Soundcheck Sunday

A two-fer today. First: Oh Susanna, “Tangled and Wild”

Second: “Alabaster”

Both of these songs featured in Hilary Birmingham’s 2000 film “Tully,” a striking independent production that shamefully few people saw. (Listen to Roger if you won’t believe me.) “Tangled and Wild” played over the closing credits, and while I’d been familiar with Suzie Ungerleider in the abstract (I’d seen her play at a couple of different Lillith Fairs ahead of this), “Tully” was the first time I’d ever really heard her music, if you know what I mean. And I knew I had to run out and buy the album.

“Johnstown,” the 1999 album from which both of these tracks were taken, was another one of those records that made me seriously reassess my music collection. It seemed, for a variety of reasons, like I should have had stacks of this kind of music, except I didn’t. It has this old, folkloric, ancestral quality to it, and I loved it to bits. (If this sounds familiar, it’s because I’ve talked about this several times before.) Like much really good music, it evokes a time and a place that probably only ever really existed — for those of us alive today — in sepia-toned photographs, dusty books, and odd little soundless movies about life at the turn of the last century; a world of cracked, sun-dried creekbeds, tall virgin prairie grass, hot winds whipping through the trees, and the cry of swallows in the distance.

I picture, for some reason, my grandparents homestead in Southern Alberta with this music.

Anyway, just listen to the music, listen to Suzie’s voice. It’s just mesmerizing.

This is a really good question

Sara Quin: “A call for change

When will misogynistic and homophobic ranting and raving result in meaningful repercussions in the entertainment industry? When will they be treated with the same seriousness as racist and anti-Semitic offenses? While an artist who can barely get a sentence fragment out without using homophobic slurs is celebrated on the cover of every magazine, blog and newspaper, I’m disheartened that any self-respecting human being could stand in support with a message so vile. …

If any of the bands whose records are held in similar esteem as Goblin had lyrics littered with rape fantasies and slurs, would they be labeled hate mongers? I realize I could ask that question of DOZENS of other artists, but is Tyler exempt because people are afraid of the backlash? The inevitable claim that detractors are being racist, or the brush-off that not “getting it” would indicate that you’re “old” (or a faggot)? Because, the more I think about it, the more I think people don’t actually want to go up against this particular bully because he’s popular. Who sticks up for women and gay people now? It seems entirely uncool to do so in the indie rock world, and I’ll argue that point with ANYONE.

I was blissfully unaware of Odd Future until last week, when Sady pointed at Sara’s article in her own masterpiece. Then I went and pulled a couple of their pieces off YouTube, and you know what? It wasn’t any good. Though I wasn’t in any way, shape or form particularly disposed to like them based on their — let’s call it what it is, fucking obnoxious behavior — I can’t say I found the music that interesting anyway. Maybe it’s because I’m old or uncool. Maybe I don’t get it. I dunno: I like to think I have pretty eclectic and diverse taste in music, but this was just… lame, somehow. That Tyler is a fuckhead doesn’t really enter into it, but it helps me feel better about apparently being uncool.

Picture time

I am, as the Twitter feed has suggested for a couple of days, back from Japan. (Some of you had no idea I was even over there! Which lead to one of the funniest Foursquare checkins I’ve ever had!) A fuller, more detailed trip report will follow soon — I promise — but I have put some photo galleries up for your perusal and enjoyment:

Please enjoy!

Is the future here yet?

I’m currently sitting in the World’s Tiniest Laundromat on Karasuma-dori in Kyoto, waiting for the wash and dry cycle of the giant incomprehensible machines to complete. This is an interesting down time for us; laundry day while traveling is generally boring, but this trip I’ve tried something new: I rented a pocket wifi hotspot, so amazing between that and Skype my iPhone works more or less just like it does at home. (Also, we seem to have entered an era where cell phones really do work all over the place – despite Japan’s notorious CDMA incompatibility, HSPA seems to have fixed everything. Assuming you’re willing to pay extortionate roaming fees, anyway.)

This has proven to be something of a boon for communications, and I strongly encourage anyone traveling with a smartphone to look into it.

It’s 2011. I am often fond of rhetorically asking whether we are living in the future yet. Sitting in a laundromat on the other side of the planet from home, composing a blog post with a wifi access point in my pocket, while the 70-something obasan next to me sends text messages on her phone, I can safely say that in this department at least, yes, we are living in the future.


Lost arts

I was rooting through the freezer the other day in search of a frozen treat when I came across a whole box of them: my entire collection of unexposed film, shoved in a basket when I came back from Europe five years ago with a busted 35mm camera, frozen, and then never touched again — even after my film cameras were fixed. It was a very strange pang of nostalgia as I emptied the basket out and sorted through what I had. It turns out to be an eclectic collection of new and old, in-production and out, and it brought back a lot of memories of a time when, as a photographer, you had to hold a lot of information in your head more or less continuously while working with the stuff. The upshot was that you got really familiar with a handful of films, and stuck with them come hell or high water.

So I have three unopened boxes of Kodak Portra NC (probably the single-best general purpose low-contrast print film in production mid-last-decade). A box of Portra UC I never tried. A whole whackload of pre-paid RVP 50 — obviously pre-dating the release of Velvia 100F — I ought to see whether the lab will still process it for me! A bit of Provia, from back when Provia wasn’t so good. A couple rolls of Tech Pan and Ilford Pan F 50, slow films that you can’t buy anymore (and that I probably can’t get developed anymore, either, since I was never a big fan of doing my own processing). A bunch of Astia in 120 that I really should load in my Mamiya and go shoot. Lots of Tri-X, in a couple different formats.

But it was the two yellow-wrapped 120 rolls that caught my eye, with the rubbed-off markings, and I realized what I was looking at: Verichrome Pan. This was, arguably, the best black and white film most people never heard of, in large part because the it was never available in 35mm format. But if you worked in medium- or large-format, and you shot B&W — or, heck, if you had a Brownie and were playing around with B&W film in the 1950s — there is an excellent chance you know exactly what I’m talking about, and why it was so good. There’s an excellent chance that you’ve seen pictures shot on VP; it has a characteristic look, a smoothness and a richness and a tonal depth that isn’t there in a lot of B&W films. It was tolerant, it handled high contrast well, the grain structure was damn-near nonexistent, and unbelievably it really was a 125 ISO film, so some degree of handholding was possible.

I used VP pretty extensively for a stretch in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and really liked it — this was, of course, right around the time that Kodak decided they’d discontinue the film. For a few years, up to about 2005, you could still buy the stuff new; a good many serious B&W photographers still have a couple of boxes squirreled away for that special project that really needs “the look.” My stock has, eventually, dwindled to these two rolls of 120, and while I’d dearly love to go shoot them, I have no idea what sort of project I’d do to justify their use. Yeah, okay, it’s just film — but this is really good stuff! Don’t believe me? Other people have the same issues I do.

I’m told Ilford Delta 100 or TMAX 400 (rated at 320, developed as per the box) are supposed to be reasonable alternatives to this stuff. In my head, I keep thinking that the chromogenic B&W films should have the same grain structure as VP, but for some reason when I go back through my archives I can’t seem to find any evidence to support this. Of course, at the same time, I haven’t shot any film, period, in something like five years. Maybe there’s an argument that I need to go and take some (real) pictures…