Said the Gramophone - image by Ella Plevin
by Dan

05-Buddha-s-Hand.jpg

Dilly Dally - "Next Gold"

Ol' Henry "Fingers" Bergamon died on his horse. Shot himself in the stomach with his own gun and rode upright on his horse for a week straight. Fingers' horse, Peachtree, was a marvelous golden steed, alive in every way the desert wasn't. You've never seen a happier horse than Peachtree. That horse started every day like a gambler on payday, he seemed to strut, even on a rainy morning. Peachtree even had notable footfalls. He touched the ground almost nostalgically, one rather poetic countryman said it seemed as though Peachtree were "caressing the face of an old remembered love" as he breezed over the badlands. So it was said that Peachtree was carrying Fingers in tribute, in loyal tribute to his sullen, moody owner. It was said that Peachtree wanted to bring him back to his old ranch as a final resting place. It was also said that he simply couldn't shake him off.

[2$]

by Sean
Image by Uno Moralez


Owen Pallett - "The Riverbed".

Lately I have been caught up with Big Questions. Questions of why and what, a reverberating how. It's not an existential crisis, not a gin-soaked depression; I'm too happy for that. But, sometimes, some of us, even the happy ones, maybe especially the happy ones, need to ask these big qs. We are finally at a kind of rest and so it seems like the time, finally, to look life square in the heart and ask. Dry-eyed, deliberate, gazing from riverbed to thunderhead. With courage, no desperation.

Owen Pallett's In Conflict is his fourth solo album, the second under his own name. It is a tremendous work - universal and particular, pop music and out music. It fills me with a mixture of certainty and uncertainty. It feels like staring at yourself in someone else's mirror. Sometimes, listening, I am reminded of Stravinsky; other times, of Bernie Taupin. (Owen would maybe hate the Taupin comparison, but Bernie too is a master of revelation and affect.) It is an isolating album - a record that settles around you like its own biome, with rhythms and weather. It does not mix well with others - with stray scraps of radio, other people's conversations. I am writing this with Owen in my headphones and the World Cup echoing around me and it is as if two worlds are competing for my allegiance. One of them is valiant, the other capricious.

Let me talk about "The Riverbed". This song is a thrill. It is martial, thunderous, awesome. It is tidy and banal. It is the union of those sides: the banality of thunder, the thunderousness of ennui. Maybe they once called this genre "chamber pop", but here there is floodwater in the concert hall, electricity in the air. A clatter of snare and cymbal, that masterpiece of bass-drum - it is like making a monumental ascent, fording a river. The arc of Owen's vocals, the smooth swells of strings - this is all glide, unstruggling. Again, both sides - effort and effortlessness. This is the most confusing thing, sometimes, about art, and heart, and self-destruction: that they are hard and also easy, or easy and so, so hard.

Owen sings of hand on paper, finding new work. A few breaths later, The gift of your depression bears you down, down, down. So easy, each of these discoveries: sometimes the Muse is sitting beside you, offering creative inspiration; other times, the universe kisses you on the mouth and provides arbitrary sorrow. There are lines about alcohol and childlessness, loneliness and companionship. Just one glance at almost each image; the song is never subsumed by its subjects. And this is what led to my earlier reflections, on dry-eyed meditation: as much as "The Riverbed" tells a story about collapse and comeback, gin binge and struggle, it doesn't feel like it is performed from that space. Written, maybe (maybe), but not performed. Here, Owen seems sober and steady. He seems measured. He has looked into the well and now he can teach us about it. He can keep asking the same questions, the ones he intuited in crisis. Try to admit that you might have it wrong. He has learned something - something small, like a black garnet; something about velocity and persistence. Or even if Owen hasn't truly learned the lesson yet, he's untangling it, singing, trying to choose the proper words. Perhaps we can learn it. I'm going to try. This is the thing about life's empty hurtling: we're all falling together.

(Or are we?)

[video (which is great) / buy / touring all over, this summer]


(GIF by Uno Moralez)

by Dan

Protomartyr - "I'll Take That Applause"

Took some measurements today. 71 inches from the way my hair rises to the place my foot is scarred. 38 inches to walk around my armpits as a miniature explorer. 90 inches from where I'm frozen to the ground to where there's food. Feet are 4 inches at the widest point, but only 3 inches for the largest my mouth can get. 6 inches of cold water is the farthest any appendage will dip. No more than 200 inches from a parked car at any given time. 300 inches of combined scroll-height of roommate text messages. Moving a single inch is impossible, how does anything grow.

[Buy from Hardly Art]

(the video, when I saw it, was raw, filled only with the sound of radio squawk and 0db signal tone, hopefully that never changes)

by Sean
Us Conductors, both covers


This week my first novel, Us Conductors, is officially published in the United States. (It came out in Canada in April.) I hope you'll read it, you out there, old friends and kindred spirits and trespassers who strayed onto this blog looking for a calm pistachio background. Us Conductors is published by Tin House Books, 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 now that summer has come and I will bring you mint tea and ice-cream and try to persuade you to buy it.

Us Conductors is a sort 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 about lying faith and untrue true love.

You can read the recent Kirkus review here.

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. Part two begins with an epigraph, a Russian saying: "Twelve months of winter / The rest is summer." 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' Clara Rockmore's theremin performance of Saint-Saëns' "The Swan", the track that most influenced Us Conductors is a piece of music by Tim Hecker:

Tim Hecker - "In the Fog II".

A song like smoke; like blur, like mist. Which seems like one shapeless thing but which is in fact variegated, comprised of interconnecting parts. All this furl of organ, rise of static. All this grey colour. If you are listening closely, you can not help but search through the sound - it's like a kind of thirst.

I recently wrote about this song, and others, for Largeheartedboy's "Book Notes" series (there's an accompanying Spotify playlist). As I said there:

Is this a melody we hear, or are we imagining it? Is this meaning or its opposite? Is Hecker sending a signal, making a message? He won't say.

All our lonely lives are this: can we feel the ones beside us, or have we made a mistake?

At the end of Us Conductors, Lev Sergeyvich Termen sits alone in Moscow, haunted, listening to magnetic tape. He is searching.

Please buy my book. Buy it for your father, for father's day; or for your mother, belatedly, for mother's day. And, if you're in the US, please come see me on my upcoming book tour. Initially, I'll be visiting Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC, Durham, Asheville and Atlanta. These are the initial dates, with West Coast appearances to be confirmed in a couple of weeks. At each of these stops I'll be reading from the book, signing first editions, and usually I'll have a local thereminist as guest star. They'll be special, and casual, and I'd love to meet you.

---

Elsewhere things:

  • I wrote more than 2,000 words for HTML Giant about a YouTube video with the cutest little girl in the world.

  • I was interviewed by Nardwuar, and also talked to the Hazlitt podcast about the book, warbled on a theremin.

  • Litreactor proposed that in the movie adaptation of Us Conductors, Termen be played by Jude Law. (I disagree.)

  • Said the Gramophone's better half, Dan Beirne, can still be seen zoiding up!!! at Spaceriders.tv.

by Dan

Part Chimp - "Bring Back The Sound"

I am not universally visible. I used to vibrate at all frequencies, I was simply visible to anything with eyes. But over time, because of various traumas and through the general bowling-ball-in-a-gym-sock that is aging, I have lost some of my frequencies. I no longer vibrate at all levels. Here and there I've lost a level. Certain colours don't show up anymore, certain aspects of my smile, and some frequencies have disappeared altogether. Meaning some people, with a specific combination of receptors, can't even see me. And as time passes, because I am losing frequencies and they are losing receptors, this number is growing. My hair will begin to appear white, my speed will be perceived as pitiful slowness. I will eventually totally disappear.

[Buy]

by Sean


Mark Berube - "Carnival". Mark Berube's Russian Dolls is the best thing he's ever done - ambitious, uncompromising, the work of a singer-songwriter who's drawing from Serge Gainsbourg, Beck and Sufjan Stevens, not the modest coffee-house set. But "Carnival" is higher-charged than Histoire de Melodie Nelson, less fussy than Illinois, sincerer than Mutations. There's a little of Stereolab and Pinback. There are fireworks and ferris wheels. The song's landscape emerges like a vision at the other end of a tunnel - piece by piece, closer and closer, shadows washed away by bonfires, what is distant becoming near. [buy]


(photo source)

by Dan

~guest post by Roger Bainbridge~

Michael Nyman - "Franklyn"

I also remember the day I found dad in the backyard with a rifle. One of the houseboys was using a skeet launcher to fling the heads of some of the mannequins into the air for dad to shoot. Dad was crying, but that wasn't uncommon.

Dad had met mom at design school. She was beginning a study of ergonomics, he, dallying in ceramics. He told me that the first night they made love he had a dream that he was visiting his parents, my grandparents, and that their house was filled with snakes to which they seemed oblivious. They also refused to acknowledge his birthday, which it was in the dream and, oddly, is today. Though he had no serious quarrel with them in his waking life, the next day, the first thing he did was renounce them. Mom never asked him to do this.

And there he was, in his musty housecoat, his shot rate an admirable 7 for 9 considering how the tears blurred his vision. I was back at the estate because my sister Suze has told me the divorce was going poorly. Well, that and things on my end seemed as though they could benefit by some time away. And sure enough, the five days I had spent with him at that point were filled with silent walks and meals punctuated with heavy sighs. I tried to remember some advice he had given me in the past that might find repurposing here, but nothing came to me, which was frustrating because I always cherished the lessons he gave me.

I once asked mom why she dropped out of school and she mumbled something about how chairs just design themselves in the end. In any case, dad ended up following her to the west coast. On their first night in Pasadena, Dad dreamt he and mom were locked in a mall overnight and they entertained each other by putting on a fashion show, trying on all the clothes they'd never be able to afford, her looking gorgeous in the impossible dresses of his subconscious. When he woke, he told mom he was quitting ceramics. She never asked him to do this. Instead, he told her, he was going to design a mannequin based on her so that even if they spent their life in squalor, she'd be dressed in the highest fashions somewhere. The romance wasn't lost on her, but I think she felt the symbolism of the thing meant something else.

And so I finished my coffee and went inside to call Suze. The day's tally was 11 hits for 16 pulls.

[Buy]