Books

Salvador Dalí’s 'Alice in Wonderland' Work Finally Gets Some Mad Love

This edition is valuable because it underscores a variety of connections that are generally not foregrounded in the work of either Lewis Carroll or Salvador Dalí.


Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: 150th-Anniversary Edition

Publisher: Princeton University Press
Length: 136 pages
Author: Lewis Carroll
Price: $24.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2015-09
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I blew a bunch of student loan money on a trip to Paris my first year of graduate school. My mother spoke excellent French and I spoke none, and the trip was her only bucket list item, so there you have it.

On my punchlist of stuff to do in Paris was a bunch of things my mother didn’t care about, like visiting Jim Morrison’s grave and going to the Dalí museum in Montmartre. This was 15 years ago, and despite the comparatively huge size of its permanent collection, Espace Dalí is still fairly obscure because it focuses on sculpture and engravings. This was a pilgrimage to see his illustrations of Alice in Wonderland, which I only knew of because Random House had commissioned these 13 works of art for a limited edition of 2,700 copies in 1969. If you look for one now, the cost of it dwarfs what I spent on the Paris trip.

The Alice in Wonderland book itself turns 150 this year and it has no end of diverse, deeply invested devotees. So the new anniversary edition from Princeton University Press is not at all about the merits of the story. It reproduces the 1987 MacMillian version of the text “generally considered by Carrollians (and by Carroll himself) to be the most authentic and correct,” as Mark Burstein, president emeritus of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America tells us in his introduction. The other opening commentary is courtesy of Thomas Banchoff, professor emeritus of mathematics at Brown University, and both their remarks make clear that the focus of this edition is Dalí’s contribution.

Burstein first makes the case as to why Carroll and Dalí are on the same page. There are several reasons. Perhaps most obviously, the surrealists considered Carroll one of their own. For his keen perception of the merits of madness, his many invented word collages, his exotic juxtapositioning of unusual animal characters, and even the fact that he first told the Alice in Wonderland stories while engaged in the automatic movement of rowing a boat, surrealists from Max Ernst to Marcel Duchamp were eager to engage the text as source material for their own works of art.

Secondly, it’s a little known fact that Dalí spent the entire winter of 1945 at Walt Disney Studios working on an animated film about the nature of time that would have likely turned out to be some kind of bizarre cousin of the Fantasia film, had it not been lost. Destino was ultimately re-created from the 17 seconds of film that remained alongside Dalí’s original work on the project, and was released on 2003. John Hench, who worked at Disney for 65 years, did the story for Destino with Dalí. He was also an artist on Fantasia and the art supervisor on Alice in Wonderland, which was in production at the time of his collaboration with Dalí. So Dalí had his eye on Alice in Wonderland as a subject of interest for more than 20 years before he worked on these illustrations.

And finally, there’s the mathematics angle. Carroll’s work as a mathematician is common knowledge, but somehow Dalí’s obsession with and thorough knowledge of mathematics is often overlooked. This involves a tricky conversation about the fourth dimension and abstract things like that, so Burstein simply cuts off his introduction by saying, “Professor Banchoff will now elaborate further.” Banchoff is there basically to vouch for Dalí’s math field cred based on his firsthand collaborations with Dalí that began in the mid-'70s. They talked about process holograms and especially bonded over a cardboard model of an unfolded hypercube that the artist incorporated into Crucifixion (Corpus Hypercubus). They bonded over geometry and logic in the classical work of fellow Catalonian Ramon Llull, and Banchoff watched Dalí use binoculars to work on the Abraham Lincoln portrait within Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea.

So this edition is valuable because it underscores a variety of connections that are generally not foregrounded in the work of either Carroll or Dalí. Dalí’s 13 images are easily viewable all over the Internet now, but seeing them right up next to the chapters for which they were intended does do them a more proper justice. Engaging the text side by side with the artwork yields a myriad of interesting tonal effects in both the words and the pictures. It’s an entirely different approach to the notion of illustration, as Dalí’s emphasis was on the attitude and emotional landscape of the story rather than its plot. There is such a looseness and flexibility in the images as a reader attempts to bring them to bear upon the Alice in Wonderland storyline, that it produces a completely distinct vibe from the original drawings.

The 12 chapter illustrations are rendered in full color on the third page of each chapter, so a reader will begin to sink into the next adventure, then is startled by whatever weird tropes Dalí’s work has latched onto, and finally the rest of the chapter is inflected with that somewhat darker and more bizarre haze of interpretation. It allows Alice in Wonderland to be read as surrealists have long been reading it, and makes explicit connection to the conventions of their genre that might sometimes otherwise elude more traditional readers of this book.

The 13th image is not a chapter illustration. It’s a reproduction of the signed engraving included in the original limited edition, where Dalí is sitting in the foreground contemplating the mighty red Alice as she casts a long shadow over the straight and narrow road before her, a single flower up front and a single bird in the sky. There are mountains on the horizon. This is the most obvious choice for a cover image because it belongs to no chapter in particular and emphasizes the artist’s long, large contemplation of Alice. Because it’s only three colors, I suspect Princeton didn’t find it stunning enough to use for the cover. A diehard Dalí fan would love it, but it’s not quite a sample of his trademark style and not quite bold-looking enough to catch an uninvested reader’s eye in the bookstore.

Instead, the cover went to Chapter Ten’s The Lobster’s Quadrille. This story features the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, but is one of the most obscure sections of the book. However, Dalí’s work of art contains many of his most recognizable themes, is wildly colorful, and of course also alludes to the Lobster Telephone, an object of which even most people with shallow knowledge of Dalí’s work are aware. So this, in keeping with the brevity and clarity of the introductory material, points toward the fact that the book is targeted to be very accessible to mainstream readership.

Perhaps this is not enough to satisfy serious Dalí lovers, but for the vast majority of interested parties who can’t afford to spring for the insanely priced limited edition, or a trip to Paris to view the originals, this book is unquestionably as good as it gets. What a relief to finally have it available, with the 150th anniversary as a very nice excuse. Of course, that anniversary belongs to the original illustrator, Sir John Tenniel. Dalí’s works of art are approaching their 50th anniversary in a few more years, and there remains plenty of room for a deeper and more comprehensive treatment of his Alice in Wonderland vision at that time. Meanwhile, this book succeeds in scratching the itch many admirers of Carroll and Dalí have felt for too long.

7

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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