Jesse Jarnow

Archive for January, 2006

nam june paik, 1932-2006

(“Magnet TV”)

I can’t claim to be an expert on the work of the Korean artist Nam June Paik, who died on Sunday. I only really saw one show by him, a career retrospective called “The Worlds of Nam June Paik” at the Guggenheim in March of 2000, when I was home for spring break. It blew my mind quite thoroughly, though. A laser-shot waterfall cascaded through the Guggenheim’s central space (the floor of which was covered with a garden of glowing televisions), while ambient sound and light created a continuous environment. (See!) While I could take or leave his Fluxist absurdities like “One For Violin Solo” (though I’m sure it was fun to stage), his technology-oriented sculptures floored me with their combination of beauty and koan-like logic (and humor).

One piece I saw was called “Moon is the Oldest TV,” and was created by a series of televisions holding images of the different phases of the moon. Elsewhere, in “Candle-TV,” Paik had hollowed out television casings and inserted gently burning candles (or maybe there were just pictures of a time he’d done it previously…) The gallery on his site has some nice pictures. Beautiful, inspiring stuff.

“happy today” – the wowz

Happy Today” – The Wowz
from Long Grain Rights (2004)
released by Recommended If You Like Records (buy)

(file expires on February 6th.)

Here’s a slab of bipolar Beatlesy joy from The Wowz, a New York band I really oughta see more often. “Happy Today” — and a lot of their debut, Long Grain Rights — just hits that spot sometimes: an uplifting and homemade accounting of happiness and its fracture lines, mope and the inevitable glimmers of its end. I suppose this is just a different reckoning of the same mathematics behind “All Things Must Pass.”

the great firewall of china

So, Google has gone into China, and seem to be complying with the government’s censorship orders. A lot of people are calling Google out on this, saying it directly goes against their “don’t be evil” motto. But it really depends on one’s definition of evil, not to mention the value one places on Google’s import. Either way, Google has crossed a line into some murky currents.

At the Consumer Electronics Show, Google co-founder Larry Page showed a world map that highlighted where search queries were coming from. “If you look at a picture of earth from space at night,” he said, “you’ll see that anywhere there’s electric light, there’s internet, and anywhere there’s internet, people are using Google.” That’s pretty staggering. Simply, Chinese citizens will have better access to this grid. There’s no way to argue that this is bad, nor is the mass self-consciousness created by what John Battelle calls Google’s database of intentions. (This is more or less what co-founder Sergey Brin argued this week.)

If Google is pure, then the fact that they are now operating in China is not what matters. What matters is the way they function within the boundaries laid out for them. Will there be a Chinese equivalent of the famed Google Zeitgeist? If so, and teched-out dissidents ram “Tibet” — one of the censored terms — up the charts with a bullet, what happens? Does it get blocked out from the list like the Sex Pistols were? What happens if the Chinese government requests search information, like the Department of Justice is currently? (If the DoJ gets away with it, wouldn’t that set a bad standard for China? Not that the United States government has ever taken a hypocritical stance before…)

Google is a business, but — in many ways — they operate like a mysterious institution, like the State or the Church or money or anything else that people collectively agree to believe in because it is necessary. If one accepts that the internet exists, Google naturally follows (and, if it doesn’t, you’re deluding yourself). They were going to go into China eventually. This is the beginning of the next phase, and substantially more important in a (literally) real world way than Google Video and the fact that people can download day-old NBA games and old Star Trek episodes.

Here we go.

useful things, no. 2

The second in an ongoing collection of functional webpages (excluding any/all Google programs).

Two search tools:
o OneLook Reverse Dictionary — If getting stuck on a word is like having something stuck between your teeth, the reverse dictionary is pretty decent floss. (Thanks, Mayur.)
o Retrievr — A prototype, but a pretty cool concept: draw the image you’re looking for and see what comes back. I tried drawing distinct frop-pipe smoking Dobbsheads, but it didn’t pull anything back. Hopefully, it’ll improve. (Thanks, SearchBlog.)
One utility of dubious legality:

o BugMeNot Firefox plug-in — Last time, I mentioned BugMeNot, a handy site to bypass website registrations. If you use Firefox, this plug-in will apparently automate it for you. (I do use Firefox, but haven’t had a chance to try this yet.) (via BoingBoing, of course.)

And a pair of NYC-centric pages:
o Interactive Transit Map — Okay, so it’s enabled by Google (but what isn’t these days?). This is an ace way to map your way to unfamiliar corners of the boroughs. (Courtesy o’ Kottke)
o NYC Transit Email Notification — Have the MTA’s central robot email you every week to let you know what the deal is with your trains. Especially useful for us shuttle-bus plagued Bourgwickians. (Found this my damn self!)

taste the crust again for the first time!

In high school, we hung out at Dunkin Donuts and played Uno and guzzled what we called “Crust” — the hideously mind-boggling flavor from Snapple known as Snapple Pie. It tasted like cinnamon-spiced apple cider going down but then, immediately, one’s mouth was filled with the aftertaste of pie crust. Donuts stopped carrying it, so we patronized the horribly nicknamed Iraq Shack on the corner until they, too, ran out of their supply. (There was a brief “re-release” in 2003, and I only found a bottle in the back of a Chinatown grocery in San Francisco in spring 2004.)

It’s truly amazing technology, and only wished Snapple responded to my repeated entreaties to let me interview Smita Patel, the creator of such wonders. Even though she is oft quoted as saying completely absurd things in hilariously fake publicist-talk, I have no doubt she is the one who knows the secret of The Crust.

And, anyway, what’s important right now is that The Crust is back! Sort of, anyway.

In a non-descript pizzeria on Third Avenue tonight, I discovered the existence of Snapple Pie, mark II: Berry Mix and Mingle (“Cranberry Juice Drink from Concentrate with Other Natural Flavors”). Though the ingredients list mentions neither raspberry nor cinnamon, both are depicted on the package and, I suppose, in the drink. (This stuff has apparently been out since at least last fall, but whaddya want front from me? Besides, even BevNet, the leading site for all things sugary and liquidy seems to have missed it.)

Alas, this Berry Mix hardly delivers on the miraculous connotations (who can turn water to pie?) of the original Crust. Oh, the magical aftertaste is still there, alrighty, but it’s also present in the initial cran-ras gulp, which sorta defeats the punchline. Likewise, the aftertaste seems itself to have acquired an aftertaste. Reactions in the blogosphere (all two of them) have been mixed. Staticpain says it “definatly sucks so much dick,” while Ugly Floral Blouse writes that “the berry flavor is pretty dang good.”

Still, as Thomas Jefferson once said, “inferior Crust is always superior to no Crust.” I believe he was speaking metaphorically, but I’m not sure.

approaching manhattan on the long island railroad, 1/06

“morning sickness” – ralph white

“Morning Sickness” – Ralph White
from Trash Fish (2002)
released by Terminus Records (buy)

(file expires on January 30th)

I’m a straight-up sucker for any kind of melodic percussion, from vibraphone (mmmm, Ruth Underwood-era Zappa) to mbira, the African thumb piano. Ralph White, the co-founder of the late Texan hillbilly weirdoes Bad Livers, had the brilliant idea to combine the latter with mountain music. Throughout Trash Fish, it creates a warm bed that fills the rhythmic holes left by the rolling banjo and the swelling fiddle. It’s so unusual and gorgeous that it pushes the genre from its usual Appalachian evocations towards a place even more pastoral and dreamy. A great morning album for those who can deal with a little twang before noon. My, that sounds dirty. Happy Monday.

the new york word exchange

Recently, I remembered a Saturday Night Live ad parody from the ’80s for the New York Word Exchange. It starred the late (and sorely missed) Phil Hartman as spokesperson Don Bingham. He offered financial advice for those interested in the burgeoning word market. It was fantastical, and kinda reminded me of one of my favorite books when I was a kid, Crawford Killian’s Wonders, Inc, which is I think why it’s stuck with me.

Strange thing is, it fairly predicted the value of domain names when the cyberboom hit.

I wish I could quote the sketch itself, but I don’t have a copy and — besides an entry on an SNL fan site, which reveals that the bit aired on November 22, 1986 — there doesn’t seem to be any public, digital evidence of its existence: no clip, no transcript, no nothin’. That surprised me. Part of the reason I didn’t post about this sooner is because I figured the geeks woulda been all up on it a long time ago. At any rate, I’m happy to release the meme back into the blogospherical wild.

kiss the frog

My good chum Spacefuzz plays in the blissfully weird Los Angeles band Kiss the Frog. They just finished their first album, called The Trojan Horse, which — they promise — is “a crystalline dub jazz concept album of cohesive disconnection” (among other things). So dig it, my hippie love children, ’cause it jamz a lot. I’m also proud to say I co-wrote lyrics to a few of the tunes, including the title track, which you can (and should) download here.

three convergences en route to park slope to meet matt for dinner

1. Waiting for the L-train, listening to “Madame George” by Van Morrison. “Get on the train,” Morrison croons, exactly as the subway’s headlight appears down the tunnel. “This is the train.” Sure is.

2. Pulling into Union Square, the delay pedal faux-ambience of “Birth Ritual,” Soundgarden’s contribution to Cameron Crowe’s Singles soundtrack, starts swirling. The doors open, and a bagpipe player on the platform contributes to the cacophony, building dissonantly until the exact moment the doors close and the band headbangs their way into the song.

3. On the F-train, somewhere near the Gowanus Canal, Brian Eno’s “Baby’s on Fire” comes on. “And after I felt this was going on too long,” says an interview subject in an essay about cell phone usage I’m reading, “I suddenly changed the topic.” “Rescuers row row,” Eno sings cheekily, “do your best to change the subject.”

Given enough inputs — the stimulus of urban life, a book to read, an iPod to listen to — coincidences are bound to occur. “Any sufficiently advanced technology,” Arthur C. Clarke declared, “is indistinguishable from magic,” and the shuffle mode’s particular magic seems to be its catalytic abilities: its way of seemingly organizing chaos into something neatly packaged. In a way, it is both artificial and disarming, but it is also a sleight-of-hand that rarely fails to dazzle.

I cannot recall the last time I saw a bagpipe player in the subway.

respeck check

Three of my favorite bloggers went traveling lately.

David Byrne journied to the Philippines to research Here Lies Love, his forthcoming musical about Imelda Marcos. His travelogue is precise and analytical. (Likewise, he recently added permalinks to his blog. Wahoo!)

Mike Doughty went to Africa (start there and proceed), and is dispatching oodles of beautiful photographs in categories such as “kids,” “dudes!” “cars,” and “signs!” as well as some more descriptive postings.

John Perry Barlow, meanwhile, headed deep into his belly button, and came back with a fairly staggering bit of self-reckoning in this foul year of our Lord, 2006. Whether or not you’re interested in Barlow, he’s definitely in it for the long haul — whatever “it” is — and is one of the more elegantly articulate travelers I’ve come across.

las vegas light, part 2, 1/06

las vegas light, 1/06

“all things must pass” – george harrison

“All Things Must Pass” – George Harrison
from All Things Must Pass (1970)
released by Apple Records (buy)

(file expires on January 18th)

I’ve long loved the White Album-era demo for this tune, included on Anthology (and even put it on my Hanukah mix), but — for some reason — had never really given much credence to the official version. Randomly, the same week, Ira from Yo La Tengo chose to put the album rendition on his Hanukah mix (right after the Tall Dwarfs’ “Meet the Beatle,” a hilarious account of an encounter with George Harrison himself, who denied that he was George Harrison). And, man, has it ever sunk in.

Beyond George’s beautiful and uplifting melody — and the fact that it’s a song exactly as slow as it should be — I love the Phil Spectorness of it all: the impossibly bright horns, the sunbeaming steel guitar, the angelic strings. For some reason, the music has just hit me absolutely over the past week. I’m not even particularly down right now. I’m doing quite well (dank you vedy much), so it’s not a particular comfort thing. It’s just pure pleasure. In Vegas and since, at the end of the day, I’ve wanted to do nothing more but listen to this song two or three times consecutively (as I’m doing right now). Happiness abounds.

letter to larry page, part 2.

Here is Larry Page’s keynote from the Consumer Electronics Show in mp3 form — part one and part two — courtesy of the San Francisco Chronicle’s podcasts. Page starts dropping science about interface standardization at around the 8:20 mark of part one. It’s a geniune and brilliant performance. (Robin Williams shows up around 27:50.)

HST: “…the essential old-mystic fallacy of the Acid Culture: the desperate assumption that somebody — or at least some force — is tending that Light at the end of the tunnel.”

Marshall McLuhan: “Light is pure information,”

What does it mean, then, when Google says they want to “organize the world’s information”?

After spending two eight-hour days at CES looking at every kind of gadget imaginable, most of which seemed totally useless, and seeing Yahoo roll out their Go! project to make the world fasterfasterfaster, I’m fully convinced that Google is truly and actually committed to moving the world forward (give or take the DRM-burdened Google Video).

Are they tending the light? You think I believe in that hippie bullshit? Well, why shouldn’t I? You got something better to believe in these days?

letter to larry page.

Back in Eastern Standard Time after a completely mindbending few days at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There is, of course, much to report — and, when I get back to a high-speed connection — lots of shtuff to upload: cell phone pix (holy “Bob,” did my lo-fi camera love the Vegas lights!), maybe some field recordings (mmm, twinkling casino drones), and random notes.

The highlight of my weekend was easily Google co-founder Larry Page’s keynote address on Friday afternoon, which was positively inspiring. In addressing the consumer electronics industry and encouraging them to standardize their interfaces, Page spun a utopian sci-fi vision of the future. Then he rolled out a bunch of new Google products, and showed off a prototype of Nicholas Negroponte’s $100 laptop. And then Robin Williams came out and freestyled.

Except for Google Video, which seems like it’s gonna need some philosophical ironing-out before it jibes with the rest of the G-mission, pretty much everything was spot-on and made nearly every other product showcased at CES seem, well, pointless. I walked out of the keynote with the same dizzy sensation I have after amazing live gigs. Supposedly, the official CES website will have a transcript at some point. I’ll most definitely link to it.

Vegas was all kinds of fun and dazzling and bizarre. In the morning, I could look out the window and see flamingos and penguins cavorting in the garden below (though, sadly, not together), not to mention the beautiful view of the mountains and desert.

fragments of a hologram rose

William Gibson is one of my favorite writers.

Parker lies in the darkness, recalling the thousand fragments of the hologram rose. A hologram has this quality: Recovered and illuminated, each fragment will reveal the whole image of the rose. Falling toward delta, he sees himself the rose, each of his scattered fragments revealing a whole he’ll never know — stolen credit cards — a burned-out suburb — planetary conjunctions of a stranger — a tank burning on a highway — a flat packet of drugs — a switchblade honed on concrete, thin as pain.

— from “Fragments of a Hologram Rose” (1977), collected in Burning Chrome (1986)

I love how, in the course of a paragraph, Gibson simultaneously invents a completely fictional technology and then employs it poetically to convey real, subtly creeping emotion. Blew me away when I first read it in high school, and blows me away now.

I’m deeply bummed I’m gonna miss his interview at CUNY this weekend, but I’m off to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, where I’ll be on the hunt for real holographic roses.

it’s the sound of a brand new world.

I can’t seem to find it on the web to link to it, but my friend Josh points me towards a bit of Radiohead news via tipster newssheet TripWire:

On a more surprising note, O’Brien revealed that uber-producer and longtime Radiohead collaborator Nigel Godrich will not be involved with the new record. Rather, they have decided to go with Mark “Spike” Stent, who has worked in the past with U2, Madonna and Bjork. Oh yeah, and the Spice Girls.

O’Brien added: “It’s not an end of an era, (but) part of what your realise as a band is that all those records you made with Nigel, apart from Hail To The Thief we were a little bit in the comfort zone. That’s why you make records like Kid A after OK Computer, that’s why you make OK Computer after The Bends, you’ve got to do stuff that you’re scared of doing. With Nigel, we’ve been working together for 10 years, and we all love one another too much.”

At any rate, I’m sure Pitchfork’ll be all up in that shit soon, especially ’cause it also mentions that they’ll be playing some shows and offering some new tunes for download come spring.

The Godrich news is certainly surprising, and could be really cool.

(Huh, the band’s recording blog seems to no longer exist.)

“young ones” – icy demons

“Young Ones” – Icy Demons
from Icy Demons (2004)
released by Cloud Recordings (buy)

(File expires January 10th.)

After thrilling out repeatedly to their self-titled 2004 debut, I finally caught Icy Demons last month at the Bowery Ballroom, opening for Prefuse 73. Their music was as weird and otherworldly as it is on Icy Demons, at once atmospheric and way outside, while still being performed by a fluid, churning band. It is the type of music, filled with Martian grace, that I can’t really fathom being performed by humans, yet there they were. A rare contemporary album worth spending 44 consecutive minutes with.

i’m so tired (ylt, night 8)

My mind is on the blink. One more night in Hoboken kept 2005 in suspended animation, so the New Year doesn’t really begin ’til I wake up tomorrow. So it goes. One more night, a few more bust-outs (finally got “Tiny Birds”), one more version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Je T’Aime.” Happy Hanukah. Thanks, YLT.

Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
1 January 2006
*(Hanukah, night 8)*
Lois and FruitBoots opened.

Mix disc by Cornelius.

Holiday (Madonna)
Eight Day Weekend (Gary Lewis)
Cherry Chapstick
Season of the Shark
The Summer
Autumn Sweater
Tiny Birds
Nowhere Near
Sudden Organ
Styles of the Times
Tom Courtenay
Blue Line Swinger
Eight Days A Week (The Beatles)

Matter of Trust (Billy Joel, with, ahem, Matter of Trust, featuring Jons Benjamin & Glaser, Todd Barry, etc.)
Rocks Off (The Rolling Stones)
Don’t Make My Baby Blue (Cynthia Weill/Barry Mann, with Lois on vocals and Bruce Bennett on guitar)
Je T’Aime (Serge Gainsbourg, with Lois and Gaylord Fields)
Dream A Little Dream of Me (W. Schwant/F. Andre/ G. Kahn, with Lois on vocals)

you can have it all (ylt, night 7)

Never thought I’d be so glad to spend New Year’s in Jersey. Probably some holes below, but so it goes. Lotta strands in ol’ Duder’s head. Fun stuff — falsetto overdrive after midnight (“1999”); costumes; thin, wild mercury music (“I Wanna Be Your Lover”); Georgia balladry (“Gee, the Moon is Shining Bright”); New Year’s resolutions (“Sugarcube”), and the infinitely charming Wreckless Eric eating an apple while crooning Serge Gainsbourg (“Je T’Aime,” untranslatable to tape). Happy New Year’s.

Yo La Tengo at Maxwell’s
31 December 2005
*(Hanukah, night 7)*
The Scene is Now and Fred Armisen opened.

Mix discs by James and RJD2.

(much of set with various members of The Scene is Now and/or Fred Armisen on drums.)

1999 (Prince, Fred Armisen as Prince.)
When U Were Mine (Prince, with Armisen)
Stockholm Syndrome
Upside Down
Tears Are In Your Eyes
I Wanna Be Your Lover (Bob Dylan)
As the Hour Grows Late
Center of Gravity
Xmas Trip (Run-On)
Gee, The Moon is Shining Bright (The Dixie Cups)
Little Eyes
The Story of Jazz
Big Day Coming (fast version)
Deeper Into Movies
Mushroom Cloud of Hiss
instrumental (Georgia on guitar)
Our Way to Fall

False Alarm tease >
Let’s Compromise (Information, with everybody)
Red Rubber Ball (Paul Simon, with Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby)
Je T’Aime (Serge Gainsbourg, with Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby)
Yellow Sarong