RUBBER (Madman)

There’s an episode of Family Guy where Stephen King is meeting with his agent. He’s looking around the desk madly. “What about…a pencil sharpener is possessed by evil spirits and starts killing people?” “You’re not even trying anymore are you,” deadpans his agent.

Rubber is a film about a car tire that inexplicably comes to life, works out that it can make people spontaneously combust and goes on a murderous rampage. We’ve had Christine, Chucky, reanimated dead animals, so why not a tire?

Sure it’s stupid. A little bit strange, but that’s not all.

There’s also a few other elements and they’re all equally odd, all quirky attempts to subvert cinema and stretch its boundaries. For instance there’s the presence of the Greek chorus, seemingly outside of the narrative, watching through binoculars and commenting on events. Then even that’s subverted. Later some of the characters break down the fourth wall, referring explicitly to the film, joyfully exposing its artificially. Almost every image is surreal. It feels like these images are equally as important as narrative. In Rubber weirdness reigns. In Rubber weirdness is normal.

It’s the debut film from quirky electronic artist Quentin Dupieux, aka Mr Oizo, and to be honest it’s wronger, weirder and much more inventive than most folks who have been in the business for years. It misses as much as it hits, but it’s fun, absurd, and silly. But then if you think about it so is cinema. So why hide it?

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Fragmented Fish July 11

It’s the case of the missing dick head. But it’s not a random idiot; rather it‘s the cranium of author Philip K Dick. You may know the anxiety ridden ultra paranoid sci fi writer from such tomes as Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (filmed as Blade Runner) and A Scanner Darkly, a man who married 5 times and had a series of visions that were either an encounter with the divine, aliens, or the effects of a stroke.

His fiction was incredible, paranoid visions of a dystopia where anything was possible, yet his life was perhaps even more contradictory, ironic and confusing. If you’re curious Emmanuel Carrere’s excellent biography I am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick is simultaneously tragic and amazing – a unique insight into the troubled soul behind the words.

But it’s Dick’s life after death that continues to fascinate. Whilst Hollywood continues to churn out films like The Adjustment Bureau, in recent years stranger, dare I say more Dickian things are afoot.
In 2005 the Dick bot first appeared. Yes that’s right a Philip K Dick robot, because apparently a real Philip K Dick wasn’t strange enough. It was the work of hyper nerds at the forefront of artificial intelligence alongside a robot builder with a sci fi fetish. And they did it on the smell of an oily rag.

It’s a fascinating tale taken up by David F Dufty, in Lost In Transit: The Strange Story of the Philip K Dick Android (Melbourne University Press) a psychologist who just happened to be doing some post doctoral work at the University of Memphis at the time the android was being constructed. Dufty gives an inside take on some of the personalities who helped bring the artificial Dick to life, taking us through the challenges and setbacks the team faced along the way.

Loading information from every audible interview Dick had ever done into a vast database (Dufty suggests that Dick might be the most recorded individual ever thanks to his open door policy with interviewers), the Dick bot was actually capable of interacting and responding to questions. Occasionally it would ramble endlessly about the meaning of the universe no matter what question was asked. But then again so did the real Dick. At least they had a kill switch for the bot.

Dick became a sensation at trade shows (check you tube for examples), and its makers were feted by AI groupies. But en route to a Google presentation tragedy struck. Dick’s head disappeared. Police were called. But in true Dickian fashion it had vanished without a trace. It’s tempting to think of it out there somewhere roaming free, biding its time as robots and artificial intelligence become more commonplace, when one day it will marshal the bots and lead a revolution to overthrow the human race. Then again it’s probably just sitting on some sci fi nerds mantelpiece. Regardless one question remains. Does it sleep? And if so does it dream of electric sheep?

Fragmented Frequencies July 2011

Both the first and last piece of music-fragmented frequencies ever purchased were cover versions. This realisation resulted in one of those light bulb moments where you realise that no matter how debonair and tasteful you’ve fooled yourself into thinking you’ve become, ultimately you’re still the same seven year old kid breaking open the piggy bank to have your ears assaulted by folks who should know better.

The recent purchase was Jamaican rocksteady legend Little Roy’s amazing cover of Nirvana’s Sliver. It sucks all the power and angst out of the original and replaces it with a warmth and wisdom. It’s like your grandfather, instead of asking you when you’re going to get a real job, is a cool chilled out Rasta who wants to tell you about his childhood. It’s a song that always felt odd in Nirvana’s catalogue, a little too simple, an experiment by a band still searching for self, but age and wisdom has given it new poignancy. Little Roy approaches it in much the same way Johnny Cash made Trent Reznor’s music seem like much more than the revenge poetry of a terrified 12-year-old Goth hiding in the toilets from the school bully.

In 1981 the piggy bank was broken for Footy Favourites. It featured the ‘hottest’ footy stars of the day demolishing their favourite songs. The central premise is that if you can kick or catch a ball then you can sing. It’s not a well thought out hypothesis. Pre Autotune Tim Watson pitches all over Kenny’s Ruby (Don’t Take Your Love to Town), whilst Demons legend Robbie Flower delivers Macho Man and Geelong’s Michael Turner offers I Go To Rio, both without any notion of subtext. It’s a bad karaoke car crash. Adding to the notion of full circle it’s released on Studio One records. Little Roy once worked for a label of the same name, though to be fair it’s unlikely that in the early 80’s Coxsone Dodd turned his back on reggae and relocated to West Melbourne to tap into the burgeoning musical talents of the VFL.

Two pieces of music 30 years apart, both offering a newfound narrative, one intentional, the other? Well who knows? But that that’s the beauty of covers, the more misguided or offensive to their origins the better. Sure they can be cynical exercises in shining a light on a hitherto underappreciated album to improve sales. Yes I’m talking to you Lemonheads. But sometimes there’s a genuine love of the song. It’s when this love is sprinkled with the artists own pixie dust, well that’s where the gold lies. Particularly when that dust is really dried out turd flakes.

Take aging UK pretty boys Duran Duran, the whitest band in the world attempting to garner some much needed street cred by covering Public Enemy’s 911 is a Joke without a trace of irony. It’s so unbelievably offensive on multiple levels that its difficult to believe that it wasn’t entirely calculated for this purpose.

The song Ring of Fire has been covered by upwards of 75 artists, including Yo La Tengo and Moby. But the best is Olivia Newton John’s disco version, where she effortlessly castrates the songs soul, spirit, and self-respect. By the time she’s lit up a cigarette you’ll spend hours in the shower futilely scrubbing your ears raw.

Disco has proved fertile ground for covers. Words don’t exist to describe the joy inherent in Mecco’s amazingly kitsch disco takes of Star Wars and the slightly creepy Wizard of Oz. Disco Circus sexes up Iron Butterfly’s In a Gadda Da Vida, making this raw evil LSD infused dirge an exercise in vacant ultra sexy lushness. But disco was like that: fearless.

In disco’s indiscriminate hands every song ever written had the potential to become the soundtrack to a dry hump in the bathroom stalls of your favourite club. Nothing was sacred. Take Beethoven for example. Shove on some slap bass and push the tempo up to 125 beats per minute and you’ve got Disco Saturday Nacht: Feverish Sounds of 1830 by the Eine Kleine Disco Band, where they tackle renowned disco forefathers like Strauss, Mozart and Haydn.

On a similar tip occasionally artists get all Neil Young and reinterpret their own material. Ethel Merman was a sprightly 71 when she made her disco album, transforming the show tunes that made her famous into high-energy dance floor workouts. There’s No Business Like Show Business makes waterboarding seem like a day spa. This is a very special record in the pantheon of covers, everyone here knew better, they were just blinded by dollar signs and the notion that the gravy train was starting to run dry. Clearly it was time to jump the shark. And we reap the rewards.

Interlude (Directors Suite)

Douglas Sirk was Hollywood’s king of melodrama, of impossible love, of broken hearts, and life shattering suffering. Cautionary tales of how if you open your heart against the odds and are willing to dream of a perfect love, there’s always a downside. He would offer you the dream, replete with beautiful picture postcard technicolour perfection, in this case exotic Salzburg and Munich, then he’d delight in throwing in the obstacle, not just a love triangle, but also a hidden secret that threatens to tear our lovers apart. That is the key to Sirk and why he was unique in the world of melodrama, his desire to create the impossibly perfect veneer, all the while conscious that this is simply surface beauty and a darker more complex emotional darkness lurks beneath.

In Interlude’s case we’ve got Helen Benning (June Allyson), an earnest young woman abroad, searching for love and adventure. Whilst initially courted by sensitive young doctor Morley Dwyer, the arrogant temperamental symphony conductor Tonio Fischer steals her heart. Everything’s going swimmingly, an exciting exotic European romance, up until Sirk brings in the obstacle. Tonio’s mad wife. Hello Jane Eyre.

There’s a certain discomfort in the final third of Interlude, you feel conflicted, almost complicit in your desire for the lovers to triumph despite the steadily mounting adversity. And Sirk shamelessly escalates to the point of hysteria. Like much of Sirk’s best work (Magnificent Obsession/ Imitation of Life) this is a remake of a John Stahl film, 1939’s When Tomorrow Comes, and this film is included on the second disc. Sirk’s version however is much more rewarding, thanks in the main to those typical Sirkian obsessions. Oh the agony.

Blanck Mass – Blanck Mass (Rock Action)

Blanck Mass begins by not even sounding like music. Instead it’s icy metallic field recordings, like caverns of pipes in a bleak industrial complex. As you listen, the sound, which initially seems static, begins to evolve, other tones come into earshot, and you can hear some water bubbling below in the dark. It’s cold, purposely so, yet incrementally the music begins to make it’s presence felt, these warmer washes of synth appear, a kind of searing transcendence that comes across as a run of droning notes and becomes the thread that holds the remainder of the album together.

Blanck Mass is ambient noise music, dense and textural, yet somehow simultaneously soothing and transcendent. It’s like a bastard child of Phillip Jeck and a pre singing Eluvium, perhaps even Jean Michel Jarre if he chose to crank out the distortion from time to time. Yet there are some synth lines that recall everything from the electro acoustic world of Austria’s Mego label to Vangelis’ Blade Runner score.

It’s the work of Benjamin John Power of the Fuck Buttons, and it’s a beatless affair, a joyous suite of textural drones that is remarkably affecting. In fact there’s a real emotional and surprisingly melodic undercurrent travelling through this album that has suitably found a home on Mogwai’s label. It’s long form music; many of the pieces clock in at 7 odd minutes but could easily go on for 20 or 30 minutes more. At times it veers into symphonic noise, others we’ve got field recordings of frogs under layers of synths, or sonic waves of indefinable material just lapping across the speakers. It’s music that’s made to be played loud, that’s when you’ll get the detail, and on headphones, well it could possibly start a religion.

Neil Young – A Treasure (Reprise)

When David Geffen signed Neil Young in 1982 he bit off a little more than he could chew. Neil’s Geffen years demonstrate an artist changing with the breeze. You have the awful horribly misguided rockabilly of Everybody’s Rockin, the 80’s tainted Landing on Water, or the exceptional Trans – that sounds nothing like traditional Neil Young. By the time he got to Old Ways you’d think they would’ve breathed a sigh of relief. Nup, they ultimately sued him, and to be honest Old Ways was no Harvest.

Yet in 84-85 deep in legal disputes he headed on the road with the International Harvesters, a grab bag of legendary country music artists including Spooner Oldham, Karl Himmel, Joe Allen and of course Ben Keith. Most of these tunes would end up on Old Ways, yet there are six that have never been released before, which is of course why we’re so breathless about these archives releases.

There’s looseness to the playing here, it feels raw, fun, a contrast to the overly laboured Old Ways. So even the songs we already know feel lighter, freer than on album. It’s actually probably the most accomplished band that Neil has ever played with; all of them are Nashville alumni. The problem is that whilst the band makes most of the tunes sound great; there are few of those epic Neil Young classics here.

Southern Pacific from Re-ac-tor at eight odd minutes is like a train coming and sounds incredible with a banjo solo, whilst another run at Buffalo Springfield’s Flying on the Ground is Wrong with the country folk sounds more lush, somehow more poignant with pedal steel. The best song on this set is a new, Grey Riders, an almost six minute dirge of squalling guitars that somehow makes sense with fiddle and organ, particularly when you consider Neil’s pained wail while he throttles his guitar, suggesting more Crazy Horse than International Harvesters. It all sounds pretty great though, if you like your bluegrass, your honky tonk, and your Neil this is his 12 months escape from the hippies, from Geffen and probably from his former misguided 1980’s infused selves, playing state fairs, rodeo arenas and loving it.