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War Music: an account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad
War Music: an account of Books 1-4 and 16-19 of Homer's Iliad
by Christopher Logue
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.39

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Rough Music, 7 May 2014
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This is just fantastic. I'm quite an avid poetry reader, but I can honestly say that it's rare to come across something so compelling. 'War Music' sucks you in and pulls you along, surfing on a roller-coaster wave of ultra-violent verbs, mordant-wit and breathtakingly cinematic imagery.
If this sounds like hyperbole - it's justified. Logue's 'versioning' of episodes from Homer's Iliad is one of the great works of modern literature, offering a window into a brutal, alien world and a mirror to our own voyeuristic culture, where wars unfold on rolling news and our own Gods and Goddesses bask in the sickly sheen of celebrity.
I can think of few contemporary poets who can manipulate the blank iambic line with such effortless aplomb - this really is 'Music' in its truest sense - Logue's lines sing. There are echoes of Pound (minus the obscurity), Old English alliterative verse, the photographic zen of haiku and even the scatological slang of a Tarantino film-script.
If there is a criticism, it is perhaps that this is unashamedly male writing, although this is as much a reflection of the original Greek as anything. It's muscular and visceral, and when emotions arise, they do so bare-chested with a howl at the moon. It's got balls.
It is, perhaps the mark of any great piece of writing to leave you begging for more. 'War Music' ends just as Achilles rejoins the conflict following the death of Patroclus - we are left with the image of a 'spear stuck in the stand'. Sadly, following Logue's death, it will always remain just that - a marker pointing to a future that will never come.

Logue completed two subsequent volumes, 'All Day Permanent Red' and 'Cold Calls'; the first deals with the early skirmishes of the war - if anything the grand guignol splatter-core is raised to a feverish tempo, including a brilliant sequence that borrows from Celine's own 'Guignol's Band'; the second slots oddly between the original 'War Music' sequence and 'Patrocleia' and features some uncharacteristically poignant moments peppered in between Olympian pornography and yet more feverish slash and burn. Both are essential.

Derek Bailey And the Story of Free Improvisation
Derek Bailey And the Story of Free Improvisation
by Ben Watson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Zoot. Ping. Quaffle., 19 Dec 2013
In the interests of balance, I thought I'd repost a review of the hardcover edition which I wrote some time ago. I've little more to add, except that while Ben Watson isn't everyone's cup of tea, this is still an interesting read. It probably is the best introduction to Free Improvisation for the 'layman' (followers of Improv can be a little like religious zealots - even if they usually subscribe to a strictly materialist view of the universe) - although if you're willing to dig around, there other are accounts - not least Bailey's own book. Anyway, here it is....

Given that Improv shares some of it's fractious roots with the revolutionary socialist subcultures of the 1960's, it's hardly surprising that at times Ben Watson's book resembles a Stalinist purge. After roundly dismissing:
1)All 'commercial' popular music (apart from Zappa and the Sex Pistols, because he likes them)
2)Jazz (historically and culturally specific idiom - now redundant),
3)Classical music (bourgeois heritage industry),
4)John Cage (irrelevant except as a response to the bourgeois heritage industry)
5)Experimental music of Nyman, Bryars etc. (selling-out to the bourgeois heritage industry),
6)Improv as practiced by Cardewites, AMM etc., Evan Parker after he fell out with Bailey (wrong sort of Improv),
7)Recorded Improv (Bailey was famously dismissive of his own vast recorded output)
- the author leaves us with the impression that the only authentic way to appreciate music is to watch Derek Bailey himself perform live - fine, except the great man passed away in 2005!

Pros (1) - Laughs a-plenty - including the brilliant 'invisible jukebox' interview from 'Wire' magazine.
(2) Excellent first half of the book with a fascinating overview of Bailey's life as a jobbing bandsman.
(3) Ben Watson - witty, erudite, challenging.

Cons: (1) Loses it's way in the second half and turns into a description of a series of gigs - largely falling into two categories - improv that worked and improv that didn't. Granted, Watson does use his examples to explore some of the ideological debates within free improvisation, but after the concision of opening chapters, it still feels a little unfocussed - almost like a series of appendices.
(2) Ben Watson

Marxism Groucho Marx - Communism T Shirt - Navy Blue - Adult Mens 46-48" XL
Marxism Groucho Marx - Communism T Shirt - Navy Blue - Adult Mens 46-48" XL
Offered by Black Sheep Clothing

2.0 out of 5 stars all that is solid melts into air, 14 Nov 2013
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Bought this on a whim. Good, heavy cotton shirt. Bad print that flaked off after it had been washed twice. Groucho now looks like Leon Trotsky :(

Bass Culture - Mash You Down (The Birth of Dancehall)
Bass Culture - Mash You Down (The Birth of Dancehall)

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars mash up the profit, 28 Aug 2013
Without wishing to rain on the parade of the private sellers attempting to milk a £195 price out of this compilation - it isn't worth it, the tracks are easily obtainable elsewhere (not least at a certain popular subscription based streaming site, where someone has helpfully created a playlist of the tracks).

It really is a great anthology, comparable to the Greensleeves CDs of early dancehall, and it's a shame that its obviously been scuppered by licensing issues in the UK - but purl-ease - £195? Kiss me neck.

Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture
Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture
by Simon Reynolds
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.00

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'ardkore, you know the score, see-saw, marjorie..., 13 Aug 2013
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It's a little ironic that Simon Reynolds, of all people, should choose to argue that dance music is at it's best in its most lumpen, populist, apparently anti-intellectual form. Reynolds made his name in music journalism in the late eighties precisely because of his intellectual chops; he coined the term 'post-rock' after all, and his first full-length book ('The Sex Revolts', co-written with his partner, Joy Press) is largely an analysis of rock music through the perspective of post-structuralist gender theory. 'Rip it Up and Start Again', his most successful book to date, focusses on post-punk's infiltration of the mainstream- a celebration of a time where experimental, politically aware bands enjoyed prime-time coverage on Top of the Pops. Similarly, during his tenure at Melody Maker, when Everett True's gonzo-grunge-clown-prince schtick was in it's ascendancy, Reynolds' insightful, measured prose was often a refreshing counterbalance to the snarky polemic of his colleagues. He was chiefly known for his support of the more innovative 'indie' guitar acts: bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Young Gods etc. His embracing of Rave culture was all the more shocking at the time because the paper's editorial line was militantly pro-'alternative' guitar music and anti virtually everything else.

So credit, where credit is due. Reynolds was one of the first 'Rock' journalists to do the dance thing. Originally published in 1998, 'Energy Flash' has undergone two updates in the last decade - perhaps evidence of its enduring significance as both a primer on and critique of Rave, it's grandparents, cousins, nieces and nephews. On the other hand, it could be argued that the updates, together with a lack of revision of earlier sections, has resulted in particularly hefty Frankenstein's monster. It's certainly an exhaustive, if occasionally exhausting piece of journalism.

The opening chapters are still pretty essential - you get a solid pre-history covering Chicago House, Detroit Techno, Acid House and the first two waves of Rave in the UK. As the book progresses, it feels increasingly flabby and self-contradictory. Reynolds' argument is totally convincing: listening to tracks like Joey Beltram's own 'Energy Flash' now, you can't help but be struck by how something so brutally simple (four to the floor, Roland 303 bass squidges) can be so powerful; there's little of what could be called 'melody', there's no narrative, but it engages totally as an experience in sound. Hardcore is at once leftfield in the extreme and defiantly populist. Never has 'dumb' been so clever.
Reynolds is spot-on in his critiques of 'intelligent' jungle and techno - effectively the digital equivalent of progressive rock - artists in these subgenres seemed to miss the point: dance music's radicalism results from its functional aspects - it is 'dance' music first and foremost.
However, as the book progresses its painfully apparent that Reynolds can't help but be drawn towards the 'intelligent' forms of dance music he claims to despise. In a chapter focusing on the German Mille Plateaux roster he performs somersaults of Deleuzian theory, only to return disparagingly to his 'ardcore-knows-best stance in a withering little paragraph.

Parts of the book haven't aged that well: Tricky is treated as a sort of Trip-Hop messiah. Sadly, he wasn't, although his recent efforts betoken a partial return to form. An interview with Spiral Tribe is an interesting cultural artefact, but Reynolds' wide-eyed acceptance of their leader's risible psycho-babble is a little cringe-worthy.

Similarly, I'd advise skipping the prologue on MDMA. Ok, Ecstasy is an inextricable part of Rave music; the language and sound of late 80s and early 90s hardcore is saturated with the mythology of E; it is 'drug' music. But I've yet to come across a drug bore who isn't, well, boring. Reynolds returns to MDMA again and again and again throughout the book, admittedly, sometimes with some perceptive comments (a chapter on the quasi-Religious nature of Ecstasy culture is particularly good), but often I felt like the poor unfortunate who gets trapped in the corner at a party, pinned-down by some endlessly enthusiastic space-cadet, chewing their face off (and your ears) on gak.

Reynolds also has some stylistic tics that are a bit of an acquired taste. Perhaps as a result of his interest in Deleuze & Guattari, Reynolds has always had a penchant for neologisms, he also has a habit of warping the morphology of terms for his own (often obscure ends). Check out 'senti-MENTAL' & 'Hype(rbole)' God knows what he means...

It's still a damn good read (hence the 4 stars) even if it's perhaps become more of a dip-in, dip-out text than a linear narrative (Reynolds' would probably see this as 'rhizomatic'). Much as he could happily hold his own in a forum with Slavoj Zizek and Paul Ricoeur, Reynolds is actually at his best at the battle-front of reportage. For instance, his description of a Gabba event in Arnhem is absolutely captivating; witness the love-crowd hunkering down to some crazed martial brutalism.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 15, 2014 11:00 PM BST

Humax Foxsat HDR 500GB Freesat HD Digital TV Recorder (Requires Satellite Dish) (discontinued by manufacturer)
Humax Foxsat HDR 500GB Freesat HD Digital TV Recorder (Requires Satellite Dish) (discontinued by manufacturer)

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars great product let down by a useless remote, 29 April 2013
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After umming and ahhing for a good few months, we finally decided to bin the Sky box and invest in this Freesat recorder. Free HD tv, no more monthly subscriptions, no more paying for a zillion channels we don't really watch: what could possibly go wrong?

It has to be said that at first we were very impressed. The picture quality (through an HDMI cable) is astounding - the user interface is a little clunky compared to Sky, but it only takes a few minutes to get your head around it. But then...

The remote control was designed by Satan (or one of his little helpers)!!!!

Firstly, it became apparent that it would only work if you were sitting bolt in front of the box. We removed all the protective film covering, and it improved slightly - but not enough to allow you to sit at 45 degrees from the box. Joy.

Secondly, it just started cutting out totally. Despite a rather patronising Youtube video (not an official Humax broadcast) advising that the PVR button needed to be lit, it soon became apparent that the only way to get it to work again was to reload the batteries. Again. And again. And again.

Finally - it stopped working totally. A new one costs £38 (though why you'd want to put yourself through the same misery again, I don't know.)

We can't help feeling a little cheated - this was supposed to be wise, economical choice - but it's been nothing but a pain. Having had a look around the internet, I know we're not alone.

In mitigation, it has to be said that Humax have been more than happy to send us another remote (the box is still in warranty). I am slightly suspicious that the same thing might happen again.

If you are considering switching from Sky to Freesat, it's also probably worth knowing that your Sky box will still receive a whole chunk of channels even if you end your subscription. A Freesat recorder makes more sense if you don't have Sky+ or a PVR in the first place.

Cold Hand in Mine
Cold Hand in Mine
by Robert Aickman
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.47

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars the stranger in the mirror..., 21 Jan 2013
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This review is from: Cold Hand in Mine (Paperback)
It's rare to come across a writer who is truly sui generis, but Aickman certainly comes close. True, some of these stories follow well-worn genre conventions; 'Pages from a young girl's diary' could be read as a straightforward Bram stoker period pastiche. However, scratch the surface and Aickman yields unsettling rewards; 'Cold hand in Mine' reads like a series of allegories - but the author deliberately refuses to enlighten us as to what lessons we are supposed to learn.
Since Aickman described his own work as 'strange tales' it's tempting to pigeonhole him with Lovecraft, Blackwood and Machen as another proponent of Weird Fiction. Aickman seems to me to be an altogether subtler and more modern writer. Where Lovecraft's baroque fantasies conjure a terror of the material universe and BLackwood focuses on the uncanny in the natural world, Aickman dwells on the inner landscape of psychology, more specifically, sexuality.
This collection is worth buying for 'the swords' and 'the hospice' alone - these are true classics of short fiction in which the quotidian and the carnivalesque meet in a macabre dance. Both leave you asking questions.
Aside from the slightly hammy Gothic of 'Niemandswasser', Aickman typically adopts a flat, unaffected tone. This seems to lie at the heart of his genius: there's something so matter-of-fact in his expression that any weirdness we experience seems our own, and not his. Furthermore, this matter-of-factness allows Aickman to subtley misdirect us from the fact that his key characters are far from straight-forward. The narrator in 'the Swords' seems embarrassed, smug and coldly unsympathetic at once. Similarly, the protagonist of 'The Hospice' seems like a typical English innocent abroad (even if 'abroad' in this case is a peculiarly drab version of suburbia), but the power of the story lies as much in his indifference to suffering as his terror. 'Meeting Mr. Millar' features a young writer who affects moral outrage at the (never specified) activities of Millar involving drink and women . we barely notice that the writer is a pornographer engaged in an affair with a married mother of young children.
Downsides? It would have been nice to have had 'Ringing the Changes' (perhaps his masterwork) in the same collection. Also, while Faber deserve applause for rescuing these stories, you can't help feeling that he deserves a properly edited collection (rather than this print-on-demand chop-job).

Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division
Unknown Pleasures: Inside Joy Division
by Peter Hook
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.00

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars one for the fans I think..., 31 Dec 2012
It has to be said that Hook's revisionist take on the Joy Division story is refreshing. Don't be misled by the typically moribund image on the cover - this is basically Hooky and the boys go mad across Europe. All the purported sturm and drang of the Ian Curtis story is brought down to earth with the sound of pint glasses thumping on bars. And then there's the fights. And the pranks played on other bands (showers of maggots anyone?).

It feels a little mean-spirited to criticize something that is so obviously heart-felt and genuine, but it does ramble on a bit, and yes, while it is touching to see Curtis transformed from the rain-coated doom-monger of legend into a human being (and a bit of a jack-the-lad, despite the Kafka and William Burroughs fixation), a little more depth here and there would have been nice.

Hook intersperses the narrative with a series of time-lines, which basically read like filler: and then we played this gig which was ok but the playlist could have been better and then we played somewhere else and my bass string broke and then we released this flexidisc etc. etc. Much of the detail is repeated (more effectively) in the main parts of the book.

Similarly, Hook's blow-by-blow breakdowns of 'Unknown Pleasures' and 'Closer' are almost autistic in their almost total focus on the technical details of the recording process, with little or no emotional comment on the songs themselves (other than 'great song this one', 'I thought this was too slow when we did it but now I think it's ok'). In fairness, he does give a little anecdotal detail about Curtis' inspiration for 'She's Lost Control', but I suspect most readers will know the background already.

Of course, If you're a Joy Division / New Order fan, you will lap all of this up. It's hardly a classic like 'Rip it Up and Start Again' (Simon Reynolds - who himself has some provocative things to say about the band - stadium rockers in waiting?) or Jon Savage's unmatchable book on punk,'England's Dreaming', but, as pub-corner raconteur, Hook does a man's job.

The Haunted Book
The Haunted Book
by Jeremy Dyson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.19

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars i just got lost... i just got lost..., 31 Dec 2012
This review is from: The Haunted Book (Hardcover)
Like his 'League Of Gentlemen' colleague, Mark Gatiss, Jeremy Dyson clearly has a fan's passion for the supernatural in popular culture. His latest collection of short stories features everything from haunted objects, time-slips, apparitions and demonic 'elementals'.
'The haunted book' is also an enjoyable postmodern riff on the conventions of the ghost story'. Most successful ghost stories work by establishing a perspective (often from a sceptical scholar or antiquarian) that lends credence to the reality of the story - the terror mounts as this authority is gradually undermined.

Dyson establishes the act of writing the book itself, a purported fictionalised rendering of 'real life' accounts provided by a journalist, as the 'rational' ground that will be increasingly disturbed as the book progresses. We are told in a foreword that one 'Aiden Fox' suggested the project to Dyson. This is paralleled by a further realist genre, a travelogue detailing Dyson's visits to the sites of the stories.

However, it isn't long before, we find ourselves within a book within the book - 'This Book is haunted' replete with 1970s typeface and -subsequently, another 'Book of Hauntings' (with faded pages and a disturbing watermark) . There is a final meta-fictional layer in the book's final black pages - I can only say that some readers will see the ending as a clever twist, while others (myself included) will be a little disappointed - a sleight of hand that perhaps wears its heart too readily on its sleeve; a fine idea that could have been executed with a little more subtlety.

The stories themselves are wonderful; readers will find echoes of M.R. James, Roald Dahl and Dyson's own beloved Robert Aickman (surely due for a revival?). My personal favourites are 'Ward four Sixteen', and 'Tetherdown Lock' - both of which unsettle due to their purposeful ambiguity. Desire often seems to be a doorway into the uncanny, whether through the sexual drives of several of the protagonists, or simply curiosity... the unfailing need to turn that corner into the darkened corridor, turn that page to discover the dreadful secret you always knew would be waiting for you there...

Infinite Jest
Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.08

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars an unweeded garden..., 19 July 2012
This review is from: Infinite Jest (Paperback)
A book like 'Infinite Jest' comes with a certain set of expectations. Huge book - signifies 'the great American novel'. The title hints at a weighty Shakespearean allusion: those of us in the know receive the pleasure of recognition: this is a book immersed in the weighty matter of life and death (the famous grave scene from 'Hamlet'), but also a comedy - (Yorick). 'Infinite Jest' is itself a pretty bold boast - this is a book that purports to be endlessly amusing.
A brief read of the blurb lends us the signifiers of a 'cult' novel: this is a drug book in some way. Think 'Naked Lunch' perhaps? Think 'Under the Volcano'? On the web there are whispers about Pynchon, the book is set in an imagined near-future North America in which the calendar itself is commodified - years are owned by advertising sponsors. So yes - cult again - the marrying of the high and the low - the last hoorah of the post-modern?
So yes, we have expectations - are they necessarily fulfilled?
David Foster Wallace was a prodigiously talented writer- the first (and for me, the major) pleasure of 'Infinite Jest' is simply the spectacle of watching words work in a myriad different ways. He was a novelist in the truest sense of the word - because he creates a fully immersive, believable world. His facility for capturing the different registers of language is simply gobsmacking. 'Infinite Jest' positively bubbles with a babel of different voices- from the paranoid ramblings of the dope-head to the forensic autism of the tennis-prodigy.

This verbal exuberance is matched, if not exceeded by a torrent of ideas. The book itself is wedged behind a block of frighteningly detailed footnotes -as if the pages of the narrative itself could not contain everything the author felt he needed to tell us. Ironically, for a book about a country that has long forgotten what 'too much' is, 'Infinite Jest' revels in its own 'too-muchness' Like Pynchon, Wallace can happily switch between Dickensian realism to the wild and wacky- one set of pages find us sat on the back row of an AA meeting, another at the feet of a tennis academy's steam-room guru, who kindly offers advice to the teenage scholars in exchange for licking the sweat off their bodies. Opiate addicts slump into a pool of their own excrement, while wheel-chair bound terrorists circulate menacingly - their double-agent leader holds court to a transvestite FBI agent. And that's barely scratching the surface.

The Pynchon comparison is perhaps a little unfair - but it's little accident that the Pynchon fan sites on the web are often linked to 'Infinite Jest' wikis. There's a certain male, nerdy appeal in something that is so intricate, so vast and so puzzling. However, it could also be argued that Pynchon's vision (even now his star has wained a little) is altogether more coherent and weightier than Wallace's. Pynchon's territory is history. Wallace has perhaps created the most elaborate extended metaphor in literature: addiction as a metaphor for existence itself. Elaborate it may be, but it's not an amazing idea. Sure, capital feeds on creating artificial, even life-threatening needs (think sugar, cigarettes, 3d tvs) - addictive drugs are capitalism rendered pure and simple. But I don't necessarily need a 900 page novel to tell me this. Wallace takes a Monty Python style premise (the video that is so entertaining you die watching it - rather like the 'World's funniest Joke' routine) and runs with it, and runs with it, and runs with it. You get the feeling that he'd have kept on going, only paperbacks tend to fall apart after the 900+ pages mark.

In essence - despite it's seemingly forbidding complexity - this is essentially a dual narrative - partly a family melodrama centered around a tennis academy, partly a redemption narrative centered around a recovering alcoholics halfway house. The second narrative is more compelling. I await 'Infinite Jest' lite - the 200 page version.

Ok - enough of the bad stuff. The fact is, that if you like this sort of stuff - you will love, no, adore - bow down and worship 'Infinite Jest'. It's a whole heap of fun. Get lost in it for a couple of months. It ain't 'Gravity's Rainbow', but it is big and it is very, very clever.

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