Drinking From the Music Blog Firehose

Of late, when moments allow, I’ve been exploring a number of very rewarding music blogs out there. Following is a compendium of what I consider to be particularly notable such blogs and/or postings (which I’ll likely add to in the next day or so, so revisit if you’re so inclined). It’s also well worth mentioning that the blogrolls of these cats are prolly worth exploring (during your copious free time) — not to mention the usual suspects WFMU’s Beware of the Blog, UBUWEB, Strange Reaction, 7inch Punk, and any of the various music links off on the right side of this here post.

Oh, and please remember (and spread the word): friends don’t let friends use RapidShare. (In this context, the more daring and tinker-prone might try RapidShare Link Grabber — caveat emptor and no warranty or endorsement granted or implied.) Here’s a link that offers a list of some alternative filesharing services with less obnoxious end-user experiences.

Mutant Sounds. Ho. Ly. Crap. Not only do you get numerous NWW List ultra-rarities, you get even more stuff that would make any self-respecting avant collector scum drool themselves half to death. And intelligent and oft-even-erudite annotations. Dang. There’s a reason this one is listed first.

FM SHADES. I first learned of this blog qua the Velvet Underground “Dolph acetate” I recently yammered about at some length, and I keep going back. Deeply obscure but almost always delicious selections of early electronics, prog, avant jazz, bent folk, and some things I prolly wouldn’t normally bother with but am almost always glad I did. Just one absolute must have is Pierre Henry’s incredible Mise en Musique du Corticalart de Roger LaFosse (1971), in which the brain waves of one Roger LaFosse are transformed by analog synthesis. Run, don’t walk.

Mended Records. A music blog, not a label. And yes, more please thank you! Currently an emphasis on vinyl rips of gaspingly rare ’80s avant music: Eugene Chadbourne free improv, Fred Frith table-top guitars in Japan, Arcane Device (!), This Heat, Slapp Happy’s BBC sessions, Bob Ostertag, and hell even avant garde groups from friggin’ Estonia! Downside: RapidShit.

Iva Bittová & Pavel Fajt: Bittová & Fajt (1987) via Orang Aural, which has now relocated to the fervently recommended Border Music (see below). Violin and percussion?? Oh hell yeah. Unspeakably beautiful music from this Czech avant duo deeply informed by Roma tradition. Every one of their albums are worth seeking out…if you can even find them. This one is especially rare. Iva has also released some very worthwhile solo recordings. Iva…if you ever need someone to have your baby, just let me know. It’s medically impossible, but I’ll find a way. I’m just sayin’.

Border Music. Um. Wow. Are you ready to pee your pants and not mind one bit? In re: the same cat that brought us the aforementioned Bittová & Fajt at his previous blog-home, I offer six all-important words (integers duly re-typed): The Residents – Early Works (1971-72). As in the complete mythic and illusory Baby Sex, the impossibly ellusive The Warner Brothers Album, and the very first Santa Dog double single. Wait, don’t pee yet. 192kbps rips. Okay, now pee. (And as you change pants, try to forget he uses RapidShitbag.) The Residents post alone is worthy of embarrassing kowtowing (op cit.), but our good captain is also conversant with the likes of Evan Parker, Bob Ostertag, Steve Lacy, René Lussier, Massacre, Frith, et al. Dude.

Bubblegum Machine. All this synaptic avant screeching humming blat shit is plenty well and good, but man…sometimes some delicious AM radio pop is just plain refreshing. Two songs posted every week, and the archives stay active in perpetuity. Quote: “Manifesto. If it’s ever been on K-Tel or Ronco, it’s in. If it features hand claps, cow bells, syrupy orchestration, walls of sound, wrecking crews, sha-la-las, toothy teen idols, candy-based metaphors for carnal acts or lyrics about hugging, squeezing and rocking all night long, it’s in.” You’ll be sitting at your desk stifling the urge to harmonize. Now…if someone would just start making flesh-toned iPod earbuds for use during meetings….

BBC Radiophonic Collections and Dr. Who Soundtracks. The infinitely magnanimous if slightly eccentric X-Y-Z-Cosmonaut once saw fit to post literally hours of precious recordings by the BBC Radophonic Workshop. (Read: “Incredibly rare and absolutely essential early electronic music.”) The rest of the blog is interesting if you’re interested: ’70s “blaxploitation” comic books, obscure ’70s Saturday AM superhero TV video rips, and similarly kitschy fare…all with admirably obsessive glee. But dude: BBC Radiophonics! (Albeit all via the damnable autofelching hell that is RapidShare). To wit:

And while you’re there — and only if you can’t find the original article, which is lovingly assembled, gorgeously packaged in an fascinatingly extensive hardbound booklet, and well worth every red cent — you may as well grab Raymond Scott: Manhattan Research Inc. (2-CDs, 69 tracks total).

And speaking of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, you should definitely read this absolutely superlative extended essay: “BBC Radiophonic Workshop: An Engineering Perspective.”

Delia Derbyshire: Electronic Music Pioneer. Speaking (again) of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, you must stop by this site to both learn about this (gasp!) female pioneer of electronic music and to visit the Music Clips page to avail yourself of excellent and rare works, including a few pieces unavailable anywhere else.

Crap I Found At the Library. Get real. How can you not be a slave to a music blog whose first-page posts include Curtis “Shaft” Mayfield’s gospel album, Killdozer, Javanese gamelan, and Woody Guthrie? Digging a little deeper, you’ll find yodeling from Austria and Switzerland, Hawaiian exotica, and a full rip of the priceless Best of Ralph compilation (which some rat bastard stole from me back in my DJ-ing days at Club Dreamerz…may your pecker fall off and kill all around you with its putrescence), a theremin compilation, circus music, and a sound effects record. Just for starters. Can you buy someone a beer over email? Hell…are we related?

ShortWaveMusic. Okay, I confess I’ve not yet really checked this one out…but how can I not include any blog “featuring music and/or musical noise intercepted via shortwave radio.” I mean, c’mon.

The Conet Project. Well, if I’m gonna mention shortwave at all, then I must not take one more breath or step without referring you to the legendary Conet Project: a 4-CD, 150-track collection released by Irdial Discs compiling recordings of broadcasts by so-called “number stations” — “used by the worlds intelligence agencies to transmit secret messages” — over 20 years. Fascinating, bizarre, sometimes hilarious, and utterly Yeah. Two different MP3 archives of this remarkable work are freely available online (thanks in part, and ironically, to a successful copyright infringement lawsuit against the band Wilco, which used some excerpts on their CD, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot):

Farewell, Uwe Nettelbeck

Faust's first albumAnother loss of a music great. Uwe Nettelbeck — the “founder and mentor” of the amazing and legendary avant-prog krautrock group Faust — died on January 17, 2007. There’s a little more information at faust-pages.com, but I’ve not yet learned the cause of death. Historically, the group’s members (past and present) are extremely private, so this is not too surprising. From what I can gather, he had been ailing.

Without Uwe, there would not have been Faust, and their landmark albums would never have been released. Indeed, thanks to this radical leftist journalist turned avant impresario Faust is the only “rock band” (let alone ultra-freaky experimental group) to ever be released on Deutsche Gramophone, the preeminent classical music label in Germany if not all of Europe. To learn more about Herr Nettelbeck and his impact, visit some of the links provided below.

I remember vividly the first time I heard Faust, in the Chicago apartment of a friend (a truly impressive record collector) during a small acid party, aptly enough. It was every bit as transformative a musico-artistic experience for me as seeing Sun Ra for the first time at Biddy Mulligan’s, and all the more impressive to me since it was just as powerful and astonishing and utterly radical when I heard that clear-vinyl-xray-hand album when the walls weren’t melting (at least not due to any chemical assistance). My very ideas of what music and even sound is and can be were completely and unalterably, well, transformed. I was truly never the same again as an artist, a listener or, really, as a person. And of course, I was by no means the only one to be so profoundly affected by that remarkable coalescence of talent, vision, and The Times that was Faust.

My deep and sincere condolences to all of Uwe’s family, friends, and compatriots. And my deep, eternal gratitude to him for everything he did to mutate our ears and minds more than 30 years ago. By the same token, profound thanks are due to Chris Cutler and Recommended Records for keeping the Faust vision alive for all these years.

Justice From On High

Psst. Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who presided over a president’s impeachment for a blowjob, was a pill junkie. Suddenly, the 2000 election makes way more sense.

“FBI records document history of Rehnquist drug dependency” (Jurist Legal News & Research, Jan. 6, 2007 — numerous links)

“Rehnquist Drug Dependency Detailed” (Associated Press, Jan. 5, 2007)

Declassified FBI documents:

http://wid.ap.org/documents/rehnquist/section1.pdf
http://wid.ap.org/documents/rehnquist/section3.pdf
http://wid.ap.org/documents/rehnquist/section4.pdf
http://wid.ap.org/documents/rehnquist/section5.pdf
http://wid.ap.org/documents/rehnquist/section6.pdf
http://wid.ap.org/documents/rehnquist/section7.pdf

Keeping America Safe From Jaywalking Scholars

(Note to self: stay way the hell away from Atlanta.)

Deceptively mild-mannered, bespectacled Felipe Fernandez-Armesto — historian, former don of Oxford and author of 19 books who besmirched Atlanta’s good name by attending the conference of the American Historical Society — not only dared to jaywalk (the terrorist!), but violated the most basic rules of all quasi-civilized nations by daring to request to the see the identification of the abrasive asshole giving him shit for it.

For this unconscionable behavior, obviously only one step up from baby raping, the abrasive asshole — who eventually turned out to be a member of the Atlanta Police Department whose badge was hidden by his bomber jacket — justly barked “When I give you an order, you obey it!” The manly embodiment of Throbbing American Man Justice then kicked the weasley “scholar’s” legs out from under him and pinned him to the ground like the crack-dealing Al Qaida bastard traitor he must be. Hell, considering what a shitbag he is, Fernandez-Armesto was lucky to escape only with a bloody gash across his forehead and various bruises on his arms, chest, and neck when he was cuffed into submission.

Thankfully, seven more members of Atlanta’s Finest swarmed around the Satanist child-pimping bio-terrorist to ensure he didn’t escape through some foreigner mind-control trickery!

Since Abu Ghraib is no longer taking residents, Atlanta’s holy guardians of decency were forced to merely throw him into a local detention cell with other junkies, whores, and pederasts. What a pity this limey freak of evil and DVD piracy was only held there for a paltry 8 hours. Not nearly enough time for a proper water-boarding, but at least it prevented him from plotting the despoiling of pure American womanhood with his fellow “historians”.

When the autofelching beastiality monger was generously taken before a judge — proof positive that “due process” is the TRUE scourge of almighty justice! — prosecutors rightly demanded he plead no contest. But did the ungrateful narcoterrorist hussy STD-gargler bow before his true masters? NO! HE REFUSED!

But, freedom-loving Americans, obviously there was a Communist ACLU feminazi plot afoot, because in the end, instead of locking the Jew-loving üntermensch in a strobe-lined breadbox and shooting him full of USDA LSD like he deserved, all charges were dropped. How — o how! — will fair Atlanta and the Great American Fatherland ever live down the mortal shame of letting such a heartless criminal go free???? I weep for the soiled smooth young tender virgin perky-nippled breasts of Justice! (Speaking of which, have they removed Ashcroft’s curtain yet?)

That’s Perfesser Spencer to You, Pal

Dang!  I just serendipitously discovered that I’m now cited as an authority (of sorts) on Wikipedia, specifically in the entry about the Dickson Experimental Sound Film (ca. 1895).  Some kind soul added an External Link listing pointing to my rather lengthy post about the film.  My humble thanks to whoever did that — very gratifying, indeed.

I suddenly recall that I’m also cited in the bibliography of some semi-fictionalized book about terrorism.  My dad was reading said book and found a citation for me as curator/editor of the olde (nay, ancient) Octopus Archive project, way the hell back in my Tezcat.com days ca. 1994-95.  (It was a rather extensive [for the time] collection of conspiriana, covert history, political stuff, UFO lore and other high strangeness that I maintained initially as an FTP archive — remember those?)  Unfortunately, dad couldn’t remember the title of the book, but we both got a big kick out of it.

The Ultimate Velvet Underground Rarity

photo of the Norman Dolph Velvet Underground acetate, 1966
Feast your eyes on the now-famous (at least 15,300 Google hits and counting) test acetate of The Velvet Underground’s first album as mixed by jobber engineer Norman Dolph, and purchased by one Warren Hill of Montreal for a mere 75 cents at a yard sale in Chelsea, NY in 2002.

The acetate was auctioned on eBay for the final price of $25,200. That was actually the second eBay auction of the record. The first auction ended at the mind-boggling price of $155,401.00. However, that winner of that auction (make that “ultimate loser ever”) ‘fessed up that he “can’t even afford gas for [his] car.” Dick. This led to the second auction. The name of the winner has not, at this writing, been disclosed.

Mr. Hill, proprietor of the Backroom Records and Pastries shop and member of the band Wolf Parade, made a 3,359,900 percent profit on the sale.

The VU acetate is much more than a test pressing, though. Not only are the songs in a completely different order than the final release on Verve, most are different mixes, and many are completely different takes. The master tapes of these mixes were lost long, long ago, forever amen. The acetate was submitted to Columbia Records for consideration. They, of course, declined. Mr. Dolph has kept the response, which reportedly read in part, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding” (or words to that precise effect).

Now feast your ears, for there are MP3 downloads out there. (Did I mention I really love the Internet?)

The FM SHADES music blog (which is very worthwhile even without the VU prize) has a zip for download with the whole thing, plus pix and a text file of the whole tale bundled right in. (Jump directly to the download page, via quickshare.com.)

Also, the WFMU Blog has posted the same MP3s as individual downloads, though you’ll need to add the track numbers to the file names to keep them in the correct order — which is odd cuz they’re usually better about that and they had to actually rename the files.

There’s also at least one bit torrent out there, with more undoubtedly seeding out even as you read this.

However, the true provenance of these particular recordings is suspect. A “high-quality digital back-up” of Hill’s copy was indeed made with the help of his friend Eric Isaacson of Mississippi Records in Portland, OR. But the FM SHADES blogger claims to be in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and while he strongly implies his MP3s are of Hill’s copy, he does not state that is the case (or explain how he came by them).

What’s more, there are rumors — probably true but not quite substantiated at this writing — that there is in fact a second copy of the same acetate that has been in the possession of VU drummer Moe Tucker. An individual claiming to be M.C. Kostek (perhaps Mike Kostek, author of The Velvet Underground Handbook) posted a “question” (time-sensitive link, login required) to the first eBay auction that stated:

The ‘rumor’ about Moe’s acetate is true! I have worked with her and Sterling on projects in the past, and they both mentioned how the band played it several times to see how the NY sessions had gone. I’ve seen it, with Sterling’s handwritten ‘featuring Moe Tucker’ on the front of the white cover. This ‘legend’ is true — there definitely is another copy.

And as noted on Olivier Landemaine’s fine web page, The Velvet Underground: Studio and home recordings (last updated in Dec. 2005):

An incomplete ‘edited’ version [of the acetate] was released as [a] bonus CDR with the 100 first copies of [the] At The Factory: Warhol Tapes bootleg CD [released circa 2005]. Another (more scratchy) copy which was used for the Ultimate Mono And Acetates Album bootleg [also released circa 2005] which offers the complete recording.

Another anonymous individual posted another “question” to the second Hill eBay auction, saying “For sure your copy is in better conditions than the Moe’s,” more than implying that s/he has heard both versions. This was accepted as implied fact by the seller’s response: “That Warren’s copy is far superior in sound to the bootleg is noteworthy, however, and would lend credibility to the notion that there could be another copy extant.”

Neither Hill nor Isaacson are saying, but the reported discrepancy in sound quality coupled with the anonymous eBay questioner’s claim that Hill’s copy is “for sure” in better condition suggests they may have been the source for the selections on the At the Factory bonus CDR.

Listening to the above MP3s, there’s a good deal of surface noise and they definitely represent the entire record, and given the unlikelihood (tho not impossibility) that some stray cat (supposedly) in Buenos Aires is the only guy in the world to post MP3s of the thing it seems pretty certain those MP3s are in fact of the Ultimate Mono And Acetates Album, which was probably mastered from Moe Tucker’s copy (which, given all the yadda yadda, I’m assuming does actually exist). …Then again, maybe “mister Buenos Aires” is really “hundred-thousandaire Montrealian,” eh wot?

Well, no big deal. It’s still a great listen and, for the record nerd if no one else, a real revelation.

Related Links

“Velvet Underground acetate sells for $25k in second auction,” Goldmine magazine, Dec. 8, 2006.

“The Vinyl Frontier,” Montreal Mirror, Dec. 14-20, 2006. Local boy makes history.

“The Velvet Underground Play Portland,” The Portland Mercury, Nov. 25 – Dec. 1, 2004. More about the PNW connection.

Metafilter: “Velvet Underground Acetate Breaks Record”, Dec. 5, 2006.

Wikipedia: “The Velvet Underground”

“Velvet Underground Rarity Sells on eBay”, Washington Post, Dec. 10, 2006.

The [unofficial] Velvet Underground Web Page, maintained by Olivier Landemaine.

The Inside Story

As written by Eric Isaacson and originally published in the Dec. 8, 2006 issue of Goldmine magazine:

In September 2002 Hill, a Kenny Rogers Roasters employee in Montreal, Canada, was perusing a box of records at a Chelsea, N.Y., street sale when he happened upon a nice Lead Belly 10-inch on Folkways, a water-damaged copy of the first Modern Lovers LP on Beserkely, and a brittle 12-inch piece of acetone-covered aluminum with the words “Velvet Underground. 4-25-66. Att N. Dolph” written on the label. He purchased the three records for 75 cents each.

As I have a small knowledge of records and am an old friend of Hill’s, I got a call from him the next day, and he described the acetate. Because of the date and the unique type of pressing, we both agreed that it was probably an in-studio acetate made during the recording of the first Velvet Underground LP back in 1966 (I had heard that they occasionally would have a vinyl cutting lathe in the studio to cut records of the day’s recordings for the artists and/or producers to take home for review). Warren didn’t want to play the mysterious platter due to the fragile nature of acetates and the cheap nature of his stereo needle, so we agreed that the next time he was visiting me in Portland we would check it out together. If it turned out to be what we thought it was, maybe we could sell it at Mississippi Records, the small neighborhood record store in Portland where I work. Sight unseen I estimated its likely artifact value to be around $800.

When Hill visited we cued up the acetate and were stunned — the first song was not “Sunday Morning” as on the Velvet Underground & Nico Verve LP, but rather “European Son,” the last song on that LP, and it was a version neither of us had ever heard before! It was less bombastic and had a more bluesy feel than the released version, and it clocked in at a full two minutes longer. Realizing that we had something special, I immediately took the needle off the record. Between the two of us we had heard many Velvets outtakes on official and less than-official releases, but the present material had never been heard by either of us.

The next few days found us scrambling for clues about what to make of this find, calling every record collector/historian we knew and reading everything we could find concerning the early recordings of the VU. We pieced together that this was probably a surviving copy of the legendary Scepter Studios recordings, which had been regarded as lost (hence the application of the moniker “the lost Scepter Studios recordings” to these unheard sessions over the years). The recording is composed of the primitive first “finished” version of the LP that Andy Warhol had shopped to Columbia as a ready-to-release debut album by his protégé collective.

Though the same compositions and even a few of the same takes (albeit in different mixes) were used on the subsequent commercial release, The Velvet Underground & Nico is a significantly different creation. I had heard of these nascent recordings before — it was said by some that the master tapes had burned in a fire, by others that all of those recordings ended up being on the released album, and still by others that the only existing copy of that material was on an acetate owned by David Bowie and that he was known to tout it as his most prized possession. The truth about what we held was fuzzy until Hill managed to track down the N. Dolph referred to on the label for an interview.

Norman Dolph was a perennial in the New York art and music scene of the 1960s. He worked as a sales representative at Columbia Records through 1967 and was deeply involved with different facets of the independent music world on the side. Warhol, who was managing the Velvets at the time, contacted Dolph and offered him a painting in exchange for services as ghost (uncredited) producer for the Velvets’ first recording session. Warhol wanted to record a Velvets album before they had a record company behind them, as this would tend to minimize meddling label executives in compromising the musical arrangements’ distraught primal force, not to mention the unprecedented taboo lyrics, which openly address sex, drugs and depravity. Warhol’s plan was to have Dolph record it and then shop it around to labels (first and foremost Columbia) as a finished recording. So Dolph rented out Scepter Studios, and with an engineer named John Licata by his side, they recorded the Velvets for four days. At the time, Scepter Studios was between reconstruction and demolition, with walls falling over and holes in the floor. The Velvets’ bass and viola player, John Cale, would later recall the environment as “Post-apocalyptic.”

Dolph took the master tapes made during this session to the Columbia building, which still had an in-house pressing plant, and cut the acetate “after hours” with people he knew on the inside. Dolph then sent the acetate to Columbia to see if they were interested in releasing it. It was returned promptly with a note that said something akin to “Do you think we’re out of our f***ing minds?” Dolph then gave the acetate to Warhol or Cale; he said he cannot remember which. Six of the songs recorded during the Scepter session made it on to the Velvet Underground & Nico LP, albeit with radically different mixes. The other four songs were re-recorded in Los Angeles by Tom Wilson. As far as we know, the only listenable copy of the original versions of “Heroin,” “Venus In Furs,” “I’m Waiting For The Man,” and “European Son” exist on the acetate that Hill found. (A Japanese bootleg of the same material did appear but in poor, arguably “unlistenable” sound quality.) We have since realized that we are in possession of a likely one-of-a-kind artifact, the first recordings by one of the most influential rock bands of all time!

“It seems to have gone badly at the end,” Hill told CBC Arts Online Monday afternoon.
After establishing the authenticity of Hill’s find we photographed the item and made a high-quality digital backup copy of the material. A media frenzy ensued. Calls started flooding in from people interested in buying the acetate, as well as record companies interested in releasing the songs on it. After much consideration, we decided that it would be best to release it to the highest bidder through an auction done by our good friends at Saturn Records in Oakland, Calif. (a store that has a well established presence in the international vinyl-collecting community and an excellent reputation on the Internet).

As to the most interesting mystery brought up by the appearance of this item — how did such an important artifact disappear for 37 years and end up at a Chelsea New York yard sale priced at 25 [sic: 75] cents — we have no answer.


What’s on the acetate? A Track-By-Track look…

The track differences between the acetate versions and the commercial recordings on The Velvet Underground & Nico are detailed as follows:

“European Son.”
Completely different version. Guitar solo is much bluesier. Less noisy and experimental. Longer by two minutes or so.

“Black Angel’s Death Song.”
Same take as released version. Different mix.

“All Tomorrow’s Parties.”
Same take as released version. Different mix.

“I’ll Be Your Mirror.”
Same take as released version. Radically different mix. No echo on Nico’s vocals. Background vocals on end of song are more subdued.

“Heroin.”
Completely different take than released version. Guitar line is different. Vocal inflections different and a few different lyrics. Drumming is more primitive and off kilter. There is a tambourine dragging throughout the song.

“Femme Fatale.”
Same take as released version. Radically different mix. Percussion more prominent. Alternate take on background vocals. Much more poppy.

“Venus In Furs.”
Different take than released version. Vocal inflections completely different. Instrumentation more based around Cale’s violin than the guitar, as in the released version.

“I’m Waiting For The Man.”
Different take than released version. Guitar line is completely different. Vocal inflections different and a few different lyrics. No drums, just tambourine. Bluesy guitar solo.

“Run Run Run.”
Same take as released version. Different mix.

Warren Hill

Lucky bastard Warren Hill, in his Montreal record shop, Backroom Records and Pastries, looking understandably disconcerted by all the hubbub.

Can We Impeach This Jerk Yet?

As reported today on the national wires (“Bush says feds can open mail without warrant,” Seattle Times 4 Jan 07), Congress just passed a law specifically prohibiting the government from opening private mail without a warrant — a judge’s warrant, not an “administrative” one — and on Dec. 20, as Washington shut down for Christmas, President Bush quietly signed it.

BUT.  “He then issued a ‘signing statement’ that declared his right to open mail under emergency conditions, contrary to existing law and contradicting the bill he had just signed,” according to the story.  It continues:

Bush said he will “construe” an exception, “which provides for opening of an item of a class of mail otherwise sealed against inspection in a manner consistent…with the need to conduct searches in exigent circumstances.”

Bush cited as examples the need to “protect human life and safety against hazardous materials and the need for physical searches specifically authorized by law for foreign intelligence collection.”

Of course, the problem is that “exigent” basically means anything the Bush Administration wants (we are at war, don’t forget) — which is precisely why the outgoing Republican Congress put it in the damn law in the first damn place.

Predictably, the low-level White House flacks sent out are mumbling the “not assuming any new powers” mantra, but national security specialists and officials alike are shocked and concerned.

“The [Bush] signing statement claims authority to open domestic mail without a warrant, and that would be new and quite alarming,” said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies in Washington.

“You have to be concerned,” a senior U.S. official agreed. “It takes executive-branch authority beyond anything we’ve ever known.”

And I’m totally serious about the impeachment thing.  Pending election, my foot.  The man swore a binding oath to “uphold and protect the Constitution.”  I’d say active subversion outranks blowjobs on the indictment scale any day of the week.  I mean, c’mon.
If you haven’t already, read up on this “signing statement” phenomenon and watch for it in the papers.

About the Prints for the El Topo / Holy Mountain Roadshow

As readers of this here blog hopefully know by now, El Topo and The Holy Mountain are currently hitting the road for what is certainly their first US theatrical run since their release in the early ’70s — if not ever. (Distribution was, I understand, spotty even at the time and I half-deduce their original runs were extremely limited, perhaps even to just a couple-few of the larger cities, tho I could have that wrong.  And I’ve no idea how extensive European distro was.  Jodorowsky experts are encouraged to correct me.)

As I’ve also mentioned, this is in advance of their release (along with Fando y Lis) as a legal (!!) DVD box-set.

For Jodorowsky fans, no matter their nationality, simply seeing these baroque psychedelic mind-bombs in an honest-to-god theater at all is one of the rarest of cinema treats, like a UFO landing, hitherto restricted only to the not-very-occasional film festival having to make do, usually, with battered old prints.

But the even bigger ballyhoo in this case is the films’ status as freshly, lavishly, HD-digitally restored jewels with the direct participation and supervision of Jodorowsky himself. Naturally, as a true film nerd, I wanted to know: we will be seeing new prints of the new restorations?!?!

Turns out, this is a trickier question than meets the mind’s eye. Alan Klein’s ABKCO Films, which owns the rights to the films (itself a minor saga), is being somewhat parsimonious with the information. The company’s web site, while featuring only information about the new releases, provides only plot descriptions (*cough*) and not one single solitary word about the restorations. Very strange publicity ploy, n’est ce pas?

Further confusing things was the December run of El Topo in New York City at the IFC Center (once the famed Waverly Theater, yes the one in the lyric from Hair). As discussed in an earlier post, the copy IFC ran was digitally projected HDcam tape, not film. With digital, about 75% of your experience depends on the quality of the projector, but HDcam tape is probably one of the best projection sources you can hope to get. But…it ain’t film, and despite the enormous strides made in digital projection in the last decade (both theatrical and home-style), it still does not come close to a quality film print — a fact noted by some who saw screenings there.

Things were bemurked further still by a comment to my post by a “John” (who claimed to be “Davis” in his nearly-verbatim comment on another blog). “John”, speaking with self-assured authority, stated categorically that “for better or worse, there are no 35mm prints from this new 2006 restoration.” When commenting as “Davis” at notcoming.com, he stated “while IFC Center would have preferred to have shown a brand new 35mm print from this Jodorowsky-authorized restoration, such a print does not and will not exist.” (I later deduced he was referring specifically to El Topo.)

Well stop the damn presses, I thought. WTF?? Are we getting chopped liver, or what? And who is this “John”/”Davis” guy anyway, and how the hell does he know? From the sound of things, it seemed like he might be an IFC flack or maybe just a defensive staffer “moonlighting” on his own.

So, I cruised the web sites of the other venues ABKCO lists as hosting this Jodorowsky film roadshow. They all trumpeted the restoration, but the screening prints themselves were often unaddressed — perhaps making the same, possibly erroneous, assumption I had made? The Music Box in Chicago said “new print” for one film but not the other, The Castro in SanFran proclaimed “New 35mm Prints!” (plural), and a buddy of mine at the Grand Illusion told me they were under the impression/assumption they would be new prints (plural)…but when it came down to it they weren’t positive. As a regular parser of politician-speak, I knew a skillfully unanswered question when I saw one.

So, just before xmas I sent an email to the press contact address on the ABKCO site, explaining the conflicting information I’d gleaned and asking for clarification. Were they sending out film prints or digital? Or both? If print(s), were it/they old or new? And while yer at it, got anything to share about the restoration tech trip? Well, so far no reply, though in fairness I did write just before the holiday week.

But a funny thing happened. As related to me, ABKCO contacted the Grand Illusion’s programmer (who happens to have the same first name as me, albeit with the different “second-S” spelling) and revealed unto him the nature of the prints that will be circulating during this roadshow, and thus coming to Seattle in February.

Drum-Roll Please…

So…as per ABKCO, to me via the grapevine:

El Topo will be a newly-struck 35mm print of the 1996 optical restoration. It will not, alas, be the brand-new restoration recently completed. (Or maybe, I theorize, that restoration is not quite complete or wasn’t completed in time for prints to be converted and stuck. That might explain the HDcam digital screening in NYC.) So far I’ve not been able to scrape up doodly about the 1996 restoration, but according to the mysterious “James”/”Davis” dude, it “was done without Jodorowsky’s participation and is very different (in terms of color corrects, sound mix, etc.) from the new digital version.” With no other context or info, it’s impossible to know if that’s actually as dire as he seems to imply. That said, I seriously doubt even the mercurial ABKCO would release a truly crappy version of El Topo to promote their super-lush DVD release…tho, of course, anything is possible when you get down to it.

But rejoice still, for The Holy Mountain will be a brand new 35mm print of the new digital restoration! This is glorious news, indeed, as the colors and music in that film were jaw-dropping even in the fairly battered print I saw (once, ca. 1987). Also, the latter print (which I gather from Googled press snips appeared every once in a great while at other fests) had no soundtrack at all for at least one full reel. So at last, I will finally get to see a complete film print of this masterpiece.

In both cases, my source tells me, these new prints are merely months old (even if the reportedly-substandard El Topo neg just celebrated its 10th b-day).

El Topo was shot in 1.85:1 and Holy Mountain was shot in scope (2.35:1), and I’m assuming the original aspect ratios have been preserved. Please note that both films were originally produced with mono soundtracks, so do not be disappointed that they are not stereo.

I do not know what lab produced the prints (or the ’96 restoration of El Topo for that matter), but a little trolling at IMDB revealed that Postworks, New York provided 2K HD restoration and color correction services for the newest digital versions of the films.