Archive for May, 2010

Sightings: James Ferraro, “Demon Channels” Video

Saturday, May 29th, 2010


A glass eye just popped out of your TV dinner. The tinfoil on top is rustling of its own accord — though stop-motion animation certainly isn’t out of the question — and the crab on the menu just reached out a leg and swiped it back in. Whatever is inside must be pretty hot and tasty, because a cockroach the size of a tennis ball just climbed out and walked over your hand, which is really the hand of a mannequin. Pretty fucking revolting, sure, but your hand didn’t even flinch because it was so busy resting lifelessly atop a remote control.

Uh oh. Now it is time for dinner so the foil is unfurling from the surface of the dish. Your rice and beans is glistening with the dew of a thousand freezer burns — revolting in the most secretly appetizing kind of way — but the only way you know how to consume is with your eyes. So you zoom in on the thing, closer and closer until you discover an intricate mosaic of spores, which upon closer inspection is actually a microscopic city in its own right — nay, a suburb. Through a series of Orson Welles-style dissolves, you find yourself hovering above the roof of a house — then inside the house, where a mother with one eye is carting in some peas and carrots to her potatohead of a husband in the living room, just in time for TGIF. Oh yeah, it’s the Monsters. Let’s watch TV with the Monsters.

But we are already watching TV with our hero, Jim Ferraro — that was established at the beginning of this ode to the city of Los Angeles. And I must admit that he already sort of looked like a cartoon, sitting there rocking out to the boobtube in his signature jean jacket — the same one I saw him wearing when he played at Issue Project room last week — and that I wasn’t quite sure whether he looked more or less real when he suddenly morphed into a skeleton and his eyeballs popped out, like a protagonist in a DARE commercial. DARE to keep kids off TV — as seen on TV.

The lifeless hand on the remote control flips us though a thousand real and second life scenarios, fastforwarded and rewound, sped and slowed: walking on top of the Bugs Bunny inscription on the Hollywood walk of fame; discovering the boots of a streetwalker just a few paces away, and wondering what the hell she is doing there in broad daylight. An electric guitar propped up against a TV screen looms larger in the frame than an iconic replica ten times its size, suspended in the middle of a city square — but not nearly as large as the wiccan symbol we discover spraypainted above a few garbage cans in a back alley.

No wonder the soundtrack sounds like a collage of all the half-remembered ’80s skate videos you never actually saw; hanging on Ferraro’s VHS camera, we olley and McTwist and Mongofoot our way through Los Angeles until we don’t even know where we are anymore — even if everything around us still looks as familiar as ever. The point is, Ferraro could just as easily be cruising past a Hollywood Video in Stamford Connecticut, and we would still recognize LA. “Demon Channels” starts feeling pretty cosmic when we realize that it doesn’t really make a difference.

Sunday Brunch Takeover: The Nonhorse / Sun Araw Episode

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Last week, “Sunday Brunch with Chocolate Bobka” on Newtown Radio was home to a DJ coup d’état. I wish I could say that the Underwater Visitations team staged a veritable DJ hold-up (in the manner of Horsemouth in the film Rockers, Reggae patois and all), but the reality of the situation had nothing to do with musico-political resistance, and everything to do with scheduling conflicts. Though no omelets or mimosas went into making of this episode, Ari and I had a full plate indeed — so much so that we stretched our two-hour repast into three and a half.

Cameron Stallones of Sun Araw delivered an inspirational virtual DJ set from sunny Los Angeles, aptly entitled “Sunburn City: Heads Up High.” Over Gchat, Cameron described the mix to me as the soundtrack to a “lazer lazy day”: “it starts all dewy, and then it gets mad sunburnt.” I’m not so sure what Sunburn city is, but apparently the photo above — which Cameron provided in the way of visual accompaniment — shows all the people who are waiting in line to get there. I probably should have asked him to tell me a little more about the place when he called into the station from the side of the road — not to mention his thoughts on Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Soviet mystic mathematician PD Ouspensky, whom he seemed intent upon discussion before the show– but we did end up having a pretty fascinating discussion on triangles, hairless dogs, and Hubble 3D.

Just when we were about to pack up for the day, G. Lucas Crane of Silent Barn, Woods, and Nonhorse fame rolled up with his mobile tape-manipulation dashboard and spilled about a hundred hand-labeled tapes onto the floor. Shortly thereafter, he dove into a hour-long mash-up of sounds as widely varied as Indian Raga, a “How to Feel Good Without Drugs” self-hypnosis cassette, and a tape he recorded while watching at home and jamming along to it on a synthesizer. The resulting performance — which you can hear at the tail end of the episode below — was frenetic enough to provoke a small seizure. But like any instance of sensory overload – listening to every FM station on the dial at once, for example — if you let the whole thing wash over you in one long continuous wave, you’ll probably end up feeling pretty blissed-out.

“Sunday Brunch with Chocolate Bobka Takeover: The Nonhorse / Sun Araw Episode”

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Download the entire episode here.

Playlist after the jump.

VR Vimeo: Sun Araw’s “Deep Cover,” Live at The Smell

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

Sun Araw-“Deep Cover”- Live at The Smell- 5/13/2010 from Samantha Cornwell on Vimeo.

Last week, we posted a video I shot at The Smell of Sun Araw performing a live version of “Canopy.” The video that you see here today comes from the same show. I must confess that when they kicked off their set with this rendition of “Deep Cover,” I wasn’t able to immediately identify the song — despite having watched the Cameron Stallones-directed music video several times, and having listened to the album version rather regularly. I think the emphasis on the hypnotic organ track in this live version places it in a different realm from the version we hear on record. Still, the visual cue of the triangular garlands — which are feature prominently in the official music video — let us know that we’re still in the same universe.

NY Eye & Ear III, Told from Start to Finish in 43 Tweets

Monday, May 24th, 2010

@MaxBurke just hacked the VR twitter! Greetings from the NY Eye and Ear Fest. View from the record fair/ chill zone.
3:55 PM May 22nd via OpenBeak

The Joshua Light Show Fest, Part 2: Oneida/Silver Apples

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Simeon Coxe III as the Silver Apples, live at The Joshua Light Show Fest, May 18, 2010

In contrast to the younger, hip-looking crowd at the night’s previous Woods/MV EE show, the audience for the Oneida/Silver Apples bill was a bit older, with the air of serious-minded music fans. Due in large part to Mr. Silver Apples himself (Simeon Coxe), the theater was sold out for the evening. Oneida took the stage to expectant applause from the audience as wunderkind drummer Kid Millions sat behind his kit and kicked off his signature percussive assault in rare form. Drawing heavily on their single-track monster Preteen Weaponry from 2008 — while leaving plenty of room for improvised digressions and the organized chaos that defines their sound — the five-piece group were complemented by a light show that felt more frantic than the previous night’s. The strobe effect was generously deployed, and Oneida — minus regular member Bobby Matador, but with the rare addition of founding former member Papa Crazee — didn’t hesitate to respond by laying down a weighty wall of sound, complimented by a droning rhythm section.

The set proceeded through a series of distinct movements, with the light show responding to each shift in tone. First up was a hellish underworld, with cascading sheets of feedback and Millions’ propulsive drumming setting the scene as the screen flickered with dark reds and oranges. Gradually, Oneida ascended to an earthier plane, settling into a more brooding, downbeat mode as the harsh colors gave way to a lush green. Instead of cascading in all directions, the jam became more focused, steadily gaining momentum. Oneida’s career-long engagement with the possibilities of repetition in its various guises took center stage as loops of feedback ebbed and flowed, stretching and contracting time. Audience members’ heads bobbed in unison as the band locked into a psychic groove of monumental proportions.

Sightings: Lester Brown, “Feed Me Sea Weed”

Friday, May 21st, 2010

I have been thinking a lot about chillwave lately. Namely, whether such a thing as chillwave actually exists — for it certainly sounds silly enough to be part of some massive industry in-joke — and how our generation could have possibly produced a musical genre predicated entirely on the notion of straight chilling. The people’s encyclopedia provides a surprising definition of chillwave as a musical iteration of Jacques Derrida’s notion of “hauntology,” which maintains that “society after the end of history will begin to orient itself towards ideas and aesthetics that are thought of as rustic, bizarre or “old-timey”; that is, towards the “ghost” of the past.” In chillwave, Wikipedia reports, “80s synthpop is filtered through a distorted lens, re-envisioning the era in a more vague and lo-fi sense.” Also according to the stub, Ducktails, Washed Out, Memory Tapes, and Nite Jewel count as bonifide chillwave, whereas The xx, jj, and Best Coast are simply “confused” with chillwave. So I suppose the designation must be specific to a certain extent; simply channeling 80s synth pop (xx), for example, or simply singing about the sun and naming your project after the beach (Best Coast), is somehow not enough.

I’ve also been wondering about the roots of chillwave, and whether it is not truly just a watered-down, ultra-namaste version of the “hypnagogic pop” genre David Keenan willed into existence in the Wire last August — but that doesn’t really make sense, because it apparently the term made its world debut on July 27, 2009, on Hipster Runoff (where, I might add, he was already kind of making fun of it). Earlier this month, the six-piece electronic outfit Excepter were billed somewhat half-seriously at the Knitting Factory as the “Chillwave Originators” — in reference to their “Vacation” 12 inch, which could be said to have crystallized some of the genre’s formal and thematic earmarks as early as 2004. And I frankly don’t even know what those earmarks are, though I like to think that I can hear them even as far back as the scorched guitar arpeggio on Public Image Ltd.’s “Poptones,” repeated ad finitum as John Lydon (ex-Johnny Rotten) intones ominously about “[Driving] to the forest in a Japanese car,” listening to “poptones” on a cassette — and then suddenly speaking from the perspective of a corpse. Did chillwave begin with an entirely different take on the word “chilling”?

Which all goes to show just how ill-defined and open-ended this thing called “chillwave” really is; to the extent that it does in fact exist, it is no more than a spontaneously generated repository for a generation’s viral dreams, a tag without a signified, a Wikipedia page that will always be in the process of rewriting itself. Last week, I was thrown for a small panic attack when an artist — Canada’s Lester Brown — sent me his new free MP3 album and the songs showed up in my Itunes under genre header “chillwave,” with a lower-case “c.” Adding to my complete and utter disbelief, the email was also openly addressed to about 15 other blogs that could be said to write on the chillwave tip. Does that mean that Visitation Rites has been a chillwave blog, without even knowing it? And is Lester Brown poking fun at chillwave, or is he making fun of us? Either way, I think his song “Feed Me Sea Weed” is pretty good anthem for the 21st century. Maybe that’s because it kind of reminds me of what John Maus might sound like if he stopped pitching his voice down an octave and wrote a satyric sequel to “Do Your Best” — one in which the song’s main character grows so enamored with the beach that he starts mainlining wakame and hijiki instead of pizza and slurpies. More than seaweed, though, Lester Brown’s unique brand of chillwave seems to live on a steady diet of chillwave itself. It may not be sustainable, but its results are facetious enough to actually sound sincere.

Lester Brown, “Feed Me Sea Weed” [Isolomania]

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Download Lester Brown’s free Isolomania EP here.

Words: Emilie Friedlander

Sightings: Daniel Higgs, “Hoofprints on the Ceiling of Your Mind”

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Back in 1966, Rob Williamson’s voice caught on a bit of Scottish breeze and arched up and down through the following wisdom in “October Song,” the first thing The Incredible String Band ever had in the way of a hit: “I used to search for happiness / And I used to follow pleasure / But I’ve found a door behind my mind / And that’s the greatest treasure.” I’ve often wondered about that door — what exactly it is, at what point exactly at the back of the head it can be found, and where it is supposed to take you — but I fear Lungfish frontman and paranormal balladeer Daniel Higgs has just taken me two steps closer and one step back. In “Hoofprints on the Ceiling of Your Mind,” the endlessly elongated opener on his new Say God double l.p., Higgs places a metaphorical horse inside the metaphorical cavern we humans tend to associate with the interior of the mind. Rather than let us marvel at its raven beauty, he makes it invisible and flips it upside-down, so that its hoofs just scratch the chamber’s sensitive upper surface.

Higgs sings and talks and coughs us through this image over the entirety of this 12-minute tangent, kneading it into our grey matter with the same relentlessness as the horse’s pattering legs. When he is not singing the song’s eternal refrain — “Hoofprints on the Ceiling of Your Mind / That Holy Bible Time” — he is grandstanding about it, chalking it up to a mantra, narrating the process by which it saved his life and even the process of the song’s narration. And it hurts. All the soothing drones in the world cannot make up for how psychologically — and almost physically — uncomfortable we feel when we imagine that little animal poking around up there, kicking up the earth, knocking on the door. But if we set aside some genuine “holy bible” time for Higgs and his phantom horse — in the wee hours of the morning, lying on the couch, perhaps a little tipsy or maybe just feeling a tiny bit lost — we might be able to catch the moment when it finally stumbles upon a weak spot.

Daniel Higgs, “Hoofprints on the Ceiling of Your Mind” [Say God, Thrill Jockey]

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Underwater Visitations Episode #4: The Big Troubles Episode

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Live, Big Troubles kick up such a sandstorm that it’s hard to remember that the band began as a bedroom recording project — or, rather, two separate bedroom recording projects, two hermetic hearts that began beating as one when high school buds Alex Craig and Ian Drennan got together last summer and decided to start a band. When the duo rolled up to Newtown Radio last Thursday, the station — recently fitted with a deluxe leather couch and a fridge filled with junk food and sodas — felt homey enough to bring us back to the days when the guitar-playing and songwriting half of Big Troubles had yet to round out into a full rock line-up.

Alex and Ian played out of the same guitar amplifier, sung out of the same mic, and babbled away in the kind of half-English vernacular you probably remember sharing only a few times in your life with one or two very close friends. They couldn’t seem more like two peas in a pod — which is why I was slightly disconcerted when, following the set, Alex presented us with a hand-drawn Venn diagram designed to represent their friendship: two giant circles labeled “Alex” and “Ian,” with only a tiny sliver of overlap at the center. I can’t remember what they said the middle part represented, but I think it had something to do with food. Whatever the reality of the situation may be, I like to think of the Venn diagram as a nice metaphor for the way their instruments interact in the episode you hear below: two runaway orbs of screaming guitar noise, colliding here and there into the shape of a song. At times they overlap a little too much, sharpening into points of feedback — but that’s kind of where the magic begins.

For those of you who tuned in for the first hour of last week’s show and were a little freaked out to discover a rambling discussion between a man with a heavy French accent and a panel of small children, please be cautioned: we don’t know why or how, but Underwater Visitations was hacked! Luckily, we were able to rescue the true-blue episode from the Newtown Radio archives — including a first hour of jams by Ari Stern and yours truly, and a Big Troubles-spun spool of semi-mainstream ’80s gold, which we proudly did not decide to censor.

“Underwater Visitations Episode #4: The Big Troubles Episode”

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Download the entire episode here .

Playlist after the jump.

The Joshua Light Show Fest, Part 1: Introduction + Woods/MV EE

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Woods, live at the Joshua Light Show Festival, Abrons Art Center, May 13, 2010

Joshua White is a New York artist who began his career creating liquid light shows for Bill Graham’s Fillmore East in the late 1960s and early 70s. The Joshua Light show was in residence at the Fillmore and provided visuals for all the major artists associated with the classic psychedelic and heavy rock scene of the era, from Hendrix to Joplin.

After the scene faded, White moved into professional television production. Although his trippy visuals were forever immortalized in the memories of clued-in boomers and the freaky party scene from Midnight Cowboy, White would not revisit his light show past for nearly 40 years. In 2004, he teamed with artist Gary Panter to recreate some of the light shows for a one-off at Anthology Film Archives. Renewed interest in the classic light shows has peaked in recent years, and White has been performing regularly with his ensemble of visual alchemists and artists to accompany acts like Yo La Tengo, as well as various iterations of the Darmstadt New Music series and one-offs at the Whitney Museum and Lincoln Center.

The Joshua Light Show Festival, which premiered last week in New York, is a festival of contemporary psychedelic music, curated by Nick Hallett and paired with the light show’s distinctive visual component. The festival ran for over consecutive nights (the opening night with Steve Moore and itsnotyouitsme, and closing night with Dean & Britta and Spectrum) at the Abrons Art Center, a community center at the Henry Street Settlement, which has its own history as an incubator of avant-garde practice, including big name past associates like John Cage, Jackson Pollock, and Martha Graham.

VR Vimeo: Sun Araw, “Boat Trip,” Live at the Smell

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Sun Araw- “Canopy”- Live at The Smell- 5/13/2010 from Samantha Cornwell on Vimeo.

This past Thursday, I headed downtown to The Smell to catch Sun Araw. Following the interview I did with him last month, Cameron Stallones suggested that it might be a good opportunity to shoot a live video. Although I was still slowly recovering from the video extravaganza that was SXSW — OK, very slowly — there was no way that I couldn’t get excited about shooting a video of one of my favorite artists. Shooting at The Smell presented some challenges, mostly having to do with their very minimal lighting set-up. So we decided to provide our own lighting (DIY or die!), with Cameron and his (very recent) bandmate Nick Malkin dipped in the ominous red and green light you are about to see. To me, this clips feels almost like a deleted scene from Dario Argento’s Suspiria. Imagine this: the girls sneak out of the dance school dorms to see their favorite psychedelic rock band. Little do they know that there is a mysterious presence lurking in the shadows…

But there is really no need for fear. Sit back, turn up those speakers, and let this rapturous rendition of “Canopy” (off Sun Araw’s Boat Trip 12″) draw you in. Stay tuned for more videos, and a radio mix by Cameron Stallones on “Underwater Visitations” next Sunday.