Am doing another whirlwind tour of the US on business so postings will be even more sporadic than usual (!) [Am with Apple today in Cupertino, California; at Mozilla in Mountain View, CA this afternoon; up to Seattle tomorrow to see Real Networks on Tuesday, Microsoft on Wednesday; then over to NYC to see AOL and Sirius] Back soon ...
More 'action sketches' of Gehry buildings from last summer, to go with my (much) earlier set of Guggenheim Bilbao sketches, again inspired by Rodcorp's post about 'how simply and recognisably can we draw buildings'. These are purposefully rapid scribbles, perhaps to be seen alongside the camera shots and verbal scribbles of my review of Gehry's Stata center for MIT. I'm calling them 'action sketches', thinking of somewhere between action painting and automatic writing perhaps, but with a far more literal, mundane desire to capture the essence of a building at first glance, or first sketch, sometimes even on the move e.g. these in Amsterdam
Colin Buttimer has always - quite rightly - picked me up when I talk about 'the playlist becoming the basic unit of music consumption', as opposed to the album, say. One of his concerns is around the loss of visual representation, or accompaniment perhaps, due the 'disembodied' experience of iPods, iTunes etc (those iTunes/Synergy graphics just aren't equivalent to the 12" album sleeve). This is another spin on notion that the metadata/context contained in the average jazz album, say, is disappearing in digital music experiences.
Tom Vanderbilt has now contributed an excellent piece over at Design Observer on the disappearance of the rock logo, and what this means in terms of identification with bands. Certainly, when I was at school, notebooks and those Army & Navy knapsacks were covered with logos. (The cool kids had the Madness, Two-Tone or PiL logos; I had Yes, Genesis, Marillion. Ahem.) What do kids do these days? There's some great comments at the end of Vanderbilt's piece - for instance Rick Poynor noting Franz Ferdinand's sharp visuals. (All cool kids, I note.)
But even those Franz Ferdinand visuals (and 'infographic music videos' I linked from that post) are principally situated in music promos. And therefore difficult to draw on your belongings. Difficult to physically 'mark your territory' and 'represent your self' with a music video. (For now. Let's not get into musical 'self' being articulated/swapped in other ways just yet - from RFID-swapping to wifi-based presence/sharing.) And physical embodiment is important.
Vanderbilt expands on what this might mean:
"The disappearing logo might just be the canary in the coal mine signifying the dematerialization of music. Sure, there are little JPEGs on iTunes that depict album covers, but the proliferation of digitally acquired music and the rise of "playlist culture" is a threat not only to the idea of an album as a coherent body of work, but the album (in CD or whatever form) as a package. The shift from album to CD represented meant the artist’s canvas was reducing in size to less than a quarter of its original, and now, to essentially nothing. My iPod is filled with songs by artists whose album covers I have never even seen, who I know only by iPod font, so I would not even know if they had a logo, or any visual identity whatsoever. A few months ago, a leading designer, who has done some exemplary record packaging, told me, “the music business at the moment is really not the business you would want to be in, neither as a musician or a designer. The medium is changing so incredibly, and nobody really knows if music packaging is really going to be around in a few years.” When I asked an art director at a record company what the future of album cover design was, his answer was simple: “It’s disappearing. That’s what the future is ... And the covers of kids notebooks — what do they hold now? What will they hold tomorrow? Maybe it would be better if they were not drawing logos. My Middle School grades were terrible."
Recently read two fantastic comics - or graphic novels, if you will - both using the modern city as their backdrop - Igort's 5 Is the Perfect Number and The Bloody Streets of Paris by Jacques Tardi and Leo Malet.
As with a previous favourite, Berlin: City of Stones by Jason Lutes, the craft of pen and ink evokes the mid-twentieth century city perfectly. Igort's storyboards illustrate a Naples which is in the grip of both poverty and modernity, seemingly unsure which way to move; Tardi's is a fog-shrouded Lyon and a grimy Paris.
The current issue of greatest magazine in the world, Eye [#54, Winter 2004], is something of an urban typography special. It isn't announced as such but features quite superb articles on the following:
There are short excerpts from Letter-rich Lisbon and 'The Frozen Past' (Berlin) on the Eye website. Sadly, they're abridged and without the photos, which hugely diminishes them. So here's some quick snaps to entice you in:
A couple of months ago, I was sent a review copy of this magnificent book. I've been slowly leafing through it ever since, savouring every page, and have finally, belatedly, found the time to post about it here. It's a quite superb collection of city photography, featuring one of the classic works of 20th century urban photography, Berenice Abbott's Changing New York, juxtaposed with 'rephotographs' of the same subjects taken from exactly the same position 60 years later by Douglas Levere.
Going beyond just tracking down the exact location, Levere also used exactly the same model of camera (an 8x10 Century Universal), aping the shutter speed and apertures that Abbott had occasionally noted, and undergoing a painstaking process of hand-modifying the lenses just as Abbott had, in order to be able to rephotography exactly. The results are endlessly fascinating.
Fantastic quote on the relationship between the city and creativity - from David Bowie no less - dug up as part of a chronology of Bowie's 'most productive period' (1974-1980):
PM: You seem to be fascinated by cities like Berlin.
DB: Berlin, because of the friction. I've written songs in all the Western capitals, and I've always got to the stage where there isn't any friction between a city and me. That became nostalgic, vaguely decadent, and I left for another city. At the moment I'm incapable of composing in Los Angeles, New York or in London or Paris. There's something missing. Berlin has the strange ability to make you write only the important things - anything else you don't mention, you remain silent, and write nothing ... and in the end you produce Low.
Arto Lindsay: Salt
Arve Henriksen: Chiaroscuro
Autistic Daughters: Jealousy and Diamond
Bark Psychosis: CODENAME:dustsucker
Big Satan: Souls Saved Hear
Black Ox Orchestar: Ver Tanzt
Chicago Underground Trio: Slon
David Grubbs: A Guess At The Riddle
The Dead Texan: The Dead Texan
Deathprod: Deathprod box
DJ Signify: Sleep No More
Food: Last Supper
Fred Frith: Eye to Ear II
Fred Frith: Allies
Friends of Dean Martinez: Random Harvest
Ghost: Hypnotic Underworld
Grails: Red Light
Greg Davis: Curling Pond Woods
Greg Davis: Somnia
Harold Budd: Avalon Sutra
Henry Kaiser & Leo Wadada Smith/Yo Miles: Sky Garden
Jack Rose: Raag Manifestos
Jack Rose: Two Originals of Jack Rose
Jah Wobble, Jaki Liebezeit, Philip Jeck: Live in Leuven
Jay-Z vs DJ N-Wee: The Slack Album
Jay-Z vs DJ Danger Mouse: The Grey Album
Jay-Z vs RJD2: The Silver Album
John Zorn: 50th Birthday Celebrations: John Zorn/Fred Frith Duo
John Zorn: 50th Birthday Celebrations: Locus Solus
John Zorn: 50th Birthday Celebrations: Masada String Trio
John Zorn: 50th Birthday Celebrations: Electric Masada
John Zorn: 50th Birthday Celebrations: Masada
John Zorn: Magick
Jolie Holland: Escondida
Jon Balke & Magnetic North Orchestra: Diverted Travels
Juana Molina: Tres Cosas
Keith Jarrett: The Out-of-Towners
Marilyn Crispell, Mark Helias, Paul Motian: Storyteller
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy: Superwolf
Mitchell Akiyama: If Night Is A Weed And Day Grows Less
Moist: various demos
The Necks: See Through/Mosquito
The Nels Cline Singers: The Giant Pin
The New Year: The End Is Near
Pan American: Quiet City
Philip Jeck & Janeck Schaffer: Songs For Europe
Porn Sword Tobacco: Porn Sword Tobacco
Robert Fripp & Brian Eno: The Equatorial Stars
Roberto Juan Rodriguez: Baila! Gitano Baila!
Scorch Trio: Luggumt
Sonic Youth: Sonic Nurse
Spring Heel Jack: The Sweetness of the Water
State River Widening: Cottonhead
Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Hollywood
The Streets: A Grand Don't Come For Free
Susanna and The Magical Orchestra: List of Lights and Buoys
Taylor Deupree & Christopher Willits: Mujo
The Thing: Garage
Thomas Brinkmann: Tokyo + 1
Tom Recchion: I Love My Organ
Tom Waits: Real Gone
Tortoise: It's All Around You
TV On The Radio: Desperate Youth, Blood Thirsty Babes
Vinicius Cantuaria: Horse & Fish
Wilco: A Ghost Is Born
Wiley: Treddin' On Thin Ice
CMCD (George Katzer, John Oswald, Richard Trythall, Steve Moore, Lutz Glandien, Jaroslev Krcek)
David Toop : Haunted Weather: Music Silence and Memory
DFA Complation Vol.2
Four Tet: Late Night Tales
King Crimson: The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson
Low: A Lifetime of Temporary Relief
The Noise and the City
Annette Peacock: Mama Never Taught Me How To Cook
Arthur Russell: Calling Out Of Context
DNA: DNA on DNA
Glenn Branca: Lesson No.1
The Kinks: Village Green Preservation Society & Something Else
Stan Tracey Quartet: Under Milk Wood
Talking Heads: The Name Of This Band Is Talking Heads
Strictly Kev: 'Raiding the 20th Century', 'Raiding the 20th Century - Words and Music Expansion'
The Streets: 'Get Out My House'
LCD Soundsystem: Yeah (Crass version)
Telefon Tel Aviv: 'My Week Beats Your Year'
Sage Francis: 'Sea Lion'
TV On The Radio: 'Ambulance', 'Don't Love You'
Autistic Daughters: 'Florence Crown, Last Replay'
From previous years, but played a lot: TV On The Radio's 'Young Liars', Songs Ohia's 'Almost Was Good Enough', Archer Prewitt's 'The Race' and mostly, the Stan Tracey Quartet's magisterial 'Starless and Bible Black'. Plus Cassandra Wilson's extraordinary covers of 'Harvest Moon' and 'Wichita Lineman' (cf. 'Jolene' by Susanna and The Magical Orchestra)
Arve Henriksen; Autistic Daughters; TV On The Radio; Radian; Zorn's Masada groups, electric and acoustic; Pan American; The Necks; Trapist; Harold Budd; Madvillain; Four Tet's Late Night Tales and the incomparable 'Raiding the 20th Century' ...
The sharper among you will note that favourite bands Trapist, Radian and Autistic Daughters all feature drummer Martin Brandlmayr, who should be knighted for services to percussion.
Live, Theatre, Cinema
Disappointing lack of memorable gigs for me this year (save a hugely enjoyable David Byrne concert in London) but I did enjoy the music in Complicite's The Elephant Vanishes and The Black Rider, both at London's Barbican. Equally, one of 2004's most pleasurable aural experiences was the sound design in Zhang Yimou's film House of Flying Daggers - so take a bow, Jing Tao. It's all about the bamboo. (Whilst on film sound, I also enjoyed the fabulous start to Collateral, which cross-cuts about 10 pieces of music in quick succession as cars rapidly switch lanes; see also a fabulous scene in a jazz club with a band playing an intense excerpt of Miles Davis's 'Spanish Key', to me reminiscent of a brief aside in Bullitt when Steve McQueen visits a carefully contrived 'boho hangout' in San Francisco. Like the jazz band in Sweet Smell of Success or the destructive restaurant ensemble in Tati's Playtime (or even The Yardbirds brief but incendiary appearance in Blow Up), one could make a good list of such things. Go to it, LazyList.)
My favourite record shop has consistently been Boomkat, the online store based in Manchester. It's always had a top-notch selection, but has recently been redesigned and as well as being quite beautiful, imho, it now features collaborative filtering-based recommendations, as well as browsing by label, artist etc. Great work. Also Boomkat's 'Home Listening' genre is a smart collection. You wouldn't regret buying the lot, you really wouldn't.
Aside the usual consistency from the usual suspects (Rune Grammofon; ECM's Rarum series; 12k), John Zorn's 50th Birthday Celebrations series for Tzadik are very nice. Harold Budd's final album (apparently), Avalon Sutra, has an appropriately beautiful cover, in the Russell Mills style.
Thanks to Geoff Dyer's magisterial But Beautiful I spent many happy hours reveling in the utterly peerless music of Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Bud Powell, Chet Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Holiday etc. And of course, by association, Miles Davis and John Coltrane, both of whom are perennial pursuits.
For half the year, I've been submitting the metadata around my music listening to Audioscrobbler. (This records any computer-based listening to music I do, which has become the primary way I listen - but therefore doesn't include vinyl-based listening, say, and for much of the year didn't include iPod-based listening, though now does.). Still, 11000 tracks up there, giving me a pretty good idea of what I've been listening to - and for the first time, a really interesting counterpoint to these annual 'best-of' lists. As for the iTunes Music Store, I bought a hundred tracks or so in the first few months, but have not bought much since (essentially due to the limited stock and DRM). I'm still buying plenty of CDs per month, but also reselling on Amazon marketplace after ripping. As Abe notes on his brilliant piece on 'the curatorial era', "I've probably invested less energy into finding new music this year then I have in a decade, and I probably heard more then I ever have."
The ongoing point of interest for me has been the rise and rise of the collage, sometimes in the guise of shuffle, or in the endless bifurcation of Jay-Z's Black Album, or in the hyper-curation of Strictly Kev's 'Raiding the 20th Century'. I've written more about this here.