Thursday, April 28, 2011


As a number of tornadoes ravage the South and a radio show I listen to broadcasts from Georgia, expressing fear that they will converge on it, I couldn’t help but think of Brecht’s Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny.

"Do as thou wilt, he still wasn't born in Mahagonny."Trump,
subject to a copycat tornado in New Hampshire. 
Yesterday President Obama released his long-form birth certificate to quell the birther typhoons. One wonders how that'll work given an earlier CBS News/New York Times poll concluding that 45% of Republicans believe the President was born outside of the U.S. Shortly after, to all appearances a typhoon struck Trump’s hair (above) while he reveled in his “victory” at having forced the President’s hand. Meanwhile the Fukushima Daiichi complex is more radioactive than at any time prior, Rep. Paul Ryan fled hostile protestors at a town hall meeting who oppose his scrap n’ salvage budget bill, and an executive VP of the US Chamber of Commerce said “to quote what they say every day in Libya, ‘all options are on the table’” if would-be federal contractors are forced to disclose political donations when they go a-begging in DC. And of course, there’s the ongoing Libyan war: Senators (Graham, McCain and Lieberman) are recommending “regime change” assassination, and the brass are using predator drones so they can almost kill civilians less often. There may be omissions because I gleaned all this on the fly, while working my three jobs from late morning til dawn. The very last moorings of Yanqui civility, indeed of civilization, seem to be straining. 

In the scene from Mahagonny where the typhoons approach, Jimmy (a lumberjack on holiday from his Alaska choppery) is getting restive because the town is too quiet – Mahagonny is founded on the business of drunken fun, whores, gambling, and loafing. It’s full of ne’er-do-wells, grifters and drifters, and the crooks who run it try to regulate everything with signposts and censure because they have a weird utopian streak. There isn’t enough tension there for the cadre running it to profit, so they’re panicking about finances and people leaving just when a drunken Jimmy makes his great speech that people should do as they please, not live under the gang’s laws. This speech takes place as a tornado threatens to strike the town, and people in desperation seem receptive to Jimmy’s theory that we should do our worst in this world, that nature can’t outstrip our violence as “the most frightening force is Man.”

The tornado/typhoon just misses Mahagonny, but strikes elsewhere and kills the federal agents looking for the gangsters who run the town. They, and the idlers being milked in Mahagonny, interpret this as the universe’s approval of their new “do as thou wilt” philosophy. All launch on a new and bloody course of open, unregulated self-satisfaction that’s ultimately disastrous for the whole provisional community, which is a smelting pot anyway – of fools’ gold.

In his last State of the Union address, President Obama spoke of our “Sputnik Moment.” I rather think this is our Mahagonny Moment, just before the final movement of the symphony our founders wrote – which opens with a haunting passage from the winds and brass.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Circus Minimus

The old canard about the U.S. falling as did Rome rings hollow whenever you turn on the television. The empire may be collapsing, but like a mushroom, as it shrivels it releases spores by the hundred thousand. U.S. culture is viral—surely our biggest export after weapons is "entertainment."

Rome's entertainment in its twilight included the famous "panem et circenses," or bread & circuses: free bread given to the populo barbaro while they enjoyed gladiatorial entertainments—it was thrown, like meat to dogs, in "Gladiator". One could argue that Ultimate Cage Fighting is the first step towards the Circus Maximus, but in fact we have used our privilege as stewards of the earth to leap straight to televised eviscerations and gore: with bugs.

This one's vegetarian, so its tough's all bluff.
Monster Bug Wars is the Science Channel's new series about life and death in the insect world. Each segment (as it were) exhibits a different "Vs." battle a la Mortal Kombat, wherein the loser is processed by both victor and zoom lenses, overdubbed with gnashing, roaring, or screeching. What strikes me after the first couple of entrail smoothies is that every battle is decontextualized. The narrator always tells you in a nature show in what country the scene is taking place; here, it is "in the rainforest/desert...". 

It turns out these ARE real arenas. The woodchips and plants appear to be from a box store; I didn't know WalMart sold hollow logs. It's all artfully done but the settings' repetitive artifice becomes clear over time. There is no natural foodchain being sustained. Therein lies what bugs me about the show.

It's not the "pain" or "cruelty," since the scientific consensus is that insects do not feel pain. It's not the gore; at least somebody's getting a survival meal out of it, unlike CSI or Fear Factor. Adding to the blood sport feel are the two charming entomologists who serve as sports commentators, though there's no banter between them.

Animals eating in zoos is boring television fodder. We've seen every kind of sport. Nature shows have a limited audience. Everyone hates bugs. Graphic death is entertaining, and eating gross stuff is neat. At the bizarre nexus of these focus-group suppositions is Monster Bug Wars, satisfying numerous spectator impulses for its own sake, but without the integrity to admit it's more cockfight than natural phenomenon. It's a paint-by-numbers of the perverse tastes television has fostered in us, and the smallest circus maximus about the smallest gladiators that everyone is glad to see dead.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

D'Elite Vol. 2: Big City Orchestra - 4 Cassettes of the Apocalypse

The "Saints" of this series are ambient noise compositions without abrasive or jarring frequencies/timbres, for the most part. My impressions are that Saint Noise is various layers of indistinct noise, Saint Fear involves mostly guitar hazes, Saint Plunder is composed primarily of saw and powertool sounds, and Saint Sleaze has a stilted metronomic beat, keys and some comical lounge-singing about it: "Easy you please, and he can ?????__??, to see you releaaaaasssed, of all theeeee Sleaaaaazzzze."  The Sound Effects Library tracks make great samples for similarly-inclined musicians.

As with most sound composition not driven by melody, rhythm or vocals, this benefits most from proper headphones.

Glad I dug this out of the attic, hope you enjoy.


1. Saint Noise
2. Saint Fear
3. Saint Plunder
4. Saint Sleaze
5-14. Big City Orchestra Sound Effects Library, Volume 1: Tracks 1-10.