Eva and the Devil's Servant
A most excellent rumination on life, language, and the creative process on the blog of my favorite Icelandic witch, Eva Hauksdóttir:
Usually she blogs in Icelandic; her choice of English is made evident in the post. Anyone who has suffered bouts of creative frustration should be able to empathize with her predicament.
About her former shop, Nornabúðin:
Nornabúðin was a "witch shop" in Reykjavík from 2005 to 2008, specializing in items associated with witchcraft, pagan religion, and natural healing. Amulets, tea, herbs, and various witchcraft related items were sold there. Her shop was decorated with gnarled, twisted branches, animal hides and antlers, and other artifacts from around the world:
It was owned and operated by Eva Hauksdóttir, a practicing witch (Norn, in Icelandic), social critic and conceptual artist. She offered rune-reading, and dispensed practical wisdom along with her wares. The shop had tables for tea and social gatherings:
The outside of the shop had two large windows, which had displays of her goods:
These dolls were especially cute, in a witchy way:
The shop closed in wake of the Icelandic financial meltdown in 2008. Eva was an instrumental figure in leading protests against the standing government, which ultimately resulted in a change of the national leadership. She was featured in the documentary Guð Blessi Ísland.
She lives in Denmark, and now has a new blog:
Sony Pictures Classics
Midnight in Paris
A film by Woody Allen
The opening montage of picture-postcard images of Paris segues into the now familiar EF Windsor Light Condensed Font credits letting us know that this is yet another Woody Allen film. The Weaver and I saw it in a traditional single-screen theater (The Uptown) in Minneapolis. It was nearly full, mostly older couples (on Sunday afternoon "dates"), people who have been going to Allen's movies for well over forty years.
Owen Wilson is the lead, playing the Woody Allen role, and does a good job in making Allen's usually nervous witticisms seem less neurotic than usual. Wilson portrays Gil Pender, a successful "hack" screenwriter who is in Paris with his fiance and her parents, the father is on a business trip. Gil is working on a novel while his fiance (and her mother) shop for furnishings for their future Malibu home. Every night, at midnight, a vintage cab appears, taking Gil back to the 1920's where he encounters Jazz age celebrities: Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dalí and numerous others. These period sets are exquisite, I found myself yearning to enter that world as much as Gil did.
Allen's muse in this film is not a woman but rather the art of writing. Gil does not have writer's block, but does need to "man up" a bit (Hemingway gives him a choice- write more assertively or fight!) There is a romantic sub-plot with a very appealing Marion Cotillard, but this is a film more of ideas than passion.
Woody has been supplying me with "date-movies" all of my adult life. This may not be his best movie, but it is certainly one of the most satisfying. It is a pleasant fantasy; an enjoyable summer movie; a great entertainment.
Head of a Sharon
Odilon said, "While I recognize the necessity for a basis of
observed reality... true art lies in a reality that is felt".
And Sharon felt fine.
Elevate your aesthetic with Sharon, Fridays at FITK
State of the Art - 1909
The first air show at the Grand Palais in Paris, France. September 30th, 1909. Photographed in Autochrome Lumière by Léon Gimpel. Via ckck
Impossibly artistic, yet real. The Autochrome process was the first practical commercial color photographic process. Grains of dyed potato starch were sandwiched between a glass plate and a black and white emulsion. After the film exposed it was developed in a reversal process, the dyes would show the true color of the original scene.
Impossibly artistic, yet real. These early aircraft were handcrafted sculptures of wood, wire and canvas. Barely aerodynamic, they did fly however, and in a few years would become weapons of war. The balloons already had seen service for many years as observation platforms. The Montgolfier brothers balloon (a recreation of which can be seen under the large balloons) preceded this event by 126 years- further back in time from 1909 than this event is to the present.
Impossibly artistic, yet real. The Art Noveau decorations in the hall are fanciful, organic and exquisite. Truly a golden age of design. This lost age is glimpsed imperfectly yet beautifully, even in monchrome the net effect seems nearer a dream than reality:
Sharon of the Faerie Realm
Imposing her grace.
Trip the light fantastic with Sharon Spotbottom. Used by permission.
Kearney, Nebraska, 1999
I needed a place to sleep. A road trip to Colorado Springs, a visit to my eldest and a chance for a weekend of photography in the Rockies. It seems like these Mid-Nebraskan cities are painted on the landscape, everything is so flat. On the edge of town was a small shopping center, the last outpost of civilization before the prairie resumed. I caught a movie at the multiplex (Never Been Kissed) then headed to my anonymous hotel room.
Ten years later I ran into a guy I used to play baseball with when we were both in elementary school. He was still active at 60, still looked great, and he told me about the tournament he had recently played in. In Kearney.
There's a lot of flat out there; a lot of bisected planes, if one were of the geometric persuasion. And the sun is swallowed up by the horizon as it goes down, just like the ocean.
There are a half-dozen within a three mile radius of my house.
Almost taken for granted.
With the advent of the automobile came the plague of traffic deaths.
A new horseman of the apocalypse.
It's the price we pay for the freedom of mobility.
That's too bad, I murmur to myself, and I shake my head in sympathy.
And drive on.
In 2009 four young Icelandic women began performing what they called "Friendly Concerts" in Reykjavík, under the name Pascal Pinon. In October they appeared at the Iceland Airwaves Festival where I was most impressed by their performance. Although I didn't know it at the time, they had already recorded an entire concept album which they later released independently; it was picked up by Morr Music in Berlin and re-released worldwide. Last October my blog-pal DJ Cousin Mary (from radio station KFJC in Los Altos Hills, California) went to the 2010 Iceland Airwaves where she saw them perform. Recently Mary did a three-hour special on Icelandic music and during the show interviewed Jófríður Ákadóttir, the primary songwriter for the group. A transcript of that interview follows:
MARY MACDONALD: I'm talking to Jófríður from Pascal Pinon... Now tell us about your band, it's you and your sister right?
JÓFRÍÐUR ÁKADÓTTIR: Yes, it's called Pascal Pinon and we mostly just play indie-acoustic pop music. It's always written in my bedroom so I think you can sort of hear it, because it has a lot of shyness in it because we're both very shy... when I'm writing I always do it in my bedroom and I always play very low so I hope that nobody can hear...
JÓFRÍÐUR: ... I think that maybe I can hear that in the music because it always colors it, how it comes into the world, I think, and that's sort of where my music is born.
MARY: Is there anyone other than your sister and you in the band?
JÓFRÍÐUR: We always play four girls when we play concerts, but we just get session players for the shows because we used to be four in the band, two other girls with us, but then after a year of working together they decided to quit because it was getting a bit hard, and me and Ásthildur were doing everything, mostly, so we all just agreed, they just stopped being in the band- sometimes playing with us, sometimes doing other things... it actually works out a lot better this way.
MARY: You began playing when you were very young, isn't that true? How old were you when you started?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Well, this band we started when we were fourteen, and today we are sixteen, almost seventeen.
MARY: Oh, I see, so you're still in school...
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes, and it's actually Easter break now and we're using the Easter break to make the second album...
MARY: Oh, how exciting...
JÓFRÍÐUR: It's very exciting!
MARY: You and your sister are twins, isn't that true?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes, we're twins.
MARY: You say you're shy, yet you get up and perform... Do you enjoy performing?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yeah, I think it's really, really fun to perform. The first concert- it was terrifying! My feet were shaking and we couldn't stand because I was so nervous and we had to sit down and my feet were both shaking really, really fast.
It was awful because I was so nervous and afraid and shy- and that was the first concert. And then you just sort of learn that people aren't really that mean, they always kind of seemed to be really positive, and after playing many, many concerts, and people seem to be very happy, it's not that frightening anymore, it really gets kind of fun and you start to enjoy it a lot because its really really fun to play your own songs in front of an audience.
MARY: There's a sweetness and a warmth to your music, at least that's why I enjoy your music, so I would think that would appeal to a lot of people.
JÓFRÍÐUR: I think our music, because its been called very cute, and I think that it is very cute, and it's very warm and it's very happy, in a way. It's kind of if you would imagine something very soft. I have nothing against being soft, but I also think that it cannot be too soft, and it cannot be too cute and it cannot be too much of anything. I think it's very important that all of the things that you write, all this cuteness, and the shyness, that it doesn't get too much of anything.
MARY: Now, have you written new songs for your new CD that you're mixing?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes we have fifteen songs that we're going to choose from, and we have recorded fourteen.
MARY: The songs that you've composed, have they changed over time, from the first songs?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Well, um, we're experimenting a bit, on the second album, with shakers and a bit of drums, because if you heard the whole album you notice that there are no drums, or shaker, or anything at all, on the whole entire album, we're experimenting a bit with that. I think that maybe the compositions, in general, haven't changed that much. I mostly noticed that the sound is improving and we're exploring a bit of kind of different sound world on the second album. There's one song that is very different from all the other songs. I think the most, the biggest difference with this album and the other is that the first album is a really, really whole unit. It's a really whole album- it has a very similar sound to all the songs and it kind of forms a very special wholeness- if that makes sense (laughs) because it was recorded in five days and we had been practicing these songs for a long time and we knew exactly what we were going to record and we just did it. This album is recorded in three different places. It was recorded first of all in the summer, the summer of 2010, when we had a recording session, and again, when we had the next break from school- it was the Christmas break- and then we did some recordings now, in the Easter break. So we're using all our breaks to record. And the songs we've been adding, more and more songs to the album with time. There's not much similarity in all the songs as it was in the first album, so the sound is kind of different from each song. But in a way, I think that's also interesting, to make an album that has a very mixed diversity, or at least more diversity than the first album.
MARY: What kind of musical education do you and your sister have?
JÓFRÍÐUR: We have both studied classical music, and we are studying now. Ásthildur is a really good piano player, a classical piano player, and I play the clarinet, I have been playing the clarinet since I was eight years old and we are very much busy at the music school all the time, except for the breaks, then when we have time to be in a band. I also play to piano too, but very little. Ásthildur plays the bassoon.
MARY: Are you attending a music school right now?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes we are, we are in the Music School of Reykjavík.
MARY: Is that at the high school level?
MARY: When will you be going to university?
JÓFRÍÐUR: In three years from now, it's a different system...
MARY: Well, that's a long time.
JÓFRÍÐUR: We're also very young... so it kind of adds up.
MARY: You'll have plenty of time to do what you're doing right now.
JÓFRÍÐUR: Um-hmm. I think we just don't really realize how young we are. We have all this time to do so many things. Sometimes we kind of get lost in always comparing ourselves to some people who are older and have been doing this thing for a lot longer time. I thinks that's one sort of mistake that you make and you have to be very careful sometimes because we are very young and we have to sometimes be careful not to compare ourselves too much.
MARY: Well, not to compare you to other people, but to compare Iceland to other countries, it seems to me that there are a lot of musicians in Iceland, given the small population, do you agree?
JÓFRÍÐUR: I agree, and I think that there are strangely many good musicians here... I really like this whole indie community that had been formed here, and this whole music scene. I really like it and there are a lot of people in it, and it's really lucky to be a part of it.
MARY: I agree. Do think there's anything particular about Iceland that has made this happen?
JÓFRÍÐUR: No, I really cannot tell because its so hard to spot something that you're a part of. It's really hard to look at it as an outsider. I don't really know why it has become the way it is. I really always think it is a huge misunderstanding that it has anything to do with nature. I think that's just something that Björk created. Sometimes, when we do interviews, and there are people from other countries, they ask: "Has the nature affected your music in any way?" and we always say "No" (laughs) because I cannot see how nature can possibly be connected with music, at least not the type of music that we make. But I understand maybe Björk always talks about how she's hiking in the mountains and looking at the wilderness... I think maybe this somehow works for her, but I don't think it has anything to do with the rest of the Icelandic music scene. I haven't really thought about this very much. I like the way it is and I haven't been wondering why everything is the way it is. I'm kind of just thankful for it.
MARY: Are there other Icelandic Musicians that you particularly like, or that you feel influenced you?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes. I really like Sóley, who is also with Morr Music, and I also really like Sin Fang, who is also with Morr Music and Sóley is playing with him, and I also like Nolo a lot. They're not very famous, but they are really, really good.
MARY: OK, I'll have to look for them.
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes. I would look for Nolo on gogoyoko- have you been visiting gogoyoko.com?
MARY: No, that sounds like a good idea.
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yeah, that's a really good site... it's a music webshop...
MARY: What about other musicians that have influenced you, in the whole world? Is there anyone in particular?
JÓFRÍÐUR: Yes, we were quite obviously interested in Tegan and Sara when we were beginning the band, when I was 14 the only thing I could listen to was Tegan and Sara and I think that without realizing it I was becoming very influenced by their music in my own compositions, maybe I Wrote a Song, which was one of the first songs we played together. Tegan and Sara, they're Canadian twins- but they're identical twins. Maybe it's different.
MARY: Could be. Did you study composition or did you just start writing songs?
JÓFRÍÐUR: No, I've been doing this for a long time, it started when I first got my guitar... it was a Christmas present from my parents when I was eleven. I got an electric guitar and I got a book to learn how to play the guitar. I learned the chords and one of the first things I did was to write very, very awful songs on it and they were all very, very bad. Then later I started writing better songs (laughs). Then we got the idea of maybe starting a band and I was the only who could stand up and say "I have written a song- maybe we can play it?"
MARY: Is there anything else you'd like to tell our listeners about your music or Iceland?
JÓFRÍÐUR: I think its really really fun to be in concert in Iceland, I think it's really a special atmosphere in concerts in Iceland. I think... because everybody seems to know each other... all the musicians are watching the other musicians, this whole scene is really connected. It's sort of like it is a family.
MARY: I could sense that, even being an outsider. I could definitely sense that.
Thank you so much for talking with me and with my listeners, and I wish you all the best of luck.
JÓFRÍÐUR: Thank you.
And thanks again to DJ Cousin Mary and radio station KFJC for supporting Icelandic music and airing this interview.
Photo: Lilja Birgisdóttir
Interview Copyright KFJC, 2011. USED BY PERMISSION
A tart green apple a day
gives Sharon's peculiar squint
that certain disquieting sway
Take a bite out of Fridays with Sharon Spotbottom at FITK, used by permission.
What are you reading honey?
A report about a real estate developer who wants a gift of 800 million dollars from the taxpayers of Minnesota. Who was that at the door?
Oh, just some school kids trying to raise money for something. It seems that the legislature has cut school funding by 800 million dollars this year.
Oh. I wonder why that is?
Midnight Behind the Top Diner
At one time there were diners all along Lyndale Avenue, one every ten blocks or so. From Richfield to Brooklyn Center, twenty miles of Americana, burgers and fries, eggs and hash browns. The Top Diner remains, it is a humble establishment, hanging on despite the existence of a McDonald's a block away. It is located in an industrial area; small machine shops and factories, themselves relics from the 19th century, keep going on inertia.
Aimless late-night prowling with a camera was as close as I got to achieving satori in my teen years. The ignored areas behind the shops became a strange world at night; abandoned vehicles and stacks of trash gained a spiritual quality in the semi-darkness. Further back was the overgrown riverbank. The thrill of trespassing added to my heightened awareness; every noise triggered a flight response. This night scene was akin to a stage set for some undecipherable plays; the curtain had risen, the lights had come up, but the actors failed to appear.
Spotbottoms say it with spiders.
Sharon's a gift, every Friday at FITK. Used by permission.
Morality, Philosophy and Distortion in Baseball Statistics
Anyone who is European, Asian* or African, or otherwise has a modicum of sanity, is excused from this post.
Baseball is a ritualized game, every move has been enacted millions of times, with every play subject to record-keeping in order to become grist for statistical analysis. There is an element of moral philosophy behind some of these "stats", the most notable being the batting average.
Divide the number of hits by the number of "official" times at bat and presto! A numerical figure between .000 and 1.000. Of course, for an at bat to be official it must not involve reaching base on an error, or advancing a runner by a sacrifice out, or reaching on a walk or hit by a pitch. All these rules are to instill a sense of "fairness" in the stat. Of course baseball games are not won by this neat trick of logic. They are won by scoring more runs than the other team.
So how are we to reconcile this personal stat of abstract effectiveness with the more desirable, and very concrete, team stat of "wins?" In the last thirty years, starting with the statistical advances by Bill James and his associates, new ways of looking at a baseball players performance have been instituted, under the general category of Sabermetrics. I was intrigued by the "Jamesian" approach for a time, but what it offered, while more realistic, was too complex for everyday use.
What I did end up using for offensive production stats was a simple "net-bases-produced" average. The unit of measurement was not hits but "bases advanced", the number of bases the team advanced or lost during that at bat.
Strike out, less than two outs= 0 bases.
Strike out with two outs, minus all the bases of any base runner.
Hit into double play, no outs= -1 base.
Grand slam home run= 10 bases.
Any single, walk or reach by error= 1 base plus additional bases by base runners.
A player who struck out 4 times in a game without making the third out would have a measure of "0" for the game, whereas someone who hit into four double-plays would be at -4 (at least) for the game. Someone who walked 4 times and stole 4 bases would have an 8 for the game- the same as two solo home runs. He would cause at least any runs to be scored (on average) and remember, the only stat that counts is runs. His traditional batting average would have dropped for the game!
Compiling these "bases" then dividing by the at-bats would give a number which would, over time, give a fair estimation of a players offensive performance over time. Any average number above 4 would be exceptional. Single game numbers would be telling as well, 4 grand slams=40 bases, whereas stranding twelve runners in 4 at-bats would be minus 24! Any number below 1 would be awful.
*excepting Japanese, of course
Butterfly Wing Tray, Brazil c.1920
In chaos theory, the butterfly effect is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions; where a small change at one place in a nonlinear system can result in large differences to a later state. For example, the presence or absence of a butterfly flapping its wings could lead to creation or absence of a hurricane.When I first spied it, lying among the plastic trinkets and cheap Chinese ceramics, I thought it to be just another thrift store castoff- a printed tin coffee tray, possibly from a set made as a housewarming present in the 1950's. Picking it up, and looking closer, I realized that this was a genuine Brazilian Butterfly Wing Tray from the early part of the 20th century. Made of tropical woods (a little worse for wear) with an intricate pattern of butterfly wings under glass. The pattern was still perfect and the colors remained vivid. Hundreds of wings and many hours of labor went into its construction, I bought it for 99 cents! They are fairly common on eBay and in antique shops, the nicer ones sell for a couple of hundred dollars.
~ Wikipedia definition
How many hurricanes were spawned by the beating of these gossamer wings? Or were prevented by the taking of these specimens? I suspect that it is all a wash, the Amazon basin is probably still home to billions of butterflies, and the "Butterfly Effect" is really more a rhetorical device than an actual scientific principle. Still, these insects retain power to inspire wonder and awe. An iridescent mandala, a focus for contemplation, and a reminder of the higher order present in even the most humble of creatures.
Head Shots: NYC
With the advent of digital cameras and memory-based image storage, one would think that the era of finding a "stash" of photos in a thrift store would be over. Evidently not. I've picked up a couple of used digital cameras in the last few months for the memory cards they contained. It's nice to have a spare or two for transferring the occasional file from one computer or camera to another. Both of the cameras were full of images! I suppose the cameras broke and the owners didn't think to erase the card (or didn't have a computer with an SD lot.)
The above pictures are from a trip to New York City, evidently from a child's viewpoint. There's a definite head theme going on in the lower corners (there were others with a similar composition as well.) If these are your images, let me know and I'll return your card.
You've got a future in conceptual art.