Category: blogs

“Beautiful Desolation”: The Movie

My new short film is finished and up on YouTube.

This project began as a musical piece which turned out so well, I decided it might make a strange and unsettling soundtrack for an original movie.  Sherron and I shot footage over two days and then loaded the images from our two cameras on to iMovie (a process rendered extremely difficult because of the age of my DV camera).  I commenced editing, spending many long hours shaping the footage to the music, even concocting a kind of/sort of narrative.

You can view the film here and then, I hope, either drop a comment on my blog or over at YouTube:

I won’t try to summarize or explain “Beautiful Desolation” except to say that even on a planet that now boasts over six billion souls, there are still places where one can gain a profound impression of isolation, neglect, Nature reclaiming her own.

Enjoy the movie and I hope it inspires some thought and reflection. Perhaps it will cause you to contemplate the place where you live and view it in an entirely different light.

On location–shooting a short film

Here are a few snaps of your humble author, hard at work shooting footage “on location” as it were.  An overgrown lot in small town Saskatchewan, old farm buildings that we spotted alongside the highway.  Whenever we identified something that might fit our overall concept of “abandonment and desolation”, we’d pull over and do our thing.

I handled a DV camera we bought off the internet a number of years ago.  Very creaky, the technology practically obsolete.  I can still find tapes for it at places like London Drugs in Saskatoon but I wonder how long that will be the case.

Sherron, meanwhile, was using her iPod, employing a number of settings and filters to grab some neat effects.  We’ll load all the footage onto my computer and I’ll get to work trying to compose something out of what we’ve compiled.

The reason for this flurry of cinematic activity is that I’ve created a delightful seven and a half minute piece with Garageband and it’s so evocative and interesting to me that I thought it deserved some visual accompaniment.

If anything comes of this grand experiment, I will, of course, add it to the blog for your perusal and analysis.

Many thanks to Sherron for her collaboration and input.  It’s a thrill to work with someone as creative and visually attuned as she is.  I’m quite confident her footage will be the best we shoot—the combination of my ancient camera and ineptitude pretty much works against my ever becoming a proficient DP (director of photography).

I’d better get back to work.

Happy Labour Day to my fellow Canucks…and I dearly hope the Saskatchewan Roughriders get their asses kicked later today.

God, I hate that team and its moronic, watery-brained fans…

“The Midnight Detective” (Spoken Word)

Couldn’t get into serious writing yesterday–still catching up on research on my western novel, The Last Hunt, and I’m not yet at the point where I can begin to tackle necessary revisions.

My science fiction story needs one final polish/run through before I send it off.  I’ll likely get that done today.

And so…yesterday.

Decided to create a little something with Garageband.  The first effort wasn’t very good but the second tune had promise (as soundtrack music for the creepiest film ever made maybe) and then came the third number…

Well.  I didn’t really set out to create a spoken word bit, but that’s how it came out.  I was poking around my notebook and came across a series of phrases that, if you put them together, would almost make a kind of narrative…

I plugged in the microphone and gave it a shot.  The very first vocal track was perfect and then I started building and shaping music around it.

The end result is “The Midnight Detective”, a 2 1/2 minute effort that plays around with noirish conceits and comes together for a rather tasty finale.

This piece should work on whatever audio player your computer employs (if it’s fairly new) and, of course, you’re free to download it and share it with pals and like-minded folks who might get a charge out of my whacked out, postmodern detective.

You’ll find more of my musical noodling and spoken word efforts on my Audio page.

Click here to listen to Midnight Detective

* This post is dedicated to Caroline Ames–Happy Birthday, kid.

New look for “Beautiful Desolation”

A number of longtime readers have written to me, noting the recent updates and retooling on this blog.

It was time for a change.  It always bothered me that I’d chosen a lunar motif as a background—it brought to mind Buzz Aldrin’s famous depiction of the moon as “magnificent desolation”.  While that phrase may have been in the back of my mind, a subconscious influence when choosing a title for this blog, the allusion was not a deliberate one, I assure you.

I recall quite clearly when the name came to me.  March, 2007.  Sherron and I were standing in a school library and she was trying to interest me (for the umpteenth time) in giving the on-line universe another shot.  She told me the technology had changed since I made the first, tentative foray into cyberspace—she showed me the WordPress site, a sample template…

I finally gave in.  Why not?  I was a fool to ignore the march of progress; miles behind the technological curve, trying desperately to play catch up (still am).  But I knew one thing:  wherever readers went, it behooved me to follow.

“What are you going to call your blog?”

Ah, now, that was a poser.  Obviously the purpose of the site was to highlight my writing, but just calling it “Cliff Burns’ Blog” or what have you sounded rather self-centered and pompous to me.  “Hmmmm…”  Wracking my brain.

“You can always change it later.”

I think I might have been channeling Bob Dylan.  “Beautiful desolation,” I blurted.

Sherron said it a few times, pronounced it acceptable.

And that’s what it’s been ever since.

Sorry, Buzz, but no homage intended.

Before I go, a tip of the hat to photographer Alain Derksen for allowing me the use of his eye-grabbing picture.  I found a number of images relating to Mario Irrarrazabal’s amazing sculpture but Alain’s was the one that, to me, perfectly captured the piece’s remote, austere beauty.  Sadly, the sculpture has been defaced by graffiti and messages left by stupid tourists with no respect for a cultural artifact.

There’s a special ring of hell waiting for them.  Gibbering demons poised with blunt tattoo needles, hydrochloric acid instead of ink…

National Poetry Month III: New poems & an ambient tune

A few more poems, to close out National Poetry Month.  Dunno what led to this surge of verse of late—it’s not what I’m supposed to be writing, I’ll tell you that.

Ah, well, as previously reported, my muse can be pretty fickle and strange.

And just to prove that’s the case, I’ve added another recent ambient effort, one I’m very taken with, titled “String Theory”.  Bizarro space music and incomprehensible poetry…good grief.  Well, maybe now that Spring has returned to these parts I’ll feel compelled to get back to my real work, a project I shall elaborate on soon, very soon.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy today’s little treats:

Morris Ankrum


you could see the wires

stars hung off-kilter

Earth just a rubber ball

a funny shadow where

someone lurked, just out of frame

* * * * *

Those Of Us


who dream in slow motion

and have leaky prostates

and try so fucking hard

and who succeed, often in spite of themselves

and have no mother or father

and who must combat fear and depression

and who find ourselves inexplicably loved

and who are thankful for each blessed moment

and who know someday it must end

* * * * *

Foley Operator


You could hear birdsong

incongruous, but it was there

ambient chatter

shrill commentary

from the safety of the trees

* * * * *

Typecasting


I am tired of my role as resident cynic

the last angry man

critic of all he surveys

offering contempt in lieu of solutions

shouldering my burden of shame

well-versed on the subject of sin

while passionately opposing any notion of free will

* * * * *

And, finally, a few more minutes of music, a soundscape courtesy yours truly.  Here’s a thought:  play this while you’re reading the poetry—and let me know how the experiment goes.

Just click here:  String Theory

A statement of policy…and some new music

A brief post this time around, lots on my plate and not a whole lotta time for blogging.

Recently I received a couple of notes from folks who took issue with my comments re: the arrogance and stupidity of amateur/wannabe writers.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, these individuals chose to hide behind silly aliases so they could spout their venom with impunity and congratulate themselves for their courage.

After a close encounter with a nasty little troll a couple of years ago, I decided not to publish remarks from folks who lack the guts to use their real names, accompanied by a valid e-mail address. Say what you want about me kiddies, call me “arrogant”, “elitist”, an “incorrigible asshole”, at least I never hide behind a nom de plume when putting forward my point of view.  I have a “Moderate” function on this blog and I use it, not to screen out folks who have differing points of view, but to exclude those who are  1) psychos or 2) chickenshit or 3) abusive to other respondents. Follow the rules and your comments, pro and con, make the cut.

In the four years I’ve had this blog I’ve been thrilled (for the most part) by the quality of discourse and the clever, articulate people who pop in to see what I’m up to.  You’re welcome to drop me private notes as well—send ’em to blackdogpressATyahoo.ca.  Usually I get back to you within 48 hours but no promises, I’m a busy dude these days.

I’ve been editing my ass off for the past couple of weeks but I still managed to squeeze in time for another great passion of mine, making music with Garageband.  I’ve posted samples of my weird, ambient efforts previously (you can find them on my “Audio” page) but here’s a brand new number, just finished today.  It’s called “Idyll” and it’s one of my best pieces yet.

Not nearly as spooky and depressing as my usual efforts.  No, really.

Click on the link below, kick back…and let ‘er rip.

Meanwhile, it’s back to work for me.  Chat with you again soon…

Click here—Idyll

Fixed Links

Spent part of the morning going through some of the links on Beautiful Desolation.  Computers…feh!  Sometimes links come unglued for no particular reason I can fathom.  So when you should be pulling up a PDF document, a short story or book review, you get “File Not Found” or whatever.  I try to stay on top of these things but, y’know, nobody’s perfect

So if, by chance, you end up with a dead end when you click on a link, please drop me a line (blackdogpressATyahoo.ca) and I’ll close the loop ASAP.

Meanwhile…back to work.

“Robot Boy” (1969-70?)

The show was called “Robot Boy” and I’m hoping at least some of you remember it.

Each episode was six or eight minutes long—it was really just filler so you never knew what time it would run.  Anywhere from 6:30 a.m. Saturday morning until the “Star Trek” theme music cut in at 10:00 sharp.  It’s possible the show was produced out of the nearest TV station, which was in Yorkton, about seventy miles away (the only channel that came in clear).  “Robot Boy” had that really home made look, the production values pretty shabby.  But I didn’t care.  I was an avid fan.  Hated it when I missed an episode, just about inconsolable for the rest of the weekend.  Yeah, even then I was a bit of a diva.

The premise was stupefyingly simple:  Robot Boy (really just a cheap, windup toy) is insatiably curious and one day wanders away from the safety of the toy box to seek adventure in the great, wide world.  But unfortunately he soon gets lost and embroiled in various unfamiliar situations, trying to logically decipher what’s happening with his tiny robot brain.  Some of the conclusions he reaches are hilarious, way off the mark.  He’s totally naive when it comes to things that go on in real life.

There are shots of Robot Boy shuffling slowly down the sidewalk, going about 50 feet an hour, gigantic human shoes stepping over him, nearly knocking him into the gutter, legs moving past in the background, everyone oblivious to the lost little robot creeping through their midst.

My favorite episodes, the two I have the clearest memories of:   Robot Boy is menaced by a ferocious dog…but interprets its behavior as a warning and thanks it profusely while the dog strains to reach the tin figure, just an inch or two out of reach.  And there’s the episode where Robot Boy gets accidentally locked in a supermarket overnight and wanders up and down the aisles, admiring all the “exhibits” in the “museum”.

I Googled “Robot Boy” and found a few bloggers who reference the show.  There’s even a loose association of people who post on forums, swapping old news and rumors.  The main problem is there were only ten or twelve episodes of “Robot Boy” that were ever aired and no copies in any form seem to exist.  Which gives even more weight to my conjecture that the show was locally produced.  Maybe at one time it was even shot on videotape.  But those tapes are long gone or erased and reused.  There are still photos, grainy, not entirely convincing, their provenance unclear.  Forum members are divided, the rhetoric sometimes heated.  People are touchy when it comes to nostalgia.  Some have gone to all the effort of building scale models of Robot Boy, their attention to detail bordering on the obsessive.

I made mine out of cardboard boxes I found in the garage.  I was seven years old and the ugly duckling of the family…but when I slipped inside my cardboard costume I became Robot Boy.  My other life forgotten, my human existence shed like an itchy, constricting skin suit, too tight in the crotch.  The boxes smelled of apples and old newspapers.  I hung my arms out holes I cut in the sides.  Hands instead of pincers and an aluminum pie plate taped to the front, the dial sketched in with black marker.

I kept it in the basement, away from prying eyes.  In a cubbyhole by the furnace, where my sisters would never look.  My alter ego and guardian angel.  Big and blocky and comforting.  Made of indestructible metal.  Powered by atomic cells.  An obedient, loyal friend, willing to endure anything for me, even long hours in the dark.  I loved him and he loved me.   We understood each other.  And when “Robot Boy” was canceled, I grieved and felt a genuine sense of loss and betrayal.  I went down and I kicked the hell out out those boxes, kicked them to pieces.  They never showed re-runs and I wouldn’t have watched them anyway.  Robot Boy was dead to me.  That part of my life was over…

*************************************************************

This is blog posting #150 and, well, I wanted to make it something special.

I trust you enjoyed this trip down memory lane.

Feel free to share your thoughts, on “Robot Boy” or other relevant matters.  Here’s hoping for a great year ahead in 2011 for one and all.

Happy Birthday…From me

Every year my birthday rolls around and I do my level best to ignore it, dismissing its significance.  This drives my wife crazy (that awful epithet “fun-killer” fired at me like a curare-tipped dart) but, on the other hand, it definitely simplifies gift-buying.

“Anything you want?”

“No.”

“Nothing?”

Firmly:  “Nothing.

And so forth.  But this year, okay, I have to admit, there’s a lot to be thankful for.  We had a health scare in our family recently and that really put things in perspective.  My daily mantra of “health, happiness and wisdom” assumed new relevance…and poignancy.  Fortunately, it turned out to be a false alarm and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief.  But we had a renewed appreciation for the frailties of the flesh and the bonds of family.

Then there are the two books I’ve released this year—yeah, sure, the e-books had been bouncing about for awhile, but to walk into a bookstore and see my work sitting there, waiting for some curious reader to happen along…well.  Sends a shiver through me just thinking about it.

Yeah, it’s official.  We’ve cleared the proof and Of the Night is good to go.  For sale as of…NOW.  You’ll find pricing and shipping info in my Bookstore.  Click on the book cover (above) and ogle the artwork, browse the jacket copy.  If you order your copy from me, I’ll be happy to sign it.  Otherwise, you can get it through your local bookstore, from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

I love this book–it’s a fitting companion piece to So Dark the Night.  Scary, darkly humorous, a short novel you’ll zip through in one or two sittings.

To accompany the release of Of the Night, providing a kind of fanfare, is a CD worth of new  instrumental/ambient music I’d added to my Audio page.  I call this selection of musical oddities Language With No Vocabulary and I’m making it available to you free—play it, download it to your heart’s content.

Here’s a sample cut, a luvly little number I call:

Cidades Fantasmas (Ghost Cities)

(Photo by Jason Minshull)