Friday, June 27, 2008

Monkey College

(image from GOOD Magazine)

GOOD Magazine is one of my favorite publications at the moment, and the latest issue has this little piece on Helping Hands’ Monkey College.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Five Fossil Teeth

Peloponnese Neanderthal Tooth

Fossilized Wooly Mammoth Tooth

Fossilized Saber-tooth Tiger Tooth

Fossilized Megalodon Tooth

Fossilized Cave Bear Tooth

"Retail for Rent"

Here's a rad drawing of a SoHo storefront by our friend Peter Hamtramck.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

John Darnielle is a Really Interesting Guy (or, Shameless Self-Promotion)

In a recent interview with The L Magazine, John Darnielle had some very interesting things to say about his contribution to Continuum's 33 1/3 series. His book, called Master of Reality and inspired by the Black Sabbath album of the same name, was a great little exploration of teen angst, alienation, and the nature of sentimentality and nostalgia. Read the interview (questions by me!) here!


I like the idea of art collectives—people working together to make things, sounds, spaces, whatever. Maybe it's because when there's a group involved, it somehow shines special light on the process rather than the end result, and I dig process. Or maybe it's some innate yearning for a sense of creative community that makes the collective thing seem so appealing.

Regardless, and the point is, I recently stumbled across Gelitin's website. They're a four-person art collective from Vienna and have put together some pretty excellent installations over the years, like this one called Weltwunder (Wonder of the World):

Now, I don't know if there was an actual teapot buried underground, but anyone who wanted to see what was going on did have to dive through five meters of water to find it.

Two and a half years ago in a gallery in New York City, the four group members plus two additional people locked themselves in a large, live-in box and, for a week, reproduced various items offered by gallery-goers. Visitors could put something—anything—through a chest-sized extension and about an hour later, out would pop the original item plus a replica. Here's the New York Times article about it, and here are some photos:

So, the question for you readers is: Did you or anyone you know go see this? And if so, what kinds of things did you get replicated? Send some photos if you have them!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Plantastic! Garden Edition: Keeping Sylvilagus floridanus out of your veggies.

The dreaded Sylvilagus floridanus will eat your vegetables, but they sure are cute.

As TAB and I recently learned, the Sylvilagus floridanus is a veggie garden-plundering little critter. Better known as the Eastern Cottontail, this bugger can eat! And breed! This is all well and good, but if you've got a garden, the Eastern Cottontail can be problematic. If they're using your garden as a personal salad bar, there are solutions that are both Earth friendly and rabbit friendly.

What they love to eat:

Generally, they like sweeter or milder plants, including carrots (duh), radishes, peas, beans, beets, and virtually any flower bud (they are our tulips this spring). In the fall, they'll also gnaw on woody plants as they go dormant, including berry shrubs and vines.

What they're less likely to go after (but there are no guarantees!):

Bitter or stronger-tasting plants, including tomatoes, strong herbs like mint and dill, and spicy pepper plants.

Earth & Rabbit Friendly solutions to keeping Peter Rabbit from eating all of your plants:

Fence it in: A physical barrier like a short fence can work wonders, and it can be done with little more than a few garden stakes and some poultry wire. Two-feet high should do it, as the Eastern Cottontail would rather dig under your fence than jump it. Therefore, it's recommended that you bury the poultry wire at least 3-4" underground so that they can't slip under your fence.

Rabbits can smell danger: and you can use their olfactory protective measures against them. Some things that may be sprinkled in the garden to help keep rabbits out:

Blood meal (used as a fertilizer, some organic versions are commercially available).
Human hair.
Pet hair.

Rabbits also have eyes: Some claim that rabbits can be frightened away by using visuals to trick them.
You can place a length of rubber hose in your garden. Some claim that it will look enough like a snake to keep Peter Rabbit away.
Glass jars filled with water are highly reflective. Supposedly, a rabbit that sees its reflection will be frightened by the movement and will move on, leaving your veggies alone.
Owl decoys (available at garden stores) can also discourage our furry friends.

Six (Somewhat) Recent Movies I've Wanted to See But (Unfortunately) Haven't

I'm Not There
Les Chansons D'Amour (Love Songs)
Snow Angels
Naissance des pieuvres (Water Lilies)

What have you seen—or wanted to see—recently?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Paolo Angeli

Here is a video of Italian guitarist Paolo Angeli playing his customized Sardinian guitar, which involves hammers, foot-pedals, motorized propellers, over a dozen pickups and microphones, and three independent sets of strings! It gets really astonishing around minute 3...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Gray-Shanked Douc Langurs

These guys are a relatively new subspecies (first identified in 1997), members of the Pygathrix genus. They are among the most endangered primates in the world. Less than a thousand are thought to live in the forests of central Vietnam.

Spinning Bottles

I recorded this at the Pulse Art Fair a couple months ago, and I unfortunately can't recall the name of the artist.  It was one of my favorite things there, in part because the children of all the wealthy art buyers were congregated in that room mesmerized by the floating, flying bottles and inflating plastic bags.  Does anyone know who did these?

Thursday, June 19, 2008

"If there were a devil, I'd sell him my soul to have a voice like that..."

Below is a partial (and barely edited) transcription of the conversation illegibly reproduced to the left. It drunkenly occurred between NB and I during the Mark Kozelek show at the Highline Ballroom last Friday. I'm a believer in the therapeutic powers of embarrassment...

B: Don't you think that w/ a voice like that, any woman would instantly fall in love with him if he looked into her eyes while singing to her? (And those who wouldn't are sort of the ones that don't count anyway?)  You know what I mean?

N: Yeah, I do know what you mean... I used to think that about David Gahan because he wasn't particularly a looker, but there's just something about what comes out of them with their voices...I don't know if I'm making any sense. I gotta pee again!

B: It's just that he possesses something that—for lack of a better way of explaining it—is magic. He's sort of inhuman with a voice like that! [Section redacted...] You know what I'm sayin'? I'm going go pee.

N: There're lots of men/women like that...they do one thing so well and distinctively that they are mesmerizing. They have some power over you.

B: We should scan this and put it on the blog.

N: Maybe, but maybe we should edit this part out to make us look less dorky.

B: I think it might be too late for that.

N: True. All too true.

B: I smell sweaty.

N: Maybe you should take a shower. I bet if Mark Kozelek didn't shower even his magical voice couldn't save him.  I have to pee.

B: Yeah.

You know, come to think of it, I think I was first introduced to Red House Painters way back when by my eldest friend (in friendship years, not age years), so here's to her:

"Have You Forgotten" by Red House Painters:

"You Can Call Me Jens"

(Unfortunately Flickr cuts the video off at 1:30, but I hope you enjoy nonetheless.)

Jens Lekman covering Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al":

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Monsieur

Belgian author Jean-Philippe Toussaint's 1986 novel about a young, Parisian businessman is a great and quick read. Dalkey Archive has just put out a reprint of it's English translation, so check it out. I've also reviewed the book here.

Check it.

Castro's Questions

Ruben Perez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Not many U.S. journalists are looking to get his take on the current presidential race, but this article by Fidel Castro, which originally appeared in Granma (the Cuban Communist party newspaper), offers a unique perspective.

I doubt any U.S. presidential candidate is actively seeking an endorsement from the former Cuban president, and Castro is well aware of this: "Were I to defend him, I would do his adversaries a favour. I have therefore no reservations about criticising him and expressing myself frankly." But the 81-year-old revolutionary (who turned over power to his brother Raúl in February) raises a series of interesting points about some extremely complex and nuanced issues, the sort with which it is particularly challenging for viable presidential candidates to find uncontroversial positions while staying true to their policy ideologies and values. 

These are the sorts of political realities with which those who support Nader apparently fail to sympathize, preferring a nonviable candidate with the luxury to neglect an enormous swath of the (unfortunately) unprogressive American electorate.  Castro, though, is cognizant of this difficulty, and clearly respects Obama (he calls him a "talented orator" and the "most progressive candidate for the US presidency") despite denouncing the ongoing U.S. embargo against Cuba—which Obama has promised to maintain—as genocide.

Whatever your opinion of Castro, these are valid and eloquently-asked questions.  It would be interesting to hear Obama's response (and it is unfortunate that many would interpret such a response as some form of Communist validation or something)...

What do you think?

"If This Is It"

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Linkage: BLDG BLOG

Here is a superb blog that speaks for itself.

Of particular interest among the many treasures to which BLDG has introduced me, though, is this series of long exposure photographs of crowds in St. Petersburg, Russia, by Alexey Titarenko.  Overcrowding has been on our minds a lot as of late, and the images in Titarenko's "City of Shadows" are striking in their unsettling depiction of human masses, making crowds seem utterly creepy.   As BLDG puts it, the series "has the effect of transforming these assemblies of people into demonic blurs, black masses moving through the city."

Monday, June 16, 2008

"My butt is itchy!"

"The fish laughed..."

I'm listening to the new Silver Jews album right now, and it's pretty good. The lyric sheet, of course, is still the best part.

This is arguably the best interview ever (from

"It was about a dinosaur, it does take place in the future, and it is a true story..."

Song of the Year:

Interview with Sam Amidon from David Star on Vimeo.

Sam Amidon live at Urban Explorers Festival 2008 from David Star on Vimeo.

See Sam in person:
June 16: Samamidon (sam & thomas) at Cakeshop, a zombieville show.
June 19: University of Wisconsin-Madison.
June 20: at the Division Avenue Arts Cooperative in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
July 5: Sam Amidon (w/Shahzad Ismaily) at the Schillig festival in Kilingi-Nomme, Estonia!
July 6-12: Shows in Scandanavia and Germany, TBA

Gregor Samsa

Even if it doesn't end up being my favorite album of the year (for which it'll be a major contender), Gregor Samsa's new album will unquestionably win for Best Packaging.  The limited edition version of Rest comes enclosed in a hand-numbered folio with a rivet and sting closure.  Inside is a custom gate-fold CD sleeve die-cut to reveal a print by the terrific folks at Stumptown Press, plus an 8 page rivet bound book containing extra artwork and lyrics. This is how to get people to buy the physical thing!

As for the music therein... it breathes new life into that whole sweeping "post-rock" sound that has gradually gotten a bit stale since the third Mogwai record or thereabouts. I was a bit disappointed by the latest Silver Mt. Zion release, and this is something of a consolation.  These gals & guys peddle a similar brand of minor-key, orchestral rock.  I sort of cringe at the sound of that term, and few bands pull off the melding of rock with chamber instrumentation without sounding pretentious or precious, but Gregor Samsa contrast understated arrangements with just the right amount of crescendoing grandiosity.  And just the right ratio of shimmering polish to rough immediacy. The male/female vocal interplay is just perfect, complimenting the often brooding instrumentation (which falls somewhere between GY!BE and M83) with an evocatively human underpinning.  The album often sounds like an Icelandic This Mortal Coil.

The usual post-rock accoutrements are all here—vibraphone, string section, mellotron—but Rest is far from formulaic. You get the sense the 12-piece band is just making the music they want to hear, comfortably incorporating a host of disparate elements. Like the early "post-rock" progenitors (Tortoise, GY!BE again), Gregor Samsa isn't trying to make "post-rock"; they're just filtering their influences and interests into something that defies genre. That's what I always hated about the term "post-rock." It's counter-productive to try to label what amounts to an evolution away from easy categorization.    

(I think I remember reading a review of one of this band's first two albums, but I wrote them off because I always assume bands with overt literary references for names will lack subtlety... goes to show me!)

Here, hear for yourself:

"Jeroen Van Aken" by Gregor Samsa (download):

And see for yourself:

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Spider Monkey Uses Garden Hose to Escape Zoo... found at boat dealership.

No, this is NOT an Onion headline.

Was it going to hotwire a boat and make a clean getaway?

First it was monkeys that fish, now this.  What's next?

Are they planning something??

Friday, June 13, 2008

Grouper: Coos from the Ether Clouds

I'm not sure how I've made it this far without doing a post on Grouper, the musical guise of Portland dreamscape artist Liz Harris. Having first stumbled upon her haunting collaboration with Xiu Xiu, Creepshow, I haven't followed closely enough her series of releases on the venerable Type Records.

Fred (City Center) played a show with her not long ago, and reported back that it was his "new favorite sound," describing her set thusly: "kind of like a long, uneasy exhale before you tell someone the worst news imaginable or that you gotta go even though you love them so much." That about sums it up.

Her latest, Dragging A Dead Deer Up A Hill, is full of gorgeously devastating washes of strums and drones and her heartbreaking vocal intimations. The noise quotient is turned down a tad from her earlier stuff, and something that sounds like dream-pop is emerging from a distant AM static.

"Heavy Water/I'd Rather Be Sleeping" by Grouper (download):

Thursday, June 12, 2008

More Songs About By Buildings...

David Byrne's latest project is Playing the Building, an installation now on view at the Battery Maritime Building in lower Manhattan.

Byrne basically transformed the building into an enormous instrument, attaching various devices to the structure (hammer, motors, pipes) that are controlled by a customized pump organ. There is clearly an egalitarian thrust; Byrne is getting us under one roof and then letting us play that roof...and the walls, and the radiators and columns and pipes... Entering the grand room you are met with the words "Please Play" stenciled on the floor.

I think some people might expect something more identifiably "musical," but that would be missing the point. Byrne's suggestion, I think, is toward an expansion of our interpretation of ambient sound. Like John Cage and Brian Eno before him, Byrne is refocusing the ear on the often overlooked spectrum of incidental sound, then harnessing it, framing it, taming and controlling it just enough to make salient its constituent elements. But more than stretching the bounds of what we consider music, the piece looks to erase certain barriers often constructed around art. Playing the Building succeeds in so far as it blurs the line between spectator and participant. It invites children to haphazardly pound the keys, then trace the wires to understand how that pounding triggered sounds.

The wires emanating from the organ are, of course, an apt symbol of branching networks and social interaction, thematic imagery common in Byrne's work. And with this installation the interactions are clear. There is the manipulation of the buildings sonority and timbre, its ambient sound, its natural acoustics, its echoes and reverberations; and there is also the next layer—the subsequent manipulation of others' perceptions in spatial and temporal dimensions.

So, what I'm saying is... go play a building. You can finally check that off your list of things to do before you die.

Creative Time Presents
Playing the Building: An Installation by David Byrne
The Battery Maritime Building
10 South Street, New York, NY (Map)
May 31 – August 10, 2008
Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Noon – 6PM (Free)

Also, in case you don't already have it bookmarked, Byrne's blog is consistently brilliant.

Plantastic! (Some Bizarre Flowers)

Bulbophyllum medusae: an orchid named after Medusa. Native to Malay Peninsula, Thailand and Borneo.

Passifloraceae: there are over 500 known species of this flowering vine. This varietal produces both the Passion Fruit (delicious) and the Passion Flower. Native to tropical regions around the globe.

Aristolochia Trilobata, one form of over 500 species of Aristolochia, this one also known as Dutchman's Pipe vine, so named for the shape of the bloom. Native to Australia.

Nepenthes flower: a shrubby variety (out of over 120 known varieties) of a Pitcher Plant, sometimes called a Monkey Cup. Bugs get caught in the pitcher, and the plant dissolves them and synthesizes their proteins. Native to southeast Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Madagascar.

Clerodendrum trichotomum: Glorybower, Bagflower and Bleeding-heart. Some varieties, like this one, are also called Peanut Butter Plants or Peanut Butter Trees after the distinct Peanut Butter smell of the blooms. Native to southeast Asia, West Africa and northern Australia.

Tacca Chantrierei: Bat flower, Cat's whiskers or Devil flower. Native to southeast Asia.

Rafflesia flower. One of many varieties of Rafflesia from Indonesia. Sometimes called the Corpse Flower, after it's carrion-like smell, but not to be confused with Amorphophallus titanum (see below). Native to southeast Asia.

Tital Arum or Amorphophallus titanum (which translates in Ancient Greek to "giant misshapen penis"): also known as "Corpse Flower" for it's lovely aroma, this is a big, honking, stinky flower that blooms once every 6 to 10 years, and the bloom is only open for between 24 and 48 hours.

Fishing Monkeys Observed in Indonesia

(Mel White/AP Photo)

(Click HERE for more info.)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Skywalks & Sidescrapers: Urbanization and Our Crowded Future

The latest issue of The New York Times Magazine (June 8, 2008) is extremely interesting and a bit alarming. The theme is "The Next City," and it's full of articles approaching the issue of urbanization in the new millennium from a number of different angles.

Included is an illuminating interview with Enrique Peñalosa, the progressive former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.  He makes you think differently about urban planning; particularly sidewalks.  Here's an excerpt...
As a former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, who won wide praise for making the city a model of enlightened planning, you have lately been hired by officials intent on building world-class cities, especially in Asia and the developing world. What is the first thing you tell them? 
In developing-world cities, the majority of people don’t have cars, so I will say, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy. A sidewalk is a symbol of equality.

I wouldn’t think that sidewalks are a top priority in developing countries. 
The last priority. Because the priority is to make highways and roads. We are designing cities for cars, cars, cars, cars, cars. Not for people. Cars are a very recent invention. The 20th century was a horrible detour in the evolution of the human habitat. We were building much more for cars’ mobility than children’s happiness.
And the main feature, "Inside the Mega-Megalopolis," is an eye-opening look at the current state and possibly frightening future of our rapidly urbanizing world.  Here are some statistics:

by Peter Funch for The New York Times
• New York City has 4.2 million people in 1900; it now has 18,650,000.
• Mumbai has 76,790 people per square mile.
• 58 new people will be added to the population of Lagos every hour by 2015.

And adding to my list of reasons I want to move to the Netherlands, several articles refer to the Dutch as leaders in addressing increasing urban demands with innovative planning and architectural ingenuity. As Peñalosa says, "The best-designed cities are in northern Europe, like the Dutch and Danish cities." In his article, "Crowded House," Darcy Frey writes: "The Netherlands, prosperous and progressive, has long been one of the world's leading exporters of architectural talent... Fighting their battles not just building to building but on a sweeping, citywide scale, Holland's architects and designers were, in the words of the Dutch culture minister, "heroes of a new age."

That particular piece is essentially a profile of Rotterdam-based firm MVRDV, who warn in one of their publications (the group organizes exhibitions, publishes books, and creates films in addition to their architecture, urban-planning, and landscape-design work) that if the world's population "behaved with U.S.-citizen-like consumption," four additional earths would be needed.

It's shocking how little governments seem to be worrying about population growth. I remember one of the conservationists in one of the Planet Earth documentaries saying that he didn't think over-population should be considered one of the leading threats to the environment. I just don't see how that can be true. Perhaps it's because I'm one of the 50% of people living in an urban environment (it'll be 75% by 2050), but I often think there are just far too many of us... 

Obviously I'm not advocating lemming-like* population reduction, but shouldn't we be thinking about this as a species?  Shouldn't ethical people stop fooling themselves about abstinence education and start educating kids to use contraception?  Shouldn't there be economic incentives for responsible family-planning (and manageable family size)?  Shouldn't more of us adopt before we reproduce?  Like Angelina Jolie.

Clarification: Lemmings, despite the well-known myth, do not voluntarily plunge en masse to their deaths.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Monkeys with Other Animals

Monkey + Cat:

Monkey + Pigeon:

Monkey + Tortoise (not in real life):

Monkey + Dog (thanks, HT):

Monkey + Another Dog (!):

Monkey + Human: