May 20th, 2007

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Ed Emshwiller

I just finished reading a great new biography of artist and film-maker Ed Emshwiller.


I'll have more to say about the book in my ASIMOV'S review column. But let me just state here that author Luis Ortiz has done a superb job. You need this book if you're at all interested in the history of SF illustration or avant-garde film-making or the fiction of Carol Emshwiller, Ed's partner and spouse.

And here's a little online lagniappe that the book, however marvelous, doesn't provide.

Two of Emsh's videos are available for viewing on YouTube.

One of the first professional computer-rendered animations ever made, 1979's SUNSTONE:

And from 1962, THANATOPSIS.

Dogs and Elephants

This afternoon on a whim we went to Year of the Dog, Mike White’s debut comedy--he previously wrote Nacho Libre and School of Rock, both of which I despised; but this was pretty darn good with Molly Shannon just about perfect as Peggy, a bony, awkward with a capital A secretary with a beagle named Pencil, whom she dotes on. After Pencil dies suddenly, she loses it, ends up in one pathetic situation after another, and finally goes on a date with her neighbor (John C. Reilly) and realizes that he poisoned her dog. She then becomes an obsessed animal-rights activist, adopts every dog in the pound, starts a relationship with gay guy, and generally grows up to be the nutball dog lady. It’s perilously slight, but it hangs together and was a pretty nice means of not-writing.

In my continuing effort to bring attention to animals that rock—my previous contribution being Hatebeak, a metal band with a parrot for a lead singer(found online at reptillian records),I now give you the Thai Elephant Orchestra, whose musical product can be found online at Aquarius Records. Here’s a description:

First it was Frogs of North America invading our record bins, then it was Antarctic Seals and Penguins, followed by Insects in Stored Foodstuffs... now it's Elephants from Thailand! Brilliant recordings by non-human, um, sound-artists that we just can't get enough of here at Aquarius. In this case, the elephants are not just making their natural noises, they are indeed playing instruments! You may have read about this project in the New York Times -- when we found out about it we immediately contacted the label and ordered a whole bunch (based also on the on-line sample we heard at and now here they are. These are elephants from a elephant preseve in Thailand who have been trained to play specially-built instruments (many marimba-like instruments similar to the traditional Thai renat, as well as such things as harmonicas, drums, and even a stringed "electric bass"), but they haven't been trained *what* to play, it's all improvised with minimal human guidance! Yet it's definitely music. It was kind of an experiment to find out how the creatures might express themselves, and we'd say it was very successful indeed. If we didn't know these were elephants, we'd think this was a strange No Neck Blues Band recording or something. Imagine a stumbling, primitive hippy folk jam on gamelan instruments, but not one that's random or erratic. The elephants play steady beats, the struck gongs or chimes interspersed with their vocalizations as well. With no overdubs and few edits this is certainly a very impressive recording!_The Thai Elephant Orchestra was dreamed up, and this disc produced, by David Soldier (New York musician and academic) and Richard Lair (American expatriate elephant expert, who advises the Thai Elephant Conservation Center where this project goes on). The two came up with the idea that elephants, being social animals, might enjoy playing music together, and proceeded to investigate... Happily, not only did the elephants enjoy playing, they were good at it, demonstrating that they were able to decide what sounded good (to them) and what did not.