Deciphering Culture

Archive for the ‘Art’ Category

“Ethnographic Poetry”

leave a comment »

Excited that the first piece of my “ethnographic poetry” was published on January 7, 2011 by the UK literary journal The View From Here. The poem, “My Father Chased, Never Caught” is based on family history but as my biography in The View From Here says,

Jeffrey Callen is an ethnographer and writer living in San Francisco. Along the way to receiving his Ph.D. in ethnomusicology, he learned the bracketing of reactions, the deep hanging out, the willingness to be surprised that are the sine qua non of the ethnographic method. An ethnographic approach is integral to all his work as a writer, including his fiction and poetry. His  writing on music and popular culture regularly appears in scholarly publications and popular outlets, such as PopMattersThe Beat and Afropop Worldwide. He is currently writing a book on alternative music in Morocco and can be contacted through his professional blog Deciphering Culture.

Issue 31:Issue 31

Gorgeous, Eye Catching, Coffee Table Worthy! The View From Here – The Best of the Best in the new and emerging literary scene!

Interviews with … Naseem Rakha, Michael Kimball & Penny Legg.

Original Fiction: Kirie Pedersen, Lauren Butler & Iain Campbell.

Original Poetry: Magdalawit Makonnen , Jeffrey Callen & Rich Murphy.

Chapter 1 of our serialisation of Death Knell by Kathleen Maher

Reading Underground by Jane Turley

Book Review: You Against Me by Jenny Downham.

ISSN 1758-2903

Written by Jeffrey Callen

January 9, 2011 at 5:00 pm

“William Gibson On the Future of Publishing: Made to Order Books” (@ Speakeasy)

leave a comment »

Interesting interview with innovative author William Gibson (think cyberpunk) in the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog. Thanks to Julie Norvaisis of All This Chittah Chatter for turning me on to it.

An excerpt from the interview by the Wall Street Journal’s Steven Kurutz:

Will you mourn the loss of the physical book if eBooks become the dominant format?

It doesn’t fill me with quite the degree of horror and sorrow that it seems to fill many of my friends. For one thing, I don’t think that physical books will cease to be produced. But the ecological impact of book manufacture and traditional book marketing –- I think that should really be considered. We have this industry in which we cut down trees to make the paper that we then use enormous amounts of electricity to turn into books that weigh a great deal and are then shipped enormous distances to point-of-sale retail. Often times they are remained or returned, using double the carbon footprint. And more electricity is used to pulp them and turn them into more books. If you look at it from a purely ecological point of view, it’s crazy.

How would you do things differently?

My dream scenario would be that you could go into a bookshop, examine copies of every book in print that they’re able to offer, then for a fee have them produce in a minute or two a beautiful finished copy in a dust jacket that you would pay for and take home. Book making machines exist and they’re remarkably sophisticated. You’d eliminate the waste and you’d get your book -– and it would be a real book. You might even have the option of buying a deluxe edition. You could have it printed with an extra nice binding, low acid paper.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

September 11, 2010 at 8:01 am

Why do Americans think the Japanese draw themselves as white? (@Sociological Images)

with one comment

Interesting post from the always excellent Sociological Images.

GUEST POST: WHY DO THE JAPANESE DRAW THEMSELVES AS WHITE?

Please welcome Guest Blogger, Julian Abagond.  Abagond is a middle-class, West Indian, New Yorker; he is also a computer programmer who enjoys ancient Greek.  He writes whatever he wants at his blog.  In the borrowed post below, he explains that the question is really “Why do Americans think that the Japanese draw themselves as white?”  Enjoy.

Why do the Japanese draw themselves as white? You see that especially in manga and anime.

As it turns out, that is an American opinion, not a Japanese one. The Japanese see anime characters as being Japanese. It is Americans who think they are white. Why?  Because to them white is the Default Human Being. (for the rest, click here).

Also, check out: GUEST POST: THE UNBEARABLE WHITENESS OF BEING HUMAN

Written by Jeffrey Callen

August 30, 2010 at 10:21 am

How WordPress is changing publishing

with 8 comments

Interesting article on the effects of blogging (good & bad) on the way we publish (and the way we write, read…) and the questionable value of “democratizing” the role of the writer.

Reposted from Slate‘s Big Money blog:

The Son of Gutenberg. How WordPress changed the way we publish.

By Marion Maneker  – Posted Wednesday, June 16, 2010 – 7:47am

A year ago, Justin Halpern was an underemployed comedy writer who had to move back into his parents’ home in San Diego. Today, he’s got 1.4 million Twitter followers, the No. 1 book on the New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, and a CBS sitcom starring William Shatner. All it took was writing down quotes from his father that he tweets out as “Shit My Dad Says.”

Technology and social media are redrawing the roadmap to authorial success. And for every Justin Halpern, there are 10,000 professional writers wondering how to turn blogs, microblogs, and Twitterfeeds into media empires, especially now that their magazines, newspapers, and media organizations are contracting at an alarming rate. Blogs, of course, are the first refuge for professional writers fleeing the withering establishment media, and for hordes of would-be scribes finding their own voice. For these multitudes, WordPress.com has become the 21st-century equivalent of Gutenberg’s printing press. (to read the rest, click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

July 2, 2010 at 10:20 am

LDN24 — data visualization of a day in the life of London

leave a comment »

FIELD, a London-based graphic design studio, has created LDN24, an installation at the Museum of London that “draws filmic impressions and the facts and figures of London life into a picture of 24 hours in the life of the city.”    Working in collaboration with the Light Surgeons (Production), FIELD (Data Visualization) has created what it labels an “immersive, interactive experience” — an engaging simulacrum of quotidian life in London. One of the more creative applications of data visualization.

From Nathan Yau on  Flowing DataFacts and figures of London life (nice video clip too).

LDN24



Written by Jeffrey Callen

June 30, 2010 at 10:40 am

A “REMIXhibition” experiment — online media as social objects

with one comment

Andrew Dubber of the Interactive Cultures research centre at the Birmingham School of Media at Birmingham City University in the U.K. is inviting bloggers and creative artists to take an image, slogan or sign and respond to it. Based on the idea that people use online media as “social objects” upon which to base online conversation, Dubber is posting photos and video online to spur dialogue. Dubber’s article Fight the Power: The Art of Protest and the Theory of Social Objects is well worth reading for its access to this “remix” experiment, its theoretical exposition and its discussion of the Fight The Power REMIXhibition of Punch Records at the Custard Factory in Birmingham (in the heart of that city’s new arts & media quarter).

The internet is not a broadcast medium – and nor is it a ‘revolutionized’ older medium. It is instead a conversational space – and there are two main categories of object within that space: the conversation, and the things about which the conversation is taking place. By repositioning exhibited works and media artefacts that spring from that exhibition as individual and decontextualised social objects, the aim is to provoke conversation within that space. (to read the rest).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

June 3, 2010 at 8:29 am

For Staff Benda Bilili, disability is just a state of mind

leave a comment »

Most of the members of Staff Benda Billi, a pop band from Kinshasa (Congo), are homeless polio victims who live in or around Kinshasa’s zoo. The founders of the band formed the ensemble because other local musicians refused to play with them. The membership of the band soon was supplemented by street kids, including an 18 year-old boy who plays guitar-like solos on an electrified one-stringed lute he fashioned from a tin can. In the last few years, Staff Benda Billi has found success at home and abroad with successful albums and now a documentary Benda Bilili, which debuted at Cannes this week. Check out the review of the film by Will Gompertz of the BBC:

Cannes: Standing ovation for Benda Bilili

Will Gompertz

Cannes: There are over 1,000 films at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, which means it’s horribly possible to spend your entire time watching duds. Cannes is a game of chance; we hacks are like metal detector enthusiasts who go out each weekend with hopes of finding treasure but know the odds are stacked against them.

benda_bilili_2.jpgWell, on Thursday, just 24 hours after the festival opened, I struck gold.

It was in the relative backwater of the Director’s Fortnight that I stumbled on a French documentary called Benda Bilili. It opens with a middle-aged man with polio dancing on a dusty street in the Congolese city of Kinshasa.

The story then moves onto its main subject: a group of musicians that goes by the name of Staff Benda Bilili. The words “benda bilili” mean “beyond appearances”; for this band of brothers, it’s a statement with profound meaning.

The group’s original core is made up of three paraplegic middle-aged street-dwellers who live in cardboard boxes in this lawless city and stay sane by making music. They are joined by a 12-year-old drummer and by Roger, a 13-year-old runaway who makes music by connecting a tin can to a stick with a piece of nylon. (to read the rest, click here)

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 14, 2010 at 5:22 pm

Music & the Struggle to be Human — Patrice Lumumba (@History is Made at Night)

leave a comment »

From History is Made at Night: The politics of dancing and musicking, a post asserting the primary place of music in the struggle to be human.

O Music, it was you permitted us to lift our face and peer into the eyes of future liberty

Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961) was a leading figure in the struggle for the independence of Congo from the Belgian Empire. He briefly became first prime minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960 before being overthrown and later murdered by Belgian/CIA backed forces. The following extract is from his poem May our People Triumph (full poem here). In it Lumumba puts music and dance (and specifically jazz) at the centre of the struggle to be human in conditions of slavery and colonialism:

‘Twas then the tomtom rolled from village unto village,
And told the people that another foreign slave ship
Had put off on its way to far-off shores
Where God is cotton, where the dollar reigns as King.
There, sentenced to unending, wracking labour,
Toiling from dawn to dusk in the relentless sun,
They taught you in your psalms to glorify
Their Lord, while you yourself were crucified to hymns
That promised bliss in the world of Hereafter,
While you—you begged of them a single boon:
That they should let you live—to live, aye—simplylive.
And by a fire your dim, fantastic dreams
Poured out aloud in melancholy strains,
As elemental and as wordless as your anguish.
It happened you would even play, be merry
And dance, in sheer exuberance of spirit:
And then would all the splendour of your manhood,
The sweet desires of youth sound, wild with power,
On strings of brass, in burning tambourines.
And from that mighty music the beginning
Of jazz arose, tempestuous, capricious,
Declaring to the whites in accents loud
That not entirely was the planet theirs.
O Music, it was you permitted us
To lift our face and peer into the eyes
Of future liberty, that would one day be ours.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

May 8, 2010 at 10:16 am

Book Excerpt – By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives (Judith Tannenbaum and Spoon Jackson)

leave a comment »

Reposted from:

Community Arts Network Reading Room

By Heart: Poetry, Prison, and Two Lives” by Judith Tannenbaum and Spoon Jackson (Oakland, New Village Press, April 2010)

Judith Tannenbaum and Spoon Jackson met at San Quentin State Prison in 1985 while Tannenbaum was teaching writing classes for prisoners. They have corresponded and sometimes collaborated ever since, producing, as this book’s publisher New Village Press puts it, “very different bodies of work resting on the same understanding: that human beings have one foot in darkness, the other in light.” For me, the book puts a finger, tenderly, on the essence of what is so vital about art for social change – the kind of change that happens in the soul. — Linda Frye Burnham, Community Arts Network

This excerpt, by Spoon Jackson, is from Chapter Two.

Chapter Two: In SilenceIndian summer at San Quentin and the sweet sun brings back the times I ran the dry river with the greyhound dogs and lay under the heavy black railroad bridge as the trains rumbled across, shaking the soft sands. In those times, I watched the shadows of the railcars dart by, and when night fell on a hot day, played kick-the-can in pure desert darkness. There were no street lights on Crooks Street when I was a boy.

A boy with no one to listen becomes a man in prison for life and discovers his mind can be free. A woman enters prison to teach and becomes his first listener. And so begins a 25-year friendship between two gifted writers and poets. The result is “By Heart” — a book that will anger you, give you hope and break your heart. — Gloria Steinem

My skin feels warm and alive this San Quentin September, as though I am a lizard sunning on a big rock. Instead I wear prison blues — shirt, pants, coat — plus brown high-top boots and dark shades, the coat and the shades I put on whenever I am outside the cell. I sit in my spot on the winding metal stairs of the San Quentin education building and see Judith bouncing down the steps from the Arts-in-Corrections office. I notice her healthy pale skin, (to read more go to the Community Arts Network Reading Room).

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 24, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Stars Campaign for Inter-Racial Friendship: rock against racism in the 1950s?

with one comment

Reposted from History is made at night

Jazz musician John Dankworth died last month. As this BBC film from 1959 shows, one of his early achievements was to chair the Stars Campaign for Inter-Racial Friendship, founded in 1959 to combat the activities of the White Defence League. As well as Dankworth, members of the campaign included Cleo Laine, Tommy Steele, Lonnie Donegan (looking very like a young Billy Bragg), Humphrey Lyttelton, and folk singer Karl Dallas.

As described at Love Music Hate Racism, Colin Jordan’s White Defence League later merged as part of the first British National Party in 1960, with Jordan’s former comrade John Tyndall later going on to form the National Front and then the current BNP. Jordan, who was once jailed for trying to burn down synagogues, was later the fuhrer of the British Movement leading a motley crew of neo-nazi skinheads to nowhere in the 1980s.

Written by Jeffrey Callen

March 24, 2010 at 9:52 am

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 143 other followers

%d bloggers like this: