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Archive for the ‘Translation’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BTS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #82 (September 21, 2020).

BTS is the biggest band in the world right now.  As the news the next morning said

Korean boy band BTS played its first Tiny Desk Concert on Monday — and broke the series record for most YouTube views on its first day, which happened in about 25 minutes.

When I was younger I hated all boy bands on principle–they were fake creations with no soul.  But either I’ve mellowed with age (true) or I’m less exposed to pop music so no longer sick of it (true) or maybe I just get a kick out of band from South Korea making people excited in the U.S.  Whatever the reason, BTS makes me smile.

Partly, it’s the band members themselves:

V; Jin; Jimin; J-Hope; RM; SUGA and Jungkook [I have no idea if that’s a left to right listing or just a random assortment of names] all seem to be really enjoying themselves and each other.  Perhaps all boy bands have this camaraderie (I’ve never watched enough to notice), but these guys are pretty entertaining–right down to their fabulous clothing choices.

The little I’ve seen of BTS makes me think that they are known by their hair color choices: the blue one, the purple one, the blond one, the brown one, but in this set, aside from a blue and a blonde, the rest of the guys have black or brown hair.  So instead, you have to go by their voices I guess.

One of them (on the right) has a really fantastic falsetto, another has a much deeper voice.  One of them seems to be a rapper.  The rest I can’t really tell apart–I’m not entirely sure if it makes sense for there to be seven of them, but it works.

With BTS cooped up in Seoul, the group held true to the series’ spirit by convening a live band for its Tiny Desk debut, and even arranged to perform in a workspace with a music-friendly backdrop: the record store VINYL & PLASTIC by Hyundai Card in BTS’s hometown.

The following introduction makes me laugh because I have literally never heard this song (or really any BTS song, as far as I know)

Opening with this summer’s inescapable “Dynamite” — the group’s first single to hit No. 1 in the U.S., as well as its first song to be fully recorded in English

“Dynamite” has a real disco vibe and is really catchy.  Moreso than the other two songs, I feel.  Perhaps because its in English, but I don’t think so.  The melody and delivery is really spot on.  And I love the whoohoos and heys. 

I really like their live band.  It’s kind of hard to pay attention to them when you have seven guys singing and dancing around in front.  I don’t know if they normally play with a live band, but the guitar from Shyun is really grooving.  He also plays a lot of unobtrusive but wild solos throughout the songs.  The bass from Kim Kiwook is really smooth and funky

They introduce the next song in English. 

From there, the group dipped into its back catalog, seizing on the opportunity to showcase its quieter side while (mostly) staying uncharacteristically seated. The breezily propulsive “Save ME,” from 2016,

starts with a squeaky keyboard sound from DOCSKIM followed by the falsetto guy on the end (who seems to sing more than anyone else–I wonder if he’s the favorite) but they can all do some impressive falsetto notes in the verses as well.  I get a kick out of how they have a really hard time staying seated–with one or more of them seeming to need get up and dance. 

This song has a rap verse (in Korean I guess) which is pretty interesting to hear.

They discuss the song in Korean (with subtitles) and then introduce the final song in English.

It’s the full-on power ballad, 2017’s reflective “Spring Day,”

which seemed especially true to BTS’s hopeful nature: Introduced with a few optimistic words from rapper and singer RM (“It’s been the roughest summer ever, but we know that spring will come”), the song reflects on a need to wait out hard times, even as the weight of present-day pain feels oppressive.

The song builds from a slow intro to a pretty big ending with some notably solid drumming from KHAN.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this tiny concert.

[READ: September 22, 2020] Birthday

Birthday is not a novel, it is an autobiographical essay.  It’s important that this distinction is made because many of Aira’s novels feel autobiographical.  But this one is meditative and a very personal–it was translated by Chris Andrews.

Aira turned 50 in 1999 (he dated this work July 18, 1999).  He imagined it as an opportunity to prepare for the future. But nothing really changed.  He went on as usual.

It was a short time later, when walking with his wife, Liliana, when he stated that the phases of the moon could not be produced by the earth’s shadow as he had learned.  But his wife said there was no way anyone thought that’s how the moon’s phases were created.  He felt so dumb for thinking this, that he spent the next several days going over in his head what else he didn’t know.  He spends most of the book mocking himself for his ignorance. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: Æ MAK-“We Have It Right Here” (2020).

Æ MAK is Aoife McCann.  She creates a fascinating tapestry of music.  It feels classical and operatic and yet also feels very electronic and oddly poppy.

This song begins with muted xylophones -sounding electronic tones playing a pretty melody (which reminds me of Björk).

McCann’s voice comes in and lilts and flutters almost bird-like. She sings in English but with interesting emphases on words.

Her vocal delivery and melodies conjure Regina Spektor.

About halfway through the, until now entirely electronic song, adds some soft acoustic guitar and gentle bells.

The second chorus is almost all voice with simple percussion and a kind of Kate Bush vocal trill.

The electronics come back in and suddenly start getting fuller and louder–filling up your headspace with sounds as her voice echoes itself and adds other lines before building to a remarkably catchy ending.

There’s so much going on in this song even though it often feels very minimal.

And wait until you see her on stage.

[READ: September 21, 2020] On Contemporary Art

I have enjoyed Aira’s novels and was intrigued by this short essay about Contemporary Art.

The entire book is 60 pages and it includes and Foreword and an Afterword.  That jibes with the premise of the imprint itself.  Ekphrasis Press reprints works about visual art that are not meant to be academic in nature–but compelling as prose.

In the Foreword Will Chancellor, talks about how language can throw you off.  He recalls bring a child and seeing the Objects in the Mirror are Closer Than They Appear warning.  He wondered how objects and their appearances could diverge.  He continues that Aira suggests this gap between appearance and reality might be the origin of cotemporary art.

~~~

The main body of the book is Aira’s essay, translated by Katherine Silver.

He starts by saying he is a writer who looks for inspiration in painting.  He says that cave painters painted facts, but it took a person relating the adventure, the storyteller, to make the episode come alive.

As a lover of art, he subscribes to many art magazines, namechecking Artforum, Art in America, Flash Art, Frieze, art press and more.  He says the magazines look better every year but that their ability to convey art gets worse every year–they cannot properly convey what an art piece looks like.  You have to read the texts to see what is happening.

His essay concerns the Enemy of Contemporary Art who says that today’s

frauds who pretend to be artists depend on a justifying discourse to validate the nonsense they produce.

They say that contemporary art doesn’t speak for itself–that it needs critics to explain it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: ANAT COHEN AND MARCELLO GONÇALVES-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #74 (September 2, 2020).

Anat Cohen plays the clarinet and Marcello Gonçalves plays the seven-string guitar.  Their

music comes from the heart of Brazil. The first two songs are choros, from the choro genre of music that originated in 19th century Rio de Janeiro. Think of choro music like New Orleans jazz, but in South America, both born of European and African influences. Cohen, on the other hand, is a clarinetist from Israel and the composer of these tunes. She developed a passion for Brazilian music while studying at Berklee College of Music and not long afterward found herself in a “roda” (choro jam session) in Rio de Janeiro with some of the most virtuosic players in Brazil’s choro scene. It was on that trip 20 years ago when Cohen met Gonçalves for the first time. All these years later, choro music has woven many of the threads in Cohen’s musical fabric.

Notice Gonçalves’s seven-string guitar, a common instrument in choro music; the additional string extends the lower register as if to combine an acoustic and bass guitar. Cohen explained in an email that playing with Gonçalves “makes me feel like I am playing with a full band.”

This duo was recently revered for their 2018 Grammy-nominated record, Outra Coisa, which celebrates the music of the iconic Brazilian woodwind player and composer Moacir Santos. Gonçalves is acclaimed for refining Santos’s orchestral arrangements down to just two musicians.

“Waiting for Amalia” opens with a bouncy guitar line and a sweet almost flirtatious clarinet.   This song feels quite jazzy.

“Valsa do Sul (Waltz of the South)” begins with a lovely, almost slinky clarinet melody. I love watching him play some of the fast riffs along with her, but it’s the bouncing, percussive moments that really make the song come alive.

This duo was recently revered for their 2018 Grammy-nominated record, Outra Coisa, which celebrates the music of the iconic Brazilian woodwind player and composer Moacir Santos.

Santos was the teacher of the guitarist and composer Baden Powell de Aquino.  I only recently heard of Baden Powell but here he is mentioned again–this time as an influencer before the existence of Instagram.  “In the Spirit of Baden” has some great low notes and a bouncy clarinet.  The middle has a strangely dissonant section where Gonçalves plays a few chords that are a little harsh.  Then Cohen joins in adding some wailing clarinet solos.  It’s a surprisingly dissonant moment in an otherwise very pretty song.

[READ: September 1, 2020] “U.F.O. in Kushiro”

I read this story almost ten years ago.  It was republished in a March 2011 issue of The New Yorker to memorialize the then recent earthquake in Japan.  This story was inspired by the incidents of the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

The story (translated by Jay Rubin) opens a few days after the Kobe Earthquake.  And even five days after the Kobe earthquake, Komura’s wife is still engrossed in the TV footage from Kobe.  She never leaves the set.  He doesn’t see her eat or even go to the bathroom.  When he returns from work on the sixth day, she is gone.  She has left a note to the effect that she’s not coming back and that she wants a divorce.  Komura’s wind is knocked out of him. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: CHRIS FORSYTH WITH GARCIA PEOPLES-Peoples Motel Band (2020).

This is a fantastic document of a band an an artist who are totally in sync with each other, making forty minutes of amazing jamming music.  I saw this combination of artists in New York City on New Year’s Eve and the set was spectacular.

I absolutely could have (should have) gone to this show.  It was recorded on September 14, 2019 at Johnny Brenda’s in Philly, a place I have been to many times.  I can’t recall why I didn’t go to this one.  But this document (while obviously shorter than the real set) is a great recording of the night.

Recorded September 14, 2019 before a packed and enthusiastic hometown crowd at Johnny Brenda’s in Philadelphia, Peoples Motel Band catches Chris Forsyth with Garcia Peoples (plus ubiquitous drummer Ryan Jewell) re-imagining songs from Forsyth’s last couple studio albums with improvisatory flair.

As is often the case with Forsyth shows, the gloves come off quickly and the players attack the material – much of it so well-manicured and cleanly produced in the studio – like a bunch of racoons let loose in a Philadelphia pretzel factory.

Recorded and mixed with clarity by Forsyth’s longtime studio collaborator, engineer/producer Jeff Zeigler, the record puts the listener right in the sweaty club, highlighted by an incredible side-long take of the chooglin’ title track from 2017’s Dreaming in The Non-Dream LP (note multiple climaxes eliciting wild shouts and ecstatic screams from the assembled).

The disc opens with “The Past Ain’t Passed” a kind of noodling warm-up with three guitarists all taking various solo pieces and it segues into the catchy riff of “Tomorrow Might as Well Be Today.”  It’s a bright instrumental with a series of jamming solos all around a terrific riff.

Up next is “Mystic Mountain,” the only track with vocals.  It has a classic rock vibe and Forsyth’s detached voice.  The highlights of this nine-minute song are the riff and the soling.

The best part of the disc is the 20 minute epic “Dreaming in the Non-Dream.”  The studio version of this song is terrific with Forsyth playing some stellar riffs as both lead and rhythm lines.  But here with three lead guitarists Forsyth, Tom Malach and Danny Arakaki) the experimentation is phenomenal.  But it’s Forsyth’s wailing solo at 18 minutes, when he is squeezing every noise he can out of his guitar, that is the peak of the song and the set.

Also playing: Peter Kerlin: bass guitar; Pat Gubler: organ/synthesizer and two drummers: Cesar Arakaki and Ryan Jewell.

This is a great release and I’m pretty happy to have gotten the vinyl of it..

[READ: September 1, 2020] “Serenade”

I started reading this and thought it was a short story (the title where it says “Personal History” was blocked).  It seemed to be oddly written.  Then when I got to the paragraph where he talks about writing Love in the Time of Cholera, I realized it was non-fiction.

He says that Love is based around his parents’ own love story.  He had heard it so many times from both his mother and his father and he seemed to remember it in different ways, so that by the time he wrote the book he no longer knew what was the actual truth.

And what a fascinating and tangled story of love they shared. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: BORIS-Archive Volume Three “2 Long Songs” (2005/2020). 

In early August, Boris digitally released six archival releases.  Volume Three is called “2 Long Songs” and that’s what it contains.

There are two songs in this live recording, one is 15 minutes, the other is 22 and this whole recording is just fantastic.

Originally released in 2005 from the US label “aRCHIVE”, limited to 600 copies which sold out immediately. A precious live recording from their early days, of Boris’s 1996 debut single song release, “Absolutego”, and “flood”, released in 2000, performed live together as “1 song, 1 production”.
(Reissued as part of Archive 1 on March 5, 2014. Limited to 1,000 copies).

Like the other Archive releases, this one was also recorded at Koenji 20000V.  This time in 2001–so the band and the quality of the recording are much improved.

“Absolutego” is a sixty minute song released as one long track on Boris’ debut album.  So a 15 minute version is quite truncated.  This version has a slow three-note bass line that slowly adds feedbacking guitars and cymbals.   At two and a half minutes, the drums loudly pound in–like Atsuo is introducing himself to the set.  But five minutes, the full on washes of noise have taken over the song and a few minutes later, Atsuo starts scream/singing.  The song starts speeding up and by 12 minutes there’s lots of cymbal crashing as the song crescendoes into a conclusion of feedback and warped sounds.

“flood” is a 70 minute song (!).  It is their third album (which was recorded in four parts).  This song is much prettier and far less abrasive and here is only 22 minutes long.  It opens with a pretty, quiet melody.  It is slow and moody punctuated by cymbals and echoing noises.  At four minutes the vocals come in–quietly singing in harmony.  Then the drums come crashing in, building to waves of guitar noise and cymbals as the loud bass pushes the song along.  A break introduces a high three note riff as the singing continues.  Is that Wata singing?  By fifteen minutes, Atsuo is making judicious use of the gong–a great punctuating sound.  The last seven minutes are a conclusion as the song drones out to the end.

This is one of my favorite archival releases.  The band sounds great and they perfectly jam out these long songs.

Takeshi: Bass & Vocal ;  Wata: Guitar & Echo ; Atsuo: Drums & Vocal

[READ: August 15, 2020] “The Report”

This is a short story and I agree with the first sentence: “The report is bizarre.”

A woman has hired a man to bring information about her husband.  The man followed the woman’s husband who worked at an office in Barcelona.  But he spends a lot of his time in Madrid.  With another woman.  They meet every Thursday and Friday

The wife does not want to know the other woman’s name.

But the man tells her that the other woman is very ugly–her husband turns off the light as soon as he can because, “her face frightens him.”  He takes long showers after lovemaking.

Then the man stands up and says that there are solutions to problems like this–we know how to get rid of people.   But the wife is not interested. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: TOKYO JIHEN [東京事変]-“The Scarlet Alibi” (永遠の不在証明 Eien no Fuzai Shoumei) (2020).

220px-Tokyo-Jihen-News-EP-cover-artRingo Sheena formed Tokyo Jihen (which means Tokyo Incidents) in 2003.  They put out five albums and disbanded them in 2012.

Then she surprised everyone by reforming the band in 2020 (with the same people who played with her in 2012).  They have released a new EP, News.

永遠の不在証明 which translates more or less as “Eternal Alibi” is the final song on the EP and the only one that Ringo Sheena wrote the music for.

It starts like a kind of James Bond theme (and it is indeed a theme for Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet).  It’s got a noir piano, but the bass is really fat and fuzzy.

The chorus gets big while the piano stays prominent and the bass does some really fancy fretwork.  Then in th emiddle of the song there’s an instrumental break.

Seiji Kameda (亀田 誠治Kameda Seiji) gets a wicked bass solo followed by a ripping guitar solo from Ukigumo (浮雲The Drifting Cloud) and a soaring keyboard solo from Ichiyō Izawa (伊澤 一葉Izawa Ichiyō).  Everyone gets a moment to shine except drummer Toshiki Hata (刄田 綴色Hata Toshiki)–but his playing throughout is stellar.

The song halts at 3 and half minutes, but there’s a jazzy jamming coda (lots of piano and guitar solos) that runs for about a minute as the song concludes.

Although I just discovered the band this week, it’s nice to have them back.

[READ: July 1, 2020] Fuku Fuku 2

This is Konami Kanata’s second and final collection of FukuFuku stories.  After all of the Chi stories, it was probably for the best to limit FukuFuku to just two volumes.

It allows the story to go out on a high note.

The framing device of the series is an older woman looking at pictures of her cat FukuFuku when she was a kitten.   I was pleased that this book ends the framing device with FukuFuku as an older cat–the flashback is complete.

This volume is less about FukuFuku exploring new things and more about her owner’s expectations of her. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: RINGO SHEENA [椎名 林檎]-Shōso Strip [勝訴ストリップ] (or Shouso Strip or Winning Strip) (2000) 

Yumiko Shiina (椎名 裕美子Shiina Yumiko, is known by her stage name Ringo Sheena (椎名 林檎Shiina Ringo). She later fronted the band Tokyo Jihan.

I’m not exactly sure how I discovered this album.  I think I had been reading about psychedelic Japanese bands and this album came up as a must-listen.

I found a copy on eBay (it’s also streaming) and, wow–it’s my favorite album in a long time.  Ringo Sheena flirts with just about every genre of music throughout her career.  Often times, including several genres in one song.  But throughout this album, it’s her singing and songwriting that really stand out.

Plus, I absolutely love the sound that she gets from her bassist.  I have included all of the credits from the album below because my copy of the album is entirely in Japanese. The “official” Wikipedia entry is first, but the Google Translated version is second.  I’m not sure what is going on with the Google Translated version, but for most of the songs the bass is described as “Bombshell base” which is totally accurate.  Interestingly, sometimes the guitar is described as “Oxygen deficient guitar” which I think just means electric, but I love that description.

So the overall feel of this album is grungy.  There’s a lot of distortion among the guitars and the drums.  None of the songs would be described as metal, but there are definitely some heavier rocking elements.  But there is an underpining of J-Pop throughout.  Both in her catchy choruses and the way her voice soars as she sings.

The disc opens with “I Am a Liar” (虚言症 Kyogen-shō) 5:26 [“False” from Google Translate].  A funky slap bass and some flutes introduce this song that has a great mix of alt rock and J-Pop.  Sheena Ringo has a great voice that can sing low but also soars nicely when needed. The chorus of this is instantly catchy with a great melody disco flourishes and her fantastic vocals.

“Bathroom” (浴室 Yokushitsu) 4:15 [bathroom] is a wild song (and one that she has apparently performed in very different styles over the years).  A ripping funky bass and synth lead to a great pulsing ear worm of a melody.  The chorus is warm and inviting and fantastic.  “Excuse Debussy” (弁解ドビュッシー Benkai Dobyusshii) 3:16 [Excuse Debussy] is another propulsive rocker with a great fat bass sound.

Things slow down for “Gips” (ギブス Gibusu)  (which apparently means “orthopedic cast”) 5:38 [Gibbs] but it has a huge soaring chorus that is partially in in English “don’t you think I wanna be with you….”  It’s about the catchiest peppiest thing and it is awesome.  The songs is quite long–over five minutes–and the last few minutes feature a great guitar line that repeats and repeats until it breaks apart with chaotic confusion.

Things slow down even further for the gorgeous strig opening of “A Driving Rain in Darkness” (闇に降る雨 Yami ni Furu Ame) 5:03 [Rain in the Darkness].  Interesting electronic sounds and some electronic percussion mask the beauty of the stirrings and then after 45 second the strings turn pizzicato and pop song structure stars with a loping bass that plays some funky high parts.  It’s a pretty song that segues nicely to the scorcher that is “Identity” (アイデンティティ Aidentiti) 3:05 [Identity].  It opens with a ripping guitar and Sheena screaming like the best of them.  This song hits pretty standard metal sounds and is a total rocking freak out with her singing syllables as the guitars and drums just go bananas.  Her band is really fantastic.

“Crime and Punishment” (罪と罰 Tsumi to Batsu) 5:32 [Crime and Punishment] plays like a torch song ballad, but it’s accompanied by a heavy guitar and a big fat bass that keeps it in the alt-rock arena.  The juxtaposition is great.  There’s a lengthy jamming coda as well.

“Stoicism” (ストイシズム Sutoishizumu) 1:46 [Stoicism] is a short interlude.  Her voice is manipulated while she’s singing a simple melody as bouncy synths underscore the whole thing.  It flows into “A Broken Man and Moonlight” (月に負け犬 Tsuki ni Makeinu[3]) 4:14 [Lose dog on the moon] which sounds like a grunge version of “Closing Time” until the loud distorted bass crashes in and upends everything. The end totally rocks out.

“Tidbits” (サカナ Sakana[4]) 3:43 [Fish] opens with a harpsichord and the makings of a bubblegum pop song.  But as the verses come in it feels kind of noirish with horns and a great catchy chorus.  The end of the song features that noir bass and a piano.

“Sickbed Public” (病床パブリック Byōshō Public) 3:16 [Patient Public] has super distorted drums and a heavy bass rumbling underneath her whispered vocals until it switches to a bright J-Pop chorus.  “Instinct” (本能 Honnō) 4:14 [Instinct] has a menacing opening of sound effects and turntables that meld into a super catchy poppy melody with wild bass.  The verses slow to a slinky sound, but that chorus is undeniable–especially when the whole song shifts up a note midway through.

The disc ends with fun watery sounds that bloop and blip for the opening of  “I Am an Addict” (依存症 Izon-shō) 6:23 [Dependence].   The song begins with a delicate synth but there’s a fun fun soaring chorus (of course) that you can’t stop humming.  The song and disc end with ends with three minutes of everyone jamming at the end of a show when the star has left the stage and the band is just going to keep playing until they can’t anymore.

I haven’t really looked into much more by her–although I did enjoy the one Tokyo Jihen song I heard.  This album is so good I’m afraid to explore anything else for the time being.  So I’ll just enjoy this one.

[READ: July 1, 2020] Fuku Fuku 1

Konami Kanata wrote the wonderful manga Chi’s Sweet Home about a family who adopts a cat.  It’s wonderful and is apparently one of many manga about cats.  Even though it’s sweet and adorable there are occasionally weird thing that make it seem more adult than it seems to be (the word pissing is in one of them, which seems a little odd for a cute book).

The framing device of the book is an older woman looking at pictures of her cat FukuFuku when she was a kitten.   FukuFuku wants to see them too, which means lying on them, of course.

And so there are 24 short pieces about kitten FukuFuku’s introduction to living with this woman.  I understand that the book is translated, so I don’t know if the cat sounds are translated as well, but I love that when she tries to pick up the kitten for the first time, it says “Mii?”  And when she grabs for it it says “Mya”

The translator also has a lot of fun with the kittens’ action words: Skoot, Bound, Dash, etc. (more…)

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25938055SOUNDTRACK: MALAWI MOUSE BOYS-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #42 (July 1, 2020).

mouseThis Tiny Desk (Home) Concert is from Malawi in Southeastern Africa.  The performer is Nelson Mulligo of the Malawi Mouse Boys.

He only plays one song, but it’s really cool.  Bob Boilen tells us some very important details about the song, the singer and the band.

We see his two-room home in the opening shot where he and his family live without plumbing or electricity. Then we see Nelson, standing below the power lines, holding his homemade guitar singing, “I’m So Tired of You.” It’s a song that sings out the evils of poverty, a life of hard physical work, of making money scavenging for mice amongst boars and snakes so they can sell them as roasted mice shish kabobs along the roadside. We only get one song, and even that cuts off abruptly, but I was deeply moved when producer Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, The Good Ones) sent it my way. He and his wife Marilena Umuhoza Delli met and recorded the Malawi Mouse Boys in 2011. You can hear Ian Brennan tell his story on NPR’s Weekend Edition. If you fall in love with what you hear, give a listen to the entire band harmonize. You can find their music on Bandcamp here. Even though the group played Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festival in 2015, they still live in poverty. Support what you love.

The song is simple and very catchy with Mulligo’s voice sounding strong and really lovely and his homemade guitar sounding great.

[READ: July 2, 2020] Nichijou 1

This book was recommended to me based on some other manga that I had read.  I didn’t know Keiichi Arawi [あらゐけいいち] or anything about Nichijou, but the cover picture of a classroom full of kids with a deer on one of the desks looked promisingly funny.  As did the comments about the series being delightfully surreal.

It is very surreal.  So much so that I finished the book with a massive question mark hanging over my head.  I literally had no idea what was going on.

When I looked up some information about the series (there are dozens of books and a TV show), I learned some details about what I was reading.  When I re-read it, it made a lot more sense, but was still really bizarre and not easy to follow. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: MADAME GANDHI-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #38 (June 24, 2020).

I have never heard of Madame Gandhi.  That’s a constant theme with these Home Tiny Desks–they seem even more geared toward introducing lesser known artists to the world.

Madame Gandhi’s is surrounded by her yellow bongos and congas, a yellow desk from her youth and a yellow nightstand, her Tiny Desk (home) concert lighting nods to the lavender-lemon artwork of her 2019 Visions EP.

Her music is mostly prerecorded.  The live elements are her vocals (soft and gentle with a lot of nonsense syllables amid the good vibe lyrics) and her wonderful hand drums.

Her music is inspired by her South Indian heritage and she lights a stick of palo santo.

For the first two songs she plays the damaru (I think).  “Waiting For Me” is about returning to the earth–returning to nature.  I enjoyed the way it began:

Wake up in the morning / hit space bar and start recording

She plays cool-sounding drums–she has wonderfully diverse sounds from that tiny hand drum.  And they seem to be modified in some way, too.

Before “Moon in the Sky,” she says “I don’t want our identities defined according to how oppressed we are.”

She’s intentional with everything she does, including activism that focuses primarily on gender liberation. She uses music to help elevate and celebrate female voices, from working with primarily queer women BIPOC on tour and video sets, to writing socially-conscious lyrics that challenge the white male-dominated music industry.

She continues, “if we are not brave enough to tell our stories end to end, somebody else will.  And they will get it wrong.

on tour and video sets, to writing socially-conscious lyrics that challenge the white male-dominated music industry.. Madame Gandhi’s clear, soft voice and swells of percussion give you the necessary space to meditate on her message of inclusion and equality.

She says her music is Indian trap.  The music has fun beats and a downplayed vocal delivery. I rather like it.

For the final song, “Bad Habits,” she stands up and plays the bongos: “put your phone down and stand with me.”  The catchy chorus of the song is “all my bad habits have got to got to go.”

Her parting words are that each person’s contribution is unique and valuable and can be of service to my community and my family.

This has been a great introduction to a new form of music for me.

[READ: June 28, 2020] “The Rescue Will Begin In Its Own Time”

I really don’t understand what was going on with these previously unpublished stories by Kafka (translated by Michael Hofmann). There are four flash fiction pieces and they seem much more like story ideas than stories.

In the first section he talks about the four ways the Prometheus legend can be viewed.  After the fourth, it ends, “The real riddle was the mountains.”

In the second part, there is a large load of bread which the Father of the family cannot cut.  The Father is not surprised, “Isn’t it more surprising if something succeeds than if it fails?”  When the children woke the next morning he had been up all night but had not managed to cut it. (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: JOHN PRINE TRIBUTE-Tiny Desk (Home) Concert #8 (April 11, 2019).

I feel like I have been aware of John Prine forever.  Although I also feel like I only really became aware of who he was and what he had done in the last year or so.  Or at the very least since he had surgery and his voice changed dramatically.

I knew that he was a legend in folk circles, but I had no idea how many of his songs I knew–although likely from other artists.

I was not devastated when he died because I didn’t know him enough to be devastated.  But I did feel that it was unbelievably unjust of the world to have him survive cancer only to be beaten by this virus that could have been avoided.  While there are people out there actively doing harm to others, why would a person as thoughtful as him be the victim.

Every time I saw John Prine perform, he invited friends to join him. The outpouring of love and respect has always been so profound. And so when John Prine died on April 7 from complications related to COVID-19, I knew his friends and those he touched would want to pay tribute to him. Here are five artists performing their favorite John Prine tune in their home (or bathtub) in honor of one of the greatest songwriters of any generation.

Here are the five performances:

  • Margo Price and Jeremy Ivey, “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round”
    Recorded in their bathroom, with their baby entering the scene for the final verse.
  • Courtney Marie Andrews, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    She says that Prine was the best at putting humor and sadness in one song let alone one line.  Her version of this song (that I know very well) is too slow for my taste.
  • John Paul White, “Sam Stone”
    He says he is taking this harder than he thought. This song makes him cry every time.  I knew this song from someone else singing it, although I’m not sure who.
  • Nathaniel Rateliff, “All The Best”
    I didn’t know this one, but I do like it.
  • Brandy Clark, “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness”
    It’s a shame that two people did the same song since he has 19 albums out, but this song is quite lovely.  I like Clark’s version better than Andrews’ even if they aren’t that different.

[READ: April 1, 2020] The Spirit of Science Fiction

I have read pretty much everything that has Roberto Bolaño has written which has been translated into English (many, like this book, by Natasha Wimmer).  This is one of the first novels he ever wrote and it was finally published posthumously in 2016.

It’s a very strange book with a very strange construction (a precursor to the construction of his later, larger books, for sure).

The book is told in three parts and it concerns three major characters.  The narrator, Remo, his best friend Jan Schrella and a third poet, Jóse Arco.

The book opens with Remo being interviewed by a journalist.  He has just won a literary prize.  This interview is spread out over many chapters, but it is sort of summed up by his reply:

you actually predict a bright future for art? You don’t realize that this is a trap. Who the hell do you think I am, Sid Vicious?

Remo lives with Jan, another serious poet, but one who has more or less taken to his bed–barely ever leaving the house at all.

Jan is seventeen and spends nearly all of his time reading, especially science fiction books.  He seems to want to single handedly get recognition for his country men and women.

He spends most of his time writing letters to famous science fiction authors: Alice Sheldon, James Hauer, Forrest J. Ackerman, Robert Silverberg, Fritz Leiber, Ursula K. Le Guin, (twice, first one unsent), and Dr James Tiptree, Jr.

Some of the letters are stories about his dreams, some are general notes of good will, but the overall tones is one asking them to support science fiction written by authors in Latin America.

Remo does go out though,  He goes to writing workshops.  At one of them Jóse Arco enters late.  Remo’s is instantly taken with him. As the first scene with Arco ends, Arco lays back in his chair and recites his new poem Eros and Thantaos from memory.  Arco was a daring fellow riding his (often broken down) motorcycle at 3AM.  Arco is based on Mario Santiago Papasquiaro.

Although Jan is not active, his imagination certainly is. He feels compelled to tell Remo about “Silhouette,” a science fiction short story by Gene Wolfe. (Yes, part of the book is someone describing another book ).

Meanwhile, Remo and Arco decide to investigate a publication called My Enchanted Garden which comments on the torrent of poetry magazines in Latin America.  There were 32 then it jumped to 661 and by the end of the year it was predicted there would be one thousand.

Through Arco, Remo meets young poets Angélica and Lola Torrente and their friend Laura, as well as the queen of local poets, Estrellita. Remo invites them back to his apartment.  Although Lola is the more experienced of the two, it’s Angélica who falls for Jan.  The scene where they first meet is crazy.  Jan was in bed (of course) when they came in

Jan jumped up, his skinny ass exposed and his balls dangling golden, and in two or three swift movements his back to the group, he jammed his papers under the mattress and got back into bed.

What a lovely young man, said Estrellita And his darling balls are the color of gold.

Jan laughed

It’s true, I said

That means he’s destined for greatness.  Golden balls are the mark of a young man capable of … great deeds.

They’re not exactly golden, said Jan.

Shut up.  She thinks they look golden, and so do I. That’s all that matters

And I do too, said Angélica.

It was at this party that Remo fell for Laura.  She was with Cèsar at the time, but that didn;t stop them from kissing.  But when she says they could fuck right there, he says I don’t think I could.

What do you mean, you don’t think you could?  You mean you couldn’t fuck?
Yeah, I couldn’t get it up.  I couldn’t get an erection. It’s the way I am.
You don’t get erection?
No I mean, I do, but it wouldn’t work right how.  This is a special moment for me, if that makes sense, and its erotic too, bu there’s no erection.  Look, feel.  I took her hand and put it on my crotch.
You’re right. it’s not erect, said Laura with a barely audible laugh.

He falls for her immediately though and gives her a nickname–Aztec Princess.

Later in part 2 an actual Aztec Princess–a motorcycle with that phrase stenciled on it, comes into Remo’s life.   How can he refuse to get it?  Even if he has no money, cannot drive a motorcycle and has no licence?

This barely touches half of the ideas that float through this book.  There’s a lot of information about a potato farmer; a lieutenant (Boris Lejeune) watching a recruit shoot a colonel in the chest; Father Gutierrez visiting Pierre LeClerc; and a lengthy story about a village becoming obsessed with woodwork, to the detriment of everything else.  There’s also Jan’s dream of a Russian cosmonaut, and the final chapter called “Mexican Manifesto.”

This last section is all about Remo and Laura going to baths and the strange sexual things that happen in steam.  This section was excerpted in The New Yorker in 2013(!).  That version was translated by Laura Healy.

About it I wrote:

The narrator is the man and the woman, Laura, is the more adventurous of the two.  She is the one who encourages them to go to the baths in the first place and, while he also thinks it is wonderful, it is she who wants them to explore as many different baths in the city as possible.

The first bath that they go to is a nice one, an upscale bath where the man in charge (who is pointedly referred to as an orphan) is very nice and as a result people treat him with courtesy.  There’s never any trouble at this bath.  It’s very nice, but Laura wants to explore other houses.  So they ask him for a list.  And they set out on their voyage of discovery.

It is at these less reputable baths that most of the action takes place (both in the story and out of the story).  People mingle more freely (with sexual contact common), they also share drugs and other entertainments.  The story focuses on one instance in which the entertainment was two young boys and an older man.  The man instructs the boys to begin masturbating each other.  But the boys are tired (as is the old man).  They say they haven’t slept in days.  The old man falls asleep. And with the steam, the boys begin to fall asleep as well.  The steam gets thicker and thicker and soon Laura is squatting nearer to the boys.  The narrator can’t really see what’s happening but it all seems like such a dream that he’s not even sure what to think.

I’m not really sure what this section has to do with the rest.  I’m not really sure what happens in the book at all.  The revelation of Jan’s alias is pretty fascinating though.

This is strange book to be sure and I didn’t really enjoy it that much–I just couldn’t get into it.  But it seems to forecast the kind of (much better) writing that Bolaño would eventually become known for,

I wondered how different the 2013 Healy translation was from this one.  The content is of of course, the same, but they are notably different.

Here is the last sentence first from Healy

The color of the pool’s rocks, doubtless the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some faces, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were certainly there.

Now from Wimmer

The color of the stones around the pool, surely the saddest color I saw in the course of our expeditions, comparable only to the color of some gazes, workers in the hallways, whom I no longer remember, but who were surely there.

If Wikipedia is to be believed, here are the remaining untranslated works

  • 1976 [Reinventing Love] 20-page booklet in México (first publication)
  • 1983[Advice from a Morrison Disciple to a Joyce Fanatic] Novel written in 1983 in collaboration with A. G. Porta
  • 2011 [Bolaño By Himself] Collection of interviews with Bolaño (1998–2003)
  • ? [Diorama] not yet published

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