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February 23, 2010 - Image 5

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-02-23

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The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 - 5

The auditory as art

"Why yes, am a natural blonde."
Almod6var's away line, it feels as if Almodovar just
couldn't help himself as the director
fragmented film of a film about a director. There is
brilliant directorial work in there, but
stuffs in the drama Almodovar makes sure we don't miss
any of it.
By BEN VERDI That said, Penelope Cruz ("Volv-
For the Daily er") absolutely shines. She plays a
struggling secretary for whom we
The overwhelming dramatic initially feel very sympathetic but
silence of "Broken Embraces" makes over time we grow to desire, however
it feel more like a ominous loving her may seem. By the
play than a film, * end we're as haunted by the memory
but it would work of her glowing face as the film's main
as a five-piece Broken male character, Mateo Blanco, who
soap opera if it signs his name "Harry Caine" on his
had cheesier light- screenplays.
ing. While Pedro At the In a sense, we make the same deci-
Almoddvar's films Michigan sions that characters in the story
("Volver," "Bad So make when it comes to our ability to
Education") always control our feelings for her: We let her
feel geared toward get away with more than we probably
an audience of filmmakers, "Broken should, but not because we (the film's
Embraces" takes its director's habit a other characters included) are weak.
bin too far. There's something about the way
Much like the arrogant director/ she kisses us through the screen that
writer around whom the plot is based, carries the story and the entire film,
Almoddvar appears to have made this despite her noted .absence for more
movie for himself. While many enjoy than half of it.
work engineered by a heavy-handed Outside of Cruz's pure power, the
man at the helm, the director's grip film is paced very well. It refuses to
on the story feels slightly more con- rush, despite a somewhat predictable
stricting foour senses than necessary. ending, and makes sure it leaves no
When a minor character references stone unturned. And there are quite
Fellini's "8 1/a" in, a simple, throw- a few stones. The only area where

the film seems to drag occurs rough-
ly two thirds of the way through.
This single lull is an example of how
the film is a victim of its own effec-
tive pacing, because - up until this
point - we have been trained to
expect scenes from the past to last
only so long before we're thrust back
into the murky present. Yet this last
flashback takes 30 minutes because
it bridges the gap between past and
present. It makes sense, and perhaps
it's not meant to be anticipated, but it's
almost as unsettling as it is potent.
The film defies quick classification
because of the director's ambition.
This is not to say that films must fit
into a formulaic mold to be assessed
value within a certain genre. But
the narrative awkwardly bounces
between that of a story-told-out-of-
order like "Memento" to a complex
love-triangle to a confession about
the relationships between fathers and
sons to a near satire of actors and the
film industry itself to the story of how
a blind man went blind. If there were
less, it would all mean more.
It's as if Pedro Almoddvar - with
the creation of this film - wants
his name synonymous with its
own genre, a genre that, due to his
unquestionable talent and ambition,
he wants packed full of every dra-
matic tension known to man.

On the audio track there is a
robotic voice, emotionless, with
odd, synthetic turns of phrase
that make statements like "My
mother has died" into mechani-
cal articula-
tions rather
than emotive
accounts. In
the clip, the a
voice makes d
pointed state-
ments that, if
read, should
evoke human WHITNEY v
emotion, POW
but in audio
something is
lost in tran'slation: "Tyranny is
nothing new," the voice chimes,
"It's going to jump all over your
head and cock-a-doodle-doo."
The odd, Sylvia-Plath-like
rhymes are reminiscent of her
poem "Daddy." The voice, how-
ever, intones at the wrong vow-
els, extending the "ew" in "new"
into a strange sloping sound,
high to low, sounding closer to a
steam whistle than a voice.
The work is titled "Repugnant
Josephsons Chocolate" by Cecil
Touchon, published on Text-
sound.org, an online audio pub-
lication. Without the auditory
element of the work, one would
lose the disturbing mechanical
quality of lines like "Looking at a
picture of a dead 6-year-old" and
"children who blow themselves
up." The sound performance
adds crucial elements to this
piece that are not necessarily
palpable in reading the words
themselves without the element
of performance inherent in it.
The audio recording is a
somewhat overlooked medium in
which to work and perform art.
Many of these recorded pieces
are presented to the public in
audio installations in galleries
and museums, which, while
being a great venue for this kind
of art, has a limited audience
based on museum space and
location. The audio works, how-
ever, have recently found more
accessible outlets in online audio
publications, such as Textsound.
org, an online journal established
by at-some-point-Ann-Arbor-
based people including Anya
Cobbler, Adam Fagin, Anna
Vitale'ind Laura Wetherington.
Of the group, Anya and Laura are
both poets who graduated from

the University's MFA program.
I have had the privilege of
working with Textsound, help-
ing to turn the cogs in a local
sound-based art journal among
the ranks of other online jour-
nals that have found something
important in the value of per-
formed works of art in digital
media. Textsound has produced
eight issues of sound works and
published pieces by Pulitzer
Prize finalist Alice Notley as
well as University Professor and
sound poet Thylias Moss.
The process of gathering the
pieces for publication is a curato-
rial process, as mentioned on the
"About Us" for Issue 5, where
the online listening spaces in
Textsound function similarly
to a museum space in how they
preserves these works while pro-
viding user accessibility to them.
Here the definition of "exhibition
space" is stretched to incorporate
virtual spaces, where accessibil-
ity to the works of art is of pri-
mary importance. This all brings
into question what an "exhibit
space" is and how it functions
as more and more works of art
become digitized and available
for viewing or listening online.
In blurring the line between
online exhibit spaces and physi-
cal exhibit spaces, publications
like Textsound also blur and
meld the link between poetry
and sound and performance art.
The primary point of interest
is not necessarily the words or
sounds each by themselves, but
the way, when put together, both
complement one another.
For example, Professor Thy-
lias Moss's piece, "EnterRupted-
Sums" in Issue 2 is presented in
two versions. The first is a spo-
ken version with heavy reverb
and a droning, zombie-like
cadence as the artist performs
the lines aloud: "Let one offend
/This one defend." The second
version, however, begins with
an energetic percussive beat and
catchy synthesizer notes. When
the voice enters the recording,
there is a more singsong perfor-
mance of the lines and a jazzy
refrain of "A line forms" sung
behind them.
The words themselves have
not changed between the two
recordings, but the experience
arid effect of the words change
with the manner in which they

are performed - the spoken
version is almost chant-like,
imbuing a sense of foreboding
and isolation into the lines. The
music-accompanied version,
however, instills the piece with
a kind of rhythmic, pulsing
undertone, making the words
seem lighthearted in how the
music tones predominantly tie
the piece together. The idea
of performance affecting how
we experience words brings to
mind theater and how the way
words are intoned and presented
can change how we experience
certain lines themselves - the
sentence "Where were you" can
become a question with a rise
in tone to the end of the phrase;
accusatory with emphasis on
"were" and no tonal change.
Many of these performance
spatial barriers
with aural art.
pieces play with sound and how
it affects the way we perceive
and understand language itself
And similarly, audio journals
like Textsound affect the way
we perceive exhibition space
and how art should or could be
presented to the public. Publica-
tions such as these use technol-
ogy to play with and deconstruct
the lines we see drawn between
"separate" genres and spaces
- virtual space versus physical
space as well as written word
versus performance art. Digital
spaces in particular allow us
to re-think definitions of what
something is and how this defini-
tion can be stretched to better fit
the accessibility of the Internet
and the collaborative nature of
digital sound. As we investigate
the meaning digital mediums can
imbue works of art and works
of poetry, we can see how jour-
nals like Textsound are moving
forward, utilizing contemporary
mediums as jumping points for
reinvestigating traditionally ana-
log forms of expression.
Pow is the guest editor for
Textsound.org. E-mail her
at poww@umich.edu.

'16 and Pregnant' returns
with even worse parenting

A drunken delight

DailyArts Writer
"If you don't shut up, I'll just leave
and you'll never see me again." Most
likely, this sentence conjures up fond
memories of those
jaded teenage years
when contemptu-
ous threats to par- 16 and
ents who just didn't
understand were Pregnant
another part of Tuesdays
daily life. But this is
MTV, so there must
be some additional MTV
element of drama
for any otherwise relatable experi-
ence. And this time, the quote came
out of the mouth of a teen mom.
Back for its second season, because
apparently the first didn't scare
. enough teens into celibacy, "16 and
Pregnant' sums up nine months
of confusion, ill-preparedness and
demands for paternity tests in each
hour-long episode. The show's first
season centered around strong teen-
aged girls who decided to birth their
babies as the whole world watched
them grow, both physically and as
more mature mothers.
Admittedly, season one was ... cute.
Sure, teenaged pregnancy is hard -
but those babies! And if some girl on
MTV can do it, and probably get a nice
lump of cash, so can any whats-her-
name in Anywhere, USA.
This time around, it's no longer
sufficient just to be pregnant, but one
must also exhibit the qualities of a
horrible mother.
Jenelle is the show's bait for its sec-
ond season. She seemed OK at first,
a bit heavy on the attitude, but that's
ascribable to hormones. That is until
Jace comes along, stuck in daycare
while Jenelle returns to high school.
He's watched by his grandma when

That's gonna be one sassy baby.
Jenelle needs to "get out."
Sympathy and concern for Jenelle's
baby are what make this season's pre-
miere worth watching. More often
than not, Jace is referred to as "it,"
and well into his first few months, his
mother still seems to be toying with
the idea of actually raisinghim.
When babies are
better off
with grandma.
If this entire season follows the low
motherly bar set by Jenelle, MTV's
show is going to make a few state-
ments distinct from its first season.
Instead of displaying the hardships
of the teen mom, season two seems
to focus on how much it would suck
to be the baby - providing a differ-
ent point of view to deter teen moms
from thinking they can handle the
And Jenelle is a prime example
of how much a teen mom loses, like,
you know, partying with friends, "me

time" and going to the beach. Jenelle
prides herself on how she takes care
of herself, while everyone else is only
noticing how she doesn't take care of
her baby. When her mom reminds her
to fill a few bottles, she whines, "Are
you serious?"
While the season premiere is a
bit difficult to watch, and even more
annoying to listen to courtesy of Jen-
elle's constant whining (to be noted,
more than her baby), it provides a
more realistic look into how teen
pregnancy isn't just learning to work
life around a baby. It isn't just being
able to tell mom before the bump
comes or making the baby daddy put
a ring on -it. It's living at home with
mom and dad and it means no more
being a kid.
Moms from last season pulled up
their britches, stuck out their bellies
and took the role of mom head-on.
Jenelle threatens to run away and
leave her baby with grandma. But
honestly, if the camera portrays her
mothering accurately, that may not
be the worst thing. Hopefully teens
will get the message, or their tacky
threats might not mean much. And
what's a teen without a contemptu-
ous mouth?

For the Daily
You'll want to buy out a vin-
tage boutique and raid a liquor
store after
hearing Joan-
na Newsom's
new three- Joanna
disc album
Have One On Newsom
Me. The alco- Have One
hol-infused, On Me
highly antici- DragCity
pated record
goes nicely
with a flapper dress, a feather
in the hair and lounging on a
velvet couch with a bottle of
It has been four years since
Newsom's last album, 2006's
Ys, and Have One assures lis-
teners that it was worth the
wait. Comprised of more than
two hours of gorgeous vocals,
chilling harp riffs and play-
ful piano parts - all played by
the California native - the sul-
try and sweet songstress takes
us to a twisted time of cabaret
with bluesy vocals, jazz and
Have One On Me opens with
"Easy," a beautiful and bluesy
six-minute song that sets the
album's tone with jazz flute,
horns, haunting harps and ori-
ental staccato vocals.
The standout on the record is
the Dusty Springfield-inspired
"Good Intentions Paving Com-
pany. Newsom takes the lis-
tener on a dragged-out night
drive with a frustratedlover as
she croons: "And the tilt of this
strange nation / And the will to
remain for the duration / Wav-
ing the flag, feeling it drag."
The song ends with a minute's
worth of eloquently beautiful,
locomotive harmonies and a
horn solo, truly emphasizing
the old-time cabaret sound.
For all the jazzy accompa-
niment, the strength of the
album lies with Newsom's
vocals. Although Newsom is an
incredibly skilled harpist and

Sr.,T v rv-i

f T

Feng Sh
the in
like "B
she ret
pitch t
a disti.
two t
of flo

ui fail.
t, her voice shines above makes this album unique.
strumentals. On tracks Though normally our atten-
3aby Birch" and "Esme," tion spans do not suffice for
m displays upper-ranged a two-hour set of songs, the
ic shrills through her album is sensibly split into
y tone. Her voice sounds three discs, which allows the
d and well rehearsed, but listeners to appreciate New-
ains her quirky, piercing som's ingenuity. The three-
*hat makes her so distin- disc setup works perfectly so
ble. listeners can really recognize
Newsom's genius by listening
to each separately, thus making
the album fully digestible.
Newsom Nobody in the music world
is quite like Joanna Newsnm:
inleashes a Perhaps only she is able to
three- write such a poetic album with
LZZy, tdream-like harp chords and
Stime warp. whimsical harmonies. Have
t W ' One On Me shows that New-
som has clearly graduated from
the peculiar and perky tenden-
nsom's buttery, almost cies of 2004's The Milk-Eyed
ic voice is paired with a Mender and transformed into
e but beautiful instru- a folksy, feathery-voiced song-
the 21-stringed kora in stress.
like "Autumn," "On A Although lengthy, it's truly a
Day" and "Go Long" for pleasure to devote time to the
nctly oriental sound. The graceful lyrics and poignant
otally different sounds sounds of the album. Her craft
wy vocals and eastern- and originality is so impressive
ing hums melt together that she should know: The next
fully, which is what one is on me, Joanna.

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