At some point a relative of mine worked on novelty recordings, including several haunted house records, and then made albums that supposedly capture the sound of these hybrid Ouija/keyboard instruments he built that played music and conjured EVP. We’re not sure how many of these he built or where they are, but the tracks that have been found (and sort-of re-issued) feature three: The Magic Tray, The I-D-O PSY-CHO-I-D-E-O-GRAPH, and The Electric Mystifying Oracle. No one’s sure if it was part of his Halloween or seance party recordings or something he took more seriously. Below are some photos and liner notes. Here’s where you can listen.

Notes:

The recording you now possess was created by an entity born in Eastern Kentucky as Allie Bob O’Robbie McClurg, called Allie by his family, and later known as Mus Mus. His birth brought together two clashing households–the O’Robbie and McClurg clans–and they decided that he should have both surnames. With a love of Tin Pan Alley tunes and cowboy ballads, he left home to pursue a career in entertainment. Never very successful (his early career involved providing sound effects on novelty records), he did manage a lifelong friendship with Toronto-born composer/arranger Percy Faith. They also shared the same birthday: April 7, 1908. 

Jake Wimly remembers the hard days: “We was all trying to get to the big time, you know. I had been to some wrestling matches at the Piper Domes when a pal of mine named Deuce Rogers asked me if I wanted to be in a movie they was filming about a cowboy band because the director didn’t like the look of the cross-eyed tenor. I had sidlined before so it was no big deal. That’s where I met Allie, that’s what we called him until all the ‘Mus Mus’ crap. He played a bar patron and did some lighting work from what I remember. He was always a little strange, but good people.” 

Murphey DePaul, a producer on the Ouija sessions has some Mus Mus memories as well: “He would only work by candlelight. One person was allowed at a time in the studio with him. He called them a ‘psychic battery’ for the session. No one would go in with him, so I volunteered. He shook my hand, strapped me down in a chair, and stepped behind the curtains erected around the instruments he designed. People always ask me about the boards and other instruments he built, and as much as I’d love to exaggerate their qualities, none of us were allowed to see them uncovered. One of the boxes was marked ‘The von Krieg Estate’ and that’s about all I can say. I just know something…something happened that night I can’t explain. That or he pulled one helluva Oz stunt there in the studio.” DePaul swears that any and all voices on these tracks were never heard during recording, but only during playback. 

While finishing the last week of the 2018 academic year, the family got some form of stomach virus that started last week. Since that cleared up, we’ve been able to do some much needed cleaning and organizing. We’re also planning our next academic year.

The youngest got her cast cut off and she is healing. The worst part of the ordeal (besides the smell–she dutifully peed into her cast the first night she had it) was the sore she gave herself by packing mulch into her cast. She hasn’t explained why she put the mulch in the cast, and sometimes there is no real answer. Maybe because it was there.

Tonight we were discussing different astrological systems at dinner and finding out which of us are dogs, snakes, sharks, dragons, etc. When told we were water bearers, the kids began chanting:

Water Bear! Water Bear!
Polar Bear! Polar Bear!
Woo-oop! Woo-oop!
Poolar Bear! Poolar Bear!

*repeat*

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 3.45.09 PMThe Phantom (1931) is a giant, wonderful mess of an attempt at a horror-comedy/action film. I tend to adore this kind of z-grade schlock and I want to like this one less than I do. I can’t say anything is done well here, but I still had fun. The plot revolves around a character called “The Phantom” who escapes from jail and promises more dastardly deeds. Sure. The plot is more confusing than the poster, which I think has a lovely balance to it–unlike the film.

The movie could partially be saved with a good edit. Scenes start early or end too late rendering the performances–not stellar to begin with–almost surreal. Every emotion becomes awkward humor or just awkward.

Still, I found it oddly charming.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 4.25.00 PMLilli Carré is one of my favorite comics writers and artists. Her stories, sometimes dark, sometimes absurd, sometimes neither, may remind one of O. Henry, Aimee Bender, Flannery O’Connor, Mark Beyer, or Edward Gorey.  And whether or not these folks were actual influences, Carré is a unique and inspiring voice. I’m often terrible about keeping up with comics and the comics creators I like–I just discovered that she’s done some animated films that I’m excited to track down.

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Paolo Bacilieri’s FUN: Spies, Puzzle Solvers, and a Century of Crosswords is a graphic novel that tells the history of the crossword. But it’s not that simple or straightforward. The crossword history is told as a work in progress by a writer named Pippo Quester, who I think is an homage to Umberto Ecco.

The art is fantastic, and the way the art and story inform and extend each other gives the story immediate and multiple pleasures. The book holds up on multiple reads. I was shocked at how many negative reviews this one got on Goodreads. Many of the complaints were that it should be at least two different books. I totally disagree. Quester is the vertical plane of the crossword. He is known for his intelligence. This book is also partially about his fall. Zeno Porno (a Disney cartoonist!) is the horizontal. He’s down-to-earth, moving through life, trying to figure out his life. I keep thinking of Mafalda as the face staring out of the first crossword in The Settimana Enigmistica. She is an enigma in the book. There’s also a way where I read the three characters as representations of three different generations.

I loved this book.

Screen Shot 2018-05-27 at 5.00.43 PMMy workouts tend to be scored by either Public Enemy and older Ice Cube records or Slayer, Entombed, or other metal variations. I was scrolling through music the other day before cardio and I saw this and figured I’d give it a shot. The only thing I knew (or thought I knew) about the record was that it must not be that good because we always had 10 to 20 copies in the used bin of the record store I worked at for several years. The album art, well, just kinda sucks and I figured the rest of the thing must suck, too.

We all have our blindspots.

I didn’t recognize the opener, “Highway Star,” at first because I don’t think I’ve ever heard the actual song. I’ve heard covers, clips, and a radio edit. It’s a fantastic rock song. I found it funny that it’s a hyperbolic “girls and cars” song like a lot of the early material by the Beach Boys. I found a German TV appearance that has some great solos and a hilariously drunk or forgetful Ian Gillan. Maybe he’s improvising, but if so, it’s not very inspired.

This record also has “Smoke on the Water,” a tune off limits when I was growing up and playing music. It immediately signaled you were uncool and a beginner. I’ve never heard this song played or phrased correctly. I realized this when I finally listened to the actual song and not someone trying to play the riff. Also, the song namechecks, of all things, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. What?! I had to stop and rewind the song and  then realized it was about the Montreux fire. It was the last thing I expected in such a ubiquitous song.

Much of the record is a kind of blues rock that’s fine for what it is. I love the organ riffs and solos. There are some fun lyrics like “Maybe I’m a Leo, but I ain’t a lion.” I really like “Pictures of Home,” which is a type of ubi sunt, or “Where are they?” poem.

Back to that cover: I will say that I thought the album was contemporary in the ’90s, so maybe that’s saying something. I assumed it was a compilation or best-of thing. But still, that cover’s so bad. Did it look trippy in ’72 or something? I don’t get it. I just imagine the doors closing on the worst elevator ride ever.

 

Geese and ducks have returned with their young. We’ve been walking around the pond looking at greeny goslings, all fuzzy like they got stuck under a hair dryer. We’ve also seen ducklings swim behind their parents in those cute little lines that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in person–only on cartoons or in storybooks.

My own little one holds hands and walks around cast-n-boot. She gets tired faster than usual, but that’s to be expected. She told me, “Someone needs to tell them geeses not to poop where humans can see it.” After we passed the family of geese, we passed two more standing at the edge of the water. She said, “That must be grandma and grandpa.”

The older one runs ahead of us on the trail and back again, only to run way out ahead of us again.

Despite broken bones, boxes, and the bustling beginning of the end of another school year, these are good days.

I was really feeling that and then I read about new research on the spread of ticks and their pathogens.

Anyway, I wrote about Stump’s Quirk Out for my latest Lost Chords & Serenades Divine.

 

I’ve been meaning to re-read Black Hole for a while, but I came across his trilogy at the library recently and decided to read that instead. I devoured all three in a matter of hours. There are Tintin and Burroughs references, and an InterZone-like setting that sometimes feels like Moebius interpreting Cronenberg. I just swallowed the thing whole and really haven’t digested it. Burns is doing some cool stuff at the level of image (these grids that represent each part of the story among, obviously, a ton of others) and color.

There is a way that by the time I got to the end I felt like I was reading Burns’s blasted sci-fi version of something like the autobio comics that cover grief and loss. I guess that’s similar to how he explored the coming-of-age story in Black Hole.

I don’t really watch TV shows, much less binge-watch, but I inhaled these comics.

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My ears totally rejected this the first time I heard it in high school. Too bright. Too clean. Too happy. Hearing it now, it reminds me of a lot of TV and film music I heard growing up. In college, I saw a concert video of Clarke on upright and he showed an amazing command of an instrument I was struggling with at the time. I listened to School Days again. Still didn’t like it.

There’s fantastic talent on this record. Plenty of fusion royalty. McLaughlin. Cobham. Gadd. George Duke! I don’t dislike it the way I did in high school, but it’s not something that excites me too much either. Gadd’s drum track on “Quiet Afternoon” is nice. I like hearing Clarke’s approach to upright on “Desert Song.” “Hot Fun” is well-titled.

The cover is pretty great. So is this video of George Duke jamming on “School Days” with a keytar. I first heard Duke on Zappa records. Music just pours out of him. He makes everything he does look effortless. There’s such a beauty and joy in that–even when I’m not particularly excited about the music itself.

Remember last week and all that great weather and trips to the park? This week began in rain (and ended in rain) and a broken foot for our youngest who was just getting the hang of sliding down the “fire pole” by herself. She’s in a cast and a Franken-boot since it’s more dangerous for little ones to have crutches. I assume more dangerous to herself, but I have a feeling if she had crutches, we would be treating her older sister for a concussion or worse. We know she’s been in pain and sometimes it catches up to her, but overall she’s been so good about everything, despite what I titled this entry.

jericho
It’s quite difficult to work with and respond to canonical texts without having the older work overtake the new one. Brown shows masterful control here. Where there are resonances with the Bible, the language never takes control of Brown’s own. He’s writing contemporary poetry rich in its own melody, yet rich in historical overtones.

I’m taking a break from the grind of the submission process, and to some degree a break from poetry writing itself. I’ve naturally fallen into nonfiction–it’s what I started writing back in sixth grade. And music is now taking up some of that time I used for writing and submitting. One of the benefits of this break is taking the time to read many of the contemporary poets I’ve been wanting to read. Brown’s name has come up a lot recently.

 

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I think this may have been the first time I watched Man with a Movie Camera (1929) as a whole. Anyone with an interest in film or film theory has likely seen images from it (like the Odessa steps sequence of Eisenstein). This is a fantastic film built on a montage of daily life and the creation of film itself. The “man” of the title is often filmed by another man with a camera. I watched this in relation to Peeping Tom (1960), another self-reflexive film that I’m writing about for my next Test Prep essay.

 

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One of my favorite movies is Carpenter’s The Thing (1982), so it’s strange that I somehow missed Escape from New York (1981). Overall, it’s a well-done popcorn movie. I liked the images of the city, blacked-out, skyscrapers green and hulking and empty. I also liked the palette for many of the night scenes: high contrast red and greens or cool blues (and grays and tans? if I remember correctly) played against the darkness (and Carpenter’s score).

Anyway, I’ve never noticed Carpenter use so many focus pulls.

Frank Doubleday’s creepy, oddball performance as “Romero” just about steals the whole movie, which is saying a lot for a film rife with scene stealers.

This week I’ve been listening to Alban Berg’s Piano Sonata, Op. 1. It was his first published composition, but his only sonata. Berg wrote this as a student of Schoenberg, who developed the most lasting version of twelve-tone composition we have. I love the coloring of these chords and how within this context dissonance and consonance–or rather a traditional notion of these ideas–gets altered. I’m going to listen and pick through the score some, just to gain some understanding of what’s going on, though for the moment, staring at something like this:

berg

seems way beyond my comprehension at the moment.

Anyway, I’ve mostly listened to Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recording of it, but I plan on listening through some other performances to hear how different players approach a work like this. Glenn Gould has also recorded it, so I’m interested to see how his compares to others. I really hated his Bach recordings for years, but they’ve grown on me.

aimard

I’ve been working on the first Bach cello suite and had an insight that I’m almost embarrassed to admit. Maybe I will when I have the piece under my fingers again.

For sightreading practice I’m playing some of Haydn’s E Flat string quartet (No. 31) and playing the cello part on electric bass.

And for workouts this week I’ve been revisiting:
mega
Metallica’s music never made me interested in playing guitar, but Megadeth, especially Rust in Peaceinspired me to try more guitar playing. Great riffs and solos. A friend’s dad once described Mustaine’s vocals as like “a little, green head yellin’ at me.” Sure, some of that’s cringy–but Mustaine takes on characters at times, which was kind of a risk in thrash. I forgot how funny some of the lyrics were (“Immense in my girth, erect I stand tall” –C-mon, it’s about a missile!–“Launch the Polaris! The end doesn’t scare us!”). I remember enjoying the references to Roswell and general dystopian theme of this record.

I’m also trying to redevelop the walking bass chops I once had. I’ve also discovered some Paul Chambers isolated bass tracks, which I’m excited to learn from as well.

If I can ever get these essays graded.

We’ve had great weather here, so when the kids get home we’ve been going to the park. I miss when the geese would waddle around us. Now there’s just screeching trees, but at least the insects and the heat haven’t taken over…yet. Mostly it’s just Spider-Man jumps and running around the playground. My oldest likes to run at least two laps before playtime and two after. She is the only runner in the family, even her competitive younger sister watches and says, “Let me hold the clock!”

I wrote a whole page on bassist Bakithi Kumalo that I ended up editing out of my latest post on Lost Chords & Serenades Divine. I’ve been researching a variety of African rock and pop styles, partially out of general interest and partially for bass playing inspiration. The one personal positive outcome from our flood has been my rediscovery of bass playing.

In true reanimated fashion, I published an essay I wrote on zombies over a decade ago for Test Prep to go with their episode on Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Mother! (2017). George Romero remains an inspiration.

 

smith
I’m always reading a book of poetry, but that may mean reading only a poem or two a day. I had enjoyed a few of Smith’s poems in various publications, and I admired not only the individual lines and poems, but also the organization of Life on Mars. Smith weaves several topics together, grief, the death of a father, David Bowie, etc. What struck me was how Modernist the book was, while being contemporary. I don’t know much about Smith, but there was this echo of style and device of Eliot and Pound and Yeats, but not mimicry. The multiple dimensional use of Bowie as a reference reminded me of Pound’s use of references. After Silverstein, Hughes, Poe, and Dickinson, the Modern poets, for better or worse, were my first real poetry obsessions. I knew poetry would be a part of my life after reading them.

 

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So this came with my Audible account I started two years ago. I enjoyed Krakauer’s Into the Wild, but I thought this was the Mt. Everest book, which only sort of interests me. I didn’t have any credits left and didn’t want to spend any more money on books, so I decided to listen to it since it was free. Wow. This isn’t the Everest book. This is the Mormon murder book. If you’ve listened to the podcast, you know that I’ve been studying religion and religious texts informally for over a decade. I hadn’t done much work on Mormonism, fundamental or otherwise, though I’ve had pleasant conversations with Mormon missionaries.

It’s a mix of Lawrence Wright’s Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief and Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Seriously.

 

mast
Moby Dick is one of my favorite novels, and when I heard that there was a metal record based on it (to some degree), it cracked me up. Someone tried to get me to listen to it once, but I just wasn’t interested in hearing metal at the time. Time’s change. Mastodon’s Leviathan (2004) has been cued up several times this week and I think it’s a blast. I’ve previewed a few of their other albums and none of them have caught my ear yet.

 

I generally don’t write about stuff I don’t like. It just doesn’t seem useful. Sometimes work is just not for me at a specific time (see above paragraph) or simply not for me. That’s ok. I may personally analyze something that I don’t think works in order to learn from it. Anyway, this particular week brought me two unexpected cases.

clowes
I’ve been reading Clowes since he was in Cracked. I’m wondering if I missed something with this one. It felt like a chore getting though it sometimes and I’ve never had that experience with his work (though I recently attempted a viewing of the Ghost World adaptation–a movie I liked when it was released–and found it unwatchable). There were interesting nods to other cartoonists’ styles, like the time dimensions would be characters visiting different strips or universes drawn by a different author. Any other Clowes fans have the same reaction?

 

diner
I had only heard good things about Diner (1982). While there are some sparkling performances here, I felt like Kevin Bacon’s character most of the time: I either wanted to drink or punch windows or both. I don’t think that was what I was supposed to get from it. I much prefer the Baltimore of John Waters.

Our just-turned-four-year-old makes dinner a full contact event. We quit trying to play into her attempts at doing anything but eating, so we just hope that she eats a few forkfuls of something. Every now and then she eats a whole dinner or just ignores it.

This week I had asked her to eat a few times and she just wasn’t interested. We have leftover Easter candy and she and her sister get a little bit for dessert if they eat their meals. Evidently, I enforce Draconian dining rules.

At the point we figured she just wasn’t going to eat, she decided to distract us. “I’m going to draw a picture of the family. First, I’m going to draw Daddy, who doesn’t listen…he looks like a crazy old lady with lasagna on his nose.”

Bravo.

…..

One nostril seemed to go into some sort of allergic shock while I was administering the ACT exam. Half an allergy. I don’t know. It quit after 48 hours.

Meanwhile, the four-year-old reminds me every day that it’s ok to step on the pine catkins because they aren’t worms.

That explains some of the nightmares….

…..

Driving through fog and from a wedding reception, the children got into an argument that devolved into tears and shouts. The argument was about whether or not “Starlight” was a good name for the vacuum. I told them they had to stop. They went to sleep.

…..

I don’t really understand Pinterest yet. Mostly I look at pictures of libraries, studies, and studios. Probably a kind of wish-fulfillment. Maybe I do understand Pinterest. Anyway, I was fascinated by their choices for me:

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I was able to return to Lost Chords this week with a short review on the Angles 9 record Disappeared Behind the Sun.

Another record I found surprising is Sun O)))’s Monoliths and Dimensions. I physically couldn’t listen to more than one track at a sitting because of the intensity of the experience. I recommend listening on a nice loud system or good headphones. I had never heard the band before and I just can’t imagine what a live set is like.

I’ve been listening and learning Black Sabbath tracks for fun. After the flood, I had to go through my instruments for damage (just the upright needs some repairs), but they all need some TLC. It’s been exciting to dig back into playing music again after so many years away from it.

 

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“Monkey Love Experiments” (2014), partially based on the Harlow surrogate mother experiments, is a beautiful and beautifully sad short film about a monkey who believes it is going to the moon. There’s an amazing amount of information in this nine-minute film, but it never feels forced. It’s partially filmed in stop-motion, one of my favorite techniques, but it also skillfully blends computer and live-action effects.

 

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Bill Frisell is an astonishing musician and a rarity. He has always seemed in control of his ego and has never been afraid of melody or tenderness or complexity. He’s engaging on recordings and live. Bill Frisell: A Portrait (2017) traces his life and career up to the present.