Books

'Is That a Fish in Your Ear?' Is Not Exactly Light Reading, but It's Engaging, Nonetheless

David Bellos playfully includes examples from poetry, from comics, from movie subtitles and the United Nations to illustrate the diversity of translation in everyday life.


Is That a Fish in Your Ear?: Translation and the Meaning of Everything

Publisher: Faber and Faber
Length: 374 pages
Author: David Bellos
Price: $27.00
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2011-10
Amazon

Translation is a fascinating topic, or it ought to be. In the hands of an expert like David Bellos, whose book Is That a Fish in Your Ear? explores numerous facets of this underappreciated field of endeavor, the possibility exists that one’s perception of translation might change radically. Does it?

Hmm—not exactly.

It's tough to say why not. Maybe it's because Bellos is still enough of an academic (he teaches Translation and Intercultural Communication at Princeton) that his prose, although informative, never quite sparkles or excites. Or it might be that the overall structure of the book, which is comprised of 32 short sections plus a prologue and epilogue, seems to rattle along from one topic to another without a clear overarching structure. Or it might be that his conclusions, although interesting and well though out and expressed, are sometimes not altogether convincing. (More on that in a moment.)

Let's start with the good, of which there is plenty. Bellos certainly doesn't shy away from the big picture, as his subtitle Translation and the Meaning of Everything suggests. His many brief chapters cover a wide array topics ranging from poems to jokes, from politics to comic books and many other areas besides. He playfully includes examples from poetry, from comics, from movie subtitles and the United Nations to illustrate the diversity of translation in everyday life.

Moreover, he makes a compelling case that translation is more or less indispensible to ordinary human interaction, and has been for a very long time. The alternatives to translation, as he points out, are to either a) interact solely with people who speak your own langauge, or else b) learn someone else's language as well as they know it. Put in these stark terms, it's striking how common translation has become—striking, because many of us give little thought to its existence in our day-to-day lives (at least here in the United States).

Bellos is also provocative and entertaining when discussing common perceptions—and misconceptions—about translation. He has much to say about "the issue of trust", given that this element is crucial to the acceptance (or not) of a translator's work, all the more so in pre-literate days, when the translator's fleeting words could not easily be checked against another version. He also has thought-provoking things to say about automated translation software such as Google Translate, and the tricky notion of translating humor (something often considered to be impossible).

However, he is less convincing when discussing whether a translation can be an effective substitute for the original text, especially in the case of literature. One of the goals that Bellos seems to have set for himself is the demolition of certain widely-held beliefs that he feels are unwarranted, and he takes it upon himself, as an expert, to reveal the error of our ways. This is fine sometimes, but in the case of literature he is out of his depth.

In response to the widely held view that "translation is no substitute for the original" he argues that "People who declare that translation is no substitute for the original imply that they possess the means to recognize and appreciate the real thing, that is to say, original composition as opposed to tranlsation." Well, yes: that's exactly what they imply. So? In other words, only a person fluent in two languages is fit to make the judgment that a story or a poem is untranslatable. Bellos seems himself to imply that such people are scarce. In fact, there are plenty such folks walking this earth. I am married to one of them.

There are countless examples of Urdu poetry that my multilingual wife assures me are not translatable into English, and vice versa—even a literal translation (and Bellos naturally has much to say about "literal translation") will leave out much associative meaning. This is to say nothing of the musicality of the words themselves, the effect of the rhythmic patterns of consonants and vowels upon the ears of the audience.

Bellos rather glibly dismisses such concerns. Even an approximate translation of a poem, he argues, will still be a poem in the new language; it will function as such within the frame of reference of the second language. Therefore, it is incorrect to say that a poem can't be translated. Myself, I'm not convinced.

Bellos isn't worried about my reaction, though—he's busy plowing ahead into his next chapter. As likely as not, that chapter will be perfectly diverting, but reader lethargy sets in somewhere around the midway point. There's plenty to say about this topic, but the organization on display sometimes feels as if Bellos is just ticking off items on a list of things he's always wanted to get off his chest.

This is not a book that brings the subject alive for the reader—the reader will have to go through Bellos to get to it. He's obviously a knowledgeable and thoughtful guide, but the barrage of opinion and information can be wearing. This is an engaging book, yes, but it's also an exhausting one.

6

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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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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