Monday, April 19, 2004

Top Ten seems like a reasonable format for recapping the EMP conference, right? Entries in chronological order, 10 points to each, no distinction between 'singles' and 'albums.' Understood, I hope, that informal conversation, hanging-out, and eating top the list, globally and non-quantifiably.

1) Arriving at Sarah Vowell's keynote presentation a bit late, straight from the taxi, and hearing, the second I walk in, Jon Langford singing part of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins: "All you have to do is use your little finger."

2) Robert Christgau's guerilla copyediting of Lester Bangs, Anthony DeCurtis, and Susan McClary -- you wouldn't sit still for this, probably, coming from just about anyone else, but it was fascinating to watch him fire off opinions about the smallest decisions in prose with no apologies. Not to mention a couple of brilliantly lucid paragraphs on the ways dancing is about architecture.

3) Christian Marclay's Video Quartet, a labor-intensive collage of musical moments from Hollywood movies, shown at Marclay's retrospective at Seattle Art Museum), which I'd missed in L.A.. (Also, a very simple piece called "My Weight In Records," which I have to assume refers to Felix Gonzales-Torres' candy-scatters.) The performance of his Musical Graffiti piece later than evening was less exciting, though I'm convinced I have to learn more about pianist Robin Holcomb, one of the highlights of the Randy Newman tribute in January.

4) Best Philosophy/Theory: Charles Kronengold's theory of 'accidents' in pop, invoking Aristotle on essence and accident. I disagreed with much of this, but, importantly, a framework was given with which one could at least take issue in a way that moved the discussion forward.

5) Best Musicology: Bob Fink, tracing orchestral sounds in electronica from Trans-Europe Express through Bambatta's Planet Rock to "the techno-minor-triad."

6) The civil-rights/anti-war protest video shown by Caryn Brooks, which accompanied The Dixie Chicks' performances of "Truth No. 2" on their 2003 post-controversy tour. I had some problems with how the video itself is to be read -- why is it sepia-toned? -- but the song, which I admit I'd never heard, is terrific.

7) "Under The Bamboo Tree," a 1902 novelty song about how the Zulus woo, as performed at lunchtime Saturday by ex-Holy Modal Rounder Peter Stampfel and Jeannie Scofield. (This is one of the songs used as period, well, color in Meet Me In St. Louis; I'd never heard the verses.)

8) Douglas Wolk's detailed and hilarious exploration of 'fake Beatles' records, designed in many cases to fool parents, from early '64 -- The Buggs, The Liverpools, "The Beetle Beat" -- usually consisting of inept covers of "She Loves You" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand," plus a few originals or public domain tunes. Not to mention The Wyncotte Squirrels -- a Chipmunks knockoff playing Beatles knockoffs. (Observation for those who heard it -- doesn't "Hey! Quiet Down There" sound more like a Coasters (i.e. Lieber/Stoller) rip than a Lennon/McCartney one?) And, yes, Douglas, we noticed that the moderator called you 'Doug' about seven times.

9) The entire "Critical Karaoke" panel -- talking over what each writer thought at some moment 'the best song ever' for exactly the length of the song -- from Joshua Clover's introductions ("Greil Marcus is a newcomer to rock criticism....") to the pieces themselves, including but not limited to Daphne Brooks on Journey, Ann Powers on a Johnny Mathis version of "Alfie," Oliver Wang on Betty Davis, Marcus on "More Than This," Joshua not referring to his backing mashup at all while describing trying to fuck on Ecstasy, and Angie Mlinko on a Elliot Smith performance, backed by a bootleg of the very show she'd been at in Providence several years ago. A revealing glimpse at the personality and method of each participant, thanks to the compression of the form. (Made me think of other people I'd like to hear do this at least once, many of whom aren't even critics.)

10) Putting faces to names: Some of the above, plus Amy Phillips, Sara Dougher, Lindsay Waters, J-Shep, Paul Bresnick, the tiny Rebecca Brooklyn Powers/Weisbard (an infant, if that's not clear), Puncture Verse Chorus Press' Steve Connell. When I told the last that "Is That All There Is?" had been based on a Thomas Mann story, he instantly responded: "Oh, 'Entaeuschung'?"

Presentations I heard good things about and oughtn't have missed: RJ Smith on Eden Abez and "Nature Boy," Max Hechter (who gave me the 7" he pressed for the occasion anyway), Seth Sanders, Jeff Chang's interview with Benjamin Menendez, and another lunch performance piece called "Classical Puts Me To Sleep." I'm not going to pretend that there weren't talks that disappointed or enervated, but I'm feeling too boostery to name them -- well, ok, I wasn't too excited by some loosey-goosey talk about 'the sublime' at a panel on same (but I missed the first paper).

About my own talk, I can only say that I was gratified when I got as big a laugh as I had hoped from Guy Lombardo's version of "Is That...." Completely serendipitous discovery, as of two weeks ago, courtesy of my UCLA dept-mate David Sanson.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?