Albert Hofmann by Dean Chamberlain.
Tuesday, April 29: Arthur presents ETRAN FINATAWA at the Temple Bar in Santa Monica – first ever West Coast appearance – over 21 only, sorry….
Jon Pareles in New York Times: “Two groups of desert nomads meld their music in the sparse, spellbinding songs of Etran Finatawa, a band from Niger. Etran Finatawa, which means ‘stars of tradition,’ played its mesmerizing United States debut at Symphony Space on Friday in a World Music Institute concert. It was easy to tell who was who. Three Wodaabe musicians wore long, almost rectangular robes, hats with a single feather pointing skyward and white stripes of face paint down their foreheads and noses. Three Tuareg musicians wore ornately embroidered burnooses and robes.
“For centuries Tuareg and Wodaabe nomads have traversed the Sahel grasslands and Sahara in northern Africa, herding cows, camels and goats, and sometimes feuding over water and pastures. They now face the erosion of their age-old cultures and the desertification of their lands. Etran Finatawa responds in its songs while it symbolically reconciles the two groups. “A man is nothing when he is alone/People need other people,” they sang in “Jama’aare,” from their second album, “Desert Crossroads” (Riverboat/World Music Network).
“Many of Etran Finatawa’s lyrics insist on the value of heritage. Meanwhile, the music looks forward, altering that heritage by bringing together Wodaabe and Tuareg musicians and by using instruments that were introduced to Tuareg music in the 1970s: electric guitar and bass.
“From stoner rock in California to African nomad songs, the desert fosters drones. Most of Etran Finatawa’s songs revolve around one of Alhousseini Mohamed Anivolla’s repeating guitar lines: not chords, but picked, syncopated notes and trills. While the guitar lines probably derive from regional fiddle music, Americans might also hear a kinship with the oldest Delta blues.
“The other instruments are portable and unplugged: calabashes, clapping hands and the jingling, metallic percussion that Bammo Angonla, a Wodaabe, held in his hands and had strapped to his leg. Their instruments use the environment. A Tuareg drum is stabilized by sand; the Wodaabe float a calabash in a larger calabash basin of water, for a steady, deep-toned pulse. The songs ride multilayered six-beat and four-beat rhythms that seemed easy and natural until clapping audience members tried, and failed, to keep up.
“While the rhythm section was merged, the vocal styles were distinct. The Tuaregs sang in open, equable voices while the Wodaabes sang in high, pinched tones that must carry a long way across sand and savanna. In the Tuareg songs, in the Tamashek language, the vocal melody usually ran parallel to the guitar line. The Wodaabe songs, in Fulfulde, were more contrapuntal, with voice and guitar diverging and multiple singers in call and response. There were also Wodaabe songs that began with a lone, unaccompanied singer sustaining a note in a long crescendo until the other voices converged to join him: the sound of a community forging itself in a wilderness.”
More info at ETRAN FINATAWA
Saddled With Legacy of Dioxin, Town Considers an Odd Ally: The Mushroom
By ANNIE CORREAL
FORT BRAGG, Calif. — On a warm April evening, 90 people crowded into the cafeteria of Redwood Elementary School here to meet with representatives of the State Department of Toxic Substances Control.
The substance at issue was dioxin, a pollutant that infests the site of a former lumber mill in this town 130 miles north of San Francisco. And the method of cleanup being proposed was a novel one: mushrooms.
Mushrooms have been used in the cleaning up of oil spills, a process called bioremediation, but they have not been used to treat dioxin.
“I am going to make a heretical suggestion,” said Debra Scott, who works at a health food collective and has lived in the area for more than two decades, to whoops and cheers. “We could be the pilot study.”
Fort Bragg is in Mendocino County, a stretch of coast known for its grand seascapes, organic wineries and trailblazing politics: the county was the first in the nation to legalize medical marijuana and to ban genetically modified crops and animals.
Fort Bragg, population 7,000, never fit in here. Home to the country’s second-largest redwood mill for over a century, it was a working man’s town where the only wine tasting was at a row of smoky taverns. But change has come since the mill closed in 2002.
The town already has a Fair Trade coffee company and a raw food cooking school. The City Council is considering a ban on plastic grocery bags. And with the push for mushrooms, the town seems to have officially exchanged its grit for green.
The mill, owned by Georgia-Pacific, took up 420 acres, a space roughly half the size of Central Park, between downtown Fort Bragg and the Pacific Ocean. Among several toxic hot spots discovered here were five plots of soil with high levels of dioxin that Georgia-Pacific says were ash piles from 2001-2, when the mill burned wood from Bay Area landfills to create power and sell it to Pacific Gas & Electric.
Debate remains about how toxic dioxin is to humans, but the Department of Toxic Substances Control says there is no safe level of exposure.
Kimi Klein, a human health toxicologist with the department, said that although the dioxin on the mill site was not the most toxic dioxin out there, there was “very good evidence” that chronic exposure to dioxin caused cancer and “it is our policy to say if any chemical causes cancer there is no safe level.”
Fort Bragg must clean the dioxin-contaminated coastline this year or risk losing a $4.2 million grant from the California Coastal Conservancy for a coastal trail. Its options: haul the soil in a thousand truckloads to a landfill about 200 miles away, or bury it on site in a plastic-lined, 1.3-acre landfill.
Alarmed by the ultimatum, residents called in Paul E. Stamets, author of “Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World.”
Typically, contaminated soil is hauled off, buried or burned. Using the mushroom method, Mr. Stamets said, it is put in plots, strewn with straw and left alone with mushroom spawn. The spawn release a fine, threadlike web called mycelium that secretes enzymes “like little Pac-Mans that break down molecular bonds,” Mr. Stamets said. And presto: toxins fall apart.
In January, Mr. Stamets came down from Fungi Perfecti, his mushroom farm in Olympia, Wash. He walked the three-mile coastline at the site, winding around rocky coves on wind-swept bluffs where grass has grown over an airstrip but barely conceals the ash piles. It was “one of the most beautiful places in the world, hands down,” he said.
Quick to caution against easy remedies — “I am not a panacea for all their problems” — he said he had hope for cleaning up dioxin and other hazardous substances on the site. “The less recalcitrant toxins could be broken down within 10 years.”
At least two dioxin-degrading species of mushroom indigenous to the Northern California coast could work, he said: turkey tail and oyster mushrooms. Turkey tails have ruffled edges and are made into medicinal tea. Oyster mushrooms have domed tops and are frequently found in Asian food.
Local mushroom enthusiasts envision the site as a global center for the study of bioremediation that could even export fungi to other polluted communities.
“Eventually, it could be covered in mushrooms,” said Antonio Wuttke, who lives in neighboring Mendocino and describes his occupation as environmental landscape designer, over a cup of organic Sumatra at the Headlands Coffeehouse.
The proposal is not without critics, however.
“There still needs to be further testing on whether it works on dioxin,” said Edgardo R. Gillera, a hazardous substances scientist for the State Department of Toxic Substances Control. “There has only been a handful of tests, in labs and field studies on a much smaller scale. I need to see more studies on a larger scale to consider it a viable option.”
On April 14, at a packed City Council meeting, an environmental consultant hired by the city voiced skepticism, citing a study finding that mushrooms reduced dioxins by only 50 percent. Jonathan Shepard, a soccer coach, stood up and asked: “Why ‘only’? I think we should rephrase that. I think we should give thanks and praise to a merciful God that provided a mushroom that eats the worst possible toxin that man can create.”
Jim Tarbell, an author and something of a sociologist of the Mendocino Coast, said the enthusiasm for bioremediation showed a change in the culture at large.
“We are trying to move from the extraction economy to the restoration economy,” Mr. Tarbell said. “I think that’s a choice that a broad cross-section of the country is going to have to look at.”
At the April 14 meeting, Georgia-Pacific promised to finance a pilot project. Roger J. Hilarides, who manages cleanups for the company, offered the city at least one 10-cubic-yard bin of dioxin-laced soil and a 5-year lease on the site’s greenhouse and drying sheds for mushroom testing. And the City Council said it would approve the landfill but only if it came with bioremediation experiments.
So, sometime later this year, Mr. Stamets is scheduled to begin testing a dump truck’s load of dioxin-laced dirt in Fort Bragg.
“One bin. Ten cubic yards. That’s a beginning,” said Dave Turner, a Council member. “I have hope — I wouldn’t bet my house on it — but I have a hope we can bioremediate this.”
This Saturday, April 26th
437 Graham Ave
3rd stop on the L
Special Guest: Dave Tompkins
LOOK OUT FOR: Toadcoders, Das Boot bass, 4-part harmony soul mostly about relationships haunted by the shadow of a jilted string section, classy electronic handclaps, don’t stuff my ears with busted ice cream, robot woodpeckers headbutting telephone polls, a song called “Cold Wind Madness,” more handclaps.
From Soft Machine to Pere Ubu, bands have been drawn to surrealist writer Alfred Jarry and the bizarre ‘science’ he invented. Mike Barnes on what happens when music meets absurdism.
Friday April 25, 2008
When Firmin Gémier, the actor playing Père Ubu, uttered the opening line of Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi at its Paris premiere in 1896, its author gained instant notoriety. Although consisting of just one made-up word, “merdre” – for which one English translation is “shittr” – it was enough to cause 15 minutes of uproar in the audience. When the play continued, its mix of absurd humour and obscenity provoked heckling, and scuffles broke out. in the auditorium. Nobody had seen anything like it. A perplexed WB Yeats, who attended the performance, famously said: “What more is possible? After us, the Savage God.”
The Savage God sounds suspiciously like a rock band, and Jarry managed, in fact, to create one of music’s odder distributaries, thanks to the concept of ‘pataphysics. Jarry’s school physics teacher – nicknamed Père Hébé by his pupils – managed to influence his charge in ways he never intended. As well as providing the seed of Père Ubu’s name, Hébé’s bungling manner, disastrous experiments and inability to control a class led Jarry to the creation of the spoof science of ‘pataphysics, in which contradictions are embraced, with all possible viewpoints having equal validity. (The apostrophe was apparently necessary to “avoid a simple pun”, although what that pun was has never been explained.)
To the extent that people are familiar in any way with ‘pataphysics, it would probably be through the Beatles. Paul McCartney heard a radio production of Jarry’s play Ubu Coco (Ubu Cuckolded) and was inspired to mention ‘pataphysics in song. Unfortunately, he dropped it into Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, one of his very worst. But, that disaster notwithstanding, ‘pataphysics has a curious place in music, a place that will be marked tonight at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London, with a musical production, Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi, featuring the veteran US avant-rock band Pere Ubu, which will be preceded by a free ‘Pataphysics in Sound concert in the venue’s foyer.
Put into a brief idiot’s guide – which, one assumes, would be as ‘pataphysically valid as any other guide – ‘pataphysics is, in Jarry’s words, “the science of imaginary solutions” and “the law governing exceptions”. In it, science’s apparently immutable laws are scoffed at. To Jarry, they are merely “the correlation of exceptions, albeit more frequent ones … which reduced to the status of unexceptional exceptions, possess no longer even the virtue of originality”. ‘Pataphysics was, he said, “the greatest of all sciences”.
Jarry claimed that “talking about things that are understandable only weighs down the mind and falsifies the memory, but the absurd exercises the mind and makes the memory work”. He was a singular artist who aimed to live life as a total hallucination. To this end, he drank formidable quantities of wine and absinthe, which precipitated his demise at the age of 34 in 1907.
Jarry’s legacy was formalised posthumously in 1948 by the founding of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique in Paris. Its constitution asserts that all people are ‘pataphysicians whether they know it or not, but paid-up Collège members have included artists Asger Jorn, Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Jean Dubuffet, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Baudrillard, Umberto Eco, and the Marx Brothers. And its precepts have produced music more interesting and challenging than Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.
Duchamp created a number of musical compositions, many purely conceptual. But when Stephane Ginsburgh recorded Duchamp’s 1913 opus Erratum Musical a few years back, he took into account Duchamp’s observation that ‘pataphysics involved “canned chance” and ensured all the piece’s 88 piano notes were picked out in a random order with no emphasis on any one in particular. In 1960, Jean Dubuffet, who originated the term Art Brut, taped a series of improvisations with Asger Jorn, choosing from his collection of more than 50 instruments, few of which he could play to any recognised standard. These energetic, chaotic recordings were released as Expériences Musicales in 1961. And in 1975, the English composer Gavin Bryars – a member of the Collège de ‘Pataphysique – wrote Ponukélian Melody, a slow piece for wheezing organ, parping tuba, cello and bells. It was his musical response to Raymond Roussel’s novel Impressions d’Afrique, which was set in an imaginary African country.
But ‘pataphysics first truly overlapped with rock music in 1967, when Soft Machine – a psychedelic pop group with a penchant for improvisation – performed a live soundtrack to Jarry’s play Ubu Enchainé (Ubu Enchained) at the Traverse theatre in Edinburgh during that year’s Fringe festival. Early in the band’s career, drummer and vocalist Robert Wyatt’s whimsical, absurdist lyrics were often described as Dadaist. But were they, more accurately, ‘pataphysical?
“I wasn’t drawn to Jarry and ‘pataphysics from reading about it,” Wyatt explains. “I think we were chosen to be ‘pataphysicians before I knew what it was. Later, we were playing in Paris, and some representatives of the College of ‘Pataphysics came to the concert. A venerable old member of their group heard it for about five minutes, thought we played the most incomprehensible and appalling music he had ever heard, gave us his blessing and gave us certificates. So we are officially Petits Fils Ubu – Ubu’s grandchildren – and in our case it gives us the right to lead the marching band at the front of the victory parade of the ‘pataphysical movement. But nobody who gave it to us thought to explain it any more than you would explain a football match to a teddy bear mascot.”
For Soft Machine Volume Two, recorded in 1968, Wyatt wrote A ‘Pataphysical Introduction and A Concise British Alphabet. The latter is in two parts: he sings the alphabet forwards in the first, backwards in the second. This followed in the footsteps of Luc Etienne’s 1957 composition L’Apres-Midi d’Un Magnétophone: Palindromes Phonétiques, which has a similarly palindromic form – a recording of speech played normally, then with the tape running backwards . This emphasised that, ‘pataphyscially speaking, it meant as much, or as little, either way around, and ‘pataphysicians would describe the relationship of Etienne’s composition to Wyatt’s as an example of “plagiarism by anticipation”.
Was Wyatt guided by any of these concepts? “I don’t think I was guided by any thought at all,” he admits. “But I just decided that singing the alphabet backwards was a ‘pataphysical activity. Some people get upset by art that doesn’t make sense to them – I never had that problem. I never saw what was the sense that modern art wasn’t making. I was always at home with the science of imaginary solutions.”
Tonight’s performance of Bring Me the Head of Ubu Roi is just the latest in a long line of different treatments of Ubu Roi, from Jan Lenica’s 1977 cartoon version to a 1991 opera by Polish composer Krzysztof Penderecki. Jarry had an interest in the notion of “horrible beauty” in which an aesthetic appreciation of the monstrous was allowable and discordant elements could be counterbalanced by humour. Pere Ubu’s singer, David Thomas, agrees that this is a pretty good description of the band’s music, which is surmounted by squalling, untempered synthesiser and his own squawking vocals. But apart from their name and the fact that the title track of their 1977 debut album, The Modern Dance, includes the refrain “Merdre, merdre”, was Jarry an influence on Pere Ubu’s music?
‘The thing that impressed me over the time of immersing myself in Jarry in high school and the point at which I formed Pere Ubu, was Jarry’s theatrical production ideas,” Thomas explains. “It seemed to me that his method called for the engaging of the audience’s imaginations in the creative process, with his use of placards, ‘pataphysical notions, and anti-naturalism. As synthesised, concrète and abstract sound techniques and technology developed, and were integrated into rock music, then pure sound as a powerful narrative voice in its own right came into play.
“The object was the same as Jarry’s seemed to be, to engage the imagination of the audience in the creative process. To confound, illuminate, generate chaos for its own sake, to overlay intentions with counter-intentions, self-doubt, fear and hope, to create an art that, as accurately as possible in a three-minute song, mimics the human condition.”
Thomas has edited the play to concentrate on the two main characters. He has also added elements that he feels are in “the spirit of the original, particularly in the area that originally interested me in this project – the notion that the Politico-Media-Industrial Complex is filled with characters far more grotesque than Jarry’s characters could have ever been.”
Jarry wrote The Song of Disembraining for Ubu Roi, but Thomas has decided not to use it. “It’s not really a very good song,” he says. “The title is great but it meanders on and on forever.” He has instead translated parts of the plot into original song structures “where elegant to do so”, for which he is unabashed. “We are a rock band. We are Americans. We’re not going to pretend to be something we’re not,” he says. “The justification is that we’re the only band in the world which has for more than 30 years followed a Jarry-esque, or even ‘pataphysical course in rock music. We got a right to do what we want. The play is about ideas. The clothes you put on ideas are fashions that come and go. The ideas are what count and what survive.”