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One Minute Warning

L’Orchestre symphonique de l’Isle, Voyages Lointains, Salle Oscar Peterson, 18 March 2023

There is something inherently spooky about the concurrent rise of fandom culture and artificial intelligence, like a chicken-or-the-egg kind of conundrum. Which came first: groups of people who behaved algorithmically, or groups of algorithms that behaved humanly?

Microsoft should just go all-in and develop an AI chatbot so that Star Wars and Marvel Universe geeks can geek out endlessly about which light sabre Darth Douchebag used in episode LXVI of the Andromeda Chronicles. Or whatever. That’s a job made by bots, for bots.

My favourite critic, Roger Ebert, despised fandom.

Jessica Moss with Novarumori, La Sala Rossa, 16 April 2023

The Yale School of Management is doing an excellent job tending a list of big companies keeping their promises by breaking ties with Russia. The CBC and IMAX are among the Canadian businesses that Yale has granted an ‘A’ rating for unconditionally suspending all Russian operations. Still, many more companies have received a ‘B’ for pulling out of the Great White North of the East, but leaving the door open just a crack to return. One day, there will be no war, the logic goes, thus no need for sanctions. And why not be first in line when peace is declared?

Companies on the ‘B’ list include Canada Goose, Bombardier, and everybody’s favourite billionaire-owned dep chain, Alimentation Couche-Tard. Thankfully there are no Canuck companies that received a failing ‘F’ grade, but on the ‘D’ list is the Calgary-headquartered Calfrac Well Services — you guessed it, an Albertan oil company. Go figure that the fossil fuel industry acts with impunity, even in the face of genocide.

McDonalds was one of the first major corporations to pull up stakes at the beginning of the invasion, leaving behind 32 years of Big Macoffs and McFlurryskis. As for any Moskals hoping for a batch of home fries as consolation, tough luck mother suckers. McCain yanked operations, too.

Margaret Atwood, Blue Metropolis Festival, St. James United Church, 17 April 2023

Puddles still dotted the sidewalks but the day’s light rain had largely subsided when I approached St. James United Church for Margaret Atwood’s Q&A, the inaugural event of the Blue Metropolis literary festival. Although it was nearly fifteen minutes to 7pm, there was still a sizable lineup snaking its way out the door westbound and back eastward up St. Catherine Street. I wondered how everyone was going to get inside as I took my place at the end of it and waited dutifully.

We inched rhythmically forth and I realized that this was the lineup for ticket buyers, most of whom would be turned away. Ticket holders like myself could enter at our leisure. And I did — only to envy those fortunate few who would never make it into the event.

Even though I had just stepped inside a functioning church, it felt as if I’d descended to some hellish hell of a hellscape. The walls of the underworld came crashing all the way down and a flock of flying monkeys flapped about the upper rafters periodically attacking members of the congregation beneath with their razorlike talons. Throngs of fervid Atwood fans sporting Atwood tattoos and Atwood piercings rushed the stage, crushing a number of small children to death in the melee. One blue-haired lady — whom I had at first mistaken for Atwood herself, but turned out only to be her body double — was busy feasting upon a bloody stump of the child’s fattiest limb. The scene terrified me so, but I stood fast to document the carnage.

At a quarter to eight, as the audience’s frenzy crescendoed, Atwood at last took the pulpit and wasted no time before summoning Beelzebub’s most despicable demons to the rabid crowd’s unqualified delight. The lights went out and a fan of green lasers pierced dense smoke as pyrotechnics were deployed that would make a Metallica concert look like sprinklers on a toddler’s birthday cake. Subaudible frequencies of Skrillex-esque post-dubstep shook the building’s foundation. Then, Atwood’s voice came roaring from an enormous sound system: “WASSUP WASSUP WASSUP!”

At first flakes and then chunks of alabaster rained down upon the lower decks as the balconies separated from the structure and collapsed, tossing torsos like ragdolls into a pit of mangled flesh below. 33 people died and nine with non-life threatening injuries would have survived had their helicopter ambulance not crashed en route into the Notre-Dame Cathedral killing 14 more unsuspecting bystanders.

I guess that hackneyed old saying holds true: you can’t have a Margaret Atwood Q&A without a ritual sacrifice.

The 25th edition of the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival runs 27-30 April.

An Laurence 安媛, Do you have a minute?, La Chapelle | Scènes Contemporaines, 19 April 2023

I have noticed that the word ‘minute’ has replace ‘awhile’ in conversation as a measurement of time. In the not-too-distant past, one might have said, ‘hey, I haven’t seen you in awhile!’ Whereas now, people, especially today’s youth, are more often heard to remark, ‘hey, it’s been a minute since I’ve seen you!’

One of my favourite answers to this question comes from The Larry Sanders Show in which Artie, the hardnosed TV producer Rip Torn portrays is asked by Phil, the snotnosed little writer, if he has a minute. Artie replies, “I have exactly two minutes, Phil. You may have one of them.” I am so pleased to have made time for An Laurence’s provocative and moving performance. There will be more minutes where that one came from.

Read the NicheMTL interview with An Laurence安媛 here.

Zwan, Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver, BC, 25 April 2003

Good God in heaven, it must be 20 years since I took my then-girlfriend on a weekend trip to Vancouver to see Billy Corgan’s new band, Zwan — or, as I like to call them, the never-ending buildup that never began. Is it possible that Melissa Auf der Maur was playing bass with Zwan at the time? I distinctly remember trying to keep my eyes on Corgan’s big bald head rather than the stems sticking out from a too short pair of lipstick red short shorts. Those weren’t artificial.◼︎

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The Cinematheque Quebecoise recently screened a 35mm projection of a favourite film that I had seen dozens of times and know and love like a well-worn novel, like the back of my hand, like a beloved relative — Oliver Stone’s 1994 tour-de-force, Natural Born Killers. Even though I could practically recite this movie start-to-finish, in part because its Trent Reznor-produced soundtrack lived in my Discman and that of every sullen teenaged boy throughout the 1990s, I thought it would be a throwback to enjoy it again on celluloid, on the silver screen.

I saw this film in its first run, sat next to my girlfriend, high as a kite on mushrooms. Of course the screening was on 35mm: 35mm was the standard theatrical medium in 1994. Although it might have been the drugs, I remember it being one of my crispest cinematic experiences. Audiences and critics agreed at the time that Oliver Stone was firing on all cylinders and had made a masterpiece. The movie had generated a lot of buzz in its day for its use of handheld video, super-8, and digital animation. And all sorts of primary and tertiary controversies swirled around it and its director and stars. (Remember Robert Downey Jr.’s biodegradable phase?)

I could see that something was wrong right away with the Cinematheque projection. I had expected the print to have a few scuffs and scratches, which it did. But it also seemed zoomed in, as a picture would look reformatted to fit the dimensions of a laptop screen. It appeared as if the entire film was in close-up. And since Stone was obsessed with close-ups, it gave the effect of an extreme close-up. When the titles were cut off in the satirical sitcom segment starring Rodney Dangerfield, I guessed that something was significantly off, and when the projectionist missed nearly eight seconds of the film during the first changeover because the cues were almost invisible (despite what Brad Pitt says in Fight Club, they are not called ‘cigarette burns’ — nobody who loves film would come close to a film print with a lit cigarette) I decided to inform the house that the projection was incorrect.

At the box office, I told the girl working there that the film was in the wrong aspect ratio. To which she replied, “what do you mean?” This put me in the odd position of having to explain aspect ratio to a Cinematheque Quebecoise employee, as if I were explaining to a surgeon the exact location of the spleen. She ducked into the projection booth and re-emerged, telling me that there was nothing that could be done. I politely requested a refund and walked home in the misty post-apocalyptic night thinking that this was not the Cinematheque I once knew.

I also knew that nothing could be done about the bad projection because I worked for seven years as a projectionist at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. I projected 16mm, 35mm, and even a bit of 70mm during my Telluride days, and had the genuine honour to work under the tutelage of Chapin Cutler of Boston Light & Sound. Chapin is the guy who beat Michael Moore in court recently for the Traverse City Film Festival fiasco. I’ve subsequently lost all respect for Moore. Chapin and his wife, Deborah, are consummate pros and wonderful people.

My first guess was that the Cinematheque projectionist had left the wrong lenses on the projectors — maybe the 1:37 lenses for a 1:85 film. Or it could have been that the lenses themselves were the wrong focal length. I emailed former Telluride Director of Operations, Jim “BF Deal” Bedford, to ask for his opinion. He replied,

Every screen image is based on a perfect relationship between lens, aperture, and screen size. For example, if one would get a perfect 1.85 image on the screen using a 47mm lens, but the lens that was used was a stock 45mm (let’s say because of the cost or lack of availability of a custom 47mm, or perhaps they want to maximize the size of the screen), then this is possible.

The third and least likely possibility is that the Cinematheque had somehow obtained a dupe print, created with an optical printer. Which would have been the only method to “pirate” a film in 1994. Regardless, this couldn’t possibly be the way that 35mm films are shown regularly at the Cinematheque, can it? If the Cinematheque Quebecoise is no longer the place to go to be extremely snobby about film, whither cinephilia?

The last year that I worked in Telluride, the big movie was The Artist — the French, mostly dialogue-free film set during the late 1920s at the turn of sound cinema. It was 2011. Even back then I took the film as a metaphor for the coming digital age, that DCP was about to overtake analogue formats, streaming was about to overtake the theatrical experience, and we had all better get used to it. 2022 was the first year that there were no film prints screened in Telluride. Can it really still be called a film festival if there is no actual film? RIP, seventh art.

Given that even veteran film critic and literally last man at the movies, A.O. Scott, has arrived at the same conclusion, I thought that it might be an opportune time to share some of my all-time favourite experiences in the projection booth.

The Diving Bell and The Butterfly (2007), dir. Julian Schnabel

In 2007, the New York artist and filmmaker, Julian Schnabel, came to Telluride with his newest feature, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. I was excited to see this movie, having been a fan of his previous films, Basquiat and Before Night Falls. The print arrived shrink-wrapped from the film lab, never before run through a projector. It still had that lab chemical smell, and each reel was wound tight as a drum. Machine perfect. I could not wait to throw this picture onscreen.

Before the premiere, in which Schnabel was in attendance, I had set up the projectors using loops of RP-40, which is a piece of film with a test pattern printed on it designed to align and focus the picture. Everything looked crisp and sharp and perfect. So I strung up the film and prepared for showtime. But when the lights in the theatre went down and the first frames of the picture went up, I was immediately mortified. Everything was out of focus.

The picture appeared to oscillate wildly between fuzzy and extremely fuzzy, an absolute nightmare situation for a projectionist. I was pulling focus like a madman trying to produce an image — any image. I had my binoculars out, trying to find the film grain. Was there something wrong with this print, I wondered? Had something spilled on the first reel of the film?

What I didn’t realize was that the first reel of the film was shot from the subjective viewpoint of the story’s main character, Jean-Dominique Bauby, the French fashion magazine magnate who had suffered a stroke and was in the midst of having one of his eyes sewn shut. It finally occurred to me about five minutes in. When I made the first changeover and the picture came up in focus, I breathed one sigh of relief. Then, when I changed back over to projector #1 for the third reel and only had to make a slight adjustment, I sighed again.

Film projection is one of the few jobs that, if you do it right, nobody should notice. The only time an audience becomes aware of the projectionist in the booth is when you fuck up.

Incendies (2010), dir. Denis Villeneuve

Hometown boy makes good. The Quebecois contingent in Telluride that year was so proud of Villeneuve for his emerging success as an independent filmmaker on the festival circuit. Little did anyone anticipate that he would end up making Bladerunner and Dune reboots. But it was exciting to have the Maelstrom director visit my theatre for the premiere of his newest and, in my opinion, best film. I even played Radiohead as the exit music (for a film).

Modern Times (1936), dir. Charlie Chaplin

As a graduate student at McGill, I started an underground film society called Theatre la pepite. My only aim was to show the prints that I had acquired in Telluride in the little black box beneath the Subway that the university had constructed with grant money and nobody knew about except for undergrads wanting to play video games on a giant screen in the basement of the Arts building. I brought my 1962 print of Modern Times and screened it for a small audience, including Wayne Ross Cullen, the renowned Montreal film technician who helped construct meticulous screening rooms at the Museum of Fine Arts and elsewhere. After the show, Cullen told me that it was the nicest projection he had ever seen. An enormous compliment.

Passerby (2010), dir. Eryk Rocha

The North America premiere of this incredible Brazilian film seemed like it should be straightforward enough. The only remarkable things about the print were that it was in black and white and it was long — ten reels if I recall correctly. But about two minutes after the picture went up, I received an anxious call from the house manager. The film’s director was concerned that the subtitles were not showing up.

Had I accidentally put the wrong aperture plate in the projectors, cutting off the subtitles, I wondered? I framed the picture up and down to see if there was anything cut off. I checked the other nine reels. Nothing. In fact, there were no subtitles. The distributor had sent us the wrong print. The director suggested that we attempt to run a DVD overtop the picture, but that was unfortunately impractical. And there was no way I was going to interrupt the screening: the show must go on! And so the decision was taken to screen the entire foreign-language film to an American audience with no subtitles.

To everyone’s amazement, the film was so captivating that it had transcended the language barrier. Nobody walked out. Even the L.A. Times noted it in their festival report — I was chuffed to be mentioned in this notice as “the projectionist.”

Tree of Life (2011), dir. Terrence Malick

At 10pm one night during the festival weekend, I received a clandestine phone call from my boss asking if I would show up to the theatre for a top-secret screening. I was not to inform anyone. I was not to invite anyone. This screening was, in effect, not happening.

I arrived at the theatre like a ninja clad all in black and under the shadow of darkness and was handed an unlabelled cassette tape by guy with long, scruffy, dirty blonde hair who looked more like a surfer than someone in the film industry. I later learned that this was Bill Pohlad, the producer.

I had no idea what we were about to watch. There were only two men in the theatre and I surmised that one of them was Harvey Weinstein. I pressed play on the device and observed in awe as the most spectacular and moving film I have ever seen unfolded in front of my eyes. The movie was fresh off its win at Cannes and had never been shown in North America. Not only was I one of the first people to see it, I was projecting it.

After the show, Pohlad asked me what I thought of the film. I was speechless. I told him it was brilliant. And he asked me if I would mind sitting through it again for another showing the next morning, to two Fox Searchlight executives, who would end up buying the rights to distribute it in North America.

That was a masterclass in how the film business works. Or worked. Because that was the last time something like that ever happened. Like films themselves, those kinds of deals are no longer seen in theatres. And chumps like me aren’t allowed in the room.

What I learned recently at the Natural Born Killers screening is that the house has ground to a halt. The future of film is in the past. Like the era of the album, or the opera, or the novel, everything ends. For film, this feels like it. Ayo, A.O. Leave the “discourse” to the film girlies on Twitter who think that Michael Bay is an auteur.

That’s all, folks.◼︎

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The Smile’s Returning

Orchestre classique de Montréal, Illuminations, Magali Simard-Galdès, soprano, Pierre-Mercure Hall, 5 March 2023

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Mel Brooks, the 96-year-old comedian, revealed that even at his age, he doesn’t shy away from controversy. Still, in 2023, Brooks isn’t afraid to tell a good Hitler joke.

Laughter can be the best medicine in even the sickest of times. But Brooks prefers to wield humour as a weapon. Being Jewish helps. It gives Brooks, and all Jewish comedians, a pass. Seinfeld did Nazi jokes, and in an episode of The Larry Sanders Show, opposite a young Jon Stewart, Jeffrey Tambor played a satirical game show host, in head-to-toe Hitler regalia, named ‘Adolph Hankler.’ But that was back in the 90’s, and a full fifty years after World War II.

Is it too soon to start making Putin jokes?

In the future, will it be considered politically incorrect to dress up as Putin, to get all oily and shirtless and ride a white horse, to wear Russian army surplus, to crack wise about the invasion of Ukraine? If so, I am glad that I’m Ukrainian. That means I’m covered for the foreseeable future from censure for mounting my long-planned musical, Springtime in Bakhmut.

Jerry Seinfeld believes that comedy is the closest we can come to justice. It’s impossible to fake a laugh. A joke is either funny or it’s not. Comedy is the real battlefield, and the funniest jokes always settle the fight.

The OCM’s 83rd season continues through 20 June 2023.

White Boy Scream + Wapiti/Pauly, La Salla Rossa, 13 March 2023

After the L.A.-based experimental opera singer Micaela Tobin’s outstanding performance as White Boy Scream on Monday night at Sala Rossa, conversation turned to the term “diaspora.” Somebody wondered aloud where the word comes from. I submitted that it refers to the Jewish dispersion across the globe: it stems from the Greek, diasperiō — to scatter, to spread out. And it has come today to refer to any dispersion of a people around the world: there is an Irish diaspora, a Filipino diaspora, a Ukrainian diaspora, even a French diaspora. Though colonization doesn’t technically count.

The way that cultures flow through the world and end up where they do is as fascinating a study as any natural phenomenon. It’s like watching a cloud of milk dissolve into a cup of coffee, tendrils wisping and disappearing and, in doing so, altering its entire texture and flavour. The reasons behind diasporic impulses are just as interesting to consider: war, oppression, and tyranny often drive people away; but hope, opportunity, and freedom are beacons that everyone can recognize, and that everyone seems to understand, even if we can seldom define and communicate these abstract notions adequately.

What diaspora really means is being an outcast. Displacement. Exile. Still, everyone agreed that it is a beautiful and lyrical word. Someone else suggested it sounded like a kind of elaborate garment. A cape of some sort, perhaps. On next year’s red carpet, will every Oscar nominee be draped in a Dior diaspora?

Bakunawa is released via Deathbomb Arc.

Mark Takeshi McGregor, H​ō​rai (Keiko Devaux), Starts and Stops (Redshift Music)

Following a triumphant foray into the experimental opera world — because classical and experimental music can only benefit from this overdue alliance — the Montreal composer Keiko Devaux goes from strength to strength with this contribution to a stellar compilation album by the flautist Mark Takeshi McGregor. These works combine the flute, one of the oldest-known instruments, with some of humankind’s most advanced modes of music-making. The results are profoundly moving and underscore the idea that history is not linear, that technology is not synonymous with progress, and that we can find harmonies in unexpected sonic configurations.

Starts and Stops is released via Redshift Music.

ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT, We Live On A Fucking Planet And Baby That’s The Sun, Darling The Dawn (Constellation Records)

The other day, a guy got on the metro, sat down right next to me, and lit a stick of incense. I was incensed. I said to the guy, have some sense and put out that incense, you insensitive bastard!

Darling The Dawn is released 21 April 2023 via Constellation Records.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, with Moor Mother, MTelus, 9 March 2021

When Montreal’s unofficial house band announced their return in 2010, I vaguely remember that they did so with an apologetic metaphor hand-written on a yellow page torn from a notepad. Something about having left the bicycle outdoors all winter. The bike was meant to stand in for the band getting tuned up after a long, inactive period — locked to a stop sign, gears tarnished, rusty chain hanging loose from a weathered old frame. Or words to that effect.

Montreal’s indie rock scene possesses a characteristically rough, unpolished aesthetic, which Godspeed helped to define — a jangled and raw approach to playing live, to making recordings, and in general to assembling sound. The Emperisti — bands like Arcade Fire and Wolf Parade, as well as electronic acts that Godspeed’s artistic ethos influenced, like Tim Hecker and Marie Davidson — at once reflect and benefit from this image, this archetype of corroded Montreal culture.

If Godspeed was a rusty bike in 2010, they are verily a finely tuned machine in 2023. It sounds as if they might even intentionally fuck up, inserting wrong notes to undermine our expectations, to ruin the audience’s anticipatory gratification. But just when you think that they might have forgotten the song, the band thunder back, composed, in unison, and produce that serrated edge sound for which they are known the globe over, and than which there is nothing heavier.

Late capitalism might have produced Godspeed, but hyper-capitalism refined them. Their anthemic post-rock, tuned, tightened, and road-ready, never fails to lift our skinny fists, and spirits.◼︎

Godspeed You! Black Emperor is on tour through 29 April 2023.

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A Sweet Little Bullet From a Pretty Blue Gun

Tim Hecker, Lotus Light, No Highs (Kranky)

Rejection is the saddest sensation you will ever know. Yes, it’s the saddest sensation that you’ll ever know. And unless you’re Brad Fucking Pitt — or hot enough to get fucked by Brad Fucking Pitt — you have felt rejected.

If I had to give feelings colours, I’d say that rejection is a brown feeling. Usually we call it the blues. But to me, it’s brown. Like a Corinthian leather steering wheel, like the bottom of an ashtray in a 1980s taxicab, like carpet in a motel kitchenette. Rejection starts in the gut and radiates as a punch does, like that slow motion footage of a fat man shot in the stomach with a cannonball. It ripples out like a toothache. It’s a constant, nagging pain aggravated when you exercise it. Rejection is like a bad polyester pantsuit that you’re forced to wear in public that everyone can see looks hideously ugly but that you cannot cover up or doff. Rejection always comes when you need it least, too, when the opposite of rejection is what you sought. Nobody ever gets rejected by accident; we get rejected when at first we shoot for acceptance and miss.

Perhaps the worst part of rejection is that, in the end, there is nothing you can do. You can’t make a sound and logical argument for why you should not have been rejected, why the rejecter is the mistaken one and should reconsider their miscalculations. You have to move on. All you can do is put on that brown polyester pantsuit and get back out there.

Warhol x 6, La Cinémathèque Québécois, 26, 27, & 28 January 2023

We are lucky in Montreal to have the Cinémathèque and a cinema culture that brings things like Andy Warhol movies on 16mm. We are lucky in Montreal to have projectionists technically proficient enough to execute a dual screen film as seamlessly as a pair of Ibiza DJs. And we are lucky to have smart people here to talk with about these experiences, to elucidate the light.

Warhol’s films aren’t easy viewing. They force spectators to look at the medium as much as the message; they’re distant as much as they are intimate. And there is a special kind of intimacy watching reels of couples kissing whilst sat alone in the dark surrounded by Concordia students reeking of cigarette smoke. It’s a reminder that we will all one day just disappear in a puff of dust.

Leon Louder, Autocorrecting, You’re Killing Me, Bro (Unfulfillment + Stranger Ways Recordings)

Machines that think for us are often not that smart. We might call them smartphones, smart watches, smart TVs, but they do not demonstrate intelligence. At best, they’re kind of clever.

For a brief period in the 1990s there was a moment when we thought that technology was going to save humanity. Those of us who came of age in that decade are used to a soured technotopian worldview, as if some ideal intelligence had been robbed of us. But we must remember that automation had forever been widely considered a nightmare — from Modern Times to Westworld, twentieth century culture reflected a deep-seated mistrust of machines.

Quatuor Bozzini, Du nord, Espace Orange Édifice Wilder, 29 January 2023

We believe that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, making it sound as if its a priori, always-already existence is a forgone conclusion. However, it is only as old as professions themselves, meaning that it is only as old as capitalism, as old as exploitation, patriarchy, domination. Prostitution will fall away along with these antiquated socioeconomic orders. Prostitution is not a fact of life that we must deal with, but rather a symptom along with a number of other symptoms of a sick society.

The problem is neither an economic nor an ethical one but, as Jean Francois Lyotard argued, libidinal. As long as there is sexual jealousy, there will be capitalism. Communism is laced with the whiff of free love, a terrifying notion to property owners. But in practice, communistic sexuality was only ever a blunt hierarchy in which, inevitably, a local totalitarianism more political than the explicitly political form of global totalitarianism arose. Property is not the lowest common denominator of capital; sex is. There is no need for private property or even for privacy if sex is free — if sex and sexuality are freely liberated. We will never be free as long as bodies are valued along with abstract concepts like time and money and a sense of free will. That is why sexual violence is so effective in military aggression. It is colonization to the corps.

Laure Briard, Ne pas trop rester bleue, Ne pas trop rester bleue (Midnight Special Records)

Women, man. I have been blessed with lovely ones. They liked me. Some of them might have even loved me. Some of them cheated on their boyfriends with me. I didn’t object. God gave us crack and anal sex because there is a crack in everything, especially asses. Sorry, did I say blessed? I meant cursed. Cursed by beautiful women and their accumulated history. And asses.

Women when the bloom is off a man’s corsage are the coldest creatures known to man. An unambiguous chill moves in to replace that youthful warmth and softness when you’ve felt it, when you’ve had it to the point of possession, comprehended it so comprehensively that the memory of a feminine embrace returns like an acid flashback, recalled like a faulty Volkswagen, brakes disabled, in flames. In those moments there is only imagination and remembrance.

They say it is better to have loved and lost. This city is love’s lost and found box, and it seems there’s more loss out there than there is love.◼︎

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Worldwide Pants

Week-end, Dir. Jean-Luc Godard, Cinémathèque Québécoise, 7 January 2023

I know that this film is supposed to be funny. I know that it’s radical chic, retro now, and forever cool. I also know that it contains complicated tracking shots that make it a significant technical achievement. I get that it’s satire. But what has come to pass is not far off. It seems the ultimate goal of global conflict is essentially a weekend away.

Discuss these and other matters of Godardian concern (en français) at the Cinémathèque’s Roundtable, “Godard aujourd’hui?” 8 February 2023, 17:00h, free admission.

Zoë Mc Pherson, On Fire, Pitch Blender (SFX)

Music more than other artforms orders time. Of course, everything including every form of art exists in time, just like every fish swims in water. Film unfolds in time. Photographs capture it. Dance moves through it. Even paintings, once dry, slow time down to a complete standstill, when we’re standing still in front of them. But music orders and regulates, assembles and reassembles the time we exist in while it is playing, whether the music has a time signature or not, whether it has rhythm or not. Musicians, too, structure time, especially techno musicians.

Time is a strange thing. It appears to move both forward and cyclically at once. Seasons forever turn from one to another. Yet a sense of newness always accompanies them. Just like fashion.

I noted that Zoë Mc Pherson in their press shots for Pitch Blender wear a pair of black techy-looking Diesel trousers circa about 1997. I noted them because I had the same trousers. They were pretty high-grade back in the day. In Canada, a pair of Diesel jeans cost a little over $100; those pants were at least $250. I had to save up. They might have been issued on the cusp of Diesel introducing their short-lived StyleLab line, possibly prototypes for a higher-end, more limited, and more design-oriented kind of collection.

Delighted by Mc Pherson’s pants in the photographs, I emailed an old friend who works in fashion and, acerbically, she wrote back, “Y2K nostalgia is real.” I remember thinking at the time, back in the ‘90s, that those pants with all their snaps and pockets would suit living in some sort of post-apocalyptic world — a compartment for everything necessary for survival.

Sure enough, here we are, in survival-mode. Still, I’m glad that Mc Pherson dug out those particular trousers because it recharged my street cred and rejuvenated my classic wardrobe. Although I don’t have them anymore. They must have at some point disintegrated, along with the future. But I did naturally have the matching jacket in quite good condition and I’ve rescued it from the back of the closet and have been turning heads with it all winter. One more time.

Pitch Blender is released 3 February via SFX.

Julia Dault, Never Odd Or Even, Bradley Ertaskiran, 19 January 2023 – 25 February 2023

The longest palindrome I know is, Go Hang A Salami / I Am A Lasagna Hog. The actor Michael Anderson who portrayed The Man From Another Place on the original Twin Peaks series shared this wonderful palindrome in an interview contained on the extras for season one’s first DVD release. Fans of Twin Peaks sent Anderson palindromes after his backwards-talking character repeated the phrase “Wow Bob Wow” on the show.

Never Odd Or Even is a palindrome as well, which I never would have guessed had the press release for Julia Dault’s solo show, now on at Bradley Ertaskiran and despite the construction worth the visit, explained it. The works aren’t explicitly palindromic to me, but what you can do is start on one side of the gallery and move around to the other side, and then reverse course and rotate backward in the opposite direction, and voilà. A palindrome in action.

Julia Dault Never Odd Or Even continues through 25 February at Bradley Ertaskiran.

Contretemps, The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, Soft Power (Safety Records)

Machines are hard and I admire them for that and at times I think that we should become more like them. Like Eddie’s unfurling, drunken diatribe in hurlyburly, either the play or the movie, we should aspire to become things — colder, harder, like rocks, or machines, to ensure our longevity. Machines may get old and break down, but machines do not go soft.

I can attest from personal experience that being soft has never empowered me to do anything, not least the things I want to do, especially those things for which being hard is prerequisite.

Soft Power is released 3 February via Safety Records.

Andy Warhol, Screen Tests, MAC, 17 November 2022 – 10 April 2023

Last February in Houston I went to a screening of a selection of Andy Warhol’s films on 16mm at Rice Cinema. It was my first film in a theatre after the pandemic, and I was excited to see real celluloid snap through a projector once again. But I could not have chosen more challenging material to rekindle a love of movies.

Jesus commanded us to love our enemies. He didn’t just suggest it; it was His divine order. And Jesus knew that if He didn’t command it, nobody would do it. Nobody does it anyway. But that doesn’t make it any less of a command.

It’s easy to love our family and our friends. It’s easy to love our pets. It’s encouraged to love celebrities and public figures whom we’ve never met and don’t care to love us back. But enemies are difficult to love. It’s practically impossible.

I think Andy Warhol made his Screen Tests to build empathy in viewers, to teach us to love, to force us to stare into a stranger’s face (some famous, some not) until it dissolves into abstraction, until the reel runs out and we’re left with nothing but a banana and a beam of light.◼︎

Andy Warhol as seen by Nelson Henricks screens at the Cinémathèque Québécoise January 26 – 28, 2023.

Cover image: Zoë Mc Pherson photographed by Lucie Rox.

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Gather ‘round the piano

Francesco Fusaro, Clavicentrico (Self-Released)

It is not every day that someone names their album after something you invented.

To clarify, I did not invent ‘claviocentrism;’ but I did coin the term. It was in late 2012 — exactly ten years ago, come to think of it — as I was writing an article for the good folks at The Quietus, on the 30th anniversary of MIDI. I was struggling to find a word to describe how central, both culturally as well as physically, the piano had become to western music since the inception of the standard, black-and-white, ebony-and-ivory, together-in-perfect-harmony, clavier-style keyboard to which we are all so accustomed today. But there wasn’t one. Ergo, claviocentrism.

I received an email from one of tQ’s editors saying that he had Googled claviocentrism and it came back a Googlewhack — there were no prior instances of that word indexed in the search engine. I was embarrassed. I replied sheepishly admitting that I had indeed invented the term, and asked if they would like it changed. But the editor said absolutely not to change a single thing, that they were “chuffed” to publish a neologism, and that it was in fact a “cracking piece.” I still remember those words. A cracking piece!

When I perused the press release for Francesco Fusaro’s Clavicentrico, I had to do a double-take. Clavicentrico? It’s not a word I come across often, never, and I thought it might just be a mighty coincidence. But I scrolled down and noted a hefty quote pulled from my 2018 book, Mad Skills, and realized that my concept of claviocentrism had inspired Fusaro not only to compose a touching cycle of “non-virtuosic” piano music, but also to give Claviocentrism an Italian twist.

When you do things, especially when you do things out of desperation, you can never be sure what kind of impact those things will have. When you write a book, or make an album, or paint a picture, or dance a jig, you can never possibly imagine how that book or album or picture or jig will change the world. Probably it won’t. But maybe it will, and probably is not a reason to not try.

Black Ox Orkestar, Museum of Jewish Montreal, 14 December 2022

It is wonderful to have a piano in the kitchen. The kitchen is usually the room in the house where people spend most of their time, and tend to have the best times, over food and family, fellowship and fun. At every party, I always end up in the kitchen.

Pianos, though, are most often relegated far away to the music room or the study, or worse, they become just another piece of furniture in the living room, covered in framed family photos and all manner of other kitschy trinkets.

But the piano, if you are fortunate enough to possess one of these magical instruments in working order, should be kept, I believe, in the home’s most central location. So that anyone, at any time, can start to play it and immediately turn the moment musical.

Pale Ribbons Tossed into the Dark, Fable Guide, Pale Ribbons Tossed into the Dark (Self-released)

The social position of the flâneur was desirable in the 19th century, a person to emulate, the free-floating subject nonetheless un-subjected to the city’s confines of work and family, not institutionalized by institutions, nor hospitals, universities, corporations, prisons, or other such operational enclosures.

Today, the flâneur that is truly untethered from those enclosures is a terrible zombie wandering dazed and spreading capital virally through the confines of hyper-capitalism, a superstructural biodome surrounding the other operational structures that more traditionally enclosed and still enclose, separate, and subjugate subjects.

Even in domestic spaces and other private, seemingly “free” zones, more often the internet nowadays encloses us, and various platforms and subnetworks divide and subdivide that virtual enclosure into smaller and smaller virtual rooms that ultimately reveal our abject isolation in a post-industrial meatspace. Any collective being, even industrial, is no longer necessary.

The contemporary flâneur is either crazy or an exploitative object vis-à-vis subjectivity; that is, capital liberates their subjecthood, thus they subject others using capital in commercial and service environments to their flâneuristic whims. We are all always either working or making others work. There is no leisure today without exploitation. And the guilt, “onboarded” — to use a terrible bro-culture buzzword — from a Christian social order that no longer exists or applies or is even suitable to our quotidian realities still subliminally dictates that leisure is wasteful, sinful, even to a Godless economic society that only idolizes productivity.

La fête du clavecin Kirckman, Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, 15 December 2022

One of the things I love about Montreal is that events like this take place: a concert of a 250-year-old harpsichord in an historic chapel, and it’s free. Were the proceedings entirely in French? Oui. And was I the youngest, Anglo-est person there? Oui encore. But did that matter? Mais non.

Halfway through the performance, however, I started imagining that, to audiences 250 years ago, a harpsichord might have seemed like cheating, like a facile way to emulate the virtuosity of a real harp. Harpsichords, although they utilize the same form of 12-tone keyboard as their piano cousins, are different instruments.

For instance, pianos strike their strings with hammers, meaning that the harder a player hits the key, the harder the hammer strikes the string, and the louder the note sounds. Harpsichords conversely pluck their strings with plectra, a piece of stiff leather similar to a guitar pick. So, when a note is played, the plectrum plucks the string with equal intensity regardless of how hard the player hits the key. This gives the instrument an unsettling on-off sound that we 21st century listeners are not accustomed to hearing. It is more like a music box absentmindedly clanging out a tune. The note is either sounding or silent. It is actually very binary, not unlike early MIDI.

MIDI, or the musical instrument digital interface, is a standard computer “language” that makes it possible for digital instruments of different manufacturers to communicate with one another. MIDI is what allows, say, one central sequencer to control an array of peripheral equipment like synthesizers, samplers, effects processors, mixing boards — even lights and smoke machines. In the digital music studio, it is impossible to overstate the importance of using one common language.

Sarah Pagé, Méduses, Voda (Backward Music)

What is the ultimate experience? What experience could you experience that would put an end to the longing for more experiences? How would you know it was the ultimate it?◼︎


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One Perfect Shot

Marcus, 12 November 2022

As with all things Scorpio, birthdays are fraught with ruminations, existential angst, examinations of life, and preparations for the inevitable long winter sleep, whatever that may bring. No human being has ever experienced winter and returned intact, so it’s a surprise every time around.

This year, I treated myself to another mini Montreal staycation—a weekend sojourn at one of downtown’s fancier hotels, topped off with a solo Sunday dinner at Marcus. I was turning 45 and had no one special to spend the weekend with, so I took it upon myself to make my own day special. Although I could have paid for some company. The man staying below me did, and awkwardly, I heard their antics from dawn ‘til dusk all weekend long, complicating my writing schedule, and serving as a reminder that capitalism rules everything around me, including intimacy. Especially intimacy.

Later that evening, I sat by myself at a table on the third floor of the newish restaurant at the luxurious Four Seasons Hotel. I wasn’t entirely solitary. There was an Indian tech bro sat next to me trying desperately to impress his hot Asian date with talk of start-up ventures and his family’s business connections; there was a large party across the aisle with several well-dressed teenaged cousins sipping mocktails and bantering with their flirty middle aged aunties; there was the wait staff who very attentively served me a lovely meal of portobello mushroom with a perfectly done filet mignon to follow; and there was Leonard Cohen’s mural outside, haunting the place, mythical literary tradition veiling the foggy November city. All the while I felt extremely seen. None is as naked as a man dining alone.

As I finished my meal, which was characteristically exquisite (why, exactly, are there no Michelin-starred restaurants in Montreal?) the waiter asked if I had saved any room for desert. I said no, that I would just pay the cheque, and he coolly told me to take my time. A few minutes later, the very same waiter emerged again from the kitchen carrying a wedge of caramel chocolate cake and two sparklers, which he proceeded to place before me and ignite with a barbeque lighter. I am not sure how the restaurant knew it was my birthday. Maybe I had entered my date of birth into the online reservation system when I signed up. Maybe Big Data is thoughtful, after all.

The entire restaurant swivelled around to watch the sparklers sputter and spray sparks all over me, and the cake, and bounce onto the floor. The good teenagers at the party table smiled genuinely and wished me a happy birthday. The tech bro and his date made Leonardo DiCaprio-ish faces and raised their glasses in my direction. The sparklers continued sparking for an inordinately long time as I sat in place waiting for them to fizzle out, like the first 45 years of my life had just done—before my very eyes; too long and yet too short.

La beauté du Monde, Composer Julien Bilodeau; Librettist Michel Marc Bouchard, Opéra de Montréal, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, 19 November 2022

I am fascinated by tourists who stop to take photographs next to the concrete slab of the Berlin Wall that is preserved for some reason in the atrium of the World Trade Centre in Old Montreal, when there are several other perfectly functioning walls the globe over—between Israel and Palestine; between the US and Mexico; between the COP 15 conference and the rest of Montreal—that still serve to divide nations and their natural citizens.

Like an opera meant to mythologize the abject horrors of World War II while another, realer war wages on in our midst, it’s too soon.

Mue, Télophases, Les Vasières (Halocline Trance)

What is it about modern ambient music that is at once relaxing and unsettling, simultaneously calming and tense, like a cup of third-wave coffee followed by a hit of some strong-ass indica? Les Vasières, by the Montreal electronic duo composed of Catherine “YlangYlang” Debard and Léon Lo, quintessentially captures this ambi-ambivalence, a slow and beautiful speedball of tortuous rhythm and melody.

Unruly Sun, Composer Matthew Ricketts, Librettist Mark Campbell, Orchestre Classique de  Montréal, Cirque Éloize, 1 December 2022

The English artist Derek Jarman left an indelible impression upon countless cultural scenes, from avant-garde film and music, to experimental literature, dance, photography, and painting. Now, a new operatic song cycle entitled Unruly Sun, inspired by Jarman’s journal entries during his final demise due to HIV/AIDS, serves to celebrate a man who helped pave the way towards awareness of sexual health and liberation. We’re not there yet.

Toula Drimonis in conversation with Leila Marshy, Paragraphe Bookstore, 4 December 2022

Nearing the end of a lively Q&A around the Montreal columnist Toula Drimonis’s excellent memoire, We The Others (Linda Leith Publishing, 2022), I decided to lob a rhetorical question: How many cultures are there in Quebec? Attendees immediately met me with incredulous responses like, “too many to count!” and “the more, the merrier!” All valid answers. I admit, though, that I was trying to tease the author and audience into acknowledging our basic assumption that there is such a thing as “Quebec Culture” in Quebec. It’s a kind of singular spirit or groove, if you will, that we expect others to get into when they come to call this place home.

The word “integration” is instructive. We often use integration in this province to talk about whom and how should best fit into Quebecois society—people from the Francophonie; refugees fleeing conflict; skilled workers; families, &c. Surely Quebec has more power than other provinces to pick and choose who is allowed to come here to stay, and integration is first and foremost on the minds of those who do the picking and choosing. The word presupposes a monolithic—or, at best, binary—Quebec society into which immigrants should integrate.

But Drimonis saw my rhetorical move coming up the 40 and adroitly made the important distinction between integration and assimilation. Of course Quebecois culture exists; it’s a mishmash of Indigenous, French, English, Irish, Greek, Ukrainian, African, Iranian, Syrian, Chinese, and myriad other nationalities, languages, customs, and worldviews. The government in power today would prefer that new and recent transplants assimilate into the French version of Quebecois society. But Quebec more broadly, and Montreal, specifically, has evolved, increasingly rapidly in recent years, into a truly international social mosaic, a mosaic for which integration is a more proper modus operandi. Integration is a journey, not a destination.

Acknowledging this means that even those of us who were born in Canada also need to integrate and reintegrate into our own society, a distinct society that nonetheless constantly ebbs and flows as new people come and go, raise new families, forge new communities, build new neighbourhoods, and remake society in a new and improved image.

I think that another sound metaphor for Quebec, or for any distinct society for that matter, is a vinyl record. Trick question number 2: How many grooves are there on an average LP?

One. There is one long groove that spirals around and around and around again. Within that groove, on any given recording, there are possibly many songs, many movements, and moods. But they all belong on that particular record together. It’s the groove that unites them.◼︎