Sxip Shirey: Magician of Sound

Check out these amazeballs:

Happy birthday, old friend.

That’s musician Sxip Shirey, doing something beautifully strange to a paper-clipped guitar (all live, no overdubs), followed by several more clips from various other performances and collaborations. Sxip’s been a pillar of strength in the NYC countercultural circus/vaudeville/music world for many years, not just as a composer and performer, but as a storyteller, a tireless nurturer of up-and-comers, and as an instigator of unexpected and wondrous happenings.

In addition to implementing “prepared” alterations of traditional instruments and piping their sounds through various effects pedals, he often crafts songs out of junkyard found objects, vintage toys, rusty noisemakers, and sometimes, just by breathing.

His albums are unlike anything you’ve heard. You can buy them here. If he ever comes to your town (and the man travels a lot!), either solo, or with his traveling show, Sxip’s Hour of Charm, or the lovely Balkan-laced Luminescent Orchestrii, or with Gentlemen & Assassins (his new trio with the comparatively strange and beautiful s(tr)ongmen Elyas Khan and Brian Viglione), do not miss him.

Sxip Shirey, appropriately representing The Magician in Katelan’s Foisy’s Tarot Deck.

“Jersey Shore” Gone Wilde

What happens when dialog taken from MTV’s “Jersey Shore”, the nadir of current American culture, is filtered through the lens of Oscar Wilde, one of the greatest wits the world has ever seen? Magic, that’s what. Playbill — with the help of Santino Fontana and David Furr, current cast members of Wilde’s most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest — presents a grand experiment: “Jersey Shore” Gone Wilde. This is, perhaps, the best thing I have seen this year.

The Ross Sisters: Solid Potato Salad!

Clipping via C. Presley.

Singing, healing dancing, sovaldi sale contortionist/acrobat sibling sensations of stage and screen, The Ross Sisters, Aggie and Maggie and Elmira Ross (real names: Veda, Betsy Ann and Dixie), have been internet legends for years, thanks to gunked up, third generation bootlegs of their astonishing act from the 1944 Technicolor musical, Broadway Rhythm, circulating on YouTube. But here, at last, is a crisp, clear, DVD quality upload of the girls in all of their wildly contorted, three-part-harmonized-and-grinning-all-the-while glory:

Via E. Stephen, who says, “Their facial expressions are priceless… even before they all exhibit unnervingly inhuman capabilities.”

Suspended Disbelief: A TED Presentation by the Handspring Puppet Company

“Puppets always have to try to be alive. It’s their kind of Ur-Story on stage– that desperation to live.” ~Adrian Kohler

“[…] It only lives because you make it. An actor struggles to die onstage, but a puppet has to struggle to live, and in a way, that’s a metaphor for life.”  ~Basil Jones

In 1981, partners Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler co-founded the Handspring Puppet Company in Cape Town, South Africa, with two other graduates of the Michaelis School of Fine Art. Thirty years later, the two of them continue to run the company, staging theatrical collaborations in theaters worldwide with a cadre of downright empathic puppeteers.

The concerted group effort that goes into designing, building and performing these puppets ensures that they do live. In fact, the illusion is so complete at times, it would be almost frightening, were the creatures not presented so lovingly.

Via Lara Miranda, thanks!

The Handspring Puppet Co.’s inspiring TED talk brings “the emotional complexity of animals to the stage with their life-size puppets.” Their horse, in particular, is a miracle of engineering, art, and soulful expression.

The company’s latest production, War Horse, opened in New York at Lincoln Center last week. Are any of our New York readers going to go see it? Please, by all means, report back in comments!

Diaghilev Gets His Due: The Golden Age of the Ballets Russes at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Coilhouse is delighted to welcome writer and dancer Sarah Hassan into the Coilhouse family. Her premiere piece for us is a 3000 word feature about Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes. This is definitely one of the most informative, inspiring, infectious posts you’ll read here this month, so settle in, and enjoy! ~Mer

Dancers in the original Le sacre du printemps production.

The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris seems an unlikely venue for a riot. Yet almost one hundred years ago, on May 29th, 1913, fist-fights broke out in an audience made up of socialites, musicians, and artists. The institution in question was one that by today’s standards seems chaste and predictable: the ballet.

The premiere of Le sacre du printemps by Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes has become the stuff of legend. Against Nicholas Roerich’s backdrop of a primitive Russia, the radical score by Igor Stravinsky came alive to the choreography of Vaslav Nijinsky, the danseur noble darling – and object of Diaghilev’s affection – whose unsurpassed defiance of gravity on Europe’s great stages had been leaving balletomane’s breathless. Now, the dancer whose roles included a lovesick puppet, a sprightly rose, and a predatory golden slave presented a complicated tableau of sacred ritual. With balled-up fists and downward glances, his dancers jumped and stomped their pigeon-toed feet in time with the violins as if trying to conjure up the ghosts of pagan tribesmen. The heavy woolen dresses painted with folk patterns on the peasant girls were in place of the frothy tulle skirts of nighttime sylphs and bejeweled torsos of slinking odalisques expected from a program a’la Russes.

Nicholas Roerich’s Costumes for Le Sacre Du Printemps.

The production, presenting a ‘new type of savagery,’ caused a literal aesthetic outrage among the haute Parisian audience. Backstage, as the birth of modern dance unfolded, Nijinsky screamed the tempo counts in Russian to dancers who couldn’t hear over the booing, while Stravinsky held him by his coattails lest the crazed choreographer topple into the orchestra. Diaghilev attempted to placate the uproar by turning the house lights on and off. Yet despite its unsuccessful reception, Le sacre du printemps was performed six times, and Diaghilev declared the opening night scandal to be ‘exactly what he wanted.’ It was clear that the ballet was no longer safe.

Thirty-two years after Le sacre’s premiere, Nijinsky, having succumbed to insanity, leapt for a photographer’s camera in a Swiss asylum. The image captured the aging dancer smartly dressed in a suit suspended in the air, proof of his once otherworldly powers. Yet, one can only wonder if the height Nijinsky was attempting to recapture was not his own, but that of the sacrificial virgin he created, dying from her own mad dance in a flash of beastly glory.

The banner at the Victoria & Albert Museum for Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes.

All the hoopla generated by Darren Aronofsky’s psycho-sexual melodrama Black Swan made it easy to believe that ballet had been once again recovered from the ashes of its own antiquity. With Jennifer Homan’s attempt to condense 400 years of history with her book, Apollo’s Angels, the ballet’s ability to survive in an age where anything goes and everything changes came into question – the blood-stained tutu of Natalie Portman’s Nina Sawyer notwithstanding. Madness is, by Aronofsky’s account, the cost of greatness. This idea is artistic old-hat, retold through ballet by Moira Shearer’s exceptional Victoria Page in The Red Shoes – a movie loosely based on Diaghilev and his company – and all the gory details of Swan, from broken toes, bone-thin frames, and endless retching struck a resonant, less glamorous chord. The curtain was pulled back to reveal an art that demands perfection as you claw your way to the top while clawing yourself apart. Ballet, according to Black Swan, is more an arena for the cruel and calculated and less the foundation for beauty, innovation and fantasy.

Oh, how the days of Diaghilev would beg to differ.

Farewell, SGM. (Free Nils Frykdahl/Coilhouse PDF!)

A glimpse of the Helpless Corpses Enactment film shoot. Photo by Meredith Yayanos and Gooby Herms.

Click here to download a free Coilhouse Magazine PDF: Lives Transformed Through the Power of Confusing Music: Nils Frykdahl on Art and Kinship.

With solemnity, gratitude and a touch of sorrow, Coilhouse must acknowledge that Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, the most gloriously unclassifiable American band currently in existence, is about to call it quits. After a dozen relentless years of composing, recording, touring and performing some truly jaw-dropping music, the Oakland-based vanguards will play four final shows later this week in California: one in San Diego on April 7th, one in Los Angeles on April 8th, and two in San Francisco, both on April 10th (the evening show sold out, so they added a matinee).

Throughout the late nineties and all of the aughts, the legendary DIY road warriors of SGM crisscrossed the continental United States two, sometimes three times a year (and later on, toured Europe). Arriving at venues like a cheerful doomsday circus in their beautifully renovated vintage Green Tortoise bus, the curators entertained audiences with everything from puppet shows to Butoh dance to passionate readings of Italian Futurist manifestos. Flustered reviewers and reluctant converts, determined to pigeonhole SGM, labeled the avant-garde act as everything from neo-RIO (Rock in Opposition) to avant-prog metal, to grindcore funk theater, to, in the words of one concertgoer, “Satanic Anarchic Viking Shit”. But none of these descriptors come anywhere near encapsulating the band’s eclectic sound, style, or ethos. Not even close.

SGM on tour, 2009. Photo by Olivia Oyama.

The quintet has penned lyrics inspired by the Unabomber, James Joyce, madness, stroke-stricken baby doctors, love, death, cockroaches, and the end of the world. They have employed strange, esoteric contraptions from various folk traditions as well as several homemade instruments, such as the Viking Row-Boat, the Wiggler, the Spring-Nail Guitar, and a brutal, seven feet long piano-stringed bass behemoth called The Log. They have developed stage shows with stark lighting and elaborate costumes, sporting tooth black and spiked leather gauntlets and bonnets and bihawks and military khaki and antique lace nighties. They have sung lilting post-modern folk melodies. They have delivered face-melting blasts of pure, untrammeled metal.

They have rocked harder, more intelligently, and with more unabashed strangeness than anyone else around.

They will go down in legend.

Take comfort in knowing that these final shows won’t be the very last we’ll hear/see of them–the band has a comprehensive live DVD compilation in the works, as well as short film called The Last Human Being, and a final album. (We’ll be sure to announce all of those here when they’re released.)

Photo of Nils Frykdahl by Mikel Pickett.

In honor of the band, and to give our readers another peek at the variety of stuff we cover in the print magazine, Coilhouse is offering this free PDF download of our interview with Nils Frykdahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (as well as Idiot Flesh, Faun Fables, and several other acts) printed in Issue Three, summer of 2009.

Frykdahl is a fascinating artist with a lot of delight and wisdom to share. That goes for all of the curators of SGM, truly. (Nils, Dan, Carla, Matthias, Michael, Shinichi, Frank, Moe! et al: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Lots of love, and best of luck with all of your future endeavors.)

Click here to download a free Coilhouse Magazine PDF: Lives Transformed Through the Power of Confusing Music: Nils Frykdahl on Art and Kinship.

“Dance, dance… otherwise we are lost.”

Fellow admirers of the late Pina Bausch may get a little emotional, watching this trailer for the upcoming film Pina– Dance, Dance… Otherwise We Are Lost, made “For Pina Bausch, by Wim Wenders.”

Via Gabrielle Zucker, thanks.

Coming soon. In 3D, no less! In the wake of that first wave of 3D schlockbusters and huge budget family movies, it’s going to be interesting to watch and see if this oncoming wave of arguably more “arthouse friendly” 3D films (Wenders’ film, Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and Scorcese’s Invention of Hugo Cabret being chief among them) will change more critical viewers’ perceptions and expectations of the medium.

Good Night, Ingrid Pitt

Ah, Ingrid Pitt. Lovely lady of the eternal night. You were something else, something special and rare. In an era when most actresses with your theatrical aspirations (and world class bosom) were clamoring to be Mary Sues, you became Madame Bathory. You were brave, you were brazen– a survivor and a sex bomb and an joyful ham. We loved you for that.

Ed Brubaker’s comment on your passing: “All nerd boners are at half-mast today” would most likely have delighted you greatly, rather than offended. Of Hammer’s cult following and your own near-mythic status as his reigning scream queen, you once said “it is divine, because people just love them; it reconfirms me and it keeps me alive for ever — like the vampires I play.”

Sleep well, Countess. Thanks for all of the scares, titillations, and smiles.

LSR: Beguiling Dance and Strangely Familiar Music

Beloveds Rachel Brice, Mardi Love and Zoe Jakes –known collectively as The Indigo Belly Dance Company– are back on tour with their phenomenally lovely, lively, singularly delightful show Le Serpent Rouge. “The Indigo has created and defined a new style of belly dance, embracing the roots of middle eastern dance while incorporating an aesthetic reminiscent of early twentieth century cabarets and world’s fairs.”

They’ve got the fantabulous Crow Quill Night Owls with them again, as well as those rambunctious Gallus Brothers. (Several video clips of all the players are embedded in the playlist below.)

(With apologies to our Northwesternmost US readers) the tour actually kicked off yesterday in Seattle, but several more Le Serpent Rouge shows will be happening across the country this month. If you like timeless beauty, raucous laughter, joy and dance and song, this outfit ain’t to be missed.

More information via Bricey’s site after the jump.

David J: “The Punches and the Kisses”

Setting the scene: it’s a balmy late afternoon in downtown Los Angeles, summer of 2010. An amazing feature opportunity has suddenly presented itself, bringing Zoetica and I together for an impromptu interview/photo shoot at the Standard Hotel— a populuxe wet-dream of a place with Jenny Holzer art and an imitation Calder mobile in its lobby. Our esteemed subject has agreed to meet us for a drink at the Googiegasmic 24/7 Restaurant on the ground floor.

Photo by Zoetica Ebb.

Later in the evening, he’ll ride an elevator up to the swanky retro Rooftop Bar to DJ a killer set of “hyper lounge” for the likes of Sasha Grey, Mildred Von, the director of Lip Service, Miyu Decay, Andy Ristaino, Courtney Riot, and a slew of soused software convention-goers. But for now, he’s holding court at our corner table, and he’s got Zo and me doubled over in helpless fits of laughter. As our cackling reaches a crescendo, fellow patrons look up from their $20 cheeseburgers in confusion. Perhaps this pale, slim, soft spoken and immaculately dressed Englishman with the barest hint of a smile on his face isn’t the instigator they expected. One thing’s for sure: David J Haskins surprised the hell out of us! Delightfully so.

David J in the lobby of the downtown LA Standard Hotel. Photo by Zoetica Ebb.

As Zo sets up her next shot, I sip my coffee and ask the man who wrote the lyrics for Bauhaus‘ seminal song, “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” if vampirism is, in fact, the secret to his youthful appearance. “I’m actually very wrinkled from the waist down,” he says. Hastily, I wipe up my spit take. “Don’t print that.” Zo insists that we should print that. “Oh, all right. You can print that.” A few minutes later, he launches into an anecdote about “the infamous pan-flute monkey” from Love and Rockets’ music video for ‘No New Tale to Tell’: “The handler put peanuts down all of the pipe shafts.” The idea being that the monkey would try to tip them out to eat and appear to be playing the flute. “Worked out pretty well. But when the little bugger wasn’t trying to get at the peanuts,” (David J’s voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper) “he was wanking. Endlessly. For hours. Hours and hours. And staring at us.” Zo does her best to keep the camera steady. “It was quite impressive, actually! And a little terrifying. No one wanted to go near the filthy thing.”

Giggle fits notwithstanding, professionalism prevails. Zo gets some great shots, and in of spite being uncharacteristically twitterpated (can’t be helped; I smoked my very first clove while listening to “Who Killed Mister Moonlight“), I’m able to nab an in-depth, thoughtful interview from a most multifaceted and influential progenitor of post-punk alternative culture.

David J, making mischief at the Standard Hotel’s 24/7 Restaurant. Photo by Zoetica Ebb.

It’s hard to know where to begin with you! The range and diversity of the creative projects you’ve been involved with for over the course of your career is astounding. In addition to being a musician and a lyricist, you’re a visual artist, playwright … and more recently, you’ve even gotten into screenwriting?
Just in the last year, yes. I embarked on that with a partner, Don C. Tyler, and we have a fantastic chemistry.  So far it’s going very well, it’s picking up. We have a couple of different scripts in the works. I am actually contracted not to talk about the subject matter of either of them, sorry, but I can tell you they’re tangentially connected. And yes, I’ve written some plays. I was going to say I just finished my second play, but really it’s the third, because initially, I got into writing for the stage after creating this 12-minute play about punk rock called Anarchy In The Gold Street Wimpy. It had never occurred me to write one before, but my publicist, Versa Manos, was friends with this theatre company in Atlanta, Georgia, called Dad’s Garage. They were looking for submissions for a theatrical presentation of short 12-minute plays based on the idea of punk rock. She suggested I should have a go at it, and so I did. I thought, well, I was there, after all. Going to shows in 1976, when punk rock was full-on.