Friday, April 22, 2011

All Souls

While reading Javier Marías' three-part Your Face Tomorrow, I didn't realize that the main character/narrator had appeared in some of the author's earlier works. When I came across that piece of information, reading some of the YFT discussions at Conversational Reading, I went out, bought and read All Souls, where (as far as I know) Marías originated his Oxonian Madrileño character, Jacques/Jaime/Jacobo Deza. Even though the action of All Souls takes place some years before the plot of Your Face Tomorrow begins, reading the first novel second enhanced my appreciation of both books and my understanding of Marías' style and thematic preoccupations. There are many parallels and resonances between the books - both have key scenes involving the main character following/observing someone in a museum, and both build up to the story of a suicide. Besides these parallel features, there are also many "callbacks" from All Souls in YFT - characters, stories, quotations, ideas - a theory of horror illustrated by a gypsy flower seller and a three-legged dog, to name one of the most memorable.

It doesn't seem as if Marías planned for All Souls to be the first in any kind of series of books featuring the character Deza (in fact, he isn't even named in All Souls, perhaps deliberately tempting the reader - despite a warning at the front of the book - to identify him with the author). In YFT, it seems that Marías had to find a way of bringing a character that he killed off in All Souls back to life because he wanted to write more about him. The solution, inventing a surviving brother with very similar life experiences, may seem contrived but it's hard to imagine how YFT could have existed without Marías solving this problem in some way, so central is this character (Rylands/Wheeler, revealed at the end of YFT to have been based on a real Oxford mentor figure of the author's) to the story. Apparently, there are other Marías novels with shared characters, including the follow-up/sequel to All Souls, Dark Back of Time, which I plan to read soon. Brief, brilliant, and surely one of the greatest "campus novels" (though it transcends that genre) outside of Lucky Jim, I can recommend All Souls without reservation to be read as an introduction to Marías or as a warm-up for or follow-up to Your Face Tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Job I Am Glad I Do Not Have

Much as I enjoy baseball and, in particular, Cardinals baseball, I really really would not want to be a baseball beat reporter. Here's one reason why. If, like me, you find it too painful to sit through the entirety of this video, just skip to about the last thirty seconds. The look on the guy's face at the very end is priceless.

And on a related note:
"...what LaRussa has on other pantheon managers is that he's the only one whose car keys Buzz Bissinger has tried to take after a scotch-y night at a Macaroni Grill in suburban Houston."

Also, for the record, I respect LaRussa's accomplishments, generally approve of his managerial style, and admire the good work he does for animals. Don't want to be lumped in with the LaRussa haters, of which there are plenty.

Noise & Silence

Earlier this month, I took a free tour of Columbia's Computer Music Center (formerly the Princeton-Columbia Electronic Music Center), the highlight of which was getting to see this beast, the historic and currently non-functioning RCA Mark II synthesizer. In looking up that last link, I noticed that this bit of (presumably) fake trivia has been inserted into the RCA's Wikipedia page: "Igor Stravinsky was rumored to have suffered a heart attack upon hearing Babbitt's glowing description of the synthesizer's capabilities".

The tour (part of the Unsound Festival) having whetted my appetite for synth/computer music, I went down to Littlefield in the Gowanus this weekend to check out Marcus Schmickler's set. I mentioned in this post that I was enjoying some of Schmickler's recent computer-generated sounds. His set was considerably more punishing than I expected from hearing his arpeggio-crazy album Palace of Marvels (the description of which cites, among many other things, Leibniz, Foucault, and the Panopticon!), but then again, the title of the showcase was "Oceans of Noise". I was thinking up titles for sections of Schmickler's set as it was going on, but only got as far as these first two, "Chorale for Jet Engines" and "Colecovision Nightmare".

Schmickler deployed an impressive variety of sounds in his multi-pronged digital noise attack, all of which gave me a new context in which to appreciate the wholly analog, truly assaultive, and I would guess unsynthesizable noise that the boiler pump in my basement started making later than same night. If I'd had a sampler handy, I certainly would've captured the sound for future use.

As an antidote to all this noise, I listened to what must be very close to the opposite pole of music, and very near to silence in comparison, John Cage's music for prepared piano. The Cage, two discs on Naxos featuring the pianist Boris Berman, was part of a big The Rest Is Noise-inspired purchase I made at J&R Music World, a surprisingly good source for bargain-priced jazz and classical CDs (they even carry this rather amazing item), and one of the few remaining venues (after the demise of the NYC Virgin Megastores and Tower Records) where one can have the experience of browsing thousands of discs on multiple floors under harsh fluorescent lighting. There's a nicely melancholy tribute to departed record stores and the joy of the browse here.

And speaking of the browse, there were some unusually worthy finds in the "dollar room" at the Brooklyn Record Riot this weekend. In particular, there was one box of mostly '80s stuff from which I extracted seemingly good condition (haven't played them yet) records by Squeeze, the Del-Lords, Ian Hunter, Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe! (I also paid more than a dollar for records by Andrew Hill and the Young Fresh Fellows.)