identity portals

In a book soon to be published, I consider the irreplaceability of our most treasured memorabilia, those oddly kept reminders of a place, or a person with whom our very identity is bound up:

Many of us have trouble parting with old clothes, toys, or games from childhood, papers from college, single gloves that have long since lost their mates, and empty perfume bottles still heady with scent. We keep them because they still transmit an aura of pleasure, or importance. Our eyes love to look at them. They haven’t faded into generic oblivion. We refuse to part with them because they keep us whole. They are our history, kept close at hand, available to open up and touch once more. . . . When I open that drawer and see them there, I am situated reliably in a place I can recognize as home. If they’re all still here, so am I.”

liquid music

Nora's Fog2After so many years of writing about wine I experienced another epiphany yesterday. In the company of 75 gathered aficionados I listened to winemakers and viticulturists talk about their land, their soil, the tender regard they had for their particular slope of eden.

And as they talked, we tasted wines made from their grapes ranging throughout the appellation, a cross-section of four of the AVA’s distinctive winegrowing areas.  And in each of the four flights (four vineyards x three winemakers = a dozen wines), the individual personalities, desires, and  vitality of those vineyards unfurled.

Wine. A living work of art existing for the moment of time it takes to travel from sip, to palate, to memory. Liquid music.  Like music, wine is a living creation, existing as long as it is tasted (experienced, played). Music isn’t quite right as an analog, but it’s more apt than painting (too concrete) or sculpture (again, extant in a specific time and place). Music exists in many states—altered states, if you will. In Brian Eno’s head, on a cocktail napkin at Brian Eno’s favorite saloon, in Brian Eno’s computer (software program where it can be emailed to his friends and collaborators), and finally in both the real spacetime world, as well as infinitely in cyberspace. Continue readingliquid music

re-generative words


The poetry bots of Allison Parrish

Infamous as the originator of @everyword, a twitterbot that cheerfully morphed its way through every word in the English language in alphabetical order—the project took from 2007 until 2014—Allison Parrish is focused, inventive, possibly brilliant and comes equipped with a sense of humor.

Making digital probes in the general vicinity of John Cage’s legacy, Parrish is keen on seeing what happens when language and computer push hard into each other’s territory. “@Everyword is opening up creative uses of language,” Parrish told a group of MFA students gathered at UCSC* recently. “Computers are naive.”

Parrish makes bots, such as Deep Question Bot – which generates linguistic parodies that are weirdly poetic, and which in creating unsettling fields and patterns with words, questions relationships between concepts much as old school metaphor does.

Parrish calls language games such as @everyword a kind of “magical writing experiment,” but from what I heard and saw in a brief hour of discourse, most of what Parrish is up to is not only magical but also loosens the porous weave of language itself.

Of the oft dizzying, oft Umberto Ecoesque, even profound results? Is it me, or is it the computer, the procedural writing magus asks? And the answer is of course, “both.” Continue readingre-generative words

pretty good track record

I was right about Spotlight (best picture), and Mark Rylance (best supporting actor) and Leo DiCaprio (best actor).  Not too shabby given my lackluster attendance at nominated movies.

Gotta confess that I was at Opera Parallele‘s terrific performance of “The Champion” jazz opera in the City during most of the Oscars, and arrived home in time to watch the last (big) three awards.

I’m thinking that like the two party system, the Academy Awards might need some revolutionary shake-up. We’ll see.

Oscar Predix

Spotlight-Poster-1First off, let me admit that I haven’t seen all the films nominated this year. But that won’t stop me from making a few informed (and highly opinionated) predictions.

This was the year in which nominated films exhibited similar virtues—seamless ensemble acting. E.g. Spotlight and The Big Short. So superbly acted, directed, and edited were these films that they appear to have come together by a sort of magical internal collaboration. Still, having said that, I’m thinking that Spotlight should take both Best Picture and Best Director awards.

Bridge-Of-Spies-Mark-RylanceThe harder issues deal with individual acting awards. And as always, I have to deal with the Academy’s tradition of honoring actors for a body of work, e.g. Sly Stallone, or for their age, e.g. Charlotte Rampling. I haven’t seen Creed, but I’ll bet Stallone hits all the marks and wouldn’t mind one bit to see him take the Best Supporting Actor award. But my heart belongs to the uncanny Mark Rylance, who played the spy traded for Francis Gary Powers in Bridge of Spies, with a series of electrifyingly subtle gestures—an eyebrow here, the upturn of a wrist there. Mesmerizing.

And while we’re on the subject of Rampling, Continue reading “Oscar Predix”

Carol – an excuse to eat popcorn


How could this many members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences be wrong? I wondered as I rummaged around in my purse for some dental floss.

Once found, the floss gave me the excuse I needed to stay in my seat during this turgid, self-absorbed exercise in shots of rain-splashed car windows and 1950s cloche hats.
Let me place my cards on the table: Cate Blanchett let her lipstick do the acting, while poor Rooney Mara was forced to simply stare, bug-eyed like an extra from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
This was a film without a director, without a point, and with precious little more than a centrally-located mink coat and ugly shoes.

At no time did I believe in any of the male actors, or in any of their dialogue. If there was once a well-written novel by Patricia Highsmith behind this exercise in faded Kodachrome, it could no longer be detected in the film.

Could it be that the reason why a few of my woman friends liked it was that it was about lesbian liberation? That it suggested that woman, even in the darkest 1950s, could find solace in each other’s arms? Yes, but it was a lackluster, boring film. Message or no message, it was unbearable.

Blanchett smoking cigarettes was one of the most self-conscious, studied, mannered acts I’ve ever seen in film. Tossing back martinis during the day does not make her a role model of feminist freedom. It wasn’t even believable. I simply failed to find the film in this commercial for tightly-coiffed hair and bourgeois interior decoration. But I did manage to consume a bag of popcorn and then floss afterwards.