Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Movie Review: In Search of Beethoven on Netflix

Ludwig van Beethoven

Movie Review
In Search of Beethoven (documentary)
d. Phil Grabsky
currently streaming on Netflix

   There should be a word for things that are both interesting and boring at the same time.  If that word existed, it would describe In Search of Beethoven, a comprehensive and very no-nonsense documentary about the life, times and music of the immortal composer and pianist, Ludwig van Beethoven.  In Search of Beethoven, currently streaming on Netflix is two hours and twenty minutes long.  It actually took me a week and five separate viewing sessions before I completed In Search of Beethoven.

   The entirety of In Search of Beethoven is some pictures of Ludwig van Beethoven, interviews with scholars and musicians about Ludwig van Beethoven and performances of his works.   Over the two hours and twenty minutes there is quite alot of all three things.

   There is so much useful and interesting information about Beethoven in this documentary that I wanted to see a written down version of what all the talking heads were saying.   One of the keys to understanding Beethoven that I extracted in between my lengthy sighs upon realizing just how long In Search of Beethoven is, was that he was very, very, very unlucky in love.  He was forever pining after teenaged Aristocratic girls and in early 19th centuy Vienna that shit was not going to happen.

  The two songs I've written about here so far- Fur Elise and Moonlight Sonata, were love notes to two different girls.  Both are sonatas, or as we would call them today, songs.  Ludwig van Beethoven's works can be broken down into three categories: sonatas, concertos & symphonies. He also did one opera and a very famous mass, but the main categories are the sonata (one instrument- piano), concerto (one lead instrument and backing instruments) and symphonies (full orchestra + chorused vox.)

  The symphonies were his big statement pieces.  Beethoven never really left Vienna and never toured, but he did play a couple of big live shows- the first when he debuted his immortal Fifth Symphony:

  Several years later he also did a live performance of the Ninth symphony:

  Beethoven's achievements were measured next to those of Haydn and Mozart by his contemporaries.  This despite the facts that Haydn had long stopped composing and Mozart was actually dead.  The "three geniuses" of early 19th century Vienna were Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.  Compared to those two, Beethoven did a couple of things differently.  First, he abandoned the classical symmetry that characterizes much of pre-Beethoven classical music in favor of a more tension inducing, unbalanced style of music. Second, Beethoven went big.  When the Audience heard the Fifth Symphony for the first time the reaction must have been something like a big crowd getting wowed at an arena rock show- no one had ever written symphonies on such a grand scale.

Ludwig van Beethoven

 In fact, at least one interviewee on In Search of Beethoven credits him with the creation of the grand, classical symphony as we know it today.  Beethoven's deafness, which is the kind of biographical detail that has ensured his immortality in the Romantic artistic canon, certainly limited his ability to perform live (he played the Piano in the live setting), but didn't stop him from composing.  In fact, several people argue that his deafness probably liberated his music from the conventions of the time.

  Despite his general unhappiness with his material circumstances, Beethoven was acclaimed as a genius by his Audience during his life and immediately upon his death.  It was clear to contemporaries the extent of his talent, and Beethoven, composed in such a way so that people would damn well understand how great he was- if only because his songs were often impossible for lesser skilled musicians to play.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Show Review: King Dude @ The Soda Bar in San Diego

TJ Cowgill of King Dude, as he appeared last night.

Show Review
King Dude
at the Soda Bar in San Diego, CA.

  King Dude got a very solid turn out at the Soda Bar last night.  100+?  Query as to whether the price point (7 USD) had a positive impact on turn out last night.  I frequently have conversations with friends about the wisdom of shows that are priced 12-15 USD.    If you are charging 12, you can pull 60 paid and clear 720 at the door, whereas you could draw 100 at 7 USD a ticket and actually make less.  However, the difference between a show that has 60 paid vs. 100 paid- can be the difference between everyone: band, audience, venue feeling like the night was a flop vs. the night being a success.

 Personally, I would say that for your average mid week indie rock show you are looking at potentially 50 more people for a show that is 7 USD vs. 12 USD.   When you are talking about a threshold for success that starts at 100 paid, that is potentially a huge difference.
TJ Cowgill of King Dude

  The other thing I was thinking about last night at the show was booze.  I think it was last week when I was perusing Pitchfork and saw a scotch ad that incongruously featured Best Coast (Bushmills?) and that had me thinking about how, in the same way that all of television is just window dressing for advertising, all of the indie music scene is essentially window dressing for the sale and consumption of alcohol.

  Last night I was actually excited about the prospect of a bourbon but the bartender served my order of "Makers, neat" in a shot glass, like an idiot.  Who drinks neat bourbon out a shot glass?  More importantly, what bartender serves that specific drink in a shot glass.  I've never seen it done.  I have been to multiple bourbon distillers in Kentucky however, and I know that if the bartender tried to serve someone in Kentucky a neat bourbon in a shot glass he get the dick slapped out of his mouth.   Small quibble at any rate- didn't impact my enjoyment of the night.

King Dude Band as they appeared last night in San Diego, CA.

  Live, King Dude performed as a three piece.  From the press photo I was expecting a Rick Rubin type appearance but instead it was more of a Johnny Cash thing- everyone dressed in matching black button down shirts, combed back hair and- and- an american flag that had been spray painted black hanging behind the band during the set.   The performance reminded me of lying somewhere between the Thermals and Crystal Stilts.  TJ Cowgill- King Dude's songwriter/singer/main man obviously knows how to write song, has obviously thought out the King Dude set and has a delivery that ranged from compelling to awkward- which is all to the good as far as I'm concerned.

  According to all press King Dude is actually a side project for Cowgill who also (fronts?) Teen Cthulhu and Book of Black Earth, but King Dude has already garnered more plays then the other two, earlier projects.  I think Cowgill is onto something here and he should probably stick with it for another album or two- I think everyone associated with King Dude should be stoked about the turn out they pulled on a Wednesday night in San Diego at the Soda Bar.

Here are some upcoming tour dates for King Dude- recommend checking out that First Unitarian Church gig in Philly if you are a local- Dirty Beaches played there last year and I heard it was a great venue.
12/07/12 Brooklyn, NY  Europa
12/08/12 Philadelphia, PA  First Unitarian Church
12/12/12 Chicago, IL  Empty Bottle
12/14/12 Oakland, CA  Uptown Nightclub
 12/15/12 Oakland, CA  Uptown Nightclub

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster?

30 st Mary Axe or Swiss Re Building in London UK- designed by Norman Foster.

Movie Review
How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster
 (2011 documentary about architect Norman Foster)
currently streaming on Netflix

Buckminster Fuller and Norman Foster hangin' out.

  SPOILER ALERT: The title is a comment that American philosopher/crazy person Buckminster Fuller made to architect Norman Foster when they were palling around.

This is an example of Gothic Architecture.

  As  anyone who wants to write art criticism, or for that matter, read it- needs to understand that architectural criticism provides much of the vocabulary and ideas about Art that are used by critics of other art forms besides architecture.  To give two well know examples, the phrase "Gothic" was used by John Ruskin to describe certain designs that characterize medieval buildings and directly inspired the Gothic revival of the mid to late 19th century.  The other example is the phrase "post-modern" which is commonly used to describe art works from all sorts of artists in every discipline.  Originally, if you called something "post-modern" you were talking about a building, not a book or a record.

   Thus, the movie How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr. Foster, is a biographical film about an Artist, the architect Norman Foster.  Norman Foster has to be among the most famous and prolific of all active architets in the entire world.  His rise has been highlighted by structures he has built in places like China, Hong Kong and the Gulf States of the Middle East.   Perhaps the tone of self-satisfied triumphalism that pervades How Much Does Your Building Weigh, Mr Foster? can be excused on the grounds of the massive scale of Foster's success on a planet-wide scale.

John Spoor Broome Library, California State University Channel Islands, designed by Norman Foster

   If you are looking for critical engagement about the wisdom of building the "largest building in the world" (Bejing Airport Terminal) for a repressive dictatorship or the likelihood of success for a project that involves constructing a self-contained eco paradise for 80,000 people in one of the Persian Gulf statelets, this is not the movie for you.

Commerzbank Tower vom Rathenauplatz designed by Norman Foster


       A movie about Norman Foster could do in a whole other direction in the sense that his work can be seen as a harbinger of the kind of soulless corporate modernism familiar from books like 1984 or Brave New World.

The redesigned German Reichstag by Norman Foster.

 However, Norman Foster does not operate wholly above politics.  As an example, when Germany asked him to redesign the Reichstag(!) in the aftermath of the reunification of Germany, he rejected the idea of restoring what was there before, and left hateful Russian graffiti where it lay- choosing to keep the vandalism as a reminder of the past.

  That is just how Norman Foster rolls, OK?

Saturday's PLATEAUS Record Release Show @ Soda Bar is Plan A-2!

Plateaus (BAND)

Event Preview
PLATEAUS (record release party)
San Diego Music Awards Multiple Nominee for Best Club DJ, Mario Orduno
at the Soda Bar in San Diego, CA on Saturday November 17th, 2012


Saturday, Nov. 17

PLAN A1: All My Friends Music Festival @ Casa de la Cultura (Tijuana). As I make clear in my guide on Page 28, it's well worth heading across the border for this epic, daylong fest. It's got an impressive lineup and is set to go late into the night.
 PLAN A2: Plateaus, Joy, DJ Mario Orduno @ Soda Bar. Read my feature on Plateaus, a local band that bangs out delightfully loud, totally chill garage-rock tunes.
Soda Bar, San Diego CA outside view looking down the street- photo credit NATALIE KARDOS

  Never in all my life have I heard of a Plan A1 AND a Plan A2- ever, but hey it's ok with me.  PLATEAUS also grabbed the "Weekly Event Preview" feature, and it is a very decent piece written by Peter Hoslin over there:

   If they resemble any style, though, it's that of local (or formerly local) bands like Wavves, Crocodiles and Mrs. Magician. Like them, Plateaus sing about everyday life with an irreverent, stone-y, occasionally sardonic twist: Over the jangly licks and ramshackle beat of "The District," the band pays tribute to the shiny-shirted denizens of the Gaslamp Quarter, whom Gist describes as "Downtown shitheads." (SAN DIEGO CITY BEAT)


   That is an album with high replayability levels AND something that fits in with a lot of music that is popular with discerning Audience members these days.  If you look at the top sellers over the last month at Revolver/Midheaven- you see that Plateaus fit right in with alot of those bands.

  Additionally, I've seen the opening band- JOY at last year's Desert Fest by the Moon Block Party group and they rocked- I actually bought their 7"- so it's worth it to see BOTH bands on Saturday night at the Soda Bar

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Behold! America & The Human Beast: German Expressionism at the San Diego Museum of Art

San Diego Museum of Art front view

Museum Review
Behold! America: Art of the United States From Three San Diego Museum
11/10/12 to 2/10/13

The Human Beast: German Expressionism
ended: 11/11/12

at the San Diego Museum of Art

   Behold! America: Art of the United States From Three San Diego Museums opened this weekend at the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park.  As the subtitle explains, Behold! America features paintings, photography, sculpture, installation art and film from the collections of three different San Diego Museums, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Timken Museum of Art and the San Diego Museum of Art.  Behold! America is being exhibited at the Museum of Contemporary Art in La Jolla (not downtown), the Timken and of course, the San Diego Museum of Art.

   I thought I might see the exhibition at the Timken as well as the exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art, but the 12 USD entry fee at the San Diego Museum of Art lessened my enthusiasm for the prospect of two museums in one day.

This is a Kiki Smith piece- not the one they had the exhibit- but that's like a tale of poop extending out of the anus of the headless figure.  TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA.

    The part of the exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art was divided up into thematic groups- "objects" "people" etc.  Within each thematic group you got Art from different time periods- all American artists.   For me, all the hits were contributed from the Museum of Contemporary Art and left me wondering how I had never seen, for example, their Sol Lewitt cage or the excellent Kiki Smith piece that I saw over the weekend.

Sol Lewitt cube of the sort they had at the Behold! America

     They also had a nice Cindy Sherman photograph and a large Ellsworth Kelly.  Nothing a well travelled museum goer hasn't seen before, but worth seeing.  Behold! America is worth checking out, particularly if you haven't been to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art or the New York Museum of Modern Art.  I thought the contributions from the San Diego Museum of Art and the Timken were less interesting, but I thought it was a good idea to collapse the time periodization that is endemic to museum culture.
The Ellsworth Kelly museum experience.

    As a bonus treat I caught the very last day of the The Human Beast: German Expressionism- which was excellent.  Totally bummed I didn't go earlier and get the word out before it closed.
Egon Schiele NAUGHTY

 The Human beast had a lot of great stuff going on- naughty sketches by Egon Schiele, some great drawings by George Grosz and some decent Blue Reiter period paintings- just a very solid exhibit on German Expressionism and I had no idea. NO IDEA.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Wednesday in San Diego: King Dude @ Soda Bar

King Dude.

Event Preview
King Dude
Wednesday Nov. 14th, Soda Bar San Diego, CA.

   There is nothing that draws my interest then a band I've never heard of then putting out a reviewed LP and touring the west coast in the same month.  You can bet that on a typical night in San Diego- where there are at least 20 different shows involving combinations of touring bands and local bands only a few are:

1)  Largely unknown. (less than half a million last fm plays.)
 2)  Have released a reviewed LP.
3)  Touring within a month of the release of that LP.

  I suppose it's a combination of novelty with an assurance that going to see this unknown band won't be a waste of time.

  So basically I decided to sign on for this show after I read the following paragraph in an otherwise mediocre Pitchfork review for King Dude's new LP, Burning Daylight:

Burning Daylight's pitch-black narratives, set in charred landscapes where God and the Devil wage a final battle for supremacy, are superficially presented as nightmares, with Cowgill singing in a low, sinister croak pitched at a subterranean frequency somewhere between Johnny Cash at half the RPMs and a root beer belch. But like all apocalypse porn, Burning Daylight is really a fantasy about a world without complications, where it's still possible to tell what is truly good and what is not. For all the spooky, disembodied white noise and echoing haunted-house vocals he lays on top of his songs, Cowgill is at heart a 1950s nostalgist, a sort of undead Chris Isaak with a weakness of sock-hop balladry.

   Sounds interesting enough to go.

The Twelve by Justin Cronin

Book Review
The Twelve  (Passage Trilogy 2)
by Justin Cronin

Brad Pitt in World War Z

    As I was finishing The Twelve, news about another Zombie Apocalypse property- World War Z made a splash on the internet.  Seems they released the trailer of the Brad Pitt starring film adaptation of the book- published in 2006.  The trailer makes World War Z, the movie, look like zombie Battleship- but starring Brad Pitt.  It's well known that the film rights to Cronin's Passage Trilogy were sold prior to the publication of the first installment.  No word yet  on weather Colson Whitehead's Zone One has been optioned, but it wouldn't surprise me.

  I noticed in the press for The Twelve, they went out of their way to emphasize that the monsters in the Passage Trilogy are, in fact, Vampires.  I've read interviews where Cronin discusses the fact with a reticence that it is the artistic equivalent of an Actress saying she'll only do nudity when the script demands it.

  Despite what can only be seen as a bold faced attempt to sell Kindle books to people who buy movie tickets to the Twilight franchise and worship at the altar of Harry Potter: presumably under the theory that vampires are an easier sell then the apocalypse.

  But it's clear to me, two volumes into the Trilogy that the Passage Trilogy is less of a vampire story and more of a zombie apocalypse story.  While the monsters themselves can accurately be described as possessing vampiric qualities (they drink blood, don't like direct sunlight) the plot is firmly rooted in the apocalypse literature of Cormac McCarthy's the road.  Vampires always exist inside human society- they do not end it.   The Vampire is a romantic invention of the late 19th century- Bram Stoker's late 19th century novel was actually inspired by a literary fragment written by Lord Byron around the same time Mary Shelly penned Frankenstein.   Unlike the Romantic era elaboration of the Vampire story, Apocalypse literature extends all the way back to the beginning of Christianity.  A large percentage of what we would call "midevial popular culture" revolved around the elaboration of ideas about the Apocalypse.

Albrecht Dürer The Four Horsemen Apocalypse- Wood cut

   In the middle ages we were talking children's songs and wood block engravings, today we get pre packaged Zombie/Vampire cross-over trilogies.

  The key to understanding the distinction between Vampire stories and Zombie stories lies in understanding the relationship of Frankenstein to Dracula.  First of all, Frankenstein was first by about half a century.  Bram Stroker's Dracula was actually a late elaboration of an idea that had been kicking around Europe since before Frankenstein was published.  The primary theme of Frankenstein is the relationship of man to technology, and how technology can destroy man.  The primary theme of Dracula is the relationship of the outsider to society.  Looking at Zombie- it's easy to see that they are a monster derived from the fear of technology destroying man that was first described in Frankenstein.

 Cronin's "Virals" or "Dracs" were created in a government laboratory, in a conscious attempt to cheat nature by using science.   The main Vampires ("The Twelve") all of whom were created in this government laboratory, control their minions who are less powerful and more mechanical than the main Vampires.  Most importantly, the Virals in Cronin's Passage Trilogy utterly destroy society- putting the milleu of The Twelve firmly in the tradition of apocalypse literature.  Neither Frankenstein nor Dracula were apocalyptic in any sense.

  Cronin- who is clearly a savvy operator who knows what strings he is pulling- succeeds in pushing the ball down the field but it's hard to find any kind of specific artistic inspiration in The Twelve- which makes sense if you consider that the two books together are well over a thousand pages.  That's... a lot of apocalypse to get through.   The workmanlike style of large portions of The Twelve make it clear that Cronin is walking on the side of genre fiction rather then "serious" literature- classic status is more likely to come as a result of a succesful film adaptation by Ridley Scott then via the literary merits of Cronin's futuristic vampire zombie infested apocalyptic wasteland.


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