September 27, 2011

Radiohead on the Colbert Report

Last night the boys from Radiohead were special guests on an hour long episode of The Colbert Report. It's reportedly their first late-night television appearance in 18 years. That's right; not since performing "Creep" for Conan O'Brien back in '93 has the band graced the stage of a late-night talk show. Apart from all the anti-corporate jokes (there were a lot, and they were tiresome at best), Radiohead's live performances left a serious impression on me. Colbert was also visibly stunned. Here's an excerpt from what Pitchfork posted earlier this morning:
The brilliance of Colbert is that he makes the people sitting across from him (including aloof British bands) look good because of his asshole posturing while, obviously, remaining totally knowing and somehow lovable. When not on air, he came off more like a warm, goofy dad, explaining the editing of the show and even briefly serenading his wife, who was in attendance. As Colbert combed through the vinyl version of Limbs onstage between songs, guitarist Ed O'Brien joked, "It's like having a headmaster look at your homework." From his toe-tapping during Radiohead's performance, as well as his general giddiness throughout the night, on and off camera, it definitely seemed like Colbert approved.
Radiohead performed a total of six songs, four of which were from their release earlier this year, The King of Limbs. The best of the lot, however, was their newest song, "The Daily Mail" (below, albeit from a different concert), which is of course quite timely given the Rupert Murdoch fiasco that, despite its disappearance from the headlines, rages on.

September 26, 2011

Thoughts arrive like butterflies

A lot of immediately "classic" albums came out in 1991. Not only has it become a touchstone year for grunge, it also marks a milestone for mainstream hip-hop. While most media outlets are obsessing over the deluxe anniversary boxset for Nirvana's Nevermind, some gripping documentaries like Pearl Jam 20  (by Cameron Crowe) and Beats Rhymes and Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (by Michael Rapaport) are hitting small screens across the country.

For now, here's a pair of music videos from twenty years back: a very dated but no less thrilling music video for Pearl Jam's "Even Flow" (skip ahead to 3:47 if you're getting impatient) and an outmoded video for A Tribe Called Quest's "Check the Rhyme." For me, both clips perfectly capture early nineties zeitgeist: the optimism, the over-the-top aesthetics, and the impulse towards innovation. Pearl Jam tapped into something that sounded primordial and at times universal, while ATCQ pushed the envelope in hip-hop production, with surprising samples and clever rhymes.

September 23, 2011

Biblical myth: Ernst Bloch meets Milton

I've started to work my way through Ernst Bloch's Atheism and Christianity: an intriguing attempt to reconcile ideological critique, Biblical exegesis, and the principle of hope (here, enabled by and contained within the Christian faith) that incites the revolts of subjected groups against their oppressors. My interest in this particular book comes not only from my interest in Bloch's work (including his exchanges with Adorno, Brecht and Lukacs), but from the similarities that his approach to biblical myth shares with that of Milton. 

As with Milton, the very failure of the heretic against the powers of authority is a guarantee of his utopian premise. The struggle is all. Rather than adhering to the “either/or” debate over religion and secularism, Bloch’s dialectical method recognizes that the contradictions within a situation carry within them the potential solution of that situation—the surplus of one situation, in other words, carries over into the corpus of another. Not only do religious myths mark the limitations of the historical world, they also allow us to pass out of “anamnetic circularity” into active potentiality. 

Taking his cue from Feuerbach, Bloch collapses the hierarchy of being embedded within orthodox theology so that “the Christ-impulse live[s] even when God is dead” (167). What is important is not some transcendent other, detached and uncontaminated by the world; rather it is the revolutionary impulse that founds this other-wordly reality that Bloch wants to endorse (in this way he carries the latter, often ignored part of Marx's famous indictment of religion to it's logical conclusion). According the Fredric Jameson, Bloch’s conception of utopia was one which would emerge out of a hermeneutical process of becoming: it was “an allegorical process in which various utopian figures seep into the daily life of things and people and afford an incremental, and often unconscious, bonus of pleasure unrelated to their functional value or official satisfactions.” As for Milton, Christianity for Bloch is also defined by a dialectic between freedom and necessity: liberationist impulses are always subsumed by the state, but in that process of sublimation one sees the active workings of human desire beyond the law’s authority. Bloch’s emphasis on the humanity of Christ offers another way in which we might interpret the contradictions of the Son of God in Paradise Regained (fully in the world, but wholly oriented in subservience beyond it). Much like Milton’s stark division between local hermeneutic practices and adherence to state-mandated worship (which, like Milton’s critique of Catholicism is sinful precisely because it accommodates the unquestioned transmission of doctrine, hierarchy and church traditions), Bloch understands the Bible as a dialectic between the Creator-God, on the one hand, co-opted by the state and the state church “whose all-seeing eye strikes not only fear (against which one can maintain one’s strength of opposition) but dread, which paralyses,” individualizes and alienates; and, on the other hand, “the religion of Exodus and the Kingdom,” which is carried to completion (i.e. to the end of religion) in the person of Christ.

As Bloch writes, perhaps looking back to Milton, “The best thing about religion is that it makes for heretics.”

September 18, 2011

La Passion de Jeanne d' Arc

Last night at Edmonton's Metro Cinema there was a special showing of Carl Theodore Dreyer's La Passion de Jeanne d' Arc, featuring an original score written and performed live by an eclectic group of local musicians. A silent film, originally released in 1928, La Passion de Jeanne d'Arc, is based on the record of the trial of Joan of Arc and is remarkable not only for its production and its innovative cinematography, but also for the riveting performance of Renee Jeanne Falconetti as the title character. The staggering depth of emotion in Falconetti's performance as Joan of Arc, as well as the austere portraits of her judges (the sinister church fathers), are expertly brought out by Dreyer's careful attention to the to the human face. Especially with a thoughtful score behind it, the film is simply devastating.

Originally, the music for the film was played live in the theatre and it's widely believed that Dreyer purposefully avoided giving the film a definitive score. Since being rediscovered in 1981, the film has even been scored by the likes of Nick Cave and Cat Power. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to find any footage with the accompanying music online, but just by watching the part of the film, you can begin to see why it continues to serve as a muse for all kinds of musicians and composers.