a tardy review of a show at yoko and a critique of expat cultural production that earnestly reads like a rather dated cry for better abstract expressionism

the review      

Stepping into the redesigned Yoko, I greet the doorman with a nod, and look up. A skyline of stolid silhouettes jerked to unsyncopated rhythm, pulsing with each tremolo scratch. The experimental pastiche is pulling their heads forward in random cycles, as if some monstrous question were being exorcised from the audience. Hanging off of the white walls are comic-portraits of John Lennon, Kurt Cobain and the like, each framed with a single-served quote-to-enlightenment.

Everything is black, or blue from the artist’s five meter runway of synthesizers and record players. I look up to see the introvert’s nest I remember retreating to last year. Empty space has replaced the loft.



I also notice an apparently non-functional A/C. Take a deep breath. The air is thick, watered down. I can smell bodies, perfumed and not. Also, whiskey? From the entrance, the bar’s bland white fluorescent light spills over more silhouettes in the far-out right. The customers stand there, no cash in hand. I continue up the stairs and navigate through a plethora of pillars decorated with woven wood-urns, dying candles and brand-new ashtrays. Conspicuous cosmopolitan eyes guide me to the menu. It’s as thick as a magazine, all done up and gleaming with the white light’s reflection. Unfortunately, perhaps pretentiously, the beer is 69K VND and up. Oh well, I thought, there’s cheap beer across the street and as long as I look beneficially busy, no one will object to externally purchased booze. I decide to splurge and buy a G&T (120K). The servers speak English fairly well, although it took an awkward exchange to learn that my Viet-accented English was unnecessary.

After several “excuse me’s” and bright-eyed smiles, I hugged my German Viet-kieu friend at the front of the crowd and saw the spectacle I’d come for.  It took a few seconds for me to realize why Yoko had changed. Or rather the kind of venue it might become. On the screen, images of average Saigon sights; xe oms, food stands, and other small businesses. I began to wonder why only businesses with no upward or downward momentum were chosen.

not yoko, but the feeling's parallel

not yoko, but the feeling’s parallel

As my thoughts began to dive into postindustrial squalor, the image was cut out, piece by piece, and lines of static appeared at the top and bottom. Imagine an old VCR fast-forwarding long enough to achieve sentience. A rainbow of colors and fractal effects begin to fill the bodies, overwriting them one organ at a time. The next few minutes feature traditional Viet hats resting on a Fibonacci sequence resting on a hoodie proclaiming “USA #1.”

This show wasn’t just entertainment; it’s a reproduction of a city casually reinterpreting its place in a possibly non-mutual consummation with neo-colonial markets. A regular cannibal’s Babel, Yoko is. Two obligatory femme fatals shook their stuff to the left of the screen, baiting me to join in. A tall blond man to my right smiles and gives me a thumbs-up, nodding, to dismiss any doubt. But before I could bite, the projector switched functions, and suddenly the crowd was displayed on screen: silhouettes of static noise, fractals and bubbles pushing and melting into everyone’s crossed arms. Only the girls moved like the screen. Everything was scratches with velvet and perfume. A dolly shot of five ambiguous bubble-shadows standing in a semicircle. The girls and their go(o)ds. Scene.

the critique

Bringing experimental noise music into a venue like Yoko, where the object of the show is either to dance or talk, creates the same familiar paradoxes accompanying entertainment universally. Here you have long, Wagnerian moans and pulls laced with absolutely spontaneous tremolo scratches and effects generally not heard above the radio spectrum. But still those scantily clad femmes’ goods were shaking to their best guess of a rhythm.

Anticipating the crowd’s response, the DJs gradually alter the soundscape until some base rhythm achieves a veritable omnipresence. But why? My contention is that they have three at-hand choices on stage, or three ways to respond to the polemic of production. Giving the artists the benefit of the doubt (in that they are not putting on a show only for fame and fortune, but actually have something to express), there are three kinds of audience members:

i) the avant garde, listening not to be entertained, but to study, interpret, travel-with, suffer; listen.

ii) the entertainers, who analyze the production for value alone, be it financial or sexual.

iii) the entertained, who cheer or jeer only in conjunction with passing levels of jouissance or alienation, note with this last group, their actions have less to do with the production than with their happiness.

These three types are not rigid in the sense of being composed of the same individuals at all times-there is always the contingency of psychological transformation or perturbation. and there’s death.

But so the question begged is: which audience do the DJs play to? Are they purists, abstaining from the cupidity of entertainment and shock-value in full fidelity to artistic expression? Perhaps, but then, if they really are there for the art alone, and bland bloodless repetition for entertainment’s sake is the abject, then those of us poor fools suckered into one of the last two categories (and i’m fully aware of the religious irony here) must be saved.

But here they realize in order to save us from blind entertainment, in order to overcome entertainers, they must Entertain. This is already weird enough to signify some sort of cyberpunk continence. In order to hold the entertainers in a symbolic chain capable of eschewing business par usual, to Rising Above Entertainment, the producers (if avant garde) must keep the girls’ goods swaying, keeping the entertained profitably distracted, leaving the entertainers’ minds in a good space to Listen.

From what space-or continence or whatever-can someone really Listen? A place where they are willing to be (although not necessarily always are) beside his-or-herself. An element of amnesia is required, but this must be one of forgetting the short-term hyperactive emotional affirmation of the now (à la Dionysus); the entertaining quality of the production must not rely on happiness, or any quick derivation of some other easily triggered emotion.

the production must induce amnesia of something

The entertained must be just that (i.e. entertained) until the entertainers forget their existence as such, in favor of a deeper, more impassioned self, willing to experience anything-even boredom, for the sake of experiment and expression (or to speak Sartrean, transcendence). Since the entertainment of the entertained is primary, the production must first induce amnesia of the drawn-out, big-self identity that the artists, the avant garde-is always striving to be.

the production must cloak the producers


for “d’auteur”

*I claim no rights to any photos shown here, which rightfully are the exclusive property of the included website’s content-producers*


Letters from Saigon

Huh, that’s too bad about the clueless Canadian. You say there’s compensation? Oh, you mean besides him, you work with a Mormon? And he exudes latter-day-saints breadcrumb stories, but doesn’t know you’re on to him? I guess having a Mormon around sounds novel; I don’t run into any sober types around here, like ever. I’ve read a bit about Mormons (and used to have one for a friend, pre-pubescence…actually whenever I asked him how he could go on without girls, drugs, et al, he’d snap his hands and say “because of my man Jesus up there ya” and point a pistol-finger to the sky supported by eyes with a glare somewhere between the Fonz and Elvis) and, although just having a completely spiritually indulgent person around to hold up to one’s mind is refreshing, there’s a part of me that would desperately plot slipping the man LSD in hopes of getting a full-on LDS salvation psychosis out of him, complete with secret histories of the world and confusion about inter-planetary realty (and reality, I suppose).


view from “the manor”

I’ve definitely changed my opinion about Canadians since this year started. I used to think they were all highly educated, intellectual, reasonable, continenced stoners (e.g. my thirty-five year old ex…and mayhaps your wife), but a guy named steve who presently crashes in the couch of the house I used to live in here was a terribly egotistical hippie. He built a brick oven from scratch at an outdoor venue called “Saigon Outcast” over the course of three weekends, which was cool. It was also cool that he gathered people together under the pretense of simply learning how to build an “earthen oven” for free.

But when he brought all of these would-be-carpenters home, when he put on pop-inspired ten minute redundant piano solos of a scared man praying everything would be alright the next day, turned up to eleven, when he started mixing into these musical indulgences public speeches about how these ovens represent a major spiritual step in reacquainting ourselves with mother earth, when he would only say so until the japanese and vietnamese and cambodian girls left, when he slipped a book called “spiritual midwifery” into the posse’s circulation, this is when I began to worry about an insidious or pernicious jack-in-the-box.
I remember telling him, slightly inebriated one night, if he’d heard of Alan Watts, and, although hearing his negative response, I assumed he’d like to hear something in at least a parallel ideological strain as his, so he could hold it up in front of himself and straighten things out. He did hear me say parallel ideological strain and asked what I meant by this, to which I responded with terms like magical holism and gaian unity, but accompanied with warnings of not allowing oneself to believe that this sort of thinking was not already part of the culture industry, not already part of the market, and—that it seemed wonderful for him to continue doing these things, so long as he didn’t emotionally rely on the simulations of the western infosphere and market (i.e. facebook/twitter) before the actual experiences of learning the trade in the uncolonized commons of rural vietnam.
That night, as I tried to sleep upstairs, I overheard him speaking the same holistic-oven-god mantics to my roommates and other girls, only this time accompanied with complaints of my caveman ethics, my postmodern nihilism, and how, despite my strong imagination, I was one of those guys who just thinks; “it doesn’t fucking matter.”
Everyone had a laugh at that. By the morning his “lessons” were all over facebook in Saigon. He had thousands of followers. That night, he played the strongest peace of remediated holistic propaganda I’ve yet seen. It’s called “what about me?” and he whispered to a japanese (who by that time had just mistrusted my lack of gaian faith) that it shows people how to stop feeling sorry for themselves.

Leni Riefenstahl in the film.

Leni Riefenstahl in despair. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Leni Riefenstahl would be proud.

This movie injected fragmentary thoughts of everyone from Alan Watts to Chomsky, from Eckhart Tolle to Ram Dass (none of whom known to anyone else present), mixing incomplete propositions about several social antagonisms (including occupy) in a way that struck me as the most unforgivable dupery.
The hyper-polished cinematography, the endless non-diegetic world music full of egotistical anti-egoic rhetoric and spiritual jelly angered me so greatly that I couldn’t bare to watch anymore. Looking around me, I saw four japanese women, two vietnamese women, two roommates, and a japanese-american man all smiling blankly, totally sold, glancing back and forth between the screen and canadian steve, who himself was rolling joint after joint with the most viciously sadistic mirror-stage smirk lathered across his face.
This is getting to be rather long and prosaic, so I’ll just say that this particular Canadian, in the weeks before I left my house, managed to form a minor cult about himself, now up to several hundred ex-pats and natives, including several thirty-something japanese girls who now refer to Steve, the himself, as “steve-sensei,” and, banishing my mind’s words’ veracity from my own house, all for the sake of sexual gratification and ego-remediation, my opinion was lost to mendacity…and to make it worse, I think he actually believes the anti-egoic ideology is doing this for him because he’s right, putting him high above all the non-believers, both morally and ontologically.
I had to get outta there before my lack of gaian faith become the reason for sexual solidarity, instead of the magical holism. I’ve since come to lovingly refer to that house as the Ship of Fools. Now I live in the center of the city, where no one bothers me, and my thoughts are a bit freer.

I got to model in suits for a viet-kieu who later gave me the suit and other expensive clothes for free a few weeks ago, but, honestly, modeling is a very fucking strange thing to do.

seeing stars

seeing stars

Oh yeah the yellow dust storms from Gobi desert! I feel like I really wouldn’t mind it, so long as the air was temperate. I really miss the fifties-seventies degrees…and even lower.

Sorry you’re sick. Imagining a sick you wandering through yellow hazy Seoul with maybe a scarf blowing and a blind man’s hand in front searching for the pharmacy feels cool from the outside, if it’s any recompense. You know, the spice melange, kyle mechlachlan, david lynch. patrick stewart directing a hundred-person choir all drunker than tom waits at his own funeral.


from the top?

I hope your “et tu” wasn’t a covert reference of Shakespearean betrayal, cuz I’m mailing my FBI and diploma notary-desiderata things today. this country. man. the horror.


p.s. if you’d like, I’ll also explain to you how I learned the most vile truths about Piles during my two week venture in the modeling industry. that guy. something’s not right.