Monday, May 03, 2021

Saying Chaos like Cows




This setting of one of my texts mixes a kind of free jazz with psychedelic visuals. 
The text comes from an anecdote where Derrida pronounced "chaos" as "cows." 

The music has sax, bass clarinet, bassoon, piano, drums, voice.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Passacaglia for i.

 


Passacaglia for i.  

A garden and a whole mess of i's in a variety of fonts, exploring the idea of the visual passacaglia (i.e. i as a repeating bassline/chord pattern.)

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Interview on NOT THAT KIND OF RABBI




I was very delighted to do this interview with Ralph Benmergui about my new novel and related Jewish topics. Ralph was funny and charming and very knowledgeable. Here's the link to his great podcast, Not That Kind of Rabbi: link

Falling is just flying with bad PR: On Writing

 



I created this video poem/essay on writing to wrap up my year-long writer-in-residency at Sheridan College

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

New album with Gregory Betts, bill bissett and me.

 





One raging excellent day in 2018, Gregory Betts and I got together to create four tracks with the legendary Bill Bissett Later, in studio, I invited the The Opposible Thumbs Symphony Orchestra of Greater Knuckle Drag and musicians from The Benzedrine Klezmorim of the Upper Urals to add a handful of digital processing. It's here: https://garybarwin.bandcamp.com/album/this-is-not-a-sad-song

While you're there you can check out my other albums which are all quite different.

Friday, January 29, 2021

ABout "Nothing the Same Everything Haunted: The Ballad of Motl the Cowboy"—a video

 


I made this video explaining some of the ideas for the new novel came from. Humour, my grandfather, Hitler's grim inspiration from North American Indigenous genocide, and I included an old Yiddish song popular in Vilna ghetto and some images of old Jewish Vilna.

The book will be available in hardcover, audio and ebook on March 9, 2021. As they say in Yiddish, Yeehaw.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Thank you Charlie Parker

One day I want to write an essay about how studying saxophone in middle school opened up a vast world for me, that, as a little Jewish boy in Ottawa I had had no conception of. The rich imaginative, political, spiritual, powerful world of mostly black American musicians. I think about being in suburban Canadian bedroom listening to Charlie Parker and John Coltrane and reading everything I could find about them. I'd babysit on Saturday nights and then make a pilgrimage to Sam the Record Man in the Bayshore Shopping Mall where I spent my earnings, learning about jazz. The world they lived in, their concerns, the sounds they pursued, the economic and political issues, the stories of their lives. Of course I could have no real understanding, but it was a portal, an opening that pointed to a much larger vision of what was and what was possible than I could have know otherwise.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

PREZ: Josquin by the Sea

 


PREZ (Piano, percussion, mallets, electronics and ocean shore) 

This is a transformation of a motet by Josquin Des Prez using Max/MSP and then subsequent processing (Pitch to MIDI transformations) in Ableton Live.

Gertrude Stein Home Movie.


A video using a home movie of Gertrude Stein from 1927 along with a musical setting of her recording of "A Portrait of Picasso" ("What does history teach? History teaches that history teaches.")

Friday, July 31, 2020

Two Jazz Standards made Klezmerical and Latinate






Cootes Paradise, a watershed




I made this video for the launch of Sweet Water: Poems for the Watersheds in Hamilton. My poems in the anthology explored the revitalization of Cootes Paradise. Because we'd subsequently learned that 24 billion gallons of sewage was accidently released into Cootes and that the city council knew about it and did nothing for many months—and kept it secret even from the Royal Botanical Gardens who oversee the marsh—John Terpstra invited me to write a new poem for the launch addressing that. So I made this video featuring a drone's eye view of Cootes Paradise and adjacent highway.

ReverBENT BANTER: a poetry & music performance




I made this recording of live performances/made performances for the International Institute of Critical Studies in Improvisation Improv festival coming up later this month. 

ReverBENT BANTER is a poetry and music performance reflecting on the idea of reverberation. Because this is a time of isolation perhaps we are especially sensitive to the communicative echo of relationship and communication. We shout or whisper or breathe into the world and hope for an answer, if only to hear our own voice, our own body. Most of the pieces in ReverBENT BANTER are improvisations using voice, computer (using vocal and typewriter samples) or the Armenian duduk and were creating using reverberation and delay. The processing and the visuals were also created through improvisation.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Four recent videos: Kaddish rabbit poetry book

The following four videos were all made using some implementation of the Max/MSP programming environment for both audio and video. For example, the audio for the Rabbit video was made through a routine that I wrote which modifies a MIDI recording of the original Bach by substitution or erasure of the original pitches and by mapping some of the pitches onto percussion sounds. The result was ported to Ableton Live where I further modified it (the intonation) and choice of timbres. The visuals were made by superimposing a found animation of a rabbit onto visuals generated in Max from the rhythms of the audio. You can see what a Max program looks like in the third video because I recorded the screen as it ran. 



 Kaddish (from a Portuguese cantor singing the Jewish prayer for the dead.)




 Rabbit (a transrabbitgrification of Bach'a Aria from the Goldberg Variations and the first Invention.)

 

 Poetry Makes Nothing Happen (after Auden)(for Carl Wilson) The screen is the Max/MSP running the program that generated the sound.

 

 The Book (for derek beaulieu_

Friday, July 17, 2020

Mind Blow Open by Algorithms: Some videos and music mades with Max/MSP

I recently took a class in composing with the Max/MSP programming environment. I studied this before—25 years ago, in fact—but remembered very little. So when the opportunity to take a class with Swiss composer and educator Tobias Reber came up, I happily signed up. I thought I'd share a few recordings that I made in the class.


The first few examples include videos that I made to the music. The last few are audio and I've included the Max patch that I adapted from one of Tobias's examples.








Here are the recordings based on the expanded version of the illustration that Tobias showed in class. I've linked to the patch also.

1. Max patch based on Tobias's probability lesson. Finite Probability Drive

2. Soundtrack for artist video. The piano part was generated using the probability patch -- with 5 different iterations of five different possible notes and five different combinations of those iterations. Golem

3. Solo piano piece using the same procedure as the above except with 7 and a different set of notes/probability. Probability of Overturning

4. "Gamelan" Synth sounds. The same as #1 (five iterations) but with different notes and different sounds, though with the same probability set.

Monday, June 22, 2020

MORE THAN A HAT TRICK: Reflections on Home

Home, according to Google in 2015

MORE THAN A HAT TRICK: Reflections on Home

written for The Six-Minute Memoir, June 2020

My family. Four generations. Four different continents. Why? Home is where you hang your hat and no one tries to kill you. Or your neighbours.

My maternal grandfather was called Percy Zelikow. Back in Lithuania, he was Pesach Zelikowitz. He was quite a character. My mother jokes that he was a self-made made who loved his creator.

He used to say that the town he came from was so small that if you began to say its name as you walked in, you'd have walked out before you'd finished. How small was it? Let me say it. Krekenova.  I think I got to the blacksmith shop by the second syllable. Krekenova. It was a shtetl in Lithuania, near the big city of Kaunas. In the late 1920s when my grandfather emigrated, the big city wasn’t that big. The mayor’s car had the number 1 as a license plate. There were only 9 other cars.

Like the rest of my family who escaped the Holocaust, my grandfather emigrated to South Africa. Why? It was a place Jews were allowed to go. I mean, other than Siberia, where the entire shtetl was sent during World War I. And then the shtetl was burned down.

Of course, their neighbours never really liked Jews. There were countless pogroms and persecutions. During the First World War, the Czar believed that the Jews were communicating with the Germans by hiding telephones in their beards. Really. Can you imagine getting telemarketing calls—to your beard?

So my parents were born in South Africa, and grew up during apartheid. That’s like saying, “they grew up when people didn’t believe in gravity.” Like everyone with darker skin, my father had to carry a pass to identify his race, though his card said, “white.” My parents couldn’t abide by this immoral regime and, in 1960, the Sharpeville Massacre marked the beginning of real civil unrest and violence. White police killed 69 unarmed black protesters. All too familiar. Of course, my parents were the privileged white, but this place that they loved was racist and was becoming too dangerous. So they got married, my father got himself accepted to medical school in Northern Ireland and they moved. And that’s how I was born in Ireland in 1964.

It was a remarkably beautiful, if parochial place. And then “The Troubles” began—the Civil War between the Republican Catholics and the Unionist Protestants. Political turmoil seems to follow my family like feathers follow a duck.

So. Hymie Goldberg is driving home when he’s stopped by a masked man with a gun. “Are you Catholic or Protestant?” the man demands “Ha! I’m Jewish,” Hymie replies. “Sure,” the man says, “but are you a Catholic Jew or a Protestant Jew?”

As a child I was insulated from the violence. Though once a British soldier at the end of our street,  let me hold his machine gun. We also used to play chicken with helicopters near an army base. Going close and then running like hell into the bushes. Sometimes neighbours had their businesses bombed. My parents decided to leave Ireland when there was a bomb scare at our school which already had barbed wire on the roof.

We moved to Canada. To Ottawa. I admit I did get worried when I went to university in Montreal and there was a real rise in separatist sentiment, but I knew that, finally, my family had found a safe place for us to live.

We moved to Hamilton about 30 years ago. My wife, a criminal lawyer, found her first job here. So yes, we moved to Hamilton for the crime. Our three children were born here.

Four generations. Four different continents. But I wonder where is home? Or to put it another way, where am I from?

There’s an old Yiddish saying, The tongue is not in exile.  It means that if you have to leave your home, even if you have to leave everything behind, even if you bring nothing but the clothes on your back, you always bring your language with you. Your words, your sayings, your stories, your jokes, your sounds, your culture and world view. Even the ways you move when you speak. When I think about Yiddish—so, nu, what do you want, it’s true—I move my shoulders in a certain way. The world has a certain texture, a certain philosophy, a certain physics, and it’s carried in the language. Yiddish is a library of our experiences and it has travelled with us through time and space.

But I don’t speak Yiddish. I don’t have those customs. They have faded like a tablecloth brought from the old country, washed a thousand thousand times until it disintegrates. I wonder: if there hadn’t been the Holocaust, would I speak Yiddish?

I know that many Jews solve the problem of home by imagining Israel as the place where they originate from and where they belong. Gey guzunterheyt. Go in good health. Whatever Israel is, it  doesn’t feel like home to me. When I think what my brain is like inside, perhaps you won’t be surprised to know that I think of fog. Fog rolling through the brooding, beautiful, narrative Mourne Mountains where we had a cottage when I was a child. Also, cows.

Where is my home?  In language, culture, family, our bodies. But what is my culture? If home is where you hang your hat, you also need to know what your hat is. Your hat, your culture, your sense of self. For me it is a stew—a tzimmes, a goulash, a jambalaya, a salmagundi—of my cultural triangulations. What I’ve learned, remembered, half remembered. What hasn’t been forgotten. What I claim or wish to claim. What my parents, grandparents, and my children long for. My inherited or future nostalgias. How I imagine my relation to the world. How I construct a place to be, like a tent with a thousand thousand guy wires holding it up. Home is where you choose to hang your hat and a hook appears.

And so, let’s say, I’ve just come back from a long walk along the escarpment. I walk in the front door and take off my hat. Maybe it’s a stylish beret like my grandfather used to wear. I’m in the front hall and I go to hang up my beret. Look, there’s a hook. What hook? Here in this expanding universe, in this very moment and location in spacetime, in this single place of all the places, in this single moment of all the moments, a hook has appeared. It has appeared in the very place where I have chosen to hang my hat. And where is that? Turns out, it’s here.

Friday, June 12, 2020

The Marvellous Glitch: a performance



I did this reading tomorrow for POETIC LICENSE, a  festival organized by HYP

How? I will have recorded it the day before yesterday and it will be broadcast yesterday to the computer screens of the audience. The reading is text with music, animation, video, sound poetry, rambling. And here it is, in all its time travelling glory, available now for your screens. 42 minutes of wordly wordingness. (including work from my selected poems from
Wolsak and Wynn Publishers, edited by the great Alessandro Porco.

Leonard Cohen said there’s a crack in everything that’s how the light gets through. But here, everything itself is a joyful, painful, and surprising glitch. It doesn’t work how we expect it to and that’s where things get interesting and marvellous.


Tuesday, May 12, 2020

In memoriam, Isaak Grazutis.




My great-uncle Isaak died last night. I am honoured to have dedicated my forthcoming novel, centring around the Holocaust in Lithuania, to him. He was happy about that. A couple years ago, I interviewed him about his remarkable life.

In 1941 Lithuania, he literally walked away from the Nazis as an 11 year old. He and his aunt began walking out of Lithuania as the Nazis were arriving and the killing started. A truck full of Soviet soldiers told his aunt, "We only have room for one. Pass us the boy and we'll take him out of here." That was the last he saw of his family. (He did eventually connect with an aunt, years later, who had made it to Israel.)  My grandfather—his nephew—eventually found him in 1979 in Chicago where he was working as an illustrator/designer.

Here are three pictures. One (above) shows Isaak (on the left) this year, at 90 with his wife, Galina; my aunt, my mom and my father. Another is Isaak as a young man—he was a painter—painting a familiar face on the wall in a sports stadium. Art students were required to do this, as well as plough fields on Sundays. The last is a painting by Isaak of a street in Vilnius.

When I showed him my last novel, Yiddish for Pirates, he examined it very closely, thoughtfully, tenderly, intelligently noting and commenting on each design feature—from cover, colophon, chapter headings, fonts, and so on. He was, after all an artist and graphic designer all his life. This was his way of engaging with it, and with me, and his reading in English wasn't quite up to the novel.

Despite the hardships he endured, he was an exceedly warm, positive man alert to life's joys, humour, and beauty.

When I spoke to him, I asked him about returning home after escaping. He'd ended up in an orphanage in the Urals, then having caught a train from Vilnius to Moscow (climbing on the roof)  where he worked at a Yiddish language newspaper because of his facility with language. They noted his talent as an artist and he eventually started art school there. I wondered about the feeling of horror, of dread when he returned from the Urals, before he hopped the train. He said, he was young and with no family or expectations, the world was open to adventure and possibility. I found this hard to understand. This willingness to think of the future, to make the best of it. "Whatever it is, it is." In conversation, certainly he recalled his lost family with love, tenderness and affection. It wasn't for lack of that, I came to understand that it was something irrepressibly vital about him, something that held onto the roof of the train of life and let him make the best of things and be open to the possible.

And then there was that great story about when he worked as a graphic designer in a munitions factory where they manufactured guns and cars somewhere east of the Urals. He finagled a car out of the deal (they were exceedingly rare and expensive at the time in Soviet Russia.) And so, not knowing how to drive, he drove it the several thousand miles back to Vilnius, over frozen rivers and in deep cold. Also, without any windshield wiper fluid or heater, if I remember correctly, he used vodka.

I wrote more about him here 

My great-uncle Isaak died last night. I am honoured to have dedicated my forthcoming novel, centring around the Holocaust in Lithuania, to him. He was happy about that. A couple years ago, I interviewed him about his remarkable life.

In 1941 Lithuania, he literally walked away from the Nazis as an 11 year old. He and his aunt began walking out of Lithuania as the Nazis were arriving and the killing started. A truck full of Soviet soldiers told his aunt, "We only have room for one. Pass us the boy and we'll take him out of here." That was the last he saw of his family. (He did eventually connect with an aunt, years later, who had made it to Israel.)  My grandfather—his nephew—eventually found him in 1979 in Chicago where he was working as an illustrator/designer.

Here are three pictures. One (above) shows Isaak (on the left) this year, at 90 with his wife, Galina; my aunt, my mom and my father. Another is Isaak as a young man—he was a painter—painting a familiar face on the wall in a sports stadium. Art students were required to do this, as well as plough fields on Sundays. The last is a painting by Isaak of a street in Vilnius.

When I showed him my last novel, Yiddish for Pirates, he examined it very closely, thoughtfully, tenderly, intelligently noting and commenting on each design feature—from cover, colophon, chapter headings, fonts, and so on. He was, after all an artist and graphic designer all his life. This was his way of engaging with it, and with me, and his reading in English wasn't quite up to the novel.

Despite the hardships he endured, he was an exceedly warm, positive man alert to life's joys, humour, and beauty.

When I spoke to him, I asked him about returning home after escaping. He'd ended up in an orphanage in the Urals, then having caught a train from Vilnius to Moscow (climbing on the roof)  where he worked at a Yiddish language newspaper because of his facility with language. They noted his talent as an artist and he eventually started art school there. I wondered about the feeling of horror, of dread when he returned from the Urals, before he hopped the train. He said, he was young and with no family or expectations, the world was open to adventure and possibility. I found this hard to understand. This willingness to think of the future, to make the best of it. "Whatever it is, it is." In conversation, certainly he recalled his lost family with love, tenderness and affection. It wasn't for lack of that, I came to understand that it was something irrepressibly vital about him, something that held onto the roof of the train of life and let him make the best of things and be open to the possible.

And then there was that great story about when he worked as a graphic designer in a munitions factory where they manufactured guns and cars somewhere east of the Urals. He finagled a car out of the deal (they were exceedingly rare and expensive at the time in Soviet Russia.) And so, not knowing how to drive, he drove it the several thousand miles back to Vilnius, over frozen rivers and in deep cold. Also, without any windshield wiper fluid or heater, if I remember correctly, he used vodka.

I wrote more about him here 


Thursday, April 23, 2020

An actual rejection letter and a poem...

I received this remarkable rejection letter and posted it on Facebook, as one does. Then Lillian Necakov suggested that I made it into a poem, though it really is a perfect thing in itself. I had recently read this article in the Globe by Marsha Lederman and was inspired by what Marsha was writing about, including what Michael Christie had written above his desk.  Here's the rejection letter and subsequent poem.



Thank you for submitting five poems to __________.

We are unable to accept your work for publication this time around. The Poetry Editorial Board responded quite variably and strongly to these poems, admiring their craft and wit and tonal range, but disagreeing no less variably on which they preferred and why. The poems struck a bit like bowling balls, knocking different readers down in each case. Other readers elsewhere may well respond differently, too, and most of the poems will likely find good homes, so you should certainly keep them in circulation.

Image

Monday, April 20, 2020

A Transcreation of Der Lindenbaum (Schubert/Muller)


Paul Evitts over on Facebook asked if I would do a free translation of Müller's "Der Lindenbaum" (a poem used in Schubert's Winterreise (listen to this beautiful recording of it by Jonas Kaufman, here ) since I have been doing versions of others of the poems. My procedure is to run the text through a series of Google Translate operations (and sometimes a N+7 procedure) and then edit. I did this with this poem -- Zulu, Basque, Samoan, Macedonian. When I edit, I look to what I see in the changed text--and of course, what I see reflects how I'm feeling and what in going on in the world. Thus this poem suffused with grief and violence.