Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Some Public Service Announcements

I keep forgetting to mention this anywhere: Zoe Barry is an acquaintance and former mixed-netball teammate of mine (true fact) who is also a wildly talented musician. She's worked with Rawcus and also does her own thing too. Here is one of those things:

"You're an inspiration Jeff Buckley!": Words Yelled At Bands - A Project
Zoe is looking for tales of times when you've felt compelled to yell something at a band on stage, or things that have been yelled at you while on stage.

"Apart from the fact I love hearing people talk about music experiences, underlying the concept is my interest in moments where art overtakes and overwhelms the audience, those moments where you experience an "unmotivated upsurge of the world". And the music gig being one of the rare places where people often articulate those moments, impulsively, loudly and in strange utterances."

Given my own obsession with audience behaviours in theatres, I heartily commend this project, which doesn't have a fixed outcome yet as far as I know. If you have a story, email it to wordsyelledatbands@gmail.com

In a weird coincidence, another acquaintance just dropped into my shop and mentioned that she's joined the ensemble of Rawcus. How strange.

IN OTHER NON-NEWS: I've been going through the hundreds of bookmarks on my computer and have only just realised that some of them completely baffle me. Why have I bookmarked this poor quality version of a song I don't know by a band I've never really paid attention to?

WHAT'S WITH THE CURSE OF THE LOVE SWEATER? There's a superstition among knitters, apparently, that making someone a sweater will lead to them breaking up with you shortly thereafter. I like that this wikipedia entry actually goes into the possible mechanics of these situations, rather than dissing them as fantasy. In fact, the proposed explanations make a bit of sense.

A WHILE AGO I found myself up at 5am researching Baba Yaga for no reason at all except that I couldn't sleep and was thinking "Baba Yaga, what was with her?" I came upon the art of Ivan Bilibin and I love love love it.

Bilibin was a vastly important illustrator who also worked as a stage designer, including with the Ballet Russes. I wonder if the Australian Ballet research project into the BR has anything on him.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN CATS AND/OR THEATRE then you will find this piece very enjoyable. It details the history of theatre cats - in Britain, at least, there was a time when no self-respecting playhouse would be without a moggie prowling the wings and occasionally wandering onto the stage.

IF YOU DO NOT LIKE BOOKS then you will find this piece equally enjoyable. You'll probably find it enjoyable if you do, too. Books can be put to other uses besides reading.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Today we hand over the reins of Ant Fact Monday to someone who doesn't necessarily want them. Dom Romeo coincidentally posted his own ant-related material today and there's enough in there to keep you hungry ant fanciers sated. (I know Dom and I don't think he'd mind the link). Off you go then.

While you're away I'll ponder his suggestion that "ants must be the animals least conducive to comedy." Possibly true, that.

But I have some work to do.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

One Brain

A few months back I was thinking about posting something on Famous Bald Artistic Geniuses until I realised it was a boring topic and in fact I was boring myself just thinking about it. Today I was sent something that reminded me of one of the people who would have made that ill-fated list had I ever bothered to cobble it together (I think I got as far as Steven Berkoff then went to make some toast).

I've long thought Brian Eno is a bit of a genius, but reading this thing I was set me straight. Not that he hasn't produced some amazing art, but he calls for a rethinking of the term 'genius' and it's replacement with the notion of 'scenius':

"Scenius stands for the intelligence and the intuition of a whole cultural scene. It is the communal form of the concept of the genius."

When he was programming the Luminous Festival in Sydney recently (which I had mixed thoughts about - a bit unadventurous, but then I didn't actually go...), he elaborated the concept a bit further. You can read a snippet here that sums things up nicely. "Let’s forget the idea of 'genius' for a little while," he says, "... let’s think about the whole ecology of ideas that give rise to good new thoughts and good new work."

Anyway, I got to this by reading a great post at The Technium, which I'd never heard of and which features some really provocative ideas. In fact, I got caught up reading a lot more of the site than I'd intended to. It's definitely worth visiting though - for instance, in discussing 'scenius' The Technium actually lists the specific conditions in which such creative cultures can arise, and notes that they can't be deliberately manufactured as such. This is worth pursuing, since of course the general scenius concept isn't really new, and anyone who knows anything about art history will know that the Great Man theory of history only came about relatively recently.

Go Eno.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Space Whales

Some forms of animal anthropomorphism make a bit of associative sense - owls wear glasses, roosters are vain, turtles are patient. Frogs playing banjos, as we have discussed, are harder to work out.

But I was just thinking about whales and realised there's an inexplicable subgenre of bad art involving whales in space. It goes along with the banjo-playing frog in terms of weirdness. Perhaps I will start a regular Marine or Amphibian Tropes That Confuse Me series. Probably not.

Whales Pictures, Images and Photos

I guess Space Whales can be explained according to the law of cool, as this site suggests. Space is cool, whales are cool, Space Whales are exponentially more cool than either. It's the same logic behind dinosaurs with lasers or robots who breakdance.

That's all. Back to work.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


It takes a lot to rouse me from my sedentary lifestyle, which is largely spent pottering around the rooftop conservatory tending to my elusive black orchids; strumming my banjo absent-mindedly in the once-grand ballroom long overtaken by moths and regret; or browsing the library filled entirely with novels about crime-solving cats.

But it seems that down in the streets there’s some kind of enormous love-fest going on with MIAF as the object of adoration. Yesterday I pointed out what I saw as a shortcoming in the 2009 program, but it so far seems to be the sole voice of dissent, excepting a few comments over at Theatre Notes. I’m certain this will change in the next few days but I may as well continue riffing in the same vein, if only to offer some kind of contrast.

My first criticism was the lack of cultural diversity in this year’s program. Here are another two issues I have, and they’re at the core of incoming director Brett Sheehy’s stated vision for the fest:

Sheehy’s twinned goals are to showcase *every* art form, and to make the festival as exclusive as possible – that is, to ensure that events at MIAF won’t be repeated in Sydney or Brisbane or Adelaide or wherever. I’ll get back to that second point, but firstly…

If the 2009 program isn’t very regionally diverse, it’s not too artistically broad either. It’s silly to promise “every” art form in the festival, since you’re never going to get stand-up comedy or musical theatre or other commercially successful but low-brow forms. But I wouldn’t have minded a bit of circus (beyond Strange Fruit’s opening thing) and I can’t see any puppetry in the program.

Theatrically, funding two MTC shows isn’t casting your net very far, either. I know one’s a Lally Katz piece and no disrespect to her – she’s a friend of mine – but wouldn’t the MTC have put this show (and the Bovell one) on anyway? Is that where MIAF should be throwing its dollars?

Anyway, I take bigger exception to Sheehy’s idea of exclusivity. He had to collaborate with other states in order to get the London Philharmonic out, but he otherwise wants it to be as Melbourne-only as he can. I just love it when that happens – when all of the amazing international bands playing the Big Day Out are barred from doing sideshows, or when artists play in Sydney only and I can’t get there because I don’t have the time or money to take a few days off and fly interstate. It makes me feel valued.

What benefit does Sheehy’s exclusivity offer? For anyone besides MIAF’s coffers, low-cost airlines and Melbourne tourism industry, that is? Does restricting access help artists or audiences in any way at all? I suppose it makes you feel special to have caught something that others will miss out on, the way I feel special whenever I have something someone else doesn’t (money, food, shelter). It’s a worry when art is deliberately restricted for no other reason than to increase its cultural capital – and that’s exactly what’s at stake here. This is culture as commodity.

I’m not disputing the worth of the programmed works: but you know what? I’d like it if people in Adelaide get to see Sasha Waltz or Hofesh Schechter or whatever. That’d be good. Maybe they’d be enriched by it and we would meet up sometime and be able to share the experience.

And maybe if MIAF was more about collaboration rather than competition, the program would be even better – different states could join forces in order to help get those big names out here. At the opening of Balletlab’s Miracle last night (INCREDIBLE GO SEE IT NOW), Australian Ballet boss David McAllister announced a new development between the AB and Balletlab. Balletlab’s Phillip Adams explicitly stated that without this kind of collaboration, he couldn’t do what he does. And what he does is, I think, create the most important and exciting dance in the country.

Australia’s artistic community is founded on collaboration and cross-pollination, mentoring, workshops, development, discussion, accessibility, exchange.

To my knowledge, Mr Sheehy barely even allows interviews.

I scratch my noggin.

If it's all white with you, it's all white with MIAF

So this year’s Melbourne International Arts Fest program has been launched, and if it’s aaaaaaall white!

Seriously, what the fest? 2009’s program is almost entirely sourced from Anglo Europe, North America and Australia.

The only exceptions I can find are Festival regulars The Black Arm Band (now with Added Jimmy Barnes!); a Japanese multimedia artist collaborating on the three poetry nights at the Planetarium; a Brazilian art movement retrospective; an art installation from six African-born artists; and some music acts aimed at the young folk in the Becks Bar “Rumpus Room”.

This in a festival with hundreds of performances, exhibitions and events over 17 days.

Theatre: Australia, Belgium, Belgium, England/Germany, Ireland, Australia, Australia.
Dance: Australia/Iceland, Germany, Belgium, Israel/England
Opera: Germany
Film: US, UK (there’s a doco on an ex-Iraqi heavy metal band)
Visual Art: France, Australia/South Africa, Australia, UK, France, UK/USA, US, Australia, UK, Australia, Australia, Australia, Australia, ad nauseum.

Why are non-whiteys pretty much confined to the music section? And apart from the Black Arm Band, they’re all in the Rumpus Room (which sounds just like the MIFF club, and is in the same location, but has an infantilising name). The serious music - there's a heckuva lotta classical - is all Bach and the MSO and some American organist guy whose repertoire will include a piece from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

I scratch my noggin, I really do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Goodness me - I was always a bit suspicious of the high-falutin' claims that Michael Jackson was a one-of-a-kind pioneer whose contributions to dance bore the stamp of unique genius. This clip (via Monkeys for Helping) only adds to these doubts. Michael Jackson certainly didn't invent the moonwalk. It's rad:

How did MJ keep his balance? That I can tell you in one word!

Monday, July 13, 2009


This is intruiging but sad. It took me a while to work out what was going on but the eventual reveal turned a kind of beautiful thing into a minor horror. Can atrocities be ant-sized? Does catastrophe escalate through magnitude, or can a small, tiny, 100% replaceable thing's destruction still mean something? You know what they say about how killing a man makes you a murderer but killing a million makes you a conqueror. Or perhaps a scientist.

I am proud that I managed to embed a video from a website entirely in Polish, however.

The next ANT FACT MONDAY will be more upbeat, I promise. Perhaps it will focus on the Yellow Crazy Ant. Do the words "multi-queened super-colony" set your heart a-skipping? If so, remain tuned.

Speaking of which, I still can't believe there are people out there who don't use RSS feeds (such as bloglines.com) which make reading things like this easier. I don't like the idea of people bothering to come here and being disappointed by the lack of ant fact updates. Get a bloglines thing happening and your time on the internet will be so much less wasteful and pointless. Which will still make it fairly wasteful and pointless, but hey, talk to the hand because I just drew an ear on my hand and want to know if I am secretly magically powered.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Good, clean, clear tones

A while ago I saw the excellent filmic adaptation of J. M. Coetzee's Disgrace, and one scene in particular held me. The protagonist, David, is trying to write an opera about Lord Byron, and is sitting in the ugly, grey-walled courtyard of a pet shelter. The little homeless dog who has adopted him is sitting nearby, watching. The disgraced David is plucking at a banjo, composing, thinking. Some kids stick their faces over the wall and laugh. They might be laughing at him, or with him, or there might be something else going on.

I left the cinema and bought the book. It's a great book.

The banjo scene is different in the novel.

"Seated at his own desk looking out over an overgrown garden, he marvels at what the little banjo is teaching him... It is not the erotic that is calling to him after all, nor the elegaic, but the comic. He is in the opera neither as Teresa nor as Byron nor even as some blending of the two: he is held in the music itself, in the flat, tinny slap of the banjo strings, the voice that strains to soar away from the ludicrous instrument but is continually reined back in, like a fish on a line.

So this is art, he thinks, and this is how it does its work! How fascinating!"

In a letter to the Editor of "The Cadenza" magazine in August, 1901, some guy called Vess L. Ossman wrote:

"The banjo will live and become more popular every year, even if the whole world takes to golf and other games. Banjo music is to the ear what the sun breaking through the clouds on a dark day is to the eye; and to my mind there is nothing to replace the good, clean, clear tones of the banjo. This in defense of the banjo from one who loves the instrument".

I love the banjo too, now.

BUT: why the association of banjos and frogs? I've never thought about that. It predates Kermit by more than a century, at least. And I know there's a kind of frog known as the banjo frog (because of the banjo-like sound of its croak) but it seems to be native to Australia.

Perhaps I'll never know.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

I cannot look away

Thanks, threethousand, for utterly ruining my life by introducing me to the website of Arthur Kade who, in the entertainment biz, is perhaps "the definition of a new age, a new era for this industry". I know he is this thing because he tells us so.


He also mangles English like nobody's business:

"One of the things that I have always been at anything that I have put my mind to is the best."

That is an incredible sentence, you have to admit.

But what makes Kade so fascinating is his ego, which is so big that it probably has many smaller, satellite egos in orbit around it.

"Today, Arthur Kade took another amazing step towards the end goal of becoming one of the most famous, recognizable and well known actors in the world."

"I understand the mind of the girl better than any man, because I have dated the best of the best, and know when a girl wants me."

"When I got there I was greeted by Jessica Yost (Color Stylist, who I think almost fell over when she saw what I looked like), and she walked me to the studio where my fans awaited."

"I had a tank top on, so you could see the size of my shoulders and arms, and one of the female voice over actresses actually stopped while walking out of the studio, and talked about how great my body was, and I joked to her “It’s Adonis Like, isn’t it?”."

Kade has "travelled the world, played college basketball, modeled for major agencies in New York, and been with some of the most beautiful women in the world". He recently sold his financial planning practice to pursue his dream of becoming a world-famous actor. He moved to Los Angeles, which he has humbly renamed Kade Angeles. And everybody in Kade Angeles, it turns out, knows and admires and understandably wants to have a piece of the Kade. Unfortunately, there's only so much Kade to go around.


Some have surmised that Kade's Zoolanderesque hyper-self-absorption can only be a clever satire, especially because he allows the hundreds of hateful comments that appear after each post. But if that's so I'd prefer to be ignorant and just bask in the godlike radiance of this unique being.