Saturday, February 23, 2013

Las consecuencias - Enrique Bunbury

"Intimista y sombrío", fueron los adjetivos con los que se describió a Las consecuencias cuando salió, en 2010. Estos son, ciertamente, adjetivos acertados, pero este disco también está permeado por un tono derrotista. Quizá la única canción más o menos optimista sea "El boxeador", pero ojo: esta canción puede ser la precuela de "No fue bueno pero fue lo mejor", sacada en el disco conjunto con Nacho Vegas.

The Naked Corporation - Don Tapscott and David Ticoll

The Naked Corporation has a very simple premise: transparency and social activism will change the way business is done. You don't need to buy the book; the authors set up a website summarizing their main ideas and findings.

Published almost 10 years ago, the book has become a compilation of case studies for MBA students in leftist business schools (sounds like an oxymoron; it's not) like the Haas School of Business in UC Berkeley.

According to the authors, the company with the best corporate and communications strategy to deal with the challenges of the 21st century is Novo Nordisk, a Danish healthcare company. Political scientists, development experts, and British publications who claim that the only thing that countries have to do to be developed is to follow the Nordic model are not alone: business consultants have joined them now, too...

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Treasure Hunt: Inside the Minde of the New Consumer - Michael J. Silverstein and John Butman

Treasure Hunt was written in the early 2000's by Michael J. Silverstein, consultant at BCG. His main thesis is that middle class consumers are becoming more savvy and hence markets are bifurcating in a low-end and a high-end niche. Companies (and individuals) who get stuck in the middle will eventually disappear. The book offers a lot of the common wisdom offered in most business schools; namely, that companies must always look for new opportunities to specialize and capture a bigger share of the market. Phrases like "the time to act is now" permeate the book. Though short, the book could be summarized in a power point presentation.

The most interesting parts of the book are the interviews with families. Silverstein interviews families  to prove his point that middle class consumers are sophisticated purchasers, able to buy goods and services from the low-end and from the high-end depending on the situation. All the families, and Silverstein mentions it explicitly, consider they struggle to make ends meet at the end of the month. In addition to that, Silverstein shows the balance sheet and income statements of those families. With hindsight, what the balance sheets say is that, most of the time, the only asset of families was the house where they lived. (which was obviously mortgaged). Considering that families had a hard time paying their bills in the happy 1990's and at the beginning of this century, I wouldn't be surprised if, today, these individuals are underwater and aree considered low-class. And, assuming that they still have any purchasing capacity, I wonder if Silverstein would would still qualify those people as savvy consumers who can distinguish between different kinds of goods.

At some point, Silverstein also shows the FED estimates on the households' balance sheet. His series ends in 2000 or 2002, so he obviously couldn't see the explosion of subprime lending and what it meant for the balance between assets and liabilities. In line with the times, Silverstein expected economic growth to last forever...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Canción Infantil - Joan Manuel Serrat

Canción Infantil fue el último disco "juvenil" de Serrat. Es, como todos los discos de Serrat de esa época, una obra llena de optimismo, una profesión de fe. Temas como "Campesina" reflejan una España arcaica que poco a poco va dejando de existir para dar paso a un país moderno e integrado al mundo a través de la Unión Europea.

Las versiones más modernas del CD incluyen el tema "Edurne", tema cantado en euskera y  español, que demuestra que Serrat es, al mismo tiempo, un independentista irredento y un vendido al poder de Madrid. La historia de este tema está disponible aquí.

Imperium - Robert Harris

I read Imperium because, I think, The Economist recommended it at some point (Robert Harris, the author, is a subject of Elizabeth Windsor, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that The Economist recommends it). This is an OK novel, but nothing extraordinary. 

The book suggests that Pompey's campaign to control the army in order to fight pirates was one of the reasons behind the end of the Roman Republic. Pompey is depicted as a simple man who believes in the idea  that those who are not with him are against him. It is inevitable to think that Harris tried to link Pompey with Bush 43.

I recommend reading Imperium as an entertainment, not to discover anything new or truth-revealing.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Para piel de manzana - Joan Manuel Serrat

La crítica en general coincide en que la mayoría de los discos que Serrat hizo entre la segunda mitad de los 70s y la primera década del siglo XXI son malos. En sus recitales, la mayoría de las canciones que interpreta Serrat corresponden a ese hiato creativo de 40 años, pero no sabemos si es porque el propio Serrat cree que el resto de sus canciones son malas, o si lo hace por elemental comprensión de las leyes de la oferta y la demanda. Eso es algo que sólo Serrat (y quizá su representante y su arreglista) sabe. No creo que nosotros tengamos nunca ese privilegio.

Para piel de manzana es uno de los últimos discos juveniles de Serrat. O uno de los primeros adultos. Es decir, es uno de los discos de los que Serrat aún saca material. Las dos únicas canciones de este material que todavía canta Serrat son "Piel de manzana" y "El carrusel del furo", cuya versión sinfónica es quizá una de las mejores creaciones de Serrat y Ricardo Miralles.

Cosa extraña en los discos de Serrat de la época, los arreglos no son deprimentes; son malos, como todos los discos de Serrat, pero dentro de los límites de lo tolerable. Lo lamentable del disco es que uno no sabe si está oyendo a Serrat o a Julio Iglesias.

Aunque al inicio de sus carrerasSerrat fue el estandarte de una España nueva, para la época en que se grabó este disco, Iglesias ya era más popular que Serrat en América Latina y más allá (Serrat nunca trascendió las fronteras de la hispanidad como sí lo hizo Iglesias). Me imagino que, al respecto los catalanes dicen que el éxito de Iglesias y el estancamiento de Serrat se deben a algún complot orquestado desde Madrid; me imagino también que los madrileños responden que es una cuestión de talento y que la tacañería catalana nunca paga. Más allá de debates necios y provincianos, hay en Para piel de manzana un tono más cercano a Julio Iglesias que al Serrat de Mediterráneo.

Y quizá esa es, ahora que lo pienso, la razón por la que Serrat casi no canta las canciones que escribió entre los 70 y la primera década del siglo XXI...

Holy Warriors - Edna Fernandes

Thanks to characters like Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, or Rajesh Koothrappali, people in the West tend to think of Indians as harmless and easy-going people with funny accents trying to survive in a hostile West. I guess part of that stereotype is true. But, like any other country, India has a dark side of ethnic and religious violence that comes to the surface every now and then. Incidents like Ayodhya, or the low intensity war between the Naga independence movement and the national government of India, not to mention Kashmir, should remind us that political and religious equilibrium in India is an astounding but fragile accomplishment.

In Holy Warriors, Edna Fernandes reviews India's religious violence. In 24 chapters, Fernandes interviews Muslims in favor of terrorism, Muslims against terrorism, Christian revisionists, Goans nostalgic of the old days, Naga insurgents, a former Miss World doing political propaganda for the BJP, and other characters. I don't think there is a more complete work about sectarianism in India in the market (there probably are some Ph. D. thesis floating around, but I doubt any of them made it to the market).

There is only one problem with this book: as it mixes interviews with personal feelings, it is very easy to assume the author's point of view as one's own. Before reading this book, I had no idea about the religious conflicts and cleavages permeating India. Now, I have an idea about what is going on, but it's not my idea; it is Fernandes'. To get her book published, she had no choice but mixing some narrative with passages of the interviews she had. It would be good, though, if one could read the verbatim version of the interviews.

Monday, February 4, 2013

In Spite of the Gods: the Rise of Modern India - Edward Luce

Though this is a book about modern India, its main takeaway can be applied to the developing World: poverty will be overcome if and when national elites change the way they handle the country. On this, Luce is obviously right. At this point, the World Bank is the only semi-respectable institution which thinks that "local governance" or "social capital" will solve anything. (I know UN public officials believe that rubbish, but the UN is not a semi-respectable institution)

With the BRIC-mania of the first decade of this century, there was a proliferation of books about modernization in Brazil, India and China (books about the modernization or lack thereof in Russia have always proliferated). As it always happens with editorial booms, there are books of good and bad quality. In terms of style, In Spite of the Gods is not a great book. Oracle Bones, for instance, is written in a friendlier style. This is interesting, considering that presumably both books are directed to the same public. I guess the difference lies in the affiliations of the authors: Luce writes for the Financial Times, while Hessler works for The New Yorker. Luce provides policy prescriptions; Hessler describes his memories as a  Peace Corps volunteer as if he were drinking beers with friends. Hessler makes reference to local music all the time; Luce mentions one musician once in the entire book.

I am skeptical about recommending In Spite of the Gods. I guess that has to do with the fact that I don't think In Spite of the Gods has aged well: the book is too focused on the relations between the U.S. and India during the Bush-43 years, when the relations between the oldest and the biggest democracies in the World improved considerably. This is a book to inform an audience about what is India and what has happened there in the previous 50 years. But if you are the kind of reader looking for that information, you are probably better off reading Luce's articles in the press, which also provide an historic overview and are more concise.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Absent Lovers - King Crimson

From the booklet:

Performance notes
The last four shows of the 1981-84 King Crimson took place over the two nights of July 10th and 11th 1984 at Le Spectrum in Montreal. The performance on these albums are drawn from the final night, shortly after which King Crimson ceased to exist. Crimson was reborn on April 18th 1984 in Woodstock, New York; but that is another, and ongoing, story.

Production notes
Mixing a recorded studio performance is always a translation. Mixing a live performance is even more a translation, because it attempts to represent a wider event than can be contained within the studio.
David Singleton and I don't mix as such. Probably, a Ton Prob production presents a particular world-view. We are not neutral, nor purely responsive, nor can we quite direct the action: but all three are involved. Essentially, our aim is to be true to the musical event in its moment.
The key word to the Ton Prob production of Absent Lovers and one to which we keep returning, was 'definition'; not in the sens of limitation, but of clarification: by delineating the edges and containing the boundaries, spaces between are more clearly illuminated and the players thrown into the greater relief.
Generally, with regard to the presentation of live performances, this is not necessarily welcome to musicians whose idiosyncrasies  conceits, illusions and failings may be revealed to the case of a critical ear. As one of the four musicians under  present revelation, I am sympathetic; but responsibility to the larger translation holds my greater loyalty.
If, as in much recorded rock music, the studio album is viewed as a definitive text or score, then live performance is an interpretation of that text; and an album of live performance is only one particular translation of one specific interpretation, and that in a given context of time, place and person. So what is 'definitive'?
Firstly, the live performance of music is in its nature ephemeral. This, it shares with gardening. However, our experience of what is, on the surface, a relatively brief event may resonate in our lives to profound and continuing effect. Simply put, music can reach over and change our lives directly and immediately. Our experiencing takes place in sequential time, but is not always governed by it.
Secondly, if the continuing regard by members of a listening community for a particular performance, or performers, is worthy of attention, -and how could it not be?- then the curious may be willing to heed the interests of that community. Absent Lovers continues to be available as a bootleg thirteen years after the radio broadcast.
Thirdly, in a post-mortem world there is no one privileged position, translation nor interpretation. This necessarily implies that there are indeed privileged positions of translation and interpretation. This dictum applies, and otherwise, to the material interpreted by this incarnation of Crimson one evening in Montreal during July 1984.
If these comments seem to obscure the clarity which definition claims, I reply that clarity reveals a depth of perspective, a richness of potential, and a spectrum of experiencing within the material which may elude a surface examination. Or not.
Eitheer way, here it is.

The Group
There have been five different personnel configurations of the live King Crimson. The members of Lineup Four (1981/84) are:
Adrian Belew: guitar, drums and lead vocal
Robert Fripp: guitar
Tony Levin: bass, Chapman stick, synth & vocal
Bill Bruford: acoustic and electronic drums & percussion
The first performance, at Moles in Bath, was on April 31st 1981; the last at The Spectrum, Montreal, on July 1984. Live, the Tony, Ade, Billy & Bob Crimson were more song based than earlier versions of Crimson, but could also tear out and flatten ear hairs within a mile.
Each live Crimson has featured some aspect of new or current technology. This Crim featured two Roland GR300 guitar synthesisers, Chapman Stick and Simmonds electronic drums.
We recorded three studio albums. The material presented on this set is drawn from:
Discipline (1981): Elephant Talk, Frame By Frame, Matte Kudasai, Discipline, Indiscipline, Thela Hun Ginjeet
Beat (1982): Heartbeat, Waiting Man, Sartori in Tangier
Three of a Perfect Pair (1984): Three of a Perfect Pair, Sleepless, Man With An Open Heart, Industry, Dig Me, Larks' Tongues In Aspic (Part III)
Larks' Tongues In Aspic (1973): Larks' Tongues In Aspic (Part II)
Red (1974): Red

DGM King Crimson Archive Series
The Great Deceiver (1992): a 4 volume set of KC live in 1973/4, originally released through Virgin. This is currently out of print (February 1998) and has now reverted to DGM. We are planning to release a second edition of this in 1999.
Epitaph (1997): a 4 volume set of KC, mainly live, in 1969.
The Night Watch (1997/8): 2 volumes of KC at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on November 15th 1973.
Absent Lovers (1998): 2 volumes of the final show of the 1981-4 Crimson at The Spectrum in Montreal on July 11th 1984.
DGM plans to release other archive material, if there is sufficient expressed interest.

General Comments
The aim in presenting this live performance is to reflect the spirit of the group in a moment of its appearance. Live recording is not a precise art. But then, neither is recording.
Here are some reflections on live recording, drawn from many years of experience:
1. The sound at the soundcheck bears no relationship whatsoever to the sound once the audience appear.
2. Distrust any musician who clams to give you their maximum level at soundcheck.
3. Microphones move from their original positions.
4. Drum microphones record everything, are occasionally used as percussion accessories, and occasionally record nothing at all.
5. Vocal microphones also record everything, except sometimes the singer.
6. The audience is a featured performer.
7. The foot is not an exact instrument of calibration when placed upon a volume pedal.
8. If a lighting person tells you their lights can't don't and won't cause buzzes on amplifiers or the sound system, spit on one, or both, of their feet and bite your thumb while shouting: 'The fig of Spain'
9. Tuning a guitar with whammy bar, but no string lock, can lead to a quarter-tone exchange between duetting guitarist-buddies. And if it might, it will. On live television.

Image taken from Wikipedia