Official music page and soapbox of Matt Snell

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Painting with Bug Blood, Week VII: Getting Political

Piss Christ by Andres Serrano
Religious provocation isn't usually my bag; not because I am pious, but because the target is too easy.  If the goal is to create a challenging work of art, there are groups out there it would take far more creativity and audacity to shock than fundamentalists. At least this is my case, because fire and brimstone are not a big part of my daily life at the moment. But censorship -- now that sets my blood boiling, and it has ever since Help! My Teacher Is an Alien was removed from the library in Grade Five. So when I heard that Andres Serrano's infamous Piss Christ was vandalized last week, I decided to begin work on my latest composition in solidarity with Serrano and freedom of expression, and I called it Bug Blood of Christ.

Piss Christ, vandalized
In case you don't know it, Piss Christ is a glossy photo of a crucifix floating in a glass of urine. Serrano, himself from a religious background, claims he intended the piece as a comment on the cheapening of religious icons in contemporary culture. He first exhibited it in 1989, and it has been involved in controversy ever since. US Senators Al D'Amato and Jesse Helms loudly decried the work, and it was vandalized once before at the National Gallery of Victoria in Australia in 1997. Neo-Nazis raided a Swedish exhibition in 2007. Finally, Christian protesters in Avignon, France  returned to finish the job on April 17 of this year, mortally wounding Piss Christ with a hammer and an ice pick or screwdriver.  Far from an isolated incident, the vandalism was part of larger campaign of harassment against freedom of expression by Christian fundamentalists, conspicuously coinciding with the term of President Nicolas Sarkozy (for a more thorough account, read the article here: I applaud the museum for deciding to reopen with the damaged works still hanging, despite receiving death threats to staff. Security has been beefed up accordingly.

Serrano has also worked with blood, semen, milk, and poop. I'm not particularly partial to much of it, though I suppose since I work with bug blood I will have to acknowledge him as a forerunner. And anyway, it's not about a photo of a masturbating nun, it's about his right to photograph a masturbating nun (assuming he has her consent). So - on with the painting.

I found that most images of Christ on the cross were more complex than could be rendered in bug blood, so I did a search for "Christian Colouring Book" and came up with some dandy images. As weird as it is to be rendering this gory image in bug blood, I can't help but feel it is no weirder than a five year old doing it in crayon.  The results will not replace Piss Christ, but hopefully I won't receive any death threats either:

Bug Blood of Christ

Check back next week for more bug blood art!

Tuesday 26 April 2011

The Greatest Film Ever Made Showing in Peterborough

Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain is the holy grail of weird cinema. It's intensely surreal yet packed with meaning, and gutbustingly funny throughout. I doubt I will ever see anything like it again. Jodorowsky set out to give his audience an actual spiritual experience through film, and his work definitely belongs on another plane.

A little history: Jodorowsky's first feature, Fandro y Lis, caused a riot at the Acapulco film festival in 1968 and was subsequently banned in Mexico, where Jodorowsky was living at the time. As a consequence he skipped Mexico and released his second film, El Topo, to other markets, including the New York midnight movie circuit, where John Lennon caught it and was deeply impressed (with good reason - it's a humdinger). Lennon helped Jodorowsky finance his third film, The Holy Mountain.

Deepening the Beatles connection, George Harrison was set to star, but objected to a scene in the script where he was to have his anus washed by a woman with a shaved head and long silver fingernails, in a fountain with a hippopotamus. Jodorowsky told him that without that scene there was no movie. Harrison walked away and Jodorowsky cast an unknown, establishing the gold standard of  artistic integrity in the bargain.

I could rhapsodize about the film for days, but luckily I don't have to because it will be showing at the Spill (414 George Street North, Peterborough) on May 10th at 9:00. To make it a real feast for the senses, we're kicking things off with a couple bands: Them Blades will take the stage around six, and my brand-spanking new band The Real Coyotes will play between sets. You can get yourself in the mood with some hot music or come to the showing fresh, but either way we'd love to see you there.

A word of warning: the film is definitely what you'd call graphic, and contains such a pastiche of religious imagery that statistically it is guaranteed to offend. Just sayin' so you know what you're in for. Attached is the trailer to the film, to give you a sneak peak (including a glimpse of the hippopotamus scene):

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Painting with Bug Blood, Week VI: The Straight and Narrow

I am beginning to appreciate the smell
After the three day hangover that was Abstract Expressionism, I was in no hurry to repeat the experiment. Yet I feel some pressure to do exactly that, because the response to that piece was more enthusiastic than all the rest combined. We are only halfway through the series, and I don't want the energy to flag. Nor do I want to end up face down in an alley, which is where I'm headed if I continue in that direction. This week's challenge was to capture the excitement without the physical side effects, and I vowed to do it the old-fashioned way: with hard work.

Watching an interesting programme
Good living starts in the morning. I got up early, made some soy milk,  and went for a run. I saw children walking to school, crocuses sprouting on front lawns all down my street, and a dog getting hit by a train. As soon as I got home I showered and tried out my new cucumber face mask. My skin these days is so nice it hardly feels like my face. While I waited for the mask to dry I put on my favourite sweatshirt and watched morning talk shows. My mind felt limpid, very limpid. During the commercials I made a fresh pot of bug blood, which has become something of a ritual for me. I am even beginning to appreciate the smell.

Eight blooms on this baby
I took it to the window and contemplated this week's subject, my orchid. My goal was to capture its essence before I kill it with ineptitude. Unfortunately, I arrived at just the right time of day, and the way the light fell on it was ungodly beautiful. I knew I couldn't paint it - I'd only make a hash of it. Normally that doesn't matter, but my orchid is special. I poked around the house for something a little uglier, but nothing stuck. We are babysitting my girlfriend's parents' cat, but he had only arrived the day before and still wouldn't come out from under the couch. I jabbed him a few times with a piece of doweling and then gave up. I felt a bit too limpid. Slowly thoughts of wine crept into my head.

I had not realized dependencies could grow so quickly. Somehow between this week and the last wine had become inextricably linked with notions of public notoriety and artistic integrity. I fought back by thinking of how much more productive clean livers are in the long run. Finally my soul ransomed me and promised no paintings until I had at least a glass. I realized that clean livers are more likely to drink white wine than red, and compromised. We had a stash put aside for Easter, and I made a mental note to refresh it before the weekend.

The strawberries were bland
Brilliant ideas now came easily to me. I returned to my seat with renewed purpose and applied myself to one of them. After several glasses I was beginning to feel lightheaded, but I did not forget my purpose. Comparing the results with last week, I can only guess that different grape varietals act upon the psyche in subtle ways. While last week I struggled with an acute sense of turpitude, white wine made my neck itchy. Also, this time I worked from a model, which may account for the difference:

The model
The still life

Check back next week for more bug blood art!

Monday 18 April 2011

Announcing the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour!

Big news! Beginning May 3, I will be hosting the Bang & Jangle Radio Hour on Trent Radio 92.7 in Peterborough. Actually thirty minutes long ("Bang & Jangle Radio Half Hour" just doesn't scan), the show will run on Tuesdays from 9:00-9:30. Each episode will be based around a theme, including Odd Instruments, Songs You Can't Understand, Outsider Music, Old-Time Banjo Pickers of Renown, and more. I'll be digging deep into my collection and providing explanatory notes, anecdotes, and colour commentary.

Listeners outside of Peterborough can stream the program at I'll be learning the ropes over the next couple weeks, but I'm already extremely excited by the possibilities and hope you'll tune in when the time comes. Further bulletins as events warrant! Cheers,


Toilet Paper Roll Granddaddies

I've known you could use toilet paper rolls in arts and crafts projects for a long time; I didn't know the art could be any good. An innocent search for "toilet paper roll" (my girlfriend is an elementary school teacher-in-training) turned up these phenomenal little masks by Junior Fritz Jacquet. Apparently, Jacquet paints up the roll and then pinches and squeezes it until the latest face emerges. I'm amazed at how soulful and expressive the results can be:


Art by Junior Fritz Jacquet, images from

Friday 15 April 2011

Sock-Rockin' Kindergarteners

As a hard-nosed music journalist, I try not to let myself be swayed by videos of cute children. Cat videos are likewise verboten. These kids, though, are just too damned sock-rocking to ignore. I like their little hands, the grins on their faces, and the fact that they are already better than I will ever be. That girl in the middle in particular looks like she's going places. Thanks Liz for sending the link!

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Painting with Bug Blood, Week V: Abstract Expressionism

To hell with Chinese brush technique. Last week’s landscape inspired my restless creative spirit, and my encounters with colour and form since then have left me in a state of ecstasy.  On Tuesday I decided to take on one of the great artistic movements of the past century. Abstract expressionism turns my crank, both because of its ferocity and because it looks easy. I know the abstract expressionists were mostly angry drunkards because of the movies, but I doublechecked on Wikipedia to be sure, and yup:  Abstract expressionism “has an image of being rebellious, anarchic, highly idiosyncratic and, some feel, nihilistic.”

I was glad it didn’t say patient, motivated, and reflective, because those qualities don’t come as easily to me. I got up and made breakfast, a banana and a bottle of wine.  I took it out to the patio and tried to attune myself to the swirling energies in my backyard. I got absorbed in the grain of the wood under me for a long time. I got a few looks from my neighbours on their way to work. After I’d finished half of the family-sized bottle of wine I felt ready to express myself.

I had already worked up a fresh pot of bug blood. I listened to my soul, it was quietly gurgling. This was not going to be a painting I could do indoors, and even so I laid down some newspaper. Birds were chirping above me. I saturated my brush and spattered the page with fat drops of blood.

Ready to express myself
It looked good, but it lacked a focal point. I shook the pot (I keep the bug blood in an old cupcake container), then upended the lid onto the page. That was when I knew the composition would be called “Sun.”  I stumbled backward to survey my work.

I am an artist
It had nice motion, but something was missing. I tried mashing a bug directly onto the page, but the results were less exciting than I anticipated. I tried flaying the page with the banana peel, but it only made it look dirty, and I wiped it off with a Kleenex. Reluctantly, I realized that the problem was that I was not drunk enough.

I downed another couple glasses as quickly as possible and went into the bathroom with the lights off. I looked in the mirror and thought about how ugly my life was, about all the people who have wronged me. I thought about everyone who would never understand my work and what I was trying to do with this project.  I thought about age and creeping death. I forced myself to contemplate the fact I would never escape this murderous universe. Then I wept, and yelled inarticulately for a bit, and went back outside.

Emotional honesty
I don’t remember completing the composition, but apparently I had the presence of mind to set up the camera beforehand. The masterstroke appears to be undoing another button on my shirt, wearing sunglasses, and screaming as I hurl the remainder of the pot directly at the page.

Afterward I pinned it to the cupboards, snapped a photo, and was in bed by eleven a.m. Although the experiment took a heavy toll, I think the results speak for themselves:


Check back next week for more bug blood art!

Monday 11 April 2011

Breaking News! Forthcoming Collaboration

After several shows in the first part of the year, I’ve been keeping a fairly low musical profile. I haven’t gone anywhere, I’m just hard at work holding up my end of the bargain as part of a new musical duo with Jean-Claude Pigeon. JC is an ex-Montrealer like myself, with an ear for harmony, a knack for writing catchy, affecting songs, and crack guitar skills. He’s no slouch on the mandolin, either.  Playing JC’s tunes lets me focus on picking my fancy new banjo, and he fills out my numbers beautifully. A few more rehearsals, and we’ll be ready to take this show on the road. Expect more updates soon!

Blues and Old-Time Artists I Admire: Bukka White

The music of Bukka White (1909-1977), full name Booker T. Washington White, was a revelation when I first heard it. The Chicago blues still zings when it’s done right, but too often the form is pounding, predictable, and drained of meaning. Delta blues recordings like White’s from the thirties and forties draw me in instead, with a combination of the rawness of the recordings, the incredible stories, and the mindboggling guitar playing. 

White’s “When Can I Change My Clothes?” exemplifies the blues for me because it is perhaps the most intensely personal song about suffering I have ever heard. No one will ever be able to play it with power and authority again. In fact, the thought of hearing someone cover it makes me nervous. I wish I could present that one here, but I couldn’t turn up a performance video. I encourage you to look it up –  you can find it on The Complete Bukka White, which remains one of my favourite albums.

In the meantime, I thought I’d post a video of Bukka in action. I considered writing a brief biography, but a quick search will turn up several well-researched bios, so I can safely skip it. Suffice to say that White gave B. B. King his first guitar (the two were cousins), briefly took up a career in boxing, served three years at the infamous Parchman Farm, worked in a tank factory, and was rediscovered by John Fahey in time for the sixties folk revival. You can see him trading jabs with Howlin’ Wolf in the documentary Devil Got My Woman: Blues at Newport 1966. Here is a clip of him playing “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” in which he performs that guitar-slapping technique that floors me every time:

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Painting with Bug Blood, Week IV: A Trip to the Cemetery

Wherever I live, I need to have a dependable walking route near my house. When I lived in St-Henri in Montreal, I haunted the back alleys, and before that I lived closer to the Old Port and would walk down to the clock tower. Now that I'm in Peterborough, I use Little Lake Cemetery. Painting bamboo put me in mind of the trees down there, and I decided to start my study of landscapes before all those pesky leaves get in the way.

What is this thing
Luckily, the bugs are cooperating again, and I was able to collect enough over the past week to make a fresh pot of blood. The old stuff had dried and turned black - I'll spare you the photo. Although I'm not getting quite as many maple bugs as I was when the spring weather first hit, I am getting some unusual new varieties. If anybody knows what the hell that thing on the left is, please let me know.

Slingshot chairs
I threw my supplies into a backpack and set off. One cool thing about going to the graveyard is I get to pass the slingshot chairs, which are a hoot. In the fall I often saw Canada Geese stopping in the graveyard and wandering amidst the headstones, which added a nice surreal touch. A few days ago I saw two more making their return trip, but unfortunately they did not make themselves available at the time of the photo shoot.

Scouting a location
My favourite thing about trips to the graveyard is the palette. There's something about those muted tones that is bred to the bone. Even when I lived in Mexico and it was thirty degrees outside with a clear blue sky, I would sometimes pine for the drab greys of my homeland. If I get into this painting thing, I could spend years trying to capture that palette. Unfortunately, right now I have only one colour, and it is off red.

Can't wait until I can paint this
I arrived at twilight, when colours are at their most melancholy. I scouted around, looking for the ideal setting for my first landscape. I contemplated painting the gnarly old bastard at right, but decided he was beyond my abilities for the present. The light was failing and I began to think I had arrived to late, when I found the grave of the Moores, which was shaped like a bench and provided an ideal view of a tree with the water behind.

The view from my lap
I settled into position, uncapped the bug blood, and began. Being fresh, the paint was lighter than it had been and somewhat runny. All the same I was eager to avoid last week's mistake, and quit early before I made my composition dark and overly busy. The result, though still rankly amateurish, was an improvement on last week.

The sun had nearly set by the time I finished. Although I sometimes like to linger after dark and sing murder ballads in a mournful baritone, the wind had picked up and it was chilly for April. I set off for home with another masterpiece in my oeuvre.

Ahem. I would like to remind everyone I'm not a painter. Musician, writer, sure, but not an entomologist or a painter. With that in mind, I humbly present this week's composition:

"At the Boneyard"

Check back next week for more bug blood art!

Tuesday 5 April 2011

5 Songs in Made-up Languages

About three weeks ago I posted "5 Songs You Can't Understand," featuring songs in five different languages, none of which I speak myself. It got me thinking about artists who skip the meaning entirely and go straight for the sound. With that in mind I present to you "5 Songs in Made-up Languages," showcasing invented language, scat, and more...

"Prisencolinensinainciusol," or "What English Sounds Like to Foreigners" by Adriano Celentano

I'm a native English speaker, and I still think Adriano Celentano's spoof is bang-on. The Italian comedian not only nailed the sound of mumbled English, he wrapped a pretty funky song around it, too.

"Kommienezuspadt," by Tom Waits

Tom Waits is an artist near and dear to my heart, and none of his tracks make me want to boogie like "Kommienezuspadt." Although I still haven't quite figured out the steps. Don't be fooled into thinking he's speaking German - that's just Germanic-sounding mumbo jumbo. If you haven't heard this one before and you dig it, check out the 2002 album Alice.

S.K. Thoth

Thoth blows my mind. He combines operatic falsetto, violin, and rhythmic dance to create the most mystical one-man band ever. He sings in a language of his own devising, the Festad, organizing his "prayformances" into an opera set in a fantasy world of the same name. A short film about him won an Oscar in 2002, from which this clip is taken. I loved the film, but never thought I'd get anywhere close to Thoth in my lifetime. Of course, Thoth is a street performer, so all it took was a trip to New York City and we found him prayforming in Central Park. After the show he signed autographs with both hands, starting from the middle working outwards - Thoth explained he was trying to harmonize the lobes of his brain.

"Stout-Hearted Men" by Shooby Taylor

Shooby Taylor is getting more recognition these days for his completely original approach to scatting. His sound can come off as strident, but there is a method to Shooby's madness, and the same syllables tends to resurface throughout his material. I've selected a track with subtitles so you can see his process a little better. Unfortunately, Shooby died in 2003, before the Internet really started showing him some love.

"Je cherche apr├Ęs Titine" by Charlie Chaplin

Everyone's probably seen this one, but it might have been awhile and it makes for a sweet ending. Taken from the finale to Modern Times, Charlie does for Italian what Adriano Celentano would do for English thirty-six years later. In case it's not clear: the Tramp had the lyrics written on his cuffs, but they weren't attached very well.