Sunday, 30 May 2010

Dark Night of the Soul

With the ‘Grey Album’ (2004) Brian Burton made quite an impact on the music scene for a couple of reasons.
For one thing his mashup of instrumentals from the Beatle’s ‘White Album’ (1968) and vocals from Jay-Z’s ‘Black Album’ (2003) marked him out as an incredibly gifted producer while his failure to get permission to use any of the material from either album showed him to be largely unconcerned with the niceties of copyright control.
In terms of the vocal material from Jay-Z this was not much of a problem. The vocal tracks had been released in an a capella format to encourage use in remixes and mashups so, while protected by copyright, it’s use on the ‘Grey Album’ could be seen as ‘fair use.’ The attitude of EMI, the owners of the copyright on the ‘White Album’, would be more difficult. Protective of their highly lucrative Beatles back catalogue EMI sent out a court order to stop all distribution of the ‘Grey Album.’
Burton, better known as the producer Danger Mouse, had put together a limited distribution of 3,000 copies and had largely put the ‘Grey Album’ together for his own amusement and to share with friends. However, it soon found it’s way online and quickly spread across the internet, mostly due to the publicity the project received from EMI’s court order.
Danger Mouse has gone on to have a hugely successful career working with The Gorillaz, MF DOOM, The Good, The Bad and The Queen, Beck and most notably Cee-Lo Green with whom he formed Gnarls Barkley.
In March 2009, at the South by Southwest music festival, Danger Mouse’s latest project was announced.
‘Dark Night of the Soul’ is a collaboration with Sparklehorse, the late singer-songwriter Mark Linkous, which also features appearances from a host of other performers including Iggy Pop, Suzanne Vega and Julian Casablancas. David Lynch has also contributed a series of photographs inspired by the album to form the artwork.
However, legal problems with EMI soon emerged again. Lengthy negotiations lead to the albums release being pushed back repeatedly. Various sources for the problems have been mooted including a deal that Danger Mouse has with Lex Records which could affect the album’s distribution and EMI’s frustration at the availability of tracks from the album online before its physical release.
Eventually Danger Mouse tired of the delays and released a 100-page book of David Lynch’s photographs for the project. Included with the book is a blank, recordable CD-R.
All the copies of the book are labeled:

‘For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.’

Sunday, 23 May 2010

The Illuminatus! Trilogy

In 1969 Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea were associate editors at Playboy magazine.
Their specific role was as co-editors of the Playboy Forum, a column in the magazine that allowed readers to discuss civil liberties, individual rights and abuses of government power.
As well as many intelligent letters from people concerned by the excesses of authority and infringements of constitutional rights they received a large amount of correspondence concerning government conspiracies and secret societies.
Considering the growing pile of letters they had received the pair posed themselves a question:

‘What if all these nuts are right and every single conspiracy they complain about exists?’

Using this as a starting point they developed the idea for a novel that would contain elements of every conspiracy they had been told about.
The premise for the plot would be that the Discordian Society, an organisation based on the worship of Eris, the Greek goddess of Chaos, was at war with a group called the Bavarian Illuminati which Wilson and Shea had invented, and that this conflict had taken place over the whole of human history.
The Discordian Society had been founded in 1958 and was based on the idea that Chaos is all that truly exists in the world and that ‘order’ and ‘disorder’ are human inventions designed to explain the Chaos around us. Being based around the worship of Chaos there is a great deal of encouragement within the Discordian Society for members to create schisms and form cabals.
Wilson and Shea felt that this propensity for conflict made the Discordian Society an ideal organisation to put in opposition to their invented secret society.
The novel that emerged from this was a true product of the counterculture that Wilson and Shea were a part of. ‘The Illuminatus! Trilogy’ embraced music, drugs, sex, magic, science fiction and satire. The work was initially formed of three separate volumes, ‘The Eye in the Pyramid’, ‘The Golden Apple’ and ‘Leviathan’.
The decision to publish the work in three volumes was taken by the publisher, Dell, but the authors always saw the piece as one continuous narrative.
Another condition that Dell placed on the publication of the book was that the length of the manuscript had to be drastically reduced.
Free from any editorial control and allowing their creativity to run wild, the novel stood at a massive 1,300 pages when first submitted to Dell. The publishers felt that 500 pages could be removed from the story, which would drastically save on the publishing costs, and sent the manuscript back to Wilson and Shea to be reduced.
Soon enough the shorter version was back in the hands of the publisher who went on to publish the individual editions in 1975.
Initially Wilson and Shea joked that the text that had been removed had revealed the true secrets of the Illuminati and that the group had pressured the publishers to not let it see print.
The disjointed nature of the narrative of the book was seen as largely a stylistic choice on the part of the authors and the many narrative dead ends a deliberate embracing of the spirit of Chaos that surrounds the work.
In truth a furious Wilson and Shea, angry at the publishers demands to cut back the manuscript, abandoned any attempts at logical editing and simply pulled chunks of paper out until they were left with the 800 pages required.
Their argument was that if the publishers were buying literature by the pound then that was how they were going to get it...

Sunday, 16 May 2010


John Cage was a composer who became fascinated by the possibilities of silence.
In the late 1940's he began to study Zen Buddhism and was told by one of his teachers that the purpose of music in terms of Zen is ‘to sober and quiet the mind, thus rendering it susceptible to divine influences.’
Cage had also been impressed by the work of his friend Robert Rauschenberg, an artist who had produced a series of ‘white’ paintings. The canvases appeared blank but had been covered with white house paint and changed according to the play of light and shadow over their surface.
When Cage saw these paintings he felt as if a challenge had been laid down to music.
He said:

“The white paintings...when I saw those I said ‘Oh yes, I must. Otherwise I’m lagging, otherwise music is lagging.’”

Cage had used silence in his works previously. ‘The Duet for Two Flutes’(1934) opens with a period of silence, and silence is an important element in some of the ‘Sonatas and Interludes’ (1946-1948), ‘Music of Changes’ (1951) and ‘Two Pastorales’ (1951). His ‘Concerto for Prepared Piano and Orchestra’ (1951) ends with an extended silence and ‘Waiting’ (1952) is a series of silences framing a single, short pattern. In his songs ‘The Wonderful Window of Eighteen Springs’ (1942) and ‘A Flower’ (1950) there are instructions to the pianist to play a closed instrument.
In 1951 Cage visited the anechoic chamber at Harvard University. The chamber is a room designed to absorb sound rather than reflect it and is also externally sound proofed.
Cage went in hoping to experience pure silence but instead heard two sounds, one high and one low. When he emerged from the chamber Cage asked an engineer what the sounds were. He was told that the high sound was his nervous system and the low sound the circulation of his blood.
At this point Cage realised that any attempt to compose using absolute silence was impossible.
Instead he produced ‘4'33"’ (1952), a composition for any instrument or combination of instruments. The score instructs the performer not to play during the piece across three movements of thirty seconds, two minutes and twenty three seconds and one minute and forty seconds.
Although often described as a composition of silence the piece is actually designed to consist of the ambient sounds that are around the performer as they ‘play’.
The piece was premiered by David Tudor on the 29th of August 1952 in New York at a recital of contemporary piano music.
Tudor sat at the piano and to indicate the beginning of the piece closed the piano’s lid.
He opened and closed the lid to mark the end of each movement while turning the pages of the score, keeping track of his progress with the help of a stopwatch.
The response to the piece was mixed with many people baffled by the whole affair.
Cage was present for the premiere and felt any failure was on the part of the audience rather than the piece:

“They missed the point. There’s no such thing as silence. What they thought was silence, because they didn’t know how to listen, was full of accidental sounds. You could hear the wind stirring outside during the first movement. During the second raindrops began pattering on the roof and during the third the people themselves made all sorts of interesting noises as they talked or walked out...”

It was later pointed out to Cage that the duration of the piece of 273 seconds corresponds to the point on the Celsius scale of -273 degrees or Absolute Zero.
Cage replied that this was entirely coincidental.
In 1945 Cage met Merce Cunningham, a choreographer. The two became romantically involved and also collaborated on a number of projects.
One of Cunningham’s students was Paul Taylor, who went on to become an accomplished choreographer in his own right.
In 1957 Taylor premiered a new work called ‘Duet’ which used the score of ‘4'33'.
This piece consisted of a dancer and pianist walking on to the stage, standing there for four minutes and thirty three seconds and then walking off.
Louis Horst, another choreographer, wrote a review of the piece for the magazine ‘Dance Observer’.
It consisted of four inches of blank space signed off with ‘L.H.’ at the bottom...

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Super Power Building. Clearwater, Florida

The Super Power Building in Clearwater, Florida promises to be an epic structure once completed.
Designed as a training facility for the Church of Scientology it will be a celebration of that organisation and it’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
It will house a museum dedicated to the life of Hubbard and a museum recognising the importance of the Sea Org, an elite organisation within Scientology.
The building will also feature a bookshop, a library and have a total of 889 rooms for study and teaching. It will have 42 toilets, two kitchens and a 1,140 seat didning room.
A 124 foot bridge will connect the building to the Fort Harrison Hotel which is also owned by the Church of Scientology.
The land on which the building will stand had been purchased by the Church of Scientology in 1991 and detailed plans for the project were announced in 1993.
Construction began in 1998 with an initial budget of $24 million. By 2000 this had been revised up to $45million due to rises in the cost of steel and labour.
The project was originally due to be completed by 2003. In 2003 the budget was revised again, this time up to $90 million.
The Church announced in April 2006 that the building should be finished by the end of 2007.
As of December 2006 construction was at a standstill and the Church announced that the new date for completion would be the middle of 2008. Construction began again in July 2009 and the Church have declared it will be finished by late 2010.
While construction was suspended the city of Clearwater lost patience with the eyesore that the construction site had become and levied daily fines of $250 against the Church for failing to complete the project in a timely fashion.
By March 2009 these fines had reached a total of $245,0000.
Funding for the project has come from the Church’s membership.
Contributions are based on a series of levels which give benefits which rise according to the amount donated. Levels include a ‘Flag Supporter’ which indicates a donation of $1,000, a ‘Cornerstone Member’ which indicates a donation of $35,000, a ‘Founding Member’ which indicates a donation of $250,000, a ‘Master Builder of Merit’ which indicates a donation of $500,000 and the ‘Legion of OT Meritorious’ which indicates a donation of $7,500,000.
Benefits include access to the Key Contributor Lounge in the completed building, Gold Validation pins and Super Power rings.
Once completed the building is designed as a training centre for the Super Power Rundown.
This is a Scientology training course that, according to Hubbard himself, is:

‘A super fantastic, but confidential, series of rundowns that can be done on anybody, whether Clear or not, that puts the person into fantastic shape unleashing the Super Power of a Thetan. This means it puts Scientologists into a new realm of ability enabling them to create a new world. It puts World Clearing within reach of the future’

The building will contain specially designed equipment based on technology developed by NASA to train astronauts. This includes an anti-gravity simulator, a gyroscope that spins a person around to improve perception of compass direction and a video screen that flashes images to help to detect subliminal messages.
In a fundraising letter sent out in 2002 the importance of the project is outlined:

‘With the world in such a state of degradation and dismay the only hope to reverse the dwindling spiral on Earth is to speed the release of Super Power.
As you know, the 12 rundowns of Super Power were designed to handle the barriers to this planet’s Clearing. By releasing this technology we will unleash the Super Power of every being who completes these rundowns and they will build the New Civilisation so vitally needed.
The rapid completion of the funding and construction of the new building guarantees this Cleared Earth.’

You have to wonder how much success they’ll have building a ‘New Civilisation’ and ‘Cleared Earth’ when a rise in steel prices can derail their attempts to build a training centre...

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Shizo Kanakuri and the 1912 Olympic Marathon

In the qualifying rounds of the Marathon for the Stockholm Olympics of 1912 Shizo Kanakuri set a new World Record of 2'32:45. This improved upon the existing record by 27 minutes and made him the favourite for the Gold medal at the Games themselves.
During the race Kanakuri found himself overcome with heat exhaustion and passed out.
He managed to stumble into a garden party being hosted by a farming family near the course and was given orange juice and a chance to recover.
Ashamed at his failure to complete the race Kanakuri stayed at the party for an hour and then returned directly to his hotel and departed for Japan the next day without notifying anybody of his situation.
Swedish authorities considered him missing for 40 years although he competed in the Olympic Marathon in 1920 and finished 16th and competed in the 1924 Olympics where he again failed to complete the race.
In 1966 Kanakuri was tracked down by a Swedish Television and offered the chance to complete the Marathon.
He accepted and ended up with a time of 54 years, 8 months, 6 days, 8 hours, 32 minutes and 20.3 seconds.
This is on record as the slowest time ever for the completion of an Olympic Marathon...