Tuesday, March 27, 2018

REVIEW: Little Songs of the Mutilated!

This is not an album review, but a review of a series of albums.   It's the old Exquisite Corpse surrealist game, but musical rather than visual.  This was a series that I loved so much that, after I wrote the article, I wrote to the honcho running the series and asked him if I could join in on the fun.  And he said yes!  So now, even though I was completely unassociated with the collective at the time of writing, now I've actually played a live gig with them and am featured on the next album to be released (but still unreleased at this stage).  Cool and exciting world!

Review written for Heathen Harvest, and probably edited by the tireless and unflagging Sage Weatherford.

"The diversity of sounds here is amazing, ranging from synth-driven electroscapes to percussion-heavy abstract neo-shamanism, and from full-on noise to cut-up media shenanigans to reverb-drenched plink-plonkiness, and everything in between. Yet, this breadth of palette is restrained—and made even more powerful—by the game-structure, which sees ten or fifteen seconds of one fragment directly influence and inspire the next, meaning that these pieces each flow with a beautiful fluidity. Tonal washes rise up out of beds of clanking, noise sections erupt up like lava from landscapes of tinkling, acoustic sounds emerge from a fog of synthetic ones, and all of it is perfectly natural. The Game framework of these pieces means that every sound that occurs makes sense in the context of the previous ones, as players take the sounds of the artists before them and warp them into something new–and, because of the strict time limits placed on each piece, this all happens in the space of a fucking pop-song.

Read the actual full review here!


FAQ: The Glass Is Empty, But You Can Reach The Tap

These questions are about the short story “The Glass Is Empty, But You Can Reach The Tap”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen.  For the actual short story itself, please go here.


I believe this was another of the ten stories you wrote in ten days for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge in 2017, is that right?

And you didn’t win this one either?

It’s another one of your teenaged emo musings on suicide and meaninglessness, right?
Yeah, I guess so.  I do tend to orbit this kind of stuff, because of my own struggles with meaninglessness and nihilism, I suppose, as well as my own intermittent battles with depression.  I don’t get overwhelmingly depressed very often, but when I do, it does feel, well, overwhelming.

What was the prompt word this time?
The word was “point”.  So of course my mind went directly to “what’s the point?”, as it tends to do.  Everything that the caller in the story says to the Lifeline lady is shit that I wholeheartedly believe. There is no meaning to existence, and it is all incredibly temporary, and none of it means jack diddly foobah squat.   But everything that the Lifeline lady says in response I also wholeheartedly believe, which is that because it’s all intrinsically meaningless and temporary, and it’s just complete blind stupid luck that we exist at all, it’s our struggle for meaning that in the end gives our lives the meaning we’re struggling for.  So the whole story is like this conversation I have in my mind regularly, and each party is me, and it turns out my nihilism is actually narcissism and my teenaged emo musings are just my inner child reaching out to my inner adult for an inner hug and maybe a biscuit.

I actually thought that the biscuit-eating Lifeline lady was going to talk about how shit don’t mean shit, and he might as well kill himself, and I thought that he’d actually kill himself on the phone, and then she’d realise in shock and horror that saying “go kill yourself then” is a whole different kettle of fucking fish to hearing someone actually kill himself in real-time over the phone, and the shock would kinda smash her flippancy and casual ease and make her realise that life and death are actually mega-serious topics, and that her flippancy and casual ease were just masks, protecting her from the gaping void that is the ineffable truth of oblivion.
Interesting that you say that, that was very close to the original idea I had for the story.

Woah, really?  Maybe we have some psychic connection!

So what stopped you writing that dark and horrible original version, and made you turn it into the hope-filled light-hearted G-rated life-affirming glib motivational poster version that it turned into?
Well, I feared that by writing a man killing himself over the phone, I was actually turning tragedy into entertainment, almost in exactly the way you describe, taking these heavy nihilistic horrors and turning them into a 500 word competitive short story (which, win or lose, was still being entered into a competition).  Sex and death are the easiest and in a way most flippant topics to write, they are automatically lowest common denominator stuff, because we’re all interested in them.  So, as I was writing it, it felt like maybe having the Lifeline lady be all biscuit-eating and flippant and having that lead to the man’s actual death and having that shock the Lifeline lady into some kind of nihilistic terror, maybe that was just not very nice and too easy and maybe irresponsible and exactly the kind of flippant biscuit-eating attitude that I was trying to critique in the story.  It became this circular vortex of vortexual disappointment for me.

And so everyone lived, and ate Butternut Snaps?
Exactly.  Because, for me, whenever I’m in the life-cancelling self-obliterating nihilistic eye of the storm that is Depression, the only thing that helps me is knowing that life is temporary and meaningless.   I’m sure I’ve said this before, but knowing that everything is temporary and meaningless – including this desperately anti-happy black veil of existential despair – knowing that everything is temporary and meaningless actually brings me hope.  Because my internal tragedy actually just doesn’t matter, to the universe.  My heavy emotional weights don’t mean anything, in the bigger picture.  I could exist, or not exist, and the net difference to the universe is so minimal as to hardly even happen at all.  It doesn’t matter if I live or die, so I might as well live.

You don’t think that maybe the fact that you implied that depression can be cured by eating biscuits could be seen as maybe a little flippant itself?
Yes.  I do think that.  In fact, I’m constantly gripped by the fear that everything I’ve ever written can be interpreted in some terrible way that I never intended, and that I’ll be socially-pilloried for some unintended consequence of something I’ve inadvertently said in my writings.  The constant paranoia of being a straight white male writer in the current aeon is real.

See, that last line is the bit that will get you socially-pilloried, dude.
Ah shit.

One more thing: the title?
I tried out a bunch of stuff before I settled on that one.  In the end, I thought of that thing of “an optimist says the glass is half full, a pessimist says the glass is half empty”, and I thought that, when you’re horribly crushed by the feelvoid of brutal depression, it’s like the glass is completely empty.   But then I thought, well, that’s not a problem if you can reach the tap and fill it up again.  So I thought of it like that: life is the glass, and inevitably it ends up empty, but if we can find some way to generate meaning, we can temporarily fill it up again.  It’s a struggle sometimes, but one I heartily recommend.  Not that I have anything against suicide, of course-

Let’s just end it there.  Thanks!

Sunday, March 25, 2018

REVIEW: The Cray Twins - The Pier

If you dig distorted field recordings (and who doesn't?), this may be the project for you. Review written for the staunchly diverse Heathen Harvest, and lovingly edited by the sleep-deprived Sage Weatherford.

"Honestly, it’s hard to go wrong with a combination of dark-ambient drones and field-recording textures ... and the Cray Twins do everything right on this release. There’s a great sense of restraint here, with everything given the room it requires for maximum evocation, and there’s never too much going on at once. It’s full when it needs to be full, but it’s empty when that’s what it needs; when focus is required to notice the textures in their fullest detail; when the ear zooms in like some kind of aural microscope to properly sense the small changes in tone or grain that the Cray Twins want us to appreciate. Like they say in the press release, ‘we make instruments out of the landscape’. But it’s not like this is all tiny sounds and minimal ‘sound art’ stuff:  The Cray Twins also know when to crush us beneath the weight of distortion."

Read the full review here!

FAQ: What We All Wish Had Happened

These questions are about the short story “What We All Wished Had Happened”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen.  For the actual short story itself, please go here.


So this was yet another of the ten stories you wrote in ten days for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge in 2017, wasn’t it?
Yes, and before you ask, no, I didn’t win.  The prompt word for this one was “Home”, and it got me thinking about what “home” can mean, and about people who’ve been born here being told to “go home” by other people who were born here, and about how horrible it is to feel unwelcome in your own country.

It’s a piece of magical realism, isn’t it.
I’m actually not sure what it is.  Is that the genre, “magical realism”?  I’m honestly not down with the microgenrefication of art, I’m very much a “what does it make me feel/think?” kinda person, more than a “where does this fit in terms of recognised labels?” kinda person.  But I could call it “magical realism” if you like.

“Magical realism” is basically a realistic bit of art that also is a bit magical.
Well then, maybe this isn’t that then.  Because, the point of this story to me (and yes, I know that the author’s point of view isn’t necessarily the definitive point of view, but it’s surely at least a relevant point of view) is that what is described in the story didn’t actually happen.

What do you mean?
Well, in the story a group of three racist thugs (and I don't mean to suggest they're bad people - they're kids themselves, after all, and have been indoctrinated to think this way) harass this little kid with Indonesian heritage, tease her about her most obvious points of difference, her slanty eyes and her headscarf.  In the story she then proceeds to grow dragon wings and blast them with her laser-eyes, and they run away, scared and crying, perhaps to re-think their racist ways and to at very least approach people with more caution.   But the story is explicitly called “What We All Wish Had Happened”, not “What Actually Happened” or “What Magically (and Realistically) Happened”. This story is what we wish had happened instead of what actually happened.

What actually happened?
Well, I don’t know. But I’m almost certain it didn’t involve laser-eyes and dragon wings.

That’s pretty depressing.
Yeah, I know. It’s a depressing story, really.  Because the whole situation is a depressing one.  It’s awful.  I mean, what happens in these situations?  In the very best case scenario, Syifa managed to run away and get home safe, and spent the rest of the evening shaking and crying and dealing with PTS.  And that’s the best case scenario.  There’s many worse case scenarios that come to mind, and they’re all pretty fucking distressing. 

I know, right?  And you know, I actually intended for the racist kids to be eaten alive, or torn limb from limb, or sawed in half with her powerful heat-vision, or splattered all over the place.  I wanted to harm them so very much. But in the end I opted for the G-rated 1980s-vibe of having them just be naked and scared (I even used the word “bums”, which I don’t think I’ve ever used before, for maximum primary-school G-rated connotation), rather than gorily eviscerated, just because, I don’t know, I thought that Syifa probably wouldn’t feel good about murdering them all, in the long run.  I mean, she’s just a kid, and is probably not actually interested in obliteration.  She just wants to be left alone.

The little coda was nice: her dad asking her if “anything interesting” had happened, and her saying “nope”.
Thanks.  Yeah, that was a twofold thing, of her kinda keeping her superpowers secret from her old man (another 1980s G-rated movie kinda trope?), but also pointing out that being hassled by fuck-knuckle racists isn’t even interesting – it’s just the norm for a lot of people.  It’s the shitty background noise of life, especially if you look at all Muslim or foreign.  Racist “Aussies” being racist is as uninteresting as it gets (and I put “Aussies” in quotes because, as mentioned in the story, Syifa was born here, just as much as I was, and so is as “Aussie” as I am, if such nationalistic happenstance actually means anything in the first place).

Sigh.  You’re totally right: without even knowing what did actually happen, whatever it was, I wish that this had happened instead.
Me too, anonymous asker of questions, me too.

Monday, March 12, 2018

REVIEW: Hattifnatter - Barometrizm

 Image result for hattifnatter barometrizm

Review written, as all of them have been so far, for the increasingly eclectic Heathen Harvest, and meticulously edited by the tireless (and perhaps superhuman) Sage Weatherford.

"Crackling, dripping, pulsing, rippling, burbling, creaking, whooshing: this album has it all, layered with distant chiming, granulated voice noises, bowed things, and tidal ebbs and flows of tones, both warm and cold. It’s not quite ‘dark ambient’ or its hippy cousin ‘meditation music’, but it definitely sits (strangely, ghostly, mysteriously) in that same spectral ballpark."

Read the full review here!

FAQ: Blood

These questions are about the short story “Blood”, and definitely contains spoilers which, once seen, cannot be unseen.  For the actual short story itself, please go here.


So this was another of the ten stories you wrote in ten days for the Swinburne Microfiction Challenge in 2017, wasn’t it?
Yep.  The prompt word for this one was “Blood”, and I thought an interesting approach to it might be the idea of “blood” being a word for familial bonds, rather than a flowing substance rich in haemoglobin.

Did you win this one?
You seem very interested in the competitive aspects of the challenge, rather than the artistic ones.

Sounds like a ‘no’ to me.
Fine, no, I didn’t win.  But I still think it’s a pretty nice little story.

So this one looks like it interrogates notions of the importance of “blood” in familial relations, right?  In that Cass has found out she’s adopted – “not blood” – to someone she had always identified as not only a close family but in fact her twin, a familial relationship normally seen as perhaps the very closest familial relationship possible.  So in this way, the story interrogates concepts of family and blood, and, Baz, in tearing up the proof of their non-blood relationship, and in his simple response – “Nah” – denies the facts of blood, instead favouring the less-physical-but-still-undeniable facts of their shared childhood, shared experiences, emotional closeness, and their respective positions in their respective lives.  To Baz, the blood actually doesn’t matter, despite having spent the first three quarters of the story insisting that it does. 
Um, right, yes, that’s what this story is about.  Couldn’t’ve said it better myself.

So, what I want to know is – do you have a problem with adopted people searching for their biological parents?

Do you have a problem with adopted people searching for their biological parents.  Because many adopted people feel a real need to discover who their biological parents were, and I wonder if you’re sitting there in your comfy writer’s chair telling them not to worry about it, because “real family is who you grow up with” or some such easy schmaltz.  It could be interpreted that you’re saying “biology is inherently unimportant”, thereby marginalising and erasing and kinda making fun of people for whom biology is deeply important.  You’re basically saying “the Stolen Generations was totally okay”.
Wow, um, I really don’t think I said that.  It wasn’t meant to be a slur against people who want to discover their biological links. Definitely wasn’t attempting to make any kind of comment on the Stolen Generations.  Wow.  And my chair isn’t any kind of special “writer’s chair”, whatever that might be, nor is it particularly comfy.  In fact I’m pretty sure we found it on the side of the road as hard rubbish-

Enough trying to change to topic – what’s your stance on adoption?
I don’t have one!  It’s fine!  It’s good to adopt people.  And it’s fine if you want to find out your biological ancestors too.  It’s all fine.  I have no official stance.  And, for the record, I think taking peoples’ children from them in some kind of genocidal kidnapping, whether good-intentioned or not, is generally pretty despicable.  I’m honestly surprised you think I’m being controversial here-

What about lesbians?

Your character Baz said something about “not minding if she was a lesbian”.  What do you have against lesbians?
Nothing!  Some of my closest family are lesbians! And the character said he didn’t mind if she was lesbian, was the point-

But why would he mind in the first place?
He wouldn’t!  He didn’t!  And even if he did – which he didn’t – this is a character in a story, not an essay about “what Mat Blackwell actually thinks about adoption and/or lesbianism”-

“Death of the Author”, bro.  “Intentional fallacy”.   What you think your story is about can’t be divorced from what belief systems went into creating the story.  What you actually write is interpreted and deconstructed and parsed by the reader, and that interpretation is just as valid as any desperate excuses you make to weasel out of your offensive viewpoints.
I’d love to get into a discussion about this stuff, really I would, but I think you’ve got the wrong idea about me.  I wasn’t saying anything negative about adoption, and I wasn’t saying anything negative about lesbianism, and I never said anything about my hard-rubbish chair.  I was just trying to write a short piece about “blood” and how family might mean more than blood and how one person reacts when one other person suggests that she’s not actually “blood” after all, and how the person silently renegs on his position that blood is really important, and embraces her as his “real sister” even when presented with biological evidence to the contrary.  I can see now how maybe that idea, that “blood doesn’t mean anything after all”, might impact on people searching for their own biological parents, yes, and I can see that I was maybe insensitive in that area, but, honestly, I wasn’t trying to be comprehensive or all-encompassing or whatever, I was just trying to write a short story in 24 hours and I’m sorry to everyone I might have offended.

…Thank you.  It’s not enough, but it’s a good start.