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Conquer the Video Craze

[Conquer the Video Craze cover] Conquer the Video Craze was issued in 1982, at the height of arcade games’ popularity. Over a background of ambient arcade noise, Curtis Hoard, “Atari Champion finalist”, reads convoluted game tips in a slow nasal monotone.

I’ve not been able to find out much about Hoard; most of the search results point to articles about a different Curtis Hoard, a sculptor of some reknown at the University of Minnesota. Perhaps this fellow’s father? One of the few links I found about this Hoard says that he graduated from Alhambra High School in California in 1981. Perhaps he knew David Wills (“The Weatherman” from Negativland), who also attended around that time.

The liner notes talk a little about Hoard and his sad, sad life:

There are few games in the marketplace that Chris has not mastered. He has extensive experience at playing video games and diciphering [sic] their patterns and techniques of play. His analytical mind automatically envisions patterns and virtual line drawings of the games. He currently logs more than 8 hours of play per day and has been coined by his peers and friends as the “Human Video Game”.

The label, ALA Enterprises of Los Angeles, is similarly obscure. They issued a motley grab-bag of products in the late-1970s–early-1980s, including bootlegs of Memphis Slim and Canned Heat; “Dungeon Key”, a cassette game for the TI-99/4a computer; and film composer warhorse Alan Silvestri’s soundtrack for blaxploitation flick The Mack and His Pack.

I’ve always thought that between the subject matter and Hoard’s slow talking, this would make great sampling material; just snip off the introduction where he says the video game’s name, and you have a man saying things like, “As a beginner, it is better just to kill everyone as fast as you can”, utterly deadpan. At least one DJ, Canadian Kid Koala, had the same idea.

  1. Introduction
  2. Centipede
  3. Defender
  4. Stargate
  5. Dig Dug
  6. Donkey Kong
  7. Pac-Man
  8. Ms. Pac-Man
  9. Tempest

The Symmetries of Shiina Ringo

[photo of Shiina Ringo]Shiina Ringo was a pop star in Japan. She courted all the right producers, appeared on all the right television shows. Each record was more successful than the last. But Ringo was an odd pop star: her voice could be grating, she was sexually aggressive, she had an edge. Eventually she got a producer and a contract that allowed her full control, and she vanished into the studio in 2003.

Fans lined up for another sunny pop excursion — but what they got was an art-rock concept album in the Björkian mold, with surreal and at times impenetrable lyrics sung in an archaic dialect, featuring a full orchestra and more than 30 instruments played by her hand-picked ensemble, credited on some songs as “Special Forces”. The album is short, but it is crammed to bursting with melodic ideas and meticulous attention to sonic detail — as shown by its mysterious symmetries: the CD is exactly 44 minutes and 44 seconds long, and is constructed in two parts, each song of which has lyrical and stylistic correspondences to the song on the other half. “Doppelgänger”, the second track, is followed by “Poltergeist”, the next-to-last track, for instance. At one point Ringo sings a line from an earlier song backwards phonetically, only possible in Japanese. Even the track titles are symmetrical, presented in formal kanji only used in legal documents. The CD’s spine from which the two leaves branch is a lovely tune without a twin called “Kuki”, or “Stem”.

The CD’s reception was confused: Ringo let her too-nasal voice careen from child to world-weary to vixen and back again, sometimes in the space of one line, like her heroine Fiona Apple (“ringo” is “apple” in Japanese). The packaging was back-to-front, only found on traditional Enka recordings. The gorgeous melodies were undermined by disturbing language, made more so by the fact that the lyrics (even for native speakers) were difficult to decipher. The title of the record is Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana, which could be translated as Chalk, Semen, Chestnut Flowers; on the bridge of “Shuukyou” Ringo sings “I can’t find a cup I like anywhere I go. Why/Even though so many buildings and streets are increasing/Do we stare at the unreasonableness of the bottle we can’t finish drinking?”

[Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana cover]For Ringo making KSK “[had] been the realization of a dream … for a long time I thought J-pop was weird and really artificial sounding. I have always tried to create something more genuine.” Because of its uniqueness Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana sold more than 400,000 copies — but once it was completed Ringo decided that this record was the cap to her career thus far, that there had been a line crossed and retreat was necessary. She formed a band, Tokyo Jihen (Tokyo Incidents), which reduced the focus on herself, toned down the experimentation of the music, released a single formed entirely out of samples from her back catalogue (with a video that matched the concept), and most tellingly, had the mole on her face removed, as if these gestures shut a door on something — or someone — considered done and not to be revisited.

Ringo remains immensely popular in Japan, having released two records under the Tokyo Jihen name. She shows no inclination to make music like Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana again, and there has been speculation that the record is somehow more brilliant than she can be capable of — a masterpiece arrived at by accident. Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana is also thought of as the greatest J-Pop record ever made.

Alejandro Jodorowsky: The Holy Mountain

[photo of Alejandro Jodorowsky]Alejandro Jodorowsky is a fascinating character: he’s a mime who studied under Marcel Marceau, an expert on the Tarot, a writer of comics (the wonderful L’Incal and Metabarons among them), and a psychotherapist/shaman — but he’ll always be known for his films, the most famous of which are El Topo and The Holy Mountain from the early seventies.

[screen capture from “The Holy Mountain”]El Topo is his most highly regarded film, depicting a guru-gunslinger in a highly symbolic spiritual quest. The idea of the quest is repeated in The Holy Mountain, but the scope of the film is much larger, with elaborate sets, a large cast, and jaw-dropping scenes like frogs reenacting the Spanish conquest of Mexico and religious symbols made into weapons. Its filming was no less bizarre: Jodorowsky made the cast train for months under a human-potential guru he’d hired, insisted that the female members of the cast sleep with him (“No men. Only the women,” he laughs), and he was nearly killed in Mexico after being suspected of performing a Black Mass. All very hippy-dippy Carlos Castaneda Sixties, but Jodorowsky’s commitment to change people through art is intense: “Now I think is a fantastic moment for all of us because now we are fighting for our world, our life. Now is the moment to be awake or to die.” For Jodorowsky, Hollywood is “a child’s industry … for me, a good picture changes your life.”

[painting of H.R. Giger's sandworm]After The Holy Mountain Jodorowsky attempted to film Frank Herbert’s Dune, which if completed would have floored cult-cinema junkies worldwide. Artists recruited included H.R. Giger and Moebius, both of whom would go on to work on Alien along with screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. Pink Floyd was to score the film, and the cast was an absurdist parade: David Carradine, Mick Jagger, Alain Delon, Orson Welles, and Salvador Dalí (who demanded $100,000 for an hour’s shoot). Nothing this strange — and colossally expensive, and 14 hours long — could live, and the film adaptation of Dune would have to wait for David Lynch to come along a decade later.

After the collapse of the Dune project three more films were made, none of which approached the madness and extravagance of his previous work. Plans were made for a sequel to El Topo starring Marilyn Manson (the two are close friends — Jodorowsky officiated Manson’s wedding), but nothing came of it, partially because the rights to both El Topo and The Holy Mountain were in the hands of Beatles manager Allen Klein who refused to release them. Existing DVDs (there have been legitimate relases in Italy and Japan) were of poor quality due to the lack of access to film elements.

Nothing was heard for decades but the news has arrived that both El Topo and The Holy Mountain are indeed being digitally remastered and released. Happy news, made happier by the thought that one day another Jodorowsky film will be made.

Featured here is the soundtrack to The Holy Mountain, credited to free jazz god Don Cherry and Archies keyboardist Ron Frangipane along with Jodorowsky. The quality could be better (it’s directly from the film so all the dialogue is present), but enjoy.

Update: thanks to Nick Scholl for sending the missing 17th track!

  1. Opening Titles
  2. Great Toad and Chameleon Battle
  3. Symbol of Christ/Two Halves/Love
  4. Ascending the Tower/The Magus
  5. The Tarot
  6. Venus (Vond)
  7. Mars (Esla)
  8. Jupiter (Clen)
  9. Saturn (Sal)
  10. Uranus (Berg)
  11. Neptune (Axon)
  12. Pluto (Lute)
  13. Holy Mountain Within
  14. Acts of Christ
  15. Across the Ocean
  16. Throw that Monster into the Water
  17. Pantheon Bar
  18. Climb to the Summit
  19. Face Your Fears/End Titles

Pascal: The Sixth Ear

[photo of The Sixth Ear LP cover] Nik “Pascal” Raicevic’s chief claim to fame is as a session percussionist for two tracks on the Rolling Stones’ Goat’s Head Soup, but in the early 1970s he released several pioneering electronic instrumental albums under various names.

His first release, in 1970, was an eponymous album under the name “Head”; it was released by Buddah Records and contained tracks with names like “Cannabis Sativa” and “Methedrine”. Buddah had second thoughts fairly quickly and Raicevic was soon on his own. He released four albums on his own label (keeping the drug theme by naming it “Narco Records and Tapes”) before selling all his equipment to Steve Roach and dying of an overdose or finding Jesus or something.

This is The Sixth Ear, from 1972, with great spacey Moog sounds. For you DJs out there, this makes a fantastic music bed for back-announcing. Raicevic credits himself under three different pseudonyms on the involved musicians list on the back cover. The engineer is listed as “William Elder”, but I don’t think it’s the Mad/Playboy artist.

[photo of The Sixth Ear 8-track cover]

  1. The Sixth Ear
  2. Journey Into the Light
  3. Subconscious Nebula
  4. Anandamayi
  5. Identity
  6. Demons of Rage
  7. Karma
  8. Vision of Kali
  9. Life

I have this on LP, but I’d really like to find the 8-track, which has a great warning on the cover: “DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS TAPE IF YOU ARE STONED”. It’s unclear what would happen if you were to ignore the warning, or why it wasn’t on the cover of the LP.