The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

December 2006 Archive


December 04, 2006

Possibly Ira Kaplan's plectrum

There are objects that are worth something, and there are objects that are worthless. And then there are objects that could be worth something, at least to you, but you just don't have a clue if they are or not.

For example, for the past few weeks the object pictured above has been in my possession. It's a guitar plectrum. It's kind of possible that it's Ira Kaplan's guitar plectrum, but as I don't own a CSI kit that can do DNA analysis, I have no idea whether it is or not.

Clues: I A friend found this plectrum after the Yo La Tengo concert in Brussels, at the venue, about 10 feet from the merchandise stand to which Ira Kaplan had returned after playing one of the noisiest (and most exhilarating) gigs that I have ever been to.

Of course, considering that several other bands also played that evening, the plectrum might also have belonged to Edith Frost or any band member of Sukilove, Espers, or Midlake. Considering how many people there were in the audience, it could of course also be some audience member's plectrum.

Funny though: if I knew it was Ira Kaplan's plectrum, it would be valuable to me. If it was anybody else's plectrum, I wouldn't care much. As it is, I'll probably put it into one of those CSI-issue sealable little plastic bags, file it as "possibly Ira Kaplan's plectrum" and keep it as an item of questionable value.

Which is probably weird to some people, but fine by me.

Hear Ira Kaplan play on Yo La Tengo's "Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind".

Posted by Horst at 06:18 PM | Comments (5)


December 05, 2006

View from my office, 5 Dec 2006, around 4pm

Did I ever mention that I have this really great view from my office window, which sometimes is not just great, but actually quite spectacular?

Posted by Horst at 04:20 PM | Comments (6)


December 07, 2006

Egg

Today, I accidentally cooked an egg for no less than 35 minutes. I am currently pondering whether I should open it just to see what it looks like on the inside (somebody once told me that yolks turn all black), or whether I should just throw it away aithout any further ado.

Posted by Horst at 06:21 PM | Comments (6)


December 09, 2006

I spent much of the previous weeks trying to get people interested in my new books, and I think I understand now why cocaine use is so widespread in the marketing and PR community. Basically, it seems that you either have to be part of some social network where you know lots of really important people, or you have to maintain a cocaine level that makes you feel so energised that you can talk everybody into the ground; otherwise the whole thing is totally futile.

And I'm not even trying to become rich with this. Basically, all I want is to try and sell just enough copies so that I get roughly the money back that I invested in it. I had hoped that by contacting people who know people I might get some sort of exposure, but apparently I'm not important and/or energetic enough, and the whole concept of Messages from the Lost Continent (a collaborative novel! written by webloggers! and it's about conspiracies and ancient artefacts!) is just not catchy enough. And I'd understand if people would think it's not catchy enough to buy the book, but no, the problem is that, with one two notable exceptions, they apparently think it's so not catchy that they're not even willing to spread the word. So far, nobody ordered one of the free review copies that I offered them.

It's understandable, I guess. We live in a world where everybody is trying to sell everything, and it doesn't really matter what you sell as long as you're out of touch with reality enough to talk people into whatever it is you're selling -- that is most likely how I lost the slot on the reading programme of a chain bookstore to a woman reading from How to Paint Your Own Garden Gnomes (a DIY guide on, yes, putting paint on garden gnomes). Unfortunately I am kind of queasy about the side effects of cocaine (addiction and personality changes come to mind), so I see myself in no position to bring up the energy and talk so much that the people who could give me exposure will eventually cave in, and hiring someone will definitely cost a lot more than the amount of money I'm trying to raise by selling my books.

I am so not made for the business world. If I were, I'd be contributing to the 1000 kilos of cocaine that end up in the Danube every year. I'd probably be slightly paranoid and/or prone to even more dramatic mood swings than I already am, but at least my bank account would look more reassuring. And Messages would already be a best seller.

Posted by Horst at 11:20 PM | Comments (9)


December 10, 2006

Friends of mine had watched The Big Lebowski and wanted to go bowling. I never understood that movie, but I suppose it's one of those movies that are not supposed to be understood in the first place. Anyway, while I think the movie is rather pointless, I have no such problem with bowling.

As a consequence, today I held a bowling ball in my hands for the first time in my life. Actually, I held several of different weights until I found out that size 11 seemed to yield the best results.

Incidentally, I won. By a respectable margin, I might add, and despite the fact that they had the most awful music blearing from the speakers, music that was obviously designed to break the players' concentration. It was probably beginner's luck, or I was really the most competent person in our group, or the least incompetent.

Any way, it felt good. Even though I also won the prize for Most Embarrassing Moment of the Evening, when the ball slipped off my fingers while I was swinging it backwards and it seemed for a brief moment as if it would knock over people instead of pins. Thankfully, that moment passed rather quickly, and nobody was hurt.

Posted by Horst at 11:45 PM | Comments (2)


December 12, 2006

French Connection 2

Coming up this Friday, December 15th: French Connection 2; join me (a.k.a. DJ h-prill) at Café Frame, Jägerstrasse 28, 1200 Wien (near Wallensteinplatz) for two hours of French music and two hours (or more) of jazz. I'll start at 9pm.

You are herewith cordially invited. Admission is free, and if you want to buy one of my books, this is your chance to get signed copies at a substantial discount.

Posted by Horst at 10:31 PM | Comments (0)


December 13, 2006

Despite the fact that I spend a lot of time teaching my students the concept of the literary canon, I believe I may have violated it and lost some respect in the process. These things happen.

canon (noun); a collection of books accepted as holy scripture, especially the books of the Bible recognized by any Christian church as genuine and inspired

The concept of the canon, which was originally a purely religious matter, has of course since been applied to various fields of art which have also enjoyed something of a religious devotion by their aficionados, in particular literature, film, and music. Generally, it still refers to a list of titles that are perceived to be "genuine and inspired".

Of course that is also why the canon has been so strongly criticized: it will by definition always reflect the tastes of those who set it up; even if they are a many people, or even a representative group, the canon will reflect the cultural and ideological values of the society that makes it, and as these values can and will change, so that everything can become part of the canon and everything can cease to be part of it. In other words, whether something becomes literature or art depends not so much on the work itself than it depends on cultural contexts and subtexts.

Currently we could say that the concept of the canon is no longer a matter of Knowing the Truth; it has been transformed into a matter of style -- in other words, there are things that are hip and things that aren't. To be hip requires that you (a) are aware of what is canonical and (b) are aware of things that will become canonical, but especially that (c) you stay clear of things that are not and will most likely not become canonical.

This means, of course, that canons are exclusive: if you read canonical texts, listen to canonical music, watch canonical films, you are part of the "in crowd". If you so much as make one wrong move, you're out.

Or, let me rephrase the first part of the previous sentence: if you know what kind of things are canonical and pretend that you read/listen to/watch them, then you are part of the "in crowd". Because interestingly, many canonical things are not ever consumed.

Who, for example, has honestly read Joyce's Ulysses, Musil's Mann ohne Eigenschaften, Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu? Or rather, what percentage of people who talk about these books have read, understood, and enjoyed them?

Why is it that the BYG "Actuel" series of jazz records receives such universal acclaim and is most certainly canonical and still, if you mention any title in that series, for example Dave Burrell's Echo, everybody will ask you, "I hear it's great, so what's it really like?".

The trick with the canon is that it is perfectly alright to talk about canonical literature, music or films if you haven't seen them, but that you should never, ever talk about something that is non-canonical.

The problem here is that, as I have pointed out, what is canonical and what is non-canonical can depend a lot on the group of people you are with. So talking about Star Trek can be perfect in one situation and an absolute no-no in another.

And of course you have to be up-to-date as to what's canonical at the moment. Ally McBeal? Very canonical in 1999, totally unacceptable in 2006.

So what this all amounts to and why I'm writing this is that I seem to have made a total fool of myself by saying at some point that my winter depression had made me watch five seasons of Gilmore Girls on DVD. I did not say I liked it; I did not said it had worked against the depression. Everybody was simply appalled.

I had been under the impression that Gilmore Girls was, at least partly, canonical. Apparently not.

Posted by Horst at 01:44 AM | Comments (3)


December 14, 2006

In the liner notes to the recent CD reissue of Die Donnergötter, Rhys Chatham writes that the excessive noise created during his performances of "Drastic Classicism" (also included on the CD) is very likely responsible for the fact that he lost his hearing, as well as for significant hearing damage to half the New York art world.

The way he writes it makes it sound as if this is an accomplishment that he is somewhat proud of, and he encourages the reader of the CD booklet to "play this piece LOUD!" He may say so because apparently you can only hear some of the overtones in this piece at an extremely high volume level; or maybe Chatham believes that artists really need to have an impact on their audience's lives, even if it is by making them deaf.

Recent Chatham reissues on the Table of the Elements label:
Die Donnergötter (TOE-CD-801) | An Angel Moves Too Fast to See (for 100 Electric Guitars) (TOE-CD-802) | Two Gongs (TOE-CD-73) | A Crimson Grail (for 400 Electric Guitars) (TOE-CD-106).

Posted by Horst at 12:50 AM | Comments (0)


December 15, 2006

My iPod died yesterday.

As it's no longer covered by warranty, the repair would cost €261. A new iPod costs €289. I am not willing to spend either amount, especially not the former as that would be a very stupid thing to do.

My unwillingness to buy a new iPod is mostly due to the fact that I recently spent a lot of money to publish those books of mine and thus my bank account is not looking pretty. As Amazon.de also decided to remove Messages from the Lost Continent from their catalogue (for unknown reasons), there is also no chance of it becoming a surprise best seller, so I'll probably have to live with that hole for a while.

Can I live without an iPod? Unless Santa Claus is bringing me one, time will tell, I suppose.

(In slightly more uplifting news, I can announce that the bookshops phil and Shakespeare & Co. both have Messages and The Happiest Guy in stock now.)

Update: It seems that even if I had the money, buying a new iPod would be pointless because both my computers are too old to allow a current iPod model to be connected to them. Meaning I'd have to buy a new computer first. Which in turn means that having my iPod repaired, even though it's ridiculously expensive, may be the cheaper option after all.

Posted by Horst at 12:00 AM | Comments (6)


December 20, 2006

For some weird reason everybody whom I have so far sold a copy of Messages from the lost continent has asked me if that's me on the cover.

Let's for a moment forget that the person on the cover does not even remotely look like me. Let's leave aside that I have hair loss in the exact opposite place than the person on the cover. Let's leave aside that the person asking the question is usually standing rght in front of me, getting a good look at both the cover photograph and me. Let's not even take into consideration that using a photograph taken by somebody else on a book cover is a copyright nightmare.

Let's just consider this:

I consider myself extremely unphotogenic. Anybody who has ever tried to take a picture of me and actually managed to survive can tell stories of violence and mayhem. There exist only about a dozen photos of me, all taken against my will. In fact, compared to the amount of pictures that exist of me, Ernst Haas was a model.

On the other hand, I have an archive of thousands of pictures that I have taken. As a child, I wanted to become a photographer, and I'm still angry at myself that I didn't pursue this more insistently, especially considering that I did get some of my photographs exhibited at one point.

So I ask you: which is more likely -- that it's me on the picture or that it's me who took the picture?

Strangely enough, most of the people who ask that stupid question think they know me.

Posted by Horst at 08:07 PM | Comments (7)


December 21, 2006

In my letterbox I found, right on top of the stack of invoices that I usually get at this time of the year, a book entitled Jesus und der Fall Natascha ("Jesus and the Natascha Kampusch case").

Natascha Kampusch is, as I only need to mention for readers outside Austria, the girl who was abducted eight years ago when she was ten years old and who managed to escape from her kidnapper earlier this year.

There was no address on the book cover and also no other sign that it had been sent by mail, so somebody other than the postman must have put it there. I have no idea if everybody in the house got a copy, but there weren't any in the wastepaper recycle bin, so there is the weird possibility that somebody wanted me to have it. Why they would do that is beyond me.

Basically, the book consists of three chapters: what Jesus would say to Natascha Kampusch, what Jesus would say to Natascha's parents, and what Jesus would say to Natascha's kidnapper. Most of these are adventurous interpretations of disconnected chapters of the bible, interspersed with prayers, some of which seem to be of very limited use unless you are a kidnapping victim, a parent of a kidnapped child, or a kidnapper.

What I found particularly ironic is how the author repeatedly stresses the importance of unconditional love and strong family ties. I, on the other hand, agree almost completely with Rainer Just's recent essay in Wespennest (partially reprinted here) that the kidnapper's main incentive was most likely a combination of loneliness and a pathological, misguided sense of romanticism, a yearning for the kind of family and togetherness very similar to the one that permeates our society and that is also propagated in this very book. What the kidnapper did then was a twisted variation on the male fantasy that Pedro Almodovar made fun of in Atame, namely that a woman that you capture will eventually grow to love you. However, it doesn't work like that; the most you'll get in real life is a case of Stockholm syndrome.

Finally, while the author of the Jesus/Natascha book seems to be very convinced of "what Jesus would say", I rather doubt his ability to communicate with Jesus and channel his thoughts. I just don't believe that Jesus would tell the kidnapper twenty pages of religious gook, including how committing suicide would not get him to hell, but adbucting Natascha does. Or at least I hope he wouldn't.

I mean, the only thing anybody should say to the kidnapper in that situation is something like "you stupid idiot, let her go at once".

Posted by Horst at 11:08 PM | Comments (4)


December 24, 2006

and everything.

Posted by Horst at 07:49 PM | Comments (5)


December 27, 2006

Yesterday's newspaper contained the basis for twelve new short stories. Of course I realised this only today, more than twenty-four hours after I'd thrown it away, and I can only remember enough to base one short story on it. Have to check out the paper at the library tomorrow. It could be next year's book.

Posted by Horst at 07:08 PM | Comments (4)


December 28, 2006

Age

I remember when I was about twelve years old, there was this summer during which I went on holidays with just my mother because my father couldn't get that week off work. When we returned home, I noticed (or thought I'd noticed) that my father's hair had all gone gray. In my memory, a week earlier it had still been black, and it was as if he'd aged ten or fifteen years in that one week. He also seemed rather tired and exhausted. I don't know if anything happened during that week, but as, contrary to legend, people's hair doesn't just go gray overnight (or overweek), I suppose I simply took a better look at him that day and noticed what he really looked like rather than what I thought he looked like.

About two years ago I had a similar experience when I saw him and suddenly I realised he had become an old man. Not an "old" old man -- he still does 20-mile bicycle tours without any problem at all -- but something in his posture had changed enough to change my perception of him, as if he had again aged fifteen years within a week.

It's frightening that he ages that way, in those big steps every once in a while. Most people seem to do it more slowly, more continuously, more subtly.

Similarly frightening is a medical diagnosis he received a week ago that I learned about at Christmas; hardly the kind of thing you want to learn about at Christmas, or at any time of the year for that matter. It looks curable, but an operation is required, and that was when I realised that he's almost 70 and I'm almost 40, and now I've become slightly afraid of the face that I might see if I take a closer look at the mirror, or the face that I might no longer see one day when I look where my father is supposed to be, but isn't.

Posted by Horst at 01:35 AM | Comments (4)


December 29, 2006

Favourite songs this year. Not a top ten, just a top nine, sorry.

9. Tortoise & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy: Daniel - This year's second-best cover version comes from Will Oldham and Tortoise, who give Elton John's "Daniel" a particularly successful treatment, removing all the easy listening pop feel and filling it up with a profound sadness that is enhanced by a rhythm track of repetitive sound loops that further enhance the feeling of loss - "I can see Daniel waving goodbye, God it looks like Daniel, must be the clouds in my eyes".
On: The Brave and the Bold

8. Jonathan Kane: I Looked at the Sun - This year's most interesting instrumental track is Jonathan Kane's 13-minute improvisation over a simple, steady blues beat that very cleverly variates several guitar riffs into overlapping loops. The result is both hypnotic and eminently listenable.
On: I Looked at the Sun

7. The Mountain Goats: Woke Up New - John Darnielle sings about what happens "on the morning when I woke up without you for the first time", and it rings so true that it's painful even if you haven't lived through it recently.
On: Get Lonely

6. Victory at Sea: To You and Me - I guess what I like so particularly about this band is the clever way in which the piano player fills in for the missing bass, and the sheer competence of their drummer, and of course the tortured vocals -- when Mona Elliott sings "we can still be friends", you're fully aware that it won't work out. Greatness.
On: All Your Things Are Gone

5. Iron & Wine: The Trapeze Swinger - Want to know if you are a good person? Simple: if you don't weep at some point during the seven minutes of this song, you don't qualify. Sam Beam gives a new meaning to the word "sentimental", but even though nothing much happens during this song (and there is a "clean" version omitting one occurrence of the "f" word), this is almost seven minutes of perfect beauty.
On: Live Session

4. Yo La Tengo: Pass the Hatchet, I Think I'm Goodkind" - An 11-minute extended guitar jam with some mostly undecipherable lyrics; certainly the most cathartic song this year, especially if listened to loud. Not that it would work any other way.
On: I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass

3. Califone: The Orchids - It's one of those songs you feel forced to play at the end of the day "when all the numbers swim together, and all the shadows settle, when doors forced open shut again". Originally by Psychic TV, Califone have recorded this year's most beautiful cover version.
On: Roots & Crowns

2. The Decemberists: The Crane Wife 3 - Colin Meloy's slightly abrasive voice sits on top of one of the most cleverly constructed songs in a long time. That bass guitar entering after the first few bars must be the most exciting thing that happened in rock music since the 1970s. "I will hang my head low"? Not at all.
On: The Crane Wife

1. Beth Orton: Shopping Trolley - A brief, simple song sung over a catchy riff and a fast-paced, almost thundering drum beat; this song has an immediate pop appeal and still remains interesting even after you've listened to it a hundred times, as I certainly have this year. "I think I'm gonna cry but I'm gonna laugh about it all in time." -- yep, exactly, that's what 2006 was like in a nutshell.
On: Comfort of Strangers

Posted by Horst at 01:22 AM | Comments (2)


December 30, 2006

Berlin, Germany
Braunau, Austria
Brno, Czech Republic
Brussels, Belgium
Eichberg, Austria
Graz, Austria
Linz, Austria
London, United Kingdom
Munich, Germany
Paris, France
Salzburg, Austria
Vienna, Austria
Villach, Austria

Posted by Horst at 10:09 PM | Comments (11)



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