Rob Price
Gutbrain Records
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2010 September 29 • Wednesday

The year isn't over yet but The Bruery's 100% Barrel Aged Coton is likely to be the best packaged beer of 2010.

It comes in a canvas sack with drawstrings and a print of the label. The bottle is sealed with wax.

It tastes as good as it looks.

It has an ABV of 17% but the alcohol flavor is hidden behind strong tastes of vanilla and molasses and other flavors the beer picked up from being aged in wood barrels that once held bourbon. It's not too sweet either.

Bottles of the 100% barrel-aged Coton were available only, I believe, to members of The Bruery's reserve society. The regular Coton is around, though. It's 14.5% ABV and only some portion of it (25%?) was aged in bourbon barrels.

2010 September 27 • Monday

The 132nd Soundtrack of the Week is the prog rock score for a movie called Perché si uccidono, composed and performed by the band Goblin using the name Il Reale Impero Brittanico.

The first track, "Epopea", is classic Goblin, with insane synthesizer sounds supported by solid bass and drums. A guitar solo closes the track. The mood is sunnier than a lot of Goblin's other stuff.

The second track, "Ammoniaca", is a sappy instrumental ballad, a bit like "A Whiter Shade of Pale".

A laid back funk beat on the drums and a cool bass line introduce "Kalu". Percussion, guitar and keyboards gradually add more textures. Sounds like there could be some real flutes and other acoustic instruments on this one.

"Edda" must be Edda dell'Orso, the vocalist perhaps most famous for her work with Ennio Morricone (Once Upon a Time in the West and many others). No doubt that's her singing the soaring wordless vocal line on this lovely tune. It starts pensively before bursting into a rhapsodic declaration of happiness. In other words, it goes from a minor key to a major one.

"Epopea (Reprise)" is a very different arrangement of the first tune, using acoustic piano instead of synthesizer.

"My Damned Shit" starts out sounding really cheesy (much like Bill's "Space Funk" in that episode of Freaks and Geeks) but becomes a kind of cool song with an interesting melody when the male vocalist comes in. He's singing in English with a definite accent, presumably Italian. "And in the sky / I saw a [girl? gull?] / I did no [sic] imagine / That it was an [sic] hurricane".

"Dodici e un Quarto" sounds a bit like a muzak/disco take on "Fools Rush In", which I guess is okay with me. "Block" brings us back to more familiar Goblin territory. The guitar work and the beat would fit right in with something like their soundtrack to Dario Argento's Profondo Rosso.

"R.I.B." is a surprise. It sounds like a cross between Goblin and Pink Floyd's The Wall. It's pretty cool. "Apotheke" has frantically strummed wah-wah guitar and is all build-up. You keep waiting for them to break out in some kind of insane jam and they never do.

The album closes with "Distrazioni", which has the sickest keyboard sounds on the whole record. There's a fleet-fingered electric piano solo and impressive drumming.

2010 September 24 • Friday

How about this marzipan octopus from Villabate Alba?

2010 September 22 • Wednesday

In late 1954, Bruce left Strip City and found work within the San Fernando Valley at a variety of strip clubs. As the master of ceremonies, his job was to introduce the strippers while performing his own ever-evolving material. The clubs of the Valley provided the perfect environment for Bruce to create new routines: according to Bruce's primary biographer, Albert Goldman, it was "precisely at the moment when he sank to the bottom of the barrel and started working the places that were the lowest of the low" that he suddenly broke free of "all the restraints and inhibitions and disabilities that formerly had kept him just mediocre and began to blow with a spontaneous freedom and resourcefulness that resembled the style and inspiration of his new friends and admirers, the jazz musicians of the modernist school."

—Lenny Bruce Wikipedia entry.

But what does it have to do with The Killing, a bank heist movie photographed by Lucien Ballard and directed by Stanley Kubrick, who collaborated with Jim Thompson on the screenplay?

The Killing, released in June of 1956, was shot on location in the Los Angeles area while Lenny Bruce was working strip clubs there. No surprise, then, that this shot of Sterling Hayden getting into a car happens to capture a poster for one of Bruce's engagements, apparently at the Gayety Club.

Kubrick probably wanted the poster in the shot just for sleaze potential, to add to the already sordid atmosphere of the movie.

2010 September 20 • Monday

The 131st Soundtrack of the Week is Patrick Williams's score for Cuba.

The first track, "Cuba", begins with a percussion ensemble getting deep into island rhythms. Ominous tones from strings start to come in and are joined by a heavy pounding beat on a large drum. There's a pause, then everything starts up again, but more insistent. Unison lines for a couple of bass clarinets sound ageeably Herrmannesque.

The next piece, "First Sight", is a dreamy and melancholy piece for nylon-string guitar."Truck Drive/Julio Runs For It" is almost all Cuban percussion, with percussive vocalizing as well.

"Alex Remembers" is a variation of "First Sight" which adds wordless female vocals that suggest what a collaboration between Astrud Gilberto and Angelo Badalamenti might sound like.

"I Don't Want To Leave Cuba" is tense, dramatic underscore. "The Reunion" is another branch of the "First Sight"/"Alex Remembers" family tree, with the same ethereal vocals and nylon-string guitar.

"Ambush" is another tense cue, more driving and action oriented. "The Preparation/No Explanation" continues in this vein but suggests more suspense and peril.

"I Adored It/Beach Talk/I Knew You Would" begins with the familiar wordless vocals and guitar but with more of a bossa nova feel. Then there are lush strings without a strong pulse of any kind. The vocals and guitar return but again without a rhythm section. It's close to something Mancini might have done.

"Skinner's Escape" sounds violent and frantic with various parts of the orchestra stabbing at different times whil surrounded by percussion chaos "I May Kill Him" sounds like a climactic moment with heavy bass statements and overblown flute. Another percussion jam takes over.

"Air Rescue" brings out the brass section, alternating it with marimba and other contrasting timbres. The strings take over at the end with some excitingly fast lines.

"The Parting" brings back the "First Sight" melody, but on flute with vocals, piano and strings making it a tearjerker. The "End Titles" bring back the same rocking percussion ensemble that has performed so well throughout. A bonus track is "Poolside Chat (A Certain Smile)", source music very much in the Mancini vein.

2010 September 17 • Friday

Maurice Jarre's music for Lawrence of Arabia was our 94th Soundtrack of the Week last January. Out now is a superb re-recording that I highly recommend. I even considered making it the Soundtrack of the Week again since this is the first release of the complete score.

There are two discs inside, the first containing Lawrence and the second containing re-recordings of selections from other Jarre scores, such as Solar Crisis, Ryan's Daughter, The Palanquin of Tears, Firefox and several others.

Something else that's neat about it is that the Ondes Martenot used for this recording was the one that belonged to composer Barry Gray!

2010 September 15 • Wednesday

"Great and strange ideas transcending experience often have less effect upon men and women than smaller, more tangible considerations."

—H. G. Wells, The Invisible Man: A Grotesque Romance, 1897

The first page of Chapter Three tells us that the Invisible Man arrived in Iping Village "on the twenty-ninth day of February, at the beginning of the thaw". Placing the arrival of such an unusual person on such an usual day, Leap Year's Day, is a nice touch. The strangeness of the day underscores the strangeness of the visitor.

Unfortunately, the first page of the book tells us that "The stranger came early in February, one wintry day". Which is it? The Leap Year date is supported by a statement in Chapter Four, in which villagers are speculating that the stranger is fleeing a crime he might have committed "dating from the middle or end of February".

And another question: who is telling this story? The really invisible man here is the narrator. It would be easy not to notice, but the story is told in the first person singular. I think the beginning of Chapter Four is when the mysterious narrator first allows us to hear him (or her).

Another thing that might not be immediately apparent is how ordinary the Invisible Man's invisibility is at first. That is, he's invisible in the same way most of us are all the time, by being in a different room or behind a closed door.

At the end of the first chapter the Invisible Man has shut himself into the parlour of the Coach and Horses, and "a curious listener might have heard him at the coals, and for the space of five minutes he was audible pacing the room. He seemed to be talking to himself. Then the armchair creaked as he sat down again".

In this scene and in many others the Invisible Man is heard but not seen, in just the same way everybody is, every day. We can all be invisible to some extent, so why does the Invisible Man become a monster? It seems the problem is not so much that others can't see you but that you can't see yourself. (The main character is Kaoru Abe's Face of Another has a similar problem.)

The tone of the book for the first seven chapters is almost entirely comic. The last line of the seventh chapter, though—"But Jaffers lay quite still, face upward and knees bent"—changes the tone dramatically.

This signals more or less the end of a first act. The second act continues to be amusing but with a definite edge. The third and final act is almost pure horror, with only the occasional wry aside. (The book's progression, from benign to malign, mirrors that of its title character. Horror is also more effective if some humor is or has been present.).

Nabokov admired H. G. Wells and I wonder if Wells's delusional villain inspired some of Nabokov's delusional villains. The Nabokov villain frequently overestimates his own power, and Nabokov will subtly signal the error to the reader with a casual line or phrase here or there.

Wells does the same thing at the end of Chapter Nine, when the Invisible Man conscripts the service of Mr. Marvel (one of many interesting names in this book). "'You have to be my helper. Help me—and I will do great things for you. An invisible man is a man of power.' He stopped for a moment to sneeze violently."

Yes, he's so powerful that he can't even wear clothing, and now he's got a cold!

H. G. Wells wrote a great short story called "The Country of the Blind", in which the only sighted person in a world of blind people finds himself to be not king, but the lowliest, least advantaged citizen of the society.

When the Invisible Man first ventures out onto the streets of London, he also finds himself surprisingly disadvantaged in this "city of the blind". Nobody can see him, so nobody tries to avoid him and he's constantly being jostled and trod upon and even hit by a basket of soda-water syphons. Even walking is difficult for him since he cannot see his feet.

The third act begins with Chapter Seventeen: "Doctor Kemp's Visitor". Kemp looks out the window and gives us what seems to be an interior view of H. G. Wells. "After five minutes, during which his mind had travelled into a remote speculation of social conditions of the future, and lost itself at last over the time dimension, Doctor Kemp roused himself with a sigh, pulled the window down again, and returned to his writing desk."

Later on in the same chapter Kemp encounters the Invisible Man, learns that he is his old schoolmate Griffin, and supposes that Griffin achieves the effect of invisibility by hypnosis, since invisibility is impossible. Of course this is exactly the trick Lamont Cranston, The Shadow, would be using a few decades later.

There are some memorable scenes in a department store, one of my favorite locations. If somebody hasn't yet written a monograph on the department store in Western fiction, maybe I'll do it myself. Subjects could include Thorne Smith's The Night Life of the Gods, John Collier's story "Evening Primrose", the "Death at Bargain Prices" episode of The Avengers and perhaps the apotheosis of the subgenre, James Gould Cozzens's Castaway, which Sam Peckinpah apparently wanted to film but ended up doing Straw Dogs instead.

In movies you can have Mannequin, of course, and the last word on the subject, George Romero's Dawn of the Dead (though shopping malls are not quite department stores).

2010 September 13 • Monday

The 130th Soundtrack of the Week is Yuji Koseki's score for Mothra (1961).

Koseki's name is on the right.

Ark Square has released another brilliant exclusive, once again with beautiful packaging and a nice card.

Those are Emi Ito and Yumi Ito, twin sisters better known as The Peanuts, a singing duo still quite popular in Japan. Godzilla fans know them as the twin princesses of Infant Island with a special connection to Mothra. They sing to summon Mothra and when they're taken away, as they are in Mothra, Mothra comes to get them.

The Ark Square release presents several of the vocal cues in the final film mix and also a vocal-only mix and an instruments-only mix.

You hear the Mothra song a few times on this CD in various arrangements, such as solo keyboard or with the whole orchestra.

The other music is brilliant, a mixture of Les Baxterish exotica, golden age of Hollywood fantasy/adventure scoring and classic Japanese giant monster movie music with eerie organ sounds, determined march music, tribal rhythms and swinging big band.

There's quite a lot of music on these two discs and it compares favorably with the great fantasy scores of Akira Ifukube and Masaru Sato. This is one of the best releases of the year.

2010 September 10 • Friday

2010 September 08 • Wednesday

Twenty years and two weeks have passed since I moved to New York. I was digging around for some relics of that time and found a bunch of ticket stubs.

This is the oldest one.

My friend Nas, who was really into Latin Jazz, took me to that one. Tito Puente came out with his band and yelled, "Is this a concert or is this a DANCE!?" I think there were arguments on both sides.

I went to several other gigs but I didn't start saving the tickets for a while, and even then I don't think I saved all of them. Here's (probably) the next oldest one, from the second time I saw John Zorn's Naked City.

They played at the Marquee in April of 1991 also, which would have been the first time I saw them. I went to both Marquee shows with my brother, who was responsible for getting me into jazz and avantgarde music when we were teenagers.

He drove me from Massachusetts to New York to see Spy vs. Spy (with guest David Sanborn as alto sax #3 and Ted Epstein of Blind Idiot God as one of the drummers) at the Knitting Factory when I was still in high school.

Speaking of the Knitting Factory, this was when it was at its original location on East Houston Street. In 1992 their What Is Jazz? Festival was at Town Hall in the theatre district.

Syd Straw played, I remember, as did Sun Ra. That was the only time I ever saw him. He died not too long after that.

Blind Idiot God, another band my brother got me into, played that night also. They went on last and only played a few songs before they either blew fuses or had the plug pulled on them. They were very, very loud. But great!

Eight or ten or twelve dollars for a show and a free drink thrown in. You could usually stay for the second set for free if you were at the first.

I think this was the first performance of Zorn's "Kristallnacht".

I'm glad I kept this one:

That's Mr. Dorgon's handwriting. He worked the door at the Knitting Factory. My brother and I got to know him a little bit just from standing in line for so many shows. If only Dorgon and I had known what adventures we'd end up having together! We could have had some interesting conversations.

That one is from the first performance, I think, of a band that only played a few gigs. It was called Can't Copy and was Chris Cochrane (guitar), Marc Ribot (guitar), Sebastian Steinberg (electric bass), David Shea (sampler) and Ed Ware (drums). I really liked them.

Chris Cochrane was in No Safety with Zeena Parkins, Ann Rupel, Doug Seidel and Pippin Barnett. I saw them several times. On this occasion they're sharing the bill with Marc Ribot's Jazzbeens, an organ trio. If that band every played more than once, it's news to me.

I remember another obscure Ribot band that might have only played once, called Marc Ribot's Bad Luck. I didn't see that one, though.

This midnight Boredoms show was shortly after the band's excellent performance at The Grand, a club just a block or two away from my apartment on East 13th Street.

My brother and I saw Blind Idiot God at The Grand a few times (including one show where they called themselves Logan and had an inaudible singer), and we caught the Boredoms show also. Painkiller also played on that bill, I think.

The show at the Knitting Factory was really good, too, but I was right up front and getting a bit too moshed, so I ended up getting on to the stage and leaving via the door to the stage, accidentally stepping on Thurston Moore's hand as I passed through. (He was sitting on the floor back stage.)

Here's a special one, maybe from the first time I ever saw this band, soon to become one of my favorites.

I saw them last week and they're still one of my favorites!

2010 September 06 • Monday

It begins with rhythmic handclapping, then a timpani hit with the pedal bending the pitch, then a rocking groove with bass and strings. It's the main title music for our 129th Soundtrack of the Week: Marcello Giombini's score for Return of Sabata.

After that intro, you hear the familiar twang of the spaghetti western electric guitar, and then the lyrics to the Return of Sabata theme.

Bom ba bom ba bom bom bom
Bom ba bom ba bom bom bom
Sabata, Sabata
The fastest gun in the west
I said, the fastest gun in the west
Nine-fingered man
Four-barrelled dillinger
He's the only invincible man in the countryside
Bom ba bom ba bom bom bom
Bom ba bom ba bom bom bom

Then there's a bit I'm not too sure of. Something like "So you got your life, he lets you go go go". But whatever. The best part comes next.

Bom ba bom ba bom bom bom
Bom ba bom ba bom bom bom
If you want to get money
And if you want to get rich
And if you want a good life
You've gotta be a son of a
Bom ba bom ba bom bom bom
Bom ba bom ba bom bom bom

That cracks me up every time!

The music frequently returns to this main theme. You hear it on marimba, harpsichord, flute, electric guitar, whatever.

The electric guitar sound is consistently great, as it was on Giombini's score for Sabata. It has more of a surf feel here.

Of course my old nemesis the saloon piano is here, too, though in a more agreeable ragtime guise.

There's also a really great tense piece with creepy vocalizing, I think it's sequence 4. This, too, eventually gives way to the jaunty theme music.

The other theme that gets a workout first shows up in sequence 5, played on banjo then on fiddle. It's a lilting waltz and probably accompanies a romantic subplot. (I haven't watched the movie yet.) Sequence 7 is a workout for church organ. That organ returns for sequence 8, joined by pounding drums, strings and chorus.

Sequence 9 ambitiously attempts the main theme only on percussion: cymbal, wood block, other hand drums. There's a pervasive timpani roll in the background. Eventually a Wurlitzer organ (or something similar) plays the theme, joined by solo male voice singing the words.

Sequence 10 is starts as slinky jazz before becoming an atmospheric suspense cue. Sequence 12 has sick-sounding fuzz guitar, overblown guitar, chorus, drums and a general Iron Butterfly feel.

Sequence 17 starts out as "classical music" complete with a chorus singing "Hallelujah"—"Hallelujah, Sabata", that is!

I should go watch this movie right now. I have it here and I haven't seen a Lee Van Cleef movie in a few months.

2010 September 03 • Friday

2010 September 01 • Wednesday

Why isn't it Helvetica? Well, the tail on the lower-case a looks a bit shorter. But what I always look for is the lower-case e. The end of the e should come up and be parallel to the center horizontal. This I know from watching the entertaining movie Helvetica.

I look for that lower-case e whenever I'm on the subway here in New York City. Helvetica-spotting is fun.

Actually the e parallels don't look quite right there. But what about this?

As you can see, the bottom end of the e definitely does not create a parallel with the center horizontal line. It doesn't here, either.

Here are two signs from the same station.

So what's going on?

It turns out that while the movie Helvetica gives the impression that Helvetica is the font of the New York City subway, Standard was the font chosen by the design firm Unimark and the New York City Transit Authority.

I think.

You can read a long and interesting essay about it by graphic designer and historian Paul Shaw here at AIGA's site.

He also wrote a book about it, Helvetica and the New York Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story, limited to 500 copies and now sold out.

I'd like to read it. The Type Directors Club gave it a Certificate of Typographic Excellence.