Category Archives: Music

WRLD: Grandmaster, Magic, Big Star, Townes, Creation, Cutie, 1-800-MICE, H Day, Abandoned Futures, Coin Locker Babies, Satellites, Mogwai, Exploding Star Orchestra

Watching

The Grandmaster
Last month Martin Scorsese interviewed Wong Kar-Wai about his 2013 film, The Grandmaster. The cinematography is amazing, and overall the film is pretty good [Amazon]. ★★★

Deceptive Practice
The best documentary I’ve seen in ages is Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay [Netflix, Amazon]. Ricky Jay’s dedication and artistry are inspiring, and the film is riveting from start to finish. Highly recommended. ★★★★★

Big Star
This documentary profiles the Memphis rock band Big Star from their early years to post-breakup. Essential viewing if you’re a fan [Netflix, Amazon]. ★★★

Be Here To Love Me
Be Here To Love Me is a portrait of singer songwriter Townes Van Zandt. A haunting look at a tortured artist [Netflix, Amazon]. ★★★★

Upside Down
Upside Down is an uneven documentary about the UK label Creation Records. Selling records and partying with Scottish accents, it’s half entertaining and half annoying [Netflix, Amazon]. ★★

Cutie and the Boxer
Cutie and the Boxer profiles an 80 year old Japanese artist and his wife who are living in New York and barely making ends meet. I had high hopes for this one after the preview, but the film focuses too much on the antagonistic wife [Netflix, Amazon]. ★★

Reading

1-800-MICE
1-800-MICE is bonkers. Blurbed by Daniel Clowes and Matt Groening among others, but none of them get it quite right. Surreal, absurd, extraordinary, and utterly unique. Highly recommended.

H Day
I’ve been a fan of Renee French since 90′s comic books Grit Bath and The Ninth Gland. H Day tells parallel stories on facing pages without words. One side is about migraines, and the other is about an ant invasion. Mysterious, weird, and quite enjoyable.

Abandoned Futures
With a cover photo from the Pearsonville Junkyard, night photography workshop alum Tong Lam presents well crafted photos of some world class ruins. Tong doesn’t like the term ruin porn, and instead makes a case for the history of ruin lust. Abandoned Futures contains some of the best writing on the symbology of ruins in recent years, and is highly recommended.

Coin Locker Babies
I’ve read quite a bit of Haruki Murakami’s work, but hadn’t read Ryu Murakami until my book club selected Coin Locker Babies. This novel is the story of two orphans who are abandoned at birth in a coin-locker, and are raised in the shadows of a ruined factory town. While the violence was a bit graphic for my taste, there were some hypnotizing sections that gave me new insight into why I photograph abandoned places.

Satellites
Satellites is the result of an amazing 7 year journey exploring the forgotten outposts of the former Soviet Union. Unfortunately this book is out of print, but it’s definitely worth seeking out at your local library.

Listening

Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will
Mogwai’s Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will has been in heavy rotation during January. Maybe because it’s good workout music? The Drowned in Sound review of the album is right on target.

Exploding Star Orchestra
The Exploding Star Orchestra takes a wild journey through large ensemble jazz improv with a wide array of field recordings. A wild but engaging sonic ride. Here’s a nice review on Dusted.

Doing

  • A wonderful English artist is producing a marquetry version of one of my photos. I’m excited to see how this turns out, and will share photos when it’s done.
  • I’ve switched from using a Really Right Stuff pano-head to a Nodal Ninja Ultimate M2. More on this decision later.
  • My office is loud. I tried a lot of noise-cancelling headphones. All marketing hype aside, the Bose QC 15 really do work the best. Audiophile magazine Sound & Vision nails it in this Bose review. If you need to shut out the world, this is 300 bucks well spent.
  • I’m shooting video at work. It’s way harder than shooting stills. But fun. I’m learning Premiere, too.
  • A couple of my Holga images are in a recently released color grading book. More info when I get a copy.
  • I’m online less and less these days. I still like looking at pictures on Tumblr. That’s about it. You wanna talk? Send me an email. And don’t be surprised if my online presence becomes a bit more sporadic this year.

WRLD: Stanhope, Motorcycles, Yakuza, Cults, Pynchon, Aerial Photos, Feral Teens, Origami, and Prog-Folk

Watching

Beer Hall Putsch
Stand-up comedy is like dance for me — I can’t watch 98% of what’s out there, but the 2% that’s good is really good. Doug Stanhope is in that 2%. His most recent 1-hour special is called Beer Hall Putsch [Netflix only], and it’s over the top. The Occupy Wall Street and NFL fantasy bits are nuts.

Long Way RoundLong Way Down
In 2004, Ewan McGregor and his friend Charley Boorman went on a 20,000 mile adventure on motorcycles in Long Way Round [Netflix | Amazon]. The series starts a bit slowly, but the hard travel segments in Russia and Mongolia are amazing. In 2007 they rode from Scotland to South Africa in Long Way Down [Netflix | Amazon].

Pale Flower
I recently watched the nihilistic 60′s Japanese yakuza film Pale Flower again, and it’s still astonishing. Now on Blu-Ray from Criterion [Netflix | Amazon].

The Source Family
The Source Family is a really great documentary about a 70′s cult led by Father Yod, who had 14 wives, a health food restaurant, a Rolls Royce, and a psychedelic band [Netflix | Amazon].

Reading

Bleeding Edge
The new Thomas Pynchon novel Bleeding Edge will be released on Tuesday, 9/17. The extensive 7,000 word piece on Pynchon published last month on Vulture is a must-read for fans of his work. And Jonathan Lethem’s review in today’s New York Times really nails what’s great about Pynchon.

Around the Bay
The new CLUI publication Around the Bay: Man-Made Sites of Interest in the San Francisco Bay Region is essential if you live in the Bay Area. The book pairs aerial photographs with a short history of the industrial sites around the Bay. The companion exhibit, Above and Below, runs at the Oakland Museum runs through February 23, 2014. The big, projected fly-over video of the Bay is fantastic.

Mira Corpora
Jeff Jackson’s debut novel Mira Corpora is a dark, surreal coming-of-age story that I could not put down. Featuring a section with feral kids living in the woods on the edge of an abandoned amusement park which is down the way from a crumbling house inhabited by a teenage oracle.
Ametsuchi
I’m really surprised Rinko Kawauchi’s new book Ametsuchi isn’t getting more attention. I picked this up in a book store and was blown away. Images of controlled burns, constellations, Buddhist rituals, and a unique design with inverted versions of the images behind the pages. Here’s a video interview with Kawauchi with a look at the book. Highly recommended.

Listening


The Master Musicians of Bukkake are back with a new album called Far West which delves into prog-folk and Morricone inspired soundtrack music.

Ghost Capital
Ghost Capital is still blowin’ up the spot with a great selection of hard-to-find world, African, and electronic music.

Doing

Despite the crowds, riding a bike on the new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge is a lot of fun. Here’s how to get to the path.

WRLD: Oil fields, comics, curmudgeons, Kaurismaki, Pynchon, tanks, and ALTO!

San Ardo oil fields on Highway 101 -- by Joe Reifer

San Ardo oil fields on Highway 101 — by Joe Reifer

Watching, Reading, Listening, Doing (WRLD) is an experiment in paring down artistic input/output into quick summaries to refer back to. Disparate inputs help create interesting output. Let’s see what’s been in the blender lately.

San Ardo oil field gigapan: The image above is composed of 2 rows of 7 images, with 2 bracketed shots at each camera position. The iPhone app PanoCalc was useful in figuring out the number of photos to shoot. The images were stitched in PTGui Pro using a Mercator projection. The final image is 10,000 x 8,000 (80 megapixels). Below is a zoomable version created using Pano2VR.

Reading

Charles Burns - The HiveCharles Burns continues to amaze me with his unique vision in the 2nd installment of his darkly original, narrative-shifting trilogy – The Hive. Highly recommended.
ASMP Guide to New Markets in PhotographyThe ASMP Guide to New Markets in Photography was worth reading for the 50 concise photographer biographies. Judy Herrmann’s values analysis exercises are also quite good. The remaining material is a high level overview of changes in the photography industry, but the advice is rather general. Worth checking out from the library for photographers of all levels. May be of particular interest to photography students who don’t already understand the industry.
Occam's RazorIf you enjoyed David Hurn and Bill Jay’s On Being a Photographer, you might try tracking down Occam’s Razor. What was true about the art world 20 years ago is even more true today. The photography world needs an articulate curmudgeon like Bill Jay to stay honest. I wish the photo blog world had half of his wit and insight.

Watching

Le HavreAki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre blew me away. A bohemian shoe shine man protects an African refugee from being deported. Those of you familiar with Kaurismaki’s long history of dour films will be surprised how uplifting Le Havre is. And the cinematography is fantastic. Highly recommended.

Thomas Pynchon documentaryI really enjoyed this Thomas Pynchon documentary with music by The Residents. The film is a goofy speculation about Pynchon’s choice to remain out of the public eye. Word on the street is that a new Pynchon novel called Bleeding Edge may be released this year.

Cul De SacAnother excellent holiday gift (thanks ss!) was Cul De Sac. In 1995, a 35 year-old plumber and ex-soldier from suburban San Diego dug an 18 foot hole in his back yard looking for gold. Apparently meth was involved. He ended up stealing a tank from the National Guard and went on a rampage crushing cars before the police opened the tank and shot him. A really interesting meditation on the decline of the post WWII 50′s suburban dream.

Listening

Alto! ALTO! is a three piece band from Portland, Oregon with Derek Monypeny on guitar, and Steven T. Stone / Kyle Reid Emory on drums /electronics. Somewhere between krautrock, outrock, progrock, and experimental. Listen to side one of the album on ALTO!’s Bandcamp page, download a track for free, or name your price to buy the whole album.

Captain Beefheart: The original Bat Chain Puller

The original Bat Chain Puller

Last week, Frank Zappa’s record label quietly released Captain Beefheart’s original recording of Bat Chain Puller (1976). Bootleg versions of the album’s rough mix have circulated for a long time. The mixing and mastering on the new official release are outstanding. Different versions of some of these tracks were included on Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller) (1978), which has always been one of my favorite later period Beefheart albums. Different versions of a few songs also ended up on Doc at the Radar Station (1980), and Ice Cream for Crow (1982). But the original tracks sat unmixed and unmastered for 36 years. The CD includes the 12 original songs plus 3 bonus tracks, and liner notes by Magic Band members John French and Denny Walley. Currently this disc is only available from Zappa.com. More info on the release at the Captain Beefheart Radar Station. Many thanks to my friend Steve for the gift! And rest in peace, Captain.

Deep Focus, Steve Erickson, Junkyard Jets, Coen Bros and Heavy Metal

Computer replaces human brain
Spending too much time on the computer lately? Here are some recent book recommendations:


The Deep Focus series is a collection of pocket-sized books that are a love letter to a quirky film. Josh Wilker’s homage to The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training is one of the most insightful books I’ve read about growing up in the 1970′s. If you had feathered hair, played Little League, and remember Carter vs. Reagan, this book is for you.


The first book in the Deep Focus series is Jonathan Lethem’s wide ranging analysis of the classic John Carpenter film They Live. I really enjoyed watching the film again after reading the book. You can watch They Live on Netflix or Amazon Prime. Lethem also has a forthcoming book in the 33 1/3 music series on Talking Heads’ Fear of Music.


A friend sent me a review copy of Steve Erickson’s forthcoming book These Dreams of You. I’ve been a fan of Erickson’s work since the late 80′s when the same friend turned me on to Days Between Stations. Thomas Pynchon wrote a blurb for this brilliant first novel that holds true for much of Erickson’s work:

Steve Erickson has that rare and luminous gift for reporting back from the nocturnal side of reality, along with an engagingly romantic attitude and the fierce imaginative energy of a born storyteller.

These Dreams of You follows an L.A. family’s adoption of an Ethiopian girl just after the election of Barack Obama. Erickson weaves his interest in music, politics, and race into the family’s search for their daughter’s history. There are some amazing episodes in These Dreams of You, but overall it’s not as cohesive as some of his other work. Of course any kind of follow up to Erickson’s brilliant ode to cinema Zeroville would be tough.

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While I was in Tucson, I picked up a copy of the book Junkyard Jets at the Pima Air & Space Museum. Junkyard Jets is a look inside the airplane storage and scrapping industry. If you’re a junkyard fan, you need this book!


When I meet someone for the first time, and the conversation turns to movies, I always ask “What is your favorite Coen Brothers film?” I picked up this Virgin film series book used and was pleasantly surprised by the interesting analysis of their first 10 films, and also the information on the critical reception.

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Two dudes gettin’ drunk and stoned and playing with as many amps as we possibly can and basically just playing Melvins and Earth riffs but trying to play them slower than those bands played them. — Sunn O)))

I enjoyed watching the heavy rock documentary film Such Hawks Such Hounds. The full documentary is available above on YouTube, or the DVD is available directly from the filmmakers.