Wednesday, April 16

joanna margaret paul photographs

If had the money I would purchase these three photos from the Joanna Margaret Paul: Photographs 1976–1985 show, which was on last year at Robert Heald Gallery (Leftbank, Cuba Mall). I'd put them on my wall then stare at them forever - feeling further and further distanced from everything outside. They are so heartbreaking (as is the story behind them). 

Note: I had an issue with the format for captioning these photos so head to the Robert Heald website for titles and details.


Monday, April 14

insert coin - pray to win?

The reverend Martin Baker has practised as a minister for several decades and currently holds a position as the Assembly Executive Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand. But, despite his experience (or maybe because of it), it is still a simple interaction at a supermarket checkout that spurs a wave of religious and philosophical questions. Check out the feature here!
Exploring the three main obstacles on the search for enlightenment, Hadleigh Tiddy ventures back through his experiences of a meditation-fuelled spiritual quest.

Frustrated by how frequently those suffering will be told to "think positive" and pray, or be blamed for having bad karma, Lucy Hunter delves into the struggles of Zoe, a young woman living with a chronic auto-immune disease.

Sunday, April 13

pixies - indie cindy review

I reviewed the Pixies' album Indie Cindy for Critic this week - you can read it below, or find it on the Critic website here.

I could talk about buttoned-down shirt Dads shyly squeezing into old pairs of their black pipe jeans. I could talk about how the waistlines of their jeans pinch at their beer bellies, causing them to initially suck in for the “big gig night” with their old university buds (and how, after a few pints, they’ll let it all out). I could describe the Pixies’ new album, Indie Cindy, as a confident and unconstrained roll of beer belly. But that’s both mean and places the legendary Boston band into a suffocating regime dictated by strict (and naive) rules of how they should sound. Who cares how they should sound? Just let them sound!

Indie Cindy is the Pixies’ first studio album since Trompe Le Monde came out in 1991, and consists of a mix of tracks from their EP-1, released in 2013, as well as their EP-2 and three songs from EP-3, which were both released earlier this year. With Black Francis, Joey Santiago, David Lovering and Simon Archer on bass (Pixie co-founder Kim Deal left the band in 2013 and does not appear on this album), the resulting album has a classic Pixie-style in its shifts from loud to quiet both within songs and throughout the album, but it never quite achieves an edge that’ll keep the listener replaying.

“What Goes Boom” opens the album with a rock metal urgency (chilling out slightly as Black Francis pays tribute to Kim Deal, singing, “Kimmy and her bass/She really likes to get rockin’”). It is hectic - with an energy really only achieved again in “Blue Eyed Hexe.” In “Greens and Blues,” Francis’ enduring attachment to the extraterrestrial makes an appearance as he sings, “I said I’m human but you know I lied, I’m only visiting this shore.” This song provides the first hints of the tired-romantic sound that persists (and threatens to entirely embody) the album. Building on the first two songs, “Indie Cindy” grounds the mood of the album. This is a mood that conjures up an image of an older man road tripping across the States - driving during the night and spending the days in a worn down motel. He’s either running from or chasing a love that is never going to work out. At times the protagonist is overcome with almost a child-like frustration, but more often he slips into an exhausted state as he watches the dull, fluorescent lights of fast food chains pass by - over and over again - into monotony. This tired mood is particularly felt in the downbeat vocals and guitar of songs in the second part of the album.

While “Bagboy,” with its masculine spoken-word bite, and my personal favourite, “Magdalena 318,” with its sad, echo-y sound that drifts into moments of unearthly guitar by Joey Santiago, are interesting, Indie Cindy lacks something. Perhaps it’s the eclectic, sudden (and exhilarating) frenzies that youth, relative anonymity and Kim Deal (with her harmonies and eccentric bass) brought to the Pixies in the past. Or it could be a lack of inspiration. While repeat listenings in different settings and approaching it with a fresh mindset is recommended, keep in mind that the lonely driver may have come from somewhere but now he’s not going anywhere in particular.

Saturday, April 12

the attic attack

The other night I walked my flatmate, Adrian, to The Attic ("a sonic and visual research bureau" that is literally in an attic)! I had intended to drop him off so he could get some work done, but instead I explored the dark, cabin-like place that is filled with wonderful music equipment (including a small guitar pedal-making cave), designs, and details. Filled with shadows and strange ambivalent sound from the disco on the building's bottom floor, The Attic is a moody and enchanting place on a dark night.


Sunday, April 6

where the wild things aren't

For her feature Where the Wild Things Aren't Josie Adams spent an entire day people watching at the university library. Her final account of the experience made me laugh out loud!
Allison Hess looks into happiness and how to (or not) obtain it.
 I also wrote a feature this week called The Great Wall of Internet! I look at China's Internet and censorship structures and what particular groups in China do to get around it.

Thursday, April 3

interview: donna jenkins (funeral director)

For a Critic feature I wrote on funeral trends I interviewed Donna Jenkins who is the current funeral director at the Dunedin funeral home called Hope and Sons Ltd. While a large portion of the interview is incorporated into my feature I thought I'd post the full discussion here for those who might be interested. I hope you enjoy it!


What does your work involve on a day to day basis?

On a daily basis we are involved with bereaved families and assist them with making informed decisions in making funeral arrangements for someone they love and care about. We arrange for the transfer of the deceased to our Chapel, we care for them and place them in a casket ready for viewing, we meet (sometimes several times) with the family to put funeral plans in place. I direct the funeral on the day to ensure everything goes according to plan. Following the funeral we assist families with anything else they may need – bereavement support, ordering monumental work i.e. headstone additions and plaques, ash interments etc.  We offer pre-planning and pre-payment of funerals, so we often meet with clients to assist them with this. There are always other general duties such as answering phone and visitor inquiries, community education, record keeping, more than I can probably list!

What pulled you into the funeral industry?

I came from a background in nursing and I see this work as an extension of caring for people. Being in a position of having the ability to care for the deceased and their families in their times of need makes me feel very privileged to be part of such a caring and professional organisation. It is not just a job it is a lifestyle.

Has your career changed your perspective on death?

Yes definitely. We are only here for a short time, so I try to make the most of any opportunities life brings.  I have seen too many people leave life very suddenly and unexpectedly with unfinished business not to be grateful for the life I have, a cliché I know, but everyday is a bonus.

What changes have you observed in funeral ceremonies over the past few decades? Also, are more funerals about celebration of a life or mourning for a life?

Funerals are more a celebration of a life, the loss is acknowledged but services are now very personalised and more focused on the positives that have been achieved no matter how short the life may have been. The increasing popularity of Celebrants and Funeral Directors providing custom built facilities and a climate of more flexibility in funeral service timing etc have led to many changes, but I would also say that in a crisis people often go back to what is familiar. For example, the family may not be regular Church – goers now, but as children they attended with Mum and Dad so they will sometimes choose to have a service in the Church for Mum with a Clergy person conducting the service. Most Churches have also made changes too and slideshows, recorded music (not just hymns) etc. are now often included in Church services.

Technology now plays a major role in most services through, slideshows (including video clips), live-streaming, recording of the service, television links, online tribute pages.  In the last twelve to fifteen years we have gone from using LPs to cassette tapes, CDs to iPods - what's next ?

Casket shapes have mainly stayed the same but the materials used to make them has changed from all solid timbers to also including MDF with or without a veneer finish, wicker, plywood, cardboard  and even wool. Graphics and painted finishes on caskets are available as well as the traditional wood.

A few years ago a hymn sheet was developed to include the words of the hymns that were to be sung and maybe include an invitation for afternoon tea at a family home; these were usually on flimsy paper with an oval single black and white photo on the front. Service sheets (as they are now known as) are colourful and personalised. Graphic designers are often used to design a personalised pictorial tribute.

Vehicles have changed through the years from horse-drawn carriages, vintage and classic cars to modern vehicles. Some funeral firms are able to provide all of these today. Families may also choose to use other types of vehicles like Dad’s old truck, a vintage fire engine, a van.

Burial was the only choice prior to the opening of Crematoriums. Cremation is now a more popular choice than burial, sometimes this is directly linked to cost, but more often it is because of the flexibility that it enables in and around funerals. For example, with family living overseas it may be decided to have the cremation take place and a Memorial service held at a later date or delay the interment or scattering of ashes until all the family can be together. A shift in some religions on their views towards burial or cremation has also had an effect on this choice.

Embalming also allows flexibility with time frames for funeral services and also the assurance the deceased will be well cared for.

It was always common for the deceased to be at the family home prior to the funeral service, there were a few years of this not being so popular but now there is a good mix – it is whatever the family want.

Do you find any funeral practices in history or different cultures particularly interesting? Could you briefly describe them?

The methods of ancient embalming as opposed to modern embalming are an interesting read as are customs and rituals in and around funerals through the years. Why we tend to do things the way we do - like carry a casket feet first...

All cultures view death in their own way, some with great similarities to each other and some very different, often this is in around the choice of burial or cremation and all the rituals. Within cultures there will be differences depending on a particular family and the background they have come from. You never assume, just because someone appears to come from a particular culture does not necessarily mean  that they will expect traditional funeral customs and visa versa.

How has increasingly secularism affected the funeral industry?

There are less funeral services held in Churches, more Celebrants are used to conduct services, this has led to innovative ideas. Funeral services have definitely become longer and more “involved”.

What effects has an increasingly environmentally conscious society had on the funeral industry?

Eco funerals are now very much within the framework of the funeral profession. Environmentally friendly products are used in the care of the deceased, there is an environmentally caring range of caskets available and Dunedin has now had its first natural burial.

As a company we endeavour to reduce our carbon footprint through buying locally, maintaining nice green gardens, recycling within the DCC guidelines, using energy saving light bulbs, we financially support the Orokonui Ecosanctuary and make a donation twice a year in memory of the people we have cared for, recycle paper, we have air conditioning units throughout the building that are energy- saving, we chose our brand of photocopiers because of their carbon footprint. We are always looking for ways to improve.

Have you ever had surprising requests when directing a funeral (such as themes, interesting music choices or technological elements)? Could you briefly describe them?

It is probably fair to say that nothing is too surprising, but we will often guide families as to whether it would be appropriate, practical, dignified and of course – legal!

Some examples include: a surfboard on top of the Dodge hearse; playing a recording of the deceased person singing as their casket leaves the Chapel; being asked to drive past certain Hotels on the way to the Cemetery; a prepared, prior to death video recording of the deceased speaking to the congregation; holding the service at the race track then the hearse (casket in back) following a race horse around the track to the song “The Gambler” being played across their PA system; a daughter spoke at her mother’s funeral from Italy via an iPhone being held to the microphone ( it was very clear, as if she was there in person); horse-drawn carriage taking the casket to the crematorium and all the family following behind on foot (approx. 4 kms); fairylights, statues and greenery throughout the Chapel to recreate the deceased’s own garden; boats, motorbikes, classic cars and trucks parked in and around the funeral service venue.

There have also been some “interesting”  music choices as a casket either arrives or leaves the Chapel, like the Can-can, Another One Bites The Dust, the Star Trek theme, Dancing Queen, Always Look On the Bright Side Of Life, the Thunderbirds theme and the Shortland Street theme.

Tuesday, April 1

frankie cosmos - zentropy review

Photo from Pitchfork by Sam Clarke
Adrian Ng asked me to write a review for his lovely music section in Critic. You can read my review below or on Critic's website.

Sunlight passing through a prism, creating a stretched rainbow across the floorboards. Waking up to an old pet cat purring on your face. Early morning family road trips past infinite power-poles and vast fields. Faded glow-in-the-dark stickers covering the ceiling in your old bedroom. Frankie Cosmos’ first studio album, Zentropy, is filled with a type of loneliness and sentimentality, particular to a shy, quirky young adult.

Despite suggested (and purposefully exaggerated) youthful naivety, Zentropy is by no means the result of a first endeavour into the world of songwriting. Frankie Cosmos is only one of a number of 19-year-old Greta Kline’s musical personas, and Zentropy is one release out of a prolific array of more than 40 album and EP releases on Bandcamp. But, in its way, this album is a definitive entry point.

Kline’s most recent project, Zentropy, is indie-pop grounded by the cumulative result of a three-piece drum set, electric guitar and Kimya Dawson-esque vocals and lyrics. It begins with a condemnation of art school then weaves into a childlike awe for a daddy who is a fireman. Then, in the sad, staccato sound of “Birthday Song” comes the dwellings on past romance with Kline singing “‘cause I get all flushed and ugly / Wonder how he ever loved me / I am so clumsy.” In the same song Kline’s message transforms into one of a two-sided rejection: “I hate everybody in this town so I walk around with my head down.” From this point, the sound drifts into Fleet Foxes-like vocal harmonies and builds with “Owen.” Further along, still more is revealed about Kline - she’s “the kind of girl buses splash with rain,” but also “crazy, I have no idea what I’m doing” in “I Do Too.” The album ends with “Sad 2” - a lament to a dead dog, which (as is the pattern within each of Kline’s songs) is both about a love for a pet and something more deep and ubiquitous.

Zentropy is sweet and confident. However, with its total play time only twenty minutes long, the brevity of Zentropy is noticeable. While each song has character, the listener’s encounter is short-lived allowing only an introduction, with perhaps the promise that later Frankie Cosmos releases will give more body to these slightly introspective personalities.

The Frankie Cosmos blog describes Frankie Cosmos as “the flower you should grow” and “the pride soldiers show when they are returning home from battle victorious.” Perhaps contradictory descriptions (with a darker humour bubbling beneath the surface), but Zentropy certainly lays down soil for a Cosmos garden that could grow in a range of different ways - what is so alluring is all the mystery that remains as to just what lies beneath.