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Alarm is a story that illustrates that much of our life happens at the periphery of the chase for our dreams. Mick O’Grady is a man who’s stalled out and slowed down in that chase. His life has overtaken and surrounded him, and the daily minutia of working (or not working), eating, and mating has moved to the forefront. And it’s not pretty. By all accounts his life is broken. Broken like a bad gear shifter on a used car. It might rock and wheeze and push you forward, but the ground you’re gaining is directly out of proportion of the effort you’re exerting. It’s not until O’Grady sets his sights on a move to Portland that he starts to gain momentum and make sense of what’s happening around him.
All of this is set against the fallout of the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center. This serves to ground the novel in a specific period of time, but goes further to show that even with the enormity of such events, it is often the crises that are closest to our day to day lives that receive the most of our attention. For O’Grady, being seen in any state of undress by his girlfriend is cause for alarm, while 9-11 is just the inconvenience of not drinking tap water. This is shown in a great scene in which O’Grady is talking with a man at the bar who is expounding on the cultural history of American disasters and their implications for future generations, all the while O’Grady can barely muster responses that form complete sentences, and eventually steers the conversation to his own problems. This is a very accurate way of portraying the impact of the attacks. I can’t say whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. But it’s refreshing (if not a little scary) to see these events written about in this light.
Alarm employs the help of an alternate narrator, AKA alter-narrator, to provide an underhanded counterpoint to O’Grady’s meanderings. Set in brackets along the right-hand side of the page, the alter-narrator is invisible and inaudible to O’Grady. By expressing to the reader that O’Grady’s path of reasoning is defective, or that his thoughts are repetitive, the alter-narrator disarms the notion that this is just another slacker story from the west coast, allowing the reader to view the story in its own light.
There is a certain sense throughout the book that the author, Mike Daily, knows O’Grady a bit too well. The humorous, surreal details of O’Grady’s job search and the realness of his co-workers and friends smacks of Daily’s having been there and done that. In saying this, I’d rather not speculate on any psuedo-autobiographic nature inherent in the book, but rather talk about Daily’s process of performing as O’Grady’s character and its impact on the work. Alarm comes with 2 CDs, one a live performance of excerpts from the book, the other a studio version. Daily has memorized large portions of (if not the entire) book and performs them with his experimental, free jazz group O’Grady. This cycle of writing, memorizing, and performing has served as an ongoing revision process, and it must be this process that lends certain chapters and passages a lyrical, poetic air. “God is My Friend” is one of the best examples of this. One can also speculate that the repeated performances as O’Grady by Daily create an identity crisis of sorts, and that the man on stage is at varying moments the creator and the character, or perhaps both at once. Whether this is limited to the audience, or if it is occurring within Daily as well is impossible to tell, but nonetheless exciting.
Just so no one gets confused I’m going to explicitly point out that the book’s protagonist and Daily’s band share the same name. This name-sharing is a fundamental part of understanding this format of the Alarm experience. The band is, in some ways, a more real and emotional interpretation of the character. Capitalizing on musical aspects such as rhythm, harmony and dischord, Daily takes control of the experience and brings the listener directly into the head of O’Grady. Hearing the internal monologue of Mick O’Grady broadcast across the room to an audience full of people creates an emotional relationship between the protagonist and the listener that is very different than can be accomplished on the page.
This also raises the question of which work is the “real” work? the book, the recording, or the performance. I hesitate to pose this question, as I feel that it in some way panders to those who wish to compartmentalize the arts into easily manageable categories. This is not my intention, and I’m sure it is not Daily’s. But nevertheless I bring it up to point out that this work is an attempt to challenge that way of thinking. Alarm reminds me of “One and Three Chairs” by Joseph Kosuth. It exists as a direct challenge to the viewer/reader/listener as to the accepted language of each of its representations. It points out not only the limitations of each medium but also the possibilities created when we use them together, or think about them differently.
There is a certain amount of redundancy between the formats that I have trouble understanding. I think this comes from the fact that all formats of the work are packaged together, giving the impression that they are all pieces of the same whole, and somehow need to be enjoyed together. When in fact they are each separate representations of the story, each capable of standing on their own. Personally I prefer the studio versions, for their enhanced production value. Although I’ve only heard recordings of the live performances and seen them on video, never in person.
Alarm should make you uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in relating to the story. Uncomfortable in reading it. Uncomfortable in listening to it. Uncomfortable in trying to understand exactly how to approach it. But with the discomfort comes an excitement that tells you that you are uncomfortable for all the right reasons. Alarm exists as a story that has put more heart and soul into exploring the many territories of storytelling than anything I’ve seen before.
(Possible parallel universe one millimeter from here.)
“The Imaginary Foundation is a think tank from Switzerland that does experimental research on new ways of thinking and the power of the imagination. They hold dear a belief in human potential and seek progress in all directions. The small clandestine team is headed up by the mysterious “Director” a 70 something uber intellectual who’s father founded the Dadaist movement. Avoiding direct publicity the team has sought streetwear as an unlikely vehicle for bringing their ideas beyond the academic realm and into popular culture.”
(Click for enlargement. Via Lisa Gidley’s site)
I’ve been sitting here for a good 30 minutes trying to find the best way to describe Black Moth Super Rainbow (mp3s available for download). I’m not sure I can do better than the album insert from their album “Dandelion Gum”.
“Deep in the woods of western Pennsylvania vocoders hum amongst the flowers and synths bubble under the leaf-strewn ground while flutes whistle in the wind and beats bounce to the soft drizzle of a warm acid rain. As the sun peeks out from between the clouds, the organic aural concoction of Black Moth Super Rainbow starts to glisten above the trees.”
Add Black Moth Super Rainbow to the list of bands that perfectly walk the fine line between analog and electronic. They seem to be a wonderful, perfect storm of each member’s individual influence. A truly successful collaboration. I’d recommend looking into each’s respective works:
The Seven Fields of Aphelion (mp3s available for download)
Power Pill Fist (mp3s available for download)
Drew over at Toothpaste For Dinner hits the nail on the head.
I was super swamped last Tuesday and neglected to post anything for Spinal Tap Tuesday! I’m sure you were all furious with intentions of lashing out with cricket bats and the like. But rest assured I’ve found quite the zinger this week!
Who would have thought that Nigel Tufnel (co-lead guitarist for the band) was a regular contributor to urbandictionary.com! Not I! Although I’ve especially enjoyed his entries regarding the song “I Want To Know What Love Is” by Foreigner and the rumors surrounding his own identity.
I was at Cheapo Records the other day and noticed something interesting. A lot of newly released vinyl albums are also including access codes for a one-time download of the same album, for free! What a great idea. There are a lot of albums that I download that I’m not willing to purchase on vinyl because of the added cost, and the fact that I could only listen to them at home. But, if I can get both by buying the vinyl first I’ll gladly do that.
Apparently adding a digital feature to vinyl record isn’t new. I found this link today (via Coudal) that tells all about albums from the 80s that contained analog sound data that would be recorded on to a cassette and then loaded on to a computer. The computer would read the analog sound data and convert it into pictures and games! This is something that really needs to revisited. I can see a band like !!! or AIR pulling it off really well. Aphex Twin did something similar in 2001 by “hiding”imagery in the sound spectrum of specific songs (you can watch the video here, skip to 5:27). These images utilize more sophisticated technology than is probably storable on a vinyl record, but with the technological advancements in the last 20 years, and the resurgent popularity of vinyl, something comparable has to be possible with records.
I just bought the new Radiohead album. That’s right, I bought it. I actually paid money for it. Even though I had more than a few friends offer it up to me for free. “No.” I said, “I want to support.”
To be honest it took me three tries to purchase the damn thing. I kept going to the website and talking myself out of actually making the purchase. No. 1, “I have to register? Screw that.” Or No. 2, “I bet this would be an ideal time for a hacker/spammer/phisher to set up a fake Radiohead site and fuck over a shi-ton of people. Hmm. Better not.” But, I finally did it. I paid 4 pounds for it, which is about 8 dollars. Less than I would pay on iTunes, but I figure if all that money is going to Radiohead directly with no studios, producers, marketing staff, etc taking a cut, and no costs of actually producing a physical object, that’s a fair, if not generous, price.
The album’s good, if you like Radiohead. Read the Pitchfork review if you’re into that kind of thing. Of course the quality of the album has been getting second billing to its method of release. It should be noted that the “direct from artist to consumer” method is not new. It’s been going on as long as people have been making music. Demo tapes, “grinding” out homemade hip-hop on the street corner, and the self-released album have been around forever and will continue into the future indefinitely. In Rainbows is such a big deal because it’s the first time a major act, who has been signed to major labels, has self-released an album on the internet using the pay-what-you-want method.
On one hand what Radiohead did is completely backwards. Usually a band needs to self-release an album before they get signed to a major label. On the other hand it makes complete sense. They get to release the album they want to release, with nobody from a label or studio telling them how to do it, and they stand to make a larger profit. One of the reasons this will work for Radiohead is because they are already so popular. A smaller band with less exposure might find it harder to turn a profit. But, we should see this as a sign that the internet is making it easier for smaller bands to get music out. The only problem I see with that Radiohead is doing is making people register personal information to buy an album. Granted, I’ve got accounts at Amazon, Zappos, iTunes, ABE books, and probably some others I can’t even remember, but how many secure payment sites are there going to be if this method really catches on? There could be dozens. Hundreds. As I mentioned earlier it’s just one more way for a hacker/spammer/phisher to fuck over a shit-ton of people. That’s why PayPal needs to come to the rescue. Everyone is already issued a PayPal account along with a Social Security number so it makes perfect sense that they should be the best option for this sort of thing. PayPal needs to step up and say, “We are behind this venture one hundred percent, and we want to be the preferred online payment system for independent artists.” But there’s a “but”. PayPal is owned by eBay, a large multinational corporation with lots of influence. It doesn’t make sense to take away control over music from one gigantic corporate power structure just to place it in the hands of another gigantic corporate power structure. (Maybe the “don’t be evil” folks over at Google can come up with something. Actually, I’m sure their working on it this very minute.)
Over the weekend I read an interesting article in the NYT about In Rainbows. It basically said that it was irrational that anyone would want to pay for something they could get for free. I think that’s true to some extent. But what the NYT article misses is that that irrationality happens on the artist’s side as well as the consumer’s side. Why would someone spend their own money to record, promote and distribute an album that probably won’t make them any money? Why would a band live out of a shitty van for 3 weeks on a midwest tour playing for people who have no idea who they are when they could just play shows in their hometown? Who knows? Who cares? Music is irrational. It’s not supposed to make sense. Why does banging out an A chord on a Marshall stack feel so good? Why do we all have “those songs” that make us feel a certain way or remind us of a certain time, place, or person? How did Mick Jagger get to be sex symbol with those big ‘ol lips? It doesn’t make much sense. Money, economics, and greed make sense; and that’s what most corporations are running on. And until they can find a new way of capitalizing on the irrationality of music and human nature they’re royally fucked.