28 May 2007

Angel Techin'/The Seven Ages Of Rawk

13 Jumada Al-'Awwal - Year 1428

I've started on my first official Maybe Logic Academy (and my first ever) on-line course last week. The course is based on the book, Angel Tech, written by Antero Alli and first published back in the "dark days", 1985. The course deals with the concept of the "8-circuit brain" theory, developed by Timothy Leary (supposedly after seeing an ancient illustrated Hindu manuscript he received from a Tantric adept, who visited Leary at Millbrook in 1963) and Robert Anton Wilson in the early-to-mid 70s.

Alli first developed his take on the 8 circuits in the late 70s and early 80s. Having a theatrical/paratheatrical interest, Alli seemed to feel that the Leary and Wilson approaches, while valuable, were geared toward the head/mind only and not much to do with the body. This seemed to cause a lot of "Space Cases" and "Kundalini Krack-Ups" to emerge from those experimenting with the circuits (especially the 'upper four').

He developed some physical rituals for some of the circuits--as well as other exercises to engage and integrate each circuit on it's own and in conjunction with other circuits--his theory being that each one from the "lower four" supports (makes possible) each from the upper. Each of the lower circuits must be integrated and stabilised before access to the upper circuits can begin. To confuse things a bit, he also states that each circuit is operating independantly all the time--we just don't have the ability to experience them all at once, so one circuit will dominate some of the time, then another, then another, etc.

The first week of the course was spent mainly in discussion--each of the participants was asked to define "intelligence" and then how to increase same. The answers varied a bit, but there did seem to be quite a few overlaps in the definitions, as well as in the method of increasing intelligence. We were than asked to "access our inner idiot" and list each circuit and how well we thought we understood and had intergrated and projected each. Finally, we had to write out what each one meant to us--what we thought each one represented to ourselves. Looking at mine--I definitely had some "Cosmic Schmuck" moments while thinking of my own answers--ah well, that seems to be the whole point. Finding definitions and replacing them over time.

This week we're getting into the "nitty-gritty" of the course, as it were. Antero has assigned some tasks to demonstrate Circuits 1 and 5. Some seem fairly easy, some not so (for me anyway)--but it'll be a good challenge and I'm looking forward to the rest of the course over the next six weeks. Ever onward!!

I suppose maybe you've caught the Seven Ages Of Rock programme on BBC2 the past couple of weeks. I've watched the first two--and while the archivists have done a credible job finding and dusting off rarely-seen film clips and Charles Shaar Murray lends a bit of "talking-head" credibility (though he did gaffe a couple of times during the first programme--like stating that Jim Morrison had died before Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin)--I dunno--it seems a bit...hollow. I realise that one would have create a sixty-plus hour docu to really cover all of the bases, but I imagine there would be a middle ground where the facts would be researched and a near-complete picture would be formed. Still, taken as pure entertainment, it ain't that bad.

The first episode centred around Hendrix - who I surmised was supposed to represent the epitome of rock's blues influence. It seemed a bit strange - as Hendrix's mutant psychedelic blues and elaborate studio creations bore little resemblance to the old masters' styles. Much like Hendrix's lyrical hero, Bob Dylan, who had transcended the narrow confines of folk to emerge with "a whole new thing"--Hendrix appeared tied to the blues by an ever-thinning thread. The classic Monterey Pop and Woodstock footage was wheeled out yet again--along with the 'eternal bum trip', Altamont and Jimi's uneven performance at the Isle Of Wight festival received about a minute or so. Hendrix's arrival on the scene in London was chronicled--and Ginger Baker got to pat himself on the back one more time for his work in Cream. They didn't cover much new ground with Jimi's career and insights into his inspiration seemed scant. The only story I hadn't heard was of Hendrix taking a copy of a Dylan album into a soul club and coercing the DJ to play Blowin' In The Wind, which got him chased from the club under physical threats. I can't verify it it's true--but for what I understand about the man--it certainly seems possible.

The second episode concerned "art rock" and the main protagonists were Pink Floyd, David Bowie and The Velvet Underground. Again, not much new, but a couple of nice surprises were a few snippets from the promotional clips for See Emily Play and Jugband Blues from the (Syd-era) Floyd and some grainy footage of various Velvets rehearsals. Also featured, with smaller time segments, were Genesis, mainly due to Peter Gabriel's theatricality--and Roxy Music. Roxy was featured for it's mash-up of art-school sensibility and glammy sensuality. They showed a clip of the band playing their debut (and classic) single, Virginia Plain and it was nice to see a young Eno boffining away on his synth. Progressive rock seemed to get glossed-over once again, for a programme dedicated to 'art-rock'. No Van Der Graaf Generator, Caravan or King Crimson anywhere. I guess the stigma about the genre still remains, even after 30 years of the punk "revolution". If I were a paranoid type, I would pronounce it a 'conspiracy'--but since I'm not, I'll just consider it an oversight on the show's producer's part.
Speaking of which, this week's episode concerns those spiky-haired, 'gobbing', pogo-ing folks. Expect to see a lotta Sex Pistols and Clash footage. Don't expect to see: any Wire, Pere Ubu, Adverts or Fall footage (O.K., maybe a bit of Fall footage)...

07 May 2007

Record Review Corner: Porcupine Tree/Throbbing Gristle/The Arcade Fire

22 Vaisakha - Year 1929

I've taken a short break from buying various re-issues (Klaus Schulze, Steve Hillage, Peter Hammill, the Genesis SACD/DVD remasters, etc.) and d/l'ing rare and out-of-print prog from Soulseek, to actually purchase some new albums--here's a short review of a few of them:

Porcupine Tree - Fear Of A Blank Planet (Roadrunner/Atlantic Records): Steven Wilson and his merry band have returned after a nearly two-year break to follow up Deadwing, their last studio outing, released in 2005. I'll be honest, I only gave "Deadwing" a couple of spins and I thought it was just O.K.--the tunes seemed to go on and on in no direction--the sound of a band in search of some ideas. Not that it seemed to be complete crap to me--quality control on P.T. albums appears to be pretty tight and the production had the usual excellent sheen. "Fear Of A Blank Planet" (an obvious nod to Public Enemy's ground-breaking 1990 record), seems to have a clear 'concept' and features guest appearances from King Crimson mainman Robert Fripp and Alex Lifeson of Rush. Now, I seem to recall Wilson trying desparately to escape the "prog" tag a few years ago--but part of me thinks the man doth protest a bit too much on this one. The concept, such as it seems, revolves around the over-saturation of media and technology and anti-depressants on today's yoof. It also has something to do with Bret Easton Ellis' Lunar Park novel--but as I'm not much of a B.E.E. fan, I didn't read the book, so I couldn't tell you about that bit. The musicianship is on it's usual high standard--it weaves back and forth between gentle acoustic passages and probably the heaviest riffing Wilson's ever committed to tape...digital tape...hard drive...whatever. His hanging out with Opeth has definitely had an effect. The good news is that it's a much more cohesive album (or seems like it to me, anyway) than "Deadwing" (and even In Absentia--which I didn't think that much of either) and get this, only six tracks long--including the 17-minute Anesthetize (oop, seems like we're back in prog territory again). The sorta not-so-good news is that they still seem to be playing to their strengths and their audience's expectations, instead of becoming truly "progressive". It's alright, though--Wilson knows which side the bread's buttered on and I can't fault him too much for that. Having said that--"Fear Of A Blank Planet" still seems better to me than 95% of the garbage out there and you wouldn't be going too amiss by buying it. You could find far worse ways of polluting your album collection.

Throbbing Gristle - Part Two ~ The Endless Not (Industrial Records): With all of the "old band" reunions happening in the past few years, mostly to wallow in nostalgia--this one was beyond expectation and there's no sign of nostalgia. The first group to refer to themselves as "industrial" originally split in 1981, after making four of the most post-everything albums possible at the time. The personnel then went on to form new acts that, while broadening their musical dialogue somewhat, retained the underground spirit that bred T.G.--these being Coil, Psychic TV and Chris & Cosey/CTI. After a 25-year hiatus--T.G. decided to reform last year for a few one-off gigs (the main one being the All Tomorrow's Parties shows in London). An EP was sold at the A.T.P. gig, a taster for "Part Two". The full release hit the shops and Intraweb a couple of months ago--and the results seem....satisfying. The sound of the record isn't a huge surprise, they're still laying down the dark ambient grooves even after all this time--but you didn't expect them to get all X-Factor pop on you, did you? The thing that seems to have changed, to me anyway, is their command of the technology and the studio-as-instrument, like in the swampy rhythms of the opener, Vow Of Silence, or in the slow near-jazz of Rabbit Snare. As with D.O.A., their second full-length--first released in 1978, each member gets a "solo" track. I particularly like Peter Chrisopherson's contribution, After The Fall, which closes the album--it seems to be a fitting tribute to Christopherson's partner in Coil and life, Jhonn Balance. If you've been raised on a diet of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher, "Part Two" probably won't sound all that revolutionary to you--but when you factor in what these people were doing nearly 30 years ago and that they're all pushing their mid-50s now--well, 'nuff said. "Part Two" probably won't be selling in chart-numbers and probably won't make a lot of end-of-the-year Top Ten lists (except in uber-hip zines and muso-blogs)--but as a reunion memento and artistic endeavour, I think it's right on the money. If it comes down to spending your money on this or Lily Allen--I think you'll know what to do...

The Arcade Fire - The Neon Bible (Merge Records): Another band hitting the 'comeback' trail this year is Canada's own The Arcade Fire--following up their excellent (one of the best I've heard in recent years) debut album, Funeral and the self-titled EP (released in 2004 and 2005, respectively). I won't go near the words "sophomore slump"--'cos it certainly doesn't seem that way to me--it's just, well, only a few of the tracks are really hitting me on the first few listens. I suppose that's a minor complaint, as it took me a few listens to really get into "Funeral". I dunno, I guess I'm not hearing anything as powerful and tuneful as Wake Up or Neighborhood (7 Kettles). That being said, as with P. Tree, the quality control is very cranked up--and tunes like Keep The Car Running and Intervention have that vital spark that made the debut such a great record. (Antichrist Television Blues) has a folk-tinged, Springsteen vibe to it, only pepped up by a near-martial beat and it rollicks along at a nice pace. There's also a re-vamped version of No Cars Go, which appeared on the EP and various radio sessions--it isn't much improved here, but seems to fit in more with these songs than it does on the EP. Don't get me wrong on this one either--I do like it and I hope these guys & gals make a few more as good as this one seeme to be. I suppose I just had very high expectations of it and it didn't quite deliver. It's entirely possible that it'll be a 'grower' and the more I spin it, the more it'll reveal. Now, you may be thinking of ordering the Take That reunion album off of Amazon. Do yourself a huge favour and order "The Neon Bible" instead. In my view, the Arcade Fire need the bread more than Take That do and, in my current mix of musical education and musical ignorance--have created a far better album.

NOTE: This post should've been ready last weekend, but our hard drive crashed due to a virus--and we had to have the drive restored, so I apologise for it's delay.