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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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Entries in alex carnevale (151)

Tuesday
Apr082014

In Which The Whitney Biennial Contains All Our Macaroons

Allan Sekula

Passover Treat

by ALEX CARNEVALE

The Whitney Biennial 2014
curators Stuart Comer, Anthony Elms & Michelle Grabner

There is an overwhelming number of penises in the Whitney Biennial. In order to deal with them properly lest the sensation of mass phallus overtake you, it is prudent to rename those cocks "jimmy-jammies." You will find this expression goes much more smoothly in your art-based convos e.g., "did you see the macaroon at the end of that guy's jimmy-jammy?" (Macaroon is a Yiddish expression that refers to the tip of a jimmy-jammy, or alternately a sweet, fluffy after-dinner treat.)

The worst part of the exhibition itself is undoubtedly the pron room, or as it is technically referred to, Bjarne Melgaard: Intimate Transparencies. There, among greasy couches and oversized models of vaguely erotic resemblances, you have a "reaction" to the jimmy-jammies. Light satire is the opiate of the masses. Artists and media types are ironically the most prudish among thinking peoples, mostly because their consumption of culture prevents them from focusing entirely on the practice of sex as a moral imperative. The Biennial itself, despite all the macaroons and full frontals, is as Puritan as the Mayflower.

Bjarne Melgaard

As the exhibition notes detail, "Melgaard intends for his installation to communicate the effects of what some scientists call the Anthropocene, a new geological age created by human activity, especially through global warming. He proposes that our collective psyches have been abused and damaged in much the same way the environment has, resulting in sadism and an utter disregard for humanity." Global warming did this, you guys.

Using three different curators for this year's event, the last to take place in the museum's Madison Avenue location before the Met takes it over as storage space for its lesser paintings, was a bold move. A bold move is what you call something when it doesn't quite come together the way you want it to, like The Lone Ranger or the Munich Pact.

proposed mock-up of the new Whitney

I attended the event with a local painter, a woman who goes by the nom de plume of Medium Rosenstein. She made several observations about the Biennial that I jotted down so that you can get an idea of how a working artist perceives such an occasion:

- "I just heard someone say a sculpture was rococo. It sounded like the way you would describe a roof."

- "This is an eight minute video. It easily could have been on YouTube."

- in reference to spooky music and creepy stuffed animals prominently featured in the staircases between floors: "It's harder than you would think to confuse high art with like, a really good Halloween party."

- "The guy wearing the tutu has a massive jimmy-jammy. When I was a kid I thought the word penis ended in a vowel."

Shio Kusaka

- "I find it difficult to take seriously any exhibition with space for Gary Indiana."

- "I just saw two girls crying at the David Foster Wallace exhibit." I asked whether she attempted to console them. "No, I just told them the mock-science video about the guy with HIV was pretty good."

- "I've heard Susan Howe is a bit of a prost."

- "If I see another flaccid JJ, I'll scream."

- "Carol Jackson is a genius":

Carol Jackson

Eroticism has always been an important part of art, but none of that was terribly present at the Biennial. There was only evidence of the exertion required not to get turned on by something that would ordinarily be stimulating to the senses. It is something like going to a rodeo and being upset when a rider is bucked off a horse.

Many of the pieces included by all three curators were collaborations, or re-imaginings of artwork produced but never officially displayed as intended. Such works rarely cohered, like the photographs and artwork commemorating the relationship of a couple in which each party was changing gender in the opposite direction. It all seemed like a slice of something real rather than the actual thing.

from "The Relationship", Rhys Ernst & Zachary Drucker

Work by Jackson, Ken Okiishi, Dashiell Manley and Joseph Grigley's hilarious tribute to the dead critic and painter Gregory Battcock were the clear highlights. The modest number of paintings seem to recede into the background, taken over by the most extensive installations, and the arrangement of Battcock's papers as a series of clues to the mystery of his murder made for the best room in the building.

The fact that so many of the artists were either deceased or being reinterpreted really should not matter, but an event like the Biennial always feels like a hodgepodge, and implicating the dead seems like a distraction from the purpose. I really hate to be harsh, but Medium Rosenstein agrees with me: It's a bit morbid to only have buildings full of art by people who can no longer enjoy or profit from any of the admiration the work engenders. It is even stranger to make this part of what is supposed to be a modern, contemporary exhibit. David Foster Wallace's notebooks might be worth a laugh, but they surely don't belong in a glass case to go untouched by human hands. They were meant for somebody.

the deceased Gretchen Bender

All told it took just over two hours to cover the Biennial and trifling permanent exhibit of the Whitney. The latter element contained a variety of mediocre Jasper Johns and Georgia O'Keeffe paintings, and who ever thought those artists would ever be thought of as entirely sincere? If they knew introducing satire in the context of visual art constituted an irreversible change, I doubt they ever would have been so glib.

The Whitney generally has a thing about not showing off the best parts of their substantial collection. It is the reason they are moving their base of operations to a location in the meat-packing district, where they will have ample room to fete a wife-beater like Edward Hopper more lavishly. Again I am being overly unkind  the presentation of paintings in their respective rooms has long been far more pleasant at the Whitney than at the cramped Met or overly spacious MoMA. You would not think it would be so hard to know how much of one thing to pour into something else, but it is.

Dashiell Manley

Afterwards, I bought Medium some Jane Austen temporary tattoos from a nearby gift shop, and I applied the one relating most closely to Mr. Darcy to the inside of my left thigh. We talked over a malt what the very best of the exhibit was. "I liked the stuff by the woman in her 90s," Rosenstein informed me, swallowing the edge of a Pop Tart she had been housing in her purse in order to keep her blood sugar up. She was referring to the Beirut-born Etel Adnan. "It felt like she was putting everything into it, holding nothing back for later. If she had an idea, it was there, even if it did not fit just right." I nodded and stroked my tattoo with a plastic fork. It itched.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Etel Adnan

"Moving to the Left" - Woods (mp3)

"Leaves Like Glass" - Woods (mp3)

Rebecca Morris

Friday
Apr042014

In Which We Travel The Rift Rails To Find The Young God

VR

by ALEX CARNEVALE

And even so, could you delimit what you saw?

A friend of mine has a pretty bad commute. She rides all the way out to the tip of the island, where it looks out on the ocean,  and then back into the city. The way out is slightly shorter; just over two and a half hours, and there is no good way of getting back. Since she is an instructor, she uses her time to grade papers, send oblique messages like "u there?" or "thanking bout you" and quietly shift in her seat, indicating to herself the provenance of an event that may never come.

She is a religious woman, and she thinks of God during these times (I think of Michelle Obama). She wonders, with no small amount of respect for the entity she has determined is greater than herself, why has He put her where she is?


Virtual reality has come a long way since Nintendo produced an ill-fated device called the Virtual Boy. Selling just over a million units worldwide far below the company's expectations the device rendered simple games, 2-D and 3-D, in a flummoxing red and black. Still, your eyes were properly ensconced among these awkward visions indisputably, you had entered another world.

VR prodigy/prophet/sellout Palmer Luckey sold his new and improved virtual boy, code named Oculus Rift, to Facebook last week for $2 billion. His company was on the verge of releasing its second prototype, a $350 pair of goggles intended mainly for developers, but made available for the greater public as a both a nod to the history of new worlds, and to fulfill promises made in their first effort at fundraising on Kickstarter.

Why is Luckey a prodigy? His ideas about Oculus VR being primarily a gaming experience and pitching it directly to friends in the development community proved savvy so far, but he has proven his pedigree by attracting programming talents like those of ID founder John Carmack to his vision of what the VR platform should mean for users.

Mark Zuckerberg changed all that. "If we can make this a network where people are communicating, and buying virtual goods, and there might be ads down the line," he told stockholders in the understatement of the year. "That’s where the business could come from."

Yes, an alliance with Facebook means ads in your new universe, but did you really think any new world would ever be without them? Someone else has chosen the universe you will enter; creating universes for others will soon become a caste, just as there is a commuting caste, or an iPhone caste. I believe Neal Stephenson was the first to develop this idea.


Such caste divisions will also exist in Riftworld, but violence and bodily harm are impotent there. Trade and financial considerations will still change lives. Relationships and betrayalthons are likely to continue as distinguishing features of human existence, such as the vitriolic barrage that pelted Luckey when he sold his fledgling company to a data-mining behemoth headed by a man who never made anything in his life except money.

Supporters of the Rift's early prototypes have disparaged Luckey for seeming to compromise a stated plan to be an independent, open piece of hardware. Comments on the company's KS page excoriated the founders for "giving up their vision." More than a few demanded the latest prototype for free, "as a gesture." Others idiotically and amusingly requested part of the company's purchase price.

Deeply hurt by his most devoted subjects' irritation, Luckey sprang out to the media to reassure his followers that Mark Zuckerberg might be a very powerful man in the IRL existence we all know and treasure, but in the VR world he was planning, such estimable influence was merely a function of godliness.

The wounded god sputtered out: "I am sorry that you are disappointed. To be honest, if I were you, I would probably have a similar initial impression! There are a lot of reasons why this is a good thing, many of which are not yet public." Not even the Wizard of Oz so quickly drew his curtain!

Do you think He reveals himself to those who do not please Him?

Churches have many influential supporters, until they don't. In some areas that means a reduction in services for the poor and homeless. In my hometown, a soup kitchen is badly needed, and no local church has the financial wherewithal to offer one. An extensive VR operation, with rows and rows of terminals for the needy, requires no expensive supplies of meat and vegetables, since eating is nonce in Riftland. We do not have to cure poverty or hunger, we must merely provide a useful means of allowing a person to ignore it.

This notion, of worlds below worlds, is more ancient than recent. Popular beliefs among the early Nordic peoples suggested that time ran at different speeds, slower in the lower worlds, faster in the higher ones, and even differently in the spaces between those places. Being able to postpone an emotion is surely useful, and this feature, adapted from real world denial, has a variety of military and non-military uses. There is almost always a place we would rather be than the one we are in.

It is easy to conclude that $2 billion dollars, most of it in overvalued FB stock, was a cheap price to pay for what is essentially an unstable entry into Hogwarts. As for my dear friend who rides the railroad for hours on end, I'm certain my own heart would be ten times more comfortable knowing she could be in Riftland during that long commute, observing Hawaiian sea turtles or climbing the Western Wall.

There, in that new place, each thing is either different or the same as every other thing. She will be sworn to an allegiance not unlike the one she took with the man who created the real universe. Joining Riftland, there is another God, in his early twenties, named Palmer Luckey. He did an AMA on reddit, he probably linked it on his twitter?

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

Photographs by Julia Clarke.

"Booty Killah" - Elliphant ft. The Reef (mp3)

"Everything 4 U" - Elliphant (mp3)

Tuesday
Mar252014

In Which What Looks Organic Is Organic

This is the first in a two part series on the life of director Nicholas Ray.

Too Masculine A Role

by ALEX CARNEVALE

Ever since I was four and she was nine I've wanted to make it with my sister Helen, because she was my sister.

Alcohol was the major feature of Nicholas Ray's young life. His father was an alcoholic; his mother was active in the abstinence movement. "I learned about Aqua Velva long before I started shaving," Ray later recalled. "No, I didn't drink it. I poured it over the sheets or into the bathtub to clear the smell of my puke." La Crosse, Wisconsin was about as American as it gets.

While his father went from bar to bar, Ray would wait in the car, sometimes using the time to masturbate. When he was especially drunk, Ray's father would beat his son. One night young Nicholas dragged his father home from a particularly severe bender; he had dragged the pathetic man up from where he lay in puddles of vomit. Later that afternoon, his mother called him to tell his father was dead.

His older sisters were all married by then, pleased as punch to be out of La Crosse. Ray and his mother did not get along so wonderfully, and part of the time she sent him to live with his sister Ruth on the north side of Chicago. A friend attended the University of Chicago, and Ray focused his efforts on transferring from a La Crosse junior college to a place where he might have Thornton Wilder as his instructor. Eventually through sheer force of will he was accepted.

He arrived in Hyde Park with two gallons of undiluted grain alcohol, a determination to have sex with as many women as possible and a passion for acting.

in old age

The director of Wilder's on-campus productions was a popular professor named O'Hara. He took a serious interest in Ray, working up to the point where he parked his car on Lake Michigan and attempted to give the boy a blowjob. "He caressed me," Ray explained whenever he recalled the story. "I wanted to please him. God knows I wanted to say thank you, somehow I wanted to say thank you. I said thank you. He unbuttoned my trousers. I wanted to come if he wanted me to come. I stroked his gray-white hair. I couldn't come. We drove back to campus."

Ray's sexuality was a deeply confusing subject, but he harbored no attraction to the older man. His own mixed-up ideas led him to notice similar confusion in others: "I always suspect the warmth or tenderness or color range of a person who publicly disports himself in either too strict a feminine or too strict a masculine role," he said.

Nicholas Ray only lasted one term in Hyde Park before returning to his junior college in La Crosse, unable to keep up with the academic work. There he started a theater group that become modestly successful, allowing him to open a school for drama that would teach teens in his mother's house, where he now lived.

at Taliesin

1933. Ray's friendship with Thornton Wilder secured him a place with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin. The compound had a variety of activities that suited Ray's talents in the theater, and it was hoped that division would bring in the money Wright's enterprises sorely lacked. Given Wright's financial position at the time, anyone who could pay six hundred dollars a year was accepted.

Ray didn't have the money, so he headed for New York in the meantime. He crashed on a couch in the West Village, sending Lloyd Wright postcards. He had no money by then: his father's death had left his estate to his wife alone, and Ray swiftly spent all he had made from community theater. "Struggle is grand," he wrote Wright unseriously. "It's what we young should live with a great deal more than we do; it is a little-undernourishing to the body sometimes, but what matter, it is as solid as pain."

Wright eventually travelled to New York, and while there he invited Ray to return to Taliesin with him to aid the prospects of the Hillside Playhouse, a new structure which boasted a 200 seat amphitheater. To draw crowds to see films which did not usually make it to Madison or Milwaukee, the playhouse began screening a variety of foreign films. It was Ray's initial exposure to Eisenstein and Carl Dreyer, even the first glimpse the future master of color had of animation.

In mere weeks Ray had himself appointed director of the playhouse. The highest of masters and lowest of apprentices all shared in communal work at Talesin. This mixed Ray in with apprentices in every field. On a sexual level, both men and women wanted him for themselves. But this prominence in the community also drew unwanted attention from its king. Wright had planned to construct sandstone over a few lovely oak panels, and Ray dared to question the architect, asking him, "Is that it, Mr. Wright? What looks organic is organic?" He was on a bus out of Taliesin the next day.

Wright argued that it was Ray's alcoholism which set off the feud. In a letter describing Ray's departure from the commune, Wright wrote, "I am letting him out today... He is intelligent and has many charming qualities, notwithstanding his defects. He should make the most of them." Others have suggested the reason for Ray's departure was due to Wright's secret desire to be with men.

Elia Kazan, Ray and others

In New York he joined a group of left-wing actors and writers calling themelves the Theatre of Action. There he re-met an acquaintance from his hometown, the director Joseph Losey, and a short Greek actor named Elia Kazan. Except for Kazan and a few others, most were communists; and under direction from political leaders in the party began advocating for certain changes in the New York theatrical world. Ray and his girlfriend Jean Evans lived in the theater's 27th Street home. When the theater broke up, the two relocated uptown.

Losey went on to better things, and hired the still-destitute Ray to be his stage manager. Recently returned from Russia, Losey was the darling of the left-wing theater, a Darmouth and Harvard grad who was engaged to ready-to-wear clothing designer Elizabeth Hawes. Losey quit the play they were working on due to interference from the party before opening night, but joined the movement later.

on the set of the CBS show

Ray made good money and with a baby on the way, looked for more. The couple moved to Washington, where the father took a job with the WPA and met Alan Lomax. "He was certainly one of the most splendid young men in the whole world," Lomax said of Ray. "He seemed to me to be the person I'd always dreamed of being. He was very powerful and gentle and wonderful to look at. He had a kind of grin and laughter that were the same thing."

Ray grew to hate his desk job at the WPA, as much as he enjoyed spending time with Lomax and producer John Houseman. Initially faithful to his new wife, he soon allowed himself to step out on her in Washington. He had a conflicted attitude towards these dalliances. "I'm afraid that sex destroys intimacy more often than it creates it," he admitted regretfully. They eventually went back to New York to try to claim a better life for themselves where they were once happy. Ray directed a CBS series entitled Back Home Where I Come From featuring performers from Lomax's project.

After the show was canceled, they lived on Evans' income alone. "I think we're going to get really straight on our own problems," Evans told her friend. "We've been very happy in many ways  and there's something we've got now which we never had before  a kind of cohesiveness that comes with trouble." She could not have been more wrong.

Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.

"Coming Home" - Kaiser Chiefs (mp3)

"Meanwhile Up In Heaven" - Kaiser Chiefs (mp3)