tom moody Reviews, 1998-2003

Archiporn subverted, January 14, 2003

Courtenay Smith & Sean Topham, Xtreme Houses (Architecture) (Paperback)

Within the comforting scheme of the shelter mag "livestyles of the cooler than you" compendium, this book slips in a lot of pointed politics. Atelier van Lieshout, for example, upends notions of private property and public propriety with its communal settlements and semi-ironic "sexual recreation centers"; its mini-state of AVL-ville, in the port of Rotterdam, was apparently so threatening to the commonweal that it was forced to shut down. Many of the architects are ardent recyclers who make buildings out of such castoff consumer materials as shipping containers and automobile tires. Just as artist Michael Rakowitz taps into the heating ducts and hidden crevices of cities for his temporary dwellings for the homeless (when landlords' backs are turned), Xtreme Houses uses the glossy book format to slide agitprop under the radar of the big business/publishing Monoculture. For those who would confine politics to specialized journals and photocopied broadsheets, this may be disturbing. Also, the book is not typographically cute or "webby," as one writer stated. It has text on the left, pictures on the right, and clear captions; Wired magazine circa 1994 it's definitely not.

Macabre, scabrous, and quite entertaining., September 26, 2000

Doris Piserchia, Earth in Twilight (Mass Market Paperback)

The mise-en-scene for this novel is somewhat reminiscent of Brian Aldiss's Hothouse: the world is choked by plant life and humans have devolved into small green tree dwellers. Also living among the vines and branches, and up in the tops of geosynchronous steeples (space elevators) that tower over the forest, are hideous monsters like Whing, an enormous blue mite, and the Ornad, with whom Whing's wife cohabitates after a bad domestic argument. Far worse is the plague organism in human form named Peru (after "P.U.," the last utterance of a victim who succumbed to his charms), who wanders around the forest causing deaths too loathsome to describe here. Enter a spaceship piloted by humans, who have returned after many millennia to defoliate the planet in a Vietnam-style ecocide called Project Deep Green, and the stage is set for one of Doris Piserchia's funniest and most entertaining books. (Sorry, I'm a sick person.)

A classic '84 text with an excellent new introduction, March 31, 2000
David Toop, Rap Attack, No. 3: African Rap to Global Hip Hop (Paperback)

"All music has a history, shameful or illustrious, but for a 14-year old chilling out in Playland, white nylon anorak with the hood pulled tight and maybe a pair of Nike kicks with the tongues pulled out, what matters in the mini-phones plugged into the Walkman (or one of its cheaper variants) is the post-NASA - Silicon Valley - Atari - TV Break Out - Taito - Sony - Roland - Linn - Oberheim - Lucas - Speilberg groove." That's David Toop on the "electro" music of the early '80s -- just one of many subjects handled with real sensitivity and street smarts in Rap Attack, a classic text now in its third edition. A musician as well as a writer, Toop conveys the magnitude of hip hop's revolution in sound -- combining the musique concrete of Edgar Varese with the urban frenzy of a Bronx social club at 2:00 a. m. -- but also its verbal genius, a lineage extending from the griots of Northern Nigeria to "doin' the dozens" to Kool Keith. With a dry wit and the erudition of a walking pop-music encyclopedia, Toop tells the tale of the amazing homegrown phenomenon that by 1998 "had overtaken country music to become America's biggest-selling format."

Complex, relentless, highly recommended., December 7, 1999

4Hero, Parallel Universe (Audio CD)

With its Kenny G-ish saxophone and straightforward diva vocals, the first track, Universal Love, sounds like a bid for Top 40 airplay (I have to admit it's pretty catchy, though). After that, it's pure breakbeat science: imaginative, layered, time-stretched pulses that go in and out, backwards and forwards in elaborate, relentless sonic landscapes. The latter tracks, as a unit, could be a kind of sci-fi concept album, with titles, spoken word samples, and sounds devoted to Martian colonization, solar radiation, "wrinkles in time," and other extraterrestrial concepts. More on the listening than the dancing end of the drum-and-bass spectrum, this CD is amazing technically, but has enough melody and feeling to make the science seem wildly romantic, rather than geeky.

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A Mind-bending Manifesto, October 19, 1999
Kodwo Eshun, More Brilliant Than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction (Paperback)

Less a critical survey than a manifesto for the neuron-altering powers of "breakbeat science," this ingenious book traces the development of sampladelia from the "jazz fission" era of '68-'75 (with excellent analyses of George Russell's and Herbie Hancock's sonic experiments), through the Parliament/Funkadelic groovescapes of the late '70s (including close scrutiny of Pedro Bell's subversive cover art), through Electro (early '80s synth oriented hip hop) and Detroit Techno, to the present Jungle milieu of time stretching and spatio-acoustics. Eschewing a traditional music-crit vocabulary in favor of a riffing, neologistic verbal poetics, Eshun perfectly captures the sci-fi convolutions of the music he describes, and makes an infectious case for the birth of a new audio-paradigm.

Catchy melodies, unpredictable song-structures, great words., October 11, 1999
Marianne Nowottny, Afraid of Me (Audio CD)

In an era when music (and musicians) are micro-managed into existence by corporate production teams, it's getting harder and harder to find anything that sounds the remotest bit "real." The songs, playing, and words on this CD, by one-woman-band Marianne Nowottny, come straight from the solar plexus, but this music is NOT alterna-rock balladeering. It's synth/art/poetry/classical/goth/pop, completely original and hook-y as hell. Some words are slurred together almost like scat-singing, but the lyric sheet reveals a complex, contradictory discourse, in which cliches ("see with new eyes") are followed with harsh twists ("speak with new lies"). Diverse musical influences -- raga, baroque classical, Gary Numan, Jerry Lee Lewis -- are effortlessly merged, not in the cut-and-paste manner of stadium prog-rock but with an intuitive inner logic. There are rough edges here that those corporate teams would snip out and smooth over, but I'll take the unpolished over the manufactured any day.

Says a lot with a little, September 13, 1999

Swayzak, Snowboarding in Argentina (Audio CD)

I bought this CD after listening to "Low-rez Skyline" through headphones at the record store. Its slow phase-in of instruments over a persistent, mutated "whonk" had a sort of JG Ballard, post-apocalyptic feel. Four or five other compositions have the same stripped-down, somber mood. The CD is a definitive soundtrack for cyberpunk sprawl, where the skies are permanently overcast with radioactive haze and cyborgs prowl through the rubble.

Good, but exploits conservative fears of Dinkins era NY, July 26, 1999

Marc Olden, Fear's Justice (Mass Market Paperback)

Olden wrote a very interesting "steampunk" type novel in the early '80s, Poe Must Die. He's well-read and slips a lot of literary references into the racist, sexist internal monologues of his tough police detective antihero, Fear Meagher. I found myself wishing I'd kept a notebook of all the great wisecracks and one-liners in this quintessential New York story. Even though Meagher is a bigot with a heart of gold, I kept wondering if anyone but old white guys would find his jokes all that funny. I did, but I wasn't particularly proud of it. Also, the novel is already slightly dated, since it plays on middle class white fears of a black, liberal administration "losing control of the city," a situation that has changed completely with the Meagher-like Rudolph Giuliani in office.

Dream-like film with haunting Keith Emerson score, February 8, 1999

Dario Argento, Inferno (VHS Tape)

Although the acting is fairly poor, the dialogue stilted, and the plot non-existent, this movie -- as the Re/Search book "Incredibly Strange Films" notes -- is about as close as one gets to the flow and feel of a dream. I would attribute the mood to the bravura visuals -- classically composed still shots a la Peter Greenaway; planes of saturated color winking on and off as characters move through a outrageous deco sets; swooping lens movements worthy of Sam Raimi's "wraithCam" -- working in tandem with the gorgeous, occasionally incongruous prog-rock stylings of ELP keyboard whiz Keith Emerson. Scenes of great formal beauty are intermittently jarred by stabbings, immolations, strangulations, eyeball-gougings, and rodent attacks, all fairly gratuitous (just like in real life!), and Emerson's synthesizer flailings are equally prone to erupt without warning -- often to miraculous effect. The music that accompanies one woman's taxi ride through the rainswept streets of Rome is wild and offbeat and sticks with you, and the Gregorian finale -- the repeated incantation "Suspiriarum, Lachrymarum, Tenebrarum," referring to the "mothers" (all of them witches) who cause the film's mayhem -- sounds like a rock opera version of Orff's "Carmina Burana" (it's hokey, but trust me, it works!). I have also seen "Suspiria," but prefer this film on the level of pure, macabre experience.

Get Piserchia back in print!, November 19, 1998

Doris Piserchia, The Fluger (Mass Market Paperback)

Some enterprising publisher ought to get Doris Piserchia's strange, anarchic little fables from the late '70s/early '80s back in print. In this one, the monster Corradado goes on a rampage in a utopian sky-city, prompting the mayor to hire another monster -- an alien entity whose consciousness shuttles back and forth among three bodies -- as contract killer(s). The plot follows an orphan boy fixated on killing Corradado and a crooked alcoholic biochemist who couldn't care less about the monster, as they join forces (willingly or not) with the alien hit man. Piserchia's books are subversive in that the monsters are point-of-view characters and we get a kick out of their gleeful rampant destruction of a high-tech but essentially cold-blooded urban environment.

"Cyber-Dad" RS shows Gibson, Stephenson et al how its done, August 24, 1998

Robert Silverberg, The Alien Years (Hardcover)

One of the more intriguing ideas in this novel is the "pardoner" -- part hacker, part attorney -- who gets people what they need in a bureaucratic, slave-holding society. Silverberg is as good here as Wm Gibson, Neal Stephenson, and other cyberpunks in describing small-time-operators-on-the-margins and complex interactions between humans and machines."What people need" turns out to be pretty chilling: changes of classification, for example, to avoid brutal work details or Nazi-type experimentation by the aliens. A description of a "data duel" between hackers is riveting. The book suffers a bit from potboileritis -- lusting descriptions of women, dangling plot threads, late-introduced characters that are hard to keep track of -- but overall it's much more passionate and psychologically compelling than the Niven-and-Pournelle epics it resembles.

Packs more paradoxes to the page than the brain can handle, July 10, 1998

Philip K. Dick, Counter-Clock World (The Gregg Science Fiction Series) (Hardcover)

Dick attempts the impossible task of making time seem to flow backwards as the reader moves forward through the book. An eerie and unforgettable premise has the dead being "born" in their graves, crying out to be exhumed so they can begin their reverse trek through life. In other scenes food is excreted onto plates and then boxed and returned to the shelf, while bodily wastes are ingested through a "sogum pipe," a process alluded to several times but mercifully never depicted. Eventually the book reaches an action-packed climax (shouldn't it have occurred at the beginning?), in which bullets are sucked back into firearms and so forth, but by that time the paradoxes have come so fast and furious that the reader's brain has imploded. As in so many of his novels, Dick throws too many balls in the air to keep the juggling act going, and as scientifically plausible fiction, it's a mess, but only a genius would have attempted an idea as weird as this one, and taken it as far as Dick does.

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