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Editor-in-Chief
Alex Carnevale
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Features Editor
Mia Nguyen
(e-mail)

Reviews Editor
Ethan Peterson

This Recording

is dedicated to the enjoyment of audio and visual stimuli. Please visit our archives where we have uncovered the true importance of nearly everything. Should you want to reach us, e-mail alex dot carnevale at gmail dot com, but don't tell the spam robots. Consider contacting us if you wish to use This Recording in your classroom or club setting. We have given several talks at local Rotarys that we feel went really well.

Pretty used to being with Gwyneth

Regrets that her mother did not smoke

Frank in all directions

Jean Cocteau and Jean Marais

Simply cannot go back to them

Roll your eyes at Samuel Beckett

John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion

Metaphors with eyes

Life of Mary MacLane

Circle what it is you want

Not really talking about women, just Diane

Felicity's disguise

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Sunday
Mar292009

In Which The Sounding of Many Meaningless Things At Once Makes An Objective World Less Terrifying

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She Moved, She Had Moved

by WILL HUBBARD

One of the most beautiful sounding words I’ve ever had the repeated instance to speak is “anechoic”, meaning ‘void of the electromagnetic wave analogy of echoes.’

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The anechoic chamber, a room of no great size used primarily for acoustic experiments, interested John Cage a great deal–the myth goes that upon stepping into an anechoic chamber at Harvard in 1948, Cage realized that even in perfect external silence, the sounds of his circulatory and nervous system were still perceptible, making total silence impossible for any living mammalian being.

Like Cage, Serge Gainsbourg was a conceptual music-artist. In 1971, he gave us the Jean-Claude Vannier produced Histoire de Melody Nelson, a strange, operatic narrative-album based loosely upon his romance with This Recording Darling Superiore, Jane Birkin.

Around this time, John Cage was codifying his own quasi-theatrical brand of Happening in several performances of Musicircus, in which disparate musical ‘arrangements’ were performed simultaneously according to chance governance by the I Ching.

The great American rock-musical, Hair, ran for 1,750 shows from 1968 until 1972 at the Biltmore Theater at 261 W. 47th Street in New York.

Jane Birkin’s mother was a London stage-actress whose brown hair won her the affections and patronage of the great Noel Coward. Birkin’s daughter Charlotte has that slightly flawed look I find irresistible.

When someone has a perfectly formed mother and suave genius father it’s difficult not to give them literally every introverted female role in existence. When I close my eyes and cup my hands over my ears I cannot summon the image of any person’s face in the darkness, let alone a woman, let alone Charlotte Gainsbourg.

Thanks to artists Robert Kocik and Daria Fain, I got the chance to spend fifteen minutes in an anechoic chamber. As part of an ongoing project to design (an eventually build) a structure called the PROSODIC BODY, Kocik and Fain fabricated a completely lightless and mostly soundless room in the defunct underground vaults of the old JP Morgan Building at 14 Wall St. in Manhattan.

I say ‘mostly soundless’ because when the subway ran beneath the building the vibrations created what I perceived to be--because of the otherwise ’silence’–-a great deal of noise. Another project of Kocik’s (or is it the same project?) is to create a free-standing structure devoted solely to the creation and practice of poetry. He believes that no such structure has ever existed in the world, that poets have always been interlopers in the buildings they use. Some ancient bardic traditions required that its practitioners spend periodic spans of time in cave-like, solitary places called abatons, meaning “place where no step falls.”

Sometime I would like to spend an hour or more in an anechoic chamber and think--or more precisely, try to not-think. I’m bringing a huge pad of cheap brown paper and a crayon will attempt to write a book of aqueous poems in the darkness and silence.

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Kocik is also deeply intrigued by the possibility of the simultaneous vocalizing of all known phonemes (elementary meaningful units of speech) including all the permutations such as exhaustion, resorption, forced, unforced, vocalic, consonantal, unstruck, etc.

“Lllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll….” for example, might be your part in this. In an e-mail, Kocik quoted Rudolf Steiner and paraphrased nondual Kashmiri linguistics, respectively: "The entire universe is expressed when the alphabet is repeated from beginning to end", "phonemes are energies, awarenesses, atoms, that give rise to the objective world."

The English language alone has 40 identified phonemes, and so if we can get 40 people together we can probably give rise to at least the city of London and probably large parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. Bring your grandparents, class, or patients!

Will Hubbard is the executive editor of This Recording. He lives in Brooklyn.

"Broken Love Song" - Peter Doherty (mp3)

"Arcady" - Peter Doherty (mp3)

"New Love Grows On Trees" - Peter Doherty (mp3)

"A Little Death Around The Eyes" - Peter Doherty (mp3)

Saturday
Mar282009

In Which We Plumb The Diaries of Cesare Pavese For Your Reading Pleasure

It Is Easy To Be Good When One Is Not In Love

by CESARE PAVESE

These diaries were written in Italy, starting in 1935. Pavese was an antifascist and was arrested that year from having letters from a political prisoners. He was sent into exile in Southern Italy for the trouble. Once back in Turin, Pavese worked for a publisher as an editor and translator. All the while, he wrote his diary.

10th November

Why am I forever insisting that the subject in my poem must be treated exhaustively, ethically, critically? I, who cannot feel it is right for one man to judge another? This pretension of mind is nothing more than a vulgar desire to "have my say." Which is far from dispensing justice. Do I live justly? Does justice mean anything to me in human affairs? Then why claim to pass judgment on matter of poetry?

If there is any human figure in my poetry, it is that of a truant running back, full of joy, to his own village, where to him everything is picturesque and full of color; a man who likes to work as little as he can; finding great pleasure in the simplest things; always expansive, good-natured, set in his views; incapable of deep suffering; happy to follow nature and enjoy a woman, but also glad to be free and on his own; ready every morning to start life afresh. As in Mari del Sud.

20th December

Of the two things, writing poetry and studying, it is the second that gives me greater and more constant comfort. However, I do not forget that my pleasure in studying is always with a view to writing poetry. But, fundamentally, writing poetry is an ever-open wound whence the health-giving life blood drains away.

15th March

Today my imprisonment ends.

10th April

When a man is in such a state as I am, there is nothing left for him to do but examine his conscience.

I have no grounds for discarding my own firm conviction that whatever happens to a man is conditioned by his whole past. In short, it is deserved. Evidently, I must have been an utter fool to find myself at this point.

First, moral irresponsibility. Have I ever really asked myself what I ought to do according to conscience? I have always followed sentimental, hedonistic impulses. Of that there is no question. Even my period as a woman-hater (1930-1934) was in essence self-indulgent. I wanted to avoid becoming involved and the pose pleased me.How spineless that attitude was soon became apparent. And even when my work is concerned, have I ever been anything but a hedonist? I enjoyed working feverishly by fits and starts, under the spur of ambition, but I was afraid, too; afraid of getting tied up. I have never really worked and in fact I have no skill in any occupation.

Another fault is quite apparent. I have never been a single-minded, easygoing sort of fellow who enjoys his pleasures without a second thought. I haven't the nerve. I have always flattered myself with the illusion that I am a man of moral sensibility because I spend delicious moments - that's the right term-inventing conscientious scruples without pluck enough to solve them by action. I have no wish to resurrect the complacency that at one time I felt at this moral cowardice from aesthetic motives - hoping it meant my career would be that of a geniuis - but I still have not yet passed that stage.

Having reached such utter abjectness, morally, the thought seems to me that there should be material abjectness, too. How fitting it would be if, for example, my shoes were in holes!

Only so can I explain my actual suicidal urge in life. I know that I am forever condemned to think of suicide when graced with no matter what difficulty or grief. It terrifies me. My basic principle is suicide, never committed, never to be committed, but the thought of it caresses my sensibility.

24th April

The self-destroyer is a different type, more despairing but more practical. He has a compulsion to discover every fault, every baseness in his own nature; then he views these tendencies so leniently that they become mere nothings. He looks for more, enjoys them, finds them intoxicating. He is more sure of himself than any conqueror of the past, and he knows that the thread connecting him with tomorrow, with the potentialities of life, with a prodigious future, is a stronger cable - when it comes to the ultimate strain - than any faith or integrity.

25th April

Today, nothing.

27th April

He says: "She told me, one day, how she would have treated me. We were at that uneasy stage when nothing had happened, but was likely to. I made her talk about her past, so eager was I to know all I could about her, to amplify my daydreams.

"She was talking of a nice young man who made a pass at her in a train. She described him as common and persistent, and without much trouble she infatuated him. With words and actions. (She went on a trip with me, too.) Then she broke off, giving him a false name.

"And the young man had written asking her to marry him."

8th January

Mistakes are always initial.

3rd August

A woman, unless she is an idiot, sooner or later meets a piece of human wreckage and tries to rescue him. She sometimes succeeds. But a woman, unless she is an idiot, sooner or later finds a sane, healthy man and makes a wreck of him. She always succeeds.

31st October

One stops being a child when one realizes that telling one's trouble does not make it better.

16th November

Surely all his destiny is revealed when a child of three, while being dressed, wonders anxiously how he will manage to dress himself when he is grown up, he who does not know how?

To possess something or someone, we must not surrender ourselves to it completely or lose our heads; in short, we must remain superior to it. But it is a law of life that we can enjoy only what we can give ourselves up to completely. Those who invented the love of God were pretty shrewd; there is nothing else we can possess and enjoy at the same time.

28th November

In love, all that counts is having a woman in one's home, in one's bed. All the rest is a pack of nonsense, pernicious nonsense.

The most commonplace kind of love is fed by what one does not know about the loved one. But what can surpass a love based on what one does know?

I knew an idiot who refused to learn the rules of the game when he was young, lost as he was in fantasies. Now the fantasies are vanishing and the game is shattering him.

Problem: woman is she the prize of the strong or the prop of the weak, depending on how the men want her?

The irony of life: woman gives herself as a prize to the weak and as a prop to the strong. And no man ever has what he should have.

1st December

I should be perfectly happy if it were not for the fleeting pain of trying to probe the secret of that happiness, so as to be able to find it again tomorrow and always. But perhaps I am confused and my happiness lies in that pain. Once more I find myself hoping that, tomorrow, the memory will suffice.

2nd December

Today you have talked too much.

13th December

Try to do someone a good turn. You will soon see how you will hate his radiant, grateful face.

25th January

Actually, I am living like the most contemptible wastrels that ever roused my scorn when I was young.

19th February

Those philosophers who believe in the absolute logic of truth have never had to discuss it on close terms with a woman.

24th May

It is a fine thing when a young fellow of eighteen or twenty stops to think about his confused state of mind, clenches his fists and tries to grasp reality. But it is not so good to be doing it at thirty. And doesn't it turn you cold to think you will still be doing it at forty or later?

14th July

To understand why a woman seems thoughtful, embarassed and apologetic when she is with several young men, think how you feel yourself among five or six prostitutes, all watching you and waiting for you to make your choice.

7th August

A really lovely bosom consists of the entire chest, culminating in two peaks whose roots spring from the ribs. They are beautiful additions, but beneath them lies the chest.

16th October

It is not the actual enjoyment of pleasure that we desire. What we want is to test the futility of that pleasure, so as to be no longer obsessed by it.

Cesare Pavese died in 1950. You can buy The Burning Brand here.


Friday
Mar272009

In Which George R.R. Martin Sings His Song of Ice and Fire

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Winter Is Coming

by ALEX CARNEVALE

There are many great houses in The Song of Ice and Fire, American SFF writer George R.R. Martin's magnificent fantasy series. One house looms largest: House Targaryen. Over a thousand years ago, the Targaryens were expelled from Valyria by the Doom, a primitive environmental catastrophe.

With a full continent an ocean away full of natural resources, they desired the land, named Westeros, and resolved to dominate it. The place they wished to conquer looks like this:

A political map of Westeros. Look familiar?

The Targaryens waited 100 years to build their strength, and with three dragons and a small, loyal army, they conquered seven of the eight kingdoms on this continent. Westeros belonged to House Targaryen.

Flash forward 1000 years, when the events of A Song of Ice and Fire begin. What blood you are once meant something on Earth, and it still does in the seven kingdoms of Westeros. Blood is the guiding principle of everything in the Seven Kingdoms, and inheritance of rule is a tricky, dangerous business. So the author of the world of unparalleled magnificence, George R. R. Martin, called the first book (of a planned seven) A Game of Thrones.

Martin wrote fantasy and science fiction to varying levels of acclaim before A Song of Ice and Fire. (He also worked in Hollywood for years; now he lives a rich man in New Mexico.) Currently in the middle of writing his ultimate masterpiece, it's easy to look back on his earlier work and see how the kernels of genius were fermented.

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Martin's talent for world-building was evident in his most honored work before A Song of Ice and Fire, the novella A Song for Lya, where two doomed telepaths navigate a shaky future. His novella Sandkings became the pilot episode of Showtime's version of The Outer Limits, and his vampire novel Fevre Dream proved he could handle horror as well as science fiction. It's amazing he finds any time at all to write as he's one of many SFF writers to keep an enthusiastic blog.

Other authors get bogged down in the intracacies of a society and forget the importance of the individual, or else their imagination is not sufficient for the characters they invest so much in. Martin balances the two with equal aplomb, cutting to the emotional core without getting bogged down in setting or plot.

Martin is at his best as a dabbler, putting his toes into the shallow ends of science fiction, fantasy, and realistic fiction. Though he had worked in both fantasy and science fiction before, Martin had never attempted something so vast. Since he's writing something complex, difficult and uber-successful, he has a greater challenge being put to him than those who laid the groundwork in the genre.

Tolkien was smart and inventive, but he could also be rather boring, like any good college professor. C.S. Lewis was too pious, and not very much of a writer. In fact, it's Martin's style that brings it all together, much like in Tolkien's more direct descendant, Robert Jordan.

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James Oliver Rigney Jr. was a Vietnam vet who, writing under the name Robert Jordan, created a character named Rand al'Thor and dragged him around a richly detailed world of hard fantasy. As fine as The Wheel of Time series is -- it's a massive achievement -- on some level, it's not adult fantasy. Despite serious themes and evocative characters, there's little in the way of sex and protagonists rarely perish, especially in crowds. This is not the way of George R.R. Martin.

In Martin's world, the action begins after the trauma, the life after the death. Composing the most horrifying chapters of the series in the third (and best) volume A Storm of Swords, Martin has confessed that he put off the writing of them: they were the most difficult thing he ever had to set to paper. The problem anyone writing a fantasy today has is the issue of magic.

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It's kind of the reason Tim Kring's Heroes turned into the most terrible show ever constructed - characters become too powerful, and they are just ciphers meant to do another cool thing.

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The pioneer of using magic just right was Jack Vance, whose autobiography comes out later this year. Vance's Dying Earth novels were wildly ahead of their time, so much so that they inspired the entire Dungeons and Dragons system of magic. (Martin's taken a good deal of shit from his readers for working on an anthology of Vance-inspired writing instead of the long-delayed fifth novel in the series, A Dance for Dragons.)

As much as GRRM admires Vance, he's not so keen to make magical elements the center of his world. Some of his characters have abilities, but they are exaggerated versions of what lies inside real people. (He had to be convinced to include dragons in the final work, and we can be glad he did it in a most inventive fashion.)

In A Song of Ice and Fire, it does not really matter how big or small you are - you'll be cut down to size either way. Men are assassinated, dead in duels, in war, crippled, maimed, amputated, impaled. It is no good being a man, and since the women are the survivors of the catastrophe, it's no great shakes for them either.

While women dominate A Song of Ice and Fire - a turnabout that Robert Jordan experimented so successfully with the magical Aes Sedai - children are also key. GRRM has said they are the most difficult to write, but that is why they are so important here.

a detailed map of the capital city of WesterosA child is born in a world, any world, with a long history. His learning of that history is piecemeal, and he must decipher it completely to know how to live. For Americans, that is some other history, for the most part. But for the sons and daughters of Westeros, their lives depend on the facts of that past.

The parallels are obvious and many. We forget how frail life is, we forget that mere chance either keeps presidents alive or leaves the First Lady holding a lifeless body.

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The Iron Throne is the seat of power in Westeros, and it is made up of hundreds of swords of dead men who fell to the Targaryens in war. With sharp ends poking out everywhere, the idea is that it should not be easy for a man to sit the throne. Here it is good and bad to be king, a lesson we'd do well to apply to our own chief executives, who spend as much time going to Bulls games as they do running the country.

1000 years later, with some 17 kings Targaryen having ruled Westeros, sworn knight of the Kingsguard Jaime Lannister slaughtered Mad King Aerys Targaryen to prevent him from burning the capital city of King's Landing to the ground. For the genocide he spared the city, Jaime will be known as Kingslayer until the end of his days.

Without ceremony, the line of Targaryen rule ends, and Robert Baratheon takes the throne.

In his shadow rise House Lannister and House Stark, the rough elements of York and Lancaster. This is a history lesson, in A Game of Thrones it's a lesson of a different kind than you're probably used to. It is events of twenty years before A Game of Thrones on which much of the actions turns. Martin has described what he shows to his readers as the tip of a larger iceberg. That iceberg is the events that brought about the end of the Targaryen reign in Westeros, called Robert's Rebellion or The War of the Usurper.

Twenty years later, Robert Baratheon is a blustering fool, but he is also still the King. He comes from the capital to the northern castle of Winterfell to ask Neddard Stark to be the Hand of the King, the man who carries out the laws of the realm and so forth. The last Hand, Jon Arryn, has recently died under mysterious circumstances.

This is just the set-up. A Game of Thrones is equal parts murder mystery and tragedy, comedy and epic. It is virtually everything you could want from a book and alternate universe. The future that awaits both Neddard and Robert is far from kingly, and in the ensuing bloodshed, the Stark children (the real protagonists) are thrown across Westeros to learn lessons they could never come to while waited on by servants. The oldest Stark is Robb, destined to take up his father's mantle. The others are permitted to live more interesting lives, some staying at Winterfell with their mother Catelyn, and others journeying along with Lord Stark to King's Landing.

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Martin is doing the work of every good historian, except he is making it all up besides. He follows in the footsteps of another historical novelist who dabbled in both fact and fiction, Thomas Costain. This famous Canadian wrote lively action-packed histories of England, capturing the small details that answer the "why" of history better than the large ones. The past unfolds at an unrelenting pace, and few have wielded power as consistently as the monarchs of England.

A Song of Ice and Fire is a grayer version of events than you can find in the black and white world of most fantasy. There is no House Slytherin, no Shadow taking over the world. There are invaders from the North, but they are more dream than reality - heroes aren't required to put them down, just men with swords.

The Lannisters are the enemies when the series begins: represented by lions, with flowing blond hair and blue eyes. Their motto - a Lannister always pays his debts - evokes as much menace as it does honor. The Lannisters felt slighted by the Targaryens so their youngest and strongest joined the King's Guard and slaughtered a king. Simple irritation can change events entirely, one word could doom a kingdom, or seven of them.

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It is these small little variations in life that create the history, and it is easy to say this or that is inevitable. A mere man's birth was enough to claim the lives of the majority of Europe's Jews. It was not going to happen. It did happen.

tyrion lannister in his sky cell

Even the faithful and moral Starks have flaws. Patriarch Neddard Stark sired a child out of wedlock. Some would toss their bastards aside, but Ned brought his back from the war. As was the custom of the north, the child took the surname of Snow. Rather than stay with a mother who despises her husband's indiscretion, or have the shame a bastard would in the court of King's Landing, Jon Snow chooses another path.

Any man may take the black of the Night's Watch, but any who does is permitted no wife and no children. Perched atop on massive wall of ice that borders the northern border of the continent, men of the Night's Watch man the Wall, which stands over 300 feet high. The dead are coming back to life in the North, and they bring winter with them. As the creators of the upcoming HBO adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire pitched the series to executives, this is The Sopranos in Middle-Earth.

This fall promises the release of A Dance With Dragons, the events of which run parallel to the last printed volume, A Feast for Crows. Until then we will have to satisfy ourselves with the collectible card game, the board game, the two prequels, and a realistic looking model sword.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording. He tumbls here.