DEATH OF THE COMPACT DISC: ARE THE RUMOURS EXAGGERATED?

The decline of the compact disc has been well-chronicled, and its absolute demise predicted (there is an interesting article in The Guardian of 28 May 2015 – Dorian Lynskey, ‘How the compact disc lost its shine’ – www.theguardian.com/music/2015/may/28/how-the-compact-disc-lost-its-shine). The medium which triumphed over vinyl and cassette has now all but surrendered, first to mp3 downloads and now to streaming.

However, pockets of resistance remain. The CD is fast disappearing from high-street outlets, but is still available by mail order from the likes of Amazon. When moving house recently I realised I needed dedicated housing for my CD collection. This I duly ordered from a furniture chain, only to be advised at the last minute that ‘we don’t sell CD supports any more’. However, a copy of BBC Music magazine threw up the address of a firm in Yorkshire, England, from whom I ordered a handmade mahogany rotating CD tower, now duly delivered and installed. There are ways …

The Mp3 download as a model has much to be said for it. It enables a more organised music collection, by genre and artist, than CDs ever could. Mp3s take up minimal space: today’s technology can house all of Bach’s cantatas on a single USB stick. They also share with CDs the advantage over streaming that one can actually own the music, instead of visiting a collectivist cloud.

However, music in digital form, whether as track, album or collection, lacks the physical presence of a disc seen and grasped as a palpable object. A CD, to those who still know what they are, is surely a more attractive present or souvenir than a computer file: some musicians still sell their discs at concerts. Of those of us who have amassed CD collections over the years, some at least will not wish to abandon them for a digital-only utopia: as it rotates, my mahogany tower whispers to me that not all is over …

 

Advertisements

‘SHADOWS IN THE NIGHT’: BOB DYLAN, NO STRANGER IN THE NIGHT TO FRANK SINATRA

Bob Dylan and the late Frank Sinatra might seem like the most unlikely musical pairing. To a superficial observer, the two could appear to have nothing in common other than being famous, American and from migrant groups (Dylan Ukrainian-Jewish, Sinatra Italian).

Nonetheless, Dylan has always been a Sinatra admirer, covert or otherwise. At a tribute concert for Sinatra’s 80th birthday in 1995 Bob’s contribution took the form, on Frank’s request, of a 1964 song he almost never performs – ‘Restless Farewell’, a song which may have touched Sinatra since its lyric bears some stray resemblance to that of his own rather better-known ‘My Way’.

‘My Way’, however, does not show up on ‘Shadows in the Night’, Dylan’s tribute album released in 2015, 17 years after Sinatra’s death in 1998. Nor should the curious expect to find ‘New York, New York’ or ‘Strangers in the Night’.

shadows in the night

The best-known songs on the 10-track album are ‘Autumn Leaves’ and ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, plus a standard not necessarily associated with The Voice, the much-interpreted ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ (associated with, among many others, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash).

The other tracks are: ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’, ‘The Night We Called It a Day’, ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Why Try To Change Me Now?’, ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’, ‘Where Are You?’ and ‘What’ll I Do?’. None of these are among Sinatra’s best-known numbers, although ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’ and ‘What’ll I Do?’ have both been covered by Linda Ronstadt. In particular, ‘Stay With Me’, from the soundtrack of a 1964 film, ‘The Cardinal’, was surely positively obscure until Bob Dylan laid hold on it. Taken as a whole, Dylan’s Sinatra harvest reveals a subtler and more nuanced side of the great vocalist than many might be familiar with.

Surprise though it may have landed as, this album is not totally without links with Dylan’s past. He has performed ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ live 25 times between 1985 and 2000 (though no-one knows if – some enchanted evening ? – his new arrangement of the song will show up on stage) Nor is the concept of a covers album new to the Dylan catalogue : this is his fifth release consisting entirely of interpretations of others’ songs, the last being ‘Christmas in the Heart’ from 2009.

Dylan debuted ‘Stay With Me’ live on 26 October 2014, at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. He has performed it at every concert since, in the encore slot. None of the other songs (eight remain unperformed in the Dylan annals) has yet shown up live, but we may live in hope.

The album has achieved both commercial and critical success. It reached No 7 on the US chart, and in the UK actually gave Dylan his eighth number one. Reviews have abounded, mostly favourable and some wellnigh ecstatic, arguably the best (and most musically erudite) being that by Ben Greenman in the ‘New Yorker’ (‘Bob Dylan’s Sinatra Album’, 3 February 2015 – www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/bob-dylans-sinatra-album).

Praise does, however, been somewhat less unqualified within Dylan’s hardcore fan circles: this suggests, though, that ‘Shadows in the Night’ may have appealed more broadly to the listening public than much of Bob Dylan’s recent output. Dylan and Sinatra both have big fan bases that do not always coincide – but adding the two fan bases together looks to have propelled the album up the charts.

That, however, can only have happened because this is a good album, if not indeed a remarkable one. Comparison validates its quality: Sinatra’s originals can all be downloaded, and listening to Bob’s and Frank’s performances one by one and side by side reveals both the carefulness of Sinatra’s vocal articulations and the tremendous effort Dylan has made, confessedly by dint of multiple listening, to replicate – but not imitate – them. Equally, to download the Sinatra tracks in Dylan’s sequence is to create … dare one say it? – a shadow album for ‘Shadows in the Night’, or indeed a ‘lost’ Sinatra album conjured into existence by Dylan’s magisterial gesture.

Many say today that Dylan’s voice is ‘shot’. Not on this album : this material suits the septuagenarian state of his voice, better perhaps than his more recent originals. On one song at least, ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ (a number of long-suffering lament more suited to Bob’s world than Frank’s), there is no doubt that Dylan outshines Sinatra – and on the rest it can reasonably be called a draw.

‘Shadows in the Night’ will shine in the Dylan canon as a totally unexpected, yet remarkably successful, late-career manifestation of the great songwriter’s intimate connection with his native popular music tradition. Dylan sings Sinatra Dylan’s way – and that late-Dylan voice does the Voice proud!

 

Journal of The Odisha Association For English Studies, 5-1 (includes my paper on Rushdie as intellectual)

Now out is the latest issue (Volume 5, Issue 1, 2015) of the Journal of The Odisha Association For English Studies, ably edited by Dr Santwana Haldar (Baleswar, India).

It includes (pp. 63-77) my essay ‘Salman Rushdie as Public Intellectual’, given as a paper at the conference ‘Salman Rushdie in the 21st Century’, held at the University of Lisbon in 2013.

 The essay is available on-line on my personal site at:

http://yatrarollason.info/files/Rushdieasintellectual.pdf

For the conference, see my report at:

https://rollason.wordpress.com/2013/11/30/conference-salmanrushdie-in-the-21st-century-swallowing-a-world-university-of-lisbon-7-9-november-2013

The journal issue also includes articles on, among other themes, Jayanta Mahapatra (N.B. Routh), A.K. Ramanujan (Dimika Parmer), Rohinton Mistry (Saroj Laxmi Singh), Raja Rao’s ‘The Serpent and the Rope’ (Amarnath Shaw), Thomas Hardy (Gananath Dash), George Orwell’s ‘Coming Up For Air’ (Francesca d’Alfonso) and Oscar Wilde’s ‘An Ideal Husband’ (Rajeshwar Mittapalli and Anita Ahmadi), plus reviews and creative writing.  The editor may be contacted at: santwanahaldar2004@yahoo.com

 

 

CONFESSIONS OF A KINDLE CONVERT

In François Truffaut’s science fiction film Fahrenheit 451, a totalitarian regime’s war on books is resisted by characters who become banned works of literature by learning them by heart. Today, in what a decade ago would have seemed a similar piece of science fiction, I can carry around with me at all times an ever-expanding library of world literature, books that are readable on a minuscule screen where I can read in comfort adjusting brightness and font size.

kindle

And books that are more than books as we have understood them in the past! My portable library now includes the complete works of Charles Dickens, Walter Scott, Honoré de Balzac, Victor Hugo and Emile Zola, the complete tales and poems of Edgar Allan Poe, and the complete poems and/or plays of William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, W.B. Yeats, Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire and Federico García Lorca, each author in one single file and in many cases acquired for less than 2 euros apiece – prices too that seem like science fiction!  Not to mention the Bible, the complete works of Shakespeare, the Quijote, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, Hans Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, the Alice books and Le Petit Prince, Portugal’s Fernando Pessoa, Hispanic women authors such as Mexico’s Rosario Castellanos and Galicia’s Rosalía de Castro, and more … some 50 items, already the equivalent of several hundred volumes of conventional books.

kindle2

The library includes books in four languages that I read, English, French, Spanish and Portuguese. For each language there is a dictionary, and I can look up unfamiliar words directly from the text, thus enriching both the reading experience and my vocabulary in whatever language, my own included!

This is, of course, all thanks to Amazon’s invention of the Kindle. Yes, it is proprietary hardware and software, and yes, there are unresolved logistic and quality issues. As a resident in Luxembourg, I was obliged by Amazon to acquire my Kindle from Germany, and I can only download books from Amazon’s French site, which, even though it has no lack of books in languages other than French, is not ideal.

Amazon’s Kindle site is not fully attuned to scholarly values: it tends not to offer full details of particular editions, and trial-and-error cancellation and replacement sometimes prove necessary for securing the right user-friendly edition of a book or author. Some books may be scanned copies with errors; others may lack a table of contents, impeding easy search; one academic book I bought at full price failed to synchronise between endnotes and note numbers, requiring complex search every time I wanted to read a note.

Still, as a recent Kindle convert I am absolutely clear that the advantages greatly outweigh the drawbacks. The contents of my Kindle account are available not only on my Kindle proper but also on my PC and mobile phone. This makes the library virtually indestructible, with everything on three devices at once. On the dedicated Kindle screen or on my smartphone, books can be read anywhere, on the bus or train or in a restaurant, and all but weightlessly.

I am sure I am reading more now that I have a Kindle: technology and reading need not be enemies. The uses and advantages are manifold. I have just got Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming’ perfectly by heart with help from the Kindle, and see how useful it is for reinforcing learning tasks. The classic Kindle is not Web-enabled, other than for Amazon’s own site and a slimmed-down version of Wikipedia. For children, this means parents can trust them with the device, and its ‘modern’ feel should help turn them on to reading books. And, to return to where I began and the totalitarianism evoked in Fahrenheit 451, at a time when priceless libraries are being destroyed in the Middle East,  the sheer portability and compactness of the Kindle promise to make it a weapon, if necessary, for the preservation of literature against future enemies of thought. The screen is mightier than the sword!

 

FRIDA KAHLO – EXPOSICIÓN EN JARDÍN BOTÁNICO DE NUEVA YORK / EXHIBITION IN NEW YORK BOTANICAL GARDEN

Una faceta hasta ahora poco explorada de la célebre pintora mexicana Frida Kahlo será homenajeada en una exposición en el Jardín Botánico de Nueva York que presentará el fuerte vínculo que mantuvo la artista con el universo de las plantas.  La muestra, “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life” (“Frida Kahlo: arte, jardín, vida”), se celebrará entre el 16 de mayo y el 1 de noviembre de 2015.

Frida Taschen

La exposición reconstituirá el jardín que Frida creó junto a su marido, el muralista Diego Rivera, en su residencia en Coyoacán (México DF), la Casa Azul, que actualmente alberga el Museo Frida Kahlo. Se recrearán el color azul del patio y el estudio donde trabajaba la artista, y se mostrará una colección de plantas de México que había en el jardín. También se presentará  un total de 14 obras de la artista  (12 pinturas y 2 dibujos), entre las cuales un autorretrato de 1940 con fondo de vegetación; y el “Retrato de Luther Burbank” (1931), en el que se muestra una figura mitad humana mitad planta. También habrá un recital de poemas de Octavio Paz, un festival de cine y una muestra de cocina mexicana.

La comisaria de exposición, Adriana Zavala, plantea la muestra como una manera nueva de ver a Frida más allá de su vida personal. Recordando que los libros sobre ella suelen centrarse en su biografía, en sus relaciones románticas y su salud, afirma que esta exposición puede abrir una puerta, porque ‘sí que hay cosas nuevas que podemos decir y estudiar sobre Frida Kahlo’.

Más detalles :

http://www.informador.com.mx/cultura/

2015/570581/6/jardin-botanico-de-ny-dedica-muestra-a-frida-kahlo.htm

(‘Jardín Botánico de NY dedica muestra a Frida Kahlo’ –

El Informador [Guadalajara], 29-I-15)

**

A hitherto little-explored facet of the celebrated Mexican painter Frida Kahlo will be the object of an exhibition at New York’s Botanical Garden presenting the intimate links which the artist maintained with the world of plants. The event, “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life”, will run from 16 May to 1 November 2015.

The exhibition will reconstitute the garden which Frida created together with her husband, the muralist Diego Rivera, at their house in Coyoacán (Mexico City), the ‘Casa Azul’ (Blue House), which today houses the Frida Kahlo Museum. It will reproduce the blue hues of the patio and the artist’s studio, and will present a collection of Mexican plants as in the original garden. On show will be a total of 14 works by Frida Kahlo (12 paintings and 2 drawings), among them a self-portrait from 1940 with a background of vegetation and the “Portrait of Luther Burbank” (1931), which depicts a figure half human, half plant. There will also be a recital of poems by Octavio Paz, a film festival and an exhibition of Mexican cuisine.

The organiser, Adriana Zavala, sees the exhibition as presenting a new way of seeing Frida, going beyond her personal life. Recalling that the books on Kahlo tend to concentrate on her biography, her love relations and her health, she stresses that this event has the potential to open doors, for ‘there are certainly new things to say and to study about Frida Kahlo’.

More details:

http://www.informador.com.mx/cultura/

2015/570581/6/jardin-botanico-de-ny-dedica-muestra-a-frida-kahlo.htm

  • ‘Jardín Botánico de NY dedica muestra a Frida Kahlo’ (New York Botanical Garden devotes exhibition to Frida Kahlo) –

El Informador (Guadalajara, Mexico), 29-I-15

 

REQUIEM FOR THE GETCITED SITE

I wonder how many scholars worldwide noticed, or mourned, the demise earlier this year of the getcited site at http://www.getcited.org. As a repository for references to academic publications with in-site links to citers and cited, getcited hosted 3 million publications by 300 000 authors.

The day dawned when getcited users could no longer log in. Wikipedia confirms that the site is no more, claiming that it had ‘largely been supplanted by other tools including Google Scholar’.

As a confirmed getcited user right up to its disappearance, I maintain that was not the case. Google Scholar’s entries are automatically generated and often contain errors (on matters as basic as author name) which authors cannot correct. Getcited, by contrast, was 100% user-controlled: users created their own entries and could always correct or update them. It even contributed to keeping Google Scholar’s standards up, as each getcited entry automatically generated a Google Scholar entry. Also, getcited grouped entries into categories (book, book chapter, journal article, conference paper, translation, etc), allowing authors to create full and complex overviews of their work.

I found getcited sufficiently useful to enter all of my publications there. I am sure many others did too when the site was at its peak. For a couple of years before it died, getcited seemed to be running on automatic pilot: problems arose with special characters, emails to site management went answered.

I have no information on where getcited was hosted or who managed it, still less on how or why it disappeared, though I suspect it became a living-dead operation and may have finally expired along with its hosting contract. Have all those entries disappeared into cyberspace forever, like Edgar Allan Poe’s hero Roderick Usher’s books and paintings disappearing into the sullen waters of the tarn, or are they miraculously cached on some asteroid of the Internet galaxy? I miss this site, and would be delighted if one day some magnanimous cyberangel revived it!

 

 

 

 

‘WASAFIRI’, DECEMBER 2014: REVIEW OF VIKRAM CHANDRA, ‘GEEK SUBLIME’

Wasafiri

The UK-based literary journal and well-known point of reference for postcolonial studies, Wasafiri, has published, in its latest issue, my review of Geek Sublime, the first non-fiction work to be published by the Indian novelist Vikram Chandra (on whose work I have written on various occasions in the past).

 Details:

Vikram Chandra, Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software, London: Faber and Faber, 2014, paperback, xiii + 258 pp., ISBN 978-0-571-31030-2

Christopher Rollason, review of Geek Sublime, Wasafiri, Vol. 29, No. 4, December 2014, pp. 90-91.

Geek Sublime

 **

 An edited extract from the review follows.

 **

In July 1963, the first-ever computer to manifest on Indian soil, an IBM mainframe, was unloaded at Kanpur airport, commissioned by that city’s Indian Institute of Technology or IIT. This event, which with India’s rise since then to stellar IT status now retrospectively appears as world-changing, is lovingly chronicled in the pages of Geek Sublime, the fourth published book and first non-fiction title by Vikram Chandra. Born in Bombay/Mumbai and today based in Berkeley, Chandra is the author of three works of fiction appertaining to the genre of Indian Writing in English (IWE), the novels Red Earth and Pouring Rain (1995) and Sacred Games (2006) and the story-sequence Love and Longing in Bombay (1997).

Chandra’s latest book appeared in this UK print edition [i.e. that under review] in February 2014, some while after its print launch in India, where it was published in November 2013 by Penguin India / Hamish Hamilton under a completely different title – Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code. The US edition, published by Graywolf in September 2014, has yet another title: Geek Sublime: The Code of Beauty, the Beauty of Code. A UK Kindle version, with the same title as the UK print edition, appeared in parallel with the Indian print edition in November 2013.

The book is a generic hybrid, poised somewhere between essay and autobiography. Its leitmotif is made up of the complex and fascinating parallels that Chandra draws between his two selves, hands-on IT person and writer of fiction. As he puts it, ‘I am a writer from India, but I’ve worked professionally as a programmer in the United States. Fiction has been my vocation, and code my obsession’.