Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Mix CD! "The End of Winter 2011"

While we've seen snow here Los Angeles this weekend, the end of winter is nigh! I put together this mix CD to share the new music I've unearthed in these wet, cold months.

As always this CD follows my two rules:

1) It has to be music that is representative of what I'm actually listening too at the moment. As in, this is a snapshot of my current musical interests and obsessions.

2) That said, because I want to make a CD filled with tracks that people might like I've kept away from skronk-fest free jazz, epic-minimal funeral doom and straight blistering death metal, which actually makes up 50% or more of my listening at home (I've been listening to tons of Kaoru Abe, Esoteric and Behemoth — Who knows, the sadist in me might pop up I'll actually carry out my regular threats to make a second mix of what I'm actually listening too.) 

On with the show! Here's the link for the mix! 

There's a pdf with the track listing enclosed, but if you want to get your hipster hat on and start judging me by my musical tastes while the file downloads, here's the list:

("Song Title", Band Name, Album)

1) "Carry On, King of Carrion", Eagle Twin, The Unkindness of Crows
2) "Maya", Guizado, Punx (Doesn't seem to be for sale anywhere?!?)
3) "Starship Narrator", Boris with Michio Kurihara, Rainbow
4) "Une Matinee D'hiver", Les Discrets, Septembre Et Ses Dernieres Pensees
5) "Todo El Mundo Es Kitsch", Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog, Party Intellectuals
6) "Army of the Sun, Contemporary Noise Quintet", Pig Inside the Gentleman
7) "A Dying God Coming Into Human Flesh", Celtic Frost, Monotheist
8) "Der bor en frist her inne", Northaunt, The Ominous Silence 
9) "Prophetic Sines", Bluetech, Prima Materia
10) "The Hound of Heaven", Hail, Permafrost (Not Available)
11) "Tired Climb", Kylesa, Spiral Shadow
12) "Flying Whales", Gojira, From Mars to Sirius
13) "Seven Whispers Fell Silent", Arsis, A Celebration of Guilt

So enjoy and feel free to share and certainly support the artists by picking up any albums you might like!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Book Review: Japanese Photo Books of the 1960's and '70's

Though I was thoroughly disappointed in Photo LA this year (it was bad enough that one blogger came up with a drinking game) the coolest thing that came out of it was accidentally stumbling across a book that exploded my understanding of one of the most seminal influences on my art: Japanese photo books from the '60s and '70s. Specifically, Daido Moriyama's work such as "Memories of a Dog" and Eikoh Hosoe's "Ba Ra Kei" with their dense, experimental layouts and long-form personal explorations of their subject seemed to speak directly too my sensibilities that had been nurtured on Bitches Brew era Miles Davis, underground comics and Sonic Youth records.  Moody, anxious, intense, stylish, gritty, messy, fragmented, always too close or too far away...

While I loved those two books, I only had hints that other books — that a whole lineage and dialog with photography primarily as books — existed in Japan during this period. I mean, I had seen bits of the Fukase classic "Ravens" project and a couple of Araki images. Also, I knew that the gallery scene was pretty small during that period and that the Tokyo photo magazines were important and vital then. But oh my, the wealth of knowledge that Japanese Photo Books of the 1960s and '70s brings to light!

A selection of the most important books from the personal collection of Ryuchi Kaneko, a Buhhdist priest and the most permeant of photo book collectors in Japan, each book is introduced by Mr. Kaneko in a page long essay which attempts to explain it's place in the Japanese photo dialog as well as anecdotes about it's production and intention (he was intimately part of the art world that was producing these books). Also each book has a good selection of pages printed in small versions so that you can get a good overview of the content, style and layout.

This book is an amazing book for two main reasons. First off, this world of interacting published elements was very insular, esoteric and intimate. As the opening essays note, many of these works would be impenetrable for anyone not familiar with the other photographers of the era and the context of the work. Indeed, copies most of these books would fetch thousands of dollars each on the rare occasion one would come to market so that it is effectively impossible for any artist or art fan to know much about any of these books. So this book is at the very least a phenomenal document, creating a vast web of differing approaches to one of the most vibrant upheavals in the world photographic art form.

Collectively though, this work showcases such a diverse collection of work, made in such close proximity with each other, that it can only be inspirational for any photographer contemplating or working on a book project. From cheap, tiny, newsprint collections that are the precedent for Fruits, to minimalist monolithic books with inlaid metal discs on the cover, to intimate documents of sex and daily life, from vast colored landscapes to tiny photos printed in close conjunction with poems, this book show an incredibly sophisticated series of possibilities and starting points for thinking about how photo books, as objects — as works of art themselves — can be crafted and how they can function to be more than just a simple collection of photos.

This is probably one of the best photography books I could recommend to seasoned veterans and novices alike! And who knows, this beautifully printed book could become collectable itself some day!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Review: William Eggleston @ Los Angeles County Museum of Art

I'm just going to throw it out there that the William Eggleston retrospective show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art disappointed me. Not because it was a bad show — in fact it was an astoundingly clear survey of the whole spectrum of his work — but instead because I seem to have lost my enchantment with Eggleston's work. It just all seemed tawdry, pointlessly novel and especially the later works highlighting a distinct lack of cogent editing that it is hard for someone as young as myself to try to step in to the mindset of the art world in which these images were initially presented. 

I'm going to try to talk out why this show, which I was really excited to go see because of his influence on my student work, left me feeling cold. 

Mostly what my eyes were pulled to was, "Wow, these images are really yellow-warm and there is a large amount of pure black in them!" Next, "Wow, there are a lot of young people with manual film 35mm cameras wandering around." Next was a brief moment where I wanted to directly compare it to the Blinky Palermo retrospective (which was actually a pleasant surprise — I went in expecting to be bored by it, but was very challenged by his subtle and clever changes to studio art practice). Then was just plain disappointment - everything seemed so pointlessly novel. My final stage was a near rage at how pathetic his recent work, which is bland student-esque close ups of fish tanks in Japan and bad digital prints of a Virgin Mary. 

I did my third turn through the show nearly stalking with my hands jammed in my pockets. Pure disbelief that I could have liked this shit! I mean, I know I kind of liked some bad anime at that time too, but seriously, no one puts "Hana Yori Dango" in a museum. Oh wait. Takashi Murakami is kind of that. Sorry. 

But then I got caught on one phrase, one project. 

Thinking about how a phrase text read that he wanted to expand his projects so as to avoid be stigmatized as a Southern photographer, yet I was staring at his Graceland images entranced. Entranced at how he seemed to be expressing as much complete confusion about the culture he was in the midst of as I was feeling about the ostentatious Graceland. Neither Eggleston nor I like Elvis, but Eggleston's sure, intense and deeply searching mode of working — snapping the sides of things that are designed to be looked at from the front — bluntly using flash to pick out the overwhelming details and textures swimming before his eyes — using a long night exposure to show the view through the gate, but OUTWARD from the complex! 

That maybe is a summation of his strength - when he is using his photographs to pry outward from some self-involved complex. The idea of the South is one giant complex of thought and geography — of course he will get associated with it. But he's not a photographer of the South, he's a photographer out of the South. And his work in Tokyo shows that he can get totally self-involved and lazy with formal novelty and kitsch that any decent Hollywood cinematographer would shoot. But maybe that's my issue with the show. That I have this underlaying fear of not having enough content - or just playing with the camera - of being no more of a novelty product than some little Pokemon card that sure, is worth a lot of money but… but… 

It seems like his strength is when in a golden field interrupted by a telephone pole or in another frame with a overgrown swing set that is too close to the front of the frame, that he breaks down beauty as an intrinsic concept, that he breaks down the standard way of looking at something, but in a way that forces us inward to re-asses our own vision projected on to the world around as a construct. 

Possibly the most interesting curatorial element of the show was a display case with vinyl copies of older as well as contemporary bands such as the Silver Jews, Joanna Newsom and Spoon who have used Eggleston's photos as album art. Folks who are interested in crafting their own sound out of the remnants, ruins and margins of the american rock and folk traditions. People who value you honesty as well as formal play (with a dash of retro- thrown in for flavor).  If I can hack the wall text for a second, this is at it's best, a project of the, "Grand old… dilapidated." 

Like Spoon or Newsom, I wasn't able to put my finger exactly on the roll irony in his art. There seemed to be so many layers of coolness, casualness, play, juxtaposition, hot-button issues such as race, as well as the margins of society that I was a bit lost as to finding a center. it all felt like gravestones that have been worn down. Never a wilderness but a fading place erected of children, the elderly, guns, toys and blank stares uncomprehending at the camera. Two people I thought about extensively were Struth's museum photos. That this body of work (of Eggleston) is the start of the new canon of color photography, or at least one side of the argument [with the New Topographics show as the opposite - an unstated sideline critic to the penises, bold colors and foppish posturing of Eggleston.] That Eggleston is the father of the lineage of cheap shots of teenage girls in limbo that are so popular at the moment with rich white male collectors along with images of drug users and drunkenness and passing the buck on political discourse for the personal, exaggerated expression in art.

But more so, I was very much curious how the unassuming ease and depth of the work of Atget played against the nearly ADD scope of Eggleston. The depth that comes with, instead of being a photographer who doesn't want to be associated with the south, someone who ignores the labels and spends his career investigating his chosen surroundings relentlessly. Atget's lens is more of an internalizing scroll - more of a sense of mono no aware - of the ever-changing of the world - while Eggleston's camera is a handgun used to shoot cans.      

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Beer Review: Hair of the Dog Adam

To get your over the mid-week hump, here's a review of a beer that I have loved for a long time and was happy to recently taste again.

Hair of the Dog - Adam

Nose: Complex, dark, filled with walnut liquor, Worcestershire sauce, chocolate malt, and hints of dried cherry and raisin. 

Drink: Very long. Hot chocolate front with hints of sarsaparilla. A bit of hints of blended whiskey and sour plum on the middle. Wine like. Some powdery textures and carbonation up front. Good integration of malt and hops. Powerful, and a touch alcoholic, but that hot alcohol is well integrated in to the experience.

Finish: Like the nose, it ends with notes of alternating sweet and sour. 

Buy: I found it at Whole Foods, but many places with fine beer are stocking this these days. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Hiroshige at the Norton Simon Museum

My first question scribed in my notebook about the HIroshige exhibit at the Norton Simon is "Do the Tokaido stations still exist?" I bring this up because it seems to encapsulate both the power on display of Hiroshige 's prints to evoke a specific historical poetic moment in Japan's imagination of itself, and also the shortcomings of the show itself. 

A large chunk of the exhibit was dedicated to spanning, in order, both complete bodies of work of the famous 53 Stations of Tokaido, which are the 53 landmarks and resting places on the journey to the capital from Edo (modern day Tokyo), as well as the less well known smaller-scale portfolio of people along that same set of travels. There was an additional selection of his well know project 100 famous views of Edo, and the full portfolio of 36 View of Mount Fuji. Finishing out the exhibit was a small selection of various fans, birds and a couple of large wedding prints. 

Passing by the fleeting landscapes and the wandering people on the road, I was really caught up thinking about the artistic process of making a project like the 53 Stations in which each of the locations exists in reality before the artist decided to make the project, so the project itself becomes intimately entwined with both the small demarkations of the stopping points but also imbuing a sense of meaning across the whole of a common journey that in a certain way was the defining season of the nobility of his period (every second year they had to stay for a year at the capital so that the emperor could keep closer reign over the whole of country and individual lords wouldn't grow too isolated or close to their peasants). 

Trying to find an interesting take, and having to find an interesting take, on each of these places - each of these ideas really, since some are stunning vistas, others are tea shops, some are simple rivers that must be crossed without bridges - becomes the core artistic endeavor. I guess what really interests me about it is that the artist is engaging with things that already exist in the realm of art. It would be like me ding a photo project on famous stops on route 66 as agreed upon by all the guide books. I don't think I could pull it off, and make it good - hell, I don't even know if I'm part of a culture that could agree on 53 places to stop along route 66! 

It's also interesting to try to imagine these works in two ways. The first as isolated segments - phantasmic windows with great space between the many many days that it would take a walking entourage to travel the 200+ miles between. Windows in to a space that seems almost alien in it's beauty. I spent so much time thinking about that kind of "aching beauty" and how walking hundreds of miles through rural landscapes might or might be something I could even do. Could imagine my feet hurting. The sheer strangeness of mid 1800's Japan to my internet savy, MFA artist, death metal loving self. 

The manicured hills, ever-changing weather patterns, dipping sun, and etched valleys, far off ships, even the constant cropping of people by the hills, and the far off mountains shows that this landscape is very inhabited and active, that the idea of the landscape as something you as a people are always in, as opposed to the "raw" or "untrammeled" notion that pervades a western sense of landscape, such as Ansel Adams. 

The major flaw in the exhibit was a sheer lack of information. The prints were stunning and challenging, but there wasn't even a map to show where Edo and Kyoto were, let alone the road, or more usefully, a map with the stations marked! There was no mention that aside from the two sets of 53 produced, there were an additional three versions made! I was just curious what portion of his know work that the show encompassed, but again, I and a helpful security guard were left to puzzle and guess eventually settling on, "This is a tiny fraction," based solely on the printed dates. 

The reason I bring this up is that in a certain way, I hate wall text. I hate being told what to think about some given art. But I feel as though especially with cultures and times far away, having any grounding would be very helpful! There was no expression of where these prints sat in relationship to "art", which normally isn't an issue, but in this case these could be basically mistaken as postcards (imagine, many woodblock prints were used as packing material on ships bound for Europe!). For the figurative section of the 53 stations, it mentions that the focus was on the people of the landscape. Yet, if you actually looked at the prints, it wasn't about the "people" but about the ways that nobel and fashionable women traveled the road. Nearly every composition had a beauty, on the back of a servant crossing the river, sitting by the road side etc. Always with very stylish kimonos. But no mention of that in the wall text! 

This served to enhance the fantastical poetry of the Floating World idea, served to make that mono no aware more clear, but didn't serve the audience as well as it could have in understanding the nuances of the work. It really seemed more exoticist in this context. (Well, to be honest, the day I went it was about 75% Japanese families speaking Japanese and talking with each other about the prints like they were old friends…) There were some photographs presented along with the different sections of the show, but there were no dates or captions, so I could never figure out exactly why they were there. 

Perhaps the strangest moment that highlighted this lack of curatorial context was a triple-wide print of a wedding processional where all of the people where foxes instead! All the info we got as viewers was the title, "Fox Wedding Processional" and it's date. On top of that it was in with the section that was otherwise stripped-down small studies of birds! 

The middle section, composed of a small selection of the 100 Famous Views of Edo portfolio was interesting particularly because it was by far the most radical in framing and composition of all of the works in the show. Paper fish blocking windows, hanging turtles, jutting flags, soaring hawks met mid-dive. You could almost see glimmering of a photographic sense of vision in these works - a really heavy investment in the frame of the image as well as the way real items get arranged in front of that frame. These prints really seem to resonate with some of the visual fireworks of the 60's and 70's Japanese photographers such as Daido Moriyama. Both having a high sense of formal playfulness and investigation.

Throughout the exhibit I had a hard time with the figures in the landscapes. Perhaps I don't have the visual vocabulary to distinguish them, but I felt as though they were all pretty generic (Exception: the clothes on the upper-class women). I really wasn't sure if they were supposed to be that way because of something with the formal constraints of that type of art-making, or if it was a specific choice of Hiroshige. 

My own personal aesthetics seem to deeply tie both my sense of place and my art to the seasons, journeys and cities, so this was a distinctly interesting show for me. The combination of formal struggle in observation of a city in a specific manner, in this case Ukiyo-E, strikes me as similar to a contemporary process for equally insular and trope-ridden black metal, for instance. A construct, a poetic psycho-geography of mono no aware, formalism and austerity and decadence being played on the opposite side of the same social coin. The small poetries that happen everywhere - As though these are place-moments designed to be a garden for your eyes. 

I also wanted to know if he remained a firefighter after he worked up the money to become a printer's apprentice (wikipedia says that, yes, he did until nearing the age of forty when his child was old enough to take his position). These wildly divergent views of the nooks and nuances of a city seem to suggest someone who spent a great deal of time roaming all over and all in it's sprawl. In fact, I was heard on NPR that firefighter's jobs in old Japan was actually not to splash water around but instead to dismantle the wooden houses around the burning house so that the fire wouldn't spread. In a way, that sort of absence seems to speak volumes to Hiroshige's ability to imply the ethereal with a few lines, to engage the viewer more by leaving portions of the print hazy or missing, to make you feel the longing for home in the curl of a wave on a summer day. 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Japonisme, A Few Photographs of Little Tokyo

I've been working on a project on Japonisme, or obsession with Japanese culture by Western peoples. These photos are a few that I shot and I just wanted to post them up as a public sketchbook. Mostly a way for me to start thinking about how to sequence them. Thanks for looking!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Whisky Review: Hibiki (Suntory) 17 Year Blended

Hi and Happy Lunar New Year! Rabbits for all! 

Sorry it's been a while, but I've been both sick and busy with massive work. Now that I'm feeling better, I wanted to start a series of blogs by sharing a review of a very special whisky that my friend Lauran gave me for my 30th birthday. It's a well-aged blend of three of Suntory's single malt Japanese whiskies!

Hibiki 17 Year Blended Japanese Whiskey

Nose: Full and very warm. Notes of raisin and perhaps fruitcake. Sherry-like earthiness. Some zesty-grain quality. Hint of pepper? Wonderful and positive.

Drink: Butterscotch, grain, filling the mouth, fiery but pleasant. Hints of sweetness popping up here and there along the dram. Some dried fruit. Perhaps hints of dried peaches soaked in brandy coupled with stony earth. Touches of light maple syrup candy interacting with peppery qualities and a touch of bite. Reminds me a bit of a fuller, more amenable and deep gentler brother of Black Label. Very long. Orange peel - orange bitters. Warming. Coating. Viscous. Even the lasting (60 second+) tail has twists and turns that tuck in and out of sweet and dry. Something complicated with the grain and malting going on, in a good way. Not much peat or smoke at all. Huge without sacrificing dryness or refinement. Classic.

Where to get it: I have no clue, since I got a partial bottle as a gift! Michael Jackson's complete guide didn't even have this in it. Master of Malt in Europe seems to stock it if nothing else.