July 6 Concert with Fred Lonberg-Holm, Torsten Muller, and Michael Zerang

On Thursday, July 6 — one week from the night of this post — Gallery 1412 will host a fine concert of free-improv by Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Torsten Müller (double bass), and Michael Zerang (percussion) — a trio of gifted world-class players with the Chicago nexus in common. The trio will be fresh from gigging at the Vancouver International Jazz Festival.

Show starts at 8 PM and you should definitely go. Gallery 1412 is at 18th and Union, in the same space where the Polestar Music Gallery used to be (as if you didn’t know).

The concert is being produced by Nonsequitur, who have a great extended blog post about the show here.

Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) studied composition with Morton Feldman and Anthony Braxton, and his played-and-recorded-with roster is really unusually diverse — ranging from the cream of the global avant music community (Braxton, Peter Brotzmann, John Zorn, Paul Lovens, Jim O’Rourke, Jaap Blonk, and Ken Vandermark for starters) to crazy-ass Chicago avant-rock freaks (US Maple, God is My Co-Pilot, The Flying Luttenbachers, and Zeek Sheck, for example) to more mainstream, even downright sensitive groups (Smog and Freakwater, doncha know). I mean c’mon: any cellist who has releases on both Skin Graft and Hat Art and did a little soundtrack work for the Playboy Channel and plays Bach cello sonatas for kicks is worth walking a mile for. Read a fine interview with Fred at the always-excellent Perfect Sound Forever online zine.

Torsten Müller (contrabass) I’ve not personally heard, but I’m very intrigued. Currently (I believe) a Vancouver native, his collaborations are muy impressive: Günter Christmann, Alexander Schlippenbach, Evan Parker, Jon Rose, Ken Vandermark, Davey Williams, Ladonna Smith, John Zorn, Arto Lindsay, Paul Lovens, and many many others. All of the reviews of him that I’ve gleaned are universally outstanding. He played here in in 2003 at the Seattle Improvised Music Festival with a combo that included the phenomenal Paul Lovens and the very talented Chicagoan I remember well, Jeb Bishop.

Michael Zerang (percussion) is a deserving Chicago institution — the Links Hall Performance Series (which he founded in 1985) and Club Lower Links may not be names that resonnate out here in the sticks, but in combination they really did reshape the Chicago “other” music scene(s) and in turn that/those of the world. Not only that, and not mentioning that he’s a swell and funny guy, he’s also an outstanding percussionist. On the one hand he’s a stalwart of the free-improv scene — collaborating with the likes of Fred Anderson, Peter Brotzmann, Mats Gustafson, Jaap Blonk — and on the other hand he works frequently with dancers and composes award-winning stage scores for things like a puppet-and-mask version of Frankenstein staged at the legendary Steppenwolf Theatre. I also have very, very fond memories of annual winter solstice drum concerts he and Hamid Drake held — wonderful stuff that included duets with frame drums as well as trap kits. When he’s being lazy he teaches, runs the occasional store-front venue, books concerts, and carves the coolest Jack-o-lanterns you’ve ever seen.

Like I said…go to the show.

Below the Fold on the NY Times Bank Data Story

The Bush spy-scandal du jour is, of course, about the massive data mining of international financial transfer data from the Belgian cooperative SWIFT, the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.

Without rehashing the story or debating the program’s merits and faults here (okay, maybe a little), I’d just like to point out an aspect of the story that has gotten lost in the dust up. Pretty much all of the coverage so far, even including re-edited syndicated versions of the original NY Times article as it appeared in local papers across the US, has focused solely on SWIFT. This is somewhat understandable, since that is the Big Story. But it’s not the whole story.

As the original article mentioned:

Officials described the Swift program as the biggest and most far-reaching of several secret efforts to trace terrorist financing. Much more limited agreements with other companies have provided access to ATM transactions, credit card purchases and Western Union payments, the officials said.

Slightly more information about these “agreements” with other companies was provided much deeper in the long article, with a few details about one involving Western Union and its parent company.

[Following 9/11,] Financial company executives, many of whom had lost friends at the World Trade Center, were eager to help federal officials trace terrorist money. “They saw 9/11 not just as an attack on the United States, but on the financial industry as a whole,” said one former government official.

Quietly, counterterrorism officials sought to expand the information they were getting from financial institutions. Treasury officials, for instance, spoke with credit card companies about devising an alert if someone tried to buy fertilizer and timing devices that could be used for a bomb, but they were told the idea was not logistically possible, a lawyer in the discussions said.

The FBI began acquiring financial records from Western Union and its parent company, the First Data Corporation. The programs were alluded to in Congressional testimony by the FBI in 2003 and described in more detail in a book released this week, “The One Percent Doctrine,” by Ron Suskind. Using what officials described as individual, narrowly framed subpoenas and warrants, the FBI has obtained records from First Data, which processes credit and debit card transactions, to track financial activity and try to locate suspects.

Similar subpoenas for the Western Union data allowed the FBI to trace wire transfers, mainly outside the United States, and to help Israel disrupt about a half-dozen possible terrorist plots there by unraveling the financing, an official said.

Subpoenas — sounds good, right? Well, it would except for the fact that these were not subpoenas as you and I typically think of them. No judge reviewed them, there was no court hearing, no just cause was argued.

Rather, these were (are still) what are called “administrative subpoenas” or, more specifically, National Security Letters. This is a Constitutionally dubious legal device, first created in limited form in 1978 then expanded enormously by the USA PATRIOT Act, that literally empowers the executive branch to write its own subpoenas with zero — zero — court approval or review. What’s more, anyone receiving a National Security Letter (NSL) is prohibited from saying anything whatsoever about it, even that they received one. Everything about an NSL is a secret. They are nothing more or less than secret warrants issued with impunity by the President and his political appointees, with zero due process or independent oversight.

According to a 2005 story in the Washington Post, citing anonymous government sources, the FBI issues approximately 30,000 National Security Letters every year. You can learn more about the ongoing controversy surrounding NSLs at the ACLU web site, and many others.

Aaanyway…please note that the story so far has dealt with SWIFT and Western Union and its parent, First Data Corporation.  The excerpt above from the NY Times story would appear to indicate they have information about additional financial data mining ops involving other companies and financial institutions.

…And by the way, does anyone else here remember the TIA data mining program and how Congress passed a law expressly prohibiting it?

I Know Obscenity When I Don’t See It

CBS Stations: Indecency Complaints Invalid
From: MediaWeek, June 13, 2006.

Virtually none of those who complained to the Federal Communications Commission about the teen drama Without A Trace actually saw the episode in question, CBS affiliates said as they asked the agency to rescind its proposed record indecency fine of $3.3 million.

All of the 4,211 e-mailed complaints came from Web sites operated by the Parents Television Council and the American Family Association, the stations said in a filing on Monday [June 12, 2006].

In only two of the emails did those complaining say they had watched the program, and those two apparently refer to a “brief, out-of-context segment” of the episode that was posted on the Parents Television Council’s Web site, the affiliates’ filing said.

“There were no true complainants from actual viewers,” the stations said. To be valid, complaints must come from an actual viewer in the service area of the station at issue, the filing said.

“The e-mails were submitted…because advocacy groups hoping to influence television content generally exhorted them to contact the commission,” the CBS stations said.

…About 8.2 million people saw the Dec. 31, 2004 broadcast, which was a repeat of an earlier airing of the same episode that drew no indecency complaints. [Emphasis added.]  E-mails about the episode began arriving at the FCC on Jan. 12, the same day the PTC sent an alert to its members, the CBS stations said.

More at the link above.

Oldest Surviving UK Film Found in Attic

Brought to my attention by Hell’s Donut House (grammercy, sirrah), via The Daily Mail via the AMIA email list courtesy of Leo Enticknap, curator of the Northern Region Film & Television Archive at the University of Teesside in Middlesbrough, England — whose brief comment at end is worth noting. Additional info follows below.

UK’s earliest film found in attic after 111 years
The Daily Mail (London, England), June 19, 2006

It features just three characters, lasts barely 50 seconds and has a plot that would leave modern audiences distinctly underwhelmed.

But to the experts, this grainy image from a film found in an attic in the West Midlands is of huge historical importance.

Not only is it the first movie ever made in Britain, but the world’s first crime movie to boot. Called Arrest of a Pickpocket, it was produced in April 1895 by pioneering film-maker Birt Acres, who was born in America to British parents.

It is the crown jewel in a priceless collection of early celluloid that has been found, wrapped in a Marks & Spencer bag, in a pensioner’s attic where it had been gathering dust for more than 60 years.

The extraordinary find could have gone up in flames at any time over the last century because the chemicals in the film are highly unstable.

And experts say the film would have degenerated beyond repair had it gone undiscovered for another three months. [See Leo Enticknap's comment, below.]
As it was, the hoard — which also includes six short films by the inventor and film pioneer Thomas Edison — was found only after a chance conversation between pensioner Frank Williams and his niece.

Mr Williams, 79, who lives in Redditch, Worcestershire, said: “I pretty much forgot about them. I certainly had no idea that they could have gone up in smoke and my house with it.

“I can only think that someone up above wanted the films to be found one day. Thank God they were discovered in time. It’s hard to believe that I’ve had the start of the British film industry sitting in my attic all this time.”

The film shows a pickpocket being chased by a policeman, before being wrestled to the ground with the help of a passing sailor, and arrested.

According to the archives, it was the first fictional film Birt Acres had ever made. It predates what had been the previous earliest British film in existence — Acres’s footage of the 1895 Derby [the famous British horse race] — by about two months.

Originally owned by Mr Williams’s grandfather, George, who travelled with the circus showing it as part of his magic lantern and peep show, the film ended up in the loft of the family’s engineering business in Worcestershire.

When he died in 1946, it was passed down from father to son and then onto his grandson. Mr Williams said: “I’d always wanted to find out something about the films but didn’t know who to ask.

“I tried taking them to a film museum in Brighton but it was closed so I came home, stuffed them in the back of my wardrobe and forgot about them.”

It was only when his niece, a keen genealogist, heard about them and contacted Sheffield University’s Fairground Archive, that the cache of 14 films came to light.

Dr Vanessa Toulmin, the archive’s director, said: “I spend my life looking at old films so I had no reason to suspect that this was anything amazing.

“But it is astounding. It is only about 100ft of film, and it was tagged onto the end of another film. But we have had it verified by four experts. It is not only the earliest British film ever found, but the first crime film made anywhere in the world.

“Another three months and it would not have survived because the nitrate was already rotting inside the tins.”

Deac Rossell, a film historian, said: “What is extraordinary is that there are newspapers of the day that have been used as a backdrop on the set.

“They clearly show that it was the third week in April. To give historians that kind of time check is a dream come true.”

After months of painstaking work, the film has been restored frame by frame. It is due to get its – second – world premiere at a festival for silent films in Venice in October.

——————————

[Dr.] Vanessa [Toulmin, mentioned above,] asked me to examine these elements when they were first given to her (there are no bench examination facilities at the National Fairground Archive), and I have to say that the three month claim sounds like a bit of an exaggeration to me. There were something like 11 elements in total, one of which had significantly shrunk and and was very brittle: but the others struck me as being in astonishingly good condition, given their age and the conditions in which they’d been stored. The restoration work was done by Prestech.

Leo

Leo Enticknap
Curator, Northern Region Film & Television Archive
School of Arts and Media
University of Teesside
Middlesbrough
TS1 3BA
United Kingdom
Tel. +44 (0)1642 384049
Fax +44 (0)8719 002602
http://www.nrfta.org.uk

Following is a scenario description of the film from John Barnes, The Beginnings of the Cinema in England 1894-1901, Vol. 1: 1894-1896. It is not at all clear from this source where the quotation included below originated from a contemporary Paul-Acres catalog (see below) or a later secondary source.

Arrest of a Pickpocket / Capture of a Pickpocket / Street Scene (April 1895)

The first dramatic photoplay made in England. ‘The Arrest of a pickpocket, in which the man is pursued by a constable, runs right across the picture, they struggle together and the policeman’s helmet is knocked off, then the pickpocket, by slipping out of his jacket, manages to escape, but runs full tilt into the arms of a sailor, with whose assistance he is finally secured, handcuffed, and marched off to justice.’

There are one or two other points in the Daily Mail’s article worth addressing. Not least, the film is definitely not “the first movie ever made in Britain.” Setting aside (albeit arguably) earlier experiments, the first saleable film (by the makers’ own account) was Oxford and Cambridge University Boat Race, shot on March 30, 1895 — prior to Arrest of a Pickpocket, if only perhaps by a matter of days.

It also very much bears mentioning that Birt Acres, important a figure as he is, was not working alone in those days, and giving him sole credit for this film is not quite true to the historical record. His partner at the time of these very first British motion pictures was Robert W. Paul, himself one of the truly landmark originators of cinema. The two men, in very short order, got into a rather bitter Victorian pissing match that today is difficult to adjudicate fairly, but suffice to say that working together the two succeeded in reverse-engineering an Edison Kinetoscope and, with some enhancements of their own devising, building motion cameras capable of shooting films compatible with the Edison machine. (Edison, uncharacteristically, failed to obtain patent protection in Britain and much of Europe prior to distributing his Kinetoscopes, though his licensing contracts left those who dealt in bootleg and unofficial Edison prints open to dire consequences.)

It is true that most, if not all, of the Paul-Acres films were actually shot (or “turned”) by Acres, and it is undeniable that the patent for that first camera was issued to him. But there is also no doubt whatsoever that the two were, at least for the nonce, equal partners at the time. The aformentioned pissing match centered on who, exactly, was the real engineering brains behind the operation, with Acres (a non-engineer but arguably the better publicist) voluably maintaining, perhaps with some justification, it was his ideas that made all the difference.

While, again, Acres is indeed a genuine and noteworthy pioneer, the argument is perhaps best put to rest by considering the simple facts that it was Paul who continued to devise and build ever-better cameras as well the first movie projection system in Britain, exported his gear throughout Europe for many years, continued to produce films long after Acres gave up the ghost (fostering numerous other later-important early British filmmakers along the way). Indeed, Paul’s company lasted until 1920, when it was amalgamated with Cambridge Scientific Instruments Ltd.

Whatever the case, it is very good news indeed that this precious piece of cinema history has been found and preserved…an incredible 111 years after it was shot. (The expected lifespan of nitrate film is only 50 years.)

Lobster Films, C’est Tres Bon

While doing a little research on Georges Méliès this weekend, I learned of Lobster Films. (Site in English et Francais, but beware — most pages have embedded Quicktimes, and the lame Javascript “faux frames” text-scrolling doodad does not work until the damn movie loads all the way.) Call me slow on the draw, but somehow I had not heard of them before.

This amazing French private archive and restoration lab, helmed by Serge Bromberg and Eric Lange, holds some 20,000 rare, old films — a number of them unspeakably rare, as in “sole surviving print” rare. What led me to them was learning, for example, that in 1999 they discovered 250 nitrate prints (some 200 pounds!) made between 1896 and 1903 stashed in a cupboard in an old French house up for sale. They were only able to save 98 of the films, but amidst the cache were no less than 17 Melies films previously thought to have been lost forever. (Alas, extensive Googling produced no list of titles, dag blast it.)

In 2002, Bromberg found in Spain the longest print known — hand-colored and tinted no less — of A Trip to the Moon, running a full 25 minutes. Better yet, they were able to save and restore the film (mostly: the 100 year old nitrate was apparently in pretty bad shape) and premiered it at a free open air screening in downtown Paris.

In recent years Bromberg has been taking portions of the Lobster Films archive on the festival circuit, mainly in Europe (particularly Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, aka the Pordenone Silent Film Festival, in Italy), but with occasional stops Stateside in NY City and at the San Francisco International Film Festival.

I was also pleased to learn that Lobster Films has produced a series of DVDs, Retour de Flamme volumes one through 4 (scroll down at that link for links to other volumes). These drool-inducing collections of short films from various periods are thoughtfully produced with both French and English language options. There is also (brace yourself) Les Premiers pas du Cinéma (“First Steps of Cinema”), a 2-DVD set of early color and sound films with material dating as far back as 1898. The damn thing even has 1908 sound films of freakin’ Caruso singing!

The catch? Not a one of those is available in the States and they are all Zone 2 (so you’ll need a all-region player). Thanks to l’internet you can buy them from French online retailers such as Amazon.fr (which has help info, including overseas shipping details, in English), Alapage.fr, or Heeza.

If that doesn’t suit you for whatever reason, you can still get an appreciation for the fine work that Lobster Films is doing by checking out the fantastic Charley Bowers 2-disc set, as well as their collaboration with Kino on some pretty great-looking silent comedy and slapstick collections.

Bon appetit, mes amis!

Stockhausen Masterworks

The death yesterday of György Ligeti has put me in mind of other aging masters of modern music. While trying (fruitlessly) to track down a copy of the Ecstatic Peace release of Kontakte, I learned that one can still obtain a wealth of rare primary recordings of the works of Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Stockhausen-Verlag, accessible via the official Stockhausen web site, offers an extensive catalog of CDs, many in dual-disc editions and a number with lengthy accompanying books (in both German and English) in which Stockhausen discusses the works. It’s a rather overwhelming list, which is why I’m glad a little further Google trolling uncovered Ingvar Loco Nodrin’s amazing collection of illustrated reviews of dang near every CD set offered. (I should also mention that Stockhausen-Verlag also offers rare videos, scores, books, and limited edition music boxes.)

Editions that caught my eye included early concrète works (including one of his very first, long thought lost until Herr Stockhausen found the tape buried in his metaphoric closet), an original all-electronic recording of Kontakte (as well as the original recording of the electroacoustic arrangement), and original recordings of Mikrophonie I and II.

Prices are slightly steep but not outrageous, generally in the US$30 range. Pay attention to the ordering details: international money orders drawn on a German bank are preferred, but they are happy to accept personal checks in US currency with the addition of US$15 to cover their bank fees.

Ligeti Dies

Composer György Ligeti died today in Vienna. He was 83. His family has not disclosed the cause of death, saying only he had been seriously ill for several years.

Like so many others, I first experienced his music while watching Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. I found his music, like the film, a transformative experience. It was one my earliest exposures to avant garde classical music, and in time that seed grew into an aesthetic universe that shaped who I am as an artist (or at least a one-time artist) and, indeed, as a person. While inevitably associated with the film, his music was for me something set apart from it…a great visitation first and partially glimpsed through the proverbial Kubrick lens. (Ironically, Ligeti successfully sued Kubrick for altering the piece Aventures, aka Adventures, in the soundtrack, adding heavily echoed vocal sounds intended to evoke the presence of the aliens during the film’s “hotel room” sequence.)

Though I did not actually hear much more of his music until much later in life, the few pieces I knew and what I managed to read about his theories of music had a tremendous impact on me, as well as many of the musicians and composers whose company and occasional collaboration I enjoyed throughout my 20s and 30s. In retrospect, I think I have Ligeti to thank for much of my notions of music as an environment that envelopes and carries one away to…someplace else. Music as a mystical experience. While that may read trite and glib, it is an idea that has had tremendous force and power for me — and it’s hardly surprising that words fail it. That is, after all, the very essence of the most powerful human experiences, and the true wellspring of art. For me, Ligeti was one of the very few capable of capturing echoes of that ultimate. I am sad at his passing, and so very grateful for his presence and work here among us.

Like a stream gently flowing
I wouldn’t know any sadness;
between mountains and valleys
I would quietly flow,
sadness, oh, I wouldn’t know

Text for Ha folyóvíz volnék, an a capella choral work by György Ligeti, 1947
From Slovakian folk poety.

Some Music

“Lux aeterna” (“Eternal Light,” 1966) — A beautifully gentle performance by the London Sinfonietta Voices. [MP3, 7.6 mb]

Some Links

Gyorgy Ligeti, Central-European Composer of Bleakness and Humor, Dies at 83 (NY Times obit)

Wikipedia: Gyorgy Ligeti

Official Gyorgy Ligeti web site (includes some MP3s)

BBC Radio 3: John Tusa interviews Gyorgy Ligeti (audio and full transcript)

Interviews, articles and more via Monk Mink Pink Punk, including the score for Poeme Symphonique (for 100 metronomes)