It feels like this post needs a little preamble. I started writing this post in the very early days of 2019, but for a number of reasons and a series of interruptions it took me quite a while to finish. This is going quite a bit against my intentions concerning this blog and these Recent Exploits posts, and the challenge will be to learn ways to be more productive and write more effortless. I hope this will be an exciting undertaking and result in content people will enjoy to read. Events that have transpired in the meanwhile will feature in the next post which, hopefully, will be coming about a bit more swiftly.
We’re well into the new year, without me having indulged into any New Years post… The following deals with last year, actually, but I am not about to embark on a a full recount of the bygone year – you can get a decent overview of my 2018 hijinks by reading through previous posts, unsystematic as that may be – but merely at the most recent items of noteworthyness… and only those, that took place since the last post in early November. Believe me, it wasn’t supposed to take that long….
…well. At least we’ve made it past the Winter Solstice by now, and so, whereas in the previous post I’ve bemoaned the still prevalent growth of darkness, we’re now back to to the times of days getting longer, of slowly edging towards Spring and Summer. This also means, of course, that we’ve made it through the December festivities. Hope they were festive for you! While, traditionally I’ve gone to Austria over Christmas and/or New Year for the last couple of years, this year I stayed home and spent some quality time with myself and my cat Tiger aka Schnitzl. After traveling quite a bit in 2018, having a few days off staying put made for a nice change.
Let’s go back to that bit about traveling, though. Readers of past posts will already know a bit, so I am not going to expand much on things I already covered: start of the new year in Austria, as well as another short trip there at the beginning of May. A long weekend in Paris in June, Lisbon in July, Inverness and Glasgow in September followed by, which brings us to the most recent past I’ve yet to report on, another long weekend in Paris in November. This was my third trip in just over a year and, at least as far as these short stints go, I’m growing quite fond of the Seine metropolis. I wasn’t too lucky with the weather this time, confining my sightseeing to museums for most of my stay, but then that’s not really a bad thing. Especially since Paris has a lot of quite marvellous ones. (As a matter of fact, I still have only managed to just about scrape the surface, making another trip in 2019 look quite enticing… but we shall see, what with other big plans ahead. And who knows if there will still be Eurostar trains running after end of March.)
First exhibition I went to see was Meiji: Splendours of Japan at Musée national des arts asiatiques – Guimet. One of a number of exhibitions running through 2018-2019 to commemorate 150 years of diplomatic relations between France and Japan. Interesting from a historical as well as cultural and artistic perspective, the exhibition provided a great counterpoint to that Saturday evening’s main event (and to some degree occasion for this trip), a concert by Japanese punk trio Mutant Monster. (More about that later!)
I have to admit my knowledge of Japanese history is fragmentary. Only a few fragments, precisely. I sort of know that after an earlier imperial phase came the era of the Shoguns, to be followed by the restitution of the emperor during the 19th century. I think this time of restitution rang in the Meiji era. But while I wrote the previous sentence based on what I know, off the top of my head, the next one – in square brackets- will present the findings of a quick excursion onto the interwebs… [Turns out I wasn’t too far off. Disregarding the pre-history and early history, today’s Japan started to take shape when the various Kingdoms were unified during the Kofun period. This was followed by the Asuka period (538-710), which saw the arrival of Buddhism and the Nara period (710-794), named after the then new capital, today’s Nara. The move of the capital to today’s Kyoto, back then named Heian Kyo, which remained the capital until 1868, gave the next period its name: the Heian period (794-1185). It gets complex here, because there are, of course, subdivisions and all that. We are, after all, in the Middle Ages and history grows ever more detailed. It may suffice, for our purposes here, that the Heian period was followed by the age of the Shogunate which in turn was followed, by the Meji period. This time (1868-1912) constitutes the beginning of modern Japan and the eventual opening up to the West. – there’s probably better sources for a full history of Japan, but I just went with the wikipedia article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Japan]
It was quite interesting to see how Japan developed and opened itself to the west during the Meiji era, and what influence that had on the arts. And at the same time, how Japanese art and aesthetics began to influence western artists. Art can often be found to be a valuable currency in exchange between cultures, opening doors, creating shared channels of communication, overcoming borders that are otherwise entrenched in rational misunderstandings.
I also managed to get a quick peek at the rest of the Musee Guimet’s permanent exhibition, but it proved to vast to take it all in in one afternoon. Not the least because I like to rather pace myself and let the impressions linger and fement a bit, instead of going on a tour de force which just fatigues the mind.
The rain having finished when I left the Musee, I took a stroll to the nearby Palais de Tokyo. I hadn’t made my mind up as to whether I was actually going in, but the long queue outside quickly made me come to a decision. So I took in the view of the Tour d’Eiffel which can be seen quite nicely from the open terrace, before heading back to the 11th Arrondissement for a short exploratory perambulation of the vicinity of my Hotel.
This is actually a rather nice area. Nicer than where I stayed the last two times, both near the Gare du Nord. It’s got an urbane vibe, loads of bars and restaurants, small boulangeries and cafes. The vibe I got was a bit like Vienna’s 7th district where I used to live for many years, but significantly more French. I had chosen this area because it was close to the venue for the gig (more about which, I reiterate, later), but that aside it generally proved to be a good location to stay in. The hotel surprised me a bit by not having WiFi on the room – I checked and it turned out I hadn’t read the information on the booking site properly. Probably because, and I’m not feeling bad for making an assumption there, one suspects these kinda things in this day and age… Mais oui, what can’t be helped is hardly worth making a fuzz about, and thanks to free data roaming – in itself already a solid argument against Brexit – I wasn’t completely cut off from the world. It’s not even just about posting/boasting on social media, but that I rely on the internet a lot in my way of traveling, not making a lot of plans ahead of time, but usually looking for things to do the night before or in the morning. And anyways, it was time to go out for some live music.
The morning of the second day came and, the weather still being rather rainy, I decided to go and revisit a place I’d been to about 20 years ago. La cité des sciences et de l’industrie at La Villette. I have a certain fondness for museums of the kind, be it the Technisches Museum in Vienna or the Science Museum in London and I very much enjoyed my visit, last year, to the Musee des Arts et Metiers. This visit was rather disappointing: I can see how 20 years ago I would have (as I did) enjoyed the La cité des sciences et de l’industrie as back then it must all have been relatively new and au courant. It seems however that not a lot has happened there since and large parts of the exhibition seemed a bit run down and outdated. As such it was more a showcase of the state of the curatorial arts 20-25 (30?) years ago. Which wasn’t quite as charming, when seen from today’s perspective, as looking further back, as the Musee des Arts et Metiers allows you to do.
I’d like to believe that we learn a bit (maybe even a lot) about ourselves when revisiting places. Or re-reading books, rewatching movies. Especially when a number of years have passed. And if we are willing to put in the time to reflect, to question our points of view, our motives, our interests now as well as those we can remember. Back then 1998, I had only relatively recently began to produce electronic music and, prompted by that, to delve (or maybe rather sticking my toes) into the matter of acoustics. Hence I was, as I quite vividly remember, pretty fascinated by the museums exhibition on sound and hearing. This time round it all seemed a bit pedestrian. Likewise The section on space travel can’t hold up with the one at the Science Museum in London, only a new, temporary exhibition on Fire managed to spark a little joy. (Yes, I went there…)
The highlight of this trip to La Villette, however, I almost didn’t bother to do at first: A visit on a military submarine,the Argonaute which stands in the park, high and dry. Entry was included in my ticket and thus, it already being too late in the afternoon for it to make much sense trying to visit anywhere else, thinking “might as well”, I stepped into the narrow corridor leading from forward to stern. It must be a horror for a claustrophobe, but even for someone with no irrational fear of confined spaces it can’t be much fun to be cramped into those corridors, pipes and electric cables running everywhere, function largely outweighing form, while being submerged beneath the sea. Add to that, I imagine, the noise and heat of the engines (not talking of 90s German hitparade techno there)… and let’s not even think of what smells may waft through this man made underworld. Despite not being extraordinarily tall, I nearly bumped my head a couple of times and once, trying to turn around, gut in front, rucksack in back, almost got stuck. I made it out all right, but deep sea exploration is, for reasons of convenience, probably no longer on my bucket list.
The rain having finally abated, I spent the rest of the day exploring Paris… at first locally around La Villette, urban landscape without any special highlights really, before taking the Metro back to more central realms, finding myself a little later in the first arrondissement. With dusk approaching fast and much of Paris in Sunday afternoon mode, a stroll through the streets past mostly closed stores, restaurants starting to fill up and increasingly shadow-obscured facades, the sound of organ and choir leaking out of a church here, a tour guide shouting commands in Chinese, seemingly trying to instill more haste into his bus-boarding flock: a Paris quite, though not unexpected, different to the one I encountered on my trips so far appeared. Much of it in my head.
I like to occasionally mentally superimpose remembered and misremembered local scenes and impressions from literature, movies, history and what else have you onto my environments during these kinds of perambulations – pretty much your psychogeography 101!. Things I see, details I notice in my surroundings, sometimes get tied up in a character’s second life off the pages and screens, adding a new layer to the multifaceted fabric of the life of cities… And so I walked from Pyramides through the old roads, via Palais Royal – which in its yard featured an exhibition of Saint Laurent housed in a mirror-floored container – and into increasing darkness, on to Les Halles/Chatelet from where I again took the Metro to Oberkampf (one of my favorite named Paris Metro Station!) where my hotel was.
After a short refresher I went out to find a place to eat, ending up- after all I was in Paris – at a Japanese restaurant. Ironically this was the only part of the trip where I completely had to rely on my rather rudimentary French language skills, as the staff didn’t speak English and I certainly wasn’t ready to try talking Japanese. The food was delicious tho!
Last day, Monday, I got up early and set out south across the Seine, my goal the Grande Galerie d’evolution, a natural history museum that in a quite impressive, although slightly whimsical exhibition, showcases the evolution of life across four floors. The building itself is quite “grande”, as is the surrounding Jardin des Plantes. The highlight of the exhibition is probably the arch of taxidermied Savannah life at its centre, which however comes across much more imposing in the various publicity photos, than when I saw it, through the gaps between packs of primary school kids.
Back into urban life I stepped and, finally something remotely akin to nice weather, decided to walk the 15-20 minutes to Shakespeare and Company, Paris’ most famous English language bookshop. They do have a great selection of Beat writers thanks to the shop’s historic connection with that literary movement, and I would have loved to take home half of that, if not more. I kept it to one book – William Burroughs Yage Letters (redux) – stamped with the shop’s official seal, a great souvenir from a great trip.
After grabbing a gyros at one of the innumerable Greek places (when in France…) in the Quartier Latin, I set out for the final special treat of the trip, a visit to famous Pere Lachaise cemetery.
Now, I had gone through my own goth phase during my youth and would still consdier myself, while certainly not goth, so at least something of a goth-ally, and sure enough my visit to this distinguished necropolis could give an early 80s The Cure video a run for its money. The low lying November afternoon sun shone through autumn foliage, rays glimmering in the puddles between the monuments, the wind carried over the muffled sounds of a funeral procession some distance off, while, much closer, the cawing of crows evoked an eerie athmosphere of dark romanticism. (Aren’t adjectives fun?!)
There was one crow that followed me for a while, jumping from tombstone to tombstone, fluttering from monument to sarcophagus, all the while keeping on eye fixed on me whenever I looked. It was only when, ignoring the difference between crows and ravens, I loudly uttered a nonchalant (and possibly badly translated) “jamais plus!” in the bird’s general direction, that it seemingly got fed up with me and flew off. Shortly after I came across a small group filming, as they explained in very rudimentary English, a documentary about a local legend, an artist and bohemian whose name I did neither recognise nor remember, an aging drag queen quite dramatically telling stories at and about the artist’s favourite spots within Pere Lachaise. I may have ended up in the background of of their takes, should they use it. I think they were trying to ask my permission. Or at least that’s what I think I understood.
There are many graves of famous people in that cemetery. Most of them I didn’t find, or have the time to visit. I did, as a good tourist does, stop by the last resting place of one James Morrisson, witnessing as I approached, the removal of another pilgrim by the police… can’t really beat drama like that and so, sunset imminent, I made my way out of the funerary maze and back into the town of the living. And, shortly after to the train back home. That’s it for the travels…
Let’s move on to the music:I’ve already mentioned Mutant Monster who I saw for the very first time in Paris. For those readers not familiar with them, they are a Japanese punk trio made up of sisters Be on Bass & Vox and Meana on Guitar & vox plus drummer Chad. They recently released a rather great album, Nekokaburi on London based JPU records. (Or, if you prefer the Japanese version, which has a somewhat different track list, you can find it under the name [kanji] (Totsuzen Heni) on, for example CDJapan or amazon.jp. A video for the track Hanashite ageru is on YouTube. Abnormal is pretty lit also. But really you should see them live!
I managed to do so twice more after the Paris gig. Once at the Hyper Japan event – a showcase of Japanese arts & craft, tourism, food, weeabo goods and more -, and again at the tour finale at Oslo Hackney in London. Of those three gigs the one in Paris was, for me personally, probably the greatest. Partly because it was my first, partly because I enjoyed it while on holiday, rather than, as with Hackney gig, going after work fully aware that I had to get up early the next morning for work. Paris also had the better crowd, with the London gig lacking a bit in attendance numbers, largely due to another Japanese combo being in town the same night. That said, it felt to me like the girls played somewhat more energetic on their last gig of the tour and I’m certainly happy to have had a chance to see them more than once.
There was a full week between the Paris show and the gig at Hyper Japan the next Saturday (the Hackney gig followed on the Wednesday after that), but that week another band played in London, a concert I’ve been looking forward since seeing them rather by coincidence a few years back and since becoming quite a fan: The Great Old Ones from France. Lovecraft themed shoegaze black metal. (Or what you may wanna call it!) So far they’ve released 3 great albums, all of them can be bought via their bandcamp! Pleasantly devoid of many of the theatralics often found, but only rarely pulled off well, in that genre, TGOO played a dark and heavy set. Sadly the venue sound didn’t quite live up to my expectations or to what the quality of the music would’ve called for. Interestingly enough, when I went to see Conan there a few weeks later the sound did seem considerably better – I did not see if that was the same sound engineer, so can only guess whether the reason for that may have lain in that department.
Conan, btw., as well as their main support, Conjurer, were great! No nonsense heaviness that engulfs you in riffs and spits you out changed – if only ever so subtly – like all good catharsis does. I recommend checking out both these bands, on record but especially live!
The Saturday before xmas I went for one last metal gig – a co-headliner show of extreme metal group Akercocke and thrash veterans Acid Reign. The first mentioned were great, the latter one, while an entertaining live show, didn’t quite manage to win me over. I don’t know, think it’s just that I like my thrash more technical and maybe a wee (or more) proggy!
This leaves me with one more gig to write about, the highlight of December and one of the highlights of an overall great year: The Cardigans at Hammersmith Apollo. Now, this was special for a number of reasons. For one, this was the first time I’ve seen a gig at this historic venue, a name which I’d seen on a number of live albums, most significantly Motörhead’s Nö Sleep till Hammersmith. What’s more, however, I finally got a chance to see the Cardigans live, stand mere meters away from Nina Persson and listen to them performing their Gran Tourismo album in its entirety!
I’ve mentioned in a past post on this blog how this album means quite a lot to me, and I have to honestly say that this evening was a grade a emotional experience. Great music can induce sympathetic resonance in the core of your being, take you to a different plane. And The Cardigans’ bitter sweet pop took me on a trip through the joys, pleasures and sorrows of imaginary lives. “And nothing tastes sweeter than champagne of last New Year’s” – there are relatively few singers and bands where I give much about the lyrics, but Nina Persson counts among the finer lyricists in my book. It’s not even so much the topics, but the ways she finds to express herself and how it interacts with the musicality of it all.
After playing through Gran Tourismo there was a short break before the band came back and played a selection of their greatest tunes plus some other fine songs. The sound suddenly cutnout twice during their set, the second time around during the chorus of Lovefool, which the audience took up, many hundreds people singing “love me, love, say that you love me” until the p.a. came back up and the band continued. There really is no better image to leave you with…
… so let’s move on to different dreams. 夢 (Yume – dream) is the title of Maison Book Girl’s (english info) latest album which came out last November. I’m pretty sure I mentioned them here before. Out of the – very enjoyable still – Idol craze I got myself into last year they, together with Necronomidol and Melon Batake a go go have made it into what has become my top trinity- I wouldn’t rank them, as they are all quite different from each other – of the Idol acts I listen to, and get excited about, the most.
Now, wherever that leads us, Yume (CDJapan, Amazoz.jp) would, were I to do such a thing, be my album of the year. A sort of concept album mixing catchy, yet sophisticated pop tunes into a tapestry full of instrumentals that amplify moods, take the story further or disrupt, all together forming an aural story arc of worthy of its title. This is interesting because it both incorporates and transcends the simulacra nature of pop music well done, the formulaic excellence found in a lot of Idol pop and mixes with the soundscape approach utilized in classic “experimental” genres, like industrial and post- industrial. Even with a limited grasp of the meaning of the lyrics I get the idea of listening to a story.
A couple of songs from the album have a video on youtube and I recommend having a listen/watch, even should you not be sure about that whole Idol thing: My favourite Semai monogatari (Narrow Story), Okaeri Sayonora (Welcome goodby) – probably the most catchy one, the more complex Raincoat to kubi no nai tori (Raincoat and the bird without a neck) as well as the title track Yume, which was created in collaboration with a neuroscientist and features images reconstructed from brainwaves as well as the amount of claps in the song having been controlled by brain activity. If all this sounds a bit too brainy, fear not, it ain’t. It’s all entertainment.
The second release I want to mention is all feline-themed. Tentenko who spends her time between making interesting CDrs on her own label with tunes that range from ambient to experimental to electro, techno, industrial and synth pop tracks and releasing more pop focused tunes on other labels released a mini album of mostly cover versions, all about those lovely fierce creatures:
All You Need is Cat features 7 tunes, including a song from Disney’s Aristocats (mostly in Japanese) and an awesome cover of The Cure’s Lovecats. That song alone should be worth the purchase, but the whole release has seen quite a number of plays at chez your’s truly! But then, much like Tentenko – who herself has a cat named Haack (after electronic musician Bruce Haack) – I am quite fond of our feline overlords…
I’m not going to dwell on music much longer, tho, and just want to talk briefly of some reading matter before bringing this sprawling post to a conclusion: Burroughs (& Ginsberg) The Yage Letters, a souvenir I brought myself from Shakespeare & Company was a swift read.
Consisting of a series of letters Burroughs wrote from South America while searching for- and experiencing- the hallucinogenic drug Yage, also know as Ayahuasca, the book is mostly a look at US/Latin America politics as seen through the author’s very idiosyncratic lense. Compared to Artaud’s The Peyote Dance, whith it’s similar premise, but which is surreal in its mystical and mythological introspection, it is much less about the experience of altered states, than a rather sober, maybe a tad nihilistic rambling about Burroughs experiences on his trips south. Like a lot of his earlier work, before his experiments with cutups and indulgence in language, it’s full of dry observations and deadpan humour.
A trip of a different kind, shredding the veil of what we tend to accept as reality into much more imaginative threads, is Pat Cardigan’s 90s Cyberpunk factotum Synners (amzn). Set the in an undefined, tho it seems relatively near future LA which has been reshaped by an earthquake, The Big One, it follows a group of hackers, music video artists and musicians as well as employees and execs from a major media company along as their actions and hijinks evolve along a storyline where a brain-computer interfacing technology leads to unexpected developments.
While some of Cadigan’s projected developments of what we would nowadays call the internet may seem a bit quaint from today’s perspective, the humanity of those interacting with them still holds up. Her descriptions of a media reality that mostly carters to the lowest common denominator still holds up pretty well, as do her depiction of corporate greed as well as the limnal places carved out by misfits as niches for survival. I have to admit that I found that the plot needs a while to get going as a lot of information and world building happen in the first third of the novel. It is, however, never boring and once it starts to pick up pace it goes into seemingly endless acceleration, taking a good deal of turns and twists to end on an exhilarating high note.
On a side note : I first took notice of this book in Mark Dery’s brilliant and, I feel, still relevant despite nowadays maybe a bit more historic, book Escape Velocity. If you are into cyberpunk, cyberspace and all that Inwould certainly recommend a gander at that!
Reading Cyberpunk these can be a bit of an awkward thing, as a lot of its tropes appear quite freshly outdated or disproven. Unlike Classic- or Golden Age AciFi which both already appear filtered through the patina of age, which seem remote in their conception and thus present themselves more like historic fables, Cyberpunk in many ways presents itself more as a kind of alternate, or sometimes a whimsically wrong description of our quite current state of civilisation. The metaphors are closer to the experiences they stand for and can, from that perspective, appear harder to decode, to deconstruct and made lay bare the now they refer to, or which we infer. I would also like to think that there should actually be potential for a Cyberpunk renaissance or evolution, considering that we still find ourselves very much in the information age, with ever more ubiquitous communication channels pervading our everyday lives. Cyberspace may actually only have been a beginning…
A master of a different kind of Science Fiction was Ursula K LeGuin. I’ve only started discovering her work fairly recently and haven’t read an awful lot of hers, especially none of her Earthsea cycle – although I hear good things about that. Of the ones I have read – The Left Hand of Darkness, The Dispossessed and The Lathe of Heaven, the last mentioned one was probably my favourite, with its Philip K Dick-ian unraveling of reality. Thanks to the very recommendable Brain Pickings blog I became aware of another, rather different work of LeGuin: her very own reworking of the classic Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu.
It’s not a translation – LeGuin didn’t speak or read Chinese – but a new version of the text based on, as the author’s note star, a classic translation which also features the original Chinese which enabled her to study alternative meanings of the Chinese characters; as well as a large number of translations of Lao Tsu’s text. With some creative liberties, LeGuin has created a very modern sounding text that, I feel, nonetheless manages to convey the essence of the ancient thought contained in this classic text.
Now, before this post ends up competing in length with many a classic epos, lets bring this to a close… after all, the next chapter is already overdue!!
As usual, find some photos below. And be assured thag finding a new template which allows for p better presentation and integration of text & pictures is on my to do list for 2019!