Unease about unease

Sometimes it will be hard for me to avoid a “plague on both your houses” statement such as this one. I have to be careful what I say here, so I apologize if in places it is vague.

I understand that some musicians have been pushed to the margins by the way the “industry” works. It is a most unfortunate thing, especially if they are the kind of talent the country’s music scene sorely needs. I understand that this exclusion can breed resentment, and sometimes, it can boil over. It may not be easy but there is a time to be angry and a time not to be.

On the other hand, I think the unease felt by some musicians does reflect badly on the powers that be. It is hard to pick the “winners” and “losers” in a situation where we can supposedly have diversity that builds unity in our country. Any attempt to exclude brings with it some risk. The risk is that we will continue to see that resentment, and it is magnified by the way the anger can spread.

With this, I urge those I know in the music scene to please calm down especially as we begin Holy Week. I am saddened by the unease, because I know that while it is inevitable, it breeds the negativity that is part of the fallenness of our human condition. To inject a note of religious sentiment here, Christ redeemed our fallen humanity for us to overcome that which has driven us apart. Even in our fallenness, I have seen grace work.

I have seen grace work in the sounds of music by men and women who love their metier, as the French put it. I have seen grace work in those who acknowledge their prejudices and preconceptions and overcome them to discover beauty and see things for themselves. I have seen grace in the way we all come together to celebrate each other’s gifts.

I hope we may all have eyes to see.

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Three things 17 – 25 March 2012

I will be putting this series on hold this week first, because I have a lot of things to write and think about, and most importantly to do. Just three short notes:

1. I am about to listen to a band’s new-ish EP, and this is the band. Why am I listening to it, readers will find out soon enough.

2. Yesterday, I learned that Pasay City’s Malibay district has had a 110-year old Passion play, and that the Metropolitan Museum of Manila has an amazing show of religious icons, which is a truly edifying experience to visit until the 15th of next month.

3. I also learned quite a lot of things that I feel ought not to be shared, but the one thing I can share is that sometimes, the most interesting conversations result in new perspectives on things I liked and took for granted.

Vita brevis

It should not surprise those who’ve known me long enough that I skipped a reunion. Again. I seem to have lost some enthusiasm since the last one five years ago, when I was then still working at a training firm and little was on the horizon of the changes I would experience in my life. As I am preparing to meet some newer friends, the thought that comes into my mind was a Latin phrase: vita brevis. A short life.

(If I wanted a sentence, I would go for that line from the Gaudeamus igitur anthem: “Vita nostra brevis est.” Our lives are short.)

I would like to think that I would not be around very long. Even if my past shaped who I am now, I have often had some regrets about it. But life is too short for regrets. Or for dwelling on them.

Life is too short for recalling the traumas, the awkwardness, the roots of an unease with myself and others that sometimes manifests itself in anger. Life is too short for even trying to celebrate what has been–though I think in one case, the musical legacy of the past, it is worth celebrating–because there is so much now to experience for me, or for anyone. And so much to come, in God’s future.

Perhaps I would like to honor my past, in another way, at another time. For now, I wish all of you well, those I valued as friends and those I just could not. Godspeed.

A World Poetry Day recommendation

Rowan Williams is retiring from the See of Canterbury this December to return to the academe. Apart from his academic and popular theological books, which are substantial, and his whole body of sermons and addresses, Williams writes poetry, and Eerdmans has reprinted two previously published volumes in one convenient new edition. For the Poetry Archive, Williams offers this guided tour of some of his favorite poems, and that is my recommendation for today.

Three things 16 – 21 March 2012

Today is World Poetry Day, so…

1. …on the eve of the day, I finally went back (after a quiet absence) to the monthly poetry night the LIRA organization sets up at Conspiracy Garden Cafe. Hosted by Beverly Siy, the author of It’s a Mens World, the evening featured poet and Miriam College Filipino professor Rebecca Anonuevo and (coincidentally) another MC alumna, Mookie Katigbak-Lacuesta, a woman of many talents and editor of the new Metro Serye ‘zine, published by the UST Press.

I have not been to any of their poetry nights in a long time, and in the absence of the other regular poetry night I used to attend, this will do. (I understand LIRA’s gig predates the Happy Mondays series.) But their agenda is pretty clear–something I respect, but one to which, notwithstanding my own poetic lineage, I cannot yet subscribe. (As I believe that my great-grandfather stood for all Filipinos, even those who did not share his Tagalog language, I am convinced his poetic legacy does NOT belong to one person, group, or organization. It is however for other organizations to help maintain that legacy, and I am glad LIRA is helping.)

2. Speaking of Bebang, she was righteously indignant yesterday about a heretofore hushed-up issue: the way that certain groups take advantage of people’s lack of awareness of their moral rights as authors. One publishing company has launched a writing competition. But what got her ire was a single sentence rule, with emphases mine: “All entries shall become the property of the publisher.” So whether someone wins in the competition or not, by joining the competition, they lose all right to ownership and copyright of their work, including the possibility of revision (which is not impossible). One writer told me last night that usually competitions have more complex rules about copyright and ownership of contest entries, mainly because copyright law in this country operates on the presumption that an author has a moral right to the work in question and that their interests are paramount. What is even more disturbing, Siy points out, is that the competition is open to minors. (13 and up, says the rules for the competition.) Here, I suspect, the rules are more complex. Parental consent ought to be required in these cases, especially if it turns out that this is a legal assignment of ownership.

It is clear to me, and to those who are aware of these and other similar things, that there are people who are preying on other people who are unaware of their rights as creators. The use of these rights come with responsibilities, of course. One of these in particular is to use their creativity in the best way possible, for the good of their communities of accountability. (I am therefore not too fond of the solipsistic model of artistic creativity.) But it remains that when creative people make something, they must receive, in terms of natural justice, what is due them for their work. That is the underlying principle of copyright, and one which many forget.

3. And since it is World Poetry Day, there is an event going on at the Ayala Triangle Gardens this evening at 6:30 PM. An alternative for those preferring to hear about something sports-related is tonight’s Dialogues at Starbucks event at their High Street drive-through branch near MC Home Depot. The topic, which is turning out to be quite relevant in the light of the recent Challenge Cup bronze finish of the Philippine team, is about how football is becoming a tool to empower young persons in poor communities.

Three things (plus two!) 15 – 18 March 2012

This St. Patrick’s Day weekend, I decided to go back to the very convenient “rule of three” that I observe for posting my usual series. More importantly, there is enough material for five different items! So enjoy this long read.

  1. Wednesday night featured an interesting chat with Teddy Co, the director and founder of Cinemarehiyon, a festival meant to promote outside-the-Metro cinema. The topics were wide-ranging, but they did include the current Cinemalaya storm, the state of video/multimedia art in the Philippines, and then, his one working eye lit up upon mention of a certain play which has received wide media coverage comparable only to PETA’s William, including a mention in Reuters.

This brings me to the longest day in my year so far.

  1. After a board meeting for the organization for which I work, and a second meeting with our web designer (preceded by errands and a very brief catnap), I decided to go to three cultural activities of a sort. The first was Mark Salvatus’s new show at the Ateneo Art Gallery, now ongoing till April 30. The opening night had a number of guests from the academe, the visual arts world and independent cinema. The cocktails, high-end Manila street food, were a huge hit. One person I spoke with later that night recalled Leeroy New’s opening night, which featured the same food but by a different caterer.

    Worth noting was that this show featured an interesting work that was donated to the Ateneo Art Gallery’s permanent collection. Though ostensibly about the way commerce creates cities of desire (echoing, from where I sit, the work of Graham Ward), I found that the work, featuring a turntable with cut-outs of condominium flyer clippings, spoke as much to me about why I have not been writing about the visual arts of late—which ironically means that I may have something in mind to write about, for the wider world which mainstream media reaches.

  2.  After lingering quite a bit, I found myself heading to the least publicized Printemps des Poetes in history. The room was still full–actually, about 80%, but unlike past years, they changed the layout of the seats that evening–one long block with the stage at the other end, broken only by a huge space for the buffet tables and for people to go stand between them.

    Due to the inevitable traffic and a much longer lingering about the Ateneo Art Gallery than I thought, I got there quite late, just in time for the break. I missed many of the poets whose work I expected to hear that night, especially Yanna Verbo Acosta, who would be performing with one of my favorite electronica ensembles, Gentle Universe. But it was not all too bad. I had a few  words with poet Pete Lacaba, whose work on PETA’s Thee Na Natuto show was one of its lyrical highlights, in my opinion. (Watch out for the review, my last for the Philippine Online Chronicles.) I also got to meet some people I only get to see at Printemps, including one of the producers for a TV station whose coverage of arts and culture is unique among local channels. As for the poetry, though, I have no comment.

    4.  I however have plenty of comment about the next part of that evening. I slipped out early from Printemps because I really wanted to be at the Dakila collective‘s Common Threads #1: The Bawal Experiment event. It featured the return performance of the Australian hip-hop duo, the Mountain Men, from a trip up to the North where they studied the culture of the indigenous peoples there. (They work with the Aboriginal community in Australia as well, so it was good to get a comparative view.) Apart from them, there were other performers such as percussionist Jean Paul Zialcita, singer/songwriter Nityailya, and a pretty prominent band whom Jesse Grinter called the best in town. But before I talk about their set, I must remind readers who’ve gone this far that Teddy Co’s one eye glowed with joy when he talked about Battalia Royale.

    Someone mentioned that the Silly People’s Improv Theatre would have as their guests the increasingly familiar Sipat Lawin Ensemble. One of SPIT’s members joined the second run of the bloody play, and they were all watching his usual theatre troupe impress with their improv games. An indie film director whom I met at the opening night of the CCP run was talking with me over at the Collective, where the Dakila event was being held, when I mentioned in passing that they were not too far away. He suggested that I invite them. So I did, making sure to mention that performing that night was Battalia Royale‘s house band, the Radioactive Sago Project. But that was only after I was reminded to go over to Quantum Cafe, where the theater people were.

    Suffice to say, after a tribute to the late Karl Roy, who was a founding member of Dakila, we had a very interesting and energetic set from Lourd de Veyra’s band. But what made it all the more energetic, as Lourd pointed out the day after, was the vibe generated by the theater troupe, who unlike a significant minority in the room got up and danced, and got even me happily moving along. And then, the Sipat Lawin people did this at the end of the song “Alak, Sugal, Kape, Babae, Kabaong.”

    Sipat Lawin Ensemble members play dead (faintly seen) at the end of a Radioactive Sago Project song. Photo by Ren Aguila

    I think that says it all about how theater people have fun, sometimes bordering on clever self-parody.

    I spoke to Radioactive Sago’s frontman about this the next day at an author’s night for Norman Wilwayco, whose new book Responde is published by the new independent press BlackPen Publishing. The evening featured Wilwayco on Skype from Australia, where he is currently based, and three of his friends, including de Veyra, not only read excerpts but also had great fun talking about the author and each other. We enjoyed it immensely.

    5. My Saturday was spent with three disparate circles. After I had an interview with comic illustrator David Finch for an upcoming story, I went over to Shangri-la Plaza to watch Johnny Alegre and his ensembles perform that evening. The one I was really there to see was the newest iteration of the Humanfolk project, which was essentially the ensemble I met back on my birthday in 2011. That night, the keyboardist’s band played first, and I will stop talking about that part of my work. (By the way, Fuseboxx will be at Conspiracy Garden Cafe on Thursday.) I got to meet Alegre at Humanfolk’s album launch in May 2011, about two years after Tet and I met Cynthia Alexander (also part of Humanfolk) at Mag:net.

    I also got to meet two old friends from university, whom I only get to meet sporadically but still value because they are among the most loyal of my friends from my psychology days. While I do value the friends and acquaintances I’ve made over the years, I still make sure to get back to them. One of them is taking up a graduate program in history, and the other is getting his masters degree over the weekend.

    The evening ended with a reunion of sorts of another group of people I met in Mag:net. The Mejias sisters, Malaine and Joee, were among those I got to know around 2008 during the rare times I had weekday evenings off at my old job. Now I am pleased to say Malaine has a new food business whose stuff I tried over at Joee’s place back in December, and Joee is doing all sorts of projects, including a return to performing with her new electronica project Loveless. (She was in an electronica ensemble before called Saffron Speedway, if I recall correctly.)

    Until next time, have a great week and a good night!

Three things 14 – 14 March 2012

Fourteen on the fourteenth. Thanks for reading by the way.

Meanwhile, as we mark the passing of two noted musicians here in the Philippines, my post today will talk about two items in the press and about coming attractions.

1. Before I post about this piece that only came to my attention today, my disclaimer: the band to which she belongs has asked me to help me with their PR. I had no hand in getting this interview, though.

If there is one bit of sheer chance which changed my life, it was a fateful trip to the Collective. I was, as usual, early for an event at Vinyl. Before I could get to my favorite food shop there (more on which shortly), I saw that B-Side, the place’s music events venue, was open early and there were tarps galore outside for what turned out to be an album launch. Johnny Alegre’s Humanfolk project was launching their self-titled debut album. And he had a group of musicians who were themselves noteworthy. One of them was a young woman whose name sounded utterly familiar. When I went over to the registration booth and read the material, I suddenly remembered that she was the lead singer of a band who happened to stun a number of us at Mag:net Gallery when it reopened the year before. I did something which, at the time, I would rarely do. I went out of my way to congratulate her.

So it was that, to make this story short, I met Abby Clutario, Fuseboxx’s lead singer. (Style thing: I capitalize band names by convention. They don’t capitalize theirs. Let’s call the whole thing off.) And after a short chat, I decided to add her on Facebook and saw that, much to my surprise, she knew many of my friends from my time as a production staff member at the Ateneo College Glee Club.

That is how I got to know her and her band. And for those who have yet to discover one of those bands of which it can rightly be said, “Where have these guys been?”, read this press interview with Abby in the Philippine Star. And watch them perform later at 70s Bistro on Anonas Street, Quezon City.

(Okay I will stop talking about this part of my work now.)

2. Speaking of the noodle shop, I think another bit of reminiscing is in order, whose connections will come together neatly at the end of the next paragraph. Back in 2010, I wrote this piece about a place which, coincidentally, was called Manila Collective in Cubao X. It was a photojournalist’s gathering place. At that time it was one of the few establishments that served both coffee, tea, and a range of pastries at that otherwise alcohol-fueled place.

There was a documentary photograph master class which was led by a photojournalist, and I vaguely recall that they had some sort of show-and-tell by another senior member of the profession. It was there that I met one of the editors of GMA News Online, Victor Sollorano. Why I met him there among the photographers was still a mystery, and this was only revealed when an email came to me after the Collective Art Fair. He had a photo exhibit at Wabi-Sabi Noodle House.

Telling the story behind the story is something I can safely do here, but please do visit the vegan noodle place to see his exhibit, Hasu (Lotus), for yourselves. It should still be up at the shop. Besides, I did write a story about it, so you can find out more about it there. (The reason I did so is, as a contributor, I can write stories about people within the team that the regular staff cannot.)

3. Finally, in the arts scene, here are three events to check out tomorrow. Silverlens opens three shows, including a new End Frame show with Maria Tanaguchi. But I will be most likely spending my night at Alliance Francaise de Manille for their annual Printemps des  Poetes event, starting at 7:30. And the Dakila collective has this event at B-Side later in the evening, which I hope will feature a book of condolences/tributes for people to sign, in honor of Karl Roy’s passing.