Thursday, February 28, 2013

Karen Kilimnik And Henry Mancini

MULLEAVYS: What is your favorite book?

KILIMNIK: Winnie-the-Pooh, “When It Rains,” because the book is all about rainy days; the PG Wodehouse Uncle Fred series; or Harmony by Prince Charles. He would make a great king because he is the only world leader with respect for the Earth. He and the royal family drink raw milk!

MULLEAVYS: Can you tell us about your Manson murder blood pieces, with PIG written in what looks like blood on the walls?

KILIMNIK: Me just wanting to be one of the Manson girls, until I read the book about them.

Karen Kilimnik
in Interview Magazine
March 2013

From Winnie the Pooh to Charles Manson. Oh my goodness. That interview was conducted apparently by e-mail. I’m guessing everyone over at Interview magazine must be proud of the piece. And I’m guessing, too, they’d compliment each other and probably use the phrase post-modern at some point if they had to describe the interview. I don’t know.

(When I first typed that paragraph, I spelled “compliment” wrong—I typed the “e” complement. It was wrong, but it would have fit probably just as well.)

I am only posting about this interview because at the link to Interview magazine there are photos which are purportedly of Karen Kilimnik and I’ve never seen her photographed before.

Other than that, however, it’s one of those kind of interviews that I wish I had never read. I like her paintings, they often seem very humorous and I’ve done a lot of posts about her.

Karen Kilimnik

Big Reductions At The MCA’s Karen Kilimnik Exhibit

The Abandonment Of Meaning

Today, Tomorrow And Yesterday

“Kari Loses An Underwire From Her Bra...”

I even drove up north when the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Chicago had their Karen Kilimnik show.

But this kind of interview doesn’t make me feel any affection for Kilimnik or her work.

So I included this bit of an excerpt just to keep up-to-date, but after this I may not keep up-to-date with Miss Kilimnik any more.


Okay, after that very brief excursion into the world of the fine arts—or maybe I should type the so-called world of the “fine” arts—I want to post about actual art, something really very cool, something that I’ve been enjoying very much.

For the last few days I’ve been reading this book. “Henry Mancini ... Reinventing Film Music,” by John Caps.

It’s a pop biography of the composer Henry Mancini. Mancini I suppose will be remembered as a “film composer” but there was a time, I guess a brief time, when he was considered a composer composer and his albums were talked about as contributions to pop music in general.

This book is interesting, and it’s fun to read. The author did a lot of research in the files kept by the various film studios where Mancini worked. So, for instance, in the Universal days, I suppose most fans of movie music knew that Mancini worked on great films like “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” But this book breaks it down music cue by music cue, letting us know exactly which sections of the score Mancini contributed.

It’s great stuff.

Sometimes the author moves a little too quickly, for instance spending only one paragraph [!?] on the opening song/montage of “A Shot in the Dark,” but by and large the author devotes a reasonable amount of time to everything that needs it. So, for instance, movie buffs probably knew the film “Lifeforce” suffered drastic cuts and re-edits at the hands of the dubious producers, much to director Tobe Hooper’s chagrin. The author, here, explains how those drastic cuts affected both Mancini’s score and Mancini’s emotional engagement with film scores at that point in his career.

The book, generally, is a review of Mancini’s whole career. So there aren’t always the detailed discussions music buffs might like for individual pieces. And there aren’t always the detailed discussions of the theory of film scoring in general movie music buffs might like. But there is a little bit of everything, and the mixture is generally handled in a thoughtful way.

It’s wonderful to find a book this enjoyable. I am forcing myself to read the book slowly, like a chapter a day, rather than sit up all night and finishing it quickly.

The movie business is a very strange place, and it is a little sad seeing what happened to Mancini’s career in his later years. But it is very cool reading about a man—a musician, an artist, a friend to so many other great artists—a man who always seems to have maintained his sense of style, his sense of proportion, his sense of friendship, and his sense of self in a business where people very literally go crazy every day.

An interesting and fun book about a great guy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

“Suddenly The World Is Full Of Holes”

RON STOPPABLE: “Suddenly the world is full of holes that people just whoosh away in!”

That’s Ron’s friend Kim Possible falling down into a hole that has unexpectedly opened up right under her feet. The dialogue actually comes from a scene later in the episode when another hole opens up and a different character disappears into it.

That’s from season one of the Disney show “Kim Possible,” the episode called “Number One.”

The idea of the holes is that good guys in a high-tech global justice organization and apparently at least one bad guy have access to this technology that can open a portal anywhere on the Earth’s surface and when a person falls into the portal, the person can be routed through a series of tunnels to any desired destination. The show only used the technology once or twice and if I remember right they never name it or explain it. Although they could have, because it is a variation on, an updating of, a very old science and science fiction concept.

This Kim Possible episode is from about 2002 or 2003, and something like ten years later the horrible remake of the film “Total Recall” would use a more classic example of the technology, implemented as a ‘train’ through the center of the Earth from Britain to Australia.

The real-life theory goes back something like three hundred years, to a British scientist and is sometimes referred to as a “gravity train:”

In the 17th century, British scientist Robert Hooke presented the idea of an object accelerating inside a planet in a letter to Isaac Newton. A gravity train project was seriously presented to the Paris Academy of Sciences in the 19th century. The same idea was proposed, without calculation, by Lewis Carroll in 1893 in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded. The idea was rediscovered in the 1960s when physicist Paul Cooper published a paper in the American Journal of Physics suggesting that gravity trains be considered for a future transportation project.

... A gravity train is a theoretical means of transportation intended to go between two points on the surface of a sphere, following a straight tunnel that goes directly from one point to the other through the interior of the sphere.

In a large body such as a planet, this train could be left to accelerate using just the force of gravity, since, during the first half of the trip (from the point of departure until the middle), the downwards pull towards the center of gravity would pull it towards the destination. During the second half of the trip, the acceleration would be in the opposite direction relative to the trajectory, but (ignoring the effects of friction) the speed acquired before would be enough to cancel this deceleration exactly (so that the train would reach its destination with speed equal to zero).

“Gravity Train”
at Wikipedia

“Suddenly the world is full of holes
that people just
whoosh away in!”

So far as I know, of course, nobody can do this for real.

Witches during the Middle Ages confessed to being able to transport themselves from place to place magically, but the accepted belief is that the accused ‘witches’ were being tortured so brutally, so mercilessly, that they would have confessed to anything.

It seems safe to say that nobody can just whoosh away from place to place right now.

Not physically.

But phones can do this right now. And computers can do this. Just about everybody, nowadays, can type a few keystrokes and establish a voice connection—or even a video connection as well—anywhere on Earth.

And then people do just whoosh away. Mentally.

Everybody’s so far away. Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?

No: I don’t think anybody does stay in one place anymore.

And: Seems like nothing ever comes to no good up on Choctaw Ridge.


Painting a landscape
of a place that’s far away
can be something like

painting a still life
of something anything else
if the painter thinks

about whatever
the something anything else
is and why it is.

A still life of thoughts
can be a landscape of thoughts
in a world of thoughts

if a world of thoughts
has holes connecting all thoughts
and a painter’s thoughts

fall through holes to thoughts
making a portrait of thoughts
and space around thoughts.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Revisiting One Of The Three Pretty Birds

Today’s post isn’t much. This is just me describing a little thing that started last week and stretched into last weekend, and it is a kind of companion post to yesterday’s post, although the topics are completely unrelated. But they’re both little things that mean a lot to me.

This is a post about music, and the pop music business. And it’s about a topic that I don’t feel I understand much at all. At the same time it is a topic that makes me very uncomfortable, so although I want to understand it better than I do, it is very hard for me to spend time thinking about these things. I don’t mean the music, and I don’t mean the pop music business—I mean the issues I’m going to get to later about very successful women in the pop music business.

And this all started simply enough.

At some point last week I got to thinking about a tiny part of some old classic pop song. I didn’t remember the whole song or who made it. But I’ve always remembered one little snippet of lyrics and one part of the melody because this one little part of the larger song states so clearly—and beautifully—an observation about real life that is important to me.

What I remembered, briefly, was something this:

BAR ONE: (We’re all so) Far away
BAR TWO: Doesn’t anybody stay in one
BAR THREE: Place anymore?
BAR FOUR: (Instrumental)

Because I’ve often found myself humming or singing this one little section of a song, I decided to track down the whole song.

So first I did a Google search for the lyrics “We’re all so far away” and that search pointed to some contemporary performer and some song I never heard of and I didn’t believe that was what I was thinking of.

So then I did a Google search for “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” and that immediately pointed to the Carole King song “Far Away” from her “Tapestry” album.

I never owned the “Tapestry” album, but as soon as I saw Carole King’s name, I realized that was the song. She is one of the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century and once you hear a few of her songs—and everyone who listens to pop music has heard many of her songs—her skill with melody and lyrics becomes obvious. I should have remembered it was her song without having to look it up.

(Although I don’t really like the whole song. I like, for the most part, just the lyrics and melody part that I remembered. To me the song is much more powerful if it is arranged to be about everyone always being far away, everyone always going far away, instead of being arranged as ‘just’ a song about a performer lonely on the road.)

Carole King became famous first as a songwriter, a hired-gun kind of writer who wrote hits for other people. She wrote for the Monkees and at one point or another she wrote something for almost everyone.

Then she toured with her friend James Taylor and she started to do solo shows of her own. In fact, the song “Far Away” according to Carole King herself in her autobiography “Natural Woman” was a song she wrote as a kind of tribute to the casual, beautiful lyrics and melodies of James Taylor songs. (In Too Beautiful To Comprehend I have a video of Alison Krauss singing the James Taylor song “Carolina in my Mind.”)

Over at Wikifonia someone put up a lead sheet of “Far Away” and it was fun to compare that transcription to my rough notation of what I remembered.

For people who have no idea who Carole King is, or what this song sounds like, here is a recent video of Carole King and James Taylor reuniting, with her singing the song, “Far Away.”

She is an extraordinary woman.

That stuff having been said, I’ve always had very mixed feelings about Carole King.

Her songs are certainly beautiful. But when you see her perform, she almost never looks good on stage. She almost always looks something almost like spastic, or almost something like a person with mental issues. But she seems to consider herself a reasonably good performer, because she keeps putting herself in the spotlight.

And then, most horribly, there is the business about what she did with her life.

First of all, she was wildly successful very, very young. I think her first hit was in her late teens or early twenties. So she had financial security early in life. And from the very start of her career she had the love and respect of the most successful pop performers of her era. (Even the famously nasty John Lennon has been quoted about how in awe of her work he was.) And businessmen respected her, treated her well and always gave her work.

All of that good will and opportunity for happiness—somehow and for some reason—she repeatedly threw away by getting involved with men who were seemingly one step (or sometimes perhaps only a half-step) above Charles Manson.

In fact I did a couple of posts, starting with Birds And Three Pretty Birds, about a famous pop music business book called, “Girls Like Us.” Carole King is one of the three women profiled in that book.

And I found the book unreadable. In On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #2, I described trying to read it:

I tried to read a book, but stopped. Page after page
was one horrible sound after another, neat,
carefully transcribed into a pleasant typeface.

When people have so much potential—the kind of opportunities most people very literally dream of—and then people throw away happiness by very, very consciously choosing to put themselves in harm’s way and choosing to endure a life of base brutality, and mental and physical violence, my reaction is, in the simplest terms, to say it creeps me out.

But it does more than that.

It makes my hands shake. It makes me want to be not a part of the human race. It makes me wonder if some of the people moving among us really are all human beings or if there are strange animals moving among us that just look like human beings.

I don’t know.

Over the weekend, against my better judgment, I checked out from the library Carole King’s autobiography, “Natural Woman.” Reading it, or I should say attempting to read it, was just like attempting to read “Girls Like Us.” I had to flip through it. It was awful, and, for me, unreadable.

I went back and read some of the reviews on Amazon. Someone—not me!—commented, agreeing with one of the reviews, saying in part:

“Ms. King is talented, smart, attractive, and seemingly utterly without introspection.”

I love that phrase: “...utterly without introspection.”

As I get older I find myself wondering more and more if some of the people moving among us really are all human beings or if there are strange animals moving among us that just look like human beings.

Psychologist Julian Jaynes has speculated and wondered if consciousness itself is even necessary for day-to-day functioning: “Consciousness Not Necessary For Thinking”

And some psychology researchers have taken electroencephalograms, recordings of brain wave patterns, that other people in the medical profession say do not look like human electroencephalograms: “…We Hadn’t Gathered Them From Aliens…”

I don’t know.

I find it incredibly depressing and something like terrifying that what gets called our pop culture “entertainment” business seems to bring these dubious people to the forefront of our awareness.

I wonder: Is it ‘just’ exploitation, because so many of these dubious people seem capable of creating such wonderful art?

Is it some kind of attempt at social engineering?

Or is it monsters just doing what monsters do?

I don’t know. And I probably never will know, because it creeps me out trying to think about it. And there are a lot of things much more pleasant and much more worthwhile that are available to think about.

But I spent last weekend thinking a lot about this stuff. That was enough for a while. That was enough for a long while.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Revisiting The Cosmac Elf—The Number “1802”!

Last week a couple of things happened in the real world that were pretty simple things, trivial things even, but in a personal way they were important to me. I didn’t want to interrupt the sequences of posts last week because I was really enjoying doing those two topics, so I just put off the little things until this week.

So this week, today and tomorrow, I’m going to talk about two trivial little things that just mean a lot to me in a personal way. So these two posts are kind of like very old fashioned blog posts, just a blogger going on about himself.


Revisiting The Cosmac Elf—The Number “1802”!

Last week Wednesday, “The Stars From Here: A Puppet Thriller”, was my post number one thousand, eight hundred and two. The number 1,802.

The number: 1802.

It’s a very cool number and I can’t describe the wonderful thoughts and wonderful memories the number brings back.

But I'll try.

Here’s why.

Back in the late 70s and early 80s it was a very exciting time for people interested in the technology of microcomputers. Technical types. People like me.

In those days people—well, people like me—used to actually talk about computer chips and compare different kinds of instruction sets and the technical choices that went into the design of the support chips and all manner of similar stuff.

For instance, the Apple II computer used a microprocessor called the 6502 which was very famous and used in many home computers. IBM elected to go with chips from the Intel 8080 family of microprocessors. People might not remember this, but the most popular computers in that era ran an operating system called CP/M and one of the most popular microprocessors for those and other machines was called the Z80 chip.

And there were other chips as well. I personally used a Motorola 6800 (that’s hundred) microprocessor in my own embedded systems studies. It was a very beautiful chip, with an elegant architecture and elegant support chips.

A very popular microprocessor for industrial design in that era was the RCA 1802.

That number!

The 1802 was used in many home computers among very technical types and RCA supported the chip with a wide array of other chips and even completely assembled development boards that could simply be plugged together.

One such home computer built around the 1802 was called the Cosmac Elf and people on the internet keep the memory of this device alive on various websites.

The “Cosmac” part was a play on the word “cosmic” and/but was an acronym for Complementary Symmetry Monolithic Array Computer. And it was an “Elf” because it was small!

Those were such wonderful days.

I never owned an 1802-based system myself, but it was something I aspired to, one day, after I learned enough—so my thinking went—to best take advantage of the cool features of the chip and the many support boards offered by RCA.

Those were such wonderful days.

I was working for a giant corporation in downtown Chicago in those days and living just north of Lincoln Park. I’d ride the elevated train home from work and once a month I’d go past my normal stop. I’d get off a little north of my apartment, stop at a magazine stand and buy the new issue of a computer journal called Dr. Dobb’s Journal (which is horrible today, wildly different from what it was in the early days), and I’d walk over to a very relaxed soup & sandwich restaurant on Lincoln Avenue and eat a cool early dinner and read technical articles comparing algorithms in various assembly languages and discussing design issues of hardware interfaces and all sorts of similar things.

Those were such wonderful days.

Those were the days when I was writing my first novels, too (all of which would remain unpublished, sadly) and I was getting better at guitar and everything was exciting and everything was fun and the future seemed like it really would be spaceships and science fiction and all manner of wonderful things.

Most of those things didn’t really work out the way I—or, for that matter, anyone else—really thought and hoped they would.

But that’s life.

Things are still exciting and fun, just quite a bit different from anything I’d ever imagined. I never imagined I’d be working with a music workstation and making little stop-motion movies.

To be honest I miss *this* very much, but I’m still having fun and excited by almost everything that’s happening today and almost everything that promises to happen tomorrow. Just a little older. A little tired. And, well, fatter.

The only really bad thing, awful thing, nightmare thing, is that books are pretty much gone. Books are gone and the things that are still around and that look a little like books are such grotesques that it is something like torture.

But nobody said life was supposed to be easy and all fun and all excitement.

So I’ve been think thinking a lot about this kind of stuff because of that number: 1802.

It’s a really cool number.

The RCA 1802 has lived an exciting life. It was used to control the Galileo spacecraft that went to Jupiter.

The “Cosmac Elf” became a Cosmic Elf for real!

Some of those science fiction dreams came true!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Los Angeles As An Insane Painting

Thinking about painting Los Angeles,
I’m thinking about using earth colors
but earth colors mixed with high-tech pigments
that increase the basic intensity
while staying true to the earth color’s hue.

Painters have to look at the thing they paint.

I don’t think Los Angeles will notice.

But that is something I’m thinking about.

I was reading a book when she came in.

She said, “Well, now, you know, this is just wrong.”

I said, “Why? Have they made it official?
Is it against the law now to read books?”

“It’s not against the law. But you won’t read
‘The Tempest’ till you’re living on a boat.
It seems to me you shouldn’t read ‘Macbeth’
until you’re staying in Los Angeles.”

I laughed. “I’m thinking if I read ‘Macbeth’
it will be as if I’m already there.
And maybe then I won’t want to go there.”

“Los Angeles is just another place.
There’s no reason to be afraid of it.”

I stared. “There’s no reason to be afraid?”

“A city is just a created thing.
It’s like a three dimensional painting.
And would you be afraid of a painting?”

She took the copy of ‘Macbeth’ from me
and flipped through it looking for a passage.


The sleeping and the dead
are but as pictures. ’Tis the eye of childhood
that fears a painted devil.

Macbeth, Act II, sc. 2

I laughed again. “But Lady Macbeth dies.
She goes insane and commits suicide.
And, really, shouldn’t you be more afraid
of Los Angeles, whatever it is,
a city or a painting, than I am?”

“I’m not afraid of Los Angeles. Why?”

“Did you ever read why Polanski changed
the first ending Towne wrote for ‘Chinatown’?”

I took another book from my bookshelf
and flipped through it looking for a passage.

In Towne’s original script, Evelyn Mulwray kills her venal father, Noah Cross. In other words, a happy ending in which innocence defiled is avenged and evil is punished. For Polanski, the world was a darker place. ... Concludes Towne, “Roman’s argument was, That’s life. Beautiful blondes die in Los Angeles.”

quoted in Easy Riders, Raging Bulls
by Peter Biskind

Talking about Los Angeles and death,
but she smiled, then, leaned forward and kissed me.

I stared at her. I said, “What was that for?”

She said, “You called me a beautiful blonde.”

I gasped. And laughed. And I pointed at her
and said, “It’s that city in a nutshell—
Even before we’re in Los Angeles,
Los Angeles already is in us.”

Laughing, she took both books away from me.

She put both books away, back on the shelf.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Painting Los Angeles In Earth Colors

It is not lost on painters capturing the exposed earth and rocky terrains that define the American West that the yellows, oranges, reds and browns on their palettes are created from the same colored material found in the landscape before them.

This newsletter takes a look at the rich history of the world's oldest group of colored material – earth pigments – and how artists have used these colors for over 40,000 years.

Gamblin's offering of earth colors can be categorized into four groups: natural iron oxides (Ochres, Siennas and Umbers), synthetic iron oxides ("Mars" colors), hydrated synthetic iron oxides (Transparent Earth colors) and modern earth colors (earth colors "boosted" in choma with modern organic pigments).

... The late 20th century has produced the first significant change in iron oxides with the invention of transparent Mars colors for the automobile industry. These colors are made by hydrating earth colors, a process by which opaque colors are made transparent (the same process that turns opaque Chromium Green Oxide into Viridian). As painters we have come full circle. The prized transparent earth reds of antiquity have returned to our palettes.

... A few year back, when Gamblin looked to expand their color offering, a fresh approach to earth colors was taken by boosting the chroma (intensity) of traditional earth colors with modern organic pigments. Gamblin Gold Ochre is a mixture of Yellow Ochre and Indian Yellow to fill an important place within Color Space. Gold Ochre has the appearance of Yellow Ochre in its thicker mass tone, and then the Indian Yellow takes over when it is applied as a thinner glaze, revealing a warm, glowing undertone. Gamblin Brown Pink is a mixture of Transparent Earth Red and Perylene Red to make a contemporary, lightfast replacement of this traditional, fugitive color made from berries.

Even with so many intense colors available today, painters still prize and value earth colors for their beauty, stability and connection to the rich heritage of painting.

Evolving Earth
Gamblin Studio Notes
Volume 20, November 2008

Thinking about painting Los Angeles,
I’m thinking about using earth colors
but earth colors mixed with high-tech pigments
that increase the basic intensity
while staying true to the earth color’s hue.

I’m not thinking, yet, about what to paint.

I’m not thinking, yet, about going there.

But those are things I’ll have to think about.

Thinking about painting Los Angeles,
I’m thinking about using earth colors
but earth colors mixed with high-tech pigments
that increase the basic intensity
while staying true to the earth color’s hue.

Some cave paintings are thousands of years old.

Some cave paintings depict animal hunts.

Some cave paintings depict the artist’s hands.

Thinking about painting Los Angeles,
I’m thinking about using earth colors
but earth colors mixed with high-tech pigments
that increase the basic intensity
while staying true to the earth color’s hue.

Painters have to look at the thing they paint.

I don’t think Los Angeles will notice.

But that is something I’m thinking about.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

“The Stars From Here: A Puppet Thriller”

Is this a junkyard church, this decay
around us, bricks, steel and broken glass?
Do rusted gears not turning say mass,
is their oxidation how they pray?

In the over-grown pretty field between
the picturesque rubble of the buildings
the old observatory the old church
there’s a stream spanned by a new stonework bridge
and schoolchildren scare themselves with stories
of an ogre that lives under the bridge
and teenagers scare themselves picking flowers
pretty blue flowers that grow next to the bridge
where morning sunlight glistens on the stream
and adults scare themselves crossing the stream
looking down telling each other stories
about what was what is and what will be
before they laugh hold hands and continue
saying “Yes but we built the bridge somehow”
and saying “Yes everything’s pretty now”

The Green Witch
from “Lost Songs of Grendel”

I know it looks dark and empty but
if you press
Play there is something there

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Agency, Spy Agencies And An Artist’s Head

I don’t have the new stop-motion video ready yet. I’m trying to work out a reasonable arrangement for the music to the song. I think I’ll have the video tomorrow. But I’m going slowly, trying to get things right.

But an extra day or two lets me deal with more stuff on this topic, espionage, but espionage from a weird, idiosyncratic angle.

Last week in On A Loch Ness Kind Of Wind I talked about the really good Malachi Martin novel “Windswept House.” I think that novel is very interesting. I can’t really think of another novel that deals with religion and espionage in quite the same way, the same tone, as that novel. I’ve read other novels that try to deal with both religion and espionage. Some are more about religion and some are more about espionage, but I’ve never read anything that strikes quite the same tone as “Windswept House.” I liked it a lot and I think of it often.

I want to single out another story that deals with espionage in an odd way, by combining espionage and bizarre psychology in a horror story kind of way. The result strikes me as something almost like magic. And the weird thing is two other works—a novel and another film—deal with almost exactly the same elements but both seem to me to be totally inconsequential.

But the film I’m going to talk about has one particular scene that I think about very frequently.

First of all, here’s a quick bit of background.

Back in the 70s, when Stephen King was having great success with his novel “Carrie” about a young girl with telekinetic powers, other writers tried to cash in on the public interested. A guy named John Farris wrote a book called “The Fury” about a young girl with telekinetic powers who gets involved with a shadowy spy agency. I didn’t like the book. Brian De Palma had success with his film version of “Carrie” so he did a film version of “The Fury” and I didn’t like that very much. Both versions of “The Fury” are generally well-respected, but I don’t often hear anyone, even movie buffs or horror buffs, talking about them.

However —

A couple of years after Brian De Palma did his film version of “The Fury,” a young Canadian filmmaker named David Cronenberg made a low-budget horror film with many of the same elements—troubled people with telekinetic powers, a shadowy spy agency, and even a big special effects scene of a head exploding. While Farris’s book and De Palma’s film aren’t much talked about by people I know, Cronenberg’s film, “Scanners,” has become very famous among horror film buffs. People I know talk about “Scanners” with some frequency (so to speak).

And although many horror buffs remember “Scanners” mainly for the incredible scene of Louis Del Grande’s head exploding, I’ve always remembered a scene that comes just a little later.

The hero of the movie, a man named “Vale,” tracks down a troubled artist named “Pierce,” and the hero tries to get the artist to help him find the movie’s villain.

The hero meets the artist in the artist’s studio, inside a barn next to a farmhouse far out in the country. They talk surrounded by the artist’s large plaster creations, and they even enter and sit inside a giant plaster head while they have a conversation about voices inside their own heads:

VALE: “The voices. In my head. They’re driving me crazy. How do you stop them? Your voices?”

PIERCE: “My art. My art keeps me sane. My art. Sane.”

VALE: “I don’t have anything like this. That’s why I have to find Darryl Revok.”

PIERCE: “You, my friend, are a liar. Get out.”

VALE: “Look, I’m not leaving here until you tell me where I can find Darryl Revok.”

PIERCE: “No? All right. Well, then, I’ll get out.”

It’s hard for me to describe the deep effect this scene had on me.

When I was young, well, younger, I just always accepted that any confrontation had to be dealt with head-on, so to speak, in one way or another. Humor. Or persuasion. Misdirection. Victory or defeat. Whatever. Something. I just always assumed—for some reason—that a person had to react and engage and grapple with confrontations.

So when the extraordinary artist in this scene reacts to the blunt confrontation by saying, “All right. Well, then, I’ll get out” it was a moment for me like a philosophy student getting hit on the head with a bamboo stick and getting jolted out of his accepted thought patterns.

To this day—more than thirty years later!—I still think of this scene when I find myself in a tricky situation. I always feel, now, that there is this option of just shrugging off the trickiness of whatever confrontation I feel, and just getting out myself.

“Well, then, I’ll get out.”

It’s a good feeling. It’s a kind of freedom—a freedom of thought and of emotion. A feeling of agency.

So thinking about espionage, spy agencies and all that kind of stuff, it is important to me to mention the 1981 David Cronenberg film, “Scanners.” It was about espionage, but in a very idiosyncratic way.

And it certainly seems to me to be a very good thing.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Synthetic Outer Space And Liminal Entities

Whatever Pretend Means

RIP Marilyn Chambers (4/22/52 – 4/12/09)

Ephemera And Antiphony

“(I even remember that in
David Cronenberg’s great 1981 film
‘Scanners,’ the drug that creates
scanners is called Ephemerol.
It’s ephemera trivia. [!])”

Monday, February 18, 2013

Spies And Songs And Technology Without Books

All last week I was trying to think of an idea for a little stop-motion video with Little Plastic Doll and Rubber Lizard that would involve espionage. I was happy with the posts I came up with for last week, but I didn’t feel like I was making much progress toward thinking of anything for a stop-motion video involving espionage.

Then on Saturday afternoon—when I was doing something altogether unrelated to espionage or ideas for stop-motion films—a pretty cool idea just popped into my head. So on Saturday I was able to write a little script.

On Sunday the same kind of thing happened. I was doing stuff completely unrelated to espionage or stop-motion films and out-of-the-blue an idea for a song just popped into my head. I was able to quickly record a little melody and write down some lyrics.

So some day this week—maybe even tomorrow—I’ll have a new stop-motion film.

Everyone here is very excited.

In this new film Rubber Lizard will sing the song, and Little Plastic Doll will play an evil woman spy.


When I made up the song on Sunday afternoon the melody seemed simple enough, but then I needed to work out some kind of arrangement. I didn’t make much progress.

I’m hoping to make up an arrangement using just piano. On Sunday I spent much of the afternoon trying to practice various progressions and trying to get my hands to work together on the keyboard.

And I had some technical issues and that’s what I want to talk about briefly today.

Normally when I record sound-on-sound—that is, record one part and then record more parts along with the already recorded part without disturbing the earlier recording—I use my Tascam GT-R1. Of course my arranger workstation can do that stuff easily, too, but for the simple things I do, and since I transfer everything over to my computer anyway, I usually just choose to use the dedicated recorder.

On Sunday to help me practice I wanted to record one or two backing tracks to play along with on my workstation itself as I tried to work out an arrangement. I had to stop and fiddle with the interface for a few minutes to remember how it worked. It wasn’t too bad, but it was frustrating that some keys mean one thing doing one procedure, but then have entirely different uses—and uses that have no visual indications—when you want to do something else.

When I tried to do similar things with my portable keyboard I had to open up the manual (a thin and difficult manual, but better than nothing) and read the directions. The buttons and sequences of operations are completely “hidden” and essentially arbitrary without the written procedures.

This is an awful state of affairs for technology.

Processors and hardware/software combinations are very powerful, but designers, these days, make almost no effort at all to create products that simply work, or that teach you as you use them.

Everything has to be struggled with and figured out and then used every day so that the memory of its idiosyncrasies is always fresh.

My best calculator—the beautiful impossible math thing—is still almost unfathomable to me, even though I used it a little for The Angle Of Repose Of Department Store.

And as if products weren’t designed shabbily enough, most companies nowadays do not print up instruction manuals, they simply include a link to a PDF file somewhere that describes how something works. And usually that file is just basics.

Things used to be very different.

Technology companies used to have “interface designers” who would craft metaphors for interaction between users and machinery. And technical writers would work together with creative writers to craft manuals that were both reference manuals and instruction manuals. And many manuals even attempted to be partly inspirational, with examples and suggestions for use.

Take a look at this:

That’s the first really good calculator I ever owned, a Texas Instruments TI-92. It is the direct ancestor of the beautiful impossible math thing. In fact, programs and functions written for the TI-92 still run [!] on the beautiful impossible math thing, although vastly faster on the new hardware.

Look at that book. When anyone bought a TI-92 that book came with it. It’s an instruction manual and reference manual and an “exploration” of the power of the TI-92. It’s very good, and it’s the kind of thing many manufacturers used to include with complicated/expensive products.

That book is 518 pages long!

I bought that calculator around 1996. I still use that instruction book to help figure out things about the current generation of calculators Texas Instruments puts out.

Now when you buy the newest generation of that same device—the new version is called the TI-Nspire calculator, and I call it the beautiful impossible math thing—the device comes with NOTHING. No instruction manual of any kind. There is a little pamphlet called “Getting Started” but that just describes how to put in batteries and turn on the device and such.

Imagine that: A device so complicated it comes with a large-format paperback book 518 pages long. Then a new model of the device comes out, more complicated, more powerful, and that new model comes with no instructions of any kind!

What the hell are corporations thinking?

A couple of days ago I saw a pretty funny (or very sad, depending on how you look at things) example of this.

I mentioned a long time ago in Exciting Waveforms that a music studio owner offered to sell me a used Yamaha Motif music workstation because in his studio none of his clients ever used it. I didn’t buy it, but the Motif is a great workstation, very powerful and very expensive. But Yamaha—just like with my less expensive arranger workstation—prints up only a very thin manual which refers constantly to an online PDF reference manual for more details. And even that reference manual just covers the basic facts, not anything about usage examples.

So over on Amazon where they sell the latest model of the Motif (for more than three thousand dollars!) some guy wrote a review explaining how powerful the machine is and how beautiful it sounds. But the thread winding through the whole review was how hard the Motif is to use. The poor guy ends the review like this:

... The internal sequencer is MIDI only, very useful, but an audio recorder would be welcome. Trying to record the MIDI from the internal sequencer to a DAW (something that many would want to do) is more complicated than building a spy satellite. I still haven't figured it out and can't find much assistance. This is the inherent problem with the Motif. It does so many things and most of them quite well, but because only the most basic functions are explained, it is easy to spend hours and hours trying to figure out how to record something, for example.

So, in the end, I just end up playing the keyboard as a piano, and that is always enjoyable.

review of: Yamaha Motif XF8 Synthesizer

Imagine spending almost four thousand dollars [!] and discovering the workstation is so complicated often you just use it only as a digital piano!

No wonder the studio owner was trying to sell me his Motif. No wonder his clients don’t want to struggle with it.

These days are wonderful because technology is so powerful. But at the same time these days are insane because I’m betting hardly anybody in the general population has the kind of technology background you need to get anything to function in the really wild and almost magical ways technology is capable of functioning.

I thank my lucky stars I spent a lot of time when I was younger studying embedded systems and software and hardware design. And building Heathkit products!

I still sometimes have troubles, but I can usually work them out. I can’t imagine what must go through the mind and emotions of someone like that poor guy who bought a Yamaha Motif and then struggles with it.

If the technology around here cooperates, later this week I’ll have a new stop-motion video. Maybe tomorrow. Rubber Lizard singing, and Little Plastic Doll as an evil woman spy!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Two Things And A Pretty Blue Flower

Friday, February 15, 2013

Eliza Talks With Frightful And Unknown Animals

The spirit of Fatima still rules the Earth
She knows your future she knows what it’s worth
Sister Fatima has God-given powers
And on 42nd Street a shop that sells flowers
Is her palace
Come and be healed

“Sister Fatima”
by folksinger Don McLean

Our Lady showed us a great sea of fire which seemed to be under the earth. Plunged in this fire were demons and souls in human form, like transparent burning embers, all blackened or burnished bronze, floating about in the conflagration, now raised into the air by the flames that issued from within themselves together with great clouds of smoke, now falling back on every side like sparks in a huge fire, without weight or equilibrium, and amid shrieks and groans of pain and despair, which horrified us and made us tremble with fear. The demons could be distinguished by their terrifying and repulsive likeness to frightful and unknown animals, all black and transparent.

The real Eliza Doolittle sells flowers.

I mean the Shaw Eliza Doolittle.

The issue for Shaw was like life itself
but for the people producing the play
the issue was about selling tickets.

They changed Eliza into something else.

During the 1914 run, to Shaw's exasperation but not to his surprise, Tree sought to sweeten Shaw's ending to please himself and his record houses. Shaw returned for the 100th performance and watched Higgins, standing at the window, toss a bouquet down to Eliza. "My ending makes money, you ought to be grateful," protested Tree. "Your ending is damnable; you ought to be shot." Shaw remained sufficiently irritated to add a postscript essay, "'What Happened Afterwards," to the 1916 print edition for inclusion with subsequent editions, in which he explained precisely why it was impossible for the story to end with Higgins and Eliza getting married.

by George Bernard Shaw
at Wikipedia

The real Eliza Doolittle sells flowers
in a different world not the world we’re in
and in the world we’re in our Eliza
talks with frightful and unknown animals
and light that seems to come from within us
makes everything transparent and we rise.

We have no weight or equilibrium.

I have no weight or equilibrium.

The real Eliza Doolittle sells flowers
something like a hippie in the real world
and I wish I could buy flowers from her shop
but in this world that is to say our world
Eliza talks very carefully too
but in this world our world our Eliza
talks with frightful and unknown animals
and they listen and they understand her.

Why would anyone think Hell isn’t real
when we watch transparent people make it
and talk about it very carefully
with frightful and unknown animals here?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Two Things And A Pretty Blue Flower

The Girl Who Talks To Dinosaurs

Dinosaur Girls And The Night Behind Me

What The Dinosaurs See

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Two Things And A Pretty Blue Flower

Pliny says that Endymion was the first human to watch
and study the Moon and that’s why she fell in love with him.

The stars in the sky this book in my hand
and a third thing vanishing in this age
where all books open to a ripped out page
where the patterns we try to understand

above us are when airplanes fly and land
these things are an angry folksinger’s rage
melodies and harmonies for a wage
in a nightclub where every dance is planned

by a man in makeup a laughing man
telling a woman to sing a love song
telling an accountant to add things right

a man in makeup with a laughing plan
drinking in the dark and swallowing long
then switching on a bright electric light.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Inspiration As A Trick

“Ray Winstone has been offered the role of Noah’s nemesis in the Darren Aronofsky-directed Biblical epic Noah. Negotiations are underway for Winstone to go mano a mano against Russell Crowe in the film, which also stars Logan Lerman, Douglas Booth and Emma Watson.”

Ray Winstone as the villain? Granted, I haven’t read the source material in a while, but isn’t the bad guy in the story God?? After all, he’s the one committing genocide against the entire human race — pretty villainous move right there! Either way, I’m actually totally fine with Ray Winstone playing that role…he was great in Sexy Beast.

Comment by DH
— Monday June 11, 2012 @ 8:43pm

Is it really genocide if you created that which you are destroying? And, I think it was more of a starting over type of move. If you build a lego house and decide to take it apart and start over, does that make you a villain?


Comment by Vincent Hanna
— Tuesday June 12, 2012 @ 2:30pm EDT

from the comments
to the story at

I said, “Bright lights make it hard to see stars.”

She said, “Bright lights help you read books at night.”

I said, “Yes. Of course they’re closing bookstores.”

She smiled. She said, “You think books were a trick
to get everybody hooked on bright lights
and now that we are all hooked on bright lights
nobody needs to keep bookstores around?”

I said, “Did you ever hear that theory
fundamentalist Protestants worked out
that books were invented by the devil
so people would come to see the Bible
as just another book and not God’s Word?
It’s a kill two birds with one stone type thing.
Books redefine scripture as just writing
and since you need lights to read books at night
books change the sky into a starless void.”

She laughed. She said, “And are you conflicted
that you’re a writer making up this stuff
to film something that can only be seen
in the bright light from a computer screen?”

I said, “Well Noah didn’t make it rain
but his ark floated on the rain water.”

She laughed harder. She said, “Oh so you’re not
conflicted you are divinely inspired?”

Carefully I said, “Do you know I’m not?”

She was laughing too hard to go on then
so I won and she had to make dinner.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

On A Loch Ness Kind Of Wind

Thinking About Real And Fake Villains

A Flute Landscape

Machines Of Loving Grace

‘Lost Horizon’ Versus ‘Camelot’ — #4: Fie On Goodness!

“The Parthenon Code”

The Occult Technology Of Guitars And Keyboards

“What did the wives think?”

Blows Against The (Expensive) Empire

“Have you seen the stars tonight?”

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On A Loch Ness Kind Of Wind

Last week in Thinking About Real And Fake Villains I talked about how I was thinking about doing a stop-motion video with Little Plastic Doll and Rubber Lizard doing something about espionage.

I am still thinking about that, but one problem I have is that I’m not very interested in espionage as it relates to normal politics.

It seems to me everything that could possibly be said about real espionage has been said in a serious way by people like, for instance, John le Carré and in a post-modern way by people like, for instance, Trevanian.

That having been said, there are other aspects of espionage that are, well, weird.

In unexpected ways espionage is often linked to the UFO world and the religious world and even the entertainment world. So I haven’t given up on the thought about something for Little Plastic Doll and Rubber Lizard dealing with espionage.

But I don’t have any real ideas yet.

However, it has been very windy around here the last few days.

Very windy.

And there’s this:

Windswept House describes a satanic ritual - the enthronement of Lucifer - taking place at Saint-Paul's Chapel inside Vatican City, on June 29, 1963. The book gives a scary depiction of high ranking churchmen, cardinals, archbishops and prelatees of the Roman curia, taking oaths signed with their own blood, plotting to destroy the Church from within. It tells the story of an international organized attempt by these Vatican insiders and secular internationalists to force a pope of the Catholic Church to abdicate, so that a successor may be chosen that will fundamentally change orthodox faith and establish a New World Order.

Windswept House
by Malachi Martin
at Wikipedia

And I have spent a lot of time with people who were very passionate about both the politics and theology—to the extent they are separate things—of Catholicism. I mentioned once—in a post about Megan Fox, of course—that I attended a Catholic seminary and even spent some time at the same church retreat where one of the real priests linked to events which in some ways inspired William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist” spent some time writing. And I’ve mentioned, too, just in passing, Blatty’s most recent book “Dimiter” — it is explicitly about espionage.

And there’s this:

Martin stated that, along with diabolic possession, angelic possession also exists and that angels could have use of preternatural powers in certain circumstances.

Martin was convinced that the antichrist described in the Book of Revelation was a literal historical figure, and was alive in 1996.

Malachi Martin
at Wikipedia

And there’s this:

Rome (CNN) -- The spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, Pope Benedict XVI, surprised the world Monday by saying he will resign at the end of the month "because of advanced age."

It's the first time a pope has stepped down in nearly 600 years.

"Strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me," said Benedict, 85, according to the Vatican.

Just when I get interested in espionage, to the surprise of the world, the Pope announces he is resigning his office, the first time that has happened in something like 600 years, bringing the world to the very conclusion of the so-called “Prophecy of the Popes” attributed to Saint Malachy, which, real or fiction, has been around for something like five hundred years.

I don’t have any real ideas about this yet.

But I am interested in all this stuff.

And I think I can work with this.


Over at Loch Ness
tourists search for a creature.
I’ve often wondered

if the creature there
leaves Loch Ness and comes searching
for something in us.

Monday, February 11, 2013

On Listening To The Robots

I don’t have much for today, but I want to do this post just because it is kind of special to me.

First of all, take a look at this picture. Don’t these people look happy!

They should look happy. They’re making music together. And the guy’s with a hippie girl on acoustic guitar. And he’s playing a keyboard that looks like the control panel of a spaceship.

I’d be happy, too!

That’s an advertising photo (so they’re probably just pretending to be happy!) from a brochure for Yamaha’s current top-of-the-line arranger keyboard, the Tyros 4. It’s probably going to be updated soon because it has been out for a few years and Yamaha just updated their second tier arranger workstation, but that’s what the Tyros 4 looks like now. Very cool and very powerful. It costs almost five times as much as my second tier arranger workstation, but it does look much more like a spaceship control panel than mine does.

Anyway, I’m guessing that’s one way of making the hippie girls smile—being able both to afford and play a keyboard like that.

I’m not up to it yet.

But all that nonsense being said, I had fun on Sunday with my poor old second tier arranger workstation (that is now really third tier because Yamaha recently updated it).

Here’s what I was doing Sunday morning.

I woke up and I was thinking of some melody that just came to me overnight. So I picked up my guitar and worked out the melody and it was fun. It was an odd melody, sixteen bars long, not eight or twelve. But I liked it.

So after I worked it out on guitar I wondered what the melody would look like in music notation. I have a very hard time working out even simple things because my ear is so untrained.

I know that’s not too uncommon in the music world. Lots of people can play things they can’t notate. But it bugs me. I know that a person can reach a point where standard notation becomes second nature to them. But it seems almost like magic to me.

But one very cool thing about music software and workstations these days is that you can just play a melody and the software or the workstation will format the music for you. And then you can learn, and an untrained ear gets a little training.

The robots teach us! (Tricky Times)

That’s what happened on Sunday.

I turned on my keyboard workstation and played the melody with the metronome on so I knew I was playing it correctly. But I couldn’t imagine what the music notation would look like. I was imagining things like triplets and ties and complicated nonsense. But then I buckled down and recorded it.

Here is a simple four-bar arrangement of the two main bits.

The three notes starting the first bar are what I thought might be triplets, and the same with the three notes ending the second and starting the third.

But it’s really very simple.

And after I saw the notation I let the workstation play the music and I watched the metronome and I listened carefully and I found I could hear the difference in the times. I realized I could hear that the quarter note was sounding longer than the eighth notes so they weren’t evenly spaced tuplets of any kind.

Then for a long while I just sat there playing those two figures in various arrangements and various lengths, playing very consciously and listening to the differences of the contrasting figures—first the two eighth notes followed by a quarter note and later the quarter note followed by two eighth notes. I could feel the difference.

On Sunday morning, even playing guitar where I’m much more comfortable, I wasn’t aware of any difference in the time of the figures, even though I was playing the different times. Sunday afternoon, after a session with my robot teacher [!] I could hear and feel the difference.

I know this is trivial stuff, but it made me very happy to be able to do it.

It’s good to get better at something!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Guitar Sounds In Denmark (Or Chicago)

On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #1

On Not Playing A Synth Workstation #2

Friday, February 08, 2013

Guitar Sounds In Denmark (Or Chicago)

If I knew a hippie girl or someone
who would pretend to be a hippie girl
I would step into the surround with her
and show her the lot of Halloween trees
and the lot where the pretty blue flowers grew
and I’d talk about how the locations
are just places such trivial places
but they seem like magic places to me
now that I’ve written something about them.

A woman looking over my shoulder
is asking me: “What is the difference
between a hippie girl who is pretend
and a man or woman who makes up lies?”

I say: “The first two lines were setting up
the contrast of the empty lots as lots
and as places that I’ve written about
and a hippie girl would have noticed that
and a man or woman who makes up lies
would have recognized what I was writing
and lied about being interested.”

The woman looking over my shoulder
is asking me: “So what does that make me?”

I say: “If a synthesizer creates
guitar sounds exactly like guitar sounds
is the synthesizer technology
lying or pretending or does the thought
guiding the hand moving across the keys
act something like a synthesizer too
adding something like magic to the sounds?”

The woman looking over my shoulder
is frowning thinking and while she’s thinking
I have the chance to leave this location
by ducking away and disappearing
into the kitchen where I won’t be safe
but I will have time to grab a Redbull
because it’s going to be a long night.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

A Bugle Adventure

I set my keyboard to a dynamic synthesized voice, gentle, plaintive. I tried to play the little melody lacrimoso—music mood talk for sadly, forlornly.

“Is that a bugle call?” she asked.

“It’s a little melody that just happens to use five notes,” I said.

She just stared at me.

“Music is about rhythms and pitches,” I said. “They make melodies. It’s not about the instruments that perform the melodies.”

She continued to just stare at me.

“Okay, look,” I said, “maybe the bugle is the most sincere of all the instruments. It doesn’t have valves like a trumpet. It doesn’t have electromagnetic pickups like a guitar. It doesn’t have digital signal processing chips like a keyboard. It just has five notes and it can make them cry or sing, depending on how the performer plays the instrument. A bugle can’t be programmed to sound good, it has to be played good. Maybe there should be more bugles in pop music.”

But she was laughing, then, and I saw that we weren’t going to get into a philosophical discussion on music and the instruments that make it.


Hey, look, here’s something you don’t see every day:

That’s a 1984 Macintosh brochure.

When you bought an early Mac, that brochure was packed inside the Macintosh box, and if I remember right, it was positioned to be open to the first fold, so that when you opened the Macintosh box the first thing you’d see would be the text on the first fold:

If you click on the picture it gets bigger. The text reads:

“The Adventure Begins Here.”


That little brochure is almost thirty years old.

I was a Macintosh user during the early years. But then I switched over to Windows. Apple is a very strange company — Apple And The Status Cow.

But the early Mac years were extraordinary.

It really was an adventure.

I mean, both the early Mac, and for me to get from 1984 to 2013.

That brochure didn’t lie.


This afternoon I reached up onto a book shelf to pull down a book on the history of orchestral instruments. For one reason or another I’m interested in bugles now, and so-called natural trumpets. A while ago I was interested in accordions. And then the Tempest percussion synthesizer. Now I’m interested in bugles.

Anyway, this afternoon I reached up and pulled down a book and that brochure fell down. For some reason somehow the brochure had gotten wedged between books I hadn’t touched for years and I’d forgotten all about it.

It’s very cool to see it again.

I wonder: Is that brochure telling me another thirty year adventure is about to start?