Monday, February 24, 2014

Roanoke, VA

I had a chance to visit this surprisingly cool little city for work back in September. I only had Saturday afternoon for free time, but I wandered around the downtown area and developed quite a little crush on it. Here's a few of my snapshots that I think show the character of the city. They have done a great job with historic preservation efforts.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Pierre Henry & Musique Concrète

The oddest record in my vinyl collection is from 1962 (original pressing) entitled La Voyage, by Pierre Henry. When I was a teenage headhunter, I met a fellow named Chuck Haxton, an interesting and battle-scarred veteran, who gave me this record when I expressed an interest in experimental music. Back then, I thought of "experimental" as Tom Waits' Bone Machine, which, compared to La Voyage, sounds like Top 40 material.

La Voyage consists mostly of noise ranging from hissing, sucking, roaring, audible tape sounds, R2D2-like beeps, squeaks, and squawks, and other electronic manipulations. For the most part, it is utterly disturbing, much more so than any conventional horror soundtrack could be. The music - and I will call it that, for reasons I'll explain below - attempts to evoke the passages of the soul as described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The interpretation is decidedly creepy.

My musical journey has, in the last year or so, led from King Crimson to Fripp & Eno to Eno's ambient and generative music albums, all of which have given me better footing (or hearing) to appreciate La Voyage. Intrigued by this fresh listen, I obtained a collection of Pierre Henry's work in the "musique concrète" genre of electronic music. It was utterly fascinating. Mostly short tracks compiled from various albums, the collection eschews formal song structure and even such things as melody, using a combination of electronic noise and acoustic "field recordings" (such as a squeaky door hinge played as a rhythmic instrument, industrial sounds, and so on). And yet they do feel like "songs" to me.

While this is certainly not everyone's cup of tea (not even mine unless I'm in the right mood), these recordings have certainly opened my mind and exploded the bubble of sounds that I've considered "music" up until now. The key for me is whether the songs have any narrative or progressive quality, in the sense that they hold together as individual pieces, are internally consistent, and have an obvious overarching sonic palette. These do, despite their weird and often haunting quality. It is certainly not relaxing ambient music - some of it is quite harsh and almost irritating (but then again, so is a lot of more traditional music). But for the jaded connoisseur of music, new frontiers are always exciting.

I look forward to exploring more music in this genre, and as I do, I'll share any standouts. As a final interesting note, I'll add that Pierre Henry also wrote a more traditional song called Psyche Rock that would later serve as the inspiration for the Futurama theme song. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Doc Savage's Super Machine Pistol

A fellow "Fan of Bronze" shared this recently. For those who aren't up on Clark Savage, Jr., this is the machine pistol he and his team use. It fires "non-lethal" bullets (non-lethal from a chemical standpoint, not rubber bullets). The physics are a little fuzzy, of course, but this illustration takes a stab at it.

With this weapon, criminals could be kept alive for their (ahem) humane brain surgery in Doc's secret hospital in upstate New York.