13 December 2014

Crooning on Venus: Sidenotes



International Outreach



From the December edition of e-flux journal, "American Tutti-Frutti," in which Porter McCray offers a historical overview of the founding of MoMA and the role it played in promoting American art abroad during the Cold War era. Topics covered: Alfred Barr's "torpedo" diagram, Jackson Pollock in Belgrade, as well as the ill-fated "Advancing American Art" touring exhibition which I wrote about some time ago.

The essay is apparently part of an e-flux hosted event entitled "The Unmaking of Art." Thing is, note the chronology offered in the preface to the essay, and you'll note that McCray -- the former director of MoMA's International Program during the years in question -- died some 14 years ago, yet is still listed as presenting at the event. Best I can make of that is that yet another example of e-flux related events in which presentations are given by people assuming the persona of certain historical artistic figure; such as Gertrude Stein and Alfred Barr on this occasion, and the appearance of a Walter Benjamin impersonator on several others. In fact, the McCray essay dovetails very well with "Walter Benjamin" essay "The Making of Americans," which e-flux published back in autumn of last year. And it appears that the "Walter Benjamin" n question recently published a volume of collected writings.




The theme of the latest edition is that of the function of the museum in contemporary society. In relation to the McCray essay, there's Arseny Zhilyaev's "Conceptual Realism: The Vulgar Freedom of Avant-Garde Museum Work," about Soviet museum culture in the decades following the Bolshevik Revolution. Early in the piece, Zhilyaev writes:

“...Many of the practices of contemporary art were anticipated by the historical avant-garde and its radical explosion of the 1910s–’30s, albeit in 'laboratory mode.' Right now, there is no actual social basis that would allow us to talk about the expansion of democracy’s borders and a new avant-garde project. But the practice of combining artistic and curatorial positions is still highly productive, in terms of problematizing the exhibition as a special form and medium of contemporary art — a medium which is based on hidden and deep rules of social organization. At that, they not only are productive, but also may potentially lead to the radicalization of the primary impulse of the whole modernist project with its present contemporary art condition.

"We are in fact already witnessing such a tendency. Thus, it is an increasingly frequent occasion nowadays that art historians have started to describe art history as the history of exhibitions, and not that of individual artistic statements. And often, these artistic statements themselves appropriate the expositional practices of the curators, not to mention the rather widespread practice of an artist acting as a curator of an essentially curatorial exhibition.”

Some hazily broad assertions, there; some of which begging for illustrative examples. And while its debatable that "art historians" (in any supposed lumpen sense) increasingly see art history as a lineage of landmark exhibitions, it's certainly been a growing trend among the curatorial sector of the artworld over the past two decades.

11 December 2014

Crooning on Venus, Pt. 3










Mouth music: Biased former Chicago scenester edition. Can't believe Robert didn't leap to mind sooner. Tsk.

Crooning on Venus, Pt. 2

A handful of perennial personal favorites continuing on the "mouth music" yarn what Simon started...




A while back, I paid the early XTC material a revisit for the first time in many years. Came to reappreciate the energy of their early years. Had punk not came along and helped level the field, Partridge would have an unlikely candidate for a frontman, mainly on account of the quirkiness of his songwriting. But what really grabbed my ears was how Partridge hilariously careened all over the place as a vocalist -- impulsively bellowing, barking, yelping, and generally twisting sustained parpings and phonemes every which way.

The above ursonatal excurison come from the Mr. Patridge side project, which is mostly Partridge dicking about in the studio, reconfiguring the various tracks from songs off the Drums and Wires LP, crafting them into other things. And get this, someone actually thought this one had lyrics; or at least felt it deserved transcribing.




An old favorite of mine, mainly for its haunting sparsity. Language breaks down completely, proves inadequate for the expressive task. And then faintly heard as the session abruptly fades out at the end, the sound of Hooker letting out a casual laugh. The whole thing having just been a toss-off, a warm-up exercise, or an off-handed demonstration to a song that could go on for ages




A totemic favorite, I gather, of writer and music scribe David Toop, who’s written very elegantly about the recording and sonics of There’s a Riot Goin’ On. The portrait he painted was one of Stone entering his long period of decline -- beginning to unravel, coke-addled, paranoid and reputedly keeping a gun within arm’s reach during the sessions. And -- during the session’s more “quiet” numbers -- leaning forward over the keyboard as he sang, singing in a lower register than usual, his mouth intimately close to the mic, with the engineers pushing the slider high enough to send the vocal track firmly in the red. What results gives Stone’s vocal a strong physicality -- leaving the listener with a sense of every vowel, syllable and word being shaped within the cavity of the singer’s mouth, of the curl of the tongue, the tightening of the larynx, the lips stretching across teeth.






To the degree that Leon Thomas is remembered, it’s mostly to the degree that he provided vocals on a couple of Pharoah Sanders sessions in the late ‘60s, not so much for the series of LPs he released on the Flying Dutchman labels in the years that immediately followed. Most distinctive trademark: dispensing with traditional “scat” singing and replacing it a peculiar combination of throat singing and yodeling.

And perhaps stretching the 'mouth music' criteria a bit...






Like a lot of early modern compsoers, Leoš Janáček incorporated elements of folk melodies into many of his works. Except he took it one step further, aiming to craft musical passages modeled on the patterns and prosody of the Czech language as spoken in the streets and markets, in the course of storytelling or passing conversation. As uneven as her output might be, at her finer moments Iva Bittova takes a page from Janáček and ventures further down that path.

And I suppose the above turned out as a proper round robin pan-genre edition. Assurance that I didn’t plan it that way, but there you have it.

10 December 2014

Crooning on Venus, Pt. 1



It’s that season again, the one when the Decades Blogs network (as well as their friends and readers) hold a pan-bloggal musical shootout. With Phil and Simon taking the lead, we each nominate our candidates for most almighty Riffage, Drummige, Intros, etc.. Except this year, a fair number of the usual participants in the network have largely drifted away, taken to the shadows, or gone silent. Meaning there has been, as yet, no call for this year’s musical theme.

But over at the Blissblog, Simon has spent the past few weeks offering examples of what he’s calling “mouth music.” He tells me this is totally of his impulse and initiative, but by no means a solo effort. Obvious candidates like Meredith Monk and Joan L Barbara fell earlier in the series (32 and counting!), with a broad array of other artists following in later posts.

Natch, a lot of songs or artist leap to mind. But for the first in a short series, I’ll begin with a few things that I’ve posted in the past...




A vocal showcasing from Sumac’s 1950 LP Voice of the Xtabay. Back when Diamanda Galas hit the scene in the 1980s, I always thought she took more than a few effects from Yma Sumac; if not from this particular song. Sumac and Galas were both vocalists of unusual power and range. Neither of them seemed to know of an appropriate genre of music in which to put their talents to work without going a staid and conventional route. Not being able to create an entirely new genre, and simply made due with twists on existant ones -- be it lounge “exotica” or semi-operatic goth.






The vocals don't come in until late on the first piece, and the beginning warm-up on the second is among my favorite of Youtube stumbling-upons. For these, I refer back to some of my earlier comments about Wyatt.






A number of my favorite works from the early phase of Robert Ashley’s career was threaded on the theme of mutterings and howlings that fall outside the realm of intelligibility, if not beyond the lingual entirely.

More next time.

The Imaginary Museum




This article could've been a submission to the next edition of The Journal of 'Ugh', but instead it arrives by way of The Atlantic:

"But for art to have as much of an impact upon mass culture—and appeal to consumers—as those luxury brands have achieved, it will have to break out of its crystal bubble. It will have to follow the path that the food industry has for the last two decades or more, which has been the path of taking once abstruse and artisanal products and making them common fare. [...]

"'Anyone who is a serious member of the creative class,' Art Basel director Marc Spiegler told Reuters last week,' is going to come into our fair. We’re getting a lot of requests from CEOs and CMOs who’ve never come to the fair.' In other words, there is a legitimate turn taking place as the idea of an immensely lucrative contemporary art market ceases to seem like a sign some market bubble is about to pop. With each passing year, contemporary art becomes a more plausible tentpole for the global creative economy."

Of course, the whole piece serves as yet another megaphone of the marketplace triumphalism, a 'rah-rah' celebrating the wind down of this year's installment of Art Basel Miami.

There are so many problems with the thread of the author's argument that I almost get a headache trying to think of where to begin. But ultimately, the argument hinges on a number of socio-economic hypotheticals that fly in the face of the current state of things. For instance: As if an art fair is an ideal or even conducive setting for viewing art. As if every art fair is an equivalent to a Documenta, Venice Biennale, or a visit to the Gugg. And as if lots of collectors are like Charles Saatchi who -- be it for the sake of raising one’s profile or out of a genuine sense of cultural largesse -- share their collections with the public.




About that last item: Nevermind that the elevated prices brought about by the high-rolling market of recent years has priced out most museum and cultural institutions, the price of the average desirable acquisition far exceeding whatever funds they might have at their disposal. Instead much of the work ends up in private collections, often bought as a speculative investment, then shunted away into safekeeping and well out of public circulation then maybe sometime later put back on the auction block. (Unless, of course, they decide to donate -- once again, whether for the sake of public prestige, a sense of civic generosity, or as a tax write-off -- parts of their collection to art museums. If there’s been a surge in these donations in recent years, one which parallels the frenzy of the market, nobody’s mentioned it. Maybe the Pew Foundation’s already chasing those numbers.)*

In a way, one could argue that the article’s thesis tracks like a misunderstanding or distortion of the Beuysian equation of “Kunst Gleich Kapital,” extended to “Art + Money = Democratization.” Except, judging from the context, that the author’s idea of what constitutes “democratic” rests on the assumption that there’s a sort of trickle-down economics will come into play as a result of the perpetually-booming art market. Which I guess makes it the Chicago School of Economics version of Andre Malraux's "“Le Musée imaginaire." Praises be, edification from on high!

Say it with me: Ughh.

^ ^ ^

BTW: The image a the top is tom Eric Fischl's recent series of painting derived from photo studies taken at various art fairs. About which, note this article posted at -- oh, irony! -- the site for Christie's auction house. Final paragraph:

"Fischl does not paint the generous, open, multi-cultural city of Miami, infused with energy and Art Deco beauty, and lit by neon. This series is about the art world which, in his opinion, represents another country altogether."

Meaning that, in a way, it's a revisitation of his "Cargo Cults" series of beach paintings from mid-late 1980s.

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* This scenario is, of course, peculiar to the U.S.: where -- unlike other places -- cultural institutions and museums received little or nothing in the way of government subsidies, and therefore have to depend heavily on donations.

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