Friday, April 28, 2023

Silver Iris

Photo Minimalism Experiment

Santa Fe Railyard, March, 2023

By Professor Batty


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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

FstopSwap

After a long hiatus the local photographic swap meet re-convened last weekend. It had been going for 37 years but the owner’s health issues followed by the Covid shutdown had halted it for five years. That gap made for a sparse turnout. In its heyday there were dozens of vendors, this sale had ten, many had given up, some had died. There were only few young “shutterbugs” in attendance. Classic photo gear doesn’t bring the prices it used to since the dawn of the digital age, and digital equipment is a whole ’nother animal. Still, there was some good stuff:
I even sold some things but when looking at some of the older gear I felt as if I was at a buggy-whip and sealing wax meet:

By Professor Batty


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Monday, April 24, 2023

Making the Scene

Chapter 17 of Search For a Dancer, a serial memoir of one week in Iceland in 2022. Mondays on Flippism is the Key

There was a break between acts. Kaktus and his band tore down, the drums were covered up (a symbolic gesture?) while the crowd amused themselves with selfies and general milling about:
A mother and daughter managed to find refuge in a hallway; there is no generation gap at airwaves:
I struck up a conversation with a middle-aged German couple sitting next to me in the balcony. They had been to the preview show the night before and from the point of view of their iPhone shots (of the peek-a-boo outfit of Neonme) they had stood only been a few feet away from where I was for that show.

The next band, Nation of Language, finally was ready after an over-long set-up; they were the same band that was late doing their sound check in the afternoon, causing a delay for JFDR’s boutique show. I hadn’t come 2,000 miles for this kind of aggravation. When they began to play (the bassist was actually playing an instrument rather than fiddling with knobs!) it was oddly retro: 80's new-wave, a scene I had experienced first-hand 40 years ago with better bands playing better songs with actual drummers instead of drum machines. But they were a big hit with the scenesters in the front row:
They played on, and on, and the anguished singer even strapped on a relic Japanese “bizarre guitar” and scratched out a few edgy chords:
It was well after midnight by the time they finally stopped:
I stayed in the balcony to watch the next act set up.

They were the reason I came to Airwaves.


Search for a Dancer Index…

By Professor Batty


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Friday, April 21, 2023

Vintage Contemporaries

A Novel

By Dan Kois
Harper, 2023

What can I make of a book about two literary-minded young women finding their way in NYC in the ’90s and ’00s?
Written by a man, no less?

Dan Kois is no stranger here at FITK, I’ve reviewed one of his books, How to Be a Family, and have even had a personal interaction with him on one occasion. He is prolific, both in on-line and in print media, and a successful podcaster. Wildly diverse in his subject matters, Kois once even managed to explain what the film Donnie Darko was about! He started his career as an assistant literary agent (and a not very good one, he says) so the central conceit of this breezy book (that main character Emily Thiel is such a creature) actually seems plausible. Emily acquires a friend, also named Emily, who is a playwright/waitress/video store clerk/junkie. This yin and yang duo (two faces of Emily?) are surrounded and shaped by New York City which becomes as much of a character as any human in the book. Their trials and triumphs play out over 16 years in four sections titled: 1991 - Joy in the Face, 2005 - The Heart Unstrung, 1993 - The Emotional Megaphone, and 2007 - It’s Done When It’s Done. This shifting chronology makes for an interesting recursive narrative with different layers revealed slowly, rather than a story with a strict exposition.

As the years go by the two protagonists drift apart and then come back together again, the “good” Emily advancing her career in publishing by championing a series of books written by a friend of her mother’s, while the “bad” Emily spins her wheels in a cycle of her drug use and  misuse of people. Sub-themes of squatting, Aids, child-rearing, death, and family interactions would make it seem like movie-of-the-month material but Kois’ writing always elevates the proceedings.

A peculiar book, neither fish nor fowl, not the kind of thing I’d usually read, but it retained my interest—fortunately it was too clever by a tenth—any more so and it would have been twee and any less so and it would have been just dull.

Marginal recommendation.

By Professor Batty


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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Shaun of the Dread

Remainders of the Day
A Bookshop Diary
By Shaun Bythell
Godine, Boston, 2022
“A long-continued spell of novel reading makes its own peculiar mark on a man’s character. His eyes have a dreamy, far-away look, he take little interest in passing events, he is comparatively careless as to the opinions of the men and women he meets, he forgets names and faces, he neglects social duties, and his dearest delight is to lie in bed all Sunday reading his novel.”
~ R. M. Williamson, Bits from an Old Bookshop

Took a break from my recent diet of formula thrillers by reading this, the fourth book in a series from Shaun Bythell, a curmudgeonly Scottish bookseller from Wigtown. It was an astringent cleanser of my literary palate.

I’ve read the other three Bookseller titles by Bythell and found this one to be in similar vein. Shaun is a bit cranky, justifiably so in the case of his most dreadful customers, his fights with Amazon and the bookshop’s balky boiler. He tempers his ire with ‘affectionate’ Pickwickian portraits of the denizens of this small town. A sub-theme running through the book is the sorrow of losing his long-time customers (to death and dispersion) and having to sort through their bookish remainders, the pun in the title is most appropriate. This melancholy is counterbalanced by his remarkably supportive friends and his eccentric staff (“Today was Lucy’s final day in the shop. She’s been honest, reliable and surly. One couldn’t ask for more from an employee.”) Things come to a peak with the annual Wigtown Festival, which involves nearly the whole community. For all his sourness, Shaun rises to the occasion and a (mostly) splendid time is had by all. Shaun’s writing style is conversational and engaging.

I guess the best recommendation is that the book made me want to visit Wigtown, maybe not during Festival week, but sometime in the warmer months, when Shaun doesn’t have to rely on that recalcitrant boiler. There are several charming (if a bit primitive) places to stay in the town.

Thanks, DJ Cousin Mary, for steering this my way!

By Professor Batty


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Monday, April 17, 2023

Into the Night

Chapter 16 of Search For a Dancer, a serial memoir about a week I spent in Iceland in 2022. Mondays on Flippism is the Key
I left the Nordic House and went back the way I came until I was at Fríkirkjan—the Free Church—where the folk group Systurs was singing an old Icelandic hymn. Every Airwaves has moments such as this: the old songs reborn, not in a retro way, but made new again by a new generation. No amount of hype or promotion can replace the purity and spirituality of this expression.

I went over to the Art Museum by the harbour, it is the biggest venue and usually fills up. I have seen some great shows here and I wanted to get sense of how lively the crowd was. There was a line, but it was moving. When I did get in I saw that the performer was Júniús Meyvant again! He was appearing with a full band. His mid-tempo musical meandering (and whistling!) caused me to think that Júniús needs a new drug, and definitely not lithium. After the previous acts I’d seen I really didn’t want him to ‘mellow my harsh’, so I left after a few songs walked the few blocks east to the Gamla Bíó.

This is the place where I attended my first concert in Iceland, fresh off the plane in 2004, a luncheon recital by members of the Icelandic Opera. They sang in Italian but thankfully they did project subtitles above the stage - in Icelandic! The Gamla Bíó is a stately building that was designed by prolific Icelandic architect Einar Erlendsson, it was remade as a cinema in 1939 and then used for the Opera from 1981 to 2011 until the Opera company moved to Harpa. The building was restored and modified in 2016 for modern concerts and events, removing the slanted floor and the antique seating. As a venue for concerts it is a mixed bag: great sight lines but mixed acoustics, the balcony is better than the main floor where IT CAN GET VERY LOUD (what?) if the sound person doesn’t keep an ear on their dBs. The last time I was here (2018) I was driven out by the excessive volume from an otherwise good band. It was a real shame, most of the other people at that show also left. Hoping for a better experience this time, I crossed my fingers and went in. I climbed the stairs to the balcony, snagging a front-row seat. The band was just finishing setting up and the projected name on the scrim above the stage said KAKTUS EINARSSON in all-caps.
I had read that Kaktus had been in the teen-age EDM band Captain Fufanu, a group that I had seen and was most impressed by in 2009. He is the son of Einar of The Sugarcubes fame and grew up playing in Einar’s Ghostdigital group. Kaktus was all grown up now, leading a real band that played real instruments (including two pianos!) playing real songs, with real arrangements! On one of the keyboards was an attractive young woman sporting a stylish hairdo; she had a habit of tilting her head as she played. I put on my telephoto lens and the view through it confirmed my suspicions: It was Ásthildur Ákadóttir, one half of Pascal Pinon, MY ALL TIME FAVORITE GIRL GROUP!
Ásthildur has always had an air of mystery about her, especially so in comparison to her more famous (and outgoing) sister Jófríður (JFDR.) When I first saw her in 2009 she was shy, painfully so, but she dutifully played keyboards and harmonized with her sister. As she grew older on stage she still played a deferential role to her sister, but behind the scenes she was advancing her musical education and by the time Pascal Pinon recorded their final album (Sundur) Ásthildur was the de facto producer  (In the video of Ást she matches her sister’s intensity with a stunning piano arrangement.) As Kaktus’s set of power pop progressed it became obvious that something special was happening between Ásthildur and the other piano player (whose name I couldn’t find) as they exchanged riffs between verses. They were playing. If there is one thing that most modern pop music lacks it is the sense of play, everything is so damn calculated, so serious, even in the most inane music. Ásthildur has come a long way since 2009 but still has the the head tilt:
Pascal Pinon, October 2009, Norræna Húsið


Search for a Dancer Index…

By Professor Batty


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Friday, April 14, 2023

Beauty Queens

More retro madness:



Source: Rare Historical Photos

By Professor Batty


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Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Retro Dance Party!

It isn’t often that I am able to uncover a YouTube gem such as Janet Lennon’s cultural appropriation of The Watusi, an R&B hit by the Orlons (Lawrence Welk Show, 1962) Be sure to catch Janet’s foreplay with Larry Hooper’s goatee (at 1:29):



Here’s Annette doing the Madison Time (Coke Time TV show, 1960):



A young Dick Van Dyke tries to cheer up a ‘sad girl’ by invading her personal space (Ed Sullivan Show, 1960):



Finally, the truly sublime team of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers having the time of their lives (film Roberta, 1935)  you can hear them laughing between the taps:

By Professor Batty


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Monday, April 10, 2023

Norræna Húsið

Chapter 15 of Search For a Dancer, a serial memoir about a week I spent in Iceland in 2022. Mondays on Flippism is the Key
After the JFDR boutique gig ended I went around the block to a basement space beneath the Smekkleysa record shop where the Apparat Organ Quartet was setting up. They were a trio now, the late Johann Johannsson was unable to make it, obviously. I had seen them in 2006, in the big Art Museum space, that show was a completely demented aural and visual assault. It was my introduction to Johann, a massive talent that I was fortunate to see perform five times. The remaining members were all older now, of course, I believe one member may be close to 80! The small room (that had been nearly empty when I had seen Hekla there the day before) was stuffed with cheesy and antique electronic keyboards and organs. They joked that they were an “Apparat cover band—better than the original!” I know how temperamental those old electronic gizmos can be but they got them all working, as far as I could tell. The music was as nutty and unpredictable as ever. I stayed as long as I dared to—the place was hot and over-filled and, as I had already seen someone collapse at an Airwaves event, I didn’t want to be one to repeat the experience.
I braved the dark walk through Hlómskálagarður park, dashing across the busy Hringbraut highway, and walked down Sæmundargata, the street leading up to my destination: Norræna Húsið. The Nordic House was designed by acclaimed Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) and is one of his later works, a hidden gem among his better-known masterpieces. He also designed all installed furnishings, lamps and nearly all of the furniture. It is a multi-use building, including a restaurant, library, workshops and, most importantly for tonight, a performance space. I tingled in anticipation as I walked up the path to the building’s entrance.

I have spent many hours here, starting in 2009, when I saw Hraun (a folksy band), Hafdis Huld (a singer-songwriter), Oh Land (a ballerina/singer), Casio Kids (a marvelous band playing cheesy keyboards), Toggí (a salty raconteur), Agent Fresco (an emo art-rock band), and Pascal Pinon: a quartet of girls who changed my life. In 2018 I saw Petúr Ben (troubadour), Nini Julia Bang (a musical witch), Liva Mo (a singer/raconteur), and Bláskjár (singer-songwriter). Because this ‘house’ is about a mile from the center of town, it always seems to be a bit of an adventure to make the trek through the area that was featured so memorably in the Halldór Laxness book The Fish Can Sing. This year, coming off 2 seasons of Covid cancellations, everything had been scaled back: there were no decorations and the only act was Dawda Jobarteh and his Kora, a traditional Gambian harp.

One may wonder how a Gambian folk-musician made his way to the Nordic House in Iceland, but I found it to be a welcome change. Dawda lives in Copenhagen and his musical career is an example of how the world is changing. With most major European cities supporting a mix of cultures, sometimes uneasily, this diversity renews artistic traditions. He moved from Gambia in 1999 and settled in Denmark. Dawda is solidly rooted in one of West Africa's most illustrious musical dynasties but it is as an international musician that he has found his place, and key to this is his willingness and enthusiasm for working with musicians from different backgrounds and traditions.

Dawda’s set was brilliant.

The Kora is a type of harp, with strings attached to a fret board. It is set up so that it could be played in counterpoint, the strings for the left hand playing bass and the right hand the melodies. There was a ton of culture being expressed in Dawda’s songs, ineffable spirit-messages from the past. The twenty people in the audience were mesmerized. It was unfortunate that he was the only performer, rather that the 3 or 4 they used to feature in pre-Covid times. It also seemed as if the show was thrown together at the last minute, with only a day notice in the festival schedule and its being held after dark, unlike the leisurely all-afternoon affairs I had attended at earlier Airwaves. I stayed through his solo set but then reluctantly left (when he was joined by a singer) because the evening’s Airwaves events at the major venues were starting.



Search for a Dancer Index…

By Professor Batty


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Wednesday, April 05, 2023

JFDR’s Orchid

More from Jófríður Ákadóttir, The Orchid:

November 3, 2022 in Gamla Bío, Iceland Airwaves

ChatAI's opinion of JFDR:
JFDR is an Icelandic singer-songwriter and musician, whose music blends elements of folk, electronic, and experimental pop. JFDR has received critical acclaim for her music and many listeners enjoy her unique sound and songwriting. She has been praised for her powerful and emotive vocals, as well as her ability to create atmospheric and evocative musical landscapes. There is no denying that she has a dedicated following and has made a significant impact in the music industry.
The Orchid official video:

By Professor Batty


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Monday, April 03, 2023

Touched

Chapter 14 of Search For a Dancer, a memoir of a week I spent in Iceland in 2022. Mondays on Flippism is the Key
I stare into nothing, I yearn for the innocence
I once thought I had
A lack of sense for a fear that grows as I grow older
I've carried these thoughts and I've drowned them in work
And I've worn myself blue on the way down
Oh, mother, would you cry if you hear this song?*
There were a couple of hours remaining before the first off-venue show of the day.

I was back in the apartment, thinking that I’d just lay down a bit to recoup from the chasing around I had already done earlier. I set my travel alarm (Braun BC02XW for those of you scoring at home) for 1600 hours just in case I happened to doze off. Which I promptly did. I woke to a knocking and the sound of a female voice saying “Room Service… ” I jumped up out bed and opened the bedroom door to find a vivacious young woman standing in the apartment “Oh, excuse me, I didn’t mean to wake you,” she said. “It’s fine!’ I replied, “I must have fallen asleep. I should have put out the do not disturb sign. I won’t need any towels, I shower at the pool, I’m good here.” She smiled at my TMI and said, “I’m sorry to have woken you, Is there anything else you might need?” “No, I’m here for the music festival, it runs late so I need all the sleep I can get in the day. I always stay at the Castle House when I come to Reykjavík.” She smiled again, thanked me, and closed the door. A different kind of sprakkar, another woman of Iceland eager to help me (although I think she was originally from Poland.)

It was only a short walk from my apartment to the Hildur Yeoman boutique, up the hill and around a couple of corners, down Ingólfsstræti and then a right, just past Prikið on Laugavegur. I’d be making this walk several times in the coming days. I was ten minutes early for the off-venue show by Jófríður Ákadóttir, AKA JFDR, a musical artist whose development I’ve followed for 13 years now. She has had some real success, first with her sister Ásthildur in the folk-tronica Pascal Pinon, then with the techno-poetic Samaris, as well as numerous collaborations and even compositions for television and film. Her musical journey has been a bildungsroman of sorts—her lyrics focus on her psychological and moral growth from childhood to adulthood. She has developed her solo career over the last five years even though it was interrupted by the Covid pandemic.

By the time she arrived the boutique was quite full. I had nestled in against a wall behind a rack of dresses to avoid being in the way (my usual M.O.) She was late, she explained that she had just come from the sound check for her evening show and had been delayed by the band before hers. When she finally got set up but she had forgotten her capo—in the dressing room down stairs. This meant another trip through the crowds. She wasn’t reticent about plunging into the teeming masses; when you are wearing a high-fashion skin-tight body suit you already have pretty much killed any remaining shyness you may have once possessed. She brushed against me going out and coming back, but it wasn’t the first time that we had made contact. In 2018 I was hiding (again) against the back wall of a Julia Nini Bang off-venue show at the Nordic House and she came in (late then too) and banged against me with her backpack full of gear. The crowd in Yeoman was much older than what I remembered from prior Airwaves, a trend I had noticed at the preview the previous night. What that means is hard for me to say, is it that the younglings aren’t interested in live music as much, or is it that they can’t afford it? Maybe they are too busy with TikTok to make the effort to see live music? On the other hand, I’ll be the first to admit that her ethereal art-songs of love and despair aren’t everyone’s idea of a good time.
You look for one thing and find another and everything in between
You think you’re smart but don’t know whether you’re thirty or seventeen
Your feet are shaking, your hands and hanging out and your head doesn’t understand
These last days you’ve lost the count of lines that you have crossed
When searching for a solid ground, but in this world you’re lost
You want to cry but there are no tears cause you know how silly it would be
The good and bad things are slowly beginning to make a little sense
From times to times the trouble comes then quickly fades away
Leaves your lungs in wounds and leaves both heaven and earth all gray
The world is going to be another way when you wake up another day*
The boutique made for a memorable venue, the management just pushed the clothes to the sides so I felt as if I was in Jófríður’s bedroom. She was, in her sylph-like attire, almost an apparition, her muse sent to beguile us with magical incantations. She was inspired—the crowd transfixed—by her songs of love and longing:
i carve too deep and i move too much
a gentle affection a struggling touch
i’d forgotten how sweet and sunny it was
there’s no wonder it hurt like a dagger at last
can i do it again*
Was she the dancer I was searching for? And where does JFDR’s music fit in today’s crass world of entertainment? I can’t say, I can’t even begin to imagine what makes for a successful career nowadays. But hers is the voice of the ancients; a siren and also a singer of lullabies, love songs for all the lost and aging children of the new millennium:

A line that meets another line
Arrows shooting endlessly
And the anchor in my rib cage
Reminding me of the gravity

I feel how I'm hopelessly
Warping all reality
Wishing things were different
Between you and me

I’m veiling thoughts in counterpoint
Alternately wavering
There’s miles between the water
And the moon, oh the moon

When my eyes meet with your eyes
Briefly leave the clouds behind
Oh, to feel your breath and mine
Constellating
Constellating
Constellating

Even when I get the things
I dared to dream and wanted
I can't defy the gravity
I can't defy the gravity*

It had gotten dark outside during her performance so leaving the boutique felt like falling down from paradise into portals of the underworld. But I was not discouraged—there were to be more moments of import to me on the evening’s agenda, much more.




The sun is white tonight

Tomorrow it will be red and bright in ardent stillness

An ocean wave is welcoming

Yet it is carrying all of my sins and all my troubles


Hey hey where were they hiding

The seabirds that return in the summer tide?

Hey hey where were they hiding

All my loving, giving, receiving?



* All lyrics by Jófríður Ákadóttir


Search for a Dancer Index…

By Professor Batty


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                                                                                     All original Flippism is the Key content copyright Stephen Charles Cowdery, 2004-2023