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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Todd Rittmann and Jeff Tady gallery reception Friday

Posted By on 11.26.08 at 03:42 PM


Looking for something to do this weekend, when your friends are still out of town? All Rise Gallery is hosting "Dope Show," a weekend-only exhibition of works by collage artist Jeff Tady and guitarist (U.S. Maple, Singer) and painter Todd Rittmann, and the opening reception is Friday night. Rittmann has created large-scale site-specific paintings right on the walls (he's a part-time house painter), and they'll be "deleted" after the show. He's accepting commissions based on these works, however, some of which I'm told will be in the style of the King Kong painting posted here.

Reception: Friday, November 28, 7 to 10 PM
Exhibit hours: Saturday, November 29, and Sunday, November 30, 11 to 6 PM
1370 W. Grand, 312-226-9292

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Inuit intuition

Posted By on 11.26.08 at 03:26 PM


Few musical traditions are more peculiar and compelling than the katajjaq throat singing of the Inuit, a 25,000-strong native population concentrated in Canada's Nunavut territory. It's as much a game as a form of music: pairs of women face and embrace one another, unleashing a wild torrent of grunts, exhalations, inhalations, and all manner of guttural, rumbling low-end noises. Each woman rapidly follows her partner, so that their streams of sounds are almost like fun-house reflections of each other--this is made easier, one presumes, because the singers hold their faces so close together that they can use each other's mouths as harmonic resonators. A "song" ends when one of the women is reduced to laughter or simply runs out of breath.

A few years ago a singer calling herself Tagaq (aka Tanya Tagaq Gillis), who'd grown up in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, largely ignorant of the tradition, began to attract notice by radically recontextualizing katajjaq for the pop world. Homesick while attending art school in Halifax in the late 90s, her mother sent a care package that included some katajjaq cassettes that inspired to experiment with the style while in the shower. Over the next few years she refined her practice and eventually began performing, adapting the tradition for solo voice, with a DJ.

Eventually a friend of Bjork's heard Tagaq perform and took a recording back to Iceland; when Bjork embarked on her world tour in 2000, Tagaq was part of her band, along with an all-female choir of Inuit singers from Greenland. The two women connected, and Tagaq ended up contributing to Bjork’s Medulla as well as the soundtrack for the Matthew Barney film Drawing Restraint 9. Bjork returned the favor, appearing on a track from Tagaq's debut album, Sinaa (Jericho Beach, 2005), a knockout collection of extended katajjaq techniques stretched into texture-rich compositions. Some pieces include original lyrics and shards of pop melodies, some are unabashedly experimental sound works, and some are utterly frightening. She is to Inuit tradition more or less what Sainkho Namtchylak is to Tuvan throat singing.

With her recent second album, Auk/Blood (Ipecac), Tagaq moves further into pop territory, though of course "pop" is a relative term. Most of the tracks employ a loose song structure and feature Vancouver improviser and jazz musician Jesse Zubot (founder of the fine Drip Audio label) on violin. Tedious rhyming from Buck 65 unfortunately relegates Tagaq to the background on a couple songs, and on one tune Ipecac owner Mike Patton inserts his melodramatic croon, which sounds even more unseemly than usual in this context. The best stuff features only Tagaq, Zubot, and a handful of other musicians. The basic techniques of katajjaq are still at the root of her performances, but they're augmented in turn by meditative melodies, subtle electronic textures, spoken word, and even human beatboxing. Auk/Blood isn't a perfect record by any means--I think Tagaq is still figuring out what to do with her unique talent--but I'm willing to bet you haven't heard much like it.

Today's playlist:

Torben Waldorff, Afterburn (ArtistShare)
Lyrics Born, Everywhere Once (Anti-/Quannum Projects)
Andrew Hill and Chico Hamilton, Dreams Come True (Joyous Shout!)
Various Artists, Molam: Thai Country Groove From Isan Vol. 2 (Sublime Frequencies)
Lau Nau, Nukkuu (Locust Music)

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No end in sight

Posted By on 11.26.08 at 03:12 PM

Whatever your feelings—whatever your understanding—of the various government bailouts under way or on the table, it should be increasingly evident that that the country’s economic problems are multilayered (that is, complicated as shit); and that rescuing various Fortune 100 firms may accomplish a lot of things, but it simply won’t do enough to help the millions of people and thousands of neighborhoods already devastated by job losses and foreclosures.

New Yorker writer Peter J. Boyer’s revealing and heartbreaking “Eviction,” the story of 90-year-old Addie Polk’s mortgage troubles in Akron, Ohio, illustrates why and how this is true, and puts it in sobering context: “By the end of June, there were 2.4 million homes in foreclosure or prolonged delinquency, accounting for 4.5 per cent of all mortgages in the country—the highest level ever recorded.”

Closer to home, the Chicago Rehab Network’s latest analysis finds that this city alone experienced 12,861 foreclosures from January through September, leaving some blocks on the south and west sides pockmarked with boarded-up buildings—and thousands of families forced to find other places to live in an already tight rental market. If you click on any of the monthly reports, you’ll see that some of the lenders doing the most foreclosing are also the ones asking for the most help from the taxpayers.

Not coincidentally, Chicago has at least 13,000 more unemployed people than it did in January. And that doesn’t include the people who’ve stopped looking for work.

Economists stress that the bank and lending bailouts are necessary to keep the credit markets from closing up. Without money to borrow, businesses can’t make investments that result in hiring people.

Makes sense. But I’ll state the obvious and point out that people need to work now, not just in a few months or years when loans come through. President Bush’s last stimulus plan—sending out checks—didn’t do much to get the economy moving; Barack Obama’s, whatever it ends up being, may not be the answer either, but something else has to happen.

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11/28 -- Reds and beers

Posted By on 11.26.08 at 02:26 PM

Friday at 6 PM, Taste Food & Wine will be sampling out beers from the Flossmoor Station brewery as well as four winter reds: Twisted Oak grenache, Vina Robles Red 4, Tobin James Ballistic zinfandel, and Ecluse cabernet sauvignon.

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War Crimes

Posted By on 11.26.08 at 01:51 PM

This week in Hot Type I'm discussing Deborah Nelson’s The War Behind Me, a new book about atrocities committed by American soldiers in Vietnam and documented in archives that for two decades the army kept secret. 

One of the intriguing characters Nelson came across in the archives was “Concerned Sgt,” a whistle-blower who after My Lai began writing anonymous letters to army brass. “I am a US GI now in Germany, and I worry a lot about Vietnam, and the wrong we are doing there to the Vietnamese people, and to Gis like myself,” said the first of his three letters. “I know I have information about things as bad as My Lay [sic], and I don’t want to tell my congressman for fear I will hurt the Army. ”Concerned Sgt" reminded me of the anonymous cop who in 1989 wrote three letters to the People’s Law Office with inside information about police commander Jon Burge. Unlike the army, the People’s Law Office seriously followed up.

But even though the Reader’s John Conroy brought police torture forcefully to Chicago’s attention with a series of articles that began in 1990 and continued for the next 17 years, the idea that Chicago police tortured suspects, many of them innocent, remained unabsorbed into Chicago’s civic understanding of itself. So it has gone with America and the unprocessed fact of American war crimes.

Yet we've known without knowing. Vietnam was the only war in American history whose heroes were its POWs – those hapless warriors whose positions were overrun, who got lost in the bush, or whose planes crashed. The careful deference that Barack Obama paid John McCain as an American hero hadn’t been enjoyed in earlier presidential campaigns by John Kerry, George McGovern, George H.W. Bush, or Bob Dole, all of them combat veterans. McCain wouldn't have been such a hero if he’d simply fought the war; instead, somewhat like the country itself, he became its hostage.

Three names kept coming to mind as I read The War Behind Me: Jon Burge, James Bond Stockdale, and Bill Ayers. Stockdale won a Medal of Honor for his conduct as a POW. But what had he done? He’d attempted suicide to keep a secret -- his knowledge, because he’d been in the air that night, that the Tonkin Gulf incident that led to the congressional resolution authorizing the war was a sham. Years later I wrote him about that. He replied, "Your insistent question, about why I did not notify the American people about the documentary inaccuracies behind the Tonkin Gulf Resolution (that is to say, the absence of an attack on the Maddox and Joy on the night of August 4th, 1964) seems to ignore the practicalities of what a person in my position could do." (The emphases are his.)  "I was on active duty, out of the country, a voice in the wilderness. There was no problem with my conscience. I had done the right thing. I had reported 'no boats' to my ship, and my ship had accurately forwarded my report to the right office in Washington, at the highest priority. It was received there 12 hours before the 'reprisal' at Vinh occurred.

"There are still people in Washington who put out government documents insisting that I (and dozens of other eye witnesses) are wrong -- and when pressed, hide behind 'highly classified, unavailable sources' -- all of which I know to be B.S. -- that prove that they were right after all. . . . There are some very big names who are fighting for their lifelong reputations over this one. . . . Insiders say there will not be a free flow of truth on this until the last of them are in their graves."

So there’s our war -- authorized under "false pretenses" (Stockdale's phrase) and fought with criminal perversity. Say what you will about the violent, obnoxious, and ineffectual Weathermen, they were a "resistance" with something to resist. Yet it’s Bill Ayers who's told that until he apologizes he isn’t entitled to the useful life he leads now. He moved on more successfully than the country did.

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Timeline sponsors a panel on race

Posted By on 11.26.08 at 10:41 AM

Taking inspiration from their current show, Thomas Gibbons's racially-charged A House With No Walls (see Zac Thompson's Reader review), the folks at TimeLine Theatre have organized a panel called Race in America: A Discussion With No Walls, set for 12/2.

The panel will be moderated by Dr. Harvette Grey, former executive director of the DePaul University Cultural Center, and include Dr. Eric Arnesen, professor of History and African-American Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Melissa Barton, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago, currently teaching a course called “Staging Race: African-Americans and Theater in the 20th Century”; Dr. Valerie Johnson, associate professor of Political Science at DePaul University (and former national education spokesperson for Jesse Jackson and Rainbow/PUSH); and Tribune columnist Dawn Turner Trice. Excerpts from Gibbons's based-on-fact play will be performed.

The panel takes place Tuesday 12/2, 6-8 PM, at the University of Chicago's International House (1414 E. 59th). It's free, but make a reservation by calling 773-281-8463 x 24.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

He might have to consider a name change

Posted By on 11.25.08 at 11:11 PM


Chicago MC Longshot has been making records since just about forever, but he's still barely known outside the city limits. That situation has real potential to flip, though, thanks to Rhymesayers' Jake One contest, in which MCs rapped to instrumentals from the Seattle producer's recent White Van Music and an online vote determined who'd killed their track the most. Fake Shore Drive reports that Longshot won, which means he's going to get a beat from Jake One and a recording session with him, plus a deal with Rhymesayers to release a single. His winning track is called "Hip Hop Is . . . Still Alive," and you can download it at the link.

BTW White Van Music has turned out to be one of my favorite hip-hop albums of the year. Jake One's got crazy pull in both mainstream and underground hip-hop, and the list of rappers on WVM reads like a thugs-vs-backpackers all-star game, with Busta Rhymes, Prodigy, and Young Buck repping the former and Slug, MF Doom, Little Brother, and Brother Ali the latter. A particular high point: a choppy staccato guitar line, a whining G-thang synth, and a typically frenetic performance from M.O.P. make "Gangsta Boy" one of the best wilin' out tracks since, well, M.O.P.'s "Ante Up."

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Dumpster dealing

Posted By on 11.25.08 at 07:49 PM


Just before aldermen began debating the Daley administration’s 2009 city budget last Wednesday, Mayor Daley himself looked completely unworried about its fate as he stood in the lounge behind council chambers, telling stories and joking about state and national politics with a group of reporters.

He had reason to feel relaxed about the vote—aldermen ended up approving the budget 49-1, and even some of his frequent critics went out of their way to praise his leadership during rough economic times.

Of course, before voting aye, they also complained and worried aloud for a couple of hours—and nothing seemed to bug them as much as the much-panned new levies on alley Dumpsters.

One alderman after another stood and said the new fees—which would run between $80 and $780 a year for each Dumpster—would be passed on from waste haulers to their customers, thus amounting to an onerous tax on commercial and large residential buildings during an economic downturn. “I have a major problem with the Dumpster tax,” 41st Ward alderman Brian Doherty said in a typical assessment. “It could really hurt smaller businesses.”

But that wasn’t enough to keep Doherty or any of the others from voting to approve it. Doherty noted that the tax wasn’t scheduled to go into effect until April, and he hoped that before then it would be amended or scrapped by a new subcommittee that Ed Burke had promised to form (in a late-hour maneuver designed to get budget skeptics on board, though Doherty didn’t mention that part).

While others made similar arguments, alderman Helen Shiller, of the 46th Ward, went even further, arguing that the subcommittee shouldn’t limit its scope to the Dumpster tax. “Unless we include in this discussion the importance of reusing our waste, making sure that as much as possible of it is recycled, looking at how necessary it is, how it’s impacted, how people are actually doing it, how we can do it better than we’ve been doing it, unless we look at the markets for it, we cannot see the whole picture.”

None of her colleagues responded directly to her remarks, and in an interview, Shiller said she was frustrated that more political and business leaders don’t see how the city’s garbage is tied to its economic future as a potential capital of a green economy. “We are uniquely situated in the city of Chicago—we have the knowledge base, we have the transportation systems, we have the land, and we have the financing potential,” she said. “Think about what would happen if we just looked at the reuse of glass. One problem we have right now is that restaurants and businesses say no one wants to take anything [to recycle] but paper. But if we can create a business that uses glass, we can create jobs that won’t go away.”

Shiller speaks from more than enthusiasm—more than a year ago she helped launch a pilot program in her ward aimed at increasing recycling in a variety of high-density residential buildings, which are served by private-sector waste haulers. She said most of the buildings that participated—20 formally, dozens of others informally—dramatically improved recycling rates and saved money on garbage collection because their recyclable “waste” ended up being valuable. The keys to collecting it efficiently were getting building managers and waste haulers to work through logistical problems such as where the recyclables should be stored, then making sure building staff and residents were educated about the process. “It’s an issue of creating the demand, being a catalyst, and getting people to do it,” Shiller said.

She and First Ward alderman Manny Flores recently proposed an ordinance requiring developers to create space for recycling collection in any new residential building with more than six units. And in a few weeks, she said, she hopes to share a “tool kit” with other high-density buildings around the city to help them replicate what’s worked in her ward. “People keep saying to me, ‘Why isn’t the city doing this?’ Well, the city’s never going to do it.” The city should require and enable people, she says, but they're going to have to do it themselves.

Markets for recyclable commodities have dropped in recent weeks because demand for the materials from Asian manufacturers has sunk—which is itself a result of Americans buying less stuff. Shiller said that’s why Chicago needs to create more businesses that use the commodities right here. She also notes that landfill space in Illinois is declining, and the cost of trucking garbage to landfills depends with the price of fuel.

All of which leads back to the debate on the Dumpster fee. In a sense, it should encourage recycling, since only garbage bins will be taxed; some aldermen have even been making this argument publicly. But its primary purpose is to create short-term revenue for the city—an estimated $9 million next year.

Over the summer, the city proposed a radical reorganization [PDF] of the city’s private waste collection system and trumpeted the new plan's environmental benefits. Shiller said she’s not opposed to the idea, since it’s her understanding that similar waste franchising systems have worked in smaller cities and suburbs. “I understand the desire to lesson the impact on our alleys, and to find efficiencies,” Shiller said. “But the other reason it got pushed out so quickly was that it was seen as a revenue source.”

But Chicago officials announced their plan before they’d sold political or business leaders on it, and it didn’t go over well—at all. The city withdrew the plan pending further discussion.

“That’s how we ended up with the fee on Dumpsters,” Shiller said. 

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You Shoot: Anti-Prop 8 rally

Posted By on 11.25.08 at 07:16 PM

This capture by only-connect from the anti-prop 8 rally downtown warmed my heart.

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Hope for the technologically impaired

Posted By on 11.25.08 at 06:38 PM

"A delicious irony: this technological incompetent--he didn't drive a car, could barely operate his tape recorder, never used a computer--is gloriously preserved on the Internet."

Jamie Kalven's essay on Studs Terkel is a response to the NYT's dippy appraisal by Edward Rothstein, but it's also a fine study of Terkel's craft.

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