“Two by Two”

June 30, 2013

“Painting Animals”, the latest issue of Antennae, contains a short piece I wrote on The Red Paintings’ Animal Rebellion marches [pdf].

Antennae 25 cover

The Revolution has finally come, as well, and is being enthusiastically reviewed.


This hole in my chest

March 5, 2013

First album I ever bought. The one musical love of mine hated by a certain NZ expat music aficionado. Guaranteed to turn the man in his grave, which I’m sure his skeleton would appreciate after this last hampered year.

To think I had resigned myself to missing this non-terrorist ensemble, until an injured bird came to my rescue outside a Melville fast food joint. An experience, yet an opening. Do I have to apologise for crying a yawn? The clouds started it with God’s pee on my cheek. Against a looped 16mm backdrop of industrial documents and firesmoke, of skies and roadscapes, a violin led an instrumental collective through quarter hour builds and flourishes, wordless treatises and incantations. I chair-danced, leg-drummed, conducted, blew my hands, bit my finger, mashed my beard, composed spontaneous spoken word. Tapers taped. Hundreds are counted lucky to share.

sleepmakeswaves provided a soundtrack for an ontology oriented to objects. As their band name implies, the mind is unconscious and technologically measured; as their song titles suggest, the world teems with vibrant substances, actants and technical artifacts. They are less in a relationship with their audience than both are nodes in an auditory network. Any lyrics or words were unamplified and subsumed by electronic instruments. Indeed the intransigence of pedals and power supplies proved greater than the musicians’ agency.

Tangled Thoughts of Leaving played with sounds like children with toys. As their band name implies, our bonds are but melancholy lifeslices; as their song titles suggest, nature will survive our indecisive selves. They allow their audience to subsist in their musical playpen, free of contracts or rules for the game. They sent loops into organs and waves into marrow. Keyboards and drum mallets announced a grandiose verdict on pretence, before an orchidic finale finally seduced my buzz.

65daysofstatic assailed us with white noisiness and noisy whiteness. As their band name implies, there are two kinds of experiments, the angelic and the demonic; as their song titles suggest, there are two kinds of stories, the elliptical and the verbatim. None correspond. They seemed to progress from desperately hoping that their audience would one day catch up, to vexedly deciding on a violent mugging. Repeating refrains, they refrained from repetition. Encrypted blueprints built into waves and crested as birds. Calculated and uncompromising, they evoked the churn of industry and exuded a cosmic ascetic calm.

Things fell into line for this gambit with an undeniable sense of providence. There were sacrifices, of course, but none that can’t be resurrected. I pushed on past the insecure start, doubled down on anxieties and learned to bear exposure. What kept lulls and doubts from becoming terminal was the continual challenges: to write automatic scrawl and graffiti; to tack back again, compose lucid and deliberate sentences; to swap pen for metal keys, those for brush and scissors; to let the void have its way. That and the manic impulsion of the band who endured me poaching in their slipstream. A minor satellite, I observed and absorbed the dialectic of discipline and madness, as frenzies of organisation unleashed frenzies of creation.

As an experiment in technique, it gave the charged occasion to test methods and materials foreign to the desk and laptop routine. I played surrealist games, mocked them and myself, then forged on again in earnest intensity. Writing was driven by concepts and form, by circumstance and materials. I worked with my hands on obstinate fabrics and mashed theories of perception with my short-circuiting brain. Images emerging from others’ paintwork sent shivers through surfacing words. Fuses were lit among myselves, scales tipped and triggers pulled. There were degrees of sobriety equipping various postures. I practiced a risky ascetics, emptied myself of certain expectations while gambling myself in pursuit of others.

I constructed a phantastic colour organ in which every key is black.

Now comes the difficult follow through, moving from method to results. There is enough material and ideas to sustain the project, an ergodic novel of collated documents and testimonies. The Black Paintings will confront synesthesia, aesthetics and disorders of sensation, destimulation and sensory deprivation. The book will document the trauma of the black paintings; decipher the hand of the black painter; remember the carnival of The Black Paintings.

Thanks for their hospitality to Trash, Mitch, Andy, Bear, Emma, Imogen, Adele, Jeremy, Dallas, Ezza, Clint, Chloe, Mace and all the other painters.

Having taken it this far, I could hardly say no, so I palmed off commitments and hopped a last minute red eye east for the BDO. We overcame heat and ditzy navigation to locate the venue, where we multiplied passes like Jesus did fishes. Once again, the Hare Krishnas rescued us from the alimentary (if not spiritual) poverty of this declining festival. War-painted and alert, I paired milk crate with smoke machine and tucked myself behind the string section for the last march of the Adler Junior 12.

Its key seriality barred fist mash poetry and demanded that thinking be sequenced and lucid. Nooked together, we accumulated black holes of egoism and nihilism, consumption and extinction, of eyes and gullets and guts. I tied a bracelet of apologies to the page, proceeded with an apophatic calligramme. Watching from behind a canvas being painted prompted a meditation on art as nonknowledge. Forget reciprocal visibility—here now there is only a shadow painter conjuring viewers’ abjection.

The show was brief and furious, a finale awash with triumphant relief. Dual drummers modulated dangerous tempos. Impromptu set changes syncopated energies. Diminishing worlds were enlarged by operatic heroics. Cosmic static amplified temperaments as hordes without and within clamoured for brain time. We wet machines responded as we could. The last spectral setlist included “The Truancy Collector”, “Riotmantic (The Suburban Adventures of the Bristol Zoo Lion)”, “Opera Man vs Bedlam” and “Capitalingus.”

Glad of the opportunity for conclusion, I farewelled the typewriter, its owner and his kind, and an idle superhero chauffeured me to the border in easy quietude.

I spent this serendipitous home town gig winding down with my oldest friend and brief bandmate over a few pints under the vigilant and sexually aggressive eye of security. We talked music and old times and therapy fodder, about getting back into instruments and the lot of vocally deficient lyricists. By now having characters, themes and an ergodic format, I spent what I thought was my final show documenting images and auras when I wasn’t simply enjoying immersion. The band shredded through oppressive heat and Trash in drag sang through injured ribs. There was interactive audience foldback drumming and a “Hong Kong” pause you could smoke a cigarette in. Eventually rain rescued the hiply sweltering mob, and we were wistfully ejected from the venue and taxied home to pike like old men.

I arrived in the capital at a commandeered church for the opening song and its scornful apology. The keen all-ages audience slamdanced in the front row pews. There were readings from the Gospels according to Cave and Molko, and a fiery sermon preached on the pocketwatch pericope from the Book of Alice. We interpreted the signs of the times and invoked the Holy Ghost. Comfortable now with my objectives for each gig, I penned notes in tranquil sobriety: on perceptual isolation and the Ganzfeld effect, on a virtuosic practice of spontaneous cheironomy, on the noise of life since the end of history. After an energy drink communion, the moon led me home, and when I got there, a cracker down the oval was setting off fireworks.

Pre-show, I party-listened to the album, The Revolution is Never Coming. Under wind-dragged leaves and airliners with no sense of occasion, the participants (among them an OGTRP cog-sci professor) listened and painted and broke into spontaneous grins. Long in the making and finally forthcoming, this is a genuine work, of life and art, about change and stasis, refusal and creation, invoking technological mythologies and delirious experiences. It had me thinking about redemption; their uncostumed soundcheck layered that messianic aesthetics with a vulgar burlesque flourish, before the ideas that remained were Shanghaied by a maniacal mashup.

The show hit hard with blows to the ear and eyeball. I defended with reflex writing. Lone instruments braved silence before the relief of accompaniment. Unhelped by smokeless lasers, a barrage of notes and colours fought for spacing between primal deprivation and sensory overload. Ticking clock picking synchronised motion and horizons of perception. The reverb speakers received radio transmission. Crystal structures formed and thought walked synapse tightropes. I dreamt of cosmonautical adventures as canvases danced and aliens “versed” ninjas. All the while I struggled to make out the muffled screaming of a protagonist drowning under tides of perspective and editorial paraphernalia. Yes I had been drinking, and on an empty stomach. Fossils and meat were painted. The phantom set took in:

  • Syllogism Defended
  • Cheer Up, Emo Kid’s Mum!
  • Birthed Death
  • The Aging Process
  • Turn the Page
  • Come, Ragnarok, Come
  • Whorls
  • Mad Whorls
  • Chinese Century
  • Looking Glass Shards in my Eye
  • Diluvian Pneumatology
  • CO2
  • March of the Warmachines
  • Covering Make-up with Bruises

Tonight, I painted. Ebonised and alien-attired, I emerged during “Dead Adults” to take on an empty black canvas, wary of nearby deadly brushstrokes. Well aware of my limitations, I went for minimalist mixed media collage, keeping to simple symbols and typewritten text. While my (un)read painting was ultimately botched (or, more politely, unfinished) I did manage to draft the first few propositions of the Tractatus Synestheticus. And the experience was singular, an attunement of textual themes to contextual tunes in an intensification of pressure and focus.

On the train home, with my painted face ice breaker, I buffered teenagers performing a visceral reading of the Art Ninja’s painting from a bloke near the end of a three day bender. The acrylic took some scrubbing. After, there was no sleep, just a back porch come down vantage on scrounging possums and circling bats, note taking until the kookaburras laughed in the dawn.

Things were looking up. Brisbane promised to finally deliver a real show, and the awesome zinester Jeremy lent me a typewriter on which to document its aura like a Byron Bay new ager. The drive back up had allowed more ideas to filter, so when the band emerged from behind a curtain (having elsewhere set up in the theatrical depravity of full visibility) there were more trails than I had brains to follow them with. The Adler Junior 12 demanded I focus; aided by the music, I set about transcribing smuggled security footage. Meanwhile, a “Hong Kong” pause broke clocks, and Opera Man cut sicker than pestilence. The ghost band setlist included the crowd favourites “Measuring Yourself for a Casket” and “Dancing through a Maze with No Exits,” as well as the “Judgement Daze” cover. We alternated driving through the night, and by the time we arrived home a work had emerged with a coherent set of questions: What are the black paintings? Who was the black painter? Who were The Black Paintings?

Paranoia consists in irrational connections. For some, like Dick, it’s organic or chemical, while others, like Dali, cultivated it through self-imposed method. Here, the cluster of circumstances (this being the first go at an admittedly crazy activity; not having reintroduced myself prior to the performance; my location squashed in a couch by the stage, with crew constantly climbing over me to fix a string of equipment problems; the numerous technical issues plaguing the set, such that it was almost abandoned after three songs) produced a paranoid state—am I getting in the way? do they even want me here?—which my own impulsive attempts to cultivate (sneakily believing this attempt at control would quell them) in fact only intensified—really, the paranoiac-critical method? What sort of wanker are you? This ain’t the thirties any more… What the fuck are you doing? Or maybe it was just the $3 vodkas. In any case, despite not quite achieving a delirium of interpretation, pen on paper amid this systematised confusion produced a number of absurd and irreal images and crystallised the project’s central problematic: how might writing relate to music and visual art? The forged Black Paintings setlist left behind included “Seventh Generation Sinner,” “Coming Second on Sale of the Century,” “Hospital Incinerator” and “When Death Died.”

Our sleep was comforted by the flashing blue and red lit balcony window, as stories below Surfer’s performed its nightly ceremonial dance of cop cars, ambulance and tow trucks around a crashed car and its committed onlookers.

The Red Paintings are currently touring their SF and Dada influenced orchestral art rock. Amid the music, their heavily visual shows feature artists painting both regular and human canvases. The themes of this tour—The Black Paintings—are the black holes of the universe, world and self. I am participating as a fiction writer in seven shows, hunting percepts, experimenting with technique, and intensifying compulsion.

Pirate set off a controlled detonation of frenzied jazzy prog, led by groin-lubricating sax and amp-blowing guitar each prone to impersonate the other. Like the soundtrack to an M. John Harrison detective story, where a hieroglyphed body waits under neon and a cloud-covered moon. They make me want to be a barman taking travellers’ confessions in a smoky portside rum den.

Meniscus performed grand acts of cosmic rock; from a sturdy rhythm section launch pad, a frantic mix of effects pedaled into stratospheric live-mixed visuals. Like the soundtrack to a Poul Anderson space opera, where an earnestly soaring astronaut takes in the majesty and mayhem of dying and birthing stars. They make me want to be an alien sentience—an extraterrestrial or scientist—observing the evolution of life and stricken by the astrophysical sublime.

sleepmakeswaves constructed intricate instrumentals of organismic percussion and involuted guitars, with the only vocals private stage screams. Like the soundtrack to a Michael Chabon novel, where a kid’s pop culture obsession helps him negotiate the turmoils of his parents’ breakup, hypersexed college in wartime, and eventually his own students’ transitions to adulthood—as a new species of humanity. They make me want to be a kung fu guru performing high wire knife acts in a late 21st-century travelling circus as cover for my superheroic crime fighting activities.

As its cover art of a flourishing tree nourished by roots in hell suggests, Heritage is a departure even for the progressive Opeth, a marked maturation from the screamed intensity of death metal into a more melodic sound full of nylon and organs. I took in their new show from the Enmore balcony intrigued by how this transformation would play out. The set opened as does the album, with the swaying broken chords of “The Devil’s Orchard”’s anti-religion and the moody shifts of “I Feel the Dark”’s Romanticism. They played a half-dozen new tracks, including the mellow and jazzy “Nepenthe,” the Dio tribute “Slither” and the game soundtrack chant “The Throat of Winter.” Older selections featured more acoustics and less growls, such as “Face of Melinda” and “Credence.” Åkerfeldt was charmingly chatty throughout, introducing crowd favourite “Porcelain Heart” (which also featured an extended Axenrot drum solo) with an amusing anecdote about its video pageantry. While the gig was inevitably marked by the resentment of certain punters craving old school metal, the frontman confronted it head on, defusing the tension with a good humoured yet robust confidence in the band’s aesthetics and experimental ethos. Yet the music made its own case, drawing the rusted resisters along with its fusions of bluesy metal, heavy folk, occult psychedelia, shifting from calm passages to metal energy, from extended entrancing instrumentals to clean and mystical vocals. “A Fair Judgement” journeyed through ten minutes of despair and hope to a glacial drawdown. They closed with the landmark prog metal of “Hex Omega,” before encoring with the deeply-rooted groove of “Folklore,” which opens by asking “Hey you, will you be true,” and outros with the question: “Will we sustain?” Tradition demands revolution, and this band’s vigorous attitude to its heritage is emphatically fruitful.

Hale Halloween

October 31, 2011

May all your guising be genteelly gothic.

Put ya dance pants on

September 24, 2011

It was a Saturday morning in the late nineties, and we had ninjitsu training to get to (with, no doubt, a hangover absorbing breakfast on the way), so a friend’s dad was entrusted to videotape The Tea Party’s performance of “Army Ants” on Recovery. More fool us. I thought it was lost forever, but no—recovery, it shines on.

Edit: “This video does not exist.” And the forces of entropy march on.

Double edit: Recovery! Thanks to fellow negentropist ShitifoundonVHS.

Eyes of the end, consider yourselves once more deceived.

I spent the preshow in the Metro front bar soberly writing a few paras of a conference paper like some doppelgänger anchorite. This crowded eremitism was perfect preparation for the Floating Me experience, a simultaneously tense and soothing blend of bottom-heavy riffs and atmospheric keys. I rode Lucius Borich’s ride in to Narke and its throbbing anti-anaesthesia; withdrew then swelled back into Andrew Gillespie’s Deathless baritone moan; and styled my stylus in Spirals’ parabolic groove. The highlight was Piano, an exquisite slow build into an “overflowing, restless and seething” plateau that is yet to fail to carry me away; it unleashed an OBE of a type unknown since Rosetta Stoned at the Music Bowl in 07, yet this time chemically unassisted. But then, too, between the pounding single Sugar and the closing psychedelia of Bezhumous, and before I emerged to the sublime world once more seeming mundane, they did this Jefferson Airplane beauty from a wonderland 44 years gone some fine, extended justice: