Sunday, January 31, 2010


Hey! Have you seen these incredibly cool "MonkeyLectric" bike lights?

It's a VERY clever system of digitally controlled LED's that make wicked patterns in the air as your wheels spin round. Designed by electrical engineer Dan Goldwater, the founder of tech development firm Squid Labs and Do-It-Yourself community site, as well as the DIY columnist for Momentum bike culture magazine out of Vancouver. Check it out:

As far as I know, the ONLY place you can buy them in Seattle is at Bike So Good down in Georgetown. What are you waiting for? Get some!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Honkfest Fundraiser

Honkfest West, the annual convergence of dozens of brass bands from around the world, hits the streets of Seattle in mid April. This weekend, the festival's local organizers are throwing a benefit party to raise funds for the necessary permits, venue rentals and hefty travel expenses. Even on a small scale Honkfest boasts an impressive line-up of musicians, with scheduled appearances from Orkestar Zirkonium, Titanium Sporkestra, Tubaluba and the Yellow Hat Band.

Admission is pay-what-you can, with a suggested donation of $10-20. Show runs from 8 p.m. until 2 a.m. on Saturday Jan. 30 at the Underground Events Center. More info here.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Oberta Otra Vez

I took a moment to check back with the Galeria Oberta, the ever-changing open air gallery alongside the Parc de les Aigües in Barcelona. I'm glad I did - some astonishing work has recently gone into the galeria's series of 34 street-level spaces. A few samples here, but take a moment to check the beautifully maintained website.

Incidentally, the image above is by Limow, a Barcelona-based street artist who is starting to make an international splash with his gorgeous images and precise line. Check out his blog here.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Frederick Douglass on Haiti

From Frederick Douglass' Lecture on Haiti, delivered in Chicago at the Dedication Ceremonies for the World's Fair, January 2, 1893:

"My subject is Haiti, the Black Republic; the only self-made Black Republic in the world. I am to speak to you of her character, her history, her importance and her struggle from slavery to freedom and to statehood. I am to speak to you of her progress in the line of civilization; of her relation with the United States; of her past and present; of her probable destiny; and of the bearing of her example as a free and independent Republic, upon what may be the destiny of the African race in our own country and elsewhere...

Haiti is a rich country. She has many things which we need and we have many things which she needs. Intercourse between us is easy. Measuring distance by time and improved steam navigation, Haiti will one day be only three days from New York and thirty-six hours from Florida; in fact our next door neighbor. On this account, as well as others equally important, friendly and helpful relations should subsist between the two countries. Though we have a thousand years of civilization behind us, and Haiti only a century behind her; though we are large and Haiti is small; though we are strong and Haiti is weak; though we are a continent and Haiti is bounded on all sides by the sea, there may come a time when even in the weakness of Haiti there may be strength to the United States."

Fascinating. Much more here.

Image from the New York Public Library Digital Gallery. "One of the main streets of Port-au-Prince, 1921."

Monday, January 25, 2010

Grupo de Rua

Bruno Beltrão's dance company Grupo de Rua comes straight from the streets of Brazil with a uniquely high-energy blend of hip hop, capoeira and lyrical movement. The company is well known for pushing dancers to a point at which their bodies and their movements become unsettling. Dancers bend backwards, crane their necks, twitch hyperactively and slam their bodies to the floor and into each other. Hip hop dance moves, already explosive, verge on the downright violent.

Likewise, Beltrão pushes hard against conventional dance and music structures. Dancers pile on top of each other or run backwards in circles at extreme speeds. His extraordinarily acrobatic approach to B-boying is mind-boggling. The hour-long dance "H3," currently touring the U.S., dispenses with music altogether, the choreography performed to city sounds, electronic noises, sampled squeaking of the dancers' shoes and the sounds of a prepared piano. This is no ordinary street dance, this is raw and daring 21st-century expression.

Bruno Beltrão’s Grupo de Rua performs "H3" at On the Boards Jan. 28-31.

Friday, January 22, 2010

August Strindberg

Today is the birthday of August Strindberg, born January 22, 1849. Strindberg is best known as one of the greatest and most influential Swedish authors. His work was pivotal in the development of modern theatre, and he is regarded as a pioneer of at least two major literary styles, Naturalism and Expressionism. Throughout his life Strindberg held fierce political opinions, his politics changing considerably as he aged. He varied from socialism to anarchy to a radical Christianity, but he was never an ideological writer. Rather, his work savages a long list of enemies - the military, the church, the monarchy, politicians in generals, and bureaucrats. For the most part, Strindberg wrote in order to point a finger at the myriad unjust systems that did harm to ordinary people. He wrote more than 30 plays, 5 novels, and dozens of short stories. His best known work includes the early novel The Red Room, the wonderful novel Natives of Hemsö and the plays Miss Julie, The Dance of Death and The Dream Play, all of which are available in English translations.

Strindberg's creativity was not limited to writing. He was also a fascinating painter and photographer. Strindberg's expressionistic paintings were unique for their time, and are now seen by some as among the most original works of nineteenth century art. He was fascinated by photography, and was taken with the idea of photographing the human soul, writing at length of "psychological portraits" to be taken with a lens-less camera.

During Christmas 1911, Strindberg became sick with pneumonia, and he never recovered. He died in May 1912 at the age of 63.

"I have no wish at all to be a 'great' writer, let alone a 'great' man. It would just embarrass me and betray a false position. I want to go in nightgown and underwear and be known as a scandal-writer, that wouldn't embarrass me."

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Residents Hit the Road, Jack

For my 2 dollars, The Residents are the most important and interesting American band still alive since the great Rock and Roll explosion of the 1960's.

The band - whose members remain completely anonymous - have been making music since at least 1969. Despite having a back catalog nearly as old as the Rolling Stones, the Residents have never mounted a "greatest hits" tour. Rather, they seem to come out of hiding only when they have had ample time to develop a brand new show around some novel and provocative theme.

That moment is upon us, as the band are about to begin their first extended tour since 2002. As described on their website, the "Talking Lights" performance asks "What are ghosts? Spirits of those no longer inhabiting the flesh, but unable to leave their lives behind? Or could ghosts be a manifestation of something even less tangible, like loneliness, unfulfilled desire or isolation? In a world where nearly everything has become defined and categorized, how do we fill our obvious, purely human need for the fuzzy, vague and supernatural - with TV commercials?"

The show begins this Saturday in Santa Cruz and concludes its American leg in Milwaukee on February 16. Though details are hard to come by, the show will doubtless be unsettling, obsessive and completely unique. By all means, schedule a road trip if The Residents come anywhere remotely near your home. See here for the full tour schedule.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Death Metal Rooster

Haven't posted any chickens here in a while. Now wake the hell up!

Monday, January 18, 2010

A Dream

A poem for today from Sean Hill.

The State House Aflame 1833

Fire can burn brands
on a slave's skin
as he changes hands
like cattle. And chattel slavery
in a capital city
is as old as fire and man.
Milledgeville's no different.
It's twelve noon,
and the assembly's just adjourned;
the State House is aflame,
and water won't reach the heights
a slave can. Sam's a bondsman.

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire…

Without a word from his master, Sam fights the flames.
The townsfolk fearing Sam might slip and fall
from that tremendous height
look on with agonizing solicitude.

As he tears flaming shingles from the steep pitch
white folks move official records, furniture, and money
from under that roof
to a safer place, safer than any
Sam and his issue yet know.

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
We don't need no water…

We cannot pass in silence
over the exemplary conduct
of a negro man named Sam,
the slave
of Mr. Marlow, of this place.

And the legislature
will reward Sam's fast action,
heedless of his own safety, by appropriating
$1,600 for the purchase
of his freedom
from John Marlow.

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire,
We don't need no water, let the motherfucker burn

From the book Blood Ties and Brown Liquor. Happy Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Superheroes! Now on Sale!

January is rolling along, and it's the perfect moment to pick up a bargain calendar. For example, the non-profit org New Immigrant Community Empowerment (NICE) out of New York is now selling off their stock of Dulce Pinzon’s 18-month “Superheroes” Calendar. Pinzon's Superheroes series features color photographs of Latino immigrant workers dressed as Mexican and American superheroes in their work environments. According to Pinzon, his work means to raise questions regarding our definition of heroism and bring attention to widespread ignorance and indifference to the workforce that fuels our economy. The calendar is now just 12 bucks and all proceeds go to benefit NICE. Buy it right here. More of Dulce Pinzon's work can be found here.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Let it Ride

4Culture - the public arts arm of King County - has posed an interesting challenge. A brand new program called "Arts aLIVe" (a Low Impact Vehicle exploration) asks how the arts and creative use of resources can enhance and inspire urban infrastructure. Recognizing that nearly every aspect of city design is designed around multi-ton motor vehicles, they wonder "what if a city was designed around a bicycle? Or something even smaller?"

4Culture has made $50,000 available for new ideas that envision a shift from dependence on material resources to an awareness of Low Impact Vehicles. All manner of ideas will be taken seriously, and thinkers are encouraged to submit everything from prototypes to poetry. Project ideas in any media will be accepted, and according to the 4Culture website "metaphoric ideas are also encouraged. " Selected project ideas will be funded and exhibited in a variety of ways, depending upon medium and context.

This project is being produced in collaboration with artist Cheryl dos Remédios and the Seattle non-profit Great City. Applications are due Monday, January 25, 2010 by 5:00pm. See here for more info.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hell's Bellows

Seattle quartet Hell's Bellows are the local answer to the Accordion Tribe. The 4 excellent musicians - Amy Denio, Marchette DuBois, Eli Kaufman and Scott Adams - are all well known and well regarded music makers, music teachers, instrument builders and multi-instrumentalists. A few times a year, when they all find themselves in the same city, they come together and make strange and beautiful sounds as an accordion quartet. The music they play can range from original suites to wild covers of popular songs, always weirdly inventive and wildly entertaining.

We have two chances to see Hell's Bellows this week before they once again dissolve into the ether. On Thursday, January 14, Hell's Bellows will play a 30 minute set at the Northwest Accordion Society Social. At Trinity Lutheran Church, 12115 Park Avenue South in Tacoma. Tickets are $5 at the door.

On Friday, January 15, they play a full length show at Cafe Racer, 5828 Roosevelt Way Northeast. All ages and no cover charge!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dr. Gabor Maté

Since the late 1970's Dr. Gabor Maté has worked a staff physician at a clinic in Vancouver British Columbia's Eastside, treating the chemically addicted residents of one of Canada’s poorest urban areas. Maté's detox program Insite was designed to be accessible to injection drug users who are not well connected to health care services – people with mental illness; people with a history of trauma; people who are homeless, live in shelters or live in substandard housing; men and women of Aboriginal descent and people who have tried unsuccessfully in the past to beat their drug addiction. Insite is widely known as a safe place where people can go to inject drugs and connect to health care services.

For years, Maté has loudly and publicly called for a new drug policy paradigm that is grounded in both science and compassion. His stance has gained him a fair number of enemies in Canadian politics, but his program has been unarguably successful, leading to the creation of similar programs in other Canadian cities.

Dr. Maté recently published In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, a memoir of his experiences working with addicts. The book is a Canadian bestseller, earning him an invitation to speak to the Canadian Senate, and the undying enmity of the current conservative government in Canada who have launched a legal battle to close the center.

The current issue of Real Change News features an interview with Maté. On Thursday Jan. 14, Dr. Maté will speak at Seattle’s Town Hall. The talk begins at 7:30pm Tickets are just $5 and will be available at the door.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco occupies a unique niche in the world of books, being both an extraordinary cartoonist and an award winning journalist. Sacco, who hails from Malta and lives in Portland, OR, made his name in the mid 90's with his epic comic Series Palestine, which combined closely observed reportage in and around Israel with comic storytelling. The book won many well-deserved accolades, including the American Book Award in 1996. His second major work, Safe Area Gorazde, was based on his travels in Bosnia, and covers both his observations and a history of the war in that region. Sacco received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2001, followed Safe Area Gorazde with The Fixer in 2003, and recently published Footnotes in Gaza, the story of a 1956 massacre in Palestine. The book, published at the end of 2009, has already received charged and glowing reviews

Sacco will be at Town Hall Seattle on Wednesday, January 13. Advance tickets are just $5 and available here.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shabazz Palaces

Anyone paying attention to Seattle hiphop in 2009 was intrigued by Shabazz Palaces, a local duo who came out of nowhere and rapidly released two strange and brilliant EP's: "Shabazz Palaces" and "Of Light." The band's identities were kept private, but it was clear from the first listen that the voice and mind behind the mic was Ishmael Butler, aka. Butterfly, the Grammy-winning MC and producer behind Digable Planets' two classic late 1980's albums Reachin' and Blowout Comb. The two new recordings - which play like 2 sides of the same album - are rich and hypnotic. Live keyboards and spare jazz beats conjure a smoky landscape, full of darkness and paranoia. Surprising African rythms and softly sampled horns appear like voices of wisdom; and every so often a sparkly chorus introduces a note of genuine optimism. Like the best recordings of Butler's catalog, this is music that demands repeat listening.

The video above, shot in Los Angeles by Kahlil Joseph, gives a sample of the project's flavor. You can hear a hot live recording on KEXP's site, and local hiphop journalist Larry Mizell Jr. just posted a terrific article about the band in The Stranger. Shabazz Palaces' first-ever public concert is this Friday, Jan. 8 at Neumos and it will doubtless be a major event. Tickets, which are going fast, are still available here.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Animated Art

For one night only, the Northwest Film Forum presents a program of short films by local artists, designers and animators. It's a rare opportunity to see a wide range of Seattle talent, with dozens of different perspectives, presented together on a big screen.

The very impressive list of artists and animators - every one of whom has a Seattle connection - includes Jon Behrens, Cathy McClure, Martha Colburn, Webster Crowell, Stefan Gruber, Salise Hughes, Britta Johnson, Sarah Jane Lapp, Tess Martin, Jeffry Mitchell, Amanda Moore, Clyde Peterson, Friese Undine (shown here), Drew Christie and Brent Watanabe.

This Thursday, Jan 7, at 7 PM. Get tickets here.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I've long been a fan of Chris Knox, the Renaissance musician, cartoonist, and music journalist out of New Zealand. Knox burst out of the late 70's Auckland punk scene with legendary band Toy Love, and later formed the prototypical lo-fi high-energy group Tall Dwarfs with guitarist Alec Bathgate. Knox was one of the driving forces behind the breakthrough New Zealand record label Flying Nun.

On June 11, 2009, Knox suffered a powerful stroke at his home in Grey Lynn, New Zealand. In response, bandmate Bathgate assembled musicians from around the world to compile the benefit album Stroke:Songs for Chris Knox. Contributors include self-proclaimed Knox Fans Yo La Tengo, The Mountain Goats, Will Oldham, The Bats, The Verlaines, The Chills and many more. All proceeds worldwide go toward assisting Chris with his recovery.

Stroke: Songs for Chris Knox is available for download right now from the Merge record label website, and the 2-CD limited-edition release will be available in U.S. stores on February 23. Keep up with Knox's recovery on the Stroke website, right here.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

St. Augustine School Chicken Project

I'm DETERMINED to start this year on an optimistic note.

St. Augustine Elementary School in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, NYC, has started their own chicken coop behind the four-story brick school building. 15 hens lay large brown eggs across the street from the community garden where students grow beets, cucumbers, tomatoes and broccoli. It’s all part of a new sustainability program created by the faculty at St. Augustine. What makes St. Augustine’s experiment in urban agriculture stand out is that it’s taking place in an impoverished, highly urban area. The South Bronx, of course, was the poster child of urban blight in the late 20th century. Even today Morrisania, which is in the southwest part of the Bronx, lies in the poorest congressional district in the United States. The population is largely black and Hispanic. All of the school’s students receive free federal lunch; 87 percent live at or below the poverty level.

The chicken project was sponsored by Heifer International, which funds agricultural ventures in poor areas around the world, and Just Food, a New York City nonprofit whose City Farms program works with community gardeners to increase food grown in NYC, particularly in low-income areas where healthy food is scarce. Owen Taylor, the City Farms Training and Livestock Coordinator, came to the school and helped current and former students, staff and community members build a coop and pen out of timber and chicken wire in the Peace Garden behind the school.

“If we can do it,” says Michael Brady, the school’s director of development, referring to St. Augustine’s sustainability efforts, “anyone can.”

More about this story here.