Creative Sensemaker #9

The ninth instalment of Creative Sensemaker, a new cultural series by Tortoise Media, the slow news agency

By Peter Hoskin  Nick Cave 'Idiot Prayer' (Joel Ryan)    Friday 24 July, 2020   Long read

Welcome to the latest Creative Sensemaker from Tortoise Media. Since our last appearance under these virtual spotlights, we’ve mostly been thinking about Caitlin Rose.

There are several good reasons to be thinking about Caitlin Rose. If you’re into country music, hers is a generational talent – a voice full of melody and meaning, and song-writing skills to match. Even if you’re not into country music, she’s your way in – one of the cooler, new-wave singers who came out of Nashville about a decade ago. Try ‘For The Rabbits’ from her first album, Own Side Now (2010). Or ‘Dallas’ from her second, The Stand-In (2013).

But there’s a specific reason why Rose is on our minds right now. Anyone who googles ‘Caitlin Rose album’ once a month to make sure they haven’t missed news of her long-awaited third album will have noticed a new search result recently. She now has her own page on the crowd-funding site Patreon.

Musicians and Patreon aren’t the most obvious mix. After launching back in 2013, the site has become a haven for podcasters, comic-book artists and indie games developers. Their supporters pay them a voluntary amount each month – and get extra episodes, preliminary sketches, or ill-fitting T-shirts in return.

But now, at a time of pandemic, musicians and Patreon are mixing much more. In an interview in May, the site’s founder, Jack Conte, revealed that musicians have been signing up at three times their normal rate. And no wonder: with gig venues either shut or socially distanced, on top of the unforgiving economics of the streaming age, any sources of income need to be seized upon.

Despite the tough backdrop, it’s a weirdly joyous situation for fans. Signing up to Caitlin Rose’s Patreon at the $5-a-month level gives you access to updates from Rose herself, along with MP3s of deeper cuts from her body of recordings. These include a fine cover of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Be Here To Love Me’, made with the band And The Relatives.

Through his Patreon, another of the modern country greats, Hayes Carll (who, incidentally, once recorded a brilliant duet with Rose), performs regular live streams. Most musicians offer some form of improved access to their fans – access to request, to recommend or simply to shoot the breeze.

But the emphasis is on fans. This isn’t for the uninitiated. The same goes for many of the other steps that are being taken to get the music industry through lockdown. Just last night, Nick Cave put on a new sort of gig – a stream of a solo performance recorded at an empty Alexandra Palace in June. This is no longer a drunken night out with your mates. It requires devotion, concentration and perhaps even expensive headphones. It requires proper fans, not passers-by.

This may not be a bad thing. It may not be a good thing. But it’s different and it makes you wonder how the industry will reconfigure itself in the years ahead. Superfans have always been important to the business side of music. Might they become even more important from now on?

We shall wait and see, just as we’ll keep on waiting for Caitlin Rose’s third album. In the meantime, here are some other cultural recommendations:
A blue book cover on a grey background.
A book cover with a vintage photograph of a woman on it on a grey background.

Read

The Second Shelf 
Central London’s shops are slowly reopening, which is a particular joy for those of us who like to frequent The Second Shelf, a picturesque bookstore in Soho that specialises in, as its tagline has it, ‘rare books by women’. But ever since its opening in 2018 – or 2017, if you count its book fair days – The Second Shelf has been more than just a shop. It’s a statement, a superb magazine, and now a new website and blog, too.

The blog opens with a post by The Second Shelf’s founder, Allison Devers, reflecting on both the past few years and the past few months. ‘It has not been easy,’ she writes.

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir by Natasha Trethewey 
Natasha Trethewey turned fully to poetry, she says, after her mother was murdered in 1985. Now, eight years after Trethewey was first appointed US poet laureate, she returns to that original tragedy in this memoir. The book is an act of constant intensification: through its meticulous prose, it tells detail after detail about Trethewey’s upbringing; about the man who became her stepfather; about the threats and torments and abuse – all until that terrible moment of violence.

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell 
British readers have been able to sink into Maggie O’Farrell’s latest novel since March. From this week, American readers can, too. Or perhaps we should say that the novel sinks into them; for it is such a convincing portrait of a son’s death, of a mother’s grief, and of a father’s emotional distance that it’s engulfing. It just so happens that in this case the father is William Shakespeare, the mother is his wife Anne Hathaway, and the son is their Hamnet, who died at the age of 11 and had his name immortalised – almost – on stage.
Two men walking towards each other on a spiral staircase.
A man dancing in a dark room.

Watch

Three Edgar Allan Poe adaptations starring Bela Lugosi
There are the really famous Universal horror movies, like Dracula (1931) and Frankenstein (1931). Then there are the less well known, which are often more interesting. This new collection of three Edgar Allan Poe adaptations – all made by Universal in the 1930s and starring the perpetually glowering Bela Lugosi – contains one of the most interesting of them all, Edgar G. Ulmer’s The Black Cat (1934). It gets extra points for what might be the best use of Beethoven’s music on screen: the second movement of his Symphony No.7 as the camera tracks through a vast mausoleum.

Strasbourg 1518 (BBC iPlayer, A24)
Bouncing off the walls. We’re all familiar with the feeling, particularly in recent months – but Jonathan Glazer, the director of Birth (2004) and Under The Skin (2013), has made art out of it. His new short film, Strasbourg 1518 (named for a strange ‘dancing plague’ that’s said to have befallen the French city), flits between dancers as they, well, bounce off the walls, floors and angles of a series of unwelcoming rooms. With a frenzied score by Mica Levi, it’s almost too distressing to bear. But isn’t that the point?
Three green leaves on a white background.
A group of male opera singers in costume performing.

Listen

Green by Hiroshi Yoshimura (Spotify)
At a time when almost anything is a few clicks away, the work of the Japanese electronic musician Hiroshi Yoshimura has felt extremely distant – mostly unknown in the West, hard to find, and extortionately priced. Thankfully, the brilliant label Light in the Attic is putting that right with a series of remastered reissues of Yoshimura’s back catalogue. Their latest, his 1986 album Green, is some of the most delicate and expressive synthesiser work you’ll ever hear.

The 2020 Bayreuth Festival (2020)
Bayreuth. For a certain stripe of opera fan, the word itself causes heart palpitations – since Bayreuth, a smallish town in Germany, is where an annual festival is held in honour of the composer Richard Wagner. Except this year, of course, it’s different. Thanks to COVID-19, the 2020 Bayreuth Festival will take place digitally, through the classical music label Deutsche Grammophon’s new streaming platform. Starting on 25 July: a series of previously recorded performances with proceeds going to artists affected by the pandemic.
Computerised cars going after an electric ball.

Play

Rocket League 
Whoosh! It’s just been announced that Rocket League is going ‘free to play’ this summer – and the world should rejoice, because it may well be the best sports game ever made.

Sure, there are others, but they are only computer games with a sporting veneer: press a button to make Lionel Messi kick a ball. Rocket League, by contrast, feels like an actual sport. It may take a while to get used to controlling its rocket-powered cars, and even longer until you’re looping in the air to tap the ball into your opponent’s net from an impossible angle, but when you do… wow. 1-0.

Best wishes,

Peter Hoskin,
Culture Editor,
Tortoise Media
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