Friday, April 30, 2010

Jim Woodring

Saturday, May 1 is Free Comic Book Day, an annual effort to attract new readers and loyal patrons into comic shops with a free comic book. This year more than 30 new comics in a variety of genres were created to give away.

Fantagraphics Books’ contribution to Free Comic Book Day is a new comic by tortured genius Jim Woodring. The book excerpts Woodring’s forthcoming full-length Weathercraft graphic novel - his first book length story- a sprawling epic of torture, tyranny, enlightenment and amnesia featuring his depraved character Manhog.

Jim Woodring himself will be at the Fantagraphics Bookstore in Seattle on the 1st from noon to 1:00 PM to pass out complimentary copies. Plenty of other comic books available of course, both free and not-free, and it's also your last chance to see a terrific exhibition of original art by Love and Rockets creator Gilbert Hernandez.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Miroslav Tichý

Czech photographer Miroslav Tichý is currently featured in a retrospective show at the International Center of Photography in New York. Tichý is an absolutely unique figure in modern photography - since the late 1950's he has lived in isolation in Kyjov, Moravia, using his hand-made cameras to take photographs almost exclusively of local women. The cameras are fashioned from cardboard tubing, string, and thread spools.

Tichý develops the photos and mounts them on frames of cardboard and scrap paper, adding finishing touches in pencil. Over more than 50 years he has developed a body of strikingly poetic, dreamlike images of feminine beauty in a small Czech town.

Of the unusual quality of his photography, Tichý says:

Photography is painting with light! The blurs, the spots, those are errors! But the errors are part of it, they give it poetry and turn it into painting. And for that you need as bad a camera as possible! If you want to be famous, you have to do whatever you're doing worse than anyone else in the whole world.

This is the first American museum exhibition devoted to the work of the reclusive and mysterious photographer. The show, which includes a number of Tichý's homemade cameras as well as approximately 100 of his photographs, runs through May 9.

(It's like Déjà vu all over again. This post may remind you of a similar post from a few years back.)

Monday, April 26, 2010

"Whatever people say I am, that's what I'm not."

The writer Alan Sillitoe, who died yesterday, wrote some 53 volumes of work, including novels, poetry and children's fiction. And yet every remembrance of Sillitoe focuses on two of his earliest and greatest works - the short story "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner" and the novel "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning."

Sillitoe was one of the so-called angry young men - coming out of a moment in British history when working class writers were being widely published and read for the first time. He left school at 14 to work at the Raleigh bicycle factory, then joined the Royal Air Force and was sent to Malaya as a radio operator. He contracted tuberculosis, which led to several months convalescing in Spain where he befriended the poet and novelist Robert Graves who encouraged Sillitoe to write about the life he knew in Nottingham. The result was "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning."

The "angry young men" were primarily a non-movement operating under a label imposed for others' convenience - there's not a whole lot in common between Sillitoe and Harold Pinter for example - but there's no denying that the men at the center of "Runner" and "Saturday" are angry and young. The runner expresses himself through physical acts of defiance, the machinist in "Saturday" through verbal ones. The stories have aged far better than most of the like-minded books of the same era, and Sillitoe himself adapted both works for the screen. He was simply a much better writer than those around him, and his tales remain worth reading as art, not just as social documents.

Alan Sillitoe died in London at the age of 82.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Baby Dee

Baby Dee is one of the very best transgendered tall-bike riding, piano-playing classically trained harpists to emerge in decades. The charismatic performer spent ten years as music director and organist for a church in the Bronx before joining the circus as the bilateral hermaphrodite at Coney Island. From there it was an easy jump to become the bandleader for the Bindlestiff Family Circus followed by a stint with the Kamikaze Freak Show in Europe, and her star turn on the streets of New York City riding a high-rise tricycle while playing a concert harp. For all of her unusual talents, it's Baby Dee's singing voice that is most astounding, swinging from an operatic bellow to a witchy cackle to a polished croon to the intimate whispers of a storytelling grandparent, conjuring lightness and hope out of an omnipresent darkness.

Baby Dee currently lives in seclusion, having taken vows as a novitiate of the Little Sisters of Crabby Doom - a Cleveland based order dedicated to the care of smelly old men. She comes out of hiding to play at the Triple Door on April 28. Tickets are just $12 and available here.

Friday, April 23, 2010

World Pinhole Day

This Sunday, April 25 is the 10th annual Worldwide Pinhole Photography Day. Pinhole photography is a venerated low-tech hobby that uses a simple camera with no lens. Instead, the homemade cameras use a very small aperture which projects an image upon film or paper. The imprecise mechanisms can produce beautifully unpredictable images. The pinhole enthusiast Dippold has very clever and concise instructions and a template that you can download to make your own camera out of cardboard. Pinhole camera clubs around the world are sponsoring events all week. The nearest events to Seattle are in Westport and Wenatchee, but you can visit the World Pinhole Photo Day website to find classes and events near you.

Thanks to Cloudy Images for the pinhole portrait of St. Paul's Cathedral!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Jazz Loft Project

In January 1955 the photographer W. Eugene Smith quit his well-paying job at Life Magazine, left his wife and four kids and sunk wholeheartedly into his obsession with the New York jazz scene. He moved into 821 Sixth Avenue, a dilapidated, five-story loft building in the City’s flower district which was a late-night haunt of musicians, including some of the biggest names in jazz— Charles Mingus, Roy Haynes, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Roland Kirk, Alice Coltrane, Don Cherry, Paul Bley and Thelonious Monk among them—and countless fascinating characters. Smith holed up in his apartment and turned his camera to his new surroundings.

Between 1957 and 1965, Smith shot 40,000 photographs at the Sixth Avenue loft, documenting the nocturnal jazz scene as well as life on the streets of the flower district, as seen from his window. He wired the building like a surreptitious recording studio and created 4,000 hours of audiotapes, capturing more than 300 musicians. Also dropping in on the nighttime scene were cultural figures like Norman Mailer, Diane Arbus, Robert Frank, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Salvador Dalí, as well as pimps, prostitutes, drug addicts, thieves, cops, building inspectors and drug dealers.

The jazz scene declined after the mid-60's, and Smith left the building in 1971 to move to Japan and find his way back into commercial photography. After more than 50 years, Smith's photos and recordings are finally being organized into an accessible body of work. The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University in cooperation with the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona has created "The Jazz Loft Project," devoted to preserving and cataloging Smith's photographs and tapes, and obtaining oral history interviews with all surviving loft participants.

The project has an extensive website and blog, and a travelling exhibition of more than 200 prints is currently on display at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center, along with listening stations that give access to remastered selections from Smith’s tapes. All of the photographs featured in the exhibition are included in the new book The Jazz Loft Project. The project is also the subject of a ten-part radio series produced by WNYC, episodes of which can heard here.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Andrew Kim, who was once of Seattle's most ingenious puppeteers, left our shores some time ago to ply his trade (and try his luck) in Northern England. Andrew's been getting steady work since then, and his most recent piece is this very attractive and mobile hippopotamus with a puppet stage inside. The hippo's interior structure is built around a tall bike frame, giving the puppeteer amazing control of the creature as well as a bird's eye view of the landscape. As I said, ingenious. Kim, his hippo, and his theatre troupe "Thingumajig" will be touring the English landscape this summer. The full show schedule is here.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Don't laugh. This could really happen.

A perfect little short film by French animator Patrick Jean. I defy you to keep it to yourself.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

How to Wreck a Nice Beach

The vocoder, invented by Bell Labs in 1928, once guarded phones from codebreakers during World War II. By the time of the Vietnam War, it had been repurposed as a voice-altering tool for musicians and soon became ubiquitous in popular music.

Music journalist Dave Tompkins just published a wondrously weird and readable history of the machine, called "How to Wreck a Nice Beach" which traces the history of electronic voices from Nazi research labs to Stalin’s gulags, from the 1939 World’s Fair to Hiroshima, from artificial larynges to Auto-Tune. The title of the book comes from a mis-hearing of the vocoder-rendered phrase "how to recognize speech." The obsessively detailed chronicle features the vocoder brushing up against historical heavyweights like FDR, JFK, Stevie Wonder, Neil Young, Kraftwerk, the Cylons, Henry Kissinger, Afrika Bambaataa and Winston Churchill. Riveting.

Tompkins will be in Seattle at the Experience Music Project on April 17, as part of the 2010 Pop Conference, in conversation with journalist Oliver Wang. More info on that event here. More about Tompkins' book here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Filmed By Bike

The Eighth Annual Filmed by Bike film festival takes place at Portland's Clinton Street Theater April 16-18. The festival features nothing but short films, eight minutes or less, all of which prominently feature bikes. The films have almost nothing else in common, hailing from all over the world, and ranging from love stories to travelogues to serious documentaries to animated fantasies to music videos. The juried selection of 40 films are compiled into two separate programs which rotate through the weekend.

The festival opens on Friday the 16th with a famously well attended street party sponsored by New Belgium Brewery and featuring bands, sets from DJ Anjali and Incredible Kid and lots and lots of bikers in their Spring finery. Go here for full festival schedule and ticket information.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field

Apropos of nothing, a poem by Richard Hugo.

The Freaks at Spurgin Road Field

The dim boy claps because the others clap.
The polite word, handicapped, is muttered in the stands.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

One whole day I sit, contrite, dirt, L.A.
Union Station, ’46, sweating through last night.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

Score, 5 to 3. Pitcher fading badly in the heat.
Isn’t it wrong to be or not be spastic?
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

I’m laughing at a neighbor girl beaten to scream
by a savage father and I’m ashamed to look.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

The score is always close, the rally always short.
I’ve left more wreckage than a quake.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back.

The afflicted never cheer in unison.
Isn’t it wrong, the way the mind moves back
to stammering pastures where the picnic should have worked.
The dim boy claps because the others clap.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Honk Fest

...And if you don't already have enough to keep you busy this weekend, the third annual Honk Fest West runs from Friday April 9 through Sunday April 11th in venues all across town. More than 20 street bands from across the country are playing on stages in Fremont, the Central District, Georgetown, and West Seattle. The vast majority of the performances are FREE and open to ALL AGES. Lots of high spirits, good humor and great music for dancing - there's a good reason this festival is growing exponentially.

More info including a most impressive band roster is here, and you can see the full performance schedule here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Visual Music

A six day series at the Northwest Film Forum takes a loving look at the long and complex relationship between recorded music and motion pictures. The "Visual Music" series pays special attention to the iconoclastic artists working in film from the 1920's through the 1970's who pioneered concepts, techniques and technologies which have retained a surprising strength to surprise and inspire, and have proven profoundly influential to today's sound-and-image culture. It's a rare opportunity to see restored film prints by genius animators like Oskar Fischinger, Mary Ellen Bute, Jordan Belson and Robert Breer on the big screen.

The series opens this Friday, April 9, and runs through Wednesday the 14th. The full schedule, including extensive information about the films, is available right here.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

And They're Off!

This Friday, April 9, is opening day for the Emerald Downs 2010 live racing season. I had a hell of a year in 2009 - didn't get to the track as often as I would have liked, but every single visit was a winner. I think I've finally got an unbeatable system. Nothing can possibly go wrong! The 75th running of the Longacres Mile is on Sunday August 22, with a slightly scaled-back purse of $250,000, down from last year's record of 300 grand. At the other end of the financial spectrum, pints of beer are only $1.50 every Friday night after July 4th. The season runs until September 26.


by James Galvin

A pinup of Rita Hayworth was taped
To the bomb that fell on Hiroshima.
The Avant-garde makes me weep with boredom.
Horses are wishes, especially dark ones.

That's why twitches and fences.
That's why switches and spurs.
That's why the idiom of betrayal.
They forgive us.

Their windswayed manes and tails,
Their eyes,
Affront the winterscrubbed prairie
With gentleness.

They live in both worlds and forgive us.
I'll give you a hint: the wind in fits and starts.
Like schoolchildren when the teacher walks in,
The aspens jostle for their places

And fall still.
A delirium of ridges breaks in a blue streak:
A confusion of means
Saved from annihilation

By catastrophe.
A horse gallops up to the gate and stops.
The rider dismounts.
Do I know him?

Above is one of many splendid photos of Emerald Downs by Andy Repcik. Thanks!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Star Wars Uncut

I love this idea. A team of 473 movie makers and animators are in the process of recreating the first Star Wars film, 15 seconds at a time. Masterminds Aaron Valdez and Casey Pugh have split the entire movie into 473 equal length clips. Any film maker in the world - professional, amateur or certified lunatic - can claim a scene, film it, and upload it. When every scene has been recreated, the auteurs will stitch them together into a new feature length film - Star Wars Uncut.

At this point, about 80% of the film has been claimed. I watched a handful of scenes - some of which are great, some of which are mediocre, and some of which defy description. I quite like this one from Montreal animator Malcolm Sutherland.

Stay tuned to watch the whole thing!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Music of the Spheres

It's been a busy time. Between one thing and another I've barely had time to catch my breath, much less entertain myself with blog posts. But I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. In the meantime, here's the solar system music box, an elegant little meditation created by Luke Twyman, a musician, songwriter and creative designer based in Margate UK. More of Twyman's work can be found here.