for sunshine after storm

“I would say that he has a rather limited and uncreative way of looking at the situation. You want to know if I understand that this is a mental hospital? Yes, I understand that. But, then how can I say that you are Don Octavio and I am a guest at your villa? Correct?” – Don Juan DeMarco

A few months ago I experienced something unusual. I was tense. I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t grasp my thoughts. A fog had descended over my brain. I couldn’t visualise or access the parts of my brain where all the interesting stuff was. 

I love reading and literature. I could read something but I couldn’t access the memory drive or whatever the technical term is for that, where I hold all the allusions and reference points to my previous experiences and all of the other shit I’ve read in my life to form a picture or an opinion or expand on, or even understand what the writer was trying to say (intentionally or otherwise). It was an incredibly frustrating experience.

I was stressed out from long hours. I was physically and mentally jaded. My brain and body had effectively hit the ‘safe mode’ á la Windows 98. All my body and mind was interested in was the basic functions of survival and protecting myself to stay alive. An ancient, hard wired evolutionary response.

Your body is designed for two primary functions: reproduce and survive. When you’re faced with stressful situations, the only parts of your brain you can access are the ones which perform the basic functions of keeping you alive. If you’re about to be lunch for a sabre tooth tiger, your mind couldn’t give a shit about the nuances of James Joyce’s Ulysses, only the threat at hand and keeping you alive. 

It actually took me a while, to regain my sense of self. I don’t like feeling jaded or having my mind clouded over. I enjoy the sensory aspects of living. How pretentious as fuck does that sound? I started trying to increase blood-flow to my brain and break the shackles of the stultifying fog.

I started looking for outlets and later it was by chance I became interested in playing guitar again. I don’t profess to be even a proficient guitar player. I’m working on it. However I became fascinated by the possibilities of the instrument and the creative process. I eventually started to think outside of the box again and started looking beyond the conventional idea of the instrument. If you’re playing an electric guitar, essentially, the guitar is actually the platform and your instrument is the amp. I started messing around with various effects pedals, which are actually addictive. I started looking beyond the guitar in the conventional sense of playing chords and became interested and intrigued in the various multi-faceted possibilities. Utilising the various quirks of the equipment to create interesting sounds, rather than spending hours tediously practising ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ to make it sound like it does on Led Zep 4, I thought it was more interesting just messing and playing around. Creating my own sound. I didn’t care. The stress was gone. This is freedom.

I had internalised the greatest lesson from James Joyce’s work, the creative process is essentially for your own amusement. Art brings stillness and fulfilment. It doesn’t mean shit if people like, appreciate or even understand what you’re doing, it isn’t a means to an end. You do not create for visceral reponse. It is an outpouring of spiritual repose.

Four on Six

image

I’m determined to get good at this.

Some considerations:

During every practise session of an hour or longer, there will be 10-20 minutes ‘cold time’ and this makes no consideration for how “purposeful” the practise session is. Nor does it take into consideration how invested you are in what you’re actually doing. 

However this also doesn’t take into consideration towards other time spent towards developing. Time invested in studying technique, music, researching, learning will ultimately be beneficial. 

Raw is Wah

Looking forward to the arrival of my new Telecaster, Dunlop JC95 Wah and Behringer SF400, which has some interesting effects and a wide range of tones I can mess about with.

I recently found the sweet spot with my Les Paul, where I managed to finally illicit the right amount of gain to get a really dirty, gritty bluesy sound. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing some Beatles stuff in the fashion of a really beat up, poor mans ZZ Top. I’m interested to see how I can expand on that with the Telecaster. I loved the tonality of the Tele whilst playing blues licks.

I ordered the JC95 Wah after spending an afternoon watching head-to-heads on YouTube of various pedals and I ended up torn between the JC95 model, which is based on eliciting the sound of Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell and the signature model of the late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrel, ‘The Crybaby from Hell Wah.’ For the sound I’m looking for, It was a tough choice between the two as to which offered the most textured, layered tone. I ultimately opted for the Cantrell model, as you can only obsess over the nuances of sound so much and obsessing over the ‘perfect sound’ just gets in the way of creativity. You have to work with the quirks of the tools at your disposal.

Rather than looking for perfection, I think it’s a lot more interesting to work with what you’ve got and build your own unique style and sound based on that, rather than being de rigueur or trying to imitate someone else. It’s the quirks which give you the authenticity, soul, individuality and originality.

It’s always better to the first and best you, than a second rate someone else.

Looking to add an MXR M108 10-Band Graphic EQ and a decent digital delay pedal sometime soon, too. This set-up should lead me nicely to one day making high budget films on oil tankers lamenting the breakdown of human relationships and swimming with dolphins. If you don’t get that last reference, you never will. 

A Short Treatise on Guitarists

Yngwie Malmsteen may be amongst the most technically skilled and accomplished guitarists of all time. But his work is mechanical and the incessant shredding is overbearing and at the expense of the soul you would find in other eighties guitarists such as Guns N’ Roses’ Slash or the talented Randy Rhodes (Of Blizzard of Oz fame.) Malmsteen was inspired by nineteenth century violin virtuoso Niccolò Paganini and the more contemporary Richie Blackmore of Deep Purple.
Frankly after about five minutes, whilst you can marvel at Malmsteen’s technical acuity it ceases to be enjoyable. Art sacrificed for mechanical drudgery. The attention of the listener is overtly drawn from a state of appreciation into an analysis of themotion. Similar to listening to a machine churn rapidly. Paganini or Segovia he is not. Plus, just for good measure. Slash’s foray into the orchestra pit at the end of November Rain completely surpasses anything which could be classed as part of the pretentious neo-classical metal genre anyway. Slash of course provided the likeability, as the aspirationally talented, essentially working class hero constrasted against Axl Rose’s febrile, loathsome, white trash heel with deranged delusions of grandeur, to such phenomenal effect to help make Guns N’ Roses at the time easily the biggest band in the world. 

Nonetheless I digress, Malmsteen’s debut album Rising Force is a fascinating insight into the man. Whilst largely well received – being completely instrumental – and easily the best of his work, I’m always aghast at how Malmsteen aside, the other session musicians on the album would not be good enough to play in a bad such as Ratt. Malmsteen’s shredding is against a backdrop of badly played generic eighties metal. Critics (as did most eighties shredders who he is largely responsible for) quickly tired of Malmsteen, due to his lack of interest in anything akin to artistic development or range such as other contemporaries like Todd Rundgren. Saying that, not many people do have the range of Rundgren. As technically skilful as his playing may be, he’s effectively a one trick pony, repetition is the mother of indifference. A wasted talent.

Whilst Malmsteen would be best described as a dour, mechanical air splitter, I much prefer guitarists who are the opposite and play out of a passion for music and furthering their art.

Following the excesses of late eighties shredding drudgery, in the early nineties there was Cobain. Cobain had soul and could sing too. Rare and difficult to find many people who can combine the two to such a high level, which puts him on the level of Hendrix. Whilst Smells Like Teen Spirit may be overplayed, the In Utero album is to this day grossly underrated.

Tom Morello is someone I love watching. He has a chronic difference to anything which could be described as fancy. Plus, testament to the creative spirit, he works with low budget kit – and has done for most of his career. I find it fascinating and it’s part of his enduring appeal, that quite early on, in his own words he gave up searching for ‘the perfect sound.’ Opting instead to work with what he had. Building his music on the quirks and glitches of the equipment at his disposal to find his own unique sound. There’s a video of him with Springsteen at The Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame where they perform The Ghost of Tom Joad and the audience are just in awed silence.

The first time I ever picked up a guitar I was inspired by The Beatles when I was eight years old. Or as it would happen, George Harrison. The opening note of A Hard Days Night is something I tried to play constantly. Even at a young age, I couldn’t accept that it was basically someone playing a fucking boring chord like a ‘C’ but that’s testament to the ability of the man. To make it sound so engrossing. Anyone can work with good stuff, it takes a master to work with shit. To this day, I’m still mesmerised by that . Also an honourable mention to ‘I Feel Fine’ which is probably my favourite song of all time and the first song to utilise feedback. Whilst it was actually number one at the time, it never made a Beatles album because Ringo didn’t like it (!) which embodies the high standard of the times. Where their contemporaries were the likes of The Rolling Stones who have virtually unheard b-sides which are better than pretty much every song of the past twenty years. She Smiled Sweetly being probably one of my favourites.

A lot of the earlier stuff of the sixties was inspired by a lot of great blues stuff which kind of goes unheard. I mean probably Chuck Berry aside, it’s rare you ever hear anything about the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker which is quite sad.

Then there’s the classic jazz guitarists I love like Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt. Wes Montgomery block chords are the bane of my life, however sound amazing. Wes Montgomery probably even surpasses Django Reinhardt who is mind-blowing. Especially for someone with only three fingers.

Fin.

Crabwalk @ NGCA 

Checked out this great exhibition at the NGCA in Sunderland, today. Particularly liked this:  

  

It’s called The Cortical Night by Alex Dordoy. The canvas shows a cerebral cortex manifested as a forest against an opaque backdrop. Forests traditionally serve as a great mythological metaphor for transformation and change. This is also reflected in the spherical orbs representing the moon. Of course the moon is the ultimate methaphor for transformation. Those distant enchanting spheres that exist in the space between wakefulness and sleep, before disappearing to be reborn again. It’s a truly stunning interpretation of the dreamscape intertwined with the waking consciousness.

 
Also, I really liked the work of Jennifer Douglas which is designed to represent the current condition of Kazmir Malevich’s suprematist masterpiece ‘The Black Square.’ I’m a great fan of Malevich and I continue to lament missing the 2014 Tate Modern exhibition. Nonetheless, her work here serves as either individual (fractured) canvasses, or as a complete constructivist composition for which the picture below doesn’t do justice. 

  

Well worth a look.

Favourite Movies: Alphaville

  
“Machines generated new problems. Problems the human mind couldn’t solve.”

In the first part of an ongoing series about why Jean Luc Godard is a genius, this is about one of the most stunning and engrossing movies I have ever seen. Alphaville. A science fiction film without special effects. Set in a dystopian world that looks identical to Paris and takes us on a visual tour around some of the cities early 1960’s modernist architecture. A movie that is also part Chandler, part film noir, part Orwellian nightmare with a dash of Louis Ferdinand Celine and Jorge Luis Borges.

We meet the leading man Lemmy Caution, who looks like he’s walked out of every Bogart movie you’ve ever seen. He has a look of steely determination. It’s the classic 1960’s movie archetype of a man with purpose. When accosted by a beautiful woman (a level three seductress no less), she’s not given so much as a first glance let alone a second. This is a man with a job to do and he’s intent on doing it. You got this in the early Sean Connery Bond films before the role was ultimately softened and Bond was made to atleast exchange a glib or flirty one liner with the woman. Here, it is the textbook Gregory Peck determined scowl and an assertive “Clear off.” Also on another note writing a hard-boiled character like this also produces stronger women characters within the story as a result, as the women have to be actually y’know relevent and play a part in driving the story forward rather than just eye-candy for the leading man or there to engage in a bit flirty banter or provide a shoulder to cry on, such is the case in most modern movies.

I digress. This is is such a fantastically shot movie and the strength of Godard is in the confidence he has in his actors and the rare ability to just put the camera down and fix a scene where there isn’t actually a lot happening. Few directors can do this. The best recent example of such quality directing would be Steve McQueen in Hunger when he sets a camera on Fassbender and the priest for twenty minutes and lets the dialogue unfurl. There’s no reliance on providing constant stimulation to the viewer and changing frame every two seconds to maintain engagement. Having the confidence to do this is rare and not only does Godard have faith in his actors, he trusts his viewer. As a result, his movies play out to their conclusion with pretty much all violence and nudity left to the imagination – and the end result is actually all the more satisfying for it.

It’s the simplicity of the movie though which provides the most satisfaction. Taking a familiar concept such as the hardboiled detective story and then setting it against an innate threat which is actually probably more pertinent in the current day and age than it was in the sixties. The nacent threat is a technocratic society where lives are controlled by machines and the people are systematically conditioned in semantics (see:  modern PR, marketing, media or as it’s sometimes known, propaganda).

One of my favourite concepts:  The bible prevalent in every hotel room scene, in what is a lovely twist is actually a reguarly updated dictionary where words are removed and made obsolete whilst more appropriate words are freshly added. This builds on one of the most frightening parts of the movie: In attempting to control the limits of thought, the manipulation of language is perhaps the most foundational tool of all, for an individual can only think in the vocabulary available to them. In colonial societies the effect of this has been devastating. By suppressing language you suppress culture and identity. I have wrote about this previously, Alphaville takes this concept to its extreme.

In what is an inverse allusion to Camus’ The Outsider, the idea is to create a logical society free from emotion. This is actually very much pertinent to the kind of secular and self-defined rationalist society desired by many atheists and humanists these days. In reducing everything to scientific lines, we’re left with a Christian society sans God, ran on terrifying technocratic lines for big business and profit. Although the great tragedy is that no-one will actually know what money is for, as we got rid of all abstractions: poetry, art, music along with irrelevant distractions like kindess, affection, love, friendship in the process. Fortunately, as the movie helpfully explains, there is no reason to ask “why” we should or should not have such things, just say “because.”

The villain of the piece: the machine if you wish to rationalise, is actually a light and a fan with an eery low pitched croak. If you wish to be more abstract and upto date, you can imagine it’s the eyestalk of a French speaking Dalek. However, to look at this rationally or abstractly actually does a disservice to what manages to be massively unnerving. Presenting   a quasi-ominiponent menace controlling everyones thoughts and aspirations in a fashion that everyone can strongly relate to makes it horrific and a brilliant piece of film-making. Tremendously done.

In the Heart of the Sea. Review.

One of my favourite – and one of the most beautiful – books I’ve ever read is Leviathon, or the Whale by Philip Hoare. It’s a stunning portrait of the authors obsession with these mastadons of the sea. Whales possess something of a mysterious aura, perhaps more so than any other creature of the deep. Mesmerising and intelligent, the book enshrines the terrible beauty of man’s relationship with the whale. The depth of the writing justifies the mystique which we hold the leviathan.

I was pleased to see ‘In the Heart of the Sea.’ An enchanting dramatisation of the story that inspired or perhaps preempted Moby Dick. Whilst I didn’t think the movie lent itself well to the 3D format and wasn’t without its flaws, I was still perhaps a little disappointed to see such a low turnout for such a movie. 

‘In the Heart of the Sea’ tells an enormous story, one that can most certainly be described as an epic. From director Ron Howard, whose previous work includes Apollo 13 about a group of men stuck in a capsule in outer space, this movie is bigger. There is a massive performance from Chris Hemsworth. Engaging and engrossing, embodying everything we expect of the archetypal mythic hero. There are also a number of other standout performances including that of Benjamin Walker who I thought had good chemistry with Hemsworth.

Perhaps in trying to tell such a story in two hours, some of the suspense and tension is lost. Ironically, the role of the white whale is perhaps the least satisfying aspect of the movie – becoming an inconvenience and distraction from some terrific human drama being played out between Hemsworth and Walker. The inevitable shipwreck at the behest of the whale within the scope of the movie is almost superfluous. The ship could have ran aground or been hit by a meteor, the whale is a minor detail. Jaws this is not. On some level this is a disappointment, as the role of the leviathon in such a movie should be to enhance the tension and drama to truly Odyssean levels. I think the movie also suffers from the backdrop of the story being narrated through a world weary Brendan Gleason to Ben Whishaw’s (who is ostensibly in every movie this year) Melville, who in turn is taking pointers for Moby Dick. Whishaw in particular does nothing to enhance or move the story forward. His performance is particularly flat in a movie which ultimately relies on the fine acting driving it. 

Without this Treasure Island-esque narration – which let’s be real is a writing cop-out and/or a director not having confidence in the story he’s telling – and rather, had Howard invested the screen-minutes between Gleason (who I usually like) and the woeful Whishaw in building the tension on the ship towards the encounter with the leviathon, whilst utilising the  tremendous acting talent at his disposal, this movie would truly have been an epic – in the cinematic sense – for the ages, rather than one that tries to do a little too much in two hours.

I’d associated Hemsworth with the Marvel: Thor abomination. With Thor of course being retconned as an alien rather than a Norse God, so the retarded American Bible Belt wouldn’t be offended by the notion of other deities. He really is a talent though, hopefully they’ll put him in a few more serious films to showcase his abilities.

Unforgiven

A prostitute is disfigured by a cowboy after laughing at the size of his manhood. The local sheriff is perceived as being lenient on the assailant after he demands only that the local brothel-owner is reimbursed for his ‘lost investment.’ The prostitutes collate their capital and offer it as a reward to whoever murders the assailant and his cohort. 

Will Munny is a retired assassin and windower living on a failing remote pig-farm with his two young children. He’s approached by a boastful young gunslinger which leads him to set off in search of the reward…

Unforgiven is a spectacular treatise on the American Western, capitalism, law, feminism, justice, youth, folly, growing old and the value of human life.

There are enormous moral questions raised throughout the film. The role of the prostitutes in events extends far beyond patriarchal ownership. It leads us to look at the nature of modern capitalism where the employee is reduced to a functioning asset of the employer with an effective shelf-life, with the state having a protective interest only as far as capital is concerned. Rather, the person is not protected by the state, capital and investment is. 

The ultimate question in the fashion of Peckinpah’s love of world weary loners is to display the aging reformed gunslinger, who aspires to do the right thing in such a world of nihilism and brutality that we must question if there is such thing as decency, a moral life beyond an abstract ideal and whether such things are even possible? The tawdry implications of such questions are not limited to the periodic Western.

There are no easy answers.

The Highest Grossing Box-Office Movies Ever.

There has been a lot of hype and speculation about how the new Star Wars movie will perform at the box-office. What records will it smash? Will it be the biggest of all time?

Frankly I doubt it. However, we can ascertain a few things from the highest grossing box-office movies of all time.

Avatar was terrible. The success of it was down to innovation in 3D. People love 3D, it’s tremendous. Any successful box-office movie has to be 3D and must in turn serve to enhance the 3D spectacle.

Looking further down the list, we see people also like to watch dinosaurs, ships and Leonardo Di Caprio drowning.

There’s some tedious Marvel superhero stuff, Harry Potter and Frozen.

If I wanted to write a box-office smash, I would write a story about a young woman who has magical powers – which she is intensely frightened of – travelling onboard a ship with her pet dwarf. She meets an enchanting rogue who seeks to find his father who has absconded to Iceland, which is where the ship is headed. In the meantime, a deranged Leonardo Di Caprio has created a race of dinosaurs upon the ship which rapidly spiral out of control after being injected with growth hormone (probably stolen from the lab of Tony Stark or some shit). He seeks to take them to the new world. In the interim, he uses his dinosaurs to take control of the ship. The young woman is saved from a velociraptor, although badly injured after her dwarf nobly sacrifices its gender neutral self and with some help from the rogue. After moving her to safety, the rogue seeks to fight the dinosaurs who are slaughtering everyone onboard armed only with a pump action shotgun which he has been hiding. The Remington pump is symbolic of his dark, morally ambivalent past. A fight ultimately breaks out between the rogue and Leonardo Di Caprio and Leonardo Di Caprio ends up drowning. However the rogue is mortally wounded in the process. He seeks out the young woman to bid his farewell, then dies. The tragedy of this causes the young woman to unleash her power which destroys the dinosaurs and the ship, but saves civilisation from being overrun with baby Tyrannosaurus Rex’s.

This is human drama.