Photo by Eric Branover

Falling up

Fresh tracks and timely insight.

Mark Templeton, “Somewhere Along the Sunburnt Dirt,” Western Sunset (SUPERPANG)

“Somewhere Along the Sunburnt Dirt” by Mark Templeton

If you have ever gone to a Ukrainian Orthodox funeral, you will know that they take death seriously. There’s the funeral service first, which lasts two or more hours, featuring plenty of sorrowful chanting and incense smoke that could choke an ox. Then, there’s the actual burial, usually some ways out of the city in a small rural community cemetery, because families tend to want to be buried together. Then there’s the meal after the burial, which, in COVID times can only be attended by a small number of people, but is usually the main event, attracting several hundred people, depending on the popularity of the deceased (and who made the perogies). Then there’s the 40-day service, back in church again, followed by another massive meal. The graves get blessed in the springtime. And there are annual memorials thereafter. Orthodoxy doesn’t allow cremation, because they believe in literal resurrection. A burnt seed can’t produce fruit.

Vincent Gallo, “A Somewhere Place,” Buffalo 66 (Will Records)

“A Somewhere Place” by Vincent Gallo

Every few years or so, I get curious about what Renaissance man Vincent Gallo is up to. Ever since Buffalo 66, his 1998 directorial debut, which was equal parts style and substance — no small feat for an independent filmmaker — the walking Joaquin Phoenix / Willem Dafoe mashup has never failed to entertain. 

I recently re-watched Buffalo 66 and was amazed with its simplicity. At a moment when streaming media giants are producing more and more stressful content in bids to attract increasingly anxious audiences, Gallo’s simple film is tonic. 

Simple has a bad rap. Simplicity is often associated with stupidity. But simple can be smarter than the most rococo flourish. Neither is simple basic; simplicity is nearer to the sublime, a window into the profundity of infinity. 

In the same way that Jean-Michel Basquiat used simple (some would have said “crude”) drawing techniques to convey complex ideas, Vincent Gallo uses simple (some would say “crude”) directing techniques to convey complex emotions. (However, this is not to say that Vincent Gallo is the Jean-Michel Basquiat of filmmaking.)

Valgeir Sigurðsson, “Brute Force,” Kvika (Bedroom Community)

“Brute Force” by Valgeir Sigurðsson

With a little bit of effort, lots of new music and some novel kit, Play Recent is about to become a radio programme at Repeater Radio, as well as your trusted monthly column on all things cool for Cult MTL. I bought a new microphone specifically for the gig — a Sennheiser condenser that hangs like a teardrop over my studio table. The microphone stand I chose was the most basic option — just a telescoping stick screwed into a sturdy base — and didn’t even come with a holder to slip the mic into. So, I searched some on Amazon, and found one made by Shure that I thought would do the job. 

When the clip arrived a few days later, the first thing I noticed was a rather large and alarming sticker on the packaging advising that the product therein was made with materials that are known to cause cancer and reproductive difficulties. Why would something manufactured to be used right next to the human mouth intentionally be made of carcinogenic materials? I decided to return the clip and see if I could find one made of something that wouldn’t potentially make my unborn children grow gills. 

The return process was easy enough. I filled out a form on Amazon, choosing the closest reason from a dropdown menu. To my surprise, I was informed that I needn’t return the clip, and that I would receive a refund nonetheless. The clip only cost $10, so I suppose it wasn’t worth it to Amazon to go through the physical returns process. But that meant that I was now stuck with disposing of a radioactive hunk of plastic. Should I throw it out with the regular trash, I wondered? Should I recycle it? Should I take it to the loneliest forest somewhere and bury it where it would hopefully do the least harm? Amazon freebie-as-curse.

MICROCORPS, “XEM” w/ Gazelle Twin, XMIT (Alter)

MICROCORPS feat. Gazelle Twin “XEM”

They don’t build things like they used to. But writing is different. The next great novel was written millions of times and abandoned on some memory stick, still stuck in a corrupted data port, on a hard drive nobody knows the password to, produced less than 50 years ago, trapped in a now-obsolete format. Locked-in syndrome for media.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!, 16mmFilmBrodkastDisquePremiére, March 27, 2021, Centre Cinéma Impérial (Suoni per il Popolo and Constellation Records)

When I was a child, I was taught that capitalism was good because it encouraged competition. This meant that we would always have the best of everything because there would never be mediocre monopolies or shoddy state-run industries controlling things. Private companies would compete against each other to produce ever-better products and services and win evermore customers. This process would self-evolve, too, as private, profit-motivated entities innovated and improved on every aspect of modern human life.

But capitalism is not that, it’s not that at all. Capitalism exploits vulnerability. Capitalism produces weakness, upon which it can then recapitalize. Sick and desperate subjects are ideal subjects under capitalism since they will efficiently produce and consume in relatively stable cycles for as long as they remain sick and desperate. In efforts to maximize profits, private companies spend as little as possible, and charge as much as possible. In efforts to maximize value, subjects work and spend as little as possible.

With everyone trying to rip everyone else off, this system produces a state of de-innovation, the worst of everything winning favour, rising to the top rather than falling off the charts. When we transcend and abandon capitalism, the real ça va bien aller campaign begins. ■

This column originally appeared in the April issue of Cult MTL.

To see previous editions of Play Recent, please click here.