Friday, December 22, 2006

Intermission: The Twelve Links of Christmas

I know, I know, everyone's quite literally beside themselves with anticipation regarding the higher reaches of the Furtive 50. Will Rudebox manage to pip Sting's lute album for the eagerly contested top spot? Or vice versa? O, my dears, I'm sorry, you're going to have to wait a little while longer. I'm a little bit menkle with sleeplessness and I've been staring at this Bodforsaken screen too long, and what's more every openable window on the homeward 15.18 from Liverpool Street had a little sticker on it that said "Open for extra ventilation". (Presumably eventually they'll put another, perhaps marginally smaller, sticker on each window, directly above the first sticker, that says: "Please read sticker below.")

Never mind. Away with such humbug. This will be my last post of the year from the vantage of the Dream Thrombosis we call London; the remainder of the top 20, and the Perkins Awards, will have to go up between Christmas and New Year's, while I'm away in Portishead. There, though, things are dial-up at best -- at peak periods one often has to fall back on a technique not unlike bark rubbing... Which reminds me, I was doing some work yesterday and the application I was using informed me that if its next stage didn't launch automatically I would have to "connect to the internet manually": which presumably involves sticking your wettened finger in the phone socket and trying to sing the Modem Theme Song ("Booooooo.....bip! Booooooooo...", &c. Think Meredith Monk.) ...Anyway, the point is, now would be a good time to take care of anything that requires having more than one interwebular process running at the same time. I suppose I could wait till Portishead and try two simultaneous operations, but very much fear it might cause the Christmas lights to go out on the High Street.

Therefore, to help you while away those forthcoming odd moments between Medjool Dates, here are some linkypoos. None of them received a hero's welcome, none of them, none of them. But perhaps there are one or two things here that might amuse or interest you once you've broken your new Pocketeer and accidentally goosed your auntie.

1. for 'Partridge' read 'Web-based text art with the goodness of added jazz'
During the comedown from that staggering Books gig the other day, and thinking in particular about an oddly disconcerting piece they did in which a sort of phonetic mistranscription of their lyrics was flashed up one syllable at a time, I remembered about Young Hae Chang Heavy Industries. They're quite well known now, award-winning, that sort of thing, but don't let that put you off. This will not repeat not work on dial-up [D'oh!] but if you've got broadband and decent speakers where you are, turn yourself up to 11 and settle back to watch one of YHC's mini-dramas. 'Dakota', at the very top of the index page, is a good place to start: an earthy, salty, splashy roadtrip hallucination set to an astonishing 1962 track by Art Blakey's Afro-Drum Ensemble; favourite words such as 'ham', 'wad' and 'slug' will appear as strangers to you. ...Or persons of what used to be called "a more sensitive disposition" (now known as "post-traumatic stress disorder") might prefer the lovely, eccentric, off-kilter 'The Last Day of Betty Nkomo'. Or, you know, click where you like, it's all instant gravy.

2. for 'turtle doves' read 'participatory cartoon ski-jumping'
'Line Rider' is a neat and immensely appealing little game which you can use either to pass the time while the kettle's boiling or, alternatively, accidentally stay up all night playing until such time as you are weeping curious hot pink tears that leave an indelible mark on contact with your keyboard. What I'm saying is, it's addictive -- or rather, as Harry Hill says of heroin, it's very moreish: there's no personal best to beat, no levels to crack, it ought to be possible just to walk away with the sort of resolute give-a-little-whistle insouciance that would make Nancy Reagan proud of you. But that's not always an option. As proof of which, B3ta just linked last week to evidence of someone having got into Line Rider in a very big way. Play it yourself for a little while, at least, before you check this out. It's quite, quite extraordinary.

3. for 'French hens' read 'cameraless films'
Earlier this week I was hanging out with one of my absolute favourite people in the universe, and he was telling me about how he'd been hanging out with one of his absolute favourite people in the universe, a New York-based film-maker by the name of David Gatten. ("Did you mean David Patten?" asks Google, sweetly and solicitously, before inviting me to open a window if I feel in need of extra ventilation.) Without seeing a twenty-fourth of an iotum of Mr Gatten's work he has already become one of my favourite filmmakers: his processes are in themselves events of real poetry and, to an extent, theatre:
"For example, to produce What the Water Said, Nos.1-3, Gatten placed unexposed rolls of film in crab traps in the Atlantic Ocean off the South Carolina coast. The resulting sounds and images
were produced by the physical and chemical interactions between the film's
emulsion and the surrounding salt water, sand, rocks, crabs, fish and underwater creatures." [from Gatten's Wikipedia stub]
I'm going to drop him a line in the new year and see if we can, y'know, e-hang. In the meantime, I've bookmarked his own site and you should do the same. There's not much there for the moment but as an aide memoire I think it could be priceless.

4. for 'calling birds' read 'a necessary bulletin on feminizing foods'
All right, you vegans, before you chow down on your soya-based faux turkey this Monday, you really ought to take a look at this alarming and tightly argued contribution to the nature vs. nurture debate. (Apparently the UK government is already "cracking down hard on soy", which comes as some relief. In a kinder, gentler world, there would be easy access from this story to some kind of joke about the Quorn Hunt on Boxing Day but soya is soya and mycoprotein is mycoprotein and never the twain will meet, not even in a spirit of Christmas armistice.)

5. for 'gold rings' read 'strangers looking at each other'
The fantastically estimable Neil Pattison, author of this terrific book and sotto voce speaker of these marvellous poems, and out of everyone I know possibly the person who looks most like he could really carry off a suit of armour -- and Lord knows, not everybody can... where was I? Oh, yes, Neil kindly dropped me a line to complain that the I'm From Barcelona album was having a deleterious effect on his rostromedial prefrontal cortex (though not, to be fair, in so many words), and to direct my attention towards this really excellently beautiful video for the Broken Family Band's song "It's All Over", from their recent album Balls, which isn't going to turn up in the remainder of the Thompsontastic Top 50, though I did quite like it. (Just not as much as their early stuff.) Anyway, this video: an interesting-sounding photographer, Natalie Toumbas-Dawkins, asked two strangers just to sit and look at each other for an hour in silence, and the video compiles the edited highlights of the event. It's immensely sweet and raw and in some ways quite difficult to watch, though the edge was taken off for me by the extraordinary visual resemblance of the larger-faced of the two men (on the right at the beginning) to the young Leigh Bowery. I would strongly recommend watching this instead of whichever out of Hook, Flubber and Jumanji is on during the festive period.

6. for 'geese' read 'felt'
OK so I had to do a little bit of research for the updated version of Kiss of Life for Sydney and one thing led to another and basically what I'm trying to tell you is that there is a Muppet wiki. Basically, a whole mini-Wikipedia (not that mini, actually) entirely dedicated to the Muppets (and Sesame Street and Fraggle Rock and so on). The level of detail is enough to have even a pretty ardent fan like me reaching for the panic button. But if you did want to spend all of December 27th slumped in front of your computer reliving the greatest moments in the career of Super Grover, or studying the apposite synopsis of Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas (Maria Michaels, come on down!! you stalky freakazoid), WELL YOU CAN. That was accidental use of caps lock there but it couldn't feel more right.

7. for 'swans' read 'Is Act-Utilitarianism self-defeating?'
Obviously, everything is pretty stupid and depressing: but the recent Weatherall report on the use of non-human primates in experimentation [download it here] was, by any standards, an exceptionally disgusting contribution to the pile. What I don't think I quite understand is why anti-vivisection campaigners aren't more ready to flip the argument. (Actually, one can totally see why, given standard media treatment of these topics.) The one point on which proponents and opponents necessarily agree is that there is some usable functional or modelling equivalence between humans and monkeys such as macaques: that's why Weatherall recommends the further use of monkeys in experiments. Why then is it not down to the pro-vivisectionists to explain why they feel it's acceptable to conduct experiments on monkeys that they would not conduct on humans? I don't understand how, or on what rational basis, they derive the moral distinction between human and non-human primates. The person who writes best on these topics, as far as I'm concerned, is the Australian philosopher Peter Singer. His work is searching, troubling -- in the best ways -- and it was his book Animal Liberation that shored up my vegetarianism (which in the early days was prone to lapse from time to time) and provided a more articulate commentary to my own inchoate sense of profound opposition to animal experimentation. There's a brilliant resource here, a collection of extracts and articles from across the range of Singer's work. Not all of the extracts come across in full effect out of context, and some of the articles, such as a recent short piece on homosexuality, are so coolly thought that they risk seeming pretty inert. But his reflections on, for example, the use of surrogate mothers in primate research -- the line of inquiry that partly prompted my poem 'Cot death link to womb dream' (read it in Quid 12 if you want) -- are brilliantly, unyieldingly penetrating, and hold their anger barely below the surface. ...Meanwhile, on the train yesterday, one of the free London evening papers had a headline asking about human rights for conscious robots: which is a fascinating area, deeply troubling and in some ways rather encouraging: but we have no business going anywhere near it until the distorted status quo that accepts vivisection and rejects euthanasia (and, of course, in many regions, abortion) has been fully and irrevocably redressed. I think that reversal is probably achievable within twenty years, but it's going to take a lot of work.

8. for 'maids' read 'primum non nocere'
While we're in the ballpark, and before we get back to the fun stuff, you'll be pleased to know that I've managed to hold back some of my hysterical indignation to apply to the latest in a line of reports indicating that cirumcision appears to cut the rate of HIV infection in heterosexual men by around 50%. I don't quibble with these findings, I can't; but I worry on two counts: firstly, that they divert attention away from a much greater issue, which is the practically genocidal opposition of the Vatican to the use, let alone the promotion, of condoms, at a time when there seem to be unprecedented indications that some adjustment in that position may at long last be possible -- so there couldn't be a worse time to be taking the heat off the cardinals; secondly, that they will surely contribute to a bolstering of support for a barbaric and futile practice. Where female circumcision is now much more widely considered an outrage than it was a generation or two ago, male circumcision remains so widespread and so locked in with tradition and religious practice that it's very difficult for many people to understand (here we are again) the moral and ethical equivalence between female and male genital mutilation. Most press commentary around the NIAID report chose simply to celebrate the fact that the head of the World Health Organization's HIV/AIDS department is a Mr Kevin De Cock, and this is of course tremendously amusing -- as is this, huzzah; but sorry, everyone: non-consensual male circumcision is an appalling (and in most cases indefensible) practice, and it deserves sober assessment and strenuous opposition. Perhaps during the commercial break of You've Been Framed At Christmas you might quickly cast an unprejudiced eye over the Declaration of the International Coalition for Genital Integrity. At any rate, the idea that male circumcision may be perceived to be in itself effectively preventative of HIV infection as a result of this coverage is, in both of its obvious implications, horrifying.

9. for 'ladies' read 'Petrol Boy'
There aren't many routes by which one can satisfactorily escape from a discussion of genital mutilation back to the showbiz levity by which the top of this list was characterised. But this will help get us some of the way. The use of "Winters Love" by Animal Collective on the soundtrack to Shortbus (and indeed at that film's climactic moment) made me dig deep to remember where I'd heard that track before. The answer: 'The Child That Smelt Funny', of course: one of the many very profoundly scarring Flash cartoons to be found on David Firth's extremely satisfying web site . (Almost certainly you are cool enough to know all of this already.) The evident influence upon Firth of the peerless Kenny Everett -- who, as we know, was born on Christmas day -- is particularly to the good.

10. for 'lords' read 'big sound authority'
Quick. Easy. Look, cos it's late, and I've got to get on a train early tomorrow. Er... Right, now I'm panicking. No. Calm. Calm. It's fine. Here's a good thing. Hype Machine. It's a searchable database (I expect both of those words are extremely old fashioned but I'm past caring) of the mp3s that get posted to music blogs. So if your New Year's Eve party is going phut and the only thing that will save it is the excellent song "This House Is Where Your Love Stands" by the Big Sound Authority, you can do the tappity-tap and your computer will do the voila. How pleasant it is to live in the future, and how doubly so to spend so much time listening to songs from the past.

11. for 'pipes' read 'the Russian secret police disguised as wallpaper'
Inevitably, someone -- in fact, this (unarguably tall) man here -- has transcribed the three Derek & Clive albums that Peter Cook and Dudley Moore recorded through the mid 70s. As a teenager I knew quite long stretches of Ad Nauseam off by heart. My relationship with this work is much more problematic now -- the violent misogyny and the gross racism no longer seem to me to have the patina of irony that I initially assumed; you only have to watch the Get the Horn video to see the quite direct and unvarnished hatred Cook clearly had at the time for everything, almost certainly including the work they were doing. Some of it still makes me laugh - 'The Critics', at the end of Ad Nauseam, is still a weeping delight, perhaps in part because it's (unusually) Moore rather than Cook who really cuts loose. Anyway, I'm linking to these transcriptions because actually, uncoupled from the tone of voice that comes across so exposingly on the recordings, the dialogue seems to me to be, written down, much funnier. The obscenity is less pressured, the balance of power more equalized, and the black-and-white rendering of some of the more colourful discourse creates a surprisingly beautiful tension. It's vastly rude and obnoxious so don't click if you think you won't care for it, but this is my favourite of the transcripts: the way it opens out into such reckless existential wretchedness, almost by accident, is wonderfully, exactly, expensively sublime. They would have shrunk from the coarseness of the language, certainly, but Edward Lear, say, or Nikolai Gogol, would both have recognized the movements of these conversations, and especially the atrocious complicity of banal language in the unspeakable awfulness of everything to do with living when compared with the equal and opposite awfulness of everything to do with being dead. This dialogue is worthy of comparison with both those writers, and with Pinter, and to some extent with Beckett: which for improvised material arising out of the mutual antipathy of two drunk and seedy and perpetually disappointed light entertainers is really saying something.

12 for 'drummers' read '
Oh, God, I'm tired. Why does this always take three times as long as I think it will? Look, just, right, OK, if you're bored, you might have fun playing Likebetter. You keep choosing which photo you prefer out of an unrelated pair, and some spooky algorithm makes deductions about you based on your preferences. It may freak you out a bit -- it did me -- or equally it might not work so well for you and you'll think I'm a sucker. Also, this too, when it works, is freaky. (It got 'Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah' right first time, but rather splendidly identified 'There Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens' as 'God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen'.) But turn on your pop-up blocker and set Spyware Doctor to stun.

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