The Null Device


A Norwegian woman was pleasantly surprised when she turned a kitchen tap on and beer came out. Because of high Scandinavian alcohol taxes, beer is prohibitively expensive in Norway, which must have made her surprise even more pleasant. Meanwhile, in the bar two floors below, the beer taps only issued water; it's not recorded how the bar patrons reacted to this. The mixup was due to a worker getting two pipes the wrong way around.

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A copy of the New Waver retrospective, Neuters, arrived in the mail recently. This CD was released this year through Australian experimental label Dual Plover (who will be familiar to anyone who has been to the What Is Music? noise-music/sound-art festivals or who frequents Synæsthesia), and compiles 14 of New Waver's biggest hits from the early 1980s onwards.

The compilation appears to be roughly in chronological order. It starts off with NW's rougher, earlier pieces; covers of pop songs performed on a home organ, with altered lyrics performed in a lugubrious monotone, and then goes on to more sophisticated General MIDI dance grooves. The basic concept of New Waver involves covers of pop songs with the lyrics changed to present an extremely pessimistic neo-Darwinian worldview; in the New Waver world, everything comes down to Darwinian competition, in which the strongest and most dominant triumph and the rest are sidelined, ostracised, beaten up, and generally have miserable, pointless lives. This is underscored with lyrics like "sexual performance needs social dominance" and sound samples from wildlife documentaries, recordings of counselling sessions, consumer-product advertisements and Christian anti-masturbation therapy tapes.

The songs are roughly chronological in terms of the story they tell, which is the life of Everyman (or perhaps Everyloser), the poor low-status schmuck who keeps being kicked in the teeth by life and always comes out worst. The story starts with him being bullied and persecuted at school, his life made a hell by "tough guys" and "confident guys"; then goes on with him going on to a dead-end public-service office job and being ostracised by coworkers ("a complex man with a heart of darkness in a beer and football land"), getting obsessively into computers/video games, being ignored by the opposite sex until a last-resort marriage to a low-status female who recognises and exploits his low value and lack of bargaining power, moving to the suburbs, and dulling the pain of existence with beer, consumption and Prozac whilst trudging through the pointless day-to-day routine. Had Jean-Paul Sartre been born in Brisbane or Canberra, he could well have come up with something like this.

The songs? Well, it starts with an organ-driven version of the Beastie Boys' You've Gotta Fight For Your Right To Party, which segues into an AC/DC cover titled Tea Break. There's a version of Madonna's Erotica all about masturbation, a Jimmy Barnes tribute titled Middle Class Man; a version of the Dead Kennedys' Too Drunk To Fuck that proclaims that, without brain-deadening alcohol, the human race would die out, and a masterful take on the Velvet Underground's Heroin, titled Prozac. And that old Depeche Mode joke which everyone has heard lots of times, Just Can't Get It Up, gets transformed into a complete song; transposed into a minor key, it works quite well.

The CD came with a press release recounting the history of New Waver; the band's formation by several teenaged clerks in the Claims section of the Australian Tax Office in Canberra in the early 1980s and run of minor hits in the 1990s, before time pressures caused the band to break up.

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In Pakistan, kite flying is an extreme sport, in which people get killed:

But adults and children love to indulge in kite duels, and that is where the danger lies. For duels, the kites are flown on a thin wire or on a thick string coated with glass or chemicals, to better attack opponent's kites. Stray kites can and do drag their strings unpredictably, tangling around a human neck or limb and cutting it.
The furor over kite flying gained momentum last month when a 3-year-old girl was killed by a kite string. On Feb. 19, she was riding in front on a motorbike with her father, mother and two sisters. The bike sped into the path of a coarsened kite string, which must have dipped low with the winds.
For opponents, the wisdom is unquestionable. "People are dying and we are celebrating!" said Khawaja Izhar, 75, the chairman of Anti-Kite Flying Democratic Front.

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