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28 November 2012


Apparently they were part of some subgenre that briefly came and went, and their first and only album was an attempt to conform to some trend that had a lot to do with fetishizing (or perhaps only obsessively shopping for) shoes.

Post-breakup, the frontman would have a prolific career of befuddling and bedazzling the world with the eclecticism of his output.

27 November 2012

Contractual Obligation Interlude, II

Unsurprising that the group would call it a day after this, their swansong single. As many critics have pointed out, the A side mostly sounded like a slight and somewhat tired retread of their debut, "Insert Text Here."

24 November 2012

20 November 2012

Someone Else's System

"Every so often, if you ride Moscow’s crowded subways, you notice that the commuters around you include a dog - a stray dog, on its own, just using the handy underground Metro to beat the traffic and get from A to B. Yes, some of Moscow’s stray dogs have figured out how to use the city’s immense and complex subway system, getting on and off at their regular stops. The human commuters around them are so accustomed to it that they rarely seem to notice. 'In Moscow there are all sorts of stray dogs, but...there are no stupid dogs,' Dr. Andrey Poyarkov, a biologist who has studied Moscow’s strays for 30 years, told ABC News. As many as 35,000 stray dogs live in Russia’s capital city. They can be found everywhere, from markets to construction sites to underground passageways, scrounging for food and trying to survive. Taking the subway is just one of many tactics the strays have come up with for surviving in the manmade wilderness around them."

via || by way of

19 November 2012

The Motorik Hauntological Dance Society

Some archival choreography from Adam Curtis.

Further Tales from the Rural Electrification Files

Of course, Les Paul gets all the credit for having invented the electric guitar; which is true if you're talking about the electric guitar as we know it -- the common solid-bodied variety. But as to who first had the idea of rigging a standard acoustic idea with juice and amplifier, accounts differ. Charlie Christian wasn't the first to pick up an electrically amplified acoustic model, but history has him down as being the person to popularize it; as the one who proved that it could serve as a lead instrument in a large ensemble.

For those who might not know him, Charlie Christian was a guitarist who notably worked with jazz swingster Benny Goodman. During the height of the swing craze, Goodman’s manager John Hammond talked him into taking the bold step of "integrating" his band. To this end, Hammond brought in the talents of other artists he managed or had worked with – Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Cootie Williams, and eventually Christian. Hammond had come across Christian in Oklahoma City as he traveling throughout the Midwest looking for fresh talent. He was supposedly skeptical about the novelty of the electric guitar that Christian was playing, but was wowed by the kid's sound and technique. Hammond not only thought it work in a loud ensemble like Goodman’s, but the also thought Christian possessed exception skills as an improviser.

18 November 2012

Crushed by the Tumblin' Tide (or: Newport vs. the Rural Electrification Act)

Yeah, I haven't posted a link in a forever to anything I’ve contributed to any of the decades blogs (see the 'Elsewhere' header, right of this column) because – honestly – it's been a forever since I’ve written anything for them. I'm not the only one, because posting on the things experienced a major slow-down after the beginning of this year. Not sure why the other primary contributors mostly went silent, but one can suspect the usual reasons – continual distractions that leave drafts unfinished or ideas abandoned or in development limbo, writer's block, other more pressing priorities, and what-have-you. Shame, that – especially seeing how the things received a few honorary accolades in some quarters last December as some of the best reading on the intertoobs.

I had a few stalled drafts for things, myself. At one point I was working on something drawn from personal experience, having to due with the number of bluegrass music festivals I was dragged to as a child in the early years of the 1970s, mixed in with some relevant anecdotes from my time spent living in Nashville a few years later. Thematically, the thing was going to hinge on the brief and marginal "Bluegrass Revival" that took place for a few years in the early '70s. Something something something about it being perhaps the final twilight flickering of the folk-music which had begun many decades earlier, and what had a history that was previously tied to major societal shifts that bracketed the Second World War; a history that very complicated, if only because it had once had a deep cultural resonance.

All of which is why the thing stalled. As you can probably guess, it was bordering on becoming a huge, sprawling mess. And if not a mess, then certain something unfit for a blog post, an Exhibit A example of tl;dr-ness.

But just before the posting traffic tapered off over at the decades blogs, one of my last contributions was to the friendly competition of the "Geetar solo" spree of tag-team posting. I've never been much of an expert or enthusiast for such stuff, but I managed to throw a couple of favorites into the mix. There were plenty of behind-the-scenes e-mails being exchanged on the topic while the thing was going on. At one point, in an exchange of messages with Simon, I cited the full version of Chambers Brothers' "Time Has Come Today" as a longstanding personal favorite; even tho’ it probably doesn’t -- save for the cheeky segue into "The Little Drummer Boy" at one point – count as a guitar solo proper, but is really more of an extended rhythmic "jam." And I was intrigued a few weeks later that he cited the song some weeks later, offering it as what might be his choice of "The Last Song I'd Want to Hear Before Dying." I doubt that I helped jog his memory about the tune or anything like that, but I thought it a canny coincidence.

So, right: A definitive psych-garage classic writ large and in longhand. There’s the extended borderline freak-out type, drenched in reverb and washes, almost cataclysmic in its heaviness, flirting with outright structurelessness in a way that (going by way of contemporaries) sounds more akin to something off the first Red Crayola LP than something by, say, Cream or Love. There's the way it yanks the listener's head through a relentless series of sonically simulated spatio-temporal expansions and compressions. Not to mention the wryly mocking bit about "And my soul has been psychedelicized," over a track that prefigured Stand! and There's a Riot Goin' On, as well as the "acid soul" sound that would come down the turnpike thanks to Norman Whitfield's work at Motown, as well as Funkadelic's navigations through the maggot-brained consciousness of Nixonian America.

And atop all that, I've always been quite taken by the vocal and the lyrics. It starts out as a blues, but ultimately it’s deeply gospel. The live performance captured in the clip above fully demonstrates that aspect of the song – how the band chugs and churns through the endlessly unfurling break, with the song building in density and intensity as it progresses, becoming something like a fiery tent revival canticle that guides those in attendance on a tour through all nine circles of Dante’s hell before finally -- in its closing moment -- reemerging from the substrata into the light of day/redemption.

17 November 2012

Easy to Assemble

'Sparsamkeit ist geil,'
The magnate sez.
In the end, it's merely
a choice of lifestyle.


16 November 2012

15 November 2012

The Future of an Illusion

"It's pure fantasy to think that there is a real difference between the 'amount of regulation' in the situation where the government is prepared to rescue the entire economy versus the situation where the government actively manages the economy. The difference, in terms of the 'amount of regulatory intervention,' is trivial at best. There are, however, huge differences as to who reaps the benefits. In this country, we privatize gains, but socialize losses. To be sure, there are enormous differences in the distribution of wealth, but not in the 'amount' of regulation. [...]

The mechanism can be described as naturalization and normalization — naturalization of the market and normalization of the resulting distributions of wealth. When we think that the market is functioning 'by itself,' that it is unregulated (as if that were possible), that it is not controlled by the human hand, the economic outcomes become more 'natural.' They appear to be the product of nature, or merit, the way things should be. 'We are not interfering,' we tell ourselves. 'We only put in place neutral rules that everyone has to follow.' It's as if we're just watching a race and seeing who is the strongest, the most able. And the one who wins, we perceive as more deserving. All the while, there are myriad hidden rules and regulatory mechanisms that we put in place that favor certain outcomes. By masking those regulations, by talking about that illusion of 'deregulation' and failing to recognize that in all cases we simply reregulate, we insulate the unequal distributions that follow, we do not subject them fully to critique. We normalize growing inequality — as evidenced by the sharp and constant increase in inequality in this country since the 1970s. [...]

These simplistic but tired Cold War ideologies have been extremely detrimental to political life in this country. For the past forty years, the false dichotomy and the
fabricated fear of government regulation is precisely what made it possible for political and socio-economic elites to reregulate the economy in such as way as to reap more social resources and wealth, and to magnify inequality."

- from "Punishment and the Natural Order: An Interview with 
Bernard E. Harcourt," in the summer 2012 edition of Cabinet 

[ # ]

13 November 2012

Still Life

Atocha Train Station during rush hour, Madrid, November 14, 2012.
Everyone was elsewhere, there were other things to be done.

11 November 2012

Atrocity Exhibitions

China Miéville again, this time writing in Fall edition of the literary journal Conjunctions, offering some "Theses on Monsters"...

[ ... ] 2.  To insist that an element of the impossible and fantastic is a sine qua non of monstrousness is not mere nerd hankering (though it is that too). Monsters must be creature forms and corpuscles of the unknowable, the bad numinous. A monster is somaticized sublime, delegate from a baleful pleroma. The telos of monstrous quiddity is godhead.

3.  There is a countervailing tendency in the monstrous corpus. It is evident in Pokémon’s injunction to “catch ’em all,” in the Monster Manual’s exhaustive taxonomies, in Hollywood’s fetishized “Monster Shot.” A thing so evasive of categories provokes—and surrenders to — ravenous desire for specificity, for an itemization of its impossible body, for a genealogy, for an illustration. The telos of monstrous quiddity is specimen.

4.  Ghosts are not monsters. [ ... ]

6.  Epochs throw up the monsters they need. History can be written of monsters, and in them. We experience the conjunctions of certain werewolves and crisis-gnawed feudalism, of Cthulhu and rupturing modernity, of Frankenstein’s and Moreau’s made things and a variably troubled Enlightenment, of vampires and tediously everything, of zombies and mummies and aliens and golems/robots/clockwork constructs and their own anxieties. We pass also through the endless shifts of such monstrous germs and antigens into new wounds. All our moments are monstrous moments.

7.  Monsters demand decoding, but to be worthy of their own monstrosity, they avoid final capitulation to that demand. Monsters mean something, and/but they mean everything, and/but they are themselves and irreducible. They are too concretely fanged, toothed, scaled, fire-breathing, on the one hand, and too doorlike, polysemic, fecund, rebuking of closure, on the other, merely to signify, let alone to signify one thing.

Any bugbear that can be completely parsed was never a monster, but some rubber-mask-wearing Scooby-Doo villain, a semiotic banality in fatuous disguise. It is a solution without a problem. [ ... ]

Full text here.

image: Francis Bacon, photographed by John Deakin, c. 1962

05 November 2012

Without Erasing: The Missing Music of Richard Maxfield

Writing in his book Ocean of Sound some years ago, David Toop observed: "If Richard Maxfield had not committed suicide in 1969, and if his electronic music pieces were not so difficult to find or to hear, then our idea of how music has changed and opened out during the past thirty-five years might be very different." Toop penned those remarks back in 1994; and, even at this much later date, the thought still holds true. Before jumping to his death from a hotel window ledge in Los Angeles at the age of 42, Maxfield could be considered one the chief pioneers of electronic music on American shores.

Despite the archival cornucopia that it offers, Reissue Culture has had its share of oversights, and Maxfield has been one of them. Only a few of his compositions have seen digital reissue over the years, with works like the three-minute "Amazing Grace" or 1963's "Pastoral Symphony" turning up on a few scattered compilations. Depending on which account you go with, when he left New York for the West Coast, Maxfield entrusted his tapes to artists Walter De Maria; who passed them along to La Monte Young, who in turn reputedly entrusted them to the Dia Arts Foundation.

Terry Riley, being interviewed in the course of a game of "Invisible Jukebox" in The Wire back in 1999 shed some light on Maxfield's neglected legacy. Maxfield, he asserted, was one of the most brilliant yechnicians in American electronic music. Aside from reputedly having built much of his own equipment, Maxfield was also reputedly something of a wizard at tape-splicing -- stoically patient, exacting and precise when it came to the task of taking things apart and putting them together viz the yarns and reels of magnetic tape. La Monte Young similarly testified to the artist's skills:

"He was an incredible electronic music teacher and master engineer. I used to go up to his mixing studio when he worked at Westminster Records in 1960-61 and observe him editing those old reel-to-reel tapes. He was the most amazingly adept tape handler I have ever seen. He worked so fast his hands and the tape were a constant blur... He really understood electronics; he was very creative and experimental. He taught electronics and composition at the highest level."

Much of Maxfield's technical expertise came from his workaday duties for the classical music division of CBS Records. Aside from tightening up the performances of various symphonies and the like, this also routinely meant cutting out whatever intrusive noises might've issued from the audience that night, such as the interludinal coughs and throat-clearings from season ticket holders. One piece Riley spoke of in the interview was "Cough Music," in which Maxfield took these extracts (from the performance of a Christian Wolff piece) from the cutting-room floor and spliced them together in the order his choosing, subjecting the sounds to varying degrees of processing and manipulation. I'd long been curious about this piece, and was only recently finally able to hear it...

In the same Wire piece, Terry Riley also said of Maxfield:

"He had a fantastic ear for different kinds of sounds, just using sine wave generators he did great work. Later he did a lot more concrète stuff; one year he brought this piece out to play called 'Dishes.' He was washing dishes one night and turned his tape recorder on, so he was making found object pieces, too."

Which I suppose makes his a precursor to concrète-variety "microhouse" in a way, anticipating Matthew Herbert's Around the House by some thirty-plus years. But Richard Maxfield released only a handful of recordings during his lifetime, and only a few have been reissued over the intervening years.

A few years after having read about Maxfield's work, I acquired this item, done as a one-off, sampling-based collaborative project by a trio of East Coast electronic doodlers, released in 2002 via the Pittsburgh-based Kracfive label. It went largely unnoticed at the time, by I liked the album very much. One track in particular grabbed my interest, making me wonder if it wasn't conceived as a tribute to Maxfield's "Cough Music" by way of Kraftwerk's "Tour de France"...

Original Instrument - 'Coughio'

Occasionally mid-grade mp3 bootleg collections of Richard Maxfield's known recorded works have appeared on the internet in recent years. Just how what and how many works Maxfield composed and committed to tape is mainly a matter of conjecture. Some compositions exist only in the form of rumor and anecdote, the recollections of his colleagues. This webpage offers what's thought to be a comprehensive inventory; but as the frequent appearance of blanks and question marks indicate, the accounting involves a fair amount of guesswork. Of these, one wonders how many have survived -- considering the shelf-life of magnetic tape and its rate of disintegration. At some point, one figures, a multi-disc anthology of the composer's work -- complete with an accompanying book on his life, work, influence on and contributions to the formative years of electronic music in the United States -- might've already seen the light of day.

^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^ ^

And on a related note: Continuo bids farewell. But last time I checked, there was no similar cross-post on Continuo's Documents tumblr as of this morning.

04 November 2012

The revivalists, triumphant

"It is the building that always catches and holds the sun in the grey centre of the city: its regime-orange reflective glass mirroring the setting sun perfectly, as it moves from panel to panel along its chequered surface, drawing you in to notice it on your way up the Unter den Linden to Alexanderplaz. For a time, when Berlin was still new to me, it was just another abandoned building of the former East, that beguiled me despite its apparent ugliness, tricking and teasing the light and flattering the sensible and solid nineteenth century cathedral opposite with its reflections. Only later did I learn that it was the Palast der Republik and former government building of the GDR, a contentious place that concealed its history in the opacity of its surface, but had now been run-down, stripped of its trimmings and was awaiting the verdict on its future.

It was built on the site of a grand baroque palace that was demolished in 1950. The revivalists want the palace back; they want to rebuild it in its wedding cake finery and pretend it was never not there. They want to re-imagine history and erase the Palast der Republik, so that we, in the future, can no longer guess at a past.

And then there are those who are fighting to keep the Palast standing, who believe to level such a building is to level memory, and that a city needs to keep its scars within the fabric of its architecture in order to preserve what our finite human memory will soon forget. Berlin needs to keep evidence of that other place: that country, and its corrupt mismanagement of a Utopia, that has now been crossed out as a mistake in the reckoning of history.

And then there are others, like me, who are attracted to the Palast for aesthetic reasons: the totalitarian aesthetic. We, who have no inkling of what the building meant when it had meaning, had no reason to look upon it and know the monster it contained – when the copper-tinted mirrored glass was not about catching reflections and deflecting the sun, but about looking in one direction only; about being observed without leave to observe.

When the Palast der Republik was first opened in 1976, it was clad in white marble with 180 metres of windowed façade, triumphant in its transparent splendor and so-named 'the house of a thousand windows'. There is now no trace of the white marble; the structure is raw wood and the windows are tarnished like dirty metal. It is as if the state is letting time make up its mind – letting entropy do the job and make the decision it is loath to make. But the sore in the centre of the city is too public, and so a month ago, the wedding cake won and the Palast der Republik was condemned. The revivalists were triumphant. Soon Museum Island will be homogenized into stone white fakery and will no longer twinkle with a thousand setting suns."

- Tacita Dean, text accompanying the film 'Palast,' 2004

The Unrealizable

Also having passed last Saturday: Visionary architect and urban theorist Lebbeus Woods, at the age of 72. John Coulthart offers a roundup of links; and among the many eulogies that are quickly piling up, plus there's also this image-heavy article via The Superslice.

A notice of his death, the last time I checked, has yet to appear of Woods's website. Posts on the site's blog in recent months had tapered off, for which Woods made his apologies in post this past August, citing fatigue and his health, as well as announcing that much of his spare time was going into writing a book. Woods began the blog scarcely 14 months ago, and for the time being it remains as an archive.

03 November 2012


Pep Bonet, photographs from the series Blackfields: Poland's Coal Industry, 2009.  [ # ]

01 November 2012

Turn Your Haloes On and Run (or: Because - Revised and Amended Edition)

R.I.P.  Terry Callier

The 1977 advert above, stumbled across just this afternoon, kills me. I'd like to meet the person who ever heard Callier's music and thought: sounds angry. On second thought, no -- that's probably the last person I'd care to meet. But I suppose in the annals of music marketing, such mawkish hyperbole was far more the norm than the exception.

* * * * * *

A couple of messages I've received on the above makes me realize I may have been guilty of "narrowcastsing," assuming readers might be familiar...as if nothing more needed to be said. A big assumption to make on my part, I guess; especially considering that -- like a lot of people of my age -- I wouldn't have heard of the guy had it not been for the whole "rare groove"/"acid jazz" archeological efforts what dug him outta the substrata some years back. That, plus the fact that I happened to be living in Chicago at the time, where that sort of excavation helf a lot of local/hometurf interest.

Irony being that shortly before I arrived in Chicago, Callier had -- after some years of retiring from the music scene -- been working a job of the University of Chicago campus, just a few blocks from where I took up residence. One story had it that he was still working that job when he learned that there was a renewed interest in his music somewheres on other shores. And that after numerous requests and invites, he would every so often fly overseas to play a concert to warmly receptive audiences in either London or Paris. And then return home to a country where nobody'd have given him a gig if he'd gone looking for one, returning to the mundane duties of his day job. Up until someone at that day-job heard something about the reason for Callier's occasional sojourns, and called him in for a discussion on the matter; the discussion reputedly involving a reminder about the institution's policy about employees and their external activities that involved additional income and distractions, and not that we necessarily disapprove but it was policy after all, and I'm afraid we're going to have to ask you to make a certain decision. At which point, the story had it, Callier -- after much stock-taking and soul-searching -- decided to give up that day job.

I recall hearing an interview with Andy Bey some years ago, shortly after he'd come out of retirement and had started recording again. He was asked about his decision to include Nick Drake's "River Man" on an album of what was mostly jazz standards. He said that someone had played him Five Leaves Left, and had been quite taken with it, recognizing upon hearing it, "That's a blues -- a white blues perhaps, but still without question a blues."

Callier got his start on Chicago's folk scene in the early '60s, playing clubs along the Old Town folk circuit. My mother-in-law spent a fair amount of time around that scene back around that time and in that same city, and the likes of Josh White and Odetta and all the other big folkie faves being key points of reference for her. Whether she ever happened to see or hear Terry Callier at the time, I dunno. Perhaps I should play some of the early stuff for her some time...

The voice and the fretwork are very unmistakably there (if not a strong precedence for the mood and atmosphere to come) on those recordings, coming as they did years before his soul-jazz-pop-whatever recordings.

Which comes to mind as I revisit Callier's Occasional Rain, which admittedly I hadn't listened to in some years. I'll admit that I'm predisposed to sink into anything Charles Stepney had a hand in, being something of a headphones geek when it comes to sinking into the arrangements and such. Like on Occasional Rain's title track, where faintly in the background you can hear Minnie Ripperton doing some wordless something-or-other that sounds like a vocalized impression of what raindrops might sound like as they join an amassing puddle, the velocity of their earthward plummet diffused into ripples across the water's surface. And then the string arrangements that Stepney brought to tunes like "Trance on Sedgewick Street" and "Blues for Marcus"...

...And I'm gobsmacked that it didn't occur to me on revisiting that the damn thing's like some Northern soul/folk-blues equiv of Bryter Layter.

But back to the above, the initial point -- where a couple of unfamiliar parties popped up to ask about the guy, asked for recommendations, and etc. If there was one song to must-know, I'd have to go with "You're Goin' Miss Your Candyman":

Stepney's arrangement is among the best he ever delivered. The glide of the bass line, followed by the percussion. But there's also Callier's graceful six-stringing, and his voice in its finest form; which -- after the horns step up to emphasize the chest-puffing bravado of the traditional ramblin'-man blues yarn, once the tumult of egoism subsides -- issues a long, soul-piercing prelingual moan from some unacknowledged or rarely-visited place on the periphery (or perhaps at the core) of the narrator's existence.

The album that yielded the song -- 1972's What Color is Love? -- is widely considered his one go-to. I wouldn't wholly disagree, but I suspect that the LP's (admittedly very lovely) sleeve art had something to do with that consensus.

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