Sunday, August 23, 2015

A Drought-Ending Inundation of Art

This blog has been dormant for so long I don't quite know where to begin in trying to reawaken it. So I'll start with some pieces of art by Frantisek Muzika that I found on Tumblr a while back and was blown away by.

(click to enlarge)

Muzika was a Czech surrealist painter active throughout the 20th century. Unfortunately, I can find relatively little about him on the internet despite the radiant splendor of his work. He was a contemporary of Dali's and his work bears some resemblances with its barren landscape backdrops and bizarre structures, but there appears to not even be any books about his work out there. I don't even know what these pieces are titled. But the contours and textures of these odd stone slabs mesmerizes me.

I stumbled upon them via Tumblr, a platform I've found extremely satiating to my hunger for visual art. (I recently set up my own Tumblr page, nothing special, but if you're interested check it out.) How else would I have been able to discover this somewhat obscure Czech surrealist master?

Speaking of obscure, underappreciated 20th century artists, my Finnegans Wake reading group and I recently stumbled upon a treasure trove of artwork by the relatively unknown painter Elsa de Brun (aka NUALA) and have now taken it upon ourselves to bring her work back out into the world. NUALA created a set of 43 pieces called "Valentines for James Joyce" inspired by lines from Finnegans Wake. These pieces are all in charcoal with a depth and complexity that astounded us when we saw them in person. As a result, we are now in pursuit of gathering these pieces into book form and possibly a future exhibition to remind the world of this forgotten, brilliant and fascinating woman.

As for under-construction art books involving Joyce...

A big reason for my lengthy absence of late is that I've been fully devoted to writing my first book, an exploration of some fascinating links between Salvador Dali and James Joyce centering around one particular painting. If you've read this blog for any amount of time, you're probably aware of the source material and how important this project is to me. This work has been going on for a very long time but it's now finally picking up and progressing toward completion. It's been a classic creative struggle in that the bigger and more significant the project is, the harder it is to work on, but a helpful guide to creative battles called The War of Art has helped me properly direct my focus.

With my writing energies being poured into to that project, my output on this and my other blog will likely continue to wane for a while but there remain tons of ideas ready to bloom both here and there so please do stay tuned. I also need lots of breaks from the artsy fartsy stuff so fantasy football, the MLB pennant race, and the latest greatest hip hop music should get writeups in the near future in this space as well.

In closing, another surrealist contemporary of Dali has intrigued me of late. German painter Max Ernst is properly recognized but I had never dug into his work much. Thanks again to Tumblr I've found some pieces that have really struck me with their mix of intricately detailed, vibrant bizarreness and precise, enclosed form.

Europe After Rain
(click to enlarge)

The Eye of Silence

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

For Bloomsday 2015

"I heard his words and their meaning was revealed to me."
 - Ulysses

This year to celebrate Bloomsday (June 16th, the day on which James Joyce's novel Ulysses takes place, named for the book's everyman hero Leopold Bloom) I'll be participating in some festivities over at Malvern Books on West 29th St here in Austin, starting at 6:30 pm. There will be music, food, drinks, readings from the book and I'll be delivering an introductory talk.

Incredibly, the Day of Bloom will be celebrated in many locales across the globe, including and especially China as The Guardian details.

To commemorate the big day here I'd like to share something I've been intending to post for a long time.

Below you can listen to the only recording Joyce ever made of himself reciting from his most famous book. It's a selection from the "Aeolus" episode, recorded in 1924, featuring a character delivering a speech likening the plight of the Irish with that of the Biblical Hebrews, with lots of Egyptian imagery.

Here is the text (loosely) to follow along. Notice his tone switching between the narrator, the speech, and Stephen's inner monologue:
He began:
Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen: Great was my admiration in listening to the remarks addressed to the youth of Ireland a moment since by my learned friend. It seemed to me that I had been transported into a country far away from this country, into an age remote from this age, that I stood in ancient Egypt and that I was listening to the speech of some highpriest of that land addressed to the youthful Moses.
His listeners held their cigarettes poised to hear, their smoke ascending in frail stalks that flowered with his speech. And let our crooked smokes. Noble words coming. Look out. Could you try your hand at it yourself?
 — And it seemed to me that I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest raised in a tone of like haughtiness and like pride. I heard his words and their meaning was revealed to me. 
From the Fathers
It was revealed to me that those things are good which yet are corrupted which neither if they were supremely good nor unless they were good could be corrupted. Ah, curse you! That's saint Augustine. 
Why will you jews not accept our culture, our religion and our language? You are a tribe of nomad herdsmen; we are a mighty people. You have no cities nor no wealth: our cities are hives of humanity and our galleys, trireme and quadrireme, laden with all manner merchandise furrow the waters of the known globe. You have but emerged from primitive conditions: we have a literature, a priesthood, an agelong history and a polity. 
Child, man, effigy.
By the Nilebank the babemaries kneel, cradle of bulrushes: a man supple in combat: stonehorned, stonebearded, heart of stone.
You pray to a local and obscure idol: our temples, majestic and mysterious, are the abodes of Isis and Osiris, of Horus and Ammon Ra. Yours serfdom, awe and humbleness: ours thunder and the seas. Israel is weak and few are her children: Egypt is an host and terrible are her arms. Vagrants and daylabourers are you called: the world trembles at our name. A dumb belch of hunger cleft his speech. He lifted his voice above it boldly:
But, ladies and gentlemen, had the youthful Moses listened to and accepted that view of life, had he bowed his head and bowed his will and bowed his spirit before that arrogant admonition he would never have brought the chosen people out of their house of bondage nor followed the pillar of the cloud by day. He would never have spoken with the Eternal amid lightnings on Sinai's mountaintop nor ever have come down with the light of inspiration shining in his countenance and bearing in his arms the tables of the law, graven in the language of the outlaw.

The sound quality is poor but the powerful message still resonates.

There is great significance to this seemingly random passage from Joyce's giant book.

He insisted it was to be the only selection he would ever record. Even though Joyce told Sylvia Beach (the book's publisher and supporter) that he'd chosen this passage "because it was declamatory and therefore suitable for recital," Beach knew there was something else to it. "I believe that it expressed something he wanted said and preserved in his own voice," she wrote.

Listen to those final words again:

"graven in the language of the outlaw."

Joycean scholar Sebastian Knowles wrote of this final line:
On the recording, you hear Joyce's relish of "outlaw," reinforcing his own role as an exile, as the writer in an outlaw language, and as a participant in the outlaw creation of a new Irish literature. But the central word is "graven," as an engraving, as a text that is both positive and negative, and as a voice that is in several senses coming from beyond the grave.
And I'd like to add: Joyce the outlaw was also being publicly excoriated and condemned for his "obscene" and "filthy" book. At this point, in 1924, he had equal fame and notoriety. The greatest novel in the English language was banned, confiscated, and burned in the US and the UK for over a decade after its publication in 1922.

That final line is Joyce's eloquent middle finger to the authorities, the phony arbiters of moral justice.

Happy Bloomsday!

(This post owes a great deal to an old James Joyce Quarterly article by Adrian Curtin entitled "Hearing Joyce Speak: The Phonograph Recordings of 'Aeolus' and 'Anna Livia Plurabelle' as Audiotexts.)"

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Reviewing a Recent Baseball Book Reading Binge

The end of winter each year inevitably brings with it a rekindling of my intense passion for baseball and 2015 was no different. I've been on a steady binge of absorbing baseball books for a few months now so here are some reflections on what I've been reading.

Baseball Prospectus 2015

Now in its 20th year of existence, this annual guide (featuring essays covering all 30 teams plus analysis/commentary on over 2,000 players) has undoubtedly faded a bit from its glory days but the 2015 version is the best one they've produced in many years. With editors Sam Miller and Jason Wojciechowski taking over in 2014 there were significant changes made to the format in an attempt to recapture what made the BP annual so special in the first place. Last year's edition was the first one ever to have by-lines on each of the 30 team essays while they brought in a bunch of recognizable baseball scribes to write each one. This experiment continued with the 2015 edition and works mostly for the better, but the luster of this fresh approach is starting to wear off. Bringing in a bunch of outside writers to cover each team has begun to feel rather gimmicky. I'd prefer to see BP make greater use of their own impressive stable of writers.

That complaint aside, BP 2015 is a terrific read that I'll be going back to throughout the baseball season. They've really revved up the wit, snark, and silliness (witness the emoji in Clay Buccholz' comment, the poetry for Hiroki Kuroda, and the oddity of Didi Gregorious' channeling of Derek Jeter) with an abundance of impressive, extremely creative writing while not sacrificing anything in the way of hardcore statistical analysis. That is what's always made this book so special after all; the extreme amplitude of information and heavy analysis held up by the light-hearted, creative, humorous writing style. I love the BP annual not so much for its acute baseball insights as for its stats-based writing about the game. This edition certainly provides that.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

New Finnegans Wake Musical Audiobook Adaptation Featuring Yours Truly

Waywords and Meansigns art by Robert Berry

This past May 4th marked both the 76th anniversary of Finnegans Wake being published and the world premiere of the "Waywords and Meansigns" audio project bringing Finnegans Wake to life in an unabridged musical audiobook. The full audio project is over 30 hours long, encompassing all of the book's 17 chapters with a different musician/artist handling each one. Each artist was given full freedom to creatively interpret the text in their respective renditions so there's a pretty wide array of styles and interpretations.

I had the honor of contributing to the project, recording a 3-hour rendition of the 15th chapter (Book III, Chapter 3) known as "Yawn Under Inquest". Immense thanks are owed to Evan James, Jake Reading, and Melba Martinez for their contributions to the recording which took many hundreds of hours over a span of three months to complete. The experience was unlike anything I've ever partaken in and I'm very proud of the result. You can read more about my experience with creating this recording here.

The entire project is completely free and available to listen to or download in full on the Waywords and Meansigns website. Since the Wake is a circular book you can jump in at any point but, of course, I recommend you start with my chapter which is Track 15.

The new project has already received the attention of The Guardian and the excellent RAWillumination blog (focusing primarily on the work of noted Finnegans Wake devotee Robert Anton Wilson) has just published an interview with myself and Steve "Fly" Pratt on our experiences with contributing to the project.

Please be sure to go check it all out and send some feedback!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Album Review: A sneak peek at the new Canibus & Bronze Nazareth record Time Flys, Life Dies...Phoenix Rise

This year's local SXSW festival was a mostly low-key one for me but I did have one eventful and exciting evening. It began with an "experiential marketing" promo for one of my favorite films from last year, Interstellar, wherein participants donned headphones and an Oculus Rift virtual reality headset to transport to a spaceship making its way toward a wormhole. It was my first encounter of Oculus Rift, something I've often heard about recently but never thought I'd actually get to try out.

It was about as amazing as I could have expected, especially when the Interstellar spaceship shifted into zero gravity mode. Somehow the immersion in Oculus Rift's virtual reality actually made it feel like I was floating, while I could see the ringed planet Saturn, in all its glory, just outside the ship's window.

Shortly thereafter, sitting in a truck parked near the Interstellar promo tent, I had the privilege of partaking in a full listening session for the upcoming album by Canibus & Bronze Nazareth Time Flys, Life Dies...Phoenix Rise. The conjunction of these two experiences seems oddly fitting. The gravelly voiced lyrical scientist known as Canibus has been providing high-tech rhymes for nearly two decades now. A virtual reality experience putting you on board a spaceship traveling toward a wormhole is exactly the type of thing Canibus tends to rap about. It's also not out of the realm of possibility that the dictionary-scouring wordsmith already coined the term "Oculus Rift" on some long-winded track from a dozen years ago.

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