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

November 2008 Archive

November 03, 2008

Yma Sumac - Voice of the XtabayYma Sumac, one of the most unique and original singers of the 1950s passed away last Saturday aged 86. Born Zoila Augusta Emperatriz Chavarri del Castillo in Peru in 1922, she was first noticed by a larger public in 1950, when her debut recording Voice of the Xtabay was released. The unsuspecting listener was not only confronted by lush orchestral arrangements conceived by the "king of easy listening" Les Baxter, but also by unprecedented vocal acrobatics. Sumac's voice had a range of four and a half octaves (she herself claimed to have five), and the record was clearly designed to showcase this incredible range in each and every song. Baxter managed to create a pseudo-exoticism that was on the one hand immediately recognizable as American, but that still carried a strange otherworldly flavour, which was further augmented by the claim that Sumac was actually an Inca princess. Together with the liner notes, which explained that "xtabay" was the primal female energy, the album was a stylized product of mythical exotic femininity. Voice of the Xtabay became a huge success; it is the only record that was never deleted from the Capitol catalogue since its first release in 1950.

Yma Sumac - MamboThe success of Voice of the Xtabay led to other records; none of them was quite a match for the debut, but they still kept up the atmosphere of unrestrained exoticism and gave ample room to Sumac's vocal acrobatics. Inca Taqui from 1952, which further built on Sumac's alleged Inca heritage (which in turn led to the rumour that her real name was Amy Camus and that she was in reality a housewife from Brooklyn), was followed in 1954 by Mambo!, a crazy set of -- as the title suggests - eight fiery mambos, arranged by Billy May using brass sharper than a sane ear could bear and sung by Sumac in multiple voices reminiscent of anything between the Muppet Show and the Queen of the Night from Mozart's Magic Flute. It's more mambo that a sane person can stand, but it's an unique experience packaged inside a fantastic record cover.

Yma Sumac - Legend of the JivaroSumac's success seemed to decline somewhat towards the late 1950s. Later recordings, such as Legend of Jivaro, whose liner notes claimed that Sumac and her husband Moises Vivanco had travelled to the Amazonian jungle and studied the music of the Jivaro, a tribe of savage headhunters, are lacking both the tightness and the novelty factor of earlier recordings; in fact the album cover of the Inca princess among the headhunters is slightly more appealing than the music. Still, even though record sales decreased, Sumac toured regularly through the United States and other countries, and her stage presence was legendary, even when her vocal range decreased with age. She retired in the 1980s, claiming to have moved to Peru (which was not true; she lived in Los Angeles), but appeared occasionally on stage, even at age 75 at the 1997 Montreal Jazz Festival.

Yma Sumac, the "nightingale of the Andes", born September 13, 1922, died November 1, 2008.

Posted by Horst at 02:17 PM | Comments (2)

November 05, 2008

I will be appearing on a panel on Weblogs -- Politische Tagbücher als Instrumente direkter Demokratie? next Monday, 17 November at 5pm at the Sociology and Political Sciences Library, 1090 Vienna, Rooseveltplatz 2, along with fellow bloggers Harald Otto, Laura Rudas and Hans Christian Voigt, and we'll be talking about the impact of blogs on politics and democracy in general.

As this is part of the Tagebuchtag (diary day) series of events, the panelists will also read excerpts from their blogs, meaning that apart from saying clever things about blogs, I'll also be reading brief sections from my books Cursed and Messages from the Lost Continent.

Click here for more information.

Posted by Horst at 11:46 PM | Comments (2)

November 06, 2008

Much as I appreciate the power change following the US election, I can't help the feeling that the expectations that many Europeans seem to have of Barack Obama seem to be slightly out of proportion. Sure, he's a smart and smart-looking guy with an oratorial gift that is impressive, and the comparisons between Obama's public appearances and those of JFK certainly do have a point, but the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats aren't ideological, at least not in a way the differences between European Conservatives and Social Democrats are.

I think that some of the European "Obamania" that led thousands of people to Obama's appearances in Berlin or Paris is based on a misunderstanding of how fundamental the political changes that he can bring about in the US are going to be. I daresay that it's highly unlikely that he is in a position to change many of the things that most Europeans do not understand about the US -- the death penalty, the attitude towards weapons, the readiness to use military intervention, to name only a few.

First and foremost, Obama is an American male. At least he's not a white American male, but the cultural divide between the US and Europe is significant, and Europeans should not fall victim to the illusion that Obama can fully transcend his cultural roots. He may not represent George W. Bush's America, but he still represents America.

Posted by Horst at 09:38 PM | Comments (8)

November 07, 2008

The name itself is already the first mystery -- is it "Bosna" or "Bosner"? You can read both variants, but only one is apparently correct (the former). It has nothing to do with "Bosnier" (Bosnians), that much is certain. And as many sausage stands have trouble spelling it correctly, they have even greater problems making them from the correct ingredients. So here's the deal: two thin grill sausages (Bratwürstel), fresh onion, mustard, ketchup (optional) and lots of curry powder (mandatory). All of this ends up in a hot dog bun that has been grilled to a flat, crispy something.

Fact #1: the best Bosna are available in and around Salzburg. The most legendary Bosna place is the "Balkan-Grill Walter" located inside the passageway of the building no. 33 Getreidegasse, and the Bosna there are highly recommended. Still, even the Turkish kebab place at Salzburg railway station (ground level, next to the entrance has decent Bosna, much better than anything served under this name 60 miles to the east.

The capital of Upper Austria, Linz, which is about 60 miles to the east of Salzburg, used to have numerous sausage stands with excellent Bosna, but all of them seem to have closed now, and the Bosna available there at the moment are rather disappointing; they are, however, still better than anything offered under that name another 60 miles to the east.

Fact #2: East of the river Enns nothing served as "Bosna" even remotely deserves that name. If you are, as I am, a person who grew up near Salzburg now living in Vienna and have an occasional craving for Bosna, what can you do, other than be thoroughly frustrated by inedible sausage products masquerading as Bosna? You spend a lot of time testing sausage stands and torturing your gastrointestinal tract. It is a long, tedius, painful quest.

So far I have found three sausage stands whose "Bosna" are kind of acceptable, so here are my recommendations for fellow Bosna-ites:

  • The sausage stand right outside Währinger Straße-Volksoper station, on the the outer Gürtel side.
  • The sausage stand at the intersection of Albertgasse and Josefstädter Strasse, where tram lines 2 and 5 meet. The younger, more talkative sausage seller claims to have worked in Salzburg and makes decent Bosna even though he says that neither the sausages nor the buns that he gets are the authentic ones.
  • The sausage stand near Ottakring station, under the subway bridge right next to the tram stop of lines 2 and 46. If you're asked if you want two thin sausages or one thick sausage, demand the thin ones, by all means.

Every other Bosna I've tried in Vienna so far was anything between forgettable and terrible. The bigger and the brighter the "Bosna" sign, the worse the product. If you have found good Bosna somewhere in Vienna, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Posted by Horst at 12:27 PM | Comments (3)

November 08, 2008

SpectreThe first three in a series of audio CD releases of material by yours truly are out and available to order; expect more to arrive before the end of the year.

First of all, there's Spectre, a spooky drone for two bass guitars and voice that I performed already a couple of years back, now available on CD-R in a limited edition of 50 copies. Hypnotic, and not the kind of music you'd want to listen to if you're stuck in a deserted house and it's late at night.

Bass for PeaceGeorge W. Bush will be gone soon, but other politicians all over the world are still waging wars. Therefore, even though it was initially conceived as a statement against the Iraq war, Bass for Peace is as up-to-date as ever and is receiving a reissue in a limited edition of 50 copies, each of them wrapped in a papersleeve made from printouts of my "Things I Learned from Watching TV After Midnight" series. No two covers are the same, and as with the original release from 2003, all proceeds from this release will also go to UNICEF.

The Yelling PianoFinally, there's a reissue of my 1987 recording of The Yelling Piano, the free jazz/noise workout during which we seriously mistreated a grand piano, an alto sax, a guitar and an empty salad dressing bucket. This reissue on CD-R has been remastered for a less booming bass on "Raspberry Jam". The piano-less synth blubbering of "Frames and Pictures" was left off this release. Yelling Piano Redux comes in a limited edition of 25 copies, all of them in handmade, hand-painted papersleeves, with no two copies looking the same.

Forthcoming, due in early to mid December: A complete collection of my Jazz Poems; also Croakpot, a selection of sound poems, and probably more ambient drones. If you're thinking about getting any of these as Christmas presents for your friends, drop me a note, and I'll keep you informed.

All orders can be placed through my Books and CDs page. Prices include shipping (please select the correct country).

Posted by Horst at 04:31 PM | Comments (4)

November 10, 2008

1. Is American politics like Star Trek? Interestingly, after a couple of white males, they had an African American male as the commanding officer before they had a (white) woman. Does that say something about women's position in society, or is it entirely Hillary's fault?

2. Please, everybody stop comparing Obama to JFK. Not that I think that he doesn't have a similar kind of charisma, but let's not forget how JFK's career ended after his initial triumph. The notion that Obama could be killed by a white supremacist/racist/psychopath is likely enough to make me feel very uncomfortable.

Posted by Horst at 11:49 PM

November 18, 2008

CroakpotAs promised earlier, Croakpot, a collection of most of my sound poems and cumulative poems is now available in a limited edition of 50 CD-Rs. Orders can be placed through my Books & CDs page, and the price includes shipping.

While some of the sound poems go back as far as 1986 and have been heard on my numerous Dadaist happenings throughout the late 1980s, the CD also contains five so-called "cumulative poems", which are published here for the first time and have not yet been performed live -- look out for the December Open Mic at Café Kafka, where one or two of them will be premiered. Stretching between 3 and 13 minutes, they represent for me something like a missing link between sound poetry and music.

Tracklisting: Green, K-K, War, Four Politicians, Smmrrr, Stay, Delirium Tremens, Wobb, Huuoy, Message f.t.l.c., To Ndnd, Ü sehr ziert, A Tone Cone for Arthur, K-K Reloaded, I Reckon, Smmrrr Reloaded, Everywhere I Was. 17 poems, total playing time approximately 51 minutes.

Posted by Horst at 10:48 PM | Comments (1)

November 19, 2008

If you're ever lost in Vienna and feel the need to ask someone for the way, here's who not to ask: tramway drivers. Or bus drivers, for that matter. For people who are driving around the city all the time, they are remarkably incompetent when it comes to any location that is not synonymous with the name of some station on their line.

A few weeks ago, I was at Praterstern station, waiting for somebody near the tram stop. A couple of youths approached the tram driver and I could hear them asking for Landstrasse station. Now Landstrasse is one stop away from Praterstern on the suburban rail line; it's a matter of 2 minutes to get there.

However, I could hear the tram driver tell the youths to take underground line U2 and change at Schottenring to line U4. That's two stops on line U2 and two more stops on line U4 and can't be done in under 15 minutes. Right at this point, the person I was waiting for showed up and I couldn't even intervene anymore; the youths trailed off towards the escalators and disappeared underground.

This morning I overheard an old lady asking a tram driver for "Esslinger Gasse" and mentioned some kind of tower that's supposed to be there. I could hear the tram driver send her in the opposite direction, somewhere near Schwarzenbergplatz. The problem is, there is no "Esslinger Gasse" in Vienna. There is, however, an "Esslinggasse", which is located just three stops away on this very tramway line. Esslinggasse is also right next to the Ringturm, or Ring Tower, so it's fairly safe to assume that instead of telling the lady to just get off at the third stop, the driver sent her on an odyssey to the other side of the city.

These are just two examples,but things like that happen frequently. The odd thing is, whenever I have a chance to intervene and tell the people where they really have to go, they don't believe me, they always believe the tram driver.

I wonder what happened to that old lady today. I didn't understand what exactly the tram driver told her; I just hope he didn't send her to the underground line that crosses the Danube and then to one of the buses that go to Esslinger Hauptstrasse. While Esslinggasse is right in the city centre and just about five minutes away, going to Esslinger Hauptstrasse is a one-hour trip to one of Vienna's most remote suburbs.

Now you can of course blame the woman for not getting her address right. Or maybe she wanted to go to Esslinger Hauptstrasse after all. I think they have a church with a clock tower there. But I really think that tram drivers are extremely untrustworthy when it comes to giving directions.

Posted by Horst at 12:17 PM | Comments (4)

November 20, 2008

So why did they, in what must have been a last-minute decision, include the person who wasn't on the official programme, and why did they let him confuse the audience for a full fifteen minutes?

Posted by Horst at 06:35 PM | Comments (2)

November 21, 2008

77 million paintingsThe "home version" of Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings (previously mentioned here) is something of a disappointment. Of course I hadn't really expected it to be something like the huge 12-segment presentation that I had seen at the exhibition in Brussels, but I must admit that I had had some kind of small hope, and getting just one segment at a time takes much of the majesty out of the visual experience.

The realization that I'd need not just a big exhibition space, but also at least 4 PowerMacs and 12 huge flat-screen monitors to reproduce something of the experience is slightly disillusioning.

Even worse is that it's not just any PowerMacs that I'd need, but very specifically G5 PowerMacs. That's because the system requirements for the software are such that the "generative music", which creates an endless soundtrack of something like 77 million different combinations of ambient sounds to go with the 77 million paintings, only works on G5 PowerMacs. PowerMacs with G4 processors and even PowerMacs with Intel processors don't get the "generative" continuous soundtrack, but instead have to play a very ungenerative 33-minute MP3 file over iTunes to get any kind of soundtrack at all.

Considering that the G5 PowerMacs weren't exactly the widest-selling computer hardware and considering that Intel PowerMacs even have better processing power, these system requirements are among the most pointless and most frustrating I've ever seen, especially for a product that was released when Intel PowerMacs have been very widely available for quite some time now.

I'll try and install the Windows version on VMware on my Intel PowerMac. If this works, then the software isn't just an exercise in frustration; in that case it's Software of the Absurd in the best Beckett-ian manner.

Posted by Horst at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

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