Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Jakob Bro: Music from the cool north

Saturday, 7 March, 2015 0 Comments

“He balances on a knife-edge between precision and arrangement, and an openness that gives the musicians exceptional freedom to move intuitively in the music and express themselves in the moment.” So said the organizers of the Nordic Council Music Prize last year when announcing their award to the Danish guitarist, Jakob Bro, who’s got a new album out, Gefion. In Norse mythology, Gefjon or Gefjun or Gefion is a goddess associated with the island of Zealand, the Swedish king Gylfi, the Danish king Skjöldr, ploughing, prophecy, premonition and virginity.

When old news was news

Friday, 6 March, 2015 0 Comments

Life was hard and diversions were few around Peebles on the Scottish Borders in the early days of the 19th-century. News of the outside world was infrequent and often arrived long after events had taken place. The “headlines” of the time were conveyed by travellers and welcomed by a largely illiterate public. Robert Chambers, the famous publisher, recalled an eccentric character called Tam Fleck who wandered the area carrying a translation of The Jewish War by the Roman historian Josephus, which he read out as if it were the “current” news and which was relished by his audience:

“Weel, Tam, what’s the news the nicht?” someone would ask.
“Bad news, bad news…Titus has begun to besiege Jerusalem; it’s gaun to be a terrible business.”

Houellebecq and the capitulation of cover art

Thursday, 5 March, 2015 0 Comments

“For the purpose of Appreciation and Categorization” is the motto of The Book Cover Archive, and there is much to appreciate and categorize on this World Book Day when it comes to book covers. Think of the art of Roger Kastel for Jaws by Peter Benchley. With Soumission, the latest novel from Michel Houellebecq, however, we’re seeing a different kind of cover art. The art of capitulation.

In his book, Houellebecq paints a picture of an old, ailing Christian nation, France, submitting to a more vigorous ideology: Islam. It is a bitterly funny critique of the tolerance of the intolerant and a terrifying vision of the multicultural endgame. The book is a best-seller in France, Germany and Italy, despite the best efforts of its publishers to neutralize its appearance. The two-tone cover of the original French version is devoid of art; the German version, Unterwerfung, features the head of a bird, and the Italian cover of Sottomissione dispenses with imagery completely. The US publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is silent about the cover of Lorin Stein’s forthcoming translation but one fears that the supine trend will continue. Given the vital role of cover art in the history of book making, it is hard to accept that publishers would willingly embrace aniconism, the proscription against the creation of images, but Sottomissione is the proof.

Soumission Soumission Soumission

Dylan goes noir

Wednesday, 4 March, 2015 0 Comments

Bob Dylan’s latest album, Shadows in the Night, is a collection of standards from the 1930’s through the 1950’s, including The Night We Called It a Day, which was written in 1941 by Matt Dennis and Tony Adair and recorded by Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. This being Dylan, comment is superfluous. The haters will hate it, and the believers will rationalize it. In the end, Bob gets away with it.

Keeping an eye on the other side of the hill

Tuesday, 3 March, 2015 0 Comments

The Battle of Waterloo was a momentous event in European history and the Bicentenary is coming up in June. The two greatest soldiers of the age, Napoleon and Wellington, who had never faced each other before, finally met on the plains of Waterloo and the rest is history. Their encounter was a long time brewing.

In 1803, when fears of a French invasion of Britain were at code red levels, a new play, Goody Two Shoes; Or, Harlequin Alabaster, was performed at Sadler’s Wells theatre. In it, a French assault by balloon is foiled at the last minute. The drama was riffing on popular rumours of the day, such as the one where Napoleon’s engineers would construct a pontoon across the English Channel, with the work being supervised by officers in balloons. There was a factual basis for this. The French army had used reconnaissance balloons in the Low Countries in 1794 and Napoleon, aware of the potential of air war, set up a Compagnie d’Aérostiers. The revolutionaries lost interest in their innovation, however, and as Historic Wings notes:

“On Sunday, June 18, 1815, the armies of Emperor Napoleon would face the armies of the Seventh Coalition at Waterloo. The key to Wellington’s initial deployment was that his forces were hidden on the back slope of a ridge, along the top of which ran Ohain Road. If only Napoleon had the services of the Aerostatic Corps, he would have known the full deployment of the enemy from the outset — and thus, history could well have been rewritten that day.”

The Duke of Wellington probably wasn’t talking about balloons or related technologies when he spoke to John Croker, Secretary to the Admiralty, post-Waterloo but he did make this observation: “All the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know by what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill.'” The Croker Papers

Body of glass

Monday, 2 March, 2015 0 Comments

“Seemed like the real thing, only to find mucho mistrust, love’s gone behind.” That’s what Blondie sang in Heart of Glass back in 1978. At the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona last night, glass was front and behind when Samsung unveiled its Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge phones. According to Gigaom, “Samsung has done away from the plastic cases that always characterized its phones and adopted Gorilla Glass front and back panels, which are then encased with a metal band.”

This is very good news for Corning, and it reminds us of the glass stats cited by Benedict Evans in his “Mobile is Eating the World” presentation last year.

Glass

Note: “Samsung has be known to copy Apple’s design before, which led to record sales and record-breaking lawsuits. It’s hard to say if the Galaxy S6 will bring about any lawsuits, but the similarities between it and the iPhone 6 are undeniable.” Dan Seifert, reporting for The Verge from Barcelona.

Boris Nemtsov and the tyrant

Sunday, 1 March, 2015 0 Comments

In his final interview, hours before he was shot dead on Friday night, Boris Nemtsov said that he was a patriot, but one who regarded the Russian flag as a “symbol of freedom” from Soviet tyranny. Vladimir Putin has revived that tyranny by creating an atmosphere of hatred, driven by an hysterical propaganda offensive that portrays opponents as traitors. Boris Nemtsov, who “died in the streets”, just outside the Kremlin, is the latest victim of the evil that W. H. Auden so brilliantly depicted during a former age of tyranny. It is a tragedy that Russia is again ruled by such wickedness.

Epitaph on a Tyrant

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

W. H. Auden (1907 – 1973)

The Tyrant

La Frontera

Saturday, 28 February, 2015 0 Comments

The late Lhasa de Sela was an American-born singer-songwriter who was raised in the United States and Mexico, and then divided her adult life between Canada and France. She died of cancer aged 37 on 1 January 2010.

When she was five months old, her hippie parents were reading a book about Tibet and the word Lhasa “just grabbed” them as the right name for the baby girl. The first decade in the life of Lhasa de Sela was spent criss-crossing the US and Mexico in a converted school bus with her family and La Frontera is autobiographical to the core.

The future of journalism

Friday, 27 February, 2015 0 Comments

If you haven’t heard of The Dress meme yet, don’t worry. You soon will. It all began with a simple photo of a dress posted on Tumblr yesterday that some people see as black and blue while others see as white and gold. In a world threatened by the nihilism of ISIS and Putin, there are serious issues to discuss, but at one point this morning BuzzFeed said the dress was accounting for more than half of its traffic. Such is journalism.

The dress

The other key story yesterday featured a llama drama in Arizona. Honest. You can’t make this stuff up.

Life as a spectator sport

Thursday, 26 February, 2015 0 Comments

“To concede again in the last seconds was pathetic, stupid, exasperating and so typically Arsenal.” Another cynical comment by some jaded hack watching the Gunners being routed by Monaco last night? Not quite. It’s actually the Arseblogger himself commenting on the 3 – 1 Champions League result. While the ups and downs of the game are a challenge for the fans, they give everyday spectators endless material for expressing dismay/delight about how much players are paid compared to the price of a ticket or a pint. All of this drama is reflected in Spectators, a superb animated short film by the young Scottish director, Ross Hogg.

“Music always sort of sharpened me up”

Wednesday, 25 February, 2015 0 Comments

“I refuse no reasonable offer of work,” Anthony Burgess declared in 1978, “and very few unreasonable ones.” During a lifetime that began on this day in 1917, Burgess wrote more than 30 novels, dozens of film and television scripts, several symphonies, hundreds of newspaper articles, studies of language, music, Shakespeare and James Joyce, a pair of plays and books for children, a volume of poetry, a ballet, and a two-volume autobiography. His most famous creation, A Clockwork Orange, is a disturbing exploration of violence and evil. Filled with innovative language, the book questions the role of “culture” in society. Alex, the narrator, is a thug who loves classical music, but rather than temper his cruelty, it actually spurs it:

There was music playing, a very nice malenky string quartet, my brothers, by Claudius Birdman, one that I knew well. I had to have a smeck, though, thinking of what I’d viddied once in one of these like articles on Modern Youth, about how Modern Youth would be better off if A Lively Appreciation Of The Arts could be like encouraged. Great Music, it said, and Great Poetry would like quieten Modern Youth down and make Modern Youth more Civilized. Civilized my syphilised yarbles. Music always sort of sharpened me up, O my brothers, and made me feel like old Bog himself, ready to make with the old donner and blitzen and have vecks and ptitsas creeching away in my ha ha power.