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31 March 2012

Spotty, At Best




From a recent edition of the NYer...

"Is Michel Houellebecq really a novelist, or is he just a novelizing propagandist? Though his thought can be slapdash and hasty, it is at least earnest, intensely argued, and occasionally thrilling in its leaps and transitions. (At times, he resembles the theorist Slavoj Žižek, who is all wattage and not enough light.) But the formal structures that are asked to dramatize these ideas — the scenes characters, dialogue, and so on — are generally flimsy and diagrammatic. Characters, usually women, are killed off with flippant dispatch, backstories pencilled in with bald strokes, scenes cursorily sketched, conversation often ludicrously implausible or monotonously self-therapeutic. (Excited, five years ago, by The Elementary Particles, I reread it recently with stolid boredom: great chucks of it sound the way one imagines the droning monologues of a sex-addiction meeting.)"

About the only thing in this that doesn't ring familiar with the above is that it took the reviewer a second reading of the book in question to come away with that impression. Also from the same edition, Peter Schjeldahl weighing in on Gogosian's multi-gallery exhibit of Damien Hirst's "Complete Spot Paintings"...

"Duchamp remarked that art is created partly by its maker and partly by its audience. Hirst dumps pretty much the entire transaction into the audience's lap. The result is art in the way that some exotic financial dealings are legal: by a whisker. ...The 'Why?' in such matters comes down to a historic, all-purpose, great 'Why Not?' A sense of frictionless impunity must be exciting if you're on the supply side of the economy and the culture. If you aren't, it feels wrong. The deadness of Hirst's product lines -- flipping the bird to anyone who naively craves something more and better from art -- upsets a lot of people. I deem their ire misdirected. Don't shoot the messenger. Hirst honestly vivifies a situation in which the power of money celebrates itself by shedding all pretense of liquid values."

One problematic portion of the latter review is when Schjeldahl calls Hirst "originally unoriginal...a master of supererogation;" asserting that Hirst's output "comprehends all manner of things about previous art except, crucially, why it was created. It smacks less of museums than it does of art-school textbooks." Not that the description is necessarily inaccurate, but the same could be said a great deal of art in recent years.

29 March 2012

I die, so dies the world...




"Yes, it’s the generation before mine. They’re basically heroes of their time, a time that believed in self-expression as almost a public duty. They are individualists who believe that self-expression is the most important thing. This means that what you feel inside yourself, inside you head, is the most important thing in the world. But if the world is all in your head, then when you die, the world dies with you — it ceases to exist, because you can’t express yourself. Because narcissists don’t have anything beyond themselves, apart from their children, which is why these people are obsessed with their children — they don’t have a trade union or a political party or religion. They know these people will go on beyond their death, but they won't. On the other hand, people like me who were brought up by old socialists, although I’m not a socialist, what it did instill in me is a strong belief that you work towards something that will go on beyond your own death. I mean, that’s really what you’re put on this world to do."


^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^


"Cynicism rises to fill the emptied space of exaggerated and failed hope. It's all simple math. If you follow the money rather than the blather, it's clear that the American system is a bipartisan fusion of economic models broken down along generational lines: unaffordable Greek-style socialism for the old, virulently purified capitalism for the young. Both political parties have agreed to this arrangement: The Boomers and older will be taken care of. Everybody younger will be on their own. The German philosopher Hermann Lotze wrote in the 1870s: 'One of the most remarkable characteristics of human nature is, alongside so much selfishness in specific instances, the freedom from envy which the present displays toward the future.' It is exactly that envy toward the future that is new in our own time."


"The abatised orifice is like a strange and dangerous object."











27 March 2012

Save It for the Exit Interview

Can't help but be amused by the fact that when I first stumbled across this clip some 3+ years ago I didn't make the connex that it must've been an Andy Samberg audition tape.

This is Entertainment: A Supplement



Selten Gehörte Musik - or: They Travel by Cabs


One final item I thought might be worth adding...

Here's a mix I did a few years ago, originally posted on my old blog and circulated to a handful of friends as a "Stuff You Might Have Missed" mix. Because, yeah, it was the sort thing that (I gather) received only a little attention back in the mid-late 1990s -- all of it largely forgotten now and way the hell out-of-print. It's a mix of the sounds that issued out of the Liquid Sky Cologne/Elektro Bunker scene, back before the city of Cologne became broadly identified with the minimal techno sound pioneered by Wolfgang Voigt and the Kompakt label. Responsible parties involve LSC manager and Air Liquide member Dr. Walker, Khan, Thomas Thorn, and Frank Heiss; each of them recording or performing under a number of aliases or in varied collaborative combos.

By and large it's a funkier and dirtier sound than most associate with the Cologne techno scene, often heavy on looped breakbeats, 808 punchiness, some nice bass action, with some 303 acid thrown in for good measure.*  The main reason I repurposed and reposted it in relation to the previous "This is Entertainment" series is because a good bit of it -- especially the Dr. Walker material -- always sounded to me like it was deeply indebted to the "Virgin years" output of Cabaret Voltaire. All of that, plus a couple of excerpts from a series of live "soundclashes" between Walker and Holger Czukay of Can.

::: Enjoy :::


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Liquid Sky Cologne, 1995-1998

tracklist:

01.  Dr. Walker & Holger Czukay – "Silent Planes"
      Vermona – "Native Something on a Phuckin’ Nice Trip at the 42 D.P. Cologne"
02.  Peirrot Premier – "Continental Traffic Jam"
03.  4E – "Career Counceling"
04.  Pierrot Premier – "Pain-Killer Pilot Plant, Pt. 1"
05.  4E – "Warm Leatherette"
06.  Global Electronic Network – "Untitled 1"
07.  Dr. Walker – "Uzi Funk"
08.  Dr. Walker w/ Thomas Thorn & Frank Heiss – "Nuttin but an ‘E’ Thang 2"
09.  LoFi Junkiez (aka Frank Heiss) – "Men or Miece"
10.  Dr. Walker – "They Travel by Cab"
      Dr. Walker & Holger Czukay – "Liquid Skies"
11.  4E – "Blue Note"

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

* Seemed like there was some majorly retentive gearhounding going on with this bunch. CD releases sometimes came with track-by-track breakdown listings of equipment & components used. And I vaguely recall that Dr. Walker was featured in some European edition of Keyboard magazine on more than one occasion.

This is Entertainment, Part III


Die kinder sind in ordnung: Einstürzende Neubauten,
anticipating the future of industrial music


Phil popped up the comments last time around offering that TG constituted a sonic "Year Zero -- a band who were previously unthinkable." True enough, I suppose. Returning to Simon's remarks about the psychedelic underpinnings of early industrial music, I tend to see it as an inversion of an aesthetic, of what had constituted music-making a decade prior. That being that it constituted a centering on the other end of the process -- focusing on the blurred and distorted sound-for-its-own-sake segues and embellishments that were such a part of psychedelia, so often the product of the (electro-acoustic) studio-as-instrument method of crafting sound, and expanding it out into an entire sonic pursuit.1

Or that's the way it started out, anyway. Up to that point, the industrial moniker had remained fairly open and vaguely descriptive -- referring to little more than a loose and dirty approach to electronic sound and tape collage. But by the early-mid 1980s it had begun to ossify into a descriptive term for the trademark sound of a particular subgenre. It's at this point – with the emergence of Einstürzende Neubauten and later Test Department, each offering up the din of scraped and pummeled metal on metal -- that one began to sense that the industrial label was being explored a tad too literally; and that in the process the whole enterprise was drifting into more limited (if not self-limiting) territory.

And then there was the model offered SPK's Machine Age Voodooo, which in the end proved to be the biggest harbinger of things to come. For anyone who had taken an interest in industrial music, the middle 1980s offered two alternatives. The first was to follow the newly emergent rhythmic/pop developments into the realm of the burgeoning "industrial dance" scene, or burrow further into the amusical sonic abstraction. The second could be accessed by way of the then-proliferating first-gen cassette underground -- the domain of low-budget electro-acoustic "noise music" of the Merzbow/RRRecords variety. As far as such stuff was concerned, the first option didn't hold much appeal for me at the time, so I ended up going with the latter.


* * * *


At any rate. Inasmuch as the Cabs zag into "urban" terrain might've constituted a radical deviation from their earlier material, it wasn't altogether unsurprising. There'd long been funk underpinnings in their music in the years leading up to stint on the Virgin label. And of course there was the pervasive post-punk flirtation -- for reasons both aesthetic and political -- with disco, funk, and hip-hop. Add to that the existent cross-pollination occurring between the music centers of New York and London, with acts like the Clash, A Certain Ratio, and New Order having already courted the NYC post-disco dancefloor set, not to mention Grace Jones covering tunes by the likes of Joy Division and The Normal.2

24 March 2012

Blame it on Varèse







The first clip brings to mind the second. Which in turn prompts me to remember Zbigniew Rybczyński, the Polish filmmaker and cinematographer who was a pretty in-demand video director for a brief spell in the mid '80s after doing the Art of Noise joint -- briefly hot property for his ability to make videos that left a lasting impression and endowed the product with some quirky artiness or whatever. Around the same time he did this one and this one, which I remember thinking quite amusing at the time, but weren't quite so successful in putting the product over. And as I recall, he was also this one, which needed at least three times as many extras and an infinitely better band to achieve the desired effect.

But anyway, I was never sure about what the Monkees-Zappa connection was; except for maybe the flimsy coincidence that Nesmith and Zappa both seemed to share the same scoffing derision for the drug culture of the era(?).

23 March 2012

This is Entertainment, Pt. II




Images, from top: Victor Burgin, Poster (Today is the Tomorrow You Were
Promised Yesterday)
,  1976 // Throbbing Gristle, gatefold for 2011 reissue of
Heathen Earth //  Industrial Records studio, circa 1980



Drew Daniels, in his 33 1/3 guide to 20 Jazz Funk Greats, writing about Throbbing Gristle in the final stretch of their first incarnation:

"The aesthetic deathgrip of such Grand Guignol fare initially helped to cast a suitably threatening media shadow, amplifying the already plentiful notoriety of Coum's alumni as nihilistic perverts and 'wreckers of civilization.' But it ultimately proved stifling and tedious to the members of the band, who had to watch as their antihumanist gestures were photocopied and distorted endlessly by arrivistes who brought plenty of iron-stomached bloodlust but forgot to pack the critical savoir faire. ...The effects of such associations proved more damaging and longlasting than the band predicted."

Damaging and stifling perhaps, but the crucial term in this context might be when Daniels reaches for the word tedious. Because I'll admit, my own affinity for TG had always been almost entirely sonic in its orientation. As far as most of the content and subject matter was concerned -- all the invocations of Nazi atrocities, lustmord, psychopathy and whatnot -- from the very start it had always struck me as by far the least interesting thing about them.

But what of it? Genesis P-Orridge had said of the group's original formation: "'Let's not learn how to play music. Let's put in a lot of content... Let's refuse to look like or play like anything that's acceptable as a band and see what happens." In abhorrence to the popular music of the time, the members of TG devised their music as an attack upon the all of rock's shopworn conventions and formulae. Fair enough, but it echoes a not-uncommon idea that was being kicked around in the punk and post-punk years, an "anti-rock" sentiment given lip-service by the likes of John Lydon, Vic Godard, et al.

But as Simon Reynolds pointed out in his footnotes to Rip It Up and Start Again, TG were deeply "rockist" in certain crucial respects: "If you define rockism (as I do) an approach that privileges content, context, and intent, then Throbbing Gristle -- despite their contempt for rock-as-music -- were the ultimate rockists. Also totally rockist was their belief in authenticity, edge, rebellion, the outsider, épater le bourgeois/shock the square etc.". What's more, it could be argued that while TG's "shocking" and "confrontational" modus might be viewed as be polemically opposite that of a certain hedonistic/escapist tendency in late '70s rock, but it hardly places them outside the category; rather it's just the obverse of the same coin. That being the case, one could view the music of TG as being only slightly removed from the heavy and plodding "doom" or "downer rock" that Black Sabbath had pioneered earlier in the decade; complete with the motive of social critique -- if not moral protest -- lurking at the core of its content, albeit refracted through a different prism of strategic irony.



* * * *



Punk had already seen to it that loud, distorted guitars were a primary staple of my musical diet during adolescence, But loud, distorted electronics -- that was another matter, and still very much a novelty/anomaly at the time.1  And of course, with TG and Cabaret Voltaire's abuse and misuse of cheap technology, the first-gen of industrial music earned itself a distinction of being the e-music equivalent of punk. What, after all, was the Cabaret Voltaire's "Nag Nag Nag" but a slightly retooled cover of "Pushin' Too Hard"?

Writing about a collection of Cabaret Voltiare's early home recordings some years ago, Reynolds offered that the early music of the Cabs and their first-wave industrial associates like Throbbing Gristle represented a non-nostalgic continuation of psychedelia's experiments in sonic manipulation, an aesthetic that that aimed "to blow minds through multimedia sensory overload" and adhered to a leave-no-sound-unaltered process that "adulterated rock's 'naturalistic' recording conventions with FX, tape splices, and dirty electronic noise." Listening to the contents of the first two discs of the set in question, the listener is inundated with dense washes of heavily-treated guitar, surges of shortwave radio noise, a pastiche of excepts from news and entertainment broadcasts, occasional chromatic smears of clarinet or soprano sax, and sporadic hints of a rhythmic pulse. While the Cabs were reputedly inspired to start making music in the first place by a mutual love for Roxy Music, from the sound of it their inspirational sources instead fell more squarely in the camp of Stockhausen, krautrock, musique concrete, and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

22 March 2012

Interlude








File under (I reckon): Live from the Death Factory Floor.

Sounds like a return to some of the territory Chris & Cosey explored in their some of their earliest post-TG releases, but which they soon left behind for the sake of working in a more conventional pop/dance mode. The above also very much reminds me of the sort of sound that the likes of Dettmann, Xhin, Lucy, Milton Bradley, et al have been going for in the minimal-house camp these past few years.

21 March 2012

The Desperate Edges of Now







AC: ...My working theory is that we live in a managerial age, which doesn't want to look to the future. It just wants to manage the present. A lot of art has become a way of looking back at the last sixty years of the modernist project, which we feel has failed. It’s almost like a lost world, and we are cataloging it, quoting it, reconfiguring it, filing it away into sliding drawers as though we were bureaucrats with no idea what any of it means. They’ve got nothing to say about it except that they know it didn’t work. It’s not moving onwards — we’re just like academic archaeologists. It’s terribly, terribly conservative and static, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. Maybe in a reactionary, conservative age, that’s what art finds itself doing. The problem is that it pretends to be experimental and forward-looking. But to be honest, in some ways I’m just as guilty. What I do is not so different — using all sorts of fragments from the past to examine the present. Maybe this is simply the iron cage of our time — we’re like archaeologists going back into the recent past, continually refiguring it, surrounding it with quotations. It’s a terrible, terrible prison, but we don’t know how to break out of it.

HUO: But then, I think it was Erwin Panofsky, the great art historian, who said in the twentieth century that we can invent the future out of fragments of the past.

AC: Yes. But I actually see that most people are not doing that. They’re using the past to reinforce the present. It’s as if they’re shoring it up. ...Now, if I was going to be really ruthless, I would say that just as in the early 1980s, in the Soviet Union, not only was their politics trapped, but their culture was trapped. Russians called these last years of Brezhnev the years of stagnation. And I sort of wonder whether we are at the same stage now — our own years of stagnation, with an elite desperately trying to shore up a technocratic, economic system with an increasing number of contradictions, while no one can imagine an alternative. In response to that inability to see anything else, everything, including a lot of modern culture — music, TV, and avant-garde art — is being used to shore up the present, reconfigure the past to somehow give a foundation to the present that can’t imagine another kind of future. No one can see their way past the sort of financial version of the free market, and the culture reflects that. I do think we’re in the years of stagnation.

Hans Ulrich Obrist talks with filmmaker Adam Curtis, an interview in two parts via e-flux.

Part One || Part Two

08 March 2012

This is Entertainment: Some Random Sidenotes







"'Tell me, pray,' said I, 'who is this Mr. Kurtz?'

"'The chief of the Inner Station,' he answered in a short tone, looking away. 'Much obliged,' I said, laughing. 'And you are the brickmaker of the Central Station. Every one knows that.' He was silent for a while. 'He is a prodigy,' he said at last. 'He is an emissary of pity and science and progress, and devil knows what else. We want,' he began to declaim suddenly, 'for the guidance of the cause intrusted to us by Europe, so to speak, higher intelligence, wide sympathies, a singleness of purpose.' 'Who says that?' I asked. 'Lots of them,' he replied. 'Some even write that; and so he comes here, a special being, as you ought to know.' 'Why ought I to know?' I interrupted, really surprised. He paid no attention. 'Yes. Today he is chief of the best station, next year he will be assistant-manager, two years more and... but I dare-say you know what he will be in two years' time. You are of the new gang — the gang of virtue. The same people who sent him specially also recommended you. Oh, don't say no. I've my own eyes to trust.' Light dawned upon me. My dear aunt's influential acquaintances were producing an unexpected effect upon that young man. I nearly burst into a laugh. 'Do you read the Company's confidential correspondence?' I asked. He hadn't a word to say. It was great fun. 'When Mr. Kurtz,' I continued, severely, 'is General Manager, you won't have the opportunity.'"

01 March 2012

The Cowbell as Alien to the German Spirit


Charlie Mingus gives it his best Nazi try.


Anti-entartete Gestapo regulations for playing jazz, circa WWII Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia:
  1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;
  2. in this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;
  3. As to tempo, preference is also to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Aryan sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or in solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;
  4. so-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);
  5. strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, hat, etc.);
  6. also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);
  7. the double bass must be played solely with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;
  8. plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan musicality; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;
  9. musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal improvisations (so-called scat);
  10. all light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.
Via.

Cross-reference with: Raoul Hausmann on German gastronomy.

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