peteg's blog

LAMPO: Jennifer Walshe and Tony Conrad as Ma La Pert

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A Liz Fraser-alike b-boxing, or scatting ala Megan from The Herd? The place was packed, possibly due to a glowing preview in the Chicago Reader. To me it sounded like mild audience abuse with an Irish lilt, a cello, and a violin plugged into some analog electronics; chopping this stuff up doesn't make it more inventive. The walk over was in sleet. I was sleepy all day after taking the train back from West Lafayette.

Jennifer Walshe and Tony Conrad will perform together as Ma La Pert, an improvisational collaboration that blends a variety of traditional and non-traditional instruments such as violins, autoharps, drums, vocalizations, found objects, and costumes to generate unique sounds during their live performances.

Jennifer Walshe is a London-based vocalist, composer, and conceptual artist who often works under various identities individually as Grupat, and also with different collaborators across Europe and the US, including Ma La Pert with Tony Conrad and with Tomomi Adachi on the People’s United Telepathic Improvisational Front. Walshe’s work has been exhibited in New York, Dublin, London, and Toronto.

Tony Conrad is an experimental filmmaker, artist, composer and musician based between Brooklyn and Buffalo, NY. He is known for his early pioneering drone-based minimalist music, as well as his involvement in the Theatre of Eternal Music (The Dream Syndicate) and collaborations with numerous filmmakers, artists, and musicians such as John Cale, La Monte Young, Mike Kelley, Marian Zazeela, Jim O’Rourke, Lou Reed, and Walter De Maria. In addition to experimental filmmaking, Conrad has composed numerous audio works for amplified strings, and has more recently focused on examining traditions in Western music and geometry from Pythogoras to the present.

The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water

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$9.25. 8.50pm session at the Wabash Landing 9 cinema in West Lafayette. I was the only one there, and indeed, why would you have a 9pm screening of a kids movie? Like the last one this was pretty funny in the small, seemingly very age-inappropriate, and super-derivative. Like the last movie I saw here, we got the everythings-awesome-when-you're-part-of-a-team schpiel. Americas' stocks on teamwork must be running out. Buy teamwork! Banderas is quite amusing too.

New York Times review.

Strawdog Theatre Company: The Sweeter Option

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$28.00 + convenience charge of $3.00 = $31.00. Opening night, and with it, an open bar. I had the best beer on offer: a Revolution Eugene Porter, in a can. I hoofed it up to the Strawdog via City Grounds in the cold (-10C) but windless evening, so somewhat bearable. This was after hacking the PLDI paper all afternoon. I grabbed a quick dinner at the Asian Mix Cafe nearby, same as last time. Whatever the reviews say, their yellow curry noodle laksa thing is the bomb.

This was my first time behind Strawdog's red door, which is apparently their main space with superior seating. It was almost completely packed. From my seat at the front left, adjacent to where the actors flounced in and out, I spent a lot of time looking at the sides of actor's faces and the backs of their heads. After a while I realised that pretty much everyone sitting near and behind me must have as well.

This is another noir, putting me in mind of my last trip here (to see Desperate Dolls). The draw was Michaela Petro, last seen laughing like a drain in Ecstasy at A Red Orchid Theatre. A bonus was Emily Tate from Dead Accounts. The lead bloke (Sam Guinan-Nyhart) was pretty solid given the generally bewildering activity around him, especially when they changed sets: he wandered around looking dazed and confused as his world changed, and the ladies (of course) gave him those knowing looks.

I really wanted to enjoy this but ended up struggling to scratch the surface. Jackie Davies observes the out-of-order scenes: oh yeah, I got that, after a while. Justin Hayford at the Chicago Reader. Aaron Hunt notes the weak ending.

Mean Streets

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Yeah. It's a bit weird seeing de Niro eclipse Keitel, almost in real time. I'd bracket it with The Friends of Eddie Coyle.

Atticus Lish: Preparation for the Next Life.

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I discovered Red Plenty via a glowing review by Dwight Garner, and his review in the New York Times last November led me to this. Having read it I agree with what he said and have little to add. Powerful stuff indeed. Somewhat perplexingly it is an economical, dense, urgent and necessary type of thing that is rarely beautiful; in fact when my heart was up around my ears it was getting viscerally ugly. But never cheap, condescending or exploitative, and always clear-eyed. I guess the word for this stuff is art. I hope he keeps at it.

Chungking Express

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Last seen about four years ago. There remains a lot to like about Wong Kar-Wai's work. Over several nights.

The Missing Picture

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A foreign-language Oscar nominee for 2014. Over several nights. A personal take on the Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia, in clay but not claymation.

Mohsin Hamid: Discontent and its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York and London.

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$18.31 from the Book Depository. I got about 350 pages into the Chicago Public Library's inter-library-loaned copy of The Moon of Hoa Binh before my copy from Bennett Books arrived, with some drama as the address omitted my apartment number. I thought I'd chew through this before breaking the plastic wrap on those.

I enjoyed Mohsin Hamid's immediately-previous two novels, but he is a lot weaker in short-short form. This collection of essays is not a patch on Salman Rushdie's Step Across This Line from 2002 (as far as I remember it; see, for instance, his take on 9/11). Coarsely put, Hamid is a good writer but not a deep thinker. Here we get a lot of iteration without too much deepening, which can be somewhat blamed on his aspiration to present the material as closely as possible to its original form. It reeks of laziness a little too often.

I liked his take on Pakistan's Coke Studio (p116), which is perhaps the best thing that company has done for the planet; and of course the people who made the movie of his The Reluctant Fundamentalist had their opening scene ready-made in the form of Kangna by Fareed Ayaz and Abu Muhammad from season four. His more serious efforts to canvas the issues of present-day Pakistan flounder as he does little more than paraquote more serious research. In Why they get Pakistan wrong, he observes that the society has low inequality despite loads of corruption; this is commonly attributed to clannish behaviour. In-country charitable donations run at 5% of GDP; this is perhaps in line with zakat, one of the pillars of Islam, which he neglects to explain. (A wealth tax is surely beyond the imaginings of Westerners! What a blown opportunity.) How about a contrast with Turkey, now undergoing a similar Islamization that was hitherto kept in check by the countries's founders? Also (p138) he bemoans how little of the money earmarked by USAID for Pakistan is disbursed. This is unsurprising given how much arse-covering these guys need to do these days — can't fund the wrong madrassas! — and Hamid somehow failed to mention the chilling effect of the US Government's jihad against zakat from American-based Muslims.

At some point he mentions an ugly scene in Riyadh. Is he a hajji? You won't find out here. Often he channels Amartya Sen et al.'s multi-faceted notions of identity without citation. This points to the central problem with this book: it doesn't even try to explain Islam. Moreover his notion of Asia doesn't appear to stretch to the largest Muslim country (Indonesia) which somewhat tarnishes his universalism. He is on surer ground with personal anecdotes about the usual universals, but meh, I can get those anywhere.

Sukhdev Sandhu at the Guardian. The US is also clearly a patchwork country, as is Europe; the pluralistic experiment has been tried in many places at many times, and so once again I would hope for some historical perspective from the author. Duncan White at the Telegraph similarly quotes at length and observes the lack of depth. Michiko Kakutani similarly at the New York Times.

A Red Orchid Theatre: Accidentally, Like a Martyr.

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$30 + $4 in convenience = $34. That's three out of three for A Red Orchid Theatre, and two out of two for director Shade Murray. The hour-and-twenty flew past. The entirety of the cast was uniformly excellent. Layne Manzer demonstrated his range by being as coked up here as he was timid in Ecstasy. I recognised Luce Metrius from All Our Tragic. I warmed up to Steve Haggard as he worked his way through the barflies. David Cerda is solid as the older playboy. Doug Vickers and Troy West are completely plausible as cantankerous, duelling furniture in the bar run by Dominique Worsley. Before going I had my doubts about the gay bar setting, but it turned out to be rich in power dynamics, and something of a confessional; the little blood that's spilt is entirely earnt, and the issues universal and eternal. John Holt's bar was perfectly authentic and well-used, just like last time; here we get a bartender's (manager's?) view of the patrons.

Zac Thompson at the Reader. Damn cold out (-9 maximums, ridiculous wind chills). Yellow curry with noodles for dinner at the pokey little pan-Asian Original Thai Tsang Chicago. So-so. While waiting I had a very bland Imperial Stout from the Pour House further south on Wells. It's not a place to just hang out with a book.

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago: Richard Hunt.

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I returned to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago after an early dinner with Christian-from-work. Lou Malnati's is inferior to Giordano's, just for the record. The exhibition had some nice works but was disappointing in having so few of them.

Jupiter Ascending

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Regal Webster Place 11, 4.30pm, $15.50, 3D. From the initial cringe worthy conflation of astronomy and astrology to the concluding scene of Fenchurch and Arthur going flying for their first date, people like me are relearning that the Wachowskis really only had one movie in them. Bae Doo-na is criminally underused here; I can't even remember who she was working for. The thread of plot originating from Tuppence Middleton still dangles; what was her game? I guess several millenia watching cable leads to this kind of dross. I spent most of the Chicago fight scene trainspotting; the closest I got was a shot of the Merchandise Mart towards the end of it, and I think the skating-rink part was on Lake. So kind of them to put the city back together in time for the next Transformers installment! And the memory-erasure device sure helped me make sense of these past ten months. Just to ruin the repetition: people are soylent, and there's only one man who can save the princess, though he's programmed to rip her throat out in that Twilight kinda way. As in not really. The Wachowskis have this essentialist hangup ("the one", it's not what you do but who you are, or here, whose genes you've got) which is beyond tiresome given Lana's change of gender. Is she now more essentially herself than she was before? If so, let's have a little less fatalistic determinism thanks. Sean Bean looked like a muscled-up Richard Roxburgh. For all that I got what I expected, and at length.

Manohla Dargis is more patient with it. The bureaucratic bit should've gone full-Gilliam.

LAMPO: Arnold Dreyblatt.

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The first piece was a piano-stringed bass fitted with some electronics. He played it by banging it with a bow, which yielded some kind of dance music that evoked the opening of Félix Lajkó's Remény. It had its moments; the preview on iTunes is far more vanilla. The second was all laptop and often verged on audience abuse, and took the artist a few solid belts of vodka (I think) to get through. The bloke on my left was Facebooking the whole time, and the bloke on my right was swigging sake (I think). Both far older than I.

Their blurb:

The Graham Foundation and Lampo are pleased to welcome American media artist and composer Arnold Dreyblatt who will perform two works: Turntable History / Spin Ensemble (2011), a multi-channel sound composition derived from Dreyblatt's own recordings of a Magnetic Resonance Imaging Scanner, and Nodal Excitation, a 1979 work for amplified "excited strings" bass, strung with piano wire. Arnold Dreyblatt is a composer, performer, and visual artist. He studied music with Pauline Oliveros, La Monte Young, and Alvin Lucier, and has been based in Berlin, Germany since 1984. Among the second generation of New York minimal composers, Dreyblatt developed a unique approach to composition and music performance. As he began his music career in the late 1970s in New York, he invented a set of new and original instruments and performance techniques, as well as a just intonation tuning system. He has formed and led numerous ensembles, working under the name "The Orchestra of Excited Strings." In 2007, he was elected to the German Academy of Art (Akademie der Künste, Berlin).

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center: Drumming at Harris Theater.

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Goldstar ticket: $20.00 + $5.25 service fee = $25.25 on 2015-01-23. I figured I'd pay a bit more and see if the seating improved. I was a fair way back but had a great view, which is something when the drummers are this skillful. Before the gig I had a Chicago-style lasagna-pizza at Giordano's near the Harris Theater.

They started with three surrounding a kettle drum with some auxiliary percussion in between for Nebojsa Jovan Živković's Meccanico from Trio per uno for Percussion Trio, Op. 27 (1995, 1999), which, being exhilarating, set a high bar the later pieces struggled to meet. Conlon Nancarrow's Piece for Tape arranged for Percussion (arranged by Dominic Murcott) (1950s) was unmemorable. Thierry de Mey's Musique de tables for Percussion Trio (1987) was some kooky wax-on wax-off stuff that evoked my last trip to Campbelltown. I don't clearly remember John Cage's In a Landscape for Marimba (transcribed by Ian David Rosenbaum) (1948), nor Toru Takemitsu's Rain Tree for Percussion Trio (1981), both of which drew me to this concert in the first place. Grr. Steve Reich's Drumming: Part 1 for Percussion Quartet (1970-71) exhibited the skill of all four drummers. Bartók's Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion (1937) was difficult to stomach.

I took the Red Line home due to it being damn cold, a little windy, and my being toasted.

Richard Hunt at the Chicago Cultural Center.

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As forecast, it is snowing like crazy today. I decided to test how bad it was with a 40+ minute schlep down to the Intelligentsia on Randolph, across the river, next to the Chicago Cultural Center. It was not cold but the salt-induced water pooled in the gutters, under the snow, at the road crossings got pretty annoying. I ended up with wet socks. The snow blasting into my face every so often was pretty slushy. At some points the crunchy snow was 20+ cm deep.

I'm not totally sure why there are so many exhibitions of Richard Hunt's work on right now; they claim he's been at it for 60 years and perhaps that's enough. I half-expected to find half an engine block mixed in with the fenders and exhaust pipes; the times definitely suited him. Is scrap rarer now? He is a master with the gas axe. I enjoyed the studies for some of his public art as they demonstrate ideation and evolution; for instance the MLK-commemorating I Have Been to the Mountain (1977, in Memphis) loses a paddle-steamer wheel and gains steps that lead to a slide. The major part seems in need of an audience, so a minor part takes shape. I'm keen to see the finished product now. Uplift is a major theme in his work.

There were two videos, one featuring Studs Terkel, but I wasn't going to sit around for 90 minutes to see them. I do need to chase that guy up though. Hunt takes all the theory people wave in his face with the good grace of someone who figured out what he wanted to do at an early age, and got really good at it.

The culture center itself has a pleasant hang-out space on the ground floor. I'd been there before in 2012 and not since I moved here. Electricity seems in short supply, but I think they do wifi. I took the Red Line subway back up to Division/Clark and watched a car spin out in front of a fire truck at Clybourn/Division. Too much haste, insufficient care.