Camerata Pacifica: Chamber group opens with a bang

Adrian Spence likes to make it easy for critics. The director and flautist for Camerata Pacifica has not only been bringing the best of small-ensemble music to Santa Barbara for 14 years now, but his love of educating the public has been spilling out more and more into his lengthy introductions to the evening’s performances.

Though his target audience is the general public, the critic can’t help but crib notes when Mr. Spence is breaking down the structure of a string quartet or trying to explicate the wonders of discord. He’s so eminently quotable that we have to keep reminding ourselves that our job is not to quote him, but to have our own honest reactions.
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Famous Breaks

I have a love of digging up the original sources from which hip-hop and now all modern music samples from. This has especially been true since I got into Pizzicato Five, as they cut and paste everything. But let’s go back to the classics, first.
I’ve always wondered where that breakbeat comes from that has been used on everything from Erik B and Rakim’s “Paid in Full” to Milli Vanilli’s “Girl You Know It’s True”–my favorite, however, is its use in Brian Eno’s “Ali Click.” Well, with a little searching, I found out. It’s a record by the Soul Searchers from 1974 called “Ashley’s Roachclip.” The famous two seconds come in about 3.5 mins into the song. You can hear a low-quality RealAudio sample over at this one person’s Milli Vanilli site. But for the muthaload, check out These Are the Breaks, a list of ten of the most recognizable samples in hip-hop, including my all-time favorite, the Apache break. Mmm, bongo goodness!

Goleta: Where the people come to drink

You can forget your fancy wine bars, your oh-so-trendy dance clubs, Santa Barbara — Goleta is having none of that.

If there ever was a way to show the division between the two cities, taking a look at the bar scene in Goleta reveals the utilitarian nature of this now fledgling city. This is where people come to drink, and after all, isn’t that really what a bar is all about?

This brief guide to the watering holes of Goleta and Isla Vista will give you direction when it’s decided that a trip downtown is just too far to go to slake your thirst.

Big thanks to my friend Chris, who, Virgil-like, accompanied me on my fact-finding mission, sampling the alcohol meant for me so that I may write this in my fullest capacity. Surely a man couldn’t ask for a finer sacrifice.

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Cornelius – PM

Polystar PSCR6118

PM is the companion remix album to Cornelius’ “Point” and by far the worst of all his remix albums.
Having opened up the remixing challenge to any and all who came to his web site in 2002, Cornelius then collected the best of the lot and put them out here. He has said of his delight in receiving completely crazy remixes from people worldwide, none of whom have record contracts. He doesn’t mention that none of them are any good.
Maybe some of it rests in the samples he posted. Instead of full vocal lines or some serious loops, there were nothing but a few solitary drum samples, a bass note, or a single word. What could be made of it? Anything, really, but nothing that remotely resembles the album it comes from.
Worst of the remixes is “MC Cat Genius’ BomBassTic Re-bomb” by Animal Family featuring MC Cat Genius, the sort of tedious self-reflexive, self-defeating undergrad stuff that dares you to like it. No, we don’t need three minutes of you telling us how hard it is to finish your remix. Stop moaning.
The rest is chop-up ProTools-y stuff, with very little groove, just a lot of stop-start business.
Accompanying this, I also listened to some of the hard-to-find Nova Musicha e.p.s that Cornelius put out at HMVs and Tower Records in Tokyo (collect all 8, suckers). There’s a few pleasant tracks: The very brief “Star-Spangled Gayo” which reconfigures the national anthem and reveals its musical roots (very baroque), and “Search,” which is not by Cornelius I just found out but Takashi Tsuzuki, of whom I know nothing. “Search” is a collection of hiccups, bubbles, and sound bites that exists and goes away, but just by doing so has more going on than the entirety of PM.

World Standard – Le Train Musical

Polystar PSCR 5916/7
1985 (rereleased 2000)

Wow, I never expected this, it’s like Penguin Cafe Orchestra or some other more acoustic Editions EG record from the early ’80s.
I thought, being on the Non-Standard label, the music would some burpy electronica. No, this is happy little miniatures of acoustic guitar, punchy barrelhouse piano, a few minimal effects, a gong or two, and Meredith Monk-like vocals. Completely charming, working out a few simple chord progressions. Adding to the effect is the low-fi, recorded at home feel. “Music Train” is a a cheerful number with “la laaa la” vocals and a drum that reminds me of the There’s bits of Harold Budd and Saboten in here too.
Very few things date this: there’s a bell sound that comes straight out of a Yamaha, but for the most part this could have been recorded anytime. There’s nothing very “Japanese” about the group either.
I’m listening to this as I read a very long unpublished Lester Bangs interview with Brian Eno just posted on Perfect Sound Forever. And the Eno theories are coloring my experience of listening to it (of course, it helps that they are coming from some similar places). The minimalism of World Standard reminds me of some of Eno’s Music for Films pieces.
And then there’s the live track, tucked away at the end as “Ishi no hana”, where the arrangement is exactly the same as the studio version, but now the whole thing is bathed in echo (real echo, too), and the audience (sounding like about 20 people–I’m thinking it’s one of those ultra-cramped Tokyo basement clubs, full of smoke) gets processed along with everything else, their murmurings turning into a little black stream of sound. Majestic.
Bangs’ interview (it seems to be around 1981) ends with the author’s anxiety about Eno’s comfort of working with machines:

There is something just a little too comforting about this insistence that this stuff takes place totally outside of the world’s arena. Music stirs people, in one way or another; it can be used for evil purposes, it can make evil things happen. One thinks of the stories of Jews in World War II who reported finding themselves excited by Nazi songs even as they knew there were the anthems of their own destruction. Rock is a form of music, let it be admitted, particularly susceptible to the creation of mass states of pointless rage and destructiveness, although Eno’s music, if it ultimately has any social consequences at all, points in the opposite direction: towards pacification. His stance makes you sometimes wonder if he couldn’t go merrily along creating his pleasant little ambient tapes under the most totalitarian regime, which leads you to further speculate that it might have been amoral in the first place.

Of course, Eno’s outspoken essays against the Iraq invasion, his criticism of more modern technology (CD-ROMs, synthesizers and software made by programmers for programmers–not artists), have put those anxieties to rest. How threatening those analog machines must have sounded back then, how warm they sound now.
Addendum: Actually, the above description above applies to “Youthful Standard,” the 2-CD of bonus tracks and demos that came with the 2000 reissue of this album. Because of various factors, I wound up listening to it first about five times before I even put on the studio version. And I can say I like some of these demos better! The studio versions do indeed have lots of synths and are exceedingly clean and airy, and “Coconut Fruit” reminds me of the first Pizzicato Five ep. In fact, Konishi appears on tracks 1 and 4, singing chorus. The album is produced by YMO’s Harry Hosono (as was the P5 e.p.) and is a chirpy thing and good in its own way. But I’d rather put the second disc on first!

Desperate Journeys, Abandoned Souls – Edward E. Leslie

Mariner Books, 1988
When I started reading this anthology
of tales of surviving (or not) shipwrecks, airplane crashes, and general lost-in-the-woods survival, it was pretty easy going. But 520 pages and something like two months later I made way to the back page, a little undernourished, slightly crazed, and vowing never to read any more anthologies on just this subject.
Well, I kid. But Edward E. Leslie is a pretty generic writer. He did his research, but most of this book is a paraphrase of survivors tales from the Elizabethan era onward. Only a few times does he fill in some of the historical data (a bit on pirates, a bit on the “survivor tale” cottage industry, a bit on the early days of aviation where barnstorming and daredevils were all the rage) as a context. There’s a few pages on analysis on the psychological effects of surviving near-death experiences, on cannibalism, and, right near the end, a bit of modern commentary on the shallowness of the “life lessons” more recent survivors have gathered.

Most survivors who have come of age since the 1950s do not claim to find any deep meaning in their travails. Conditioned by popular culture, they report that what they have learned is to live for the moment and to appreciate the little things in life. It is remarkable just how often these sentiments are expressed using these very words. For instance, one recent surivivor, referring to an ordeal during which he was very close indeed to dying explained that “when God didn’t let me go, I was sure He had something in mind for me. And now I think I know what it was–learning to really appreciate living. Little things I used to take for granted, i don’t anymore. Just getting up in the morning or watching one of my boys hook a fish is an unbeleivable thrill. I never felt this way before–and it’s wonderful.”
Did God have Job and Jonah suffer just so they would notice the flowers beside the well-worn path or the play of light in a drop of water? Paul was struck blind on the Damascus road so that he might be able to open his eyes and see. Today, sitting atop the ruins of our lives, we do not reconcile ourselves to God, fate, or the laws of the natural universe; instead we find wonder in the petals of roses that push up through the ashes. We do not discover inspiration in the belly of the leviathan; rather we emerge from that enormous digestive tract to pay heed to the phosphorescent fishes that swim near the surface of the vast ocean.
As we kneel on that ancient thoroughfare, the scales having fallen from our eyes, we lift our heads and cannot perceive anything in the bright new light that our popular culture has not instructed us will be there. And this culture teaches us that nothing is of value except wealth and immediate gratification.”

And this is the last page where it starts getting interesting. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of this quasi-Christian editorializing, disagreeing with some of it as I do–(Is Leslie hoping that all survivors will gain deep wisdom, that of a prophet? Does he favor the Old Testament God to Jesus? He throws the bit out there about popular culture, but spends an early chapter discussing the survivor narrative. The fact that some of these sailors returned repenting their sins. Is that a better reaction? Can’t it be just as shallow?) As I said, he barely goes into it.
Mostly, though, the book is just paraphrasing.
There are some good stories to be found. Most chilling is a diary kept by a man marooned on an island by pirates for what we take to be buggery (on the high seas, as the comedy sketch goes). He does well to survive 150 days, but he makes some crucial mistakes, among them wasting entire days repenting to God. Reading the diary excerpts, I assumed he had made it home. But no, he goes crazy from hunger and illness and dies. The diary was then purportedly found by soldiers a year later (sitting next to a skeleton, perhaps?).
I also liked this WWII story of three men in a life raft in the Atlantic, slowly going insane, until there’s one man left. It’s grim stuff.
Leslie leaves some trivial but important details out, too. But then, in other places it seems like all he’s concerned about is the trivial. For example, he leaves a whole chapter to the tale of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry and friend, who survived being stuck in the Libyan desert. Not that it’s essential to the story, but it was my friend who reminded me later, as I told him the story, that Antoine de Saint-Exupéry went on to write “The Little Prince.” You’d think that would at least deserve a mention.
And in a final story about a woman whose plane crashed into a cliff in the Sierra Nevadas, he uses a photo of her “with Blair Brown, the actress who portrayed her in the movie version of her story.” Wouldn’t you like to know what movie that was? Well, Leslie doesn’t tell us.
(But I will: it was a TV-movie from 1978 called And I Alone Survived, a title that kind of ruins the suspense when she starts off with two other people.)
Also, by the end, Leslie is jamming in as many 20th century survival tales as he can. Somebody needed to edit this book a bit more. In fact, someone else should have written it. Leslie doesn’t have the black humor to pull off these tales of human misery. My candidate: John Marr, who used to write a great zine called Murder Can Be Fun, whose gleefully wrote about themes such as postal worker shootings without sounding cold-hearted or callous. I think you can still find some of his writings online that may pertain to our subject.

‘Cole & Will’: Missed opportunities

The latest show at the Victoria Hall — the third for the fledgling Victoria Hall Theater Company — affords an opportunity to hear nearly 30 of Cole Porter’s songs, from the familiar (“Anything Goes”) to the obscure (“After You, Who?”). The sheer delight in the music is only matched by the witty lyrics that seem to bubble up effortlessly, song after song.

Unfortunately, in “Cole & Will (Together Again)” they are framed by a wooden play that serves little but to make the songs a welcome respite from the goings-on.

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