In Rotation: Whitney Allen of Toupee on the world's loneliest whale | In Rotation | Chicago Reader

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In Rotation: Whitney Allen of Toupee on the world's loneliest whale

Plus: Whitney Johnson of Verma on backyard-party outsider funk, the Reader’s Kevin Warwick on surf rock from space, and more

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David Bowie in 1973 - © MASAYOSHI SUKITA / THE DAVID BOWIE ARCHIVE
  • © Masayoshi Sukita / The David Bowie Archive
  • David Bowie in 1973

Kevin Warwick, Reader associate editor

Man or Astro-man?, Project Infinity This mostly instrumental band leans hard on a zany shtick that includes whacked-out costumes (space-man getups, radiation ­suits, et cetera) and audio clips prophesying peril from beyond the stars, but those antics have never overshadowed the catalog of sharp surf-rock these weirdos released in the 90s on Estrus and Touch and Go. I recently dug out this 1995 record (in its other­worldly cover, "Direct From Outer Space Itself") to bask in the over-the-top spring reverb of "Transmissions From Venus" and "Tomorrow Plus X."

Eduard Artemyev's score to Solaris Commissioned to score Andrei Tarkovsky's 1972 sci-fi classic Solaris, Russian electronic-music composer Eduard Artemyev built his tense soundscapes around Bach's solo organ piece Chorale Prelude in F Minor, which is the musical thread woven through the film. Artemyev's work mostly consists of ebbing-­and-flowing airy ambience that's anxiety inducing when heard alone, without the scenery of Solaris with which to associate it. And at its most intense, it sounds like a blackened, falling sky.

"David Bowie Is" This much-­anticipated retro­spective on the Man Who Fell to Earth (in keeping with the deep-space theme) makes its only U.S. stop at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art (9/23-1/4). The exhibit will feature Bowie getups (Ziggy glam ensembles very much among them), handwritten lyrics, and other ephemera. Associated events include "The David Bowie Variety Hour" (9/26-9/27), with Baathhaus performances and pools of glitter.

Kevin is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

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Whitney Johnson, vocalist, keyboardist, and violist in Verma and Matchess

Doug Hream Blunt, Gentle Persuasion Bay Area outsider-funk musician Doug Hream Blunt is fundamentally a smooth man, but he isn't afraid to go wild when the opportunity arises. And so I played this EP on the first night that was nice enough for friends to come over and party in the backyard. I read online that this record will change your DNA. At any rate, it makes a nice combo with Carrie Vinarsky's book Fried Coolaid and fernet with a twist.

Caethua, Queenly Women Crowned and Uncrowned This 2008 Caethua cassette sounds like the inside of the sensory-­deprivation tank. Thanks to David Diarreeuh for making this my first successful radio request! Your show was nuts that day—it reminded me of Shut Up, Weirdo on WFMU, but with songs instead of callers. Match this tape with burning damiana and a comfortable posture.

Black Sabbath, "Planet Caravan" single Young Ozzy looked a bit like Susan Sontag, and I'd like to imagine the two of them getting to know each other during interplanetary travel. "Solitude," which is on the B side of this single, supposedly includes a hidden spoken-word message by Aleister Crowley. Which reminds me: I recently came across a business card for magic-mushroom delivery secreted in an Aleister Crowley book in a New York City bookstore. It said "Admit 1, Admit ∞," and that's exactly how this song makes me feel. Except I'd like to admit two, if possible: "Planet Caravan" and "Heaven" by the Rolling Stones, in a loop forever.

Whitney is curious what's in the rotation of . . .

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Whitney Allen, vocalist and multitasker in Toupee

Missing Persons, Spring Session M The 1982 debut from this ferocious, innovative synth-pop band blasts from our practice space's speakers around half the time lately. It quickens the pulse with tight, jagged rhythms and outrageous shrieks of guitar and vocals. At their peak, Missing Persons created greater acceptance of powerful sensuality in pop music with their provocative shows and music videos. I wish I'd had a chance to see the original lineup live.

The song of the world's loneliest whale My friend Luke recently told me about the saddest whale in the world. This creature's distinctive 52-hertz call and unique migratory pattern in the Pacific has led scientists to wonder if it has any possible counter­part anywhere in the ocean. I listened to its plaintive call today, pondering grief, in a delectably hot, reeking tour van. A search for more information turned up video of original songs that curious humans have written with the nautical artist as a muse.

The comb as a musical instrument Comb percussion thrills me to no end nowadays. A Columbo episode about a cosmetics-­company owner who kills two of her employees sent me on this kick. Every time she considers a new evil deed, comb scratches pop up on the soundtrack. The zany "scratch-scratch" coupled with the deadly makeup maven's rotten, scheming face cracked up everyone watching. Some "real" instruments produce a similar sound, including the guiro and the coconut grater, which is used in Jamaica. And since now's my chance to say it in print—Columbo is the greatest TV show ever produced.

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