his considerable melodic abilities, still delivered in that trademark laconic, half-stoned drawl and as attractive without the earsplitting guitar attack as they were with it

25. The Low Anthem – Smart Flesh (Bella Union)

- I understand how some might find this group insufferably precious … the glacial tempos and sepulchral harmonies, the sepia tinted memory of an imaginary but easily imagined past, the use of arcane and archaic instrumentation as implements to provide colour rather than to really play, the vacant pasta sauce factory that served as a studio, the appropriation of Leonard Cohen style (Burn) and Gram Parsons tune (Apothecary Tune), even the out of focus lisp (Smart Flesh) – then again, all of that’s exactly what convinced me that the Low Anthem might be a group with legs and that this album’s predecessor, the gorgeous “Oh My God, Charlie Darwin”, wasn’t an exquisite flash in the pan

26. Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong (ATO/Loose) / Jonathan Wilson – Gentle Spirit (Bella Union)

- the first time I heard Dawes (support act for Jackson Browne and backing band for Robbie Robertson) and was immediately drawn to the first two songs on “Nothing Is Wrong” I wondered whether this wasn’t Counting Crows all over again … you know, instant response to their apparent grasp of and facility with a certain area of ’70 rock classicism, followed quite quickly by the realization that this isn’t such a clever trick after all – well, by the time I got to the last track, A Little Bit Of Everything, I was completely hooked, and have remained that way ever since, and that’s even though it deliberately sounds like (but isn’t) mid ’70s Warren Zevon on piano and David Lindley on lap steel; in fact, it’s because their songs are so good that they easily get away with that sort of thing – they’re beautifully produced by Jonathan Wilson whose own album suggests that there might be nobody around who understands the bittersweet tunefulness of that classic Laurel Canyon sound better, or can reproduce it more accurately without resorting to trope or cliché – though its length still makes me wonder if it doesn’t drift and float just a little too much, its evocation of David Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name …” and even parts of Gene Clark’s “No Other” while retaining its own character bode extremely well for young men coming to the Canyon

27. Zomby – Dedication/Nothing EP (4AD) // SBTRKT – SBTRKT (Young Turks) // James Blake – James Blake (Atlas)

- from the point of view of an outsider, labels seem extraordinarily important in electronic music; every minute shift in the landscape seems to generate a new sub-category (alter the bpm by one or two, the model sampler you use by a few months or perhaps as little as the key and everybody’s running around looking for a new way to describe what you’re doing) – these three are all British musicians working in a field known as post-dubstep that many commentators agree is too broadly encompassing and ill-defined to be a meaningful characterization, even for electronic music, but none of this has changed the fact that Zomby (mainly instrumental, lots of techno references), SBTRKT (some songs, but mainly fairly conventional pop/soul vocals by outside guests) and James Blake (all songs, including a great cover of one by his father, ’60s/’70s jazz rocker James Litherland – Colosseum, Mogul Thrash etc – but using his own heavily treated and manipulated vocals) have taken up an inordinate amount of my listening time, and that each time I listen the imagination at work impresses me more

28. Megafaun – Megafaun (Crammed Discs)

- Megafaun, formed by the band members left behind when Justin Vernon left DeYarmond Edison to become Bon Iver, have taken three albums and an EP to settle into a style that really suits them on a fairly consistent basis, but I wouldn’t dare to predict that this record’s unassuming, open air, rolling country flavoured rock (some have suggested “American Beauty” era Grateful Dead though one song uses the exact tune of Neil Young’s Cortez The Killer) will necessarily be the way of the Megafaun future; the undeniably skilful use of melody and harmony is still leavened, though not as much as previously, by free noise, found sound and primitively plunked banjos, Scorned pays tribute to the Staples Singers without making Megafaun a soul or gospel outfit, the horns on Isadora suggest there might be another new direction in the offing, the closing Everything is gospel and who knows what to make of the hidden track in the context of a career path – for now, though, it’s more than focused enough

29. Aurelio – Laru Beya (Real World)

- the untimely death, a few years ago, of Andy Palacio from Belize robbed Garifuna music of its most internationally visible ambassador just as he was becoming internationally visible but, on the strength of this record, his third, Aurelio Martinez from Honduras, also the first black man to become a deputy in that country’s National Congress, who contributed backing vocals to Palacio’s breakthrough album “Watina”, is more than ready to take up the mantle – the Garifuna are a Central American people descended from shipwrecked West African slaves and their music is an intoxicating mix of West African (there are telling guest appearances from Youssou N’Dour and members of his band), Caribbean (including reggae) and Latin American styles – all it needs is exposure

30. Laurie Levine – Six Winters (Rhythm)

- in the year when the rest of the business made Adele the broken relationship queen of the world, my own favourite break up album was made by Laurie Levine, a Johannesburg singer-songwriter whose previous musical career was as an ethnomusicologist specializing in South African traditional music (she published a book on the subject) and, for two albums, as a purveyor of decent quality local pop that never suggested for a moment that she might have a “Six Winters” in her – an inch perfect production by Dan Roberts sees to the album’s sound, but it’s the startling leap in maturity and consistency of the material Levine gave him to work with that brings me back to it over and over again – whether or not they’re deliberate, there are distinct traces, and sometimes more, of the likes of Julie Miller, Mary Gauthier and especially Joanna Newsom in a Levine delivery that gets the balance between confidence and uncertainty, fragility and steely resolve exactly right, and which demonstrates, if nothing else, that she has found, in folk, country and general roots orientated styles, a context that fits her writing like a glove

May 7, 2012

richard haslop’s best albums of 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 10:33 am

31. Barn Owl – Lost In The Glare (Thrill Jockey) / White Hills – H-p1 (Thrill Jockey)

- there’s nothing that invigorates the soul (or syringes the ears) quite like guitars turned up as far as they’ll go and being allowed to drone and feed back symphonically and in accordance with some greater musical plan that will possibly only be revealed on the Day of Judgment; a friend calls it voice of God guitar and Barn Owl, with more than a cursory nod to the influence of Alice Coltrane, have a plentiful supply of it and, more importantly, an understanding of what to do with it so that it ultimately all coheres in a huge, hypnotic roar that, cosmic though it clearly is, is as much Anglo-American space rock as German kosmische musik – White Hills have been memorably and perhaps aptly criticized by somebody else as “running a marathon around a riff” … which they do; “H-p1” is a long, intense album consisting of long, intense tracks and my version comes with an additional disc containing more of much the same but, if they might be able to stand some editorial intervention, that might defeat the point – White Hills have much to say about the state of the world, and say it mainly through their guitars while delivering several moments of epic, if noisy, magnificence amid the commotion and clamour

32. Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx – We’re New Here (XL) / Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop)

- this entry could conceivably be considered a representation of the future of hip-hop as seen through the eyes of its past as Jamie Smith of London’s the xx doesn’t just remix, but, in some respects, deconstructs rap forefather Scott-Heron’s final album, the dark, claustrophobic but still hopeful “I’m New Here”, rebuilding it into something that, as the title submits, is in fact new and shiny (sadly, Scott-Heron died shortly after its release), and turning it into something of an electronic music primer as he runs the gamut of styles and beats, while the brooding, ominous, at times downright menacing Shabazz Palaces, the new musical home of Seattle rapper Butterfly from early ’90s favourites Digable Planets and the first hip-hop act signed by renowned hometown indies Sub Pop, use a vast array of traditional (including the jazz favoured by the Planets) and electronic but mainly abstract sources and effects to fashion a superb if unpredictable and unsettling record that retains just enough rootedness in the past as it points the way to a sonically adventurous future

33. Dub Colossus – Addis Through The Looking Glass (Real World)

- former Transglobal Undergrounder Nick Page’s first album in this incarnation, which seamlessly and superbly mixed reggae and dub rhythms with the Ethiopian music of that country’s musical Golden Age, was a cultural exchange so obvious it came as a shock to realize it might not have been done before – terrific reworkings of reggae classics the Abyssinians’ Satta Massagana and Althea & Donna’s Uptown Top Ranking notwithstanding, this second, influenced perhaps by the recent Western profile of the so-called Godfather of Ethio-jazz, pianist Mulatu Astatke, seems more like a jazz record – either way, a great idea is once again matched by nearly flawless execution

34. Bon Iver – Bon Iver (4AD / Jagjaguwar)

- the much anticipated successor, more than three years down the line, to the remarkable “For Emma, Forever Ago”, has caused a fair amount of division among both critics and Justin Vernon’s long standing fans – it’s a far more polished affair, a factor that no doubt contributed to its No 2 US chart placing and subsequent, if still unexpected, Grammy (although his presence on a Kanye West record won’t have harmed his prospects there) but, equally, it’s also a much more prosaic affair, from the title down to the deliberately AOR/MOR production on the last track, which always leaves me feeling at least slightly irritated but might have been what hooked the Grammy voters; to combine two views I have heard expressed, it sounds like David Foster producing Bruce Hornsby – but, all of that aside, and even if it doesn’t have the backwoods back story of the debut, it is, nevertheless, an extremely attractive record with several songs of real quality and a good deal more flesh and blood about them than might have been expected of the artist

35. Arbouretum – The Gathering (Thrill Jockey) / Wooden Shjips – West (Thrill Jockey)

- for their third album for Thrill Jockey and their fourth overall, Arbouretum have replaced one of their guitarists with keyboards, adopting a somewhat more textured feel to their open structures and simple, droning, distorted folk-infused melodies – clothing allegorical lyrics influenced by the writings of Carl Jung and Jimmy Webb (there is an unexpected and unexpectedly convincing rethink of Webb’s The Highwayman) in equally dense and mysterious arrangements set to a relentless tread that is deliberate but never ponderous, the album represents an important, if incremental, advance on its predecessors and, heavy as it is, it never seems excessively loud, something that the band apparently rectifies in live performance – the Wooden Shjips, whose own keyboards are garage psychedelic rather than atmospheric ambient, are now on their own third full length album, but their first in a proper studio with a proper engineer – driving their riffing, snaking guitars to levels of intensity and volume that match anyone you can think of, they churn rather than rumble, channelling their inner Elevators (and Stooges) a little like the Black Angels do, for example, but with Suicide (who didn’t even have guitars) and krautrock (which did, but not where the Wooden Shjips put them) replacing the Doors as the other critical stylistic component – the added clarity and focus provided by the more conventional recording experience has made a significant difference

36. Wilco – The Whole Love (dBpm/Anti-)

- six and seven studio albums in, Wilco, once a band that promised the earth, moon and stars (the brilliance of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost Is Born”), seemed to be settling for the first mentioned as it drifted too far from its promise, and premise, for comfort, even though it still made records that were eminently worth hearing and owning – this eighth at least suggests, without quite demonstrating it conclusively, that they haven’t forsaken experimentation, noisy extemporization or the employment of edge in the service of the kind of comfortably sturdy songwriting that Jeff Tweedy appears to be able to do with his eyes closed

40. The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours The Winners)

- electronic musician James Kirby took the Caretaker moniker from the Jack Nicholson character in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, using the ghostly ballroom scene as the template for his fascination with describing musically the way that memory works – this album, inspired by a study that suggested that Alzheimers sufferers remember things better in the context of music, arranges and layers excerpts from pre-war ballroom and parlour music 78s, treats them ever so slightly, draws attention to their physical deterioration by emphasizing their clicks and pops and then invites us to listen – the fact that contemporary listeners will probably never actually have heard this music before, other than as some sort of imagined soundtrack to somebody else’s life, is unimportant as the eerie, hauntological results nevertheless produce a strangely satisfying sense of nostalgia and, oddly, a desire to listen again and again

37. The Decemberists – The King Is Dead (Rough Trade)

- the last couple of Decemberists albums have probably been too elaborate for their own good – pretentious was becoming a fairly easy way for the unconverted to describe them and arguments pointing out Colin Meloy’s lyrical erudition and encyclopaedic knowledge of British folk and folk-rock were beginning to sound hollow, even to believers, so “The King Is Dead”, which kicks off like an old fashioned Neil Young record, references American music not too far from the interesting mainstream, and has songs you can actually sing along to, is a welcome change, perhaps even a breath of fresh air – the jangling presence of Peter Buck ensures that a couple of the songs sound like classic R.E.M., or at least bands like 10 000 Maniacs when they sounded like R.E.M., while the backing voice of Gillian Welch and, occasionally, David Rawlings add country-folk cred to what was becoming a bit of a prog-folk band – Meloy still writes lyrics that are impenetrable without a copy of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable to hand but, as arguably the year’s most penetrative lyric (by Dawes, not the Decemberists) points out, there’s no point in trying to make out every word when you should simply hum along – at least you can this time

38. Paul Simon – So Beautiful Or So What (Decca)

- heading towards his 70th birthday Simon hooked up again with veteran producer Phil Ramone and, with a judicious mixture of old fashioned craftsmanship and modern production, Indian and West African musical references, old time blues and gospel samples (including, memorably, a seventy year old Rev JM Gates sermon) and some of his best lyrics for years, which reflect on where he’s been (there’s a brief but obvious nod to his early I Am A Rock), where he is (in a world where a damaged Vietnam vet regrets the path his life has taken while a new generation spends Christmas in Iraq as those at home face an uncertain financial future) and where he’s headed (The Afterlife, with eyes on the prize but tongue firmly in cheek), made possibly his best album since “Graceland”

39. Drive-By Truckers – Go-Go Boots (ATO/PIAS) / Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – Here We Rest (Lightning Rod)

- hard on the heels of “The Big To-Do”, the Truckers continue to impress as a remarkably prolific and consistent source of some of the best rock in the American South – “Go-Go Boots”, which states its business by featuring a tribute to Patterson Hood’s father David’s brilliant but underappreciated Muscle Shoals country soul mate Eddie Hinton, is a mite slower and more soulful, but no less searing, than its predecessor, with Hood the younger continuing to contribute from an apparently endless well of fine songwriting, Mike Cooley pitching in, as ever, with a couple of plainspoken standouts and the ever improving Shonna Tucker impressing more with each outing – the problem with former Trucker and Tucker spouse Isbell seems to be that there’s only one of him and, while he apparently has two or three killer songs in him per record, he tends then to fill them up with tough and well played but somewhat generic roots rock – not at all bad, therefore, but anybody expecting him to repeat his top Truckers form of Outfit, Decoration Day, Danko/Manuel and The Day John Henry Died all at once is going to wind up disappointed

May 6, 2012

richard haslop’s best albums of 2011

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 7:08 pm

41. Joe Lovano / Us Five – Bird Songs (Blue Note)

- not quite a straight tribute to the bop genius (Bird played alto), veteran tenorist Lovano and his exceptional young band investigate, instead, without resorting to a single bop cliché, a few of the possibilities of music composed by or for Charlie Parker, or closely associated with him, reinventing Donna Lee as a ballad, mercilessly messing with the classic Moose The Mooche, playing three short Parker themes as a round, trebling the length of Yardbird Suite through a cornucopia of melodic, rhythmic and stylistic variations, and playing the Aulochrome, the first horn designed to harmonise with itself

42. Nils Økland / Sigbjørn Apeland – Lysøen: Hommage à Ole Bull (ECM) / Andrew Cronshaw – The Unbroken Surface Of Snow (Cloud Valley)

- Norwegians Økland (violin and his country’s wonderfully resonant Hardanger fiddle) and Apeland (piano and harmonium, including one that belonged to Norway’s great 19th century composer Ole Bull) pay tribute to Bull and Lysøen, the island which he owned, where he lived in idyllic contemplation and where this album was recorded, by way of the folk music that inspired him, and mainly by way of meditative reflection that suggests rather than flaunts the vast sweep and grandeur and allegedly unparalleled beauty of the place – English composer and multi-instrumentalist Cronshaw, a much admired figure on the fringes of the British folk scene for many years, irregularly emerging from the shadows into the half-light to release intriguing and often sonically audacious albums (this is his first for seven years, since the splendid “Ochre”), is not on the ECM label but, on this evidence, shares many of its sensibilities; a regular writer about Scandinavian music, he accurately evokes the album’s title here by combining the folk tunes of Finland with those of Armenia, interrupted briefly for a solo meditation, on zither, on an old Scottish tune, in a series of long, languid and lovely compositions (the title track lasts more than half an hour) in the company of Armenian duduk player Tigran Aleksanyan

43. Derek Gripper – The Sound Of Water (New Cape)

- perennially nurtured and nourished by the sounds and moods of its Western Cape surroundings, Gripper’s nylon string acoustic guitar finds a kindred spirit in the traditional folk-fuelled compositions of the brilliant Brazilian Egberto Gismonti, compositions which it seems to have been born to play – still more impressively, Gripper’s own explorations, especially Joni, Copenhagen and Anna Magdalena, referencing Mesdames Mitchell, Madosini and Bach respectively, mine an equally rich seam, uncovering similar depths of soul in the process

44. Martin Simpson – Purpose + Grace (Topic)

- “Prodigal Son” and “True Stories”, which lifted him, once and for all, into the very top tier of folk artists, were always going to be hard, if not impossible to top, so Simpson, whose dual command of British and American styles has few, if any, peers, has consolidated instead – confining his writing to a couple of banjo jaunts this time, he invites along three mighty mates in Dick Gaughan, June Tabor, with whom he reprises and even surpasses an earlier collaboration on Richard Thompson’s Strange Affair, and Thommo himself, and then gets the first two to sing while he plays, something that only someone with supreme confidence in his own abilities would have dared, and only someone with the ability to match that confidence would have pulled off – as if that wasn’t enough, he also finds new and bright gold in the frequently tarnished In The Pines, Little Liza Jane and Barbry Allen, so ,while this might be something of a holding pattern for Simpson, if aeroplanes adopted holding patterns this engrossing you’d never want them to land

45. Okkervil River – I Am Very Far (Jagjaguwar)

- having struggled for months to get a proper handle on this album despite the fact that I had never met an Okkervil River record I didn’t end up loving, the fact that the band’s previous effort had been as the great Roky Erickson’s backing band and the not unimportant consideration that a couple of trusted Okkervil River fans of my acquaintance rated it highly, I decided to stick it on the short list for this exercise anyway and give it another shot later – having done so, but with proportionally reduced expectations, I found myself starting to fall in love with it after all and now it at least sounds like a really good collection of songs, if not quite a great album – some of it still sounds big and bombastic and overwrought and unfocused and it’s still no “Stage Names”, but who has more than one of those in them anyway?

46. Chris Thile & Michael Daves – Sleep With One Eye Open (Nonesuch) / Andy Statman – Old Brooklyn (Shefa)

- the level of sheer, barely believable brilliance on these two albums (Statman’s is a double) from arguably the two hottest pickers in the business will have mandolin fans salivating, once they pick up their jaws, but the quality of the overall musicianship will impress even those who can’t tell a mandolin from a ukulele from a cittern, even from a banjo – the Thile/Daves disc is as heartfelt a tribute to the brother duets of pre- and early bluegrass as, oh, probably “Skaggs & Rice” at least, fashioned with fun, love, respect, energy, enthusiasm and skill levels you can hardly credit; Statman, almost as breathtaking on the clarinet as he is on the mandolin and one of my favourite musicians anywhere, kicks off like Albert Ayler has joined the parking lot pickers at Merlefest and then broadens out into an ever-changing, ever-imaginative mélange of bluegrass and old timey, blues and free jazz, klezmer, Jewish religious music and New Orleans funk, a ’50s R&B hit and a cross-denominational hymn by the composer of Amazing Grace, all in the company of a stellar musical cast and a tea kettle – astonishing!

47. William Elliott Whitmore – Field Songs (Anti-) / Frank Fairfield – Out On The Open West (Tompkins Square)

- what sets Whitmore and Fairfield apart from many similar artists using the Old, Weird America as their musical template is not only that they really do sound as though they recorded their songs during a day or two’s sabbatical from some ’20s medicine show, though with better recording equipment, but that this isn’t any kind of shtick … it’s how they naturally sound – Fairfield, whose songs feel like they come from the same seemingly endless supply of “Unheard Ofs And Forgotten Abouts” that he collects and has released under that title, could be the direct musical descendant of Frank Hutchison, generally considered the first white recorded bluesman (as long as you accept that white blues was a forerunner of country), except that he’s also a fine fiddle and banjo player – Whitmore’s entire approach might be summed up in two of his album titles, his musical range by “Hymns For The Hopeless” and his basic philosophy by “Ashes To Dust”, except that there’s a whole lot we can do between ashes and dust to make the world a better place, if we only have the faith, the foresight and the fortitude – if it’s not too much of a contradiction, this kind of authenticity often sounds fake but, if the young John Fahey could fool the blues community into believing that his alter ego, Blind Joe Death, was in fact an ancient bluesman, you get the impression that Whitmore and especially Fairfield could do the same to old time rural music collectors looking for long lost recordings by bootleggers or fire and brimstone preachers holed up in impossibly remote Appalachian hollers

48. Mary Hampton – Folly (Teaspoon) / Bella Hardy – Songs Lost And Stolen (Navigator)

- Hampton and Hardy are two young English folk musicians whose debut albums, released in 2008 and 2007 respectively, arrived more or less like bolts from the blue (although real cognoscenti will tell you that the singing, writing, fiddle playing Hardy had been a BBC Young Folk Awards finalist a few years earlier) and received uncommon praise, Hardy being compared with a young June Tabor and Hampton drawing a rave review from no less than Eliza Carthy – so, these follow-ups have been eagerly awaited, and very nearly live up to expectations, the difficulty being that, when the debuts are as startling as theirs were, those expectations can be unrealistically high – just as the most impressive song on Hardy’s first, among her outstanding renditions of mainly traditional material, was one she had written herself in a traditional style, so The Herring Girl stands out here, though this time its companions are all self written – Hampton’s songwriting has always come from a weird and ethereal place, to match her arrangements and delivery, so it’s no surprise that the only traditional song here, accompanied by sampled birdsong, sounds like one of her own – it’s therefore perfectly in keeping that she also sings an Emily Dickinson poem and a spiritual learned from Blind Mamie Forehand that sounds nothing at all like its source

49. Dave Alvin- Eleven Eleven (Yep Roc) / Steve Earle – I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive (New West) / Joe Ely – Satisfied At Last (Rack ‘Em) / Tom Russell – Mesabi (Shout! Factory)

- sometimes you just have to trust what you know – I’ve been listening to these wonderful folk/blues/country/roots rock songwriters for so long that I sometimes find myself taking them for granted, particularly when it comes to compiling lists like this one, so let me correct that – Alvin, who reunites for one rowdy, roughneck song with Blaster brother Phil, makes his best for a decade or more; I had the good fortune to hear Russell play some of these songs live and his remarkable consistency never falters as he uses the background of his youthful discovery of Bob Dylan (Bob’s hometown of Hibbing is in Mesabi iron ore country) and the career choice this spearheaded to split his record between growing up near Hollywood and living in a Tex-Mex border town; Ely’s album, the high point of which is a superb version of Leo And Leona, one of Flatlander compadre Butch Hancock’s best story songs, re-establishes him as lord of the Texas highway; and, if Earle, whose decision to name his after Hank Williams’ last single was either brave or plain reckless, seems to be treading water, where that water is in The Gulf Of Mexico, one of the year’s best protest songs, or the post flood New Orleans, that’ll do nicely as well

50. King Creosote & Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine (Domino) / Richard Buckner – Our Blood (Merge)

- after agonizing for days over which of these was going to occupy the final place on the list and finding myself completely unable to make a decision as to which to drop, there was really no option but to include both – actually, they do have a few things in common: firstly, both are by independent songwriters who have made a lot of albums, although the darkly introverted American Buckner’s ten (but his first for five years) can’t compete with King Creosote, who owns a record label, Fence Records, is therefore a member of the Fence Collective of independent Scottish folk singers and of the Burns Unit and whose real life identity, Kenny Anderson, estimates that he might have released forty or more records in less than a decade and a half, although this collaboration with the much higher profiled electronic composer and producer Jon Hopkins is the first to have really been noticed; secondly, both feature a considerable amount of unobtrusive but highly effective electronic intervention, Creosote’s by virtue of his collaborator’s pedigree, Buckner’s homemade version a little more primitive by virtue of the fact that the first and second versions of the recordings for the album were lost due to mechanical breakdown and computer theft; thirdly and most crucially, they are both among the most gorgeously melodic and lyrically compelling of any I heard during the year

May 4, 2012

richard haslop’s albums of 2011 (compilations, reissues etc…)

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 5:28 pm

1. Mickey Newbury – An American Trilogy (Saint Cecilia/Drag City)

- the Nashville transplanted Texan Newbury, who once said (despite possessing a really fine, if typically understated voice) that he was a writer who sings, rather than a singer-songwriter, was certainly more heard about than heard, best known for writing hits for singers like Kenny Rogers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Tom Jones and dozens more, for stitching together the American Trilogy that turned into an Elvis Presley Vegas showstopper, for providing a way into the business for Kris Kristofferson and Townes Van Zandt and for having had his songs covered by Scott Walker, Nick Cave, Willie Nelson , Solomon Burke and hundreds of others – according to him he was successful enough by 1970 to have retired, but he continued to put out albums of his own anyway and, between 1969 and 1973, he released three, each soulfully restrained, impeccably crafted and beautifully written, “Looks Like Rain”, the truly exceptional “Frisco Mabel Joy” and “Heaven Help The Child”, that have been hard to find more or less ever since, but that have hardly been bettered by any American songwriter I can think of – this box set remasters all three of them from tapes previously thought to have been destroyed and adds a fourth disc of demos for what, for me, was easily, with the Beach Boys’ “Smile”, which falls into a category all of its own, the reissue event of the year

2. The Beach Boys – The Smile Sessions (Capitol)

- it used to be possible to claim that the best pop album ever conceived only really existed in its composer’s head, Smile legendarily being the post Pet Sounds record that Brian Wilson was never able to complete because, not to put too fine a point on it, it drove him mad – well here, at long last, following the use over the years of various excerpts on official Beach Boys albums, the reasonably wide availability of several bootleg versions of varying degrees of quality and “completeness” and Wilson’s own 2004 re-recording of it (an event, certainly, but one that had to be viewed against the realization that the singer was 37 years older and the musicians were entirely different from those for whom the music had been conceived), here it is, in all sorts of versions detailing various portions of the recording process all the way up to a massively expensive multi CD/vinyl and fancy artwork set for which you’ll have to take out a second bond – in fact the double disc box does the trick, containing all the songs, a lot of the groundwork, a bit of the studio discussion and a Smile button – and the music? – well, it’s both all anybody could seriously have hoped for (I have to confess to having owned an almost complete bootleg of it for years, though the sound here is, of course, radically improved) and yet, inevitably after four or more decades of hype, a trifle disappointing; however, if some of it suggests that Wilson may already have been mad when he recorded it, enough of it displays the mark of real pop genius to make it, even now, a crucial part of any decent record collection

3. Kate & Anna McGarrigle – Tell My Sister (Nonesuch) / Kate & Anna McGarrigle – Odditties (Querbeservice)

- the McGarrigle sisters’ eponymous 1975 debut album seemed just about perfect and, if anything, time has treated its mixture of French-Canadian/Appalachian/other American folk and nostalgic pop and parlour song inspired originals, where unfathomable sadness turns into and unrestrained joy and back at the pluck of a banjo, the bleat of an accordion or a blast on the tenor saxophone, so well that it seems absolutely timeless – because perfection is impossible to top, the follow-up, “Dancer With Bruised Knees”, which was nearly as good and not just a repeat, has always struggled in the light of the expectation generated by that debut – but the sound of perfection can be bettered, as demonstrated by “Tell My Sister”, a beautiful remastering of the two records that adds a third disc of 21 demos and previously unreleased songs and versions that clearly reveal the remarkable quality of the as yet unproduced raw material and contextualize the debut in a way that arguably even enhances it – “Odditties” is a decent if inessential collection of the kind of songs the two would sing together for fun, or for the occasional side project that might present itself

4. The Smiths – Complete (Rhino)

- all eight albums (four studio, one live, three compilations), each superbly remastered, packaged in a replica of its original vinyl cover and housed in a box; there’s nothing more to know, except that this is unquestionably now the only way to own the output of Britain’s most important band of the ’80s

5. Amédé Ardoin – Mama, I’ll Be Long Gone: The Complete Recordings 1929-1934 (Tompkins Square)

- according to some, the historically crucial but biographically mysterious Ardoin, whose relatives continue his name and his accordion legacy in Louisiana today, the younger Ardoins combining it with funk and hip-hop, may have lost his mind following a racist beating and died in 1941in the same institution that saw the end of unrecorded early jazz icon Buddy Bolden twenty years earlier, but, in just a few sessions, across five years, he recorded 34 timeless songs, full of lonesome blues and high, keening longing, and pulsating dance tunes, many with white fiddler Dennis McGee, that are little short of Cajun music’s Rosetta Stone – you can easily imagine this sound issuing forth from the porches, prairies, swamps and especially the dancehalls of south-west Louisiana as far back as even oral history can remember

6. Home Service – Live 1986 (Fledg’ling)

- quintessentially English, with a Northern brass band styled horn section replacing the usual fiddle in their electric folk lineup, the fiercely political Home Service, out of the Albion Country Band and led by the wonderful voice and songwriting of John Tams and the slightly rockist, almost prog-folk electric guitar of former Gryphon man Graeme Taylor, Home Service were made for ’80s Britain, where theirs, notionally at least, was the perfect anti-Thatcher soundtrack, anthemic but dignified, uncompromising without being rabble-rousing, an implacable voice of reason amidst the inflamed and inflammatory polemic – this recording, from the 1986 Cambridge Folk Festival, rescued from a cassette that remained forgotten and deteriorating in a cupboard for a quarter of a century, has led to the group’s triumphant reformation; its naturally flawed but perfectly acceptable sound quality only adds to the atmosphere and to the story

7. Various – This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African-American Gospel On 45rpm 1957-1982 (Tompkins Square)

- 72 songs, mainly from the ’60s and ’70s, recorded cheaply and released and distributed privately, locally or, at best, to a significantly limited audience, across three CDs and nearly four hours that present, not only raw, but also raucous, real, rare and devoid of any artifice whatsoever, gospel music before it wimped out in abject genuflection at the altar of the mainstream record industry – these largely unknown voices, unshakably passionate, fantastically soulful, fanatically convicted but also driven sometimes from the very peak of ecstasy to the very brink of despair, and waging constant war with the devil, might just change your life

richard haslop’s albums of the year 2011 (compilations, reisssues etc)

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 3:50 am

8. Various – Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound Of Burkina Faso 1974-79 (Analog Africa) / Sorry Bamba – Sorry Bamba Vol. 1: 1970 -1979 (Thrill Jockey) / Ebo Taylor – Life Stories: Highlife & Afrobeat Classics 1973-1980 (Strut)

- blessed, for sure, are the crate diggers, those hardy and arguably slightly mad souls who scour the bargain bins, flea markets, private back rooms and, occasionally, official archives of the world in search of great music of the past that was, for one reason or another (and these range from the very simple to the highly complex), totally overlooked, or else hopelessly localized, at the time – West Africa has been a particular focus for a while, but still the riches proliferate – for example, who, outside of the region, knew anything about the wonderful popular music of Burkina Faso, still called Upper Volta when the songs on the outstanding “Bambara Mystic Soul” were first released; or, having focused for so long on Bamako, Timbuktu and, more recently, the desert itself , that Mopti in Mali, the home of Sorry Bamba and his bands, boasted its own musical delights; or, at least until the advent of terrific recent Ghanaian compilations, that an entire double album by highlife into Afrobeat’s Ebo Taylor would be this good to listen to?

9. Various – To What Strange Place: The Music Of The Ottoman-American Diaspora 1916-1929 (Tompkins Square)

- if we find the music within this three CD set foreign and unusual, and most of us will, at least for a little while, imagine how strange immigrants to America from the then Ottoman Empire found their new homeland a hundred years ago, without having had the benefit of modern media to prepare them for the change – the first two discs here reflect the response of some of them, Greeks, Armenians, Syrians, exiles from Anatolia (in modern day Turkey), recorded almost exclusively in Manhattan, singing and playing in the style of the old country in the years between World War I, during which a number of ethnic purges took place in the region (Anatolia, not Manhattan), and the onset of the Great Depression, when the music didn’t stop, but the formal recording of it virtually did – the third disc features the music they would have brought with them on records – it’s exotic, naturally, though by no means as unfamiliar as it would have been just a few decades ago, but hugely evocative stuff that easily found a place in my heart – it features, though it only stands out because of the instant recognition factor, one of the earliest versions of Miserlou, the Turkish love song turned Dick Dale surf guitar classic that drove the soundtrack to Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”

10. The Louvin Brothers – Satan Is Real / Hand Picked Songs 1955-1962 (Light In The Attic)

- Charlie and Ira, the God fearing Louvin Brothers from rural Alabama, were among the great influences, on rock ‘n’ roll harmonizers like the Everly Brothers and country-rock icons like Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, but further afield too – “Satan Is Real” consists entirely of religious songs, some of them as dark as the eerily high voiced Ira’s legendarily unstable temperament and even as scary, while “Hand Picked Songs”, chosen for inclusion by the likes of Beck, Mark Lanegan, Will Oldham and the Black Angels, is mainly secular, many of the songs having entered the country-rock lexicon and being well-known in more contemporary versions, none of which are as memorable as those of the Louvins

11. Richard Thompson – Live At The BBC (Universal)

- a three CD plus DVD box set that does what the title says … features the great English folk-rocker, acoustic and electric, solo, with band and, for the first disc, in dazzling duet with Linda, in live performance for the Beeb between 1973 and 2009, confirming the frequent brilliance and astonishing consistency of arguably the musician with the worst blinding talent to mass recognition ratio in rock’s convoluted history – the DVD is the killer, by the way, with about half given over to the Richard & Linda Thompson era, a special boon for those of us who grew up without access to decent television

12. Hedy West – Ballads And Songs From The Appalachians (Fellside)

- the eminent musicologist A.L. Lloyd called Hedy West, who was from the same musical generation as Joan Baez and Judy Collins, far and away the best American female singer of the late ’50s/early ’60s folk revival – arriving in England from a rural, working class Georgia family, but via music and drama studies in New York, with a fantastic voice, a well-developed clawhammer banjo technique and a collection of songs from a tradition of which she was actually a part, she soon became an integral and important component, and indeed repertoire source, of the UK revival, making three albums for Topic between 1965 and 1967 – these, on two discs, are those albums, and they’re stunning

May 3, 2012

richard haslop’s albums of the year 2011 (compilations, reissues etc)

Filed under: music,richard haslop — ABRAXAS @ 2:47 pm

13. Creation Rebel – Starship Africa (On-U Sound) / African Head Charge – Off The Beaten Track (On-U Sound)

- On-U Sound, the English dub label owned by Adrian Sherwood, one of reggae and dub’s most imaginative and innovative producers anywhere and home, at least through the ’80s and part of the ’90s, to a steady stream of desirable and often challenging dub, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2011 and, if there hasn’t been an awful lot new from it for a few years (although the year did see a fine new album from flagship group African Head Charge as well as one from Little Axe, the dub-blues alter ego of former Tackhead/Sugarhill label early rap house band guitarist Skip McDonald that rejoices in the title of “If You Want Loyalty Buy A Dog”), a celebratory reissue programme saw the re-release, inter alia, of these, two of On-U Sound’s most iconic treasures – Sherwood’s productions, extravagant but frequently inspired and, reflecting his punk sensibilities, never confining themselves to conventional dub techniques, sometimes gave the impression that he had too many ideas for one song, or one album, or even one person, but that’s never the case here – the African Head Charge disc, a welter of chanting, percussion, unexpected effects, phenomenal atmospherics and a speech by Albert Einstein (see what I mean about too many ideas?) remains arrestingly ear catching after 25 years – the even older “Starship Africa”, the visionary debut by Creation Rebel, once the mighty Prince Far I’s backing band, is just as much an Adrian Sherwood album as one by the group itself and is little short of staggering

14. Omar Souleyman – Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts (Sublime Frequencies)

- a Syrian wedding singer in the traditional dabke style, live with his two backing musicians who play keyboards and electric saz, a louder version of the long-necked Middle Eastern string instrument dabbled with by hippie bands of the ’60s … sound promising? no? well, I’m here to tell you that it’s way more than that, that you may never have heard anything quite like it, and that you ignore it at considerable risk to a well-rounded listening life; it’s high volume, high intensity stuff, passionate, exhilarating, overwrought, psychedelic even, often to the point of distortion, both sonic and emotional, amazingly well sung and played, and you can dance to it – in fact, I defy you not to

15. Muzsikás – Fly Bird, Fly (Nascente)

- for those who don’t already have everything by this band, a state of affairs that I, for one, was unable to imagine almost as soon as I first heard them about twenty years ago, here’s a well-chosen double disc compilation (including two previously unreleased tracks) that reveals, with virtually each heartbreakingly evocative song or blazing instrumental in an impossible time signature, why these brilliant Hungarians are unquestionably one of the world’s outstanding folk groups of the past several decades and their singer, the majestic Márta Sebestyén, is considered one of the great European folk voices, one that is far more accurately assessed in this setting, where a certain amount of rough edge and even stridency is encouraged, than in her quite often overproduced solo work

16. Shin Joong Hyun – Beautiful Rivers And Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound Of South Korea 1958-1974 (Light In The Attic)

- Shin Joong Hyun seems, during the period covered by this compilation, to have been all musical things to all men in South Korea, even the president … guitarist, singer, songwriter, arranger, producer, bandleader, general Svengali about town and even prisoner, torture victim and mental hospital patient after he had failed, refused or neglected to write a song in praise of the current dictator – this collection, which offers an excellent insight into a pop world most of us probably didn’t even know existed, covers a vast range of pop and rock styles, including surf guitar twang, ’60s pop soul (and ’60s Seoul pop), acid folk and folk-rock, psychedelia, funk and several points between and beyond – there are one or two misses, which is the case with nearly all careers, of course, but quite a few stone cold hits (albethey sung in Korean and, as so often, just a tad out of fashionable synch with their Anglo-American counterparts) that are well worth hearing even if foreign music scenes are not usually your drug of choice

April 25, 2012

sms sugar man: Wallet # 5 – Bill Curry

Filed under: 2008 - sms sugar man — ABRAXAS @ 6:38 pm

Bill Curry was born in Cape Town. His first stage appearance was a “walk-on” role in The Tempest in 1946. He became a teacher and was active in local amateur theatre, appearing in musicals and light comedy. In 1956 he went to London to study at the Central School for Speech and Drama. He returned to South Africa in 1962 and danced in David Poole’s ballet, The Square, and played Archibald in Genet’s The Blacks. In 1965 he won his first Three Leaf Award for the best supporting player in JB. He then studied at the University of Cape Town and received a BA (English Literature). He later joined the Space Theatre and received good notices in the title role of Horowitz’s “The Indian wants the Bronx”. Curry was kept busy performing, directing and running the printing press at the Space Theatre. He has been highly acclaimed for his many performances in theatre productions that include The Maids, The Caretaker, Of Mice and Men, Endgame, Exit the King, The Gin Game, A Lesson from Aloes and many other. He has also acted in films and television.
He is unique to this cast line-up as being the only member of the cast to have previously worked with director Aryan Kaganof – in the film ‘Nice to meet you, please don’t rape me!’(South Africa, 1995).

April 24, 2012

miles keylock on pop shield

Filed under: music — ABRAXAS @ 11:46 pm

Pop Shield: Fucking Up and the (He)Art of Improvisation

“It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something” said saxophonist Ornette Coleman when asked to explain the genesis of his fabled Harmolodic theory of improvisation. It’s a deceptively simple enough premise: fucking up as a way for a composer frustrated by jazz’s 12 bar blues soloist pigeonholes and classical music’s canonised compositional cul-de-sac to tap into the controlled chaos beating at the (he)art of all improvisation.

It’s also precisely what made the recent “Pop Shield evening of Improvised Experimental Music and Film by Some Umlungus” held at the Independent Armchair in Observatory, Cape Town such fun. Fun? Not exactly a sentiment you’d normally associate with so-called experimental music. But then the improvised collaborations between electronica poster boy Felix Laband, legendary Kalahari Surfer dub surgeon Warrick Sony, the Buckfever Underground’s abstract guitar adventurer Righard Kapp and prolific cultural provocateur Aryan Kaganof wasn’t your average muso jam session masquerading as some kind of high art happening.

Not that the audience initially noticed. “Oh, he’s obviously been listening to Tom Waits” lampooned a mate of mine two minutes into Kaganof’s set of spoken word poetry accompanied by Kapp’s atmospherically sketched soundtrack of ‘peripheral’ electric and acoustic guitar sounds sourced via no-input mixing desk. I cringed. Show some fucking respect dude. This guy is up on stage doing his thing and you’re here whinging because he’s borrowed some of Tom Wait’s barfly Beat poetry spiel? Shit, if you were actually listening to his micro-melodramas of booze, broads and being bummed out you’d hear he’s channelling Charles Bukowksi’s gleeful misanthropy too.

Such a knee-jerk attitude exemplifies one of the major problems facing any musicians in South Africa who refuse to serve up an easily digestible ‘pop’ entertainment package of ‘phat’ electro beat sedatives or colour by number ‘experimental’ sales pitches for punters to tune in and drop out to. Audience expectation: a refusal to step out of our pre-programmed comfort zones, and an unwillingness to leave our listening prejudices at the door and actively engage with the experimental improvisations emanating from the stage.

So what if you’re lost? Listening to Sony and Laband’s collaboration I certainly was. The sheer obtuseness of the sonic noodle soup that the pair was sculpting on stage initially had me perplexed. “Check out Laband – he’s lost in space” I quipped to a fellow journalist, quickly completing the script: “Sony’s worried. He’s struggling to glue it together”. Thinking somehow I had ‘it’. But knowing that projecting my own insecurities about not knowing whether I knew what the hell was happening just wasn’t going to cut it.

“There’s a name for this genre, you know: laptop folk” I chuckled to a fellow journalist. Neatly nailed with a cheesy grin…and utter bollocks. But what was I supposed to do to make sense of a shambolically structured sonic tableau where cryptic dub, fractured glitches and a lucky packet of sampled plunderphonica threatened to converse together, before imploding into a clash of cognitively discordant monologues?

Listen. Right, of course. So I didn’t get that electro-acoustic strum ‘n sampled strings thing much, got to be honest. Had me wondering what James Webb jamming with Jack Johnson might sound like for a second there. But fuck it. No naming of parts was going to save me from understanding why the hell guitarist Righard Kapp’s plucked and pedal fiddled fx and Laband and Sony’s hard-wired hesitation suddenly had me feeling uneasy. Had me remembering the horror of every conversation I’ve ever had with an acquaintance I’ve ever wanted to be more than friends with…..

Was the interrupted dialogue, the lost conversations and frustrated narrative lines of flight intentional? Maybe so. But maybe these improvisers were just not afraid to fuck up.

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