Off the Path Again

29 10 2007


By Derek Beres

According to the NJ Transite website, the PATH system accompanied 66.9 million riders in 2006, and are in the midst of a $3.1 billion dollar renovation that will continue through 2011. As a daily PATH rider for nearly a decade now, I really have to wonder where this money has gone, or is going. As much as I love the convenience and, for the most part, dependability of the system, there are many flaws not being addressed, and the above photo is but one example.

Roughly six weeks ago there appeared a few strands of police tape and a single garbage can blocking either side of the Grove St entrance. The handrails on both sides had been lagging a bit, and it seemed that they were finally going in for reparations. A few days later, and … the above. Two two-by-fours on either side to “hold” up the collapsing stairwell. When I first saw it, I thought it had to be a joke. After a few days, however, I guessed that it was a short, temporary solution that would be fixed soon. Now, six weeks later, and still this is what remains. This is all after, by the way, constructing a new PATH entrance at the corner of Columbus and Marin to accompany the slowly growing 50 Columbus building, an entrance that remains barely used and an obvious addition to appease potential renters who would, heaven forbid, have to walk another half-block. They receive a brand new entrance; the regular commuters get scrap wood.

This catering to an economically higher community is nothing new to the PATH design. Take their weekend schedule, for one. For years the PATH has stopped at Hoboken en route to Manhattan, as well as on the return, sometimes at a stand-still for ten minutes before continuing to Jersey City. Hoboken is roughly one square mile and has a population of 40,000. Jersey City is over twelve times that in geography, and has a population approaching a quarter-million. With an estimated 50,000 new condos and apartments being constructed in the city by 2020, there is an estimated growth of another hundred thousand people. Yet, every Saturday and Sunday, and after night after 11 pm, Jersey City commuters have to stop in Hoboken for the convenience of what usually amounts to a comparative handful of riders.

On an even less humane level, the total number of garbage cans in the four Jersey City PATH stops: zero. I’ve eyed at least two in Hoboken, and there may be more. The result of this is are constantly cluttered and filthy PATH stops in Jersey City. Why, exactly, there would be no garbage cans is beyond me. I’ve never seen a subway stop in Manhattan without one, and yet the PATH refuses to put them in.

It’s sad that the NJ Transit system boasts of the PATH as their busiest transportation line when they treat riders in this manner. Thing is, I’m certain things will soon change. The reason it will change, however, will be because the economic demographic is going to jump so drastically in Jersey City that when people with a bit of cash start complaining, things will start appearing. It’s an old story and not at all surprising. Those of us who’ve used this system for years will briefly benefit from those complaints, until we too are forced to float away like the scrap wood that now supports us.


Voodoo Lovin’

28 10 2007

Voodoo Love

Voodoo Love Inna Champeta-Land (Riverboat Records)

In one of the most colorfully decorated and extensively titled albums of recent years, this collection of musicians offers resumes as extensive and diverse as the name suggests. Champeta originated in Cartagena, a seaport city on the northern coast of Colombia. Like many coastal cities, where tourism and wanderers converge over centuries, styles and sounds blend into new staples. Thus, the roots of Champeta: African styles including Afrobeat, Soukous and Highlife, along with the Latin rhythms and percussion that inform many Afro-Latin forms. This particular record is a Buena Vista-style of collaborators, handpicked by Lucas Silva to expand upon the style. The record showcases this diversity, and really is a far-ranging escapade through numerous forms. The constants include incredibly clean and lush textures of electric guitar, probably stemming from the Highlife and Soukous side of things, as well as long, drawn-out grooves pulled from Afrobeat. The call-and-response, and often freeform, vocals invoke an atmosphere of community and celebration, two factors that are the roots of numerous African and Latin musics. Like much African guitar music, the production is geared toward treble and the high end, with blasts of brass interspersed; the grooves are embedded within these melodic aspects, and while amazingly thorough, do not punctuate the full potential of these songs. For these fourteen tracks are excellent, the musicianship superb. There are, in fact, so many musicians involved in a rotating character cast that to name them all would be to miss the point. Again, this is music of community and celebration—of dancing, really—so to single out everyone would be frivolous. What matters is the exceptional blending of cultures and flavors in every moment, and outside of those few production mishaps—the feeling, while vintage, could have been given at least a slight facelift—it is an album of magnitude and gravity, two qualities accomplished by only the most devoted of artists. DB

The Master, in Dub

27 10 2007


Dub Qawwali (Six Degrees Records)

Living in a time of digital storage and instant electronic messaging, there is something pleasant about crate-digging—that seemingly archaic art of unearthing rare sonic gems that have been forgotten, discarded or lost. The people that discovered rare vocal tracks by Pakistani legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan circa 1968-74 must have thought the same. This was a quieter Khan, one fully expressing the softer devotional form of which he would attain worldwide status for. The producers opened the files to a host of remixers, and were so impressed by Gaudi’s initial take that they inquired about an entire album. The London-based producer, who has been tinkering with electronics since the ‘80s, considered it an honor. Unlike much of the Khan fusion material—from Michael Brooks’ two incredible albums and Eddie Vedder’s vocal collaboration to Massive Attack’s stunning trip-hop remix—Gaudi focused on another devotional music sound: reggae, specifically dub. Anyone who would not consider dub religious has not explored Lee Perry’s Black Ark catalog in enough depth. Gaudi pays a headnod to Scratch and others by using vintage equipment like vacuum tubes alongside ProTools, creating a lush orchestral soundscape, with short stabs of piano and bottom-heavy bass. These ten tracks are tasteful and embedded with so many subtle nuances it may take a few listens to flesh out the scenario. That’s all right, however, as Khan’s voice sounds silken, compared to the gruffer, more guttural form that would raise the ears of men like Peter Gabriel in the ‘80s. None of this material supplants the fury of the call-and-response chanting, tablas, handclaps and harmonium that will forever be associated with this master. Dub Qawwali does, however, prove the diversity of this master, who continues to explore new terrain even ten years after his passing. DB

Four Star Fire

26 10 2007

San Diego Fires

By Jill Ettinger

Watching the fires rage across southern California is surreal. Having spent a significant amount of time in San Diego county during the last four years, I have a  clear vision of where these blazes are burning, and what the aftermath must look like. San Diego for the most part, is pretty nice. The weather is its greatest attribute, scenery not so bad. Much of the area is densely populated, but there are remote stretches of quietude. I lived there briefly for about a year, in the east county, in a gorgeous ranch house with an old growth cactus garden in the back, fruiting mulberry tree and horse ranches across the road. It was peaceful, dusty and a world apart from the Manhattan metro area I had spent the previous two years living in (and would eventually return to).

I’m pretty sure much of the world views southern California in many lights, but it is undoubtedly best known as the backyard to Hollywood, fantastic homes of the rich and maybe-famous, the most conservative county in our country sits between San Diego and Los Angeles (Orange county) and lots and lots of fancy cars, gobs of money and the image obsessed plastic surgery capital on the continent. Considering all this, part of me isn’t surprised at all that it’s going up in flames.

As the news shows families piled into Qualcomm Stadium for days as a shelter, they also mentioned some families were being welcomed into Downtown San Diego (not on fire) Marriott and other four star hotels at “discounted rates” of $129-$169 per night. Having worked in that area for as long as I did, and after moving back east, I was a hotel frequenter in San Diego virtually every month, for years. I’ve developed quite an affinity for, as the three & four star hotels in most parts of the world can be secured for well under $99 a night. This is a nice thing to know when traveling a lot. Many Motel 6 and other “cheap” places end up costing close to $70 or more per night without the amenities in some of these other establishments. After long flights, nothing beats a (clean) hot tub, rarely found at Super 8, but most always at a Sheraton, Hilton, Marriott etc. But as head falls to pillow after the intensity of travel, they’re all really just the same, and the gap in costs is often ghastly disproportioned.

As are many things in our country. We see this most clearly in times of disaster. It’s why the modest mean income of New Orleans received less effective evacuation and support during Katrina and why the efforts are much more proactive in the million dollar zip codes of San Diego. But still, when I read that in this time of terrifying crisis, some of the hoteliers were clearly collecting profits, rather than opening up their doors at cost or the almost unthinkable charitable donation of free rooms, my heart sank. The average working families being displaced by this ferocious cleansing forced to pay out to the mega-money makers that contribute to the plasticized image of SoCal (one hotel heiress comes to mind) so that they can have a safe bed for their children. Will this molten blizzard burn away this  greedy behavior or allow the kings of enterprise to gain even more power? If a massive, unstoppable fire can’t do the trick, what then does it take?

Digital Archeology and New Mythologies

24 10 2007


Derek Beres

When I first heard Karsh Kale’s Realize in 2001, an aural gateway blew wide open in my ears. I had been familiar with prior East/West collaborations, most notably Canadian guitarist/producer Michael Brook’s epic work with qawwali great Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, as well as figures like Ravi Shankar recording with Yehudi Menuhin and Philip Glass, and Zakir Hussain’s finger tapping alongside John McLaughlin and Mickey Hart. Yet Kale’s album had an urban edge splintered with gorgeous strains of bansuri, sarangi and, obviously, tablas, the two-drum set that his name is synonymous with. The Asian Underground was burgeoning across the ocean, yet Realize was a horse of completely new colors. This record was the birth of what he himself dubbed Asian Massive, as well as the roots of my first book on international electronica and world mythology, Global Beat Fusion: The History of the Future of Music.

The book focused on the people behind the scenes like that Massive movement, as well as Bill Laswell’s inimitable Tabla Beat Science, Barcelona’s groundbreaking flamenco hip-hoppers Ojos de Brujo, the unstoppable Polish dub-folk of Warsaw Village Band, and many others. During the three-and-a-half year journey that culminated in the writing of this book – as well as the nearly two-and-a-half since its publication – one theme kept and keeps appearing through all my interviews and research: the computer is the first world folk instrument.

Folk instrumentation has defined and been defined by geography. The sintir is the patented bass lute of Moroccan Gnawa music; the legend of sitars and sarangis grew from the Indian tradition; the djembe would be the inner and deep voice of African rhythm; the incredible tonal range of the pipa would put Chinese standards on the map; when bass became king in the studio, Jamaican dub was born. Instruments grew and evolved and were shared so that, over time, zithers like the santoor were remixed into the cimbalom when Indian became Hungarian folk, and ouds were transported around the Middle East for centuries before appearing in underground Manhattan night clubs by a wild Italian prodigy playing effervescent strings over house rhythms as dancers danced and screamed.

Read the full column on Reality Sandwich here.

Freudian Sips: The Last Days of Udder

23 10 2007

By Jill Ettinger

The story of milk has no beginning. It’s a timeless centerpiece to our existence, our first food. While we incubate inside our mothers, being fed through her umbilical, her body is also hard at work producing sustenance to support us upon our entry to the outside world. Breast milk builds our immune systems, feeds us high levels of protein, vitamins and minerals; as well it connects mother and child in a post-gestational bond critical for survival.

All mammals produce milk to support their fragile offspring: kittens, piglets, fawns, calves and human babies alike, all nurse until strong enough to chew. While humans demonstrate many obvious differences from our fur-covered relatives, one of the most striking peculiarities is our lifelong relationship with the teat, or more precisely: other animals’ teats. Perhaps the human addiction to mammalian excretions lies in our fear of death, creating a subconscious longing for the security of mother and her comforting nipple. This obsession has birthed a cattle dependency ad nauseam, mimicking the soothing liquid of our infancy, deviating cow milk into “foods” like Cheez-Wiz and Pudding Pops.

Since our warm-blooded cousins, like us, produce milk for the nourishment of newborns, a female must be pregnant in order to begin lactation. As I type this, millions of cows are being impregnated (many times over), in order to keep squirting out the pre-homogenized Haagen Dazs flavor of the month, movie popcorn drizzle topping, pepperoni and sausage melted platform. The baby cows that are eventually born will themselves become milk machines, or in the uneventful gender destiny as male, imprisoned veal calves, steer if they’re lucky.

It has been speculated that every human on earth is essentially lactose intolerant. It’s an easy assumption, for it would be silly to suggest that humans are cows, or even slightly resemble them (aside from a few obvious heifers like Rush Limbaugh and that lady from the Jenny Craig commercials), yet Americans are completely doped up on cow goo. Drinking milk meant for baby bovine is not only creepy, but also potentially risky. Duh. What the heck are we doing guzzling this stuff? Think in this context: What would happen to a polar bear if it spent its whole life drinking elephant milk? Imagine a full-grown cow sipping giraffe milk. It’s entirely nonsensical, yet without a second thought, “modern” mothers opt to forego breast feeding at all, supplanting their essential nutrients with synthetic formula cow/soymilk cocktails.

To read full column on Reality Sandwich, click here.

Looking “Good” … Is Happiness?

19 10 2007

Deepak Chopra

By Derek Beres

Sometimes, perhaps, I read too much into things. Not everything has to be connected, or contradictory. Yet a day after receiving an email about audience participation for a special show with author Deepak Chopra and I still can’t get past the irony in the invitation. To be clear, I’m not sure – and even doubt – Chopra has anything to do with these specifications. I’ve seen him speak, in Atlanta, two years ago, and was enthralled with his amazing and lucid storytelling. While I’m not a huge fan of his writings – I just can’t get down with with seven steps and learning how to “know god” in a book – his lecturing is highly entertaining and informative.

I open the attachment to the email. The name of the show is, unsurprisingly, “A Prescription for Happiness.” Venue info, call times, contact for producer, check. Then: Dress Code: Nice casual. No whites or blacks. No oranges or neons. No patterns or stripes. Pants for women. No sneakers or flip flops.

OK, having been a photographer for years, I know the dangers of wearing white or black, especially on film. And neons and oranges can be a bit glaring, depending on their shades. But no flip flops or sneakers? Pants for women? Are they filming a show on Victorian values? And audience members certainly cannot wear sneakers, that would not express happiness. Comfort, perhaps, but what does comfort have to do with happiness?

Sure, it’s an easy jab, but one that should be recognized. It fits into that constant “spiritual but only if” and then the guidelines. I know producing any sort of show or production is no easy work; I’ve been doing such for over a decade. And in that time what I’ve found is the greatest happiness occurs when you allow people to express themselves with minimal “rules.” Maybe it won’t get me to god, but it certainly makes me happy along the way.