Björk Digital: A Cross Between A Tour Group & A Tasting Menu

There’s always been something a little otherworldly about Björk; if you told me you had proof she was a descendent of Puck and Titania, it wouldn’t exactly be a surprise. And  in “Digital,” her captivating exhibition of virtual reality installations and videos (up until June 4 at The Reef,  part of the LA Phil’s Reykjavik Festival), she is a shapeshifter. Over the course of seven videos, Björk (or one of her avatars)  turns volcanic, reproduces like a paramecium, harmonizing and surrounding you on gorgeously abandoned shore, swallows you whole, spouts aurora borealis, turns incorporal—you can walk right through her—and ends up taking you on a 2001-styled oddessy.

The 90-minute show is part tour, part tasting menu: you are guided from room to room in groups, and each room comes with its own set of instructions—how to put on your goggles, seated or standing, in “Family,” work a pair of handsets that allow you shoot streamers, Spiderman-style.

Talking on a digital hookup from New York City (and appearing in the skin of one of her avatars), Björk, introduced by the Phil’s Director of Presentations Joanna Rees and Andrew Thomas Huang, her collaborator on three of the VR videos, explained she considered VR a way to make an even deeper connection with her fans. Experiencing the songs on VR, she was, was more intimate than listening to a CD. And as an artist, VR inspired some of the most spontaneous, improvised work she’s ever done.

Screen Shot 2017-05-20 at 2.24.14 PM

Björk, as she appeared at the Digital press preview. Photo credit: Jeanette Oliver

 

There’s no narrative to speak of, but it does feel like there’s progression from room to room. You start out interacting with an app based on her “Biophilia” album; each song is supposed to teach a new aspect of musical theory. I only had a few minutes with it, and could have used a 14-year-old as a guide. Next you’re led into the room for “Black Lake.” 

It’s not VR, but certainly immersive. Giant screens, surround sound. You’re encouraged to wander around; the images on the screens—Björk in a cave, a craggy shore, a field—are some times in synch, others not, the points of view change. And you’re very aware of the others around you. It’s two screens, fifty speakers, and some two dozen adults fumbling around a room.

That doesn’t mean it’s not eeffective. It’s an approach that feels operatic, made for both Wagnerian grandiosity, or crisp surrealism of Robert Wilson’s rapturous dreamlike  productions.  The scenery alone—shot just outside the city of Reykjavik

From there you move to stools for the “Stonemilker,” “Quicksand,” and “Mouth Mantra.” Not only do you move in space, but the sound moves with you. If you swiveled away from the Björk  reaching out for you, her vocals moved from the front, to the side, then behind you. Finally, for “Family” and “Notget,” can you walk and explore the spaces around you. While I did not experience any nausea or dizziness, a feeling of wooziness for a while afterwards, more sensitive to the world around me.  This might have been a late-blooming reaction to the VR, but I chose to believe it was the way Björk used it.

Björk’s performance at Disney Hall May 30th will take things to the other extreme. There will be no visuals or electronics,  just her voice, and a 32-piece string orchestra. “There’s nothing to hide behind,” she said. “I feel naked.” She returns to LA to headline the FYF Fest on July 21, for a performance she promises will be “more celebratory and communal.”


When Did Fox News Becomes So Sensitive?

Bob Bechel was always Fox News version of a “liberal”: rumpled, his honk of a voice scuffed by years of cigarettes, whiskey, and screaming, a little bloated, either coming off of or just about to start a five-day bender. On “The Five”, he made the perfect punching bag for Eric Bolling, a barrel-chested bully, and Greg Gutfield, the 50-ish former editor of Maxim who is Fox’s idea of a young person. And they fired him for “for making an insensitive remark to an African-American employee.”
Given what is said on camera about African-Americans (and didn’t Sean Hannity, Presidential Proctologist recently point a loaded gun at Juan Williams), you have to wonder what, exactly, he said…

Peggy Noonan Needs A Hug….

Peggy Noonan is the dotty, slightly out-of-touch grandma of the Wall Street Journal editorial page. She shows up on the Sunday morning chat shows, her voice soft and breathy, a little sing-songy, offering conservatives a lap to climb up on, while she coos gauzy, comforting platitudes. Famous for coining the phrases “a kinder, gentler nation,” and calling forth “a thousand points of light,” she also attempted to calm GOP fears during the 2012 election, predicting a Romney win because of the optimism she sensed a rallies and saw more Romney lawn signs while driving through suburban communities. Given the awful track record of other right-leaning pundits, she has kept her job, continuing do dole out optimism scented like home-baked cookies while scary uncles such as Charles Krauthammer darkly warned of Tr**p’s deficiencies and the ranting brats of Breitbart were undisciplined second cousins, running through the halls, gleefully knocking over display cases.

But in Friday’s Journal, she’s concerned. Before the election, she wrote “Imagine A Sane Donald Trump,” a  nostrum as syrupy as patent medicine, and nearly as effective.  Sure, he’s nuts, but look at his good side:

…his broad policy assertions, or impulses, suggested he understood that 2008 and the years just after (the crash and the weak recovery) had changed everything in America, and that the country was going to choose, in coming decades, one of two paths

Those paths: the Yellow Brick Road of moderate populism (Tr**p), or being left in the forest of socialism, where a witch who looked suspiciously like Hilly Clinton would toss you in a caldron of universal healthcare and relative stability.

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 2.30.29 PM

Il Douché, she discerned (always a dangerous word in Noonan’s hands) understood what she understood,  that America wanted government

supportive and encouraging of business but willing to harness government to alleviate the distress of the abandoned working class and the anxious middle class; strong on defense but neither aggressive nor dreamy in world affairs; realistic and nonradical on social issues while unmistakably committed to protecting the freedoms of the greatest cohering force in America, its churches; and aware that our nation’s immigration reality was a scandal created by both parties, and must be redressed.

Sounds lovely, doesn’t it—except for the church part. While I’m not as dismissive as religion as Bill Maher or the late Christopher Hitchens (I love gospel music too much for that, and the food is usually pretty good, too) the last forty years has shown the power of religion to be divisive.

But he’s disappointed her. Like an indulgent grandma she was willing to overlook his twitter-storms, his lack of politesse,  because he was fundamentally right. It took  the heath-care debate for her to realize this.

And what was it that tipped her off? “He doesn’t understand his base (nevermind that , according to some Republican legislators he met, he didn’t under the bill).

But she doesn’t understand Tr**p’s base either. Because he doesn’t have a base, per se. He has bases, with different desires. The working class voters in West Virginia, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, the bloc who put him over the top, electorally, saw him as a right-win Roosevelt, a man of wealth (if no taste) who had the common touch, and would work for their interests, regardless of the fact that he was a Reality TV version of a billionaire, a serial scam artist who had not previously shown the slightest understanding of their plight. But the Breitbart true believers have no interest in helping anyone. The site’s stories cheer on the “Freedom” Caucus, and even a short time reading the site’s comment section is enervating. It’s an unkempt nursery where the smell of soiled diapers is overwhelming,  anyone showing even the slightest doubt about Tr**p is booed down as a troll, Alex Jones and Sean Hannity are lauded as truth-telling deep thinkers, Sarah Palin and Louis Gohmert are looked to for political guidance, and the conservative bona fides of Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio  are rudely questioned and branded as RINOs.  It’s aroom filled with tinpot revolutionaries,  a mob whose only interest was upending the furniture, tearing the house down, salting the fields,  with no interest in rebuilding. They view themselves to be potential tenants of Galt’s Gulch, but irony is that, in  Randian terms,  Steve Bannon is their Ellsworth Toohey, the mooching architecture critic in The Fountainhead who demands the mob take down the flawed tabloid publisher, Gail Wynand, after his paper supports the hero, Howard Roark, who selfishly blows up a housing project.

But for Noonan, their biggest problem is that…they’re not Peggy Noonan. In speaking to them, she realizes

…(we) brought different experiences to the table. I had worked in a White House. I had personally observed its deeper realities and requirements. Their sense of how a White House works came from news shows and reading, and also from TV shows such as “House of Cards” and “Scandal.” Those are dark, cynical shows that more or less suggest anyone can be president. I don’t mean that in the nice way. Those programs don’t convey how a White House is an organism demanding of true depth, of serious people, real professionals.

 She worries that Tr**p, when faced with a real crisis (“Maybe the mad boy-king of North Korea will decide it’s a good day to see if his missiles can hit Los Angeles. Maybe a sleeper cell of terrorists will decide it’s a good day to show it’s woke,” she frets) Trump will react like the spoiled child he is. It’s certainly a real concern,  but she worked for the Bush family, who gave us W. And that administration. W, perhaps even more than Reagan, let people believe that the idiot spoiled children of the powerful can occupy the White House.  Instead of placing wagging her finger at her ignorant children, Noonan might want to look inward.


The Artlessness of Dr. Douché

So the GOP decided, once again, not to vote on Trumpcare, or the ACHING, or the “American Care? Hey, It’s Now Gone” act. But didn’t Il Douché run as a man who could make deals, a negotiator so brilliant and tough he alone would break the DC gridlock? How’s that working? When the vote on his first major piece of legislation looks like it’s going down in defeat, his reaction is to act like the spoiled toddler he is and tell Congress that if they’re not going to play by his rules, he’s just going to take his ball and go home. You don’t like his plan—then you’re just going to have to keep the healthcare you got (which is, apparently, what most of the American people wanted, at least if you believe the calls made to congressional offices that were running 48-to-one against).

screenshot2017-03-24at1-59-32pm

I guess we can add “Repeal and Replace Obamacare” to the growing pile of unkept campaign promises, along with having Mexico pay for his beautiful border wall, and draining the swamp of special interests. Can’t wait for the Sunday yak shows to see how the administration spins this.

This shows up the problem with putting a businessman in charge of government. A businessman doesn’t like a deal, he can get up from the table. He he doesn’t put up the building or make that merger, someone else will. Government doesn’t work that way. If this bill dies, it’s not like there’s another congress he can turn to (at least until 2018). No one shakes hands,  the lot stays vacant, and nothing gets done. In this case, Obamacare stays on the books. That’s reason to cheer…for the moment. I can’t imagine the GOP will take much care in managing it; they won’t make the smaller fixes needed to keep insurers involved. Those who fought against Tr**pcare because it helped too many people have no interest in making sure Obamacare works.  They couldn’t kill it by legislation, so they’ll simply let it die on the vine.


More than a few bad columns…

Damn, but reading the TimesThomas L. Friedman can be frustrating. Today’s column has the germ of an interesting piece, but he buries it in the middle of an awful open letter to the so-called adults in the Tr**p administration, whom he insists on repeatedly calling “a few good men.” Because Tom wants to show he’s up to date; he’s sure 25-year-old movie reference will show the hipsters  his facial hair is just as “groovy” as theirs.

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.46.56 PM

Ancient Origins © 2013 – 2017

Here’s the germ:

“I’m now in Paris, after almost a week in the United Arab Emirates. I have to tell you, the world is watching.

“I had several young Arabs from around the region tell me that when America lets its own leader get away with lying, hiding information and smearing the press or a political opponent, it is taken as a license by all Middle Eastern leaders, or the leaders of Turkey or Russia, to do the exact same thing and say: ‘See, the American president does it, why shouldn’t we?’”

That’s a column I’d be interested in reading.  Il Douché  is not only diminishing American democracy, he’s making the world less great as well. But Friedman has other, less interesting, ideas. You have to plow through  a dozen of his somnambulant paragraphs, including this:

“…[T]hat is why I’m coming to you few good men.

“I’m not asking you to quit; I’m asking you to act — to collectively or individually sit the president down and make clear that you can’t effectively advance our national security unless he does the right thing…”

Will his next column ask Ivanka, Tiffany, and Kellyanne—he’ll refer to them as “The Golden Girls”—to sit down and explain things?


Hurray For The Riff Raff/Kera & The Lesbians—Hollywood Forever—13March17


I’ve tried to listen to the putative renaissance of protest music in the Tr**p-era, but the songs  I’ve heard have generally been a sorry lot, too specific and straining for relevancy, the playlists feeling like musical versions of cable news roundtables, only instead of argument there was a bothersome one-upmanship, each song trying to outdo the others in angry sincerity. It’s quite possible that in today’s balkanized, echo-chambered, epistemological bubble the kind of rousing call-to-the-barricades anthem that once characterized protest songs is a relic of the past. But last night at  Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s Masonic Lodge, a double-bill of New Orleans’ Hurray For The Riff Raff and local newcomers Kera & the Lesbians showed a new  way forward. Taking a page from the 70s slogan “the personal is political,” the frontwomen of both bands respond to the current administration’s anti-woman and immigrant policies by turning to their own stories, taking as their subject how to become their most authentic self.

fullsizeoutput_435

For Hurray For The Riff Raff’s Alynda Segarra, the path has been anything but direct. From the Bronx to the Lower East Side, to busking her way across the country, and finally to New Orleans, she has distilled her experience into her wonderful new album The Navigator (ATO). Dressed in high-waisted pants, her hair topped by a beret, she looked like the girls I used to see riding uptown on the 6 train when I lived on E. 93rd Street; she performed with a feral energy and conviction that reminded me of Patti Smith.  Her songs are steeped in American and Latin roots, with echoes of Springsteen, Doc Pomus and Mink DeVille,  but subvert their sources: “The Body Electric” is a murder ballad told from the point of view of the victim, “Settle” is a torch song  pining for respect instead of love. And in “Fourteen Floors,” with Segarra at the piano playing the song’s simple figure, it’s hard not to hear the line “when I woke up, it was all gone, they took you when I was asleep” and not think of the families torn apart by Il Douché’s immigration raids.

She’s assembled a fine band for the tour. Guitarist Jordan Hyde isn’t flashy, but searching solos perfectly serve the songs; drummer Charlie Ferguson has that NOLA knack of playing with a propulsive ease, and bassist Caitlyn Gray, a cool Hitchcock blonde, locks in with her bass, and keyboardist Sarah Goldstone adds swirling, Garth Hudson styled fills.

As on the album, the show reached its climax with ” Pa’lante,” an emphatic bilingual epic  demanding that no matter what one does, “be something.” The encore, a slowed down take on Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” brings the song’s class resentments of the privileges of the 1% to the forefront; there’s no missing  who the son is in this scenario.

fullsizeoutput_436

Kera & the Lesbians also impressed. Kera Armendariz  cuts a stunning,charismatic figure on stage. Her vocals, which  ranged from an slurred whisper to a clairion call, have an intimacy and directness that demands your attention.  they were a mixed a little too low to really catch the lyrics, but there was no denying her determination. The songs look toward the dramatic, overwrought drama of Gene Pitney and Roy Orbison (a cover the the latter’s “Crying” was stunning) but with unexpected touches—a percussionist in addition to their drummer gives their sound an unexpected soulfulness, while the harpist who joined them for a few songs bought a heavenly quality. What impressed most was the way their setwas structured—spacious and slinky to start, a but like the early Talking Heads, turning denser and more urgent, the final two songs breaking on a wave of tenderness.  This is a band to keep an eye on; they’ve smart and have talent to spare. Armendariz told the appreciative crowd her aim is “to create a safe space for all of us to exist.” With any luck, that space will keep expanding.


Spoon at KCRW

Spoon has been one of those bands I’ve always admired, but never seemed necessary. If I hear them on the radio, or at a coffee shop, or a store, or even on an airliner (see below), I’ll nod my head in satisfaction, and not feel the need to immediately change the channel.  But I can’t remember the last time I felt the need to put a Spoon record on, or had an overwhelming desire to hear one of their songs.  To give you an idea how little real estate Spoon occupies, I had no idea they had released two (count ’em, two!) albums since 2007’s Ga Ga Ga Ga

_27A9506

Photo Credit: Larry Hirshowitz

_27A0357

Photo Credit: Larry Hirshowitz

.

So you would be perfectly reasonable to ask what the hell was I doing at Apogee Studios Tuesday night  for their KCRW-promoted performance? Short answer: I was invited. Longer version: Well, for all the above, they are still a decent band, more than decent, actually, and my curiosity was piqued.  And I was glad I went.

The Spoon on display Tuesday was more warm-blooded than the band I’d seen in the past.  My issue with them was always that they were too battened down; a tad too cool, a bit overly manicured.  Their songs sounded stretched just  enough so you can feel the strain, but never so much that there was a chance of the seams tearing. The recordings existed in a hermetically sealed vacuum, perfect and unruffled. And while Britt Daniel’s voice had a pleasant graininess that could take on shades of John Lennon, he sounded like a man sorely in need of a laxative.

Maybe he’s just loosened up, or maybe as he’s matured, he’s started worrying about his prostate, but Tuesday night Daniel sounded like a weight had been evacuated. He was almost frisky, and  he worked himself into a sweat.

 The songs are still bitter and angular—the titles from the new album  included “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” and”I Ain’t The One”—but Daniel sounds less frustrated and more likely to flare up in actual emotions. As always, drummer Jim Eno played with an admirable precision, elegantly framing the tunes, and Alex Fischel, who Daniel, during his charming  interview with Anne Litt, said looked like “a sexy cabana boy,” added piano and guitar sounds that mussed up and thickened the sound. “Rent I Pay” (from 2014’s “They Want My Soul”) had a clipped riff reminscent of the Cars—which makes sense, given that Ric Ocasek is one of the few singers who sounded even more tightly wound than Daniel—while “Can I Sit Next To You” is built around a stretched out “Gallows Pole” riff.

“Can I Sit Next To You” is a song you might recognize if you’ve traveled on American Airlines recently. The band made a deal that gave the carrier exclusive rights to the song. But oddly, it was done sub rosa;  according to Daniel, if you tried to  find the song on Shazam, the band’s name wouldn’t come up. But whoever came up with that promotion was pretty clever—on most flights you end up sitting next to strangers, so it’s not a completely left-field connection. And given today’s market, you’ve got to get your music out somehow.

Spoon’s performance and interview will run on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic on March 22 at 11am PDT. They’ll be part of the station’s Annual Global Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl on Sunday, August  6, along with Belle and Sebastian.


%d bloggers like this: