Books

In 'House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories', Dreams and Reality Seduce and Intertwine

Baron Raimond von Stillfried – ‘Sleeping Japanese Woman’ (partial) (1870s)

These tales are a must read for anyone who enjoys the short fiction form, and if looking for an introduction to Japanese literature, The House of Sleeping Beauties is a good place to begin.


House of the Sleeping Beauties: And Other Stories

Publisher: Kodansha International
Length: 160 pages
Author: Yasunari Kawabata
Price: $16.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2004-02
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Yasunari Kawabata spoils his readers. So far, everything I have read by him has been, well, great. From his novels like Snow Country and Beauty and Sadness to his shorter works like Palm-of-the-Hand Stories to finally House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories, one can't help but revel in his literature.

This particular collection contains only three stories but they are ever so rich and layered. These tales are a must read for anyone who enjoys the short fiction form, and if looking for an introduction to Japanese literature, this isn’t a bad place to begin.

The first and longest tale in the collection is the title story: “House of the Sleeping Beauties”. It finishes at just under 100 pages, so it's more a novella than short story. This is one of the oddest, dream-like, yet beautiful works I have read.

The story involves an old man named Eguchi who visits a house that offers the service of spending the night beside an attractive sleeping girl. All the girls are young and none ever know of the men who spend the nights beside them. When the men wake in the morning, they leave before the girls awaken. The girls are, in a sense, “a living toy”, but even their meaning goes even further in that narrator’s claim is that they are “life itself.”

The contrast of the old man nearing the end of his life and how he relates to the youthful sleeping girls recurs throughout the tale. Eguchi, due to his age, is regarded as ugly, while the girls represent beauty and life. The girls are not only in a literal state of unconsciousness, but are in a continual state where “beautiful flesh was forever being born.” Just to give a slice of the philosophical lyricism involved:

“Were not the longing of the sad old men for the unfinished dream, the regret for days lost without ever being had, concealed in the secret of this house? Eguchi had thought before that girls who did not awaken were ageless freedom for old men. Asleep and unspeaking, they spoke as the old men wished.”

So while the lonely Eguchi spends his night beside a sleeping beauty, his mind drifts back to memories involving his old lovers. He begins to see his past within the sleeping girl beside him, and as shown in the above quote, he is able to imagine the girls into whatever he wishes. There are so many elements “House of the Sleeping Beauties” contains: life and death, youth and aging, fantasy and reality, imagination and memory, sex and desire. All of these things aid in the composition of a living person with a living mind.

Eguchi then begins to question the greater ideas in his life, asking himself with sleeping girl beside him: of good and evil, which has he served? Thinking of past affairs, the narrator notes how these affairs were mere moments in a long life and “flowed away in a moment.” Then, the idea of evil is probed further when the narrator mentions that when “beguiled by custom and order, one’s sense of evil went numb.” That these girls are beside him and powerless allows Eguchi to conclude that the act of lying beside them is evil, and were he to strangle one of them, the evil would become more obvious.

The ending is also typical Kawabata in that it is symbolic and not overtly explained—finishing with a question that readers will not necessarily be able to answer.

“One Arm” is the second tale and it involves a woman giving her arm to a man, and allowing him to spend the night with it. Equally as dreamlike, the arm begins speaking to the man and of course this offers up questions with regard to where a person ends... and begins. If something is separated from us, what is it that makes us miss it, and does what we miss reside more within ourselves than the actual thing itself? “Had the arm, separated from the body, been separated too from he shyness and reserve?” the narrator asks.

Then, there is a scene where the man notices his arm has been exchanged for the woman’s arm. What surprises him is that it happens with ease: “There was no shuddering and no spasm, in the girl’s arm or my shoulder. When had my blood begun to flow through the arm, her blood through me?”

“Of Birds and Beasts” is the final story and it involves an old man who acquires both birds and dogs and upon caring for them, he begins to recall past memories. There is an absence of sentimentality to the tone and the cruelty of nature is touched upon, yet the tale contains genuine pathos. This story is actually one of Kawabata’s earlier tales (written in the '30s) while the earlier two were both written much later in his career, in the '60s.

Other than the obvious lyrical quality of the three tales, each shares the similarity of a “hidden realism”, for while on the surface it is easy for one to categorize these tales as fantasy and dreamlike (for they do offer some of those elements) the rumination and philosophical questioning involved are universal, realistic and timeless. Sure, it's silly to imagine a house constructed of Sleeping Beauties waiting there for the arrival of old men to rest beside them each night, but the thoughts of life and death that Eguchi thinks about while lying awake are common within any culture. Likewise, the same can be said of “One Arm”, yet the ideas of mortality and where exactly existence resides are realistic queries common for those pondering the human condition as it relates to both loneliness and eroticism.

So, at the risk of sounding repetitive I will repeat myself: House of the Sleeping Beauties and Other Stories is a great collection of tales—read them and you will be spoiled, too.

10

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.


In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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