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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lively interview of Voodoo Funk-meister

The guy behind, Frank Gossner, has an interesting interview over at another blog called Dust and Grooves. The link to the whole interview is here:

Voodoo Funk is a great blog with piles of interesting music (see the link below right, on the sidebar) and Frank is himself a mightily opinionated guy, as can be seen from this extract from the intervie win which he rails against CDs and, even more so, against MP3s. I am curious what people have to say about this. Is he just being a Ludditmp Or does he have a legitimate point?

In the interests of full disclosure, I'll admit to having no problems with CDs, though I have yet to warm up to mp3s. Yeah I have an iPod-type device, but I mainly rip tunes from my physical CDs... I think I've downloaded stuff (apart from free sample tunes) maybe a half dozen times in my life. (Free tunes, on the other hand... well I've got thousands of those.)

Here's Frank's rant:

"Vinyl is the most civilized way to listen to recorded music.

For my personal taste, the best music ever recorded was all released on vinyl. Why would I want to listen to it on any other format? If you're into art, would you want the original painting or a digital print?

The CD always was a shity format. I mean sometimes I would buy some, like for example when my wife and I recently went on a long road trip. The CD to me was a substitute for the music cassette but no replacement for the record. The music industry thought, "Oh, these crappy things are real cheap to manufacture and they're good enough for the idiot consumer out there" and for the most part they were right. I remember those technology embracing fools who in the mid- to late 80s sold off their record collection for cheap and "switched" to CDs. It's funny how most people are willing to sacrifice quality and content for what they see as technological progress. Today they have to realize that they're sitting on a pile of worthless plastic.

Now we have MP3s and a lot of people say it's a great thing how music is now not anymore seen in connection with a physical format but only as the sound itself. Great, you've made it from a 12" album with room for cover art, lyric sheet etc to a ringtone for your cell phone. Some people call this advancement. I call it pitiful. People are sticking cheap plastic plugs into their ears and inject badly compressed audio files into they hearing cavity. This doesn't have anything to do with enjoying music. It's consumption on the most primitive level. This whole mp3 culture really pisses me off. And you can take those ugly "docking stations" and disgusting miniature speakers and shove them. Maybe that's why they're shaped so ergonomically.

I'm not an audiophile. I'm not the kind of guy who spends thousands of dollars on a hi-fi system but you need some real speakers and you want your music to sound like it has some balls.

I grew up listening to Punk Rock and I still believe that the best way to listen to music is really loud, drunk and with a bunch of friends. Fuck an iPod.

It's a shame that besides a few specialized boutique stores, there are almost no record stores around anymore. Record stores were great places to hang out, meet people, talk about music, browse through records and check out new stuff. Sure you can argue how nowadays all of this can be done in cyber space but is this a good thing? Call me an old fuck but I still believe in leaving the house every once in a while and in socializing with real people in the real world. I'm glad if I don't have to stare into an LCD display every waking minute of the day. I don't have a desk job but if I imagine having to sit at a desk all day and stare into a computer screen and then go home and do the same thing in order to talk to friends, shop for music etc. this just seems so incredibly sad and boring.

People have this weird trust that every new piece of technology has to be embraced, that technological progress always is a great thing, especially if it makes certain aspects of your life more easy and less time consuming. Now what do they do with all that extra time? Let me tell you, they don't do fuck all. They throw out another hour or two updating their Facebook accounts. You walk into a bar or a club these days and you see people staring into their "smart" phones instead of concentrating on getting shitfaced and chasing real life tail. That's some embarrassing and shameful shit.

I know... I'm writing a blog myself (although that's more or less just an archive of reports stemming from my 3 year stay in Africa) and it's ironic how I'm writing all this shit for another blog and probably some people will read this after having had a link sent to them via Facebook or Twitter or some other shit but I hope you understand what I'm talking about. I think it's just getting too much. Sometimes when I grab a book, I have to force myself to really read as in really consciously read and digest each word in every sentence instead of just briefly scanning page after page for the most basic content? Sometimes I catch myself having read a few pages when I have to realize that I've not caught anything but the most rudimentary shit and have to go back several pages and start over. And I think it's the same thing with music. If almost all you could be interested in is available instantly, you consume with haste. You can really immerse yourself into a book or into a record and I think this doesn't really work to this extend with an e-book or with sound files.

Imagine to switch on your stereo, flip through stacks and stack of records to find something that fits your mood, pull the record out of the sleeve, put it on the turntable, sit your ass down in a nice and comfy chair, hold the cover, look at it and listen to the music. Now imagine scrolling through your iTunes library, hit play and sit there in the bluish glare of the screen which makes your face look like the undead... you think you're enjoying music? You think you're having a good time? Think again."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Great song

Even if you don't like hip-hop... it's epic

Thursday, November 11, 2010

This is a little late...

...but I just watched this movie over the weekend. Twice.

Anvil! The story of Anvil is, well--the story of Anvil. Anvil are a Canadian heavy metal band, not the best in the world but not the worst either (trust me). I saw them play in a tiny club in New York in I think 1983 or so; the closest thing they ever had to a hit was something called "Metal On Metal," which pretty much sums up the band. But they were fun. And then they disappeared.

Except, they didn't. For the past 30 years they've been working day jobs, scraping together the cash to make records, playing obscure clubs and then going back to work Monday morning. This documentary is astonishing--it's a tribute to people who enjoy very little fame or success in the arts but keep at it anyway out of love for what they do.

I'll admit: it got me pretty misty a few times. Those guys would be me in another life.

Even if you hate metal, throw this in your netflix queue and check it out.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Arundhati Roy on Kashmir

The Indian army has over half a million troops in Kashmir, a disputed territory between India and Pakistan that is the size of Ohio. Half a million troops to contain what the govenment claims is 500 Islamic militants trying to stir up separatist trouble. That's over a thousand soldiers per "militant." Something about the equation isn't quite right.

Below is an editorial by Arundhati Roy, essayist and author of The God of Small Things (great book if you haven't read it) describing her recent travels there. It's long but worth reading. Obama apologists should pay particular attention to the opening three paragraphs.


By Arundhati Roy

November 8, 2010

A WEEK before he was elected in 2008, President Obama said that solving the dispute over Kashmir’s struggle for self-determination — which has led to three wars between India and Pakistan since 1947 — would be among his “critical tasks.” His remarks were greeted with consternation in India, and he has said almost nothing about Kashmir since then.

But on Monday, during his visit here, he pleased his hosts immensely by saying the United States would not intervene in Kashmir and announcing support for India’s seat on the United Nations Security Council. While he spoke eloquently about threats of terrorism, he kept quiet about human rights abuses in Kashmir.

Whether Mr. Obama decides to change his position on Kashmir again depends on several factors: how the war in Afghanistan is going, how much help the United States needs from Pakistan and whether the government of India goes aircraft shopping this winter. (An order for 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft, worth $5.8 billion, among other huge business deals in the pipeline, may ensure the president’s silence.) But neither Mr. Obama’s silence nor his intervention is likely to make the people in Kashmir drop the stones in their hands.

I was in Kashmir 10 days ago, in that beautiful valley on the Pakistani border, home to three great civilizations — Islamic, Hindu and Buddhist. It’s a valley of myth and history. Some believe that Jesus died there; others that Moses went there to find the lost tribe. Millions worship at the Hazratbal shrine, where a few days a year a hair of the Prophet Muhammad is displayed to believers.

Now Kashmir, caught between the influence of militant Islam from Pakistan and Afghanistan, America’s interests in the region and Indian nationalism (which is becoming increasingly aggressive and “Hinduized”), is considered a nuclear flash point. It is patrolled by more than half a million soldiers and has become the most highly militarized zone in the world.

The atmosphere on the highway between Kashmir’s capital, Srinagar, and my destination, the little apple town of Shopian in the south, was tense. Groups of soldiers were deployed along the highway, in the orchards, in the fields, on the rooftops and outside shops in the little market squares. Despite months of curfew, the “stone pelters” calling for “azadi” (freedom), inspired by the Palestinian intifada, were out again. Some stretches of the highway were covered with so many of these stones that you needed an S.U.V. to drive over them.

Fortunately the friends I was with knew alternative routes down the back lanes and village roads. The “longcut” gave me the time to listen to their stories of this year’s uprising. The youngest, still a boy, told us that when three of his friends were arrested for throwing stones, the police pulled out their fingernails — every nail, on both hands.

For three years in a row now, Kashmiris have been in the streets, protesting what they see as India’s violent occupation. But the militant uprising against the Indian government that began with the support of Pakistan 20 years ago is in retreat. The Indian Army estimates that there are fewer than 500 militants operating in the Kashmir Valley today. The war has left 70,000 dead and tens of thousands debilitated by torture. Many, many thousands have “disappeared.” More than 200,000 Kashmiri Hindus have fled the valley. Though the number of militants has come down, the number of Indian soldiers deployed remains undiminished.

But India’s military domination ought not to be confused with a political victory. Ordinary people armed with nothing but their fury have risen up against the Indian security forces. A whole generation of young people who have grown up in a grid of checkpoints, bunkers, army camps and interrogation centers, whose childhood was spent witnessing “catch and kill” operations, whose imaginations are imbued with spies, informers, “unidentified gunmen,” intelligence operatives and rigged elections, has lost its patience as well as its fear. With an almost mad courage, Kashmir’s young have faced down armed soldiers and taken back their streets.

Since April, when the army killed three civilians and then passed them off as “terrorists,” masked stone throwers, most of them students, have brought life in Kashmir to a grinding halt. The Indian government has retaliated with bullets, curfew and censorship. Just in the last few months, 111 people have been killed, most of them teenagers; more than 3,000 have been wounded and 1,000 arrested.

But still they come out, the young, and throw stones. They don’t seem to have leaders or belong to a political party. They represent themselves. And suddenly the second-largest standing army in the world doesn’t quite know what to do. The Indian government doesn’t know whom to negotiate with. And many Indians are slowly realizing they have been lied to for decades. The once solid consensus on Kashmir suddenly seems a little fragile.

I WAS in a bit of trouble the morning we drove to Shopian. A few days earlier, at a public meeting in Delhi, I said that Kashmir was disputed territory and, contrary to the Indian government’s claims, it couldn’t be called an “integral” part of India. Outraged politicians and news anchors demanded that I be arrested for sedition. The government, terrified of being seen as “soft,” issued threatening statements, and the situation escalated. Day after day, on prime-time news, I was being called a traitor, a white-collar terrorist and several other names reserved for insubordinate women. But sitting in that car on the road to Shopian, listening to my friends, I could not bring myself to regret what I had said in Delhi.

We were on our way to visit a man called Shakeel Ahmed Ahangar. The previous day he had come all the way to Srinagar, where I had been staying, to press me, with an urgency that was hard to ignore, to visit Shopian.

I first met Shakeel in June 2009, only a few weeks after the bodies of Nilofar, his 22-year-old wife, and Asiya, his 17-year-old sister, were found lying a thousand yards apart in a shallow stream in a high-security zone — a floodlit area between army and state police camps. The first postmortem report confirmed rape and murder. But then the system kicked in. New autopsy reports overturned the initial findings and, after the ugly business of exhuming the bodies, rape was ruled out. It was declared in both cases that the cause of death was drowning. Protests shut Shopian down for 47 days, and the valley was convulsed with anger for months. Eventually it looked as though the Indian government had managed to defuse the crisis. But the anger over the killings has magnified the intensity of this year’s uprising.

Shakeel wanted us to visit him in Shopian because he was being threatened by the police for speaking out, and hoped our visit would demonstrate that people even outside of Kashmir were looking out for him, that he was not alone.

It was apple season in Kashmir and as we approached Shopian we could see families in their orchards, busily packing apples into wooden crates in the slanting afternoon light. I worried that a couple of the little red-cheeked children who looked so much like apples themselves might be crated by mistake. The news of our visit had preceded us, and a small knot of people were waiting on the road.

Shakeel’s house is on the edge of the graveyard where his wife and sister are buried. It was dark by the time we arrived, and there was a power failure. We sat in a semicircle around a lantern and listened to him tell the story we all knew so well. Other people entered the room. Other terrible stories poured out, ones that are not in human rights reports, stories about what happens to women who live in remote villages where there are more soldiers than civilians. Shakeel’s young son tumbled around in the darkness, moving from lap to lap. “Soon he’ll be old enough to understand what happened to his mother,” Shakeel said more than once.

Just when we rose to leave, a messenger arrived to say that Shakeel’s father-in-law — Nilofar’s father — was expecting us at his home. We sent our regrets; it was late and if we stayed longer it would be unsafe for us to drive back.

Minutes after we said goodbye and crammed ourselves into the car, a friend’s phone rang. It was a journalist colleague of his with news for me: “The police are typing up the warrant. She’s going to be arrested tonight.” We drove in silence for a while, past truck after truck being loaded with apples. “It’s unlikely,” my friend said finally. “It’s just psy-ops.”

But then, as we picked up speed on the highway, we were overtaken by a car full of men waving us down. Two men on a motorcycle asked our driver to pull over. I steeled myself for what was coming. A man appeared at the car window. He had slanting emerald eyes and a salt-and-pepper beard that went halfway down his chest. He introduced himself as Abdul Hai, father of the murdered Nilofar.

“How could I let you go without your apples?” he said. The bikers started loading two crates of apples into the back of our car. Then Abdul Hai reached into the pockets of his worn brown cloak, and brought out an egg. He placed it in my palm and folded my fingers over it. And then he placed another in my other hand. The eggs were still warm. “God bless and keep you,” he said, and walked away into the dark. What greater reward could a writer want?

I wasn’t arrested that night. Instead, in what is becoming a common political strategy, officials outsourced their displeasure to the mob. A few days after I returned home, the women’s wing of the Bharatiya Janata Party (the right-wing Hindu nationalist opposition) staged a demonstration outside my house, calling for my arrest. Television vans arrived in advance to broadcast the event live. The murderous Bajrang Dal, a militant Hindu group that, in 2002, spearheaded attacks against Muslims in Gujarat in which more than a thousand people were killed, have announced that they are going to “fix” me with all the means at their disposal, including by filing criminal charges against me in different courts across the country.

Indian nationalists and the government seem to believe that they can fortify their idea of a resurgent India with a combination of bullying and Boeing airplanes. But they don’t understand the subversive strength of warm, boiled eggs.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Feels like a milestone

As you can see from the helpful Flag Counter up above, the number of visitors--unique visitors--to this site has been growing, and the number from the USA has recently passed the 1,000 mark.

I find myself strangely moved by this.

This blog started three years ago, but I only added the Flag Counter about six months ago, so the actual number is probably much much higher--but this is offset, maybe, by the fact that my writing for PopMatters only began about six months ago too, and I think much of my traffic gets driven here by my reviews on that site. Anyway a lot of people who visit seem to come back (which is why the counter number on the right is so much higher than the Flag Counter numbers, which only record unique hits. That, plus the counter was added several months earlier).

So, let me just take this moment to say thanks to all of you who take the time to click a link or type an URL and come check me out. There are people all over the world doing this, and more every day. It's appreciated.

Now the question is... which will I get first, 2,000 Americans or 100 Australians? Or 200 Brits? Or 50 Pakistanis, or 10 people from Myanmar? Stay tuned.

E-books, Kindles and Nooks

I am curious what people have to say about them.

The whole e-book things has pretty much bewildered me. Here you have a more or less perfect object--a book--which holds an astonishing amount of information in a compact form, which is portable and easy to read, required no batteries or power source, and best of all will still work perfectly when you take it off the shelf 20 years from now. I just haven't seen the need for an electronic version, myself. I've thought the whole e-book phenomenon is an elaborate way to get suckers to pay for something that they already have, and then force them to upgrade every 18 months or so.

Now I'm less sure of this. I have students--creative writing students, who read a lot and think about stories and so forth--who love e-books. They tell me they're convenient and portable and enable the user to cart around dozens or hundreds of titles at once. They're better for the environment because they don't consume trees (hmm, but they consume power, and those computer factories aren't exactly enviro-friendly, and neither are the old Kindles chucked into landfills).

Then there was this interesting article on PopMatters about it all:

So I'm wondering, am I just being a conservative reactionary loser? (Wouldn't be the first time.) The kind of guy who starts every second sentence with, "When I was your age..." ? After all, I think comic books are a legitimate narrative art form--something that would have gotten me laughed out of Oberlin 25 years ago. Am I making the mistake with e-books that I accuse other people of making with comics? Confusing the form with the content?

Or to put it another way, am I confusing the physical artefact of the book itself with the important stuff, which is the story contained within the book? Is Beowulf just as good on a Kindle?

I have a hard time believing it, but I'm less certain than I used to be. I used to roll my eyes about computers too, back in 1995 or so. And cell phones. And Walkmans. (Remember them?) I'm seeing a trend here. I hardly touch my cell phone, but sheesh, I'm on my laptap hours every day.

Somebody--set me straight here. Are e-books just as good as the "real" thing? Or does something get lost in the digital, plasticized, software-upgraded translation?

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hate to say I told you so...

...but as I said two years ago, I voted for Nader.

Here's a lengthy article by Tariq Ali that appeared in the Guardian not long ago. Ali, if you don't know, is a writer and essayist originally from Pakistan, who has lived in the UK for decades and written a lot of books, both fiction and non-fiction. He is also the editor of the magazine New Left Review.

Here is his latest book.

Here's a link to his site:

Here is his Guardian essay:

The guy says a lot of things that are a.) true, and b.) discomforting to many people. All the more reason for him to keep saying them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Sister Fa!

Senegalese rapper Sister Fa combines kora and hip-hop beats with some spitfire vocals, not a word of which I understand. Great song anyway.

Here's a link to her record on Amazon, for more clips: