From the archives: June 2008

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International Not-Jazz Festivals

Monday, 30 June 2008 — 4:19pm | Jazz, Music

I make it well known that unlike most of my compatriots, I read Paul Wells more for the jazz criticism than the political insight; he has a keen ear for the form and a literacy in its recent developments far vaster than my own.

Wells makes some grudging remarks on the Montreal International Jazz Festival’s lineup which, as I see it, strike out at the genre’s great existential paradox:

But it took me a while to figure out what’s so utterly deflating about this year’s schedule, and it’s this: there is very close to no space for the possibility that jazz, real jazz, might be an object of curiosity and a source of surprise. Dave Brubeck? Really? Golly, do you suppose he might play Take Five? As for the series of concerts devoted to the 90-year-old Hank Jones, is it churlish to react by wishing he had been invited to host a series of concerts when he was 75? Or that some 50-year-old pianist at the height of his powers might be able to regard the Montreal festival as a prospect sometime before 2048?

This is something I think about a great deal. I’d like to think that I have an omnivorous appetite for improvised music at its most pretentious and experimental, but in practise, when it comes to assigning a finite number of ticket purchases to a conflict-ridden concert schedule, I am often guilty of gravitating towards the established international acts over the rewarding risks of sampling lesser-known talents. I am naturally inclined to comment.

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Wednesday Book Club: Plowing the Dark

Wednesday, 25 June 2008 — 6:03am | Book Club, Literature

This week’s selection: Plowing the Dark (2000) by Richard Powers.

In brief: Like a mural of epic ambition, the breadth of the novel’s ingenuity only reveals itself once appreciated in its entirety. The journey, which connects virtual reality research to the global social upheaval of the late 1980s, is a tandem of madness and reward. As a commentary on representational art and how it may shape reality, there is little that can equal the richness of Powers’ composition—but the sensory definition of the prose is so overwhelming, it is easy to drown before ever reaching the conclusion.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on Plowing the Dark, keep reading below.)

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The Great Service Announcement of 2008

Monday, 23 June 2008 — 12:57pm

Glancing over the WordPress management panel, I see that I have no less than ten (ten!) half-finished posts that I never saw to completion. This is my usual excuse for neglecting to populate this space with my commentary, but it’s high time to admit that the direction this site was taking—as a whenever-I-feel-like-it dumping ground for tangled thoughts that spiralled into pools of greater complexity and extravagance—was becoming, shall we say, a bit on the unsustainable side.

To the end of resuscitating this website, which has, to be frank, fallen from the little glory it once had when I tended, watered, nurtured it like a garden of knowledge and meditation, I’m going to be making a few changes. While I’ve been preoccupied with a few unannounced “projects” that are consuming most of my time, the current plan is to introduce some regular features of a more manageable, bite-sized scope (by my standards, anyway; “bite-sized” can be a lot when you have a big mouth).

It’s also safe to say that I will occasionally let some analyses spin out of control, as I honestly can’t help it, but I intend to break most of the longer essays into segments, so they at least have a chance to see the light of publication in part, if not in full. I’m also doing this because readability is, admittedly, becoming an issue. Maybe I’ll even insert a few pictures.

The first regular feature that I plan to introduce is a book-of-the-week series, inspired by the 52 Books in 52 Weeks series at A Modest Construct. It will commence as soon as I finish the book I am currently reading, though whether or not I’ll carry it through the looming spectre of the National Scrabble Championship remains open to question.

Long ago, I came to the conclusion that being “current” is something that I’ll leave to the rest of the, what do they call it, “blogosphere”? It’s good for the Google hits and incoming links, but not so much for the quality of analysis that I’d like to provide. I don’t mind being late to the silly-hat party if it means I’ll show up with a very silly hat.

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Notes on Obama: a wager

Wednesday, 4 June 2008 — 4:15am

This space is typically free of politics, and it will remain that way. But I’d just like to air a little something about the race for our neighbour’s Presidency: since February, I have been telling people that regardless of whether he wins in November—indeed, regardless of whether or not he won the Democratic nomination, as he did tonight—Barack Obama will be TIME‘s Man of the Year.

The feature has become a bit of a farce over the years, and, like the magazine itself, has little of the glory that it once did when it actually believed in the conviction it promulgated, that history is a procession of Great Newsmakers. But nobody in recent memory has fit their criteria better. 2008 is less than half over, but barring a truly monumental world event (what, I can’t imagine), it isn’t even going to be close.

I’ll put big money on it. I recommend that you take the bet; I need the funding.

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