At 9pm on Saturday 27th March 2010 at the Volksbuehne Roter Salon, Berlin, Momus presents the premiere of a theatre piece, "Exploding Beowulf".
Momus, joined on stage by David Woodard, takes his song "Beowulf (I Am Deformed)" from the 2003 album "Oskar Tennis Champion" (Analog Baroque) and deconstructs it in twenty scenes. The song describes how Denmark is rid of the monster Grendel by a deformed and disabled hero. In the theatre piece, this relatively linear plot is transformed into a PowerPoint consultancy pitch, dry choreography, a chat show appearance, an archeological dig, a medical slideshow of wounds sustained, and so on. It's hoped that this semi-improvised thematic explosion theatre technique will be applied in future to other cultural objects. If you're a curator, festival director, or just someone who'd like something semantically exploded, contact the Exploding Theatre Company.
Published by Sternberg Press in late 2009, The Book of Scotlands is a series of delirious speculations about the future of Momus' motherland. Commissioned by German editor Ingo Niermann and modelled on his book Umbauland, The Book of Scotlands was well-received in Scotland.
"I don't think I am over-stating it," wrote Gerry Hassan, "to say that The Book of Scotlands will be read and reread, studied and assessed centuries from now for what it says about early 21st century Scotland". And Pat Kane in the Scottish Review of Books said: "The Book of Scotlands is a considerate, deeply generous take on the life of this country and its possible futures."
The Book of Jokes is Momus' first novel. Commissioned originally by french publisher La Volte, it was published first in English in September 2009, followed in October by the french edition Le Livre des Blagues, and will appear in German in the autumn of 2010 through Blumenbar.
"Most of the book's story lines orbit around taboos, including scatology, pedophilia, bestiality and talking, chess-playing penises," said the Los Angeles Times. "One of the book's central conflicts poses the question of whether two men can be each others' uncles, which can be answered only with some of the most lurid, labyrinthine incest in literature."
"The Book of Jokes is not a collection of punchlines or tension-building schemes," wrote Adam Novy in Dossier Journal, "it's a flexible and sensitive solution to the problem of how to invigorate conventions like the novel using overlooked materials. Momus is a slyly articulate stylist with a lovely flair for syntax and the lexical."
The most recent album from Momus is Joemus, released in November 2008.
Culturedeluxe called it "the best album from Momus in years, a brilliant, hallucinatory Nintendo arcade gloop of analogue pop and retro lounge as performed by two Space Invaders posing as human beings". "A great precis of where Momus's current musical fascinations lie", wrote Prefix magazine.
A collaboration with Berlin-based Scot Joe Howe, Joemus is available in the UK and Europe from Cherry Red and in the US from Darla. Other Momus releases are listed on this page. Six albums Momus released on the Creation label are available as free downloads from ubu.com.
Pretty much from its inception, Momus has used the web to communicate. From 1995 to 2003 the Momus website entertained visitors with frequently-updated content: monthly essays, daily photos, accounts of Momus albums, some portraits of Momus, collections of podcasts, a CV, audio clips and tour diaries. Then, from January 2004 until February 2010, a LiveJournal blog called Click Opera took over, adding Web 2.0 functionality and a lively comments section.
In February 2010, for a series of reasons outlined here and here and in this radio interview, Momus completed the Click Opera project and came back to iMomus.com, bringing a touch of blog influence back to the old Web 1.0 site in the form of a new yellow notebook column called Zuihitsu.
Meanwhile, news and status tweets -- for those who like that sort of thing -- from Momusworld can be found at wolon, the Twitter feed of Momus' faithful personal digital assistant, Maria Wolonski.
Perfect Berlin Weekend
19:00 Unexpectedly I find two small white sucking stones in my trouser pocket and work out a system for rotating them so that I never suck the same stone twice in succession.
20:00 Standing in the deep snow outside Yam Yam, the Korean canteen on Alte Schonhauserstrasse, I see joyful scenes and radiant faces inside, and wish once more that the old injury had not... and Nellie were still... but no mind, no mind.
21:00 Dressed in the filthy elegance of my Bless clown rags and a fearful black lion's mane, I pace up and down Mulackstrasse quoting D'Annunzio.
22:00 Rummage through the rubbish bins outside ProQM on Almstadtstrasse in the hope of finding some folios of Dante's Inferno. Nothing but an old art magazine.
13:00 I spend an hour, and then another, feeding my friends the crows with mushroom-flavoured chocolate taken from a sample dish at In't Veld Schokoladen on Auguststrasse.
16:00 The Japanese woman who runs Motto, the book gallery at 68 Skalitzerstrasse in Kreuzberg, comes out into the courtyard and wraps my fingerless mitts around a small bottle of kerosene and a book of short stories by Jeff Rian.
19:00 I annoy the staff at the Walther Koenig art bookshop by telling them a long story about the time the painter Bram Van Velde and I frightened Man Ray by appearing on his balcony dressed up as Peggy Guggenheim's left and right breasts.
04:45 Ice crashes off the roof of the HAU1 theatre. The night watchman, taking pity on me when he sees my injuries, invites me in to drink tea and play tiddlywinks with him in a small, eerie, airless cubicle. Somewhere far off I hear the pitiful sound of whipping.
14:00 I visit the statue of Dionysus in the rotunda of the Altes Museum and have managed to read him seventeen pages of Schopenhauer before the guards ask me softly to leave.
17:00 In the Botanical Museum at Dahlem I mount to the podium in the peculiar beehive room and deliver a lecture entitled "The Marvellous Kingdom of Ant and Woodpecker" to no-one in particular.
19:00 The Sri Lankan monks at the Buddhist House in Frohnau serve me wholegrain pilaf rice in their basement kitchen, lit with fluorescent tubes. After the meal I toy for two or three hours with a clockwork prayer wheel in the library.
00:00 I am trapped in an infinitely regressing spiral on the U8 pendelvehrkehr: two stops forward, three stops back. Curse my old injury, and Nellie, and Berlin, and the Maker.
This text runs in the current edition of Exberliner magazine Monday March 8th 2010
Henry Miller's bathroom
Sunday March 7thIf we could only all be Ciceros...
Cicero (demo mp3, 3.1MB)
Saturday March 6th 2010Black on yellow
Friday March 5th 2010
Scary monsters lost control
Here's David Bowie's song Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), recorded in the spring of 1980 at The Power Station in New York:
Now here's producer Tony Visconti talking about recording the song and playing a rare early version in which Bowie sings some alternative lines about too many people with too many teeth. "We told Manhattan-based funk musicians to play like a British punk group," says Visconti.
The "British punk group" in question was almost certainly Joy Division, a Bowie favourite at the time. Scary Monsters has many points in common with She's Lost Control, released the year before:
Whereas Ian Curtis is singing about his female character's epilepsy, Bowie sings about a woman consumed by anxiety and claustrophobia, running amok, pursued by demons, monsters, creeps. Dennis Davis, Bowie's drummer, is playing suspiciously Stephen Morris-like snare fills, as though someone has just played him the first Joy Division album right there at The Power Station. It's the electronic syndrum-cowbell that punctuates both songs that really gives the game away, though.
Although Visconti is quick to claim credit for running a cowbell through a guitar distortion pedal -- "we just can't leave things as they are, not David and myself" -- some of the kudos should go to Martin Hannett, who produced She's Lost Control and paid meticulous attention to the drum sounds. The Scary Monsters cowbell does such a similar tonal four-bar curve to Joy Division's electronic snare that it's hard not to think it must've been deliberate. But it was a completely legitimate payback; Joy Division had themselves drawn liberal inspiration from Bowie's work with Iggy Pop.
I've been thinking about this song because I've been musing on monsters while preparing my Exploding Beowulf piece. Today I'd like to share with you a rough demo of the final number David Woodard and I will sing (and tap-dance!) in the production, Scary Monsters (Underneath the Arches). Here we reveal -- in a stunning piece of unreliable musical archeology -- the true precursor of Scary Monsters: Gilbert and George's famous day-long performance of Underneath the Arches.
There's more "anxiety of influence" stuff at the end of that clip, where Sarah Kent accuses David Bowie of pinching his early 70s face-painting and artist-as-own-greatest-work schtick from Gilbert and George, who painted their faces gold for their Living Sculpture piece in 1969. What she neglects to say is that Joseph Beuys -- the ultimate artist-as-sculpture -- had explained painting to a dead hare, his head coated in honey, in a 1965 performance.
How long has this stuff been going on? Oh, probably since the time of Beowulf. Thursday March 4th 2010Il Mare e la Torta...
...by Edgar Honetschlaeger.
"Giovanni Sollima, a Palermo native, is one of the most renowned cellists and composers in Italy. His collaborations include Riccardo Muti, Gidon Kremer, Yo-Yo Ma and Bob Wilson. In IL MARE E LA TORTA, Sollima plays one of his compositions at the foot of the erupting Mount Etna. To honour the majestic volcano, he brought his most valuable instrument, offering the giant an "equal" spectacle, as the man himself is a volcano." Edgar Honetschlaeger Wednesday March 3rd 2010Exploding Ouvrard
"I was watching a TV programme the other day on a french satellite channel and they showed a clip of an old Variete artist I'd never heard of," I wrote excitedly here on the imomus website back in 1999, in an article entitled On Vaudeville.
"He was a decrepit old man called Ouvrard dressed in a bizarre military uniform. He looked like Sid James from the Carry On films. He stood at the mike and sang a song which was all on one chord (like so much vaudeville, it was remarkable, almost avant garde, musically: it's as if putting music in second place frees it of its self-consciousness and encourages it to break rules, do whatever the hell it feels like). It was about his health. He was detailing, with incredible verbal acrobatics, everything that was wrong with him. Although I couldn't keep up with the french, I knew that the wordplay was incredible. 'I've got stones in my bladder, my liver is squishy, my brain's had a heart attack, my stomach's in my boots...' it went something like that, all delivered in a toothless old man rasp. Then came the chorus, 'But apart from that, I'm feeling on top of the world!'"
As often happens, I misunderstood the song, and turned my misunderstanding into something original. The contrast between the "not doing so well" section and the chorus was imaginary: in fact, Ouvrard just sings "Oh my God, it's such a pain when you're always woozy, Oh my God, it's such a pain that I'm not doing too well!" on the chorus. Here, have a look at this new translation I've made:
That's a glitchy outtake from the video material for the Exploding Beowulf theatre piece I'll perform with David Woodard on March 27th. The reason it's in the show is that this Ouvrard song -- or rather my mistaken memory of it -- was in my mind when, in 2002, I wrote "Beowulf (I Am Deformed)". I exaggerated the imagined contrast between the verses and choruses, and turned this wounded old soldier into the pagan hero Beowulf, in my version of the tale a severely disabled cripple-saviour, Denmark's "leper messiah".
"It was perfect vaudeville. I was instantly jealous and wished I'd written the song," I wrote in 1999. "I made a mental note to steal the idea as soon as possible. I wanted to be that old man, to be onstage telling that brilliant, heartbreaking joke. A joke Sam Beckett would have appreciated." By 2002, when I actually did write the song, I'd added a PC angle: the challenge is that Beowulf would spell out all these ailments and -- because they're equal opportunities employers -- the Danes would be forced to accept his right to be a hero nonetheless.
The disabled Beowulf song joined other meditations on PC like "Is It Because I'm A Pirate?" and "Scottish Lips", but also reflected my own sense of advancing age and disability; I'd realised by this point that my eye wasn't going to get better. Could I still be a hero? Where were the people PC enough to overlook my disabilities?
Gaston Ouvrard himself lived to be 91. He took over the "comedy trooper" role from his dad -- a comedian-singer who had a song about a soldier invalided out of the army because his head was made of wood -- and began releasing records on the Odeon label in 1909. "Je Ne Suis Pas Bien Portant", his big hit, came out in 1934. The live performance you see in that video -- with Ouvrard flanked by Claude Francois and Roger Whittaker -- was on TV in 1968. Here's the non-glitched, non-translated version:
I suppose what strikes me about Ouvrard is his pungent demonstration of just how creative this variety tradition can be. There's a line of cant that says that creative modern songwriting began in the 1960s with earnest ditties about going to San Francisco, but for my money Ouvrard's list of ailments has a lot more artistic merit, with its clear plot line and amazing verbal dexterity:
My tibia's rubbish
Missing poke mechanism
It's a peculiarly contemporary anxiety: "Is my Flickr page up to date?"
With the urgency of a professional doing his job (because remember, "Web 2.0 is Job 2.0"), you struggle to bring Flickrtime and real time closer into sync. It's not just Flickr, of course; Facebook too prompts you to nudge or help a friend who isn't updating enough to fill out a profile, add a status update, link to new people. The webpage that isn't expanding is shrinking! Standing still is slipping backwards! Time marches on!
It's a matter of legitimacy, of credibility. Yours, and your employers', and that of the whole collective enterprise. Don't let us down, don't let yourself down! By updating -- in other words, bringing a webpage "up to date" and the people who consult it "up to speed" -- you synchronize webspace and meatspace, web time and real time, your life and your iLife. You make them resemble each other enough that the illusion that the web represents reality can be maintained. This illusion is crucial. The web must represent reality. Why, if it didn't represent reality, what would it represent? A whizzing dot? The windscreen of a simulated car? The shadows on the wall of Plato's Cave? Utopia? Dreams? Plans?
Look, here's a man on March 1st whose Flickr page has only reached January 18th! Must move faster! Must try harder, that man there! Do you call this "bringing us up to speed"? Do you call this "representing reality"? And why have you returned to Web 1.0, when you were employed in a perfectly satisfactory way, until recently, in a Web 2.0 framework? Someone must nudge you. Someone must poke you. But you don't even have a nudge or poke mechanism here! Or any place where I can leave this comment and get a response at your earliest convenience! You've let down the whole of Web 2.0! If you hadn't voluntarily left for Web 1.0, Web 2.0 would surely have fired you by now. Or at the very least given you a mighty, possibly fatal, poke. Monday March 1st 2010Earlier Zuihitsu scrawlings (zuihitsu means something like "random fragmentary brush-jottings" in Japanese) are here.