Said the Gramophone - image by Kit Malo
by Sean
Us Conductors, Canadian cover

Today my first novel, Us Conductors, is published all across Canada. I won't be bothering you like this again until it is published in the United States in June. But I wanted to make sure you heard, you out there, old friends and kindred spirits and trespassers who strayed onto this blog looking for "girl legs" or "shi poem". Us Conductors is published by Random House of Canada, and you can order it via its website, or buy it in shops, or on iBooks or in kindletown, or you can come into my front garden and when spring comes I will sit out there with you and try to persuade you to buy it.

Us Conductors is a kind of love story about Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin, and Clara Rockmore, its greatest player. It's a novel about invention, memory, debt, airships, orchestras, Soviet spies, American ballerinas, Siberian taiga, electric singing, killer kung-fu, blue speakeasies, and responsibility. It's full of lie-seeming truths and true-feeling lies.

I started writing this book in 2009. Its working title was IN WHICH I WIN THE LOVE OF CLARA ROCKMORE, MY ONE TRUE LOVE, FINEST THEREMIN PLAYER THE WORLD WILL EVER KNOW. The book begins with an epigraph by Tennessee Wiliams: "In memory, everything seems to happen to music." There are chapters about the 1929 Crash and the the day Lenin played the theremin. The chapter titles are taken from songs by artists like Kate Bush, Jesus & Mary Chain, and Mark Hollis. There are a few gramophones, but they don't say anything.

Besides tracks by Tim Hecker and the Cocteau Twins, the piece of music that most impacted this book was Clara Rockmore's 1977 performance of Saint-Saëns' "The Swan" (accompanied by her sister, Nadia). It was recorded when Rockmore was in her sixties, well after the events fictionalized in Us Conductors.

Listen to it here: Clara Rockmore - "The Swan (Saint-Saëns)".

I am so tired after a busy few days and so for now all that I will say is: I hope you will buy this book, and maybe come to see me if I visit the place where you live. To learn of book tour dates, subscribe to my newsletter or up-up my Facebook whozit or Twitter whatsit, or just keep reading this site.

Over the next month I will be visiting the Ottawa Writers Fest, talking with Socalled as part of Blue Metropolis, and also hosting a very special Montreal book launch on April 24. But now and foremost, if you dwell in Toronto: please come tonight, Tuesday, April 8, as I launch Us Conductors at your Monarch Tavern. I have the honour of sharing this celebration with Carl Wilson, who launches an expanded version of Let's Talk About Love, one of my favourite books. And we will be joined by wonderful, generous friends: Said the Gramophone's own Daniel Beirne, rapp-battlezin' versus Roger Bainbridge; the thereminist Jeff Bird, playing solo and accompanying the band Snowblink; the writer Liisa Ladouceur; and our splendid DJ, the one and only Sandro Perri. I hope you can join us.

by Sean

Man on a street corner

Nap Eyes - "No Fear of Hellfire".
Nap Eyes - "The Night of the First Show".

Nap Eyes' Whine of the Mystic is a ragged splendour, one of the best things in ages. A band from Halifax with a sound like young caterpillar and old silk, like the Velvet Underground and Electrelane and Destroyer and Guided by Voices. Like liking a drink you know isn't good for you; that's good for you, that's good for you, that you know isn't good for you.

Or a man that's (not) good for you, or a place. Music as simple as Nap Eyes' seems adaptable to many metaphors. Like a towel, like a gun, like a US treasury bond - you could use this in lots of different ways. They are a rock band just so faintly tripping. They are priests of Shaolin and the Holy See, with electric guitars in their hands, with an un-fancy drum-kit. When I finally saw them live they didn't look like they much; but I noticed the white and silver highlights on their instruments, the white and silver highlights of their lightly shearing songs.

"No Fear of Hellfire" is a meditation, "The Night of the First Show" is a shaggy recollection. Two flavours of spring ice. (Ice as in British ices: popsicles, creamsicles; not April's cold streaks.) The first song canters, the second rollicks. One tells a story, one tells much less of a story. One is lemon-sour and one is cherry-sweet; I'll let you choose which is which. Nap Eyes' songs are mazey and riddled, but ambivalent about their mazes, ambivalent about their riddles; in this way they remind me of good smoke, holy incense smoke, always true to its incantation.



  • A reminder that I'm all over Toronto this coming week, promoting Us Conductors. On Saturday, join me at Spur Festival's Literary Cabaret, where I'll talk about Siberia as part of an evening featuring dark & hilarious MCs Miguel and Freddie Rivas, writers Cecil Foster and Hillary Rexe, thereminist Clara Venice, etc; on Sunday, a more in-depth Books & Brunch event, where I'll read from and discuss my novel; finally on Tuesday night, Carl Wilson and I are staging a dual book launch at the Monarch Tavern. We've just added DJ Sandro Perri to the bill, but more on that next week.

  • I wrote about Us Conductors' beginnings - discovering the theremin, researching the novel - for Quill & Quire.

  • And for the 49th Shelf I wrote an essay about some of New York's extraordinary (real-life) nightclubs of the 1920s and 1930s - barbecue, pirates and snowball-fights.

  • Us Conductors was chosen by Apple iBooks as one of April's 10 best fiction books. It's available in Canada as of April 8.
  • (photo source unknown)

    by Dan

    Timber Timbre - "The New Tomorrow"

    That face. Push that face into place. Today is the day when I spend it all. When I eat it all. I used to feel my life like a bright fuzzy line that stretched into time, and who knew what details would come into focus, but the general shape was there. There was length, it stretched far. But now the future feels exploding. After here, there is just *pow* space. It glimmers and sparkles but it goes everywhere, you can't look at it. That's the real problem with i//THAT FACE//t is that you can't look at it. You can't point in every direction, because then it's no longer a direction. It is simply everything and nothing. So I'll spend it all. Anything for that face.


    by Sean
    Image by Micah Lidberg

    Guru - "Pooley". A training regimen. A parade of many different floats. A decade of variegated boyfriends. A very tall smoothie. A bag of weird 78s. A rave on the steppe. "Pooley", by Ghana's Guru, is all these things to me. It's a broken virtuoso, a lopsided shuffle. No one dances like this song dances. Guru has revealed he is replacing the word 'Shashi' with "Pooley" and wants everyone to be aware of the change in name.1 Sorry Shashi, hello Pooley. Fall down/get up. Read this post aloud and maybe you'll get what I mean; maybe the images will fire in your brain, like pistol-shots, like bursting seed-pods. I had a dream where all my papers fell out of my pockets, scattering, lost. And I was OK with it. Let's hear the song again. I like that since they were invented, dance-clubs have never stopped: every year, every place, there is a discothèque. Last night I listened to the poet Eileen Myles read about responsibility, dogs, mail-men, never-ending life; I felt her lines like pistol-shots, like bursting seed-pods; I thought: When she was born, when she was grown-up, when she was writing this, there were always discotheques. [Guru's twitter]

    Doug Paisley - "It's Not Too Late (To Say Goodbye)". I would love this song even if only for the reason that it has Mary Margaret O'Hara. Mary Margaret O'Hara singing, singing back-up, with black in her hair and youth in her voice, the country belle she never was. But more than Mary it's a song of good chord and perfect verse - the kind of tune you want to get broken in the jukebox, be doomed to repeat. Paisley sings without self-consciousness or ambition - sings just plainly, truly, with a heart of gold. Take this song into the wilderness, build a brave city with a melancholy name. [buy]


    Happy birthday, dad.

    (image by Micah Lidberg)

    by Dan

    Each Other - "About the Crowd"





    Dig the basement and wall the basement. Build the desk and sand the desk. Seal the desk and build the chair. Make the candle and light the candle. Sit at the desk in the chair and write the letter. Write the letter with everything you have, everything left after digging the basement and building the desk and making the chair and sanding the chair and making the candle and lighting it. Put the letter in the envelope and seal the envelope with the wax from the candle. Make the lock for the drawer of the desk, and cut the key. Put the letter in the drawer and lock the drawer and put the key in your pocket. Take a walk and buy some chocolate; eat the chocolate. Walk to the bridge and throw away the key. Walk home and knock down the wall in the basement.


    [Buy from Fat Possum]

    by Sean
    Balloon hair

    Astral Swans - "You Carry A Sickness". A song of original sin or plain human frailty; the clunk and bloom of everyday activity, of strain and flop, with an organ the same blue-flame shade as on the Doors' "Break On Through". For the purposes of this song, Astral Swans might be God, might be Buddha or Vishnu. Might be a liar with a poet's notebook, or a preacher with a xanax, or just a church worker who's been up for six days, his four-month-old shrieking. This is a good song with a dozen uses, a hundred origin-stories. Use it like plaster of paris: build a cast, a sidewalk slab, a little doorway cherub. [out tomorrow / on tour]

    Big Nuz - "Incwadi Yothando". Last night we saw the Northern Lights in Montreal, we think we did, this shifting grass-green smear across the bottom of the sky. Nothing was special about that night. Nothing was begun or fulfilled. But when we saw that blurring light it was hard not to feel that something special had taken place. There is a power to a glow, to an aura - in a way it is more powerful than a bright light. A bright light, a shine - it has a clear source, it is a source. The aurora's source is hidden. Maybe it can't ever be known. And so let me tell you of "Incwadi Yothando", from South Africa, a song that's handsome and gracious, with an organ not unlike "You Carry A Sickness"'. But what is splendid here is the glow of the rotating house beat, synth and bass-drum, marimba and whistle; when I listen in headphones it is a blur that shifts across the room, across my heart, full of unclear promises. [at that site.]


    As I've said before and will keep saying, I wrote a novel. It's called Us Conductors and it concerns the story of Lev Sergeyvich Termen, inventor of the theremin. It will be published in Canada on April 8, in the United States in June. You can find out more about it, or pre-order the book, at my writlerly website. That site also has two streaming playlists of music inspiring the book, from Clara Rockmore to Tom Hecker, from Low to Artie Shaw.

    Anyway I am mentioning all this again now because some of my reading dates are beginning to be announced. So far - Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Victoria, Nanaimo. Many more to come. (And you can find all on my website.)

    I wanted to mention two events in particular:

  • In Toronto, besides appearances at the Spur Festival, I'm part of a dual book launch on Tuesday April 8 - celebrating with my friend Carl Wilson, who is publishing an expanded edition of his extraordinary 33 1/3 book about Céline Dion. Joining us for the launch will be thereminist Jeff Bird, the band Snowblink, Said the Gramophone's very own rap-battling Dan Beirne, and more surprises. This will take place at the Monarch Tavern, with help from Type Books and Broken Pencil - more details on Facebook.
  • My hometown Montreal launch takes place at the Cardinal Tea House on April 24. I couldn't be more thrilled for the damn thing - apart from a reading and signing there are going to be short musical performances by thereminists Aleks Schurmer and John Tielli, joined by members of Silverkeys, Suuns, Miracle Fortress, Gambletron and more. Presented with Pop Montreal and Librairie Drawn & Quarterly - again, details at Facebook.
  • Hopefully see you there, or in America this summer.

    (photo source)

    by Dan

    Schoolboy Q - "Collard Greens (feat. Kendrick Lamar)"

    Pinball Sex. Moves like a Stretch Painting. Speaks stacked in Vertical Sentence. The kind of place where the mats scratch their backs on your boots and the beds resurrect beneath you, passed out. Reverse consumption. Cars that only slow down. Hydraulic Walk. I can only see electricity, I can only see your thoughts. Equal parts Slippery Sweat and friction point bisssshhhh.


    (thanks to Miguel)